Tag Archives: college

30-year-old Wisdom for 20-year-olds

Dear friends and cousins born in the 90s,

Congratulations on graduating high school. As you look forward to starting college or career during the greatest economic uncertainty anyone but your great-grandparents can remember, it’s got to be a little daunting.

Some people would lump you and I into the same generation group, but we both know that there are some irreconcilable differences in our experiences. I ironically listened to the Sex Pistols in high school, you ironically listened to Journey.  My parents were just starting to dabble in attentive child-rearing in their post-hippie 1980s lives; you were most tightly scheduled, supervised kid on the block. We both grew up with the Internet at home, but your devices are smaller, cooler and more adaptable.

No matter.  There are still many, many things I feel qualified to tell you about, advice I wish someone would have given me when I was striking out into this crazy-changing world with no life experience to back me up.  I don’t know if it will help, but in the words of Uncle Bill, I’d like to offer a few simple admonitions for young and old.

1. When moving to a new place don’t become romantically involved within the first ten days. Particularly with anyone you share a laundry room with.

2. Casual sex is exciting, and not always a terrible idea, but don’t do it with anyone too annoying to eat breakfast with. Sleeping with someone you don’t even like makes you a jerk, can get you a stalker. Which sounds glamorous but is actually no fun.

3. Get used to using condoms and don’t wait to be asked.  I know the sex ed you received consisted of some nuns showing you barbie dolls with fake HPV lesions drawn on them with red sharpie chanting “bad! bad! bad!” but condoms really do work for most things.

4. Respectable drug dealers should be named after an insect or arachnid. Distrust pushers named “Brad.” Try out new substances in the comfort of your home. Stay away from opiates as a general rule. If you start craving something, stop immediately, seek assistance.

5. If you are compelled to use or drink before going to work/class, you officially have a problem. Shotgunning booze with water will not make you less drunk, will save your head in the morning. If you’re contemplating cheap tequila, you’re already over the line.

6. Go to class. It’s hard, nobody is breathing down your neck anymore, but self-discipline is one of those things you have to train for.  Might as well start now before you’re sucking away your sick days having Ferris Bueller moments at 26.

7. Get a credit card but don’t use it.  Purchase one pint of ice cream with it per month and pay the balance off entirely. Do this for as long as you can hold out without accruing revolving debt. Hide it somewhere you won’t remember when you’re drunk. Good credit history is more valuable than actual dollars when it’s time to apply to graduate school.

8. The best cure for drama is work. Heartbreak, turmoil, frenemies gone wild? Masturbation addiction? Get to work. Write that paper, do your reading, clock into your double shift at the Home Depot. Just keep going. You’ll make money and it’ll help you move on.

9. Do not believe people who say you can sleep when you’re dead. This is false.

10.  These are not the Best Years of Your Life. No amount of money in the world could induce me to relive ages 18-25. You’re still not really sure of what you really want to do, what you actually want out of life, what you’re capable of.  You look to others for examples and guidance, but nobody can really tell you because everything from media consumption to job skills is excruciatingly individual now. The only thing you can do is hold onto your friends and keep working.

Believe me, though: it’s so worth it. Nobody ever told me how much more interesting and fun it is to be an adult than to be a child. Sure, you have to worry about rent, health insurance, your carbon footprint, surviving in the decline of an empire. But once you figure out how to cover the basics there’s this amazing freedom in taking care of yourself. You need to be responsible, sure, but that includes the responsibility of making yourself pancakes for dinner or having sleepovers whenever you damn well feel like it.

Being a grownup is an excellent and wonderful thing. I know you’ll make the best of it.




From the Chocolate Files: Whole Triumph

I developed a deep seated love for many things during my 2002 spring semester in London: public transportation, drum & bass, Stongbow, Caryll Churhill and – most fervently –  Cadbury Whole Nut chocolate bars.

The Whole Nut, not to be confused with the much busier Fruit and Nut, is a magnificent combination of sugary smooth chocolate and whole hazelnuts.  It’s as if Mr. Goodbar had a cousin with a cute accent, and after the first time Goodbar brought him by your house, you secretly wished he was your friend instead.

They were at the time sold in vending machines on the London Underground platforms.  This is a game of chance for the consumer, as you never could tell if your delicious snack would dispense before the train rolled into the station.  One such machine provided me with the singular triumph of my chocolate-eating existence, one that I still marvel at years later.

It was a rainy Saturday morning, as most Saturday mornings are in London in March, and I was waiting on the platform at Regent’s Park station to catch the Bakerloo line to Paddington Station. My friend S. was arriving on a 10:30 train from Bath, where he was also spending a semester.  Actually, we were not quite friends, per se.  We’d dated the entire previous year and arranged to go to the UK together, until we broke up just before departure.  It was very, very important that I was nice to him this day.

Unfortunately, the previous night had been spent at a very cheap comedy club located in London’s financial district, stealthily finishing off half-empty bottles of red wine my friends and I lifted from the tables of early-departed middle-aged Brits. Even in 2002, the dollar was doing us no favors and none of us could afford to drink.

We stayed through all three sets, not caring that it was after midnight and the tubes had stopped running. The trek back to our at-critical-mass student flat just south of Camden Town, though not normally that far, was as long and arduous as a Dickensian-era breach birth. I recall lying down in a bus shelter at one point and imploring my brave comrades to go on without me, and the frenzied joy of finding a pay toilet after what felt like hours, holding the door open a crack so that each of us could go using the only 20p coin we had on us.  By the time we reached home, it was after three. But I could not face the guilt of leaving S. stranded at Paddington on his first trip to London.

So with a hefty quantity of red wine still sloshing in my head, I waited dutifully the next morning on the platform, wanting to die.  What could possibly ease my suffering?

The Cadbury machine shone in its royal purple glory, offering chocolate salvation from halitosis and headache.  A quick search of the crevices of my bag yielded two 20p coins, just shy of the 50p needed. I peered from the edge of the platform into the tunnel and saw no train lights approaching. One more desperate plunge into my jeans pockets miraculously came up with a shiny 10p.

In went the coins into the slot. I punched the Whole Nut button.

Not a sound.

I punched the button again. Still nothing.

That is, except for the sound of the train trundling down the tunnel toward me.  My heart leapt. This was no time to be picky.

I rabidly punched the Fruit & Nut, Dairy Milk, the chewing gum, praying for some sugar to get me to Paddington.

The machine reacted nonchalantly as the train doors slid open.  Bleary passengers stared flatly as I waved my hands in front of the slot to get it to hurry. The cheery auto-announcement voice called out the station stop and instructed us to stand clear of the doors.  I hovered halfway between the open doors and the vending machine, full of woe.

Something thunked in the machine.  The train doors began to close.

I lunged at the candy slot, jamming my hand inside and closing a tight fist around the contents.  I threw myself across the platform, diving through the encroaching doors, hitting the train floor and pulling my feet in just as they came to a close.  The passengers stared at me, faces full of English disdain.  Just as I started to feel embarrassed, I opened my fist.

Not one.  Not two.  But three.  Two Fruit & Nut and one Whole Nut bars clenched in my clammy hand.  I held them up for all to see, grinning my victory throughout the train car, dared anyone to mock me. I was Boudicca sacking the Romans.  I was Churchill weathering the storm. The day was mine.

I consumed two of the bars on the way to Paddington and presented the third to S., to welcome him to the city that had been treating me so well.

From the Shy Files: Acrylic Carnage

My first year of college, I arrived shy and semi-Midwestern, fresh off the minivan to a huge state university four hours from my hometown on the outskirts of Buffalo. Despite its proximity to where I grew up, I might as well have been on Mars.
At orientation I secretly hoped that since I was nice, quiet and quirky, I would have no trouble gaining acceptance in this daunting collegiate community. I wasn’t looking to be the most popular girl ever, but I was ready for the new start and broader horizons I’d expected from going away to college.

I hadn’t counted on the Faux Yorkers.* In place of smiles and excited introductions, I was greeted at orientation with a wall of snobbery; pre-Greek, morning-makeup-wearing suburbanites who giggled at my accent and pointedly excluded me from their reindeer games.  Of course they had all shown up in squadrons from the high schools of Long Island and Westchester County. There was no room in the elevator for this girl from “upstate.” In retrospect I know now these kids had never been off The Island themselves and were grappling with the same massive insecurity we all were at 18. But at the time, their confident veneer was a shock.

By the time I was moving into my dorm room, I was right well humbled. The loop playing in my head was the same shy girl mantra that to this day crops up in my head like a wart that just won’t die, no matter how many times you dry-ice it. They know something you don’t know.

By the grace of Frank** I’d blindly picked a dorm that turned out to be located in the “nerdy” residential community. The ex-urban hordes had been forewarned against it, leaving a population of misfits, computer science majors and people who couldn’t get in anywhere else.

After I’d spent my first two days sulking in my room, Janki came knocking to hang out.  She and Diane (names have been changed of people I don’t know anymore)came from a small town in the Catskills, and seemed very sophisticated to me. They smoked Marlboro menthol lights. They went out dancing to clubs and frat parties, drank Amaretto sours and were dry-humped by strange men of all colors. They were not terrified of other people. And they wanted to include me.

One afternoon, the two of them gathered all the girls on the floor to take the bus to the mall on the outskirts of town.  The purpose? Getting our acrylic nails put on.  I put on my faker face and mentioned casually that I could sure use a touch-up, too.

In fact, I grew up on a sheep farm with hippie parents and had never seen fake nails that weren’t the Lee Press-On variety. This was totally exotic to me.

We arrived at the salon,which was called–I’m not joking–Asian Nails, and all got separate chairs. I was nervous, feeling kind of silly as I’d never done something so blatantly girly. Suddenly I was on my own, face to face with a middle-aged nail technician who was the only one working there not wearing a mask.

Perhaps the fumes had made her careless.  Perhaps a hard life had made her cruel.  Maybe there was a Sadists School for Manicurists.

She must have sensed my reticence and fear of confrontation as soon as I sat down. She must have been lurking in the back of the salon all day, waiting for some young nervous nellie to pounce on. Regardless, she was steel-faced and unflinching as she started cutting up my cuticles. The first few times she jabbed my finger, it stung.  A lot.  But hey, I thought, biting my cheeks, this is beauty stuff, right? It’s supposed to smart a little bit…? As I remained silent, struggling to keep my palms on the table, I’m certain I saw a maniacal glint appear in her eyes.

The 45 minutes that followed are difficult to remember. I must have entered a Yogic state. At the end of it all, I had ten massive new bits of pink and white plastic stuck to the ends of my hands, and rivulets of blood running down each finger. My forearms were sore from pressing my palms to the table. But I did not flinch, I did not cry out, not once, because I’d thought for sure that I was just being a wimp. I mean, people wax their legs, right? That hurts…?

Imagine my surprise when we all bade goodbye to Asian Nails and I commented to my new friends how I didn’t know how much this hurt! Man, you guys must all be tough to do this regularly. Imagine their stunned silence when Diane examined my bloodied fingertips and swore, marvelling that I would let this succubus with a cuticle-pusher methodically lacerate the delicate skin on my fingertips for almost an hour and not say anything.

I filed off most of the acrylics that night and kept all 10 fingers wrapped in band aids for the next 3 days. Going to the bathroom was a challenge.

Now of course, with my much-improved self-confidence, I wouldn’t fall victim to a sadistic fingernail professional. I recently got a manicure and gave a good “OWW” at the first sign of aggressive filing.

Although I still do tell hair stylists they’ve done a great job even if they’ve left me looking like Anton Chiguhr. We all want to be liked.

*This is a term I made up. It refers to people from the suburban areas surrounding NYC (LI, Westchester, Rockland, parts of Jersey) who consider themselves quite the height of fashion and coolness in their velour warm up suits and knock off Fendi bags, and who maintain they are from “the City” even though they only go to Manhattan once a year to see the Tree and buy sweatshop schwag in Chinatown.