By Mollie Farber
While packing for a New York City vacation this winter break, I came to a startling realization. I wasn’t packing my suitcase, though — I was packing my wallet. Or trying to, at least. Unfortunately, all I had to stuff it with were coupons for $1 off any five cans of Progresso soup. I felt like one of those cartoon characters who opens up his empty wallet, only to have a few starving moths flutter out.
At least I think I did. It was three in the morning, so I guess I couldn’t really be sure. But I am sure of one thing: I’m poor. I don’t really know how it happened, but sure enough, here I am. Miss poor-edy poor poor.
Somehow, despite my continued efforts to sell my body to medical experiments for money, I continue to find myself in the same situation: broke and moth-ridden.
The situation is extreme.
I accidentally opened my wallet in my room, and the bastards ate all of my clothes. So now, not only am I penniless, but I’m also clothing myself in aluminum foil. This makes for interesting outings –
Waiter: Would you like a doggy bag for your food?
My friend: Sure, thanks.
Me: No, I’m cool. (Rips off a piece of skirt, wraps up cheeseburger)
Waiter: Uh, great. Here’s your check.
Me: (peeks in wallet) ARRRRGHHH!!! A MOTH FLEW IN MY EYE!
Now this might sound humorous to some of you. Sure, it’s all fun and games until it’s time to pay tuition. And let me tell you, if being home on vacation has convinced me of anything, it is that I would like to maintain the thousand-or-so-miles distance between my home in Miami and Yale for as long as is humanly possible.
But it’s all about the benjamins, baby, and I ain’t got ‘em.
It was another day, sitting at home watching infomercials before it hit me. No, not just the moth that was in my sock pile. Inspiration, my friends. I live in Miami, which must be the plastic surgery capital of South Florida. There are more fake body parts in any given location than on the set of a porn flick. Suddenly, I was clear on my mission: the key to breaking free of my aluminum foil clothing (which is embarrassingly easy to do, mind you) and staying several states away from my family is to hit these quasi-people up for money.
I grabbed a big red marker and wrote out my battle cry on a piece of poster-board: “YALE student: Will WORK for TUITION!!” I grabbed a blue plastic cup, hopped on an old bicycle, and headed towards one of the busiest intersections in my neighborhood. I was ready to face my destiny. This, I thought, would be a piece of non-fat, dairy-free, soy protein-enriched pastry.
That was, of course, until I realized that the bicycle had no brakes.
For anybody in a normal city, this might not have been a problem. After all, “normal” drivers would attempt to stop or divert the movement of their car if they noticed a bicyclist speeding in front of them. Not Miamians. To a Miami driver, an out-of-control bicyclist is just a big, moving speed bump. Whenever I needed to stop before crossing the street, my only option was to leap off the bike into a patch of pavement.
This mission might be more difficult than I had initially thought.
Amazingly, though, I made it to the intersection with only a minor loss of flesh from my big toe. I lifted my bike (a.k.a. the Wheels of Hell) onto the median, whipped out my sign, and started working the street. I expected to win the hearts of the sea of drivers.
Mother: Oh sweetie, look at that precious Yale student!
Child: Mommy, mommy, can we give her lots and lots of money?
Mother: Of course, Archibald! We wouldn’t want her to move back with her parents because she was too broke to pay tuition, would we?
And so on. I glanced at my blue cup and wondered if it would be big enough to hold the eminent outpouring of public monetary support for me, a Yalie in trouble.
I probably made a percentage of the gross national product of some small Third World village, but I doubt that $2.10 will help put me through college.
This whole begging business proved a lot harder and less lucrative than I thought. One guy gave me a thumbs-up, but he also might have been looking at himself in the rearview mirror. Most people pretended not to see me. What happened to all of the rich plastic surgery-enhanced socialites? All of these people are ugly!
It seemed that I might actually, one day, far in the future, at some point, possibly need to get a real job. Perhaps I should rethink my sociology major.
What drivers did not give me in money, however, they more than made up for in unwanted advice.
A guy in a black Saturn astutely noted, “You should just write ‘Need MONEY for tuition.’” Great job! You spotted the main idea in the passage. What is this, the SATs? So can you donate? No? Gee, thanks, bozo.
A man driving a government car wanted a resume, or at least a more job-specific sign. How about this for job specific: “Will accurately count ballots for tuition”? Not surprisingly, he wasn’t interested.
It wasn’t until I talked to a truck driver that I realized that public apathy for my living situation might be unconquerable.
Me: Excuse me, sir, can you donate to my college fund so I don’t have to drop out and live with my parents?
Truck driver: Sorry, I have to pay for college for my own son.
At this point, I started to really think about what I was doing on the street. There are countless other people who are in college right now, fighting the same battle as I. Suddenly, I wanted to start collecting for this man’s child, too, and all the little college children of the whole wide world. I wanted to express to this man the profound way in which he altered my perceptions, and changed my view on my role in the world. It came out a little differently.
Me: I hear that! How old is your kid?
Truck driver: (driving away) Seven months.
Uh, excuse me?
Seven months from graduating? Seven months into law school? Seven months into public school?
Nope, not even. It was seven months since this kid had baby goo turkey-bastered out of his nose. I may be a freshman, but I’m not that young.
Just when I thought I sympathized with people who, because they were in my exact situation, snubbed me and my tuition, happy to allow me to spend the rest of my life with a parentally-inflicted midnight curfew, I learned that I was just getting in to college while this kid who swiped my donation was coming out of the womb. I could no longer relate to these people in their fancy cars and big rigs who think they’re too cool for school, and too apathetic to help me pay for it.
12:48: Restate my assumptions: I am poor. If I have no money, I can’t pay tuition, and thus have to live with my parents to save money. This would suck big time. In order to avoid this problem, I must parasitically drain the money from the people around me. Drivers don’t help.
I needed to find people who not only had an insane amount of money, but were also running out of ways to spend it. The time came to pull out my big guns.
By “big,” of course, I mean “desperate.”
The local newspaper profiled a family a few minutes away from our house in the traditional “Christmas Decorations to Drive By and Gawk At” issue. The horrible twist was that this family spends $40,000 per year on Christmas decorations.
Thaaaaaat’s right. Forty g’s to keep the neighborhood nice and bright throughout the holiday season. I’d been meaning to check out the decorations at this one specific house, not because I enjoy watching a light-up Jesus wave at me as I pass, but out of sheer morbid curiosity.
I’m not sure if the full amount is really sinking in here. Forty thousand dollars.
This is like having the choice between buying a nice BMW or renting a bunch of live reindeer for a few weeks, and foregoing the driving machine in favor of the poop machines.
This is more than any prize on Wheel of Fortune. This is my tuition.
Dejectedly, I careened my bicycle in the general direction of the family that has nothing better to do with $40,000 than to erect their own interpretation of the spirit of Christmas in light bulbs. I couldn’t speak for the Christmas spirit, but my own spirit could use a little interpretation of its own.
By “interpretation,” I mean “gobs and gobs of money.”
The house was obviously going for the “Jesus’s Crazy Playland” motif. Santa Claus sat on a crescent moon that hung from the side of the house and swung back and forth. His sled, complete with reindeer, was suspended in midair in front of a forty foot-tall metal tree. All of Nazareth stood under a Tiki hut, and even though a wall obstructed my view, I could swear they got the actual Jesus to sit in the manger.
I crept up to the gate under the watchful plastic eyes of the four nutcrackers perched on top of the gate posts, and rang the call button on the intercom.
The maid who answered wouldn’t let me in. She did put one of the daughters, Jenny, on the phone.
Me: Hi, Jenny. About your decorations –
Jenny: Sorry, I’m not interested.
Me: Wait! Wait! I was thinking that maybe you guys could scale back a bit on your decorations and give me about $35,000 to pay for my Yale tuition.
Jenny: Uh –
Me: Come on — $5,000 left! Let’s not get greedy here, Jenny.
Jenny: I don’t think so.
Stupid intercom. There was no way could she have hung up on me in person, and I had a sneaking suspicion that the little intercom camera was aimed directly up my nose. My last hope for quick and easy tuition crumpled into a heap on the road, much like my bike, which had stopped working completely.
This was the time for me to come to my life-changing realization that hard work, persistence, and dedication would help me earn the money I needed all on my own; that the easy way to get money is just an illusion of my lazy mind.
This realization, though, didn’t really occur.
Instead, I came to a new conclusion. Sure, living with my parents can be rough, and so is the Yale tuition bill. But if I don’t think about my problems, they will all go away.
Yeah, that’s right. Out of mind, out of sight, right? Or is it the other way around? Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Anticlimactic? Maybe. I’m not worried about it. Things will work themselves out. It’s the college student way.
And if the IRS says otherwise, I still figure I can get a decent job with “One-Semester Graduate of Yale University” on the ol’ resume.
By “decent,” I mean “I’m not thinking about it.”
Unless, of course, you can spare some change.
By Mollie Farber