Tag Archives: recession

Gearing Up for the Holiday Season

 

I wrote this rant last year around Christmas time when my wages were garnished and the Mayan apocalypse was looming overhead. I decided I’d dust it off and see if I could apply it to this year’s holiday season. While reading it again, however, I found myself amused at how much has changed in a year—and how much hasn’t.

Rather than fictionalizing the truth, which writers NEVER do, I’ve elected to leave it (mostly) intact and write retrospective side notes, which will probably render this post completely unreadable.

Enjoy.

Let’s face it: times are tough, and some of us have the Great Recession Blues this holiday season. But in the spirit of Christmas, we should all stay positive. After all, just think of all the life experiences we’ll get to monologue about to our grandchildren when we’re nigh senile and losing that inevitable battle with diabetes. Screw how our grandparents had to live off green bean casseroles and bunny jerky from those rabbit drives during the Great Depression. We would-be survivors of the obesity epidemic are clearly the real victims here.

Below is a list (26 is a nice round number) of my favorite Great Recession gripes this (last) holiday season:

·       Vacuuming the house before guests arrive involves peeling the duct tape off your vacuum cleaner, shaking the dust into your dumpster through a hole in the bag you’re planning to reuse (and all because you don’t want to waste the other piece of duct tape that’s holding it to the filter), and sealing the jury-rigged contraption back together by tying off the original duct tape in your best approximation of a fisherman’s knot. (Yup. This is still the situation. Orecks suck, and those bags must be made of solid gold…)

·       Your Christmas present to your spouse is to promise to pay her medical bills by the end of 2012. (Yeah, that didn’t happen.)

·       Your strategy for putting up the Christmas lights involves signature moves from Assassin’s Creed because you can’t afford a ladder. This might even include trying to freefall head first into a haystack if you get really desperate. (Replace the Assassin’s Creed reference with a Borderlands reference, and it’s essentially the same scenario.)

·       The apocalypse for you doesn’t seem like it should include an alignment of celestial bodies—no, it’s what happens when all your major appliances at your rental property are functioning properly: dishwasher, disposal, refrigerator, washer, dryer, and microwave. You pray for this. (Still praying for this!)

·       You’ve nearly gotten in a car wreck due to mentally debating how someone as mediocre as Frank Sinatra could possibly have gotten so famous, especially half-drunkenly uttering “dupe de dupe and hickory dock” probably due to forgetting what he was singing about in the first place—this is because your kids want Christmas music 24/7, and your only on-the-go entertainment is your stock radio that occasionally flashes Satanic symbols across its digital clock because it is possessed. Your logic train derails, and you draw the conclusion that Frank Sinatra must have made a deal with the devil. (I’ve since discovered that the lounge singer responsible for “The Holiday Season” is not, in fact, Frank Sinatra. I take nothing back.)

·       You’re considering making a deal with the devil like Frank Sinatra. It’s okay if you too have to change your last name to include some kind of vice like avarice or gluttony. Daniel Avaricio. You can live with that.

·       You have to wrap and unwrap your dog before you can play with him. No, he isn’t one of those Japanese robotic dogs that your kids are demanding for Christmas. He just has an infection where his tail was recently amputated due to it being slammed in a door in a failed attempt to escape being dressed in a hoopskirt and put in a fashion show by one of your little darlings. After over a grand in medical bills, you keep flashing back to that scene from Gladiator in which the chiseled African dude puts the maggots in Maximus’ infected shoulder and declares, “They will clean it. Wait and see.” You even bring this up when there’s a fly buzzing around your bedroom one night. Your spouse looks at you like you’re crazy and hands you a fly swatter. Financial salvation is then splattered all over your wall. Normally, you’d be impressed with your critical hit against a flying enemy, but this time all you see are dollar signs… (Mr. Gram has since made a full recovery and is back to swimming on land and rearranging our couch cushions into a doggie fort.)

·       When you go to court over your debt, your creditors sympathize. (Heh. Now it’s just the student loans…)

·       Your desktop computer is old enough to have a name, a backstory, and an invented personality. You may even make excuses for her—I mean it—when it (she!) freezes. (Victoria’s still ticking. Where do you think I found this file?)

·       You still have a desktop computer.

·       You’re able to feel vindicated for continuing to use Netflix despite the price increase because paying for cable seems outrageous. Having your mom TIVO Knights of Mayhem on NatGeo is good enough for you. (I’m over Knights of Mayhem. I tried watching Full Metal Jousting too, but I just felt embarrassed for those guys.)

·       The majority of your entertainment comes from free sources on the Internet that you will never, ever sponsor or even bother to log in and “like”. But you gripe about the ads. (Don’t do this. Take the high road, and let your good example show me the error of my ways…)

·       You’re considering making Christmas presents for your family this year using simple but artsy designs cribbed from Etsy and the clearance rack at Michaels. (Done and done.)

·       You’ve spent more money on your pet’s medical bills in the last three months than you’ve spent on food. Yet you’re still fat. This is because the McValue menu is cheaper than buying groceries.

·       You’re considering going back to school for your doctorate just to avoid paying your student loans. (Taking four Spanish classes to earn my doctorate in English makes for an ironic deterrent.)

·       You’re considering quitting your “real” job and delivering pizzas just to be able to pay back your student loans. Education? Who needs that? But pizza…

·       You’ve yet to replace the gas cap on your piece of crap car. You consider the inaccurate gauge “running on empty” insurance. In a way, you know you’re just punishing your car because it won’t stop screaming… (Wow. This was before my glove box was operated by bungee cord and my passenger side window was stuck in the down position.)

·       You’re so unreasonably upset by a bad deal on Pawn Star that for hours you go over in your mind how you would have handled things differently.

·       Cleaning up your rental’s yard with hand clippers, a rusty wood saw, and a spindly rake is a viable alternative to paying $40 for a landscaping crew. When you finish, you pat yourself on the back with, “I just paid myself $40! That’s like a half a tank of gas!” (A year later, none of this has changed. Especially the gas part.)

·       Your text messaging app on your phone crashes so much that you miss the days of AIM. (Ha! I have an iPhone now! And it’s slowly swallowing my soul!)

·       You work in Florence. (Still guilty.)

·       The other day, one of your students delivered a quintessential statement for the town in which you work: “My dog used to chase the neighbor’s chickens until my daddy beat ‘im with one. That’s how he learned him how not to chase them chickens no more.” Let me rephrase this. Dog training in Florence involves beating a dog with a chicken. BEATING A DOG WITH A CHICKEN. (Sorry, but I’m still not over this.)

·       You work in Florence. (Do you know what I received for Teacher’s Appreciation Day last year? A bottle of Sam’s Club water and a Crystal Light packet. Sure, there was this little paper decal of a knight…)

·       On Thanksgiving, you played bumper cars with a family member’s vehicle because he/she parked you in, but you are still keeping the event under the radar in hopes that he/she won’t notice. (Anybody care to guess who I hit?)

·       Ten years ago, you collected swords and armor. Today, you forge swords and armor in Skyrim. When you’re finished, you bitch about the graphics in real life. Skyrim might seem like a luxury, but you have to consider that it’s 200+ hours of entertainment for $60. This is to tide you over because you haven’t been to the movies, gone on a vacation, or had any kind of outing without your kids in at least three years. In fact, when the Fates conspire so that you take only your spouse to Wal-Mart (or the hospital), you refer to this as “date night”. (Replace Skyrim with Dragon’s Dogma or Dark Souls, and it’s essentially the same thing.)

·       Your favorite bedtime story is Go the %#@* to Sleep! Then you have nightmares in which your creditors write your obituary. (Now I fall asleep to The Walking Dead and have nightmares about my publisher getting eaten by zombies before the anthology can be released.)

·       You’re considering revealing the true identity of Santa Claus to your young children just so they pay you some respect. “Hey, kiddies? You see that robotic horse with the mane made from orphans’ hair that really whinnies and poops plastic turds all over the carpet? Santa and his gender confused little helpers didn’t make that shit. I paid for it out of my recession salary. So who’s magical now? THIS bearded fat guy.” (My eight year old still believes in Santa Claus. She’s pretty much the only kid in the third grade that does. She was devastated the other day because her teacher told her that the toothy fairy should be filed under ‘fiction’ on a genre worksheet. Em says we should have one more Christmas before we break her heart, but considering that little Aurie also believes in Thor, I’m starting to wonder…)

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Arizona Students Not Worth a Red Cent

All the wind beaten political signs on Hunt Highway carry the aspects of Christmas lights left up well into January.

In truth, it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours since the poll results came in, yet as I drive by to pick up my girls from school, I can’t help but feel this way. I’m worried about them. I’m worried about my job.

All these useless signs–Prop 204: Quality Education and Jobs, Vote “Yes” on the Florence Override, Invest in Our Future–flap with their crumpled corners and broken spines in the wake of my CR-V, which is in far worse repair. The election is ancient history, and my role in this town just might be as well.

This morning, I lobbied with Arizona’s newest “special interest group” according to the state government officials who spent millions to defeat Prop 204. The lobby was my classroom–the special interest group, my students.

“How are you doing this morning, Mr. Pike?” one of them asked, and I wanted to explode.

How the hell do you think I’m doing? I wanted to scream. I haven’t had a raise in five years, and your parents don’t value your education enough to pass a goddamn one cent tax increase! And they voted down our override to boot! 

In truth, my senior students, who are nearly voting age, did get a milder version of this. I’ve never been one to sugarcoat. But before I got too heated (getting wiser at the ripe old age of 30 I guess), I realized that as much as this election is going to hurt my wallet, I’m not the real victim here. After all, I can leave the field of education. I could even leave Arizona if I wished. These kids, on the other hand, are at the extreme business end of the proverbial political hatchet.

Arizona is getting to be a downright abysmal place to receive a public education. For years, we’ve been ranked 49th in the nation in terms of the fiscal amount that state governments fund each student. The feds haven’t done much better by us. My district, which includes a dusty prison town “historically” positioned in the middle of nowhere, is still receiving federal aid based on figures from the year 2000 Census–twelve years later.

This is my sixth year out here, and with a masters degree and taking on Theatre Arts for a salary bump (which doesn’t even cover my girls’ health insurance), I gross less than $40,000 a year. This year, to try and augment our pitiful salaries, my superintendent (who recently took a salary cut) applied for a grant that would enable us to receive performance pay, but despite successfully implementing the program in our district, the funds were yanked out from under our noses because our low income students aren’t performing poorly enough.

Yeah, you heard me right.

But we’re sticking to the program because that’s called integrity, kids. I-n-t-e-g-r-i-t-y. Now spell it back to me…

There are plenty of other programs that we unfortunately won’t be able to stick to in the years to come. Even football, the one activity this town reveres with all the misguided fervor of Silent Hill cultists, is in jeopardy. Our students already pay $100 per sport, and next year this figure will probably double. If I’m not laid off by then, I’m sure I’ll be facing classrooms with 40 or more students and no textbooks. (We took the technology plunge and integrated laptops into our instructional model, but they’re going out on us after four years of all the punishment teenagers can dole out.)

And all because this state decided that a one cent sales tax was too big of an investment in our future.

The craziest part about all this? I’m not sure I want to leave teaching. Even with publication looming and the hope of more of the same, I know in my heart that I’ve made a bigger difference in these six years as a teacher than I ever will as a writer. My Facebook is primarily composed of students that have graduated. My greatest joy other than my family is hearing from one of these grads that English 101 is easy–No, really, Mr. Pike, a total joke compared to your class. My greatest heroes are teachers and professors who put me on the path, educators who saw something more in me than a big mouthed know-it-all and challenged me to excel not only as a student, but as a man.

So with their example in mind, I came to work in a suit of armor for Le Morte d’Arthur, dressed up like Satan for Paradise Lost, encouraged kids to ditch Calculus to see the choreographed fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff… Hell, to defend Chuck Palahniuk’s place as a writer of literary merit, I even got into a sumo suit and beat the snot out of an administrator and an annoying Economics teacher at a Homecoming assembly. (The administrator later informed me that I broke his rib. Don’t f— with Chuck.)

It wasn’t all antics. I helped put the International Baccalaureate program in place at my school. My Advanced Placement scores are the stuff of local legend. I helped my colleagues, who are just as overworked and underpaid as I am, transform an underperforming school where lockdowns were a weekly occurrence into the only A ranked high school in Pinal County.

Sure, it was work. Hard work. I left ghostwriting for this field thinking I would write my own novels over the breaks, and that hasn’t exactly happened. (I have some students attempting NaNoWriMo that are ahead of me at present.) But if any of this made one more student care about the written word, it was worth it to me.

It’s still worth it to me. It’s a damn shame it isn’t worth it to Arizona. The thought of my two little girls not being able to have art or music is downright despicable. The thought of not being able to feed them–my very own “special interest group”–is worse. It’s no wonder that when I teach The Great Gatsby, my students balk at the concept of the American Dream.

If you’re somewhere where you can see this–I don’t care if it’s Arizona or the UK or Malaysia–do everything in your power to support your local students. Whatever the issues are with your country’s economy, robbing the next generation of their right to a decent education will only make things worse. Governments make less in taxes when damn near everyone is counted amongst the poor.

It’s a simple equation, really. Maybe some of these politicians should go back to school.

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