Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Age and Envy

I received the alumni quarterly today. It's still addressed to me in Phoenicia, N.Y., a holdover from my three years (1988-91) spent allegedly attending graduate school, and mostly drinking beer and Scotch while taking target practice with a .22 rifle.

The class notes have always been a source of angst. Reading about the incredible success of people I know for a fact were brain-dead, spoiled, hedonistic low-life pond scum - with huge trust funds - while I was student teaching in a war zone high school in Kingston, N.Y., driving an American Motors-era Jeep pickup with the exciting "exploding engine" feature and trying to write like Jack Kerouac on a manual typewriter - and instead writing like a sozzled chump with nothing better to do than drink beer and Scotch and shoot trees between masturbation sessions - no, this did nothing for my ego.

I had quite a collection of skin mags in those days. There was a convenience store up Route 28 toward Fleischmanns that sold three-fers: a trio of outdated, gnarly publications, one of which was in black and white and printed on mimeograph paper left over from the Korean War.

They had names like "Spank City," "Gypsy Dildoes" and "Lesbo Hotseats." I think they were from Bulgaria.

And somehow I didn't think that the guys with first-name last names -
Kendall Jeffers ("Gator") Robinson '85 - who had just wrapped up their latest merger, or bought an island in the South Pacific, or inked a five-novel deal with Doubleday - I didn't believe they were spending their late February afternoons staring glumly at the darkening sky, the wind-blasted landscape, and the perpetual sleet of a Catskill winter through the glaucoma-like haze induced by single-malt whiskey, cheap cigars and four mil plastic over the windows to keep the heat in, with only a three-year old copy of "Toes! Toes! Toes!" for company.

But for some reason this latest issue of the alumni magazine is not inspiring the same kind of crazed envy. For instance, how can I get worked up over this item?

Roger Prawn '82 is co-owner of The Flower Fields, Carlsbad, Calif. In 1998, Roger outbid actor Paul Rubens (PeeWee Herman) to purchase three Santa's Village structures and 11 mushrooms from an amusement park near Lake Arrowhead. He's hoping Baby Boomers like himself who grew up visiting the amusements will want to come to show their children and grandchildren...

If this is who I think it is, he must have continued his undergraduate habits and be through at least four of the mushrooms by now. It sounds fantastic in the literal sense, and would make a hell of a good story, but as the inspiration of good old-fashioned envy it's not cutting it.

Compare it to my entry, if I ever rate one:

Patrick L. Sullivan '84 is working as a reporter for a little weekly paper in Connecticut. He fly-fishes every chance he gets, wears a coat and tie to work and occasionally hangs around with a rather nice girl. He has no wife, no family, no dog and almost no regrets that can be mentioned in an alumni publication.

I think ol' Rog will be envying me, if he ever snaps out of his psilocybin delirium. Although I must confess to a certain sneaking admiration for a guy who outbid a convicted weenie-wagging Z-list celeb for a field full of worthless junk and believes that his fellow late-blooming Boomers will make his insane project a vacation destination.

Anyway, life ain't so bad. It's more or less as I describe it above; since I stopped drinking I haven't been arrested or gotten my head stuck in the cole slaw at the Fourth of July picnic; I have friends and do things, and I have a whole mess of new little cousins to corrupt - talking books and fishing and whatnot. I get all the fun of being a parent and none of the responsibility, which suits my slacker ass just fine.

I don't make any money, but there's a bright side to that, too. As someone put it today (in a church basement, if you get my drift), "I don't worry about the stock market - all my money is tied up in long-term debt."

I must be getting old if the class notes in the alumni magazine don't send me leaping into the void. Or mature.

Or something.


Tony Ventresca said...

That was one of the best posts you've ever made. See? The book is in you, as I've been saying for a while. Hard-boiled on the outside, soft as pre-washed supima cotton on the inside.

Anyway, regarding alumni newsletters, you're in print and therefore immortal, in a way, whereas those former classmates that are more "successful" than you are really just automatons copying what the guy one step ahead of them just did. That's not living, that's working. They might be better paid, but who the hell remembers the name of any investment bankers other than Warren Buffet? Fuck those guys.

Kim said...

We get both the general alum magazine and the j-school mag, and I'm always tempted to send my latest accomplishments to the j-school publication. Can't you see this tucked in between the "vp at saatchi&saatchi in London" and "executive editor of the Times-Picayune"...."MOTR, '85, drives in circles around town all day, moves piles of crap from one place to another in her house, and writes an outstanding Christmas letter."

44 said...

I graduated from a high-toned small NE liberal arts college and proceeded to parlay my fancy degree into a 35 year stint as an English teacher and football/track coach at my hometown high school. Over the years, the most frequent question I've heard from fellow alums was, "So, are you still teaching?" Based on my level of residual antipathy for the source of the query, I would either answer the question or reply, "Yeah, are you still a __________ (insert doctor...lawyer...bond trader, et. al.)?"

The overwhelming majority of those on the on the receiving end of that reply hadn't the slighest clue as to why I just might be pissed at their question.

initials CG said...

This one made my night!

Makes me feel all warm inside there are some real human beings out there!!

Patrick said...

Maybe if I write a successful book I will achieve the impossible - worldly experience and a great big pile of moola.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Damn, Sullivan, that was an awesome post. More, please.

Giuseppe said...

That's kinda how I feel when I get the invitations to the reunion at my hoty-toity Jesuit high school, and I think "this could be fun", and then i notce that tickets are $300. And then it occurs to me that anyone I crae to see from those days I still talk to regularly.

Besides, most of those guys made fun of me for dressing like a weirdo, and in that regard, little has changed.

Tucker said...

Wonderful post, although I think it actually read better with the original, odd fonts.

Chin up. I'm of the opinion that most of the alumni newsletter updates are pure fabrication. If not, those folks are generally under too much pressure. Tony's got it right, and most of 'em would trade places with you in a heartbeat.