"What a pile of codswallop!"

Salon readers on rabid conservatives, randy senior citizens and impoverished 20-somethings.


Salon Staff
June 6, 2003 2:25AM (UTC)

[Read "For Poorer and for Poorer," by Suzy Hansen.]

I really enjoyed this article, but it's not just the "young" that are going through this, and it's not just this "new" recession. Sure, if you went into computers, IT, etc., you had a shot at the big life, but when I graduated in 1992 it was during another great Republican recession, and many graduates couldn't find jobs. I sure couldn't, what with my utterly useless humanities degree, so I went to graduate school. In journalism. No jobs there, so it's 2003 and now I'm in law school, and about to graduate during the worst recession ever. And now all my education makes me totally unemployable. But if I take it off my résumé, then what have I been doing all these years? Sleeping like Rip Van Winkle? Doing time?

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Another thing I'd like to point out is that the "boom" times missed a lot of the country entirely. Like New Mexico and Arizona. No boom here. People with Ph.D.'s are fighting over $7-an-hour telemarketing jobs. And those are the good jobs.

Suzy quoted one woman who said, "If it was me I'd get a job at McDonald's." Well, I'd like to see her try! Do you think the 19-year-old store manager wants to hire a bitter, desperate 30-ish ex-marketing manager to work the drive-thru? That would just be hiring a big problem that will quit as soon as something better comes along. And of course the minimum-wage pay would hardly help anyway. Believe me, I've tried to get "regular" jobs at the mall, serving food, etc., but would you hire a 33-year-old woman with 11 years of postgraduate education and practically no job experience, to do anything at all? Wouldn't you just be wondering what the hell is wrong with her that she still hasn't gotten her life together?

So, yeah, here I am unemployed, unmarried and broke, still the starving student at 33. And so is my partner, only he's 38. Yeah, we have low self-esteem, depression, stress, anxiety, etc., and we wonder all the time, What is wrong with us?! Why are we such losers? Is it the economy? The Republicans? Bad timing? Bad brains? Is there a pill for this? Why are we working so hard for nothing? I know heroin addicts who have a better lifestyle than we do, not to mention more free time.

God, if only I were a plumber! By the time I've finished law school I'll have $138,000 in student loans, and $11,000 in credit cards to pay off. My partner is in about the same shape. I don't need a financial calculator to tell me we are screwed. Mistake after mistake after mistake. The wrong major, the wrong city, the wrong thing at the wrong time, wrong advice from friends and family -- Stay in school! It's "good" debt! -- but most of all, the wrong dreams. Dreams of being somebody better, doing something besides working at the car wash. Now the car wash won't even hire me.

-- Veronica Hirsch

I just finished reading "For Poorer and for Poorer," and I'm aching. Literally. Here I sit at my dream job, a challenging and well-paid position perfectly within my field, a job I had to move 500 miles for, but a job I know was made for me. At home, my partner, doing freelance. Or most days, what passes for freelance: scouting ads, trying to get into new networking groups, just being depressed.

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What your article doesn't say is how heart-wrenching it can be to be the successful one. Friends and family laud my achievements; my partner was laid off from tech jobs twice in three months, and that was three years ago. Since then, he's either been barely employed with freelance work or working very hard in a demeaning, boring job where the most equity he built up was a bad back. When I was laid off, and he was working that awful job, at least we were equals. Suddenly I'm thrust into the unwanted role of judge, supervisor, mother, provider, and most unwanted of all, role model.

The unemployment numbers tell a variety of horrific stories, but there is a bigger trend behind the trend: the underemployed getting a taste of what blue-collar workers drown in every day, and losing the will to struggle. Everything we assumed to be true our whole lives -- it will work out somehow -- turns out to be a palliative. My story is probably one of economic recovery, sudden up trends in certain households. But I have to tell you I resent being the one dragging him upward.

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-- Name withheld

Wah! Although I do agree that times are tough, I really don't feel sorry for these young couples. For some reason, people of my generation -- Im 29 -- feel that we are instantly entitled to a mortgage, our own car, a fabulous career in our early 20s. We feel that we deserve to live the lifestyles our parents are living now. But how many of us had parents that were able to buy a house and have a car each when they were in their 20s? They struggled then -- they lived in cramped apartments, fed us mac & cheese, and worked hard for the wealth they have today. We're a generation that expects the best -- instantly, without pain or hard work. Our parents made it through (well, some did) and worked their way up to what they have today. For some reason, it's a shock for those in my generation to have to go through the same hardships (including monthly sex). Welcome to real life, kids!

-- Jen S.

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A diamond is not necessary for a wedding. A caterer is not necessary for a wedding. An expensive dress or any dress at all is not necessary for a wedding. All that is necessary is a loving couple and a wedding license, which cost me $60 two and half years ago. I am so sick of this mentality that people cannot get married without thousands of dollars to spend on material things! I have to question which is more important to them: a lifelong commitment made between two mature, loving people, or the opportunity to show off to their friends and get piles of presents.

Another thing that I could not believe about this article is that having one car, a 1997 Ford Escort, is something to be sad about. My husband and I share a 1993 Geo Prism and have felt grateful for it because it has allowed us to save money. If your fiancé lost his job and you work in San Jose, why are you still living in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities on the planet? What is wrong with these people? I am so sick of this yuppie mentality.

-- Jamie Casey

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While I was reading this story, I tried to remember what it was like to be young and under- or unemployed and feel some sympathy for the couples in this article. I just couldn't do it. I also swore that as I got older, I would never start any sentence with, "When I was younger..." So, I've lost my empathy and am breaking my promise.

Get out there and work two jobs, or three jobs if you have to (I did). Get married at City Hall, wear a dress you already own, take your parents out to lunch afterward, and go back to work the next day (I did). Work full time and go to school full time at night to train for something (I did). Walking is great exercise; you don't need to join a gym and you can lose 50 pounds (I did).

Right now my husband and I are doing very well. I also know that in this economy, the situation could change at any time. If it does, I will work two or three jobs, or whatever I have to do to get by. I won't spend my days in bed, depressed, eating too much and fighting with my husband.

Quit wishing things were different and go out and make them different.

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-- Margaret Lannen

[Read "Matrimony, Motherhood and Wooden Characters," by Laurie Abraham.]

Without the benefits that came to Crittenden due to her own mother's divorce and remarriage, would Crittenden have spent much of her teens writing book reviews and features and traveling the globe? Magazine work doesn't pay very well -- who funded the bill? Mother's mighty better-second-marriage tree? Why not just come out say that being heir to good fortune might for some people preempt years of the hard work needed to make one's way to the top?

Not looking forward to the whining sequel in which it is discovered that Amada's Mighty Tree is mighty bored. But surely that book will never be written, because if Crittenden's husband were to divorce her in order to fund the way of another woman's family, how could she object, given what she benefited from her mother's second choice?

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Sheesh. What a pile of codswallop.

-- Cathleen Fitzgerald

Crittenden couldn't possible have thought of something more offensive? Her harsh criticism of stay-at-home fathers (the most offensive of all the right-wing drivel in this lackadaisical novel) is completely unrealistic. And I speak from experience.

I had the right-wing upbringing so extolled by her. My mom stayed at home while my father brought home the bacon. Oftentimes, when I see the more active fathers of today, I find myself wishing that mine had not left so much of the affection to Mom while he pursued his bread-winning strategies. It might have given us some chance of closeness, which we've never had. Perhaps it might have even salvaged their marriage, which after 30 years, withered under the weight of "traditional" family roles.

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Walk a mile in our shoes, Crittenden, for we are the results of right-wing family-values breakdown. Happiness found in such small-minded cliques is fleeting and destructive. It leads to broken homes and broken bonds.

-- Rosana J.

I'm a stay-at-home dad who'd be happy to beat the crap out of Amanda's axis-of-weasel "mighty tree." If she'd care to test her thesis about "liberal" dads, she should send the little man over. If it turns out that weasel tastes like chicken (any doubters?), we could put him in net, and the son I've raised and I could shoot pucks at him to see just how mighty a tree he is.

I'm guessing he'd turn out to be a sapling willow, as much a figment of Danielle Crittenden's imagination as the rest of the "conservative" social fantasy.

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--Mike Barry

Wow! Danielle Crittenden's new novel is rife with stereotypes, ludicrously overdrawn characters who represent what she is against (liberals), and just plain bad writing. Welcome to women's popular fiction! I will read it anyway. At least it won't be that crap that Oprah has tried to fob off on America as literary art. But buried underneath the scorn Abraham heaps upon the book is an idea that deserves more scrutiny by middle-class, educated women (who tend to marry late). Young marriage and parenting is not a bad idea for everyone. This country needs a discussion on this.

For example, where are the divorce statistics on people who marry at, say, 24 and have kids by 30? Every time I ask people where the evidence is that marrying young is bad, they instantly talk about 18-year-olds. But they aren't what I am talking about. For the record: I married at 21, had a kid at 23. I am well-educated, so is my husband. He's a "mighty tree," but in a less expensive forest. Our only child is graduating in a week and going to college, which we will pay for. We are only 41. Life is great.

Crittenden may be a no-talent propagandist, but isn't it possible she is on to something?

-- Kate Wolford

[Read "Sex and the Senior Citizen," by Sheerly Avni.]

Jane Juska is my heroine. Once again, she shows that knowing exactly what you want -- and having the courage to seek it -- is sexier than anything else.

If you want to see Ms. Juska's literary antecedent, I suggest you check out Somerset Maugham's short story "Jane." Maugham's Jane, like Jane Juska, reinvented herself, stayed true to herself (note her flat refusal to wear makeup, or to lie), and confidently refused to let her hidebound relation, Mrs. Tower, dictate her life. (It was so eerie to read Sheerly Avni's account of her day with Jane Juska. At times, Ms. Avni sounded very much like a modern-day Mrs. Tower, as Jane took a sledgehammer to her preconceptions.)

Again, here's to Jane Juska. I hope she reads Maugham!

-- Tamara Baker

Sheerly Avni's profile/interview with Jane Juska is sort of amazing. On the one hand, Avni comes off as somewhat damning throughout, and yet there's a generosity that shines through. Sort of like Juska's embrace of her own pleasure in men and sex. Despite irritation with Avni's heavy voice, I found myself charmed and moved. It's an amazingly sweet and lovely piece.

-- Jonathan Field

Jane Juska is my newest hero. How wonderful to read a woman of any age celebrate her sexuality with humor, sensuality, confidence and delicious chutzpah. Whether one is 17 or 97, there's nothing more empowering (or sexy) than being knowledgeable, comfortable and forthright about sexual desires.

-- Annie Burmeister


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