‘Are you employed, sir?’

The late, great David Huddleston as The Big Lebowski.

Employed, sir? No, I was not, despite my prestigious cowtown B.A. in journalism with a minor in political science.

And had my parents been foolish enough to borrow money to put me through college(s) — funds that were largely pounded down a noisome rathole of booze, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, cartooning, and Communism — they would’ve rejoiced to see any amount of the hellish debt forgiven and immediately invested a portion of the windfall on having me quietly killed.

Especially after they saw the homemade “colors” my bro’ Mike “Mombo” Brangoccio and I were sporting on the back of our graduation gowns:

“Mombo Club: Born To Pump Gas.”

Ay, Chihuahua. These kids today. Yesterday. Whatevs.

Your Humble Narrator, circa 1977.

Our mob flew two banners. The Mombo Club mostly free-ranged around Greeley, where we infested the University of Northern Colorado like hairy roaches. El Rancho Delux was rooted in a ramshackle house with an overloaded septic system on what must’ve been the last surviving chunk of rural land in Glendale, a stoner’s throw from the Bull & Bush, Shotgun Willie’s, and the Riviera Lounge, whose “credit manager,” Adolf Scarf, was a piranha sulking in a tank behind the bar.

But the less said about our fraternal organizations the better. I don’t know how (or if) my co-conspirators paid for their educations, but several of our Little Urban Achievers have become respectable members of their communities, and certain statutes of limitations may have yet to run their course.

A tad unfocused, not unlike the graduates.

As for me, my long-suffering parents paid for my schooling, such as it was. When I transferred to UNC they even bought me a used singlewide trailer to live in, no doubt thinking I’d need to get used to such accommodations.

I did have to raise funds for incidentals. Thus I sold drugs, drew cartoons for my college papers, delivered appliances with “Star Trek” addict Ed the Beard in a Step van dubbed “The Hawkwind,” and (with Mombo) did odd jobs for a posh trouser stain who motored around town in a right-hand-drive Bentley.

All I invested in my degree was time and a few jillion brain cells. Not even the president can get those back for me.

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29 Responses to “‘Are you employed, sir?’”

  1. Chris Says:

    I deny everything. Wasn’t even on this planet in those days, let alone Greeley or Denver. Nope. Not me.

  2. khal spencer Says:

    Harumph. If I knew Sleepy Joe was gonna forgive my loans, I wouldn’t have paid them back so quickly. Heck, there were motorcycles to buy and beer to drink.

    Not to mention, I might have taken out a few more loans during my own rather sketchy undergraduate career in what my department chair commended as “..our only graduate with three majors: Frisbee, Genesee Beer, and Geology”. Thankfully, he left off the part about my letter from the Dean threatening to toss me in the ditch for my significantly sub- 2.0 semester.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this. We bamboozled a lot of people into thinking a kollege degwee was the meal ticket. We didn’t tell them that vulture capitalism and outsourcing were gonna pull the rug out from under the economy that the whole idea was built on.

    But there is always the need for Starbucks baristas to quote Lenin and Shakespeare. As long as they don’t try to unionize.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It’s interesting to read the smart people on this one. At the NYT Paul Krugman is kinda-sorta for it. At The Atlantic Tom Nichols thinks it’s an own-goal for Sleepy Joe that rewards a small cadre of elitists who should already be locked into the base and gives the Repugs a frog in a sink to shoot.

      I don’t have a mutt in this tussle, since I didn’t pay for my own education and don’t have kids. But I lean a bit toward Tom’s side. It’s a typically Democratic sort of move, something that requires explanation and argument. You can’t dial it down to a bumper sticker.

      Meanwhile, when I was putting my B.A. to work at The Pueblo Chieftain about half the bartenders at The Irish Pub were failed philosophy majors from the local “university” and the J-schools were still cranking out would-be scribes though the writing was already on the wall and often misspelled.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I think Tom Nichols nailed it right, left, and center.

        As Tom says, this latest bailout is chump change compared to the subprime bailout and other bailouts that went to high rollers. But still, the idea that there are no consequences for not thinking things through, and expecting a bailout with someone else’s money, seems to be a national core value. I don’t like it. And, it does reek of pandering to the base. Used to be the Dem base was working class. Which is how I got into the Donk party, given we were all kids living in union homes where the old man worked in the factory all day. I loved the smell of blast furnaces in the morning. That’s what paid the bills. There was something pretty cool about driving over the Skyway Bridge along Lake Erie and seeing steel being made right before your eyes.

        And yep, I did pay my college IOUs off as fast as I could. I hate owing money and tend to live below my means. Maybe its because both my parents were kids of the Great Depression, and both lost their fathers at a young age and had to scramble to succeed. Neither went to college, and neither got a Federal bailout.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Another Atlantic piece on this subject from Tom Nichols. https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/08/the-trouble-with-boutique-colleges/671266/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          Just read that one this morning (I get Tom’s newsletter). Spot on.

          I wanted to go to CU-Boulder, but thank Cthulhu I didn’t have the grades, though I crushed the ACT and SAT (I was renowned for failing to apply myself but always tested well). I’d have gotten lost up there.

  3. Shawn Says:

    Would it be “insider finagling” if I admitted to quickly borrowing $10K in gov’ment money six months ago to pay for my University of Mira-Dog-O greenskeeper schooling? Loan debt? No, Uncle Joe is gonna take care of me. Oh, and that greenskeeping career; I think I may be looking for new work. The scuttlebutt is that for some top secret reason, they may be shuttering Mira-Dog-O.

    But my position on the issue of loan debt forgiveness is of an uninformed opinion. I suspect from a macroeconomic standpoint, it’s a good idea. But as an old brick-and-mortar student of freshman weed-out university, I can’t help but be critical of young adults that financially commit to something that they may not have the capacity to achieve and utilize. We all have our talents and some of us are not capable of producing advanced social programs, creating artistic masterpieces, treating cancer patients, developing advanced spacecraft or whipping up master class culinary delights. I chose and benefited from a university education that allowed me lower interest (5%) student loans and a very reasonable tuition cost. If I would have been smart enough, which I wasn’t, I could have received 50% off of my loan debt if I had resided in the university’s state for at least 5 years. Ironically, 6 years after graduating, I did return to the state for employment.

    As with what appears to be your academic story, I also had a raucous university education of alcohol and early morning nights that led to a lesser than desired GPA and a lengthy undergrad residency. Somehow most of my cohorts in this adventure, not including myself who jumped off the career train a generation back, turned out to be reasonably successful and well respected individuals of society. I’m proud of them.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I doubt that I would’ve gone back to school to finish my journalism degree had I not gotten that copyboy gig at the Colorado Springs Sun. The city editor, the late, great Carl Miller, said the degree was basically tits on a boar hog and that I’d learn more at a newspaper in one year than in four years of J-school.

      But managing editor Kay Woestendiek said I needed some sort of sheepskin to be anything other than a copyboy (or a paperboy), and I was already two years into the journalism degree, so when I went back to college I got right back after it, though Carl recommended switching to business, law, or anything else that would make me more valuable to a newspaper.

      The degree was my ticket to ride, officially. And Adams State College and the University of Northern Colorado sold it to me, with an assist from Kay. But what actually got me aboard was that year at the Sun and the connections I made there, which helped me land my first two real newspaper jobs. That, and finally knowing what I wanted to do for a living.

  4. carl duellman Says:

    No dogs in this fight either. I went to community college twice. My parents paid the first time and I paid the second time. I was lazy and unmotivated then and I still am so I’m glad I wasted no one’s time by going to the University. I’m happy for whoever gets a check from the government for whatever reason.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Herself figures she had $12K in loans for her English degree, which didn’t dollar up on the hoof real good. Took her eight years to pay that down.

      The masters in library and information science cost another $15K, which we raised through a couple scholarships and tapping an IRA. So no debt there.

      But god damn, was she ever not lazy or unmotivated like you and me. She worked like a rented mule to get the sheepskin and then set about making money like a counterfeiter with a meth habit.

      The only way to make fat stacks like that in the newspaper game is to own a few hundred of the sonsabitches.

  5. John Levy Says:

    I borrowed the princely sum of $2500.00 to finish up my BA degree from good old moo U (Colorado State University) while working 25 hours a week washing dishes at a dormitory for #3.15 / hour, This was in 1975 / 1976 I paid it off in three years at $75.00 per month. However there were no trips to Cancun for spring break nor new cars, I drove a 1968 Chevy Bel Air I bought from a state auction for $300.00 buck with 95,000 miles on the odometer. No forgiveness from the United Bank of Denver. I have reservations about how the process will take place. If students went to a trump university type place or the ivy league, there is no money for that. Making the choice, you have to to live with it, suck it up buttercup. Now public schools or graduate programs may depend on the circumstances. Think that I can’t be responsible for stupid crap other people have done. I screwed up enough by myself and paid the ticket, Sound like a frickin’ elefink, but dammit somewhere along the way got to carry your own water.

  6. Chuck Carver Says:

    Love your blog Pat.

  7. Charles Carver Says:

    Best part of The Mirror! Chuck Carver

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Chuck. I still can’t believe how long it took them to fire me. I was thinking I’d have to draw a pastor boinking a black goat at Friday Afternoon Club or something.

  8. Herb from Michigan Says:

    I’m a Lebowski, you’re a Lebowski that’s terrific. But I have no mixed feelings about the student loan issue. While I think it’s grand to give actual/factual students a break; I think that does less than zero to alleviate the insane cost acceleration of higher education. All I see on this end of the telescope is universities outspending each other on more campus spread (buildings) and more use of adjunct “professors”. I can’t help but associate college with Wall Street. Greed on top of more greed when they have billions in their endowments. Don’t get me started on what coaches and college presidents pull down per year….

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      “Yeah, well, y’know, that’s just like, uh, your opinion, man.”

      Which just happens to be spot on, according to a piece in the NYT:

      Others have argued that while the relief could help many people, it does not address the underlying problems of how expensive college has become. Some economists have even warned the move could encourage colleges and universities to raise prices with the federal government footing the bill.

      • khal spencer Says:

        From what I saw in my daze as a university faculty member, one could never count on a university to control costs. Offering the colleges Uncle Sam’s checkbook would be like giving me an unlimited credit card in someone else’s name and setting me loose in a gun shop or bike shop.

        My old dean at the U of Hawaii offered to cut one of our programs once after doing an analysis of all the departments in our school. He was practically fired over that idea, because everybody in that field called in their political friends. Instead, they cut the maintenance budget. I still remember putting on old clothing and fixing the air handler for my laboratory myself.

    • Pat O’Brien Says:

      Herb, agree this action treats the symptom not the disease. Free community college for all would go a long way to fix it. We saw how that idea plays in past elections.

      • Shawn Says:

        Yeah I agree with Community College. It’s really the life blood of higher education at a fraction of the cost. It also benefits a lot more communities that are able to have a community college. They also allow students that weren’t able to qualify for university admission, to take preliminary courses and find out if they now have the post-high school work ethic and the academic ability to step up to a university.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Just an aside. CC is a fraction of the cost because the workload is brutal. Faculty teach, teach, and teach. There is typically little time for professional improvement so one tries to read or do a little research in the summer, when one is not teaching. That’s when my wife buried herself in literature. And that 9 month salary is typically paid out over 11 months, so the monthly check ain’t so big.

          Plus, at least in Hawaii, the CC faculty salaries were lower than at the Univ center because they were….just CC faculty, and often reminded they were second tier. As a second aside, when we moved to NM and my wife, with 20 years of a CC professorship and a stint as a program manager running all of remedial studies on her C.V., once came home in a huff and said she would not work for what the clowns at UNM would pay her. Wow. It is even worse here. She got a job at LANL.

          My last full year at the U of Hawaii was 2001, and I was on the Board of Directors of the faculty union. We were in a pretty bitter strike. That was the year I went over the hood of a pickup truck while a picket captain on a picket line. To make a long story short, I voted to give the CC faculty a better deal on workload and salary, since I thought we at the University Center had a good deal, with higher salaries and less teaching vs. more time following our bliss.

          There is no free lunch. CC tuition can be free or remain low because someone is taking one for the team, and it ain’t the administrators or politicians. Just like K-12, CC faculty are undervalued and underpaid. We need to value teaching for its own contributions rather than rank it second tier to a “Carnegie I research university” where I worked. Both are important. You don’t contribute to a Carnegie I unless you learn something first. I still tip my hat to my 9th Grade Earth Science teacher, Mr. Milton Babcock, for turning me on to science and teaching me the scientific method in a manner that I don’t think anyone has improved on since.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Community college is the shit. There might actually be a job at the end of your course of study. Herself spent a couple years as a librarian at Pikes Peak Community College (though she was a graduate of a high-zoot masters program at DU).

        Meanwhile, how about apprenticeships? There’s an old notion that should get new legs. Learn on the job, from a master, with your pay at least partially subsidized by the State in some fashion.

        And hey, whaddaya know? The Department of Labor is on the job. How come we never hear anything about this?

        • Pat O’Brien Says:

          I don’t know, but that program should be publicized in all high school and post secondary schools. Seems I remember that labor unions were big supporters of apprenticeships. I was offered a 4 year union tool and die maker machinist apprenticeship at Johnson Outboard Motors after I had worked there for a year after high school. Decided not to take it because I wanted to be a computer programmer/operator like my girlfriend. Worked out OK, but who knows what would have happened had I accepted; It came with a student draft deferment. You come to a fork in the road, and you make a choice.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          This way or that way? From little acorns, etc. We look back and with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight we spot the various inflection points that nudged our lives in one direction or another. Were we geniuses, eejits, or just rudderless boats adrift in the Great River?

          • Shawn Says:

            “I made my choices and I will live with them!” I believe Sir John Franklin said something like that.

            Rudder? I broke that off years ago and gave it to somebody else for use as a patch in their deteriorating boat. Besides, the water was flowing smoothly going in the direction I wanted and the old parchment I rigged as a sail seemed to be working well. Things were never going to change and I knew that I had the ability to handle the cascades and sweepers. I sure wish though, that I would have thought to toss that paddle in as backup and some stronger cording that would have held the parchment longer. Then the river braided and I thought the deeper water would be the best choice. I’m not sure though. It sure is calm and deep. Is that the wind I hear kicking up. Where is that beer bottle that I use for baling. Boy I sure could use one of those outboards that POB mentions.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Back when my better half and I were in the UH system, community college was dirt cheap, or as my spouse, who taught there said, “you kids spend more for a pair of shoes than for a class”. If CC went back to being more trade school-ish, that would help too. Meena’s school taught the LPN stuff, auto mechanic stuff, legal assistant certificates, as well as being a cheap and effective way to get one’s freshman and sophomore credits general ed requirements under the belt and then transferring to the university.

        Some will treat it like K-14, others will take it seriously. I think the bigger problem is getting kids and college presidents serious about their student’s futures.

        But the flip side is what are state legislators willing to pay for? As Tom Nichols said in the Atlantic piece, getting a niche degree in an irrelevant field doesn’t pay the tax bills with a good job. I would expect to see fewer irrelevant electives if CC is free and if we draw down the cost of four year schools. And oh, boy, watch the faculty howl. “Waddaya mean I can’t teach medieval Corsican poetry as part of my workload requirement and that I have to teach Bonehead English instead?? Not fair!!”

        Heh. Been in that pond. It needed more chlorine.

    • JD Says:

      Herb: I looked up the top 20 US university endowment numbers (as of 2021) and they ranged from $6 BILLION to 50-PLUS BILLION $$$. One, at least I, must ask whether fiduciary responsibility to preserve the endowment corpus and excessive cupidity have any moral boundaries/limits. ???

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        I guess it depends on what their mission is. Educate kids in a variety of disciplines and give them the basic communication and critical thinking skills they need? Or is it to keep the ivy trimmed, the riff raff out, and the pro sports program going?

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