Monday, March 16, 2009

Party's Over

Being from the metropolitan New York area, the extravagant wealth of Wall Street wasn't some distant imagination of mine but something visible and tangible that I could see and (hopefully) one day experience first hand. Seeing it on the news everyday and meeting the fathers of friends who wore sharp suits and ties with crisp leather briefcases was a brief enough taste to make me want more...and to believe that I could not only taste it but even take a hearty bite.

As I grew up and the economy stalled and entered a dive it hasn't gotten out of yet, it became fairly evident that the extravagant wealth located on Wall Street was further than I previously believed, at least mentally. After a certain point, it was about as far from me as it was from the storekeeper in Lawrence, Kansas.

Reading the financial news sometimes makes a few of Shakespeare's tragedies downright cheery. I was only an infant when the last economically induced tragedy occurred on Wall Street. Even that didn't manage to leave such a wide swath of destruction. The current economic downturn now has seen the collapse of firms on Wall Street that had withstood several ups and downs, multiple terrorist attacks, the dot-com boom and bust. But due to some lending shenanigans, all of that is prologue.

Gone too are dreams and hopes of millions of Americans. There was a time when many thousands of people could have made a realistic play to be one of the multiple hordes on Wall Street, maybe even one of those who could have multiple homes only a Long Island Expressway ride apart. Now even the mere notion of being able to be a peon on the Great Wealthy Way has evaporated into the same air that retirements and dream homes and futures evaporated into.

Perhaps this is just a reminder for all of us that whatever rock we sit on, no matter how solid or adaptable, is never there permanently. It is only a matter of time before the winds of time and the streams of circumstances wash it away.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wash Your Pants

For another account of the following events, check it out here.

So I'm in my room studying for an exam. Next thing you know, my friend knocks on my door and says "My friend (let's call him "Jackson") just posted on his Facebook status that he's in the engineering building and some tall nerdy dude just turned on a computer and is watching porn." I thought, "Hm...that's odd." My friend adds, "I commented 'pics or it didn't happen' and he replied 'he's still doing it.'"

The first instinct isn't "Fucking ew." The first instinct is "INVESTIGATE." I promptly change into street clothes and put on shoes as fast as I can. I grab my digital camera.

We rush outside. We try to work out the quickest way there. We figure it out and head that way. On the way there, we run into a guy (let's call him "Johnny") outside the engineering building where the lab is smoking a cigarette. He says, "Hey, what's up?" We quickly and hurriedly reply "Uh...we're real busy. Catch you later."

On the way to the lab, my friend jokingly says "What if it was 'Johnny?'" I dismiss this. When we get there, "Jackson" tells us, in some graphic detail (too graphic for this somewhat family blog) what he did and where he did it. I see the computer he was at.

Why is this important? Because here, when you leave your terminal for a while and you're still logged in, the computer "locks" and it says "This computer has been locked by [so and so]."

So naturally, when I see the exact computer, I immediately think "A-HA! I can see who it is!" So I walk over to check it out to see who it is, out of curiosity. And I see the name. No. It's..."Johnny." No. No. The guy we saw outside smoking a cigarette. No. No. No. A guy my friend and I BOTH KNOW. No. No. No. NO!!!

I am not prepared for this. I was expecting some pale mouthbreather that you'd see outside the lone adult movie theater in the Fells Point neighborhood in Baltimore on a Sunday afternoon wearing a trench coat and rubber boots, or perhaps one of those guys on To Catch a Predator. That I could've expected. This...this is too too much for me.

Bells and whistles are going off in my head like none other. It's like freaking Notre Dame in Paris during a wedding up there. I have information that I can't just divulge. I can't just belt out "'Johnny' was just squeezing the cream out of his eclair" in public. No. I must privately tell my friends the ridiculous mind-blowing news.

Then, all of a sudden, "Johnny" comes back into the computer lab. Oh no. Johnny sees me at his terminal. I have the information and my friend, "Jackson," and "Jackson's" friend don't have the information. I have to make it back. I am caught snooping for evidence. This cannot go down with me. It must be known.

"Hey," I think. "I think he might not have noticed me. I can make a break for it." Which is what I did. "Johnny" took a step. I took a step. "Johnny" took a step. I took a step. We match each other step for step.

I manage to get back just as he gets to his terminal. The horror and shock engulfs me. This man had been touching himself in public inches from where I had just stood. A man that I know. The look of horror on my friend's face is evident as well.

We promptly leave to go outside and proceed to giggle our asses off. We recount our own "touching" stories. I mention I saw some fellow watch porn on his laptop in class while there was a film being shown.

When we return, "Johnny" is at it again. The video chat is fully on. There's some scantily clad ho on the screen doing things. His eyes are glued to the gyrations and self-caresses on the screen. I watch in horror and amusement. He gets excited and starts giggling himself. I can't stop laughing and giggling. I snort in a futile effort to stifle my amusement. I cough to cover it up. My throat is sore.

Another stranger is party to what is going on. "Johnny" is to this stranger's right hand side as he's, um, well, stretching the Johnson out. He hasn't looked to his right in about an hour. He looks horrified. I feel sympathy for him.

I decide to try to get a picture. Problem is that the camera makes noise when it takes a picture. So I step out of the lab to turn on the silent mode. I take a test picture of a sign. Quiet as a pin dropping. Perfect. I am going to win some sort of unofficial Pulitzer for this. Or at least have it put on CollegeHumor.

I go inside to try for the perfect angle without being too obvious to anyone else. I jostle, I fidget, I maneuver any which way to get the perfect angle of what's going on. No such luck. I just got cheated out of the image of the week: a dude yanking his doodle in public. My career as a photojournalist got cut short by my desire to remain incognito, much like some wildlife expert in the savanna, observing the wildlife in as undisturbed of an environment as possible.

Eventually "Johnny" gets wise to our leering eyes, and he throws up MATLAB as a cover. Just tosses it up and acts like he's working, when in actuality he's just moving the mouse around and pretending to work as a stalling tactic so he can go back to "Fantasy Sparkles" get her groove on in cyberspace. We sit there for a bit longer, and me and my friend decide to leave.

My friend and I are in amazement that the guy would continue to patron the virtual services of that nature even after he was clearly busted, literally, with his pants down. We both know that "Johnny" has a computer in his room.

Now I have watched a New York Giants game on the school computers. That was when my laptop was busted. But I don't exactly look at dirty pictures on the computers, nor do I decide to unzip and let it fly.

This leaves us with the only conclusion: he's gone from weird fucking dude to...public pervert.

Now do not question my morals here. I just put myself on the line for the public good. You're welcome.

Which leaves us with this question: How much was he paying for this?

(some identities changed to protect the real people. yes this happened. you cannot make shit like this up.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not for Teacher

Even though I grew up in what was becoming more and more a white collar town (some would say the town would be "white trash with money," which is also true), there are some solidly blue-collar roots in the town. The local chapter of the Teamster's Union (Local 469) is based in the next town over. Many of the residents remember their parents or grandparents working in factories in the big cities and talking about the unions.

But perhaps the biggest union in the town is the teachers' union. This is mostly due to the fact that there are 12 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 2 high schools for the entire town for a grand total of 17 schools (i.e. tons of teachers). And while there were some sizable wealthy number of people who lived in the town, the majority of the town sent their children to the public schools as they provided a decent education.

As such, the teacher's union had some decently potent power. And as we all know, power corrupts, and potent power corrupts potently. The union eventually decided twice during my time in the K-12 system to go on strike because the town wanted to bring the level of benefits somewhere near the level of reality. The first time wasn't so bad as they managed to find enough substitutes to keep things somewhere near functional (well, as functional as one could when you see your English teacher outside with a sandwich board sign).

The second time is when hell not only broke loose but also busted out his buddies. Not only did they go on strike for a week, but schools were shut down as well. Furthermore, it was a day by day basis, so you really couldn't plan for it until you saw the morning news. In addition, since it is against the law where I'm from for teachers to strike, they got arrested. While there was the whole shtick of "oh, we're just doing what MLK did" (yes, they tossed that line out), it was interesting to see [Teacher X] who yelled at you in recess in an orange jumpsuit and leg chains.

What I got out of the whole ordeal (besides funny stories to tell the kids in neighboring towns) was a bit of wariness about unions. I understood their place in the world, but sometimes it just gets out of hand and the purpose gets lost in megalomaniac's pipe dream and delusions of grandeur. And once that happens, well, you're just about as bad as the employers.

As such, when the news about Obama stiffing it to the teachers by telling them that they actually (like real people) had to earn their keep by *gasp* doing a good job, I felt somewhat proud of the guy. I mailed it in through the majority of K-12 education and had the teachers been actually rewarded for actually doing a good job, perhaps I would've actually learned more in school rather than outside of school watching TV, reading books, and playing video games.

The rest of us in the real world have to live by that standard. If we do a good job, we get rewarded, and if we've simply been mailing it in, we don't get rewarded and sometimes we get punished. There are reports that in some places, it's damn near impossible to fire some teachers for offenses that would find me out on my ass before I could think "organized labor." I fail to see what's wrong with that.

Furthermore, with a few exceptions, the people that I have seen going into education are less than, um, "intellectually stimulating" and as such, I'm pretty sure a good kick in the ass/some motivation to actually step it up a few notches in meaningful ways wouldn't hurt.

Then again, I'm pretty sure some time in leg shackles and an orange jumpsuit would perhaps part the same message as well.