My family sits with Cheshire cat smiles plastered across their faces, proud of their son for all of his accomplishments. They sit on the plot of land where I and forty other College Freshmen used to smoke copious amounts of marijuana on our well-deserved holiday of weed Wednesday. Several rows in front of my family sits Howie Mandel. Wait a second. One hundred degree heat and several shots of strong whiskey can make even a porch drinker delirious, but I’m fairly certain this is the guy. His bald dome drips sweat onto the lapel of his expensive shirt, most likely a shirt he uses when selling those briefcases of money on TV. Why is he here though? Why is he listening to Ms. Dalton’s dribble? Why isn’t he giving the commencement speech? Is Howie Mandel too good for Santa Cruz? “Screw him,” I utter out loud. A fellow social studies major tells me I seriously need to shut up and that he can’t hear Veronica’s speech over my mutterings. My apologies to Ms. Dalton.
I focus long enough to take my cue and toss my mortarboard to the sky. I purposefully fling mine in the direction of Mr. Mandel, but his chair is vacant. I look up at the hill, past the weed spot to where the bagpipes played and there he is. His head vibrates in the hot mess of the noon sun. He knows something I don’t. I want to run up there and confront him, but as the mortarboards fall back to earth, I am bombarded with fist bumps from bros I barely knew and hugs from girls I never got a chance to fuck.
“So what’s the next step?” asks my Aunt. “The right one” I reply. Uncomfortable chuckles all around. I swear when I’m around friends and immediate family I’m actually quite delightful, it’s extended family I haven’t gotten the hang of. They are like those acquaintances at school or work you always aim to avoid, but they always seem to find you. They have collected thousands of facts about you through casual conversation and so your social interactions begin to take the shape of a morning history lecture. In this case they are family, so I’m obligated to respond. “I’m seriously considering teaching English abroad, or maybe in some random ghetto of America.”
This is quickly becoming the popular pre-requisite for affluent graduates who don’t have a clue and don’t have loans to pay off. Middle-class family. Yes. Grandma’s education fund for me and my cousin. Check. Penchant for eating exotic food and canoodling with foreign members of the opposite sex. Indeed. So there we go by the thousands. Hordes of ill-equipped, undertrained white missionaries set out to have casual conversations with perverse businessmen about the benefits of fake breasts.
Upon my return, during the car ride back from the airport, I realize the great mistake we all make when we return home. Home is a comfort zone and nothing gets done when you are comfortable. When you are comfortable your blood slows, brain festers, that group of almost friends that never left still hasn’t and your parents (lovely as they may be) are always there to put things in perspective.
Minor failures and inconveniences have never been so frustrating. Struggling to twist off the top of a pickle jar or separating an icepack from its plastic casing become the ultimate test of manhood and maturity. To make matters worse, the injury that required ice was during a game of basketball with drunken bums. A bum collided into me at full speed with no intention of stealing the ball and inadvertently kicked the outside pad of my right foot under the little toe. My mother was naturally worried when I came home gimp and cursing the homeless. She called my Uncle who is a doctor and after a few questions informed me I most likely had a “dancer’s break.” Ballerinas get them while performing dainty hops and spins. I swear I heard my mother call me a bitch under her breath. I would have to inform my work of the unfortunate news.
After twenty years of formal education, it appears the only thing I’m technically qualified for is part-time yard duty official. I don’t mean to make light of the yard duty profession, but any job in which the description reads, “Must be able to eat absurd amounts of string cheese and know how to yell and blow a whistle,” should probably be under the ‘idiots’ section on craigslist rather than part-time jobs. Again, I’m exaggerating only slightly, but I put more kids on timeout, yelled at more toddlers for playground indiscretions and drank more milk mini-milk cartons then I ever will as a parent. Lactose intolerant need not apply. In this beastly economy, however, I’ll take my snack pack and meager hourly wage and shut my mouth.
I don’t watch much TV. I think it’s because we are one of the remaining families in the US to own a TV and not have cable. This affords me the neurotic luxury of memorizing every local news channel anchor and correspondent. KTVU Consumer Editor Tom Vacar. Political Correspondent Randy Shandobil. South Bay Correspondent Lloyd Lacuesta. Nightly news anchor Frank Somerville, who my parents always remind me went to high school with my older brother, and of course Meteorologist Bill Martin who my dad always curses for botching the report. His work has been waning as of late, and I think Gasia Mikalian is being eyed as a replacement. Sometimes when I watch television or I am in an equally dull situation in life, I fantasize about moving to Brazil and starting a youth hostel and surf camp, or living in Europe playing for a Division III soccer club, or better yet moving to Saudi Arabia and creating the first international giraffe racing league. All these things require money, which is something I don’t have and it makes me angry at times.
A particularly obnoxious commercial usually rousts me from my wanderings. ‘Coming up next. Howie Mandel’s Deal or No Deal.’ We meet again Mr. Mandel. Your digitally enhanced baldhead is even more impressive on TV. I watch silently as all the questions on that fateful graduation day churn about. What is his profession really? Is he a game show host, briefcase salesmen or mind meddler? Why can’t I have this cushy job? I try to place myself in the dank flats of the delightfully plump Ms. Carnie Packard who is playing for the million. Howie changes cameras and turns his glance to me. He seems to be offering me a choice. Given my present circumstances, would I blindly choose one briefcase from a group of 30 briefcases, ranging in value from one cent to one million dollars, in exchange for not having to figure out what to do with the rest of my life? Although it’s hard to imagine living off one cent, I honestly don’t have an answer to Howie’s hypothetical. There is a certain warped quality to my generation and me. We tend to put in the least amount of effort and expect the greatest rewards. We are spoiled. I am not willing to give up yet, but as I sit and watch another friend dragged off to law school, my eye cannot help but think that briefcase number seven looks especially shiny.