I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk yesterday, but luckily my face broke the fall. Better my nose get smashed than the thousand dollar computer in my bag- as a college student, looks are trivial, and such an insignificant thing as a facial deformity can be overcome, but this MacBook Air with a fourteen inch screen is basically worth more than my own soul.
The strange double standard that surrounds the cult of materialism on campuses like UB comes glaring through clearly in this moment, kind of like a particularly bright ray of sunshine, if that ray were weighed down by the depressing reality of capitalism and my bleeding nose.
The institution known as our Scholastic Administration (all hail) encourages college students to obtain the kind of Zen known only to Buddhist monks- as the highly anticipated Next Generation, we should be striving to Improve Society and move beyond such petty things as worldly goods. A college that bleeds us dry for over twenty grand a year smilingly tells us to embrace this poverty, as apparently, it will better us as people or something. So, we rise to this challenge- just like those Buddhist monks, we are educated, we are trying to achieve inner peace, and we can’t scrape together the cash to buy a new pair of shoes.
And, in order to achieve the education that apparently will make us Adult enough to function in the Real World (Wherever that is- I haven’t taken Geography yet) your typical college student forks over a terrifying amount of money for additional materials such as a five hundred dollar textbook written by the professor they’re already taking that same class with (Shameless self plugging meets the consumer economy? Neat!), or as already mentioned, a computer worth several months in rent.
But fear not! This machine, in fact, is essential for Very Important collegiate activities like typing up papers, sending urgent e-mails, and playing online Solitaire in that one class we all hate and think that the professor doesn’t notice what we’re doing. (Spoiler alert: they totally notice. They just care even less than we do.)
Besides, that game of Solitaire will prove an excellent distraction for those lonely nights on which I’m all alone, my appearance rivaling the Phantom of the Opera’s, no person brave enough to face my hideousness due to the rescue of my computer from an icy doom. (Although, to be honest, my missing nose still probably won’t stop a hypothetical sexual assault… Go figure. There is no upside to this situation.)
But, as it is, students end up placing much more stock in the materials required to achieve our mythical educations than the actual act of learning itself- In order to earn the money to buy the objects to get the degree (this is starting to sound a lot like a line from Into the Woods), students often work ridiculous hours and jobs to scrape together the cash to buy everything that they need.
I, myself, once upon a hideous semester, in order to afford the many textbooks I needed, took the three AM opening shift at a classically depressing Tim Horton’s for five months straight.
“I’ll be fine,” I remember myself confidently proclaiming. “Remember how I stayed up until five AM binge-watching Criminal Minds that one time? It’ll be just like that- who needs sleep? Sleep is for the weak. This’ll be great!”
It was not “great.” I was working at a time when the denizens of the freak-o-verse were all out and about, lurking under flickering streetlights, reminiscent of zombies from the garbage horror films that I refuse to watch on principle. The lights from the 7-11 across the street pulsated with an ominous glow, highlighting numerous shadows that approximated the shapes of Lovecraftian monsters. I was way out of my depth.
As I nervously hoped that the weirdos who even came to a Tim Horton’s before dawn weren’t violent psychopaths, I began imagining myself as a victim on the slab in a scene of the television show I had once so avidly watched. Matthew Gray Gubler’s character stared dispassionately down at my mangled corpse, and cracked a witty one liner. I wanted to say “Nice one,” but I was very dead, and unable to reply. And since I was dead, I couldn’t even get his number to give to my sister. Bummer.
I realized that imagining this fictional scenario was just making me even more nervous, so I paused and attempted to take the situation a bit more seriously. Wasn’t this how people like me, oblivious and barely five feet tall (well, five two in my tallest boots) died? I briefly wondered if my dog would miss me.
Even as I was assaulted by the imagined scenarios and eldritch horrors my anxiety-ridden brain kept coming up with, the fact remained that I was just incredibly bored. The lack of real conversation at the job was really getting to me- I’d gladly die at the hands of a Hannibal Lecter as long as it meant that I could hear anything intelligent at all.
Seriously. If I heard the word “bagel” pronounced “bag-uhl” (you heathens know who you are) one more time, I was going to actually jump into the back room’s gigantic double boiler and embrace my death with open arms. At least if I was dead, I’d get some rest- because the real kicker in this situation was the lack of sleep I was getting.
Funnily enough, when you don’t sleep, you become something society likes to call “Pretty Tired.” Or, as I like to call it, “I-haven’t-slept-in-like-three-days-and-this-is-the-fifth-cup-of-coffee-I’ve-had-in-an-hour-wow-I’m-pretty-sure-I’ve-transcended-into-another-plane-of-existence-at-this-point-I’m-entirely-fueled-by-espresso-and-rage-holy-shit-was-that-a-ghost-I-just-saw Tired.”
And, obviously, this level of exhaustion was actually impeding my learning process, which I should have figured out in advance- along with the fact that I’m definitely not as indestructible as I like to think I am.
But I thought I was invulnerable, just like my fellow students, who fall into the same sort of tiger pit that this mindset is on a daily basis. And so, college kids keep on taking outrageous jobs to earn money to pay for school, even though it most likely will negatively impact their quality of education. Despite this reality, we keep running into that wall over and over again.
The vicious cycle is reminiscent of a never-ending cartoon chase, the overly cheerful soundtrack warbling along in the background of our lives as we pursue the ideals of Wealth and Education with the blind obsession of a dog running after the promise of a milk bone. I mean, at least that dog gets to sleep all day, for God’s sake.
And just like with that dog, it is probably unwise to try and rationally explain to college students lofty concepts like time management and moderation. We just won’t understand- we all think we’re invincible, and, of course, we still have to be able to afford those fifteen textbooks a semester.
So while I may be half-dead from lack of sleep, unable to pay for anything beyond the bare minimum of required materials, and currently lying on the sidewalk with a bruised face, at least my goddamn computer is safe.