Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jack Says the American Dream is Over

Posted By on Sun, Apr 24, 2011 at 9:18 PM

Dear Jack,

I’m tired. Tired of getting screwed by my employers. Tired of receiving excuses instead of raises. Tired of being afraid all the time of getting laid off. People say, if you’re not happy where you’re working, find a different job. I have. It’s the same everywhere you go. There’s no money in the budget for raises, yet the bosses and the owners are buying second houses and fancy cars and taking expensive vacations. They don’t even try to hide it anymore.

It doesn’t help when I compare myself to my father and where he was when he was at my age. I’ve got a college degree. He had a high school diploma. I’ve worked for 11 different companies. He worked for the same company from the age of 20 until the day he retired – at 55. I’m making exactly the same gross salary that he was when he was my age, but that was 25 years ago, and his health insurance was free. There’s no way on Earth I’m retiring when I’m 55.

I’m sick of being lied to. The American Dream died for my generation. The other day a friend of mine said he was thinking about moving to the beach and being totally useless for the rest of his life, because he’s just as tired as I am.

--Sick of It All

Dear Sicko,

What, you wrote just to complain? This is an advice column, not the agony column.

Welcome to the real world, pal. Did you just get off the boat? The American Dream’s murdered corpse had rotted to bones in the ditch long before your generation learned to ride on two wheels. It was never much of a dream anyway. For a few years, a man with a high school diploma could get ahead in the world. Before that, people worked until they died.

So yes, you’ve been lied to. The world sold you a bill of goods. So what are you going to do? You can move to Jamaica and live off the money you make braiding people’s hair. You can try out for American Idol. You can play Powerball and hope for the best. You may already be a winner!

You can swallow it and get along as best you can. This is what most people are doing today. No, you’re not going to retire at 55, and when you do retire at 67 or 70 or whenever the politicians say you can, you’ll have to live off what you’ve saved or mooch off your kids, because the same politicians who set the retirement age will have robbed Social Security of every penny in order to buy more yachts for billionaires.

You can sell your soul and become one of the bosses, if second homes and fancy cars are what you really want out of life. Those things are nice, but they can be taken away – usually by ex-wives.

Or you can make your own world. Stop working for The Man and become The Man. Only, be a better The Man than the liars you’ve known all your life. It’s not about becoming a tycoon. Just try to maintain. Take care of the people who work for you. You’ll work harder than you ever will working for someone else, and you’ll never be a billionaire and you won’t be able to retire early, but at least you will have done some good. And that’s all we can really ask for – the chance to do some good.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Don't Drop Out. Tune In.

Posted By on Sun, Apr 17, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Dear Jack,

Here it is, the middle of April already, and I haven’t been to more than five classes since February. I’m a sophomore at a local university, and my major is in a field that I love, but I can’t seem to bring myself to go to school.

It didn’t used to always be this way. My first semester as a freshman, I finished with all As. Second semester wasn’t any harder, but I slacked off and got a C in one class. I took a couple of summer classes, including the one I got a C in, and I finished with an A in both classes, but fall semester was horrible. I skipped a couple of classes, then caught up, then skipped a few more. The semester went so fast and it was finals week before I knew it. I ended up with three Cs and an F. That was the first time in my life I’ve ever made a C, much less an F. My parents went nuts when they saw my grades.

I’m not stupid. I’ve always done well in school, though I wasn’t valedictorian or anything. School has always been easy for me. My IQ is near genius level. Yet now I’ve got Fs in every class except one.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Monday, I drove to school and then just sat in my car rather than go to class. Maybe I’m afraid to face my teachers after skipping so many classes. I just don’t know, and I don’t know what to do.

--Flunking Out

Dear Flunkie,

Wouldn’t it be a better world if all us supra-geniuses didn’t have to waste all those years going to college? Why won’t they let us just take the tests and get our diploma?

A long time ago in a university far far away, I had a physics class in which I made an A on every test including the final, yet when I checked the professor’s door for my grades, I had an F for the semester. I inquired as to why (that’s putting it mildly). He said I hadn’t turned in a single piece of homework. Not one. Frankly, he wasn’t sure how I managed to make A’s on all the tests without doing any of the homework. He didn’t accuse me of cheating, but he suspected it – enough to give me an F.

However, he said that if I would do all the homework before the end of the semester (btw, that was two days away), he would give me a B. So I did all of it – an entire semester’s worth – and I got my grade.

You need to go back to school today. Right now. Go to your professors and explain what’s been going on, even if you don’t know why. They hear sob stories all the time, but sob stories work. I know a woman whose success in college is due entirely to her sob stories, as she never finished an assignment on time. Your professors don’t want to fail you, and they’ll probably give you a chance to make up your work and salvage the semester to some extent. Maybe not all of them, but even one or two Cs is better than all Fs. And you’ll have the satisfaction of having tried, rather than just giving up.

You also need to talk to a doctor. If you don’t have insurance, see if there isn’t a campus clinic or something along those lines. My guess is you have attention deficit issues. I do not make this guess lightly, because I also have this problem. Just ask my editors.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jack Advises a Ticked-Off Ex-wife

Posted By on Sun, Apr 10, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Dear Jack,

The other day was my son's birthday party. As usual, my ex-husband arrived ridiculously late with his newest girlfriend in tow. This girl said she was old enough to drink, but I have my doubts.

He's consistently late (when he comes at all) to recitals, school programs, and sporting events, and he always shows up with his latest acquisition on his arm. Every year, his girlfriends seem to get younger. Pretty soon he'll be dating women younger than his own children. It's so bad, even the kids are disgusted with him – except my son, of course, who thinks Dad's dates are hot.

He's always doing crap like this and I'm sick of it. What can I do to him to make him stop?

--Sick of the Party Pooper

Dear Sick,

Were we ever married? Never mind, I know it's not me, because my girlfriends stopped getting younger years ago.

If you're looking for some kind of magical legal advice that will put a stop to his disruptive activities, some way to hit him in the wallet or drag him into court, I can't help you. Though I'm not a lawyer, I have paid for second homes for a few lawyers in my day. And having been on the business end of a drawn and loaded legal opinion more often than I care to remember, I can say that your options in this situation are probably pretty few.

So why not consider the human side of this? Try to see him, not as your ex-husband, but as a human being. He's clearly being disruptive, and he clearly enjoys being disruptive. Why? Because it so thoroughly pisses you off. Your anger isn't just a form of entertainment, it's his way of getting you to pay attention to him. Now ask yourself why your ex-husband is trying so desperately to get your attention.

That was a fun thought experiment, wasn't it? I'll wait until you finish screaming. Please, put down the scissors.

He will stop being disruptive when his disruptive activities no longer satisfy his need to piss you off. You can't change him. You can only change yourself. So stop letting him piss you off. You need to commit to six months of being obnoxiously pleasant and accommodating. You have to show him that his antics don't affect you at all. Instead of rolling your eyes at his latest bit of eye candy, welcome her and pull her off his arm. She is both his shield and his sword, so rob him of his power to ruin your life by being bigger and better than he is. He'll either grow up or go away.

Another option is to give him positive attention away from the kids instead of negative attention in front of the kids. You've been divorced a while now. Maybe it's time to stop being mortal enemies. But tread carefully, for down that path may lurk remarriage. It's happened before, though thankfully never to me.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jack Advises a Guilt-Ridden Daughter-in-Law

Posted By on Sun, Apr 3, 2011 at 9:06 PM

Dear Jack,

My father-in-law and I have never got along. When my husband and I first starting dating, his father accused me of corrupting his son. He didn't support our marriage. When we got together for family events, he hardly ever spoke to me, which suited me fine.

When we started having kids, I never tried to prevent them from knowing their grandfather, even though he had never been anything other than a horrible father to his own children. Yet he always had something to say about the way we were raising them, where they went to school, etc. One time he tried to sign them up for private school, even offered to pay for it. That was the one time I put my foot down because I knew, from past experience, that he would pay for maybe the first six months and then tells us it was time we started paying. We had a huge fight about it.

Recently, Grandpa died quite suddenly. My husband was shattered. My kids are truly grieving because they loved their grandfather. I feel like a monster. His own kids always said they hated him, but at the funeral they acted like he was some kind of saint they would miss for the rest of their lives. I feel like I never really knew the man. Maybe if I had tried harder, been more patient, we might have had a more peaceful relationship and could have actually been friends. I just feel so guilty now that he's no longer with us, especially about all the horrible things I said about him.

Guilty in Germantown

Dear GiG,

My father was a genuine bastard, probably the worst person you could ever meet. My hate for him made me who I am today. I made a vow at a very early age that I would never be like him and spent a good part of my life steering my course away from his star.

He lived long enough to be a crotchety old know-it-all without a good thing to say about anyone except himself. When he accidentally electrocuted himself (he refused to hire a contractor to do some work in his house because he could do the work better than any overpaid electrician), do you think I grieved? Just because there are good fathers in the world doesn't mean all fathers are good. Some we are better off without.

I don't know why dying turns bastards into saints, but this is common to our culture. Maybe it's superstition – a fear of speaking ill of the dead. Maybe it's just good manners to extol their redeeming qualities, even if you have to make them up. Nobody wants to go to a funeral and listen to stories about all the people the stiff hurt in the years he cursed this earth with his presence. It's just not done.

Don't feel guilty because you didn't know he was about to die. I doubt, had you known, that it would have made any difference. All you can do is mind your manners and go through the polite motions of grief. Find something nice to say about him – he loved his grandchildren – and repeat it at appropriate moments. Those who really are grieving will appreciate it.

I suspect the real source of your guilt is your lack of grief. You know you're supposed to think better about the dead, but in your heart you really don't. If you're like me, you probably feel profound relief. Don't beat yourself up about this. You're not a monster. You're only human. Life goes on.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon can set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

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