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The alarm goes off. Depending on the time of the year, it could still be dark out or there could be some dickhead birds being loud. On any given day, there’s a five-in-seven chance that I have to put on business casual clothes and head to work. My first thoughts are always, “Fuck, I don’t want to do this.” I’ll baby turtle myself to work (instinctively), turn on my employer-provided computer, fire up my workplace Keurig (complete with reusable K-Cup because I like the environment, and it is way cheaper), check email, and plan out the day.
Some people want to grow up to be an astronaut, a professional athlete or the president. Me? I was tired of always lugging bags through the muggy, 90-plus-degree New Jersey summers. I dreamed of having a little cubicle to call my own. No more 5:00 A.M. wake-up times. No more working during the holidays. No more mooching off my parent’s insurance. Just a steady eight-hour a day, 40-hour work week. I could even hang up pictures of my family, pictures of pets, and silly Christmas cards. To some, this reality is hell on Earth, but to me, this is living the middle-class dream.
A few days ago, I came across an article that highlighted how much one had to make in each state to be “the middle class.” As anyone else would do, I checked in to see where I rank. We’re a society that always likes to see how we measure up, and I’m no different. Surprisingly, our household income put us in the towards the top tier, which was funny and sad to me because we live in a modest townhome, drive 10-plus-year-old cars that always seem to need repairs, and live frugally.
Our bills are paid, and there certainly are quite a few. It seems everyone always wants a piece of your pie. Whenever I get a raise, health insurance goes up. The Comcast bill inexplicably seems to rise overnight, and I have to call and pretend I was looking at getting Dish. Want more data? Phone bill goes up. Even in the sub-20-degree weather, we rarely turn the heat on because our heaters don’t work very well, and this makes our utility bill go through the roof. I’ll throw on pajamas and my old high school hockey hoodie. At night, we squeeze into my knockoff Tempur-Pedic that I bought for myself as a first-job present and use the heat of 150 pounds of two dogs and two cats to stay warm. A little family bonding/sleeping like Tetris pieces never hurt anyone.
The middle class is shrinking. I’m not here to get political about it; you can do your own research. It is the place where people want to be. I reckon most people feel they are “middle class” just like everyone considers themselves “above average”. Politicians use “middle class” as a buzzword and every piece of legislation is aimed at pleasing it because it is “good for the economy”.
It seems our generation has a shittier time getting to “the middle class.” Buying a house is a daunting task. We were sold the “follow your dreams” meme by our parents. This often entails going to college to get the degree to get the job to pay for the college you had to attend to get the job. It is a sick and twisted joke. Sure I could have been a been an electrician/pipefitter/plumber/welder/mechanic or whatever it is now people tell me I could have done rather than accumulate student loans but, honestly, that wasn’t what I wanted to do. My family has owned a hardware store for over 50 years. It was made very clear to my cousins and me that the store wasn’t going to be around forever and that we needed to go to school.
Today’s middle class looks a lot different than our parents’ middle class of the past. It’s not bad or good, it’s just different. I couldn’t imagine a world where it was the norm to have a high school degree (or in today’s case, a parental-funded college vacation/degree) and a family business to go work for mommy and daddy. Like me, I’m sure many of you ex-Frat Dads and Sally Sorostitutes know a few people like this or it is you. Many of the middle-class jobs of yesteryear have come and gone due, largely, to automation, something everyone seems surprised by even though Springsteen has been singing about it for 30 years.
It’s crazy to think that we’re the first generation in quite some time to not have a better life than our parents. Again, it had to happen eventually, and we’re the lucky many that got to take it on the chin. Many of us are stuck in jobs waiting for our counterparts with grandfathered-in benefits to retire so we can one day move up. Company loyalty is out the window as the only way to get a raise today is to move, move companies, or both, much to the chagrin of the powers that preside.
I’m sure we’ll always hear the parroted, “shoulda worked harder,” “coulda been X, Y, or Z” or “woulda had no loans if you sold drugs.” There’s always going to be the, “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” to our “entitled” generation but in the end, all we can do is keep plugging and reach for that middle-class paradise we were promised to fulfill the “follow your dreams” prophecy.
I guess this is what Smash Mouth meant when they said, “Somebody once told me the world was gonna roll me.” .