Monday, October 5, 2009

You've come a long way baby....

I started re-reading The Grapes of Wrath at the end of last week. It's been a few years and frankly in this economy it kind of seems apropos. As I picked up the book to read before going to sleep last night it occurred to me that I've had this battered and worn copy for quite a while. That in itself isn't all that unusual. After all, us bibliophiles tend to hang onto books that we enjoyed or that have meaning to us.

What occurred to me as I picked up the book last night was where I purchased the book, a Salvation Army in Ithaca, NY. That's where I bought a lot of books right after I graduated from college. See, I was poor. Or rather, I was po', so poor I couldn't even afford the other O and the R. I worked as many hours as I could get at an Auntie Anne's pretzel store in the mall, but there weren't a whole lot of hours, especially at first. An auspicious start to my life in the "real world." And if I'm being honest, the gig at Auntie Anne's wasn't even my first job out of college. I worked a total of one day in the bakery at Tops (I cannot for the life of me remember if there should be an apostrophe in Tops...anyway....). Tops is (was?) a grocery store.

But I was a great experience for me. I learned as much outside of the classroom as I did in the classroom. Truth be told I was a very young 18 years old when I went off to college. Sheltered and probably a little naive and from a very very small very homogeneous town. So, for me the experiences outside the classroom were as important, if not more so, than what I learned while in class.

What I didn't do in college was prepare for the future. I never made a life plan or even figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think I thought that would all just magically happen (and in the end, it kind of has, to some degree). So, there I was during senior week (the week between the end of finals and commencement) scrambling around to find a place to live, never mind finding a job. The one thing I was certain of at that point in my life was that I wanted to stay close to my college so I could be close to my then girlfriend who was still in college. As always, I followed my heart. The story of my life which I've come to accept as who I am and how I'll likely always be. Following your heart is far better than following some other things that's for sure.

Honestly though since I didn't have a life plan staying close to the place that felt so very much like home to me seemed as good a plan as any. At that point in my life I didn't have the greatest relationship with my parents (ALL my doing not theirs, they have been the best parents anyone could ask for) so moving home just wasn't an option in my mind. Besides I'm from a town which is barely a dot on the map. If I'd moved home my options for employment would have been working at the creamery, the gas station or the other gas station. Oh, or maybe at the school where my dad was a teacher. So, Auntie Anne's wasn't really all that bad in the scheme of things.

So, to Ithaca I moved. Into my very first apartment. I had no furniture, just my car full of crap and a kitten that a friend had given me as a graduation present.

Being po' I did what any person would do, I went to my local Salvation Army to see what I could scrounge up for myself. I managed to find a cheap mattress (I don't even think I got a box spring for it, just the mattress), a $5 couch and a $10 recliner. The mattress was still in a bag and was new from what I could tell but the couch and recliner were battered and had seen better days. But they were cheap and they were mine. And honestly? They were pretty damn comfortable.

While buying my furniture I discovered that the Salvation Army also sold books. I was in heaven! Books for ten cents or a quarter! Books I could afford to buy even though I was po'! (yes, I do know about libraries, but I like to actually own the books and be able to spend as long reading them as I'd like and then keep them after I'm done with them or pass them along to someone else who will enjoy them) After that discovery I made it a point to check out the book selection pretty often. I'd wander the whole store while I was there. It was a cheap way to kill time since I didn't really have any friends (that statement alone could make for a whole series of posts, perhaps I'll cover that topic at a later date) and I wasn't yet working full time.

I don't think I have many books left in my collection from that time in my life. Just like I don't have many other things from that era any more. The mattress went to my friend Karen when my parents couldn't bear the thought of me sleeping on an $84 mattress on the floor and bought me something slightly more expensive. With a box spring! And a cheap metal frame to raise it off the ground! Oh the luxury!! The couch and recliner went back to the Salvation Army when I moved to CT (to be with Ms. Ex). In fact, the recliner didn't even make it back into the store as a donation. While unloading the truck in the parking lot a customer saw it and asked if I was getting rid of it. I gave it to him for free. I'd say it was my good deed for that day but since my apartment was flea infested the recliner might also have been flea infested. I sincerely apologize to whomever I gave the recliner to if I infested your house also.

I've come a very long way since the days when I lived in flea infested apartments where my neighbors kept their gas grill in their bedroom (god how I wish I had taken a picture of that!). I have a house now. And brand new furniture that I bought at a store and had delivered to my house. I have a mattress, a box spring AND an actual bed frame with a matching dresser and night stands. I have a good job and (a little) money in the bank. I have health insurance and a car that's paid for. And I still have the cat my friend gave me as a graduation present. He's a bit larger now however....

And if my neighbors DO keep their gas grill in their bedroom our houses are far enough apart that should they set their house on fire it likely won't do any damage to mine. All in all I am incredibly fortunate.

That's what I thought about last night as I picked up my beat up copy of The Grapes of Wrath as I settled into bed. I've come a long way since my days as a newly minted college graduate with a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in Sociology who made pretzels for a living. That's something to be very proud of if I do say so myself.

I was listening to music as I wrote this post, the acoustic channel of Sirius Satellite radio that I get on my dish (which was THE deciding factor for not changing my TV service earlier this fall) and up popped the song Walk On The Ocean by Toad The Wet Sprocket. This song will always remind me of college and the period of time directly after college and thus it seems fitting for this post.

We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail
Where are we going, so far away
And somebody told me that this is the place
Where everything's better, everything's safe

Walk on the ocean
Step on the stones
Flesh becomes water
Wood becomes bone

And half an hour later we packed up our things
We said we'd send letters and all those little things
And they knew we were lying but they smiled just the same
It seemed they'd already forgotten we'd came

Now we're back at the homestead
Where the air makes you choke
And people don't know you
And trust is a joke
We don't even have pictures
Just memories to hold
That grow sweeter each season
As we slowly grow old

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