Monday, May 9, 2005

I went over to Grandma's house to drop off all the loot she got for Mothers' Day, and Grandma took that as an invitation to tell me a story highlighting how lazy my generation is and how hard-working her generation is. Or how hard-working they were, since these days all they do is collect Social Security and bitch about how lazy kids today are.

Grandma never misses an opportunity to remind me that when she emigrated to America, she was sixteen years old and didn't speak a word of English. Here's a sample conversation, which I should, by this time, know better than to start with Grandma:

Me: I called my friends to make plans for this weekend, but none of them called me back.

This isn't an infrequent occurrence.

Grandma: You should call them again, say why didn't you call me back?

Me: ...but I don't want to be a pest.

Grandma: Let me tell you a story. When I was sixteen, I first come to this country, I didn't speak any English. You think I wanted to go outside and have to talk to people. But my father, he made me. He made me go down to the grocery...

...followed by an interminable story that Grandma thinks is the most hilarious thing next to America's Funniest Home Videos. The original, Bob Saget incarnation of America's Funniest Home Videos. Grandma eats that shit up.

Today's story: Grandma asked me how much I was getting paid and I told her sixteen an hour. Then, kind of to be cute and kind of outta genuine curiosity, I asked her how much she got paid. Grandma spent fifteen years of her life working in the fast-paced 1940's-era ladies' undergarment industry, and apparently sewing very efficiently. To hear her tell it, Grandma's work ethic made her something of a celebrity in blue-collar Newark fashion circles. "Everywhere I went, every job I went in for, there was someone there who knew me from the factory and they said hire her, hire her, she's a good worker, because they all knew I was a good worker."

Then Grandma tells me about how her life would make a great story for an aspiring writer.

But all I could think about was where Grandma is now, because for all her hard work, she's alone, physically falling apart, barking up the wrong tree for a shot at ersatz fame, and despondent over the fact that her bloodline is no longer producing the same sort of work ethic it used to. A huge chunk of the greatest generation is just plain dead, which doesn't sound all that great to me. This might all sound like a great argument for hedonism, but it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be me worrying about the long-term effects of life as a mindless corporate cog and how it doesn't really matter if you're a hard-working, devoted cog or just a cog who does the bare minimum to avoid getting fired.

I guess I'm pleading for a life that I can really throw myself into, like those young Hollywood actors who suddenly get discovered or a pair of college dropouts whose IPO just went public. I don't really have a clue where to start with all this, and since I'm the proud owner of a half-finished website, a half-decorated bedroom, about fifty half-read Great Novels, and a half-written play, I'm not sure I've got the ambition to not end up like Grandma anyway. And I do think that's how the cream rises to the top — two steps: ideas and ambition. My lineage shines in neither of those areas.

My family's good at being dutiful and moralistic. Not traits to take one far in life. :-(