Living the Dream

BY DEAN TREFTZ | MAY 14, 2009 7:26 AM

“You’re graduating? Congratulations!”

Ouch — hey, what’d I do to you?

“So what’re you doing afterwards?”

Jesus, that one was below the belt. Wouldja lay off already?

“Got a job lined up yet?”

What the hell, man? You get some sort of sick pleasure outta this? I think a see an orphan over there, why don’t you go wish him a happy Mother’s Day?

So it goes.

The Catholics were wrong; life begins at graduation, which is terrifying. You’ve got to go out there and be something.

After long, nervous nights of gin and frantically scribbled games of one-person MASH, I’ve found my calling. But it’s not a job you can tell your Aunt Regina about, and that might be more necessary at the moment.

Like me, a good chunk of you taking your final final this week have rehearsed your postgraduation fable so much that you’re probably mumbling in your sleep.

“ … mmm, yeah, I … eace Corps … [snore] … anish, so I’ll probably get South Ame …”

I’ve played mine back to 40-somethings so many times, I’m afraid that during one of these queries I’m going to get interested in the intriguing future life I’m hearing and start asking myself questions about how much economists make.

Not that I can really blame these inquisitors. Small talk sucks, and impending graduation is a great way to delay the awkward silence that follows commenting on how cold/hot/nice it is.

Anyway, the line of questioning is valid. If we’re not what we do, who are we?

I have been defined by my grade level for as long as I can remember, and self-identifying as anything that’s more than four words is rude. They didn’t ask for your life story.

Well ever since our Wile E. Coyote of an economy stopped running and looked down, I’ve been kicking around an idea.

I want to be a freelance boxcar hobo à la the Great Depression.

You know, jumping trains from town to town, looking for work, stealing apples from orchards and eating them at an encampment down by the river bluffs, riding in the back of a flatbed truck with a bunch of fellow stoic migrant workers, that sort of thing. The simple adventure and majesty of earning your own living day-to-day without the distractions is too beautiful to pass up.

Also, if Iowa City has taught me anything, it’s that my generation is filled with relatively sheltered kids who want to write about themselves (narcissistic pricks, aren’t they?). They can all write — their problem is that they haven’t gone out and experienced anything jarring enough to get their stories read, and that’s where I come in.

Writers need stories, and I’ll get ’em, and at my prices, they’ll go fast.

Ever stared out a car window at a beautiful full Moon hanging over a silent river thinking that it’d add some awesome perspective to your short story if you’d only witnessed that scene because you didn’t trust the other guy under the bridge enough to go to sleep? I may be of service.

Have a good start on a book about your descent from antidepressants into slightly harder drugs and back out again, but your best cringe-inducing anecdote is just you doing lines in a Gumby’s Pizza bathroom? Step right this way.

You’ve heard of ghostwriting? Same thing, it’s just ghost-living.

And while there may be the occasional guard dog, rock-salt shotgun shell, and stabbing, the benefits are better than most other jobs these days (no medical or dental, but you get to be the coolest guy in every student-patronized pseudo dive bar), it’s self-employment, and it’s better than a desk job.

After a couple years of trolling coffeehouses in Iowa City, Austin, the East Village, Cambrige, Madison, etc., I’ll establish enough of a reputation to get contract work, and then the money will start rolling in.

I’ll be penciling in begging grape farmers for work between nearly drowning while running away from the cops and stumbling upon a dehumanizing switchyard fighting ring. Within a decade, I’ll be able to have an agent, negotiate over movie rights, and scream at a stewardess when my headphones cut out halfway through The Happening while traveling in between jobs.

Because, god dammit, I’ve worked too hard to put up with this.

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