Letters From The Fishbowl

The life, times, fiction, and mind-lint of V.B. Rising. Enter at your own risk, traveler, for here there be rants and misplaced modifiers.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Uncommon Knowledge

Public education sucks, man, and the lack of common sense in this world is seriously harshing on my mellow.

I've always said that there were some important classes missing from basic high school curriculum.  For instance, Personal Finance: how to balance a checkbook, build and maintain credit, manage bills, create a household budget.  Ideally, you could count on your parents for stuff like that, but a lot of the time, the parents don't even know what the hell to do with their paycheck, let alone how to advise their children.*  The parents don't know, the kids don't know, and no one knows where to learn the necessary skills or how to get help.  The only people who really understand the financial system are the sly mofos who take advantage of your ignorance and screw you over.  If more people had a working knowledge of basic money-handling, this country wouldn't be in quite as deep an economic oubliette as we are now.

Another thing they should teach is Basic Survival Skills.  Not wilderness training or anything extreme like that, but just some basic things to know about getting by in the world.  Like how to change a tire.***  Or how to treat people in the service industry, INCLUDING PROPER TIPPING PROCEDURE, I AM TALKING TO YOU, SPOILED COLLEGE GIRL FROM WESTCHESTER!!!  How to wire money through Western Union.  How to return items to the store (hint: you need a fucking receipt.  Don't argue with the minimum wage sales clerk.  She didn't make the rules.)  How to reset your circuit breaker.  Filling out a W-4.  How to purchase a train ticket and read a subway schedule.  Time management skills.  How to not get hosed by auto mechanics, car salespeople, and their ilk.  How to get hold of your medical records.  Understanding the importance of medical records, for that matter.  Your Miranda Rights, not to mention the Bill of Rights, and whether or not you have to do what a police officer says at any given time.  How the internet works, why you shouldn't put your social security number on Facebook, how to know a shill when you see one.  How a parking garage ticket meter and a tollbooth works, and the importance of leaving the house with cash in small enough denominations of American currency to not hold me up on my way to the mall.  Isn't it bad enough I have to go to the fucking mall?  Do I also need to wait in a line of honking cars (pro-tip #1: honking doesn't help) with their windows down, blasting their terrible music choices out for all and sundry (pro-tip #2: Shania Twain?  Really?), while the EZ Pass hotshots breeze by, leaving me huffing exhaust and wondering if the big freaking movie screen is really worth all this drama and fuck Joss Whedon for making me subject myself to this!!!

All basic stuff, right?  Stuff that we, as adults in America, should know.  And by now, most of us do.  But every single item on the list above**** is something I had to learn through experience.  Because once you learn how to do them, the actions become habit and it never occurs to you that someone might not already understand.  So you never bother to pass on the knowledge.

Now, it's good to learn by doing.  There are some things in the world that are best learned by fucking it all up and then having to fix it.  Further, by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations and exposing yourself to new experiences, you are doing what my mother calls, "building character" and what I call, "learning to be less of an idiot."  This is a good thing.

I will re-iterate, because it's an idea that takes a long time to come to terms with and I feel that a lot of people underestimate its importance: it's okay, nay, commendable to be willing to step outside your personal bubble and put yourself in a situation where you will learn something, even if the situation makes you feel uncomfortably stupid and socially inept.  However, if you find yourself in said situation, you must be willing to learn, and react properly.  An example:

Enter the Post Office with the intent to mail a book to ailing great-aunt in Abu Dahbi.  A prominently displayed sign advises patrons to not use cell phones while in line.

Proper Reaction From Teachable Person:
Put cell phone away.  LOOK AROUND!  See wall of envelopes.  Choose envelope, put book inside.  Realize this is dumb, remove book, address envelope, THEN put book inside.  LOOK AROUND!  See fellow patrons of United States Postal Service standing in line waiting to be served.  Join line.  Wait turn.  Tell Postal Worker of intent to mail package.  Pay.  Say, "Thank you," and exit Post Office.

Improper Reaction From Uncomfortable Asshole With No Wish to Lessen Their Own Ignorance:
Walk directly up to counter, plop book on counter, and say, "I gotta mail this."  Watch other patrons roll eyes and look annoyed, choose not to consider why they are doing so.  Upon instruction, put book in envelope.  Messily scrawl address on bulky, stuffed envelope.  Ignore the fact that neatness counts in certain situations.  Not your problem!  Talk loudly on phone with insipid friends whilst standing in the middle of the room, blissfully ignorant of how a queue works.  Complain that it's taking too long.  When postal employee suggests you move your shitbag self into the fucking line, sigh loudly.  That'll show 'em.  Reach front of line and drop book on counter.  Leave.  When postal employee calls you back to pay for your postage, be sure to start texting while they explain shipping options and prices.  Pay.  Sigh heavily again.  Book it on out of there LIKE A BOSS.

This is just one sample scenario; I could give you a million more, but I guess what I'm really trying to say is this: no one expects you to know everything.  But you are responsible for teaching yourself the things you were never taught.  Maybe try and find your own special, unique, snowflake way of doing it without pissing me off.

* And sometimes, the parents try to explain to their children that credit cards are the devil and that eventually, the college loan people are going to want that money back, and the kids just don't listen because what the hell do their parents know?  And then they spend the next decade in debt up to their solar plexus, struggling in the quicksand of their own poor decisions, and the only thought the resounds through their otherwise empty head is, "I should have listened to my mom; my mom was right."**

**Hi, Mom!

***You should have seen the look on my sister's face when I told her I knew how to change a flat tire.  No one had taught her, not in school, Driver's Ed, nothing.  They don't even teach it at that five-hour course.  How the hell did I know?  The answer, of course, is that my boyfriend is a former Boy Scout and my car is a piece of monkey shit.  It was only a matter of time until a teachable moment presented itself.

****Except the Facebook thing; I'm not a total moron.

Another Short Poem

So tall a tale could not be true!
they told her with a sneer.
Whoever would believe a yarn
so curious and queer?
They found her on the mantle when
their scorn she could not stand,
balderdashed and mirror-slashed
for want of Wonderland.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012