In my day, whippersnapper…

A rare Saturday night out for the NN.C Co-Prosperity Sphere, and it was a glorious one (if a little chilly). Off to Ann Arbor to see Andy Bey, then a little dinner. The rule in Ann Arbor is, generally, this: Students can have as much of the town as they want, but Main Street belongs to the grownups.

There are exceptions, some cheaper restaurants and clubs that draw undergrads. But what I had in mind was dinner at a place where I had lunch on a June day last summer, and recalled as a sophisticated restaurant where two adults who hadn’t had much face time lately could share expensive food on white plates with the sauce dribbled artfully around with a squeeze bottle.

And I can’t say it wasn’t that, exactly, except that it was full of students.

Dressed-up students, sure. Upperclassmen, I’m fairly certain. But unquestionably sub-B.A. students, many wearing $200 jeans and swingy tops, yakking on cell phones and drinking selections from a cocktail menu that featured Pink Ladies and Key Lime Pies. It looked like Carrie Bradshaw and about 100 of her closest friends.

To say it was culture shock would be an understatement; I recall wearing a rotating selection of pilled shetland-wool sweaters with either turtlenecks or oxford buttondowns (at least in JANUARY), Levis and hiking boots from a shoe factory down the road in Nelsonville, Ohio. They had red laces, and everyone seemed to have been issued a pair with their student IDs.

Most of all, though, I remember drinking beer. Buckets of cheap beer we bought by the pitcher, with only rare exceptions. I don’t recall eating tapas, certainly, or whatever its equivalent was in 1978. If I had the money to buy a nightcap snack from the Bagel Buggy, I was lucky. A steak sandwich at the Pub was an unimaginable luxury. Are you sensing a theme here? Yes: Poverty.

I wasn’t above selling plasma for beer money. It was always in short supply. And that was the situation with nearly everyone I knew. Many were from well-to-do homes, but no one had the sort of parental blank check that would allow for dressup Saturday nights at places where wine starts at $8 a glass. Everyone scraped by. But it was no biggie. We had it all in front of us.

Bricks-and-boards shelving, beater cars, secondhand couches and draft Stroh’s — that’s what college was. (And, for many of us, that’s what young adulthood was.)

As we were leaving, I asked the busboy — busman, that is — what the hell. He spoke with an accent. “Spoiled keeds,” he said, hoisting his tray. “They tell their parents the books cost $300, and they cost $200. And they spend the rest here.” He couldn’t talk long, though; it was a busy night. I don’t know if his kids will go to college, but I’d say the odds are good, based on their father’s willingness to spend a Saturday night bussing tables with his eyes open.

And I wonder about all these young Carrie Bradshaws, accustomed to such high living. What happens when they get jobs and start out at the entry-level salary? How will they know how to make $5 buy three days’ worth of food, until payday arrives? (My tip: Learn to love peanut-butter sandwiches.) Maybe they’ll stay on the parental dole after graduation, too. They probably feel like the world belongs to them, but it doesn’t.

The world belongs to the hungry. I’m betting on the busboy’s kids.


You wonder if, in the final moments, if this man saw Death in the eyes of a panicked Labrador: Beware of falling dogs.

Posted at 9:19 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

23 responses to “In my day, whippersnapper…”

  1. basset said on January 22, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    what’s a “swingy top”?

    and, for that matter, who’s Carrie Bradshaw?

    the Stroh’s and used couches I can relate to, though. one of my favorite college eating places featured a $1.69 breakfast plate, which would really hit the spot at about two in the morning. some years later, the same place, a little restaurant at the end of an apartment building, became the Subway where the guy who lost all that weight ate every day.

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  2. John said on January 23, 2006 at 7:56 am

    I must have wrote a thousand checks for $2.35 to Pavilion XI, the cost of one pitcher of beer. I can count on one hand the number of times I went out to an up-scale (i.e. $10+ meal) restaurant in the four years I was at school.

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  3. MichaelG said on January 23, 2006 at 9:18 am

    When I was a lad at UI in Champaign-Urbana pot pies cost a nickel and ramen didn’t exist yet. Doughnuts came from a place called “Spudnuts”. I think they had some kind of gimmick whereby they made their doughnuts from potato flour. Does anybody know if Spudnuts still exists? We drank Bud at Kam’s and had Brats at Stan’s. I can’t even recall any kind of beer other than Bud in those days. There was a pool hall with a lunch counter on Green St. just west of Wright that served the most wonderful fish sandwiches. They made their own batter, dipped some kind of whitefish that they got whole and cut to size, deep fried it and served it on rye with a huge slice of sweet onion. It would almost be worth a trip to Champaign to get one of those sandwiches. Coffee at the Y or the Union or the Turk’s Head. Weekends with my honey at . . . well, never mind.

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  4. Dorothy said on January 23, 2006 at 9:23 am

    The dog story made me so sad. I’m such a sucker for dog stories.

    We were getting off the interstate on Saturday and I spotted a big black dog in the tall grass along the fence. I shouted for Mike to stop the car, and since there was no traffic behind us, he pulled over to the berm. He backed up and I got out and whistled for the dog. It took off running, so I had no hope of getting it. I just prayed all the way home that it would not venture out on the road and get killed.

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  5. basset said on January 23, 2006 at 10:20 am

    Stroh’s for 49 cents a quart. Little Kings. Fehr’s XL, a truly vile brew but it was cheap. Potatoes, lots of potatoes.

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  6. Maryo said on January 23, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Cheap beer and relief tacos at 2 a.m. from the Jack in the Box drive-thru. they were 79 cents back then, and they allowed us to stay awake long enough to drive to the Grand Canyon for sunrise.

    And of course, we’d take the “Coors tour” at the local distributorship because we got our beer for free there, and one of “the guys” worked there.

    Top Ramen til I couldn’t look at it anymore, out of a molded plastic coffee mug that through months of drinking hot Lipton tea was beginning to leak.

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  7. basset said on January 23, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    still need some help on swingy tops and Carrie Bradshaw… come on, I feel pretty out of touch right now

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  8. nancy said on January 23, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Something like this, say — spaghetti straps, minimal boobal coverage and sort of a handkerchief hem. It allows you to wear tight jeans and show off your boobs without having to wear something really close-fitting.

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  9. nancy said on January 23, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Oh, and please — you don’t know who Carrie Bradshaw is? Get HBO. Watch the “Sex and the City” reruns.

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  10. Dorothy said on January 23, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Carrie Bradshaw won the most recent American Idol contest, at least I’m pretty sure.

    I’m guessing a “swingy top” is something loose and gauzy and embroidered at the top. Usually a few sparkly things are sewn on for good measure. At least that seems to be the going thing hanging on the racks at the juniors section of Kohl’s when I walk by!

    Hope that helps!

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  11. Dorothy said on January 23, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Oops!! See – I am hopelessly out of touch. Nance is right! Now someone needs to clue me in on who won American Idol last spring.

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  12. alex said on January 23, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Just reminiscing about the old days at IU. There was Taco Bell, where you could get ten tacos for a buck circa 1983. I remember standing in line there behind Uwe Blab, a German recruit to the Hoosiers. He was about seven feet tall and had to bend over to place his order, and his ass was like in my face. He was accompanied by a teensy girl, and there probably wasn’t anyone who saw them together who didn’t wonder how they did it. There was also a place called Taco John’s, actually a better deal, where a buck bought you a Super Burrito that was ten times the substance of Taco Bell’s ten tacos.

    In those days, if you were tired of grease, you could always eat in the cafeteria in the Union, where a very satisfying corned beef sandwich could also be had for less than a buck. These days the Union has been leased out to the likes of Taco Bell so I don’t think there’s a healthful meal available anywhere on campus, and probably nowhere off-campus either unless you’re a “Trustafarian” as they used to call it.

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  13. mary said on January 23, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Macy’s has called me back to work, but now I’m part time and I’m a “fitting room specialist” in the 200 dollar jeans and swingy top department. This is like being the mother of many spoiled 19 year old girls. They try on many many pairs of jeans (30 pairs is not uncommon) and then throw them on the floor. They try on 200 dollar poorly made swingy tops, and throw them on the floor. They might buy one thing, or they might shoplift something, which is very frequent. The overpriced jeans and swingy top department is the most active for shoplifting. This partly because of the merchandise, and partly because the salespeople are moslty other 20 year girls, who don’t care if people steal things. They are busy talking to each other about their jeans.

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  14. Linkmeister said on January 23, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Ah, the good old days, when Budweiser was $1.33/six-pack, midnight walks to MickeyD’s for a double cheeseburger were not uncommon, and studying was hit-or-miss.

    There used to be a place called “The Big A” in Tucson where they served good burgers pretty cheaply, but the big draw was draft beer in Mason jars.

    Swingy tops were unheard of on the campus at U of Az., but skimpy clothing in other forms was de rigueur, particularly in the spring.

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  15. Ken said on January 23, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    What happens when they get jobs and start out at the entry-level salary?

    If there anything like quite a few recent college grads I know…
    1) They still get money from mom and dad.
    2) They max out credit card after credit card, building up mountains in debt. Of course, to be fair, the amount of debt they’re adding is probably quite small in comparison to their college loan debt.

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  16. pasquinn said on January 23, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    MichaelG –

    Yes, Spudnuts still exists, or what’s left of it. The last surviving Spudnuts is here in Charlottesville, Virginia, but its survival is doubtful, since the owner just passed to that great doughnut bakery in the sky.

    And yes, they make them with potato flour.

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  17. joodyb said on January 23, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    sick about the dog. but it did distract me from our baby dolphin tragedy (you can’t read w/o @!#* registering; here is top of story):

    Harley, the Minnesota Zoo’s newest dolphin, died Saturday afternoon after jumping out of his pool and fracturing his head on the concrete deck.
    The dolphin calf, which had just turned 7 months of age, apparently panicked in swimming between two back pools at the zoo that have been his home since birth.
    Harley — whose name was picked from 10,000 entries last summer in a zoo-sponsored naming contest — had started training Wednesday to go between the east and west back pools through a channel, said Kevin Willis, director of biological programs at the zoo in Apple Valley.
    “Things had been going well,” Willis said. “He was a real champ.”
    But on Saturday about 2:45 p.m., the calf had gone from the east “maternity” pool to the west pool with his mother, Rio. Rio returned to the east pool, and as Harley swam toward the channel, he leapt out of the water and landed on the deck.
    “We don’t know why he did that. He must have panicked,” Willis said.

    mmmm, little kings.
    Mary, your post is my favorite.

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  18. basset said on January 23, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    so *that’s* what a “swingy top” is.


    not familiar with the Taco John’s in Bloomington, I was at IU 73-77 and again in spring 80. the breakfast place was called the “Hour House,” not sure how long it survived.

    I am properly shamed for not knowing who some TV character was. don’t have HBO, never seen “Sex and the City.” sorry.

    you can see local tv coverage of the dolphin accident at… complete with a live report in the dark in front of a closed-up building where it happened hours before.

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  19. mary said on January 23, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks, Joody. Two days of fitting room specialist for overpriced jeans and I’ve got so many good stories. Yesterday one of the store managers who knows me quite well, Alfred, stopped to chat. He was surprised I was no longer in the land of Wedgewood and Bernadaud (a more civilized place where I spent Christmas season) and he asked me if the overpriced etc. department was where I wanted to be. Incredulously, he asked this, I might add. I said no without hesitating at all. He told me to hang in there and he’d lobby for a less stupid job for me. Then Stephanie, newly moved to the over etc department salesfloor, approached Alfred to complain about the ready to wear manager. Seems some of the overwhatever department’s salespersons are allowed to wear the product. I don’t know if this is determined by how cute one’s ass looks or what. Those who are allowed to wear the special jeans are called “product specialists.” So Stephanie, who gets tranferred in from the towel department or something, not only owns lots of these jeans already, she has them shortened by a seamstress so they look good with flats and comfy shoes. Usually she wears them with her Christian Laboutin pumps, you see (think about 650 dollar shoes). All her jeans are now short, and the nasty manager tells her she has not been authorized to be a jeans specialist. Stephanie is pissed, and she wants Alfred the manager to intervene. Alfred looked non committal about the issue.
    The brands of jeans that are most popular are Seven for all Mankind and Citizens of Humanity. Two hundred bucks, made some place in the third world. The swingy tops that are popular are made by Free People. Same deal on price and origin.

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  20. nancy said on January 23, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    I love stories like this. It just goes to show you there are novels everywhere. You just have to take good notes.

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  21. Hoosier said on January 23, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    Hey, hey, hey, tapas are the Nicaraguans poor folks food. Goes great with a beer or two. Used to come free with the beer (as well as a great cultural experience with the waiter. Imagine an anti-comunist-looking Hoosier with a liberal bent whos got his Cuban cigars for free from, “good anti-communists” and you can imagine the confusion of the waiter when I was partying with the Sandinista foresters in Granada). Bocitas y cervezas, bien provecho!

    Anyway, growing up in Fort Wayne, I felt pity for the kept. Even though they, “had it all” (money, security), they lacked the respect of others in their field. They didn’t, “earn it.” If you start closer to the top, you’d better figure out how to climb higher than the top.

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  22. MarkH said on January 24, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    Great thread here. All those days in college spent in poverty come flooding back; great ones they were, too.

    For the record, Nance, it was the Rocky Boot and Shoe Co., sadly no longer manufacturing in Nelsonville as of 2002. Outsourced overseas in order to save the company, or so they said. Had a pair at OSU myself and you can still find them in stores and catalogs.

    Aside from all the pizza (Connie’s was my favorite-cheap and they delivered till 4:00AM), one of the best places on the OSU campus was Freddie’s at 11th & Neil; too small and always crowded, but the best food for next-to-nothing. Eventually, I got smart and took a part-time restaurant job so I knew that 3 or 4 days a week I got at least one good meal. That was in addition to the extra cash for the Oar House, Bier Stube and Molly McGuire’s.

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