Wednesday, July 27, 2016


in Dave's portrait circa 1996 one detail that soon fascinated me was the pager. I don't think I noticed it right away -- to notice, one must be aware as I had not been -- but eventually the pager attracted attention to itself. it would beep, Dave would tinker with the device attached to the belt of his jeans, and then reach for the nearest phone.
a junior, Dave was juggling three jobs. his main gig was off campus: he managed computers for a Rochester realtor who worked with low income and veterans housing projects. Dave didn't have a car, and took a bus to work, and, on occasion, his boss would drive him home. Dave's second job was on campus. Ethernet had just been laid to the residential halls, and students who had computers could connect to it. Dave took shifts to answer all the tech support questions that came up. His third job took up most of the floor space in his and Jason's room. He would custom-build computers for people, ordering all the boards and the cases separately and then assembling them all at once. The end result was a lot cheaper than a ready-made computer, and there was a decent profit margin in it for Dave.
(when I visited Dave in that room, the only place to sit was the bed, and to get to the bed, one had to kind of jump over the computer carcasses. I came over, climbed onto Dave's bed, Jason would put on a movie from his side of the room, and we would watch something while Dave half-watched, half-worked.)
"wouldn't your time be better spent studying?" i would ask him, meaning that if he studied hard, did well in school, and got a great job, he would have a greater earning potential down the road.
"i learn more at work that I do at school," Dave said.
i doubted that answer, but the fact was that most of the students at RIT worked, men and women. the food services, the library, the academic and admissions offices, pretty much every office relied on student labor--and kids with cars delighted that they could hold off-campus jobs that paid more.
one of my mentors in the international student program, a sophomore from India -- let's call him A for the purposes of this narrative (I'm working up to writing more about him) -- suggested that I was a spoiled privileged brat because not only had I never worked a day in my life, but I also claimed that none of my classmates in Russia worked. (there had been sordid rumors about a couple of kids who'd started working at the end of high school. nobody talked about this directly, not in 1996. tutoring was one thing, but serving food and even selling computer parts was another. service jobs seemed somehow embarrassing for future mathematicians and engineers.) seventeen, without a job? according to A, it turned out that I and all of my friends must've been not only incredibly rich, but also very lazy. don't even rich kids sometimes want to have their own income?
when I tried to convince A that in the Soviet Union people didn't commonly work until after the university, or at least, until after third or fourth year in the university, he laughed in my face. "You're such a daddy's girl."
that I couldn't deny. And yet, I didn't think his description of me as privileged fit, but in our many, many conversations about this, in person and in email, I could not convince him otherwise. at least I could prove to him that I wasn't lazy. i started thinking about getting a job.

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