American Dropout (Part I)

Gile sat in the 50’s diner, trying not to think about his phone he’d put on silent on his pocket. It was annoying, and he didn’t like it. But you needed one. He loved the internet and what it could teach you, but refused to buy a smart phone. The temptation to always be reading and searching would be too great, he thought. He had a fantasy about owning a land line and an answering machine, like his stubborn parents still had. But they never answered it. 9 out of 10 calls were telemarketers. It was like an old yahoo account filled with spam from years of built up websites being signed up to. And he didn’t even know where to find a phone jack in his student ghetto house. Or how to set up a line. Maybe he could call a confused phone company employee. One with the harshest accents. Stabbingly southern or East Indian. Always a humdrum voice bouncing around his phone he struggled to understand.

Cox’s head always looked like it was 30 years older than his body. The diner was his parent’s business, one they mostly seemed to hate. He was barely into his twenties and still brandished an antiquated mustache and a retreating hairline beyond his prominent widows peak. The mind within the head was even older, with ideals of 20th century societies he’d only seen in movies and political sketches that could not really be described as ideas, but more captured echoes of an oppressed father having survived Vietnam with only the cruelest of paranoid conservatism.

Stewart Simpson sat with his infant girl and watched his 4 year old jabber to passersby and poke experimentally at the glimmering colors and bubbles of the juke box. Like most, Stew’s childhood had been roughly shaped through the constant eroding ridicule he had received. Stew’s unfortunate surname had come in the rise of The Simpson’s and the effective poster-boying of Bart on every commercial, cereal, or candy that would be marketed. Now, after being pelted with Butterfinger wrappers and songs of the show’s ubiquitous theme, he had passed the name on to his children, both unplanned. Their mother was a pathological liar he had met during a semester of Disney internship, who Stew would never leave, since his own father divorced his mother when Stew was quite young, though never truly divorced himself from his problems.

Norton loved many things, weed and music being predominate. He had grown up kind and sardonic, mixing punk rock with compassion and whatever computer tech or adventurous game he could find. He had played football well in high school, but broken his back and halted his play, though to competition had never terribly interested him. His parents had been fairly wealthy and loving, adding piano lessons to his Rachmaninov hands and softness to his passive nonconfrontation. He was happiest picking daintily at his guitar in quiet contemplation.

Max was a bit older than the rest. A cast-off from State schools, he had tried again. Minor jail time for possession and an ex-cop father who’d remarried so many times it last meaning had taught Max the power and importance of altruism. Like most, he had been raised Catholic and like most it had little to no meaning to him. Everyone was important when they were in his presence. There were stories of his anger, though few had actually seen it. Mostly, he seemed to exist in a state of bliss and relaxed moderation. His existence as an RA was cut short by Facebook photos of him passed out an unknown party, though with no one else in the picture with him. Instead, he continued life managing various late night fast foods and selling the best weed anyone around could find. Mostly, his lifestyle bordered on self-destructive, insomnia matched with days gone with sleep. None of this seemed to bother him, as eternally, all was seen as good.

Not all of them were college dropouts. There was the other side too: sadness and disillusionment at a lack of accomplishment. Purposeless, structureless life that spread out flat and endless. Either the ticking of the brain kicked in early, or late. Pressure could swell in a body and crack the skin until it could no longer give. Then a person would slide defeated and apologetic to further debauchery and denial about how it had all happened. It is always safer declare one’s self to be powerless, then simply to have failed.

Sometimes, they make it. A hard-fought standing in society through years of time and money. A different light can be leveled for reputation and status. Empty years of spiraling doubt culminating in a new way The Established shake your hand. The direct correlation between money and education becomes less evident when, after the major milestones are washed away, nothing really has changed at all.

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