I took a date to a sushi restaurant last night. The place was crowded; we sat at the bar rather than waiting for a table. Halfway through the meal, a man sitting next to us interrupted our conversation. He was an older man (old enough to have a 26 year old son—will explain that in a moment), drinking a glass of red wine and finishing his teriyaki wrapped in lettuce leaves. I noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring.
He had been eavesdropping on our conversation for the past half hour. “At first, both of you didn’t stop looking at your phones,” he said. “People these days can’t carry on a decent conversation without their phones. But then you both put away your phones and were fine.” He shifted his seat to face us, and I knew we were in trouble—he wanted to talk. On cue, he told about his three children.
His oldest son had gone to Cal Poly of San Luis Obispo. My date graduated from there and raised her fist in salute. “It’s so cheap,” he said. “But it’s still a good school. My son’s high school cost more than that school. I told him, ‘Stay another year. That’s nothing. It’s so cheap, why not? They raised the tuition 5%. From $22,000 a year to $24,000. I didn’t even notice.
“He got a job with Apple right out of college. I knew someone at the company and pulled a few strings. His first year out of college, he made enough to cover the cost of 4 years at Cal Poly. He was making $90,000 when he was 24 years old, once you factor in his bonuses. He’s done really well for himself.
“My other son is at Columbia. He’s going to work on Wall Street next summer. Columbia is $65,000 a year. He won’t be able to cover all 4 years that first year, but it shouldn’t take him more than (doing the math in his head) two, two and a half years.
“My daughter will start college in the fall.”
“Where’s she going to go?”
“We’re not sure yet. Maybe Dartmouth. She might go to Vanderbilt.”
“I went there for a year,” I told him.
“I heard it’s called the ‘Stanford of the South.’ (Actually, it’s called the ‘Harvard of the South,’ but I guess we revise expressions to suit our tastes.) She could go to SMU. I heard it’s called the ‘USC of the South.’ The worst she can do is the University of Texas at Austin. She’s already been accepted there.”
“That’s a great school,” I said. “Austin’s a wonderful city. She’ll love it.”
“I’ve heard it’s next to impossible to get into if you’re not from Texas. They take 90% percent of their students from in-state.”
This morning, I put on my grubby clothes and Giants’ hat, drove into the city to pack food and toiletry boxes for the homeless people of the Tenderloin District, the poorest, most drug-riddled neighborhood of San Francisco. We filled the boxes (Boxes Of Love, they were called) with soap and shampoo, razors and socks, toilet paper and shaving cream. I jellied probably a hundred PB&J sandwiches; those of us volunteering made up silly songs about peanut butter.
We didn’t get to go hand them out. That was reserved for the second group that had signed up. But the three men organizing the event told their stories to us. All had been former drug and alcohol addicts. All were now clean and spending their time helping those on the streets. One man said, “Know that what you’re doing right now is going to put a huge smile on someone’s face.”
The man in charge concluded the morning’s work by sharing his testimony. Cocaine use. Selling guns and drugs. Cheating on his wife and neglecting his kids. He said, “Now, my life is about being honest and transparent. I don’t care who knows my story. I want people to know it, and to tell other people. That’s what I’m here for. To be transparent.”
Crazy. One experience saddened me. The other filled me with gladness. Probably the opposite reactions from what we’d expect. I’m so sick of the way this world works.