It happens every Sunday. Thousands of people spring awake at the crack of dawn in Buffalo and its surrounding suburbs, fastening bathrobes, flipping on percolators, and swinging wide the door, reaching down only to see ...
Cement. Maybe front porch pine, perhaps a hallway floor. Nobody who works at the Buffalo News' circulation department is quite sure what the average TTC (Thought To Complaint) time is, but it's commonly put around 20 seconds, varying by township, age, number of cats in a household and, perhaps most importantly, level of activity in said customer's life. The lonely ones call twice.
It's not just the missing newspapers that put formerly socially adjusted youths on headsets at the News. It's the shortage of circular ads from Wegmans, it's the jerks at hUBie's that sign their receipts "Captain Stupendous," it's the maniacally driven chronic printers at Capen, spraying vast sums of papyrus with what seems to be one-eighth of the entire Internet.
If you've never worked a job in which you serve, it's hard to grasp the mentality that brews from hour after hour of helping people when they're at their worst: when they want, need, or have a problem with something. Some can just blow off steam and laugh off the real nut cases, but some develop a disregard for their customers and client, adding to a general trend perceived among young people: a distanced criticism of those less fortunate, those in need of help.
To be certain, without a good amount of wry humor, nobody could make it through some of the more interactive jobs out there. Imagine the plight of the custodian left to haul away the three garbage cans full of Labatt empties ("more ounces than they have in their brain,"), or the student representatives constantly hounded by student newspaper lackeys, or the beleaguered souls at the Grill Works in Putnam's. After awhile, a shield develops, one you use to fend off the ignorance and impatience of the screeching masses.
Look no further than the Unofficial UB Forum on the Internet, where anyone posting a particularly bright question ("Hey guyz, where do you get mp3z?") generates more responsive verbiage than has been written by those students all week. Bother certain administrators enough, and suddenly you've gotten to know their secretary better than your roommate.
In Michael Lewis' "Next: The Future Just Happened," Lewis describes a growing class of young, technically superior and overly-informed youth, among them a New Jersey pre-teen boy who made thousands defrauding the online investment market by duping those he would've stood for some 50 or so years ago. Much of the cutting-edge humor of our time stems from a complete disregard for those with authority ("Office Space") or a cavalier attitude towards pretty much everyone not in on the joke ("Clerks").
All of this has made the past few weeks pretty amazing. I've never had more phone calls returned by real faculty since I started working at this paper; I've never had friendlier conversations with people serving me. It could be just me, but I think the combined efforts of people in the UB community to put things in a greater perspective since the greatest loss this crop of baccalaureates has ever felt has brought a renewed faith to many who'd given up on the selfless American.
Perhaps it's a two-way benefit. When the Nimda virus took down the entire campus' Internet connection, the general reaction of students was to find something else to do with their time. When I called Lockwood libraries to contest a late charge on a book taken out over the summer, it only took a half-explanation of my situation before the other end told me "It's not something we're really concerned about." I was led to believe that's really all they were concerned about.
I haven't seen one person stare at the Orthodox Jews performing ceremonies in the Student Union. I'm finding it harder and harder to dig up stories with opinionated, irate students. For some reason or another, the violently worded Generation / P-Sun debacle has yet to spark.
Will it last until the new year? It's a safe assumption there will be movies out once more, giddily mocking all things cornflower blue. All I'm hoping for from this brief respite from "all mockery, all the time" is a memory of when, for a surreal few weeks, college looked a bit more like grade school.