This past Memorial Day weekend I did something I’ve never done before. And no, I didn’t take three consecutive body shots of three different liquors off the bellies of three different sorority girls for three days straight; I wasn’t on houseboats, sorry to disappoint.
Instead, I went to Raging Waters. But more on that later.
Before I did that, I nerded it up and wracked my brain over what to write for this column. Sitting alone in front of my computer screen, slowly draining a Sierra Nevada Summerfest, I tried to think of an engaging, clever way to tie off all the loose ends of my two-year career as an Aggie columnist.
I was failing. Miserably.
I started and stopped, did and undid, copied and pasted and cut and cleared. The words weren’t right, the ideas incomplete and the feelings too confused; and as with most bouts of writer’s block, it was only getting worse.
So when the opportunity to go to Raging Waters came up on Sunday, I pounced.
Unfortunately, the slides, and even the lazy river, weren’t enough to take my mind off the problems I was having with the column. Fortunately, the slides and the lazy river completely resolved them.
Sitting by the wave pool, taking in the scene, I saw something. I saw it around me, I saw it in everything. I saw my friends and me in a different context, and that context exposed just how insulated we college students are at UC Davis.
First off, we’re fit. Some of us more than others, but 70 percent of college students are neither overweight nor obese. We care about what we eat (we did take NUT 10, after all), we exercise (the ARC is only closed for five hours a day) and just 9 percent of UC Davis students smoke. But 21 percent of Americans smoke, and they’re the fattest people in the world; 67 percent of Americans over 20 years of age are overweight and 34 percent are obese. Worse, the overweight and obesity rates among children have tripled since 1980.
We don’t disrespect our bodies like America.
Second, we’re not stupid. Assuming we graduate, we’ll be among the minority of Americans, 28 percent, with a bachelor’s degree. And while 85 percent of Americans have a high school diploma (or GED “equivalent“), the current drop out rate is 30 percent, and has been increasing steadily since the late 1960s if you include (unlike the government) 16- to 24-year-olds who are in prison and exclude (unlike the government) people with a GED.
We don’t think like America.
Third, we’re immersed in a completely different racial demographic. UC Davis’s breakdown is 42 percent Asian, 36 percent White, 12 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Black with a 56/44 female to male split. The rest of the country is just 4 percent Asian, 66 percent White, 15 percent Hispanic and 13 percent Black with a 51/49 male to female split.
We don’t look like America.
Fourth, we speak more languages. Sixty-four percent of the students in the UC system are from homes where English is the only language, 21 percent from a home where both English and another language were spoken and 15 percent never heard English when they walked through the door. The other language is usually Asiatic. America though is quite different; 82 percent speak only English in the home, while 10 percent speak both English and another language, usually Spanish.
We don’t talk like America.
Fifth, just 26 percent of college students have divorced parents, whereas nationally 43 percent of all first marriages end within 15 years. Furthermore, those parents make an average of 60 percent more per year than the national median. In 2005, that meant the average household with a kid in college pulled in $74,000; $27,700 more than the median $46,300.
We don’t come from America.
Sixth through ninth: We wear casual clothes and shirts with witty sayings like “Camping – It’s In Tents“; we use words like “awareness” and “masquerade“; and we walk with our bodies pointing forward. The rest of Americans wear shirts that say “NO FEAR,“ watch sports like NASCAR and either walk with their pants around their quads or waddle like ducks.
We don’t act like America.
But we’re in America, right?
I’m not so sure. What I saw at Raging Waters was an entirely different country.
Before his winky got him in trouble, John Edwards said there were two Americas; but I see three. There’s the America of the very select few who went to Ivy League schools and snorted the right people’s coke; they run this bitch and you will never be one.
Then there’s the America in the middle of the economic hourglass, doing everything it can to avoid slipping to the bottom; going to college, working hard, putting their savings into a home and 401K (at the advice of the previous America). They were generally surviving up to now, but that hourglass is getting awfully lopsided.
And then there’s the America I saw this weekend.
Raging Waters exposed me to something very ugly about America, and it took me back to why I started writing in the first place.
I was trying to show you a way from crazy. For all my rancorous diatribes and stick-it-to-the-man fury, I was doing it because what I see out there falls terribly short of where we could be, and I want so badly for us to get there. It was to give those who might be in a position to do something other ways of doing it; to voice alternative points of view; to get Americans to mobilize for something, to agitate for something, to be something.
I see so much that could be better about us, see so many ways we could drop the charade and stop pretending to be anything other than what we are: human. To stop trying to be gods or machines and just be human fucking beings.
To stop hawking heart attacks on a stick and cancer in a tube. To stop pushing the fear of inadequacy on our children through media. To stop getting caught up in material trivialities. To stop cutting throats like we cut budgets and taxes while wondering where the old America went.
I wrote because I wanted us to instead center on our families, our children, our health and education. To start giving people the tools to do those things, and to start pulling the hourglass a bit more in their favor; single payer health insurance, guaranteed housing, a food allowance, a living wage, six months paid maternity leave. Any one of those would do, all of those would do better.
Consider why we even run this rat race; we do it because we want to be happy. And we believe, rightly, that in order to be happy we need some base level of income. But that base of income is merely a means to an end; the purchase of a base level of comfort in the form of clothing, food, shelter and health. When any of those four is threatened, people’s lives become incredibly stressful because they are then struggling to literally survive.
So struggle they do; over 12 percent of homes (let alone rentals) are in default or foreclosure; over 10 percent of Americans are not “food secure“; 56 percent say college is unaffordable while college tuition is increasing three times as fast as the median family income; over 45 percent of Americans are uninsured, underinsured, have trouble paying for needed medical expenses or simply don’t seek care due to costs; over 40 percent have medical debt.
But no one cares.
We are so wealthy, even now, that to forego these sorts of social supports and thus force our fellow countrymen to scrounge for scraps at the edges of society is appalling. It’s a tragic, even shameful testament to just how far we’ve wandered from decency and respect as a community of human beings.
We could be so much more than this.
K.C. CODY thanks you all for your time and attention, and invites you to check out his blog at contentiousobjector.blogspot.com. Any remaining hate mail or stalker scribbles can be sent to email@example.com.