Friends and I were talking about our undergraduate degrees, and as usual under such circumstances, I could only envy theirs. They'd gone to schools focused at least partially on their educations. I did not have that luxury.
• • •
When you're poor in Ohio, you go to Ohio State. Ohio State at the time had more students in my major than my subsequent grad school had total undergraduates. I was one of 45,000 commuting students. I will remember this stat forever because of another: there were fewer than 6000 parking spaces. Even when my first class was at noon, I arrived at 6:30am so that my $600 car might gasp and knock in a space of its own.
The scale of the place is massive. Each college has its own den of bureaucrats with which you must deal, and after you wait for hours, each office invariably sends you to the remote Lincoln Tower, the university's massive central administrative building. Abandon all hope. I was once behind a guy named Drew at the Arts & Sciences office. He was trying to drop a class. The clerk said that his records showed him as female. "Can you change that?" Drew asked. No, she grinned sadistically. He'd have to go to Lincoln Tower. "Fuck that noise," he said. "I'd rather wear a dress." Everyone but the clerk laughed. Nope. He would have to trek the mile to Lincoln Tower and get his gender reassignment surgery before she would process his drop form. Then trek back, wait in this line again, and then find out what other dance she'd make him dance. This would take a full day, guaranteed. His eyes welled, and then he unconfidently began his quest.
It took years, but I found the shortcuts in that maze. While my peers kissed their professors' butts, I befriended the lowly clerks and secretaries. They were more my people. I would chat with them about their lives. I baked them cookies. It was genuine friendliness on my part, not a crass strategy, but the advantages soon became clear. The most powerful people at Ohio State do not have fistfuls of degrees. They do not drop pretentious Latinates into your conversation, like turds in your crab bisque. No. They are the overlooked, the underpaid, the despised, the truly fucked. They became my friends. Soon I was shooting through my undergraduate years like I was fired from a rail gun. Frictionless.
• • •
I listened to my friends' college tales of with unconcealed envy and zero recognition. When I'd been struggling to find parking and drop classes, my friends had been on the crew team and reading and retaining John Irving. I was happy for them, but I stewed in envy.
"The only thing I learned at Ohio State," I said bitterly, "Was how to exploit obtuse bureaucracies."
"Uh..." said my friends.
And with that, self-awareness kicked in. I've been manipulating moronic corporate bureaucracies ever since, profiting both myself and my friends, including those present. I'm not sure why I didn't see the parallels before that moment. I suppose sometimes people need to hold a mirror up to your face.
• • •
In 2007, my Microsoft boss fucked over one of my peers. He was an average worker and human being but not deserving of his vilification, yet she angrily drove him right out of the company. I did what I do: I stayed in touch. I sent him a joke a couple times a year. A few years later, now a peon at another corporation, he contacted me about a consulting gig. And then he helped me navigate around the corporate bullshit, straight to vendor cash. This would balloon into a full-scale business that changed my life and those of several friends. Today he is gone, but I continue to feed at this trough.
And it all began with me emailing him in 2007—when he was broken, disgraced and downtrodden—that his former boss had dropped a pen and split the seam in her pants.