I’m sure that there are plenty of folks I’ve met and known over the past three decades who think that they could sum me up in one word – arrogant. I know beyond a doubt that’s what Crush #1 thought of me back in ’82. I know that some my grad school classmates and friends varied between seeing me as “aloof,” “arrogant,” “cocky,” and “focused” in my five and a half years of master’s and doctoral work. And I know that one person I worked with in the past fifteen years thought of me as arrogant, even though I doubt that he would know what arrogance looked like if he saw it in the mirror every day, which he did (see my post “The Messiah Complex At Work, Part 1” from November ’11).But arrogance isn’t simply cockiness run amok, or people bragging about what they intend to do without doing it, or doing it and then showing off with a Tiger Woods’ fist pump or my occasional cross-kick. It’s making assumptions about the things of life as if the march to success is a given, as if victory is guaranteed, like taking the next breath or being able to stand upright.
I did that in the spring and summer of ’93, in the transition between my grad school days at the University of Pittsburgh and my more successful yet gloomy times at Carnegie Mellon. I was a year removed from my great first year of master’s work (see my post “The 4.0 Of It All” from December ’11), and a summer removed from working for Westchester Country Department of Community Mental Health in Mount Vernon for the last time (which I will discuss later this summer). The way I saw things, I knew that God was on my side, that my hard work would pay off, that everything I did led to more success, or more money in my pocket.
I acted on those beliefs that March, April and May. I wanted to move out of my crappy studio and drug-infested apartment building on Penn Circle South in East Liberty, to what I called grad student’s row — Stratford Avenue — off North Negley and Penn Avenue between East Liberty and Friendship. I even put a deposit down on a one-bedroom apartment at the beginning of March, anticipating that I’d find something work-wise for the summer. “Something would come up,” I often thought and said. So typically American of me!
I had applied for three fellowships that year, including a summer fellowship through Pitt and the Ford Foundation’s Predoctoral Fellowship Program (via the National Academies). I just knew that I’d get at least one. But the least laid plans of the arrogant often lead to the land of losses. Throughout April and May, I received rejections for all of my well-received, coming-in-second or “Honorable Mention” applications. Not to mention that my soon-to-be former grad program wouldn’t allow me to teach a US history course, though they didn’t have anyone else to teach it other than me at the time.
I realized after my mid-May root canal (see my “Facing The Tooth” post from May ’12) that I was about to enter a tough summer financially. I managed to get back my deposit for my dream apartment two weeks before I was due to move in, paying my Penn Circle South studio rent in the process. Then, with $350 to work with until further notice, I waited.
It wasn’t until the end of the first week in June that, after some qualms about my over-qualifications, Randy Brockington and the Allegheny County Department of Federal Programs hired me to work on a report. They wanted me to assess the work of their staff on the Job Training Partnership Act portion of their department. And all to the tune of $6 an hour. My mother spent the next four years teasing me about it. As if I had another option, as if coming back to 616 for the summer would be less torturous than falling six weeks behind on my rent and receiving an eviction notice.
I made one minor adjustment in my halcyon days of grad school that in-between summer of ’93. To simply not assume anything to be a sure thing, even when it was, to make Richard Marx’s “Don’t Mean Nothing” my mantra when it came to anything around money. Who knew that a little more than two months later, me and my friend Marc would have a controversial article in Black Issues in Higher Education? Who knew that less than two years later, I’d have a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, this despite my advisor? Life is a funny, ironic walk.