Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Letter from California-January 16, 2005

What do a fighter pilot, heart surgeon, concert pianist and a guy with a stack of brochures have in common? They all spoke at a career day held at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto, California a couple weeks ago. Brochure guy, whose name is Robert Fried, may not have had the impressive credentials the other speakers did, but he proved that a good brochure can make a big impression. Just because no one has any idea what you do, it doesn’t mean your career day talk is going to be a big bust. (More about that last part later.)

After all, nobody interviewed the F-16 pilot for the local news and the San Francisco Chronicle didn’t pay a bit of attention to the totally uninteresting heart surgeon. They all spoke to Fried though, thanks to those amazing brochures.

Before you read further, please flash back with me to Career Day in middle school. At that age, an actual job seems like something dirty that adults are forced to do once they realize no one thinks they’re cool. By the time you’re that old, you assure yourself, you’ll be a famous rock star with so much money that heart surgeons will be your butlers. You’ll fly your private F-16 to your 21st birthday party inside a volcano resort, where your friends will agree that people with jobs are stupid and that you’re the coolest guy in history. Cooler even than Rick Springfield (or Justin Timberlake, if you prefer a more recent Regrettable Pop Star.) Then, the tall, sweaty kid in the next seat jars you with his elbow, and you wake up from your daydream. Pretty soon you find yourself actually wishing to go back to class, because if you have to listen to these stupid adults with their miserable jobs flying jets and saving lives, your face will turn to dust with boredom.

Fried’s brochures, though, managed to reach across the generation gap of extreme boredom and connect. How did he do it, you ask? Simply by making a list of careers the children might consider if the rich food and hectic travel schedule of being a rock star isn’t for them. On this list he included two that hadn’t been approved by the PTA: exotic dancer and stripper. That’s funny, because I always thought “exotic dancer” and “stripper” meant the same thing. “Exotic dancer,” I figured, was just a way for strippers to make their grandmothers think they were performing at Carnegie Hall with the King of Persia instead of appearing at the Dollhouse with Lexus and Destiny during Happy Hour.

Anyway, some bright-eyed young fellow (and though it’s not written anywhere in the story, I feel 100% confident it wasn’t a girl) asked Fried why he had listed these on his brochure. He replied that stripping makes a fine career for someone with the right gifts. By “gifts,” he meant breasts. A 14-year old named Jason Garcia recounts that Fried said, “for every two inches up there, it’s another $50,000.” Wow, Jason has a pretty specific memory about that part of the talk. Let’s quiz him and see if he remembers what the concert pianist said about the going rate for a good flautist these days. Students say Fried claims that the right person can make up to $250,000 a year.

Wait a second. That math doesn’t work. If 2 inches in the chest gets you $50 grand, there’s this big guy who works at the AM/PM near my office that should be a millionaire. Just $250K a year for a person with his “gifts” would be an insult. Ok, maybe Fried wasn’t talking about him, since he comes to work everyday in the same Houston Oilers sweatshirt. I don’t know how to tell him that the Oilers moved to another state and changed their team name during the first Clinton Administration. Still, I don’t think Fried’s numbers add up.

Parents, as you might imagine, had a thing or two to say about the talk, mostly unprintable. The Principal blamed a substitute teacher for the problem, saying that if the real teacher hadn’t called in sick, this awful thing wouldn’t have happened. Reportedly, the substitute vowed never to come back after having to take the fall for Fried’s flub. Also, she reports she’s done the math and figures she can make $150K a year and that beats the heck out of what the school was paying. Ok, that part’s not true. Probably.

You can understand the parents’ anger, but beyond being offensive, Fried’s advice just seems dopey. He may have a highly developed fantasy life in which chesty co-eds training to become heart surgeons and fighter pilots put themselves through Genius State University by stripping, but back here in the less bow-chicka-bow-bow world outside Robert Fried’s dreams, stripping is generally a lousy job done by desperate people. Notice how you never read stories in Time magazine about strippers retiring to luxurious country homes at 27? Where’s all that righteous dough going?

My guess: career counseling and loose-fitting shirts.


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