The only job I ever really wanted, the only one that I never had to lie to get was at The Norris Center Browsing Library. It was my work study job. Colleges evaluate your parent’s income and wealth and somehow decide how much they can afford to spend for each year of your college stay. The difference is made up with financial aid, actual money gifts, student loans, and probable work study income. Imagine buying a car that way. “You seem to be able to afford the chassis. We’ll throw in the steering wheel and the radio. You can work off the tires, and we’ll loan you the rest. The lousy thing about student loans is that you personally have to pay them back. My father was ecstatic with that. I just felt gypped. My parents said they were going to put me through college. Nothing was ever said about racking up extravagant sums of money that I was supposed to eventually pay back. As far as I was concerned this was negative financial aid, despite the overwhelmingly reasonable rates at which it was supposedly lent.
Work study was cool as far as that went. Supposedly it was there to supplement and ease your tuition payments, but in reality it was the only chance you had to acquire some spending money. I suppose you could have just found yourself a job on your own, but a work study job was much more likely to be one where you could sit down and do your homework while getting paid. See work-study – study was in the title.
I had no idea what I was going to major in at Northwestern, but I immediately knew exactly what kind of work study job I didn’t want. This would best be represented by that pillar of American movies Pride of the Yankees where the young Lou Gehrig has to wait on rich-kid fraternity tables while his mom cooks in the back. I wanted no part of that. I didn’t want set up chairs and tables, I didn’t want to serve food or ice cream, and I especially wanted no part of anything to do with trash and cleaning products. The ambitious kids got to be managers in charge of the cleaners and the ice cream servers, but those are the jobs where they call you up on a Friday night with a crisis that needs your attention and I wasn’t anywhere near that ambitious, besides who can get any homework done when you’re in charge of a bunch of lay about freshmen and a filthy building.
The original plan was to debate for Northwestern and take in all the scholarship money and alumni graft that college debate is known for. I thought minimum they would pick up half of my tuition, not to mention any and all secret pay outs I could accumulate after winning some tournaments. Unfortunately, I soon found out how boring college debate could be and how Spartan was the lifestyle of those who practiced it. Another version of the story is that I slept through so much of the pre-season preparation week that my new best friend, Dave Allen, would have to explain politely and fairly often that I wasn’t feeling so well. To make a long story short when I found out that a work study job would involve much less work for what in all likelihood would be at least just as if not more profitable, debate was no longer an option. I quit as quickly and as painlessly as I could and I took Dave Allen with me.
Having decided debate-wise to rest on my high school achievements, I began wandering around the campus searching for a tolerable work study situation. Early on it was suggested to Dave and me that we check out the Norris Center, the school’s student union. Dave was excited about possibly working in the outdoor activity center, renting bikes, skates, tents, and hopefully not enough of them to interfere with getting paid to do his homework.
My first thought was the game room; my second thought was that the game room was awfully loud and busy. It was then that fate kissed me, in what I honestly believe to be the only experience of my life that I could ever say was one hundred percent positive. I wandered into the Browsing Library. The Browsing Library was three moderately sized rooms devoted to music and reading. The library contained four Nakamici tape decks, hundreds and hundreds of cassette tapes of recorded music, all the daily papers and about forty magazine subscriptions, including a behind the desk copy of Playboy. The two side rooms were there for students to request their favorite music, but the main room’s sounds were at the mercy of the attendant. The only better job I could imagine would be to get paid for housing prospective incoming co-eds on long weekends.
No sooner had I figured out that these attendants were paid, and as it turned out later well compared to the jobs with the heavy lifting, to listen to their favorite music while they did their homework, than I was running my ass off to get this job. To put this into perspective I had been at Northwestern about a week and a half and had already slept through a week of debate preparation. My first official responsibility at the school was to attend a meeting of the three year scholar program. In essence Northwestern was willing to give me a years worth of credits, a sixteen thousand dollar value at that time, and let me register for all my freshman classes as a sophomore, which meant I would get whatever classes I wanted, all in exchange for my presence at one two hour meeting, which I nevertheless managed to fall asleep in before half of it was over. My room-mate had to wake me up and tell me it was time to leave after all the more ambitious students had gotten up and left. It was in the face of this that I launched an all out assault on the browsing library job.
Never before was so much effort put forth in the name of laziness.
I spent fifteen minutes selling myself to the sophomore Browsing Library attendant, ascertained from her that Marilyn Augustyn, a senior, was in charge of hiring any new employees, and convinced her that it would be a crime to recommend any one in the world that wasn’t me. I immediately went and got myself put on the interview list for the Browsing Library, but I was whole-heartedly unwilling to leave things to chance. My next move was to scour the campus for Miss Augustyn, a task that fate would fortunately prove to be harder to achieve than one would think. As it turned out I never met her until the day of the interview, but she found herself inundated with messages to call me from every person on campus who could claim to have ever had contact with her. There was no way she couldn’t hire me, she had twelve messages that I was looking for her and everyone in the student center telling her how much I craved the job. By the end of the year we were pretty good friends and she had grown fond of my irreverent laziness and love for loud difficult to study to music, but she never let me forget that I had somehow conned the entire building into believing that I was not only a good hire but a necessary one.