Glancing at my ticket, the train conductor dubbed me “Miss Berkeley” for the remaining 1.5 hours on the Amtrak.
“I thought you kids were out for the summer,” he told me as he stamped my ticket set on top of my library book. “Yeah, well I was out too much during the semester,” I replied, hoping that he would appreciate my self-effacing wordplay.
Catching that I was a proponent of leisure time and weekend adventures, the train conductor began recruiting me to join his crew on the Amtrak, where I could make a lot of money without hustling for a degree.
Though I told him that I’d join his crew if only to forget “Miss Berkeley,” he shrugged and said with a smirk, “We do make a lot more money than you think.” In spite of his professional nod and utterance of my Amtrak nickname, he left me cold with the frost of status quo.
I am a young female college student labeled with interchangeable minority lines connected to the prestige of the University of California, Berkeley. Prestige — condensing the depth of honor to shallow entitlement and pretense.
Though shame is the last thing I feel about getting into college, pride isn’t the first. I didn’t get into college because of my rational, forward-thinking behavior as an angsty, bright-eyed teenager. It was a fluke, forces of nature that had nurtured me into the relentless nerd I am today.
Discipline was nothing more than “the chokey” room in “Matilda.” It was a scare-tactic to box me in and make me explode later. It repressed my impulsive childish desires, desires I could only learn how to control myself if I was allowed to grow.
I was a B-student until the public education system dubbed me “above average,” even when English and Christian Living were my only real achievements in the Catholic sanctuaries that bounded my education in the Philippines.
The relish I found in reading harbored my development into a full-fledged bookworm, just the way others find comfort in people, food or music. If any of these other things lightened daily burdens the way someone else’s stream of consciousness seemed to set me afloat, then I probably wouldn’t have read as much as I did.
Finishing books inadvertently became my own disciplinary tool. Inspired to read just as much as my mother, my reading comprehension and writing skills were mere byproducts of growing up.
Though willpower and discipline seem to be keys for financial stability, one’s environment and resources are often taken into account only as an afterthought. Instead, individuals are praised for their hard work and ingenuity as precursors to their success.
California’s current budget crisis is paving the road to success into a much narrower one that only cultured and experienced individuals are entitled to follow. As the education system’s regimen of reward-or-punishment leaves individuals uninspired to pick up a book, the possible closure of 14 Oakland libraries will save the city money at the cost of developing human capital.
Under a proposed budget, only four libraries in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods will be open three days a week, leaving those struggling to learn with even fewer resources to “overcome” financial boundaries and pursue interests beyond academics but those of self-improvement.
Oakland city officials, along with other vote-deprived politicians, are obligated to cut expenditures but not at a socially optimal level. Although the money saved from closing libraries and reducing their funding will lead to short-term economic stability, it is not sustainable in the long run.
Instead of checking out the corner library while waiting for the bus to come, I’ll smoke a pack of cigarettes instead. And if I don’t have enough cigarettes to kill time, I’ll just go to the corner liquor store. Maybe I’ll meet some cool new people — an older crowd that knows the good life — people who really get it.
Already bombarded by TV shows, ads and commercialized music to satisfy impulses as if there’s no tomorrow, the death of Oakland’s libraries seem to guarantee just that. As long as today goes by without any abstractions distracting me from getting my daily bread, then nothing else matters. Why start reading a book today when tomorrow is already laid out by hourly wages?
Though the train conductor showed me that college was nonessential to financial stability, I wanted to convince him that securing finances was unrelated to “Miss Berkeley.” I am privileged to be in a position where earning above the national income median is not a goal of mine. While taxpayers and my family have invested in my education, profit-maximization is secondary when the effects of shutting down libraries are overlooked to save money.