Wednesday, June 6, 2012

HUNGER & OTHER MOTIVATING FACTORS: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been, Part 5

Aliens: Colonial Marines, issue 9 of 10

I never had any money growing up.

Both my parents worked, but not at jobs that paid very well, and especially when I was small (before Mom re-entered the work force, and was spending her days taking care of my scrawny, screaming little ass) there were quite a few months when the bank account showed a nice, round $.05 after all the bills were paid.

This kind of poverty (and we were definitely below the poverty line) was not uncommon in the tiny little town in Georgia where we lived. What was uncommon was that my parents, each a product of small-town, rural life in the 1930’s, had found each other. Neither of them went to college, and yet they were both sort of scary-smart, and STICKLERS LIKE YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE for correct grammar. To this day my grammar remains very close to flawless, and I’ll actually stop and correct myself when I’m talking if I flub up. I can’t help it.

I’ve often thought that my parents were, essentially, a couple of very high IQ’s and a heaping helping of pride away from being what Southerners call “poor white trash.” But those IQ’s and that pride were like a high steel wall, and things like wifebeater tank tops, food stamps, and cars on blocks in the front yard remained on the other side of that wall. Permanently.

But I digress. The point is: I  never had any money.

This lack of funds carried over solidly into my college years. And I know, college students are always broke. I suspect I was probably more broke than most. I attended the University of Georgia, and worked part time at Spencer Gifts in the Athens mall, selling raunchy greeting cards and raunchy T-shirts and the occasional “personal massager” (also raunchy).

Just down the way from Spencer Gifts was a little Chinese restaurant (operated entirely by Mexicans), and for the grand total of one dollar I could get an egg roll and a little cup of sweet-and-sour sauce to dip it in. That cup of sweet-and-sour was very important, and I always asked for a spoon when I got the egg roll, because as I dipped the egg roll in the sauce, little bits of it would fall out and accumulate in the cup. Then, when the egg roll itself was gone, I had a whole other part of the meal: sweet-and-sour sauce soup!

Having an entire dollar was important, because it meant I could eat that night, but there were plenty of nights when I didn’t have that dollar and went hungry.

(I know, I know, I could have bought groceries for cheaper than eating out and brought a sandwich to work with me, but you have to remember that I was twenty years old and a complete dumbass.)

Anyway, I scraped by on what little funds I had, gnoshing on the occasional egg roll here and there, until the summer between my junior and senior years. I was sharing a duplex with two fellow students, Norm and Clint, and they both went home for the summer. I stayed in Athens and worked a truly craptastic job at a telemarketing place - which is why I’m more polite to telemarketers than most people are - and it was at that point that I found myself facing a dilemma:

I had enough money to keep paying rent and buying groceries, and I had enough money to pay tuition for Fall Quarter, but I did not have enough money to do both of those things.

I tried to conserve as much as humanly possible, and what that turned into was a six-week period during which I boughtno groceries, and instead lived off whatever I could find that Norm and Clint had left in the cabinets when they moved home. (I remember one day in particular when my food intake consisted of one can of sliced peaches. Those were some freaking delicious peaches.)

Basically, for those six weeks, I did three things:
  1. 1)worked at the telemarketing place for slightly less than peanuts, because we were on commission and I couldn’t sell a warm coat to an Eskimo
  2. 2)learned to live with hunger pangs
  3. 3)worried.

And oh, I got good at worrying. I’d lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling and just worry my heart out. To this day I’m sort of amazed that I didn’t give myself either a raging ulcer or some form of cancer.

The way I saw it, grocery boycotts aside, I had an extremely unpleasant yet unavoidable situation bearing down on me: I was going to have to drop out of college, move back in with my parents, and get a job at the local carpet mill.

Taken individually, none of those consequences were all that bad. People took a quarter or two off from college all the time; moving back in with Mom and Dad would mean a familiar roof over my head and all the brilliant home cooking I could eat; and the local carpet mill paid relatively big bucks, especially when compared with Spencer Gifts or the telemarketing outfit.

But I didn’t want to take that route, because in my mind that would mean I had failed, and I HATED the thought of just plain failing.

So I made cold calls to people who very pointedly did not want any magazine subscriptions, and I rationed my peanut butter crackers and canned apple sauce, and I worried.

The phone rang one day right around the middle of the summer, about two weeks before I had to pay tuition, at a point when I had just about perfected worrying into some sort of psychokinesis. I had fully intended to use my new worry-fueled and possibly hallucinatory mental super-power to bore holes in the ceiling, because I was too weak from hunger to get out of bed, but instead I answered the phone.

It was Dan Thorsland from Dark Horse, and his words might as well have been a magical incantation, they turned my world around so fast. “Hey Dan,” he said, “Do you think you could take over on this Colonial Marines mini-series and wrap it up in a couple of issues?”

It was as if the Heavens had opened for me.


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