The Boomerang Generation
A boomerang is a funny sort of device. Triangular in shape, typically made of wood, they are aerodynamically designed to be tossed into the air like a Frisbee, but due to the physical nature of their shape, instead of reaching a new destination, they follow an elliptical path right back towards its point of origin. It is with little enthusiasm that my generation has been dubbed the “Boomerang Generation.” Thrust out into the real world after high school, gliding confidently through college only to discover that not only will a barista job not appease the gods of Sallie Mae, but also Starbucks isn’t even hiring. Velocity waning, we turn the corner and as if pulled by the forces of nature, we glide back into the safe hands of our throwers, also known as our parents. A reluctant boomerang, I packed my life into a 10-foot moving truck, and waved goodbye to Nashville, TN in the spring of 2007, almost five years after arriving. I melodramatically cried a lot on that four-hour drive, and I sang a lot of blues.
Let me back up a few months. After taking a soul-crushing job as the office manager of a real-estate office, I almost immediately began searching for new, more lucrative employment. To give you an idea, my annual income was roughly 40% of my accrued undergraduate student debt, a frightening fact that still rears its ugly head. I got in contact with a headhunter who was looking for math-inclined individuals to take on the task of studying actuarial science. The oversimplified way to describe the field of actuarial science is using calculus-based statistics to help insurance companies pinpoint the rate at which their clients might kick the bucket. The only part you need to understand, was that the only thing standing in the way of me and a doubled salary was a 30-question math exam….with a passing rate of approximately 40%. I signed up for a course with a dyslexic calculus instructor. I’m not kidding, half the time he realized he was doing the problems backwards and had to start over (as if derivatives weren’t hard enough). After months of studying, I came in just 2 points shy of passing. To date, this was the hardest test I have ever taken, and the only one I have ever failed. It is worth noting that my friend at the time got a 0 on the same test leading me to believe that she might have spelled her name incorrectly and that my close proximity to passing was indeed a small victory. I received these test results right around the time that I quit the real estate gig, leaving me unemployed with virtually no job prospects. I could almost physically feel Nashville breaking up with me, and instead of seeking new adventures, I felt the nagging pull back towards Greenwood, IN.
I refer to the year I spent back home simply as The Dark Year. It is hard to explain the feeling you get when you barely taste adulthood and then must return to your childhood bedroom. Everything was pretty much as I left it at 18. The walls were still adorned with posters of a shirtless Jim Morrison and a barely-shirted Robert Plant. Taped on the doors of my closet was a collage I made of former Saturday Night Live cast members; chunks of it were missing at this point, but it was still fairly obvious that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were my favorites. I had just started accumulating grown-up things like lamps and fluted cake pans, and those things were now packed away in storage. I had no goals, very few local friends, and I was living with my parents, two dogs, six cats and a cockatiel that liked to whistle along with The Andy Griffith Show. I knew only misery. I did have the joy and comfort of my mother’s Italian cooking, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad. Unclear what my next step would be, I drove around town filling out as many applications as possible. The first interview I had turned out to be a daylong foray into marketing, but I use the term “marketing” rather loosely. They put me in a pick-up truck with 2 strangers, drove me to a Kroger grocery store, had me sell knock-off Disney toys and paid me nothing. Over lunch, they gave me a job pitch that reeked sadly of a pyramid scheme, and the saddest part is that I almost considered taking the job. Finally, I got hired as a server at the Olive Garden down the street from my house. The genuine excitement I felt getting hired to wait tables in the least authentic Italian restaurant in existence should give you some sort of indication of my desperation at the time.
If you would have asked me prior to working at the OG (that’s what we cool cats call it), I would have predicted that this job would be my worst one yet, but much to my surprise, I have very few complaints of my time there. Sure, the hours were physically exhausting, and the wages were often abysmal, but if it were possible to make more than $50 off a lunch shift slinging soup, salad and breadsticks to old ladies, I probably would still be doing it (but wouldn’t we all?). If you have ever worked in a restaurant, than you know I’m not exaggerating when I say that the food-service industry attracts the most bizarre, eclectic group of crazy misfits, and I couldn’t be prouder to have counted myself as one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever had such fun with a group of coworkers as I had with my friends at the OG, and I count a few of them as close friends today. I lament over the time I spent at home because in all honesty, I felt like an absolute failure, but I can quite confidently say the Olive Garden experience was the bright spot of my darkest year. Hospitaliano!
In preparation of this entry, I googled Boomerangs, and I discovered that there are actually two types: returning and non-returning. Clearly, I was fashioned into one of those “returning” devices, but I can’t say that I have any regrets. My path may not have been direct, but as I soon discovered, in turning back towards my point of origin, I unknowingly came across an opportunity that directly resulted in the achievement of a life-long goal: moving to New York City.