Matt Forney
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The Great Hamster Wheel


Go to college, they said. Get good grades, they said. You don’t want to be stuck waiting tables for the rest of your life, they said. So you listened. You took all the AP courses. You sacrificed your teenage years for a better future. Sneaking beers, smoking weed, finger-banging the cute Greek girl who kept making eyes at you; you gave it all up so you could spend two hours a night mastering pre-calculus and memorizing the Gettysburg Address.

You thought you were doing the smart thing.

You graduated with honors, but all the good paying jobs you were promised weren’t there. The only jobs available were… waiting tables. You chose wrong, they said. You should’ve majored in a STEM discipline, they said. You should go to grad school, they said. You think, “Man, it would have been nice if you’d told me all this FOUR YEARS AGO,” but you keep your mouth shut.

With no options, you move back home and take a job waiting tables. After your monthly student loan payment, you barely have enough to put in the bank. That’s normal, they said. You’re a kid just out of college; you’re not entitled to a decent-paying job straight off the bat, they said. When I was your age, I could only get a job that paid $15,000 a year, they said. Never mind that $15,000 in 1979 would be $47,000 in 2013.

You decide to shut up and do the right thing.

You blast out dozens of resumes to dozens of employers citing everything you ever did for brownie points. You packed lunches for retirees in their Depends. You served hot soup to the homeless. You rescued puppies from burning buildings. You were in the drama club, the school orchestra, and on the varsity lacrosse team. And even with all that, you still had a 3.6 GPA. Nobody cares. Employers toss your application in the trash without opening it. They only take out ads and put up “Help Wanted” signs to look good.

You don’t get a single reply.

Back to waiting tables. An elderly couple comes in flashing their AARP discount cards. While taking your order, they ask you how old you are. When you tell them, they tell you you should go to college so you don’t have to wait tables the rest of your life. You contemplate glassing them with their mimosas before politely telling them that you did go to college.

Even with a raise and better tips, the most you can afford is a 1992 Ford Festiva, and you can barely afford upkeep and insurance for that. When inspection time rolls around, the “Check Engine” light goes on and you have to spend several hundred dollars getting the car fixed, even though the car doesn’t have any outward problems. You can’t just have the mechanics flip the light off like the old days, because everything’s computerized and some overpaid bureaucrat in Albany will ram his fist up your ass if you DON’T! FOLLOW! PROCEDURE!

After emptying out your scant savings, you’re driving to work when your brakes suddenly give out and you rear-end the guy in front of you. He’s a seventysomething retiree with more money than you, but he acts like you stole food out of his mouth no matter how apologetic you are. When the police show up, they reward you for your honesty by towing your car because of faulty brakes—which are faulty because you can’t afford to get them fixed—and issue you a ticket for tailgating.

Say goodbye to your license, asshole.

Buy the car so you can go to work. Keep working at the job so you can make the car payments. Save up for a house. Work longer hours to pay for your mortgage, property taxes and upkeep. Get married and have kids. Work even longer hours to pay for those kids’ upbringing. As soon as your car is paid off, buy a new one because the maintenance costs on your five-year old model are out of control. Spend a whole weekend tearing your garage down because one of your retired neighbors runs around reporting minor zoning violations out of boredom. Pay for the DVR/digital upgrade because your wife is addicted to the Hallmark Channel and TCM.

It never ends. There’s never a point where you have enough. You always need more. The basement stairwell plaster is cracking. The chimney is plugged up with burnt paper shreds. The cat threw up on the dining table. Some meth addict kicked in your porch window and stole a bag of Christmas lights. A tree fell on your car during a rainstorm. Your wife wants to take the kids to Disney World… without you.

But hey, you’re doing the right thing… right?

This is the life you should aspire to! You have a real job! A wife! Your parents have grandchildren! You have won the game of life!

You have a Glock in the closet. You said you’d bought it to protect against burglars, but you’re too much of a chickenshit to actually use it. In the event of a B&E, you’d cower under the bed and beg for the police, browning your shorts all the while. Every night, you fantasize about French kissing that gun. Ice cold metal on your lips… the scent of lead in the barrel. Just one bullet. One pull of the trigger. All your problems solved.

Any hell that exists can’t be worse than what you’re going through now.

But you’ll never do it. “What if I miss and end up a vegetable? What about my family? My friends?” Your family that doesn’t appreciate you. Your wife is openly contemptuous of you. Your children despise you, their minds poisoned by their mother telling lies about you while you’re away at work. But you have to stick around. To protect them. Provide for them.

You will retire at 65 and die six months later. Your kids will kick you in a hole and forget about you. Your name will be forgotten a week later. It was a good life.

Read Next: “But Fat People Have Great Personalities!”

  • D

    Dear Matt… I am a recently divorced, on my own, woman in her 50’s. I am appalled at the responses you posted to your writing, from the women who feel so strongly about your writing… for one thing, I am embarrassed by the need for obscenities to express their opinions… really? A woman who is empowered, need not throw it in the faces of those around her… the empowerment is evident in the life that she lives, the way she handles her life, her trials, her friends, family, job and everyday situations. I want to encourage you to remain passionate about your writing, and your beliefs…but also to remain open to the evolution of those beliefs. In a very strange way, reading through the “Self Esteem” article… albeit perhaps a bit warped and intense…. I was reminded of my christian beliefs. I think you know what I am talking about. For those who want you to disappear… they may choose to not read. I am compelled to continue. You created an uproar… since when is that not a positive thing for a writer? I know, I may cringe at a lot of what you have to say… but thank God, you still have the right to say it. I support you in your creative endeavors… this doesn’t mean I agree with you in all that you say… but God Bless you for having the passion, and the guts to do it….

  • Strong contribution to the genre.

  • Or, leave the developed world entirely.

    A lot of modern men are very quickly discovering why the pilgrims left the old world for America.

    Too bad the U.S. stopped investing in space exploration 40 years ago. If they had maintained apollo budget percentage-of-gdp levels, we might have actual cheap capabilities to leave the planet and earn a living off-planet by now.

  • threeLegDog

    This one… hits a little too close to home…

  • box

    u mad bro?

    you forgot to mentioned healthcare. subsidize the prolonged deaths of the generation that created this mess with your low-risk addition to the insurance pool, pay through the teeth for premiums that may or may not get you actual medical care, find that by the time you get to that age there is an even more despondent/broke generation below you, profit

    you also painted an idyllic western wife. openly contemptuous seems like a dream these days relative to being cuckolded, having her run your life on threat of divorce, having her actually divorce for cash & prizes such that the freedom of being dead broke is comparatively luxury

    on the plus side, it is a really, really good time to be at the top:

  • That’s the life every American is living right now! It really sucks!

  • A woman who is empowered, need not throw it in the faces of those around her… the empowerment is evident in the life that she lives, the way she handles her life, her trials, her friends, family, job and everyday situations.

    True female empowerment has nothing to do with correctly arguing a social construct in a public forum. True female empowerment manifests in the tremendous influence over society wielded via a family with kids and the decades of time spent influencing those kids at a young age by being a stay at home mother. That is an incalculably greater power than feminism can ever hope to be.

  • Been reading Ecclesiasties have you? Solomon knew all ths thousadns if years ago, but your updated take does the grnre justice.

  • Ollie
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  • cybro

    I know the generation you are talking about. Some of them went to Vietnam and a handle full of them went to the moon but most of them had everything handed to them. Even then it wasn’t enough. They took out future mortgages to feather their nests and left us with the bill. The sooner that generation passes the better.

  • Bang-on. Bold and Determined wrote the counter-point to this:

    We’re living in the best of times, we’re living in the worst of times.

  • @D:
    Tell me, what do you think of this?:

    Well she is curvy

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  • JimJim

    Maybe we wouldn’t be in this shitmess if we didn’t have those tens of millions of other laborers to compete with due to the post1965 immigration pyramid scheme?

    This one hit way too close to home.

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  • NO! I dont agree!
    Spongebob wont agree either!
    Working for Krusty Krabs is the best thing in my life.

    Just thinking, — at least Spongebob has “his mission” unlike most poeple in the rat race.

  • kayotic

    this is AL Bundy from married with children, and it hits a little to close to home.