Shell Out

Part 4

“Like Most Kids”

Shell Out

Part 1

“Chapter Title”

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In a normal world, Greg wouldn’t have minded that the job market was infertile. He grew up in a simple home with three kids and two parents sharing the limited commodities that included two bedrooms, one bath, a small living room with a single sofa and beanbag chair, and a kitchen the size of a closet. And, though he had endured cramped living conditions in his youth, he didn’t let it bother him. Displaying riches was a dream he didn’t realize he was supposed to have.

But then came public school and with it the conversations of other lives beyond his manufactured, as his father had once called it, front door. He listened to his blond-haired, blue-eyed classmates brag about having their own rooms–big rooms with lots of toys–and TV rooms attached to living rooms, with living rooms attached to dining rooms. But he had never seen these fabled establishments in person, so he didn’t know how to become jealous of his friends, an emotion that, as he had learned in the third grade, was a requirement for growing up. Even though he tried to imagine a life with spacious luxury, he just couldn’t grasp the concept. Everything seemed okay as it was: two siblings snoring away at bedtime, people yelling through closed bathroom doors that it was their turn to shower or pee, shared family meals around the tiny living room, and watching an old wood frame television that sat on the floor and had tuning knobs for channel adjustment. That was the life Greg understood in his early years and, to his assumption, the life he thought he would always accept.

The problem, however, was that, as he got older, educators made a bigger deal about college, and Greg realized halfway through high school that he would have to conquer the university realm and, more importantly, the realm of finance if he were to survive the future. School further taught him that if he were to remain happy in life, he needed to provide an environment he and his future family could use to make friends and enemies jealous. That meant bigger pursuits for bigger paychecks, and bigger homes for bigger egos. Whatever his parents did to scrape a living, it was obsolete.

Ultimately, this new way of thinking had brought him before the gates of college, ready to break the competition in half. But he didn’t know what to compare himself to. He figured his first step was to make more money than his parents ever had because they’d never made enough to fill a penny jar. But he wasn’t sure how much more to pursue. Plucking through his memories, he realized he needed to make at least as much as his classmates’ parents. But to win the competition against them, it was important to surpass their income. That left him with the question of how.

The third and final problem to his fortune-seeking dilemma was that, as he grew up, he heard that girls only liked guys with money. Sure, there was a time when this information had no meaning to him. But life had a way of throwing curveballs into his comfortable realm of interests. During his years in middle school, he’d made the startling discovery that, despite his ironclad beliefs that spoke to the contrary, he actually liked girls. It was a strange realization to awake to one morning, considering he’d just gotten through defending his point about how yucky they were a few weeks earlier. But there it was, haunting him–laughing at him. And, as his hormones grew and the years to follow whispered advice in his ears, he came to realize that to win the heart of any great beauty, he had to strike it rich because the pretty ones wanted only rich guys, according to what the seventeen-year-old experts had told him.

So, with these problems compounding during the start of eleventh grade, he realized he needed to do something quickly to enter college. From there, he also had to think of a plan to rake in the cash so he could live happily within the will of society, not miserably, like he was sure his parents had lived.

After he’d chosen a campus to attend, he plowed into his first and greatest obstacle–to figure out how to pay for it. He didn’t have enough money to get him through the first four years, so he scoured the Internet for options. There were some scholarships he applied for but fell short of winning because other people in his class outsmarted him. He also considered grants and loans, deciding later that the road to riches would’ve looked bad if he’d gotten there through pity, not to mention loans would’ve made his education more expensive. Neither outcome was ideal, so after much deliberation and worry over how much free time he’d lose, he decided he would work for it.

But there was also the problem that his jobs never lasted, so he scraped barely enough money for his entrance fees. How he’d manage to stay enrolled, he didn’t know, but he was determined to strike it rich, so he endured economic trials as much as he needed to get to his place of financial peace.

Of course, he had hoped that burning desire and the drive to win was sufficient to get him there. Many nights he’d linger in bed, telling himself he was doing enough. But, even as he repeated mantras of success in his head, he knew what he really needed to become rich and pay for all of his classes without batting an eye was a lot more money. If he had that, he wouldn’t need to keep lying to himself about all of those other wishful things.

He just didn’t know how to rake it in or keep it for long. None of his rich blond, blue-eyed classmates from third grade could tell him their parents’ secret to prosperity. It was for that reason, well into his young adulthood, that he had trouble sleeping at night. He needed to learn how to make lots of money so he could earn his degree. The only method he thought of, though, was to work a low-level job beyond its dead end, and he’d already figured out, thanks to his father, that that was a plan without blossoming fruit.

Each night he went to bed and stared at the ceiling, he counted himself lucky for having never bought a piggy bank. Thanks to his lack of guidance, he would’ve taken a hammer or a torch to it by now. That would’ve made saving money even harder. Even though he couldn’t sleep, he at least took comfort in knowing he wouldn’t be killing any ceramic pigs any time soon.