Sunday, April 7, 2013

An open letter to Suzy Lee Weiss

Dear Miss Weiss,

I read your recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, “To (All) the Colleges that Rejected Me,” with some amusement and a great deal of confusion. Since you attend Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, it appears that we live only a few miles from each other, but it seems that we do not live in the same world.

In this piece, you accuse colleges of lying to you, and you attack their emphasis on diversity and extracurricular activities. You now say that the piece is satire, but the tone is insulting. To imply, for example, that Elizabeth Warren got where she is because she is of Cherokee descent, when many Native Americans live in poverty you cannot imagine, is offensive to both Warren and Native Americans.  

I can empathize with you in one respect, though. I, too, remember the college search as very frustrating. It was my first realization that the achievements in which I took great pride were actually quite ordinary. Colleges didn’t care about my prowess in my local TV station’s quiz-bowl game, and their definition of community service didn’t include being my dad’s designated driver on the way home from the racetrack.

But the similarity of your experience to mine ends there. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in a neighborhood that was near the middle of the bell curve as far as income and social standing. My father ran a barber shop and put four of his five kids through college—and the fifth one makes the most money, of course.

You’ve listed some of the colleges that rejected you—Princeton, Yale, Penn and Vanderbilt. Getting into these colleges was not something my peers and I needed to worry about. Nobody from these schools recruited us and no teacher or counselor mentioned their names. These were mythical places that topped lists that we read in news magazines while waiting for the dentist, nothing more.

For most of my classmates, the college search began and ended with two words—Ohio State. Now, I have many OSU alumni as Facebook friends, so, before they think I’m putting down Ohio State, let me say that it’s a very good school in many respects, and their football team doesn’t suck, either. On the other hand, I’ve never read a magazine article titled “How to Get Your Kid into Ohio State.”

Why Ohio State? Proximity was a factor, as were its size and the ease of admission. But the school’s most important feature was its relatively low tuition. The kids in my neighborhood wouldn’t have been able to afford Princeton or Yale, even if they were accepted by those schools.

In the world where I grew up, being accepted by a college wasn’t an issue so much as paying for it.  I was accepted by four schools—Ohio State, Ohio University, Michigan State and Otterbein. I went to Otterbein, a small liberal arts college in Westerville, Ohio. Most of the people in your social set haven’t heard of it, and those who have probably have it confused with Oberlin. It was not my original first choice, or the second, or the third, or the 50th. Frankly, the only reason I applied there was that there was no application fee at that time. And the main reason I went there? It was the only college that offered me a scholarship--which meant a lot to me, and even more to my parents, who were footing the bill. And Otterbein worked out well. I graduated four years later and have a lot of happy memories of the place.

I think the college search is getting to you, Suzy. Maybe what you really need is a year off. Not to go “find yourself,” whatever that means, but to try a different approach. The U.S. Postal Service is currently taking applications for City Carrier Assistant, which is the job I’m working now. After a year of delivering mail under tight deadlines in all kinds of weather, neighborhoods and road conditions, I guarantee that you’ll be happy to go to any college that will take you.

Might I suggest Otterbein? Who knows? You might like it.

Best wishes,
Bob Fritz

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Between you and me and Grant Green

2012 rolled by with one lousy blog post. Well, it wasn't lousy. It was kind of funny. But it makes me think--whatever happened to my desire to write.
I have this novel (which is still available through, thank you) and I think I did a pretty good job on it. Sometimes I think I said all I really wanted to say in that book. It's a good story, if I do say so myself, but I don't feel like it should be the last word on my life.
A lot has happened since my last blog entry. In July I lost my job. Nine years with the company and they decided my job performance just wasn't good enough. Still trying to figure out why that happened. I felt like I was going nowhere there anyhow--hadn't had a raise in four years.
In August, my dad passed away. He was 88 and died of liver cancer. He ran a barber shop in Columbus for 56 years. It's closed now and has been cleaned out down to the tonic case. My mom has been left with a lot of work to do and a lot of old racetrack tickets. The racetrack was where Dad was happiest, if you could have called him happy. And it was where I was happiest for quite a few years. Money is too precious to me now. I can't believe now how much I used to bet on horses back when I was working for the Racing Form. And dogs, and blackjack, and...
Then, in September, I was hired as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. It's much better paying than my previous job, and also a lot more work. It's not your father's Postal Service. The clock is everything there. Get the mail out and be back by five. The carriers are very supportive and I've learned a lot from them, though. I was supposed to have a 90-day evaluation, but the manager said the other day that I'm "past that now," whatever that means, so I'm assuming that I'm good. Having a job situation so up in the air has really made me live life one day at a time. Each day that I still have a job seems like a bonus to me now. It does make me wonder what might have happened had I worked half this hard on any of the other jobs I've had in my life.
So, here I am. Jamie isn't feeling well and went to bed early and I'm listening to Grant Green playing "A Day in the Life" on YouTube. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening, I guess.
So why do we blog? I look through other people's blogs and there seems to be so much repetition. Someone's photographs here, some teenager who can't stand life anymore there. How much is really worth wading through? I remember when blogs were new and seemed more interesting. When I first got a computer, it was so neat to go anywhere in this thing we call cyberspace and discover new people. Of course, there are some people you wish you'd never discovered.
Perhaps Facebook is the reason why I haven't blogged. Whenever I have an opinion that I want to share, I can just do it more directly over there. But there are times when it's just me and Grant Green and my dog scratching in the background when I just want to let loose and solo. I was always fascinated by the way Jack Kerouac wrote--first thought, best thought. Then again, it resulted in some inconsistent writing.
Maybe I should try blogging more. If nothing else, it's fun to look at your thoughts in print and try to figure them out. So you may hear more from me, maybe not.
All I know is that I've got a lot of mail to carry in the morning with my seven years of college. You can see me walking through Homewood or Point Breeze or Shadyside in all kinds of weather. And maybe I'll see you. It might help to live in Pittsburgh, though.