Brain Dropping #61
“Ode To A Bagel Sandwich Maker.” An ‘everything’ bagel is what I wanted, with lox, cream cheese, capers, onions, lettuce, tomatoes – in other words the ‘works.’ The bright-eyed young lady behind the counter was unusually chipper for so early in the morning. It was eight o’clock on a Sunday. I was to meet my son Jonah at nine to drive us up to the re-hab center where my ninety-nine year old mother-in-law lived. I told Sybil, that was the name on her tag, that I was in no hurry. I wanted the extra dough extracted from the bagel and to have it toasted twice – I like my bagels nice and crisp. As we were waiting for the toaster, and since no one else was in the place, we chatted. I told her that her name Sybil came from mythological Roman and Greek female prophets. she said that she had heard something like that. The toaster rang and she proceeded to slather on the cream cheese. I lightly asked her if, like her name sakes, she had any prophecies she would like to share. As she laid on the smoked salmon slices she replied that she hoped she could pay off her student debts before she croaked. Croaked, was the word she used.
It turned out that Sybil was a graduate of the University of Vermont with a degree in psychology. Bagel sandwich making was transitional until she could get a job in her field – child psychology – but jobs weren’t that easy to find. She loaded on extra capers and capped it all with lettuce, tomatoes and thinly sliced onions. Then she expertly wrapped the sandwich in wax paper to keep it together before she sliced it in half. Perhaps it was my white hair and my wizened looks that prompted her to volunteer how much she was in debt from her student loans – thirty thousand dollars. As she handed me my sandwich and coffee she made a face and shrugged. She said she wished she could predict how long it would take to get out from under her loans. Vermont’s minimum wage, $9.15 an hour in 2015 remains a poverty wage. I offered the grim news that she was not alone and that the national student loan debt was way over a trillion dollars, and that many loan officers at prestigious colleges were in cahoots with the banks, getting kick backs to steer students to loans which maximized profits at the banks to the disadvantage of the students. She had read that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had proposed reducing the interest rate on student loans to the same level as the interest the Federal Reserve charged the banks – below 1%, rather than the 4.6% percent which is the norm. But it never happened.
While chewing on my bagel I stewed about the unfairness of Sybil’s situation. According to the Federal Government tuition at institutions of higher learning has risen at four times the rate of inflation. One of the factors for this inflationary rise is the compensation for top administrators fueled by the Wall Street example. The yearly tuition and room and board at UVM for a resident of Vermont is $27,000, and about $48,000 for an out of state student. Dan Fogel, former President of UVM got $410,000 a year with additional perks whose costs we can only speculate about. The POTUS – the President of the United States is paid $400,000. At the same time of top-heavy administrative compensation, close to fifty percent of instructors throughout the country, at institutions of higher learning are hired as adjuncts, meaning no benefits, no job security, and often being on food stamps. So academia is following the bottom-line-exploitive-ethos of banksters and Wall Street oligarchs, cheered on by college board members like the Chair of UVM’s board Rob Cioffi. Cioffi, a native Vermonter relocated to New Canaan Connecticut, is an executive of a private equity fund, who cut his teeth at the Chase Manhattan Bank.
As I finished my bagel and lox more people drifted in. Sybil was busily filling orders as I left. I called a cheery have a nice day to her. Walking to my car I thought: “There’s no honor among thieves!”