Below is a transcript of the inspiring speech I will give to a graduating university class, if ever invited. In it, I lay out a step-by-step blueprint to early success based on my own first summer after college, a time that helped shape me into the adult I am today. (Note: most of it requires living with your parents.)
Good news. Contrary to the many celebrity graduation keynotes you can find on youtube, you don’t need a big dream. You don’t need to know what you love to do.
Just know that bartenders make tons of cash. They are rich people, and you need to be one.
Take the Columbia University bartending course, as if it’s anything but an excuse to get drunk in a classroom setting, and as if that degree will get you anything but laughed at by bar owners.
Buy a Mr. Boston cocktail book and memorize recipes for drinks no one will ever order, like a Pink Squirrel.
When you’re done working on your tan on your parents’ terrace, it’s time to squeeze in some job hunting. Don’t worry about leaving the house during the afternoon. This is 1991, there’s a thing called the VCR and it can record All My Children, One Life To Live, and General Hospital for later. (What? It’s not 1991 anymore? Well, some of this advice may be out of date. But the underlying principles are timeless. )
Dress up in a floral-print dress and giant, fake-gold door-knocker earrings that even Salt ‘n’ Pepa would be shy to wear. Cruise up and down every avenue in the city in a pair of flats that make your feet sweat, handing out a “bartending resume” that you’ve filled with one waitressing gig and some academic awards you won in college.
Finally get hired by an awful bar on the Upper East Side called Cody’s Texas-Style Bar & Grill, where the owner, Bubba, says, “Know why I hired you? Because you ain’t got nice nails. It shows you’re willing to work.”
Don’t tell him your not-nice nails just show that you consider getting a manicure too much work.
Serve Jaegermeister shots to groups of girls who live 5 to a studio in a nearby apartment complex called Normandy Court, which is nicknamed “DORMandy Court.” They wear scrunchies and frosted lipgloss. They like to yell “Woo!” after every shot and sing loudly and drunkenly to Steve Miller Band. “If you want my apples baby, shake my tree-ee-ee.”
Make not nearly as much as you thought you’d make bartending. Come home reeking of cigarette smoke, because it’s 1991 and smoking is still legal in bars and restaurants.
Get fired supposedly for giving a free draught beer to the bar back, but really for being a slow and shitty bartender.
Be glad you were fired because now you have more time for your true summertime calling: Amsterdam Avenue Bar Ho.
Before 1990, Amsterdam was a stretch of men playing dominoes, crackheads, and bodegas selling dusty bags of fried plantains. These days, it’s a strip of college-y drinking spots for people not cool enough to go downtown. For now, that’s you.
Buy a never-ending supply of “going out outfits” consisting of scoop-neck body suits that snap at the crotch, bootleg jeans, and shoe boots. These are cowboy boots that only go to the ankle and have a stretchy part. Make sure you have them in black, brown, two-tone, and a useless green.
Divide your nights between two bars on the strip:
Wildlife, where you mooch flat diet cokes, flirt with scuzzballs, and dance to “Brown Eyed Girl;” and Perfect Tommy’s, where you mooch flat diet cokes, flirt with scuzzballs, and dance to Naughty By Nature and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.
Do dirty things in romantic destinations like “next to the ice machine” or “on the pinball machine” with owners of these bars, because you think there’s no one more powerful and sexy than a human who owns a bar.
When these bar owners ignore you forever after, keep coming back and pining after them like it’s your job. Maybe you’ll make them jealous by making out with their bar customers.
Stay out till 4am or sunrise or however late you have to stay to kiss someone. If you don’t kiss someone, the night is a failure.
Walk several times a night from one bar to the other, through the gauntlet of panhandlers. One, named Gumby, can stretch his lip over his nose. One guy wears a picture frame around his neck and says “I’ve been framed!” One asks for contributions to the United Negro Pizza Fund. Two or three compete to use the joke, “You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to help a fella.” One is an animated, Chinese deaf guy, who has long stringy hair, wears bellbottoms, and makes loud grunts while he says what seems to be only obscene things in sign language. He may not be asking for money.
When your parents ask what you’re doing all night every night, say “networking.”
When your dad asks if you have to dress “like an 11th Avenue hooker,” say yes.
Sleep till 12pm every day. Spend the afternoon doing cardio at the neighborhood Jack Lalanne gym, which goes by the un-PC nickname “Fags over Dags” because it’s full of gay men and above D’Agostino supermarket.
Take an evening nap so you skip dinner and have plenty of energy for networking. You can chow on your parents’ heart-healthy cereal when you come home.
And that’s about it. Good luck in life!
What did you do your first summer out in the world?
What advice do you have for today’s graduates? It can include time travel to last century if you want.
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
Fags over Dags. Thanks for making my year!
David C Belgray says
PS Laura, I’ll never be as smart & cool as you. I read your blog in the library and was
expelled for laughing out loud. Sorry, and LOVE, DAD.
David C Belgray says
After college? It was 1953, and the Korean war was on. The draft caught me in September, ultimately to send me to Honolulu (the army gave me a choice, and I chose
Austria. Motto: choose the place they never heard of) where I was to spend 1 1/2 years
rejoicing that the fighting had stopped, and celebrating by fighting in the major battle of
Waikiki where the waves occasionally rippled as I stumbled on surfboards and waterskis.
But earlier, in the summer months, I continued my work-study program, employed as a systems analyst for Riverdale Draperies (romantic product), saved them a bundle of money & was reprimanded for my nerve in requesting a raise for all 3 systems analysts.Not having learned my lesson, in Hawaii, I went to the IG (Inspector General),
and requested additional allocations of promotions. (There currently were none). It
worked! A slew of promotions came in, and I was the last to be promoted to SP3, with “special” tardiness because I had complained to the IG.
Now at age 83, I’m at last taking a course in “When to think before asking for what you want.”
Peter Schwartz says
The thing I remember most about going to college was that it was supposed to be about seeking truth, beauty, and justice. Kinda disappointing on that front, but I persisted in that vein even as reality was seeping in.
Getting a job afterward never crossed my mind. Had no idea how that was going to happen which is probably why it happened so badly.
Carlyle Coash says
Ah that first summer.
I went to Yellowstone National Park with a roommate of mine who was going to work there for the summer. I had a couple days before my brother flew out from New York to meet me. So I thought maybe I’d camp somewhere in the park.
However I neglected to plan for my friend deciding that she wanted to “get going on her own” and so she drove away – leaving me at the north gate of the park. In those moments you realize how screwed you are without a car in a remote part of Wyoming. I walked to the first “village” in the park – thankfully being offered a ride half way in as I was feeling overwhelmed.
I managed to grab an amazing camping spot about 3 miles onto this trail right by a stream. I loaded up supplies and made my way in. The vast silence of the trail, including the fact I only saw two other people, started to take its toll on me a little. I did not help that I passed the cutoff to the site, walking another mile before figuring out my mistake.
By the time I did arrive there, the silence and solitude felt oppressive. Not a week before I was surrounded by friends, wrapping up 4 years of a great school experience. Now I just had myself in the middle of pure, gloves off nature. A big shift.
Plus the animal skulls that overlooked the campsite did not help.
I made it a couple hours before the overwhelm well, overwhelmed me. Tears streaming down my face I walked back to the village and stayed at the lodge there. I left a couple days later, canceling the trip early.
I did see my friend again – she took me to the airport. She apologized for being so harsh. She too seemed to face that blank slate of the future and freaked out. Luckily for her – she had the car.
A month later I left for 4 months and travel lend to Ireland, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. On my own. Face the fear right?
From there? Well lets just say it did not involve working out at a fabulous sounding gym or slinging drinks. So much for my Cocktail dreams.
Keep up the good fight!
Trust me, there was nothing fabulous about Jack Lalanne. The whole place smelled of sweat, the lifting benches had torn leather, and the aerobics classes were in an open area, taught to the same 80s song over and over. I think it was called “Love and Emotion.”
But I’d take it over being stranded in Yellowstone. That’s a strange place to drive off and leave your friend. She’s lucky you talked to her again.
I don’t know you, but I love you.
Likewise! Thank you.
Peter Schwartz says
I spent the first five years waiting tables.
Somehow, I bumped into someone I knew vaguely who was getting paid to write something or other.
I asked him if I could do it, too.
And just to make sure I didn’t lose out on the opportunity, I added I’d be willing to drive a truck if that’s all they could give me.
Okay, I didn’t have four years at Wesleyan, but I had four years.
Four years of A’s and F’s.
Then five years of serving drunks. And happy hour conversations like this with regular customers:
Richard: “Funny, you look like a peter.”
Me: “Funny, you look like a dick.”
After closing, those walks home at 3am were special. By the time I got there, I had no money left, having spend it on drinks along the way. After five years, I saw things weren’t going to change.
I’d look over the want ads at jobs whose titles I didn’t understand and can’t recall any longer.
Other than proofreader, they all seemed above me.
So I proofread for a while. I had to learn the partner system, where you read out loud to another proofer. All punctuation marks get Borgian sounds to keep things moving.
I should’ve recorded those sessions because, after about 30 minutes, the session sounded like an old 2-stroke engine wheezing and coughing and burping and backfiring along.
It was easy to lose your mind. Or fall into a meditative trance.
Nevertheless, I made a lot of mistake, which cost me money. So that clearly wasn’t for me. (See if you can catch the mistake in this paragraph.)
I remember asking one of my partners if she’d sleep with me. She said, “I can’t think of anything more repulsive than that.” Without hesitation, almost as if she was expecting to be asked and had her response ready.
And this girl was u.g.l.y. She had a pockmarked nose with a bump on the end of it. But still, it hurt my feelings, and I tried to put salve on the sting for a few months. I may even have asked her one more time, just to make sure I’d heard her right the first time.
I try to keep an open mind about things. Maybe she was having a bad day. Writing someone off like that is not something I like to do. I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me, so I try to follow the Mosaic Law on that point.
This happened in a small section of Washington, D.C. with a lot of steep hills, big old trees, and winding streets that lead down to the National Zoo. Some years later, I had another disastrous romantic interlude, though a bit more successful than the first time. This time, the girl did sleep with me and THEN concluded it was the most repulsive thing she had ever done.
But at least she’d kept an open mind for a little while.
When I looked in the mirror, the real kind and the mental kind, I didn’t really see what they were talking about. The truth was much worse than that. That’s why I kept it to myself. I was the only one who could bear to hear the truth about me.
Looking back, I would wonder what I had seen in these girls. At the time, they seemed like the most beautiful and marvelous beings. But in retrospect, they looked more like the Wicked Witch of All Four Cardinal Directions.
Now I can’t remember what my original point was with this. Hanging Chez Belgray Au Crevette Bavarde just loosens the fingers, I guess.
I’m not convinced you thought a girl who was u.g.l.y. and had a p.o.c.k.m.a.r.k.e.d. nose was beautiful. I like that she had her answer ready. Very decisive.
Peter Schwartz says
That’s only because I don’t write well enough. I’m hoping you’ll fix that with the cure.
Believe me, I was hooked. When you proofread with someone for 10 hours a day, alchemical things happen.
I only noticed those things later…
I had just turned 30, since It took me 13 years to graduate from college. Hey during those 13 years – I moved to NY from Puerto Rico, worked full time on Wall Street, got married, divorced, started working at an advertising agency, quit working full time, when back to school full time, got pregnant, my son died, took time off from school, when back to school and finally finished days before my 30th birthday.
That first summer after graduation, I took myself to Paris, first time in Europe, and while there my then boyfriend broke up with me. Hmm summer of 1996… I almost directed a commercial. Instead they asked me to produce it and that was the beginning of my Producing career. A school short film took me to a few film festivals around the country. I don’t remember much else, but thanks for making me look back.. way back.
Peter Schwartz says
Peter Schwartz says
Isn’t knowing how to throw a rolling pin accurately important, though?
Whoa. I don’t even know what to say to all that. You sound like a brave person. Hardest thing I went through in college was a term paper. Hope things are easier for you these days!
Peter Schwartz says
Seems like this is only advice if you’re girl.
Is that what the Cure is? Copywriting for girls?
Peter Schwartz says
But I agree: You were a very cute Hebrette back in college. And, okay, still are.
I like that you comment as if it’s actually advice.
I love you.
I love you back. You would’ve been a good wing woman back then. Though you were probably in 8th grade.
josh saltman says
Best thing ever. Ever. The Jack Lalanne thing, wow.
Aw, thanks. An appearance from Saltman! Love it.