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Warren Adler

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Would I Have Joined the Protesters?

Posted: 10/06/11 06:41 PM ET

Boy was I pissed off. I had just graduated college as an English major. It was 1947. World War II had finally resulted in victory. At 19 I found myself competing for jobs with millions of ex-servicemen who had come home from the war with guarantees of getting their jobs back.

Since my parents were broke, we were living with my grandparents in a tiny three bedroom house with one bathroom. There were 11 of us. Since quarters were tight, I slept with my kid brother and my parents slept in the dining room and an uncle in the kitchen.

I worked my butt off trying to find a job. Who the heck wanted to hire an English major? My choice. My own damned fault.

It was not fun running around New York City, sitting in employment agency offices, suffering rejection after rejection.

The odd jobs I had cadged working during the war to pay my tuition had dried up. I packed candy at Abraham and Straus, delivered telegrams by telephone for Western Union, sold shoes at Macy's, did surveys for corporations, worked as a busboy, anything to make a buck. Thankfully, I lived at home where everybody chipped in to put food on the table and clothes on our backs.

I was really angry and depressed. Everything seemed beyond formidable. In Manhattan, people went about their business as usual. People had cars, lived in fancy apartments, saw shows, and ate in fine restaurants. How dare them, I thought, when I was trying so damned hard to get a foothold on a career, whatever that meant to an English major.

I'd start my day with a nickel ride into Manhattan, visiting crowded employment agencies, walking the streets, sitting in Central Park when the weather was good, getting a cream cheese sandwich on nut bread for fifteen cents at Chock full o'Nuts. It was downright discouraging and, believe me, I was angry as hell. I thought, I'm a college graduate, I deserve a job.

I admit it. I blamed all the politicians, the fat cats, the banks, the stock markets, the bejeweled attendees at opening nights at the theater, the country club types, the socialites, the bosses, the people who owned cars, traveled, bought great clothes, ate in fabulous restaurants, anyone that had more than me, which was pretty much everybody.

I considered myself a victim of other people's greed, of injustice, unfairness, prejudice. You name it. My blame list was as long as Broadway.

Sure I had empathy, but it was mostly for me and my Dad, who could not find a job, but was too proud to apply for welfare. It was called relief in those days. I agreed with him. We had our family. It would have been unthinkable for us to take an unearned handout. As they say, we got by on the skin of our teeth.

I felt crushed by circumstances, massively pissed off at everything and everybody. The dreams and ambitions that had fueled my childhood and college days were in the trash can.

Now, in the light of decades of struggle and experience, I ask myself would I have joined the protesters on Wall Street? Maybe. They, as I was then, are pissed off. Many are close to my age at the time of my personal great depression.

So here is my advice to those people who apparently have the time and energy to protest their plight by blaming everybody in sight. Forgive me if I sound somewhat harsh. And yes, I know, then was then and now is now. But having lived through depressions, recessions, poverty, disappointment, ecstasy, love, military service, numerous wars, fatherhood, failure, rejection and what passes for success, here it is folks. Hate it or love it.

We live in America, land of opportunity, fierce competition, innovation, imagination, ambition, risk taking and resourcefulness, big dreams, big ideas and big chances. Not everyone becomes a movie star or a billionaire and, as they say, wishing won't make it so. The price of this free-for-all environment spawns both good guys and bad guys, saints and charlatans, successes and failures. As old Ben Franklin said, "diligence is the mother of good luck" and Winston Churchill's "Never Surrender" is as good a mantra as ever devised.

Like them I've learned that the real joy is in the aspiring, reaching for the moon, coping with the rough patches, dreaming big, never surrendering to despair or jealousy or worst of all blaming others. That's what freedom is all about. Hell, millions of people in America can tell a story similar to mine. Just ask Zuckerberg or Gates or Buffet. Go for it and stop whining.

Would I have joined the protesters? Maybe. But it would have been a waste of precious time and, when you add it all up, all we have is time. So stop all this "woe is me" baloney and get on with it. The "getting there" is three quarters of the fun in the game of life and America is just about the best playpen you'll find on the planet.

And if you want to protest, then protest the fact that no matter what, the game ends for all of us. That, too, will get you nowhere. Oh yes, I have done all the things other people were doing that pissed me off years ago. Big deal. I'd settle now for that cream cheese sandwich on nut bread from Chock Full o'Nuts.

Shakespeare was right.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include "The War of the Roses", "Random Hearts" and the PBS trilogy "The Sunset Gang." He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information please visit www.warrenadler.com.

 
 
 

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