With the election charging towards us, and both candidates on their respective tour routes - there’s a question we’re hearing a lot: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Obama is going to ask you. Romney is going to ask you. msnbc is going to ask you. FOXNews is going to ask you.
It’s a loaded question. You aren’t supposed to know if they mean financially, culturally, spiritually… It isn’t specified if gay rights, or health care, or the military are supposed to be considered. Vagueness by design.
But for me, it’s not really a question at all. Four years ago I was giving tours of the 30 Rock studios as a Page. I was wearing a peacock tie, and an ill-fitting blue blazer with gray slacks. I looked like a sack of potatoes and was making $8.50 an hour (after taxes). Don’t let Kenneth fool you, it’s not all celebrities and shenanigans. It’s four people living in 2-bedroom apartments, stolen meals from around the building, and dollar-draft Tuesdays. I had my butt-pinched by hyper-aggressive mid-western teenage girls, I got stuck in an elevator with 15 panicking Korean tourists, I had a nordic youth hockey team get struck with rolling nausea (it’s like rolling blackouts, but it lands on your shoes). I slept in the Page Office when I had to be at work at 7:30am on a Sunday. I booked an estimated 1 million tickets to “Late Night”. I slept in Joe Scarborough’s office a few times when I was kinda, sorta homeless for a brief stretch (you didn’t know, but thank you, Joe!).
I lived off food the girls in makeup (Mary/Tanya/Bilgi/Traci) would bring from their homes and give to me in Tupperware. I couldn’t afford to dry-clean my uniform. My boss hated me and I still don’t know why. I left the knot in my tie for months without untying it. I stood on the floor of Saturday Night Live, and watched the show… live. I met John McCain, I met Sarah Palin. I met Jay-Z. I worked for a year in NBC’s famed apprenticeship and didn’t get a single job offer. I didn’t have health insurance. I didn’t have a savings account.
I could tell you how many lights were in the Nightly News studio. I could tell you when the SNL studios were built, and why they’re on spring-loaded floors. I could tell you all about Arturo Toscanini. I memorized the jokes from Conan’s warm-up guy. My tours were the FULL hour and fifteen minutes. No skimping, you got your money’s worth. I carried tour-partners that weren’t funny, or weren’t friendly, or didn’t know their facts. They carried me when I was Greco-Roman wrestling my beverage choices from the night before. I picked up extra hours when somebody needed time off. I made some of my best friends while charging down this building’s famed halls with 30 strangers in tow. When I worked at Morning Joe I was there a between 4-5am every day. I moved Joe Scarborough out of his apartment, packed the whole place up in less than a day. I worked hard, we all did. Pages make a lot of jobs at NBC possible, by helping carry the load of time-consuming grunt work. And they do it while being made fun of by many of their better-tenured colleagues.
And you know what? I’m thankful I had the opportunity. Given the choice - I’d do it all over again.
But obviously, I’m much, much, much better off than I was four years ago.
Now, I don’t think I can attribute that to the President. He wasn’t there with me, memorizing obscure facts about NBC News anchors, reminding people for the 48th time that they may not take pictures, or turning away psychos that “just really, really, really need to meet Shia Lebouf.” And thank God, because it would have been much harder to deadpan that Jimmy Hoffa was buried under the SNL soundstage with Barry staring me down. You know?
The point is, the question isn’t fair. It doesn’t make any sense on an individual basis. In the infinite list of variables that got me to where I am now (TV producer and blogger-extroadinaire) the President’s impact on me was somewhere between El Nino and the invention of the Nike Roche Run. You know what’s left me worse-off? The rise in price of my Metro Card. Sallie Mae hitting me up for $120 a month. My cable bill.
The demise of Boston College basketball AND football. Who do I vote for to fix those things?
If there was a Sallie Mae forgiveness/Free HBO & Showtime clause in the Ryan Budget I’d have been in Tampa last week with pompoms. I’d wear elephant underwear and head on out to Wolfeboro to help with debate prep. And if I thought the President was responsible for the improvement in my living (and sleeping) conditions - I’d hitch a ride out to this week’s convention and start handing out cookies. But I won’t do either, because the point of “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” isn’t an answer, it’s the chatter.
And I simply can’t afford to think like that. Literally.