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Volume 37 Issue 6 • May 30 - June 6, 2007 now in our 37th season

Wealth Rules

by Robert P. Barsanti

In schools, June brings chaos and comedy.  The tourists bike by outside, the cars build up on Surfside Road, and the students bounce off the walls.  A lot more calculus and Shakespeare gets taught, and remembered on a day in November than in the entire month of June.  Invariably, on a hot and sunny day, one of the better students will put on an angelic face, approach the desk and inquire about having class outside.  The old farts wisely grumble, mutter, and keep writing equations in humid chalk.  The rookies ignorantly nod their heads and find themselves herding hormonal cats outside. 

June brings more institutional madness.  The seniors slip out the door early, perhaps with that rarest of rare events: the successful senior prank.  Senior pranks are celebrated more in the history than in the practice.  They all want to tweak their masters one last time, but can’t arrange the courage, creativity, or coordination to do it right.  Then, the Senior Dinner and the Prom come.  The yearbook is handed out, graduation is practiced, and in several hours of steamy heat, they receive scholarships and diplomas.

Or, most do.  In almost twenty years of teaching seniors, I find one or two each year clinging to the school they hate so much and flunking their way backwards into Neverland.  Usually, these are the silent ones who never finished the college application, stopped doing homework, and missed out on the big final project.  Peter Pan sprinkles the pixie dust of self-pity and tries to fly into the wind back into his own bedroom window.

From the advanced age of school loans, mortgages, and car payments, Neverland has a certain attraction, even if it means bathroom passes and homework.  The working world promises paychecks and delivers bills and boredom.   Plus, none of your friends are there. The Lost Boys chill out at home.

Once upon a time, seniors left school early in order to get a jump on the summer jobs.  The ice cream shops, gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores need their staff for the summer, whether they be in Wolfeboro or on Nantucket.  The summer job seems to have gone the way of the camp counselor and golf caddy.  They exist more in middle aged story tellers than they do in the real world.  Our society has left the majority of these jobs behind as we move forward. 

First, adults can do the jobs more capably and more reliably than high school kids can.  Adults, after all, have Mastercard and children to support.  They don’t leave for an afternoon at the beach or have grandmothers die off at the beginning of August.  They don’t need to be taught how to act “servile.”  Indeed, they have become professional and can charge for it.  Moreover, as the island has become wealthier, their patrons can now pay for it.  A whole host of jobs once relegated to teenagers for beer money have become professions.   Housecleaning, yard care, painting, child care, and dishwashing have all become professional.  They have 800 numbers, websites, and special cars.  They don’t have fifteen year olds. 

Second, the kids don’t have time for the jobs anymore.  Where school once ended at Memorial Day, now it pushes out to the first of July.  Then, sports pre-season, summer school, and early starts to the school year bring the boys and girls back to their pencils and shoulder pads a week or more before labor day.  The three month summer vacation has been whittled to six weeks. 

Many families also don’t see the summer job as important anymore.  High school has become a four year portfolio development project for admissions officers.  Fathers don’t ask “How much money are you going to make?” Instead, they ask “What will Harvard think?”  As a result, Johnny has to go to All-Star Hockey Camp for two weeks, then he has a community service project in Belize for another week.  Julie has an internship at Shakespeare and Company that goes for a month before she goes to lacrosse camp.  To these kids, four years of high school is one long American Idol contest for an Ivy League school. 

On-island, the younger kids can get a head start on the competition at Camp CEO or Finance Camp.  Eighth grade may be a little early to start arbitrage for most kids, but some are geniuses.  Why waste time with Pokemon and baseball cards when they could learn abut corporate and zero coupon bonds.  Every child needs the Wealth Rules for kids, especially for the pre-M.B.A. program in Junior High.

My parents taught me the Wealth Rules as a caddy at Bear Hill Golf Course.  For weekends in the spring and fall, and for several days in the summer, I dragged two golf bags at a time twice around the nine-hole course.  The members taught me all I needed to know about personal service, low pay, and the petty evil that mildews the skulls of small-minded men.  I also learned that the best thing about work is often the people you work with, appreciation counts more than pay, and early morning on the fairways has its own rewards. 

The world spins and times change.  Adolescent caddies have gone the way of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray; golf courses are more likely to have carts.  Upper end courses will have professionals in white jumpsuits.  Now, too late, golf has learned that he lost this exchange.  The course made more money off the carts, but it failed to develop young golfers.  Most of those twelve-year-old caddies became forty-year-old duffers laboring to smooth out their swing and hit into the eighties honestly.  Without the caddies, the golfers have grayed in their GPS carts and the membership lists have shrunk.

As Nantucket jobs have become more professional, she loses as well. Adolescent babysitters, waitresses, dishwashers, and boys with Dad’s lawnmower have faded.   In the past, the boys that mowed the lawns were the ones who brought their families.  The girls who cleaned the inns were the ones who had their honeymoons here.  The Wealth Rules Kidz may inherit Dad’s place in Pocomo, but they may not bring anyone new out here with them, if they come out here at all. 

Summer Experiences have more value in a world dominated by varsity coaches and admissions officers.  Today, “Engineering a candidate” may be more valuable than “developing a child.”  Candidates are eventually accepted somewhere.  Their transcripts develop and their experiences line up neatly on their resumes until another June approaches somewhere in the future.  And as June approaches, these engineered young people may find themselves flying back into the Neverland of their bedrooms.  It’s the only world they know.

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