Socioeconomic Status

I was talking with one of my old video game “friends” whom I met while playing Team Fortress 2. She’s going into grad school and we had a frank exchange about SES in facebook chat because her parents are physicians so it’s safe for us both to talk about SES. She makes 26k as a grad student (which is actually really high for grad student pay). She has some student debt from a private undergrad, but basically she can rely on her parents to help with stuff. She can remain in education for as long as she wants independent of finances. We kinda feel for the much less fortunate people in our generation in an abstract way.

I think about some of the people I know who got screwed by the collapse of the economy. I remember students in undergrad who despite being reasonable intelligent aren’t needed anymore because you can hire someone reasonably skilled in India or China for a fifth of the cost. Some kids have high debt loads from art degrees and now they kinda just bum around or have shitty service jobs.

I meet a lot of pharmacy techs who have bachelors. A few of them in chemistry and biology, like definitely degrees in school where they could have a much better job. But the economy doesn’t really need their labor because entry level science-y stuff can basically be exported overseas. I also meet pharmacy techs who work a lot harder than I ever have. Like I meet people who juggle multiple jobs with school. Like a guy had 2 full time jobs and it’s really common to see people balancing 7-15 credits at community college with having a job. And it’s like, I’ve never had to work that hard. My grad school friend has never had to work that hard. Nobody I lived with in college had to work that hard. When we were in school, we were just in school pretty much. And having upper middle class parents helped us do that.

That’s not to say we aren’t talented or that we haven’t earned what we’ve achieved through hard work. Intelligence, like money, is partially heritable.


On Juniper

Juniper called me recently after two years of being incognito. She was gainfully employed in some sort of tech in SF – not the masculine kind where you actually build something but the feminine kind where you manage a project by scheduling meetings and stuff. The “project manager” title that goes to people who claim to work in tech but are basically secretaries who never took calculus. 

But she had that bohemian itch so she decided that she would move to SD without any future plans lined up. So she went down and she didn’t have a job or anything. She had an apartment lined up and lived out of it. Eventually she ran out of money and moved into a hippie commune. Many hippies lived in a big dirty hippie house, complete with hippie drama and everything else that happens when young adults in a group spend time together. But it’s hippie flavored so human psychodrama is covered with a thin veneer of unwashed hair and eastern spirituality.

She told me she started a relationship with a hippie guy in the house because he had a soft mattress. That was one of her stranger claims. I can’t think of what would compel her to reveal that, as it is intensely embarrassing. It also sounds too stupid to be fake and I wouldn’t put that flagrant stupidity past her. Although maybe that is a good investment for the future.
Then she moved back to SF and I don’t think she had a job but she got a boyfriend who seemed okay. He took her to Japan on vacation although I don’t know why they broke up. Probably he broke up with her because she was “sick” which probably translates to a psychosomatic illness or maybe something more garden variety like anxiety + depression.

Now she’s back living with her parents in middle America, just sitting around being a bum with poor mental health. She’s convalescing I suppose but really she’s bumming around being a bum. It’s kinda sad because she has potential. She would just kinda rather spend it on wanderlust. It’s like seeing someone with all the tools and supplies to build a birdhouse and they one hundred percent fuck it up and build a shitty pile of wood that bursts into flame.

She is more neurotic and crazy than I remember. Of course, back then it was “quirky” because she was still in her 20’s. Quirky becomes neurotic in your 30’s. Maybe it’s the passage of time or maybe she’s even more neurotic and crazy than before. I think something happens to pretty girls when they realize that social capital for women fades with appearance. The encroachment of time and each added wrinkle increasingly burdens them with anxiety.

Some people are hard to understand.

The Social Security Administration (SSA)

So recently I tried to pay income taxes for the first time. It’s the first time I’ve ever had enough income that I could do it. I only worked for half the year so it calculated out to a nice refund. Got a sweet deduction for my student loan interest (flipside: I have lots of student loans). So I filed my taxes but the next day I got an email with an error. It turns out the SSA has the wrong birthday on file for me. I bumped into this twice before while starting college and pharm school; I filled out a waiver both times and kicked the can down the road.

But this time the opportunity cost of not fixing it was several thousand dollars, so I called the social security office and I was instructed to fix the issue at a local social security office. So I went today because I have the day off. It’s in a shitty part of town full of Somali immigrants; the line was out the door. I picked up a ticket and waited two hours for my number to be called. All the seats were taken so I stood for most of the time. My phone’s battery bottomed out halfway through and I just kind of… waited. It was really boring.

Then I’m called and the guy who works there is a black dude with a missing hand. He has a hook for a hand. He uses a trackball mouse and types one key at a time using his hook and a finger. Anyway it turns out that the day and month were reversed in SSA’s version of my birthday because my parents filled out the form incorrectly 25 years ago or whenever. So yeah. Got that fixed. That’s all.

Local Theater

My roommate has invited me to so many of her shows that I couldn’t very well turn down another one. She hangs up the lights and somehow needs to pursue her master’s degree to do it. Anyway, I just agreed randomly and she had comped tickets because she was working on the production. She said one was about race and the other was about society. I’ve been to a couple local theater performances she recommended before, but they have been almost uniformly unpleasant affairs except for once instance in which moderately attractive but highly neurotic girls screamed about sexuality or whatever for an hour on stage.

The performances this time set a new low. The first one was about an insane white chick and this black dude on a train. She starts acting completely crazy and then he was going nuts about his blackness and she stabs him, the end. The next play was real artsy fartsy with this black girl’s white (?) British ancestors in masks and teasing her about being black. It was fucking awful. People should have better ways of expressing themselves. Art should have a message other than “I am bad at art”.


a brief history of pharmacy school, part II

So then it was my second year, which is the hardest year of pharmacy school. The courses feature a heavy amount of memorization, with an overburdened midterm load. Students don’t have the physical time to spend on memorizing the volume of stuff. Two classes comprise the majority of the workload – pharmacology (memorizing how drugs work, endless enymzatic pathways, physiology, etc) and pharmacotherapy (memorizing side effects and medical guidelines for drug use). Courseload from the other classes are moderate but nowhere near these two major classes. Pharmacology in particular would require at least 40 hours of studying on top of lecture and assignments for each midterm; we had four midterms and a final. We had enough tests to have three midterms a week for multiple weeks in a row.

On top of this, I went to lab to learn bench chemistry from the ground up. I joined thinking I would learn more of the molecular biology stuff, but the professor started me off with my old undergrad nemesis, organic chemistry. I picked it up fairly quickly. Chemistry is fairly simple if you focus on knowledge necessary to understand your reaction – it’s much harder if you just memorize random decontextualized reaction mechanisms. It also probably makes more sense if you do real labwork while you take the class because then you’re studying for a tangible goal. So I was doing 12 to 15 hours a week here, sometimes up to 20.

The first semester was very unpleasant; if I had studied in undergrad like I studied that semester I would have gotten a 3.95 GPA. The second semester was much better, although you get so burned out from the first semester that you kinda stop caring. That’s when a lot of students decide that they aren’t coming to class anymore. The techniques we used to flash memorize information were so effective that all you learned was how to memorize vast quantities of metadata and reproduce it effectively during the test. Like, if you had to memorize properties of beta blockers (eg which ones have intrinsic sympathomimetic activity, selective vs nonselective, etc) you would just memorize the first letter of each one and then it into a mnemonic. Literally you would just look at drug names, turn them into strings of random letters and try to assign them meaning. Like “ABC MEN” were the selective ones and you would just hope that the multiple choice question gave you enough extra information to answer with just the first letter. Also stuff like cocaine inhibits NET (some kind of norepinephrine transporter) because basketball players love cocaine. So yeah, it’s not learning anything real but you get a degree afterwards.

I don’t have many memories in particular, it all kind of just blends together. That summer I got an interview with the VA but I also had a research grant. The VA wanted me to do full time but I wanted to do research instead so I did that. It was the right decision in retrospect (I think) because I later rotated at a different VA and very much did not like their stupid computer system VISTA (pulled right out of the 80’s). It functions like something a solid B-student wrote in Visual Basic 1.0 as an undergrad capstone project. I spent the summer doing research for which I received a grant and then later a small scholarship. Unfortunately the project faced several setbacks and very few of my peers made much progress in the lab that summer. My main problem (besides from the lab moving and and losing two weeks) was that my graduate student synthesized 5 grams (an immense quantity in chemical terms representing thousands of dollars of starting material) of the incorrect intermediate. The reaction yielded two products that looked similar in NMR, and he isolated the wrong one. The subsequent reactions didn’t work and I spent five weeks thinking my reaction (or the atmosphere, or the glassware, or the solvent) was too wet.

So that was my summer and I enjoyed it immensely; I started jogging along the river at 5 am just as the sun rose; it would be seventy degrees and humid. Just twenty minutes is all I could bear due to my overall lack of athleticism. Then I would take a shower, a short nap, and show up for research at 9. I’d work until at least 6 pm, and I’d also come in Saturdays for a half day and sometimes Sunday. Then I’d get home and sleep until 2 am, when I woke up and played video games; I think I was still into Starcraft II back then. I fit meals in there somehow, with a lovely staple breakfast being an avocado, a tomato, and an eighth of a sweet onion, all raw with some vinaigrette. Rinse and repeat. One of my favorite summers although I have yet to write my shitty experience that summer on rotation in a children’s hospital.

Part III: On Research
Part IV: Year III
Part V-VI: Year IV