Tom Purcell, 6/15/2015 [Archive]

Defaulting on Personal Responsibility

By Tom Purcell

Boy, was I dumb to pay back my college loans.

That is the conclusion of writer Lee Siegel, who explained in a New York Times op-ed why he never paid back his.

Siegel's parents had limited means, you see, so, at 17, he borrowed to go to a pricey private school for two years. When his parents divorced and his father went bankrupt, he transferred, the poor suffering lad, to a lower-cost state college.

"Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face," he writes. "I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn't want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society."

Hey, Siegel, after reading your tripe — that it is not your responsibility to pay back the loans you agreed to pay back, but the responsibility of the taxpayers you are fleecing — you'd be far more useful to society if you were a garbage collector.

First off, your premise is dead wrong. Great writers have almost always worked jobs they didn't want, to pay the bills.

William Faulkner worked for the post office. Kurt Vonnegut managed a car dealership. Stephen King worked as a janitor and dry cleaner. Harper Lee took reservations for an airline. John Steinbeck was a painter and handyman.

One of my favorite authors, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), was a ranch hand, pharmacist, draftsman and bank clerk — he met many colorful characters in these various jobs, who influenced some of his greatest stories.

I am a professional writer, too, and my parents didn't have enough money to cover my college bills, either.

To come up with my Penn State tuition, my father worked overtime while I labored as a stonemason every summer.

During the school year, I worked as a dishwasher, janitor, handyman, grass cutter and rooming-house manager. I worked as a bouncer, too, which involved kicking drunk people out of bars and mopping up that which some patrons couldn't keep down.

I sold my plasma for 10 bucks a pop twice a week — though it nearly killed me (when my mother found out, she nearly strangled me).

After college, I wanted to kick around Europe for a year and write the great American novel — like you, Siegel, I didn't want to waste my precious young life in a job I didn't like.

But I had debt to repay, and, unlike you, it never occurred to me that I could simply not pay it back. Lucky for me, my parents taught me well: Nobody owes you anything, but when you owe somebody, pay him or her back.

Thus, I took the first job an English major could get — a marketing writing job for a technology company. I have been self-employed for years, providing writing services to technology companies — so that I can pay my bills while I work on my novels in my spare time.

Nobody put a gun to your head to borrow money for college, bud. You could have gone to a low-cost community college for a few years, as my brother-in-law did, then transfer to a university and do well in life (he's been very successful in the medical business).

Quit your whining, Siegel, and pay back your damn loans.

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© 2015 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood" and "Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!" is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact Sales@cagle.com or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.



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