by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
July 7, 2005
VAPOR BOY AND THE ENTITLEMENT GENERATION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Back when I was a reporter on a daily newspaper, I remember the sports editor throwing fits about the "politically correct" crowd who wanted their kids to play in every game, even when they couldn't catch a ball with three hands and a sticky tongue.
"It's about winning," he would yell in frustration. "That's why they keep score." When parents complained, they did it in the hushed, self-pitying voices of people who, themselves, had always been picked last, if at all. "Every kid deserves a chance," they would say earnestly. "It's good for their self-esteem."
Well, what hath this thinking wrought? A generation of twentysomethings so full of unwarranted and unearned self-esteem that they drive the rest of us 'round the bend, that's what.
Movie star Russell Crowe recently learned this the hard way. According to The New Yorker, Crowe was stuck in a hotel room late at night in New York, trying to phone his family in Australia. When he requested aid from the young desk clerk, the guy blew him off with a "Whatever," the "ultimate sign of indifference." Crowe came downstairs and threw a phone and a vase at him. The rest is celebrity history.
I have a story, too. Recently, we hired a young painter, 23, to paint the inside of our house. He seemed trustworthy and competent, and he was by far the lowest bidder. He was a little flaky - he only ate root vegetables or raw foods or some such thing, and his body couldn't handle paint fumes, so would we mind using low VOC paint? But this would be his only job, he assured us, and he was grateful for the opportunity. We paid him half the money up front, and I silently nicknamed him Vaporboy.
In preparation, Randy and I moved everything from the upstairs bedroom and bathroom into the living room. Then I went to Florida to deal with an ailing mother. I expected to come home to at least two painted rooms. But when I got back 18 days later, there was still no color on the walls. Vaporboy didn't come every day. Or he came but he didn't stay long. Or he brought his girlfriend, put a brush in her hand, and disappeared. I didn't know what to do with her, so I made her tea.
Finally, Vaporboy had a nervous breakdown. Barefoot and in tears, he confessed that he had been doing another job - landscape gardening - in the mornings and trying to find the energy - on root vegetables, no less - to paint in the afternoons. Knowing full well that we'd never see our upfront money again if we let him go, Randy and I calmed him down and set up a schedule.
But it never got any better. He simply had no concern for what it might be like for us, living in chaos. May disappeared. Then June. True, the paint I chose for the bathroom turned out to be bubblegum instead of old rose, so Vaporboy had to repaint one wall. And true, the paint store made a mistake on the color for the kitchen cabinets, requiring him to add an unexpected coat. But mistakes happen on jobs; you plan for them. If he had come every day and worked hard, there would have been no problem.
I was almost nerve-crazy when Vaporboy promised me that the living room would be done the next day. But instead, he told me the fumes were making him sick and he was leaving. I told him I was having a nervous breakdown and he had to stay. Later he thanked me for making him stay, "Because it makes me feel better about myself."
Why didn't we fire him? The painting season had started. The professionals were booked. I was overloaded with work and had no time to find someone else. The house was already torn apart. My mother was coming.
The unkept promises dragged into July. The climax came when he promised to stain and polyurethane our stairs in three days. He did one day's work and disappeared, leaving us with no way to get upstairs except to walk through the garden in the rain. Two days later, he popped up again in my driveway. When I went over to his car, he arrogantly waved me away and said, "I don't want to talk to you now, I'm eating."
My sports editor friend was right. Vaporboy, I have learned, is part of the "Entitlement Generation." The Associated Press did a story about them recently, saying there is "an epidemic" of young people who have had "too much success early in life."
It's hard to point a generational finger. When my generation was that age, we were too stoned to do anything except have sex and listen to the Grateful Dead. We eventually straightened up, and I'm sure these kids will, too. And in all fairness, when he actually painted, Vaporboy's work was quite good.
But it all ended badly, of course. He never apologized. Instead, he explained over the phone that he was having "time management problems." I lost it, screamed he should do something I can't repeat in this column, and hung up. He called back and in funereal tones said, "You can keep your anger." Then he hung up. If we had been face-to-face, I would have certainly gone all Russell Crowe on him.
Crowe, being a celebrity, had to go on late-night television to apologize. Not being famous, I can only learn from my mistakes, shrug and say, "Whatever."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.