Mark Palermo

How the Real World Works: A Lesson

He Was Our S.O.B.
Long Ago Saturday Nights at the Circle 9
The Dark Side of Vaccinations
Wine: Where Ignorance and Pretension Find their Loudest Voice
A 1976 Journey in Search of Self
The Machinery of Mass Dreams
The Outlaw Georgie Bush
Sex Offender Registries Out of Control
Extreme Makeover for Airheads
The Fault Lies not in the Stars, but in Ourselves
Reconsidering George Carlin
If You Think Liberals Are Jerks...
She Couldn't Do Her Chores
Remembering Viktor Frankl
One Day on the Farm-1977
A Fresh Look at Meat
How the Real World Works: A Lesson
30 Bucks for the Human Touch
1929 All Over Again
An Old Man's War, A Young Man's Fight
More Things in Heaven and Earth...
Our Dumbed-down Public Discourse
Bread, But No Roses
Earth's the Right Place for Love
Read This Before Enlisting
Poison Is Good for You: The Fluoridation Scam
Ron Paul:He Makes Too Much Sense
War Is a Racket
Brazil's National Orgasm Day
Calling all Liberals!
Why I Don't Get Flu Shots
What is Community?
Haverhillicus Homocrisicum
If You Wanna Be a Junkie, Why?
Do We Know His Family?
Scam: Youth Sports
A Subsidy for the Human Touch?
How Not to Be Boring
If the Bread and Roses Strike Were NOW
America's Problem with the Body
Columbus Day? or Renaissance Day?
Depleted Uranium Weapons
Mitt Romney: A Clintonian Republican
A Checklist for Conservatives
On Torture and Torturers
Pimp of the Nation
Romney is a Jerk
Hypocrisy and its Champions
The Dumb Society
The Men's Taverns of Yesteryear
On Dittoheads!
Let China Sleep
2004 McDebates
Animal Rights Page
US Wealth Distribution Chart
Public Grief, Private Lives



   It was the only semester I ever lived in a dormitory, and I learned lessons about how the real world works.

   It was 1970. I was 20, and I wanted to get out of Lawrence. I don't know how I picked the godforsaken place, but I ended up in a college in rural southwestern New Hampshire. Those were the days before business expansion into the area. The region was mired in Appalachian style poverty- with people living in rusted out trailers and run down farms. And the resultant sparse contact with the outside world, combined with the constantly overcast weather exacerbated the sense of isolation of the place- which could be overwhelming at times.

   One day in the student union, I was talking with two friends from Massachusetts about poverty. We decided that instead of mere talk, we should actually do something about poverty. We decided to start a collection for the poor of the area. We talked to people, and before long the news spread around campus. A meeting was held. Word spread more, and donations came in. There was publicity, and more meetings. Our poverty collection became a movement, and even more people joined, some sincere and others motivated by status seeking and crass opportunism.

   The power of our movement was growing, as if we had started a pebble rolling down a mountainside which became a landslide. But a delicate psychological balance was breached- and control was slipping out of our hands. We original three long haired guys morphed into subcommittees and semi-committees with everybody doing their own thing.

   Somebody talked to the manager of the school cafeteria, and made an arrangement. If boarding students wished, they could sign a waiver agreeing not to eat in the cafeteria on a certain day. When a few hundred students signed the waiver, the manager contributed the difference to the poverty fund. My friends and I also signed the waiver, and we decided that later that day we would make supper in the dorm room. Meanwhile we weren't aware- or if we were, we didn't care- that another committee across campus was pushing the idea that students should not only sign the waiver, but should also fast that entire day- in order to raise consciousness about hunger and suffering. My friends and I neither proposed that idea nor were consulted, and felt no need to go along with it. The night of the fast, we cooked in the dorm room. We failed to consider the odor of roast pork with onions and gravy permeating the dorm building where students were suffering hunger. Let's just say that it aroused deep resentment, magnified by the narrow minded provincialism of the place, which had already made them suspicious of outsiders.
   So without having done anything wrong, our stock fell. Vague rumors circulated about mismanagement of funds, malfeasance- false, of course, but could those Massholes be involved? I learned that avoiding the appearance of impropriety is almost as important as avoiding the actual impropriety.

   But other lessons were yet to come. Eventually the collection phase ended, and a power struggle ensued among the various factions. Moreover, we had forgotten to ask the most basic question: Whom do we distribute the funds to? You can't simply go around door to door and say, "Hi, I see by the wretched house you live in that you're poor. Here's some money. The folks in those old hollows were proud Yankee stock, and would probably have starved to death before accepting our money. We had neither thought to ask them what they needed, nor knew how to ask them. We were from another planet.
   Then I learned about politics in the last week of the semester. The fund was a political football, and still in play. While students and faculty were distracted with finals and leaving for the summer, the chairman one of the committees -claiming legitimacy- passed a resolution of his group to hire two people to work through the summer to "research" the question of fund disbursement. When we investigated, we discovered that the two people hired would be the very same chairman of the committee and his girlfriend - and their salaries would consume the entire fund- in today's dollars about $20,000.

   The three of us went to the dean; a young, hip guy in his thirties, and we told him everything. The next day, he banned all committees and seized control of the fund. He contacted an old man from the village church and asked him straight out what they needed. The old man distributed the money to the poor and elderly.

   Vilified, despite the noblest of intentions; loveless, despite a surplus of women on campus; shunned, but more experienced in the world; we three longhairs hitchhiked home after that one semester having seen how the real world works and having learned that it's not always easy to help people, but sometimes you should try anyway.

Merrimack Valley Patriot, October 2005