"Who are they?" asked my mate, sipping her house white, as a group of young blokes got up then casually flew away in a helicopter.
"I don't know - merchant bankers? Investment brokers? Something that doesn't get your hands dirty."
Disregarding my sneering, she said: "You're wrong. Look at their hands." She was right. Not in suits and they had cow cocky hands. We asked the barman what they did. "Builders."
"What, as in construction companies?" "Nope. Just your garden variety."
That was the late nineties and there'd be a few builders who might argue, post GFC, that it's a different world now. But then, at the finish of years of university study and barely cracking the minimum wage we had time to consider the wisdom of accepting the mantra that if you were bright enough you should go to university.
The trades still make a lot more than just the minimum wage. As I learnt when I had to pay a spotty adolescent to fix the plumbing, envying his hourly rate as I felt the urge to ask him if his mum knew where he was.
A few months ago in Te Reo class the kaiako told us about a chat he'd had with a multi-millionaire businessman who'd said that he'd seen a sign that read "Work Smarter Not Harder" and felt that it was the most stupid thing he'd ever read. Working smart and hard was the answer for him. He felt the hard graft and good money of trades was being undersold to the North's youth in favour of the so-called smart careers.
But that's not the whole story either, because there is an underlying assumption that the only measurement of worth is in the financial benefit accrued and in my case I had zero expectation of anything I studied earning me a living. Mmm. So - is a uni degree worth it? She asks, young and bushy-tailed.
Let me see ... I read lots of books ... like phallogocentrism in the 20th century (truly awful) and some good ones like ... well lots. Got an A for an essay about phallogocentrism. It contained lots of penises, and then I had a problem with what the plural of penis actually was seeing as it's not the sort of thing one would pick up as natural vocabulary extension. Unfortunately I was taking the p**s and hoped to fail thereby creating a platform from which to rant about the ridiculous stuff that we were learning when there was Iraq (again!) and the Berlin wall coming down ... and stuff!
Ended up teaching English - in lots of places - and somehow being a widow very young ... still not sure how that happened, except I thought that growing organic garlic and shed loads of dope would somehow lead to other things ... he died of natural causes, as it happens. We were all surprised.
Ended up in Argentina and brought home my favourite taxi driver with whom I decided to breed.
Is anything really worth it?
I say go for it. Read loads of books. Be entirely reprehensible in every way. Study hard and then reject it all. Worked for me.
Note to self: Never become a careers counsellor.