Rat Tales: A Master's Degree from the School of Hard Knocks
Things that keep the country running that they don’t teach you in college
Everything I know about balancing the cash register at Burt’s Bar was taught to me by a woman with a party tooth and a very recent stint in the county jail. We’ll call her Mandy.
If you don’t know, a party tooth is a prosthetic that can flip in or out of a dental chasm should you need to smile for the camera, or throw down with a rowdy asshole. Mandy has done both.
“You count your start money, set it aside, then do the rest. If the rest matches the sales report you’re good. Under, you pay. Over, you’re paid.” A foundational lesson in financial accounting I found impossible to grasp until delivered to me this way. No thanks to my Ivy League minor in business.
This routine sequence, carried out by the nation’s “essential workers,” happens millions of times daily without notice. Just one of the many underappreciated tasks, foreign to well-educated middle-managers, that keep the lights of American business on.
An elite degree is one of the fastest trains out of town for a kid from Appalachia. For the fortunate, there’s a well-worn path from hills and hollers through the ivory towers and into the arms of American business, where your talents will be deployed in service of the bottom line.
This column is about those who stay in Appalachia, and those that make it out and return home with big plans. It’s the second edition of Rat Tales: a (bi-weekly, for now) column of interesting stories about life and times in the Ohio Valley where people on the big river are affectionately known as “River Rats.” Subscribe to read on.