“Don’t mess with me. I’m a lawyer. I’ll sue you!” sneered the rat-faced man.
There was once a time when you could get ahead by working hard, saving money, doing a good job and being a stand-up guy. Those days are over. Stand-up guys are suckers. Sure, it would be nice to live that life, but let’s face it. It’s gone and it’s never coming back.
Today, if you’re a young person coming up, you need a different set of skills. Your town might be a post-industrial hellscape and you might be escaping generational unemployment. You might need to navigate a university system with an opaque and misleading admissions process that’s solely about collecting fees. If you want to buy a house, you’ll be battling foreign elites looking to park their blood money in US property. Got $140,000 for a downpayment, friend?
Normal people don’t survive and prosper in a society like this. They aren’t abrasive, selfish or energetic enough to get ahead. Maybe they’re good people, productive, give back to their community. Well, if that’s you, here’s what society thinks of you today. We’re not even talking about not making it big. We’re talking about making it at all. Normal people, productive people, decent people — they’re not going to have a job, kids and a house. They’re going to have nothing. Still renting at 50, still single, no one will notice when they die. Sounds awful to say, but hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t make things like this. I just have to live with it.
It’s no country for normal men anymore. It’s the country of the rat-faced man. I am the rat-faced man and this is my story.
It was in 2006 that I realized that I couldn’t be a normal person anymore because if I tried, I’d wind up living in a van down by the river. Wife, kid on the way, bills to pay, no family money, nothing but a jobless post-industrial hellscape to go back to, liberal arts degree. Not a good look. That was before the first housing crash, too, so I was looking at my miserable salary and the costs of buying, and realizing, it didn’t matter how old my car was, how much I shopped at the dented-can grocery store, how much I skipped going to the doctor, how many vacations I didn’t take. I was screwed.
At that point, you’ve got two choices. You can pretend that everything is OK and just go on doing what you do. A lot of my friends from the old days did that. One just called me up the other day. Good guy, works hard. He’d just lost his job and moved in with his wife’s family. Their first kid had just been born. Here he is with a few thousand saved, no retirement money, no property. Good guy, 800 credit score, paid off his student loans, paid for the kid’s birth in cash, but he was 35 and just getting back to positive net worth with no assets. Then this happens, and he’s living in a basement.
The other choice is, you can say, man, the old rules don’t apply. This just isn’t the deal I cut. This just sucks. I’m going to find out the real rules and stop being a sucker. People get rich every day, they have lots of success and comfortable lives, they don’t have to be in debt, getting collected from, power turned off, living in dangerous neighborhoods — this just isn’t necessary. You have to understand the truth of the system.
And it was on the day that I said this to myself that I became the rat-faced man.
10 years on, you know what? I kind of like it. It has spice. I bet you’ll like it too.