Albert Camus said that you could measure the degree of civilization of a society by examining its prisons. I do not believe it. I think you can measure the advance of society by studying the attitudes of 18-year-old girls from the San Fernando Valley. Let's face it: in our society, the future of culture, family, social beliefs and cars is not decreed from on high but percolates up from the young and the beautiful. That makes all these kids, the models of human thought for the next 30 years, well worth examination. Unfortunately, I cannot offer an examination of all of them, but I can offer a series of anecdotal data about two of them who have worked for me.
Both are beautiful. They come from well-to-do families. They run to the Xerox place, to the car wash, to the bank, to studios, to agents, to lawyers, to accountants, and generally make my life easier. I have come to love them and to think that whoever taught them in school should be shot.
Last January, V., one of the girls, decided that she urgently had to have a Gold American Express Card.
She began to fill out an application for a card, even though she knew she probably would not qualify. "I'll go for it anyway," she said. She needed to know my occupation for the application.
"I'm a writer," I said. (She had known me for over a year.)
"You are?" she exclaimed breathlessly. "How do you spell that? "One or two Ts?"
The next day, V. arrived late for work. "I'm really sorry," she said," but they were showing this really boring picture in my cinema class. It just went on forever and I couldn't leave. It was about this really fat guy who starts out riding a sled and goes on to own a whole bunch of newspapers and be real rich and everything."
J. sat and watched an advertisement for a TV movie about Prince Charles and Lady Diana. "That Prince Charles seems like a really rich guy," she said. "What kind of a car does he drive?"
"I don't think he drives," I said. "He probably has a driver."
"Wow," J. exclaimed. "What a burnt move. All that money and he can't even get his own car."
I told her that she was far too obsessed with cars. She should especially not consider cars as far as qualifying or disqualifying men to go out with her. "Just for example," I said, "suppose I told you I was going to fix you up with a man who won an Academy Award for acting, is a U.S. senator, won the Congressional Medal of Honor and is a certified saint, what would you say to that?"
J. did not hesitate for an instant. "I'd want to know what kind of car he has," she said.
A telephone call from V., who has just started school at a major private university in Los Angeles. "Wow," she said. "This place is just one big party. People start partying around 11 in the morning. People drink in class. People get really drunk and throw television sets out the windows of the frat houses. The guys in the frat near us have naked volleyball parties, and then they run into the sorority houses and smash the chandeliers. Then they go home to Palos Verdes for the weekend. I never had any idea college would be so great."
Both V. and J. have marginal propensities to consume greater than 1.00. That means they spend every cent they earn and more. They spend almost all of their earnings on clothing, especially jeans. One day I suggested that they should save a little something.
"Why? V. asked.
For once, they had me.
One day recently V. painted her nails while making certain that a giant shark did not jump up on the beach and eat my dog, Martha. (For that, she is paid about $8 per hour, but that is my problem.) I asked her if she had any travel plans for the summer.
"More than anything," she said, "I'd like to go to Sweden."
"Why Sweden? I asked.
"I've always wanted to ski the Swiss Alps," she said.
A discussion with V., a girl so beautiful that Hugh Hefner could not even imagine her, about city life: "If they don't do something about Hollywood soon, "I said, "if we don't start sweeping the streets, it's going to become another Harlem."
"What's Harlem?" she asked. "Is that a nice place?"
J. studied an article about how Bob Haldeman's daughter had become an aide on Capitol Hill. "Who's this chick?" J. asked. "How come she rates an article?"
"Well," I said, "her father was a very major player in Watergate and he was an aide at a high level to President Nixon."
"I've heard something about Watergate," J. said, thoughtfully. "What was that all about? Did Nixon do anything wrong or didn't he?"
Out of the mouths of babes, thought I.
Now for the part that may redeem all the rest. J. and V. have worked for me now for over a year. They have never made a remark slurring anyone on racial, religious, economic or political grounds. To my knowledge, they have never acted avariciously or meanly toward me or anyone else. What they lack in education, they largely make up in eagerness and energy. If there is an indictment, the bill should be drawn against their schools. I think Camus would be satisfied with the level of the human spirit, if not with the education.