For three years, I was an academic prostitute. I ruined the curve for the honest and ensured that the wealthiest, and often stupidest, students earned the highest marks. I was a professional paper-writer.
It all started when I quit my journalism job in order to pursue my dream of being a singer-songwriter. I snagged a job tutoring inner-city foster children, but it didn't pay the bills. One day, I found a tutors wanted flier on the UCLA campus. A small tutoring agency that serviced affluent families hired me.
"Just sit at her computer and type for her," my boss advised me with my first client, a private-high-school student. But as I typed her name at the top right corner of the screen, she slithered onto her bed to watch "Are You Hot?" I asked her what she remembered about Huxley's "Brave New World."
"She's a slut," my client said with a sigh, referring either to the character of Lenina or the woman on TV. After a handful of three-word responses like that, I realized she didn't care. I was hired to do the thinking. The parents knew it. So did my boss.
Welcome to the world of professional paper-writing, the dirty secret of the tutoring business. It's facilitated by avaricious agencies, perpetuated by accountability-free parents and made possible by self-loathing nerds like me. For three-hour workdays, the ability to sleep in and the opportunity to get paid to learn, I tackled subjects like Dostoevsky while spoiled jerks smoked pot, took naps, surfed the Internet and had sex. Though some offered me chateaubriand and the occasional illicit drug, most treated me like the help. I put up with it because I feared working in an office for $12 an hour again.
Six months into the job, my boss sent me on a problem-solving mission for $10 more per hour than I was already making. He had earned C's and D's on papers for Evan (not his real name), a USC freshman my boss described as a "typical surfer retard." Evan's parents had hired "tutors" to compose their son's papers since he was 12 because he "wasn't going to be a writer anyway." They were furious.
In Evan's penthouse, surfers carved across the screen of his 51-inch television, next to a poster of "Scarface." The former clothes model handed me his assignment: to describe utopia. "I couldn't ask for a better life. I mean, was my soccer coach," Evan said, naming a famous studio head.
Despite living in utopia, during the session Evan purchased an ounce of weed and a bag of Xanax. His WASPy girlfriend washed down a pill with some Smart Water and offered me one. I declined. Evan sent me home with his $3,000 PowerBook to write his paper because he was "too busy" to work. Before I left, his girlfriend hired me to write her paper on "Do the Right Thing." I drove home at midnight, once again missing my chance to hit the music scene and battle my stage fright.
No matter. After I scored an A on Evan's paper, he promised to pass my demo on to a legendary music producer--a family friend. He also promised a few leftover pairs of designer jeans. He never mentioned either again, and I knew I'd been played. The only help Evan offered came in the form of new clients, such as his roommate, who had one-night stands with strippers and said things like "Why should I care about some little black girl?" in regard to Toni Morrison novels.
When my streak of A's ended after I scored a B-minus on Evan's paper about clanship in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," I never heard from him again. His teenage sibling, for whom I composed countless high-school English papers, revealed that Evan had replaced me with a classmate.
That summer break, my boss referred me to a junior at a private Christian university who couldn't spell "college." Come fall, the kid leased my brain three hours a day, five days a week. Depressed, I lounged around in my bathrobe until he finished class, then waded through rush-hour traffic to demoralize myself. One day, my Ford Bronco lost all power on the freeway and I could have died. I hadn't played a gig for seven months. I could barely pay my bills because I refused to take on more paper-writing clients.
Last spring, two months shy of my client's graduation date, I snapped while staring at a term-paper assignment on Margaret Thatcher. "I can't do this anymore," I mumbled. I had completed nearly two years of college for him. He replaced me with a teacher about to earn his Ph.D. who charged $15 less per hour than I did.
Despite my intellect, I handed over my self-respect to rich losers. I allowed myself to be blinded by privilege and the hope that some of it would rub off on me and help my flailing music career. Ultimately, trading my morals for money cost me the confidence I needed to turn my dreams into reality. Unemployment was a small price to pay to restore my fractured dignity.