Imagine you are Levi Johnston. Like all 18-year-old males, you feel you own the world. Makes your mouth water. Hey—keep your tongue in your mouth! You can’t let them know what you’re up to. But they’re not going to know what hit ’em. Right now your playing field is the ice; you kick ass. But the wider world is also hungry for your tear-it-up testosterone. And you’re gonna see it all.
Then suddenly: Well, we all know what happened. Bristol happened to you and then Sarah Palin happened to all of us.
“There are lots of dropouts,” said Gabriel Weaver, a 32-year-old lawyer who lives in Los Angeles and grew up in Wasilla. If you’re not going the college route, he said, “the name of the game is to get a job for one of the oil companies on the North Slope. And then you can have a blue-collar lifestyle and buy a snow machine and a bunch of guns, and make a semi-decent blue-collar sort of living. But lots of people end up working at Blockbuster Video their whole lives, or at the Wal-Mart. There’s a lot of poverty there.”
Josh Sieler is 26, born and raised in Wasilla and working there as an assistant manager at a hardware store; he’s studying to get his teaching degree.
“Basically, if you’re not into the wilderness here in the Alaska, you’re either miserable or you learn to get into the wilderness,” he said. “You have to make your own fun. There’s no Y.M.C.A. A pool hall will open for a couple of months and then close on account of lack of money. You learn to fish, or you play paintball, go hiking, go cross-country skiing, climb mountains or go four wheelin’. It can be a boring state.”
Is life for a young man in Manhattan any better? Look at Guy Mellitz. For six years he lived in a 400-square-foot apartment on East 21st Street. Shared the pull-out couch bed with his cat. Fold it up in the morning—crrrflump! What’s outside the window? Police academy recruits doing jumping jacks on the roof. Grew up in St. Louis. High school sucked. He came to New York to become a movie producer; instead he became a New Yorker. Broke up with his girlfriend a year ago. Took a breather. Hello, Match.com. He loves it! Met a nice girl. Well, met half a dozen “nice” girls!
Mr. Mellitz said he first heard about Levi Johnston on MSNBC. “I think he’s the typical 18-year-old male douche bag,” he said. “He probably wanted to have sex, and now he has to do the right thing, quote unquote.” Mr. Mellitz said he himself would probably marry the girl, hope for the best. “But I’d certainly be hating it.”
“There’s nothing to do in Wasilla, so we have house parties and stuff. Or people’s families have cabins. That’s probably the number-one thing,” said Mr. Weaver. “Or if you go to Anchorage, there’s some fun bars. There’s not a place where young people hang out.”
Michael Pih is a first-year law student at Georgetown University. Going places! “They’re both going to be high-school dropouts,” he said of Levi and Bristol. “Their earning potential is going to be severely limited by the fact that they’re high-school dropouts from Alaska, no less.”
I wasn’t so sure. I corresponded with a Wasilla resident named Caleb, who is 29.
“I don’t know if you know about ‘The Valley,’ but a teenager getting knocked up is certainly not news for us,” he said. “So I am not at all surprised. As for Levi Johnston, what is the big debate? Last I heard he was going to marry Bristol. Why wouldn’t he?”
The comedian Bill Maher has called Levi “America’s number-one political prisoner.” He’s begged the youth to remember he still has options. “This is the 21st century, at least in the blue states,” Mr. Maher said on TV the other night. “You don’t have to do this. You have options,” he said. “Just grab your skull bong, climb out the window and get on the highway.”
“What I’ve heard from family members is that it was a high-school sweetheart kind of a deal,” said Mr. Sieler of Levi and Bristol. “In Alaska people tend to get together with somebody—and let me think of a way to say this—it doesn’t seem as frivolous as it does down in the states. There’s not as much of a guy-girl ratio; there’s not a whole lot of fish in the sea in Alaska. You know, I married my high-school sweetheart and we’ve been together 10 years.
“If anything, I think it’s going to make things easier,” he continued. “You know, having snow for nine months a year, winter nine months a year, I absolutely would go insane if I didn’t have a wife next to me, or a significant other. It’s nice to have a companion in Alaska. I wouldn’t say that he has to all of a sudden give up any aspirations or goals that he has in his life. As far as ‘getting out,’ you know, it’s hard to get out of Alaska. You figure we pay $500 to go to Seattle round trip.”
So Levi, embrace the new hair cut and sharp-looking blazer. John McCain has looked you in the eye, gripped your biceps—heck, he’s practically adopted you. Work this thing, man, and play your cards right. You’re within sniffing distance of one of the most powerful political superstructures in the world. Whether or not Bistol’s mom becomes veep, if you work this, you can land a cushy job in Cindy McCain’s beer distributorship empire. We’re talking company car—make it an Escalade!— an expense account, all the Bud you can drink. Keep your eye on the puck.
In the words of Guy Mellitz, “Hang in there buddy. Do your best.” Guy knows what he’s talking about; things are looking up for Guy! He’s moved out of that 400-square-foot shoebox to Astoria.