Unemployed Again

Unemployed Again

Monday, April 15, 2013

Walking on the Wing of a Whim

    My neighborhood looked like a ghost town.

     As far as I could see down the block, the driveways were empty of cars.  I had already been walking about a half a mile, but hadn't seen a single soul. It was Monday morning and everyone had scampered off to their jobs and commitments, leaving the neighborhood in peace. 

      I used to be one of those people, I thought to myself,  as I walked, noticing a tree blooming with pink blossoms.  A beautiful tree filled with tiny little pink slips.  I could see how beautiful pink slips could be.

      It was only 10 days ago that I, too, was fighting my way through the urban jungle to earn a living.  But all of that had suddenly stopped.  I had gotten the proverbial pink slip.

     I turned onto my favorite path through the park.  Now I was safe to close my eyes, and walk as if blind as long as I could.  Without sight, the sounds of the morning formed a necklace of tweets and chirps and roars, like different colored jewels.  I took a huge breath of cool air, and tried to distinguish all of the different bird sounds I could identify.  I heard a distant roar of a jet plane.  A lone bark of a dog.  I was almost in a trance-like state, and forgot I was even walking.

      "Good Morning!" came a new sound which startled me.  I opened my eyes to see a short Asian woman, dressed in white sneakers and a wide brimmed hat.  She had chubby cheeks and was sporting a wide grin.  "I hope you enjoy your walk today!" she said, as if we'd been friends all of our lives. I muttered a cheery retort, noticing specifically that I was smiling wider than I had in a long time.

      Calmness.  Happiness.  It all seemed unfamiliar.

    I decided to walk with my eyes open for awhile, and soon I encountered an elderly gentleman walking his dog.  I was surprised when he, too, spoke.  "Beautiful morning, isn't it?  I hear the wind will be coming back today though," he said to me smiling.  He spoke with such informality, I expected him to call me by name.

      "Yes, I heard that too," I heard myself say.  It felt odd to be speaking to a perfect stranger on a Monday morning.  But even stranger was the happiness I encountered.  The world seemed at peace.  There was oxygen to breathe.  There was space into between the sounds, like the rests between the notes of a concerto.

       It struck me how different these encounters were than those I came across when I still had a job.  My daily commute felt more like going to war; I left the house with a stern stare, prepared to enter into battle.  The pervasive feeling on those stretches of concrete for me was eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.  The semi-trucks surrounding me towered like buildings in Manhattan; they blocked the sky.  But worse, they'd purposely push me off the road when changing lanes.  A sweat shop of angry people, not letting you in, not letting you pass.  Loud honks of frustration; cars battling for a slice of highway, just to be allowed to go where they needed to go. 

        "Merry Christmas, bitch," the words spoken to me by an angry driver four months ago, flashed in my mind.  I was struggling to get into the proper lane to get on the Bay Bridge, which often seemed impossible until it was accomplished.  She wanted me to let her in, but she couldn't see that on the other side of me, a car had angled perpendicularly in front of me, and I couldn't move.   "You'll get your Karma one day, bitch," she said.  "Happy HAPPY holidays."

          I rolled up my window to block out her continued diatribe, which stung.  I wasn't that person.  I was a giving loving sort, who tried to live my life with kindness and generosity.  I wasn't designed for this daily war zone.  I just wanted to go home.

           "I want to go home," I heard myself say out loud in the quiet empty park as I continued my  walk.  And it wasn't the first time I'd uttered that exact phrase out loud.

            Many years ago, I had developed a verbal tick; a sort of tourette, where I would unconsciously speak those words out loud.  "I want to go home."

      I never really knew precisely where this disorder had come from.  But I thought I'd normally say it in moments of anxiety or sadness; or when an unpleasant thought crossed my mind.  But when I entered my 20's and 30's, I began to say it louder and louder and with more frequency.  It was a joke among all of my friends and family who knew me well.  If I yelled it out at home, they'd yell back, "You are home," with peels of laughter.  I found myself saying it loudly in movie theaters when the plot took an objectionable twist.  Then once I said it so loudly in a clothing store, because I couldn't find a blouse to fit me right, that I thought I should see a psychiatrist.

       After weeks on the couch, as it were, the shrink determined it was a death-wish, in some senses, but it was also a desire to return to the womb, where it was safe.  She worked with me not on eradicating the annoying habit, but rather to help me get it under control.  She didn't help me stop saying it, but rather to stop saying it so loudly, and she taught me how to halt it, on occasion, mid-phrase.  I've been better ever since, but there's never been a day my entire adult life, I don't think, where I haven't said it at least once.

         Ironically, it was this bad habit that in part caused me to lose my job.

          When my two bosses called me into the conference room at 3:00 o'clock on that last day, I had noticed that the entire office had been cleared of my co-workers.  It was then that I knew. I was about to get laid off.

         But when my bosses began spouting off the reasons they came to this decision, they told me  that they had walked by my office on several occasions, and heard me say, "I want to go home."

        "We kept overhearing you say you wanted to go home," they told me.  "It's obvious to us that you don't want to be here anymore."

        And while this was in part true, I burst out laughing.

        Even in the midst of this horrible moment, and getting fired or laid off is a horrible moment, their reasoning filled me with mirth.  I explained to them that this was a verbal tick that I had had most of my life, and I couldn't help it.  In fact, most of the time I didn't even realize I was saying it.

          "Well, you can understand why we might misinterpret that, can't you?" they told me.

       I wanted to further explain just how silly they were to base their opinions of me on that, but I could see the writing on the wall.  The dye had been cast, the decision had been made.  My severance check was on the table.

        I had no desire to argue with them.  I had no desire to defend myself.  I wanted to begin the unceremonious ritual of cleaning out my desk and packing my belongings.  I wanted the final walk of shame to my car, trying to hold my head high.  But most importantly, I wanted to go home.

        As I sped away, attacking that bridge on-ramp for the last time, my head was filled with a myriad of emotions.  Shock, outrage, fear, and humiliation.  I was hit with financial concerns.  The apprehension about what was to come next. 

         But I realized I wasn't crying.

       My bosses were like Goodfellas, or Wise Guys.  They knew how to skirt the system.  How to steal.  How to get work done for free.  Everything was everyone else's fault.  They took no responsibility for anything.

         "The porta potties need to be cleaned at the job site,"  I told my boss one day.  "They're beginning to stink.  The neighbors are complaining.  We have to pay them something so they'll come out and clean them."

          "Tell them to go fuck themselves," was his response.

        "But your employees have nowhere to use the bathroom," I argued.

        "Tell them to use a bush."

        Conversations like this, and many others whirled through my mind.  I thought of the daily barrage of phone calls I received every day; people crying that we needed to pay them, people screaming at me, people threatening.  "There's nothing I can do," I'd say softly, trying to keep a wall around my sanity.  I needed to create my own boundaries to keep myself safe.

          "Thanks a lot.  Tell your bosses they're assholes.  And you're an asshole too."

          I thought of how often I was called names out there in the world of work.  How I had tuned out being abused on a daily basis.

           That last day, my car careened down the freeway toward home.  My job was gone.  My paycheck was gone.  But even as I experienced a heap of nasty emotions, I also felt an undeniable bliss in the deepest part of my gut.   I would no longer be called a bitch every day, when I was anything but.  I would no longer have to aid people in stealing from hard working folks.  I would no longer have to sell my soul to make someone else rich.

      I flew through the horrendous commute traffic as if I had wings for the first time; as if my car was flying overhead, looking down upon their madness.  I was free of that freeway; I had been liberated from the ugly humanity cursing in their vehicles, honking and shouting.  I was no longer one of the rats scrambling through a maze, or a hamster spinning needlessly on their wheels.  I was free.  I was free!  My car was traveling high in the clouds, keeping pace with the birds, soaring without boundaries.
          "I don't have to go back!" I screamed out with glee.

         I have always had a difficult time expressing to others how much I detest working.  Most people see it as a sign of laziness, and society views it as wicked. 

      The idea that the poor should have leisure has always seemed shocking to most people.  In the past, fifteen hours was the ordinary day's work for a man, and twelve hours per day was the norm for children.  In those days, if people voiced their opinion that perhaps the hours were too long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief.  Our culture has long taught us that we should consider it a privilege to be allowed to exist only to work.

     When I would voice my obvious hatred for what I perceived as wasting my life and going somewhere to be yelled at, ridiculed and treated disrespectfully, I was told, "You should be grateful you have a job.  Many people would feel lucky to have what you have."

      "Yes, of course I'm grateful," I would dutifully answer back, but I never really felt I was telling the truth.  I thought instead that I should be grateful, and wondered why I was the only one who really wasn't.

       "What would you do if you didn't work?" I would be asked.  This was the question which always amused me the most.  My mind would fill with joyful images of travel.  Of long walks in the sunshine.  Mornings celebrating my true passion of writing.  Afternoons of cooking, and creating healthy culinary masterpieces.  Evenings of singing. 

       Afternoons of just being.

        Space to hear the rests between the notes.

       Time to close my eyes and listen to bird noises, and to greet strangers with a cheery hello.  To embrace life.

         I was deep in thought, thinking of how I'd lost my job, and all that I had left behind.  When I looked up, I found myself standing in front of my house.

         I had walked for miles and miles, but I was hardly aware of having done it.

         When I had a job, I walked every day.  A desk job and a long commute is a sedentary lifestyle, and I did everything I could to counter attack it swallowing me into ill health.

          During my lunch time walks, I was often plagued with horrible sciatica, a pain that extended from my lower waist, down my right leg, and all the way into my toes.  And while I wanted to enjoy my walk, I sometimes could not, because each step was painful.  I had long wondered if it was caused by commuting, by my right leg being poised for hours a day between the gas and brake pedals.

          I realized I hadn't felt that pain for 10 days, since I had lost my job.

          I realized that my walk had felt more like flying than exertion.

          I was cleaning off the dust that had covered my soul and was seeing a fresh and shiny being underneath.

         I was 53 and unemployed once again. I had wanted to go home, and now I was home.
          I smiled, then turned the page and began the next chapter.

Me in Kindergarten

Me in Kindergarten