Labor Day

The layoffs started Monday and finished by Wednesday. I know because the Boss Lady sent out an email on Wednesday: “Good morning, everyone. We have completed communication to all employees who were impacted by the reduction in force.” 

I’ve never been through layoffs before. I pride myself on the diversity of my hustle, but up until now every regular paycheck I’ve drawn has been from a small company or a restaurant chain. Up until now if anyone I’ve known got axed, it’s because they were cheating tips or otherwise utterly useless. Not this week. These were good people. Maybe not the best at their jobs, but decent folks that can do competent work with a little nudging. And I don’t know where they go from here–who will hire their age, their pre-existing conditions, their adherence to an older tradition? 

It’s downright terrifying. The ax missed me this time, but I won’t always be so lucky. I’m running scared. I want to take pride in my work, to put forth my best effort knowing that even if I’m not paid as much as I think I should make, well, it’s not because I haven’t proven I’m worth every dime I think I’m worth. But I think I’ve been performing for an empty audience. The Machine turns and grinds and turns and grinds, and all I’m doing is greasing it with my labors. One day the Machine will grind me.

And if I wasn’t convinced, then the Boss Lady had to send us her message. I’ve never seen a worse way to write “Breathe easy. The firing is over for now.” There’s an old joke: Why do lawyers write so terribly? Because all they read is other lawyers. Seems Boss Lady’s been boning up on her legal briefs. 

Let’s see if we can turn something ugly into something beautiful. See, I’m glad she wrote that. There was more, of course, talking about how we all move forward from here. But the damage was done in those first two sentences, the thought crystallizing just as I came to the period: I no longer want my labors to benefit this woman. Before I’d been on the fence. No more. 

The fundamental problem with working a nine to five is that it’s really the only job you can do. Our grandparents enjoyed the reliability this provided–my old Pop Pop was a heavy equipment operator from the day he married my grandmother to the day he retired. But for us, this newest generation of serfs, it’s a poorly-diversified investment. What happens when the job disappears? I went to law school, man; all the extra money I make goes into debt payments. I don’t keep a fat balance in my checking account for potential layoffs. The margin between making my rent payment and staring down an uncertain future comes down to the whim of the Boss Lady’s ax. That won’t do. So it’s time to embark on the grand adventure. 

Writing, I find, has a certain power. It’s not enough to think an idea. Writing it down, declaring it to all those literate, takes an idea and transforms it into a guide. So I’m going to write that one more time: it’s time to embark on the grand adventure.

I’m 28 now. I’ve got a life to live ahead of me, so I need to start making the most of it. I’ve never been in a better position to seize opportunity. I have a license to practice law. I’m a good writer. I have a mind that works. I’m working hard to be more honest, to acknowledge my faults and take steps to improve.

There’s a saying around the poker table. After you’ve been playing for an hour, take a moment to consider the other players. If you don’t know which one’s the sucker, it’s you. Well, I’ve been drinking the corporate Kool-Aid long enough. I’ve been in my current position for a year now. They speak of potential promotions, of a career for all, of a bright and promising future. But I’m looking around the table and I can’t spot the sucker.

So it’s time to embark on the grand adventure. I’ve requested a move to the second shift, so I can rent a cheap office I’ve found and start offering my services to the world. I’m going to be tired, but it’ll be the good tired that comes from striving towards a better goal, which is a freedom from clicking the same damn buttons tomorrow, too.

It’s a terrifying prospect to blaze my own trail, but I know I can do it. Confidence doesn’t come to me easily, but in contemplating my private exodus I’ve discovered something absolutely incredible: I am loved.  

I come from a stoic family so it’s difficult to write that. But I’ll do that again too for good measure: I am loved. And that makes all the difference.

I’ve dreamed about being rich as much as the next guy. Probably more so. I’ve taken a delight in thinking of all the ways I could describe my riches–stacking paper to the ceiling, Scrooge McDuckin’ it, debts paid in full–but even the most practical description is powerfully selfish, and I don’t care about money enough to be motivated. See, I place a premium on having a good time, which is shockingly inexpensive. Five dollars will buy sixty glow sticks and all the connecting pieces necessary to create a temporary masterpiece. Biking through the streets of Richmond costs nothing after the initial investment. Good company makes beer taste best. So despite my flights of fancy, I’ve never been much good at applying myself towards earning money.

But I believe I’ve found that motivation finally: love. Again, my stoic upbringing makes it hard to say that without snickering a bit. But I’m dead serious. 

I went to my first Redskins game a couple weeks ago, and it was delightful. My family is from Northern Virginia. I remember being five, watching my Dad sing Hail to the Redskins with every touchdown during Super Bowl XXVI. I’ve kept the faith in the long, dark years of the franchise since. And now, finally, I’ve seen them play live.

You could barely call it a game. This was a preseason warmup against the Bills. By the second quarter Buffalo was playing an undrafted rookie quarterback that didn’t earn a single first down. But it was amazing to see–all the names I’d followed in the newspapers, these titans among men, on the field in front of me. Even from the upper deck they all seemed larger than life.

I brought my Dad. The thing to know is this: he didn’t say much during the game. See, not long after my folks divorced I moved in with my Dad. It was just the two of us until I transferred from community college to VCU, so we have a rapport. It’s a joy talking to my Dad. Half of what he says is a blatant lie (“Did I ever tell you about the time I sailed with Christopher Columbus?”), and the other half is stories about Lowe’s, where he works, but it’s a delight nonetheless. So when he sat through the game, quietly engrossed by the action on the field, I knew that he was having a good time–he was too busy experiencing the moment to bullshit around. 

I hadn’t seen that before. And the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again. I want to take my father to Redskins games. Tickets aren’t cheap, so I’m going to need some serious hustle to make it a regular thing, but I want that. I love my Dad. I wasn’t an easy kid to raise, but he stuck with me the whole time. And here I am now, a lawyer with the potential if not the means to take my father to Redskins games. I want that.

I don’t give a shit about diving through a vault full of gold coins. Almost every day my father would tell me “Dan, you’re smart enough to do anything you set your mind to.” I can’t thank him enough. Even season tickets on the 50-yard-line would only be scratching the surface. So with these words I set my mind to taking my father to Redskins games, because what I really want to say is, I love you, Pops, and know that he knows I mean it sincerely. Because I know that he loves me, and I find strength in it every day; I hope it works both ways.

I haven’t been completely truthful. Taking Popsicle to a Redskins game wasn’t my idea. It was Red’s.

I’m in love with Red. I’m in love with Red. I feel silly writing that–chalk that up to my stoic upbringing too–but I want to shout it from the rooftops. 

Before we go further, let’s drop some baggage. I’ve acquired my fair share along the way. It’s hard to write how much I love Red because she’s not the first woman I’ve said those words to. Maybe I loved them, maybe I didn’t–I’ll leave that one to the philosophers. But this will go on the Internet, and they might read this, and they might be hurt to see me so in love with someone else, and I don’t like causing hurt, so I’m reluctant to write.

It’s time to be done with that with one small violation of Rule #4. (More on that later.) To all the women I once loved: Goodbye. I now want to devote my efforts towards one woman, and that means I can’t spend my time thinking about any of you. I hope you all find a love like I’ve found with Red. And I beg you, if you ever loved me, let me go. I make no apologies for falling head over heels for the finest woman to ever come my way. If reading this causes you pain, I remind you that this is the Internet and exits are quite literally everywhere

Oh, my darling Red. She knows me better than I know myself. It was her idea to take Popsicle to the Redskins game, and it’s her encouraging that makes me write tonight. Oh Red. 

Since high school I’ve carried a musette bag from World War II. I spent a day writing my favorite poems on it in Sharpie, a few words of beauty on an item once in combat. Among them these, from John Masefield: I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and star to steer her by. 

In Red I’ve found both, my tall ship and my star to steer her by.

If making money for money’s sake is hard, try writing just to write. But I think I’ve found my muse there, too. See, even after discarding the exes I’m still blessed with a big family full of love, and I’d like them to know me better. I’m not good at talking about myself, so they don’t know me particularly well. So I commit these thoughts to text. This is me speaking. I love you all dearly, even if I don’t know how to say it most of the time.

With my coming adventures I’ll be busier than ever. So I write for my family. I want you to know me, because I think you’re all some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and it is my finest privilege to count myself among you. So I write. This is your little brother, your stealth son, your fancy lawyer. You are forever in my thoughts, even when I disappear on my adventures. I love you and I miss you.

And, let’s be honest, I write for myself. The world is a confusing place. I don’t know how everyone else deals with it, but I’ve found there’s a certain magic to writing. Maybe, just maybe, I can harness it and create something amazing. 

Tomorrow is Labor Day. I am ready to begin my labors. To buy tickets to Redskins games. To clear this pile of debt from my name. To build a life with my Red. I stare down my uncertain future with confidence knowing I have the strongest foundation from which to launch my adventures and seek my fortunes–I am loved. I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, and I love you too.

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