“Alright you mangy son of a bitch… (*sigh*) Let’s do this.”
That’s the half-assed pep talk I give myself every morning. I don’t even take myself seriously when I mumble it , but I listen. I throw my legs over the side of my bed and hope that my torso and my spirit follow suite. Body follows. Spirit is in shambles, and rightfully so after having been awakened by the shrill ring of my phone not minutes prior.
Work. It was the crew dispatcher giving me my job for the day. But he is in an office three time zones away and doesn’t realize the effect that waking up sleep deprived man at one in the morning on a near constant basis takes a toll on that man’s emotional integrity after spending fifteen hours on a work shift. Night after night, my phone rings. A sonic bomb, shattering my psyche and demanding it haggardly to get up at an hour considered by most of society to be “Godless”, and give my life to work. Friends, family, and personal hobbies aside, all in pursuit of that sweet, sweet dollar.
This is my life now.
I now am one of the legions of working stiffs out there. Working to live, living to work. It is a long running way of life, lived by generations of hard working people just looking to make an honestly living and feed a loving family.
I’ve never wanted that.
Not that I’ve never wanted an honestly living, or a family, nor to be able to feed that family. I just never wanted to be a stiff. Not that there is anything wrong or terrible about that. Good people do it all the time for good reasons. Constantly. Everyday. Every single member of my family has done so. The last thing I’d ever want to do is disparage anyone who gives themselves fully for the ability to feed, clothe, and shelter everyone he or she loves. They do amazing things.
When I say I’ve never wanted to do that, I mean I wanted to feed this imaginary family by pursuing the things in life I’ve always wanted to do. Write. Act. Music. Whatever.
For as long as I can recall, I’ve found myself a creative type. So have my parent. In all honesty, that worried them. Could I make a living as an adult being some sort of writer or whatnot? Most people that try don’t. It’s a fair worry that parents have, even if it is very “glass half empty” of them. But I wanted to prove that I could do it.
But I didn’t. No… that’s not it
I didn’t try.
I was afraid of failing. I still am.
When I was younger, and I suppose up until very recently, I was an idiot. I believed in the power of thinking. If I just thought hard enough about some wonderful thing happening in my life because it’s the way I felt that’s the way it’s supposed to happen. Just will the good things in my life into happening. That’s the way things happen, right?
Fuck no, that’s not what happens
You all know that. I know that. Now.
I still have idiot tendencies. I say this because this is actually the second time I willed myself into a functional corner that I had no desire to be in. I am now in what is really a great job that will allow me a functional future. I should be damn grateful, and I am. But there is nothing that says there is a link between grateful and happy. This is the second time reality hit me in realizing that if I know I want something, I can’t just stand around. The first time that happened, I was properly humiliated.
About six years ago, I was just out of college. I was hopeful for my future. I was going to take the world by storm. And somehow, I was going to do it all from my crappy job at a video rental store, back in the age when we had video rental stores. I was working for minimum wage after I spent a bit over four years doing my college thing. I thought I was supposed to have the world in my pocket. But it was mid-2008. The beginning of just when the economy went to hell and no one could get themselves a good old fashion living wage job.
Truth be told, I was bitter. I was told my whole life was going to be better if all I did was get a damn college degree. I know now that’s a load, but I did what was wanted of me, and there I was. Taking shit from spoiled customers who were getting mad at me because the movie they themselves chose to pay money to watch was stupid. It was frustrating. Where in the goddamn was the world, begging me to be my oyster?!
I thought about this as I stood behind the counter of the video store. Just me and my friend/boss, Iron Man. We both stood there, in the empty store, with the horrible screener DVD playing on repeat. We just stood there. Two large Hispanic men, a shaggy dreamer and a gentle metal-head, wasting our twenties and shilling out copies of “Little Miss Sunshine”.
It was pretty normal for a summer day. Most people had better things to do that to sweat in their houses watching movies. Everyone else having a great time doing fun summer things while we waited for them to get bored and decide to stay home and rent movies. On top of it all, the air conditioner was on the fritz. It would constantly leak, so it never really did much but blow the already hot air back at us. I remember thinking I would kill to be able to buy a soda. One of the ones we sell as a concession with all the popcorn and candy that flanked us as we waited for people to make their decisions. But on top of being bored and frustrated, I was also broke. Minimum wage monies all just go towards paying bills. I couldn’t even swing an employee discounted diet coke.
Times most excellent.
Iron man and I were in the middle of Simpsons trivia-ing each other (*we could ask each other increasingly difficult questions about the show “The Simpson”. Plot points, Character stuff. It was fun. I kicked ass*), when our first customer of the day walked in. Except he wasn’t a customer. It was a young man, probably around our age at the time (*Early Twenties*) who came in wearing hiking gear, and had a pack. A giant pack. Like he was carrying every earthly item of his on his back.
He walked in and asked us if he could use our bathroom. Official policy was to only let customers use the restroom, but Iron Man and I were too nice to just tell the guy to fuck off, as other employees of the store handily would have done. We handed over the key and chatted about the odds of the young stranger actually buying, or renting, something. I thought “pretty low”. I was right.
He came back after we had already forgotten he was in the store, gave us the key and started chatting with us. He was a nice guy. Understood our sense of humor and even talked movies with us for a bit. But as is the case, he eventually turned the conversation to his life and how he became homeless.
I had a feeling that was going to be the case with this guy. I felt bad for him, especially since he wasn’t the breed of crazy, angry, or pushy homeless person whom I was used to being harassed by. This man’s was pleasant, and didn’t have an odor that immediately offended. (*It hit me later that he was probably washing himself in the sink in the bathroom*) But, nice as he was, we couldn’t have a homeless guy just hanging around the video store. Bad for business.
Iron Man, being the supervisor at the time, told that guy that we had a nice time chatting but that if he wasn’t going to be a customer eventually that he was going to have to go. The man understood, and started thanking us for being so understanding and generally not jerks like most people are towards the homeless. He picked up his bag, and stuck out his hand. We both shook it.
After he put on his pack, and was just about to leave, he looked a little remorseful about what he was about to do. But he mustered his courage and managed to ask us if we had any change we could spare.
We didn’t. I normally didn’t because I made a habit of not carrying cash with me. The only cash available was in the registers, which was no options. But I felt bad.
“I’m sorry, man. I’m tapped. I don’t even have enough money to buy a soda to cool down a bit with our shitty air conditioning,” I told him.
“Oh man, don’t even worry about it!” he replied. And at that moment, he did something that I still can not get over.
Seriously… I fucking can’t.
At that moment, the random gentleman reached in his front pocket, struggled a bit, pulled his hand back out, and smacked the counter in front of us.
“You guys take care. Have a great one, guys!” he said with the sincerity of a man who knows he had just made friends he’ll never see again. He smiled at us, and walked out of the store.
Iron Man stood stunned. His jaw literally hung open having taken in what just happened. I looked at him for as long as I could because I knew that on the counter-top was confirmation that I was indeed was the spoiled jerk I was afraid I truly was.
I looked down at the counter to see that my worry was right.
A single, crumpled dollar bill.
A homeless man… gave me a dollar… while I was a work.
He gave me a dollar to afford that soda that I honestly couldn’t buy to fight the heat. He, this poor devil who is left to fend for himself, carrying his whole life on his back while the world looks down their nose at him, gave up a dollar, that had a greater value to him than I would ever know, so that I could be slightly less irritated in my relatively comfortable, post-education life.
I had never felt so low in my entire life.
I did the only thing I could do. I went around the counter to the fridge, grabbed my drink, and had Iron Man ring it up for me. If that man gave me one of his dollars for a purpose, I had to fulfill it’s destiny.
I drank the soda, but I didn’t even have the ability to enjoy it. I felt so guilty. Not just because of the dollar, but because all of my anger, all of my frustration, and most importantly, all of my goddamn laziness that had been thrown back in my face. Not forcefully, but by the inadvertent blow back of a truly selfless man who had what looked like nothing, but probably was living closer to happy that I knew. (*At least in spirit. Sleeping outside all the time probably sucks*)
That’s when I first realized that I suck. I’m the reason I’m unhappy. I’m lazy. I expect good things to happen to me instead of making them happen for myself. My spirit animal is a donut.
But I didn’t really learn, because here I am. But, honestly, there is nothing like getting kicked in the ass twice. I’m currently in what pessimist would call an “endgame”. I’m at a point where I could do what I do for the rest of my adult life, and be well off. But it is a life I can see me as an old man feeling like I cheated myself. I had the opportunity. We all do. Some people are better at leaping at those opportunities. Some are natural born cowards.
I don’t want to be sixty five and hate myself for having been a coward.
So I won’t. Not drastically. I really should be grateful for what I have going for me, and I am. But it doesn’t mean that what I want can’t also be within reach. It’s just up to me. God knows don’t want anymore unsatisfying drinks to show me what a schmuck I’ve been.