I was glad to be back to steady work. Steady work is steady money, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean the feeling of loathing that washed over me – here I am again, everything looks the same, everyone is the same, even if they’re not.
I know that’s not really clear, not the way I mean it to be, at least.
There’s a chance to find yourself in work, especially in work that you dislike. There’s a framework imposed upon you, and you’re forced to create yourself inside it. Now of course I’m not advocating that everyone go out and find soul-crushing employment. Nor am I saying that people who are really really happy with their jobs are missing out on something. I guess what I’m saying – what I’m trying to say, rather – is that there’s a certain unpleasantness inherent in life, like chores. Like wiping runny noses or poopy butts, like bleaching the toilet bowl or cleaning out the bits of half-chewed food at the bottom of the sink. There are those things, then there’s getting terrible news – a teacher is quitting! A parent has decided to find his/herself and has abandoned the rest of the family! The latest guinea pig has gone to heaven and the pet store is going to close in ten minutes! The inspectors are here!
And in those moments, the terrible as well as the mundane, I learn more about myself (and sometimes those around me) that I ever did meditating, as good and head-clearing as that was, or traveling, as amazing and eye-opening as that was.
So I walked in the door, hung up my car keys and old bag on the same hook, put on the same old name tag, and thought I hate working. Isn’t it great?
“That’s one tall drink of water,” she said under her breath. I looked up from the toothbrushes I was labeling. The director’s accountant looked as she always had; sort of school marm-y, eyes always on the page. I’d heard her voice but she gave no indication of having spoken. “Excuse me?” I whispered, assuring myself if she doesn’t seem to know what you’re referring to you can just say did you hear something? and then that will be it.
“You must not know the expression,” she answered, adding figures in some dark corner of her brain, pen moving continuously, eyes still down. “I’m saying that’s a damn good-looking man, Lola.” Her eyes met mine, narrowed slightly. “Haven’t you noticed?”
I shrugged a little. “He’s a dad, Darla, a dad . . . ”
“A hot dad,” she muttered, resuming her additions.
It’s payday! I exult to myself, momentarily, until I begin to pay my bills, and then – and then, you know. You know, unless you’re incredibly wealthy or maintained by someone else or are still a child. The terrible sinking feeling of watching it go away, the counting backwards and down until the money is gone or mostly gone, fingers folding into empty fists.
If you do manage to keep one of those fingers straight, to carry a little heap of earnings from one month to the other, the muffler will fall right off your car, or a branch will fall on it, or through your roof, or the door handle will come off in your hand, and that will be the end of the little heap.
“Isolde, what the hell is that?” I pointed at the white bag on my bed. “What’s what?” She answered cheerfully, coming in to look at whatever it was. She was wearing one of my hats and pulling on a pair of my gloves. She followed my gaze. “What? Afraid I’ll stretch them?”
“I am and you will. Please take them off before it takes and remove your parcel from my bed.” She snorted. “You’re so uptight. You could buy more gloves.” Not really, I thought.
“Anyway it’s not my ‘parcel’, it’s your bag. Your present,” she said with a smile. This will either be terribly good or terribly bad. Wait, what’s the etymology on terrible again? Ran briefly through my mind. I opened the bag. “What did you fit in an iPad box, Isolde?” I secretly felt a little bitter. I don’t even go to that store – what would the point be? “An iPad . . . ” she twisted her head sideways, widened her eyes. There’s a catch, there’s some horrible catch –
There it lay, brand new and shiny. “This looks like yours,” I said at length, and she turned away slightly. “And that’s because it is yours, isn’t it? Isolde, why would you do that? Are you giving it to me, is it beyond repair, what are you doing?” She rolled her eyes, walked up to me, and flipped it over. “Read it,” she said flatly.
I saw an old man just now working a menial job, an old man way past retirement age, and I felt deeply unhappy. I felt for him, as they say, whatever that really means.
I gave him almost all the money I had on me, even though it wasn’t much, even though it was food money, I guess because the right thing to do is very often the stupid one as well.
It didn’t help that when he took the money, after he realized that it was for him and he wasn’t expected to do anything, looked at me. His eyes were clear and shone just like, well, I guess like a kid’s. Like I was doing something better than the decent human thing.
It didn’t make me feel better that he was so happy, it made me feel worse.
Maybe it doesn’t ever have to make sense because it doesn’t matter. All I know is I feel raw and ten kinds of miserable and when that happens I leave it here and not in my journal.
This is fun, I told myself. Maybe not fun in the orthodox sense but a type of fun. This is the sort of thing that happens when you’re young, I continued.
Sometimes there is no hot water, and you wash your hair in the sink, and you know . . . It works. It’s not ideal, and if I spend too much time thinking about it I probably will start to feel like a trapped and grimy small animal.
I don’t know what peculiar synthesis of fate brought Chubby Hump and his wife together; all I know is that she is altogether too much for him. She is beautiful, and he is not good looking, not any type or sort of good looking, not even sexy ugly. She is funny and witty, and he is not, his jokes being of the either completely confusing or knock-knock level variety. She is sexy, statuesque I think is the word – and he is round, like a dinner roll. In fact the man is entirely too much like a dinner roll, round and soft and white and equally bland.
This assessment is harsh. I refrained from making such assessments of him earlier, kept the thought of him suspended in a sort of opinion-less ether, never revisited. Then one day I saw her looking on the verge of tears, and I felt that familiar chest tinge that meant my empathy was acting up again, and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that it was nothing, but she had a job interview, and in bits and pieces it came out that she couldn’t afford a new business suit for the interview, but it didn’t matter of course, she was just on a budget, after all it was fair. I consoled her without verbal opinion – what good could it possibly do – but you must know the man is rich. Whether or not she was bringing in ‘her share of the bacon’ there would be no shortage of money. If our state was plunged into fiscal drought, there would still be no shortage of money. If their child grew up to become a drunken tiger racer, there would still be no shortage of money. If the western part of the continent fell into the ocean – still, no shortage of money.
If I had more money, I’d spend it well. I would not spend it on idiotic things like bling and cars. I’d travel. More money? I’d buy a cheap, functional apartment outright so I’d never have to go through the terror of making rent. Yet more money? Well, I’d start an orphanage.