Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mama's Boy Got Employed

I was composing Part 5 of the Chronicles, and finished nearly half, but then something happened. I got employed. Let me explain.

I want to rewind a bit. After returning from Namibia in mid-February, I spent a week recalibrating to New Jersey, USA. Then, before April, I made grad school visits to both the University of Illinois and Indiana University (in two long separate drives). I also visited friends in East Berlin, PA and Durham, CT. The time in between these visits was mostly squandered, but notable hours were put towards the open mic nights at my town's coffeeshop, Grover's Mill Coffee. My friend, Sam, accompanied me in March, for a cover of the Beatles's "I've Just Seen A Face." In April, a violinist, also named Sam, joined Sam and I for a few numbers including Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the traditional tune "Goodnight Irene." We rocked 'em good. Also in April, I played a short set at something called "Singers in the Round" where a half dozen local artists were summoned to entertain, bring a crowd in on a Thursday night. I played some of my songs: "The Coffee Song", "I'm So Glad to Know", "I Won't Let You Down", and "Part Time Life." I also played Springsteen's "Badlands," but it was Dylan's "Blowin in the Wind" that made the performance. The song was dedicated to the late Gettysburg College student and Roosevelt, New Jersey resident: Emily Silverstein.

I didn't know Emily, but her friends had told reporters she listened to Bob Dylan. The song segued into a simple two-chord finger-picked strum over which I recited the following words:

Emily Silverstein
Loved to dance, smiled all the time
She wore a crown of flowers in her hair
She took her camera everywhere
She never judged anyone
She hugged everyone
She had a messy room
She ate healthy food
She was a writer
She was a swimmer
She was a daughter
She was a sister

After the performance, the shop was somber. Franc, the owner, came up to me red-eyed and said, "Hey Andy, that song you wrote for that girl, that's good stuff." I thanked him for the compliment and then he thanked me for giving his business a shout before ripping into The Coffee Song. Then we started chatting about an apparent shared interest: Bruce Springsteen. I discovered soon that Franc and I could talk for days about Springsteen.

Once the other Singers in the Round had played their sets, I went over to chat with them and Franc, too. I was telling someone I was having trouble landing summer employment, but finally got an interview with the store manager at Lowe's scheduled for tomorrow morning. Franc overheard this and said, "Really? I'm the store manager at Lowe's."

And, so, now I have a job. I sell lawn mowers.

I feel better with a job. There's a constant rhythm to my life, less room for unruliness. I'm busy, I'm useful, I'm making money. But, I will tell you, after the first day of work, there were some amazing stress chemicals coursing through my arms, and I was not at peace. It's taken a week to adjust back to a normal level of stress. Now I am OK, and I welcome the prospect of work.

Before I go on, I want to revisit Studs Terkel's "WORKING" which I cited in my last post. Yeah, like I said, he sure does run the gamut with insightful interviews within the broad spectrum of professions. But I think Terkel overlooked a very important interview. He did not interview someone without a job. If "WORKING" is a science experiment, then Terkel conducted studies on plenty of experimental groups (each different occupation) and omitted the control group (no occupation). Surely my streak of joblessness (now broken!) helped me make this observation. To act as a former representative of the unemployed, I'll share some answers. What did I do all day? I did whatever I wanted, but options were limited because I had no money to spend. How did I feel about it? Initially, fantastic, but that wore off after consecutive weeks of stagnation in the same place. Also, over time my self esteem went down and my sloth/boredom went up. Perhaps the most ideal situation would be to work hard for a few months, then take a few months off, work, take off, and so on.

Each morning, I drive to Lowe's in a red '95 Honda Civic. It has a manual transmission. At first I hated shifting gears, but now it comes naturally, automatically. But the joy of shifting gears to accelerate ("ya haven't really driven till you've driven stick!") is balanced by the anguish of stalling the engine in rush hour traffic (I did it on Tuesday). So there's upside and downside. Additionally, there are a few things about this vehicle that set it apart from other vehicles. First, there is no functioning clock; I never know the time. Second, the spedometer is out of service; I never know my speed. Third, the radio is broken; I never play music. Fourth, it is very difficult to lock; I rarely lock it. As a result, I am not troubled about being on time, obeying a speed limit, changing the radio station, or worrying whether the car will get stolen. When I drive this car, I do nothing but DRIVE, man. It's a spiritual thing. Lately I've taken a liking to Buddhism, but I'll save that for another time.

I promise the Chronicles of Namibia-Parts 5-7 will be posted before I leave for Indiana in August.