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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You'll Be Fine

A few long years ago, I was working at a small optical shop, selling glasses, scheduling doctor's appointments, throwing out the garbage, and laughing behind the backs of customers with my boss.

Then I got this crazy idea into my head that I was going to become a cop. So I wrote my boss a letter saying that I was going to resign from my $10.55/hr job to enter a municipal police academy as a police officer candidate. I was surprised when he didn't tell me that I was fucking crazy, because that's what my parents told me. He put his hand on my shoulder and said how proud he was of me, which is just what I wanted to hear from my parents about this decision, but didn't. And then he said something that rubbed me the wrong way, even though I think it was meant as a compliment.

"You'll be fine," he said to me.

"Look, you know it doesn't really matter what happens to you in there-- if you make it or if you wash out. You're handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, ambitious-- and you're a white male. Opportunities are just going to fall into your lap. I mean, shit: they fell into mine."

And I guess they did, for him. He grew up dirt-poor in a trailer in a shitty part of New Jersey. His father died early and his mother, still living, is a trembling, alcoholic wreck. Miraculously, my boss survived a long-haired, drug-hazed adolescence filled with unprotected sex and behavior of a dubious nature at best. He bummed around life and held a series of odd jobs-- landscaping, construction, house painting, and being a traveling soda vendor. A friend approached him and suggested he ought to stop peddling suds and start peddling sunglasses, and so he became a rep for a recognizable sunglass line. Another friend suggested that he buy an optical shop and, when the opportunity presented itself, as it invariably does to all handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, ambitious white males, he did.

And, when he saw another handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, ambitious white male at the age of twenty come into his shop with a quick joke and a shaky handshake, well, I guess he decided to return the favor. Well, kind of. He started me at $6.50 an hour, and my first job was to soap, rinse and dust each one of the approximately 2,000 pair of glasses that surrounded the store. It took me the entirety of my first week of work.

I was annoyed by my boss's assumption that things would turn out okay for me because of the color of my skin, or because I knew how to comb my hair or because I used uncommon vocabulary words like "effecacious" and "remuneration" in daily conversation. Were any of these facts sturdy enough to act as a cushion or a safety-net against homelessness, mental illness, depletion of cash, unemployment, accidents, or the hopeless, unstoppable failure that radically alters so many a promising life?

As we all know, my good looks and charming personality were not enough to keep me enrolled in the police academy. I left after two days, forty-eight minutes-- despite an acceptable sit-and-reach score, and a blistering mile-and-a-half run time. I soon learned that my combed hair or my impressive vocabulary was no help when it came time to lift the barbell.

Neither of these elements of who I am stopped me from seven months of unemployment, and they didn't help me the first time I tried to pass the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's EMT Practical Examination. Fortunately, I passed on the second try, and that lead to a year and seven months on the street with a transport ambulance company, alternately freezing or sweating my ass off for $11.00/hr, transporting spindly, 90-pound cancer sufferers to hospitals and hospice centers, or schlepping around 400-pound gorillas to MRI appointments or up three flights of stairs. Or down. I can't remember which anymore.

Promotions at the ambulance company that seemed like they would be open to someone of my liberal arts qualities-- positions in management or supervision-- were routinely given to others with lower education levels, lower communication skills, and probably lower chromosomal quantities.

So I left.

After two years in my current desk-jockey job, I am emotionally exhausted, burned out and apathetic, and I am, at 29, finding myself once again at a cross-roads in my life where I am wondering if what my old boss once said to me will turn out to be true or false.

"You'll be fine."

I never put much stock into what he said, unless it was funny, and I'm not sure I believe him now. I want to, of course. But I think he might have been prejudiced, and it's hard to believe what tainted people say.

If he is to be believed, though, and if I understand him correctly, some tantalizing plum will kind of just... fall into my lap. I just hope that, if it does, it doesn't break my balls.


  1. We'll figure it out buddy. Remember the options we discussed so you don't have to work?
    a) find a sugar daddy/benefactor
    b) win the lottery
    c) write a best-selling book (Great American Novel or "What I did for a Year" blog spinoff)
    d) invent something fantastic/be an entepreneur
    e) a short stint in prostitution -- after all, a well mannered guy such as yourself should have no trouble finding gainful employment in such a sector.

  2. I would like to also affirm that I believe you will be fine, but not necessarily for the same reasons the possibly-bigoted glasses peddlar ex-employer.

    I don't necessarily think that something mind-boggling amazing will fall in your lap, but you are obviously hard working, loyal, intelligent, and willing to try new things. This much is evident from just reading your blog.

  3. Man are we in similar places or what?
    I'd say prostitution is a good place to start- oldest profession in the world, recession proof.
    And if that doesn't work out you could always try and become the Queen of Norway.

  4. I agree! You will be fine!

    However, I imagine that does not mean much coming from someone who may or may not fail a course if I don't get a workup done by 4 pm today... and is now posting this comment on your blog despite it not being finished. I kind of assume things will always be fine.

  5. You'll be fine, but I suspect you're the type who will go out and get it. Not wait around for something to fall in your lap and potentially crush your manhood.


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