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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Going Back

Because I was working until 9pm yesterday, my boss saw her way clear to giving me some time off in the morning.

Isn't that nice?

I spent the morning blogging, shopping for ingredients for a vegetarian casserole thing which will probably look post-digested, and, of course, looking online for jobs.

Because I'm not a "masseuse" or a clean water activist, there wasn't much going on on Craigslist yesterday morning, so I got in my car and, somehow, I ended up thirteen miles away from my home in the parking lot of the small optical shop where I used to work, where I landed my first big boy job.

The owner, my former boss, was there all by himself and, as was the case in the days of my employ, there were no customers to be seen. He greeted me with a wry smile and, in honor of my visit, proceeded to stick the cordless telephone up his asscrack with a twist as we both cracked up. Did I really just refer to this as a "big boy job?"

"Yo," he said after our man-hug, "did you eat yet? I had lunch already but I'm still fucking starving, man. Let's go get some pizza."

We walked out of the store, leaving the door unlocked, and went to the pizza place two stores down. I remembered that smell, of cheese, and oil-soaked pepperoni. We ordered our pizza slices and, as my old boss stared out of the window listlessly, he suddenly shoved some dollar bills into my fist and said,

"Oh fuck-- there's Mr. Wembel-- with 2 base up prism and a stigmatism. You remember that retard? Pay for the shit with this," he said as he flew out the door-- chasing another dollar. Speaking of dollars, the bill came to $5.88, and in my hand were three dollar bills and a $2.00 bill. I thought to myself, well, I have to add in a dollar of mine anyway, and I can't use his $2.00 bill-- so I bought lunch for us.

Though I haven't worked in his shop since 2002, I did remember that retard. A finnicky, anal-retentive man whose glasses prescription we could never quite seem to perfect. And yet, he still comes back. Most of them do. The limpy Italian woman who cannot read and pays for her lenses in gigantic tureens of homemade pasta and gravy. The middle-aged woman with the smoker's cough and the Joker's laugh who once tried to fix me up with one of her daughters. The UPS delivery guy with the donkey teeth. The high-powered pharma executive who loves to wear purple tinted lenses. The thoroughly insane woman who required a $800 pair of Oakley sports goggles so she wouldn't "get snow in her face when she shoveled."

Sometimes it scares me how much I remember.

By the time I brought the sopping wet and delicious pizza back to the store, he was already in the process of kicking Mr. Wembel out. Wembel had complained that the earpiece had what he called "a burr" on it that was irritating the side of his head.

"A burr," my old boss snorted as he waved at Wembel through the glass of the store window, smiling, "do you believe that fucking faggot?" He shoved a piece of the greasy pizza into his mouth.

I had intended to stay there for maybe twenty minutes, but my visit lasted from 11:00 to 12:50. I said, "Well, I should go," four times before it finally took-- but it was hard to leave. We were cracking each other up, hysterically reminiscing about old times and old customers and old coworkers. I mentioned the name of one of the lab technicians who used to cut lenses for us, and our shared memories of him prompted my boss to go online to see if his name came up on the Registered Sex Offender Database.

"Dude-- New York City is like, fucking completely red on this thing-- everybody's a fucking diddler there. And I looked up my neighborhood. There's three-- and a guy I went to high school with whose dad was one of my teachers-- he's on here, too."

Back in 2002, when I left the optical store, my boss barely knew how to use a computer, and he didn't have an email address. Now, his technological grasp on the internet has improved to the point where he obsessively Googles everyone who comes into the store-- endlessly searching for who has the biggest pocketbook, or, apparently, the biggest hardon for pre-teens. While I was there, he showed me a YouTube video of some long haired loser playing the electric guitar.

"This fuck was in here a couple months ago pissed off about a contact lens exam. He called my secretary a bitch and wrote a letter to corporate. Fucking antisocial dickhead. Look at him-- playing guitar in his mom's bedroom."

He asked about every single member of my family, and he expressed great concern over my current work dilemma.

"I've always told you that you could do anything, man-- I'm so freakin' jealous of all your talents. You've just got to use your thirties to commit to something, even if it fucking sucks. I mean, look at me-- I'm forty-eight. You think, when I was thirty I woke up and I was like, 'Oh! I know-- I wanna be a fuckin' franchisee! Yay!' But I did it, and it's pretty decent. It's okay."

I told him that what helped was a realization I'd had, helped by affirmations from my wife, that contrary to what this society says, your job doesn't define you.

"I struggled so hard because I thought that my life wouldn't be worth anything if I didn't become, I don't know, 'a person of note' or someone that people read every day in the newspaper-- a name people recognized. And then I thought, well, okay, if all I get is rejection letters-- then I'll do something socially important-- I'll be a cop. And I'll revolutionize the way people think about law enforcement, even if it's just in my own small little corner of the world. And I realized I couldn't do that. And then I just accepted that-- it's not what you do to make a paycheck, it's in your thousands of little interactions with other people. Can you be a decent person, a person people like or at least can stand? Can you love your wife and be kind to her? Can you raise fine children? Can you attempt to appropriately thank your parents for all that they gave you? That's what matters-- that's a successful life."

He looked at me.

"See? This is what I'm talking about-- you've got your fucking head on straight. Not like Heath Ledger-- 'Oh, I'm so talented I'm going to stick a spike in my neck till I'm dead' or Tiger Woods 'Let me just fuck everything that breathes because I'm a God.' You get it, and you always did. You wouldn't have ever talked to me when I was in my twenties, man. Hair down to my ass-- felony convictions. I wasn't good for shit till I was thirty."

I laughed, because I could picture it. My old boss in an "Anarchy" t-shirt, swilling back long-necks and grabbing black girls' asses in downtown D.C. or wherever, doing drugs and fucking off. But he's got a shirt and tie, and his hair is closely cropped and his face is closely shaved and his diction is closely... well, close. He's a fine upstanding businessman. And I smiled when the phone rang. He answered with carefully coreographed precision. I could hear the voice of a telemarketer on the other end,

"My name is Keisha and I work for PSS Processing, I would like to speak to the owner, please."

My boss smiled at me. "Sure, here he is," and he handed me the phone. Just like old times. I took the receiver.

"What's happenin', babe?" I crooned.


"Um, I represent PSS Processing, a new online payment processing center that handles..."

I cut her off.

"Oh my God! OH, MY GOD! THE CAT! NOOOO!!!!!"

And then I hung up.


  1. God- nobody knows what life is about. And in the end, none of it really matters. I figure if you can get through each day without killing someone, you were successful. :)

  2. I love this post. I love it. It's so thoughtful and inspiring. Plus, it makes me feel marginally better about my lame temp job, which is always a plus at 9am.

  3. The fact that I read your words hundreds (?) of miles away and get a giggle should make you feel good.

    And think of it like this....No one is going to give a shit what your resume says when you keel over. It's pretty moot at that point.

    Unless you're like...Elvis or something.

  4. Oh my gosh, I get emails from those Clean Water Action people all the time. When I was living in Bala Cynwyd they went knocking door to door and I gave them $5 to get off my stoop and now I will be forever updated on the progress of the Safer Drinking Water Act in Pennsylvania.

    Take it from me, Apron. Your job does NOT define you. This period of unemployment has taught me more about myself and my resiliency than I could have ever learned in a courtroom or law office. I know it's trite, but life is too short to not do what you love.

  5. Thank you, guys, for your wonderful comments on this post. It was great to see my old boss, my old friend yesterday. You're right: it doesn't matter, and life is too short, far too short, as I was shockingly reminded last night with news of the passing of someone who was far too young.

    And knowing I can make anybody giggle is a very, very good thing for my little ego.


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