Thursday, April 10, 2008


"I'd rather be a failure at something I love, than a success at something I hate." --George Burns

They got me.

I don’t know how this happened, I don’t know whom to blame, but somehow I landed a job and I start next week.

I know I should be happy. I know I should be thankful, given all those people who are out of work right now, who would give anything to trade places with me.

And I am happy and thankful, I honestly am. But I’m also nervous as hell.

It started out innocently enough. I answered this ad, like so many others, and I went in from an interview.

Next thing I know, they’re offering me a job. It sounds like a sailor’s tale of being shanghaied, but then a large part of my life has that same ring to it.

Naturally, I get laid off in the winter, so I can freeze my ass off going out on interviews, and now I'm going back into the office just as the weather is getting better.

They seem like nice people, they’re paying me more money than my last job, and it’s good to have a job in these scary economic times. I just wish I felt more confident and enthusiastic about this gig.

I guess that whenever I’m unemployed I fantasize about finding the perfect job, or selling my novel or screenplay, so I won’t have to work at an office ever again.

I thought I might finally relocate to California like I’ve been talking about since the Big Bang, or head down to Australia, or anywhere else but my family’s house.

Now I’m back to the part-time writer, the hyphen life that Richard Price likes to talk about. And I'm worried I won't have enough time to work on my fiction, even though I've been living this double life for decades.

It’s just that I’m getting older now—51 next month! How long do you keep dreaming about becoming famous? When do you throw in the towel?

I know the answer already: never. And you don’t dream about being famous or successful, you work at it. But I’d love to be able to drop that hyphen.

Gene Weingarten, a writer for the Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize for this story where he had violinist Joshua Bell play outside a D.C. Metro station and see if anyone noticed.

That’s a brilliant idea for a story and that’s the kind of reporting I’d like to do--if I have to do reporting at all.

But none of the newspapers I ever worked at gave me that opportunity. We love your writing, they’d tell me, now go cover that car wreck.

And let's be honest here: newspapers are losing circulation. It is not a healthy industry by any measurement.

I’ve been feeling very fragile lately, which is a typical response to upheaval. I was on the R train Sunday when this young South Asian man got on the train with his little daughter.

She was adorable, with these beautiful brown eyes, and I felt such regret—once again--about not having children. I spent a good part of Sunday crying and regretting the path that I allowed myself to take.

It was crazy. I was weeping while I was washing the dishes. This is not good for me. I had gone to the gym that day, but working up a sweat doesn’t really do much in the face of some poor life decisions.

I remember when I used to think that anyone who had a family was a prisoner. I thought I was free back then, but I’m not feeling very free now. I’m feeling awfully lonely.

When I was a kid--probably first or second grade--I had this terrible crying fit after watching an Abbott & Costello movie called "Little Giant."

It was crap, of course, but I was young. It had a happy ending, but I fixated on some sad scene in the middle and began crying my eyes out.

Somebody's Crying

I couldn't bring myself to tell my parents what was troubling me--even at that age it sounded weird. My father held me in his arms while my mother literally wrung her hands trying to figure out what the problem was. I never did confess.

Years later, I had another breakdown while watching "Dumbo" with my mother. This was one of the lowest parts of my life: I was an alleged adult with no job, bad health, and no hope.

When the film came to the "Baby Mine, Don't You Cry" part, well, I think you can guess what happened. I fell apart.

My poor mother--God, this woman was a saint--tried to console me, told me everything would be all right, and I eventually calmed down. But I can't watch "Dumbo" any more.

The next day, she came into my room to tell me something and then, as she left, she turned and said very gently, "no more Dumbos."

I'm trying, Mom, I really am. But sometimes I fall off the wagon. It's a shame you and Dad aren't here anymore to help me get through the rough spots.

My sister told me she had a dream the other night where she left me behind on a family trip to Italy.

She kept me together during the plane trip back from Hawaii during Christmas, so she was feeling terribly guilty about leaving behind in Italy, but I tell you, it doesn't sound so bad to me.

Hell, I'd just probably stay there and become a gondolier in Venice. I've had worse jobs, believe me.

Meanwhile, I dreamed about a giant spider that was trying to get me. The thing was squatting on my neighbor's roof and it had be wrapped up in its thread.

I broke away but then the spider turned into a man, who was covered in some kind of gunk and swearing he'd get me. He was also missing an arm because I had hacked off one of the spider's limbs. I guess he was a were-spider.

So I'm nervous about a new job, I'm worried about my life's path, and I dream about man-eating spiders. Do you see a connection?

I prefer my sister's dream of marooning me in Italy. I don't think they have giant spiders over there.

The other night I watched a DVD of Death of a Salesman—the one with Dustin Hoffman—and I managed to get even more depressed. I feel like a combination of Willy and Biff Loman, the Incredible Two-Header Loser. Watch him age and refuse to grow up at the same time!

All right, enough, bellyaching. It's time to be--ugh!--an adult. So now that I'm working, I won't be able to listen to NPR all day long like I've doing since January.

That's a shame because the hosts on WNYC interview so many novelists and other sorts of creative people that you can draw a lot of inspiration just by listening to the programs.

I said farewell to my instructor and friends at the Wall Street branch of the New York Sports Club. I’ve been going there for five years now and it'll feel strange working out at a different branch.

And I went to my last lunch time service at Trinity Church. I'll be working in Soho, so I'll be too far away to get down there.

At the end of the service, I said goodbye to my Hispanic buddy who always sit in the pew in front of me and who always wishes me a blessed day.

He's such nice man, the sort of person who reminds you that there really are decent people in the world.

And I said goodbye to the priest, a Jamaican gentleman who always gives a tremendous sermon.

“Oh, man!” he softly wailed when I told him I was moving on. “Keep in touch.”

Yes, that much I can do.


Brenda from Flatbush said...

Paycheck, good. Hyphen, unnecessary.

Rob K said...

Advice greatly appreciated. :)

Joyce Hanson said...

Rob, I like the way your mind wanders. I didn't know where you were going at first, from bald to new job to Dumbo, but by the end I could see the connections. You must be a writer. I do hope you'll keep blogging now that you have a fancy new job. Congratulations! And I hope you get married, already, to a divorcee with a bunch of kids. Then the only crying you'll be doing is from exhaustion.
P.S. Yeah, I know what you mean about these young guys with a full head of hair who intentionally shave it all off. I can't help but think: "But you have years of baldness ahead of you. Enjoy all that lush hair while you can."
P.P.S. For another take on the Manhattan rat race, see my latest blog post, "Ashley."
P.P.P.S. Sorry, I don't have a pic of "Elena," if that is her real name. Maybe she's a big hairy Russian mobster and not a girl at all.

Rob K said...

Wow, Joyce--somebody can actually follow my ravings. That's scary--for you, that is.

Just read "Ashley"--excellent post. I loved the line: "I feel like I'm still washing the stink of corporate America off me."

Good for her.

And don't worry about Elena. I haven't got that desperate...yet.