Origins – Part 1

[Part of what was to be a much longer essay, and along with some other writings, it more or less represents  the “whys” and “the beginning” of this blog]

What does one do with a life interrupted?

A life more or less blown apart at the seams by the doings of both myself and others….by the doings of the country at large and by a sad, but selfish heart?

I quit my job at Starbucks.

There, I said it. At or near the beginning of what would prove to be a fairly catastrophic economic recession, I quit the best paying job I had ever had. I quit a company I had worked for for ten years. I quit 5 weeks of vacation a year, a fully vested 401k, 150 employees who needed me, a joker of a boss, and a company in a crisis it had built itself, stone after stone (after dumbass decision). I quit my first “real,” “grown-up” job. I quit any and all sense of responsibility, my first company-owned laptop (replete with generic first laptop bag), my first expense account, my first corporate credit card, access to as many free coffees and pastries as I wanted, and the ability to buy clothing from Banana Republic and Bloomingdale’s. What I did not quit, was the drinking problem that the job had in part created….and I’m not talking about the caffeinated kind.  I did not quit the eating problem created by years of being a work-a-holic whose identity had become one and the same with his job.   I did not quit blaming others for my own vices and troubles.

So, I sought happiness. I was seeking it actively for once, and more importantly, differently. Was it the idiocy of youth that led me to believe that happiness lay in “stuff?” I owned everything I thought I would ever own–  an iPod, a car, a townhome, two closets full of clothes, the ability to eat out everyday, a DVD player with surround sound, a laptop, a desktop, reimbursed mileage, a West Elm bed worthy of amateur porn scenes…the list goes on and on. But I was wretchedly miserable still. I did not love myself…I could not love others. My friends talked about nothing but work. I talked about nothing but work. My emails were about nothing but work. I read books that were about nothing but work and “team-building” and “leadership” and “customer care.” Each night I would lie on my couch exhausted, praying that the phone wouldn’t ring, waking me from my bottle of wine-induced fuzz. I dreaded waking up each morning. I enjoyed being hungover and fraught with headache and exhaustion. It meant I did not need to fully face the day, but to skim right through it, smiling my well-honed customer-service-ready-smile at each and every new inane person or mountain/molehill problem. Until at long last night would come, and I was free once again to escape into my self-induced stupor and to stare blankly at whatever Netflix had faithfully delivered into my mailbox that day. It took Molly (and her constant haranguing about happiness) for me to at last see the partial light and to realize that something had to change and it had to change big time.——

I quit my job.  I decided to have a midlife crisis a little early.  I decided I needed a job that I could proud of when I told people about it.  Something less cringe-worthy at dinner parties and less judgemental when running into people at the grocery store.  I decided to help people, regardless of the pay.

That didn’t quite turn out well.

I finally threw away the rejection letter. It had been 8 weeks (ok, I lied. I actually didn’t dispose of it until the day I left…more or less 6 months). As far as items on the floorboards of my car go, its hardiness ranked it in the top 1% at least, beaten only by such items as the recently discovered, and now gray and petrified, McDonald’s french fry, circa 2001, under the passenger seat. Before you get any crazy assumptions as to my cleanliness, there was a semi-conscious reason for the combination of disdain, forgetfulness, and apathy. That piece of paper, in the “thin” envelope, dreaded by millions of college students, represented an entirely new life and a new beginning.

By leaving it to collect footprints along with last week’s detritus, including a smoothie cup that was becoming alarmingly quite furry, I could pretend it was an accident. Surely I’ve been mixed up with some other Daniel during the interview process. Another Daniel clearly lacking in enthusiasm and intelligence, and clearly without my well above minimum GRE score. I would obviously be receiving an apology letter any day now in the coming weeks detailing their unfortunate clerical error. I would relish the crisp bright white indentation of the first line leading into: “Mr. Phelps, we sincerely apologize for..blah blah blah…your acceptance packet [the “big” envelope] will be arriving shortly.” I would have made them wait a few days for my reply of course, so they could squirm a bit thinking about their horrible oversight and the damage it must have caused my psyche.

I remember the day clearly that the offensive single sheet of crisp letterhead was solemnly stuffed back in its envelope, with some difficulty, as its top was torn open in ragged waves due to my now misplaced excitement. I remember the pale, business size, oddly sans security lining, envelope as it fell to the floor in front of the passenger seat, quickly beginning to get to know the banana peel from that morning’s breakfast.  I had no time to mourn.  I cranked  The Swell Season CD all the way up.   I had to go to work at my new mindless customer service job and face the hordes of self-righteous “people with real jobs” whose sole purposesin life seemed to be to own a laptop (with matching laptop bag of course), to wear ill-fitting khakis and over-sized dresses from Rich’s department store, to eat out every day, and to treat other human beings with disdain in an effort to feel powerful in a powerless world.

Off the top of my head I don’t know the stages of grief, but anger was not one of them this time. I was in shock. How on earth am I going to rescind all my statements about the next two years? A cryptic Facebook status? An email? Phone calls? (no, too personal) I was more annoyed with logistics than the retraction itself. I was shocked, but I also felt relief. The process was over. I had won the battles. I still have the 4000 vocabulary flashcards I used to study for the dreaded exam. I managed to get all my transcripts, recommendation letters, and my carefully worded personal statement in under the wire. I even flashed my most charming smile and declared my ironclad commitment to education during my interviews. But, I had lost the war. I felt relief, but in my mind every scenario was running a marathon through my brain. Why? What did I say? Did I use the wrong tense? Did I say me and her instead of she and I (a recurring grammar ambush in my life)? Did my eyes not have a hunger in them that they required? Did I lack a certain gravitas?  I knew I laughed too much and smiled too much.

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