Rebuttal to Myself

November 6, 2010

So if you haven’t read the last post, I’ve been having a rough day in a bad string of days in a shit week… really it’s been a long, bad time for me for quite a while now. I really needed a night like tonight, one where I’m on, where I’m kicking ass instead of getting kicked.

 

I hadn’t hardly clicked post on the previous entry when I’m in my car and speeding off to work. 4:40 or thereabout, work at 5, and I’m late. It’s a 25 minute drive to work on a good day, and right now I’m stuck at the train crossing – it’s a great train, passes by the house precisely at the time when I’m guaranteed to get stuck behind it if I’m running late. There’s one chance though – I slam into reverse, cut into the non-turning lanes, hit the green and go. The train is on my left, our paths cross in about a mile, and I’m gambling that I hit enough green lights to cut her off at the pass. There’s 4 crossings, and at the first she’s right next to me. Second, she’s just behind me, we’re almost there, no, red light. Third I’m speeding, she’s stopping at the college, but it’s almost red again, and I’m sweating – hit the light, play speed racer, and it’s probably orange – no cops – clear sailing now, I’m through the crossing and already life feels better. Small victories.

 

I make it into work a couple minutes late, feeling instantly better when I see another coworker coming in late also – we’re both covering shifts, and at least we’re in good company. Almost all my favorite people are working today – the regular Friday crowd, plus some good substitutions. Bullshitting, setting up tables, and getting ready for the rush, I slip into work and let my mind go free. I’m really lucky to have this job – with all the stingy, angry restauranteers in the world, it has great ownership, a family feel, and a sense of camaraderie to it that is too rare in this industry. We’re an up-and-coming place, 4 months old today, and so the night starts out slow. We all horse around, trash talk, make friends with the guests. I think it says a lot about a business when the employees go out of their way to befriend customers, and take on duties outside their own. We all really want this place to succeed.

 

Success means hard work, and once the place fills up, you’re slammed. We all help each other out, and so I’m covering a bus shift for one of the younger guys. It’s physical work, far more so than waiting – lots of lifting, carrying tubs of plates, garbage, glasses, ice – interspersed with waiter work – taking drink and appetizer orders, serving plates, schmoozing to kill time while some overworked waitress is taking another table’s food out – and then you’ve got to keep bathrooms clean, clear tables, sweep up messes, wipe up spills… At the end of the day, the bus is the guy keeping the chaos of a full restaurant from turning into a shitshow. You make minimum wage, but all the servers tip you out, and if you’re lucky you’ll double your pay like that – it behooves you to make everything run properly. Plus, you never know when the right conversation with a customer will make her night and convince her to bring the whole golf team over to try lunch next week. Since we all love the place, and want to see it work, the whole staff is pretty going full-out the entire time we have customers – no bathroom break, no cigarette, nothing while the rush is going on.

 

What this means is that we make up games as we go along – If you don’t have a break, you’d better be enjoying the work itself, and this crowd loves to talk shit. The kitchen staff bags on me, calls me “google” and asks me obscure questions I’m supposed to know the answers to. They rip into the dishwasher, each other, hit on the waitresses and hostess. Everyone plays along, the girls threaten to beat up the boys: even the cook plays a thug ass gangsta on TV. There’s no room for dwelling on problems when you’re busy, and this job is a full mind-and-body workout. No thinking… that’s a nice change. Moreover, every in this group is on their A-game all night long, and aside from one table that came in complaining, we sail smoothly through the entire evening. I even got to change a few kegs out and play with a couple of dogs. Taken all together, it was a good night’s work.

 

When the crowd dies, the waitresses do their tallies, clean their station and after a victory cigarette go home. The cooks spend an hour on preparation, cleaning, washing and scrubbing and hosing down everything. This is a fantastically clean place for how much food goes through it – our chef has the boys tear the whole room down to pieces and put back together every single night. Meanwhile, as bus I’m cleaning, sweeping, mopping, sanitizing the front end – the whole eating area, the patio, the entryway, the lunch counter, and then there are bathrooms to restock, silverware, napkins, the bus tubs and cart to clean. Plus, like every other Friday night there’s that one table that snuck in at 8:45 and is still hanging out drinking wine and having a great time, which would be great if we hadn’t closed an hour ago! The cooks start to head home, the table finally goes, and we hose down the floors and patio. Finally, 10:15, I’m off the clock. I say my goodbyes, head out into the world, and I realize how much I don’t want to go home just yet.

 

Luckily a couple of other guys are down to party – we have a prop 19 pity party, a round of beers, and a great conversation. I get to speak Spanish, we tell dirty jokes, and well, laughter really is the best medicine. That’s it really – I drive home listening to jazz, end up running into my mom on her way back from dancing, and follow her home. Glorious shower – I will never stop appreciating hot water – stop to soap, Parov Stelar playing spygames, say goodnights all around, and lay down to type this night out. I needed a victory, however small, and I’m glad to have it. Until the next day; goodnight world.

 

A Bright Future in Sales

April 28, 2010

I’ve been busy, not doing much in the way of fun but at least getting my feet back under me. This past week I did a metric fuckload of interviews, broke my personal oath to never work anything that required me to wear a suit in the process, but as luck would have it I managed to bail out of that noise quickly enough.

Actually here’s a fun story – last Thursday I had a reply to one of my endless resume submissions from a company downtown. Despite not knowing anything about them or their business I did an interview, didn’t honestly give a fuck about them because of the suit thing, so of course they loved my “confidence” and invited me to start Monday. Desperate for money and deeply foreboding I said sure.

Cue ominous music.

I almost didn’t go – it pretty much came down to my mom, Natalie, and my bank account telling me to get the fuck over myself. Money is important for survival they keep telling me. Don’t be an idiot. Besides, the salary offered promised to get me out of debt in a matter of months, and on the road faster than unemployment and I really do like not some bank’s bitch.

Monday bright and unhappy early I put on the whole jacket, tie, stupid shoes kit and went in to the office. I don’t even know to describe the loathing I was feeling for myself; I was pretty much ready to keep driving into Mexico, but I eventually hit the office and went inside to see the super-perky future coworkers.

“no fucking way” said the inside voice. “this is goddamn ridiculous.”

I was right, but I wish I could say I’d gone with instinct and walked back out. Instead I went inside, played fake Monday cheerful with the rest of the place, and got assigned to job-shadow a guy named Mike. We did that smarmy “hey nice to meet you person im going to be require to spend a lot of time around” greeting, got into his car, drove back north.

Mike was the first person in this whole scheme who actually told me what they did. Here’s the short version: we were going to drive to an area, park the car, and start walking into businesses one by one asking them to order office supplies from us. I’d just signed up to be one of those direct-marketing fuckers that the entire world wants to kill on sight. Pay comes on a straight commission, the salary and benefits in their ad having vanished, and work days would be 7:15am to 5pm, business professional dress required. All salespeople use their own cars and aren’t recompensated for jack fucking shit. I would have jumped out of the car window right then except for 2 things – first I really wanted to not die jumping out of the window on the highway and second there was this little thought that said “there will probably be a funny story at least.”

We drove into a business park in Mike’s “T” or territory, parked, and started walking. We pretty much just chose a direction and then followed the “tight to the right” method of walking into every single business in the righthand side of the world asking whether they would like to buy some office supplies from 2 guys in suits. I’m sure I didn’t help sales, because I was looking at faces exactly like my own would be if some asshole guys came into my work at 9am and tried to sell me something – on top of that, I agreed with them! Still, people are naturally polite to suits (which is why we’re wearing them) and we’d always manage to get just past that it’s-awkward-to-just-throw-them-out threshold before making our pitch.

Here’s how it goes:
Smarmy salesfucker – “Hey happy Monday” (big ole shiteating grin)
Victim – (confusion, polite smile) “Hi, can I help you?”
SSF – “We’re here to talk with whoever in charge of ordering your office supplies.”
V – (slow creeping horror) “Umm… That would be me. Some variation of no.”
SSF – “Well, we’ve got this great deal…”
V – “No.”
SSF – “Can I ask you some questions? (No pause) When you do buy office supplies, where do you usually get them?”
V – “Wherever is cheap and close.”
SSF – “and what if I could get you them cheaper? Would you be interested then?”
V – “No.” (please go away now very evident in body language.)
SSF – (Ignoring his victim) “I’m going to prattle on about some more shit and keep you from your work…”
V – “please god save me! (or) GET OUT (or) Sorry, very busy, leave now.”

It was soul-crushing. I hated us after 10 minutes, and we did 6 1/2 hours. The only thing I can say tempted me about this job was the inevitable supply of stories ending in “and then the secretary snapped and tried to stab me with a letter opener” sure to result from being the least-welcome man on Earth.

Mike was a cool guy though – he was pretty much my exact foil, a conservative, risk-averse, capitalist who desired little more than to get a steady job, a little wifey, and settle down to live the dream of corporate wage-slave suckery. Can’t say I understand him, but to each his own. Oh, and get this – 2 hours in, when I’m questioning whether I ought to just run screaming, he told me he had turned down a teaching gig in Korea to work this job. Not kidding – foreign teaching gig, door to door office supply sales. How often can you say you’ve met your exact opposite?

We did the power lunch, where I was forced by business park geography to break my fast food fasting, ate shitty tacos and talked pyramid schemes, I mean company advancement, I mean pyramid schemes. Essentially you work 50-60 hour weeks for $400-600 per week, grind yourself to death and hope for a promotion. After a year if you haven’t killed yourself, you can hang the tattered shreds of your soul on a $100,000 per year paycheck – or at least that is what the advertising says, and I trust advertising as far as I can spit a mouthful of office supplies.

What I do know is this – we talked to people in 93 different offices, from corporate banking headquarters to small-time startups to family-owned businesses. We saw a hundred vacant places, a catholic university, a WWII veteran’s museum, and about 25 psychiatrist’s offices. We talked to CEOs, secretaries, accoutants, a televangelist, and one poor guy who took the wrong smoke break.

And in all that time we sold not a goddam pencil.

Straight commission work – we made nothing. We lost money, since we both drove there, and I left my sandwich in my car, so I bought lunch too. We got a lifetime supply of unhappy glares, and I wore a fucking suit too.

On the way back to the office Mike was pretty glum, so we got red bulls and listened to country rock as I tried desperately to convince him to get out of the job, out of the country, out of his own life really. No dice – some people aren’t ever going to climb outside of the box. After talking with the boss and thanking both he and Mike for their time I quit as politely as possible and drove home.

I couldn’t believe people actually live like that -still don’t – and I had to blow off some nervous “what-the-fucking-fuck-is-wrong-with-this-world?!” energy so I ran to the rock climbing gym and threw myself up some walls. It’s kinda like 3-D chess, but hurts more when you put pieces in the wrong place. Whatever – it’s my current therapy. Did well, got up a couple walls I hadn’t managed before, met pretty girls and their rock-climber boyfriends, and eventually I was telling this same story to the manager and marveling over how people can let their awful job consume them so deeply.

That’s when he offered me a job.

I’m no idiot – I took him up on it immediately, and supposedly I’m starting soon. Combined with a waiter gig at a restaurant that’ll be opening in the next few weeks, it looks like I’ll manage to fit into the employed-broke-writer-working-below-his-skills stereotype, which is close enough to be a stereotype, but still not true. I’m happy with it, it lets me climb for free, and will surround me with happy, healthy people who don’t work 60 hour weeks for $600. The best part? Once I factor in gas costs I’d be doing 12-hour days for roughly McDonalds wages. Fuck. That. Noise!

Nothing left to do but celebrate with frozen yogurt and new rock climbing friends. Small victory for staying free, money I don’t have, but rarely does anything taste sweeter!

Ps – I’ll add a photo of me in a suit whenever I get over my present revulsion toward them enough to play dress up. I owe Marc that at the least!

Job Hunting

April 17, 2010

Today’s topic is job hunting.
Job hunting can suck a hard one.

I don’t really understand what employers are looking for, but I definitely don’t have it.  I have a few guesses at what they’re looking for – maximal work for minimum pay, fanatical devotion, one guy was asking for masseuse training of his personal assistant – but by and large this whole job hunt is a shot in the blackness.  Or really, a machine-gun volley into the pitch dark night judging by the volume of applications I’ve been tossing out lately.

Why was this so much easier in Central America?

For all of the technology, effort, and wording that goes into these online job boards, automated application processing servers, and fine-tuned exacting postings, I would have hoped for a lot more in the way of results.  I got my last two jobs in a matter of days simply by going door to door and asking people whether they knew of anyone hiring.  Bear in mind this was in unknown towns, in Spanish mostly.   Sure, I tried getting jobs online through message boards and traveler forums, but hardly anyone I ever sent a resume to or wrote a nice letter even gave me the courtesy of a reply.  Jobs came from personal connections, friendships made, cigarettes shared at the right moment. The formal job channels just don’t seem to work as well as the informal.

I wager the same is true here in the US, but I really wouldn’t know, because I don’t know even where to begin.  There aren’t really business districts here, just shopping centers, and that’s exactly where the informal strategy doesn’t work.  Going door to door at local restaurants was fun for an afternoon, but after a handful of instances I gave that up right quick.  Why?

Q: Hi, do you have any open positions?

A: Umm, No.
This No is a very special no, because it comes with a glaring  stink-eye, the sort you give your dog when he rubs his ass on the carpet or a homeless bum who dares show his face around decent company.  It’s the sort of look that is designed to say “fuck off asshole lowlife shitface dirtbag” but instead just tells me that this is not the sort of place I want to be working.  I get it.  I understand.  New employees means competition, lower wages for you, another mouth to feed off the dwindling money trough.  It’s not a hard equation, but it definitely doesn’t encourage me to keep barking up that tree.

I’m not pretty enough to get a job in retail or bartending.  At least those industries are honest enough to admit they’re looking for “attractive young females” who are willing to submit a recent headshot.  Drag, because I’m pretty good at that sort of mindless stuff.

I think part of this comes back to my resume – people read “Central America” and think “crazy third world hellhole” which leads them to immediately discount anything I did there.  “No way is running a bar in Guatemala at all relevant to anything here!”  Bigger than that is the competition here – there are a hundred or more applicants to any position, and many of them are 30 years old with ten or twelve years relevant experience.  My adventure stories and run-around lifestyle is a liability compared to their stability and reliable work history.

A philosophy degree, a pile of odd jobs, and nothing much more than that – not a winning recipe to get hired.  Not when 20% of young people in the area aren’t employed.  Not when a solid 10% of the working population of the country is out of work.  Not when I still would rather do something meaningful like write poetry or tell stories than scrub floors for minimum wage.  I think I broke myself for this whole normal life thing, and while a big part of me is ok with that, the pocketbook isn’t.  Hence why I’m sitting on the couch on a Saturday night instead of heading out for a night on the town.

You know what though?  I had my fun, this is the part where I pay my dues.  All else fails, I still have the nuclear option – I’ll just buy a sailboat and flee.  That’s a good life decision, right guys?

Barstool Jockey

March 5, 2010

There are some things you can’t talk to people about unless they already have experienced something similar. Actually, there are a lot of these things, and generally all of the people who have gone through them agree on the salient points. Find a group of young mothers and ask them about the experience of childbirth. Meet a group of former alcoholics and listen to their tales of quitting. Talk with some paragliders, or some surfers, or some X sport enthusiasts, and marvel at how much they all seem to agree on things related to that activity. Repeat ad nauseum.

Then there are travelers. They all have had wonderful experiences, incredible adventures, and shitlow days where nothing seemed worth a damn. Pretty much every one I’ve ever met has expressed their heartfelt desire to do as much traveling, wandering, exploring as they can in this life, and how they can’t wait for the next town/country/trip. None of them want to have a career, relationship, or situation that interferes with their wanderlust, at least “not yet.” Nothing is so important, so drawing, so engrossing as this crazy lifestyle they’re all stuck in, and it’s a secret that none of those poor working stiffs at home will ever understand because they just haven’t been here, haven’t felt this.

Then the travelers all go home, get steady jobs, fall in love, and get married. They pop out kids, take out a mortgage, buy a car, and they’re set in a completely different orbit. It’s like a rite of passage – go out there, see that there’s an alternative to the life you led, live it, love it, be changed forever, swear to never go back and get stuck, then go back and get stuck. Oh, and tell your stories – the ones that mean so much, the ones that shaped your entire life – to a bunch of people who will not get it, will never be quite able to understand what the fuck you’re talking about, nor why you keep telling the same tales over and over as the worry lines spread, as the drinks come one after another after another. Former travelers and bar stools seem well acquianted – like strippers and dollar bills, like rice and beans.

Not surprisingly I have no real desire, even at this late hour, to become another barstool jockey with that old fire dying. I’m sure I could settle down, get a respectable job, and start slowly dying – if I’m not careful, that’s less possible and more inevitable. It takes a lot of work to remain free and mobile. The thing is, there’s no profit in freedom, adventure, rabble-rousing, or doing anything that don’t sell other things. There’s a way for me to fund my travels, probably forever – travel writing, hawking bracelets or artwork or small gizmos to tourists – but I can’t be fucked with to do that, because to me those things are just a different level of the same soul-salesmanship that epitomizes modern existence.

How much is your life worth? That’s the real question being asked when you look for a job, and answered whenever you accept a paycheck or do anything for profit. How much am I willing to sell a chunk of my existence for? For most of us, that isn’t much. When I worked in Honduras, it was $5 a day, plus a bed in a concrete hovel and three squares. In Guatemala about $200 a month and all the leftovers and booze I could sneak. Was I happy with it? No, not really. Not when I thought about it. Thing is, I didn’t think about it much because the other rewards of my life – being in amazing cities, swimming in phosphorescent seas, watching volcanoes erupt from my rooftop and living in foreign lands surrounded by amazing strangers – all made up for the shit pay, and on top of that, life was cheap as dirt. The ability to leave town right now, no notice beyond “I quit”, no more time required than packing a backpack and walking to the bus terminal – none of those hurt either.

Now I’m back stateside and the question looms but the answer is going to be a little more problematic. The rub is that I’m losing every perk – the sense of adventure, the foreign travelers, the ability to tell my future boss to shove this job up his ass as I walk. I’m facing a looming mountain of credit card debt, an awful job market in a city I’ve never really enjoyed living in, and I’m going to lose my biggest advantage, which was being from a far-off land surrounded as all of the foreign travelers and locals that sustained me through the rough times. In Central America everything about me was as exotic, wild, and different as I wanted it to be. My flight and inability to stay put were seen as assets – my refusal to put up with bullshit jobs, my dirty clothes and scruffy look were all admirable to those around me. I was desired, looked up to, praised for my lifestyle. Once I get home I’m nothing – just another post-college bum, broke and hungry, with an awful resume and a useless college degree. Stories and adventures aren’t looked too highly upon here. To say I’m not looking forward to it would be like saying cattle going into the meat factory weren’t much looking forward to the future either.

That’s why I’m think about that former traveler, lined, resigned, fire dead inside, sitting quietly on his barstool. In the near future I’ll be him, unless I’m careful. It shouldn’t be so god damned difficult to live without selling yourself, without giving up your values, hopes, and dreams for a dollar. Especially when that dollar is just going toward the things you need to live.

Who really profits, when it comes down to it? Those business executives, the ones everyone hates for their massive salaries and crazy bonuses are working 100 hours a week straight from school to heart attack, going through their divorces, never seeing their children until they plop over spent and dead. They’re not winning. The burger cooks and maids and strawberry pickers get the shit hours, the family problems, the health destroyed, and don’t even have the pay to show for it – they’re definitely not coming out on top. What about the guy in the middle? He’s working all day, gets his two weeks off, might even be able to skip out of town to go skiing once in a while. Still, he’s underwater on his mortgage, going further in to pay for little Jimmie or Juanita’s college in a couple years, doesn’t get to see the piano recital or the ballgame, and is one paycheck or a broken muffler from falling into poverty. I don’t see him coming out on top either.

Perhaps the guy doing best is the one sitting on a street corner in ragged clothes, singing to himself as he watches everyone rush off to their deaths. He might be the only one who sees the joke. I mean, people are GIVING him free money sometimes, pitying glances, and he’s the only one free to do as he pleases – it would make Kafka smile. Sure, he’s never going to have the nice vacation home, he’ll never get to visit the fancy restaurants, and he certainly won’t make the “25 most influential people of 2010” but have you seen how much Barack Obama has died in a year? The man has aged a decade and a half since he began running for the office! Every action has a price, every movement, everything we do – I’m halfway, barely joking about the bums profiting most from society being as it is. What use is there in having so much, so many nice things, if you spend all of the best parts of your life striving for more, for better, so that you can spend the dimming years in relative, threadbare comfort?

Why not just live yourself ragged, die a few decades earlier, and have something beautiful to show for it? A successful shoe company? A lifetime sales award? Employee of the month? A BMW and a stamp collection? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! What use is any of that, what value can it possibly bring you? A poem written on a torn-off piece of a cardboard box has more value in it than any of those things. A kiss at sunrise on a rooftop – priceless. The look a girl gives you as you help her pick up the spilled items from her purse is worth more than any CEO’s pay can buy. There is nothing good, nothing valuable, nothing helpful that comes from the work 99.9% of us do, and yet we all carry on, all push ahead, so that we keep consuming, multiplying, dividing.

Isn’t that what a cancer does? Pushes on ahead, grows, spreads, regardless of the health of the organism or of the system? Perhaps human society has gone cancerous. Perhaps we’re not good any more, have become the very root of the problem. Granted, we need to survive, but does DSL cable, fast food hamburgers, or suburban sprawl really even out against the destruction necessary for any of it? You can’t have modern America if you don’t have modern Haiti – the two must coexist or neither can. Sub-Saharan Africa, for all her woes, is the Siamese twin of Los Angeles, Beijing, and Rio. Those of us on the upper end don’t see it much, but every excess, every luxury we have comes from somewhere else – somewhere there are children starving so that kids in America can eat greasy french fries. This is a zero-sum game, just like selling your time for money, but at much larger scale.

There is X amount of Oil, Y amount of water, Z amount of arable farmland. Every resource has a true value balanced against a limited quantity, and that reality of limits must factor into any discussion of worth. If we factored in the true cost of burning one gallon of the only fossil fuels we have, fossil fuels that cannot be replaced, do you think it would really cost $3.50 a gallon? $10 a gallon? Give me a break – how much do you think the last gallon of oil will sell for? The same can be said of clean water, just look at the water wars that Bolivians were going through a couple years back! Likewise for everything on the planet – at a certain level there is a finite quantity of everything we depend on, because we only have this planet as yet – until we start mining the universe for raw materials, that is a fact.

If we were smart we’d start thinking about what we really need to survive – not video games, not new clothes, not the latest iFuckstick – food, water, shelter, power, medicines, community. Those are things we really, truly need, and so of course those are the things that have such ridiculously suppresed values. Growing food isn’t glamorous, doesn’t pay well, and so nobody even knows where their dinner comes from. It’s cheaper to import it – labor from Central America, off-season foods from the Southern Hemisphere. The true cost of growing a tomato in Chile, packing it in a box, shipping it to the US, and then selling it to me in the middle of NYC should include the environmental impact of every step, just like the true price of one hour working in that dead-end sales job ought include the one hour less you have alive. Why doesn’t it?

For starters, such a revaluation would blow the shit out of everyone’s investments – what sane person would buy a house in the suburbs if gas sold for its real value? Who would ever work at or support one of those big-box superstores? Nobody. The US economy would collapse as the service sector was seen as the useless circlejerk that it is, and the world economy would follow. There wouldn’t be a market for luxury goods if we were serious about saving resources. There would be no fall fashion, no seasonal sales to pump up the numbers. There would rations – life would become a whole lot poorer, dirtier, labor-intensive. The US would have to stop consuming 25% of what the world consumes in a year. Things would be a whole lot less routine, and we’d have to start living as if our actions actually meant a damn thing. A lot could change, and to say it would unpredictable is an understatement at the very least.

That would be uncomfortable. That would be scary. Thus, everyone with a vested interest in the current order of things – be that a house, a fat 401k, or just a truck and an apartment in the city – has a stake in things staying as they are now. Or at least, that’s how it appears on the surface. The guys in the nice seats in front class, with beverage service and the hot air stewardesses have every reason in maintaining the current system right up until the airplane nosedives into the ground. Almost everyone in the US fits that metaphor – we’ll be doing great right up until our brains go through the ass of the guy in front of us. If we were smart, if we were looking ahead, if we thought about what we were really doing, we’d probably all sell our cars and plant a garden, or move off to a place less utterly dependant on scarce resources and imports. I’m not holding my breath…

The wizened old traveler slumps forward on his stool, the glass nearly empty in front of him. The barkeep, a fresh looking kid from another country, stands polishing a glass in front of him. “Another mack?” A shake of his head nearly sends the sodden chap onto the floor. “No thanks – I’ve had too many. We’ve all had one too many.” The bar is nearly empty now, the few remaining patrons all in shit shape and on their way out.

“Say man, whatever happened that stopped you from doing all that crazy traveling you talk about? It seems like you really loved what you were doing, and if you’re still talking about it now, you must regret giving it up.”

“I didn’t give it up – it ended because it had to. There’s not really any way to sustain that sort of life unless you’re born rich or get lucky and inherit some dough. That’s part of the tragedy of it all – you find this life, so beautiful, so rich, so utterly fulfilling and free, and then you have to go back to another one that you don’t agree with, that you hate even. You swear you’re only going to work until you can get out, until you can save up a bit and blow this joint, that you’ll never give in, that you’ll never sell out like all the other suckers.” A tilt of the glass, and it’s empty now.

“So what happened?”

“Same thing that happens to everyone. I fell in love, got stuck in the job. Once I had a kid I wasn’t going anywhere soon, and then the years just fly by with the drink. Now – shit. I don’t think I’d even know how to travel like I used to. You won’t find me wearing a backpack and hitchhiking, that’s for sure.”

“Pretty tragic.”

“You can say that again.”

“Pretty tragic.”

“Hah, fuck off! I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“Take care of yourself out there.”

The old man staggers out, pauses with a hand on the doorframe and slowly turns back over his shoulder. “You think you’re different, that you’re young, and you’re smart, and you won’t fall into the same traps I did. You might be right, but if you’re going to succeed you need to be relentless – to follow what you want even when it doesn’t make any sense, even when it goes against everything your friends and family say, even when it nearly kills you. Eventually, it will kill you – doesn’t matter what it is, it will eventually knock you down and you won’t get up that time. Just make sure that whatever kills you is worthwhile. That’s the only way you won’t waste your life.”

And with that he’s gone, out the door into the misty night. The young bartender shakes his head, wipes another glass, and smiles to himself. Life goes on, and there’s work he needs to do. Why worry about the ramblings of washed-up old men?

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