Top: Indiana 1955. Workers punching in. I swipe a bar-coded name card at Walmart, but things haven’t changed that much. (Photo appropriated from themoderngooner.com.) Above: Rosa and me at a trail near Thumb Butte. She helps me attain philosophical clarity because I think too much. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Chiancone Gitlin.)
What should this blog be about?
The inner workings of my psychic life? My daily routine? Should Cactus Man concentrate on the wisdom of his dog, who feels no guilt at falling asleep on a pad after a hike and kibble-and-bacon breakfast, while her silly human worries about his wife catching her modern day Andy Capp curled up on the couch, with stones to move and weeds to whack?
Or should the blog target graver, more geopolitical matters? Should I air honed viewpoints about religion, culture, film, national and global affairs? Bari Weiss in The New York Times already nailed how members of my tribe who buy Trump’s definition of a loyal, right-thinking Jew flout the very lessons of the Diaspora. Who wants to hear it from me? I mean who reads these ravings anyway? Like nine people? I wonder if I’m not just some guy talking in a barrel … then some dude at an AA meeting I don’t even know tells me he reads my blog. I can’t keep up with all I don’t know.
Why do I do this? I’ve thought about it a long time and come to believe I’m like a Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer, who cannot help but blurt things out even if they’re profane.
And yet I find I am living peaceably, bemused, with a few incongruities. My wife and I are setting about making an appointment to see a marriage counselor. We need to fight out our issues with a referee. I have never loved her more. Go figure. I work at Walmart. I like it. But how? Let’s remember, I went to Columbia. All right, I was a pothead at Columbia. But still.
I’m reading Working by Studs Terkel, written in 1974. Just what the doctor ordered. It’s one of those books that serendipity put into your hands just when you needed to see them.
Actually it’s not what the doctor ordered, but what the social worker ordered. The woman who acts as my therapist, sitting calmly while I free-associate my way to the odd, strained insight, suggested it.
She suggested it after I announced that I discerned a verifiable victory in my life.
And what’s that? she said.
I had met my Great Existential Predicament head on, without fear, and won. I had burned out, played through all my chances. Being a writer was over. Being a teacher was over. My whole white-collar career had ground to a halt. Reality leered. I’d have to … oh no … I’d have to get some plain old low-pay job, a job job, probably in a store. Oh my God! [Sounds of weeping and gnashing of teeth.] But that didn’t faze me. I walked into Personnel at Walmart (some AA guy said they were hiring) and got a job. It was a moment of reckoning. I stared down the mockery, realizing I was okay with it. I would work at Walmart. I’d do it deliberately, as an act of karma yoga. I’d been carrying the bag for my father’s whole luftmensch wordsmith trip my whole life. Now it was over. May it rest in peace.
I never looked back. I like being a proletarian grunt.
In that bestseller Working, Terkel interviewed all manner of workers. I have read riveting confessions from a farmer, a prostitute, telephone operators, a steel mill laborer, a construction worker, a stewardess, an ad exec. I’ve yet to read oral histories from a bunch of auto plant people. I feel these workers’ pain, the boredom, the banality they endure. I empathize with some people’s suffering of corporate rules that pinch their dignity. I understand the wistful cynicism so many of them express. And I feel the pride in what they do, no matter what it is. We’re all in the dance together.
I guess I blog to add my voice to the chorus.
I blog to lament … and to celebrate.
I’ve been taken to task for being depressive. For that I apologize.
You’ll be pleased to know that Barb and I are going to see the Stones in a few days! I’m so used to following farmer’s hours, waking at three. Crashing out at eight. Opening act goes on at nine! I might have to “reintroduce” myself at a meeting. Will I have to take NoDoz?
Hmm. Do me a favor. If I do, let’s keep it between you and me.
Let me leave you with a final thought. Once you see God, you’re back where you started. Chopping wood and carrying water. Ram Dass, Be Here Now.