Another Lesson In Relativity

Posted: January 3, 2011 in The Roper Files
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There; that’s over. Now what?”

 I remember asking myself that question at various points of life, usually after spending a protracted period of time mentally preparing for something unpleasant and then walking away from it after it was over and telling myself That Wasn’t So Bad. A born pessimist, I always expect the worst of any situation and am either pleasantly surprised when it’s not as bad as I thought it would be or I have my pessimism re-enforced when it met my expectations. When I had my colon screening in November the only thing that kept me from asking myself that question was I Knew “What”; what I wanted was lunch after fasting for 36 hours!

But recently I asked myself that question again, specifically Wednesday afternoon after clocking out of work. Last Thursday was the beginning of having an incredible ten days away from my job. Ten days? That’s almost as long as the 14 days I took off last August; WHAT am I going to do for ten days? Christmas kept me occupied for the first three days but now I have seven days away from the filth, the stench, the drudgery, the stress and the indignity of labor. And after four days away from that industrial shit-hole, I’m starting to realize that besides the paltry paychecks a job does provide “X” amount of structure in my life.

 Going down the list of my favorite time-killers and the list is getting shorter. Raking the leaves is almost over; only a few left on the trees. The yard has died for the duration of winter so there’s no need to mow other than knocking down a few stray weeds and grinding up the remaining leaves. . Spent two or three hours yesterday putting things back where they belong, dusting, sweeping the rugs, mopping the floors and scrubbing the bathroom. One afternoon later my bachelor pad is presentable and ready for inspection.

 Woke up the Monday after Christmas to a spotless apartment; that sure doesn’t happen every Monday. Put on a pot of coffee, sit in my chair and look around. Had a couple of boxes I needed to put in the mail; killed a few minutes filling out the Customs forms. Minutes later, I put down the pen. Finished. There. Now what? There’s that question again.

Guzzled coffee until nine AM when the Post Office opened, then loaded up the boxes and started up my truck for the first time in two days. The engine turned over pretty much the same way I did this morning; with an accompanying “Do-I-have-to?” cold-engine sound of protest. Even though the sun is out, it’s 28 degrees outside. Looking out the window it’s very deceptive until you step outside. I am bundled up in my heavy Army jacket with the winter liner and have leather-gloved fingers gripping the steering wheel. Put on my new prescription sunglasses to complete my Taxi Driver look, put the transmission into “reverse” and back out the driveway.

 “Where is everyone?” I wonder to myself as I drive down the street. No one else is driving around at all, even though it’s nine AM on a Monday morning. As I drive past the Cafe on the corner I am disappointed to see the neon “OPEN” sign off and a sign in the window saying they are closed until January 3rd. Pull into the Post Office parking lot expecting to stand in line; walk in to see one person in front of me. The parcels are mailed without incident; I walk out of the Post Office back out into the blinding sunlight. “Now wh-….” I start to ask and stop myself mid-syllable.

 “Got a week to kill” I think to myself when it occurs to me. I’m already counting off the days until I return to work; it’s like being unable to leave an abusive relationship. Can’t relax, can’t concentrate on anything. Winter is getting to me already. Tired of sneezing and blowing my nose non-stop. Tired of plastering my chapped lips with Carmex. Tired of shivering in my cold bed at night alone under my own weights worth of blankets.

 And just look at my hands; it’s painful to look at how beat-up they appear. My job really takes a toll on them; got cuts on two fingers that are just starting to heal and two knuckles scabbed-over where I’ve busted them open. It took four days of scraping the nails with a knife-blade just to get the black industrial gunk out of my fingernails. How much could I possibly miss the abuse my hands take there on a daily basis? But that damn job…

 I hear the pounding machinery and smell the noxious fork-lift fumes in my dreams; I can still feel the oil on my fingers and still taste it when I eat. It’s hard to fathom that for one week I don’t have to worry about Due Dates, Final Inspection Dates, tolerances of a mere thousandths of an inch and being able to do whatever I want without having to look over my shoulder. 
 Spent the rest of Monday eating, drinking coffee, watching TV and screwing around on the Web.

Woke up Tuesday feeling a little better and realized it’s Trash Day when I heard the trash trucks rumbling up the street pre-dawn. Whoops; hurriedly get dressed and bolt out the door with this weeks trash. Slid in the mud outside as I fumble with the rolling trash bin; it must have rained last night. Backtrack and dig out the recycling bin while I’m at it. Roll them both out to the curb and run back in the house out of the cold. 

As I start some coffee I am transported back to the previous 24 hours and getting up on Monday morning. This is already feeling like a loop. Man I hate winter; the cold outside makes my apartment feel like a prison this time of year. Cabin fever doesn’t take long to start working on me; I get claustrophobic in short order. During the summer I would grab a bottle of water and go for a walk; I might come back and have to change out of my sweaty clothes but sub-freezing temperatures are unbearable to me no matter how much I bundle up. We don’t get a lot of snow or ice here but the wind will cut right through you.

So going for a walk isn’t much of an option. Soon I realize I am watching the clock just like I do at work. Besides the lack of a trust fund this is why I get up and go to work every day; it keeps me from pacing the floor in front of daytime TV which in and of itself is bad enough to make one get off their ass and go look for a job.

Whether or not I want to admit it or not I get up every day whether I feel like it or not because it gives me someplace to go.

 Outside I hear the sound of an engine followed by a dull thud. The sanitation crews have just emptied the trash bin and dropped it in my lawn. Outside there is no sun today; the sky is a dirty blue-gray color. The cold wind nips at my face; it doesn’t take long to remind me I’m only wearing a hooded jacket. There is no visible sign of life at all as I look up and down the street. I didn’t even get a glimpse of the trash-truck driver; that truck could have been driven by remote control for all I know. As I roll the trash bin to the rear of the house I look up at the overcast skies above; no birds and no sun. Aside from the distant rumbling of the trash trucks and a dog in the next block barking at them I hear nothing.

The utter silence is starting to get to me; the woman on the other side of the counter at the post office was the last person I’ve spoken to face-to-face in the last three days. Starting to feel like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man; where IS everyone?
Flip on the TV to see if there was some weird plague over-night, or if in some TWILIGHT ZONE-ish twist of fate I survived a neutron bomb attack and am the last person alive. Maybe I should go check on that woman at the post office…

 For a few brief moments I actually consider picking up the phone and calling someone but if anyone wanted to hear from me I’d be hearing from them, right? Last thing I want is to intrude; hey everyone has lives of their own and all that. Put down the phone and start scanning channels on the TV. Find shows on the schedule I recognize ( I LOVE LUCY, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) and others that are complete strangers to me. Find Mr T plugging some kitchen counter-top grill (the Kitchen Revolution) and Jack Lalanne still selling his juicer on paid programming shows. Turn off the TV disgusted at the paid programming and myself both for wasting time watching it. Curl up on the futon with a wool blanket wrapped around me and go to sleep. 

The rest of the week goes like this. Oh occasionally I get jacked-up enough on coffee to clean the house or some other such “back-burner” project I’ve been putting off doing but the amount of sheer unadulterated Nothing I manage to get done is staggering. Finish a couple of new books; watch shows I’ve recorded but haven’t taken time to watch. Since the weather is hovering around 40 to 50 degrees I hardly leave the house, much less go for a walk. Sunday I awake to the horrendous realization that this is my final day off. Get out my three guitars and the new strings I purchased two weeks ago; can I at least get some new strings on the guitars? By noon all three guitars are re-strung; and I am starting to panic because the day is half over already.

 Blink, turn around and it’s Sunday night; where the hell did the last ten days go? Recall! Recall! I want another ten days off; those ten days went by WAY too fast. Depression starts working on me and hard; can’t believe this week off has zipped by so quickly. Can’t even enjoy TV or the new Sonny Rollins CD I just bought; thinking about going back to work has got me so down. Crawl into bed and close my eyes; try to breathe slowly and relax, but my entire body feels like a clenched fist. Sleep over-takes me like an eclipse.

 4AM the alarm goes off; it’s dark and 34 degrees outside. As usual I don’t want to get up, but I do anyway. Drink a cup of coffee and look around the house. The last ten days wasn’t a total waste; my house has been cleaned. Hauled off two truckloads of useless clutter I had accumulated around the house to some lucky dumpster. The bills are paid and I still have a little cash in my wallet. And this was the first Christmas in two years my presents I sent through the mail got to where they were supposed to go by the 25th. And while I am not jumping up and down to return to my job, I console myself by telling myself that Things Could Indeed Be Far Worse. It’s a New Year; I should be looking forward to what Could Be, not clinging onto last week for dear life. Lord help me if I fail to remind myself of that each and every day…

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