May 31, 2010

Moving Beyond Walls

I used to have this job.  When I was there, it felt like I should be doing something else.  What this ‘something’ was exactly, I did not know.  So, I just kept working, doing things better than the last time.  It’s not surprising that a lot of people feel this way.  However, it’s hard to change what you can‘t pinpoint. 

    Part of it was, I didn’t feel like my skills were being fully utilized at my job.  I could leave, but what would I do next?  I once read that nobody has ever been so far into the wrong business, that they couldn’t get into the right business.  Imagine that:  NOBODY. 

    Consider this:  Do all that you can where you are, but keep an eye out for opportunities, and jump when they present themselves.

    Flash forward a couple of years.  I don’t have that job anymore, and I’m doing something else.  According to my wife it’s called ‘nothing’ and based on her calculations, business is booming.  In my defense, I have an immense capacity for sustained focus, but I’m having trouble getting paid to stare at walls.

    The frustrating thing is, I fit the middle-America corporate profile:  White, polite, and makes a good impression over the phone.  The glitch is that I cannot speak German, which excludes me from most of the job market.  In my time overseas, strangely enough, I’ve found that I miss going to job interviews.  I just find something strangely romantic about them.  It’s like the prelude to an arranged marriage.

    “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” the interviewer would say. 

    This was my favorite question.  I’ve never wanted to be someone else, but I did enjoy pretending to be someone else.  Interviewers don’t want the truth.  I’ve been not hired by enough companies to know that. 

    What are you going to say, “well, I’m unemployed, this thirty-minute interview is the longest I’ve been sober in a week, and I dressed in the parking lot before walking in.” 

    “Gee, how quickly can you start?”

    My last interview was a seven hour drive away, but the company put me up in a room at the Courtyard Marriot.  It was a claims position at an insurance company and I was so nervous.  Shortly before the interview, I bent over wrong and strained something in my back.  Hot pain shot up my spine and into my neck.  I couldn’t bend down or turn my head.  All I could do was rotate my torso like Bigfoot.  When I arrived, it was nice to see that everyone else was as stiff and outwardly anal as me.   

Well, I thought.  As long as I’m in excruciating pain, I might fit in. 

    For the interview, my character was based on someone that watched their apartment burn to the ground.  Instead of cursing the world and everything in it, I would find strength in the claims adjuster that dealt with my claim.  “And now I want to do the same for others.”  That was going to be my closer.  I imagined shaking hands, and accepting an offer.  But before that, I had some issues to clear up.  I wasn’t exactly a swoop-in-and-save-the-day kind of guy.  I was the type of guy that drove the getaway car while friends siphoned gas out of untended lawn mowers.  Or, to put it another way, an asshole. 

    But this insurance interview was something different.  A ticket out, if you will.  Not that I didn't love North Carolina, but I saw something different in my head.  I visualized this 'victim turned victor' story until it became true.  I didn’t have to recall prepared answers when the questions came; In my mind, I was already a claims adjuster.  My answers sounded believable.

    Of course, my apartment really did burn down, but when the smoke cleared the reality wasn’t all that compelling:  The claims adjuster asks you to make a list of everything you own--Including, but not limited to jock straps, candelabrums, Halloween masks, boxes of Honey Smacks--with a dollar value.  I sat in a quiet room and filled page after page with these vaporized possessions.  As it turned out, there were things I didn’t even know I had.  And damned if they weren’t more expensive than I remembered. 

    It was my final semester of college, and I was sharing an apartment with two friends.  The fire started in the bathroom of all places, from a faulty air handler.  It was 4a.m.  I smelled smoke on my way to the upstairs bathroom and walked down to investigate.  The flames illuminated the outline of the closet door.  It wasn’t so much “oh no” that was going through my head as “isn’t that funny.”  Of course, a fire ball shot out when I opened the door.  I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a pot of water and threw it at the flames.  Camp fires are one thing, but electrical fires are another.  Water pisses them off.  I had never seen a fire spit lightening bolts before, but it was awesome.  Frantically, I threw the pot at the fire and ran upstairs to evacuate the house. 

    We all made it out safely and were warmed by the flames that consumed the building.  It’s a strange feeling, watching your home go up in flames, but it’s stranger still to see yourself on TV the next day with the subheading describing you as “Local Hero.”  My ego wouldn’t let me divulge how uncomfortable I was with the exposure.  It’s almost like you’re waiting, hoping in fact, for someone to come along and call you out.  “Come on.  Hero?  Really.“  When they never appeared, I stepped into the position.  Perhaps a little too well.  But I was young and a lot was happening in my life. 

    I take that hero title with a grain of salt now, but I haven’t written off the good that came about because of it.  Without that fire, I probably never would have sought out a career in insurance.  The greatest twist of all was meeting my wife, whom I never would have met otherwise if I hadn‘t taken that job seven hours away.  It never ceases to amaze me how these serendipitous things happen, while failing to connect one event to the other. 

    So, what can I do now, sitting here staring at my wall and basil plant?  All the world is out there, waiting.  I’ve cornered the market on ‘nothing,‘ and I'm ready for more.  If I can look back and see the chess moves, what’s to stop me from looking a few moves ahead? 

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