Thursday, August 2, 2012

Delivering the Goods



"You better watch out and hold on tight,
                        We're headed your way like dynamite!"



Something sure is, or has more likely arrived and is being felt at some level by all those with the capacity to feel. Those who cannot simply continue to follow their base impulses and carry on as though everything is as it always was, while this mysterious force that is afoot twists at a subtle level and appears to be driving some people insane. But it simply shall not be. Change is a constant and those who cling to the hope that somehow a return to "normal" is possible are likely to be left disappointed and bitter. It's all an illusion anyway.

    Speaking of illusions and getting back to the title of this little missive, one of my prior jobs was as a truck drivin' delivery guy. This put me in a position to observe a lot of different things as well as learn a whole lot about what was real and what was something quite apart from reality. In my first foray into this realm, I was delivering foodstuffs to Chinese restaurants all over the Twin Cities and up into the Iron Range and Duluth. This taught me, simply by observation, that the folks running these places often  worked harder than any people I had previously encountered. I recall rolling my hand-truck down some shaky stairways, laden with bamboo shoots or cans of plum sauce by the case - whatever the order of the day was - and often finding a small area back in a corner that was obviously used as sleeping quarters. Some of these folks actually lived in the storeroom of their restaurants, or at least were there for long enough hours that a nap was needed. It was pretty hard to complain too loudly about my own "hard work" when I at least got to go home to a clean, good-smelling house with an equally good-smelling wife and just put it behind me with an electronic distraction or a couple beers. How could people live like that?

     Another thing that struck me deeply was the level of generosity that was displayed by some of the proprietors. Very often, an egg-roll or small container of fried rice was offered, maybe a few chicken wings - you know, a sample of their wares as a gesture of gratitude for my efforts. These were always the family-run places where you would find mom and dad in the kitchen, the kids waiting tables, and toothless grandma popping the stems off the green beans somewhere out of sight. There was even a spot in Silver Bay that I stopped at once a week where I was met with a hearty handshake by the Matriarch, led to a table set just for me, and a menu set down with instructions to order a lunch and choose what I would then take home for dinner or a snack later as it was 14 hour day. This stop also featured a semi-regular introduction to whatever daughter, cousin, or niece had dropped in or just arrived in country, with the inevitable telling of her superior cooking skills and qualities as a prospective mate. What a trip. I was just the delivery guy, yet I would be treated like family. There was usually not much chance to communicate directly with the elders due to language barriers, but seldom would my gaze not be met with a wide grin and genuine warmth. Very humbling and a great teaching experience that I will never forget.

     The next role I assumed in "delivery guy" land was bringing high-end furnishings to our clients and setting it all up, instructing in the care of their new goodies, and acting as a customer service rep when things were in need of fixing or retrieving. This opened a door to another kind of insight that was quite different from the Chinese food gig. This was during the mid 90's, and was a time when if you had a pulse and didn't have to be in the workhouse for more that 20 hours a week, you were employable. I had become a homeowner and a Father, and found that I had attained a status that was never dreamed of in my world - dad and sole breadwinner. It was also during this time that I was playing in a shitty cover band on the weekends for extra dough, and also just to hang out with my friends and keep my chops up. These were the golden times, or so it seemed.

    One of the things that began to creep in around this time was a sense that something was slightly amiss. Day after day I would load up my truck with exotic woods and crafted metals, filling these huge new housing developments with furnishings and marveling at the number of very young people occupying these spaces. It was common to roll up to a 3,500 square foot shack with a couple brand-new SUV's in the driveway, maybe a Beemer for the wife, Harley's  - you get the picture - and then start dragging in 10-20K$ worth of goodies to adorn the castles we now know as the McMansion. A question kept popping up in my head after a while. Where the hell were these kids getting all that money?!? I think we know the answer to that now, don't we? It was an illusion.

   Not surprisingly, the interface with these customers was an experience quite apart from the folks at the Chinese joints. It seemed the norm that along with the huge shacks came a huge ego, and very little sense of gratitude. The level of expectation was pretty high, and very early on it became a test of wills and often went directly to a shakedown of these prickly creatures. You see, one of the rules our company had was that we were not allowed to carry the customer's existing furnishings around, and that they were required to have the space the new goodies would occupy clear and ready for us to install the new stuff. Guess how often that happened? I'm sure they saw us a some kind of knuckle-dragging, low functioning monkeys that could only get work like that because we were unable to do anything else. They were quite mistaken in that assumption I can assure you. I sought out this work because I liked the physicality of it and the simplicity of filling up a truck in the morning and knowing you were done when it was empty, plus being teamed up with one other person away from the "hive" and getting to interface with people was always a treat, even though I may sound disparaging of them. It was a tremendous learning experience and it felt very free and autonomous.

   My first partner in this venture was US Marine veteran of the first Iraq war, and had participated in what has since been named the "Highway of Death" event. Dude was damaged, but still had a soul somehow, and had precisely ZERO tolerance for bullshit or drama. So, when Amber or Tiffany asked us to move the existing sofa bed down to the basement so we could put in the new one because Ted was too busy or out of town or otherwise could not be bothered to do so, my man would get the look - a slight twisting of the corner of the mouth, soon followed by the question "show us what you need us to do and we'll let you know if we can do that". Often that would be enough to create a frown, merely hinting at a potential unwillingness to do their bidding, or get the cash out to grease the wheels, but frequently we would take a look, grumble a bit about the difficulty (or relative ease - hey, we were honest at least) and then the bomb would be dropped. "That looks like about $50 right there". The first time it happened, I was a bit taken aback. "Dude, we aren't supposed to charge for extra services like that - we aren't even supposed to TOUCH their stuff! This feels wrong". What was wrong was feeling the least bit guilty about entering into an agreement independently to get something done that ultimately benefited all involved. They got their furnishings, we got paid for breaking "company rules", and risking injury above and beyond, and it was all good. I got over it VERY quickly.

   There were many other times where the customers simply asked nicely if we would be willing to help, and in most of these cases we would do so without hesitation because hey, you asked nicely instead of assuming we were there to rearrange your house for you. Attitude was everything here, and I never felt bad about doing it for free, even if it was high effort or dangerous. Tips would almost always be offered, and I even got to take home some very nice used furnishings for my own home. The solid oak Ethan Allen dining table I am currently at as I type this was from one such trip. "If you want it it's yours - we were going to throw it away......."

    "Throw-away" brings me back to these huge suburban palaces we would so often enter, all gleaming with miles of granite counters and maple trim. Being formerly in the trades (cabinet maker) it was fun to   take a look at the craftsmanship employed in building these mammoth structures. Far more often than not, in fact almost universally, they were slapped together with a level of care that makes me wonder how some of them are standing today. Sure, you may have lots of space, but just don't look too closely at that woodwork or the sheetrocking or the landscaping or the vinyl siding.........crap, all of it. My little 1 1/2 story home near the urban center had been built in 1927, and was constructed to a level of quality that allowed it to still be completely solid and even beautiful in its own way many decades later, something that I am pretty sure will not be the case with the shacks built when they were tossing them up as fast as humanly possible. They sure were big though..........

   Around this time I also began to get these strange and very frequent calls and letters from my mortgage company, practically begging me to refinance at a lower rate and take out some extra cash for  "that family vacation, new car, or home improvement you deserve". It got to the point where it felt like I was being hassled, so one day when they rang me up I asked the caller a simple question. "I understand you want me to refi at this wonderful lower rate, and maybe take out some "equity" on top. Why in the world would you want to do this as it will mean less profit for you in the long run?!?". I knew something was up when the answer was "Because you have been such a good customer, and you really DESERVE to take advantage of the rapid rise in home values. That's YOUR money!" Oh boy. Here is Wells Fargo going out of their way to "reward" me for being so awesome? I wasn't buying it. I did refi once, but did not take out a bunch of "equity" until I needed the capital to do improvements to try and sell the joint after values plummeted.................

    It wasn't long after that that life delivered a couple solid blows via a 2x4 upside the head, with the deaths of both parents, being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease, and being fired from my job after a major surgery took me off my truck and into the office, where I struggled to fit in, then moved to the prep area, and finally back onto the truck where I struggled to get back up to speed. Despair had set in and the path through darkness began in earnest.

     Luckily for my family and I, my wife rose to the challenge and went out and got a job that met our needs and does to this day, at least financially. Now, I find that her situation in that position has come full circle and it is a cage of sorts that threatens her health and sanity. It is all a cage, really, the entire wage slave paradigm. During my time at home and the "dark night of the soul", a tremendous amount of new awareness was picked up and carries me forward today as I ponder going back out into the workplace to try and reclaim my place as breadwinner and all that, but to be honest the heart really longs to find a way out of this doomed model and get to the end of that long dirt road in the middle of nowhere, drawn strangely to a lifestyle far closer to the smiling restaurant owner than the smarmy suburban success story. Those are the people I encounter daily, raging behind the wheel while texting and screaming at the kids in the backseat, because their video has ended and mom isn't loading the next one fast enough. The McMasions are becoming the new 'hood in some ways, and so many of those places are abandoned or underwater it wouldn't surprise me if they stat knocking them down again.

    So, how to detach from all of this entanglement and head off into the far reaches to live closer to the Earth, in a manner more closely aligned with the people who lived here on this land before my ancestors even began arriving from the Old World? I suppose I could get back into a truck and hit the road, playing at "normal" for a while longer before the next 2x4 starts swinging, but there are all these angry, aggressive lunatics out there now taking out their angst in ways that are a perfect metaphor for the times. Something is afoot, and I see it on the faces of people everywhere. It is a sight to behold, really.


   I used to think "entitlement" was a catchword used by those on the "right" to dismiss those who they wanted dismissed or minimized. I now have come to see that it is a real thing, and know better why the old Chinese folks were always smiling. Perspective is everything, gratitude a necessity, and nothing will ever be like it was before. Thank goodness. The pics are a reminder of where the happy place can be found, lost in vibrations and grateful for the gifts and interest of that which animates us. Thanks for taking me on this trip, and thank you for joining me in this small part of it.



     




5 comments:

  1. Living in the Twin Toilets, huh? That's what my friend in Hinkley who calls himself El Drunko describes as the place where he was a kid and was obliged to live from time to time.

    Coming from up Nort, myself. About 40 miles NNW of where Mother Earth gives birth to the Father of Waters. Clearwater County. There is a stoplight in the county seat town on U.$. Two. Gardener, landscaper, wood sculptor on Social Security. Generally work harder, more physically now then when "gainfully" employed back in the days of the dinosaurs.

    Some nice country up this way. People are cooperatively independent if you get my drift. Not much money around. Not too many expensive temptations either. Yuppies pretty scarce hereabouts. Bits of land available in the area. Not too much for work, but it can be found at low wages, usually.

    Good place to cultivate serenity.

    -stickman

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  2. stickman, thanks for dropping in. Spent some time just up the road from you and nearly made it my new home, but life had other plans.

    Sure sounds like a slice of heaven to me. I do remember the the size of those deer flies, though.......

    Maybe we can get together and down a cold one sometime. I'd sure like an excuse to head up that way again soon. Peace.

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  3. Another wonderful missive. You are a master storyteller who draws your reader into the narrative so that we re-live it with you. So thoroughly enjoyable to go there with you.

    I had the "entitlement" epiphany as well, when teaching in the public schools. Had to leave the profession rather than promote that mindset to children. It is a poison.

    Thank you again for a fabulous read!

    CKP in Colorado

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  4. Zoner AND CKP: The entitlement epiphany. Ahh yes. April of '73 i got fired as the associate editor of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review on accounta the fact that my olfactory probiscus was a bit too pale a shade for ownership. So then for the next 5.5 (56 editions) put out my own rag where i called like i saw it and opened it up to general discussion on all subjects except religion. Called it Common Sense: A Northwoods Journal. Had the world's second longest paper-route at the time and it was generally slim pickins. Most journalistic enterprises get 90% of their revenue from advertising and ten % from sales of product. In the case of C.S., it was more than reversed.

    Did an antiques road show gig for 12.5 years over 26 states but eventually got a modest inheritance so took up homesteading pretty much full time some 16 years ago. Last weekend a couple friends once again invited me to join them checking out the Fargo Blues Festival. Turned em all on to my struttin stick dancing once again. Got into that sorta thing at one of Bo Diddley's last gigs. Stick dancing and soon to turn 68 ~ beats sticking in the ad copywriter game back in '68 and dying of something nasty before hitting 50. I guess.

    If there's a message in all this it may be that if you don't take it upon yourself to define life then you betcha damn tootin that life will define you.
    -stickman

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  5. Great read and very recognisable; although I live in Europe, the same thing happens here.
    Thanx!

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