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Quasi-Stoics Lounge

Why Do I Even Bother?

October 27, 2011 by Somebody Else

Up until now, I have generally refrained from writing very much about myself for this website. True, you found out quite a lot about me when I told you about what happened when I travelled to London to cover the royal wedding a few months back. At that point, you undoubtedly realized that I am not good at handling my financial resources. As the saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted, and that pretty much applies to me. Can you relate?

Anyway, aside from my royal wedding fiasco, as a rule, I've pretty much tried to keep my personal life out of my articles. The way I've figured it, our serious readers want to hear about the important issues going on in the universe today, and probably prefer not to be bothered with the mundane details of my day-to-day experiences.

However, all of that being said, the events that have taken place in my life over the last several weeks have forced me to take a much closer look at the very core of my philosophical beliefs. When I recently spoke with our Editor-in-Chief, Somebody, regarding my latest existential struggles, he encouraged me to share them with you, our beloved readers.

So, in the interest of writing a compelling article, I am willing to give up an even greater degree of my dearly cherished anonymity. Still, make no mistake -- I remain Somebody Else, so good luck finding me in the phonebook.

My latest personal crisis began several weeks back when my car, never in particularly good shape during the best of times, refused to start. Thinking that the battery was at fault, I removed it, and lugged it by hand to the nearest auto parts store about two miles away. Let me tell you, those darned things are heavy as hell.

The guy there looked at it, said, "Let me check this a minute," and then informed me that the battery was fully charged and that there was nothing wrong with it. So, I had to carry it all the way back to my apartment, and by the time I returned, my right hand was bruised and raw and my lower back was killing me.

As always, I was low on funds, and thus realized that having my car towed to a mechanic's shop would be a cost-prohibitive decision. So, I instead decided to call on my shade-tree mechanic buddy Miguel, who lives three doors down from me at the apartment complex.

Miguel opened the hood, looked around a bit, then took a very deep breath, closed his eyes, and shook his head. I knew right away that the news was not good.

Well, I'll spare you the boring mechanical details. The upshot of the whole thing was that it would cost twice as much to fix my old clunker as the car itself was worth. That was the bad news.

The good news was that my 1986 Oldsmobile might sell for around $200. So, I figured that there must be some way for me to come up with the $400 I needed to fix it.

As you learned in the latest Webpage News update, my Uncle Fred offered to lend me the money as soon as he managed to sell his stamp collection. I suggested that he put it up for sale on eBay.

"That's a great idea," he said.

I waited a few weeks.

Then, I called him up, and asked: "Have you managed to sell it?"

He replied, "No, not yet."

"Have the bids been too low for your liking?"

"Oh, I haven't gotten any bids yet."

"I wonder why?"

"Well, I haven't put it up on eBay yet, but I will as soon as I buy a computer in a year or two and learn how to use the thing."

I don't guess that Uncle Fred really understood how urgently I needed the money. I decided not to press the issue any further.

I had been driving my car to my night job at the ball-bearing manufacturing plant thirty miles away. My only other option was to ride my bike to work, a daunting prospect, to say the least, not just because of the sheer distance, but also due to the fact that almost my entire route was along high-speed roads most definitely not designed for cyclists.

"Oh well, do or die," I thought, and with traffic whizzing past me in the darkness at eighty miles per hour only a few feet away, the "die" part of the equation was always on my mind.

Despite my best efforts to always arrive on time, I showed up late once due to a violent thunderstorm, during which I got pelted with hail and was almost struck by lightning twice. Arriving chilled and weakened, I clocked in and started work.

While I was on my scheduled thirty-minute break, the floor manager stuck my time card in front of my face and rhetorically asked: "Do you see that? You were thirty minutes late. Come with me into my office."

I can't stand that guy, but don't get me started. I'm trying to stay on topic here.

So, I tried to explain to him my predicament with the vain hopes that I might somehow be able to elicit a bit of sympathy and understanding out of him. But all I managed to utter was: "My car just recently broke down, and --"

He cut me off, saying: "That's not the company's problem, that's for you to deal with. When you started work here, you signed an agreement, blah, blah, blah, etc."

The gist of his harangue was that if I showed up that late again, I would be fired, end of story.  

Well, after that, I decided to leave for work an extra hour early just in case. Because of the exceptionally long commute, my writing for the webpage suffered, as you can see from the extended period during September when I didn't submit any articles.

One evening when I was biking to the plant, it started to rain yet again, not a thunderstorm, just a good old-fashioned downpour. There was a lot of water on the road, so some hydroplaning was definitely possible. Most of the traffic had prudently decided to slow down, but there was an eighteen-wheeler who must have been in a bit of a rush to pick up a donut and a coffee at the nearby truck-stop or something, and he lost control of his rig, jack-knifing and spinning off the highway. The end of his trailer missed me by no more than a foot or two. That was most definitely my what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here moment.

I decided, "Enough is enough, I can't do this anymore -- I'll quit my job tonight."

I knocked on the door of my detested manager's office. He greeted me with a smile that unnerved me. It was one of those phony, saccharine kinds of grins that you prepare for someone that you are about to do something really nasty to.

"Oh, I'm glad you've come by," he said in a too soft and too friendly voice. "Could you tell the rest of the folks on the floor to head for the conference room right away?"

"Sure, I replied, but I need to let you know that --"

He cut me off yet again, once more speaking in his overly-friendly voice: "Please attend the conference first, then, feel free to share your concerns with me, alright?"

In the conference room, we were abruptly informed that, effective immediately, the plant was closing. We were told that the parent company had decided to "reallocate its resources," and were given a bunch of separation paperwork to fill out.

While I was filling out the forms, I looked up at the manager guy and figured what the hell. I asked him: "So, what about you, are you out of a job too?"

He didn't seem so friendly anymore after I asked him that. He responded, in a flat voice: "I've been retained and will be transferred to another plant location."

That got several people in the conference room to start yelling that it wasn't fair that he should get to keep his job when they had just lost theirs. I heard a few voices call out to him, saying, "I never did like you," and some other stuff that wouldn't be appropriate to print here. Some of them stood up, began pounding on the table, and started chanting: "Not fair, not fair!"

The manger got out his walkie-talkie and mumbled something, and within a minute or two a bunch of security goons showed up with night sticks. So, I decided to keep my mouth shut, finish the forms and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Later on, I found out that the company had transferred our particular operation to a brand-new plant in Malaysia, where the workers were being paid one-tenth of what we were earning with no benefits. Ah, the wonders of modern global capitalism.

I rode my bike home and collapsed into bed, both physically and emotionally drained. The next day, I got up, and thought: "Well, I'm unemployed. What's next?"

I went down to the local coffee shop, where I ran into Ted, writer of the TV Crawlspace section of this website, and told him that I'd lost my job.

Ted mentioned that there was an opening at the Majik Market convenience store where he works, and that he'd be glad to put in a good word for me.

I told him, "Thanks, I'll think about it."

But the truth of the matter was that I wasn't particularly interested. At the time, I still held out the hope that I could find a job somewhere with benefits that paid more than minimum wage.

I went looking around town for a week or two, but alas, there were no decent-paying jobs with benefits available, at least none that I was qualified for.

I even tried going to an interview for a position as an insurance salesman.

The guy asked me, "How many friends do you have?"

"Good friends or just acquaintances?"

"It doesn't matter," he said, kind of irritated, like he'd had to respond to that same stupid question dozens of times, and he was really burned-out from having to deal with losers like me over and over again for years and years.

"What about your family members?" he continued in his here-we-go-again voice. "Are you willing to sell an insurance policy to them?"

Before I could respond, he said: "Look, here's a questionnaire, fill this out and you'll see how well a career in the insurance industry suits you, alright?"

He started to step out of the room, but I stopped him.

"Wait a minute," I demanded, "before I sit here for the next several minutes working on this form, just answer me this. Does this particular position pay a regular salary or is it just commission?"

"It's just commission," he grumbled.

"Does it come with any benefits?"

He let out an exasperated sigh and explained that once I got up to a certain sales level, I would be eligible for blah, blah, blah, etc.

While he was talking I just got up and left the room and didn't even say goodbye. I heard him yell at me something like, "Total waste of my time, pal!"

Losing my composure, I yelled back at him: "The feeling is mutual, friend!" and walked out of there.

I went back to my apartment in a foul mood, and who should be there sitting in front of my door but my girlfriend Kathy, who had decided to come by to make me a hot meal, take me out to a movie, and just basically try to get my mind off depressing things for awhile.

Later that evening, after I had unwound a bit, I told her about my latest efforts to find work, and casually mentioned the open position at Majik Market, just as an afterthought, basically.

"Oh, you should definitely go apply for that! Ted is giving you a referral! You'll get that job, I'm sure." She was practically ecstatic.

I tried to explain to her why it was a lousy idea, but she didn't want to hear it.

"Anything is better than the unemployment line," she argued.

"I beg to differ," I responded, "Majik Market is worse, because you are unlikely to get held up at gunpoint in the unemployment line."

But she wouldn't let up, and eventually got me to promise her that I would go the next day to apply, and jokingly said that she just might follow up with Ted to make sure that I had done so, but I could tell that she really wasn't kidding.

So, the next day, there I was in Majik Market. Ted wasn't there, but the manager, Rajnish Dasgupta, was.

I said, "My friend Ted Crawford works here and he told me that you have an opening."

"Yes," replied Rajnish, "he has referred you to me with a high recommendation. Please come with me to fill out an application."

He smiled for a brief second, as if he had suddenly remembered to fulfill a standard American social custom, then his face immediately returned to its usual look of indecipherable neutrality.

After I filled out the application, Rajnish informed me that I would also have to take a personality profile test to see if would be a good match for Majik Market.

"It is standard company procedure," Rajnish added. Then, he handed me the test and a pen and closed the door.

Well, I figured that this personality test was my way to definitely not get the job at Majik Market. So, I tried to answer everything incorrectly.

I told them that I liked to borrow money from the cash register and that I didn't consider it to be stealing as long as I paid it back eventually. I wrote that it was okay to let my friends grab a few beers out of the cooler and not pay for them since they were different from the other customers, and anyway, Majik Market is a big company and can easily absorb the cost. I noted that I expected to be paid $150 per hour as my starting salary. Finally, borrowing a page from Thurston Thornton's writings, I penned an extended essay in which I explained that humanity has long been enslaved by extraterrestrial masters who manipulate our thought processes with mind beams.

Confident that I had destroyed any chance of landing a job at Majik Market, I handed the personality profile test to Rajnish, who asked, "Can you work tonight?"

I was a bit taken aback: "Aren't you going to review the personality profile test first?"

"Oh, yes, yes, of course," he responded, rather surprised. "Yes, I must do that, you are right, it is company policy, very true. I will review, then."

"So, you'll contact me after you've reviewed it, right?"

"I will review, okay? Okay."

I figured that would be the end of my Majik Market episode, so I returned to my apartment and decided that now was as good a time as ever to break out that copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace that I'd been meaning to read for the last several years.

After a few days, I heard a knock on my door. It was Kathy.

She asked me why I hadn't gone to work.

"Well, because I don't have a job," I came back.

"But you're working at Majik Market," she almost yelled at me.

"No, I am not," I insisted. "I failed the personality profile test."

"But Ted tells me that you are on the schedule and that you haven't showed up for the last couple of days, so your boss is starting to think that it was a mistake to hire you. Come on, get dressed, and get to work!"

So, before I knew it, there I was at Majik Market with Kathy. I went up to Ranjish and said: "You never called me like you promised."

"I did not?" he replied, mildly. "Perhaps I did not. That is possible. You have missed work for several days."

I asked: "How was I supposed to know that I was hired?"

"Well," Ranjish coolly responded, "I asked you if you could work that night, so of course I was telling you that you were hired. Did you not understand that?"

Unnerved, I blurted out: "But what about the personality profile test?"  

Rajnish stared at me blankly: "You took the personality profile test, so that requirement has been completed."

"Didn't you review it?" I demanded.

"Don't pay any attention to him," remarked Kathy, kicking the back of my calf while looking Rajnish right in the eye. "He's ready to work, aren't you, sweetheart?"

Thus began my career at Majik Market. Hopefully, I won't be here for more than a few weeks until I can find something better. But I have a sinking feeling that I might end up working here much longer than I would like to.

I was thinking that I would get to hang out here at Majik Market with Ted and enjoy his humorous and insightful company, but it turns out that Rajnish has scheduled us so that we are never in the store together at the same time.

My other fellow coworkers are Marquis, Crystal and Nick. They are interesting people and I enjoy talking with them. Surprisingly, it hasn't been such a bad job after all. The environment is pretty pleasant most of the time and Rajnish is actually a pretty laid-back manager, but I would most definitely rank him up there among the most enigmatic people I've ever met in my life. I have a feeling I could work for him for ten years and not understand him any better after all that time than on the first day I met him.

Anyway, this all brings me around to the point of the article, which is that I came pretty close to just packing up my few material possessions, abandoning my apartment and hitching a ride down to Florida, where I was thinking I might just live on the beach and panhandle for a living for the rest of my life. But that didn't happen.

The big questions for me at this moment of my life are: "Why don't I just throw in the towel and give up? At the end of the road, whether we're rich or poor, happy or sad, good or bad, we all get thrown into a wooden box in the ground, so why struggle anymore to earn a wage? What's the point?"

Another idea that occurred to me would be to head on over to New York and join in on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I figured: "What have I got to lose? Aren't those Wall Street folks the same people who caused me to lose my job at the ball-bearing manufacturing plant? Shouldn't I vent my anger and frustration at them and everyone like them?"

Sure, I could head off to New York or Florida if I wanted to, I suppose. But instead, here I am at Majik Market, still living in my ratty old apartment, still going out with Kathy, still writing for Somebody's Webpage. And, in all honesty, I suppose there's something good to be said for all of that. For the time being, I'll hold back from saying what exactly, but in any case, it seems to be enough to keep me going for now.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...