Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Dirty Job

My least favorite part of the lawn-mowing job was the isolation. Most of the time I was driving all over the Twin Cities to get to my clients' homes or doing the actual mowing and weed-whacking with headphones on (but not the kind that play audio). That got lonely, although it did give me a lot of time to think, which was nice. It was often "meditative," as people like to say nowadays.

Driving around on weekdays, I noticed all the people who were doing the same kind of work as I. They usually drove pickups with trailers hauling multiple large mowers designed for huge lawns. I came to envy them, just for the trailers, since they didn't have to lift the mowers out of their trunk like I did. I felt a little solidarity with them, but we never crossed paths except in our vehicles. I didn't think I'd have much in common with them anyway.

But I had a nice exchange with a blue-collar guy at a SuperAmerica near Hamline University in St. Paul. We were all using the facilities there, and he made some meaningless, friendly small talk with me while we were waiting for the restrooms to come available. It was a tiny gesture, but it struck me as unusual and even heartwarming. I wasn't used to that in the white-collar world.

Occasionally, I'd stop at gas stations to use the bathroom or buy a water bottle. (Strange synergy there.) That gave me a sense of being working-class, my dependence on those quasi-public facilities. The restrooms are dirty and poorly maintained, because they aren't money-makers, but I still appreciated them. They made it easier to do a job that I liked.

CorpWorld offers plush accommodations, but the soul-rot it engenders makes those luxuries hollow. Even with the heat and humidity, the sweat, the dirt, the (almost literally) back-breaking labor and the gas fumes in the car (from the portable gas tank in the trunk for the mower), I still preferred the lawn-mowing job to any of my corporate gigs. Because I was helping people in a direct, tangible way. And getting a lot of exercise and fresh air.

Maybe it's my preoccupation with appearances that kept my in the corporate world for so long. I probably figured, if it looked better than those other sectors of the economy, then it would feel better.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Flag-Waver

There were plenty of perks to being a professional lawnmower, but topping the list had to be the many opportunities it afforded me to fold up my safety glasses and tuck them in the collar of my shirt, a la Magnum, P.I. Seriously, though, there were many benefits to the job, foremost among them being the chance to talk with my clients. They were all of retirement age, which was nice, because old people tend to be more forthcoming than the rest of us.

There was "Bruce" (all names are made up), a guy apparently living behind his chiropractic office, although he didn't seem to be practicing anymore. When I initially called him, he answered the phone with a brisk "God bless America, what can I do for ya?" That worried me, being a leftist and not terribly patriotic (or, as we call it when talking about foreigners, "nationalistic" or "jingoistic").

My worries were mostly unfounded, though, because Bruce proved right neighborly in spite of our political differences. We'd usually chat after I mowed. He would bemoan the terrible state of the Union, and I would generally agree, occasionally throwing in the odd counterpoint or reason for hope. I never came out of the leftist closet with him, but I did admit my love of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which may have outed me.

He didn't care for their perspective, nor for the perspective of the mainstream media, which he considered liberal and leftist. That made me roll my eyes inwardly, since I think the MSM is often right-wing or conservative. But I suppose that's to be expected when the corporate press is so widely despised. However you self-identify, you'll identify the MSM with everything you're not.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lawnmower Man

Before my descent into the well-plumbed Depths of Despair, I was doing pretty well this summer. That can be chalked up to my part-time job mowing lawns for seniors. My clients were assigned by a non-profit. Technically, I was an independent contractor, but that seems to be just a convenient way for them to avoid additional expenses.

In addition to deducting taxes from my paycheck (when the time comes), I had to provide the transportation, the lawnmower, the weed whacker (or "weed whip" or "trimmer") and the gas. The physical exertion was demanding as well. I sometimes mowed 5 lawns in a day. None of them was huge, but with the heat and lifting the mower in and out of the trunk each time, it took its toll.

Eventually, the toll proved too much for my back, and I had to quit. However, if the opportunity presented itself again, and I had access to a trailer in which to haul the mower, I might give it another shot. (I have no experience driving with a trailer, so I'm not sure if that'd be more trouble than it's worth.)

I was often exhausted, but the exercise still felt good, and I was burning a lot of calories (and fat, I hope). Unfortunately, I was also eating later in the evening for some reason. On a heavy mowing day, I'd have 3 scrambled eggs and toast in the mid-morning, be out all afternoon, return in the early evening, but I usually wouldn't get hungry until 9 or so. I called it the Ramadan Diet.

It was a wrench in the gears of my weight-loss plan. After one long day, I weighed myself at my Uptown gym and the meter said 201 lbs, meaning I'd dropped 15 lbs. in the previous month. The next morning I hopped on my mom's bathroom scale and it said 209. I'm sure there's some discrepancy between the scales, but most of the difference can probably be attributed to my late dinner the night before.

Aside from the physical benefits, there were many spiritual and social advantages that went with the job. I'll cover those tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Exile from CorpWorld

I'm really gratified by the response to yesterday's post. A bunch of people have reached out to me already, which I greatly appreciate. I figured I'd might as well strike while the iron is hot and keep the blog momentum going.

Hopefully, I won't need to keep posting cries for help to maintain this level of interest. (I've gotten about 80 unique pageviews the last 2 days, which is nearly unprecedented for this blog.) I've had many bouts of depression and anxiety in my life, but I've never been suicidal, so I don't think y'all need to worry about that.

A big factor in my emotional trainwreck is my inability to find a meaningful, rewarding job. Since I left the corporate world over a year ago, I've only had 1 interview with a non-profit, and that was for a temp job. In the months before my departure, I had 1 phone interview with another non-profit.

I've come to the conclusion that I have no idea how to negotiate the job market. It's like I have no shot at any job that would meet my standards for providing tangible benefits to humanity without driving me crazy with stress. Maybe I'm being too picky, although I've certainly lowered my standards on the second point, and I'm becoming more flexible on the first. (I recently signed up with one of my old temp agencies.)

I'd really like to suspend my moral standards for a while, frankly. I'm beginning to think my conscience is way too sensitive to the corruption in CorpWorld. When I worked in health insurance, I beat myself up for being part of a system that profits from pain and suffering. When I worked in finance, I beat myself up for being a cog in the machine that's sucking the life out of the global economy.

But is all that guilt justified? I may not like everything those companies do, but it's not like the insurance company and the financial company never paid out for their customers. They helped a lot of people. Maybe they could've helped more people, but...

This is the wrong line of reasoning. It just feels like rationalization. Maybe if I were more practiced at making the pro-corporate argument I could ease my conscience back into the cubicle. As things stand, though, I'll have to find other grounds for selling out.

Through this principled rejection of corporate jobs, I feel like I'm emotionally martyring myself for nothing. Who exactly am I helping with this one-man strike? The worst part is I have no community of like-minded people to support me. That's what makes it hard, because I feel so alone in this moral stand, left to weather the headwinds of society on my own.

At this point in the essay, I need to temper my self-righteousness with a reality check. I don't really know if it was the guilt or the stress that drove me to quit those jobs. My position with the insurance company was cushy. I was there for 5 years and only left because of my own emotional issues. The other jobs I've had have been stressful.

If I'd found another job as easy as the one with the insurance company, I might've stuck with it. But my conscience probably would've eventually forced me to quit. Considering the misery I've experienced in the year-and-a-half since I quit my last corporate gig, I wonder if leaving CorpWorld was the right thing to do.

I think the real problem is I haven't had the guts to take the necessary steps to escape CorpWorld. All those paths seem to require leaving my comfort zone, either the physical comfort zone of the Twin Cities or a more nebulous mental comfort zone that prefers safety to confrontation.

When I was mowing lawns for seniors this summer, I thought I'd found an escape route. Unfortunately, my back couldn't sustain the workload of lifting the mower in and out of the car trunk. (I also wonder whether I could've stuck with it if I believed in lawns.) But it was an interesting, edifying experience that I should cover in the next blog post to lighten the mood.

On a brighter note, the global stock market (mini-)crash. Some might call it schadenfreude, but I think the rich have it coming, and we could all use a wake-up call when it comes to the vicissitudes of finance and the economy.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


I should probably write this while I'm treading water in the Ocean of Anxiety that has recently engulfed me. When I go under, I don't have much energy or inclination to dive even deeper inward, as writing requires. It also requires social isolation, something I've gotten way too much of the last several years.

You may consider this yet another cry for help. Just when I think I can't fall any farther, a new trap door opens in my brain and I tumble into deeper depths of anxiety.

This most recent rough patch began a month ago when I decided to quit my lawn-mowing job. This was necessitated by the worsening condition of my back. It seemed I would do great damage if I continued, so I threw in the towel.

This was complicated by my parents' impending 2-week vacation. Suddenly, I was overcome with anxiety at the thought of being home alone. This summer I was reduced to one friend after a falling-out with my other friend. (In this context, "friend" refers to someone I see on a regular basis.)

With the help of a 99-year-old neighbor, phone calls with my sister and the Fringe Festival, I got through those 2 weeks, but there were many rocky parts. Ironically, the anxiety grew after my parents returned.

I'm stuck in an emotional Catch-22. My parents are the only people left I can really count on for consistently available emotional support. But living with them fills me with shame, to the point that I have to repress it and it manifests as anxiety.

This is a First World Problem of the highest order. On the other hand, it seems to highlight the decrepit state of communities in the U.S.A. I've had a hell of a time trying to make new friends in the last few years. One problem is I don't feel well-suited to the task. Another problem is that few people I want to hang out with seem well-suited to it either.

I blame middle school. That's what equipped me with the Great Stoneface and my deadpan demeanor. It was armor against bullying, a trade plied by virtually everyone at my middle school, including, occasionally, myself.

It's horribly depressing that the memory of that madhouse still guides my behavior 23 years later. I can't let it doom me to a life of misery. But I can't do it alone. If you have any fondness for me, now would be a good time to show it.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


I completed my first-ever circumnavigation of the Mall of America yesterday. I've walked around the inside of the Mall many times, but never before had I walked around the outside. It was an interesting journey, if only because the exterior is so barren and bereft of people compared to the interior. Macy's has two identical, impressive entrances around the corner from each other. L.L. Bean also has a nice, imposing portal with a Paul Bunyan-sized boot. (The irony is I didn't even know L.L. Bean had a store in the Mall.)

For half of my journey I was at the bottom of canyons formed by the blank, 5-story wall of the Mall and the just-as-tall-and-reserved parking ramps on the east and west sides. It was a very warm, sunny day, and only about half of my path led through the shade. There were 2 young, pale women sitting in the sun speaking a language I would cautiously call "European." Their fair complexions were in danger of turning a ruddy hue if they stayed in that spot much longer.

I had to flout the traffic laws to complete my quest. The traffic signal on the north side explicitly forbids pedestrians crossing in any direction. I avoided eye contact with the drivers as I walked by their cars. Perhaps it was my status as a scofflaw that made me sheepish, although I've noticed that, as a pedestrian, I often feel inferior to car drivers and passengers. They have a right to stare at me, but I must avert my gaze lest I invade the privacy of their horse-less carriages.

My illicit detour was caused by the construction of the newest, yet-to-be-finished addition to the Mall, a flying buttress of gleaming, jet-setting sophistication branching out from the original square. Even though I'm sure I'll eventually be disgusted by the opportunities for conspicuous consumption therein, for now it looks downright perty.

Once inside, I was surprised by the abundance of shoppers (and browsers). A Friday afternoon in August wouldn't seem to be a big shopping day, yet there were plenty of people milling about and plenty of families in the Nickelodeon-themed theme park. Of course, the Mall is more of a tourist destination than a mall, even for us Minnesotans.

The rest of my day was less leisurely. I played phone tag with a temp agency, but that frustration actually bore fruit. The lady said there was a 6-month data entry gig. To apply for it, she just needed me to email her an updated resume, and then she'd send me an Excel test to show I had at least a basic understanding of the program.

"Great!" I thought. Now all I needed to find was a functioning WiFi network, but this task proved to be shockingly difficult. I scoured the Mall and came up empty. (I should point out that I had no patience to wait in line at the various Starbucks and Caribou Coffee's. I didn't have much faith in the speed of their service or their WiFi.) I drove to Eagan and found another Caribou, but my browser kept crashing, so I hit the road again.

After squandering the entire afternoon in search of internet access, I finally headed back to the vicinity of Uptown and found an operational network at a coffee shop I've visited a few times before. The resume was sent off quickly, and the Excel test was pretty much aced, but by then it was 6 o'clock. The temp agency lady had asked me to finish it that day, so I'm not sure if she meant by the close of business.

Whatever. I was relieved just to have managed to get online and ace the Excel test without having a panic attack. We'll see how I handle a possible return to the corporate world. I suppose I can console myself with the thought that it's just to tide me over until I can finally fulfill my destiny as an organic farmer.