Sunday, November 20, 2016

End of the Line

Friday was my last day at work. I finally liberated myself from an unsustainable, miserable situation. It took months to do. 

In a similar situation, as recently as a decade ago, I simply would have walked out. But I have learned to avoid such jarring actions; that, and the loss of accrued sick and vacation pay.

The women I work with took me out to breakfast on my last day; the restaurant, a feted vegetarian place in a tony neighborhood near Lake Washington. The neighborhood, Madison Park, home to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, carries some unpleasant memories for me. The last woman I dated did her stalking there, and my last significant girlfriend, probably for the same predatory reasons, had us spend some of our last social outings together at the beach there.

When we pulled up to the restaurant I realized that I had been there before, probably 12 years ago, with a girlfriend prior to the one mentioned above. I think we went there because she had a gift certificate.

"How appropriate," I thought. "All these negative female connotations for a goodbye repast with my female employer and female coworkers."

My employer is a talented woman still in her 30s who won election as the head of the august central labor council in the largest, wealthiest county of the state. She came to power by shrewdly riding the coattails of socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant. 

I was hired by the outgoing office manager before the young woman was sworn in. The office manager wanted to retire as soon as possible and she needed a replacement, someone who knew bookkeeping and labor unions.

The alarms bells went off for me right away when I realized that the young woman was influenced by, among others, the head of SEIU 775, whose mantra, "Win Power for Working People," sounds great, but it really masks a nihilistic thirst for status and power; a "Sí, se puede" Kool-Aid -- nothing is ever good enough; there are no boundaries; achievement is all there is -- which is almost certain doom for support staff. 

After nine months of this, which saw the young woman hire her girlfriends to join me on staff, I figured I needed to start looking for another job. At first I considered working at Harborview, the big public hospital. Then another union job opened up. I interviewed for it and was hired. I immediately submitted my resignation effective in two weeks.

That was Friday.

It struck me -- as we sat around the table chatting (not too uncomfortably), drinking our pumpkin smoothees and kombucha grapefruit tonics, waiting for our breakfast to arrive -- that all I have is a lot of animosity. I felt the need to bark scatological comments, or bitter truth statements about the Hobbesian world in which we live, or bleak ideas about our existential trap. I didn't say anything. Instead I listened to them as they talked about children, husbands, houseboats, the latest J.K. Rowling movie, friends, parties, car accidents, therapists, dope smoking and all the rest. 

All I could think to add were my perceptions of the Thursday Night Football game between the Saints and Panthers when linebacker Luke Kuechly had a meltdown following a hit to the head. What was noteworthy was not the hit he took nor his meltdown but how obviously tweaked-out he was prior to that, gesticulating wildly, running from sideline to sideline the entire game. Kuechly is a throwback to earlier days when professional football players in the NFL and AFL gobbled speed pre-game. My thought was that his breakdown had as much to do with his speed binge as his concussion.

I didn't saying anything, but I asked myself, "Isn't my isolated life of watching the NFL on TV, of Luke Kuechly's meltdown or Earl Thomas' incredible hit on Rob Gronkowski Sunday night, as meaningful as parties and therapists?"

We hugged goodbye. I went back to the office and worked the rest of the day. I cleaned out and wiped down my desk. 

I felt lousy walking home. After all, I was connected to her. I had worked with her father on a competitive mayoral race 16 years ago. She is beautiful, unique, authentic. Did I need a drink? It crossed my mind. It was Friday night. But, as an alcoholic, I have learned a trick that works for me. Whenever I feel the need to get drunk, I think of Captain America's face as rendered by Jack Kirby, and I am immediately cured.

In the end, I had to stick by some hard-won knowledge: Don't sacrifice your life for a woman.

I got home and put on repeat "Method Acting/Cortez the Killer" by the Dave Rawlings Machine. Those Hippies playing folk/hillbilly music sure have soul:

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