Tag Archives: what happened to my college degrees

There’s someone in my head (and it’s me)

I had a seriously thrilling drive home tonight. I cruised North along the shore under a sky quilted in storm clouds, grey with the greenish cast of strange summer twilight. Bolts of brilliant purple lightning traced crazy arcs in front of me, striking trees along the roadside in explosive showers of sparks. Rain surged down in silver sheets and sinister black funnel clouds touched down on both sides, while the winds pulled the waves in from the harbors across the road. My heart raced and my fingers whitened on the wheel and my lips pulled back in a silly adrenaline smile – I was loving it.

I, uh, was also imagining all of it, while listening to this song.

I’ve been spending an awful lot of time in my head lately. I’m not much for phone conversations and I’m alone most of the day at home, save for a deaf dog – and what’s the sense in talking to him? I’m nearly thirty years old and I spend most of my waking hours playing Let’s Pretend. Let’s Pretend Skagway, Alaska doesn’t exist. Let’s Pretend I’m not losing anything I learned in grad school to atrophy at an alarming rate. Let’s Pretend it’s all going to be all right. And Let’s Pretend I’m not actually at my job.

This is the most crucial bit of pretending I do. I have to, in order to get by. I pretend to be happy. I pretend to be an extroverted people-person. I pretend this is only a temporary setback and I know exactly which path to follow once I find it. And also I pretend I’m a robot.

Yesterday got a little weird. I’ve been watching an alarming amount of Doctor Who lately, packing in as many episodes daily as possible before I have to give back to my brother and his new wife their house and their FIOS and their Netflix OnDemand. I am gulping down great big episode blocks, wearing a me-shaped impression into the couch and facing the same dilemma nightly: Go to bed at a less-and-less responsible hour, or finish this two-parter? I am watching the 9th Doctor’s season from the beginning for the second time, I’m in the middle-end of David Tennant’s run, at the beginning *and* present for Matt Smith, and last night I started a Tom Baker movie. It’s doing things to me.

Two days in a row I’ve come into work and two different coworkers have asked with concern, “Are you okay?” And I am, really; I try not to start the shift in a bad mood. The problem is the commute. On the way into work I am hunting trolls with Finnish warriors who also play electric guitar and driving off cliffs to sail away on the great wings that fold out of my car’s roof and narrowly avoiding the sinuous grasp of sea monsters as I soar over the waters to searing guitar solos. And apparently it shows in my face as I disengage from my ImagineMobile and step into the daily grind. I wonder what they see in my expression as I punch in and push up my sunglasses. So yesterday I just kept going, inspired by the continuous loop of the Doctor Who theme wavering through my mind.

Yesterday I was a service droid, a robot programmed to accept tender in exchange for goods while providing exceptional service. I kept my voice well-modulated and pleasant. I used ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ near-excessively. I kept my brain attached only remotely, and at the end of the shift when I pulled it down from the clouds by its string I was still sane, and had garnered two separate compliments on my diction and one suggestion to go into voiceover work. It was so successful I actively planned the next day’s character while watching actual lightning brighten the sky as I drove home.

Today I was an alien undercover, and my God if it wasn’t the Giggle Loop shift all over again. I had to bite my tongue, the inside of my cheek and quickly look away to avoid bursting out into absurd, delighted laughter to the surprise and suspicion of the customers. It all worked so well, explaining away all the frustrations I have regularly. Customers didn’t hear me, or cut me off to ask their totals in the middle of me giving their totals, or didn’t understand my joke? Translator technology error. Customers indifferent or grouchy despite my pleasant demeanor? Immune to my empathy field. Dropping coins or having difficulty pulling bills from the drawer? Stupid stubby human fingers. I’m afraid it’s the most fun I’ve had at work in weeks.

There are an awful lot of people inside my head, and I’ve only met some of them. I’m telling stories or painting murals or riding a horse at full gallop into glaciers under a black sky studded with stars as a giant ringed planet rises over me like Earth’s moon. And I’m also packing up the car and taking off for Buffalo, or renting a cabin in Wyoming while doing freelance writing, or pulling over for a few hours’ rest on an empty Canadian highway on the way to Alaska. I’m everywhere but here, and apparently it’s starting to show. I have a few choices, I guess: Man up and shut up and keep reading the classifieds. Listen to something other than Scandanavian folk metal on the daily commute. Or wait for a blue box to show up in the parking lot some night while I’m taking out the trash.

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Yup, you are better than I. Have a nice day.

Friends, I am not going to do well with the summer people.

I’m having troubling putting today’s scene into words and I’m not even angry,more bemused. I wonder if there’s a learned helplessness that comes with certain types of wealthy. I have never seen a human being unpack a dozen items from a shopping basket so languidly, as if the removal of each item caused resentful physical strain. I knew I was in trouble when she snipped out “Paper” and I asked “Which one?” I assumed she meant “Please hand me a newspaper from the rack next to you.” She meant paper bags.

I guess it’s not an unusual request but all the locals know we have plastic and I haven’t yet received a request for otherwise, except for the half dozen or so who carry reusable bags. We have a few sizes of brown paper, mostly for bagging up fresh breads, but I gamely grabbed a stack of the largest (not very) and assessed the apparently offending groceries for packaging. (Again: I have never seen a seemingly healthy – or even any of the elderly patrons, for that matter – adult unpack a basket so slowly and with such disdain.) English muffins, a loaf of bread, a bottle of laundry detergent, a Styrofoam clamshell with the day’s hot lunch special, a cardboard bowl of soup and a couple of heavier items.

There’s a science to bagging groceries, I swear. I consider myself a pretty good packer, especially as I really hate taking multiple trips to and from the car and therefore have perfected the up-to-and-including 12 Sack Carry. And people get picky about bags – really picky. Bag the chicken separately. Bag the chicken and the beef separately. Put all the lunch meat in one but the cheese in another. Bag the health&beauty separately from the food. Put this bag of bread in another bag. I get it; everyone has a system (and some people just don’t care.) What this woman presented me with was a logistical grocery challenge: I felt like I had been handed one of those critical thinking/logical reasoning puzzles we had to complete in sixth grade (usually without much particular success on my part):

“A snooty woman hates you but wants you to bag her groceries. She is disgusted with the size of your paper bags. Remember,
* Styrofoam clamshells of hot food tend to spring open and should not be placed with cold perishable groceries
* Cardboard soup bowls slide off and tip over when placed on top of Styrofoam clamshells but should not be placed on top of varyingly-shaped grocery items
* Most customers prefer perfumed/chemical items like soaps and detergents to be bagged separately
* Bread always goes on top until the snooty woman crams her laundry detergent on top of it
* The snooty woman only has two arms.”

I almost laughed in her face, which is encouraging; it foretells a type of patience I hadn’t realized I possessed. It wasn’t just the statement; it was the little sneer and scoffing “Well OF COURSE” underlying her words. You would have thought I offered to put her groceries on the floor so she could soccer them out the door. My offense was asking if she wanted the bread separate, instead of stuffed into the top of another bag. “Well, I ONLY have two arms, so …”

Coincidentally, so do I, and yet I still manage to ferry $60 in groceries from the car to the kitchen with only minimal circulation damage to my fingers – I can even unlock a door and corral a collie back inside. I can even – and I don’t know, friends; this might be revolutionary – I can even carry up to four paper bags in my two arms. Crazy, right?

Whatever. I’m almost looking forward to but mostly dreading the anthropology experiment that will be waiting on the Weekapaug seasonal crowd this summer. This lady was good practice.

I watched through the door as she carried her two bags to her shiny silver Mercedes parked feet from the door and wondered if her car payment was perhaps prohibiting her from buying a couple environmentally-friendly recycled material reusable cloth bags, forcing her to rely on demanding paper. See? I’m trying to think the best of people.

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