LIVE FREE AND DIE

Posted in Rants on October 27th, 2014 by Ed

After a stretch of not terribly awesome news over the weekend and continuing into this week, I was talking with a friend about my favorite topic – feeling stuck in a place I don't particularly like. She noted, and I immediately agreed, that this is hardly a unique problem. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone complain that they felt shackled to or stuck in a job they don't like, I would have a very strange way of earning money. I'd also have about twenty extra dollars per year. If anything I have less to gripe about than most job-haters given that I don't actually dislike my job but rather its location. Still, it's not pleasant. Just in case you imagined having no life whatsoever outside of work as being pleasant.

My standard line is to tell frustrated friends that all paid employment is pretty awful, because if it was fun and fulfilling they wouldn't have to pay people to do it. This is an exaggeration, but only just (notice how the unpaid intern economy focuses on professions like journalism and activism rather than mundane but economically productive jobs). I doubt this is comforting, but it is hard to get useful advice on this topic since we are all basically in the same boat. The vast majority of us would love to wake up tomorrow morning and never have to work again; more accurately, we would love never to have to work a given job because we needed it.

Everyone tells a version of the same story: I hate this job but I need it. I'm stuck, I'm trapped, it's out of my hands. The reason we all say this is that it is true. Unless you happen to be that rare individual with some high-demand skill, most of us are in an unhappy marriage with our jobs. We live paycheck to paycheck and struggle under some debt burden – educational, medical, consumer, or whatever – that keeps us going back to a job that makes us feel like shit day after day. Getting a different job sounds good in theory but with hundreds of applicants for every job in most fields these days we realize (and are repeatedly told) that we're lucky to have one.

We are not, in any meaningful sense of the word, free. Yes, anyone is free to quit and become a hobo. But for those of us who like living indoors and having exotic luxuries like electricity and running water, the feeling of being Stuck is overwhelming. We all realize that the job we have is the best job we can get and the other options reside several rungs down on the ladder. The more I think about this dilemma – and I'd estimate I devote about 25% of my waking time to it on any given day – the more I realize why Americans, particularly the ones under the most economic pressure, talk so much about Freedom and put so much stock in their 2nd Amendment rights and their, uh, unique conception of religious freedom. People cling to those more symbolic types of freedom because they understand, even without admitting it to themselves, that they don't have any real freedom. Saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or stocking your home with a ludicrous arsenal of weapons gives life a nice, shiny veneer that looks like freedom. Those things probably feel like great moral victories to a person who spends his days working at a job he hates and for which he is barely paid enough to afford his shitty house and shitty car in whatever eyesore of a town he calls home.

I guess guns and public nativity scenes and refusing to buy health insurance are symbolic things that allow people to convince themselves they are free, or at least to avoid thinking about how little freedom they really have. We are encouraged, and in many cases encourage ourselves, to think of Freedom as intangible because most Americans have none that is tangible. Like Bill Hicks used to say, "You think you're free? OK. Try doing anything without money, then you'll see how free you are."

RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM

Posted in Rants on October 27th, 2014 by Ed

Let me preface this by beating the most pedantic would-be commenters to the punch and recognizing that minor property damage obviously isn't a big priority for law enforcement anywhere. In the grand scheme it doesn't amount to much, obviously.

To make a long story short, after leaving my car in one of the many (obscenely expensive) parking decks in the most expensive area in Chicago, my car was broken into on Saturday night. A large hole was punched in the passenger window. When I found it on Sunday morning, I called the company that manages the parking deck, as there was no actual human on duty. I was told, in the coded language of corporate American customer service, to go fuck myself. This was expected, and I called as a formality since I assumed my insurer would ask. Next I called the non-emergency number for the Chicago PD to experience their new officerless system for filing police reports. Apparently that thing you see on TV where a cop drives up and listlessly fills out some paperwork no longer happens. Officer – oh, let's say "Grabowski" – informed me over the phone that for some reason the new File a Report by Phone system would not allow me to File a Report by Phone and instead I would have to drive to the nearest CPD station.

OK, no big deal. I mean, the entire vehicle is filled with shards of broken glass and since I don't happen to have a shop-vac on my person I can't do much about that, but I'll sit on the glass and get a decent amount of it stuck in my clothes and arms so I can drive to the station with the film backing on the window flapping around and tossing additional bits of glass in and out of the car. Cool. After waiting 45 minutes at the station for no discernible reason – I was the only person there and the gaggle of officers passed the time talking about Jay Cutler – I was informed that it was my fault because I left a pair of gas station sunglasses on the passenger seat. Suitably chastened, I waited until Officer – Oh, let's say "O'Halloran" – finished the report I would need to file a claim. This process complete, I was set free. I asked Officer O'Halloran if perhaps someone could provide me the use of a dustpan, or a roll of masking tape, or a piece of a garbage bag, or anything that I could use to clean up some of the glass or cover the hole. I was told, in proper police procedural speak, to go fuck myself.

Finally I called my insurance company – not one of the cut rate ones, but a Legacy Brand – whom I pay handsomely for the privilege of being able to legally drive my vehicle. I thought perhaps they might send out one of those little hatchbacks with the company logo garishly painted on it, just some dude getting paid time-and-a-half to work Sunday to fill out a claim and maybe help me clean up a little. Nah, they don't do that except on the commercials. They told me to go online later and file my own claim.

You know, I certainly don't expect the world to concern itself much with a rather insignificant property crime committed against an insured white male. It would be nice, however, if perhaps the people who are paid to help out when something comes along to ruin my day in this manner could trouble themselves to pretend like they give the slightest shit. Or offer the most basic "Oh I'm sorry, I'll give you a hand for the three minutes it would take to help you." Life has taught me not to expect much, yet I always find in these situations that I end up wildly disappointed. All that rugged individualism we hear so much about came into focus today; basically when something goes wrong, you're on your own save for whatever help you can wring from a long, frustrating conversation with the overseas call center.

And that's the story of how why 12 hours later I'm still picking microscopic glass shards out of my ass and elbows.