Today I watched kids arriving at school; being dropped of by parents. Late elementary age kids. I watched fifteen feet of sidewalk where Civics and Tahoes were pulling up, kids climbing slowly out and tugging on backpacks. I was building knee braces for the decrepit million-dollar home I’m working to remodel. It was the blessed part of the morning when no one else had yet shown up, and I was ratcheting lag screws into place alone. To my right I could see the brick of the elementary school through two back yards, see the cars pull up and disappear into the rest of their commute.
I could only see any given child for a half dozen steps, but I saw the pattern. Muttered farewell to whatever parent was dropping them off that day. Walking with their heads down, shuffling pace. Not simply tired. Depressed. Every kid was walking into that school against their will. When I did see an excited kid it was always one of the youngest and only because they were caught up in some game they were playing before the bell; simple distractions.
Sometimes I think I’m the only one who hated every single day of my primary and secondary education. Maybe not.
What the fuck are we doing to our children?
I inadvertently took a long lunch today. My bosses drove off with my tools when they went to take their “luncheon meeting”. I bring my lunch, and rarely take even a half hour to eat it. But now I had an hour.
There is a shitty upscale coffeeshop just half a block from the job site. I thought that since I hadn’t had any coffee today anyway, I’d walk up and get a cup to go. So I could bring it back and…sit. Or pretend to work on something else, or enjoy the warm beautiful day, or whatever.
Got my coffee, started out the store and got snagged by a story in the NY Times (five days old) that was lying unattended at a table. I read the article and started out again, past the sunny picnic tables out front, and stopped. There were other people sitting out there, in the sun, eating their overpriced gelato and scones, talking crap about nothing. And I had the overwhelming urge to find a table of my own and sit with the paper.
Seems reasonable, normal. I like coffeeshops anyway, so the fact that I had this urge is not anything remarkable in and of itself, but what caught my attention was the tired voice in my head that said “I just want to sit here and feel human for a little while”. I used that word in my mind: human.
Now, sitting at a metal table in front of an expensively bad coffeeshop in a wealthy neighborhood is not an especially human thing to do. It is not what defines us as a species. Why would that make me feel human, when my job apparently does not? My job is neither beastly nor unreasonable. Yes, my shower water ran black for a few seconds tonight, but that was mostly because I was running power tools and because it’s an old house. It’s semi-skilled to skilled labor. Work of this nature is far more prevalent in our species than sitting in front of coffeeshops. So why do I need to take a coffee break from it to regain my humanity?
It could simply be a class bias buried deep in my subconsciousness. My parents were professors when I was little. Maybe my worldview excludes blue collar jobs as a reasonable and humane way to live. But I don’t really buy that, especially given what my father did for work after retiring from education, and given the types of jobs that I have pursued for the last several years. On a similar note, maybe this idea is an effect of the fact that I have been looking at graduate schools recently, and the juxtaposition of Yale doctoral programs and my carpenter’s helper job simply blew my mind about what is normal. But I don’t think that is it either, though it may be a piece.
I think the issue is that I don’t believe in the system we’re all living in. This nine-to-five, come home, work out, read a few pages before sleeping it off to do it again tomorrow bullshit. I don’t buy it. It isn’t a fit way to live, and I don’t think it matters if you’re a wealthy bigshot exec or that sketchy tweaker washing dishes in every sit-down restaurant in America. I don’t understand how you people do this shit every day for years on end. You live for the weekends and your puffed-up house parties, and every day eats another piece of your soul.
In the deep forests across the world, the empty deserts, the last open plains, and the few unmarketable spots left, people still live in small villages independent of the global corporation. When anthropologists manage to find these people and talk to them about their disappearing way of life, there is a word that they often use to differentiate themselves from the people around them who have been swallowed up by the outsiders: free.
In a world where they are viewed as living artifacts of a time gone by, those people call themselves free.
When were you able to call yourself free?