Sunday, September 11, 2005

Moving On.

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

This thing, this situation, that has taught me so much about myself, about the world and all its beauty and horror, this life as a…gas station attendant, nears its end. To leave it behind will involve both a little euphoria and a touch of sadness, as all endings and new beginnings do, but to dress the situation up with a little (probably meaningless), feel-good rhetoric—it’s just time.

In a few months, Gas Guy starts a very different job, in a very different kind of office, because he allowed himself to do this one, at his rare best moments, with a love and patience that trumped selfishness and bitterness and resentment. Since that was the goal all along, the very thing I asked by immersing myself into the purgatory of service-slavery, it is time now to set new goals based on the same principles: I must come to love a different kind of work, not necessarily better or more necessary, but better suited to my interests, better matched to my skills, with a greater power to influence minds, and hence a greater responsibility to work with a compassionate caution, a vigilant remonstrance that I always do my best.

But I had to go through purgatory to burn away much of my stubbornness and foolishness, my blindness and arrogance and opinion, before I could let myself move on to new endeavors. I’ll not delude myself or anyone else into thinking that I am cured of the folly that being human so often entails, but, then again, I never will be nor will anyone else. I will offer myself only the flattery that I am less sick than when I took this job, that I am less foolish than the man who took issue over the smallest of perceived slights, who dwelt constantly in the twisted precepts of his imagination and created a reality so painfully illusory and unhappy that he was fit to do no kind of work that allowed him to share illusion and unhappiness with a greater multitude of people. I never liked that guy much, and so I will leave as much of him behind as I am able when I punch in the five-digit alarm code for the final time, a little while hence.

When I started this job a small span back, I was bitter and sarcastic, and saw people and things only so well as they conformed to the veil of my bitterness and sarcasm. Sometimes that filter produced some pretty funny descriptions of events, but the descriptions were funny because I had taken reality and perverted it to fit my peculiar and unique sense of humor. I still do, of course, but try to at least recognize that that’s what’s going on. When I can’t possibly resist the urge to label things and people to conform to my snarky predisposition toward them, I at least struggle to comprehend that the description is not the event, that people are not reprobates because I’m in a bad mood, nor saints when I am ebullient. They are what they are, wholly independent of what the three pounds of gristle in my skull is inclined to designate them that particular day. Life and time transpire as they do, and my opinion of it changes matters none at all.

I saw this job, I must confess, as beneath me when I took it. I cringed at the thought that someone with my education should be reduced, out of pecuniary necessity, to a labor so menial and so mundane. I felt superior to the college students and the laborers and the vagrants and crackheads and hookers that roll through here, because I knew things and had seen things and had been places that they’ll never know and never see and never be.

And, in that regard, I was half right; all of that last assertion is true. But I came, slowly, in fits and starts, to realize that every one of those people could apply the same statement to me and be just as correct. Sure, most of the pothead furniture movers I’ve sold beer to have never poured libations in three countries or toured Pompeii or read Milton and Shakespeare or the Bhagavad-Gita or the Tao te Ching. They have not led lives that afford them the idle luxuries that I have been afforded, and have had to learn other lessons, missives hard and real and practical. They have learned to keep 35-year-old automobiles running, to work on scaffolds without plunging to their deaths, to build the buildings that I live and work in, to survive traumatic childhoods that I never had, to reap the rewards of backbreaking labor that I’ve never performed; they have learned that survival is often more an act of necessity than one of decorum or convenience, that life in a country that sometimes doesn’t like your native tongue or skin color or taste in recreational drugs can be a pretty cold thing. Many of them are brusque people, with brusque demeanors, not crafted, as I once imagined, as a personal affront to me but rather as a defense mechanism against a world which has often been unkind to them, in a manner which it has never been so ungracious to me. Whores, as Jesus himself knew, know the dark secrets of the world in a way that I do not, and cannot, ever know.

I learned, concurrently, about the fortunate ones, kids driving cars that they could never afford without parental assistance, wearing fine clothing and living lives of ostensible comfort and ease. I begrudgingly accepted that my reflexive hatred of them was nothing more than envy, that my resentment was based in the warped ideological construction that because rich people are generous to their children, that the world owes me riches. It doesn’t. Wealthy people devolving wealth onto their own does not, contrary to popular opinion, entitle any of the rest of us to a cut.

I learned about this kind of learning, that of the blessed and the unblessed, because, once I got past my initial fear and revulsion toward kinds of people whom I had never before encountered, I began to ask questions. I began to realize that everyone has a story, and that all the stories are good ones. Not good in the sense of being pleasant, always, but good in the greater sense of being enthralling testaments to the human will to persevere through misfortune, or, alternately, the heartbreaking tragedy of those who do not persevere, who live lives of melancholy defeat and despair. I learned that, sometimes, charmed lives have their own sufferings, and beleaguered ones have their conquests. In watching and listening to all these narratives, I came to a terribly belated, if never-too-late understanding: I am damned lucky to have had so little to vie against in my time on earth.

In the face of the poignant, brilliant, joyous struggles of the people whom I’ve met, I decided to become, as the wise Dr. King would have it, a great street sweeper. I’ve elected to cease doing silly things like drinking at work, picking fights with the clueless nineteen-year-olds, and resenting every moment of my time behind that counter. It didn’t happen all at once, of course, and coincided with other changes in my perspective, but it happened, slowly-but-perceptibly, nevertheless. I can now perform a very easy job without much exertion, because I decided to pay attention to what I’m doing rather than fantasize about what I’d rather be doing or dreaming about where I’d rather be. The fact that a diplomat lobbying for human rights in China and me sweeping a floor in Tennessee are not of equal importance does not mean that the latter action is unimportant: if people worldwide with low-wage employment all quit caring at once, the entire global economy would collapse overnight. The world needs ditch diggers and street sweepers, or else we’d all have a lot of flooded roads and dirty streets.

And yet, all that said, with Dr. King in mind, I realize that some people are called to be ditch diggers and street sweepers, and others, perhaps, are not. I once, years ago, worked with a mentally retarded, 50-year-old dishwasher named Shirley. She washed dishes as Michelangelo painted, and Beethoven composed, and Shakespeare penned poesy, as it was dubbed during his time. She washed dishes so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth paused to say, “Here lived a great dishwasher, who did her job well.”

But although Shirley was certainly a great dishwasher, I suspect that possibly I am not called to be a great gas guy forever; I hope that vanity can be forgiven. And so I’m going to do something else: I’m going to teach college freshmen how to write, in the hopes that one day they may be able to tell their own stories with the passion and the insight that I desperately strive for, and often fall short of, in telling mine. I am going to try to teach with love that which I have learned through turmoil and conflict, so that others may see things for themselves which I have not yet learned and may never learn—to see the world through the rigorous wonder of observation, to tell the truth as they see it and not how anyone taught it to them, to tell the story of reality better than I can tell it.

If I can sweep a floor with dignity, which I believe that I now can, then I feel that I may be ready for a greater challenge. I merely hope that I may learn as much from teaching as I have from watching these manifold incredible things transpire, from an elevated perch in a convenience store.

24 Comments:

At Sunday, September 11, 2005 4:31:00 AM, Blogger SJ said...

I am not sure if I am happy that you are movign on doing waht you feel like doing or sad that I may not get hear about ur experiences as a Gas Guy.

Will you blogging in your new avatar. Try leaving a message here.
Good luck with whatever you will be doing.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 4:59:00 AM, Blogger zilla said...

This sort of knocks the wind out of me -- yet, I feel so glad for you, and I feel glad for the students you'll be working with, and even glad for the world. The world is improved when people learn to write.

Selfishly, I'd like this blog not to end. I'm not so sure, however, that the reason for my tears (!) is so much that you're leaving, but that I'm overjoyed by where you're going.

I'm emotional; my syntax is falling apart!

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 6:40:00 AM, Anonymous Colleen said...

Wow...well written. I think your new job will suit you just fine. I just started reading your blog a few months ago and I'll be sad to see it end.

I hope you begin a new blog when you begin your new job. Students can be entertaining and educational in their own right.

Good luck.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 6:55:00 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Hi Gas Guy.

Only found you today, via a well deserved post on Blogzilla's site.

I have just, through necessity, begun a job as a school dinner lady. Working in the kitchens, I am currently a bread butterer and dish washer.

I needed this post of yours, so thank you.

Please don't wipe this blog down if you leave it - I genuinely want to read it all.

Will you be blogging the next learning curve? I hope you leave a link here if you do.

Very best wishes.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 8:46:00 AM, Blogger Kit Is Knitting said...

You are my favorite example of learning what it is to be human. My hope is that you continue on and this becomes a blog about your life as a street sweeper or dishwasher or philosopher of the stars.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 9:23:00 AM, Anonymous Rhonda said...

Allow me to join the chorus of well-wishers. I, too, have only recently discovered your blog, but I've read and thoroughly enjoyed everything you've posted to-date.

If you do plan to continue blogging after you move on to your next job, please make it easy for your fans to find you. Thanks for this site and good luck in the future... :-)

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 10:15:00 AM, Blogger annie said...

oh, man. that is both a bummer and a happy bit of news. so many enjoy the words you write. i have been lurking/reading for several months now, and i enjoy this a great deal.
you will be a fine teacher, just as you were a fine gas guy. best wishes.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 11:26:00 AM, Blogger fineartist said...

I suspect that you will continue to write…you may have to alter your blog title, but writing wont stop at the change of a job.

I found you via ‘Zilla too, fell into your portal, have marveled at the way you look at, and tell about the stars.

You will have different joys and frustrations to write about now. Your posts may not be as frequent, at first, but I believe you will still write, I hope you will still write.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Hawaiianmark said...

Go well, Gas guy.

Hope the winds blow offshore.

Aloha

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 1:07:00 PM, Blogger blogdog said...

I must say that I'm not the least bit surprised, and I'm glad for you, Gas Guy. Congratulations! Please keep this blog up, or at least in archive form someplace. You never know when the next truck driver with a Ph.D in philosophy (and I know some) are going to stop by and be heartened by your chronicle. Best of luck with the teaching job!

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 2:57:00 PM, Anonymous Smoove D said...

Good luck in your new adventure, I'll certainly miss this blog.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 5:18:00 PM, Blogger The Gas Guy said...

Thank you so much, everyone. I am moved by the outpouring of support. But nobody fret; the new job doesn't start until January, so I will be writing this page until at least Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas. I will address a lengthy goodbye when I call it quits.

Then comes the really boring part, where I go through all of these posts from the beginning and re-edit them in MS Word to remove the html and delete topical references that interfere with any sense of timelessness, before bundling the whole thing up and seeing if an agent can get somebody to publish it. So wish me luck with that.

Whether I write publicly about the teaching gig or not is something I haven't decided. I don't think, from a reader's perspective, the material is as rich and varied as that provided by the ever-changing clientele one deals with in retail.

Regardless, I'm not going to delete this page when I'm done with it. Even if the book gets published, it will remain here in the draft form that you all originally read it. 'Cuz I'm nice like that, but more because this interactive forum gave me the motivation to write regularly, knowing that a few people would offer feedback. That's why I feel that the internet is such a wonderful resource for other aspiring professional authors, in that one has a readership independent of the commercial concerns of sales, and so the writer gets opinions that are often honesty-enhanced by the added blanket of anonymity. (Yes, that's right, I think trolls are a good thing, in that for as peurile and obnoxious as most of them are, they have a valuable say in keeping a writer humble and honest.)

But most of all, thank you for noticing and caring about my little life. I wish you all the best in yours.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 6:53:00 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

In my best HAL voice

"I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that"

seriously, best of luck. Thanks for everything.

Steve

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 7:54:00 PM, Blogger thingfish23 said...

I haven't read the rest of these comments yet, but I just want to say two things:

1. Great job

2. If you don't keep blogging, I am going to travel to wherever you are and kick your ass. You'd better not deprive me of these great posts!

Cheers on a good run, Gas Guy.

 
At Sunday, September 11, 2005 10:50:00 PM, Blogger D. Wooderson said...

Fare thee well, Gas Guy. Know that you have taken blogging to new heights.

 
At Monday, September 12, 2005 6:09:00 AM, Blogger St. Dickeybird said...

Glad you got that view from being a (the) gas guy.
Doing a 'low end' job really does give you a good insight into the world. I'm happy I did my years there too.
It keeps me from being a pompous jerk now. (i think)

 
At Monday, September 12, 2005 10:26:00 AM, Blogger bbsgirl said...

Good Luck with the teaching. I've enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to reading a book when you get it published..(not if..but when).

 
At Monday, September 12, 2005 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Jason said...

I have just recently began reading, but have enjoyed every column that I have read. Good luck in your next adventure, and thanks again for sharing your work.

 
At Monday, September 12, 2005 3:32:00 PM, Blogger Leann said...

Drats and Kudos. I've enjoyed reading and good luck with the publishing.

 
At Monday, September 12, 2005 6:04:00 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Taylor said...

Good luck in your new endeavor, Gas Guy...er, Teacher Guy. You're a gifted writer, in my humble opinion.

 
At Monday, September 12, 2005 6:34:00 PM, Blogger Hamel said...

Congratulations. And best of luck with those freshmen. If you ever get one of my students, I hope I've prepared them well.

 
At Tuesday, September 13, 2005 12:21:00 PM, Anonymous Layne said...

My freshman english professor inspired in me not only a desire to understand what has been written in the past, but ti make myself understood in writing to those who come after me.

I enetered his class as a "non-traditional student" bent on surviving school, and left as a lifetime learner.

Here's a toast to your future, and the hopes that you can inspire such learning in your own students!

 
At Thursday, September 15, 2005 7:33:00 PM, Blogger Lady Godiva said...

Let us all know where to find you!

 
At Saturday, September 17, 2005 8:45:00 AM, Blogger Courtney said...

Of all the teachers I have had and known, the English teachers have been the most memorable.

 

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