Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Hawker on the Road to Perdition

Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow and a couple of Rapala X-Raps - worth about a day's wages in unemployment compensation. To put things in a Biblical perspective: 1 day's wage = a denarius - 1 month's wages = a shekel plus a pan of barley - 1 talent = 3,600 shekels or about 300 year's wages. A talent is a lot of money. Teach a man to fish...

 My new dreams seem far removed from the world of business and accounting that I used to inhabit. I’ve been forced by circumstances to reevaluate my life’s work and assess its viability in an uncertain future. It seems to me that it really doesn’t add up to much. I’ve achieved everything I’m ever going to achieve in accounting, and what I’ve accomplished so far is not even as satisfying as a grand-slam home run in an eighth grade softball game. There must be something else for me to do and it must be better than what I’ve done so far.
Although lucrative would be nice, what I do for a living no longer needs to provide as much as my past jobs. I still aspire to a nice home, a little travel, and an Aston Martin, but those aspirations are adjustable. Just last week I was thinking that I could make do with a hammock, a spinning rod, and a skillet on some random spoil island in the Indian River Lagoon. It was an interesting mental exercise, but I know it’s ridiculous to believe that I could actually do it. Besides, although my wife has stuck by me no matter what I’ve done or failed to do so far, I’m pretty sure squatting on a deserted island is beyond even her considerable tolerance for underachievement.
The important attributes of work for me now, rather than wages and benefits, are that it should be satisfying to me and useful to others. Looking back over 30 years at work, I have to conclude that very little of what I’ve done so far fits that bill, although not for lack of trying.
To pass 60 without having accomplished anything of note is worrisome to me. I’m running out of time, even though I’m not working and have, therefore, plenty of time on my hands. Lacking accomplishment puts a tremendous amount of pressure on one’s remaining time on earth—assuming that one actually wants to accomplish something. I think most of us do…to varying degrees at any rate.
My parents instilled a sense of duty in me to accomplish something notable. Mom especially liked to quote Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-27) substituting, in her mind and mine, intellectual talents for shekels. She had determined that I had been given gifts, and she didn’t want me to come up short on Judgment Day.
I don’t know what Mom thought my gifts were. She gave me a sense of duty, but not much in the way of a sense of worth. If she thought I had talent for something—music for instance—I found it difficult and unrewarding. If I found something interesting, challenging, and exhilarating—writing science fiction stories for instance—she didn’t think it constituted talent. To Mom something like that was a waste of time, a refusal to mature, a failure of purpose. Although most of the time I did well enough in school to satisfy her, she was most disappointed in me when one of my teachers commented that I had “quite an imagination.”
Mom thought I was smart, but that I ought to be applying myself to developing smartness in traditional, nose-to-the-grindstone ways. She didn’t approve of my more creative inclinations. She was naturally suspicious of anything that seemed like fun and anything that provided as much enjoyment as it did pain. “God did not put us here to have a good time,” she said to me whenever my proclivities seduced me off her idea of the path of righteousness.
I dreamed of being a cowboy when that was an appropriate aspiration. Mom was okay with this because I was still young and wanting to ride a horse, carry a lariat, and punch cattle was still a child’s dream. Besides, a dream like that made selecting Christmas and birthday gifts a snap for a busy young mother. When I grew old enough to realize that the cowboy life as it was depicted on the family Zenith didn’t really exist anymore, I began to fancy that I might like to be a stand up comic. Mom found this an appalling notion.
My heroes were Myron Cohen, Alan King, Victor Borge, Shelly Berman, Jackie Vernon, and Buddy Hackett. I thought they were tremendously funny and insightful. I thought there was a lot of value in the ability to make people laugh. Laughter seemed like a lot better way to deal with the threat of nuclear devastation than building bomb shelters or cowering under desks. To me being able to make people laugh was a noble thing. It was more useful in the grand scheme of things than being able to make people think or pray. Of course Mom had other ideas.
Mom’s main idea about comedy was that it was frivolous. She thought it detracted from spiritual pursuits. She thought it was a distraction from working out our salvation. She thought it would lead straight to hell. The last thing she wanted was for me to become a hawker of jokes on the road to perdition. She didn’t want me doing the devil’s work…no matter how much I thought I might have a talent for it. 


  1. Maybe you would like teaching. It's a nice way of giving back and feeling satisfied while still stimulating your mind.

  2. Caroline, you're right. I've taught before and loved it. I'm looking for a way to get back into it locally. Most budgets are still in shambles around here though.


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