Thursday, June 10, 2010
A Well Timed Blessing
Late one night, at a friend’s house I was ushered to go home. I know when I have overstayed my welcome, and being a layabout, I had no business to attend to the next day. My friend Rob, however, worked in the corporate world.
I have always been fascinated by the corporate world, but utterly incapable of functioning within it. What I find most interesting is how people adapt themselves and their personalities in congruence with our economic system. When I go to a store, and walk to the checkout counter I am greeted with a friendly smile. This friendly smile is a job requirement, and not genuine. The clerk at check out is told to smile, in order to emotionally manipulate the buyer, make them feel welcome, and come back again. This showing of false emotion, which becomes habitual, is something I find most distressing. I can’t imagine a check-out clerk being that happy, I certainly wouldn’t be working at that job.
It seems to me that in order to be more successful, and to rise higher in the system, more sacrifices of the natural state of humanity must be made. The interview process is a dance of lies. You are judged by how convincingly your scripted answers match up to the scripted questions. Working in an office, I would see nothing but deranged personalities all around me. Marketable personalities gushing nonsense. I knew there were real people in there somewhere, but their development had been stunted in accordance with the system in which they had to survive and flourish.
I was put off by the light chit chat, always prompted by the three major stories featured in the free papers that people read on the way to work. Expressing any sort of opinion outside this realm seemed to be frowned upon. Whenever I managed to get a job in an office, I learned to keep quiet, lest I build up a reputation of unorthodoxy.
Rob, however, was a master operating in this environment. I found his abilities remarkable. I was in awe of the way he could beam out his fake smile, and engage his fellow minions in the ritual of daily, nonsensical chatter. More than this, he was somehow able to manage to take, on average, three sick days a month. How he got away with this was beyond me. He had the aberrant ability to appear excited and interested in company meetings, and conducted his presentations with a dashing aplomb.
It was late, and I had to get out and let him sleep. Being an unsuccessful, uneducated and unemployable deviation from standardized humanity, I had always travelled by bicycle. I could not afford a car, and no matter what the snow load, would be forced to brave the extreme elements. I found biking, in any what the weather, to be a cathartic engagement. The act steady rhythmic pedaling always cleared my thoughts and with my eyes fixated on the road I would often fall into a trance.
It was in this state of mind that I received a rude comment shouted from a car behind me. Sometimes I am not sure what posses me to do things. Without thinking, I swung my bike around, and pedaled back toward the offending vehicle. I was not upset, or angry in anyway, it was a reflexive, unconscious action.
Seeing that the rear window was open, I rode up and stuck my head in, still mounted on my bike. In the car were four very large, aggressive looking black men.
All eyes were on me, even the fellow in the passenger seat had twisted his head, and was peering at me from behind the headrest. I fixed them with a stern glare, saying nothing. There were a little taken aback, not used to being challenged in this way. I could see that they didn’t know quite what to expect. Did I have a gun? Was I crazy? Tension was building up.
I remained silent, and just kept glaring. It was a standoff. Not knowing what would inspire the courage to motivate a lone man to put himself in this position, they remained still, but tense, ready for anything.
A long moment, passed. Tension was building to incredible levels. Something had to give. Any instant, violence was going to explode, bursting forth from that car. Something had to be done. I had no plan, but for some reason, I had absolutely no fear. I was still in the strange unthinking fugue that hard pedaling always granted me.
At the last moment, at the peak of unbearable pressure, finally I spoke, softly but firmly.
“Jesus loves you”
The looming threat of violence suddenly vanished, replaced by total confusion. The alteration of energy was immediately apparent, although nothing at all had changed. I still had my head in the window, and they sat, unmoving, staring at me. But the threat of brutality was gone, dispersed instantly upon the utterance of my magical phrase.
They had just been ready to spring into action, and now their target had morphed into something entirely different. They were faced with a glaring contradiction and had no idea of how to resolve it.
Knowing that I was safe I pulled my head out of the window and pedaled off, marveling at the power of ideas and perception.