Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Other Side Of Forty

Jiminy Crickets.

The County of Bucks asks a whole hell of a lot from their job applicants. I had to account for the past ten years of my work history with names, addresses, phone numbers, and email, and provide the same for five professional/personal references.

It was actually the references that were tricky. I've got three really strong ones (including a member of the New York State Legislature). But I had to think up two more. This had me going through my address book. There are plenty of wonderful people I've known for years and years who would no doubt say great things about me, but here was the thing: of those people, how many would be able to receive the recommendation form in the mail, open up that envelope, fill it out, put it in another envelope, address it and put a stamp on it, and drop it in the mail again?

If the people in your life are anything like the people in my life, that narrows the list down considerably. But I'm pretty sure I've got a couple of good ones to go in my final five. (*giggle* It's like a reality show, huh? "I have five roses here...")

But as I was going through my address book, reviewing my nearest and dearest, I had a really interesting revelation. Namely, this thing that happened to me... Well, I'm not alone in this.

In fact, I seem to know a considerable number of guys who were similarly situated.

What am I talking about? Well, the general demographic group for the people I tend to call my friends would be gay men in their forties. And here's what's striking. Just like me, things were going great, all the doors were open, all the lights were always turning green, on top of our games, lovin' life, and then WHAM.

The story arc is the same in every instance! In your twenties, you've got some crappy stupid job, and you think, "Huh. I could do better." So you take a chance, go for your dream, and spend your thirties riding the wave. But then you turn forty. And in this society, if you don't have some comfortable sinecure--and they are rare things these days, or if you aren't wildly successful, the world asks, "Why not? What's wrong with you?" And gently ushers you off the stage.

I could name ten people right off the top of my head, I swear.

So that got me to thinking... If it wasn't just about me, so could it be a generational thing? Does this always happen when you hit the big 4-0? Or is it something more topical?

For example, could this be laid at the feet of George W. Bush?

Bear with me.

What were the Nineties like for you?

In December, 1992, I was sitting in a hotel room in Washington, DC, with a couple of hours to kill before a meeting. I turned on CNN. President-elect William Jefferson Clinton had convened an economic summit down there in Little Rock, prior to his inauguration. He assembled most of the country's best economists and they were all having a roundtable discussion. And I was amazed. Bill Clinton was totally On It. No matter who in the room said what, Clinton had read all their books, and everybody else's books apparently. He wasn't glib or superficial. He had a grasp of these issues that even seemed to impress the economists.

Who is this guy? How did somebody so smart manage to get elected President? And indeed, I remember reading somewhere that Clinton was indeed one of the smartest Presidents ever. (Although it goes without saying that given the Blow Job That Rocked The Nation, there were some blind spots there and the smart didn't apply to all areas of Slick Willie's life.)

And the Clinton presidency was, of course, concomitant with the dot-com boom. Code Warriors walked the earth. "Sexy" was knowing what an algorithm is.

And I did alright for myself back in the Nineties. For a time, being smart was considered a valuable thing, and I'm kind of a smart guy.

But then, George W. Bush was elected was sworn in as President of the Union.

I remember reading at the time how the then new administration had a noticeably B-School dress code. During the Clinton years, if you showed up for your job in the White House wearing khakis and a Boston College sweatshirt, that was cool. But with the advent of the Bush administration, it was all back to grey or blue suits, a white shirt, and a conservative tie.


It might be rather facile socio-political analysis, but what the hell.

If life is nothing more than the perpetuation of high school, then here's what the Nineties were all about. For a brief and shining moment, there was a time when the nerdy kids in the Computer Club and the smart kids who didn't have to study for the Calc final got to be in charge. For a little while, those damn jocks, who offered nothing more than the ability to complete a forward pass, gave up the reins. And those gay kids in the Drama Club didn't get picked on so much either.

It was, of course, too good to last.

In 2001 it was all over. The jocks and the rich kids once again ruled the school.

Now, not that the geeks and the brains did a better job of running things than the jocks and the preps did. Mistakes, as they say, were made. But still and all, as opposed to every other decade in history, it was kinda cool to have a break from that.

The answer, I guess, is obvious. Succumb! Give into it! Stop kicking against the pricks!

It ain't a meritocracy. You gotta get yours.

So go out there and get your real estate license!

Show me the percentage, Bay-bee!

Or find yourself a nice union job with the County. The application, by the way, is general. Every week, I'll be checking the website, and for one year, I just have to give them a call and I'll be considered a candidate for working in the Recorder of Deeds office or whatever.

Or I might get called up as a Corrections Officer at the County Prison.

I know that comments and emails and such are running two-to-one against me becoming a CO. And believe me, no one is more aware of what a potentially sucky job it is than me. And at the County Human Resources Office, they made it abundantly clear how it's particularly sucky during your first year. Corrections Officers, of course, need to work around the clock, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. So the entire year is divided into shifts, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.. And decisions about who works what shifts are decided by... seniority. Which during your first year on the job, you have exactly none of. And guess what else: if a double shift becomes necessary, then you do a double shift. And overtime is mandatory.

And oh yeah. You're locked inside a prison without a weapon.

But I think what really concerns me is the possibility that having a job like that will distort my view of humanity.

That's the crux, no?

But I have a pretty good track record on that score. For many years, I ran a needle exchange program. I spent so much time around people who were using heroin that to this day, I am unable to recognize when someone around me is on drugs. And working with folks who have made some really bad choices in life, choices so bad that they're not likely to pull it out before they shuffle off this mortal coil... That can get ya down. But I always have my eye out for the small but powerful redemptive acts of compassion that so many folks who are at the margins are often capable of.

I think I could help people. I think I could make a difference.

As a Corrections Officer.

And yeah. Being part of a para-military organization, wearing a uniform, handcuffs... Not without appeal to me.

Perhaps you're thinking that raises quite the red flag.

But I don't see it that way.

Because I know I'm a Sadist. And that knowledge allows me to keep my sadism out of my professional life and keep it in the dungeon, with masochists, where it's appropriate. And invited. I mean, if you were incarcerated, who would you rather have holding the keys: someone at the mercy of his unacknowledged urges to extreme power imbalances, or someone like me who gets as much of that as he wants in his off hours?

Okay okay okay. So no. I'm not God's Great Gift to the World of Corrections. I'm just a guy. But still, I think I have something to offer to the job.

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