My friend Chris claims that he loves his life. “Seriously, my life’s been great,” he told me when we met for his usual birthday party celebration among old high school friends – himself and me – together over a lunch or something between hours. As his sworn “study-buddy” all through five years of college and both still unmarried, the two of us are pretty close. Everyone else seemed to have drifted off somewhere and gotten married, leaving just the two of us geezers to contemplate life at the age of thirty-two.
“You say that,” I replied, “but you haven’t told me the ‘why?’ yet.” He nodded then, with that characteristic quick, cocky upwards tilt of his.
“I get up every morning,” he explains to me, “and I get ready for work.
“I got the coffee machine on a timer, set up like one of them bombs you see on tv, where, seven-o’clock–‘boom!’ you’ve got coffee in the morning. And I’ve got my alarm clock that runs on a double-A that I haven’t had to replace since I bought the damn thing two years ago. I try to get up right away but I’d usually hit the snooze once or twice before getting up. I go to the washroom and do my thing for a bit, you know?
“I’ve gotten used to breakfast cereal. ‘I love mah cheery-ohs’, right, but I can’t live without a cup of coffee in the morning. Two sugars, no milk–can’t stand the stuff outside of the cereal–and thirty minutes to finish up, with the tv turned on. I used to subscribe to the newspaper, cancelled that when I realized that I never read it. Plus, do better watching the news. Those kids at the bus stops hand out free papers, anyways, not that they’re worth reading much.
“I plan out my outfit the night before, so I always look great in the morning. My last girlfriend – Cherise, you saw her before – she used to iron for me and pick out my ties, but she kinda got sick of that and left me. It’s fine – don’t say anything. I hardly ever saw her while we were going out, anyways. Plus, I got better at ironing.
“At 8:05 am I get in my car and drive to work. Takes almost an hour from here to there with all the traffic and everything. Then they started building that rapid transit system right smack in the middle of the street, right? Slowed everything down, those beauro-idiots. Found out the perimetre–the long way’s faster. Problem is, everyone knows that now. Heck, going across the city might even be faster now. Just sucks when it rains, wherever.
“I arrive at work any time from 8:55 on a good day to 9:30 on a really bad day. My boss knows I’ll stay as long as he needs me to, so all’s good and he lets me come in late. Now, see that’s a benefit of being unmarried. Boss piles me with work and I can actually finish it all before heading home. And the work’s not bad, either. I got the orders coming, in, the invoices going out, and everyone calls me now that the old senior’s retired and I’ve been quasi-promoted to take his place.”
“Did you get to move to a shiny new office?” I asked.
“Hell, no. All our desks suck equally.” He grinned, tilting his head again into that nod of his.
“Anyways, so I got to keep my old place with the view of the washroom and people scratching their butts on the way in and out. But my boss is right beside it, so gets to smell them, too, lucky guy. It’s quiet, at least, with all the padded cells we’ve got and everything, and it has to be seeing that I’ve got to be make a bazillion calls a day. And some those at the other end? They yell like we’re taking the last of their money and they wouldn’t be able to live anymore. Sheesh. Don’t buy what you can’t afford, you damn idiots.”
I nodded. He smiled back, coyly.
“So, yeah, that’s my life until five pm.”
“You get time for lunch, or snack breaks?” I asked. “Those are normal, right?”
“Oh, yeah! I never told you before? I always go out for lunch.
“Couple of us always go to a place one block South called Mississippi. Well, okay. Most of the guys pack a lunch, or their wives pack them lunch. Bob and I are the only ones who always go out. Seriously? That place has panini sandwiches to die for. One taste, and you’ll never go back to those bagged lunches you always take. Always looking forward to those lunches. Always.”
I saw him looking into the distance somewhere on his left, so I waited patiently for him to go on.
“….Yeah, those soups….”
“Maybe I’ll go try the place someday,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll bring you,” he said, absently. Suddenly, he snapped back. “So, where was I?” he said.
“You’ve just told me about work,” I said.
“Yeah, right. So I work until five, or five-thirty….”
“Driving home takes about 45 mins, at least, usually. 2 hours on a bad day. I might stop at the grocery’s if I know I’m missing stuff for dinner. Then, when I get home, I cook stuff, or I microwave stuff from last night, check if the bread is still fresh and toast two slices for myself. Then I eat–is this really interesting for you?” he said, taking a look at me.
“Ah, pretty interesting,” I said, grinning a bit (I think).
“Well, whatever floats your boat,” he said, winking.
“So, yeah. Then I take a shower, brush my teeth, watch the news, check my email, watch tv if it’s interesting, then go to sleep–”
“Hmm,” I muttered.
“So, that’s what I do everyday.”
“Course you have weekends,” I added.
“Yes, weekends, yes.” He stared off distantly.
“It sounds like you love your job.”
“Love my job?” He chuckled harshly. He contemplated for a moment, chewing something insubstantial in his mouth, before continuing. “Let me tell you how much I love my job.” He leaned forward to look me in the eye. I leaned back, on reflex. He didn’t seem to notice.
“Every night I sleep without dreaming. I think I used to. I don’t remember. The alarm clock goes off at six-thirty and I hit the snooze in my sleep. When I finally get up, I sit up in bed and feel the blood drain from my head. Let the cold air wake me up a bit. I always prepare my outfit the night before, to save me from having to think too much in the morning. So I put that on, make breakfast and eat, go to the washroom, go to work, all in one hour.
“Eight fifty-five, I arrive at work. I get coffee from the coffee machine, or make it if there is none, and sit at my desk. I turn on the fluorescent table light that makes this high-pitched buzzing noise, turn on my computer which also makes the same noise, and wait about two minutes for it to load up. Then I check my email, and work over the usual crap for three hours, making phone calls and everything until twelve.
“Then I clear up all my stuff and head over to Bob’s and start yapping at him about lunch. If he’s on the phone, I sort through the mail or go to the washroom ’til he’s done.”
“You always go to that Mississippi place, then?” I asked.
“Yeah,” vacantly, “…God, I love lunch hour.
“‘Course we’re only allowed one hour to eat anyways. We stay out for as long as it takes to make up that full hour. Bob ends up doing most of the talking – he’s the one with kids, after all. Always talking about them, the little bastards. The women at the office go walking to God-knows-where when it’s sunny. Sometimes they’re not back til one-fifteen. God knows where they run off to. There’s damn well nothing interesting near where we work, at least not within walking-distance.
“Bob and I get back at one-sharp, or whatever time makes up exactly an hour, one-oh-five, or whatever it happens to be. Then I get back to my desk and work for four more hours until five. I’d work longer if I have to, to get stuff done, but at four-thirty my mind starts to quit on me. Bob’s usually gone by then. He starts at seven so that he can pick up his kids when they’re off school. Apparently he’s also the one that cooks in their house. Never would have imagined it. I always know when he’s going because he always stops by first and says to me, ‘Time to go home!’ and I always tell him, ‘Not yet, lucky bastard. Not for me. Two hours left to go!’ Bob loves his job. God, do I hate mine.”
I was staring at him now, his forehead deeply wrinkled and his gaze sharp, piercing, dark. I wondered if I should say something.
“Oh,” I said, stupidly. He ignored me.
“I get my paycheck twice a month, every two weeks, and every week I look forward to the weekend, when I will either spend off my entire paycheck or lie around at home all day doing nothing. ‘Course, what else do I do? God, every day at work I’m counting the days ’til the weekend, and on Fridays, I’m counting hours. I live for those two fucking days when I don’t have to work. Every day at work I’m counting down to those forty-eight fucking hours of doing nothing. Every week, the same! You know? Now, what does that make me?”
He asked, as if I could somehow give him the answer he wanted. And because I didn’t know what to say, I leaned back, looked down at my hands, and said nothing.
“Eventually,” he sighed, “you find a reason to enjoy life. You have to.” He paused, his eyes unblinking, his right hand cupping his chin. “Everyone has to,” he says. His voice was calm and rational.
“Everyone?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He smirked and cocked his head. “‘Course, what the hell do I know?”