(Bachman/Turner Overdrive reference)
I do not have cancer (according to OncoMan) and I do not have a job (according to my previous employer) and I am trying to bring those things into focus.
I have worked my entire life. I started working for money at a Greek restaurant when I was 13 years old. The old guy hired us kids under the table (I hope the IRS isn’t reading), paid us beneath the minimum wage, of course, did not tax us (obviously) and also was reluctant to let us out into the restaurant proper. Me? I washed dishes. On occasion I was forced into busboy work, which petrified old Gus, the owner, as he suspected, I am sure, that federal agents were eating at his restaurant just to bust him for child labor law violations. As soon as Gus had older replacements, it was back to the dishwasher for me.
But that was cool. You know? I wanted money, Gus needed cheap labor, and we had a nice arrangement. I would show up, put on my apron, and go to work washing dishes, most of which simply required putting short glasses into industrial dishwashers. I hated pots and pans, of course, which had to be washed by hand, but I was never alone, and so that went well, too. In fact, I was probably one of his best employees. I was always on time, I never missed a day, and I did whatever he needed for me to do to make the place a success. Most of that, I must admit, had to do with washing dishes. I got to sing, though. The dishwashing area was loud. The tools of the trade back in the day were rather loud, and I could sing all of the time while doing the dishes. I was really a pretty happy camper.
My friend got me the job. He was a year older, Tim was his name, and probably still is. He is an engineer now. He makes sure that certain airplanes the Navy flies fly right. He got me the job, as I recall. I never thanked him for that. Thanks Tim.
After work, we would go next door, to this Mexican place, really a bar, but we didn’t know better, and we would play pinball for as much time as we could, spending a bunch of our hard-earned money on a game that could not pay us back. That was cool too. And we would go to a shopping joint called Zayre’s or some such, and were able to buy, without help from our parents, scarves like Elvis wore, wristbands like Elvis wore, and generally clown around until security threw us out.
At that time, the bar had vending machines for cigarettes, and I am pretty sure we pulled the lever there. I know I did, in fact. I did not start smoking there, but I got my habit there, I am pretty sure.
I was 13. Incidentally, the mom of my best friend caught us smoking during a camp-out in the front yard and had both him and me come in and smoke a pack of cigarettes right in front of her that night. She expected, I think, that we would get sick and quit forever. Such are the best laid plans of wives and women. It hooked us at once completely and nearly forever.
But I digress, again.
I cannot remember a time since when I have not worked, until this.
I am not working.
When I got out of the hospital after the tongue/neck surgery, I went immediately into radiation and chemo treatment, which lasted well into January of the following year. My docs recommended I stay on disability until April. I was back in the office in January. Good thing, too! One of the people working for me was scaring off the others so he would be able to outlast them all and keep his job. And nothing was really getting done. I could get into the travesty created by that mess, but I will not. Suffice it that coming back was a good thing for the company and the customer.
Here is what he said to me one day, after my return: “You know, I wish I had cancer because I need to lose weight, too.”
That is the truth. Incredible but true. Despite that, I do not wish cancer on him. A part of me hopes that he gets extremely fat and dies of a heart attack, but, really, I do not wish that on him either. I wish that he could get a brain transplant. How is that? I wish that he could get a brain transplant.
Again, I digress.
It was not such a good thing for me, in hindsight. Fatigue was a large issue, and I jockeyed my hours so that I could do some of my work at home. I also counted heavily on one of my tele-employees, a college kid with amazing talent and the same work ethic I had.
We completely revamped the project, working late into the evening. I called him a vampire for his late night hours, but there I was to answer his questions, there I was doing my own work until the wee hours of the morning. Call me Lestat :).
We got it done. I always get it done. Always have.
But you know, I was raised to live in a world with much more idealism than the one I live in now. I remain naive, at my ripe old age. I was raised to be loyal to my company and to give my customers the best of my ability. I was raised to trust my company and to trust my government, and to trust the people I worked with and for.
These days, I think my dad taught me better than he intended to.
But I worked. I was on drugs for pain, of course, and probably should not have been driving. I was on drugs for anxiety and depression and probably should not have been happy :). I was on drugs to reduce the chances of cancer recurring in other spots, and probably should have stayed home and let them do their jobs.
But I went to work. Some people, wife included, seem to think I am a workaholic. The vampire story above has something to do with that. I have always been into whatever I am doing, almost obsessively, but not quite, I think.
I was in extreme fatigue, to be honest. I should not have gone back to work when I did. I think they knew, from time to time, that the drugs were running the show, at least marginally. I think they knew that I was under some duress physically, emotionally, psychologically. My boss, and his boss, they were both kind and magnanimous.
They were looking out for me (they even showed up at the hospital on my first day of receiving outside visitors…boy, was I messed up that day…I DO remember them being there, and remember telling them that I could shove a beer can into my stomach. I do not know why. I do not know if they could even understand me. I remember asking them when they first arrived, in fact, if they were just dropping by because some job-related show was occurring in town. I was a real smart-ass.
And they understood. And they were there. And they were an assistant VP and a VP of the company, a really large contractor company. I should have been impressed but I was trying to show them that I could shove a beer can into my belly for some reason. Within a couple of years, the VP would be a casualty of Lou Gehrig’s Disease…when I wrote to him following his diagnosis, he responded that he hoped he was as brave as I was. That brings tears to my eyes to this day. I am alive and he is not.)
Have you noticed that I digress quite a bit?
Talking about work.
I did go back to work, and we did get things done, and then I started having this persistent little cough, and it was ultimately decided that I was dying and had a minimum of 10 months to live. OncoMan said two years was not out of the question, and some people even lasted four years. I said I am quitting my job.
Here is why: after I returned to work, after myself and my vampire helper saved a contract, I was offered a chance to work directly with the customer mastering the very site I had developed (with much help from my young friends, some of them). I said yes, of course, and moved over to the new joint, filled with rotting old carcasses of retired veterans (:)) and young bureaucrats interested only in moving forward.
But enough of that.
I still wasn’t up for it. It was a long drive there (for me) and a long drive home. In between, for lunch, I had a couple of small bottles of Boost. That was it, at the time. Even though my new boss was married to a nurse (a friend of my wife’s, in fact), he had no empathy, no sympathy. I do not blame him. He had a job to do. I personally consider him an asshole, but it has nothing to do with his activity with respect to me. I feel like he tried to do his best to keep me on the payroll.
I was still tired, and still trying to spend time working at home when I could, but he was old school and not comfortable with that, I do not believe.
When I went to my family doc, finally, asking this simple question: “Why am I still coughing when I haven’t smoked in more than two years?” the world turned upside down, as you know if you have read what precedes this.
Told I was dying, I decided I didn’t need to work. Is that wrong? Is it right? I do not know. At the time it felt so very right. Could I possibly spend the last days of my life working? Heck no!
Now, I reconsider and think, well, what else did you have in mind. In truth, I was already a less than stellar employee by my own standards, and this would only be more distraction. Plus, I really believed I was dying, since the professionals were telling me so, and I thought I should be at home.
I do not know why.
I admire folks who decide to continue working right up to the end. But I do not know why they do it, and I do not know why I admire them. Part of me thinks they are stupid. Spend your last days working? Another part of me, though, says, do not concede, and heck yeah, keep on keeping on.
The largest part of me, though, says, what, are you stupid :).
I said I was done and OncoMan agreed, and that was that. When my boss called asking for my recommendation for a temporary replacement, I advised that he get a full-time replacement. Ultimately, they shut down the position. Apparently I was not as important as I thought I was :).
When, in August of that year, OncoMan said OOPS! We made a mistake…it was too late…I was not dying and should have been really happy (and was, momentarily) but the company said, oh, yeah, we cut your contract out.
I was unemployed.
Yeehah. I had even ignored doc’s orders again and come back to work early, exulted by my rebirth.
So much for that.
Here I sit now, unemployed. I have a speech impediment that comes and goes, depending on the weather or something :). I have a tube in my chest for now and really, therefore, have some interesting eating requirements. I still take drugs (legal ones, of course, you silly twits). If it were not for these two things, I could pass for uncancered. You know? But people will know.
And I am unemployed.
I talked to my brother tonight. He is the VP of a manufacturing company, and he admitted that employers would be afraid of a cancer survivor. As my dad told me once when we were arguing about long hair when I was young: “You are right, but you are not correct.”
Now, I need to get back out there and see if I can get some work, see if I can get a job. A part of me says to myself, hey, your perseverance alone should get you over many hurdles, to say nothing of your intelligence and good looks (okay, scratch the good looks, maybe even the intelligence).
That is a load of bull, of course. For one thing, I am underweight by at least 25 pounds, and so look like a dying man, at least to me. For another, I would need to buy brand new suits for interviews, since none of my clothes from pre-cancer fit me any more. For still another, as soon as I speak I will be asked if I have a drinking problem or if I am mentally retarded (the answer to both is currently Yes). Beyond that, when they hear about cancer, they will run for the hills.
Not crying. Just saying.
(Is this a resume or what? :)).