Making a Comeback

I have made a life out of second chances. I spent almost two decades somewhere along the spectrum of “going back to school,” which always begins with failing out of school, something I had perfected with the following method: apply on an impulse after an intense existential talk at two in the morning, spend hours planning the perfect schedule with a killer spreadsheet, never actually go to class, then repeat! I am also in the process of getting divorced and feeling hopeful about my future. My life is overflowing with wadded up pieces of paper that almost make it to the trash can (still perfecting that rim shot). When I pen my self-help book to reach out to other adult losers, I will probably title it, Second Chances are for Losers (Like You!) and then there will be a mirrored sticker on the front under the title. It will be a best-seller and will make an excellent Christmas gift.

Try first, figure out how to fix it later. My highly successful secretarial career was built on this motto. I started working in a law office when I was nineteen years old. My only real skills were painting sunflowers and making epic mixed tapes, but anytime I was asked to do something, I just said, “I can do that!” I can prepare legal documents. I can fix the copy machine. I can change your carburetor. This was before I had access to the Internet, so I couldn’t just find a YouTube video to teach me. I had to figure out how to screw it up all by myself.

Once my office hooked up to the internet and I got my first email account, I started to actually enjoy working, and by working I mean sending out emails to my friends and family. I also found that email was a helpful tool in my dating life. Any shyness or sense of self-control that I appeared to possess in person did not exist when I sent out emails. The email version of me straddles the very thin line between being unwaveringly confident and being a creepy stalker.  And being a cyberstalker is somehow worse than being a regular stalker. A regular stalker might be a dangerous psychopath, but at least she is getting out in the world, maybe occasionally aiming the telescope up to gaze at the stars or smelling the gardenias in the bushes she is using for cover, but a cyberstalker is mainly just home alone, probably eating an entire Papa John’s Pizza.

I should have been applying to potential colleges, writing the great American novel, or actually completing the work I was assigned, but I found it more rewarding to send out emails to my ex-boyfriend like, “Remember that time you diced a habanero pepper and then you forgot to wash your hands before you took a piss?” The next thing I knew I was making out in the cab of a pick-up truck. Now that I have started dating again, I am dealing with a whole new arsenal of electronic communications, and I don’t even have to be at work, which is unfortunate because I was rarely drunk at work. Now I can sit on my couch halfway through a magnum of champagne and think that I really should get in contact with that guy who dumped me six weeks ago. And I should totally send a picture. For me, “Send” is just another way to say “Fuck it.” Usually halfway through my internal dialogue about how I could preserve my self-esteem and not embarrass—SEND! Then if I start to feel remorseful, I just follow up with a winky face.

As dangerous as instant access is, there is always room for a second chance. For starters, maybe he never got the first message. I can respond honestly and just admit that I am a flawed human being who is trying to figure out what the hell she is doing, or I can send a more provocative message, like the emoji of a sideways pointing finger aimed at the emoji of a hand doing the “ok” symbol. I have also tried to learn the value of getting it right the first time. What if I was less impulsive and did not always need a second chance? Sometimes I try to give myself a moratorium on sending out messages, like maybe I should sleep on it and if it still seems like a good idea in the morn—SEND!

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This morning I was listening to “Highway Junkie” by the Yayhoos from the 1996 album Rig Rock Deluxe: A Musical Salute to American Truck Drivers. It got me revved up for the morning and reminded me of my dream of becoming a trucker after retirement. Before I was married, I loved being out on the road. The highway promised freedom and greener pastures in every approaching median. I thought truck driving was a great way to combine my two passions: abandoning my responsibilities and smoking. Now I am tied-down and tobacco-free, so the job has lost some of its appeal. Also, I don’t really like to drive at night, and I can barely get through the grocery parking lot in my mini-van without hopping a few curbs. Another dream down the toilet.

Before the truck driving industry allured me with the idea of being my own boss and taking showers at gas stations, I wanted to work in a skyscraper. I didn’t have a particular job in mind, just being in the building seemed like enough of an adventure. Then at age twenty-four my dream came true when I took a job as a file clerk at a law firm in downtown Austin. Our office was on an upper floor of a building on Congress Avenue; looking north there was a view of the state capitol and looking south a view of the river. However, I could not see any of these views from my office in the file room behind the elevator shaft. Being a file clerk and having my desk in the file room was super convenient—sort of like if I had a job as a janitor and they gave me a desk right in the bathroom.

I had my own cart, just like the guy from the mailroom in all the movies from the 1980s starring Michael J. Fox. I circled the floor twice a day to collect papers and files from the secretaries. Then I would take the papers and files back to the file room and stare at them until I got so bored that working seemed like a relief. The job required certain qualifications that could only be learned after completing first grade, like a working knowledge of the alphabet and the ability to read the date. Also, there was a tremendous amount of hole-punching, both of the two-hole and the three-hole variety.

The files were stored on floor-to-ceiling sliding shelves to maximize space. Sometimes I would be between rows doing some filing or napping and a coworker would come in and push the shelves back, squishing me between the rows. I would scream out, “Stop! You are crushing me!” Usually it was a middle-aged secretary, and she would say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were back there,” and then when I crawled out we would both laugh awkwardly. Then I would start deliberately misfiling her paperwork.

Eventually, I left the second most dangerous job in the world and moved to another downtown building that looked directly over the river. I worked my way out of the file room and into a deluxe secretary’s desk, complete with a high-top counter so visitors could stand and look down on me. Again, I did not actually have any windows, so I could not see the view from my desk, but I would stare out at the view when I was called into my boss’s office. I would even sketch the skyline on my steno pad while he was rambling on so I could gaze at the view later while sitting at my desk counting the minutes until happy hour, ahem, while I was typing some law office crap, ahem, playing solitaire. After four long months I was fired from my position, and I got a job at a three-story building out in the suburbs. My days of living the dream were over.

I often felt like a caged animal at the office. I remember going into the hallway to cry while working as a secretary for a small firm in New Jersey. I just wanted to run. The job was not difficult, and I only worked part-time, but I was bored, and not just for the twenty hours I sat stagnantly behind a desk, but drowning in boredom. I answered phones. I typed from dictation. I edited. I filed. I stapled things. I considered sticking toothpicks in my eyeballs. At the end of each work day, I ran to my car with my hands waving in the air and peeled out of the parking lot on two tires.

It turns out that what I do for work actually matters. I don’t have to choose between being a truck driver and a secretary. At this point, I have established some other options, like maybe I could work for Fedex. I do look great in shorts.