01 September 2014

As the Lady From Joisey Said . . .

The Rape of Ganymede by Rubens
    “We think we know everything. We don’t know shit.” The name of the play escapes me, as does the plot, but this line sticks with me, as does the image of the world-weary drag queen who delivers it.
    Growing up, I thought I was in the know. My brand of church taught that we had the inside track on salvation, knew exactly what God wanted. It was up to us to point out to others how wrong they were.
    My eyes opened when I came out gay in mid-life. I went from a desk job at a religious organization to biscuit maker at an interstate truck stop cafe on the early morning shift. One of my co-workers was a large imposing woman with a thick New Jersey accent. I loved her sense of humor and take on the world. I often told her so. “Aw, ain’t you sweet,” she’d say. “You want to know what I think? I think you’re full of shit.”
    I didn’t want to believe her. These twenty years later I begin to think she was spot on.
    Last month I wrote a short piece about the brevity of life, how everything changes and how quickly. How to manage in such a world, I wondered aloud, and concluded: “Live as fully alive and fully aware as possible. Choose love. And gratitude. Laugh often.”
    This on a Wednesday. 
    Thursday morning, my employer called me into his office to tell me he’s decided to change my job description. I’m to identify prospective customers and sell them on our services. “I know this has been a revolving-door position,” he said, noting the average tenure of marketing personnel at our company is three months—people get fired when sales quotas are not met. “I’ve decided this is what I want you to do.”
    Had my anxiety been rocket propellant, there’d be a big hole in his ceiling. I am no salesman. As a kid, I tried peddling magazine subscriptions, and in college, vitamins. I proved an abject failure on both counts. After college, armed with a communications degree and no job prospects, I went into telephone marketing. That career topped out at a week. My next position, also in sales, lasted four times as long: I sold popcorn and caramel apples out of a wagon at the Covered Bridge Festival in Parke County, Indiana. I haven’t looked back. Until now. My boss orders me to walk the plank. 
    What I wrote about living awake and aware, embracing what is? Ehhhnhh.
    When change stares me in the face, I notice I sing a different tune. I go all queasy—and with good reason.
    It has to do with the story I heard Saturday at graduation open house for a friend who just earned her Ph.D. in psychology. As we ate out on the deck, we heard the neighbors’ chickens. Erin told us they’re being picked off one by one. Coyote? Hawk? Conversation turned to a YouTube video she’s seen: a family sets their baby bunny free to live in the great outdoors. Hop, hop, hop. As Dad videotapes its first steps toward freedom, a hawk swoops down and carries off the little rabbit squealing.
    “Run, run, be free!” said Erin, gesturing wildly. “Then wham-o!” A bunch of us laughed.
    “That’s not funny,” said her mother-in-law, who finished chemotherapy two weeks ago.
    “I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time,” Erin said. “But isn’t that life? It’s what happens.”
    Indeed, life pulls no punches. A bald-headed woman. Bunny nuggets. Me a salesman. Everything changes in an instant and it’s not funny. It’s tragic—except that it’s also somehow comical.
    We traipse through life thinking we know the score.
    “We don’t know shit,” says the drag queen, kneeling at her friend’s grave. She carries her purse over one arm, in the other, a toilet seat lid.

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