Friday, June 29, 2012

Night Watchmen

The dead heat of summer will often drive me out of bed at ungodly hours.

Recently I was walking around my neighborhood during a sleepless night. At each corner I was met with a different dog voicing his concern as he fulfilled his night watchman duties. Occasionally I would meet an old man sitting on his porch; smoking a pipe and reflecting on his life, or young lovers oblivious to the wanderer they shuffled off the sidewalk. I didn't mind the inconvenience. I, too, was lost in thought.

Midnight thoughts are not to be trusted. I was filled with more questions than answers. How can I make ends meet this month? When will I get on a plane and explore a new country? How do I get people to like me enough to give me the things I want?

An old man took a cigarette out of his mouth and called out to me.

"Ain't you too young to let troubles keep you up at night?"

I made some excuse about the heat.

"Me, too. It's not my conscience, I can tell you that. Clean as a whistle. I could sleep like a baby if it wasn't for this old knee."

"What's wrong with your knee?"

"Old football injury. Some hook-nosed Swede took a cheap shot tackling me during a game my junior year. Pert near bust it off."

"How did you get a job with a bum leg?" I've learned that if you have the right questions, you can keep an old man talking for hours.

"Things were different in my day. Took a job at the Ford plant until I could work my way up to an office job. Hated every day of it, but I had 3 mouths to feed. Didn't have that physical therapy ya got now, so I just worked through the pain. Probably did more damage than good.
I figured it out, though. Found ways to bring down the swelling after working in the factory all day. My wife would have the ice pack ready for me when I walked in the door. Thirty-seven years with the same woman and we've never eaten dinner at the table. Couldn't put my leg up there. Didn't like my feet where she put her food."

I gave a polite chuckle.

"Yeah, it's been my constant companion for as long as I can remember. It tells the weather better than any forecaster I've seen. Tomorrow should be hot."

"I could've told ya that." I said with a smile.

"Bet you cheated, though."

"You got me. I'm a sucker for the forecast. Only reason I get up in the morning, actually."

Is it just me, or is it required for Minnesotans to talk of weather no matter what the actual conversation is about? It's the common denominator. Regardless of education, class, or religious affiliation, anyone can talk about weather. It's painfully obvious when an outsider hasn't checked the weather that morning and has no idea what to say when he or she is confronted with, "Think it'll be hot next week?"

"Winter is the worst," he continued. "The knee will just seize up mid-stride. One time..."

Those two words filled me with anticipation. Who doesn't love hearing a good story teller tell a good story?

"...I was walking back to my car at the factory when my knee seized up. Locked up just like rusty gear. First time it happened, too. I didn't know what was going on til I fell flat on my face. Couple of the guys from the factory started givin' me a hard time, but there was a new kid who just started working that week. He got all excited. Thought I had a heart attack or something. He flips me over and starts yelling at the top of his lungs for someone to call 9-1-1. I probably would have been a little more concerned about my knee if it hadn't been the look on this kid's face. We had a good laugh at that. Never let him live it down, either.

Nah. At this point nothing short of surgery to make it right. Seems like such a hassle at my age. I know at this day and age I could be in and out of the hospital with a new knee in a matter of weeks, but when you've lived so long with the same hurt, it's hard to give it up."


I decided today on my break that I'm not good at corporate America. I don't know if I'll be able to handle a full-time office job for a very long time (5+ years). For which, I commend greatly you who are able to hold out in this system.
This is why the realization came to me: I went for a quick walk on the bike trail outside of the bank where I work, and I saw two vagabonds sitting with their bikes looking sweaty and hungry. They seemed to be thinking, "What could I do today to get enough money to buy a cheap sandwich from Mac-Do's?"
No, they didn't have food, or probably a place to keep their stuff, and they didn't have a fifteen minute break to spend outside. They were not wearing button-down shirts or stiff shoes. They were making plans to watch the river run by for the rest of the afternoon. I was planning on running around the office for the rest of the afternoon.
Their freedom slapped me in the face as my phone vibrated with a new text. The buzzing of the ball-and-chain wrenched me back to reality with the reminder that I could not live the life of a nomad because I like sleeping in a bed too much. I like being fed the cuisine I want, when I want it. It reminded me that if I am going to continue to have the convenience of a device ringing in my pocket anytime a friend wants to send a greeting my way, I had better jet back to my cube, sit in my air conditioned office and wait patiently for someone to have problems with his or her online account. And here I am. Waiting for such a call.