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The Morning Shift

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Morning Shift

I remember the old man leaving for work, 5 a.m., black, cold, the world perfectly still.  I'd hear him getting up, grumbling in the dark, muttering, cursing, his steps heavy down the stairs.  Early on, when I was very little, I used to follow, maybe standing at the top of the well, out of sight, as he'd grab his paper sack from the fridge that my mother had packed the night before, pour his coffee, no one there to say goodbye or wish him a good day or even acknowledge that he was going.  And for a while, I really felt sorry for the poor bastard, as he sloughed off to work on the assembly line, even if he worked in a quarry and not an assembly line, because my knowledge of the working world is pretty much limited to Springsteen songs, and all I see is poor bastards with broken dreams.  The work, the work, the working life.

Then, when I got a little older, and that distance grew between us, I didn't feel sorry for him.  Because I didn't feel much of anything for him besides hatred.  But I still noted his sad life, which seemed to be a long, never-ending workday, digging holes and blowing up rocks, meaningless, inconsequential, expendable.  My mother used to tell me, if I ever remarked on this, not to waste my time, that that was where my father was happiest, not to give it a second thought.  But that seemed disingenuous, even to my young ears.  No one could be "happy" slaving away in the dirt and heat all day in the summer, the mud and cold all winter.  Most of all, who could be happy getting up when it's still dark and you're still tired and your bed is warm?

This became almost a fascination, this "work" stuff, something I'd have to one day declare, checking my dreams at the door for the almighty buck.  It's hard to assign "chicken" and "egg" standings here, whether my scorn for the working world preceded my realization that I wasn't wired that way, or the other way around, whether I was just plain lazy or taking an ideological stand.  All I knew was that signing up for 8-12 hour days, performing functions you normally wouldn't except for the fact you'd be getting paid, seemed like no life at all.  That wasn't worth living.  There had to be...more.

And of course there isn't. 

Not that life is defined by one's work (although it probably is more than not), or any one single thing; rather, I was viewing these things through a cracked lens, which provided my skewed worldview, a faulty logic with an incorrect starting point and trajectory.

Which I don't want to talk about.  If you want to read about that, you can read my book.

This is about the morning shift.  Which I get every day with Holden.  And the dog jumping and yipping wanting to play fetch, and the chicken that needs to be let out, as Holden wiggles across the floor, and the fat cat jumping on my lap, and if I don't pet him, he'll pet himself as I try to type, and then Justine, who's supposed to be catching up on sleep, will come out and want to talk about the wedding or one of her friend's boyfriend troubles, before stumbling back to bed, just as Holden is grabbing the breast pump cord, about to pull the whole thing down on his head, which is already flat enough as it is, which is why he has to be on tummy-time so long in the first place, no doubt a contributing to his turning beet red and caterwauling, despite a steady diet of the Wiggles and cold spaghetti (cold spaghetti, cold spaghetti).  Which is why I write this blog these days, typing with one hand when I finally give in and pick the little fella up, instead of working on a book, which requires too much commitment, and two hands.  I thought as Holden got older, it'd be easier to write.  Like I thought when I got older, it'd be easier to live. 

All these things are still good things, don't get me wrong.  In the big picture.  I've got a family and a son I love more than anything in this world.  And there is plenty of time later in the day to write.  It's just that mornings I tend to be at my creative best, before the thoughts that I have throat or toe cancer get the best of me.

Still, it has started making sense to me, how my father could leave that quiet, dark house every day, half asleep, angry and unsatisfied for all those years.  I never really thought about what actually happened when that door closed.  But I can see him now, drinking his coffee, smoking his cigarettes, talk radio or country music playing softly, as he drove, peacefully, to do the one thing he knew he was good at.


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