Sunday, August 24, 2014

Forty-one and living it

Happy birthday to me. Whoop-dee-fuckin'-do.

Sorry for the self-indulgent blog post, but the older I get, my birthday becomes less a celebration of all things me and more a time to reflect on where I've been and where I'm heading. I guess that's probably what grown-ups would refer to as "maturity," although according to the experts, I've still got a couple years to go before I have to start worrying about any of that nonsense.

The last few years of my life have been pretty eventful, at least for someone as married to routine as I am. This post could've had a very different tone if I'd written it on any of my last three birthdays. To wit:

Three years ago, I was absolutely fucking miserable. I was fresh out of a long-term relationship with a girl I cared deeply about (and still do, if I'm being totally honest), and I had recently been passed over for one of the two or three full-time music writing jobs in the metro Phoenix area. I was overweight and working as a delivery driver for a soulless, multinational pizza chain. I was pretty much at an all-time low, physically, emotionally and professionally. It was around this time that I decided to make some serious changes in my life, and even though things didn't quite follow the script I originally plotted out, [SPOILER ALERT] I'm still in a much better place now than I was back then.

Two years ago, I was as overwhelmed as I've ever been in my life. I was three weeks into what would turn out to be an eight-week teaching "career," and I was freaking the fuck out. The full version of the Teaching Story™ will have to wait for a future post, but suffice it to say, it was one of the most stressful and harrowing times of my life. I had just lost more than 40 pounds in the previous four months, but the stress and long hours of the new job pretty much obliterated my appetite and I wound up dropping seven pounds below the goal weight I'd established at the start of my diet. I felt better about my body image and general health, but mentally, I was a wreck. It's not as if I had any illusions about teachers being underworked and overpaid coming into the job, but I had no idea how woefully unprepared I was to deal with the 24/7 nature of teaching. Three weeks later, I was in the principal's office, shamefully conceding defeat and turning in my letter of resignation. It was a huge blow to my confidence and pride, but I felt at the time -- and still do -- that it was the only way to preserve the remaining tatters of my sanity.

A year ago today, I was about as happy and content as I've been in my adult life. I had put the teaching fiasco behind me, chalking it up as my official mid-life crisis. After a brief stint as a catering coordinator for a different soulless, multinational restaurant chain, I landed a gig delivering pizzas for a local, family-owned pizzeria that happens to make some of the best pies in town. My coworkers were cool, the managers were awesome and the owner of the company, the guy whose face is on every box, knew me by name. On top of that, my old band had reformed with a slightly modified lineup, and I was able to book a "dream gig" at the Yucca Tap Room on my 40th birthday featuring three of my favorite bands in the local music scene. It was probably the most enjoyable show I've ever been a part of. My mom flew in from Colorado, and she and my sister baked me a Slayer birthday cake. A fun time was had by all, and as corny as it sounds, I was literally 40 and loving it.

Now, a full year into my 40s, I'm the proverbial old dog trying to learn a new trick. I still work for the same great pizza place, but now, thanks to a momentary lapse of common sense by yours truly and the draconian, profit-driven DUI enforcement racket here in Arizona, I'm waiting tables instead of delivering. My coworkers and bosses are still great, and it's nowhere near as stressful as trying to manage a classroom full of 14- and 15-year-olds, but undertaking a career change this late in life has not been without bumps in the road. I liked a lot of things about pizza delivery. It's good money for relatively easy work, assuming you're capable of reading a map. There's a lot of independence. You spend most of your time out on the road by yourself, listening to music and smoking cigarettes. It's not without the occasional hectic moment, but for the most part, it's a pretty low-stress job.

But the one thing I never realized I loved about delivery until I stopped doing it is how linear and sequential a job it is. I'm the type of person who likes to start a task, complete it and then move on to the next task. That's pretty much delivering pizzas in a nutshell. As a server, I might be a rung or two higher on the arbitrary food service caste system, but it's proving to be a tougher job to master. I've never been a great multitasker, and -- surprise, surprise -- that's a pretty integral aspect of juggling five or six tables at once. I also have a fair amount of pride, and I struggle with asking for help or even recognizing when I need help. As a driver, the most help you're going to ask for is to ask management to bump up delivery times if you get hit with a rush, or perhaps you'll request a hand  carrying a particularly large order out to your car. Unfortunately, my reluctance to ask for help while serving has gotten me "in the weeds" on a few occasions. Sometimes shit can snowball so fast when you're serving that you don't even know you're in the weeds until you're really fucking deep in the weeds.

It's also a lot more physically demanding. Delivering is one of the few jobs where the busier you are, the more time you spend sitting on your ass. As a server, you're constantly on your feet. After working a double, my legs feel like rubber. I should really download one of those pedometer apps to see how many miles I actually walk in a day or week of serving, but it'd probably just be depressing, since I still haven't lost any of the 20-odd pounds I've put back on since quitting my diet two years ago.

But hey, I don't want to come off like a whiner. I still work for a great company that serves amazing food and treats its employees with respect and dignity, which is a helluva lot better than I had it two or three years ago. I get to interact with a wide range of people from all walks of life. And as much as I still miss delivering, at least I'm not beating the hell out of my poor car on a daily basis. The pay is pretty much a wash, so I've just swapped wear and tear on my car for wear and tear on my body and mind. I can certainly use the exercise, and while the mental stress can be occasionally taxing, it's not insurmountable (like, say, jumping right into teaching without so much as a day of practical classroom experience). I'm not a great server yet, and the learning curve is a little steeper than I expected, but I'm getting there.

So yeah, I guess I'm not as happy as I was a year ago, but I'm not as miserable as I was two or three years ago either. I'm content with where I'm at and I can see the potential for things to get better. I might not be 40 and loving it anymore, but at least I'm 41 and living it. And sometimes, living it is enough. Damn, that actually sounded kind of mature. Now who's up to smoke a bowl and play some Call of Duty?

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