The End of the Rat Race
First week off and so far, so good. I’m not writing nearly as much as I had imagined. For a long time now, like 20 years, I’ve been too busy to manage my house and it’s environs, so there are little situations everywhere that represent something that’s eventually supposed to happen. Half-completed knitting projects, mosaics, disorganized art supplies, garden projects. Things that were almost too depressing to look at, because you don’t want to abandon them – giving up, and all that it means.
But on the other hand, the projects never start where you think they should. You see a half-completed knitting project, for example, and can’t just pick it up and begin to knit, marching steadily toward a beautiful new sweater. It’s more like, pick it up, try to remember what it was going to be, untangle the yarn that’s gotten married to three other half-baked projects, try to locate the pattern or at least remember where you were headed – was it going to be a sock, or a hat, or a blanket for some baby who’s surely grown up by now? Try to remember why you stopped. Was it simply a lack of time, or was there a fatal flaw? Did that person break up with you before you finished the hat? Locate the rest of the yarn you need, and the proper needles.
This stuff is frustrating when you only have a tiny bit of time, because you get to the part of having everything assembled, and the bell rings -- time’s up, and the next time you get back to it, you have to start all over again.
But now that I've got nothing but time as far as the eye can see, I’m all about pulling the couch out and vacuuming behind it, picking the slugs from my garden one by one and tossing them into the tall grass where they breed and send their babies back to the garden, making fresh rhubarb muffins for breakfast in the morning, creating lists of things I’ve always wanted to do that I might actually have time for now, like learn to play piano, grow trees from scratch, make flash cards of stuff I want to memorize, revisit the Dewey Decimal System, read more, knit hats for everyone I know, spend time with friends, take care of their babies, learn why worms don't care when the compost pile gets hot, create more with paper mache, build a scarecrow, sort the beads by color, hang out with Todd's puppy, read about crows, revise my whole iPod system, answer the phone when it rings instead of hiding under the desk, swim in the lake every day, ride my bike, build a beautiful yet functional deer fence, do yoga, hike, gather food, write write write… oh, yeah, and look for work.
My last week at the job was the kind that made me so ready to be done. On my last day in the Permit Center, a guy comes in, and he looks like a washed up professional wrestler. I learn later that indeed, he is. Kind of meaty but flabby, and missing a bunch of teeth. Strangely, he had the four in the front, but none in the back. I don’t know much about wrestling, but you must get hit more on the side than in the front? (And in a weird coincidence that I won't elaborate on here, one of the other regular developers who's also missing teeth, but the front ones, also came in to the P. Center at the same time. Two big guys, who, between them, had only one full set of teeth. Right?)
“I want to know if there are wetlands on this parcel.”
I pull it up on the computer, and see that it’s within a city’s jurisdiction. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to contact the city.”
“No, they sent me here.”
I never know what to say when people do that. It’s definitely not true. Like, you go to your hairdresser and say, “My faucet is dripping.” And the hairdresser says, “Yeah, you’ll have to contact a plumber.”
And the person says, “Yeah, I went to the plumber, and they said to seek out a hairdresser…” You know it’s a lie, but how do you get it so you both agree on that?
“Hmm, I’m not sure why they’d send you to the County. We don’t issue permits for properties within the City limits, and they have their own regulations regarding wetlands, and we don’t assist with that.”
“Well, they said to come ask you if there are any wetlands on the property.”
What that would be like is, “Hey fox, why don’t you run over to the farm next door and see if they have any rules about eating chickens, and come back and tell us what you learned. And whatever they tell you, we’ll honor, and not do any fact checking.” But I can’t say that to him. Maybe because he’s a professional wrestler, or maybe because it’s my last week and I feel oddly weepy, like if I tangle with him at all, it will end up weird.
“Well, I can tell you what the inventory shows, but it’s nearly 30 years old, and isn’t considered very complete or accurate.” I pull up the layer, and it doesn’t show any wetlands. I give my little disclaimer spiel, “this doesn’t mean that there aren’t wetlands, but just that, with the cursory inventory effort that was conducted in the 1980’s using aerial photographs, none were identified, blah blah blah.”
“Yeah, you’re wrong. It shows as wetland on iMap.” He’s getting belligerent, and I’m in that short fuse part of my last week, like, really? I have to take this, and then be unemployed? Not to bore you too much, but iMap is just a different path to the same data. Like, let's say you went down aisle 3 to get to the dairy section, and I went down aisle 2. If there’s no half and half, it isn’t going to appear just because we back up and go through aisle 3 to get there. But I do it, because I’m in the habit of placating the haters. I open iMap, and it doesn’t show a wetland. I go through the disclaimer spiel again, which, to be candid, represents a cross between being thorough and being passive aggressive.
He gets really angry now. “It showed as wetland on my computer at home. Do I need to print that out and bring it to you? Huh? Is that what you're gonna make me do?”
I’m thinking, nope, I’m pretty sure I don’t need anything at all from you. I want to give him a metaphoric scenario: 'Look, it’s like you called me as a wrong number, and now you want to show me the scrap of paper you were reading from when you misdialed. Um, really, you can just hang up.' But I don't. And since this is in person, where I can get a good view of the areas in his mouth where teeth should be, there is no hanging up.
“Uh, no, I don’t really think that’s necessary. Your question was, in the 1980's, did King County think there was a wetland on this property? The answer is no.” I try to have that definitive, move along buddy tone in my voice, but he's having none of it.
“No we’re not done here. When I look this up at home, it shows up as orange. Now I come all the way here and you tell me it’s not a wetland.”
I can't tell if I'm just irritable in general, or if he's irritating, or if it's my inappropriate prejudice towards the untoothed, or if it's his aggressive behavior. “Hmm. What did the legend say orange meant? It sounds like you had another layer turned on.”
“Well, I assume it would be wetlands. What else would it be?”
How do you move off the dime with someone like this? I wish I could say I had been patient, and carefully turned on the 300 plus layers, one at a time, to see what made the parcel turn orange, and helped him interpret that, but I just didn’t have it in me. “Maybe you could go look at it on your computer, and then look at the legend to see what orange means. I don’t know offhand.”
“Fine,” he says angrily, as he stalks out.
I go back to my desk, and retrieve a voice mail that goes something like this:
“FIRST YOU MADE ME PLANT TREES, AND THEN YOU PLOWED THEM ALL DOWN. YOU NEED TO GET OUT HERE RIGHT AWAY AND YOU CAN PAY FOR THE REPLACEMNTS. AND PLANT THEM. CALL ME. IMMEDIATELY."
I do, I call her right back and leave a message: “I'm not sure exactly what you’re talking about, but apparently you’re under the impression that I’ve damaged some trees on your property? You might want to call my boss, because this is my last day…"
I check my e-mail and see one from my attorney, saying that the guy who keeps trying to sue me is appealing the state supreme court’s dismissal of the case, and is continuing to try to sue me personally.
Anyway, it’s fun to be off leash right now, and I’m hoping there’s enough fear of living under a bridge to propel me into action. I can't tell if I'm more terrified of jumping into the rat race again, or living under the bridge. Okay, true confessions: at this very moment, I'd choose living under the bridge.