Friday, January 19, 2007

Doing the Wrong Thing

I have worked at Laser Blazer for almost exactly 2 years. That's not the longest period I have ever held a single employer. From 2001-2004, I worked for Softitler Net Inc., before it was purchased by the Deluxe Corporation of Burbank. I barely escaped with my life.

2 years is not a terribly long time to work somewhere, yet it began to feel like I had been working at a video store forever. There's something strange and a bit unsettling about working in such a static environment. The store opens every day, the same customers come in. The movies they rent change, the conversations are altered slightly, but otherwise the days become an endlessly repeating loop.

My life began to take on this pattern. Wake up, go to work, come home, watch movies, sleep. It was an enjoyable cycle in many ways. I'll always recall my days at Laser Blazer fondly: I made a lot of friends, I watched thousands of films, I joked around with Benicio del Toro, I asked Kevin Smith about being fruit-basketed by Ben Affleck, I consumed several dozen delicious free cupcakes, I finally got to see Chimes at Midnight, I dined-and-dashed the Norms on Pico, I read an insane customer's dreadful screenplay and I met Gabriel Garcia Marquez, face-to-face. It was by far the most fun, interesting job I have ever had.

But it was a badly-paid retail job. I couldn't help but dream of something more. For one thing, people don't respect the retail employee. They just don't. When you work in a store, you are officially a piece of shit to 90% of the population. I wish it was not this way, and I make it a personal point not to treat people this way, but that's just the way it is. I got tired of feeling like I was living on the lowest rung. I knew it was time for a change.

So I've been sending out resumes online and making plans for my future. Hey, I'm 28. As in, too fucking late. Motivation's a strange thing. At least, it's strange to me, because I've never had any. I'm pretty much content to drift along through life, watching a lot of movies and writing and reading and otherwise doing very little. I had a friend named Dave who purposefully took a ton of classes his junior year of college and decimated his social life in order to graduate early. He wanted to get out of school as quickly as he could, so he could enter the workforce.

If he had told me that he planned to eat his own foot, I could not have been more baffled by his reasoning.

Nevertheless, I felt motivated to try something different. I was getting bored. I was sick of sharing my sole daily human interaction with the nutjobs who took the bus in from the Valley, yelling out grammatically incorrect requests for loathsome '80s comedies and loud, witless action films across the store at high volumes, oblivious to the wretched, Staten Island-esque odors they emit constantly due to both a general lack of hygeine and a diet made up mainly of fast-food and Chili Cheese Fritos.

So imagine my excitement when, earlier this week, I got the news that I have been hired by a Shadowy and Mysterious Project Which Can Not Be Named. Seriously. They won't tell me the name of the company. It's a secret.

Maybe when I show up on Monday for my first day, I can find out the name and what the company will actually do. But I'd imagine I still won't be able to tell you people. Oh well. I'm sure it must be tons of fun, if I can't even know what it is or what exactly I'll be doing.

Here's the big problem: Shadowy and Mysterious Project Which Can Not Be Named (henceforth SMPWCNBN) wants me to start ASAP (henceforth "as soon as possible.") But Laser Blazer, clearly, needs me to work my scheduled shifts there.

Now, I could have simply told Laser Blazer that I would need to stop working there by Monday, and worked all my scheduled shifts in between. But that didn't work out for me, for a long and complicated reason that I will now go into in as little overwrought, navel-gazing detail as possible...

As I may have mentioned previously here on CBI (or maybe not...I'm rarely in this introspective a mood), I sporadically suffer from acute anxiety and panic disorder. I say "sporadically" with good cause. Most of the time, I feel fine. Well, no, that's not true. Most of the time, I feel like shit, but in the normal, everyday way that everyone does all the time.

But I don't generally feel an inordinate amount of anxiety. Unless, say, there's a cougar around. Unfortunately, I have a strange trigger - new employment. It's not only new employment that sets me off, actually. I once went on a cross-country road trip with a college friend that caused me to develop pretty severe anxiety. And when I flunked the driving exam and had to retake the test a few weeks later (I exited via the entrance to the DMV...true story...), I got really bad panic attacks for about 2 weeks.

Generally speaking, though, having to switch jobs is the only thing that sets me off, but it sets me off like a motherfucker. We're talking full blown, Tony Soprano-style deathseizures. I tense up and can't do anything. I have quit at least 10 jobs in my life within the first 2 or 3 days, because I get panicky and need to simply escape.

This has made getting new jobs exceedingly difficult. On top of the challenge of just finding a new place to work, I need to find a new place in which I feel comfortable almost immediately, or I'll quit. I just know this about myself. So usually, I need a few days in advance to psych myself up for a new job. To get mentally prepared for the strain of feeling that level of anxiety and panic.

This may not make a lot of sense if you've never had a fullblown anxiety attack. Believe it or not, the best description I have ever heard of what it's like the be in the grips of this thing comes from a member of the band Insane Clown Posse. He said that it's like being tied to a railroad track, and you can see the train bearing down on you. Only you know perfectly well there is no train, and you feel like this all the time.

I can deal with it for a while, but when the real deep dark panic sets in (I used to call it "The Fear" when I was a kid), I'm pretty much at the mercy of my emotions. I do stupid things like quit jobs, fall down, throw up all over myself and this weird mix between crying and blubbering that's probably the most pathetic state in which I could possibly exist for any length of time. There have been several potential careers I have thrown away because of this problem. It's part of the reason I'm a 28 year old with a Master's Degree working in a neighborhood video store.

So, I knew (knew!) that, if I was going to try to hold on to this new SMPWCNBN job, I wouldn't be able to keep up with my Laser Blazering duties.

I know this is irrational. There is no good reason I could not work the next few days at the video store and then start work at the SMPWCNBN. Yet it's just not going to happen.

What am I going to spend the next few days doing? Working on not collapsing into a little ball of nervous energy and dying.

This is unfortunate, both because I get really tired of living like a little bundle of nervous energy on the brink of imaginary panic-death, and because it really screws over all the good people who work at Laser Blazer, who up until today depended on me. It was not an easy decision to do this to them. I considered seriously putting in my fair two weeks notice, putting off the new job and hoping for the best.

But folks, I've got to tell you, I know myself too well to fall into that trap. During those two weeks, I'd devise some very clever reasons not to take this new job, and I'd become so overwhelmed with fear about the SMPWCNBN, I'd never be able to face it. In many ways, I'm a weak man. I can own up to that.

So I pulled the trigger and did the thing that was right (and easier) for myself. I did the Wrong Thing. And I will now pay the price. I understand that Laser Blazer may be off limits to me now. At least, there are individuals of influence there who would prefer that I did not return, at least in the near future. I will be sending back all of my outstanding rentals (and my complimentary Laserdisc player) with my roommate, who still works at the store.

It's a sad situation. Odd to think that I won't set foot in the place I've spent so many years again any time soon. Odd that the people who once made up the sum total of my social network will be essentially inaccessible to me now. I suppose, when done properly, life is both extremely stressful and exciting. If you're having an easy, laid-back but boring ride, you're doing something wrong.


chuck warren said...

I get that level of panic when I have to call someone I've never met before. It makes getting an appointment with a new doctor or arguing with Cingular over some ridiculous charge next to impossible. I hate it, it's irrational, but the panic can be overwhelming.

But progress is good. Let's not forget that Dave owns a 3-story house, gets regular sex, and vacations in Cancun.

Good luck to you and don't shut down the blog. We're all rooting for you. And the Chinese guy wants to know about the birth of your first child.

You'd be surprised what an honest and sincere apology might do for your standing at Lazer Blazer. Or you can tell your roommate to have your boss read the post.

steve c. said...

Great. Just great. And I was grooming you for a new position here at Deluxe! Now this.