It's early Monday morning, and cousin Linda, my hostess for the last few days of the World Tour, has drawn a half-day work assignment — a pox on all of you who think teachers work 36 weeks a year and then disappear for the next 16 — so I'm sitting here getting caught up on the laundry and taking a good look at myself. And, quite apart from the fact that she owns lots of mirrors, things I tend to avoid in Real Life, I am not much liking what I am seeing.

One thing I'm seeing and finding disturbing is sheer, unbridled, one-green-eye-and-one-really-green-eye envy. And it's not an issue of material possessions, that Architectural Digest Love Of Stuff sort of thing: teachers by and large seldom qualify as riche, nouveau or otherwise, and while Linda's home could probably bring a quarter of a million dollars on today's real-estate market, it's due far more to inflation induced by Austin's flirtation with dot-com frenzy than to the intrinsic merit of the comfortable but inescapably modest structure; it's a simple house on what used to be a simple cul-de-sac.

Simplicity, in fact, may be at the heart of it all. While neurotics like me tend to build elaborate mental structures to insulate ourselves from the slings and arrows of outrageous everyday life, Linda replaces multiple walls with single doors. "This is my life, and I like it. You can come in, but remember, it's my life." For someone like me who arguably doesn't have a life, let alone the willingness to claim it as my own, this is an attitude both admirable and frightening; I'd love to be able to pull this off, but I know deep in my heart that it will never happen.

It helps, no doubt, that she really loves her work, something else that is beyond my capacity. I'm not claiming that my particular job is unusually onerous (except at certain times of the year, times which seem to be multiplying) or anything. But the time she spends is time in which lives are touched, wrongs are (however briefly) righted, and the world seems to make a little more sense. By comparison, the time I spend ends up serving an industry (anyone who calls it a "sport" simply isn't paying attention) devoted to the coddling of larger and larger egos, egos which insist, despite an utter lack of evidence, that somehow they are performing a service to the animal kingdom in the midst of all their relentless self-aggrandizement. Even if I were highly-paid and highly-placed, neither of which is likely to happen, my conscience would still have problems with this sort of thing.

Unfortunately for me, the conscience isn't the entity that has to pay the bills, so one week from today, I'll have to go back to 42nd and Treadmill and start once again pretending that I care. And when I do, I'll feel a little twinge — maybe even a big twinge — when I think about Linda and the children she sets on the path to growth and happiness and the life she has built for herself out of basically the same raw materials that I used to make a labyrinth of dysfunction and despair. At least one of us came out of this smart and funny and forward-looking and beautiful. And it's probably just as well that she was the one; I don't think I'd know what to do if I were any of those things.

The Vent

#254
23 July 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill