Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies - my only talent - smelling merde from every quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall - on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.
-- Walker Percy, from The Moviegoer
I play the game well for months, sometimes years at a time. I'm a happy little American consumer, which is my purpose in life, and I go to work and earn a paycheck, and then I spend the paycheck on things like roofing shingles, and I keep the American economy humming. It's not humming all that well, and it seems to have lost the tune, but I do what I can.
Then I hit some sort of a wall. Not a literal wall; I could buy that, or pay somebody else to scale it for me. But a metaphorical wall where I, like my literary hero Walker Percy, look around and ask the unanswerable questions: Is this it? Roofing shingles? Scrimping and saving and bowing and scraping and wearing a servile, shit-eating Uncle Tom grin -- Yassuh, I'd sho nuff love to write 'bout database capacity planning -- to pay for two college tuitions for my daughters so that they too can one day buy roofing shingles, and carry on in the grand American tradition?
Gauguin sailed off to Tahiti and hung out with the naked Polynesian women. John Lennon dumped Cynthia and married Yoko. And some of the people I've known -- middle-aged-slouching-toward-senility geezers like myself -- have bought the cherry-red sports car and absconded with their secretaries. I'm not going to do any of those things, mainly because a) they're deeply wrong, and b) I truly love my wife and kids, I recognize how wonderful I have it, and I'm not stupid. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't understand the basic impulse to chuck it all, to just walk away from the never-ending treadmill. Some people envision getting off the treadmill. They usually call that retirement. But having lost 40% of my hope for the future -- at least that future -- over the past few months, I'm fearful that I'll keep on bowing and scraping until the day I keel over of a heart attack.
That's it? A heart attack in exchange for roofing shingles? That's the wall. I'm not sure I see any way over it or around it.
I'm an IT consultant, a hired gun. I work for six months, a year, on a given project, and then I hitch up the old Chevy Cavalier and mosey on over to the next town and the next dirty job that needs to be cleaned up. That means that once or twice per year I try to convince some hiring manager that I'm the IT sherriff they've been looking for all along, that I'll whip all the lowdown IT varmints into shape, send 'em slinking off with their tails between their legs. Hire me. And I'll start that process again in another few weeks.
Right now I'm not sure what I'll tell them. Why should you hire me? Beats me. You'd probably want to hire someone who's excited about the job and actually wants to do it. You'd probably want to hire somebody who's thrilled at the prospect of paying off those roofing shingles. Me? I'll talk to you about Walker Percy and why he had it right. I'll talk to you about why it's all a big, stinking pile of merde without God in the equation, and that even with Him on your side you still might want to hold your nose.
What's that smell?