mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever


evidence of spring: tulip to beBeing young and quitting a job is hell. You have this stupid entry-level job. You're a highly replaceable cog in the great economic machine. Having an employee drop off the face of the earth is a pain in the butt to a supervisor, but... next! You, on the other hand, take yourself seriously. You were taught not to disappoint.

During college I had a work-study job in the Spanish Department, where I could set my own hours and be the faculty pet. My first job in the cold, cruel world was at Rotary International world headquarters in Evanston, Illinois. My title was "Brazilian correspondent," which meant I was a dogsbody who could read, type, and occasionally be trusted to write Portuguese. I was proud of the fact that I was the only Anglo in the big open office of 10 Latinos, but neither my Spanish nor Portuguese was good enough to keep up with their day-long chit-chat. Despite a lot of fake camaraderie, headquarters was a highly regimented place. At 10:30 and 2:30, we were herded to the lunch room for mandatory 15-minute breaks (you could only escape by hiding in the bathroom). We were forbidden to leave the building except for a half-hour lunch, when I fled. With nowhere to go, I ate my sandwich walking the windy streets of Evanston.

I was diligent in my work but, after 6 months or so, deadened in my spirit. I needed to go. And I was terrified that they wouldn't let me. I was living with Trish, who was still in college, and my parents were 400 miles away. They would have been happy to advise me but I'd made a big issue of my independence and was sure they'd only persuade me to return to St. Louis, so I plotted on my own.

For days I wrote into a steno pad the instructions for everything I did -- all the quirky undocumented procedures for handling club boundary maps and their legalistic charters. Finally, everything was in order. I left the building for the last time.

Next morning, without telling a soul what I was going to do, I called the personnel office. My heart was pounding. My voice quavered.

"My mother is sick," I said. "I have to return to St. Louis."

"Oh, my dear. Well, okay... when will you be back?"

"I-I-I won't be back."

Her sigh on the other end of the line was all I needed to feel like perfect scum, but when I hung up the phone, I was free. Penniless, but free.

Thinking back, I laugh at how ignorant and maladroit I was. What 22-year-old doesn't have enough savvy to give 2-week notice on a clerical job?

Perhaps I remind myself of this story as a balm to middle age.