Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Masks We Hide Behind

Someone much smarter than me once said that we all conceal our true selves behind masks of civilized behavior, that if we showed our real faces and spoke our true thoughts in public our society would dissolve into chaos. I cannot find the author of that statement but I was once naïve, or just plain stupid, enough to doubt the accuracy of those words. After an unfortunate combination of events, I learned all too well how that statement is far truer than I could have ever imagined. The funny thing is that I can now look back at times when the application of basic honesty would have made things much better.

If I have one good and consistent talent, high on the list would be my ability to take a good situation and throw it totally away for one full of uncertainty and stress. I found myself in such a position in March of 2003 after returning to a job I had been laid off from a little over a year before. During my first stint working at what I will call “De Luca’s Telecommunication Widget Factory”, where I had worked from late 2000 until early 2002, I had thought I had made real friends there but I was shocked at the barely concealed contempt I received upon my return.

I returned to the widget factory leaving a great job repairing x-ray machines that had everything you could possibly desire in a career except decent pay. Since I had no formal training in X-ray repair I was literally making about the same as a pizza delivery guy, something that bugged the daylights out of my wife. Formal x-ray training that would have bumped my salary up to widget factory levels but that would require me attending technical schools that were so expensive my employer would have to flip the bill for the tuition, travel expenses, along with room and board during the classes. Since I was still in the National Guard at the time, standing a better than average chance of being mobilized, the x-ray company I worked for did not want to spend the money only to lose it after I turned up for orders sending my unit and me to Afghanistan, and later Iraq.

Finding myself caught in a nice “Catch 22”, I spent a year of on the job training learning radiology repair, including advanced procedures for calibration, but making less than someone driving around with a load of pepperoni pizzas in his or her backseat on a Saturday night. This dichotomy was the subject of many heated discussions between my wife and me since we were rapidly approaching the date when she and her sister would leave for China to bring the infant Darth Wiggles home. So, when the widget factory suddenly called me about returning, with a pay raise, I quickly jumped at the chance.

From day one of my return to the widget factory, I quickly realized that I had violated some redneck social taboo placing me on the same level as a leper or some other social untouchable. It was so bad that months later that by sheer chance I learned my supervisor had tore my fellow employees’ new buttholes after hearing them complain about my return ahead of some of their buddies. Something I had absolutely no knowledge of until much later, if fact one of the guys who complained the most behind my back about my return had actually talked to me a week before I gave my notice to the x-ray company. Had this fine example of “Deliverance” level inbreeding given me a heads up on the situation I would have stayed where I was and been immensely happier in the long run. Yeah, I still harbor some bad feelings that often bleeds off on my opinion of where I live even now.

Fast forward a few months later and I am working twelve-hour night shifts at the widget factory while Dragonwife is dealing with getting the infant Darth Wiggles and a much younger Darth Spoilboy up for school during the workweek. Throw in alternating weekend shift work, and once-a-month National Guard duty and family life had taken a considerable hit all for more money. On a side note, I did call the x-ray company asking for my job back but that went over like a submarine with a screen door. I was replaced less than two weeks before I called them with someone with accredited training and several years of real experience.

To say I was disgruntled every morning when I returned home would have been a huge understatement, but not quite enough to load up on 9mm ammo and go postal on my telecommunication coworkers with my Sig P226. But I have to admit I regularly dreamed about seeing most of the widget factory maintenance staff on a bus with it flying off a cliff and them dying a horrendous, fiery death as the vehicle explodes upon impact with the ground. Yet even with these feelings I somehow found the strength to greet them nicely each morning as they came into work.

The house was usually empty when I returned home and because of the long shifts I worked, I was required to quickly have a shower, eat, then jump into bed to try and get some sleep before the family come home from work, school, and day care late that afternoon. I had little time to decompress which left me no time to shed the frustration and stress that never went away.

Even with my aggravation, I was usually able to quickly fall asleep but one day I found myself be awoken by a crying baby. Now my first thought was that somehow Dragonwife had, in some insane fit of stupidity, left the infant Darth Wiggles home. Such was my state of mind that I literally ran all through the house looking for my baby daughter thinking all sort of nightmarish scenarios that could have been scripts for some half-assed horror movie.

I eventually collected enough of my meager wits to discover the source of the crying to be the baby monitor receiver in my bedroom, Dragonwife had left it on and I was hearing the howling of some baby in another house. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved even though I was feeling some empathy for the poor kid. Soon enough I heard an adult female over the receiver began to say soothing things, which quieted the baby down.

Over the course of the next few weeks hearing that baby cry became a regular event when I returned home, and when it started I would just turn off the monitor. What changed my instinctive habit of turning off the receiver was the introduction one day of an angry male voice that would cuss the baby and the apparent mother. The arguments between the two adults would become so heated at times the sound of someone hitting the other would not have been a surprise. The words said between the two adults were so bad actual hitting might have been kinder. They made the arguments I had with my wife pale in comparison. Both of these unknown people would curse the day they had met each other and the decision to have a baby neither really wanted.

Lying in bed I could not help but begin to wonder where these inadvertent transmissions were coming from. The baby monitor system my wife had bought was a new but very basic system. The manual for it said its range was very limited but even though I have never been popular in my subdivision, I knew of a few families with newly arrived infants like Dragonwife and me but they were several streets over.

At times, while working in the yard I would see each of these families walking the neighborhood looking seemingly happy with each other while pushing a baby stroller. I wondered about the masks they wore in front of everyone else and how they would have reacted if they knew their true feelings were available for anyone to hear.


Sue H said...

Sometimes it's good to hide behind our masks - often it's easier than dealing with issues that may prove tedious or heartbreaking to resolve.

I pity that poor child, though - and now you're drawn into the trauma of wondering which of the people you know might be the parents......

Randal Graves said...

This was so much funnier when this happened on the Simpsons (that sounds like an insult, but it's the exact opposite).

Brutal honesty is too brutal to make even a vaguely bloodless half-assed mockery of a society, but man, does it chew up the innards.

Windsmoke. said...

Most people hide behind masks because they can't deal with real life and at the same time weave a web of lies which eventually comes back and bites you on the bottom :-).

lime said...

so sad. i can imagine you really wondered which family it was. we just have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. one house we lived in had thin enough wall to hear all the same kind of cursing of each other and the children from the neighbors. then again, there seemed to be o attempt at wearing any kind of mask. it was to the extent that one morning when i heard an adult female voice speaking very sweetly to the 5 yr old i wondered who must be visiting. i looked outside and saw the mother sitting on the porch speaking to her daughter on the first day of school. it was the single time i heard her speak in any manner other than shouting obscenities.

Pixel Peeper said...

Your story doesn't say, but I hope you no longer work at the widget place. Stress at work really can affect our quality of life outside work hours.

I had a baby monitor like that once, it picked up my neigbors' phone calls on their cordless phone (don't use your cordless phone to make credit card purchases while living next door to thieves with baby monitors)

Makes you wonder about a scenario if things had escalated. At what point would you feel obligated to alert authorities?

Beach Bum said...

Sue H: Yeah, for a long time I did wonder who it really was but after awhile they must have stopped using their baby monitor, or at least realized they were broadcasting their troubles over the air.

Randal: Its cool! I didn't see that episode of the Simpson's but this was just be rethinking some old stuff. Especially since I started at the widget factory right at eleven years ago.

Windsmoke: I was/am the same way to a great extent, I had to hide behind my mask because of my mistake of going back to the widget factory. Its something we all have to wear at times.

Lime: I've got to admit I have gone Drill Sergeant on my son several times when he has done something supremely stupid but what I heard was personal and vicious. Even Darth Wiggles has pushed the limit but I have told my wife she will have to take the lead with her.

Pixel: Oh no! I left the widget factory back in 2005 and did not look back. I work at another hospital, in downtown Columbia this time.

You might be able to guess the real name of widget factory I worked, the real name was Italian as well and it is located on Industrial Drive here in town.

Mr. Charleston said...

It's always gripped the hell out of me when someone isn't paid what they're worth simply because of a piece of paper. I once quit a job as a television photographer and cameraman to collect coins from pay phones because it paid nearly twice as much. Go figure.

Mike said...

Sometimes if we're lucky we can grow into the mask and become the people we want to be. If we're lucky.

Truth 101 said...

My wife and I both took 10k pay cuts for jobs with better hours and working conditions.. Best thing we ever did. Saved me from alcoholism and divorce and saved her physical and mental health.

R W Rawles said...

Speaking for myself, I wish some one had told me, in time, what Steve Jobs told the graduating class at Stanford in 2005:

....Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

Cloudia said...

Interesting musings.

BTW, your pal Jimmy Buffet is swinging by Honolulu (he has a restaurant here . . ) to act in an upcoming Hawaii5O. He'll play a pilot - no stretch :-)

warm Aloha from Honolulu, my Bro

Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >


Beach Bum said...

Mr. Charleston: At the time it bugged the hell out of me to be doing a complex job which usually pulled a very nice paycheck for next to nothing. What I overlooked though was that my bosses took extra care of me. That X-ray company I worked for gave me a full two-week pay check the day I started and when I asked for UNPAID time off for a Disney cruise I returned to work to find they had paid me for that week after all.

Long story short if anyone was a dumbass all I have to do is look at any mirror to locate that person.

Mike: AMEN! Yeah, there has been several times in my life I have had to do just such a thing.

Truth: I would love to downsize in several ways but for my wife such a concept is as alien as any creature that flies past Earth in a UFO. You have read many of my posts whining about suburbia and life in general.

RW: Yeah, I screwed the pooch with the X-ray gig but I seem to be doing okay now.

Cloudia: I swear, Jimmy is the man.

Ranch Chimp said...

Good Mornin Bum ... A great story, and one that so many folk's have challenge's with on one avenue or another. Argueing between my wife and I is almost unheard of actually on anything, we both realize that we both are going to do whatever were gonna do I reckon, and our view's on issue's are very different, even how we raised our daughter's, and my wife is as headstrong as me, she does her thing and has her wayz, period ... just as I do. Then we had such a crowded type household as well from other id's and my wive's sister's, her son who I also adopted and brought here as a teen (took him to see Van Halen "live" when he first came to America from the Philippines, with 8 friend's of mine, I bought 1o ticket's within the first hour they went on sale they sold out so quick) for year's her mom lived with us too, who passed away and I loved dearly, most guy's complain about mom- in- law's ... mine was close to me and really cool to get along with ... but no ... my wife wont even do what her mom sayz for that matter, but, she's a good partner, she doesnt ride my ass, and I dont ride her's (except in the sack of course : ). Probably one of the most complaining thing's from my wife has been how I raised my daughter's perhap's, which even PTA parent's called me "not a good parent" and being to liberal on raising kid's, so no biggie ... however, those daughter's(3) all have college degree's and good career's (I never even made it past 8th grade and was a runaway street kid, sex, drug's, rock and roll and the related shit) but I must have done something at least right ... I only was the way I was with my daughter's because I know too well how the world is, and what they will have to face, whether we like to think of it as parent's or not ... long story Guy. But Thanx for the great read Guy ... dont feel like a Lone Ranger, many can feel your pain's as well.

Akelamalu said...

Ah your post just goes to prove that more money doesn't always make you happy. Nothing worse than being unhappy in your job Beach, I feel for you.

That crying baby and the ensuing arguments of it's parents would have troubled me greatly. I probably would have to canvas all the neighbours to find out who they were. :(

Ranch Chimp said...

BTW Bum ... dont know if your a Van Halen fan, but the tour I mentioned was the 1984 album/ cd tour, when Diamond Dave Lee Roth was still their vocalist on lead, I even seen them on earlier tour's (2- 1979 & 1980 I believe) what an explosive "live" act they were, and a couple band's I played with, I done several VH cover's with on vocal's and Blues Harp's, some rhythem guitar riff stuff, etc ... we done cover's of "Mean Street's", "Atomic Punk" and "Sinner's Swing" in particular at local club's, dive's, but fun ... alot of year's back brother, so maybe a tad before your time, eh? : )

Green Monkey said...

I cater to a lot of high end clientele. everyone trying to one up the other. everyone telling everyone how marvelous everything is. ugh.... I am very uncensored. if something sucks I'll tell you about it (and blog about it). I don't however like to hurt people so I tend to enable them. but...back to YOU. Your work associates pissed me off! great read (and I'm a mind drifter). thanks for reading me. it means a lot!

MRMacrum said...

Some masks are worn out of concern for basic survival - "Does this dress make my butt look big?" I put on my "I can't hear you dear" mask.

Other masks are worn just to get us through our days.

And some masks are worn inside out. Those are the nasty ones, the ones that keep us from facing ourselves and what we are.

Good read Bum.

Beach Bum said...

Ranch: she's a good partner, she doesnt ride my ass, and I dont ride her's (except in the sack of course : ).

Damn! LOL!!!!!!

Yeah, I'm a big Van Halen fan but every other fan pretty much hates me since I likd Sammy Hagar better than David Lee.

Akelamalu: It far better now, I left that job back in 2005 and I'm again working at a hospital, but doing a far different job.

Green Monkey: Welcome and come again. Your writing is awesome.

Crum: Totally correct! Far too many people are wearing their masks inside and lying to themselves about their lives and the world in general.

Nance said...

Fascinating experience. And, if I know you at all (in that limited bloggish way), if there'd been anything that sounded like hitting, you'd have moved heaven and earth to find that family and protect that child. As it was, you've been haunted by it. I'm sure the child has been, too, even though it likely has no memory of the time. It hurts to think of and calls to mind the issue of reporting of child abuse that dominates the news this week.

Red Nomad OZ said...

Whoa! No wonder you fantasize about heading downunder to OZ ...

Do any of the potential suspects read your blog?? Just askin' ...

Ranch Chimp said...

BTW Bum, I'm sure you know how picky I am on music ... but I too didnt necessarily favour the new Van Halen with Sammy (Hagar), but they did have some great worx/ composition's together and quite a success. I never could compare Hagar and Roth as vocalist's, as far as similarities (I have covered both myself in band's, but more compatible with Roth as far as my range) But the two are a world of difference vocal wise, I thought Sammy was good with Van Halen as "Sammy", not trying to cover Roth's old tune's though, and I am a big Sammy fan too, to show you how long ... I actually seen Sammy when he was the vocalist of "Montrose" back in the mid- 1970's "live", later I attended two Sammy Hagar Band concert's after he went solo and started directing and producing his own crew, where I seen him do all the great's like "Heavy Metal", "I Cant Drive 55", etc, etc ... the Sammy Hagar Band "live" was absolutely kick- ass as far as engineering and "live" production, actually better "live" than their studio work as far as my personal preference in listening ... I could go on and on, on this subject and artist though, so I'll spare you Guy : )

lime said...

oh hey, any parent who hasn't lost his or her cool on their kids at least once is not paying attention. we've all done it but my point was my neighbors were characterized and known by being verbally hostile and vulgar, saying things that normal people would not be proud of in any way shape or form.

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