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.