Day 28 – Why I Shouldn’t Want to Go to Prison (But Do Anyway)

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday. September 25, 2014

DSC_0284I’m a selfish sonuvagun. I like time to myself–and not just the normal amount. I need lots and lots of it. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to be in prison. Scratch that, I don’t fantasize–I romanticize it. I know prison is a horrible, restrictive place, but it can provide you with the ultimate solitude. If I were to ever go there I think I might shank* a guy to get myself put in Solitary Confinement.

*Urban Dictionary is confused about the proper use of “shiv” and “shank” so don’t expect me to know it.

Seriously, Solitary sounds like the best thing ever. First of all, it’s time away from all the guys in The Yard (totally got the lingo down) who basically want to kill you or get you to join their racist gang (everybody in prison is racist–thank you, movies). Second of all, that’s mucho time by yourself. Think of the thoughts you could think! Or the meditation you could meditate! It would be so peaceful. This is how I imagine it. In the movies (which never lie), when they threaten to take guys out of Gen Pop and put them in Solitary for shivving* a guy, I always think, “Why are they rewarding him for bad behavior?”

This is, of course, deeply stupid. But, to a selfish guy like me who likes his alone time and dark rooms and time to think? Yeah, Solitary doesn’t sound that bad.

Of course I know better. I know Solitary is horrible because despite whatever terrible little idiosyncrasies I might have, I’m still a human being. I need human contact and I can only stand so much of myself. More than that, I need to be useful to someone other than myself. Why? What is my purpose? I can tell you what it’s not: to satisfy my wants.

I want to be alone a lot. I need to not do that.

Now that I’m unemployed, my days are easily filled with wants. True, I do have a family (and make no mistake–I love being with them, but I also really like the hours from 10pm to 1:30am when I’m awake and alone), but without the job I have even more time for myself besides what my family wants and needs from me. So, I fill up the days with writing and drawing and, sure, applying for jobs and sending out resumes and stuff. Me stuff.

But, I need to do more than that.

* * *

This morning, Erin and I went and visited my Grandpa and his wife, Susan. They’re incredibly kind, generous people, and they’re family. Susan had a list of stuff that had piled up that needed doing–grandson stuff. You know. Take this thing out of the wall, fix this thing on Facebook, Get Netflix up and running, fix the computer, that sort of stuff. After a few hours of visiting and knocking out the list one-by-one, we were done and they were happy.

Not gonna lie, the first hour or so I was thinking almost the entire time about all the stuff of my own I wasn’t doing, but that faded. What replaced it was the most sublime feeling of satisfaction and peace that can only come from taking the focus off yourself for a little while.

spaingrapesIn the afternoon, I drove out past the edge of town to the Church Vineyard. My church runs several farms around the world that grow food for relief efforts. In California’s Central Valley, we have a vineyard for growing grapes that are turned into raisins. All the work at the vineyard is done by volunteers from the church membership and whatever friends we can trick into coming out with us to sweat and work and get dirty enough to be an extra in a Mad Max movie.

The grapes were picked about a month ago and have been sitting out in the sun ever since. They’re raisins now, and still on the ground up and down the rows of the vineyard, wrapped up in paper we call trays because, I guess, “paper” has too many syllables. Our job today was to box the raisins.

For the boxing, a small tractor is sent through the rows with a trailer hitched to it. On one side of the trailer sits the people who scoop up the trays. They toss the trays overhead to the people on the other side of the trailer who shake out the raisins into large, wooden boxes sitting in the trailer. I loved the tossing part, which put me low to the ground and constantly batting away vines as the tractor sped us along.

At the end of the row, the leftover trays are put in a stack and lit on fire. Yes, there is fire. A big fire. I really liked the fire.

When I first arrived at the vineyard, no one from my group was there so for the first hour I was put to work wetting down dirt for the forklift carrying the boxes with genuinely the longest hose I’ve ever seen in my life. That thing could go anywhere. I sprayed the moon with that thing.

file0001118113690All told, my work at the vineyard took about four hours. Not a full day’s work by any means, but a good chunk of the day. The sweetest moment came at the end, when I walked back to my car at sunset through the rows of grapes. A holey blanket of scattered dark clouds tried to cover the sky, but light shown through just fine. The breeze was perfect, just barely disturbing the leaves on the vine, but carrying the scent of burnt paper throughout the vineyard, into my nose, and straight to the part of my brain that recalled the childhood smell of my grandmother’s cigarettes. I was dirty from head to toe. The top of my head held so much dirt it looked like my hair was growing back in.

I worked hard. I was useful. It was amazing.

Today, I gave myself over to the needs of others and not-so-coincidentally had one of my very best days since this whole unemployment mess started. I did this because it’s simply not mentally healthy to drown yourself in your own wants and needs day after day after day.

That’s right, wants and needs. You can’t do it. You can’t be that selfish, even though you may be justified. The minute you think you’re so important and so desperate–I don’t care if you’re Job himself–that you can’t take time out to help someone else, you’ve lost. You’ve lost and you are lost. You’ve missed the point of, well, pretty much everything. You might as well go to Solitary Confinement, for all the good you are to anyone.

And besides, being unemployed sucks. It feels bad. But today? Today, I felt good.

* * *

For those curious, here’s a short little video about the vineyard I served at today. It’s an incredible place.