Friday, September 11, 2009

Where I Live: South Jersey and Surrounding Areas

Where I live:

I.

I walk to the lawyer’s office where I’m going to try and sell a page on Haddonfield’s Featured Professional’s website to a marketing director named Brian. This law firm is huge and could be the money-making cow I’ve heard so much about -- after a month I’ve sold only one page so far...sort of. They want me to call back in October after they’ve moved. But they’re really really really interested! So I’m like -- Awesome! Great! I’ll call back in October. Super! Talk to you in October! -- on the phone but when I hang up I have to take a swill of my coffee to keep from moaning.

The law firm’s building is formidable and gray. Weeds burst here and there from cracks in the parking lot, but the cars are imported and the people getting out of them after their lunch breaks wear suits and have brief cases. My sneakers -- which are so comfortable and let me run faster than these lawyers can -- have a few grass stains and a spittle of coffee has just drooled onto my shirt, but it’s okay; I’m one of those people who can maintain his aura of normalcy -- even arrogance -- with huge puddle-like stains all over his clothes. My mother calls those kinds of people slobs. I hail from a clan of slobs.

Inside it looks like a hotel that’s been turned into an upscale brothel. Soft pastel waves adorn the wall paper. Recessed lights leave puddles of yellow light on blue carpets. The lamps shades are faux-art deco stained glass atop brass fixtures, and the receptionist’s desk is made of dark stained wood. Ebony comes to mind. The receptionist is an old woman with short cropped hair who looks like she would hit your hand with a wooden spoon for eating a cookie before dinner. Beyond her desk, at the end the hall, there is an elevator with brushed metal doors that opens and closes silently, seemingly without anybody getting in or coming out.

My name splashes all over the receptionist desk, “MynameismattlindeboomI’mheretoseeheadofmarketing!”

She responds with a question: “I’m sorry. Max...?”

“Oh I’m sorry. Matt Lindeboom. I have a two o’clock with the head of marketing?”

“Thank you.”

She picks up the phone and dials some buttons without taking her peripheral vision off me. By now she’s noticed the coffee spittle and my old saddle bag with patches of Asian flags on it. She probably also suspects I have a tattoo, like every other kid my age -- which is true -- and she’s relieved that her son is 35 and grew up before the tattoo-thing got popular. Oh but identity is hard to find in a recession. This young man might have gotten it out of desperation. She smiles generously.

“Max you can sit. He’ll be down shortly.”

Max? I find a chair and sit. I’m often confused for a Max. It’s an easy mistake to make because the T’s in Matt are basically silent. Who runs around saying their name is “Matt-uh?” What’s the point of making a big fuss? It’s just a first name and Max is pretty close. Max is a fine name. Identity persists beyond one’s name doesn’t it?

II.

I’ve been rereading Joan Didion’s “The White Album,” from which the famous line “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” comes to us. White Album explores a time –1966 to 1971 – when Didion doubted just about every story she ever told herself. It’s not hard to believe that a person’s identity could get lost in the brouhaha of the 1960s. Didion’s 60s are a mélange of protests, crime, and famous people from California. Charles Manson raised a family and went calling on Sharon Tate and Co. Huey Newton shot a cop and then Eldridge Cleaver forged him into a political martyr for the Black Panthers. At San Mateo College they lived like “revolutionaries,” and the protests at San Francisco State College gave white students a chance to level up their revolutionary cred and for administrators to talk about programming. Didion spent her time living and trying to explain what she paranoia of what she saw. She wrote and reported and bought a dress for Linda Kasabian for her trial date at her request. But nothing seemed real, and nobody was surprised.


The stories we tell ourselves. I came back to New Jersey to a part-time job designing websites. I like where I work. The people know me and my schedule is relaxed so I don’t have to put the toilet seat down after I’m finished -- though I do -- and my boss doesn’t count my hours like a hawk for exaggeration -- though I don’t -- because she trusts me. She promised me a full-time position after another employee leaves for New York or Philadelphia, and in the meantime would I be interested in selling web pages to businesses two days a week for the Borough of Haddonfield? Sure I say. What’s the difference for a few weeks? Sell a couple dozen pages, clear a couple hundred bucks in commissions, and then get a kick-ass designing or writing job in NYC after I’ve had my fun.

The stories we tell ourselves. On my commute from Moorestown down I-295 S to Haddonfield, I keep the radio on very loud. If I manage to find Lil’ Wayne I’ll feel like I’m going to own every item I place my hands on that day. I am Midas, all of this shall be gold. If not (hip-hop stations in Philadelphia don’t like to play him in the morning for some reason) I’ll just put in a Ray LaMontagne CD, and let the world’s cold rainbow settle over me and all is suddenly tragically beautiful or beautifully tragic and I’m good with that. Sometimes I want NPR. Why are people asking if Obama is going to teach socialism to kids? That’s what Terry Gross wants to find out and I want to know! There is a blue and white pick up truck, piled high with fire wood, telling me that 10 out of 10 terrorists vote Democrat. Does that mean that 10 out of 10 saints vote Republican? If so, please explain Sarah Palin to me. A guest tells Terry Gross that Republicans are really just trying to distract away from Obama’s speech on Health Care by exaggerating his televised speech to school children. If 10 out of 10 terrorists vote Democrat then do they too stand up and cheer when the President scores political points by mentioning blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan. What does it say that I am yelling at Republicans through my computer screen, “Stand up you cowards!” when the President says a public option will help Americans. What do the terrorists do when both the Democrats and Republicans stand up after the President says, “The time for bickering is over,” like a father admonishing his misbehaved children?

I think about jobs, and what the people I went to high school with are doing. Do they live at home with Mom and Dad, like I do? When I got back to New Jersey and started a part time job designing websites I told myself that 6-months would be it for living at home. Five and a half months later I’m at my family’s Labor Day party on Long Island and my cousin asks me, “How goes the job search?” It goes and it goes.* A friend from more than a few Moorestown travel soccer teams, Zach is joining the FBI. He took all the tests, passed with flying colors, then he took an internship to work in Jordan for the summer. Unfortunately this means he has to start the background check portion of the FBIs battery of requirements all over again. He goes back on the waiting list. Now he substitute teaches. Do his parents help him buy individual health insurance, like mine do? Even if I was injured it wouldn’t cover very much. 90 days in the hospital or so. Dad says, “Just don’t get into one of those ‘you’re-almost-dead’ car crashes. You can’t afford it.” “We can’t afford what he has now anyway,” Mom offers in a way where I’m not sure if she’s sarcastic. “I’m invincible,” I say.

III.

This reception area has two paintings of old men in suits. Old lawyers, the ones who own the law firm I think. The paintings lose my attention quickly as attractive women walk by towards the elevator, either lawyers themselves or administrative types coming back from lunch. Though I have a girlfriend I look at them like I don’t. It’s been a while and Brian the head of marketing still hasn’t come down. I’m getting ready to leave. I’m getting ready to quit this god awful sales job. Here I come New York! I hope you’re ready Brooklyn! All these lawyers streaming back from long lunches (as I imagine them) brings to mind the gin soaked lunches of “Mad Men’s” Manhattan. Who doesn’t want to be Don Draper, the scion of Ayn Rand? Who wouldn’t stand up and take what they wanted because they could if they had the balls? Who wouldn’t forsake South Jersey for the glory what’s unexperienced, making it more beautiful than here? But it’s Joan Didion I want to be. She’s losing her mind from 1966 - 1971 (there’s an argument to be made that America, too, lost its mind there) but she makes it all look so easy. She has a life that others envy. She’s a writer in California and moves in posh, elegant circles with famous, interesting people. She’s losing her mind and telling me it’s all another story with the hardness, the rawness, removed and replaced with romanticism of another’s experience. No one knows that they are doing, and no one is surprised.

Brian doesn’t look like knows what he’s doing as he finally walks past the receptionist’s desk and looks at me questioningly, “Are you who I’m looking at?”

So I get up and pretend to know what I’m doing. “Hi – Brian? Nice to meet you.”

“You too Max. Let’s go this way.” He looks relieved.

“Lead the way Brian.”




*Answer stolen from Gentleman, Adam Winer

8 comments:

Jstone said...

sometimes life feels more like an obligation than a choice.

Max Nova said...

I'm personally more baffled when people hear my name as 'mac'. Who is named mac? No one, that's who.

B.Graham said...

my friend's little brother is named mac. pwned.

@matt - great post, made me write mine so thanks :)

also I get "megan" more often even than "whitney." wrap your brain around that one.

Matt Lindeboom said...

@Brittany - Thanks! I look forward to reading yours.

@Max - I don't know anyone named Mac, except characters on the receiving end of an insult or a lecture in films from the 40s and 50s. There is a Mac in two Steinbeck novellas: "Cannery Row" and its sequel "Sweet Thursday." He's a decent sort of fella.

@JStone - I agree. Have you ever caught yourself living merely between appointments? I think this is part of what Thoreau meant when he looked back and realized he had not lived. We are shoved from one destination to another, rather than going by the power of our own will sometimes. Such is the quintessential question of philosophy: How does one live an examined life when the way forward is dark?

Jason Heat said...

this was really great

David Pratt said...

Little Mac, fools, best boxer of all time.

ali d said...

I worked with a guy named Mac when I was in high school

Ozkirbas said...

Mac is a character on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia... but he's not real.