A Natural-ness

I knew one thing: I didn’t want to waste my summer sitting behind a desk, hoping for a big chance to write a draft of a constituent letter for Congressman.  I knew I didn’t want to deliver Chivas in the Dirksen Office Building for a hyper Cuban ex-pat with a grudge. I knew that I didn’t want to work for the “Electronic Industries Alliance,” or the “National Association of Corn Extruder Processors,” or the  “Americans for Responsible Recreational Access.”

After two years living in Washington, DC, I knew that those jobs did exist, and that plenty of absolutely bored people got totally snockered at a K Street happy hour after working there.  Then they stumbled onto a Farragut West metro and fall asleep in Falls Church.  Nope, not for me.

What I did want to do was  to be inspired.  It wasn’t hard to find the appropriate employer for my plans: College Pro Painters.

My interview for the position as journey painter was conducted by Sharon, a business marketing major from American.

I could tell I was going to like Sharon.  Sharon was hot.  She could definitely be  my boss this summer. Yep, my friends would suck-up to a chief cheese extruder lobbyist. They could be Junior Cheese Boy. I would be with Sharon.

Of course, just about anybody was hot after living for three weeks in an unconditioned frat house.  Heck, I was just glad to have a conversation away from the sounds of my roommate’s band, “Fast and Easy.”

Sharon leaned forward.  There was construction going on a block away, as had been the case for the last two years.

I leaned forward, too, but out of a John Updike-Philip Roth kind of motive.  I suppose I wasn’t the first to have to manage this kind of situation during an interview, but well, it was a bit distracting.

“So,” she said, “we are looking for some detail-oriented kids, all self-starters, who want to make a lot of money but are willing to get up early and work all day.”

I should have pretty much walked away then.  I didn’t really hear her.  What I did here was my own imagination.  In my vision, we were running across a back lit meadow with tall grass.  We were holding hands.  I had a paint roller in my hand. She was carrying a paint bucket. It was sloshing over with dripping oil.

“Why do you want to work here?” she asked.

I was really glad that she asked that question.  Normally, I’m not great at interviews.  That certainly was the case when I was 19.  But I could tell I had this one covered, because I had actually guessed that she might ask this very question!

“Well,” I looked up, trying to gather the enormity of my ambition into a cohesive narrative, “it all really begins with Karl Marx.”

I would not advise anyone to use Karl Marx as a point of inspiration, particularly with applications for jobs in the manual labor field.

“Is that right?” Sharon asked. “Tell me more.”

“Well, you see, the part of Karl Marx that most excites me,” I said, and this was a second mistake, because of course I have just hinted at the possibility that there are multiple aspects of Karl Marx that make sense to me, “is his conceptualization of the Natural Man.”

Sharon had a college-ruled notebook.  She wrapped it tightly across her chest.

“See, the Natural Man is a complete man,” I said. “He works to his limits, and then, he knows himself. He labors with the artifact, with soil, with the very detritus of the earth.  He is not alienated.  He is not political.”

I though more about those lemmings on K Street. No, I wanted to go the other way.  I wanted Natural-ness.

“He rejects those who ride on the backs of others,” I declared. My less-than-hot philosophy professor would have understood.

I got the job, of course. In no time, I was painting the row houses of Georgetown. We worked from 7 to 4, with an hour off for lunch. I drank buckets of water, I ate nabs, I ruined lots of shirts.

My third day, a Friday, I decided to just work through.  I kept painting well past dinner, until the light dropped off the evening cooled.  I finished it – a complete job – a total expression of my Natural-ness. I went home and had a Mickey’s Big Mouth.

That is why I was let down on Monday.

“Adam,” said Sharon.  “We need to talk.”

She looked at me with those same probing eyes. Gee, I thought, its just my third day.  Let’s keep it cool. She still had that notebook, though, braced against her chest.

“Did you read the details on your instruction sheet for that Georgetown Federal?”

I didn’t say anything, because, of course, I hadn’t even noticed that its absence.

“Because you put two coats of latex over a million dollar house with oil paint.”

– –

In two weeks, I had a job at an investment bank. We bought for-profit vocational schools that soaked up Pell Grants and guaranteed student loans.

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