I’ve always hated work. Even when I was little I had an aversion to work. Even before I could have a job I conjured an expansive definition of ‘work.’ Anything that I had to do that I didn’t like became classified as ‘work.’ Daycare, when I went, was work; school, obviously, was work too. And I hated these things, or at least felt as close an approximation as I could to that complex and cancerous emotion at that age.
After school the first thing I always did when I got home was wash my hands. I had this belief that doing things I didn’t like – work – contaminated me; my school things felt grubbier to me than my home things – looked grubbier, caught the light differently. They were uglier from their inextricable connection to places I didn’t want to be, things I didn’t want to do. And washing my hands was the way I disconnected myself from those places and things.
It’s possible all of this was just an innate laziness, corrupted by obsessive compulsive disorder. I’ve been told that OCD used to be called “The Doubting Disease,” but I think that Wallace Stevens, unconsciously or not, came up with the best name for it: Rage for Order. OCD is a disease that will populate any empty space with methodologies of control, rules for order. It functions entirely by drawing lines, erecting barriers, making binary distinctions between one thing and another.
So yes, it’s possible that this need to divest myself of the contagions of work originated in my disease. But consider that it’s possible, even likely, that the things we don’t want do but feel we must leave unremovable wounds within us, brand us with their corruption.
When I lived in Boulder I worked at Best Buy. One time, I went out drinking with my friend and coworker for her birthday. Her boyfriend couldn’t come so it was the two of us and some other friends from work.
We started in the early evening, first stopping at restaurant her cousin worked at on Pearl Street for dinner. When we left, it was still early but we were already pretty drunk. Usually when we went out, we’d to one or two particular favorite bars, but that night, obeying some frantic impulse, we turned it into a procession, diving into four or five different places that looked more and more like the same place as the night went along: a low ceiling’d, sub-basement-feeling place, the kind that Pearl Street seems full of only on nights like this one, where you’re already drunk and part of your drunken rage for novelty demands that you walk into a new bar every so often to prolong the sensation of doing something, of being somewhere. All that changes from place to place is the music, the lighting, the number of people; the fundamental, and fundamentally obscure, background setting seems the same everywhere you go. And other distinctions melt away too: music has no volume, it’s just either on or off, the beer in the glass has no temperature, no taste, only enough of a difference in texture from the hot thick air around you to let some unsleeping analytical node at the base of your brainstem confirm that yes, you are still drinking, and thus no, the night isn’t over and you don’t need to relinquish this feeling yet.
There’s always a point in a night like this where, whether by some overarching social unconscious or (what it more often feels like) a venal but crudely powerful rush of desire from one or two people, everyone in the party settles into a particular attitude and distance from everyone else. After this point there is no movement closer or further away from each other. And this night, under this ironclad consensus, I ended up closest to my friend, in what felt like a ring of intimacy that was new for us.
In the last bar, what light there was came from odd angles, in bands of blue, green, and red, passing sometimes through clouds of stage smoke that fuzzed them out their hard edges. I kept leaning into my friend, or she onto me. She took my hand and led me through the crowd to the bar. People in near-total shadow loomed on either sides, and all around the thick smell of cloistered bodies. We made it to the bar and she handed me another drink, virulent blue, in a sweating glass goblet.
“Fishbowl!” I said, grinning, applecheeked in the darkness.
“What?” she said.
And then later: we bounded out of the bar and onto Pearl again, and took off, the two of us, at a sprint, the others, less drunk now, following at a soberer pace. We sat down on a bench, and she took my hand in hers again, or I took hers in mine. And she leaned her head on my shoulder and mumbled something into the fabric of my shirt.
“What?” I said, half-laughing.
Our fingers were still interlaced. With her free hand’s pointer finger she traced a formless coil on the back of my hand.
“Best Buy hands…” she said thickly.
And I felt embarrassment, and like there was a strange, inescapable contamination in my person. Despite every effort and wish on my part, every effort to distance and divide the good portion of my life from the accompanying necessary labor, it had become a part of me – worse, of who I was to others. And I realized, of course, that I thought the same thing about her, that the first image of her I drew her up in my mind always showed her in her blue work shirt, listening with a wide false smile to the complaints of some beleaguered yuppie. Because we’re always marked, unwashably, whether we want to be or not.