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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Career Mistakes

I’ve never, ever told anyone this, but there is one time in my life I had a definite career goal. And after that was squashed, I fell into a spiral of inertia and accepted just about every job that was offered to me. I can remember just two that I turned down.

I figure that possibly if my father lived (here we go, I hear you groaning), maybe I would have received a little more career guidance. Maybe I would have wanted to grow up and become a writer, as my dad was, instead of having this oddball assortment of jobs:
  • Busboy
  • Library Aide
  • Phototypesetter (4 different jobs)
  • Secretary
  • HR Rep for a year in Saudi Arabia
  • Financial Analyst (me, being the person who can’t balance his own checkbook)
  • Unemployed alcoholic (also referred to as “semi-retirement” and “construction engineer” (while I was working on rehabbing my house, when I should have been rehabbing myself)
  • Shipping clerk
  • Coordinator in a maintenance department
  • Technical Support geek
  • Buyer

Try to find the common denominator in those. You could be here all day.

It would have been nice to have worked for a newspaper, starting off as a delivery boy, then a go-fer, maybe do some time in classified ads before eventually writing puff pieces, leading to serious journalism, leading to management, leading to writing a bestseller. I just didn’t know how to go about that. A concerned family friend whose husband ran the town newspaper offered to get me an interview when I was 18, but I somehow got out of it. I was too young, too shy, too inexperienced, and it would just have been freaky working with former colleagues of my dad’s.

I don’t know if I would have been happier or sadder with an actual career instead of a string of loser jobs. Without my Saudi job, there are parts of the world I never would have seen. Without my tech support job I never would have earned enough money to buy my own home. I could have been richer. I could have been poorer. I could have been a contender. Or not. I’m not bothered by my inertia spiral and always taking the path of least resistance. I was in Saudi Arabia the first year that AIDS arrived on the scene. That alone could have prolonged my life for decades. I’m 52 and still alive, which is a lot farther than the 20-some-odd people I knew who succumbed to the disease got.

So here it is, what I’ve been postponing telling you.

I wanted to be a mime.

Now, I don’t clearly remember why I wanted to be a mime. I know that I was very moved seeing Marcel Marceau perform at the Kennedy Center, but that was long after my mime dream was out of the way. I know that Toni Allen played the role of the mime in “The Fantasticks,” one of our high school productions. Did that influence me? I don’t think so. That’s about all I know about mimes.

When I was in high school I actually thought that I could actually build a career as a mime. Hey, if Marcel Marceau could do it, why couldn’t I, I reasoned.

When you say mime, what do you think of? You think of Marcel Marceau. Have there ever been any others? Name two, and Red Skelton doesn’t really count, because he wasn’t Just A Mime.

I actually thought that I could go to college, major in theater, and then, without learning French, board a plane and attend the Compagnie De Mimodrame Marcel Marceau (or, as simple philistines called it, The Marcel Marceau School of Mime). And then after that I could go and silently perform at the Kennedy Center and have my own Playbill.

I am basically a quiet, introspective person, even though these stories might give you a different idea. Other Bill probably does 80-85% of the talking in our house, and I am happy that he does. Maybe having a career as a silent person was why I was so drawn to the mime occupation. Plus it’s a job you can do all by yourself, which then and still does appeal to me.

All I remember is that I wanted to be a goddamn mime. When I told my mother I wanted to major in theater, she basically said, “Over my dead body,” which, given my attitude, could easily have been arranged. We even marched out to the university and saw a career counselor together, also an old family friend. It was then my mother confessed she didn’t want me joining a homosexual industry. I believe those were her exact words: homosexual industry. Whenever I think of that, I can’t help but imagine a factory assembly line, off of which is rolling a bunch of skinny, bitchy queens in outrageous outfits, being packaged up and sent to major cities where homosexuals thrived: San Francisco, New York, West Hollywood, Key West.

Lee, the counselor, asked my mother why she thought only homosexuals were theater majors. Wouldn’t it be worse if I chose graphic or fashion design?

My mother said, “I just don’t want them to get their hands on him. I’ve seen them looking at him.”

“What?” I interjected, “when was this?” Homosexuals were looking at me? Why hadn’t I known? I certainly would have looked back (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

“Why, just the other day in the elevator at work,” she said.

“In the federal building? Where you work?”

“Yes,” she said, “when we were going down.”

I suppressed a smirk. At this point in time, at age 18, I had already gone down on three men.

“There were two guys obviously sizing you up. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

“I certainly did not,” I confirmed.

Seeing that this conversation was going to a bad place, Lee interrupted. She gave my mother a long but friendly, encouraging talk about how it was time, as much as she might hate it, to let go and let what ever would be, be. Que Sera. There was no guarantee in life that even if I chose English or journalism as a career that I wouldn’t be cruised or even recruited by homosexuals. She was very gentle, chose her words carefully, and talked on my mother’s terms. She was a brilliant, eloquent woman whom my mother respected. And Mom listened very carefully and agreed to everything she said. We showered her with thanks and complimented her wisdom.

My mother and I went down in the elevator of the building (and I remember watching men’s eyes). We got out in the muggy Florida heat, and I said, “So, is it okay if I major in theater?

“It is certainly not goddamned okay,” she snapped, and that was the end of that. She’s the one who cashed the Social Security checks that came in my name that were paying the tuition (and for a lot of bourbon for her), and since she held the purse strings, she got final say.

What was I going to do, take her to court?

I want to say she was right. A career in mime was a waste of tuition money which would only have led to the same string of loser jobs that I received as an English major grad. Either way, I would have ended up in the same place. Although going through theater classes would have been a lot more fun than reading and reporting on The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Sometimes Mom was right; a lot of times she was wrong, but most often it just didn’t matter.

Que Sera.

After doing a Google search on the Compagnie De Mimodrame Marcel Marceau, I found that the joint is closed. Marcel Marceau is dead. It does, however, have an extensive listing of links to other mime schools throughout the world. The closest one to me is near Orlando.

Am I about to ditch my latest loser job and apply for a scholarship there?

Uh, no. There’s nothing more pathetic than an Old Mime.

Unless, of course, you’re Marcel Marceau.

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