March 14, 2003
I work in a library. It’s not a bad gig. I get all the books I could ever read, I’ve learned that there are at least four magazines devoted solely to the study of bodily fluids, the cheapest of which is $250 per year, although you can get a free trial subscription if you sign up for a major credit card, and if I ever meet a topologist I’ll be able to say, "So, did you attend the 1999 conference on laminations and foliations in dynamics, geometry, and topology?" Of course that’s all I’ll be able to ask. The only reason I know about it is because I had a book about it in my office for two days while I wondered who in the world reads this crap.
But I digress. Working in a library is pretty nice, and it beats some of the previous job I had: doing temp work for a disgruntled warehouse owner who was scarred by his Vietnam experience–the war ended before he could go–and who, despite the fact that he outweighed me by at least 300 kilograms (not pounds– the number in pounds was just too staggering for me to type it) referred to me as "Big’un", filling the slop troughs at a fast food restaurant salad bar, which was truly educational only because I never knew that lettuce could come in powdered form, and answering phones at the now defunct Planetoxic Trucking Inc.
How did I end up in any of these jobs? Well, I wanted the library job, but with all the others I just filled out an application form while killing time waiting to get that magical phone call telling me I was needed to serve as ambassador to Kiribati. I didn’t think I’d actually get any of the jobs, since, before taking any of them I didn’t know anything about the trucking industry, I had no idea how to make macaroni salad in industrial quantities, and, unlike so many teenagers who seem to be preparing themselves for warehouse jobs, I’ve never mastered the art of exposing just the top two inches of my butt without losing my pants with every step. Somehow none of this was what I planned for when I was a kid and adults would ask me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Well, I wanted to be an astronaut, a marine biologist, a rock star, a movie director, and like so many young idealists who grow up to have their dreams shattered, I wanted to be a garbage man. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but I’m lousy at math, I wanted to be a sculptor but I have no artistic talent, and I wanted to be a stand-up comedian, but if I could get up in front of people and tell jokes do you think I’d be writing a weekly column and sticking it on the internet? I still think being a writer must be a pretty good job, but so far no one’s offered me to pay me for what I do. (But please feel free to contact me at this e-mail address if you would.) Who among us didn’t, when they were eight, dream of being an Egyptologist? And yes, I wanted to be a superhero. I thought maybe I could be Lizard Man: the chameoleon would give me power to blend into backgrounds, the gecko would have given me power to climb any surface, and the iguana would not give me the ability to look in two directions at once but also give me a thirty-foot long tongue, and I don’t need to tell you how popular that would have made me. I gave up that youthful dream when I turned twenty-eight.
I guess in these trying economic times I’m lucky to have a job at all, but it’s human nature to always look for something better. Yesterday afternoon on the way home from work I saw a sign out in front of a building that said, "Now taking applications for kindergarten." Although I haven’t asked yet, I figure the qualifications include having rudimentary knowledge of finger paints, being able to take a nap in the afternoon, naming the days of the week, and coloring inside the lines. I could probably handle that as long as nobody calls me Big’un.
For all of you with teenagers or who have had teenagers, you may want to know why they really have a lot in common with cats:
1. Neither teenagers nor cats turn their heads when you call them by name.
2. No matter what you do for them, it is not enough. Indeed, all humane efforts are barely adequate to compensate for the privilege of waiting on them hand and foot.
3. You rarely see a cat walking outside of the house with an adult human being, and it can be safely said that no teenager in his or her right mind wants to be seen in public with his or her parents.
4. Even if you tell jokes as well as Jay Leno, neither your cat nor your teen will ever crack a smile.
5. No cat or teenager shares your taste in music.
6. Cats and teenagers can lie on the living-room sofa for hours on end without moving, barely breathing.
7. Cats have nine lives. Teenagers carry on as if they did.
8. Cats and teenagers yawn in exactly the same manner, communicating that ultimate human ecstasy — a sense of complete and utter boredom.
9. Cats and teenagers do not improve anyone’s furniture.
10. Cats that are free to roam outside sometimes have been known to return in the middle of the night to deposit a dead animal in your bedroom. Teenagers are not above that sort of behavior.
Thus, if you must raise teenagers, the best sources of advice are not other parents, but veterinarians. It is also a good idea to keep a guidebook on cats at hand at all times. And remember, above all else, put out the food and do not make any sudden moves in their direction. When they make up their minds, they will finally come to you for some affection and comfort, and it will be a triumphant moment for all concerned.