Sunday, February 20, 2005

Huge Pot Shipment!

It is my habit to get off the freeway as soon as possible when driving to work and continue the rest of my journey on the back roads. Even though I really do like to drive, taking the scenic route to and from work is what makes the 22 mile commute each way bearable. Instead of sitting in crawling traffic, I get to see rolling hills, cows and the occasional deer.

The other morning when I was driving to work, I saw a "Huge Pot Shipment" sign. I had to look twice before it dawned on me that I was passing a nursery and they meant garden pots and not marijuana pot. Either way, the sign amused me and amusement was just what I needed. After having been off work for the past month, I was not eager to return.

Don't get me wrong. My boss is nice. The people are pleasant, though there is that one woman who insists on regaling us all with her treasure chest of dumping bromides and pictures of herself tongue kissing the unattractive couple she is dating. I guess every office has one of those. No? You mean I'm just lucky? Go figure. Yet still I was dreading my return to corporate life.

It's not that my work is the worst possible vocation imaginable. It's not like I work in a coal mine or as ho for some drug dealing pimp. It's just that the work itself is, well, stupid. I think the problem is that it is not at all creative (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) or intellectually stimulating. It's the equivalent to being paid to pick lint from my navel.

Of course, that is not all bad. As far as jobs that any trained monkey could do go, I actually get paid pretty well. I have a nice, big cubicle by a window. If I climb on top of my desk and stand on tip-toe, I can even see the tip of Mt. Hood poking through the trees, if it's a clear day. Also, because it takes so little of my resources, I have time to think about important issues like the taxonomy of nerds, dorks and geeks or what I would write if I were writing a gothic novel. It gives me time to daydream that one guy who makes my insides melt and consider what my dog is really thinking as he hoards the rocks he's collected in the garden in an unused cat toy. What it doesn't do, however, is fulfill me in any kind of way beyond making sure I have enough money to pay my bills at the end of the month.

The thing that amazes me is that in this corporate culture, it seems that a lot of people seem to feel similarly. I am sure I have mentioned here that I was on a Grand Jury for month (I mention it every where, because I am all about jury duty now. Justice is my life!) Out of seven of us, only two were happy with their jobs. Everyone else felt somehow underused, underappreciated or underchallenged.

Serving on the Grand Jury was different. The grand jury I room has become like an idyll to me, despite its dirty chairs and the mystery smell left by one of our meth addict witnesses. Unlike my real job, I actually learned a lot there. For example, did you know you can trade shrimp for crack? That's what one of our rent-a-cop witnesses from Albertson's told us. Apparently bags of frozen shrimp is a high theft item, because addicts can trade them for drugs. Who knew?

And you know what everyone else on the planet but me knew? I will tell you! If you ever go to a strip club it is gauche to tip less than $1 per person in your party. This was learned the hard way by the patron who had a glass tumbler smashed into his face by an irate stripper.

I also learned that the prisons here dye their underwear pink to keep prisoners from stealing them and what the phrases "tweaker trade-in", "wangster", "crack in the crack", "pippi tart", "cop-knockin/knock-n-talk" and "1234" mean. More importantly, I learned that there are women who would name their twins Orangello and Lemongello, because their favorite foods are orange and lemon jello. Frankly, I don't know how I lived before jury duty!

Most of all, though, I was reminded just how fascinating (and sometimes awful) human beings can be - from the burglaries who got caught by leaving their cigarette butts (aka dna) at all of their robberies (this reminds me so much of the Italo Calvino story in which two gluttonous robbers are finally nabbed in a bakery, when they can't leave without stopping for a snack) to the 14 year old abuse victim who was trying valiantly to be such a grown up as he talked about his meth-addicted dad, but still ended his testimony by suddenly morphing into a little boy before my eyes as he asked us, "Did I do okay?". I don't think I've ever wanted to hug a stranger more. Those are the sorts of moments that break a person's heart. They're the kinds of moments that make a person want to become more engaged, to stop other little boys from experiencing those sort of things or ending up like the shackled gang member who sat and talked to us for over an hour as he tried to explain to us how he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You look at these boys, and you wonder what kind of futures they have, what kind of future any society they build is going to have. If you have an conscience, you wonder what can be done to keep them from becoming the next decade's abuser or OG. It can be depressing, because there really are no easy answers. As depressing as it can be, it is an experience I highly recommend for everyone who gets the chance. It's an eye opener. It makes a person think and continue thinking, even after life has returned to normal.

The funny thing is that after month of being engaged and observant, I thought I would hate work when I finally had to go back. Now I'm not saying that I love it, but it's not nearly as horrible as I was expecting. Something that the experience awakened in me is still awake. I find myself observing people more closely, wondering what their stories are and wanting to do something more substantial, something that matters. Where that will lead me, I don't know, but it makes me feel like I am on the verge of something, and I like that.


Jen said...

First of all - I have to say HA HA to the Huge Pot Shipment! I know law enforcement is overtaxed and underfunded, but surely it isn't a great idea to have big old signs out. hee hee. Secondly, thanks for writing up what you can about your Jury Duty experience. It's always a good reminder that there is no single 'Portland' - that the Portland I experience is as exotic and foreign as a trip to the moon for some people (ok, ok, - the moon, Drain, Or. whatever). And the reverse is true as well. Frozen shrimp. I had no idea.

And I have heard of Orangello and Lemongello - but I assumed it was an urban legend! Maybe they were named for the urban legend... At any rate, they are not the only Jello twins out in the world. Either it is a sad testament to the naming of babies in America, or evidence that the oppressive stranglehold of "regular" names is about to come to an end! (or possibly, Armageddon).

Lastly, I think it is as important as anything else we do to exercise our creative muscles. It seems like it is the area that most people feel comfortable in cutting from already busy schedules (probably because it is so undervalued by the larger culture). I recently read a comment somewhere that basically said you should never feel guilty for creative endeavors, even if you don't achieve what you set out to do. Any time spent being creative is not time wasted on planet earth, even if all you have is a big mess to show for it. Just the attempt stretches the brain and imagination in new ways and can lead to new pairs of synapses firing up - and who knows! Maybe the answers to some big problems are there. Now I sound like some kind of damn dirty hippie, but you know what I mean!

Martina said...

You know, it seems like a lot of people have heard of Orangello/Lemongello. I have to admit they are not people I met. The story was told by a woman on the jury, who had been a teacher in North Portland when she first moved her. According to her, Orangello and Lemongello were twins who were her students. With the number of people who've heard it, it does sound like an urban myth. She didn't strike me as someone who was telling a "my cousin's friend" kind of story, though.

Actually, she was one of the most interesting people I'd met in a long time. Having an exotic background (American Indian, Philipino, Black) she is attractive in the way that a lot of mixed race people are, and has lead an incredible life. If she hadn't brought in pictures, I would have thought for sure that she was just embellishing to make herself sound intersting!

Anyway, I'm not sure how I got off on this tangent. I have to go into work early thing morning (not looking forward to that!), but I will see if I can snap a picture of the "Huge Pot Shipment" sign on the way in.

Before I go, though, I like what you wrote about time spent being creative, even if it does make you sound like a damn dirty hippy. Can I offer you some pachouli? tee hee