Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Welcome 2007

Happy New Year, cyber-space-men and space-women.

My wife and I attended a New Year’s Eve party, our first in I don’t know how many years. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, getting discreetly intoxicated and chatting with an interesting array of people. Almost everybody there told some variation of a story that went, I have this fairly pedestrian desk job Monday thru Friday, but I also play music, or make films, or get to travel to some interesting places and in that way combine work with fun and broadening myself. Hanging out with people who are objectively like me, and also subjectively passionate and creative and funny--it made me feel a lot better about my place in life and this mid-sized Southern burg I live in.

I met and began dating my wife in a workplace—-we were both door-to-door canvassers for an environmental organization. Thanks to Ralph Nader and his lefty inheritors, thousands of Americans by now have been through this rite of passage in their young adult years. As a job, canvassing is demanding and sometimes even grim; few people last for more than a year or two at it. As a stage of life, though, it has its charms. You meet a bunch of people roughly your age, with similar interests, all of whom share your unusual daily schedule (noon to 9 pm, give or take) and your subsistence-level income bracket. So the job comes with a built-in social life—-in fact you stand a pretty strong chance of meeting your future spouse.

Due to family life and job changes and moving from a more boho neighborhood to a staid middle-class one, we had drifted away from these folks. It’s been 17 years (yikes) and stuff happens. But through a happy accident, a friend-of-a-friend kind of thing, we have gotten reacquainted with some of them, and a handful of them were at this party. It was a lot like old times, especially since the site of the party was around the corner from the group house where many of our circa-1990 parties took place. The most obvious new feature for 2006/7 was the presence of a passel of kids, some of them teenagers, having their own parallel party in the backyard, playing ball and shooting fireworks, in close proximity to their obscenity-spouting and not-100%-sober fathers and mothers. Dunno that they paid us much attention; dunno that it would matter if they had.

One old friend we caught up with at the party, I’ll call him Joe, was our canvass director. Characteristically, he cringed when I referred to him as my “old boss”; all of us were always primarily friends, not employer and employee, and he used to struggle with his role as the guy in charge. (Speaking of my own case specifically, he should have fired me for lack of performance; there were objective fundraising quotas we were supposed to meet, I consistently had trouble meeting them, and he consistently covered for me until I finally said “uncle” of my own accord.) But Joe has a really terrific way with people; he was uncanny at counseling us, bolstering our self-esteem, and keeping us in the daily routine (as long as we were meant to) of knocking on doors and talking to strangers. The other night, in reminiscing about old times, he paid my wife a compliment that made her absolutely beam. I am halfway chagrined that he did that the first time he’d seen her in over a decade--I see her every day and don’t say things that make her light up like that.

In his current job Joe consults with companies about their smokestack permits. He travels throughout the U.S. and still maintains and is sustained by relationships from his canvassing days. As an "expert canvasser" he used to cross-train in other states with sister organizations of ours, so, as he was telling it the other night, he now has invitations to stay in the homes of people he met 15-plus years ago and may have "known" for only a few weeks. A couple of others of the old canvassing crew are doing environmental regulation or consulting, fashioning a career from their concern for the environment. Whatever they're doing, all these folks are setting good examples of lives lived with integrity and passion.

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