Ten months ago I took a job with a production company to get a crash course in the film business. The job is going pretty well, except for the thing that impedes me at every job I’ve ever had, which is that I don’t really like having a job very much.
I love earning a paycheck so that I can spend it traveling around the world, which – to my constant surprise – is not something employers desire. So whenever a gig offers the chance to go somewhere, especially if it contributes to my foolhardy national park adventure, I jump at the opportunity. Suddenly I become a model employee.
My boss needed a coffee table picked up from her cousin’s storage unit in the middle of Arizona. Google Maps had the storage unit two hours from Petrified Forest National Park, so I packed a backpack and took off to hang out in the Sonoran Desert just in time for a mid-June heat wave.
The first thing I noticed after my LAX to PHX flight was that every Arizona bathroom I entered – from the Phoenix Airport SkyTrain to the national park pit-stops – contained an insulin needle disposal bucket. It was kind of nice to know that if I picked up a light case of diabetes on my adventure that dropping off my copious accumulation of sharps would not be a problem. I picked up the coffee table in a pleasant mountain town called Payson. It was sort of like Phoenix’s answer to Big Bear, except there were a lot more places to buy assault rifles. So far my impression of the local experience is an insulin needle in one hand, AR-15 in the other while I ask the park ranger to kindly stamp my national park passport booklet.
Getting out of an air conditioned car so you can look at old tree fossils in the Arizona desert is one of those moments that makes you question your life choices. There’s no actual forest in the Petrified Forest, which I had to explain to a disappointed biker. He kept looking at the sparse shrubs and tumbleweeds asking if they were part of the forest. I was braced for my disappointment in advance.
Three hundred million years ago when Arizona was in a rainforest on Pangea, some trees fell into a river. The few trunks that didn’t disintegrate got wedged in the riverbed, where, over the course of few hundred million years, they filled with silt, copper, carbon, micah, quartz, crystals, iron and manganese. The river, rainforest and Pangea are long gone (never forget Pangea), but these tree fossils are now mutated into rocks that reflect beautiful colors in the relentless Arizona sunshine.
And that’s pretty much the main attraction. There’s a cool painted desert lookout, some old adobe houses and petroglyphs (Native American graffiti), but the park ranger assuaged my guilt when I arrived at the visitor center. I was deeply apologetic that I only had three hours for the park, but she couldn’t have been friendlier when she told me the average time that visitors spent was a two hour drive-through. She just seemed happy that I was there. It was like an old relative who I see once a year. “A short visit from you is better than nothing.”
And if I’m going to tie this whole thing together, it would be that not every national park has a spectacular vista or jaw-dropping attraction. They’re not all Yosemite. But they tend to offer one specific thing better than anywhere else. And if I’m going to go for one hell of a stretch, it would be that I might not be the most inspired employee at every company I’ve worked for, but maybe if I can do one thing really well I’ll actually find some success. I’m the tree-rock mutant fossil of employees, and that is sitting proudly on my resume as I begin my next job hunt.
And sometimes the best part of going to the smaller national parks is knowing I don’t have to go back. That was the best part of West Texas, was that I never have to return to West Texas. And now there is another excellent national park with a niche and unique attraction notched on the belt. With many more national parks to look forward to visiting that, someday, I’ll never have to see again.
First off, let me start by saying how fortunate I am to have a job in the first place. There are a lot of people who are hurting and too many of my co-workers and bosses are my Facebook friends for me to say anything that would get me fired.
That all said, I am way too useless of an employee and undeserving of a reasonable salary to earn what I describe to my creditors as “A living wage.” Between splitting my time between working various day jobs and being a full-time student in screenwriting, the hours don’t exist to make a living. Even if they did exist, I made the massive error of choosing an education in inventing dialogue between imaginary people, so it’s not going to pan out from a day job perspective regardless.
So considering the facts that I get paid poorly, don’t deserve to be paid any better or don’t have the available hours to work a full-time job, it’s left me only one option to earn a reasonable living: office supply theft. And on a grand level, too. This is not to disrespect my employers or hurt the company. Rather, it is the only way to earn a respectable living in accordance with the Department of Labor. I steal office supplies to do their work for them.
This isn’t your occasional pencil or paper clip stealing either. That isn’t going to add up to enough to justify the work that I am taking off the hands from The Department of Labor. Essentially, I need to steal enough office supplies to add two or three dollars-per-hour to my hourly wage.
This is how the middle class was formed.
It is a sort of subset of the middle class. One existing entirely on ink toner, file cabinets and ergonomic chairs that are stolen to edge my way into some sort of tax bracket. Any tax bracket. One that justifies that I have a high school diploma. This raises a separate question: why don’t tax brackets have names?
You could do this the way that divisions in the NHL used to have really nifty names to them. They used to have the Adams Division, Smythe, Norris, Patrick, etc. It was really nice before they switched to the boring Eastern, Central, Northwest and so on. We could have tax brackets like the Wendy’s First Date Tax Bracket at the lower end. Work our way up to the Groupon Dinner Party Bracket a little higher. Step up to the Android Beta Bracket. All the way up to the Wiping Ass With Hundred Dollar Bills Tax Bracket.
And if I am going to make the jump from the Procrastinating Starving Artist Tax Bracket to the Soulless Day Job Failed Artist Tax Bracket, then the only way to do it by stealing enough office supplies that does the Department of Labor’s job for me.
If I can slowly roll an office chair out of the building. Or hide a filing cabinet under my shirt. Or place a hat on top of the printer and pretend that it’s my robot friend. Tell one of the interns that he has to sell one of my fledgling screenplays. Something that, over time, adds up to an extra two dollars an hour, then at least I can feel like a respectable member of society.
A respectable member of society with stolen ink toner all over his hands and face because I don’t know how printers work. Only then can I feel like a true American tax payer. One that knows how to steal and how to complain.