Yesterday found me sitting, alone, at a table in a crowded cafeteria. The place was packed full of the most corporate individuals you had ever seen. The muffled conversations that took place around me were carbon copies of those that had come the day before, and a week before that, repeated in a matter that was painful even for those taking part.
"Really, your boss didn’t go for that idea?"
"Man, that guy is a real ass."
Not caring, just playing their roles in the conversation. The only semblance of color in the entire place were the ties, and even they hung with an aura of distain.
At the table next to me, however, there sat two women in their forties. They faced each other with dual Cobb Salads, a true tragedy of a meal. As I watched, they slowly proceeded to eat their lunch, heads down, without the least bit of joy or communication. Fork, mouth. Fork, mouth. Just two automatons in blue blazers, eating because, dammit, it was Time To Eat.
Cold, literally and soulfully.
My turkey and swiss was slowly becoming stale before me, and we had both had enough of each other, so I watched this sad procession of Fork-Mouth. These two women probably went nine rounds with whatever project they were working on, I though. Moving massive amounts of paper and busting through paradigms. The end of lunch could be found at the bottom of this Cobb Salad, and they were in no rush to get there.
Forecast for tomorrow: same thing , except the cafeteria is serving rump roast. And slaw.
This was the time when I thought of my blog. My night job. Like a jazz trumpet player, stealing away to the Grotto just to play a few licks before he goes to the factory the next morning. My escape from collars and Post-its, deadlines and signatures.
Sweat plus sacrifice equals success. (Charles O. Finley wrote that…but I had to look it up.) And besides, you have to make rent, right? The cat food doesn’t pay for itself.
* * *
In the corporate world, it’s the nameplate of the hard-nosed and stubborn dude that gets placed on the oak desk, right? What fun is that? If I was an ass for nine hours a day, yeah, I bet I could get promoted too. Work would get done, and every so often they would wheel me out and feed me. Bottle of wine at Christmas, and forty years down the road there’s a watch with my name on it. You know, for the effort.
Or, how about this: I live in a world full of basketball. Which is worse? Honestly?
Yes, the corporate world produces. It keeps the economy going, it MAKES GOODS. And all that stuff that everyone learned in high school while I was doodling pictures of Jordan.
Writing blogs doesn’t really accomplish much. A couple more bytes on the web. A couple more hits on the site. No cash in the pocket, and Alan Greenspan isn’t praising your economic stimulation.
But I do it anyways. Why? Because it is BETTER than real life.
Let me put it this way. Basketball is a game that encapsulates all the best stuff about life. Like Snapple, I guess. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the Fork-Mouth combo sitting next to me.
In basketball, success equals skill multiplied by effort. Skill is natural and God-given. You can’t teach height, and try as I might, I’m not touching 12’6’ on the backboard like Dwight Howard. So there has to be a respect for that.
But that only makes up part of the equation.
If it were simply a matter of skills, you wouldn’t have your Brandon Roys, your Chris Pauls, even your Ronny Turiafs. The skill is there, obviously, but they need to have the heart, drive, and passion to actually succeed in order to get the most out of it.
And this, folks, makes these athletes better people.
* * *
I watch basketball for its simplicity. Ball to hoop. Our five dudes against yours. Not all that difficult, really.
Put a couple seven-footers out there, sure, it gets more complicated.
But within that basic goal of ball-to-hoop, there are minimal politics. Allegiances are reduced, ‘cuz if you want to win, you’d damn well better work together.
Basketball brings out the best in human nature. Humanity itself is the best tactic in a basketball game.
Of course, the NBA is a business. But you can tell that most of the players despise that aspect of it, what with constantly reminding each other that “this is a business.”
But tell me that they don’t sound disheartened whenever they say it. You know they are.
* * *
In contrast to my life following the NBA, I find difficulty in associating with these Real Worldians. The corporate nature irks me. Spit on your fellow man, and you get ahead. Be a bitch, rat out your co-worker, get a promotion. Where are the checks and balances? The refs? The diminishing returns?
You spend your life like that, it wears on you. And countless people do…maybe even some reading this column. They toil away at a loveless job, in cubicles the tone of elementary-school bathrooms, they make their money, and they die. And I’m wondering if they see the punishment they’re inflicting upon themselves.
Or maybe, just maybe, their punishment can be found on Thursday, in the cafeteria, at the bottom of a cold Cobb Salad.