One of the things that you have to understand, certainly the first thing you have to understand, is that I didn’t want this job. I wanted another, better job, but at the moment I’m stuck with this one. I’m making the most of it. They assigned me to a small cubicle where I sit in a chair that’s been ergonomically designed by a Swedish furniture manufacturer to support my lumbar region. On April 24th of each year, some of my coworkers gather to celebrate my birthday. Cupcakes are often served. If not cupcakes, then doughnuts. I’d rather have doughnuts. More bang for your buck, not that I’m paying when my birthday rolls around. Did I mention that this job wasn’t my first choice? It wasn’t. I had big plans. I wanted to graduate from college and move to Africa to teach English to the Africans. I was offered this job after a career fair, though, so I took it and now I’m doing the best I can. Paper memos and hortatory e-mails get passed around the office, redistributed, sent to places unknown. I’m on numerous forwarding lists. We’re all doing the best we can. It’s nice how they take ten to fifteen minutes out of the workday to celebrate our birthdays. It’s very polite of them. It’s indicative of a family atmosphere. This job wasn’t what I had in mind, but life throws the kind of curveballs that would make Jerry Koosman proud. When I go to the bakery to buy cupcakes and doughnuts for coworkers’ parties, I look at the morose clerks behind the counter and think that that could be me. That could be me working with those doughnuts and cupcakes, bagging them with a listlessness that almost defies belief, and not here ensconced in this comfortable Swedish chair. I can sit in this chair for hours and not feel a bit of pain. The light fixture located several feet above my head consists of three fluorescent tubes. Inside the tubes, electricity excites mercury vapor, producing short-wave ultraviolet light that causes phosphor to fluoresce. The gentle glow that eventuates from this process has never dimmed on my daytime watch. I’m in the office for forty to forty-five hours a week and during that time it’s as if I’m one miniscule part of an entity that continues to expand outward by means of organic and entirely welcome growth. There were other opportunities for me, to be sure. If I’d done what I wanted to do, I would’ve gone abroad and seen the important things you need to see when you’re younger, such as the Taj Mahal. This job has a generous benefits package including a 401k plan where the company matches my contributions. It’s a Roth 401k, however, so I pay taxes on my contributions in the year in which I contribute them. The company’s contributions are deposited on a pretax basis, so not every dollar in the account will be tax-free when withdrawn. I won’t be vested in the plan for five more years, so I’ve got a strong incentive to stay here. Not that I’d want to leave, really. It’s a wholesome environment with frequent moments of celebration. My coworkers aren’t the sorts of people I would’ve met outside of work, but I’ve grown to care about them in a way I hadn’t expected. Their birthdays have a profound significance in terms of how I organize my day planner. What was my life like before I came here? I lived day-to-day, as I recall, and didn’t have anything like that Roth 401k let alone membership in a health management organization with over 335 registered service providers in 8 states. If I stay inside the HMO’s extensive network of providers, my copayment for a GP visit is $5. A dozen doughnuts at the bakery we use for office celebrations will run you $6.50. I’m glad my 401k is administered by the employer. I’ve heard too many horror stories about participant-directed plans where the worker has chosen to invest his or hard-earned money in a mutual fund that emphasizes stocks. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m making the right decisions. It could be so much worse.
About Oliver Lee Bateman
Good Men Project contributing editor Oliver Lee Bateman is a columnist for Al-Jazeera America and Made Man Magazine. His writing has been featured in Salon, The Atlantic, Johnny America, Stymie: A Journal of Sport and Literature, the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, STIR Journal, Mic.com, and NAP Magazine. He is also one of the founders of the Moustache Club of America and Penny & Farthing, two blogzines specializing in flash fiction and creative nonfiction that he co-curates with web developer Erik Hinton, medical consultant Nathan Zimmerman, and freelance writers Christie Chapman and J. R. Powell. Oliver is a lawyer as well as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Follow him on Twitter @MoustacheClubUS or on Google+.