Everyone in the history of the modern shower has sung “Piano Man” at one time or a thousand. That’s because everyone has, at one time or a thousand, identified with one or more of the characters in the song. Right now? Me? I’m John. (And, let’s face it, anyone unsatisfied with any part of their existence identify with John to some extent.)
John at the bar is a friend of mine.
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be.
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me,”
as the smile ran away from his face.
“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
if I could get out of this place.”
I don’t work at a bar. I work at Kraz Construction. And, sure, I’m in marketing, which I’ve done before . . . as in, all my adult life. And, yes, as I tell everyone, I run the company’s facebook, twitter, and instagram accounts. I have little reason to complain about the opportunity to make a living doing social media. I love social media (a couple years of anti-social-media behavior notwithstanding). But if you take a look at any of those accounts, you can tell the social media aspect is not consuming 40 hours of my every week. I’m fortunate if I can devote 40 minutes to it. It’s just not the way things are right now.
Nope. The majority of my time with Kraz is spent driving a car full of my fellow marketers to various neighborhoods, walking around through the streets and elements, and knocking on doors to solicit appointments for free in-home estimates of home-improvement products. Yeah. I go door-to-door. Every. Day. Six days a week.
Now, I’m past the point of caring that most people look down on any such profession as the bottom of the employment barrel. No, it isn’t my preferred career path. I’m not proud of the fact that my professional life has led me down this road (or the hundreds of roads I traverse on a daily basis). It doesn’t take a forensics specialist to take these clues and calculate the level of my intentions to stay in this role long-term.
The Piano Man knows. There’s someplace that I’d rather be. And, yes, Bill, I believe this is killing me.
But I’ll tell you this: I’m still sure I can be, well, not a movie star, but exactly what I aspire to be when I can get out of this place. At this very moment, however, I’m in this place. I’m here. In this moment. This is where I am. And I’m through hiding the fact that I’m here. I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I am not ashamed of how I live my life.
I’m still quick with a joke or (insert infinitive for action of helpfulness equivalent to lighting up your smoke here). I treat my coworkers and my potential customers with respect. I carry myself with dignity. I still maintain what has been my mission with every job I’ve ever held, and that is to improve the day being had by every person with whom I come into contact. I don’t consider myself a lesser human being because of what I do just because of the stigma attached to it. I determine who I am.
At some point, I’ll share a bit more about what it’s like going door-to-door, but here’s a quick overview of what I observe at this job:
- People lie like crazy.
- Plenty of people are extremely and genuinely nice.
- Plenty of people are fake nice whilst being extremely rude.
- Some people go beyond rude into a place of anger and bitterness to the extent that they have no qualms with the thought that their sole interaction with another human being, in that brief and singular intersection of two life paths, would consist of nothing but a foul, spit-laced, fifteen-second shouting soliloquy and the slam of a door.
- People are generally good.
- So many people are hurting in ways I can hardly fathom.
- For just about everybody, there is someplace that they’d rather be.
I and pretty much everyone who does outdoor marketing at Kraz spends most of our days being John, wishing we were in a better position. But there are loads of time when it feels more like I’m Bill, listening and observing the ways in which the people I meet at the door or on the sidewalk wish they were in a better position.
And, let’s face it, we’d all rather identify with Bill. Sometimes we’re the waitress who’s practicing politics or the businessmen slowly getting stoned. A few of us are Paul, the real-estate novelist . . . or we don’t have time for a wife, husband, or whatever. We might be Davy, who’s still in the navy, and whose prospects of leaving are slim. Not exactly those people, but the people who have tiny little stories with nothing extremely special on the horizon. Maybe that’s not how we define ourselves, but it may feel like that describes our lives some days. But we want to be Bill. Everyone is coming to see him.
They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say, “Man, what are you doing here?”
We know Bill’s story ends with him successfully emerging from the bar. Every day I think, That’s me. I’ll make it out as sure as the sun will break through the dark side of the horizon. I don’t belong here, and everyone knows it.
So, yeah, John speaks up in my mind every day, too. I believe this is killing me. It is a lonely feeling. But every single day I’m reminded I’m not at all alone in it. There is hope. There are remedies both short- and long-term. The immediate elixir, aside from beer (thank God for beer) is what the old man sitting next to Bill asked for:
“Son, can you play me a memory?
I’m not really sure how it goes.
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes.”
It’s an interesting lyric, substituting memory for melody, but the point is, that a song can have a way of taking us back to a time when the someplace we’d rather be was closer to the place we were at the moment. That quick fix of a sad song or nostalgic turn of thought can help us reminisce. It’s a backward journey of longing. But that does little to change anything real. The true journey into happiness leads forward, which leads me to another song, “Morning Song” by the Avett Brothers.
The one lyric I want to focus on is this:
Even though I know there’s hope in every morning song
I have to find that melody alone.
You can listen to the whole song to get a better sense of it than I can describe. But the gist for me is that every dawn brings with it the hope of moving out of the hurt and disappointment and into the place I want to be. But Billy Joel won’t take me there. I have to do it myself.
It sounds lonely. It is. But one interesting touch thrown in there by the brothers Avett is the way the song concludes with roughly a billion people singing that lyric together. Each one of us here at the bar of discontent has a solitary journey to travel, but there is companionship in our solitude, comfort in knowing we aren’t alone in our loneliness.
So . . . carry on I must, must we all. Let’s go.