I Quit My Job
by Shannon Manning
Remember the 80s?
In the bedroom I shared with my sister, we had two posters over our beds. One was Day-Glo orange and red with the dark silhouette of a soldier with arms spread as if he’d just been shot, superimposed with the huge question Why? The other was an extreme close-up of Ronald Reagan leaning into a mic making his funny joke: “We begin bombing in 5 minutes.” Over his shoulder was the Doomsday Clock set to 3 minutes to midnight.
It’s amazing I was able to get up and go to school everyday.
Because of what seemed to us to be the very real chance of nuclear war, we all doubted we’d ever see 30 and so lived and loved accordingly. I suppose we could have embraced the culture that was bringing us Cheers and Katrina and the Waves. But for us it was political activism and punk rock. Turns out, drugs and activism were a nice combination: if you can escape the fear of death, even for just a short period, and pretend that you are going to live forever, you believe that the little things you do – even the smallest choices – will make a difference. So you don’t give up.
I’d like to be able to add sex to the drugs and rock and roll, but I was all Gandhi then, and sex was a distraction from the real work of life. Besides, I thought love too precious a commodity to confine to one person when the whole world needed me. Not lightly did I take the task of saving the world, even while self-destructively taking myself out of it. Not slightly do I blame the Republicans for making me grow up too fast and furiously in order to fight their aggressive rhetoric of fear and hatred.
Well, we survived, and we like to say we ended the cold war.
Four years ago I started what was supposed to be a temp job. I was between projects and broke, but still unwilling to confine myself to any one thing, anything that would interfere with my reasons for moving to New York, to live and love and write for the greater good. I thought two weeks working for a company that had the likes of Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle on its board of directors was a great opportunity. I imagined writing stories about slicing muffins for Kissinger. I would title them “Slicing Muffins for Kissinger.”
The right had seemed to fade into the background, their mantle adopted by Clinton, so fearing the far right seemed comical to me. Why would you fear a dinosaur? Still, I tried to imagine conspiracy everywhere. When Kissinger stopped talking and watched me walk down the hall, I said to myself: They are on to me. They finally did a background check; they found the photos of me at demonstrations against Star Wars (Perle’s seemingly buried brainchild).
Turns out, Kissinger just has a thing for skirts. Turns out, Star Wars wasn’t buried at all. The dinosaur was only sleeping.
So when the Reagan years returned to us in January 2001,
and I was still at this “temp” job, it no longer
seemed funny. How the hell did I end up working for the people I used to fight against in the 80s? Who was this woman at a Christmas party a year later, staring quietly into her wine glass while the CEO regaled the staff with stories about flummoxing former UN Ambassador Holbrook at a Bilderberg (or was it the Trilateral Commission?) meeting by saying they should answer the anti-globalization protesters at the WEF “with tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets if necessary.” I was afraid that my question: “Don’t you worry that perhaps they didn’t know you were being facetious?” would be met with a blank stare. I thought it best not to call attention to myself.
It’s amazing I was able to get up and go to work everyday.
When I saw that woman, devoid of her love and passion and now even her voice, I determined to quit my job, despite the political and economic insecurity following September 11th. Or maybe because of it. Other news items of September 11, 2001: a civil suit was filed against Kissinger charging him with the murder of General Rene Schneider of Chile in reprisal for his refusal to back the coup against Allende. And my CEO was granted a British lordship. Now we would have to call him “Lord”.
For my Christmas bonus the prior year, my bosses had deeded to me the photo I had selected for my office after my promotion, a beautiful Lynn Geesaman photograph of some very contented cows. When I looked up from my spreadsheets, they gave me strength. I’m leaving, soon – we’re leaving soon – but right now, I can be content. The generosity of my bosses was the only true conspiratorial behavior in this story, and it almost worked. Did I mention my mahogany leather-topped desk in my Fifth Avenue office with a view? My vast amount of flexible downtime, vacation, and very good salary? Golden handcuffs.
But I kept planning my exit strategy, saving money so I could quit with a cushion and not have to follow this tired temp-to-perm-executive-in-a-right-wing-multinational-publishing-company route again.
Yesterday, a week after marching in Washington against a war in Iraq, and after another (belated) Christmas party that doubled as my going-away party, I took my photo home. Now I can wake up in the morning and look at my cows and ask Why? and find the positive strength to get up and seek my answer and spread it to others.
Sex is still a distraction, love is still a precious commodity. But now I see that if you find the right person, the right job, or the right path to love, it just adds to the amount of love you have to give to the world.
The clock is ticking, seven minutes to midnight now. But we have proven that love and powerful voices can turn it back.
Shannon Manning is a writer, filmmaker, and comic who lives in Brooklyn
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