I was on the front porch when you drove by and I waved, with a fresh tomato in my hand.
Thanks to global warming and Wayne, our neighbor, we occasionally find homegrown tomatoes on our porch this late in the year. Amidst concrete sidewalks, churches and shops, Wayne maintains a small garden here in the city where caffeinated people like myself stare at computer screens and order food, clothing and medicine on the internet. These days, I know few people who work with their hands, just their fingers.
I know few city gardeners because leash laws keep dogs indoors so the community is crawling with rabbits and deer that scarf down tomatoes, corn and beans. I know few men who work on their own cars anymore — you need a computer for that. Like everything else.
The lack of physical labor has led to an increase in physical therapists and personal trainers — occupations that didn’t exist in my childhood. My father exercised by plowing tobacco and lifting 50-pound weights called seed sacks. Women maintained the home with squats, vacuum cleaners and stretches to retrieve shelved mason jars while cookies baked in the oven.
They were the Depression Generation. My generation, the Self-Absorbed Boomers, aspired to be writers and intellectuals and produced teachers, life coaches, office workers, and engineers (the ones that sit at drafting tables, not on trains). We hire handymen and buy commercially produced cookies with a shelf life of one year.
My father knew about soil, animal husbandry, carpentry and gardening. I live in a community with a Home Owners Association that provides home insurance, lawn maintenance and general outside repairs. My father would call this assisted living.
Nevertheless, last week I managed to repair our ice-maker using my fingers to remove a piece of ice lodged against the water intake lever, which enabled the tray to refill, and thus make ice. This was my first self-repair achievement since the Bush administration. I felt momentarily empowered.
This explains the popularity of Pick Your Own farms in our area — highly educated people doing labor for the pleasure of accomplishment. For most people, pumping gas and opening Amazon boxes is as close to hard labor as they get.
My generation believed that to obtain happiness you must find Your One True Self.
Which is ridiculous.
Anyone my age still buying into that idea should not be allowed to operate moving machinery. We are living contradictions, constantly growing and changing, so fortunately there is no solidified limited One Self.
I found my first Self when I was 14 — I was a gifted genius. I wrote amazing stories for the Washington Post and revised songs for Paul McCartney. The problem was the Post and McCartney didn’t know about it.
When I was 18, I had an English teacher, Ann Nelson, who had two rules — misspell a word or write one sentence that doesn’t make sense and it’s an automatic F. Suddenly you’re not special. You learn to edit your own work, which reveals your guitar playing isn’t so hot either.
So, forget about finding yourself — find work.
While you’re young try being a dishwasher, mow lawns, babysit small children, show aging newspaper columnists how to do 40 squats and sit-ups. The goal is to become independent, find a livelihood that satisfies, and never let social media tell you what to think. Avoid faddish nincompoopery (read: turn off the TV).
My friends have large thoughts about the EU, Hong Kong and global warming, and meanwhile I’m standing here in November about to make a home-grown tomato sandwich. Slathered with mayonnaise. This Self has found happiness.