Finished my morning explore at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow up in Orleans. As I’m pulling into the lot, young guy, in his twenties, with a tall cup of coffee, climbing into his pickup, getting ready to pull out.
My cell happened to ring at that moment.
“I want a pickup truck,” I said in what I’m told is my annoying habit of beginning phone conversations in the middle of a thought.
“What are you talking about?” said the friend on the line.
“What’s more. I want to be a young guy climbing into his new pickup with a big cup of coffee on my way to work at a job that requires me to drive a pickup truck on Cape Cod.”
My friend is quick and my thought processes are simple. She figured out right away what was going on on my end.
“What kind of pickup?”
“A red Chevy. Full sized.”
“What kind of young guy?”
“Tall. Slim. Good looking. Lots of wavy dark hair. Do you watch Smallville?”
“That’s ok. He doesn’t look all that much like Tom Welling. But, you know, sort of.”
“I don’t know what Tom Welling looks like. I don’t watch the show.”
“He looks like Superman.”
“This guy in the red pickup looks like Superman?”
“Not really. He does look a little like the Green Arrow, only with dark hair.”
“Who’s the Green Arrow?”
“You really don’t watch Smallville, do you? You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Let’s get back to the guy in the pickup before I slap you.”
“What about him?”
“Why do you want to be him?”
“I don’t want to be him. I want to be like him. I want to own a pickup truck and get to drive it to work on a beautiful summer morning on Cape Cod.”
“How do you know he’s on his way to work?”
“I’m just guessing.”
“You’re not on your way to work. Maybe he’s on vacation too.”
My friend wasn’t being contrary. She was just curious. She’s the type who likes to know all the details before she makes a judgment.
“I suppose. But he had that going to work look about him.”
“What makes you think you’d like the work he does? Do you even know what he does?”
I thought about it. I knew what he didn’t do. He didn’t fish for a living. He was wearing a work shirt over a t-shirt and jeans that looked lived in but they were still too neat, too clean, not weathered or battered or stained enough. And his truck was the same, not enough hard miles on it. I think all fishermen on the Cape are required to buy their trucks used and then they don’t drive them until they’ve left them out for a year or two to be further faded by the sun and shat on by seagulls and then they take them to a playground and let little kids beat on them with baseball bats and throw golf balls at them. And they never, ever wash them. It’s against their religion.
Also, I noticed, he’d been relatively careful about pulling out of the lot. As a rule, fishermen drive their trucks with reckless hostility. They have two speeds, eighty miles an hour and park. They fly down the roads as though they’re on a mission from God to scare the hell out of pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers, whom I’m guessing they assume are all tourists and whom they feel obliged to hate as invaders. The Hot Chocolate Sparrow is by the crossing for the Rail Trail and the road out in front is crowded with tourists on bikes even at seven in the morning. The young guy drove as if he was giving all the bikers the right of way, which no self-respecting fishermen would ever do. The object is to cause as many bikers as possible to veer wildly off the road in terror that that they’re about to be mowed down.
And, although I hadn’t gotten a good look, it appeared the bed of his truck was empty. The beds of fishermen’s trucks are never empty. Usually they’re filled with a jumble of nets, clam rakes, waders, big plastic buckets, coolers, tools, and some piece of scrap metal or wood that’s got to be good for fixing something around the house or on the boat so it’s worth carting it around for a year or two until a use for it arises.
The empty truck bed seemed to rule out construction work, repair work, and landscaping too.
For a second I considered the possibility he was a scientist of some sort. The National Seashore headquarters is a few miles up the road in Eastham. The Audubon Society has a sanctuary not too far beyond that in Wellfleet. Maybe, I thought, excited by the vicarious prospect of putting out to sea, he was on his way up to Provincetown to lead a whale watch. The Dolphin Fleet boasts of the cetologists who act as guides aboard its boats. Maybe, maybe, I thought, growing even more excited at my own day-dreaming, he’s on his way to Rock Harbor to take a boat out to hunt for sharks. This is the summer for sharks!
But the newness of his pickup made me think twice about this and decide against it. I’ve never known a scientist who drove a new pickup truck. Although they’re not as devout about it as fishermen, the kinds of scientists who do most of their field work in the actual field, biologists, geologists, oceanographers, have a principled objection to owning new trucks. I think the principle is they can’t afford them.
An engineer then?
“Maybe he’s an architect,” I said to my friend, “Lots of tear-downs and rehabs going on. The Cape must be lousy with architects. I always wanted to be an architect.”
“Since I was a kid.”
“Who are you? George Costanza?”
“I’m serious. There was a time when that’s what I was going to be. I even bought a drawing table and a book about it.”
“What stopped you?”
“I couldn’t draw a straight line.”
“That’s why they make T-squares.”
“I was the only kid in class who used a T-square to draw circles. But that’s what I think this guy is, an architect.”
“And you’re wishing you were him?”
“Like him,” I reminded her.
“Sure. Why not?”
“Do you think you’d like being an architect?”
“If I could draw a straight line.”
“Maybe you’d hate it.”
“Why would I hate it?”
“I don’t know. You might not. But you might. This guy might hate it.”
“He might think he has a terrible life.”
“He didn’t look like he thinks he has a terrible life.”
“What did he look like?”
“He looked like a young guy on his way to work in his pickup truck. You know what else he looked like?”
“He looked like a boss. I think he owns his own business.” I went over some things in my head. The relative neatness of the work clothes that still looked like they’d seen work. The expression of thoughtful intelligence and seriousness of purpose, which I was probably imagining in retrospect, since all I could actually remember noticing about his expression is that he looked a little sleepy. “Yes,” I said positively, “I think he owns the business.”
“And you want to own your own business?”
“I don’t know. I just think it must feel great to be a young guy on your way to work at your own business on Cape Cod on a beautiful summer morning.”
“In this economy?”
This stopped me. You can’t tell by the tourists how hard the Recession’s hit the Cape, but you can’t tell anything about the Cape from the tourists except that there are lots of places to get sunburned and buy T-shirts with the names of Cape towns and the logos of restaurants on them, which means you can tell there are lots of restaurants too, but that’s about all you can tell. It’s probably like most places that haven’t been totally devastated, maybe a little better because of the tourists and their money. Some people are doing well. Some people aren’t. It wouldn’t be fun to own your own business and not be doing well. The young guy might have been on his way to work at his own business outdoors on Cape Cod on a beautiful summer morning, but his first stop could very well be at the bank where he was going to be told he’d been turned down for the loan he needed to keep that business going another week.
Then I started thinking of other ways his life could be less than idyllic.
Maybe he was a boss but in name only, in that way that makes being a boss humiliating because nobody actually respects you. Maybe he didn’t own the business. Maybe his parents owned it. Or his in-laws. Or his wife. It’s no fun to work for your father says everybody I know who ever tried it. The nicest, most indulgent, most well-meaning parents, when it’s their company at stake, often think they have to be harder on their child than on any other employees, if only to show they aren’t playing favorites. And they naturally expect more, demand more, worry more, second-guess more since they’ve spent your whole lifetime thinking second-guessing you is their main job. How much fun can it be, having your boss yell at you all day because he loves you and can’t stand to see you failing, which you can’t help doing because you’re not him and he can’t think of any other way of doing well at the business other than by being him who built the business in the first place? You’ve been disappointing him since you were a kid by failing to be him, now you’re going to do it some more while losing his company money or by his fearing that you will?
And of course it’s worse working for your in-laws or prospective in-laws. Nobody respects a son-in-law or that even lower worm the boyfriend. And what if you find you don’t want to be with the daughter anymore? You love the job but you can’t stand her and want out of the marriage or the relationship? How do you make that choice? How do you like going to work facing that choice? And how about if it’s the other way around, you love her but you hate the job but a condition of her loving you is the job, she’s dreaming of the day when you two take over the business together?
I went over this with my friend.
“See,” she said, without any trace of smugness, just an insufferable reasonableness, “You don’t want to be him.”
“Like him,” I corrected but without spirit.
“You don’t know if you’d like being like him because you don’t know what it’s like to be like him.”
“I know what you really want anyway.”
“You want his pickup truck.”
I perked up. “That’s true! That is what I want! I want a pickup truck. A Ford though. Not a Chevy. That’s what I should do. Buy a pickup.”
“You don’t need a pickup truck.”
“You know, I have a wife who sounds just like you.”
“You’re a lucky man.”