Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It's all in the game.

So here I am, working at a coffee shop again for the time being. I don't mind the work. The people are cool. And this shop is in the heart of Downtown Berkeley, a colorful and fascinating neighborhood, which helps keep things interesting. Stuff is always happening. The other day, a few hundred people marched by the shop, protesting China's occupation of Tibet. That was pretty cool.

But I do mind the low rate of pay, and the low number of hours. To be honest, I'm still a little surprised that I've had as much trouble as I've had finding a job that pays at least a bit better. I've got another interview lined up this Thursday, which I really hope I get. (Agonizing pre-interview decision: Do I spend the money on getting my hair trimmed, for fear that my long hair isn't making the best impression on prospective employers?) I'd feel like a bit of a jerk, jumping ship so soon after taking this job at the coffee shop, accepting another job, but I suppose it's not as if people don't leave these jobs after a brief period all the time, and I suppose it's not as if they deserve my loyalty, considering what they're paying me. As my man Omar on The Wire is fond of saying, "It's all in the game."

"Help my union? For 25 years, we been dying slow down there. Dry docks rustin', piers standin' empty. My friends and their kids like we got the cancer. No lifeline got throwed all that time, nothin' from nobody. And now you want to help us? Help me?" -Frank Sobotka

So, yeah, The Wire. Watched the first, I dunno, six episodes way back when, thought it was boring. Then recently I decided to give it another chance. Somewhere around episode nine, something clicked. I finally acquired the taste for The Wire, I guess. And I just finished the second season, which for me was even more powerful than the first. Frank Sobotka, the union leader who gets caught up in criminal dealings and becomes the focus of the task force's investigation, is one of the more compelling criminals I've ever come across. I really feel for him. The things he does are wrong, and he makes some bad choices, but his personal reasons for doing those things are all basically good. There's been a kind of betrayal of the way of life that he and his fellow dockworkers have essentially been born into. The work dries up. The men no longer have enough money to provide for themselves and their families. And Sobotka does what he does in an attempt to help them, to provide.

It is, as many critics have said, a literary show. In terms of its pacing, its characters, the way it grapples with themes and social issues, the way it holds up a mirror to our society, it feels like a really good book, only one you watch instead of read.

I think Omar's expression resonates with me because I have a tendency to think of things, even extremely important real-life situations, as if they are games. Right now, the big game for me is the money game. Scrounging by on coffee shop pay at 20 hours a week or whatever is going to be extremely challenging, if not impossible. I've made some significant adjustments. I've cancelled my few small monthly charitable donations, to the ACLU and the HRC. I've put my Netflix account on hold, desperate as I am to see The Wire Season Three. My on-again, off-again subscription to World of Warcraft has gone off again, despite the fact that, as getrichslowly.org shows us, we can learn a lot about money from the game. (getrichslowly continues to be a source of encouragement, knowledge and inspiration. J.D. has been through some tough times, and his frankness about his mistakes and struggles, and his subsequent success feels like a source of comfort and support as I struggle with the situation I find myself in.) I'm selling off some stuff on amazon.com. I've even cancelled GameFly for the time being, which, for me, was the hardest decision, because of course I love playing, thinking about and writing about games, and still entertain thoughts of doing it professionally at some point. I'll be taking a break from new games for a little while, but hopefully not for too long. I don't want to miss out on Grand Theft Auto IV.

I'm really excited about this game, not just because the previous games have been astounding from a gameplay perspective, but also because I think this game has tremendous potential in terms of its story. I really think the Grand Theft Auto games have been scathing works of social satire, that they've had something meaningful to say. If The Wire holds up a mirror to our society, the Grand Theft Auto games filter our society through video games and action movies and still wind up with a significant amount of truth, and IV seems poised to follow in that tradition. The fact that the central character is an immigrant from Eastern Europe opens up all kinds of terrific possibilities. Heck, just reading this blurb from the game's information page is enough to get me excited:

What does the American dream mean today?

For Niko Bellic, fresh off the boat from Europe, it is the hope he can escape his past.

For his cousin, Roman, it is the vision that together they canfind fortune in Liberty City, gateway to the land of opportunity.

As they slip into debt and are dragged into a criminal underworld by a series of shysters, thieves and sociopaths, they discover that the reality is very different from the dream in a city that worships money and status, and is heaven for those who have them and a living nightmare for those who don't.

Mercifully, I haven't been dragged into a criminal underworld myself. Yeah, times are a bit tough. And I see myself being a bit more callous about some things. Walking to work the other day, a young woman, somewhat younger than me, asked me for money, and I'm certainly in no position to be giving anyone anything. Not that I would have given her anything anyway. But in the past, Iwould have really felt something, this sense of, I don't know, guilt or fear, this "There but for the grace of God go I" punch to the stomach. But now I just felt kind of removed about it. "Sorry," I said, and walked on without a second thought. I've hit a rough patch, and you're on the street. That's how it goes. It's all in the game.

Most of the time, I know things are gonna be okay. Some of the time I'm terrified. Most of the time, I remember that many people have found themselves in tough situations at one point or another. Some of the time, I feel like the biggest failure, the most colossal fuck-up in the whole history of the world.

But I feel alright.

Yeah, I feel alright tonight.

The Wire Season Two: 10/10 stevedore-replacing robots


jervo said...

1. I'm with you 100% about the job situation. Good luck with your interviews.

2. I really gotta start watching The Wire.

3. There's something somewhat perverse about a site like getrichslowly.com talking about WoW; when I was into WoW, I was taking multiple sick days from work. (Then again, when I was into WoW, I wasn't buying other games, so maybe there's something to it.)

Caro said...

I hear ya, jervo. If you play it a fair amount (or even an unhealthy amount) and get real enjoyment out of it, I think WoW can be an outstanding entertainment value. J.D. at getrichslowly did end up cancelling it, though, when he decided he wasn't playing it enough.

Paul said...

My feelings are so similar- I know how you feel. And it's funny; what more can be said then that besides everything and nothing?