“So what do you do?” I asked a man sitting next to me at a party. It’s a common sort of ice breaker question that I often rely on to move me through those first moments of uncomfortableness when I’m in a room full of strangers. But they were collegial strangers as we were all guests at the same big party full of strangers. Attention left the man and a young woman raised her hand eagerly, as if she too wanted a turn to answer the question. “Can I tell you what I do for a living??” she asked, lilting the end as if she should be cautious. “Yes, tell us,” I encouraged.
“I am a personal de-clutterer. I help people organize their lives and sort out what they need and don’t need. I work with hoarders.” Is this a full time job? I asked. “I wish it was!” she said. “I take care of this 82-year-old lady.”
Then we turned to the gent to whom I had originally posed the question. “What about you?”
“I’m disabled,” he said, “all kinds of problems like depression. It’s pretty bad.” Really? The guy seemed like everyone else around the room. I had asked him the first question because I wanted to see what he did, where his wheelhouse was. It’s a fact that most men have something, or some areas, that they’re experts in. Their wheelhouse. I wanted to suss out which of his interesting comments in our conversations came from expertise.
Another man piped in, he said he was from Bellows Falls Vt, and that he too didn’t work any more. “Oh, it’s real, people can get to a place where they just don’t care any more. They can’t do anything. It’s a black hole, a block, having depression takes away everything. You can’t function.”
I tried to empathize with the healthy, normal looking guy named Max who said he was disabled. He was not slow, he was not visibly anything but a guy you meet. But he had stopped working and now he just took pills and got a monthly check.
Outside a man with hair down around his neck about a foot long was talking by the fire, talking about how he hadn’t had a job in fourteen months…and that the government was lying about unemployment, it was really closer to 25%. I thought it was eight. “Oh no, that doesn’t count the people who have stopped looking. They don’t include us any more.” I kept thinking, man if you just cut that hair I bet your job search would be way improved. That and stop whining about a government conspiracy.