The Lucky and The Strong


I am jobless. I have been jobless for 10 days now. I can’t say, at this moment in time, anyway, that I am not enjoying it. Three weeks ago, I was told a piece of information that made it difficult for me to continue with the company that I had worked for, on and off, since 1999.

And while I am tempted to write about what happened to me, this does not feel like the right time.

I am looking for work and am open to doing something different. Working in restaurants long term is difficult. Even before the event that took place three weeks ago, I was aware of the erosion that had taken place in my soul in regard for humanity.  Unlike Anne Frank, I had chip by chip, stopped believing that in spite of everything, people are good at heart. Every day, I was asked, demanded to perform some miracle, several miracles, for people who could seldom be bothered to offer a proper thank you.

Ten years ago, my friend Fred had a heart attack at the restaurant where I worked. He happened to collapse next to a woman who complained to the manager, as paramedics tried to save my friend, that she had to be moved or she wouldn’t be able to eat her salad. Fred did not survive the heart attack.  There was a poignance that he died on the job because he loved his job, he was very good at it, and he was valued by the company, at that time, in a way, that I’ve seen less of in the last ten years.

I am currently reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger.  I guess I am a sucker for short chapters, but it’s been a while since I have zipped through a book this fast. As Gay writes about her struggles with weight and identity and the messages we receive about value, it has resonated with me in sometimes painful ways.

For some of us who struggle with weight, I believe it can be connected to not knowing our worth. In most of my 30 years in the work force, at nearly every job I’ve ever done, I have struggled to feel good enough, adept, valued. Not to give too much away, but three weeks ago, I was told information that revealed in no uncertain terms, that I indeed, have no value to the company I had surrendered 19 years of my life to.

As much as I am tuned into Ms. Gay’s words, as I read, I find myself writing while I’m reading also. If you’re a writer, you might do this, where an idea you want to explore comes to you as you’re in the middle of a book’s paragraph and suddenly you are creating your own memoir, your own narrative. And it’s thrilling as you think, yes, this is what I want to say. And maybe you are shocked because you had worried that your days of writing compelling, cohesive sentences had gone away since the Ambien addiction came on full force.

I am a 50 year old man who has made mostly poor career choices. But that does not mean that I don’t have feelings and observations and corrections and kindnesses to offer. That doesn’t even mean that I don’t have a certain sense of humor about all this mishegas.

This year, what little I have written has been about my Dad. I start to write more about him and then stop because I think people are tired about hearing about this hero, this man who it seems cannot be gone and yet sometimes feels like he’s been gone for years. No more, I imagine them thinking, but I think, and my Mom thinks and many loved ones, we think, we still have more stories we want to tell about Ray, about Dad, about Grandpa, Uncle Ray.

My Dad would have loved for me to find my way into a career that feeds my soul.  I sometimes wonder if great jobs are as elusive as love in Bette Midler’s The Rose, just for, you know, the lucky and the strong.

I will share with you one good thing about me, I like to do fun things with my free time. In the last ten days, I’ve been to art museums, the Reagan Library, Pierce Brothers Westwood Cemetery (where Marilyn and many other big stars of yesterday are buried). I went to the movies. (Crazy Rich Asians, loved it!) I’m reading my book.

Life is just a little better when you hold a book that you love in your hand.

I know I am taking a risk in writing about this slightly precarious spot I’m in right now. I do have a little cushion, our rent is low, I do have leads on a few jobs and finding free adventures in Los Angeles is one of my favorite things to do anyway. So, I’ll be okay.

With any luck, I’ll wake up tomorrow with another story to tell, about what I don’t know, and I will type it out on my keyboard until it is ready to post.  And somehow maybe I will get to the stories I always wanted to tell, the stories I was too afraid to tell and the stories, I did not think I had the skill to tell.

Hunger. Dieting. Anne Frank. The Rose. Job Interviews. Family. Telling Stories. All of it, some cases more heartbreaking than others, but all of these things are bound by their relation to hope. It’s what keeps us going, sometimes it’s blind or misguided, but still, it’s what we hold on to. We have to. Some days hope is all there is.

13 thoughts on “The Lucky and The Strong

  1. Ray, this is beutiful. I’ve been where you are too many times to count. I do love my job now. Today. But that mostly hasn’t been the case. Don’t look at your work life as poor choice. From my viewpoint, your jobs allowed for the freedom to live and enjoy life. I’ve always enjoyed hearing your stories. I’ve envied your life in California. Having said that, I know just how much it sucks to be unemployed in today’s world. For me, it’s the anxiety. I love this piece. I love you! Keep on writing

    • I take comfort in knowing that others have been at similar crossroads and I take even more comfort in stories like yours, that you are working a job that you love. I love you too and we both must keep on writing!

  2. Write about what you need to, want to write about. Share that which you are called to share. This is where you are most present to your coeur, your true self. Go there, your readers will go with you, or not. That’s not up to you, it’s up to them.

    Being without consistent work really bites. It’s been a long time for me to be in a regular job. The thing is the feeling valued by your employers is irrelevant. You are Valuable in spite of whatever they think of you. You are Valuable in spite of whatever anyone thinks of you. You are the one, the only, the unique Ray Barnhart. Hold onto that.

    Personally, over the winter I went through a very dark period of time of feeling less than, not worth, not good enough filled with ugly cries, and heart ache. It took me asking my husband if he thinks I’m a failure and his response of, “I’m not feeding whatever is going on inside your head” to snap me out of it.

    Your weight does not add to or take away from your value. I could go on and on. Claim your value and let others opinions go by the wayside.

    You are valuable!

    • Thank you Teri, you are far too kind. I’ve thought about your post all day and certainly, that fear that we are failing is something I can relate to. And I hope that your husband’s response, in time, anyway, made you chuckle, because probably we sometimes all need that Cher in Moonstruck slap of SNAP OUT OF IT to make us, well, snap out of it. (smile)

  3. I know I am not truly valued at the job I’ve been in almost three decades. But that’s kinda on me. I made a decision to stay there and take value in the benefits and the friends. I am really hoping you can find something less stressful to do. The service industry is hard on your soul. And on our aging bodies. Have you considered some lame soulless office gig to pay bills while you pursue possible money making hobbies? You take beautiful pictures. Have you considered YouTube? Maybe vlogging about LA hidden hotspots and history? I watch videos. There seems to be some money to be made there. I say continue to compile stories about your dad. Even if it just goes to your family. Save them and as your memoirs. Book?

  4. And sometimes as writers we already write the elusive piece we write about wanting to write.

    Or not.

    But for my money, this would be that.

    In a related vein, when I asked Bebe at work how she was, she replied, “I miss Ray.”

    Me, too.

  5. Big hugs to You! It is devastating to find out that you are not highly. valued when you have given your all to a job. It’s a tough lesson. But the reality is you will never mean as much to an employer, as you do to your family. Been there. Need I remind you that you have a family that loves you? And not all family share your blood. You are a child of God. Your work didn’t know who they had. Their loss. God has better plans for you.
    Please don’t feel guilt about talking/writing about your Dad. He was a very special man and it’s okay for you to feel that way. Those that mind, don’t matter. Those that matter don’t mind.
    Maybe he had something to do with your leaving. I would not be surprised. It’s time for you to live your life for you. Not for anyone else.
    That being said, it involves a leap of faith. And we all fear the fall. But believing you will fly, makes that leap a breeze. Put your faith in God. Trust Him. You’ve heard this all your life. It works. He can take all that worry and turn it in to peace. But patience is the key. Find the place in your mind that makes you the happiest, and go there.
    I used to rely on luck. I was never lucky. Now I rely on Grace, Mercy and Blessings. My cup overflows. If you put your life in God’s hands, you’ll see His hand in everything.
    Sending prayers for your strength and peace. I’m excited to hear about your new adventures! Love you!

  6. Another chubby, out-of-work fiftysomething guy? Hey Ray, this is *my* corner — go find your own!

    : )

    I’ve been away from WP, and your unfolding story, for too long. I’d love to meet you for coffee or a delicious-yet-healthy bite. I’m in Weho. Zip me an email.


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