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… In Which I Am No Captain of Industry

This is an important man. You can tell by the suit, and the fact that he cares what time it is. I’m rarely certain of the day.

A few weeks ago I played in this interclub golf event. The matches are on Tuesday afternoons in early summer, which should tell you right away that the men involved are not generally desk jockeys with an 8 to 5. Some are retired, as you might suppose, and others are either successful enough as independent contractors (mostly realtors and such) or are the boss, in which case they can do pretty much as they please.

And then there’s me. A relatively new and unknown author who writes copy and does marketing support to help pay the bills.

So we’re waiting on the tee of a drive-able par 4 and the guys I’m with — whom I do not know — ply each other with that most American and insightful questions, “So, what line of work are you in?” As though that was the measure of a man.

One says he sells heavy equipment used in construction. They’re growing so fast that they can’t build enough warehouses.

The next went to Harvard Business School and ran an investment firm for 20 years before finally deciding four houses was too many. He now has only two.

The third is an SVP at a Fortune 100 tech company. He’s one of those 6 handicaps who shoots par in every match.

I didn’t volunteer what I did and they didn’t ask. That’s fine — I hate everything about this conversation. Later on, my partner graciously inquires and I say I’m a writer. It takes him half a second to realize I’m serious, but then, bless his heart, he asks me what I write. I’m sure he’ll buy a paperback from my shelf just to be polite. He may even read it.

But I digress. The point is, there are moments in life that remind you of your place in society, and this was one of them. I may have been golfing with them, but I am not one of the boys. I’m only able to golf regularly because our one car is paid for and it’s still kinda my thing. But these guys? These aren’t the guys who run the world, but they’re like those guys. They have status. They don’t blink at expensive drinks or upgrades to first class. They have people under them, and wrought-iron sculptures in their living rooms, and cars that park themselves.

That’s not me. In all likelihood, it will never be me. But having been around people of means for much of my life, I have learned that most of them either a) come from money, or b) were in the right place at the right time. Like Forrest Gump, I think some people just have a knack for that.

It’s hard not to feel a bit inferior sometimes, but I’m always reminded of this scene in the Tim Robbins film The Player when he has to ask a screenwriter whom he spurned for help. He’s discovered that the people he thought were friends really weren’t, and that as an entertainment executive, he has no discernible skills. I’m paraphrasing, but the writer (Vincent d’Onofrio) basically says, “I can write. What can you do?!”

I interpret that scene to mean that, without the scaffolding we build under these notions of wealth and power, and the importance we ascribe to CEOs and SVPs, they are straw men, just as hapless as the rest of us but nonetheless anointed with privilege. Now, all these guys were super nice to me and each other. That’s not at issue. But it does take me back to how we so often start this conversation.

What do you do?

Tell me what makes you tick. What you’re passionate about. What keeps you up at night. Tell me why you’re happy go lucky, or why you’re a bummer. Sometimes what you do is interesting, but it probably isn’t. You probably don’t even like it, if you’re being honest, so why do we bother? Give me something real and maybe you’ll get it back. Otherwise, let’s agree to enjoy the silence.

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