Snippets of a New Yorker Dragged Against His Will to Houston (Part I)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Writing has been hard lately—harder than usual. My mind is stuffed with everything that is changing around me. I don’t sleep well and I fluctuate between periods of extreme boredom and excitement, accented with moments of terrible anxiety. If anything, I want the change to happen quickly. I’m looking forward to it all: the new city, the new job, the new house, the new friends. But I know that I shouldn’t rush it. I should savor the process and use my free time to reflect on what has come before. As the Houston chapter ends, I find myself asking, ‘What type of person is leaving Houston?’

To begin, we must understand the person that moved to Houston. I lived in New York City from 1999 through 2001, catching the tail of the economic boom of the 90s. Even though I lived with Steven—someone who I greatly respect for his newfound philosophy and life choices—and hung out with him and his friends, I spent much of my time alone. This was mostly by choice. I wandered the majestic Central Park and the crowded avenues, soaking in the energy of this most wonderful of cities. I visited museums and people watched. I dated a bunch, but I didn’t find the right person. I met a few nice girls, but I was not good at dating. I tended to complain too much. It took me a while to learn that complaining and wooing do not work well together.

If that was all my life offered, I would have been contented. But I also had to make a living. During the weekdays, I watched the city from the 51st floor of the Metlife building, an eye-soar in midtown Manhattan built by the defunct Pan-Am Airlines. The view from my office consisted of the blue-windowed United Nation building standing guard over the East River, and the majestic Chrysler Building, a gothic, chrome-covered phallus. I was a skinny, first-year associate at a jacket-and-tie law firm being paid too much and knowing too little. What I did appreciate was unhappiness.

I want to complain about the job, to say that they worked me hard, kept me there for long hours, tortured me with passive-aggressive psychoses, stuck me in warehouses of boxes and made me stamp and organize documents for ten-hour days, taught me unethical billing practices—in short, drove me to such a depressed state that I hated falling asleep at night because I knew that I would have to wake up and work as soon as I closed my eyes. But I can’t complain. I was the real source of my unhappiness. I had an interesting job that I was unfairly good at. What I wasn’t good at was working.

The law firm was my introduction to real working. The glimpse of my future depressed the shit out of me. I think most people go through this at one time or another. They realize that their job is who they are, that they will be spending the majority of life working their job, with time off for good behavior and death. I contemplated escaping before I even started working. My attitude doomed me. I loved living in the city, but I didn’t understand work. I didn’t understand challenge. I didn’t understand what it meant to be good at something and accomplish something.

Because of the economic boom, recruiters contacted me almost as soon as I started. After the first year, they started taking me seriously. I wanted an in-house position. I wanted to work for a corporation and not bill hours and not work. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was really the not working that I was interested in. I was bitter because I was doing something I didn’t think I wanted to do. What made it worse was I couldn’t think of what else to do. I liked the money. I liked the lifestyle. The more I had, the less I wanted to give it up.

There were many law firm opportunities and few corporate opportunities, especially with my experience. Then a headhunter contacted me about a job in Houston, Texas. I wasn’t even sure where Houston was, but I sent my resume to anyone who said in-house in the pitch. The headhunter called me a few days later and told me the hiring manager was interested, but was very busy. The headhunter called again about a month later and again relayed the manager’s interest. I told him I was still interested and would wait. This happened three more times, with me responding each time that I was still interested and would wait, but I believed it less and less. He called me a fifth time and I began to tell him that I was still interested and would wait when he interrupted me. He said the manager wanted a phone interview.

The phone interview went well and Doug, the manager, flew down for a dinner interview in New York City. We had a wonderful dinner during which we discussed the law, philosophy, books, and intellectualism. At the end, Doug said if I give him three years in Texas, both the company and I would greatly benefit. When he wants to be, Doug is an excellent salesman. He is also a unique person, but I’ll get to him a little later in this narrative. My unhappiness had reached such a point that I wanted a change badly. But that wasn’t why I accepted the offer. It was Doug and the job that interested me. I saw a challenge and for the first time I thought about conquering it, viewing the job as more than just a way to make a living. It was the opposite of New York City: my feelings about the job and the city had switched places.

I took a few weeks off between jobs and traveled to Alaska for my first vacation. I had gone on plenty of trips before Alaska, but Alaska was the first time I let myself enjoy the trip. Even though I spent a week riding my bicycle up steep mountains, mostly by myself, I enjoyed every moment of it. I went to Alaska expecting to enjoy it, and I accomplished it through the combination of the beauty of the outdoors and my newfound attitude. I took many pictures, and I arrived in Houston giddy and tanned, still sporting my new attitude.

My flight to Houston from Alaska was delayed after Houston experienced the worst flood in 100 years. When the taxi driver drove me from the airport, he pointed to all the fields and highways that had been rivers only days before. Houston’s floods washed me in and I was caught in its flows for the next three years. At about the same time, Doolies was celebrating her birthday. She tells me that she made a wish for me before blowing out her candles. It would still be more than a year before she would find me on the internet.

To be continued...