One Too Many
James reclined in his lawn chair, the small campfire burning a void in his back yard. “Yup, there’s nothing like a campfire,” he said to the assembled crowd of only himself before taking another sip of his beer. He looked up at the sky, remembering a time when he was full of hope for what might lay out there. A time when he dreamed of being an astronaut, a dream that propelled him through his college engineering degree.
James picked up another textbook from the stack and tossed it into the fire.
He was a good engineer, but never more than that. NASA wouldn’t call him in to mop the floors and he knew it; he’d figured that out his fifth year of undergrad – his super-senior year. After college he’d tried to get a job even remotely connected to space or aeronautics, but no company even called him back.
“Have you ever taken a really good look at a coffee cup?” he said to the hypothetical person sitting with him. “One of those disposable ones from big chain cafes? Those lids have a really distinct shape. Plastic lids that fit on paper cups with contours for your mouth and little vent holes. An engineer designed that; probably a whole team of engineers. Most people – especially young engineering students – don’t think about that stuff. They say engineers make the world and it’s true. Problem is there’s a lot of meaningless crap in the world.”
James looked down at his beer bottle. “Chairs,” he spat with disdain. “Average adult weight, height, and ass width. All that has to be taken into account when you design chairs. Chairs that people spend their entire lives sitting in while they stare at a computer screen.” James couldn’t tell anymore if his contempt was for the job or himself.
For a while he’d told himself it was important work. After all, people really do spend most of their lives sitting in desk chairs, and maybe he could make a really great one. Eventually James realized that’s not what furniture design companies want. Their primary engineering goals were to make the chair as cheaply and quickly as possible overseas, which meant as few total parts as possible with as inexpensive and lightweight materials as possible. Basically his goal was to design cheap crap that would hold together long enough to be outside the warranty length when it finally did break. Accepting that sad fact had taken the better part of the last year, but today he simply couldn’t live with it anymore.
It wasn’t any one thing; he figured it was just one thing too many. One too many meaningless meetings. One too many rejected designs because they didn’t look like everything else on the market. One too many structural components removed or weakened in the name of shaving pennies off the manufacturing cost.
One too many times he’d looked up at the stars and wondered how he’d failed so miserably.
James tossed a fresh pair of his college engineering textbooks on the fire before cracking open a new beer. He was proud of himself for not telling his boss off; it wasn’t her fault, after all. She’d tried to convince him to stay but he refused. She was a bit upset that he didn’t give her two week’s notice, but the truth was he didn’t have it in him. He called a realtor when he got home and told him to auction everything in the house or throw it out; he didn’t care. “Set a price and sell it,” was what he’d told the realtor.
James looked up at the stars again. Somewhere along the way he’d forgotten exactly why it was he’d wanted to be an astronaut. It wasn’t because he loved engineering, and maybe that was the problem. It was because he’d wanted to be an explorer. That was the funniest part; a man who never traveled anywhere longed to explore other planets.
If he couldn’t explore other planets then he’d at least explore this one. He’s sell the house and use the money to travel. He’d do odd jobs along the way to help stretch it, but ultimately he knew he’d run out of money but he didn’t care. Better broke than slaving away in a job I hate.
James stared up at the stars, the smell of burning plastic wafting from the textbooks into his nose. He felt free, but more importantly he was happy for the first time in years.