It hadn’t always been like this.
At least…he didn’t think it had, but sometimes he had trouble remembering what his life was like before Dunder Mifflin and mortgages and bills and the things that made him sigh in frustration and rub at his eyes. He rubbed at his eyes like that would change the numbers on the paper in front of him that clearly stated how deep in debt he really was. He thought for a second about selling the kitchen chair he was sitting on, and figured that would probably get him about twenty bucks to put in the bank. He could just stand up while he ate his dinner, he figured, it didn‘t make a difference to him. He could sell his car and walk the five miles to work every day…that way maybe he could lose a few pounds and save himself some money…
But, he considered somewhere deep down inside of him…somewhere quiet and free of his usual disdain for the world…but, even if he sold his car, even if he sold the chairs upon which he sat, how long could he really go on like this? How long could he go on cutting corners and begging for bonuses and generally disappointing the people around him? It hadn’t always been like this…but mostly, he thought, resting his head in his hands and closing his eyes in resignation, mostly it had.
His mother had called him lazy.
On occasion, good for nothing.
His teachers had begged him to try a little bit harder. To offer up more than “enough to get by.” To put real effort into something and know the smell of the fruits of his labor, know the taste of them. To put real effort into something and know how it felt when hard work paid off.
But, he would argue silently, he had put in real effort. Once.
He had put effort into things. Once, a long time ago. Before teachers and women and lazy and good for nothing, he had tried to know fruits of labor and payment for good deeds…hard work…enthusiasm and optimism. He had tried to try and he had hopefulness and happiness. He’d figured then that if he just ran a little bit faster, if he yelled a little bit louder, if he said out loud that things didn’t have to be bad, if he said out loud that failure was a choice made by men and things could change, he’d figured if he just tried hard enough that he could beg that certain look off of his father’s face. He could clear the dust from the road and he could clear the tears from his mother's eyes and he could bring his father back from wherever it was he had run to. He’d thought back then that he could work hard enough and that he could fix it.
Nothing got fixed. Nothing ever did.
And his mother, too, had been unfixable, inconsolable, cold and indifferent. That was when she had taught him sloth and she had taught him pessimism and she had taught him that you had to work for the man…
Because the man would never work for you. The man didn’t hand out favors and the man wasn’t honest or good. The man would beat you down if he thought he could, and nobody would defend you or save you or clean up your mess. She had taught him to expect very little…and to give little in return.
And even though now he was grown and now he was a father and now he had labor, however minimal the fruits, somewhere he guessed he was still eight years old and running after his father’s beat up Chevrolet on the dirty streets of Philadelphia. Somewhere he was still rich with emotion and optimism and hope and things that you learn in the comfort of your smiling mother’s arms.
But here, in Scranton, Pennsylvania…here, with Dunder Mifflin and mortgages and bills...here, with laziness and slothfulness and nothing good for much of anything...here...he was just tired. Here, he was just a guy working for the man.
He sighed and rolled his eyes and pushed his bank statement away, reaching out for his pencil and the paperback book that had been manufactured by the man at the New York Times.
Some boxes he filled in, and some of them he left blank.
It didn’t really matter anyway, he thought tiredly, it wasn’t like he’d get a prize for finishing the puzzle…
And at that thought he paused, and at that thought his stare glazed over, and at that thought the pencil dropped from his hand and fell with a thud to the table beneath him, and at that thought he shook his head at himself and sighed.
It hadn’t always been like this, he promised himself silently.
He was sure of it.