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  • Writer's pictureCassie Stockamp

What a wild chapter:

Updated: May 3, 2020

Living in the time of a pandemic, finding a job as an essential worker and creating space for a roommate with Parkinson’s

I was in Colombia when the email came from the State Department calling us home.... I ended up buying three plane tickets to get home as two of them went to Chicago in hopes of seeing one of my daughters, but.... things got locked down. Quarantine/Shelter in place. So the last ticket took me through 5 airports to get back home to Indy - to a changed City.

And changed plans.

I had adopted the attitude of “surrender” as things were unraveling outside of my control. When I was home in January I had bought a touring bike, received a tent as a present and ordered some other gear in anticipation of riding across the US when I returned home. Obviously that adventure wasn’t happening anytime soon...

The universe/god/serendipity - whatever you want to call it took care of me as the guy renting my home had moved out a week before I had to return, so my home with all of my stuff and my cat were waiting for me. The only shadow in all of this was that I had a housing expense that I didn’t anticipate as the subletting of my home had fallen through because of corona, and I loathed the thought of using savings for mere living expenses. So... I explored what was available in the job market and didn’t find too many jobs of my “caliber” (not even sure what that means anymore) readily available. And technically I had “quit/retired” from my career as President of a well known community cultural facility, so after a cursory review of applying for unemployment, that didn’t seem to be an option - and - I’m healthy and capable of working - so...

I started an “essential” job. At a grocery store.

It has been over 40 years since I had to clock in and out for a job and my ego felt bruised... I thought I had divorced my self worth from my occupation. Hhhhhhhmmmm.... maybe not so much. I felt myself flinching when I told people what I was doing. And then I reminded myself that I had spent all of 2019 volunteering and doing tasks that were at times much less glamorous than working at a grocery store, but it was in another country and it felt - well - exotic. But why did working here in Indy feel so different?

I did what I have learned works for me and turned inward to discover the source of the discomfort, leaned in and listened. I found that the genesis of my tenderness stemmed from the realization that my ego was still more in charge than what I thought and hoped. As I worked through all of the emotions - and really let go - I found eagerness. I know that sounds really weird, but this chapter - this unusual time in my life - has become another wild experience. I have always loved the adrenal rush from doing new things, meeting new people, working in a new industry, observing how management treats its staff (that’s another blog....). This is turning into a really interesting next phase of my “slow travel” adventure; adapting to this new world and learning how to pivot is a skill I’m honing. LOL!

The people that I am working next to are well spoken and displaced. Each has a story about a prior job, is happy to be working and are kind and eager to help whenever I ask a goofy question. And the one that blew me away was a great lesson. This man was very conscientious and, what I interpreted to be, a little slow about details as he had a few ongoing questions about process. Today he asked me about my job pre-virus. I told him about my sabbatical and travels, and then I asked him about his life pre-virus. He answered slowly. He was/is a Neuro surgeon.

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the floor.

He said he primarily worked with concussed athletes and was only seeing patients on Thursdays as his case load had dropped way down. Geeeeezzeeeeee... Heaven please help me to stop making assumptions about people...

And then there was Chuck; a loud spoken character who walked to work in the rain/snow, never missed a day of work and had been a chef at Ruths Chris; Lisa an actress for commercials; Jeff a high school music teacher, another a logistics manager and lots of college students.

I complimented a young trans person on her make-up. Seriously. I couldn’t pull it off.
Everyone was working hard and taking their responsibilities to heart. Feeding the sheltered...

Here are some random thoughts that floated through my mind as I walked the isles filling orders:

  1. Who buys a dozen bags of light brown sugar? Oh that’s right, the same person that buys 13 cans of tomato sauce. Whoa, what must it be like to cook for a huge family??

  2. Can I add just one piece of fresh fruit to to to your order of processed food and surgery deserts? Oh wait, I might get fired.

  3. One morning I was reaching for a can of soy sauce and turned to find a large human with a cart loaded with donuts and pop. As I smiled and greeted him, I found myself really wanting to offer some counseling in nutrition.

  4. One afternoon I accidentally overheard spouses quietly bickering in the cracker isle and wondered if they had spent too much time together?

And more randomness about the job:

  1. The training we received on how to deal with the virus was to be told that gloves and masks were available if we choose to use them. That’s it. I found it pretty unbelievable that was all the training that was being given to the essential front line worker...

  2. The cart. It shocks. It happens randomly, but the intensity is surprising! It’s like all the static electricity in the air jumps to the metal tote, and I’m wondering if my eyes light up when it happens!! LOL.

  3. When my friends found out where I was working, they would often tell me that I would quickly work my way up the ladder. I laughed as I had mini-moments of anxiety thinking I was not putting the bags full of groceries behind the right bar code in the cooler resulting in a reprimand and then a loss of my hourly job! Wild to observe a wondering irrational mind. L O L!!!

  4. And of course there are friends and people I know that shop at this store... I smile when I see them, bow and ask, “May I help you...?!” LOL! And I hate to confess, but I saw a person with whom I really didn't really want to engage and very slowly moved the mask up over my nose and turned away... hhhmmmmmmm...

I know this employment chapter will be short lived and is merely adding texture to the unfolding story of my life. I’m smiling as I type. What a wild ride...

And now the unfolding of a roommate with Parkinson’s.

My new roommate is a great guy, and in what he thought was an act of encouragement made me listen to NPR’s radio broadcast of “Santaland Diaries” written and recorded by David Sedaris. In these episodes Sedaris was desperate and found a job as an elf at Macy’s. I think my roommate was trying to suggest that my time as an order filler may propel me into stardom. Well, at least that was my take-away, but if any of you have listened to these episodes you know that Sedaris is funny. Really funny. He makes the ordinary sublime and well, ummm, he even kinda’ sounds like an elf. And I’m not sure I know what a standard Clicklist shopper sounds like, so I’m not thinking this is my entre into stardom! LOL!

And just how did the roommate thing unfold? Shaking my head, as I’ve just learned to say YES to the world... I had put it out there that I was looking for an intentional roommate, and he appeared. Wicked smart. Political. With Parkinson’s. Whew. I had to think about it for a hot minute as I knew there would be some elements of caregiving (and I’m not a very compassionate caregiver - ok that’s being vulnerable), and felt relieved when we talked and found he is still quite mobile and self sufficient. It has been a fascinating experience. He speaks fluent Spanish and is giving me some prompts, and I am fluent in yoga and give him some prompts. LOL.

I watch as the disease affects his mobility and how the drugs kick on and off affecting his keen mind. He’s really funny, loves history and music and I’m on the receiving end of a lot of comical stuff! Pretty sure I’m getting the better end of the deal...

What is essential? One thing that I didn’t even know was essential pre-corona are the weekly zoom calls with family. Lots to ponder...

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