I often joke that, when I was a kid, my career ambition was to be a ninja, or a truck driver, or some G.I. Joe-style combination of both.
I always wanted some quiet little job where I could be on my own.
I admired the mailmen, and their lives trudging anonymously from house to house, or driving their jeeps (now a thing of the past) down some country lane.
I thought it would be cool to be a small town cop. An interest that went so far as declaring a Criminal Justice major in my second year at college. You can blame Stephen King’s The Stand for that, and the short-lived sheriff of Shoyo, Arkansas who takes in a wounded Nick Andros just days before the superflu destroys civilization.
My first major in college was environmental science, with an eye on becoming a park ranger in West Virginia. I wanted to hike around the Monongahela Forest in my polyester ranger uniform and get shot by rednecks.
My other oft-repeated joke is that I want to be a night watchman. I turn it into a joke because I think people would worry if they knew I was serious. If they knew that I found something romantic and appealing about being a night watchman.
It’s these cool late autumn and winter nights that make me think about that profession. I took a job in 1990 as a retail clerk at a tiny little niche bookstore in suburban Maryland. It was two rooms in a big old mansion on a dark 40 acre wooded lot. Something of a fantastical oasis, really. You’d pull off the Beltway, or peel off from the commuting madness on the surface streets, and wend your way through the trees up to this imposing mansion on the hill. My after-school shift would have me running the bookstore in the evenings, from 4pm to 9pm, all alone in the spooky house. At my busiest, I’d see maybe three customers. Most of the time, I was alone from 5pm until closing.
Nobody ever thought to assign busy work, either, so I’d step outside and wander around in the night, kicking leaves and creeping around the empty parking lot, exploring the paths through the woods, climbing trees, or just running around being silly.
In those tumultuous teen years, that late shift was a welcome respite. True private time where I could be alone with my own thoughts. Those three customers who occasionally came up there were always odd ducks and seemed to be of a similar breed – they’d keep to themselves, coming for specific items and gone in a few minutes, or quietly shuffling around the shelves of books in the backroom.
As I got older, being a night watchman was a perfect combination of all my career ambitions. The lonely ranger in the polyester uniform, the solitary small town cop, and the roving mailman wandering his circuit meets the nostalgic autumn evenings alone with my thoughts.
Getting away from people isn’t something that settled in after my adulthood trail by fire, it’s always been there. I’ve always enjoyed playing alone, and I’ve always distrusted people – including family and friends. I remember clearly realizing in third grade that my so-called friends were all out for something, and couldn’t ever be fully trusted. And I was almost always right.
I have, thankfully, met a handful of people over the years who have become great and trusted friends, and who I see as great people. It’s probably thanks only to them that you’re not watching them scoop mummified cats out of my bathtub on an episode of Hoarders.