Let me first apologize for asking this question, but here it goes: Have you seen "Downton Abbey"? There’s a good chance you’re not asked that question often (you’ve probably been asked “Have you gone down on Abbey?” way more--which you did and she got off like 5 times). It’s the kind of show that lends itself to faux-intellectualism since it takes place in the early twentieth century and everyone in it is so very “British” (and TONS of laughs about Americans being so wacky - it’s PBS’s version of “white people drive like this, and black people drive like that”). Anyway, I plowed through all of the episodes and I sort of got engrossed in the world; more specifically, the world of the servants - and the idea of a pre-determined life. You see, there’s this team of servants that take care of the titular mansion and for the most part, they all accept that they will be servants ad infinitum. My favorite character, in fact, the head butler, carries that truth with the kind of dignity reserved for retired moguls and the world’s second greatest bouncer. Not only does he NOT mind being a butler, he wants to die a butler...the BEST butler. Crimony, I can hardly make a PB&J without hand-wringing over what I’ll spread on first. And that, I guess, is what I find so alluring and so distant: the knowledge of where you are, where you are going, your place, and your path.
We don’t like to believe in “paths” in America, not in that sense. It’s ridiculous to us. No American could fathom dying a butler (unless we could all be Geoffrey, working for Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil, getting all of the punch lines in every situation). We all are under the impression that we’ll most certainly die better off than we are right now. In fact, I’m 95% certain I’ll die on my yacht, watching a private exhibition of two naked, 18-year-old (they’re 18, I swear), half Asian half Ukrainian women (the vanilla and orange sherbert of ethnic swirls) fighting each other with pillows stuffed with hundreds. I’m sure everyone in the world has “Monday Dreams,” those hungover Monday thoughts of creating a new app that will change the iPhone, a woman’s orgasm, and your wallet forever. But here in these United States, we’ve got it down to an art. There isn’t a single working human reading this right now that hasn’t considered throwing it all away to bake croissants on a hillside in France, AND BE GOOD AT IT, despite the fact we don’t bake, or speak French, or even know if France contains hills. Dreaming is written into our DNA. This is America, goddammit. We exit the womb being told that we can be anything we want. There are entire kindergartens full of future middle-management that all believe they’ll be the first president/sports blogger/dating expert/freelance poet and no parent discourages them. There are middle-aged temps answering phones right now that believe they’ll die rich from book deals and their friends nod their approval at the bar. Even the term “middle-management” is always said with disdain, as if a human who isn't piloting their own successful franchise is a complete failure. Thinking you’ll be anything but some vague idea of amazing is for Communists and American Airlines.
And while this dreaming has piloted my life, I’m starting to think I took it a little too far, like a guy who’s ass-deep in the water only to turn around and find out the skinny-dipping suggestion was a joke. I quit my job in “finance” two years ago to be a comic - my attempt to stop dreaming and start doing - and now I get why I’m one of the few. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we still believe that America is the greatest, free-est, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrapin'-est country of them all - but the idea feels vague, untested, just sort of glossed over and accepted in the way that we all glossed over and accepted God when we were kids. Here’s a wacky fun fact: the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the developed world. Our dreams - objectively, scientifically - no longer match our reality. In truth, our actions show a country of managers and worker bees, content that way. We've got our 401K, bagel Fridays, good health coverage, and weekends off. And this, truthfully, is ok. Because when I left that life, I didn't think I'd miss it one bit. Now...ehhhh...I miss it a little.
The irony is that there is a real freedom to a company life. Within the confines of the nine to five is the knowledge that it WILL ONLY BE from nine to five (with fifteen minutes per hour looking at a nipple that may or may not be there on Facebook). Within the shackles of a semi-weekly paycheck is the comfort OF HAVING a paycheck. When you’re not worried about those life-altering realities on a weekly basis, you can get down to living: reading, drinking, movies, monkey-farming, etc. The less choice you face, the more your choices can feel like the right ones. Along with a bunch of other idiots chasing fame and fortune, I stand outside of that. While cruise liners full of professionals zip by, I feel as if I’m in open water paddling a dingy as if hell itself were chasing me. As a comedian on my own, without the structure of it all, I can never know when I’ve done enough, so I’m left frequently with the notion that I haven’t. And so, the question might arise, is it really worth trying to truly live out our dreams? Does the act bring peace or is the dream best left where it is - in the cubicle on a Monday morning? I guess I can’t really answer that, but I can say this: I’ve never felt so good as I do in the moments of achievement and so horrible in the moments of failure (I’ve cried and used the tears as lubricant. This will be a weird scene when they make the movie of my life. Don't worry, Shia Leboeuf is already practicing.). If anything, that shows I care. I’m not sure if I’m happier or more comfortable for it all, but maybe that’s the right thing. Maybe the thing that matters is fulfillment. And you know what? I haven’t sat in a cubicle on a Monday and dreamed about a different life in two years.
When we were younger, we believed that people of a certain age seem to know everything. As we get older, we realize that on some level, everyone is kind of a fuckup. If you’re not on a yacht sipping mai-tai’s with rappers, then you fucked up at some point, in some way. Got that big promotion? Congratulations, you’re still someone’s employee. Banging that hot chick? Good for you, she still gets periods. Got that big show? Nice job, you didn’t sell it out. And if you look up to that guy with the corner office, God help you, because that dude is as human and flawed as you are. So the idea of being a damn good butler might feel trivial to us, but there’s dignity in that - someone like that wants nothing more than to be the best for his place and time. So what we do or what dreams we have take a backseat to the person we are at that very moment. Is this the person you want to be?
Thankfully, I can answer 'yes.' Until I finally get that croissant shop up and running in the French Hillsides. The French are going to love me.
Jared Freid is a New York City-based comedian. You can follow him on Twitter @jtrain56 for videos, columns, and “Monday Dreams.”