“Cream and Bastards Rise” by Harvey Danger

144. Song Nos. 2,185 and 2,186: “Cream and Bastards Rise,” Harvey Danger
Cream and Bastards Rise, 2005; Little by Little, 2005

I don’t need to rehash how the pandemic upended my professional world, right? The cruelly cut-short celebratory return to the newsroom environment I love; the suddenly remote nature of everything eventually emphasizing how good a healthy work/life balance feels when both are uniquely satisfying; the lingering bitterness over feeling more than a little personally attacked by a global health crisis having the audacity to wreak havoc on my second chance to love newspapers from the inside. It’s all previously covered terrain, yeah?

Zeroing in on how furiously hurt I was over not getting the journalistic second chapter I had perhaps a little too over-optimistically idealized, though, was an accidentally auspicious avenue of bitterness refocused. Being angry that something wasn’t as fulfilling as I had anticipated eventually led to seeing how it had its own upsides (and, boooooi, were they good), letting that indignation play out its natural course as it petered out into a decidedly better mindset and perspective.

Otherwise, I could have all too easily gotten utterly consumed with stewing over all the ways my previous job had stolen my joy, temporary as that soul-suck was. Because, as my bestie recently reminded me as we talked about everything under the sun while we made our way halfway across the country in the most bittersweet road trip ever, Job PTSD is a real and it is a beast you can only fully absorb with the distance and perspective a much healthier professional environment affords you as the anger recedes into the rearview and lets you finally get a good, retrospective assessment of its monstrous entirety.

However. Even an absolutely terrible job that does little to advance your career and plenty to augment your already tenuous grasp on sanity has plenty of real-world lessons, and I hate that I know that. I mean, it’s ultimately an asset and there is something satisfying about looking back on an era you have no idea how you survived with your joie de vivre intact and realize that the experiential insight you gained outweighs the misery. But, fuuuuuuuck, are those lessons an absolute bear to learn and internalize. There is no misery like politely smiling through another personality you would never voluntarily share the same air with saying the kind of things that make your blood boil and curdle your soul because you’re convinced you need this job and the health insurance and don’t want to make a scene that will put them in their utterly deplorable place but will also get your ass fired so fast it’ll give you whiplash that’ll cost an out-of-pocket arm and leg to treat.

You follow good advices to the letter
You know your friend, he’s doing so much better than you
Are ever likely to do, he’ll eclipse you
But he will not miss you

And the lyrics of Harvey Danger accompanied those dawning, awful lessons of adulthood in a place where cream rarely rose to the top because the bastards were beating them down to retain their ill-gotten spot high atop whatever lonely mountain they fought tooth and nail and downright dirty to slither their way into. Like, I should have figured out that something foul’s afoot when a charity fundraiser necessitates beefed-up security because people are apt to walk off with high-ticket items just because they feel entitled to them. Or where employees are treated like line items and scorned for their absolutely inhumane low-wage salaries cutting into the funds allowing a hands-off owner to take their fifth vacation of the year and then having the audacity to complain about high turnover and narrow profit margins. Or where rampant racism, homophobia, transphobia, and fetishized capitalism underscored every conversation I painfully smiled and bit my tongue through so I wouldn’t lose my job over telling someone what an abject, hateful piece of shit they are. Or felt unsafe in my own skin because I had no idea what married dude was going to literally whip out his dick for the power play or what “teammate” was going to throw everyone under the bus to make their insecure and underperforming ass feel fleetingly better. But I’m really excellent at ignoring red flags, so. Five years of quiet, intensifying suffering finally culminated in running headlong toward a halved salary but an absolutely, radiantly restored soul.

“Cream and Bastards Rise” became less of my rallying cry as I realized my expiration date was nearing and tolerance for despicable bullshit rapidly eroding and more of a comfort and a life raft. I mean, yeah, it was soul-crushing to realize that you don’t have to be good to rise to the top if you unconscionably batter your way there but it also was like gaining access to a club I’d never patronize otherwise and getting a front-row seat to learning how the other half does it.

People who could buy and sell you
Sharing a joke that they will never tell you
You think you’re dialled in, someone has to win
And you know what that means:
It means someone’s got to lose
It’s probably you

And that’s the thing. There are people out there who are winning as long as they’re doing better than someone else, whether it’s an old nemesis or The Poor or their own staff, and they’ll always need to be framing their “success” as doing it against someone else. That’s the cruelty of capitalism by way of the temporarily disenfranchised millionaires all poverty exploiters see themselves as, which is a firsthand education I never wanted but am reluctantly grateful to have pulled back the velvet curtain long enough to understand, so much as anyone can understand the impulse that drives someone to demand that other people defer their dreams at a bargain to help them buy another fucking yacht, sports car and/or vacation home and then pitch a fit when the game is exposed.

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