The above words were often brusquely spoken by one of the senior associates of the Washington, DC lobbying firm where I worked in the late '80's and early '90's. He was then about the age I am now, and I was in my early 50's, still young enough to cling to certain ideals but also beginning to verge on the nihilism that comes with experience of life. Thus his curt dismissals called forth both my moral disapproval (I had been taught by my parents that acceptance of inconvenient duties was a virtue) and my envy (I wished that I possessed a similarly unrepentant power of decision). Still, I did recognize that since he was one of the founders and owners of the business and I was but a worker bee, the things he refused to do necessarily devolved upon me or upon others of my lowly caste; we enjoyed no such cavalier freedom of choice. The sorts of things he refused to do composed our daily fare. That was the Darwinian nature of things.
Now that I am in my late seventies, I find that my views are reversed. Now I too am disinclined to shoulder the burdens of unwished-for responsibility. It is not that I wish to avoid the necessary jobs of living. It is that I am incompetent to perform them. I look back over a life that now seems to me little more than a long catalog of tasks humbly and obediently accepted but for whose accomplishment I was constitutionally unequipped. I was a dreamer, a would-be writer, impractical and unaccomplished in the utilitarian things of life. But duty, that hateful word, drove me again and again to attempt tasks for which I had no talent or understanding. A lifetime of submission to such responsibilities has left me weary and unfulfilled. My memories are not of obstacles surmounted but of humiliations born of inept attempts to do what the average male is routinely expected to do but which for me proved impossible, inscrutable. There was the time I attempted wire an exhaust fan in my basement bathroom--and blew out the entire electrical system of the house. To this day I drive a car bearing within me the gnawing, terrible knowledge that I do not know how to employ jumper cables in the event they are required, or to reliably change a tire without resorting to the owner's manual. Once I bought a house and tried to consummate the settlement with a personal check rather than the cashier's check that anybody else would know was required. I dread encounters with handymen, plumbers, roofers, car repairmen, realtors, anyone who confidently handles the work expected of them that I cannot understand, cannot do, and must hire done.
I have borne the burdens of honor and obligation with the muteness and docility of a Mexican burro, yet I search in vain for the rewards of such labor and fret. I am tired. I want to rest. Now I understand the attitude of my co-worker, whose voice I can still hear, declaring in his habitual brassy shout , "I can't deal with that!" Oh, were I he!