Part 1: The Job Game
I was surfing in Nicaragua last time I realized that I was running out of money and would have to go back to slavery again to continue to live on Earth. I considered staying in Central America and getting an English teaching job; I even applied and was accepted to teach at a school in Honduras, but then I thought about the 9-month contract I would have to sign and realized that it would be much easier to just go back to the US, work in a bar for a couple of months, save, quit, then return to Central or South America and travel around without being tied to a job.
I had two options in my head- Vegas and Hawaii. Vegas would be dreadful, but I was confident that I could quickly and easily find bar work there and save several thousand dollars in 2-3 months (US bar work pays very well in tips). Hawaii is expensive and not as promising for work, but it’s like a playground for me- mountains, ocean, surfing, diving, climbing, fishing, mangoes and avocados, and some good friends!
I looked at flights. There was a cheap one to Hawaii.
Fuck it. 3 days later I was all Aloha.
One thing to note is that I’ve never revolved my life around making any kind of career for money. I recognize that I need money to live in society. I know that I need to work in order to get money. So for me, work is simply a means to get money. Nothing else.
I’ve never even considered merging my life (the stuff I like to do) with a long term means of making money. I don’t even know how I could have done that… become a professional snowboarder? That would have taken a lot of effort and may have ruined the fun of snowboarding. Professional photographer? But then I would have to take pictures of what other people want me to take pictures of, not what I want to take pictures of. I would also probably have to stay in one place for a long time or go where other people tell me to go. I’d much rather just make money as quickly as possible, quit and then do what I want to do after.
So I try to view work as a game… Let’s play the “job game” again for a couple of months so I can get it over with and continue to live on Earth.
In all my years of traveling, I’ve never set up a job for myself ahead of time, before arriving in a new city or country. I don’t have anything against doing this, but I think it’s unnecessary and a bit of a waste of energy. Wherever there are bars and restaurants there is work for me. That’s the kind of work I usually look for because it doesn’t take much background knowledge and, in the US, you can make 3-4 times more money bartending than almost any other ordinary job. Plus, people come and go in hospitality all the time, so there’s always work to be found and it won’t kill the business when you leave.
Of course, when I apply for work, I have to pretend like I’ve been living in one place my entire adult life and like I will stay in this new place for the rest of my life. I don’t like lying or holding back the truth about myself, but, you gotta do what you gotta do in a world where you need money to survive. If they know you’re a gypsy, they won’t hire you.
I was determined to get a job on the North Shore. I didn’t want to live anywhere else on Oahu and couldn’t afford a flight to another island. I found out that there was a new restaurant called Roy’s opening up in Turtle Bay (fancy beachfront hotel). Everybody said that this would be the best work on the North Shore; I even met people who wanted to quit their management positions just to serve tables there.
I applied as a bartender but said I that could waitress if they really needed it (although last time I served tables I told myself it would be the last time).
I got in! They said to come to training in four weeks.
I would never usually wait that long for the “job game” to start, but so many people assured me that Roy’s would be a goldmine and that it would be worth it, so I waited.
Four weeks on Hawaii… -500 dollars. What to do? I had to borrow money to buy a van to live in. The van was $900 but it drove and had no back seats. I acquired a mattress then sanded down and painted the ceiling of the van because the foam and cloth that you would normally find on the ceiling of a vehicle had deteriorated into a brown moldy gunk. I thought it would be ironic if I worked in a fancy restaurant in Turtle Bay and lived in a gunk van.
I showed up to training 4 weeks later. The place looked nice- right on the beach, new furniture, beautiful bar facing the ocean. I had never been a part of a restaurant opening before, but Roy’s was serious business. I was impressed. They gave us a binder that was about 2 inches thick- half filled with recipes, half with ‘front of house’ business. Roy came in. We all introduced ourselves, then we split the front of house and back of house. Started learning the “Roy’s ways.”
The training was intense. It went on for 6-7 hours a day for 3 weeks and we were paid minimum wage during this time (about $8/hour). After a few days of training, we were separated into categories- bartenders, waiters, food runners and bussers. They called us out name by name.
They called me to the busser section. I almost had a panic attack. “Me? A busser?!” I applied to be a bartender! I just wasted over a month failing at this stupid “job game,” waiting for this training to start. What the hell kind of money could I make cleaning tables?!
Someone else that was called to the busser section put down his apron and walked out. I kept it cool, tried not to tear up. Went through the training, learned how to pick up dirty dishes and pour water into water glasses.
At the end of that day I pulled Chris Pirrone, the hiring manager, to the side and asked him what the deal was. He said that I could train with the servers the next day and “see how I go.”
“See how I go.” Ok. No hope for bartending then. I was devastated, but at least there was hope for serving tables. Fuck.
In the training we got to try all of the food, which was some of the best food I’ve tasted in my life. We also had to learn what was in every dish, how it was made and how to ‘spiel’ it. I stayed up until 5 in the morning each night, learning every single ingredient in every dish, every spice, exactly how it was cooked, the freaken origin of every fish that was served, what it was fed, what its middle name was. I learned that masago was caviar from a small forage fish in the smelt family which grazes on plankton at the edge of ice shelves in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Arctic oceans. Yes, it has scales. I learned all the ingredients in shichimi, I learned that hoisin sauce has msg, and that soy sauce is not gluten free…. I learned what was nori, namasu, browning, braising, blanching… Ask anybody in that place if my spiel made them cum. It sure did. I aced every test. I made sure I would be a fucking waitress.
And I got it! Yes!
The restaurant opened. I messed up a few times. Everybody did. It’s okay.
I worked more and more. Wasn’t making much money. We (servers) had to split about 50% of our tips with everybody else (food runners, bussers, bartenders, etc.) so I was only making about $50 a lunch shift and $100 a dinner shift. That’s very little for restaurant work on Hawaii.
Two months on Hawaii and I was still in debt.
‘Roy’s was a mistake,’ I realized, ‘I could have saved plenty of money by now working somewhere else…’
I couldn’t turn back now. ‘Work harder. Work more!’
I did. The more I worked, the faster I got, the more I could handle, the more tips I made. That’s the thing about hospitality jobs in the US- the harder you work, the more money you make.
Serving tables really is hard work. You need to have a good memory and be very organized inside your own head. Little things like, “can I have some ketchup” can easily throw off your organization when you’re slammed. You need to keep a constant list of priorities in your head, and this list is continuously changing, every few minutes or so. If you know how to properly manage the list, you can be a good server. Double check everything and you won’t make mistakes. Calm yourself and don’t get overwhelmed in stressful situations. Don’t forget that it’s just a game.
I worked a lot; I worked well. I won every single competition in that place– from bottles of wine, to beer, gift certificates, I even won a costume contest.
On Halloween they offered a $100 prize + a bottle of wine for the best costume. At that point, I lived in a share house across Keiki Beach with a bunch of friends. It was the kind of house where a lot of people come and go all the time (surfers and hippies stay for a few months and then leave… leaving their crap behind). So there was a lot of crap- clothes, shoes, toys, etc. that didn’t belong to anybody.
I was determined to win that contest. The night before Halloween I found a box, duct tape, clothes, shoes and a giant stuffed panda. I turned the clothes into a little body and put it into the box, which I turned into a cage using the duct tape. Then I found a fluffy black sweater. I put it on and stuffed the panda into the back of the sweater so that the panda’s head popped out above my head. I made a hole in the back of the box and inserted my head into it, making my head look like the head of the little body inside the cage. My real body then looked like the body of the evil panda, who’s face I painted with “blood”.
I was pleasantly surprised that it actually turned out like I had hoped- giant evil panda holding a miniature captive (me) in a cage.
So Roy’s is a pretty fancy restaurant. The kind that people with little bow-ties and fancy dresses go to. The meals were about $50-60, apps $20-30. Proper wine service. And we were supposed to spiel every table.
My first table on Halloween was a party of 7 rich people celebrating something. A couple of them laughed at my costume, but I could tell that some of them were not very pleased at having an evil panda + miniature captive spiel them and serve them expensive food. It was great, I spieled the shit out of them :D. I presented and served a $100 bottle of wine for them in my costume, but couldn’t reach the table when I tried to pour them the wine because the cage was in the way. Luckily, my coworkers helped me out a lot that night.
It was hard to work in that costume, it was very hot and I couldn’t hold a tray or see anywhere but straight ahead of me. It wasn’t a very productive night but totally worth it.
$100 up ;)
In November, my friend Dave flew in from Australia. Dave has cerebral palsy, so he cannot walk without crutches and has a hard time using basic motor skills, yet this is the second time he had left his country with absolutely no assistance, to visit me on a faraway island. Actually, he visits his friends all the time, all over the world. Doctors have been telling Dave that he should be in a wheelchair for many years, but he refuses. He walks. Slowly, but he walks :).
I took 5 days off work to go to the Big Island with Dave. We rented a van, which we slept in and drove all around the island. We drove to the top of Mauna Kea for the supermoon (November 14th, 2016- the biggest and brightest moon in 60 years). We found out that there are telescopes you can use for free in the information center’s observatory.
We stepped out of the van to the blistering cold wind on Mauna Kea; it must have been close to freezing that night. The wind was so strong that it was knocking Dave off of his crutches. Dave grabbed the biggest telescope to support his entire body, having no idea that telescopes could move so easily. The telescope went sliding away, crutches dropped to the ground, and about 5 people ran over to help Dave. He was fine, just a bit shocked and worried about the telescope. We peered at the moon with caution, it looked absolutely surreal.
Just past the observatory, there was an unpaved road that led to the summit of Mauna Kea; at the entrance of the road there were a bunch of warning signs:
Danger! 4-wheel drive only! And so on.
I looked at the gravel, looked at Dave. It looked fine, he looked ok. We ignored the signs and drove the van up the volcano (this rental van was in much better shape than my gunk van). Halfway up, it started getting really steep and a bit scary in the dark, so I stopped the van and parked on the side of the winding dirt road. We slept there for the night. No one bothered us but the supermoon. The moon was so massive and bright on top of Mauna Kea that I felt like it was energizing my entire body, soon to take over my mind! I could barely sleep with it peering through the car window all night. Nevertheless, it was absolutely incredible.
We drove to the summit in the morning.
Mauna Kea (“White Mountain”) is the highest point in the Pacific Basin, and the highest island-mountain in the world; it rises 9,750 meters (32,000 ft) from the ocean floor to an altitude of 4,205 meters (13,796 ft) above sea level, which places its summit above 40 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. (ifa.hawaii.edu)
The summit of Mauna Kea was cold, windy, brown and barren. Like another planet altogether. Sparse dark brown cinder cones poked out of the lava plateau.
Hawaii is Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the Universe. The summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. The combined light-gathering power of the telescopes on Mauna Kea is fifteen times greater than that of the Palomar telescope in California — for many years the world’s largest — and sixty times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. (ifa.hawaii.edu)
We contemplated trying to sneak into the observatory but decided against it… Mostly because of the cold wind.
We got back in the car and started driving down the mountain. The drive down Mauna Kea was a bit frightening because there was a storm moving in and I was afraid of it snowing on this “Danger! 4WD only!” road, since we didn’t have 4WD or chains.
We made it down slowly, then drove to the beach to warm up. It is amazing that on Hawaii, you can encounter such a radical difference in climate in just a couple of hours of driving- from winter on Mars to a tropical rainforest! You can even snowboard on Mauna Kea in winter, then drive down the mountain and go for a surf.
We drove to South Point, where I jumped off of a 40-foot cliff, then to the Green Sand Beach. The Green Sand Beach is an impressive site after a ride through the barren south shore landscape. It is located in a beautiful turquoise bay, there are rocky cliffs on both sides of the water, and a steep hill of soft moss-green sand leading down to the waves. I tumbled down the steep sandy slope to get to the water. The ocean was messy, there was very strong current and small choppy waves. I didn’t go in.
The next day, we drove up Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. Rather than the cinder cone that you typically imagine on a volcano, Kilauea has a collapsed pit crater called Halemaʻumaʻu, which holds a lava lake that you can see from the observation platform at the Jaggar Museum. There are telescopes that you can use for free to see the lava turn, splash and burst out of its pit. According to Hawaiian mythology, Halemaʻumaʻu is the home of Pele- goddess of fire, lightning, dance, wind, volcanoes and violence.
We took a long drive through the national park, from the crater pit to the ocean. It was a powerful sight- a steady mountain slope of dried up black lava meeting bright blue endless water. We drove for hours, gazing at black dusty rivers of Pāhoehoe (smooth, unbroken lava) over steep slopes covered in ʻAʻā (rough lava blocks). Amazing.
Dave and I didn’t plan our trip ahead of time; we just knew that Mauna Kea was the largest island mountain in the world, we knew that the supermoon was on its way and were aware of the active volcano on the island. Since we didn’t pay for accommodation, we weren’t bound to any particular part of the island; that gave us the flexibility to go where we wanted, when we wanted and to simply explore. We parked anywhere we wanted and slept in the van or on beaches. We kept food to a minimum budget as well, mostly buying from supermarkets or farmer’s markets.
We found out about the Kalapana night market, a lively local festivity that happens every Wednesday night on the south of the Big Island. On our way to the markets, we accidentally passed the right turnoff and drove all the way to the dirt road that leads to the south end of Volcanoes National Park, where you can see lava pouring into the ocean. Unfortunately, you can’t drive all the way to the lava, you can either walk there or go for a two-hour bike ride.
The end of the paved road was filled with bike rental stands and I noticed a few bikes with attached baby strollers. Some of them looked pretty decently sized.
Hmm. The sun was just about to go down. There was an active volcano. There was lava. There was the ocean. There was Dave. There was a bike. No other way to get there. There was Dave. There was a bike stroller. There was Dave.
Next thing you know Dave’s in the baby stroller and I’m hauling ass towards the lava.
The looks on people’s faces were priceless as I passed by them, dragging a hairy, loud-mouthed, 30-something year old man up a volcano in a baby capsule. It was a great workout.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Dave all the way to where the lava poured into water because there was a rough 150 or so meter walk over uneven, dried up ʻAʻā; but I think that he enjoyed the bike ride, sunset and ambiance of Volcanoes National Park regardless.
I was mesmerized by the sight of lava meeting the ocean. The mix of energy, red hot magma spewing onto ocean waves crashed against black cliffs. It is magical to see the island grow with your own eyes.
How damn lucky I felt to have this privilege.
Dave flew out a few days later and I got back to the job game. I continued to slave away through November and December. I worked many doubles which ran from 9:45am to up to 1:00am, usually with no break (sometimes I would get 20 minutes or so to change clothes). After a double (and I often did 2 or 3 doubles in a row) I would need an entire day of bed rest just to recover (after which I would have to come right back to work again).
I basically ate nothing but Roy’s employee meals, which were usually tasty but not the healthiest, and I had severe back pain that I couldn’t get rid of because of the stress of the job and because I had no time to deal with it. By the end of December, I started to feel depressed.
What was I doing?
I took a day off and went into the jungle.
I always liked this quote from the movie, The Power of One:
“any question you have, the answer you will find in nature.”
I walked around the jungle barefoot and alone. Felt the mud slip in between my toes. Think.
5 months in the job game and I have little to show for it. I paid back my debt, saved a few thousand dollars but not nearly what I would expect from 5 months of work. I wasted 2 months- one month waiting for the stupid game to start, one month training, getting minimum wage. I have serious back pain. I’m not happy.
Come back to reality. What am I doing?
I am a little person on a giant sphere that we call Earth, moving through a vast infinity of wonder we call the Universe. I am so insignificant. This “job game” is so meaningless.
I felt deep empathy for those who don’t see it as a game, but allow it to engulf their entire life. How can you just live and accept this? How lost and confused must some be.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I have to do something about this!
I grabbed a guava tree. Looked at its intricate beauty. The interwoven shapes of its bark. The colors- red, pink, brown, even blue. The colors were weaving.
I spent the last 9 years of my life traveling all over the world. If I died today, I wouldn’t regret a minute of it. I don’t believe in the system we live in, I have no desire to settle down and join it. I know I will quit this job soon.
Why am I so confused then?
When I left Nicaragua, I broke up with Chris, the greatest love of my life. He was so perfect. So beautiful inside and out. He understood me deeply. He was funny, witty, sexy and smart. I miss him.
Was that a mistake?
It didn’t feel like a mistake. I couldn’t handle it anymore. We spent two and a half years traveling around the world together- 3 months in one country, 2 in another; 3 months together, 4 months apart. We had 4 passports between the two of us, but none that allowed us to live and work in the same place. I couldn’t be torn apart anymore. I needed to be on my own for a while. It felt right.
What is it then?
I’m just overworking myself. I don’t have a plan. A date. Where am I going next? What am I doing?
What am I doing?
I thought about the last few of years of traveling- Australia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Caribbean, Lake Tahoe, Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Nicaragua.
I need more.
Not more places or more adventures, but more purpose. More depth in my life.
I started to feel guilty. Guilty for taking advantage of the system and just having fun, knowing that the whole world was so fucked up.
Look at these people. Look at what we’re doing to our planet. We’re killing it all for the job game! Can’t they see that it’s just a game?
No, they can’t.
I struggled with university, but managed to finish in 2014. I graduated with a degree of International and Global Studies from the University of Sydney. This was a brand-new degree, I was in the 2nd group of people that had ever graduated with it, so it was very disorganized but its aim was to give us a perspective of the ‘international and global’ world that we live in. The degree spanned from studying international political systems, to international business, to cultural issues, international conflicts, war, environmental degradation and so on, going across many different faculties of the university.
The core subject analyzed global and international problems and looked at how different types of institutions dealt with different types of problems. For example, I once analyzed how UN Women (a government organization) dealt with the issue of rape being used as a weapon of war vs. how Amnesty International (a non-government organization) dealt with the same issue. My conclusion was that neither organization helped much at all because neither one of them dug to the roots of the problem- and these roots are very, very deep.
My conclusion to the entire degree was that our whole system needed to be completely dismantled and recreated in order to solve any global issue. Gaining this kind of perspective from a ‘prestigious’ institution did a lot for me, because it basically confirmed my suspicions about how screwed up our society was and it backed up my belief that there was absolutely no reason for me to make any effort to build some kind of career for money or to live a boring ordinary life.
I thought about this and stared into the guava tree.
It is so beautiful.
How could I live without this guava tree? Without the forest, without the extraordinary biodiversity of our oceans, our Earth.
We cannot live without life on Earth.
I have to at least try to do something.
But what? And how?
The Venus Project. -This was the only organization that I knew of that proposed an in-depth holistic plan for how to redesign the entire global culture and system starting from the very core- human values, mentality and behavior. Any other form of activism seemed pointless to me because the hard effort would eventually be wiped out by the money system or some other symptom of trade.
I picked a guava.
How to join the Venus Project? I had been wondering that for years.
In spring of 2016, on my way to Nicaragua, I flew to Florida to meet 100-year-old Jacque Fresco, the founder of the Venus Project (TVP). While I was at the TVP research center, I also met co-founder Roxanne Meadows and a guy named Saso Luznar. I told them that I was Russian, and they said that the Russian speaking team was actually the biggest TVP team in the world, but that they had some communication issues and needed a good Russian-English link.
That got me excited! I could be the missing link!
I immediately volunteered to help and gave them my contact information. Saso said that they would get me into the next orientation process to become a Point of Contact for TVP, but that this would take a few months.
Ok. I cleared my head. Dropped the squashed fruit from my palm.
I just had to wait. TVP is in my near future. For now, get a grasp of reality. Don’t lose it. Don’t let the ‘job game’ get to you. Remember your insignificance in the vast universe.
Make a deadline: March 1st– I quit no-matter what. Bust it out, save as much as possible, quit and go. It doesn’t matter where, just quit the stupid game!
I walked out of the jungle.