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Monday, April 23, 2007

Tick, Tock

Lately, life has been stressful. For the last two months, I've been working late nights and the occasional weekend, with only the small luxuries of free dinners (under twenty bucks) and cab rides home. The days are tense and long, and I don't remember any of them.

Overwork is common in these parts, and my schedule is cushier than most. My brother, Will, used to work at a prestigious New York law firm and lived a few blocks away from his office, so he didn’t have to take the subway. It was a calculated decision, and it must have been hard to live on Water Street, which doesn't have much of a neighborhood. He worked there for three years and we only saw each other when relatives were in town.

One year, we both wound up riding the same bus to Boston, a freakish yet understandable coincidence. What siblings would each choose to travel home by bus on Thanksgiving Day? Only the most overworked and frugal ones, like Will and I, who saw the trip as an extra 4 1/2 hours to sleep.

Recently, I was on one fast-paced project (a big house in upstate New York) and then I was shifted to another project (a big house in Aspen). And then there’s the ongoing house for a man who made his billion from three widget factories. There is no shortage of wealthy people who need their palatial houses designed and built, pronto. It keeps people like me very, very busy. My job sounds glamorous but isn't glamorous, while my brother, the lawyer, (now living in LA), works a job that sounds boring and tedious and is boring and tedious. I guess architects have a better public relations department.

The stakes are much higher in Will’s world. Fine print is much weightier than the height of bathroom vanities and kitchen cabinets, and our paychecks reflect this. Will also works twice the hours I do, and because of that, isn't in a serious relationship.

On the rare occasions that I see him when visiting our parents in California, I hear the same monologue – people don't work in LA as hard as they do in New York, the job is stressful, the hours are long, and, well, people don't work in LA as hard as they do in New York. But what I really hear is, 'I work hard. I work really hard. Why in the hell am I working so hard?'

I listen. I understand. Once in a while, I offer a suggestion. The monologue isn't easy to hear. It's like standing next to a deep well. I hear the sound of a familiar voice calling out from the depths. I want to reach inside and pull him out.