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July 30, 2014 | Nonfiction

Opportunity is Missed by Most People

Joe Sacksteder

Opportunity is Missed by Most People photo

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like squeegeeing sewage out the back door of the break room for three hours. Or push-brooming a greenhouse until your black snot could be used as an adhesive. Cupping each writhing Bag-a-Bug to see if they’ve eaten their fill of Japanese beetles. Dressed in scratched aviators and protective earphones and looks like wrangling a mower that weighs more than you, mine-sweeping the property for random strips of metal and you’re only fifteen years old. Or hauling a cement fountain over an arrangement of boxwoods, suddenly dressed in one then two knee socks of fire ants. Dressed in tetanus and asked to climb in the dumpster and stomp down the cardboard and old food and broken pottery. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in fogged goggles and ventilators and it looks like scraping lead-based paint from the soffit directly overhead. Knuckles snagging nails. Nails snagging nails. It looks like the stupid puzzle of negotiating the twenty-eight foot extension between the tree branch and a power line that could kill you. It looks like rain, but not the kind that will end the day. What you didn’t see was that, when Johnny pushed the board through the tablesaw and you failed to remind him he should use a scrap of wood to finish it off – how quickly he yanked his hand back, how there was no blood for a few seconds, how when you told Chad to come quick he didn’t get off the phone at first, how you spent the whole rest of the day assuring yourself that you hadn’t jostled the board, you hadn’t jostled the board ­– that this too was opportunity and you were just too pessimistic to see it. Or killing a dozen bees with a hammer because it was quicker than making sure there wasn’t spray in the van. Or precariously balancing storm windows as you descend and later ascend the ladder. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in business casual and looks like responding thoughtfully to emails exactly like this one: All the reasons being legit ive turned in how work on time and completed them. There shouldnt be anymore reason for me to miss classs. Looks like four classes in a row in different buildings from 9:30-3:15. Student Center sushi. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in rubrics and looks like Learning Outcomes. Looks like accidentally calling one black girl the other black girl’s name. Like lighting your book on fire with a projector lens the first time you were observed as a teacher. FERPA privacy laws, sexual harassment training, and sexual harassment. One hundred twelve research papers each of which takes you thirty minutes. No matter what your politics, opportunity looks like no benefits. $172.51 a month for the Bronze Plan. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in a hoodie and looks like six hours in a padded soundproof room every night for four years. Crying on the floor of the bathroom because the Hindemith Bassoon Sonata accompaniment is harder than any of your actual repertoire. Or still fucking up your recital because your mind decided it was a good time to question whether it knew some upcoming note you’d never considered before. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in latex gloves and looks like pulling tick heads out of a rabbit’s scruff. Cleaning the asses of rabbits who can’t do it for themselves. Four hundred inbred rabbits because a sick woman in Reno thought her acre of a backyard was sanctuary enough. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in a tracksuit and looks like leaving your friends senior year to live with a host family. Dressed in twenty pounds more equipment than the forwards and looks like a bell on top of the net you have to ring if you’re pussy enough to need water. Looks like concussion symptoms. Opportunity is missed by most people because it sounded hypothetical and it was in passive voice and we didn’t even realize we were the people who could’ve been successful. Competition, cretinism. Opportunity is missed by opportunity because it is dressed in Thomas Edison and looks like no people. Dressed in sports politics and looks like recruiting. A jock strap and breezers and looks like water bottle duty and getting ready in the bathroom because you’re the only freshman. Bruises and torn hamstrings and torn groins but only one torn meniscus luckily. Dressed in sweatpants on your 21st so you can’t hide your boner at the strip club. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in a Carhartt and sub-zero temperatures and looks like breaking the ice in every water bowl with a hammer, skimming out the chunks, refilling each from gallon jugs pulled in a rickety cart. Hay bales cutting your cuticles. Tinker wrapped in newspapers after the pet store couldn’t tell she was dying. A freezer full of rabbits waiting for burial once the ground thaws. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in technique and sounds like arpeggios. Dressed in a five-voice fugue and sounds like one hundred forty beats per minute. Dressed in high art and sounds like public indifference. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in lanyards and looks like CORE TEAM. The door of your living space opening into the dorm lobby, a physiological response to phones ringing, not ringing, doors being knocked upon. An overflowing toilet and Axe Body Spray used as air freshener. The Korean girl pecking order and the Gershwin clarinet glissando over and over and over. It is dressed in binders and protocol and four fire drills a semester and it looks like a midnight hospital run for an injury faked in a student’s incredibly ill-conceived plan to make up with the girlfriend he’d cheated on. Dressed in a cold every month from the international students’ exotic germs. Dressed in a dancer’s forbidden liaison with a townie and worded: “Make sure he doesn’t come back.” Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in gloves you paid three hours of work for last week that are already full of holes, and people mistake it for not-opportunity because it looks like using the portajohn at the site across the street every thirty minutes the week you have campylobacter. Looks like the line you have to keep wet on the sea of white ceiling, the inevitable speckling of everything including your eyeballs. Feels like your trembling calf muscles as you perch on a too-steep roof. Feels like the first tingle of deck stripper sloughing the skin off your ankles, your hands continuing to shake the rest of the night from even the phantom of power sanding, the feet of your ladder skipping back an inch on the roof below you, the stomach inside you. Workers’ comp but only if you get injured indoors. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in sunburn and looks like righting every potted plant on the premises the morning after a windy night. Or a new method for plucking Japanese beetles from the Harry Lauders without staining your hands: with your thumbnail and the side of your index finger, peel off one side of the copper shell and the wing beneath, drop the beetle to the ground, watch it fly in helpless circles, stomp it. Or walking between the plastic-wrapped pallets of peat moss and humus and manure, imagining them canyon walls, dawdling on the way to lock the east gate at the end of the day, kicking a stone and turning back to catch the sun setting over Riverside, promising that you’ll get out of this town. You would and you did and you have, but opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in your new town but looks like your old.       

image: Jac Jemc


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