I’m addicted to stress, that’s the way that I get things done
When I’m not under pressure then I sleep too long and I hang around like a bum
I think I’m going nowhere and that makes me nervous
A confession, then, to kickstart this edition of “Songs in the Key of Life”: I am stressed.
I hear the familiar chorus rising once again. “Join the club,” you all say, unimpressed. “Welcome to modern life. We’re all stressed out. Deal with it and move on like a normal person.”
And that’s a fair assessment. I have no children that depend on me to provide for them. I don’t have an expensive mortgage to keep up on; my wife and I rent a shack in a New Jersey field. I bought my car for $800 on Craigslist. I have a wife, a dog, and a cat – a comparatively small amount of living beings that I provide for. Hell, I don’t really have anything to complain about – my current regiment of two jobs withers in comparison to my wife’s workload, which encompasses school, being the face and sole employee of a self-made small business, and two part-time on-call jobs that could require her attention at any given moment. All in addition to a husband who has no real concept of time management, and simply works until he runs out of steam and faceplants on the couch, leaving her to make sure the house doesn’t collapse.
So why does a satirical funk-pop number about a caffeine-addled workaholic command my attention so?
Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’m not doing enough. “I think I’m going nowhere and that makes me nervous,” Jim Infantino of Jim’s Big Ego spits in the chorus, and you can practically feel the barely-contained pressure rise. For one, I’m rarely writing, and that makes me nervous – when I picked up a second job, the time spent writing for the website I’d lived and breathed for two years dwindled to nil. My pipe dreams of buttering my bread from writing took a backseat to my need to make money here and now. Or maybe I’m literally going nowhere – after years of vowing, like Bruce Springsteen, to escape the New Jersey “town [that] rips the bones from your back”, I’ve made no real moves to escape it. I haven’t moved beyond my window – I’ve simply gazed out of it and vowed to blow this popsicle stand of a state for almost a decade.
Perhaps it’s because of that other line in the chorus: “when I’m not under pressure then I sleep too long, and I hang around like a bum.” I’m writing this on a rare day off – well, half-day, as I’ll be working again in a few short hours – in my underwear (which, by the way, is not the pretty sight it was in my early twenties). I just drank black coffee because running down to the store for half-and-half and sugar would require clothes. The other option was not drinking coffee, which is just lunacy, because how else am I expected to handle that pesky migraine monster that rears its ugly head when I don’t rock it to sleep with heavy doses of caffeine?
Speaking of caffeine, that most notorious of modern drugs, Jim’s Big Ego has a verse about that, too. “Trying to cut down on my caffeine consumption,” begins Jim in the first verse, which leads to our jittery protagonist outlining the absurd amount of caffeinated beverages he swills during a normal workday. Perhaps this is what hits home for me, then – the notion of working so often that a drug is required to deal with it. Brew a pot of coffee in the morning, stash a few energy drinks in the fridge at work before brewing another pot, more caffeine en route to job number two and cap it off with a cup of coffee on the way home because, hey, how else am I supposed to not fall asleep at the wheel?
But hey. Lest I come across weepy and self-aggrandizing, it’s important to note that, if I’ve been taught anything by Elvis Costello, it’s that anguish should always be catchy; so today, I raise my cannon-sized coffee in a toast to Jim’s Big Ego, who crafted “Stress”, an insidiously earworm-y gem of a song that has the good sense to set the tribulations of the working man to funky guitars and horns.