Follow The Leader

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Eric B & Rakim “Follow The Leader”

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We’ve all heard the term ‘blind lead the blind’. Unfortunately there’s more than a dash of truth to that statement. We live in a world where finding your own identity is often akin to locating the needle within a haystack; I know as much as mine eluded me for nigh on twenty years. I had no idea who I desired to be when I finished my scholarship and the step from school to the real world was one that I found utterly terrifying. All of a sudden my main priority in life wasn’t to get through each day with a degree of self-respect still intact. Instead I was focused on making life-changing decisions over where my entire future laid. I was suddenly a fully fledged adult, spat out of the system and straight into the frying pan of adult life. I struggled more than most with finding my stride after my education terminated; all the goalposts were moved and I still hadn’t the vaguest idea where I fitted into the equation. I fell into medical recruitment headlong and 100% commission was the reward for my troubles. Talk about cut-throat; my fellow ‘team mates’, and I use the term loosely, were in the same boat as I and similarly trying to find their identity.

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I looked around me and all that I could discern were washed up twenty-four year-olds who had already suffered nervous breakdowns and were already sporting grey hairs. It seemed preposterous to me; far too much burden had been placed on such young shoulders and, even more disconcertingly, they were encouraged by the almighty buck to eat dogs and woof. Here’s your team-mate Ravi, he’s new so help him settle in. Okay, the first thing I shall do is drive this six-inch shank between his shoulder blades and raid his wallet. That’s what it amounted to and, despite me regularly bringing in the business, I began to object to swimming with sharks in such a manner. I thank Steven Spielberg for that one; had I not watched Jaws from between my fingers at such tender years then I may have considered it safe to go back in the water. I didn’t fancy acting as some other guy’s chum-line; especially seeing as any one of my colleagues would gladly toss in a sirloin just to act as sweetener. I swam to shore after a year of bloated pay-checks and withered morals left me a nervous shipwreck.

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My first lesson had been taught. Finally I had sprouted an array of curlies from my bag balls and received a taste of how relentless and unscrupulous the world of big business can really be. My first consideration after escaping the lion’s den was that never again would I sit behind a desk selling to folk whose eye whites I couldn’t discern. Logically I considered my options with the skill set I had acquired and it wasn’t long before I found myself doing exactly that, only to members of the general public instead. It appeared at least to be a move in the right direction as no longer was I required to man the phones and instead I got to rub noses with real people…or so I thought. I picked the one men’s fashion retailer in a fifty mile radius which saw fit to hoodwink any stragglers into buying a pair of moleskin denims to go with that Cosby sweater. I may have given the sharks the slip for the time being but instead I was surrounded by a school of piranhas; all frantically nibbling at customers’ resolve until which point as they caved in through sheer exhaustion. It seemed so woefully flawed to me; granted we were maximizing sales on a daily basis, but anyone leaving would do so feeling mildly molested and invariably never step foot inside the premises again…at any cost.

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I had folded my last shirt and unfastened my final security tag. Whilst admittedly less mean-spirited than my previous role, it just wasn’t for me. However I had grown rather fond of the public; they fascinated me and the environment seemed far less pressure-cooker so I decided to give it another crack. So began my Clerks phase. Actually, I appear to have been holding back on some rather key intelligence; you see, I moved in with my high-school sweetheart at twenty and took my vows of matrimony four years later. Why? Because that’s what you do right? Finish school, find a job which will slowly gnaw away your integrity, tell a thousand white lies about your character to your potential mate, release the net, snag their asses and run straight to the altar before the second hymn closes. Job done; I’m now officially all grown-up. I thought I had it figured out when really I was a lamb to the slaughter, following the leader as that was the done thing. I was just adhering to protocol; keeping up with the Joneses and being exactly what it said on the tin.

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I punched way above my division when grabbing myself the old ball-and-chain and paid dividends for six years of placing her on a pedestal. It was one constant nose-bleed but eventually she did us both a favor and put me down like a scabby stallion. This was a fairly hefty head-fuck as the one thing I had deduced from five years of full-time employment was that I had people skills, a lengthy fuse which allowed me to deal with ignorant people and the ability to spot a genuine diamond in the rough. This could not be; why does this person not wish to wake to my face every day for the rest of their lives? Am I a bad person or, worse yet, am I deathly dull? Being a bastard would at least give me something to work on whereas you can’t hand a slug a skateboard and expect it to kickflip a picnic bench. I simply had to find the answers and clearly the place to find them is in all the wrong places. I hit every last one of the multiple stages of a break-up like rocks on a descent down a cliff-side: first the tears, then the rage, then denial.

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Let’s speak a little of the latter shall we. Denial is when you’re convinced that you still possess the social repertoire to make it in the big city. Years of making less and less polite conversation with your partner can leave you a little out of touch with the way things go down. Fly Guy was pimp of the year when he was incarcerated but, when he left the clink ten years later nose to the sky with his gown and man-cane he was promptly ridiculed and ended up running in shame from the baying crowds until the goldfish burst from his platform heels leaving him wearing clown shoes. I didn’t possess his attire but the sentiment remained the same thus I made myself a discovery in the search for Spock I was undertaking. The credit card. Never had one of them before. Let’s see how this works shall we? Sign my name and you’ll give me money. Really? Am I on the right track here? That’s all I need to do? Suddenly I had attained celebrity status, my autograph meant something, gave me some of that status which I was pitifully lacking. I promptly celebrated by buying myself a pair of winkle pickers which set someone back 275 of their English pounds. It was that simple and I didn’t have to spend a dime to become somebody again.

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Okay so once a month it would be insisted that you pay a paltry premium for the privilege but it seemed a scant price to pay for being able to hit the dance halls looking like the shit. I decided that, seeing as money was no longer an issue and I’d just upped my credit limit, I could finally afford to pay bar prices for all manner of effervescent cocktails and shots. A little alcohol in the stream and I was Omar Sharif minus the mustache; at least in my mind. That was the only place it mattered right now. My confidence began to flourish and, being one of life’s hopeless junkies, I decided no harm no foul to powdering my nose every time I siphoned the python. Even restrooms weren’t safe; if, like me, you insist on washing your hands after subsequent trips to the latrine, then you must first select from a plethora of fragrances laid out by the most affable of chaps for just one English pound. Better yet, you don’t necessarily have to pay it, as long as you’re comfortable taking the walk of shame while his eyes burn through the back of your skull.

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The following stage of my transmogrification was burn out. I didn’t even recognize the person I had become and the ‘Clerks’ phase helped me to suss myself and begin a different metamorphosis entirely. I ran a store for a ten long stretch and actually I think this was where I began to learn the kind of person I wished to be in life. I met the most wondrous array of characters, all of which I have fond recollection of years later, and began to sprout my wings. After ten relatively content years I was ready to take to my true calling and decided to help youths from local pockets of deprivation in finding their own answers without going through the same process I did. I flapped happily for the first year or so until those wings became clipped. Damn you public sector for failing me and us so effortlessly. Stress was the best thing that ever happened to me as it acted as a defibrillator of sorts and allowed me to pick up the quill. It had been there all along and I simply hadn’t noticed it. I was required to learn life’s lesson plan before finding the place where all prose should originate. Following the leader may have offered a path through my twenties and thirties but ultimately it was time to come home.

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GREY KEEPER FRAME

 

 

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