Rendered Fat Content


Titian: Sisyphus (Circa 1547-48)

"In Greek mythology Sisyphus or Sisyphos was the king of Ephyra. He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity." Wikipedia

"I slept like a little angel."

I suspect that along about the third century of his indenture, Sisyphus started growing accustomed to his fate, identifying not as the king he had once been, but as the Schlep he had become. While psychologists caution against over-identifying with our professions, few speak of the benefits emanating from this imprinting. Never a conflict between identity and activity, I imagine that one might finally come to feel authentically at one, without contradictions haunting. Those who feel as though they work beneath their station might grow grudgy, and those who have risen above their talents might feel the imposter, but no such conflicts hound the ones who do just what they know themselves to be, and it might be the very font of wisdom to come to accept that what I do accurately reflects just who I am. In this light, no work ever becomes beneath me and nothing I do should qualify as a stretch. I'm not faking it but making it with my own two hands.

Some have wondered how I managed to come by the surname Schmaltz, suspecting, I suspect, that I might have just made it up, it perhaps being a little embarrassing to carry, for literally translated, it means rendered fat.
Colloquially interpreted it means something like cloyingly sentimental, a seemingly ironic self designation, but I'm overly proud of my name. It came, I suspect, from my ancestors' occupation, the family trade, which was perhaps candle-making. In ancient times, candlemakers roamed the streets pleading with people to sell their excess fat to them. I imagine them yelling "Schmaltz" as they wandered their district, and so they became known for what they said. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Pope insisted that everyone take a surname to simplify the church's efforts to collect taxes, and some adopted names that might embarrass tax collectors who would have to utter it to call those taxpayers to their counting tables. Schmaltz, I guess, was considered an embarrassing word for others to say, however proudly its owner might wear it. Some, I imagine, counted fat collecting as beneath their station and shunned saying it or associating with those who engaged in it. My family became proud instead, fat collectors and/or tax protestors. One does what one can to stay true to themselves.

By four o'clock yesterday afternoon, I felt exquisitely tuckered. I'd spent much of the day schlepping boxes, hauling them in TheSecondCar from the garage to the newly-rented storage unit. I'd been lifting and toting in a biting wind, and felt ready for a long winter's nap. I had not managed to wrench my back or smash a finger. My muscles felt just south of abused, well-used but undamaged. I just wanted to lie down and stretch out and luxuriate in rest. I carried no lingering guilts or shames, for my work had been as pure as any has ever been. I realized how much I had always enjoyed engaging in manual labor. Oh sure, it usually seems tedious at first, an inconvenience for anyone like me who's mostly worked mentally-taxing jobs. I could have been a complete idiot and still succeeded as a Schlep, and I found some respite in that acknowledgement. I performed against no productivity metrics and worked at my own, self-imposed pace, master of myself and nobody else, moving at about the speed of a walking horse, a beast of burden, mostly, and warmly grateful for the effort involved.

How much easier life might be if we could simply acknowledge who we are in whatever we do. Screw the psychologists who insist that there's inherent danger in this identification. To live without aspiring to some higher office, to shun the threat of further promotion seems an attractive occupation. To seek mastery beyond what one feels moved to be, to be becoming, seems a curse exceeding Sisyphus'. I could change my surname to Schlep and probably find great satisfaction in that, though I'm loathe to abandon Schmaltz, however ironically cloyingly sentimental it might seem to others. I do not feel moved to inflate my position. I did not, in the moment I finally came to rest, for a minute aspire to advance to the role of Acting Assistant District Manager of Schlep. I wanted precisely what I had and I slept like a little angel.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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