Friday, December 31, 2010

Joe and 2010 have "The Talk"

2010: Hey baby. I was hoping you'd call.

Me: I thought we had established that you wouldn't call me that anymore.

2010: Aw, come on. Don't be like that, baby.

Me: It doesn't matter anyway. I know it's really uncool to do this over the phone, but I think we both know it's time we had a little talk.

2010: Do what over the phone? Wait. You're not breaking up with me, are you?

Me: Well, yeah. I am. I'm sorry.

2010: But I love you, ba-- sorry. But I love you SO much. You can't leave me.

Me: I have to, '10. I just have to. You know it's not working. We're obviously not right for each other. I'm really sorry, but I know this is for the best.

2010: But what about all the great times we had? You're willing to just throw it all away?

Me: Let's not do this, '10. Let's just part as friends and move on.

2010: Remember the Olympics? That was pretty cool.

Me: I remember a nice kid from a small town died on the first day and there was no snow for most of the Olympics. And while we're on the subject, what was with the twin blizzards a week apart in DC? Was that a "great time?" The little five-inch snowfall that came between the two storms would normally have been our biggest snow of the winter, but this year it was nothing!

2010: I love snow. I wanted you to love it, too.

Me: But I don't, and I won't. See? That's what they call an irreconcilable difference. It's not your fault, but it does pretty much make us incompatible.

2010: But...

Me: And you thought it was funny when that five inches of snow fell while I was visiting [Maris] in the damn Intensive Care Unit! Remember that? Was THAT a great time? You almost killed her!

2010: She's all wrong for you. I can make you way happier than she can.

Me: No, she's not and no, you can't. I knew you would get like this. I should just go.

2010: No! Wait! What about all that leisure time I gave you? That had to be fun.

Me: I got laid off three months into what was supposed to be at least a one-year contract job! And with [Maris] out of work, that made our unemployment DOUBLE-BARREL!! That was NOT fun! What's wrong with you?

2010: Okay, so I screwed up. But you're just remembering all the bad times. What about Stephen Strasburg? Remember Stephen Strasburg? His debut was one of the best DC sports events ever! 14 strikeouts in his first game! 102-mph fastballs! A sold-out, standing-room crowd cheering its collective head off! It was magic!

Me: Yes, it was amazing, and I'll never forget it. It would be a much better memory if you hadn't blown out his arm a few weeks later, ending his season and his next season and possibly ruining him before he even got started. Remember that?

2010: Yeah. That was my bad.

Me: Look, it's just not working. You know it as well as I do. You've been trying harder in the last couple of months, but it's too late. It's time for us to say goodbye.

2010: Wait! That's right! I'm doing good things. You're getting healthier, [Maris] was employed by June, and well-employed by mid-July. You have a job - a good one! I made the cowboys suck, I kept those foul, evil yankees out of the World Series, I kept hurricanes off of US shores. I'm really trying to be better!

Me: Yeah, but the overall picture is kind of jacked-up. [Maris] almost died, we spent most of the year with at least one of us unemployed, my cousin had to fight off cancer, [Maris]'s cousin died way too young, her grandmother died...

2010: But she was very old, and wanted to be in heaven with her husband.

Me: That's true, but it's still sad. And you started piling on. My brother-in-law's mother was awesome and a true force for Good in the world, and having her go from full-speed ahead to gone forever was just cruel - I don't care what kind of cancer it was. And I have friends with their own job worries, and one with a very sick father, at least two with 2010 divorces.

2010: Hey - life is full of stuff like that.

Me: Oh, I know it is. It's just that you brought it in bunches. Not minor annoyances and losses; big ones. One after another after another. It got old. I know things are looking up now, but overall you were just not a good year to me or most of the people I know and love.

2010: I know. I suck. I'm a terrible year. No wonder you hate me.

Me: Don't start that "oh woe is me I'm such a loser" stuff with me! I'll hang up.

2010: I'm sorry, baby. Don't leave me! I can change! I can be the year you want me to be! I love you!

Me: You broke poor Haiti in half!


Me: In fact, you screwed up Christmas travel with blizzards in the UK and Europe, killed a LOT of people in floods and volcanic eruptions and tropical storms and all kinds of ugly stuff. And there are still like 14 million people in my country who want to work and can't. Look - I didn't want to do this routine. Let's just think of one good memory and say so long.

2010: (sniff) Well... remember the miners in Chile? That was pretty cool.

Me: Yes. The miners. That was awesome! That's what I'll remember. Thanks, '10.

2010: Don't leave me!


Me: Okay - I have someone on call-waiting. I gotta go...

2010: No! It's 2011, isn't it? I knew it! I'll kill you!

Me: It is 2011, and she's going to be good to me. Take care of yourself, '10. Goodbye.

2010: Wait! No!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

[Maris] Messes Up Days 422-432 of Double-barrel Unemployment with Her Near-death Inexperience and Mistrust of Tamarins

1/27/10 - 2/6/10

I know this isn't really about being unemployed, let alone double-barrel unemployment, but it's part of the story, so I have to include it. I fully intend to fictionalize it like, a lot, so that you, dear reader or readers, can get through it without succumbing to the overwhelming urge to pop your own eyeballs out with a plastic spork, puncture your eardrums with fondue forks (which you leave in) and use a Cub Scout pocket knife to carve "Ashlee Simpson is the most brilliant musical talent since David Bowie, and her alleged lip-synching incident on SNL was a meticulously-planned sabotage, flawlessly executed by the Duff sisters with the help of a handful of rogue, well-connected Lenny Bruce fans" on your shin - out of sheer boredom.

In brief (or boxers, but NOT boxer-briefs - seriously dudes - make a choice - either one or the other. some things simply can't be combined):

My long-term contractor job at the smallish office of the massive global company was going fine. I was thrilled with how much actual training these guys provided. The only real complaints, if any, centered around my hellish commute, which was certainly not their fault. Okay, there might have also been a hint of impending doom, as the mountain of work that was supposed to be ours was slower in ramping up than had been expected. Otherwise, things were fine. I also still very much assumed that [Maris], now approaching the third month of her layoff, would find a job before her severance and vacation pay ran out.

But [Maris] had gotten sick. Real sick. She's kind of a man when it comes to going to doctors, so when it took no arm-twisting to get her to visit one, I knew it was bad. Remember the H1N1 swine flu? From October 2009, well into 2010, it was like the second coming of the black plague. People were fighting over the vaccine. It was being smuggled in from Canada in boxes of frozen back bacon. You had to be over 100 and have influenza zombie bites to even get on the waiting list for the H1N1 shots around here.

Guess what she had? "Probably the swine flu," said the guy who went to school for 25 years so that he can bill Aetna $400 an hour to make guesses about why his patients are suffering. It's really bad. We know, because the media won't shut up about it. So we wait it out. It gets worse. We call Doctor Swine Flu back. "Yeah, it's rough. Hang in there." I don't know much about fevers, but I'm pretty sure people aren't supposed to bounce from 105 to 94 and back up to 104 within a few hours. I've watched my soul mate, my raison d'être, my partner in snark, my joy, my fellow criticizing-everybody-and-everything muppet in the theater balcony of life, get sicker and sicker and sicker long enough. Off we go at nearly midnight on January 28, to the shiny new emergency room place mercifully-close to our house.

Guess what she didn't have?

Yep. Not only did she not have the swine flu, but she had rather no flu of any kind. She was, however, nearly in something called septic shock. It sounds smelly, but it's not. It's bad, though. I've been in emergency rooms several times throughout my life, and I've always been taken aback at how unlike TV ERs they are. No one is ever running or shouting or doing CPR or cracking anyone's chest open to massage a heart back to life, and I have yet to witness any Young Doctors In Love. This is precisely why I found all the scurrying about, intensely-hushed consultations and phone calls to Other Doctors so alarming. Apparently, we had sat there letting [Maris] get dangerously close to very serious trouble, with a lot more potential for death than I care to think about now. Who knew? The guy said "swine flu!"

They took her from the Upcounty Emergency Center to the hospital ICU (a 12-minute, $1,000 ride) around dawn on Friday the 29th - running red lights and everything! I followed them there, and arrived about 2 1/2 minutes after them, but then things got all Joe-y. I didn't think I should park in the small lot outside the ER, knowing that she would only be passing through there en route to wherever the ICU was. I headed into the first garage I found, which chose to inform me of its hospital-staff-only-ness by way of the little crossing gate thingy that sat there in the cold refusing to move for anyone not in possession of a hospital staff key-card thingy (while actual hospital staff sit angrily behind you, late for their critical life-saving shifts) -- instead of using the antiquated but reliable "Don't go this way" sign method of communication.

Embarrassed and frustrated, I found one lot or garage in which I didn't belong after another, until finally giving up and parking in the main, front, expensive visitor lot near the hotel-like main entrance to the hospital. This was, of course, a mile and a half from the ICU and [Maris]'s room. By the time I found her, she was fully recovered, had a new perm and a kicky new wardrobe and had divorced me in absentia, remarried and given birth to two lovely little girls, Arielle and Alexandra. Arielle was asleep in the guest chair and Alexandra, now almost five, was showing [Maris] the finger paint Golden Lion Tamarin she had made in preschool the day before. When my now-healthy, now-ex-wife saw me, she took an exaggerated look at the room clock and gave me the "it's about time" face.

"Get me out of here before I am forced to break into the third-floor pharmacy and take all the vicodin they have. Sweetie."

I gave her the "what about them?" face nodding at the two minors.

"They'll be fine. There are toys and coloring books out in the Evergreen Lounge. Let's go. There's a blizzard coming, and I think 'Archer' is new, tonight."

"Okay, but we're going to need a new car. We will never, ever find mine."

There. That's the story of [Maris] almost, but not, dying. Neat, huh? Sure, I left out the odd detail here and there - a couple of which are actually kind of exciting and bloody (have you ever seen a doctor try to get a central-line IV into the neck of a patient with invisible veins?) - but you get the idea. She lived! I still had my job at the end of it! The many thousands of dollars it would cost us, after insurance, would be spread out over a long, long time - and would obviously be totally worth it. Life would march on, and we'd be there.

With all the stolen vicodin we could stuff into our coat pockets.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets His Neck Bitten Open By An Undead Neighbor

Hello, my wonderful and loyal reader or readers! Today, I am feeling an overwhelming need to post some drivel here. Unfortunately, I'm also feeling just oh so lazy. Well, not as much lazy as just too busy. So, remember that little NaNoWriMo novel I wrote in November? "Worcestershire In The Embalming Fluid!" Here's another tiny taste, lovingly extracted from an early chapter, long before the main character (or the author, for that matter) has any clue as to what is happening back home...

* * *
Two days later, as they left Magens Bay in St. Thomas, Bill amused himself for an hour by playing with his old AM/FM Walkman. Thanks to a phenomenon called "atmospheric skip," he was able to tune in the all-news WTOP from Washington, DC. He chuckled as Lisa Baden reported on the horrid traffic on the American Legion Bridge, Doug Hill warned of the coming of the first frost of the season and both of them did their best to tolerate the utter inanity of Mike Moss and Bruce Alan. Today, like most days, they were howling with exaggerated laughter at the slightest provocation - intentional or otherwise - by their supporting cast of imbeciles. Kristi King was excitedly, amateurishly "reporting" on the unspeakably alarming outbreak of "some kind of rabies-like disease" among the squirrel population of the Annapolis-Baltimore-Washington region. Speaking to her listeners as if reading a storybook to a roomful of four-year olds, she attempted to explain that similar outbreaks were being reported in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and that the Centers for Disease Control was investigating. No - not funny, per se, but Mike and Bruce thought it the most side-splittingly hilarious thing they had ever heard in their lives, ever. "Squirrels biting each other - HOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO..." Just as Bill's Walkman was letting go of the signal, he heard Ms. King mention, almost as an afterthought, that at least two people had been bitten in our region, and that one had died.

Bill put the Walkman into his backpack of electronics. (Well?) woofed Doug, returning to the deck from his doggie bed below.

"I got WTOP from home, buddy! I know, right! It's weird to hear their voices down here, looking at St. Thomas. Sounds like there's something wrong with the squirrels, back home." he explained.

"Bark! (Squirrels!) Doug's tail waved enthusiastically.

"Man - I'll bet you miss the squirrels. I hadn't even thought of that, dude. Well, maybe we can hit a couple of nice beaches along the leeward islands, and you can chase some birds or children or something." Bill said, patting Doug's head.

Doug woofed appreciatively.

"Would you like that, Dougie? You wanna go to the beach? You wanna go herd some children and chase sandpipers and run around and bark and jump in the water and (sniff, sniff) ugh - maybe have a real bath someplace, so you look good for the girl beach dogs. And so you don't smell quite so much like a sewer. Sound good? What do you think, buddy!"

Doug barked his approval.

* * *

There. Now I feel like I wrote something tonight. Everybody wins! And no, you may NOT have those six minutes back. Sorry. That's life. I do have a couple of things cooking, but at least one of them is not fun or the slightest bit funny, and that stuff is always hard for me to get up for. But I'll try.

Back soon, but possibly not before Christmas. So, Merry Christmas, reader! Or readers! Peace...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nothing Says Christmas

Disclaimer #1: I am not one of those Christmas Nazis who gets all bent out of shape at each and every "Happy Holidays" he hears. I am, however, someone who finds the whole issue simply fraught with opportunities to tear others down.

In the words of the funniest stand-up comic working today (Brian Regan),

"I don't want to step on anyone's beliefs, but well,
here we go..."

So, what's wrong with "Happy Holidays?" Is it an insult to the entire global Christian Faith every time that phrase is uttered by a Wal-Mart greeter or Channel 7 announcer? Is it a big middle finger aimed at the baby in the manger, whose birth we are meant to be celebrating this month? Is Jesus sitting around Heaven, playing "Rock Band" with Father and Holy Spirit (Holy Spirit on drums, by the way), and he feels a disturbance in The Force and gasps, "Did you hear that, Dad? That little heathen just said 'happy holidays' to his customer!!" The Lord stomps a thunderous foot and bellows "Who cares, Son? You're messing up 'Love In An Elevator! Focus, Boy!" Holy Spirit doesn't miss a beat, of course, 'cause that dude is just made of rhythm.

Again, I don't care that much, but here are some problems with getting one's knickers all in a twist over "happy holidays." First, there are other holidays. Sure, one of them was invented in the 1960s and one is considered a relatively minor celebration of an ancient military victory and temple re-dedication, one is astronomical and important only to Druids and meteorologists, but there are several "holidays," so chill, brethren. Oh, and even if you drop Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice from the equation (which you would, wouldn't you?), you've still got the relatively innocuous New Year's, so that poor idiot on WTOP droning "happy holidays" at us, could simply mean "Happy Christmas and New Year," so chill.

Now, I get that the setting for most utterances of "happy holidays" is generally a store or a commercial, and that most gift-buying is being done in preparation for Christmas observance, but if you're truly focused on the birth of a savior, what are you doing fighting with each other and spending the ten percent of your income you're supposed to have tithed on giant trunk-loads of gifts? Because your book mentions Wise Men bearing gifts for the Newborn King? Really? One of those "kings" brought Him gold, but the other two presented bags of crappy spices no newborn should be around. Plus, they gave their gifts to Him. What greedy little priest decided that should translate into giving stuff to each other on his birthday every year, forever?

And as long as we're going to talk about Jesus' birthday, we have to acknowledge the fact that no one is really sure what DAY it is (or even what year, for that matter). If you want to get all solemn and anti-happy-holidays and anti-commercialism about it, you need to spend about half the year "celebrating His birth," because there must be 180 different stories and theories as to just what damn day it is in the first place. ("Dad! That guy just said my birthday might not be December 25! SMITE HIM!!" and The Lord spake, saying "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased, but if he messes up the intro to 'Ironman' one more time, I swear to me I'm going to turn Buddhist!")

Again - I don't really care if you want to say "happy holidays" to me, or exchange gifts with me, or just toast to a better whatever-year-it's-gonna-be with me on 12/31. Just bear in mind the silliness of getting all uptight about "accuracy" here. Most Americans still celebrate His birth, and they do it on December 25. That's cool. I enjoy it, too. I give it some thought around May 20th as well, since that might be His birthday. I simply see hypocrisy in getting all pissy over the details. I should also point out that going out of your way to take "Christmas" out of everything you say in December is just as stupid as insisting on the opposite.

You know what really says Christmas to me? Cards. Specifically, cards that are nothing but a photograph of you and your girlfriend in front of Victoria Falls, or the Eiffel Tower or some tropical paradise. "Merry Christmas - Look where WE went and you didn't!" And nothing says Christmas more than a picture of your children "In honor of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord and Savior, feast your eyes upon our wondrous progeny!" DISCLAIMER #2 - I have many friends and loved ones who do this, and it's fine. You know why? Because none of them are those hell-bent, you-better-say-Christmas-and-make-every-minute-of-December-about-the-Christ people. I love seeing pictures of your kids. Look how big they're getting etc.. It just has nothing to do with Christmas. And no, it is not about family, if you're going to be all Crusaderish about it.

Which, thank Flying Spaghetti Monster, you're not. That's why I love you! (Jesus: "Dad! Holy Spirit! Did you hear who that guy thanked instead of us? He's a non-believer! Get him!!" God: "That's it, son! Gimme that guitar! You're not playing with us anymore. Go play with the iPad I gave you last You-mas!")

Happy Holi-- (ahem, sorry) MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Days 336-365 of Double-barrel Unemployment: A Little Novel and A Scary Preview

Welcome back, my friends, to the show you know you wish would end...

Days 336 through 365, collectively known as November 2009,
of my latest (and please let it be my last) trip through the rainy woods of unemployment were some of the hardest and best of that whole first year. It started with a challenge, and ended with success, good news and an even greater challenge, but no zombies whatsoever.

The challenge, as prescribed, sponsored and professionally encouraged by National Novel Writing Month, was to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Now I know 50,000 words is a very short novel - a novella, really - but it's still tough for a first-timer to crank out in 30 days. I cheated a little by basing it loosely on real people and less loosely on real events from my kidhood, but it was still a lot of work - even for an unemployed layabout.

I knew, I KNEW that committing to this project would undoubtedly result in my landing job interviews and quite probably an offer, before the month was over. I was right. The first two weeks flew by, with words piling up like Tetris pieces on crack. I was still applying to several jobs every day, but because I had long-since given up on finding a good one, it was taking up less and less of my time. I was doing it all willy-nilly style. (I might lose friends for using "willy-nilly" in a sentence in public, but oh well - I'm feelin' bold!) Anyway - still working on finding a job and still being the most awesome house-husband ever (I had gotten really, really good at all that stuff), and occasionally like, grooming and stuff, I cranked out 30,000 words in about the first 13 days. I even kind of liked bits of what was coming out. I know! Weird.

BUT... My beloved [Maris]'s own Vortex of Doom was continuing to spiral farther and farther from her, and it looked as though she'd be out of a job just after January 1st - yes, just after they took away all the accrued vacation days she'd been unable to use for years. So, keep writing, writer man, but get a job! One of us out of work is survivable for a while, but not both of us at once. Ick. Despite what I had heard some Congress "people" saying on the news, I did NOT like being unemployed, so yeah - I worked at becoming re-employed and I wrote my little novel. Still, I had the nagging feeling that my story needed a zombie or two.

SO... (dingdingding!) Phone! It's a recruiter from Manpower Professional, and they have a long-term contract position for which I am a great fit. Can I go meet the client on Thursday? Yep! The client, a smallish office of a massive global company, is way out the miserable Dulles toll road - a hellish commute from Germantown, to be sure - but who cares! Good money! Challenging work! A one- to three-year project! I came home from the interview and cranked out another quick 3,000 words of novel-ish drivel, fully expecting to get the job.

Friday, November 20, 2009 (Day 355)

[Maris] called from work before I was up, asking if I could come downtown and bring her and all of her stuff home. She would not be a part of the impending transition from Bad to Worse at her Vortex of Doom. We were surprised, as laying her off now instead of in January cost the company more in accrued vacation than they would have spent keeping her around until then, but whatever. Much as I have felt more than once with my many layings-off, once the initial shock and goodbyes-induced trauma wore off, [Maris] was thrilled to be off of that ship of fools. However, that feeling was going to be short-lived with both of us out of work at the same time.

While I was getting ready to go get my newly-unemployed wife, the phone rang. I let the machine get it, and on my way out the door I heard the Manpower Pro recruiter, asking me to give him a call. I called him from the car. I got the job. Massive sighs of relief all around, but as a couple, it was still a huge net loss of income on the day.

Just those ten minutes of double-barrel unemployment were enough to scare me into leaping at the chance to work anywhere, for any money, doing (almost) anything. I didn't even mind losing a day of writing to attend the agency's orientation/forms-signing at their far-away office, or the half-day for drug testing; I just kept cranking out the drivel and braced for a new workplace and a new job to master. I was also really confident that it wouldn't take [Maris] nearly as long to find a replacement job as it had taken me, regardless of the market, which was now fully submerged in sewage. She's just a lot more employable than I am.

So, we took a deep breath, went to Dogfish Head, then to the Patron Silver store, then the limes store, and I finished my little book. There were no zombies in sight, but I did it. I wrote a novella and found a job. Yay, me. I'd be making decent money, and even if the job turned out to be terrible, it's always preferable to search for another job when you already have one. Right? And [Maris] would be working again before her severance and vacation time was up. Right?

Yeah. Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I Should Be Doing Is Something Else


I'm back! In more ways than one, actually. I have plenty more Double-barrel Unemployment to cover (I hadn't even gotten to the part when it officially became double-barrel, yet!), but first... Where I've been. Who am I kidding? Any one of the half-dozen of you who read this drivel already know precisely where I've been for the past month. I got a nice new job with nice people performing nice work for a really nice cause. Not great money, but seriously, the mission (it's a non-profit) and the commute (outrageously close to home) more than make up for that.

Between starting the new job and writing a 50,730-word zombie novella in 29 days, I've been neglecting pretty much everything else in life. What I should be doing right now is taking down -ahem- HALLOWEEN decorations. I should be cleaning this shamefully dirty house. I should be making the grocery list, or working out, or sleeping, or catching up with my tiny group of wholly-inappropriate friends, or packing that piece-of-crap humidifier up and returning it to Sharper Image (it is really bad), or doing laundry or updating my LinkedIn profile and/or résumé - you know, something useful. But no. I'm doing this. Because I love to type stuff and then read it to [Maris] later. Maybe I'll be productive this week-end. Yeah. Maybe.

Hey - who wants to read an excerpt from my little book, "Worcestershire In The Embalming Fluid?" ALL of you do? Well - okay, then. Here goes. (and who here gets that title?)
* * *

"Right on schedule, at ten o'clock Bill was met by the guys from Enterprise, and he quickly crossed "Return Car" off his list. That left only the newly-scrawled "Christen Boat So Dad Will Chill" and "Get Hell Out Of Dodge."

Bill, having declared that the cheap bottle would be sacrificed for the occasion, held the André aloft. "I christen this boat, The Good Ship--"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Bill!" Frank interrupted. "Talk directly to the vessel. Tell her what you're naming her and say a blessing and be serious for just a minute."

"Yeah, dude. It's bad luck if you don't do it right. Don't tempt fate or Ursula from 'The Little Mermaid' will kill you in her animated whirlpool!" Bart concurred.

Bill sighed, put his hand on the port side railing and faced his boat. "In front of friends and family, under this perfect September sky, I christen thee Sedna The Dock O' The Bay, and I pray that God's blessing be upon you and all who upon you sail. May your seas be smooth, your rudder be true and your captain wise." With that, and with his loved ones wondering who this person was and where he had come from because he was not the Bill they knew, he brought the bottle down hard across the railing, utterly failing to shatter it but exciting his dog to no end. A second, harder whack took care of the bottle, eliciting a cheer from friends and Fords - and even a few fellow boaters who had gathered to offer their best wishes. The railing had a noticeable dent, at this point.

"Very nice, Bill." said his mother."

* * *
I know - it's not a very exciting part of the story. Maybe I'll post a more zombie-ish bit later. If anyone asks for more.

Back to some tales of DB Unemployed woe and whatnot, next time. Stay tuned - and thanks for reading my drivel!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 699 of Double-barrel Unemployment: A Humane End

Friday October 29, 2010

Well gang, what can I say? The Double-barrel Unemployment stories will continue for a bit, but it will quickly become difficult for me to remember the bitterness and desperation, as I have found a job. Looks like a good one, too.

Seven HUNDRED days after my departure from Vortex of Doom Communications, I will start being indispensable for a new employer. I am nearly speechless with joy, with relief, with hope.

Don't worry -- I still have snark to spare, and I don't plan on slowing down here or on the photo blog. Plus, no matter how good the gig turns out to be, work is work, and I'm sure I'll have plenty to prattle on about - like it or not.

See you on the other side, suckas!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Lost Revelation

So, what happened was...

The year was 1986. Having been left behind by friends and girlfriends who had gone off to Real College, I was living with the 'rents, attending Montgomery Community College and working at Erol's Video Club in Rockville, MD. I was working open-to-close (we called it "AFD") at the tiny Store #6 on a Saturday in March. On the 30-minute parole I called break time, I scampered over to Yekta Deli for my lunch of Funyons and Cherry Coke. This routine was relatively new, thanks to the closure of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House, where I used to annoy the host/hostess by coming in only for to-go hush puppies.

It was when I reached into the fridge and pulled out my 16oz glass(!) bottle of (NEW!) Cherry Coke that it happened.

This post is going to be painfully short, thanks to the fleeting nature of what happened to me that afternoon. It's small and simple, yet unfathomably massive and complex. I had a spontaneous, overwhelmingly powerful revelation. Yeah - that kind of revelation.

There's a scene in one of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide" books, in which an unremarkable young woman in an unremarkable café comes up with the simple, brilliant, perfect answer to the "ultimate question of life, the universe and everything," a notion that transcends religion and human existence as a whole -- only to be vaporized with the earth moments later to make way for a hyperspace bypass. That's how profound my revelation was. It was THE answer. It was as simple as "love each other," but way bigger, more complete. It was deep and clear and powerful and it shook me to my core.

I literally staggered to the cashier. I remember with photographic clarity the register's display of $2.65, and the black turtleneck the owner/manager was wearing. What I don't remember - at all - is the revelation itself.

I KNOW! How cruel is that? As suddenly as it had manifested itself, it vanished. The only thing sadder than the desperate deflation I felt at that moment is the fact that I am not making any of this up - including the fact that I actually went back into the deli a minute later and retraced my steps, up to and including going back to the soda refrigerator and chips rack and purchasing another Cherry Coke and Funyons. I was disconsolate for the rest of that weekend, and I couldn't articulate to anyone exactly why.

I had had it. It was simple and right and true and universe-changing, and it was in my head. And it was gone. Forever.

I have no doubt whatsoever that, had I been able to get to a piece of paper - or even a friendly ear - before that notion had left me, I would have been instrumental in the salvation of not only all humankind, but the planet itself. Such is the depth of my frustration and regret.

I had it. For just a second.

And I lost it.

It's still out there somewhere. I know that the odds against me finding it a second time are just silly, but someone else - maybe someone with a better short-term memory - can find it. I hope they do so. Like, soon.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 277 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Whaddaya Know - The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Really IS A Train!

SEPTEMBER 3rd, 2009
(A Thursday)

Okay, so I promised myself I wouldn't do this again. Ever, ever, ever - as I recall. In March of 1994, when for the last time I stepped out of the Suncoast Motion Picture Company store where I had paced the floor as a miserable slumming assistant manager, when I for the last time hiked up my pant legs and patted myself down to prove to my boss that I wasn't stealing (we had to do this at the end of every shift - I kid you not), when I handed my keys to said boss and smiled "See you in hell, asshole!"* -- I promised myself - aloud - that I would never work another day of retail for the rest of my life, so help me FSM. I promised.

Well, desperate times and whatnot. I hadn't had an interview in over five months. Also, I rationalized that this hardly counted as breaking that promise. My friend Godfrey Ozzenbarq III (not his real name), himself a frequently laid-off and fed-up-with-the-grind kind of guy, had been managing a small model railroad hobby shop for almost a year, and he needed an extra body in the store for a few shifts. Godfrey (not his real name) and I are railfans, so spending a couple of days surrounded by model trains and the retired men who buy them, working with my old friend again for the first time since about 1991 seemed to not really count as breaking my promise. The pay was negligible and it was only for a few shifts, plus it got me out of the house, so there I was. In retail. Again.

I have to admit, working with a product that I really like went a long way toward transforming a retail job from unbearable to downright pleasant. That wasn't the only factor, though (as I recall, I loved movies when I worked at Suncoast). Not being in a sunless cave in a snooty upscale mall, not being forced to work with bad people, not having to frisk myself (unless I really wanted to!) before being allowed to leave the premises, and selling fun stuff to an odd mix of fun customers made this hardly seem like work at all. I offered to let them pay me in trains, but a lot of those things are extremely expensive, and I only had enough hours to have earned a battery-operated "Thomas" train (batteries not included) and some plastic N-scale cows and trees, so I took a check instead.

Sadly, this "gig" lasted only a few days, but it was refreshing to see that not all retail is as I remembered it from my past life. It's still a low-paying field with long hours and nights and holidays and weekends and so on, but given the right type of product, it can be fun.

I was right back to work with the job boards and recruiters the next day. Someday, when he wins that big-but-not-big-enough-to-just-retire-to-the-Caribbean lottery, Godfrey (not his real name) is probably going to buy that store from his friend. I will totally work there.

Next up... Something Else!
* - I didn't really say that, but to this day, I'm not sure how I managed to resist.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 254 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Lie To Me (about something other than flying cars)

August 11, 2009
(a Tuesday)

With no job prospects in sight, my unemployment switching from "regular" benefits to the double-secret probation that was Obama's "Emergency Unemployment Compensation" and the summer dragging on for me and killing [Maris] (now in full-on Vortex of Doom mode at her job), I re-watched the masterfully subversive "Hamlet 2," one of our favorite pieces of escapist ridiculousness. I cranked up the volume, not just for the best musical numbers since "Sweet Transvestite" and "The Time Warp," but also for bits of dialogue like "I could clean your rain gutters." "We have no rain gutters." "You're a LIAR - everybody has rain gutters!!"

[Maris] and I have incorporated that last line into our everyday vernacular. Upon hearing it this time, the desperation behind the word "liar" had a deeper resonance than usual. I started thinking everyone was lying - and not just about their rain gutters. I received one of my daily emails, informing me that I had "matched new jobs" and I promptly - alone in my house - barked "you're a LIAR - I didn't match anything!"

I was right. I opened the email to find a couple of dozen job postings, ranging from "I guess I can see why this one came up, maybe..." to "What words on my résumé led your software to believe that I should be a cyber security specialist with a top-secret clearance???" Every day this happens. And yes - I do know what I'm doing with my search terms.

It made me think of all the lies that surround me every day - many of which have been around since I was a child. Thinking back to this muggy August afternoon, I'm having trouble remembering all the lies and the lying liars who lie them, but I can wing it. It's getting late and the Braves are trailing :) so, briefly...

"We're converting to the metric system." Really! They taught us meters and liters and kilograms like it was an emergency. Hurry, children! If you haven't mastered this material by next Monday, you won't be able to measure a THING, ever again! I lost sleep over this stuff, and I'm still not really ready for the big switch. I know it's coming, though - any minute now.

"Breaking up AT&T and allowing more telecommunications providers to compete for your business will lead to lower prices for the consumer." Yeah - it didn't. Oh, these Baby Bells and their descendants went out of their way to make sure we couldn't compare their "prices" to anyone else's, but no, we did not pay less. This goes double for competition among cable TV providers.

Now, I am NOT going to start yammering about flying cars. Nobody promised me a flying car. EVER. I saw them in cartoons and maybe "Logan's Run" or the first "Star Wars" movie - although really, those just flew a couple of feet above the ground. But no one ever said "when you grow up, there will be flying cars" to me. So let's just get over this one. I'm talking to you, douchey Coke Zero guy.

What they did promise, however, was that technological advances would make our lives simpler and easier than those of our parents. "Computers will be in every home and will save everyone massive amounts of time," they said. Okay, so technology has made LOTS of stuff better. I won't try to say that it hasn't. BUT -- for most of us, it has done the opposite of making our lives simpler and easier, and we're not saving any time at all. Sitting here typing this drivel (mainly to share with a handful of Facebook friends), right next to my wife (who is using her laptop to play mah-jongg and listen to SiriusXM radio), I am certainly not SAVING time; I'm wasting it. We all are. Tons of it. And it's not just blogs and Facebook and games. I spend ridiculous amounts of time just trying to get this stuff to work at all. When it works, it's great, but I think we can count the "computers will make life easier" promise as officially broken.

Politicians. Yeah. Don't even need to cover this, do I? I will say - they used to at least fake it. They used to just twist the facts and deliver convincing half-truths. Now, they're not even trying. "Obama is going to turn this country into Stalin's Soviet Union." "Muslims are plotting to take over the country." "Republicans are going to deport ALL immigrants." "All the jobs lost and businesses closed in Maryland are due exclusively to the actions of Governor O'Malley." "If the Republicans take over, they're going to not only repeal Health Care reform, but they're also going to reverse the Civil Rights Act and send women back to the kitchen and reform our constitution so that it reads like the Bible, repealing all rights except gun ownership (men only, of course)." Not even trying. Lying right to our faces. Both parties are telling us their opponent's plan is going to destroy the world. They're both lying liars who lie. This is not funny. Moving on...

Commercials. I used to be skeptical of their claims. Now, thanks in part to Steve Coogan's brilliantly blurted "You're a LIAR..." line, I have achieved a certain peace with advertising. I don't care what they claim; I know - I KNOW - it's just a bold-faced lie. Oh sure, sometimes I still catch myself bellowing "how stupid do you think we ARE!" at the TV, but in general I'm okay with it. If I assume they're ALL lying, then it doesn't much matter whose ad I listen to, or if I bother listening at all.

One more (for now): Employers. This could be a whole separate post. OR... we could just include it in the advertising bit above. It's not a fun place to work. It's not fun at all. If it was, they wouldn't have to pay you to be there, would they? "A great place to work." Really? Work is for chumps. Yes, as you might have guessed, I'm losing momentum. Quickly. We'll revisit the lies of prospective employers, as well as those of job candidates (hey - I said EVERYbody lies, right?) in some later posts. Wait 'til you see some of the actual job board listings/descriptions I have saved up...


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 220 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Joe Is Manifest, Part Deux

[Joining the unedited hand-scribbled "Manifesto" I somehow spewed forth about 14 months ago, already in progress. Okay, it's not completely unedited anymore; I just couldn't stand the spelling/grammatical errors. It is otherwise still as-scratched upon the paper...]


  • It is my belief that the descriptions of the physical world and the universe in which it resides, as documented in the Holy Bible and other sacred human-scribed texts - and the ones found in books like Carl Sagan's Cosmos - are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Oh wait - yes they are.
  • It is my belief that Life in the aggregate has no purpose, and we'd all enjoy it a lot more if we'd just accept that and move on. Also, since all we really have in this unfathomably massive universe is each other, it's probably in our best interest as a species to learn to either get along with or ignore each other a lot better than we do now.
  • I believe that if the prequel to "Surf II - The End of The Trilogy" had been made, the Cold War would have ended six years earlier and all the recessions that have occurred since the mid-1980s (including the Great Recession of 2008-2009) would not have happened. Also, Eddie Deezen would have two Oscars by now.
  • I believe -- no, I KNOW -- that Barbara Bush ran this country from before Reagan left office until January of 2009, and that her absence is the sole cause of the difficulties President Obama is currently experiencing.
  • I believe that Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is actually about Bob Keeshan. Isn't it obvious? Listen to the lyrics, man! As long as we're on the topic of captains, I also believe that the Captain and Tennille deliberately lowered their profile, and we should all just stop harassing them and camping outside their homes and holding candlelight vigils trying to convince them to come back to us. It's over. LEAVE CAPTAIN AND TENNILLE ALONE!!! LEAVE THEM ALONE!!!!
  • It is my belief that we as a nation have an obligation to take care of our poor. If I should ever become wealthy, I reserve the right to stop believing that.
  • I believe any man who installs a 4-trumpet railroad locomotive horn on his car (despite that having long been a fantasy of my own) should have his car confiscated and donated to Melwood. As compensation, the "man" will receive a free one-year supply of Enzyte.
Article FOUR, which I'm totally stealing from an awesome comic named Charlie, regards changes we must make to our laws governing the use of automobiles. Upon the adoption of this sweet Manifesto For Betterment Of Everything, parking fines will be levied on a sliding scale, based on several factors, including but not limited to the cost and condition of the offending vehicle, the severity of the offense and the presence of a douchey vanity license plate.
  • If you illegally park your Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX470 or Hummer H2 (or H3) in the fire lane of your local strip mall while you "just run in real quick" to drop off your dry-cleaning, your fine will be $5,000. If there is at least one open legal parking space within 150 feet of said dry-cleaner's front door, that fine increases to $7,500. If you appeal the citation in court, your argument will not be heard and your fine will increase to $10,000.
  • If you park your 2001 Ford Taurus in front of a fire hydrant, your fine will be $500. Shut up and take it out of your kids' college fund.
  • Parking your 1991 Ford Escort (or Chevy Cavalier) illegally will earn you a sternly-worded warning and a voucher for one course in financial planning at your local community college. If your vehicle has at least one fender painted a color different from that of the rest of the body, you will also be given $10 in McDonald's gift certificates and a six-pack of Milwaukee's Best Light. If said fender is primer grey, you will also be given a Tony Robbins self-help book and a VHS copy of "Erin Brockovich."
  • If you park your 1979 Honda Civic where you shouldn't, your car will be towed away and replaced with one of those confiscated cars with the train horns on top. You're welcome.
  • If your illegally-parked car is a 1974 Pinto or Chevette, you'll get the train-horn car PLUS a big hug from your choice of either Bradley Cooper or Katy Perry. Again, you're welcome.
  • Oh, and the vanity plate thing. Anything desperately self-aggrandizing, like IROK or WELHNG or BTRTHNU = death by firing squad.
[TBCASLDWIAOATB (to be continued at some later date when I am once again this bored)...]
Manifest Destiny!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 220 of Double-Barrel Unemployment: Joe's Manifest? Oh.

Wednesday July 19, 2009

I was looking through my drivel-y scribblings today, trolling for anything interesting to tell you guys about my Unemployed Summer (the first of two, so far), when I happened upon this handwritten piece, buried in the middle of a half-spent note pad. I was going to clean it up, but I'm kind of thinking it should just be presented as scribbled. I already know what your first question will be, and the answer is no. I was not under the influence of alcohol when I wrote this. At most, I might have had a wee bit of a Vicodin "hangover," having experienced a wicked bursitis flare-up that morning. Mostly what I was doing was keeping myself busy while the washing machine repair guy banged and cursed away in the next room, utterly failing to repair our washing machine.


Me The Person, in a questing for more perfect living on this huge and yet tiny plenet, hereby declares, affirms and explains his manifesto of corrections that need to be made. Me The Person and not We The People is because Me seems to be the only person not either standing irately in Towne Halle "Meeting," clutching their MediCare cards and yet somehow shouting "keep yer govt. off my medicare!" at some poor overwelmed senator - or standing around outside the Apollo Theater clutching a candle and a copy of "Thriller." Anyway, earth is a crumbling cesspool of crooks, killers, kardashians and people famous (and rich as hell) for no discernible reason - oh and that waste-o-carbon that's famous and getting richer by the minute for her amazing, um, talent at having a litter of EIGHT babies at once.

So. I have waitd long enough. Here is my solemn affirmation of what Flying Spaghetti Monster Himself has ordained me to make right in all the castes and segments and tiers of the humans on the 3rd planet out from the star we call The SUn...

Prix Amble: We have already figured out that God is either dead, long-gone or just not interested in what's happening here. Some ofus are just not capable of dealing with such a multiple-choice question, having long-since given up and decided to put "C" for every question. Yeah -- God/Allah/Shiva/Krishna/VIshnu/Buddha/FSM/Stimpy or Ra or whoever "takes" the lives of the good, the innocent, the people who beat video games without looking up cheat codes, and the otherwise righteous and/or infant . . . because he/she/it has some reason that we can't understand. Whoa. I just blacked out for a minute.

More importantly why can't [MASSIVE company] make a stupid washer/dryer that last more than 5 months??

Article ONe: No internet until you grow up and learn how to use it properly. It was invented for purposes like seeing free naked people without having to face the video store kid and for learning stuff and sending each other well-thought-out, grammaticly-correct, lovingly crafted electronic "letters," not for giving voice to everyone (nit-wits and geniuses as equals?) and making us think we need to be connected to strangers every minute of every day. So stop commenting on every inane "news" story you see online about what that "star" said about her ex-friend being a "total liar." This is you know what I mean and it's all because the governmnet is listening and spending all your tax dollars just to know what your doing, which is I'm willing to bet, NOTHING worth their knowing it. Article Two I forgot most of because washing machine guy is in my kitchen/laundry room (don't ask) CUSSING at my infernal clothes cleaning apparatus. Does he think i'm not here? Article Two is about not having political parties any more. OH YEAH - Hereby dissolved are the "democratic" and "republican" parties of the USA. One is evil and stupid and the other one is wicked and dumb. Oh, and no more of this everyone over 18 gets a vote nonsense. There will be an IQ test, (measuring smarts, not "education), and if you don't get over 100, so sorry no vote for you ha ha bye bye chicken make lousy housepet seeya. Yeah.

[There's more, but transcribing this chicken scratch is making my eyes hurt and it's not fun anymore. I think it gets better, but we'll just have to try looking at it again some other day. And no - I don't think I ever intended this to be the "manifesto" of a loony protester and/or criminal revolutionary. I think I thought it would be funny. Maybe Article Three holds promise...]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Days 162-195ish of Double-barrel Unemployment: Attack Of The Dark & Sticky Fog Of Sticky Black Darkness

It was bound to happen, and happen it did, in mid-May 2009 - my sixth month of unemployment. I had not gotten a single call back, let alone any kind of interview, since late March. I saw it coming and was powerless to stop it. The Fog was descending from the sky.

By now I assume that any readers [ARE there any readers? Hello? Helloooooo??] out there who don't know me have at least gleaned that I'm a sarcastic and fairly negative person, so reading that I am prone to periodic tussles with The Fog should not come as any great shock.

This round was going to be ugly. I had been utilizing almost all the tools at my disposal to keep it at bay, but much like trying to convince the Vogons not to throw you off one of their ships, resistance is, ultimately, useless.

There was a lot of positive stuff in my life in the weeks leading up to the Fog Attack, which of course only served to make the Attack hurt even more. I had gotten really good at being the house-husband; everything was always clean and the fridge was stocked, etc.. Laundry, dry-cleaning, any and all types of shopping, home repairs, errands and more - all expertly handled by moi.

The Orioles and Nationals, while both still terrible, beat up on some teams they had no business beating (the Os beat the evil empire in the first game played at their new $1Billion stadium, and had the intestinal fortitude to do it a second time two days later).

The weather turned awesome, I got out to shoot trains, I sat outside and read, I sent out a bazillion résumés - some of them for what seemed like really good "fits." I wrote a little for the first time in ages. My photo/negative scanning was progressing well and I was having a blast posting to the ol' photo bloggy thing. I started jogging again for the first time in years, and when that jacked up my knees mercilessly, my disappointment and pain were nicely offset by a big fat prescription for Vicodin (possibly my favorite substance on the planet). [Maris] was beyond supportive and encouraging in all things, and it appeared that she had many more months before her company would go full-on Vortex of Doom on her. Life was really not that bad, despite the fruitless job search.

As anyone who has battled depression can tell you, none of that matters much. That's all happiness stuff. Depression is not sadness or unhappiness. To someone who has never been afflicted, this illness is hard to describe. Plus, it comes in all shapes and sizes, colors and styles. Technically, mine is not that bad, except when The Fog comes.

My brand of The Fog is like The Nothing, from "The Never-ending Story." It drapes itself over me like a heavy, cold, wet and slightly smelly blanket and devours any and all energy I may have had before its arrival. I become completely immobile. My body goes numb. No one and nothing can move me from this state. I become a zombie, only without the need, desire or ability to lurch about eating people's brains. You could drop a naked, giggling Deschanel in my lap, and I would feel nothing. I'd be well aware that I should be moved, and that would only frustrate me.

When The Fog is upon me, I can barely muster the motivation to maintain my daily life. I don't do anything. I know what's happening and I know it's not my fault, but that doesn't matter at all. It's like being underwater in a straight jacket; I am utterly, completely impotent to improve anything. I know I have to wait. I don't want to wait. I want to get up and work out and get a job and make [Maris] laugh and get a haircut and buy stuff and write the great American novel and kick some bad guy's ass and drive around with the top down and cut the grass and cook the best dinner ever and call my mom just to say hi. But I can't do anything. So I wait.

Usually, I wait for a week, maybe two. This time, I waited for a solid month. I posted pics on the photo blog, I mindlessly whiled days away on Facebook and TV and stared at headlines that normally would have pissed me off, and I slept. I slept. I slept some more. I got up some days, and sat outside and slept some more while bugs bit me. I don't get suicidal or anything; that would require a motivation and energy that I just don't have. I've been through this before, so I sat in a mental waiting room and pretended to read a 3-month old "ESPN Magazine" until my name was called.

When I finally hear it, it sounds like "Bambi."

"Piss off you antelope."

"Bambi. Get up."

"I'm not done with this article about what Michael Vick did to those dogs, and I was going to read 'Why no one gives a flying fuck about the fact that alex rodriguez cheated and did steroids for years - because he's a soul-sold-to-satan yankee now' after this."

Get up, Bambi. Bambi, GET UP!!"

"Look, Mr. Bambi's Father Voice -- I'm a fucking ZOMBIE. I will eat your little venison brain, man..."


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 143 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Sea-Don'ts & The Tough Budget Cuts

Wednesday April 22, 2009

Another two weeks without a job, another generous payment of $720 (after taxes) from my beloved state of Maryland. I have learned over the years to prioritize my spending during layoffs, cutting out all but the barest essentials. Although until now I had never been out of work for more than two months, there's just no way of knowing how long a layoff will last, so you have to be really careful with your cash.

So, given that [Maris] was still bringing home a decent paycheck, but for who knew how much longer, and given that I was by this time almost five months removed from my final payment from the ol' Vortex of Doom, I knew I had to put some planned purchases on the back burner for a while.

The $2,000 tiki bar for our as yet nonexistent patio would obviously have to wait. It's a shame, too. Between the two of us, [Maris] and I have . . . hang on . . . (counting on fingers) . . . FIVE friends - two of whom we've actually seen in-person in the past year. Now, I know what you're thinking and the answer is no - we canNOT entertain without a tiki bar.

[Maris]'s birthday was coming up, but cuts in that budget were needed, too. In 2008, my friend Godfrey Ozzenbarq III (not his real name) and I took a road trip down to Duck, NC to get a special-ordered coconut cake from the awesome little old lady who makes the desserts for the equally awesome Red Sky Café. NOTE: Cool place with fine, inventive food and cocktails. Anyway, my enticement to Godfrey (again, not his real name) to accompany me on an 11-hour round trip for a birthday cake was that I would treat for lunch at Red Sky. Well, in 2009 my tiny emergency cash flow from the state was not going to allow THAT. So, with no offer of a free lunch, Godfrey (still not his real name but it's growing on him) said a pox on me and my stupid cake, and I had to go alone. Saved $20, though!

Also canceled was my planned trip to see Simple Minds at one of the myriad of very cool European summer music festivals. Nuts.

My eBay bid for a long-sought-after SIGNED Yothu Yindi tour poster, circa 1993? Withdrawn. Bidding was heading into the upper hundreds. :(

I would have to put off my hand-held espresso machine purchase, and hope that maybe Santa would consider it, come Christmastime. Guess it'll be another year before I try espresso. I hope it doesn't taste too much like coffee. Can't stand coffee.

No more recreational drugs or top-shelf liquor, for a while. Okay, well, much less, anyway. Okay! A little less. Alright, the same amount. But I watched for sales!

A new laptop, on which I hoped to write my first novel and with which I planned to scan and store thousands of photographs for my photo blog, launch my internet photography business and become gainfully self-employed... Well, that purchase occurred, but the bulk of that expenditure languishes to this day as a balance on my credit card, so it hasn't really had much of an impact on cash flow. Also, a quick note to the people responsible for the creation of (and failure to stop) Microsoft Vista: You are evil morons who should be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Also thrust to the burner in back: My $700 "Grimmace" costume, a $450 pair of Plexiglas platform pimp shoes with goldfish in them, the collected works of Mark Leyner, handwritten in crayon on that wide-ruled kindergarten paper, a jade chalice with the Tasmanian Devil etched into the inside of the bowl, the indoor Slip n' Slide ($55 at Target) and the electric (or maybe it was cobalt) blue leather assless chaps and matching cowboy hat I saw on Andy Bell of Erasure once.

What did I buy with this week's unemployment benefits payment? Well, grocery shopping took a cool hundred off the top, so all I was able to pick up this time around was the desperately-needed laser-guided robotic vacuum - $399.99 at Hammacher Schlemmer. I'm unemployed, but that's no reason to waste 20-plus minutes a week pushing some old-fashioned Hoover around our 900 square foot house. Am I right?

With what was left, I fell prey to H-S's little "customers who bought this product also purchased this" routine, and picked up a Children's Inflatable Sea-Doo for about $200. We have no pool, no pond or lake or river or stream or nearby beach - and no children - but you just never know when you're going to need one of these handy items. Right now, it's out back, full of ice, just waiting to be stocked with beverages. We're calling it our little yellow vinyl tiki bar, for now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Remembering Camp Stupid

Time for a little excerpt from my little NaNoWriMo novel. I hardly remember writing it, so it's making me chuckle. I hope it does the same for you...

For some kids, sixth-grade camp is five days and four nights of pure excitement, adventure and just generally wonderful memories that they look back on with warmth and fondness for the rest of their lives. They're away from home for four nights, a first for most eleven- and twelve-year olds. There are deer and woodland critters and deep, dark forests and rustic cabins and crafts and songs and campfires and all sorts of fun things to do and see. For these kids, those few days are just too great to describe when they get home.

I was not one of those kids. For me, Camp Seneca Falls [not its real name] was a prison for children, with strange wardens who made us sing about Jesus before they would let us eat. I'm sure it didn't help matters that we went in December, when even their warmest cabin was approximately forty degrees, but I swear, that place was wretched. I hated dressing and undressing with a bunch of kids, most of whom I didn't know at all, thanks to the fact that two different schools shared the camp for the week. I hardly slept. The food was simply cruel. Of the nineteen other boys in my cabin, I knew exactly two - Marty and Larry. Misery loves company, and they seemed pretty miserable, too. There. That's my highlight. Marty and Larry hated it, too.

Luckily, we were allowed to choose where we sat in the big dining hall, so Marty, Larry and I found a couple friends, and we wallowed together in our collective despair. Our leader in misery was Lewis, a quiet genius at odds with the beliefs of his huge Catholic family. Somehow, Lewis was well on his way down the Shining Taoist Path, or possibly headed for a life as an agnostic, or at the very least a strong believer in a clear separation between church and state, and he was rather put out by the coerced singing to Jesus for our food. At each meal, he changed the words to sarcastically express his distaste for the ritual.

"Oh, dear sweet Jesus on the cross, we thank you because they won't let us eat if we don't..."


"I'm singing, for my food, with a bunch of strangers. I'm confused. I know what grace is, but I've never been required to sing it and say 'Jesus' every third word, but they seem serious about not feeding us if we don't sing this song. I'd like some food, pleeease..."


"Dear precious Buddha on the mountain, I hope this Jesus song isn't offending you... We don't mean it - we're just hungry and these people are apparently running a little cult here in the woods..."

I gave serious consideration to faking an illness so that I could get sent home. I couldn't, though. Chicken, you know. As the week wore on, word spread about Lewis' sarcastic versions of the blessing, and he stepped up his little protest.

By the second-to-last night, he had graduated to:

"Oh, here we are again, Lord. I'm not even really hungry, but they are watching from the perimeter of the room and I'm already on thin ice, after what I said to the crafts lady when she asked why I made a popsicle stick Star of David when she had suggested a cross-- oh, we're done? Ahh-men!" We all laughed, and for a moment, camp sucked a little bit less.

At breakfast the next morning, we had kids from other tables asking if they could join us in "prayer." Lewis hadn't prepared anything, so we all simply sang "We Love Jesus" over and over, to the tune of the morning prayer song.

At our final lunch, Lewis gave us a copy of what he had written for the prayer, and he urged us all to join him. We passed his song around quickly and did our best to remember it. What we lacked in memorization, we made up for in enthusiasm.

"Dear Lord, please bless this holy lunch of the blessed redeemer. And if you can hear us, please send buses. We promise to be good for the rest of the year. For the rest of the year, Lord. For the rest of the year. If you'd just get us out of here, for the rest of the year." We were in unison by the end, and our hearty "Ahhh- mennnn!" definitely got some attention. We were clearly having way too much fun. One of the camp wardens glared at us for a long time, but no one said anything to us, and we were allowed to eat.

Throughout that lunch, Marty and I made as many copies as we could of some new lyrics Lewis had scribbled in his notebook for what he was calling "The Last Supper," and distributed them to the the ever-growing gang of Bad Children. It was the last night. What could they do, send us all home?

At dinner, there were so many kids packed together at our table, an outsider might have assumed we were all the best of friends and for the moment, I guess we were. We couldn't conceal our excitement. The kids at surrounding tables seemed to be watching us expectantly. At the sound of the warden's little "time to see how many times you can squeeze Jesus' name into a one-minute song or else you don't eat" bell, a hush fell over much of the big room.

"We come on the Sloop John B, Me grandfather and me, Around Nassau Town we did roam, Drinking all night, got into a fight. Well I feel so broke up, I want to go home...”

I realized then that the singing in the rest of the hall had trailed off, leaving just our table. We fed off each other's dedication to this thing we had started, and couldn't help but get even louder.

"So hoist up the John B's sail, See how the mainsail sets, Call for the captain ashore, Let me go home, Oh won't you let me go home, Let me go home, Yeah Yeah, let me go home, Well I feel so broke up, I want to go home."

Everyone stared at us. Our teacher looked for a moment as if he wanted to laugh, but frowned at us instead. The camp cult people glared daggers at us. Lewis cleared his throat. "Oh, yeah. Sorry." He then conducted us through a loud, heartfelt "Ahhh-MENNNNN..." We broke into spontaneous applause for ourselves and were thrilled to hear many kids throughout the room join us.

Okay, so camp had a couple of memorable moments, and that was one of them. The good news was that we were, in fact, allowed to eat. The bad news was that, after some investigation, it was determined that Lewis, Marty and I were the instigators of this uprising and needed to be punished. Our punishment: The three of us had to go from cabin to cabin just before lights-out and sing "Sloop John B" in its entirety. In our pajamas.

Man, I loved Camp Stupid.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 129 of Double-barrel Unemployment: Not NEARLY The Party That Most Days Are

Wednesday April 8, 2009

I remember this day. I was still feeling a little discouraged about my job search. I know the advice contained in my rejection letter from a couple of weeks prior was constructive and well-intentioned and all; there was just so much of it. I had a lot to work on. Plus, I had not developed any good leads since that interview. The economy - even here in the supposedly recession-resistant DC area - was still in a foul state. Even my recruiter/headhunter contacts were starting to sound dour, and that's not good - these people tend to be extremely positive, almost like salesmen. There was a strong, chill wind blowing outside. Bleah.


Not one, but two silver linings appeared and sent my day scampering in a better direction, that afternoon. First, I finally set up my photo blog and completed the first little post. It felt good to do something somewhat creative. It still does. Very few people are looking, and I'm okay with that. In many ways, the photo blog and this blog are like talking to yourself in the car; very low-cost therapy.

The second instant day-improver came in the form of my bi-weekly Maryland Unemployment Insurance Benefits payment. This always makes me happy. As you may have heard in the news earlier this Summer, there are a lot of educated men and women in prestigious, high-level elected offices who believe that unemployment benefits payments to the jobless are a disincentive put any effort into finding work. A couple of these leaders went so far as to phrase it such that we unemployed people choose to remain unemployed; that we prefer these little payments to getting hired.

Well, I hate to disappoint my bleeding-heart liberal friends, but the above is SO TRUE!! I simply adore being jobless. Sure, the first couple of layoffs sent me scrambling to find new work as quickly as I could. As I recall, after that first one in 1995, I was so proud of myself for finding a new job before I received a single penny of unemployment benefits. What was I thinking??? I know better, now. By Day 129 of this layoff, I had come to fully embrace the government-subsidized life of the unemployed layabout.

I started slow, hesitant to "take advantage" of the system. I paid cash for groceries, filled the car with just enough gas to get me to and from the store, fixed broken stuff in the house etc..

Before long, I realized just how good I really had it. So, my $360 a week (after taxes, including the extra $25 from the Feds from one of their "emergency recovery acts") began to seem like found money. [Maris]'s job at her own little Vortex Of Doom looked stable enough, right? I'd roll out of bed at about noon and play video games until at least 3:30, when I'd switch to Sports Center for a couple hours. I started sending out exactly the required-for-continued-eligibility number of résumés (two) per week, and made sure they were for jobs for which I could never be hired. I took up smoking and quickly accelerated to two packs a day. There went $140 of my bi-weekly $360.

I expanded my binge drinking of only top-shelf tequilas and rums from weekends-only to just about every day. Mmmmm... All free, thanks to unemployment! I rationalized that I was saving money, by keeping the lights off most of the time and taking maybe one or two showers a week - and never shaving (those blades are expensive).

With one benefits payment, I bought myself a pair of "Miami Vice" pinkie rings. I know - but they're really nice! One is Crockett and one is Tubbs and they have little diamonds for eyes. Classy!

Another check (two, actually) went to Toys R Us. My old Playstation 2 was just not cutting it, anymore. I had to upgrade and get some new games and controllers. I was getting really tired of "Crash Bandicoot." Sitting around and playing games is just the best, and with Unemployment, I feel like they're paying me to do it!

You know what's better than endless days of sleeping late and smoking and drinking Patron Silver and playing "Halo?" Strippers! My friend Godfrey Ozzenbarq III (not his real name) and I started heading into DC on benefits payment days to ogle the girls at "Good Guys" on Wisconsin Avenue. We quickly graduated from that to "Camelot," at great expense. Don't worry, taxpayers. You're not paying for this lifestyle. Unemployment Insurance is privately funded, mostly through premiums paid by employers, and they're doing much better now that they've gotten rid of so many employees.

But you know what's even better than strippers? Hookers! Okay, I don't think that's really true, but I can honestly say I wouldn't know. But I know drugs are better than strippers. Oh, Godfrey (not his real name) and I sure know how to party! We're back to playing a lot of "Crash Bandicoot," as well as my old vintage Atari stuff - and tons of Ms. Pac Man. That stuff is amazing when you're baked or rollin' or tweaked or Timmy!'d or buzzed or blasted or floating or destroyed or wrecked or made into pizza rolls or smelling the kitten or drunk or selling encyclopedias or trippin' or jumping the shark or writing epitaphs or playing the Cheap Trick albums at 78rpm or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

When there's cash left (there never is), we buy lottery scratch-off tickets. I think I won $25,000 once, but I was trashed and I think I must have used the ticket as a desperation rolling paper and burned it up.

Yep, being unemployed is pretty sweet. I can't imagine myself getting another job, as long as these massive piles of fun bucks for nothing keep rolling in. Work is for chumps. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go do some online gambling before I get too wasted to focus...