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!