Monday, June 29, 2009

Unemployment Compensation: Good or Bad?

Good lord, mentally it's for the most part a GREAT thing. I had to jump through a lot of nerve-wracking hoops to finally get approved (after figuring out whether or not I could be approved to begin with). The pay every two weeks is approximately 50% of my former income. Which is still enough to live off of -- paying rent and bills and buying groceries/cigs, but certainly with little or no money for any extras (except the window-unit air conditioner that I'm going to buy, on sale for $99 at the Pathmark). I'm qualified to receive these payments for the next 3 or so months.

This situation differs from last spring, when my 8-month freelance stretch at another publishing company came to an end. Back then, I had no clue that I could qualify for Unemployment, since I was "just" a freelancer and since I'd "just" moved from out-of-state the previous year. So I never applied for it. My ignorance of the system cost me a lot of mental grief. I had some savings after the 8 months was up, but then spent months worrying incessantly about finding a job, and slogging through going-nowhere part-time temp jobs, and sweltering in the summer heat because I was scared to spend $100 on an air conditioner.

This year, I have the safety net of Unemployment pay. But with that, I find myself not looking as hard for work. I know I'll be OK through September, and with that comes the thought in the back of my mind that I can relax a little... Being able to "relax a little" is good, of course, but...shouldn't I be revved up and in super-competitive mode right now? As September nears, I'm sure the reality will hit me that I have to do SOMETHING in order to be able to stay up here... But as of right now...I seem to be in lethargic, slacker "Austin mode": "Wow, man, I can afford a window-unit air conditioner and some beer and cigarettes tonight! I'll be OK!"

I think a part of me is angry that I'm a really good copy editor, yet I cannot find a steady job. Not through my own fault, but because of various companies' economic problems and arcane rules. My last job that just ended, for instance: Some editors that I formerly worked with are now sending me freelance work because the current in-house copy editors aren't as thorough as I was. For real. How ludicrous is that? The company once had ME in-house, but had to let me go after 6 months because... the 6-month contract was up and there was no more money in the department budget. former editors miss my work and are hiring me freelance from their own piecemeal personal company budgets. It's utterly nonsensical and maddening. Almost enough to make me just throw up my hands and lie back and say, "Wow, man...looking forward to the air-conditioning and beer and cigs tonight."

Please, NYC! I'm so much more into getting pumped up and working 50-hour weeks, not of lying around on my lazy ass acting all Austin. Do something, for fuck's sake! ;p

My Favorite Housewives

Not having a real person in my life to fantasize about (see the below "4th o' July/no sex" post), I have somehow gotten fixated on the bad girl Danielle Staub from the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" show, whose run just ended with a wonderfully dramatic table-turning finale. (No, the tables weren't turned figuratively, but rather literally! It was great, tackily intense reality TV.)

Danielle, it turns out, has a past as a stripper, prostitute, Colombian druglord girlfriend, and "coke whore," as some tabloids unkindly put it, and had been arrested for kidnapping. The other housewives found this all out by digging up a book that had been published by Danielle's ex-husband, which contained, among the various sordid details, her mug shot from 20-odd years ago. Now, having seen on the show Danielle's exploits with phone sex, and bathroom sex with a 20-something muscle-head (who's now trying to hawk a sex tape), and having learned about her, count 'em, 19 past engagements, "The Book" just raised the stakes of interest that much more. It all sounded excitingly tawdry. And it was fascinating to see the other women's reactions: The two sisters and Dumb Teresa, the table-flipper, were a bit self-righteous: "I don't want my family near her! A kidnapper? I can't let her around my kids!" etc. While Jacqueline, married to the brother of the two sisters, insisted on remaining friends with Danielle despite the rift it was causing within her family, and stuck up for her during the finale, calling her own sister-in-law a liar.

Danielle had also been "accused" in the book of being bisexual -- watch out for those intense stares, Jacqueline! In fact, I think that's what started me thinking about Danielle... The Stare. The woman was often rather annoying and overly dramatic, but I loved that dead-serious, intense look of hers. (It was also funny to hear the 20-something good-looking lawyer son of one of the sisters say he was scared of her! I liked the thought that she really would, in all probability, eat him alive, and that he fully recognized the fact!)

So anyway, the show has been a sexually-charged hoot to watch. (After finding Danielle attractive, I started thinking about the Housewives from the other cities, and whom I paid most attention to when they came onscreen... From the OC show: Jeana. And from the NYC show: the Countess de Lesseps, of course! Neither of whom are trouble-makers, like Danielle, though they all share a certain dark-complexioned look. I like Jeana's looks and eyes and laid-back wry humor, and the Countess...her bright eyes. And those shoulders! that sexy, husky voice! I wouldn't be surprised if she had slept with a girl or two in her own past modeling days!)

So, thanks, Ladies, for keeping me occupied while I'm having nothing whatsoever going on in my own personal life! :) That's what TV's for, right?

4th o' July

Well, the anniversary of the last time I had sex is coming up! (I know, I know: Too much information!) :) But I remember the memorable date, the 4th of July, and the fact that it was with the very first woman that I ever had sex with (after many years apart) and that there certainly weren't any fireworks!

We'd been trying halfheartedly for a few weeks to make a go of it again. But this time around, I kept noticing annoying things like: (1) She ate tortilla chips with her mouth open and crumbs flew out when she talked. (2) I checked out a book for her at the library where I worked and she didn't return it on time; when I called her to ask when she was going to take it back, she accused me of trying to start a fight. (3) We were going to eat take-out and spend the evening together at my place. She wanted me to go pick up the food on HER side of town. When I pointed out that the restaurant was just down the street from her and across town from me, so why didn't she just pick it up and bring it over, she accused me of trying to start a fight. (4) On the July 4th date, we went swimming at her pool, when I noticed that she was getting a belly. Nothing wrong with that, but I hadn't been with her in years and she didn't used to have one, and she didn't look particularly good with one. Then, after sex and while we were downtown watching fireworks, she kept blabbing on and on and on about something; I can't remember what, but I do remember thinking that I would scream if she didn't shut up because she was boring me to death...

Friends, the thrill was gone. But still not completely. About a week after the 4th, I called and left a message asking if she wanted to go do something. She didn't return the call. THAT was when a little light finally, finally, after 10 years, went off: "I want somebody who will return my calls and take me out on a Saturday night! That's not too much to ask." At that moment, I completely fell out of love with her and have not thought about her in a romantic way ever since. (She actually did call me back several weeks later, before my birthday. I just sat there and listened to her leave a message and rolled my eyes.)

So anyway, that's my "4th o' July" last-time-I-had-sex story.

BTW: The fireworks on the Hudson, which lies between Manhattan and Weehawken, are going to be insane. I just had an automated call from the Weehawken mayor today warning about the crowds and the traffic and the roads that will be blocked off. I was strolling by the river this past Saturday, and the traffic and people were slightly hectic. (It's a prime tourist spot because of its gorgeous view of the city.) I can't even imagine what it's going to be like this coming Saturday, the 4th. Mayhem, most likely. (I feel sorry for the people whose houses line the street overlooking the river. Most of the houses have picket fences, but people are still going to be intrusive...) Still, the show is going to be fantastic, and since I live just a 2-minute walk away, I can't not go.

And, hey: Maybe I'll meet some hot woman to whom I can tell my sad 4th o' July story and she'll take pity on me and give me a symbolic anniversary present... Yeah, OK, right. ;p

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)

Being unemployed and all, I was dozing in the afternoon when I started hearing reports on CNN: "Michael Jackson is hospitalized after suffering a cardiac arrest." My first sleepy reaction was pretty much the same as when I first heard on TV that Princess Diana had been in a car accident. In Diana's case in 1997, I remember thinking: "Oh, great, now we'll be seeing her give a press conference, with her arm in a cast and a sad, soulful expression on her face, thanking all of her well-wishers." And today with Michael: "Oh, great, now we'll be seeing him give a press conference, in a hospital bed surrounded by flowers and a sad, soulful expression on his face, thanking all of his well-wishers."

I couldn't imagine that they were actually going to DIE...

With Diana, while I later got very sick of all the media coverage, I had, nonetheless, as a kid been one of the millions who got up at 4 in the morning, or whatever crazy hour it was, to watch her fairy-tale wedding to Prince Charles on TV. And I followed all of the media coverage of her, much as I got overloaded with it, every year after...

With Michael Jackson... Like Diana, he was a touchstone, an emblem, of my youth.

I grew up hearing his songs with his brothers constantly on the radio.

And then as a young adult: I first started going out to dance-clubs as a freshman in college, the year after "Thriller" was released and all million songs from that album (the best-selling of all time) were all over the radio and clubs. I'd grown up in a small Texas town and had no clue how to dance, and so started paying especial attention to his videos then being shown on the newly created MTV... I absolutely hated all of the background group dancing (a trend that continues to this day in hip-hop videos---blame Michael for that!), but loooooved how he himself moved... Very lithe, and the lean backward and hips thrust forward, one knee bent while on his toes, and the brief stop-motion punctuated by a finger snap, only to start grooving again... I'd never seen anyone who moved like that! Just Michael, and then... a bunch of dorky white college kids in clubs trying to copy him! :)


After his 1980s "Thriller" and "Bad" and "Dangerous" albums had come and gone, though, I lost track of whatever new song or video he was putting out, and, as the public news about his personal life and multiple plastic surgeries got worse and worse, just started to feel more and more sorry for him.

He obviously was not of this world, and it's perhaps a blessing for him that he's no longer in torment, no longer forced to try to navigate between his soul and the more mundane expectations of the world.

Despite his own inner turmoil and hurt, though, he was able to give the public so much of his life and talent. With that in mind, I have especially deep admiration for the strength and beauty and joy of his contributions to the world.

This evening, I was walking around Weehawken hours after the news of Michael Jackson's death had been announced. At least three times, I walked by cars at stoplights, windows rolled down, blasting Michael Jackson songs. That is the biggest tribute of all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

If heaven can wait, why then can't I...

The HeartThrobs, "I Wonder Why." (Another favorite line from this song: "Even hate must surrender to the lust...")

For more info and links to YouTube HeartThrob videos.

I tried in vain to find the lyrics online to one of my favorite HeartThrobs songs, the plaintive and painful "So Far," which begins:

Unlock the door
let me in
I've been away
don't know where I've been...

There's a later reference in the song to driving around in a Jaguar (pronounced in this song the British way, jag-yoo-ar)... It's odd and painful being so completely tuned in to the person I love's obsession with another lover... But this is Sandra's song for Jim.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The time for wearing white is gone...

...we grab our steeds and learn to pray
while spider-sound hovers, blade itching our palm
and we find only steel for reflection.

Austin and Two Hoots

Much of the soundtrack of Austin, and my youth, will always be to me Rick Broussard and Two Hoots and a Holler:

My library-friend Jerry introduced me to the band and, back in the late '80s/early '90s, we'd go see them every Monday at the Black Cat on 6th Street, where Pabst Blue Ribbon was $1 a can, the hot-dogs were grilled over an open bonfire, and when you had to pee, you went to the wooden outhouse out back. (The city later closed the place down for health reasons.)

Rick and Two Hoots played brilliant original songs. And his covers/influences were also some of my favorites: The Clash, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello...

I later went out with Rick a couple of times, semi-disastrously, but remain excited by and loyal to the man's soul and spirit and talent.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Perry-Castaneda Library

I was just thinking about the people I worked with back at the Perry-Castaneda Library at UT-Austin. The jobs there were state jobs, and thus extremely undemanding and secure: pension plan, lots of days off, not a whole lot to do, although very low pay. There were LOTS of "lifers" there.

Almost universally, my co-workers were disgruntled slackers. Many had advanced degrees (in things like "art" and "music" and "philosophy" and "English"), but were too lazy to put them to use in a more competitive and rewarding (both intellectually and financially) environment. The slackers liked not having too much asked of them. But, to compensate for the mind-numbing deadness of the jobs, which these overeducated folk were all-too-aware of, they (OK, "WE") had to constantly try to make ourselves feel superior by belittling what we were doing, belittling the "system," taking naps at work, etc.

I was kind of a freak in this environment. While I participated in the constant bitching (and, near the end of my stay there, also took frequent naps in my office), I was also initially very much of a go-getter.

For instance: When books were turned in by patrons, they were sent to one of the 4 floors where they belonged. Once there, they were held in "distribution" until they could be shelved in their exact spots.

When I started as a floor supervisor (my first full-time job, when I was 21), the distribution area on my floor (the busiest) was constantly overflowing and sat for days and days, making it impossible for patrons to find their books on the regular shelves.

My first move was to get rid of the overflow sections, guessing that their very presence made the shelvers not worry about getting the books shelved, since they could always just dump them into overflow. (I was right, psychologically, about that.)

Then I tried to figure out why it was that my floor was always running into overflow, while 2 of the other 3 floors' distribution areas were usually empty. First I checked with my boss about the number of work hours for shelvers allotted to each floor. Almost identical. Despite the fact that my floor and the 4th floor were obviously more heavily used and had more books than the other two floors. When I asked my boss about this, he didn't believe me! He insisted that it was "fair" for all 4 floors to have the same number of hours.

So I figured out a way to PROVE to him that the busier floors should indeed have a bigger team of shelvers: Keep statistics. The shelvers always did "pick-ups" of books left on tables and in the copy room every day, but until then no one had thought to keep a count of each book picked up. Also, no one had thought to count the number of books that were shelved every day. I suggested to my boss that we do a test for one month: All floors would keep records of pick-ups and of books shelved. Shelvers would enter pick-up totals on a chart, which would be tallied at the end of the month. And when they or I put together a cart of books and shelved them, we would count the books and put the total on a card; I would tally all the cards at the end of the month.

My boss surprisingly agreed to the experiment. ("Surprisingly" because he was generally a lazy-ass and he disliked me!) At the end of the month: Voila! The counts showed that my floor had something like double the usage of the next busiest floor. And the two floors whose distribution areas had always been clean had the lowest usage stats of all. My boss had to admit that I was right. After that, keeping stats became mandatory for all floors and, more importantly, work hours were allocated appropriately.

Other changes I instituted (though just for my floor): Previously, there were no expectations on how many books a shelver should be able to shelve in an hour. Since I'd been a student shelver myself for 2 years before becoming the supervisor, I knew that it took about a half-hour to shelve a cart of books (roughly 100 books). I didn't ask this of my employees, but I did ask that they be able to shelve a cart in ONE hour. (On their sign-in sheets for work done, I added boxes where they'd write their totals.)

I liked the psychology of this. It lit a fire under the butts of the slackers, who'd been taking 3 hours to do one cart without anyone having any idea of how long they were taking (or what they were doing with all that extra time). And it also rewarded the swift and the diligent workers: Since a cart could be done in a half-hour, this plan gave those people some extra time to browse, etc., once they got their quota done without feeling guilty. (These were, after all, very low-paying jobs. The kids shelving needed SOME minor reward.) Productivity increased tremendously. The slackers were busted and were forced to pick up the pace. The "normal" kids got their reward. The "high achievers" (very few!) continued to go as fast as they had in the past, just for personal satisfaction.

Another change: My floor had areas of books that were completely jam-packed on the shelves, making it nearly impossible to shelve without shifting books around, laying them on top of other books, etc. While several rows down the aisle, there might be dozens of completely empty shelves.

In the worst areas (over 50% of my floor), I organized a massive shift of books, the goal being to have each individual shelf perhaps 2/3rds full, as opposed to some jam-packed and others empty.

When shelvers had free time, or maybe an odd 20 minutes left over at the end of their shift, I'd have them move books. I created a chart where they would write their starting and stopping points. (Where one stopped, the next could easily see where to take up again.) Slowly but surely, the entire floor got shifted, making it much easier for patrons to find their books and for the students to shelve them.

I must add that I also once made the highly tedious effort of walking around the whole floor and writing down where the light-bulbs needed to be replaced! The floor had been seeming dark and dingy to me. Was it psychological?? No... It really was the lights, and not me, that were (literally) burnt out! :) Over a quarter of all the lights had been out! No one believed me when I presented my exact locations of all the burnt-out bulbs, and it of course took forever for maintenance to get up there and fix things, but once they did... it made a huge difference.

I look back on my first job with mixed feelings. As I mentioned, my boss was a total slacker. He was just there for the security and didn't give a shit about how things were run. I never got rewarded either verbally or financially for all the work that I did or the improvements that I made, both to the floor physically and to the system as a whole. And when a new position was created -- floor coordinator -- I applied for it and clearly deserved it and was the best qualified. But the guy gave the job to someone who, like him, had been hanging around the library system for 20 years. And who was notoriously ineffectual and a slacker herself. That's when I quit in disgust. Such wasted energy! And such anger on my part at being unappreciated and passed over.

But when I look back on the whole experience now: Writing just now about all the positive and sane changes I single-handedly put in place (when I was just a kid of 21!) makes me feel good. Screw the deadbeat boss and his not liking me (and thus fucking up my life for the time being because I was too proud to stay on where I'd been dissed).

I was a darn good floor supervisor. And I did things, not to garner favor with the boss but rather because they were the best, and most intelligent, things to do regarding the running of the floor, DESPITE what the incompetent boss thought or wanted, despite my dead end there after he black-balled me.

Right now, reading over the above, I keep thinking with disbelief: "Such mental battles when I was only 21! Shouldn't a 21-year-old girl have been more concerned with her nails?" Weirdly, this 21-year-old just wanted to see the books shelved efficiently...


Aside from work experiences, the PCL was also an interesting, sometimes bizarre, universe personally.

When I was a freshman, I saw a guy jacking off there, which scared the hell out of me.

I met my best friend and her sister there. (When smoking was still legal in buildings, we all used to gather in my office and eat McDonald's and smoke and smoke and talk and talk...)

I met my to-this-day good friend Jerry, a fellow floor supervisor, there.

I fell in love as a freshman, from afar, with a David Bowie-lookalike who studied at the same time and in the same area as me each evening.

Some boys in the library fell in love with me: One got carried away and slapped me on my ass on day. One drew me pictures. One patron slipped a note into a book: "I'd like to meet a sexy librarian."

One co-worker, a night-time desk supervisor with whom I talked frequently, once called me down to the desk to do a search for a book; when I found the book, there was a set of expensive silver earrings -- a gift from him -- waiting there also!

I met and got along wonderfully with some "Leo-boy" co-workers there, and we had a few "Leo Nights Out" at strip clubs.

In the pre-Internet days, I would spend hours in the stacks researching my current celebrity favorite from old bound issues of magazines. (Where I first discovered and learned to love Joan Crawford.)

One day, coming in to work late with a hangover, I dropped a slice of pizza face-down on the pavement. And then picked it up and ate it, I was so hungry and oblivious.

And: When I was in the middle of my profound first poetry writing class, I would gather up poetry books and sit by a window for hours and read and think and think and stare at the pigeons mating on the sills. Here's a poem I wrote back in '86 or something, about the pigeons, as seen from the window of the PCL:


The pigeons are mating
and he jumps on her with a solid
or whatever crazy sound
horny pigeons make...
and then they are flying --
to a more private window sill or perhaps
just to spite the voyeur

They have pride
and will not be subjects
born of a moment's boredom

Five minutes later they return
masking annoyance
nodding cool forgiveness through the glass

They are gentle now
beaks and breasts touch
heads form a silent heart-shaped arc
and she crouches, murmuring softly
then crouches lower still
until he jumps again, this time
with a noble ease that flattens her

The two sway with the wind

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Chocolate Factory

Hellllllllloooooooooooooooooooo NEW YORK CITY!!!!!!!!! But first just let me say: Ya know what I decidedly DON'T want to see any more on my way to and from work?


Or this:

Ho-hum, but enough about Jersey and what I USED TO see!

I've currently got a new temp job (though only for a few weeks). In Times Square, baby! :) A 15-minute bus-ride from Weehawken into Midtown, then a nice little 8-or-so minute stroll to my glamorous office building past...oh, just magic and life! Theaters and fashionable stores with pretty things and hot-dog vendors and bands playing at noon at the TKTS stand and New Yorkers meeting for drinks after work and tourists with giddily stunned looks on their faces and the show-offy, slap-happy neon! :) (Oh, plus the silly Naked Cowboy! I didn't shoot this picture I have up here, but I did see him yesterday!)

My favorite thing to see today was when I was walking around at lunch and happened to look up:

I actually stopped in my tracks and just stared. (Then quickly had to back up against a store-front to continue to stare, so I wouldn't be trampled by sidewalk passersby.) To me it wasn't commercial. It didn't make me want to go out and buy Twizzlers. It was just magical and pretty: "Like Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory," I thought.

While I was still standing there gawking (and adultly sucking down a last cigarette before work), a local mom walked by with her little boy. She was walking fast, practically dragging him, but he managed to accidentally catch a quick glimpse up at all the humongous candy... and then he came to a screeching halt: "Mama! Look! It's Willie Wonka's factory!" To my relief, instead of jerking him on down the sidewalk, she actually stopped for a second with him and looked up at what he was seeing... and SAW it. They smiled at each other. And then she reverted to her "New York Mom"-ness and started to explain as they walked off (with him still looking back), "Well, of course it's not REALLY Willie Wonka's factory..." But that was neat to overhear, too. They'd had their second of real connection, and then it was still nice to hear her talk, albeit in a boring adult way, about what had so caught his eye, and mine.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Irritated with NYC for first time!

My god, can it be: trouble in paradise! :)

In two years, I really don't recall ever getting more than slightly peeved with the city, until this past Tuesday.

My out-in-public day Tuesday only lasted 4 or 5 hours or so, but it involved doing a lot of crap-stuff in the pouring rain in preparation for my upcoming only-temp-job for a paranoid financial company: a lot of walking and waiting and getting tired and wet and pissed off (and, speaking of "pissed"---literally pissing).

First the fingerprinting. I left my apt. an hour ahead of time for my fingerprinting appointment, but once in Manhattan, got lost and so had to call the woman-in-charge-of-temp-fingerprinting on my cell phone to get me re-directed. I ended up being 15 minutes late, which I hate. The other temp employee who was being fingerprinted at the same time had been so kind as to e-mail the night before: "Since we don't know each other, give me a call when you get there and we'll go in together." Since I was rushing around late the next morning, I didn't call him. When I finally got to the building late, it turns out that he hadn't called the woman in charge because he was waiting for me to show up first and call him! I was hot and sweaty from running around being lost, and I felt terrible about being late for the woman in charge, and now I felt terrible about being late for this guy, too.

Once inside the building to be fingerprinted, turns out the company had the guy's records, but had lost mine. So he got to get out of there quickly, while I had to sit around in a waiting room. With the woman-in-charge, who was nice but also, I could tell, irritated that she had to hang around.

While in the waiting room, the "Maury Povich" show was on the TV. The topic for that morning happened to be "sex crimes." I was sitting around with 3 or 4 other people, male and female, and we all couldn't help but watch actual videotape of (1) a pimp graphically "beating down his ho"; and (2) a couple of mutilated dead teenaged girls. SIGH. So I personally felt the need to get up and go to the guys in the fingerprinting room and say: "Um, 'scuse me... Sorry to bother you... I feel really uncomfortable watching the TV in there... I don't really want to see dead women." It annoyed the shit out of me that I had to act all "female" and apologetic during my quest for a job (and that I had to look at that shit during my quest for a job).

The guys in the main room were, thankfully, extremely professional and nice: "WHAT? That TV should be turned to CNN or Fox!" One guy immediately got up and went to change the channel in the waiting room.

Pretty soon after that, got the damn fingerprinting done (though I still felt embarrassed and troublesome for having to ask to change the TV channel).

Then I walked the 10 blocks to my temp agency to deliver the fingerprint paperwork and pick up more paperwork to go and have the drug/pee test done. The drug/pee center wouldn't be open for another hour. So I aimlessly started to stroll in that direction.

I hadn't had a haircut in over 2 months, and on this rainy day, every frigging store window I passed showed me what a bad hair day I was having... Since my regular place "Chelsea Styles" had closed for good at the end of May, I started to stop into random places during this free hour to ask about appointments and costs. After two places that were dead empty and charged $70 and $80 for a haircut, I came across a nice-looking place that had a "special" going on... $30 for a woman's haircut, plus $15 for the blow-dry. (The blow-dry cost here in NYC remains highly bizarre to me. In all my years of getting my hair cut in Texas, I'd never heard of an extra charge for the blow-drying!)

I hadn't had my hair cut in over 8 weeks not just because I was poor and jobless and my old regular shop was closed, because I was intentionally growing my hair longer. I wanted to keep my long bob, but with a sweeping bang in front. I asked the stylist for a book of pictures, so I could point out what I wanted. I found pictures and showed her. She nodded amiably.

And then... The woman completely layered the fuck out of my hair! It didn't quite descend into "shag" territory, but it came mighty close. At one point, I was watching, wide-eyed, at the INCHES being taken off my hair and protested. She protested back: "Don't worry, don't worry."

What I had in mind, and what I showed her in the pictures, was something like Diane Baker's do in "Strait-Jacket." A classic long bob with a sweeping bang. What I got instead was... something that doesn't even look like anything I can describe! Not horrible, but definitely NOT what I'd asked for.

The Tuesday continues... With my semi-embarrassing semi-shag, I wandered back onto the rainy streets of Manhattan in search of my 12:30 drug test location. No real drama there. Just peeing in a cup. (Had I ever once been intellectually opposed to workplace drug tests? Yeah... but... I hadn't even smoked pot since the 1990s; my test was going to be clean; I was desperate for work. I didn't let the one-time intellectual dilemma interfere with my desperation. Geez, hope I'm not driven to become an honest-to-god SCAB in the future!)

After peeing into the cup, I was done with my tasks for the day and exhausted from walking around and being fingerprinted and peeing and having a bad haircut and protesting about Maury Povich.

Just wanted then to make my way back to the Port Authority (at 8th and 42nd) and catch my bus back to Weehawken, and grab a burger or something along the way. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon. It was raining and miserable, and even my new haircut didn't look good in store windows. All I wanted was a quick McDonald's burger or a Popeye's strips meal before I went home. Nah, not to be. Whenever I stepped into a McDonald's or a Popeye's, the lines were insanely long, all the tables were filled. I could have waited in a line, but I would have had no place to sit and eat.

It was at THAT point that I had my first sense, in two years, of utter irritation with NYC. All the walking back and forth during the day for ridiculous purposes. And then to not, at the end of it all, be able to simply sit down and have a fucking generic burger.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Empress Theodora: A screenplay's a-brewin'!

A couple of nights ago, I was watching a program about the Dark Ages on the History Channel. Conventional wisdom is that the Dark Ages began with the sack of Rome in 476 by the Germans, but the show pointed out that it was only the Western Roman Empire that fell at that time, and that things weren't so completely "dark" in the Eastern Empire and in other parts of the world.

One dramatic part of the show that caught my attention was that of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian. He was a decent enough fellow, but just 5 years into his reign, there was great unrest in the empire due to his tax policies. One day in 532 when he was watching chariot races between his supporters (the Blues) and their rivals (the Greens) in the Hippodrome that adjoined his palace, the frenzied crowd, instead of yelling at the rival team, began to insult the emperor. Then, horrifyingly, the two chariot teams stopped competing and banded together to storm the palace, accompanied by the frenzied crowd.

In the midst of all the chaos, Justinian (with justification!) freaked out and prepared to make his escape via a sea route open to him. But his wife Theodora put her foot down and insisted on staying, saying: "Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress." She also expressed her willingness to fight and die by quoting an ancient Roman saying, "Royalty is a fine burial shroud." Her speech rallied both Justinian and his supporters, and he was able to muster the balls and the men to quell the insurrection. (Fighting in the city lasted a week; 30,000 died. Justinian went on to rule for another 33 years, until his natural death.)

While watching the show, I was completely caught up in the story of the riots, feeling both the lynch-mob excitement of the crowd and the fear of the emperor. And was completely amazed by the (to me, since I didn't know my history) unexpected turn of events brought on solely by the Empress Theodora's insanely brave last stand.

Who the heck WAS she??

Her story, as I found out after Internet searches the next day, was/is completely amazing, a true "rags-to-riches" story! Her father was a bear-trainer at the Hippodrome. After his death, her mother, a dancer/actress, basically sold the girl (at age 10) into prostitution, in the guise of having her become a stage performer (pretty much the equivalent of "prostitute" at the time). As a teenager, she continued as an actress and became a courtesan (i.e.,"prostitute," just for richer men!). While she was performing, she met Justinian, 2 years before he became emperor. He (also initially from peasant stock) fell madly in love and had her raised to patrician status so he could marry her.

The ancient historian Procopius has plenty to say about her sexual exploits both onstage and privately in his "Secret History" (written in either 550 or 558). Here's one of the milder (!) excerpts:

"Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat."

See this Wikipedia link for even more graphic sexual details, as well as a complete look at her life overall.

My jaw had already dropped in amazement over her empire-saving speech at the riots. Then there was all of the sex stuff in titillating detail thanks to Procopius. Then, after reading further at the Wikipedia link above, I was also very interested to learn what she did once her power, and her husband's, was solidified.

Aside from some very petty personal acts against women of the aristocracy (she forced a couple of them to marry crude plebes far beneath them, though she later tried to make amends by raising the husbands' official status), Theodora actually had a great influence advancing women's rights in Justinian's successful efforts at codifying Roman law. It was fascinating to see her own personal psychological background in play. Empire-wide laws that came into being because of her direct influence: Rapists and "kidnappers of women" were given capital punishment. It became illegal to force women or girls onto the stage or into prostitution.

Theodora died at around age 48, in 548. (Justinian went on to rule until his death in 565, known primarily for his codifying of Roman law and for the "blossoming of Byzantine culture" that occurred during his reign. Oh, yes, and for the 532 riots!) They are both now saints in the Orthodox church.

I can't stop thinking about her! That incredible speech that saved her husband. His love for her and trust in her. Her personal harsh background and her later successful attempts to, because of that harsh psychological/physical past, very drastically help other women and change their lives for the better.

What a goddamn great story! I feel a screenplay a-brewin'...! :)

Friday, June 05, 2009

9.4% and counting!

Wow! The highest unemployment rate since 1984 (when I was 19)! Nice to be part of the ongoing downward economic spiral! Wheeeeee!

Actually, the past 10 days have been heartening and pleasant. (1) It is soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo relaxing not to have to be on that stupid bus to work for over 3 hours a day. Honestly, the last 6 months of 12-hour days have been rather hellish, both mentally and physically.

Physically: With that travel schedule and the stress of having to get up at 5:50am every day (often after only 4 or 5 hours' sleep---my body clock never could adjust to going to bed at 10 or 11pm), I was starting to look like shit: my hair was literally falling out, I put on at least 10 pounds, my skin looked sallow and droopy. (Gee, what a pretty picture!) :)

Mentally: While I was dead tired after getting home each work-day, I could not come to grips with the fact that "this is all there is to my life." So, to feel more like "myself," I'd get online and start drinking. Which would get me pumped up for those few hours... but often "pumped up" meant getting into drastic, stupid arguments with S. So then I'd wake up the next day, not only with a hangover after 4 hours' sleep, but also blearily wondering, "What in the hell did I just say to S.?" Also, knowing since February that there would be no more funding for the job after May 15 made it a complete no-future limbo that I was living in. And the job didn't pay fantastically, so I wasn't getting ahead. I could pay all bills and have a little left over, but not enough to get things I desperately needed, like a new computer, an air-conditioner, et al.

As for the past 10 days... Immediately after my job ended May 15, I was panicked and depressed. I spent the first week doing absolutely nothing but reading depressing poetry (I love Rilke and Plath and Hughes because they're brilliant, but... Plath/Hughes's world views are a little (!) harsh and sad; and Rilke is too in tune with the afterworld and the Universal...his words are beautiful, but ultimately all about loss... which is NOT loss but part of EVERYTHING... which nonetheless bummed me out. I couldn't even get my ass on the phone to sign up for unemployment.) Also during that initial week or so, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to make all of June rent. Thankfully, my mom sent me a check to tide me over (after my dad read this blog and called her!), which took a great mental burden away.

And then: My old place of employment called and asked if I wanted to do some freelance work! Heck yeah! So for the past 10 days or so, I've been working at home either 9-hour days or 2-hour days or not all, but ultimately getting in about 45 hours... which will give me a paycheck of $1100 in a couple of weeks! That, combined with my upcoming Unemployment checks, means that now July rent and bills are covered. One month at a time!

It's been so nice to wake up WHENEVER, maybe do a little grocery shopping when the store is pleasantly deserted at 10 or 11am, then come home and work a little, watch a little TV, do some laundry on a weekday afternoon, crank out more work, drink a little, never having to check the clock to see if I "should" be in bed yet... Of course, that's the end of that freelance project, but more random projects will be coming up. And this big sum of money gave me some much-needed breathing room. (BTW: With all of this leisure, I've dropped a few pounds, my hair is growing back, and my skin tone is reviving, though I'm still a pale-face!)

And then today, I had a job interview in the city with a major global company. The project is only for about 4 weeks full-time, then I'd be part of the pool whenever new work came in. Again, not a permanent panacea, but very much a panacea for the month of August's rent/bills! Did I mention: One month at a time!

The interview went well, I think. My potential boss is a young guy (30s to me is young!) who used to be an actor and started proofing years ago to pay the bills. He's since given up acting and gone corporate, now managing the company's proofing operations globally (aside from NYC, there are also branches in Houston, London, and Hong Kong, among others). It was supposed to be a half-hour interview, but we ended up chatting for over an hour about the fine points of things like "roll out" being two words when used as a verb, and one word, "rollout" when used as a noun! (And how to explain that to a client who's arguing that it's inconsistent and we need to pick one style!) The guy was really on the ball and knew his stuff (i.e., he's a fan of the "Chicago Manual of Style," like I am) but was also funny and down-to-earth.

After weeks of schlepping around the house and 'hood in shorts and no makeup, it was nice to GET DRESSED (complete with perfume and jewelry) and get into TOWN! (BTW: The temp job would be in Midtown... a mere 15 MINUTES away from where I live!! I can't EVEN imagine the insane relaxation of a 15 MINUTE commute to work!) :)

So today was a good day. After my interview, I came home and napped... (ah, napping in the middle of a weekday!) It's been rainy and 60-ish all day (ah, "rainy and 60-ish" in June! Sorry, my-old-home-Texas, but I absolutely DESPISE your 6 months of solid 85 - 100 degree sunny weather!), and when I woke up, I went strolling around beautiful, spring-leafy Weehawken in my snappy red raincoat, buying little things like a candle, a $2 salad from the neighborhood pizza joint. (I always get the same thing on my salad: onions, cucumbers, tomatoes -- NO OLIVES, NO PEPPERS... After one guy made the salad tonight, the counter-guy looked at it and yelled at him: "You put olives on it! NO OLIVES! You need to learn your regular customers!") :)

Speaking of my-old-home-Texas: Today I got the below e-mail from a reader of both this blog and my Joan site:

"...I also read your blog and can totally relate to your current unemployment. I have been unemployed for a month now, after moving back in with family in CT, and am still looking. It is depressing, but you just have to remember it only takes one phone call and one interview to get another job and get back on track. I used to live in NYC until circumstances forced me to move and I've made the decision that once I've found another job here in CT and made a little money, I'm moving back to NY. There really is no other place in the world like it and I miss it terribly. I wish I had stuck it out and never left, but of course I can always go back. My advice to you is STICK IT OUT AS LONG AS YOU CAN in NY before you decide to move back to TX. Really try every avenue of employment before throwing in the towel because if you don't you will regret it."

AMEN! :) :) I KNOW absolutely that I would miss NYC terribly if I couldn't be here. In spite of my recent woes -- no job, my cat dying, losing S. -- my innate/almost biological love for both NYC and Weehawken and this whole area has honestly never wavered. I'm where I want to be.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Journey: Wheel in the Sky

A beautiful song from 1978's "Infinity."

Journey never made a good album after 1979's "Evolution."

No really. I'm not just saying that 'cause it bugged me to no end that the girl I was in love with in 1983, when I was 18, left me for...a huge fan of latter-day '80s generic hit-making Journey. The whole thing hurt awfully for about 5 years, but somewhere in the back of my mind I kept a tiny little ember of reality, or was it fantasy, burning: "Journey really sucks now. How in the world can she like someone who loves that crap?! What -- she doesn't want to hear me play my unlistenable John&Yoko "Two Virgins" again?? Shallow girl!" ;p

Geezus, sometimes I remind myself of the grim Max von Sydow character in "Hannah and Her Sisters"! Yeah, fuck, like anyone's going to get THAT reference either! ;p Oh, the lonely life of not liking '80s Journey and really liking '80s Woody Allen...