Friday, April 29, 2005

A Snark Job Interview

You have to keep trying. You have to keep auditioning, hitting the right notes at the right time, in the face of an often tone-deaf world. Persistence will eventually pay off. So I borrowed a friend's laptop and applied for a job at Nameless Hardware Superstore. The minute I logged off, I put it out of my mind. "All My Children" was on.

Two days later, in the late afternoon, I was sitting in my parents' basement poking through the musty box that held my comic book collection. Between ages 10-13, I was a comic book fanatic. Consumed them like bubble gum, I did. Dropped them completely at age 14, the year I discovered girls. Fickle youth.

The Fantastic Four was always terrific. I was leafing through a 1982 issue of this, my favorite Marvel Comic, drawn by the great John Byrne. This particular issue featured "Invisible Woman," AKA Susan Richards, who was then wearing her blond hair in a short, streamlined 'do that resembled Florence Henderson's on "The Brady Bunch," circa 1971. Yum! Sue was a stunner, clad in the nifty blue F.F. uniform that revealed just enough. . .

Luckily, the phone rang. It reminded this 34-year old man of how sad it was to be having X-rated fantasies about a comic book heroine. I ran upstairs and took the call.

"Hi!" chimed a perky, honey-smooth female voice. "Is John Left there?"

"In the flesh," I answered.

"This is Tammy from Nameless Hardware Superstore," she said. "We got your application. Are you still interested in a position?"

You know what I said.

"Great!" Tammy said. "Could you come to our Anytown store tomorrow morning at ten for an interview?"

You know what I said.

"Great!" Tammy said. "I'll see you tomorrow morning at ten, then!"

"Yes," I said, "I'll be there! 10AM! See you then!" Did you ever notice how much of phone conversation, especially business phone conversation, is such literal and obvious horse poop? It sounds like two old coots yelling into them new-fangled talkin' machines between Eddie Albert's farm and the General Store on "Green Acres".
But I digress. . .

The next morning, I did my by-now established pre-interview prep. Newly fresh and clean, I jumped into my "Interview Casual" ensemble: navy blue V-neck sweater, black Dockers and black loafers that were still shiny from the last time I polished them, for great-Aunt Bertha's funeral. The shirt and tie, I figured, were too "uppity" for Nameless Hardware Superstore. Had to look like a Regular Guy. Whoever he is.

As I drove off to my appointment, I was calm, cool and optimistic. Employment would soon be mine. But unbeknownst to me then, I was steaming straight into the dark and forbidding waters known as the Snark Interview!

I surprised myself by getting to the store on time. I only do that, it seems, when it's not required. Like when I'm employed somewhere. Upon entering the store, I told a teenybopper handing out ad flyers why I was there.

"Yes sir," he grinned. "Let me take you to Tammy's office. Follow me." The kid led me through the airplane hanger-sized building to an office area in back. The place was crawling with customers, mainly gray-haired guys in bib overalls or jeans and lumberjack shirts. The smells of cedar and machine oil hung heavy in the air.

Damn, I thought as I trailed him. These kids today(at least this one) are so polite and industrious. Why can't they be like my generation---lazy, smartassed and sullen? If they were, I'd have found another job weeks ago.

The flyer-hander-outer escorted me to a closet-sized office just off the salesfloor. The office door was closed. The kid disappeared as I peeked through a tiny window in that door. A young woman, no more than 23, was seated at a small desk strewn with papers. She, the aforementioned Tammy, had turned her chair to face the door. She---wait for it---was the spitting image of Susan Richards from The Fantastic Four! Except that Tammy's hair was brown, not blond. And she was wearing a green Major Hardware Superstore shirt, not the nifty blue F.F. uniform. And, I assume, she couldn't turn invisible or move stuff with telekinesis. Yeah, like coincidences never happen to you.

For a moment, I thought it was sweet of her to sit staring at the door, waiting for me to arrive. But she wasn't waiting for me. She was talking to some guy whose back was facing the door. The reversed Yankees cap perched on his head told me that he was about as old as the flyer-hander-outer. Tammy was interviewing him. Okay.

What did I have plenty of, if not time? So I plopped myself down in a chair, conveniently located outside's Tammy's office, and I waited. And waited. According to my watch, an hour passed. Then twenty minutes more. I started getting pissed. American Movie Classics had advertised a "Billy Jack" kung fu film marathon for that day, slated to kickoff at noon. It would take me about a half-hour to get home. Cruel woman! Had she no heart?

An eternity later, the office door opened. "Thanks for coming in! Take it easy!" Tammy's voice sounded even sweeter in person. Watching the guy leave, I confirmed my suspicions---baseball cap, puberty mustache, ratty Slipknot T-shirt and filthy cut-offs---typical j.v. doofus. He'd probably be my manager.

"John Left?" Tammy asked, looking deeply into my eyes. She had a heart-shaped face, ice-green eyes, full red lips---she was Invisible Woman sprung straight out of the comic book. "Come in and have a seat!" Oh, what I would've given for a bottle of peroxide just then.

I thanked Tammy and did as she asked. The chair was still hot and sticky from Puberty Boy's rump. Tammy sat at her desk. She pulled a file folder out of a desk drawer and opened it. "Thanks for waiting, dude. Sorry about the delay."

STRIKE #1. "Dude"? Have you ever heard your doctor, dentist, accountant or anyone who was supposed to know what they're doing say "dude"? If you do, run for the hills. "Dude" is the mark of a single-digit IQ.

Tammy glanced over my application. "Your work history is impressive. How long have you been in retail?"

"About ten years," I said. "Didn't plan it that way. I just fell in love with serving the public." Actually, I could never find that Real Job I was always looking for. Oh, and I feared change. And failure. "I have extensive experience in both small and large stores---"

"Ever drive a forklift?" interrupted Tammy.

"Uh, no. Did I check that box on the application? I shouldn't have."

She pointed to a spot on the page with her index finger. "Nope, you didn't. So that means you have no forklift experience at all?"

I crossed my legs and wiped the flopsweat off my brow. "None. That's why I didn't check that box on the application." Keep Manhattan, just gimme that countryside.

"Wow. You never drove a forklift. That sucks!" Tammy was scaring the crap out of me. But her lips moved sensually when she talked.

"It does? Why?"

Tammy closed the file folder and leaned back in her chair. "Dude,'cause this opening is for a forklift driver."

Pregnant pause.

I cleared my throat. "But Tammy, I applied for a sales job. I'm a salesman---I wrote it right on my application. Why did you call me in here for a job I'm not qualified to do?"

Tammy wrinkled her perky little nose. "It's an opportunity to grow. You would be selling sometimes, outside in our Garden Department. You'd get plenty of fresh air, and think of the tan you'd have by August! But mostly, you'd be using a forklift to move, like, 100-pound bags of peat moss and stuff."

"Maybe you misunderstood me. Why did you call---"

"'Cause I figured you could do it, all right?" Tammy was actually pouting. "It's not like we won't train you."

STRIKE #2. She used the T-word. In retail, "training" is an abstract concept, much like love---frequently discussed, rarely experienced, and often hazardous to those who seek it out. What's a good analogy for the typical retail training program? Imagine you can't swim. Someone puts you in a motorboat and drives you 5 miles out into the ocean. They throw you overboard and shout out instructions for doing the dog-paddle, just before they drive away. You're left to swim back alone. In a typhoon. Get back to shore by Friday or you're fired.

You're right. I should've bolted right then. But I needed the paycheck (who doesn't?), so I tried reasoning with her.

"Tammy, I'm a veteran salesman. Put me anywhere on your salesfloor and in a week, I'll be selling drill bits and furnance filters like they were ice cubes in the Sahara. I can make lots of money for you."

"Awww, John, you're being a pain in the butt!" Tammy pulled a push-pin out of her desk blotter and used it to clean her nails. "We only hire Can-dos for the Nameless Hardware Superstore team! We're allergic to Cannots! Which one are you?"

I breathed deeply and thought hard. My car insurance and health insurance would be due soon. "Well, I'm a fast learner and you promise to train me, right?"

Tammy's pillowy lips bloomed into a wide smile of gleaming white teeth. "Certainly! We want to help you help us!"

I chuckled nervously. "Then how could I refuse a growth opportunity like this? I'm sure I'll figure out that forklift in no time!" Tammy didn't realize it, but she was talking to a guy who, in junior high school, was known as Mr. Fumblethumbs, because he carried all his textbooks with him in a dufflebag. Mr. Fumblethumbs, you see, never mastered the combination lock on his locker. But forklifts aren't combination locks, are they? Are they?

Tammy reached into a pile of papers and pulled out some forms. "This is the paperwork for the drug test and directions to the clinic where you'll take it. Be sure to drink lots of water, 'cause they'll need a big sample---"

"Wait," I said, pointing at her. "What about salary, hours and benefits?"

Tammy looked like she wished she could turn invisible. "Uh, you'll discuss payment in your follow-up interview with the store manager. The forklift driver works the early bird shift, 4-11AM. We don't have benefits for this job."

I nearly choked. "What? 4AM? For a full-time gig with no benefits?"

She pressed the drug test forms to her chest. "Sorry, but this isn't full-time. It's part-time. . ."

I shook my head. "But I checked the full-time box---"

". . .until August," Tammy continued. "Gardening season is over by then. If you work hard, I'm sure you might get picked up by another department. Maybe."

STRIKE #3. The old switcheroo. Wave full-time bait under unemployed guy's nose and reel him in for seasonal labor. Work him like a dog for three months and then, kick him out when the leaves start to turn. Nameless Hardware Superstore was out. Maybe.

I still had one trick up my sleeve. If I played it right, I could parlay it into a full-time indoor sales job. I locked my hands behind my head and glared at Tammy.

Her eyes widened and she slumped in her chair. "You okay, dude?"

"Am I okay, dude? OH, I AM A-OKAY, DUDE! You drag me in here for a job I'm not, I AM NOT, qualified to do! I offer you my skills, MY PROVEN SKILLS, you offer me promises of training. TRAINING YOU SAY!" I raised my voice with each repetition.

Tammy cupped a hand over her nose and mouth. "John, chill, please!"

"I said full-time! FULL! TIME! FULL-TIME! Do you say part-time? NOOOOO, Invisible Woman says seasonal. SEASONAL!" I had seen the king of the slow burn, Andy Garcia, do this in a bunch of films. It looked so cool and intimidating. And Garcia always got his way. Why couldn't I do it?

"John, please pipe down! The customers will hear you! Maybe we can work something out," Tammy said, with a finger over her quivering lips.

It was looking good for me. Then, I had a moron attack and revealed my hand.

"Is this, IS THIS, how Nameless Hardware Superstore has kept its good name for umpteen years? By hiring sweatbags like Puberty Boy for the cushy jobs and dumping the sh*t jobs on skilled, SKILLED WORKERS LIKE ME?!"

My eyes met Tammy's. She was giving me the Look. It's that subzero, laserlike gaze a woman hits a guy with when she's figured out the guy's bullsh*t. I froze instantly. Tammy gathered up the drug test forms and my file and put them back in the drawer. In doing so, her eyes, hard and merciless, never broke away from mine. This wasn't the movies and I wasn't Andy Garcia.

"To answer your questions, Mr. Left," Tammy said coolly, "I don't know how Nameless Hardware Superstore has kept its good name for 'umpteen' years. I've only worked here six months, since graduation. And I didn't hire 'Puberty Boy.'"

"N-no?" I stammered. The Look had stolen my Garcia voice and my guts.

"No. He wasn't even an applicant, just a customer. His sister and I went to high school together. He stopped in to say hi and we were just talking about old times and mutual friends."

"You were?"

"Yes. Now, Mr. Left?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Get your ass out of my office."

I was moved, out the door and through the building, by an unseen and unyielding force. Invisible Woman's telekinesis was pushing me across the floor. I was helpless against it.

The flyer-hander-outer was still stationed by the exit. He was still grinning, too.

"Looking forward to working with you, sir!" he chirped.

"Bite me," I grumbled, as an invisible hand shoved me through the door.


For clarification: This, friends, was a snark interview. It occurs when an employer ropes in an unemployed applicant under vague, but essentially false, pretenses. Once inside, the employer tries to snooker the applicant into taking a position, typically a short-term sh*t job, the applicant is unqualified to do and can't succeed at, mainly because it's a short-term sh*t job nobody else wants. This way, the employer is complaint-proof in firing the applicant at the end of this short term. Like the "snark hunt" it's derived from, the only thing accomplished in a snark interview is wasted time---the applicant's, of course. Beware. Don't get snarked.

I did, incidentially, get home in time to see "Billy Jack." It was a Saturday and that was my third interview that week---all of them snark interviews. I wasn't desperate. Yet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Swimming to "Gray's Anatomy" and the Church of PostHumous Appreciation

When I was working, I rarely watched TV. Maybe one or two hours a day at best. Name any hit show of the past 10 years and chances are, I missed it. Being the blue-collar egghead I am, I believed that most TV was crap. Now, during my unexpected "sabbatical," I've had more time to channel-surf and I've found that I was wrong. Nearly all TV is crap.

Still, there are a few grains of wheat among the chaff. Last night, I came across the Independent Film Channel, a basic cable selection that's easily forgotten, like the Sci-Fi Channel or C-SPAN, unless you're into that kind of stuff. The screen was filled with the image of a man's head and shoulders silhouetted against a blood-red background. The man started to speak and, even though his face was obscured, I recognized him instantly. It was the late actor/monologuist Spalding Gray.

Yeah, I know. The Web is full of tributes and remembrances (A quick Google search can fill in the uninitiated). This isn't one of them. I had been a Gray fan while I was in college, but I hadn't followed his career much since then. After his suicide in early 2004, I purposely distanced myself from his films and books. You see, I didn't want to join the "Church of PostHumous Appreciation."

You're either a member or you ain't and you very well know it. The CPHA, which has no central headquarters, no written charter and no members' list, inevitably pops up in the wake of a famous artist's death. I've witnessed the CPHA in action 3 times myself. 1.) In 1973, in the form of a Goldblatt's salesman who pushed a Jim Croce record into my puzzled grandmother's hands. Buy it, he urged her, because it would be "worth something someday." 2.) In 1995, as a retail drone, when I was steamrolled by a group of tearful teenaged girls rushing to buy up every Blind Melon ("No Rain" and the Bee Girl, remember?) CD on shelf because the lead singer OD'd on cocaine. 3.) Earlier this year, in the guise of a friend who ordered a copy of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Why, I asked him, did he want to read the book now, when he never expressed interest in any of Thompson's works when the author was alive? "Are you kidding?" he said. "Because Hunter S. Thompson was a genius, that's why!" CPHA members, all of them.

After the hoopla subsides, the CPHA disappears as quickly as it appeared. Who knows where these people go and what they do with all those records, CDs, books, etc.? Who knows if those things are ever "worth something," beyond personal worth? What changes the value of an artist's output, simply because the artist dies? Why run out and anxiously snap up stuff you wouldn't have touched the day before? I didn't get it and wanted no part of it. It weirded me out, frankly. I didn't buy any new Spalding Gray videos or books. The ones I had remained untouched.

The film IFC was playing that night was "Gray's Anatomy (1996)," directed by Steven Soderbergh. In summary: Gray discovers that one of his eyes is afflicted with a degenerative disorder that can only be corrected by surgery. Extremely scalpel-shy, Gray tries to avoid the operation by seeking out "alternative cures." This search takes him to the clinic of a New York nutritionist, a Native American "sweat lodge" and to the operating table of a Filipino "psychic surgeon," among other options. No, I won't spoil the ending for you. I had seen "Gray's Anatomy" once, years before. But honestly, I didn't want to watch it again.

It's not that "Gray's Anatomy" is a bad film. It doesn't trump his masterpiece, "Swimming to Cambodia (1987)," but it comes close. I didn't want to see it again because listening to Gray talk about health, sickness and mortality would remind me of his 2001 car crash, in which he sustained the severe head and foot injuries which ultimately led to his suicide. I didn't want to go there. I was ready to change the channel. But I didn't.

I watched the rest of the film, because Spalding hooked me again. What struck me first was that this wasn't some college fixation of mine, like Winona Ryder or Hootie and the Blowfish. You know, stuff that leaves you wondering what you were thinking 10 years later. No, his voice was for real. His voice had an Everyman quality to it, like he could be your neighbor in the next cubicle or someone one restaurant booth down from yours. Still, the voice also had a uniqueness to it, a trait that would make you lean out of that cubicle or booth to hear what he was saying. It's what kept me watching that film.

In addition to his voice, Spalding Gray was a damn good storyteller. In this monologue, there was drama, but it was mixed with enough humor to balance it off, like coffee and cream in a just-right cup. The humor was sharp but never vicious, and usually directed at himself. He addressed well-known topics that, through his eyes, appeared radically fresh. The monologue, despite its structure and focus, sounded as casual and effortless as dinnertime conversation. Friends, these are skills that are born, not made, and only sharpened through years of effort.

Above all that, there was familiarity. Gray made his audience feel like he was talking to them one-on-one. It seemed like he was confiding in them. Did you have problems, phobias, or even neuroses? Did you make mistakes or go on wild goose chases? That was okay, Gray said, because so did he---and then some---and that didn't stop him from getting to where he needed to be. Spalding Gray, through his art, made his audience feel less flawed and less alone.

As the credits rolled on "Gray's Anatomy," I finally figured out the CPHA. Why did they run out and buy up all of a dead artist's work? To preserve the sense of intimacy the artist created through that work. Because there isn't going to be any more of that work (no, goodies unearthed from "the vault" don't count). Or maybe out of puzzlement due to a larger question that can't be answered.

Why are the artist's gifts that sustain us, the audience, not enough to sustain the artist himself?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A Note on the Name Change

You may notice something different about the blog today. Yes, Kindred Souls, sharp observation. The title has changed. I take full responsibility. I thought I was being so creative, making a play on my surname like that. It turns out that at least 10 other columns had the same title, in subjects ranging from baseball to political commentary. And yet, Left is my name. What to do?

So I've taken the path of least resistance. Hope you don't mind. That, and the title "Rantings of An OverEducated Bum" was already taken.

Thanks for your time and interest; I'll check in again soon.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Of Social Formulas and Old Farts

"We're accepting applications, but we don't have any openings right now," said the Customer Service Desk jockey through his screw-you smile. He had to be all of 19 years old.

Yeah, I filled one out anyway. You never know when one of the teenyboppers could bolt from Barnes and Noble for the greener pastures (and riper eye-candy) of Old Navy or Tower Records. I'm getting good at the application thing. I've memorized my entire work history since 1997.

It had been a busy day for this unemployed guy. I'd sat up late the night before, stuffing envelopes with resumes and cover letters. That morning, after visiting the post office, I made the rounds of the malls and shopping centers where I had yet to underwhelm them with my credentials. "Survival-level jobs" is what they call them at the Employment & Training Center. Aren't they all, I say. It was now late afternoon. Barnes and Noble was my last stop of the day.

I didn't want to annoy my parents any more than I already had. Of course, they were supportive, taking me in and all. But I could tell they were disappointed. And after having me underfoot for over a month, just a little ticked off. I had disrupted their set routine, after all. I figured I'd give them a break and pass some time hanging out in that outpost of High Culture.

I've always been a bookworm. I won't bore you, Kindred Souls, with warm n' fuzzy tales of the Life of the Mind. I'll leave that to "Reading Rainbow" (Is that show still on, LeVar Burton?) or to at least the future, when I'm running low on subject matter. It's just that reading has always been a way to turn off the daily hassle and flak and escape to a more hospitable place, if only between my ears. And I needed a bit of that just then.

So I grabbed a random book from the shelves and headed over to the only empty chair I could find, one facing the magazine rack. I'd like to say that I spent the time reading Chekhov's short stories, or the new edition of Plath's Ariel . No, Johnny Culture here was absorbed by a delightful little collection called The Hollywood Book of Death. This is, basically, an anthology of stories detailing how celebrities (from the silent movie era to today) happened to leave this world of ours. No, I'm not hung up on celebrities or the macrabre. Yes, it is a sensationalistic, tragic and often morbid read. But take any average American, ages 21-65, and ask them if they knew that Montgomery Clift had an overactive thyroid gland, or that Auntie Em from "The Wizard of Oz" committed suicide. See if they're not interested. I'll bet you're checking right now. They have it, incidentally.

Anyway, while I was absorbed in tales of Elvis and Peter Duel and Clara Bow, a guy, a woman, and two young girls (roughly about ten years old) walked over and started browsing the magazine rack. Or I should say, the kids did. The adults planted themselves in chairs and started blabbing, leaving the kids on their own. Back in more innocent times, say the late 1970s and 1980s, people used to keep their voices down when they were in public places. Not today. The guy and the woman proceeded to talk like they were in their living room. I could soon tell (unwillingly) that these folks were not husband and wife, possibly divorced. The woman was innocently recounting her day to him. He was hitting on her like Bob Crane (also mentioned in the book). It sounded something like this:

She: "Yeah, so then I dropped off some blouses at the dry cleaners. . ."

He: "If they look anything like the one you're wearing, they must be beautiful. Lavender's a pretty color on you. . ."

She: "Then I had my car greased and oiled at Jiffy Lube. . ."

He: "Over on 5th and Main? Isn't that right next to that trendy new club, Noplace Else to Go? You and I should drop by there some time. . ."

She: "Janey's looking for books about soccer. She plays on a pee-wee league team. They have practice on Thursdays and Saturdays. . ."

He: "What a coincidence! My Lisa wants a book about drawing. Hey, this Saturday, why don't I drop Lisa off at Janey's soccer field? Lisa could practice drawing pictures of Janey's soccer team, while Janey practiced soccer. Meanwhile, I could pick you up and we could have lunch at the Holiday Inn. . ."

You get the picture. In the meantime, the girls were running through the store completely unsupervised. In their ten-year old minds, the bookstore was no different from the mall:

Janey: "HEY LISA!" (bellowed from halfway across the building)

Lisa: "YEAH, JANEY?"

Janey: "LOOK AT THIS! (waving book like an airport signal flag) ISN'T R.L. STINE COOL???!!"


Janey: "REAAAALLY?! LEMME SEEEEE!!!" (sprints across the store at full speed)

Lisa: "HELL NO! THIS IS MINE! (hides magazine behind her back) GET YOUR OWN!"

Damn it, couldn't these kids see that I was trying to find out why the "Chico and the Man" guy killed himself? Still, I tried to be tolerant. I sat there and pretended that two girls screaming "Bitch! No, you're a bitch! No, you are!" wouldn't distract me from my book. They weren't my kids. Mind your own business and save yourself from headaches, that's my policy.

And it was easy to ignore them. I mean, the fact that Martha Raye was hit by enemy fire not once, but TWICE, while entertaining our troops in Vietnam is darn fascinating, right? But then something happened that I couldn't ignore. Long story made short: Janey and Lisa wanted to see a movie magazine on an upper shelf. So the two girls got a step-stool that you find on the salesfloor for employee use. They took turns trying to reach the magazine. At some point, one of the girls went and got another stool and then, both were stretching for the mag. Still not satisfied, the girls then started climbing up the flimsy wooden shelves to get to the desired title. If they had, God forbid, fallen, they would've hit a hardwood floor. What did the parents, seated not 10 feet away, do?

She: "Uh-huh, so I picked up the new Brad Pitt DVD at Target last week. He's hot."

He: "Say, doesn't he have a new film out now? I think it's playing at the mall. We could see it Saturday, during soccer practice. The seats in that theater are so wide, two people can fit into one. . ."

Okay, so it was Obvious Man to the rescue. I cleared my throat and said, "Excuse me, girls, but I think you should get down from there. Those shelves are pretty flimsy. You might fall and get hurt." The girls, looking at me like I was Bela Lugosi or someone, did climb off of the shelves. But that wasn't the end of it. Suddenly, I heard voices and turned to face them.

He: "Hey! Who are you to boss MY kid around?"

She: "Janey? What did that weirdo try to do to you? Come to Mommy, darling!"

He: "Stay away from our kids, nutso! What, do you get a thrill from bossing little kids around? I'm her father, let ME worry about her! Besides, this is America, and my kid can do what she damn well pleases!"

She: "I'm getting the manager! (Storms off toward the front counter, leading Janey by the hand) Where do these people come from? In a bookstore, no less!"

He: "Yeah, (following woman, leading Lisa by the hand) let's have this BUM thrown out! If he's still here in five minutes, I'm gonna beat him like an egg!"

(Lisa, trailing Daddy, raises her delicate hand and gives me the single-finger salute.)

I left The Hollywood Book of Death sitting open on my chair and made a quick exit. I'm a Borders customer these days. I don't mean to criticize parents. I don't have kids, but I realize that being a parent is tough. I don't mean to criticize today's kids for being kids. When I was 8 years old, I was kicked out of my great-uncle Fred's funeral for throwing Butterscotch disks at my cousin. How could I criticize Janey and Lisa for their misbehavior? Then, what do I mean?

On my way out, I remembered spying a book on the clearance shelves, a novel I had read in college. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I recalled a line, probably the most famous line, from this novel: "Something is wrong with our social formulas." That's it, in a nutshell.

Or maybe I'm just getting to be an old fart.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Catch 22, 34, 69. . .Hike!

I worked the damn job for 5 years. I was a good little retail drone. Showed up on time, followed the rules, sold a lot of cheaply made, over-priced crap. And in exchange for that, I got psycho bosses, long hours, bad working conditions and a "salary freeze" that left me without a raise for 2 years. Then one day, the store manager decided the janatorial staff was a "needless expense" we could do without. Cleaning the bathrooms, I was told, was now my responsiblity. Joy.

I wonder which customer insisted on throwing that used toilet paper in the garbage can instead of in the toilet? Whoever he was, he was the last straw. I complained to the store manager. She told me to shut my trap and empty the can. I told her to do what Johnny Paycheck recommended in that great song that's become a cliche. The euphoric high lasted about an hour. Then, reality set in.

Fast forward about 2 months. Here I am, a 34-year old college-educated dork who chucked a full-time job with no job prospects on the horizon. Yes, I've moved back in with the 'rents. . .I feel like Albert Brooks in that movie where Debbie Reynolds plays his mom. Daytime TV is losing its novelty and the want ads are looking incredibly barren.

My nerve endings are crackling with a lot of feelings right now. One is guilt. I know that there are millions of good people out there, with families to support, who can't find work. I know there are just as many good people out there who are stuck in horrible drudge jobs that they can't afford to quit. I feel for you all, I truly do. I know what I did seems very selfish and self-indulgent. Maybe it was.

Another thing I'm feeling is fear. I do sit up at night wondering where my life is going, how bad I've screwed myself, and when this is going to resolve itself. Your job is a big part of your persona. I didn't just quit a job, I quit a persona---one that, in spite of its flaws, I was pretty fond of. Now I have to make a new one. That's going to take time and effort.

But one other feeling I have is justification. After months of griping, I've finally cut the crap and made a break for it, whatever "it" will turn out to be. If I succeed or fail, it will be on my terms. I don't believe I did the wrong thing. It was truly a catch 22 situation. Is it better to be an employed stooge---abused and unappreciated---or be unemployed and have self-respect? The answer is open to interpretation, but I've opted for the latter, thank you very kindly.

So I decided to get me one of these blogs. If every semi-literate rock star can have one, why not me? Yes, names have been changed to protect the innocent---and the guilty. Let's just say that 98% of it's true. The weekly posts will pull me out of my own head and giving me something to look forward to. But two requirements. One, I'm only doing this until I get another job or get bored with it, whichever comes first. And two, I'm not going to turn this into a bitchandwhineapalooza. I'm going to address other topics, not just the Jay & Silent Bob/Big Lebowski slacker cool b.s. that's been done and done and done for the past 10+ years. I'm going to try to keep things on the positive side. I hope you will, too.

So right now, it's up in the air. After all is said and done, this might even turn out to be a positive thing. Maybe even one of those "spiritual journeys" that Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra are always referring to. Not likely, with a guy who has religiously blown off church for over six years now. But you never know.