Saturday, April 22, 2006

Right Person, Wrong Time

One thing about this whole experience: it forces you to get to know yourself. The job search had kicked my ass that week. No call-backs. No leads. Just applying, applying, and applying. By Thursday, I had to get away. My favorite retreat? The local multiplex. The movie: “Lucky Number Slevin”.

This is NOT going to be one of my famous film reviews. I’ll only say that someone in Hollywood finally paid attention in Storytelling 101 class. Sharp dialogue, quirky characters and a plot full of enough twists to keep you guessing makes for a fine moviegoing experience. Not to mention a great group of actors. Kudos to all involved.

I liked “Lucky Number Slevin” so much, in fact, that I saw it a second time—for free. I cleared out as the film ended and the teenaged cleanup crew arrived. I hung out in the men’s room for about ten minutes or so, doing everything one can do in a men’s room. Then, I just sat on one of the plush benches the theater provided in the hall outside of Theater # 452, where “Slevin” was showing. Ten minutes after that, I went back into the now-vacant show space. Taking a seat in a middle row, I pulled out the copy of Asimov’s Foundation that I’m currently engrossed in and began to read. The next show started in a half-hour. Yes, I know it’s less than honest; so is charging $10 per ticket.

“What are you reading?” said a female voice behind me.

“Um, Asimov,” I said, picking my startled eyeballs up off the floor. “Foundation. Where did you come from?” I turned to notice that she was an attractive, slim Asian girl, roughly 22 years old. She wore a gray ‘hoodie’ and a form-fitting pair of black slacks.

“I just crouched down in the top aisle after the show ended,” she said. “The ushers never come up that far while they’re cleaning. I get free movies all the time that way.”

Long story made short: her name was “Katie.” She was 24 years old and playing hooky from her classes at a local college that day. She asked me my story; I used the ‘freelance copyeditor working from home’ speech. She bought it. By then, a couple of senior citizens shuffled into the theater and “Slevin” started again. As the show began, Katie moved down and sat next to me. A couple of times, she playfully nudged me in the arm as she laughed at Josh Hartnett’s and Lucy Liu’s wisecracks. When Bruce Willis graphically dispatched an opponent of his with a gun, Katie grabbed my wrist and said “Oooh!” It was pretty obvious that she was lonely.

After the second showing of “Slevin,” I gathered up my jacket and book and started to leave.

“Hey? Where’re you going?” Katie asked, touching my shoulder.

“Home,” I said. “I think two viewings is enough, don’t you?”

“What’s your rush? Wanna go for coffee next-door?”

There was a Starbuck’s next to the multiplex.

“Well, I don’t know,” I stalled, trying to remember if Mommy had lent Johnny enough allowance for a hot chocolate.

“Come on,” she smiled, “my treat.”

Damn, I thought, this girl MUST be lonely. No woman ever offered to pay for anything for me, not even girlfriends I’d dated for years. And Katie did have a nice smile—straight white teeth and the salmon-colored, bee-stung lips I’ve admired on many Asian beauties. How could I refuse?

We repaired to the local mega-chain caffeine distributor. Katie ordered a chai tea latte; I, feeling adventurous, went with a true man’s drink—a small vanilla ‘steamer.’ We took a booth by the window.

My whole adult life, it’s been the same story. Women, for some reason, love to talk to me. Notice I didn’t say “talk with me”. They just love the way I listen. Usually, I don’t mind. Women are infinitely better conversationalists than men. They instinctively know how to weave the most mundane events into ripping good stories. This time, as much as I tried, I’m sad to say that I simply wasn’t into it.

Let me emphasize that it was not Katie’s fault, it was mine. Katie was an intelligent, charming woman. The problems were with her story and the moment at which she happened to catch me.

I should’ve recognized Katie as a comrade-in-arms. She described herself as “confused” about her “life-plan”. She was six weeks away from graduating with a Business Administration degree she wanted like a hole in her head. Mom and Dad, very ambitious types, had “pushed” her into it. Katie was a movie freak and would’ve preferred majoring in cinematography. It’s true that the girl recognized that the makers of “Slevin” had borrowed more than a few pages from Quentin Tarantino’s book. She even quoted the same Biblical passage Samuel L. Jackson had famously recited in “Pulp Fiction”—as loudly as Mr. Jackson had too, to the chagrin of everyone sitting around us. I must admit that I was falling for her. She asked me what my favorite part of “Slevin” was.

“I only saw the film for one reason,” I said. “Lucy Liu. My all-time favorite actress.”

Katie smiled that delicious smile of hers. “Horn dog. Still, I see your point.” She ran her fingers through her long, straight black hair. “I’m often told that I look like her, even though I’m Filipino and she’s Chinese. Hey, let me ask you something. . .what’s it like?”

“What’s what like?”

Katie looked at me intensely, as if trying to read something from my face. “Having it all together. You seem so cool and collected. You know what you are and where you’re going.”

“Well, uh, I,” I stammered, and you know exactly why.

She rested her chin on the ball of her hand, still staring at me. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-five. Why?”

“I can’t wait to be your age. All I have now are questions, things I’m unsure of and I hate it. By the time I’m your age, I’ll know what you know. There’ll be no more questions. By that time, I’ll have it all figured out. I’ll be as cool and collected as you are.”

At that moment, I could’ve gone one of two ways. I could’ve taken the honest route and told her the Way It Is. How you never, no matter what your age, never really figure it out. That life is like one of those old movie serials, in which you’re always left waiting to find out what happens next. I could’ve told her how I was, at that moment, a thousand country miles from being cool and collected. That “having it figured out” is an illusion you leave behind on your college campus, along with thoughts like never selling out and pursuing your passion, “no matter what.” Or I could’ve been Mr. Supportive, and told her, like Elvis once sang in a crappy movie of the same name, “to follow that dream wherever that dream may lead. . .” But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to go either way with Katie. So I took a third option.

I glanced at my watch. “Hey! Look at the time! I promised a friend I’d. . .help him. . .drain the crankcase on his ’71 Dodge Charger. I’ve gotta book or he’ll be pissed.” I finished my vanilla steamer and stood up. “Thanks for the steamer.”

“Are you sure?” Katie asked, anxiously. She stood up, too. “Couldn’t you hang for, like, another half-hour or so? Why cut off a good conversation?” Her chestnut eyes were wide and yearning. She really wanted me to stay. I really wanted to, too.

“Naw,” I lied. “This guy’s an old buddy and I promised him. Can’t break a promise to a pal, right?”

Katie dug into her purse and pulled out a pen. She scribbled on a napkin and handed it to me. I looked at the napkin; it was a phone number.

“That’s my cell,” she said, drawing close to me. “Call me anytime between four and nine. You’re a really cool guy and a good talker.” She rested a hand on my shoulder and kissed me, gently, on the cheek. Katie’s lips were very soft and warm. “Let’s keep in touch, huh?”

I patted Katie on the shoulder. “Oh, thanks. I will. You know it.” Without pausing, I stuck the napkin in my pocket, turned and walked out of the coffee house.

I still have the napkin. I haven’t called the number—I don’t know if I will. But I can’t bring myself to throw the napkin away, either.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Los Azul del Taller (The Workshop Blues)

Damn, this is getting stale. The job search thing, that is.

For the last week, I've spent the majority of each day at the local Career Center, taking "workshops" (i.e., one-day classes) on the fine art of locating employment. They’re free, thank God. I've done workshops on writing resumes and cover letters, networking, negotiating salaries and even a "mock" videotaped job interview. What did Johnny learn?

☻ When speaking, I shouldn’t use so many hand gestures. I look like I’m flagging in 747’s on a runway at O’Hare Field.

☻ When speaking, I shouldn’t say “um” when I pause to think of an answer. I don’t just say “um”. I say, “UUUUUUUUMMMMMMMM. . .” which makes me sound not like the careful, thoughtful job applicant I mean to be, but rather, a Hoover upright vacuum cleaner with a clogged suction hose.

☻ Like Sting once sang, I’m not alone in being alone. Those workshops were chockfull o’ folks in need of jobs. The smallest (the mock interview) had eight people in it; the largest (resume writing) boasted a class of twenty-five students. Most of them were in their middle to late forties. Most were white-collar or skilled workers. Examples: a former college recruiter who had been job-hunting for 20 months, a machine parts salesman with 10+ years experience and a master printer, who specialized in silkscreen printing. Do me a favor. If you hear anyone say the economy is recovering, yell “BULLSHIT!” just before you kick them in the ass. I’m kidding, of course. Don’t kick them in the ass. (Unless you truly feel like doing so.)

☻ In the resume writing workshop, I met a 30ish woman I’ll call “Dulcinea.” She was laid off from a clerical job six months ago. A recent college grad currently working part-time as a telemarketer, Dulcinea is trying to get a job in the medical transcription field. She and I struck up a pleasant conversation, in which she mentioned the other workshops she’d signed up for that week. By “coincidence”—i.e., frantic last-minute rescheduling once I’d found out which workshops—I had signed up for the same exact ones! How kooky!

Did I mention that Dulcinea is single? And has a spicy Brazilian accent? And bears a striking resemblance to actress Salma Hayek? ¡Muy atractivo! ¡Despiertan a Juan muy!

Sometimes, you have to make your own good news. I have two other workshops with Dulcinea next week.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dumbass Me!

Holy crap! Not a month after I set my new posting schedule, I went and phawked it up! I said I'd update ye olde bloge on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. I wasn't supposed to post last Saturday. I was supposed to post this Saturday! Dumbass me!

Anybody who could screw up his own posting schedule must be on a mental par with the likes of, say, Bowzer from "Sha-Na-Na". Sorry loyal readers (both of you), I didn't mean to confuse you. From now on, before I cut loose with another rant, I promise to check a calendar first.

If I stick to my schedule, my next new posting will be up two weeks from this Saturday, on April 22, 2006. That's Earth Day, in case anyone still observes Earth Day.

As Bowzer might say, "Be there or be square."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Greens and Grays and the Hazards of Being 'Overqualified'

“Well, yes,” she said apologetically, looking over my resume, “you've got a solid background and lots of experience, Mr. Left. But unfortunately, you’re really overqualified for this position.”

I don’t know exactly how many job interviews I’ve been on in the last year. I’d have to check my interview log, which I’ve titled The Book of Broken Promises and Battered Dreams. But I’ve heard that word—“overqualified”—more times than Billy Joel’s been asked to take a breathalyzer test. The very sound of the word makes me cringe.

Whenever I go on a job interview, whether it’s in an office or a retail environment, I always ask to take a tour of the workplace. This gives me a chance to get a sense of the company’s work environment and the types of people the company hires. Based on the kinds of employees I’ve seen on my recent workplace tours, I don’t understand how being “overqualified” could ever be viewed as a liability.

Consistently, I’ve seen workplaces filled with two types of workers. The first I call the Green Type. Green, as in “greener than tomatoes in June”. Workers of this type all seem to be between the ages of 19 and 23. They typically have a wad of fluorescent-colored gum stuck in their cheeks and a large Starbuck’s cup in their hands. The females are typically drenched in perfumes which are dispensed in aerosol cans. Males typically reek of body odor and sport 3-day growths of beard because, like, grooming is a hassle, dude. They have the reading and writing skills of 7th Graders, because their hyper-PC teachers feared “pressuring” them with too much homework (i.e., more than 15 minutes a night). Green Typers frequently stop work to talk with friends on cell phones, text message said friends on Blackberries or listen to “groovycool” tunes on iPods. Green Typers also tend to shout in conversation, because their hearing has been damaged by over-usage of the aforementioned audio gadgets. Do not attempt to argue with or offer advice to a Green Typer. They will not listen. They consider everyone outside their group to be either a bitter old sellout or senile. Better to blunder through a job than to do it properly.

I call the second group the Gray Type. These people are usually between the ages of 55 and 70. They typically smell of Ben Gay, mothballs or Vick’s Vaporub. Gray Typers often tend to engage in acts of blatant slacking off which, in their minds, are justified by either the number of years they’ve spent with the employer or some long-ago service they performed for the employer (“Sleeping at my desk? You’re damned right I’m sleeping at my desk! See that storeroom? I organized it alphabetically. . .in 1979. Now pipe down so I can recover!”). They are usually oblivious to and openly contemptuous of any and all innovations or changes in the way the job is done (“To hell with your new-fangled fax machine! I’ll slip Umberto here $5.00; he’ll deliver this invoice to Kenosha in no time!”) Do not discuss education, especially college education, since most Gray Typers don’t have it (“You and your fancy degree! All I ever needed was the book-learnin’ I got at good ol’ William H. Taft High, goddamn it!”). Gray Typers often interrupt work to tranquilize everyone around them with stories about the Good Old Days. And everything reminds them about the Good Old Days. Do not attempt to argue with or offer advice to a Gray Typer. They will not listen. They consider all non-Gray Typers to be stupid cubs or punks trying to steal their jobs. Jobs they quit doing, for the most part, many years ago.

I don’t get it. “Overqualified”. Overqualified compared to what? The Greens and the Grays? Wasn’t the mantra we all heard in school “Learn more to earn more”? Why do these employers seem to want to fill their stores and offices with rookies who can’t tell up from down or relics who’ve long forgotten the difference?

Did you ever get the feeling that nobody knows just what the hell they’re doing? Lately, I feel like I’m the star of my own personal sit-com and everyone can hear the laugh track except me.

Ah well. I’m going to go home, watch some porn and get hammered. Monday is a new week and a new week brings new opportunities.