Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The Day My Music Died

As this column points out, every day is Anything Can Happen Day, but on August 16, 1977, what happened was the unthinkable…

STILL MISSING ELVIS

     Well, this weekend… like pretty much every mid-August … I spent The Day steeped in Elvis music as various media marked the anniversary of his untimely death. There’s a strange combination of comfort and masochistic longing involved in this ritual; my adoration of Elvis goes back so far it’s an almost constant thread through my life, all the way back to my earliest childhood  memories.
     When I was a seven year old girl attending Maplewood Elementary School I discovered Elvis and was immediately and completely in love. He was my secret. My family attended Emmanuel Baptist Church and … despite my parents’ love of music … we were not allowed to listen to rock and roll (or dance, or wear make up, etc.). Even when they would bring home instrumental albums, if the cover art included cigarettes, liquor, or sexy women, they were immediately spray painted black before they were deemed fit to be in our living room.
     About this same time, my mom managed to get a hot lunch program started at my school. Each Monday we would bring our lunch money to school and buy a little ticket that could be punched once a day for five days to cover our lunch, including a tiny carton of milk. The only problem for me was that I was, even then, lactose intolerant and never could drink milk. Mom had thought of this too and had set up a provision for kids like me to be allowed to … for a little extra change each day…  get a carton of orange drink. So each morning my dad gave me my “drink money.”
     It was at this early stage of my life that a wicked devious streak kicked in:  my folks had no idea that every day I choked down my lunch without a drink so I could hoard the coins in the rounded front right corner of my little lift-top desk. (To this day I can eat an entire meal without so much as a sip of anything.) When I had enough money, I’d talk my Mom into taking me downtown with her on Saturday and letting me explore the stores while she worked.  This was a much different time in America and it wasn’t unusual for little kids to be running around alone downtown on our small city’s two-block-long Main Street, so nobody thought anything of it when I’d show up alone at the music store and produce a mitt-full of coins to buy a 45 rpm record. Then of course came the challenge of sneaking it home. I can’t tell you the anguished hours I spent getting ready to go downtown with Mom, searching for something to wear that she would approve but that would allow concealment of the contraband for it’s safe and scratch-free ride home. I was certain I was going to hell.  And yet…
     After a while I had a pretty good record collection built up. The fact that my parents both worked every day (and that  my older sisters who “watched” us younger siblings really didn’t care what we were doing as long as we weren’t killing each other or bugging them) gave me plenty of time to listen to Elvis at very low volume  on the little record player my folks had given me to listen to “story records” on. The only problem was that story records weren’t 45s so I didn’t have one of those little center things to fit on the player’s spindle; I solved this by stealing the silver  top off one of mom’s prized salt shakers and sneaking it down to Pop’s workroom where I punched a hole in the middle with a nail so it would slide down the record player spindle. (One more thing to hide in my room.) I left the kitchen quickly when my mother set the filled-but-useless topless salt shaker on the counter as she emptied the diswasher and the junk drawer muttering, “Where could that have gone?”  

     By 1960 my older sisters were both married and one of my brothers-in-law was, I gleefully discovered, a huge Elvis fan. I started spending a LOT of time at their place, something my folks never questioned and my sister would never rat me out on as it would have reflected badly on her choice of mate.  By now Elvis had even done a couple movies, which I longed to see, but I never could figure out how to pull off that huge of a deception (movies were another Emmanuel Baptist no-no), and helping me accomplish that was where my sis drew the line. This was also the year that Elvis released a Gospel album and, thinking this would prove to my parents that he was not “evil,” I actually tried to persuade them to buy it for me. My dad almost seemed ready to give in, but my mother wasn’t having any of it. Apparently she had at some point seen Elvis on TV and wasn’t about to have even his essence in her house with impressionable young kids …two of them female … no matter what he was singing. It was a good try on my part though.
     As the years passed my folks didn’t soften much on their views and I became what was back then viewed as “a problem child,” something my poor mom was ill-equipped to deal with after having raised my two older, angelic, very obedient sisters. She wasn’t the only one to be flabbergasted; whenever I’d start a new school year my new teacher would joyously greet me with, “Oh! You’re Dianne and Donna’s little sister!” which within a few days would change to a disbelieving, “YOU’RE Dianne and Donna’s little sister?!”
     Things were changing faster than I could catch my breath and I was growing up much too fast. The one constant in my life was my adoration of Elvis. Still living in the same small city, my folks now had their own store downtown and on Saturdays I’d hang out in the drugstore down the street from their shop. Back then you could sit on the floor and read all the “fan magazines” (which of course weren’t allowed in our house) and no one ever cared. Add to this the attraction of all these Elvis-wannabe older boys wearing jeans and leather jackets as they stepped over me on their way to the soda fountain… Yeah, it was a great way for a preteen girl to spend a Saturday.
     Maybe it was hanging around with my older sisters and their friends that had always made me feel older than my age and choose older friends, or maybe I was just precocious, I don’t know, but I would lie to people about my age and they always believed me. And so when I saw a picture in one of the fan mags of Elvis with a motorcycle, it didn’t take me long to befriend a guy with a cycle and convince him to give me a ride home one day. As we tore down the road through the crisp Autumn air I closed my eyes and smelled the leather and listened to the mufflers roar and LOVED it! No wonder Elvis rode a cycle even though he had all those beautiful Cadillacs!
     I had the guy drop me off a ways from the house and walked home.
Well, never underestimate the speed of the small town grapevine: by the time I passed our mailbox my mother was on full red alert AND had called my father, demanding that he close the shop and come home immediately to deal with this crisis. As I ambled up our long dirt driveway his work truck pulled in and passed me. When he got  to the garage he got out and stood there, his hands on his hips, watching me approaching. I was about to yell to him to ask what he was doing home so early when my Mom came out the front door uncharacteristically hollering at me to “GET IN THE HOUSE!”  So I pretty much knew what he was doing home.
     Sure enough, one of our nosy church-members had seen me and called my mom immediately to report that I had been spotted on the back of a motorcycle with (gasp) my arms around a boy in a leather jacket, “WEAVING in and out of traffic.” I couldn’t tell whether Mom was angrier about the boy or the motorcycle but I knew enough to keep my big mouth shut and retreat to my room to, as ordered, “Think about this.”
     Truth be told, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was the most thrilling thing I’d ever done in my life. More exciting than racing full-out on my horse without a saddle and taking huge jumps over fences and streams (which had nearly gotten me killed once) … more than sneaking cigarettes with my friends or learning the new dances from my friends older sisters when I went to sleepovers. Riding on the back of a motorcycle, hugging a leather-jacketed boy with slicked back black hair was in my almost-a-teenager silly-girl-mind almost like being Elvis’ girlfriend. I knew I was going to think about it all night and I knew I was going to do it again. And again. And again.
     And I did. Tom was three years older than me and amazing. I kept wondering what it would be like to kiss him. (For those of you too young to identify, things moved MUCH more slowly back then!) I figured it would be just like kissing Elvis. .. especially with my already amazing imagination.

     That was the winter of 1961 and we couldn’t ride the cycle because of the snowy streets, so we had to rely on Tom’s friends who had cars to cart us around. One snowy December Saturday I got my folks to let me ride to downtown with them when they went in to the shop, making the excuse that I wanted to shop and spend my birthday money from my grandparents. Actually, I was going to meet Tom, hang out with him all day, and then catch a ride home with his brother.
     Pretty soon the snow turned into an absolute blizzard, and while we were hanging out in the deserted corner drug store, almost every store on the main street…including my parents’… turned off their lights and closed up early. The old man at the drug store fountain brought us hot chocolate in heavy diner mugs and said he was going to do some work in the basement store room since no one else was around, to yell if we needed anything. We went to the jukebox and played our song; Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” from Blue Hawaii.  We’d only put in enough money to play the song one time, but something happened and the old jukebox just kept playing it over and over and over.

When Tom’s brother never showed up to get us and the store was closing, we held gloved hands and walked all the way home in the freezing snow as the sky turned that strange wintery purple blue and the light faded. At the streetlight by Krogers corner where we had to part ways, he kissed me. It was the first time I had kissed a boy, and somehow I just knew that Tom kissed just like Elvis!  To this day I can’t hear that song without getting that same strange feeling that I got sitting there with Tom, watching the snow swirl around the big plate glass windows of the corner store, piling up on the grey, deserted streets as we sat cozily inside sipping too-hot chocolate in the deserted drugstore and later under the snow swirling in the streetlight where we parted.
     Of course by summer we went our separate ways, and having in my mind come so close to an Elvis-y boyfriend I wasn’t terribly intrigued by mundane guys in general until in 1963:  I met an older gal-pal’s boyfriend who was even too old for her … and while for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why, this guy put me in mind of Elvis. His hair was wasn’t jet black but it was slicked back, he didn’t have a Harley but he did ride an old Indian motorcycle that was his pride and joy, and … like Elvis … he’d been in the service. His nose and mouth had a touch of Elvis, but not that much. It took me years to figure out that it was his southern accent… which I’d never heard for real on anyone else while living first in Cicero and later Michigan… that did it.             

     And that would be my undoing: by 1964 when my family was ready to move to Florida, I was done with everything I couldn’t tolerate: I was sick of being suffocated, I was tired of being a kid, I had been sneak-dating this older guy … and I found myself lying in the canopy bed my mom had given me for my last birthday, surrounded by stuffed animals, trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I was pregnant and not going to Florida with them. They finally gave up on me, allowed me to marry my baby’s father, and went ahead with their plans to move to Florida while I remained in Michigan.
      If you need any more complete proof of how idiotic I was at this stage of my life, here you are: The biggest thing I kept thinking about when I was getting married was how I would now be able to have my Elvis records out in plain view, play them as often and as loud as I wanted, watch him on TV, actually BUY the fan mags with his pictures in them, and maybe even go to his movies! The first two things were easy accomplishments but the third… not so much. In my crazy 15 year old mind I did NOT want to go to an Elvis movie with my husband! That would ruin everything! No, I wanted to go with my girlfriends so we could sit together in the dark and drool and comment without reservation… and hubby wasn’t too keen on this. Girls’ Night Out in our small Michigan town was NOT a common occurrence in 1964, but then, neither were pregnant 15 year olds.
     Everything in my life … except my love of Elvis … changed 180 degrees by the end of 1965. With the birth of our daughter I had grown up almost instantly and was determined to be a great Mom, and while my husband had probably done his best, things were not good. We talked about moving to California, where his family had relocated, and began making plans to be there by Christmas. But while something about this plan nagged at me I was not able to face the facts that I missed my family and I did not want to be married.  At all.  To anyone.  Anywhere.  I guess I couldn’t face admitting what everyone had tried to tell me all along: I was too young.
      In January of 1966, a couple weeks behind schedule,  we were at last loading up the station wagon to begin the long trek to California, but when my husband announced “O.K., that’s it! Let’s go!” I brought my bundled up nine-month-old down the steps, jumped in the car, looked around and demanded,”Where are my Elvis records?”  He responded that they were upstairs in the hallway outside the apartment along with a few other things   we hadn’t had room for and had had to leave behind. I threw an absolute fit, handed him the baby, and charged up the stairs to get my records. As I attempted to drag the heavy box to the stairway my bewildered husband came charging up the steps, traded me the baby for the box I was pulling on, and carried the records down to the snowy alley where the old station wagon stood warming up with grey smoke huffing out of the tailpipe. We stood by the packed-to-the-gills car trying to figure out where to put the records… we had crammed in only our absolute essentials … mostly baby stuff… and there was really nothing we could jettison. I finally told him to put them on the floor of the front passenger seat.  And that was how I rode for the whole trip: with my feet either up on the records or tucked underneath me on the seat, the baby on my lap (no car seats back then). Before we were even out of the alley I sprang it on him: I didn’t want to go to California; I wanted to go to Florida, where my family was. To his credit, he didn’t argue about any of it. I think he knew as well as I did what was coming… maybe he’d even known it before I did.

     Shortly after we got settled in Florida I left him, taking only the baby’s belongings, my clothes, and of course my records. Life went on, it was very hard, and while I doted on my daughter and tried to work and finish school all at the same time, I kept buying Elvis records whenever I could and trying to figure out how to get to go to one of his concerts, but the $15 to $25 ticket price was just too dear.
       On Tuesday, August 17, 1977, I was working all day and nowhere near a TV or radio. I did some errands and drove home listening to an Elvis tape. When I finally pulled into the driveway just before dark, my 12 year old daughter came running out to meet me and opened my car door as I was gathering my stuff from the passenger’s seat.

     “Mom,” she gasped breathlessly, “did you hear? About Elvis?”

     For just a split-second my heart leapt, thinking she had heard something like that he was going to do a concert here at last, but before I could respond I saw her face and knew immediately that that was not it. This was not good news.

    “Oh Mom,” she said miserably, “he’s dead.”

     Her caring little face reflected the pain she knew I would feel at this news; she was all too aware of how much I loved this man and his music. I sat frozen in the car, holding my purse and briefcase and the bag of groceries.  For several long minutes I simply could not move as she leaned into the car and hugged me. Of course I thought she had it wrong … she was 12…she’d gotten it mixed up… this couldn’t be.  But this dreadful event predated MTV and 24 hour news stations in our area, so I went inside and called a friend who confirmed that it was true. I felt as though I’d lost my best friend.
     Like so many Elvis fans I went through all the usual processes of grief, trying to believe it wasn’t true, that it was some elaborate hoax because he needed a break, or was in danger, or any of a million other goofy ideas until finally I accepted the undeniable truth: he was gone.
     There was no way to really ever lose the emptiness inside. The music was still wonderful, right down to his final recordings. No matter what he had done to his spirit and his body, the one thing that never failed him was that great and powerful voice. I contented myself with his voluminous library of recordings and at one time even had a jukebox in my house with nothing but Elvis 45s on it. Sometimes I’d turn out all the lights at night and play “Can’t Help Falling in Love” over and over, and smile remembering the snowy drug store and Tom, and how incredibly easy and beautiful life had been then.
     I guess because I’d filled so much of the emptiness of my life with focusing on Elvis, I could never really find anything to fill the void his passing left.  While I truly detested Elvis “impersonators,” dismissing them as coffin-riding opportunists who couldn’t hold a candle to the original, when I was writing a music column for a NYT regional paper I was assigned a story on “a local version of the King.” I first tried to beg off the assignment, explaining that I’d be unable to be objective because of my extreme prejudice, but my editor wasn’t having any of it and sent me on my way. I grudgingly called a friend and explained the dilemma, asking her to accompany me and explaining that since I was sure it was going to be awful we’d just go for the first few songs of the first set and then go on to hear some decent music elsewhere.
      When we closed down the room after the last encore, I felt happier than I could remember having felt in years. In my head I had already written my “You’ll Want Him, You’ll Need Him, You’ll Love Him” review of Bobby Salerno’s Elvis Tribute Show. He was absolutely unbelievable and PS – WHAT was he doing here in Florida with that much talent? The friend who accompanied me had seen Elvis live a couple of times, didn’t share my aversion to impersonators andwas in a better position to judge because she had seen imitators in Vegas and Memphis; she pronounced Salerno’s performance (http://www.ladyluckmusic.com/artists/bobbysalerno/ ) far better than any other she’d seen.

     For months we caught every performance we possibly could and it was eerie to find how comforting it was, how much like having Elvis back again. Bobby Salerno was sublimation personified.

     And then he was gone. We were told he had killed himself, but no one could tell us why. (http://tinyurl.com/mcmwzp)

       We couldn’t believe it and never really understood. Selfishly, we felt like we had lost Elvis all over again, and we were hurt and angry. We never went to hear another impersonator… or as Bobby had respectfully called it, “tribute artist.”             

     Finally, on the 25th anniversary of Elvis death, someone came up with this brainstorm to reunite all the players from Elvis’ concerts and have them perform the concert live with footage of Elvis performing on a widescreen at the center back of the stage. My editor tapped me once again and this time I didn’t bother to object. Unlike seeing Bobby for the first time, this just was not a pleasant experience. The hall was dark, the drums started their riveting intro, the horns joined them… and then … and then nothing happened. Oh, a giant screen lit up displaying a grainy, King Kong size image of a trim, fit Elvis going through the motions, but it felt empty and hollow and pathetic. It was like watching a big TV with a bunch of people playing music along with it and, if anything, made me feel emptier than before. Yes, these were the same exact musicians on stage as were seen performing on the screens on either side of the Elvis center screen, the same players from 25 years ago, but it just felt dull and desperate and overwhelmingly sad.

        And so it is, 32 years after Elvis died, that I still miss him. Though I don’t engage in the kind of fan worship you so often see mockingly depicted on various shows about Elvis, I can’t deny that it’s a kind of love that I don’t expect to see again in my lifetime. He was such a part of my growing up, his music the proverbial soundtrack of my life, I’ve yet to find a way to resign myself to the loss. And every year when the anniversary of his death rolls around I tell myself I won’t spend the entire day and night wallowing in the same old tribute specials and hokey movies that they air every year… and every year I watch every one and feel foolish all over to discover that I miss him even more with every passing year.

       I want him, I need him, I love him.  

     With all my heart.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I’ve been doing some heavy-duty job hunting for the past few months. A big part of my quest for re-employment has been figuring out which of the skills that I used in my past work lives in real estate, journalism, and photography, will translate well to different careers. I’ve learned to think outside the box and have constantly reiterated to all my networking contacts that I would take “anything.” Today I learned that while I actually WILL take almost “any job,” I’m not quite desperate enough to work for “any boss.”

I’d had an inkling of that after a certain interview a while back, but the thought hadn’t really completely formed in my mind until my second such experience … the one today… and that was the ah-ha moment.

A few weeks ago two high-profile real estate agents were looking for an assistant. These are women whose smiling faces you see sparkling at you from ads in glossy magazines all the time. They’re the high-dollar dealers who do the big sales that make the kudos pages of the business section. When they called me to interview they asked to meet at the coffee shop of a local bookstore. At that point, because I had replied to a blind ad and didn’t know who they were, their choice of location only made me think that  A) maybe, like many agents, they worked from a home office and, understandably, didn’t want strangers coming into their home right off the bat or B) they were just really sociable people who liked the idea of doing a low-key interview over coffee. Well, I’m always up for a good coffee, so O.K. I went.

They were sitting in a corner booth where they couldn’t be seen unless you really looked for them, and when I sat down they leaned across the table and spoke in hushed voices. Odds are good that the other patrons thought they were conducting some sort of illicit business over there in the corner… which, as it turns out, in a way they were. Although the job description in the blind ad had sounded challenging and interesting, they left out one little part: the reason they were meeting people at 30 minute intervals in the back corner of a bookstore’s coffee shop was that their employee of 15 years… the one I would be replacing … had no idea she was about to be unceremoniously dumped out into the worst job market that this country has seen in many decades.

Wow.
That’s cold.

As soon as they explained that, I looked at them differently. The flashy jewelry and clothes now looked cold and ostentatious, the smiles fake, the long manicured nails lethal, the head-tilt and interested eye contact rehearsed and false. What kind of people were these two that they would handle this in such a manner? It reminded me of what I’d learned about men: If he’ll cheat on her, he’ll cheat on you.  A person isn’t sneaky or disloyal in certain degrees; they either are or they aren’t. So sitting across from these two, I knew immediately that they were not to be trusted and no matter how many mortgage payments I had missed, I wanted no truck with them. But I had been so aggressively interested via email… how was I going to backpedal out of this?

At the end of the interview I threw out a deal killer, pretending that the prestigious location of their office (which they seemed to consider a perk) was not good for me, too far of a drive. Later I wondered “Why did I do that?” I rationalized that I was just too stunned to come right out and say, “I don’t want to work for you knowing that after 15 years you might stab me in the back!” But somewhere deep inside I wondered if I really wasn’t just being cowardly.

When I got home from that interview I had the unpleasant task of calling the water company … who PS – had turned my water back on after I explained that I had this almost-a-sure-thing interview coming up and really needed to be able to shower and wash my hair in the morning. (I know, wasn’t that great of them? Unfortunately they don’t have any job openings there.) I was so disappointed about the job and so distressed about knowing I wasn’t going to be able to set up a payment plan to keep my water on that I just blurted out exactly what happened. Amazingly, the customer service gal was totally simpatico; she had taken a huge pay cut when she left a company whose tactics made her stomach churn and took her current job with the water company where she was surrounded by like-minded people who shared good work ethics and kind hearts. And she said it was worth every budget cut she had to make.

So that story ended well and … except for the kindness of my new friends at this utility company… I kind of forgot about it. Until today.

Just like a lot of other unemployed people, I consider job hunting my full time job. I spend all day every day networking, interviewing, and making the rounds, and every night searching on the internet for work, polishing my resumes, following up on past email contacts, etc. I read a LOT of job ads, most of which come to me via email from the various job boards I’ve signed up on.

As a self-employed, independent contractor all my adult life, I hadn’t “job hunted” since college, and back then you went in wearing your best interview suit and had a face-to-face sit down meeting with The Boss or the H.R. person, who at that time took your resume from your hand and briefly reviewed it while asking questions and telling you about the job. But now even if a store has a sign out front that says “Now Hiring,” when you walk in to apply you’re told to go home and apply on the internet. If there’s an ad in the paper, the phone number it gives may well connect you with a job service of some sort rather than the actual employer. And most of the ads that ask you to fax or email a resume will also have a note that says “NO PHONE CALLS.”

The ad that came to me this morning via email from a job board  had an email address that included the name/URL of the company and it was a very brief ad without a lot of detail. It had been taken from a newspaper classified and apparently the advertiser had wanted to keep it to about 12 words. It I wasn’t clear if I was suited to apply or not, so … since it didn’t say NO PHONE CALLS and had the company name and URL right out there … I called. The woman who answered the phone was very pleasant but said she didn’t really know the answer to my question and would put me into the hiring person’s voicemail and was sure I’d  get a return call soon. I thanked her, left my message, and also sent an email telling what my question was so that if the interviewer… like me … preferred email to phone contact, she could just hit REPLY and tell me whether she wanted my resume or not.
Then I did my usual thing of researching the company and the hiring person … we’ll call her “M” … on line, finding a lot of surprising stuff including one thing I liked immediately: M’s Facebook profile stated that her “religious view” is “Love thy neighbor,” which I thought was kind of promising. (Of course at that time I hadn’t yet discovered that she is also an actress…)

I was still checking her out on line when my phone rang and there she was. I thanked her for returning my call so quickly but didn’t pick up on the fact that she sounded upset. She wanted to know what exactly my question had been to the woman who answered the phone.  I repeated it, thnking she wasn’t clear on what I wanted to know,  and learned that wasn’t exactly why she was asking: I had unwittingly outed M’s intentions to fire the woman; she was the one I would be replacing if I got the job.

An immediate flashback popped into my head of the Cheshire-grinning real estate ladies hunkered down in the corner of the coffee shop, and my stomach started to churn. I dumbly parroted to M, “So, you’re saying that you’re firing this lady and she doesn’t know its coming?” to which she snapped, “Well she does NOW! Thank you VERY MUCH!”

I’m not quite sure what she said after that, I was only half-listening because I was feeling worse by the second… not for M, but for the woman who I’d talked to and who had so politely answered what must have to her been a bomb of a question. I marvelled at how she had remained so polite and professional about the whole thing as it sank in that she was being fired.  And then I started to get mad.

The first time I encountered such an underhanded employer I had tried to rationalize it. Maybe the person was stealing from them. Maybe she just wasn’t right for the job. Maybe she was an absolutely horrible, nasty, psychotic employee. That’s all possible, right? Of course it is. But if she was stealing why didn’t they fire her or even have her arrested? If she wasn’t right for the job… for whatever legitimate reason … why wouldn’t they be decent about it and give her notice so she could find something else, or even give her a severance check and send her on her way?

When I posed these questions to a headhunter she just smiled and said, “Well I guess that says more about the EMPLOYER than the EMPLOYEE, doesn’t it?”

Indeed.

At the end of the call M said something to the effect that she would review my resume when she got to that part of the process, but this time I couldn’t let it go at that.  I wasn’t going to stay quiet about what I thought of her or how I felt about being the one who had unwittingly pulled the trigger of a situation she had loaded that then backfired in her face. 

I didn’t raise my voice or lose my cool or act rude, but this time I did what I should have done last time: I honestly stated that I had no desire to work for a company that conducted business in this manner.

We hung up and I continued to feel badly about the woman who had answered the phone. I wanted to call her and apologize but was afraid of making things worse. And I was really mad at M for having put that poor woman and me in this position. I guess the only good things to come of this are
1 – the soon-to-be-former-employee might find a position with a much more ethical boss
2 – I didn’t fall into working for a company that obviously isn’t trustworthy and
3 – If this is M’s idea of “Love they neighbor,”  thank God she doesn’t live next door.

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Footnote: On the bottom of my resume I include this URL:

www.doyouwalkthetalk.com

I figure if the employer thinks it’s stupid or corny they won’t call me.

(Good!)

O.K., job hunting is much harder than working. Not to mention how frustrating it is, and usually, needlessly so. That said, while fully aware of how prickly my financial need and fear is making me, at the end of the day as I sit calmly with an iced decaf, waiting for a mind-numbing TV show to come on, considering the day in retrospect… even from that vantage point I can’t get over how thoughtless/stupid/inconsiderate/annoying potential employers application procedures really are. It’s almost like a test: If you can tolerate this, you can work for us. Which begs the question: Do I really want to work for them?

I think this morning’s exercise in futility may…so far… take the cake:

Employer A needs a secretary.

I can be a secretary.

Blindfolded.

With one hand.

And half my brain. (Yes that sounds condescending but it is true; I’ve been a secretary and I’ve had secretaries. No big deal.)

 The ad offers three options: Fax your resume, email your resume, or apply in person.

Apply in person is a lot more work but should, theoretically, pay off, right? I mean, it shows initiative, seriousness of purpose, way more effort than pressing a send button… Yes, I’ll apply in person.

First consideration: Is it worth it to take off from my part time job to apply for this job? Yup.

That decided, on to the next hurdle: Is this interview makeup worthy? Now don’t laugh; when you’re trying to get by on almost zero income, things like mascara are on the “Indulgence” list and used sparingly. Remember the Seinfeld episode where the ever-promiscuous-Elaine had to slow it down and decide which of her dates were or were not “sponge-worthy?” Same principle: When I apply for a position that doesn’t require public contact or a polished appearance, I go for clean and neat minus the makeup, conserving it for when it’s actually needed. When looks count, make up is applied. I grudgingly decide that because I don’t know for sure in this case, I will assume that this interview is Makeup Worthy and make the supreme sacrifice of some of my strictly rationed makeup.

Next up: The resume. Like most job hunters I have followed the advice of the online employment advisors and written multiple versions of my resume, all honest, but each emphasizing whatever area of my experience best fits the job opening. This is a position I haven’t applied for in the past so I need to retool my resume to fit. I spend several hours doing this before attempting to print it out. No ink in the printer, no money to buy any. Hmmmm…

I call my daughter; she will print out a few copies of this version of my resume and drop them off on her way to work. Perfect, I email the new version to her and breathe a sigh of relief… until she comes by with the copies the next morning and something hasn’t gone through the email to her correctly. Some coding has been lost in translation and it doesn’t look as professional as it should. We decide I’ll email it to her office, she’ll print it out there and I’ll swing by and pick it up “on my way.” Though it isn’t on my way. More on that later.

That covered I go to the clean clothes I laundered at my sister’s place last night. (Yup, broken wash machine here. When it rains…) I choose the most appropriate outfit and make sure there are no cat hairs or wrinkles to make me look sloppy. Everything there is good.

I dress and find the perfect accessories, call my daughter to make sure the resume came through OK this time, and head out on my big adventure, stopping to put my last two dollars in the gas tank. The indicator needle is just above empty. Enough to get there and … hopefully … back home.

I head out in the opposite direction of my target so I can pick up the resume, then with that in hand I reverse directions and head for The Potential Job site. My heart is skipping around a little but it’s not so much nerves as hope. “Please please please,” I pray to the employment gods, “let me get this job and let it start in time to stop the foreclosure on my home!”

Once there I circle the huge building twice (with one eye on the gas gauge) trying to figure out which entrance is the correct one. Nothing is marked as to where the various departments are so I park and walk through the wind with my hair blowing around maddeningly. The entry area isn’t set up in such a way that I can stop and brush my hair so I decide that, once inside, I’ll go to the washroom and fix it. Except when I get inside I see a sign saying not to go any further without registering with the receptionist, signing in, and getting a name tag.

I approach the horseshoe-shape desk and wait for what was probably only a few minutes but felt like a maddeningly long time behind an elderly woman who is s-l-o-w-l-y e-n-t-e-r-i-n-g h-e-r n-a-m-e in the registry book and s-l-o-w-l-y w-r-i-t-i-n-g h-e-r n-a-m-e on the paper name tag and s-l-o-w-l-y attempting to peel the tag off the sticky backing.  She glances over her shoulder at me and says, “Oh… you’re waiting…”

I smile sweetly and lie, “That’s O.K., no hurry, take your time.”

Which she does.

Finally I face the Efficient Looking Woman (ELW) behind the desk and smile, “Hi! Could you please point me toward your H.R. Department?”

She asks who I want to see and I tell her the name of the person listed in the ad. She looks puzzled and asks what it’s about. Now it’s my turn to be puzzled; why would any stranger walk in and ask to see someone in H.R. except to apply for a job?

When I explain the ad that says you can apply in person she whips out a clip board with an application form on it. I am not fast enough to draw against her and pull my cross necklace out from inside my blouse and hold it up against the evil thing, so I offer, “Oh I brought a resume.” (The ad had said to fax or email a resume or apply in person; my resume and I are here… after many false starts and inconveniences… to apply in person.)

She doesn’t withdraw the evil clipboard and answers “You still have to fill out an application.”

RATS!

I smile and take the clipboard, resisting the urge to say through my teeth, “Fine. I’ll play your silly little game,” instead offering an insincere thanks.

AN ASIDE: Two questions about applications ~

One ~ In this digital age, why in God’s name are some companies still demanding hard copy applications that duplicate the information on your hard copy resume? I hate them not only for the waste but for the risk. In a temp job I’d worked about a year earlier, the owner of the little company had handed me a huge box of files and said, “Throw out these old applications and turn the folders inside out so we can reuse them.” When I emptied the first folder I noticed copies of the applicant’s driver’s license and social security card, so I asked the owner where the shredder was kept. He wanted to know why I needed a shredder. When I explained, he first muttered “just tear ‘em up” and them decided no, never mind, just hang on to them till tomorrow and he’d bring his shredder in from home. (Yikes!) I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened to those papers had someone else been given the lofty assignment of inverting file folders.

Two ~ O.K., I understand that these companies may have a burning need to have the date you graduated from high school in a certain specific place so they can find this important info at a glance rather than having to read  and find it but that said, if this is really necessary, why the hell can’t they all use the same stupid form? Then applicants could just transfer the information from a resume to a form one time and print out a copy to attach to each resume!  Why does every stupid application have to have a different format? I could see it if you were entering information on specialized-to-that-job skills or classified information that was unusual but…oh wait… wouldn’t that more appropriately call for a RESUME?!? Grrrrr… but I digress…

As I’m filling out the application another woman comes in to apply. She is sloppily dressed and looks a little dirty, and I remember that it’s always best to go last, so I slow my pace and write like the woman who had been in front of me at the desk, taking my old sweet time so that this other applicant will finish first and go back first and then when I get my turn … oh boy howdy … won’t I look even better by comparison?

Brilliant!

Except that this interloper must have been the old woman’s daughter or something because she’s taking  for-freakingever to fill out the form, to the extent that if I stall much longer they might think I am the idiot, so I grudgingly bring my completed form to the desk where a different Efficient Looking Woman is now seated. I explain that I’m there to interview and that E.L.W. #1 had given me the application to fill out and by God I did it so here it is, thanks.

She looks at me blankly and asks what job I’m talking about. I tell her, and explain that the ad offered that I could apply in person, so here I am!

She still looks confused and picks up the phone, punching in four numbers. She explains the perplexing situation to the person on the other end:  There is someone here looking for a job that was advertised in the paper.

She listens and occasionally says something like, “Oh, what are the hours?” (Oh great, now it sounds as if SHE wants the job!)

Finally she reaches for the clip board and says, “O.K., they’ll call you.”

What? Nooooooo no no no no…

“Oh…” I offer…”I took off work this morning to apply in person because the ad offered…”

She doesn’t look up.

I clear my throat and try again: “Excuse me?”

She looks up. With a look that tells me I am going home uninterviewed. I lamely hold out the now-perfect pain-in-the-ass-to-print resume.

“Could you please attach my resume to my application?” I ask.

Without saying anything she takes the paper and shoves it under the application, turns back to her work.

I look around. Miss Sloppy app is still writing. The exit beckons mockingly.

I trudge back to my car with the wind again wildly blowing my hair about, realizing I never had gotten to the point where I ducked into the bathroom to brush it… not that there was any need. I could have looked like the slobby woman who sat next to me filling out the application and no one would have known.

As the sub-head on this blog says, “Any day, anything can happen … and does. Or not.”

And today it did not.

Again.

God I hate job hunting.

It’s December 31st, can you believe it? The year has flown by and most of the bad things we worried about never happened, some of the good things did, and now it’s time to march bravely into The New Year.

 

While most people think of  New Year’s Eve prep as getting in hors doeuvres and stocking up on bubbly and probably getting a spiffy new outfit, I require slightly different props: A new three-subject notebook complete with pocket dividers that can hold “stuff ;” a good pen; last year’s notebook; and a 12-pack of Starbuck’s bottled vanilla Frappuccino.

 

See, once upon a time, New Year’s Eve was my wedding anniversary. And then, after about a decade, it wasn’t anymore. My first New Year’s Eve as a single-again woman was just not a festive time for me so I did something a little different, never dreaming how well it would work for me, or that it would become THE New Year’s Eve ritual for me for … apparently … the rest of my life. At least so far.

 

It started in the wake of a break up that left me wondering what I was going to do with myself from then on and realizing that I needed to take stock and do a lot of reevaluating of… everything. Friendships, goals, living conditions, finances…

 

Being a list-maker, the first thing I did was bought one of those spiral notebooks that was divided into three sections by slightly-heavier-weight paper in manila with a pocket on each side of the divider for keeping loose papers and coupons and notes and whatever. I loosely categorized the three sections as “ME,” “MY CAREER/FINANCES,” and “MY HOME.”

 

The “ME” section is for personal ATTAINABLE goals as well as my sometimes far-fetched wishes and dreams… this can be anything from changing my hair color to finding a comfortable church home. It’s what I want for me, and some of it’s silly and some of it’s embarrassing and some of it is actually important. In this notebook that no one else sees, I can say anything.

 

“MY CAREER/FINANCES” is in for a big overhaul this New Year. I’ve reached the point in my life where how I earn a living is starting to feel like it should occupy a smaller wedge of the pie chart that represents my life. Not that I’ll ever give up the dream… ever since I wrote my first short story when I was four years old (another reminiscence for another post), I’ve known I was a writer. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to earn a living as a freelancer, especially one who aspires to write Things That Matter. It may just be that any career moves this year will be more of a means to an end, a way to stay alive and be able to afford to continue to do the things I do on a volunteer basis. The other side of this tarnished coin is that it is really REALLY hard for me to do what feels like giving up: working in some mundane job for someone else. My parents never believed in it and my mom told me constantly how a woman has to be her own boss in order to be truly successful… but my parents are gone now, and while their ideals are ingrained in me like the rings of a tree, I’m finding them hard to live up to today. And that’s a bitter pill I’ll have to try to make the best of swallowing.

 

“MY HOME” has taken on new importance to me as I’ve escaped by the twinkling of an eyelash the dreaded jaws of foreclosure (and can still feel that monster breathing down my neck). Frankly I’ve never been much of a housekeeper and while I’ll probably never live up to the standards my Dutch Nana kept, even I can see that I really need to do a lot better, and this is going to be the year for it. Don’t bother bringing over your white glove, it won’t pass that test, but I might actually be able to clear the table for once so you can come over for pizza and I’m really determined to make this the year I turn my dungeon of a living room into a home theatre room (on a small scale). Lemons to lemonade, right?

 

So we’ll see how it goes and if I’m lucky I’ll still be living here next New Years Eve and my pets and I won’t have starved to death and I’ll be getting out my new notebook to try to do even better in the next 365 days. Because for tonight only, it’s Anything Can Happen Year.

  

Am I the only person who’s ever longed to live in a mansion?

 

I blame my (on-hold) real estate career. That’s right, like everyone else in this state I have a real estate license, have pretty much forever, though I don’t take it terribly seriously. I stay up on real estate just because I truly LOVE IT on a personal level and always have; it’s why I got my license in the first place. While I don’t care to do battle with the hair-sprayed, manicured, Mercedes-driving, top-producers whose assistants do all the work while they take all the glory, I DO care to stay knowledgeable so that when someone comes to me to buy or sell I know what I’m doing. I only work on a few deals a year for friends or referral clients, so all the more reason to do my best. “Quality over quantity,” and that goes both ways of course. But I digress…

 

Anyway, you just can’t keep showing those waterfront places all day and going home to your little writer’s hovel every night without it at least crossing your mind that it would be sooooo cool to live in any one of those beauties, even for just a little while. When I’m really working real estate I actually have dreams … like in the night when I’m asleep and all the REM stuff is going on… about living in the places I show. The dreams are so real that when I’m waking up in the morning and trying to get my bearings, at first I think I’ve sleep-walked into the mansion’s shed during the night… and then of course I realize that I’m in my for-real house. (Sigh)

 

Though I haven’t been active in real estate since the housing market tanked I’m still licensed, so I still get the daily dozens of emails from upscale Realtors desperate to sell these places. The subject line is always something like “Waterfront bargain reduced another $1,000,000.00!” or something like that, and I can never resist looking at the beautiful slide shows and drooling on my keyboard. It almost makes me wish my evil twin… the money monger who takes over when the market is good… would get off her ass and do something.

 

Meanwhile The Real Me Twin … the writer… vents about it here or in other thinly veiled accounts about poor single women who long for the good life, usually as one of my warm up exercises for whatever I’m really writing. No one ever sees that stuff, and they aren’t intended to: If I just sit down and do a little stream of consciousness typing, eventually it turns into whatever I’m really supposed to be working on. But recently a strange thing happened: the twins collided on the page.

 

I was trying to get into the new screenplay/expose I’m doing (called “Retail,” hopefully coming soon to an e-book or theater near you), and I got this genius idea: What if I did a new reality T.V. show about poor people secretly squatting in multi-million-dollar mansions and seeing how long they could get away with it undetected and … once discovered … how long they could bluff their way through with the neighbors etc. to stay? There could be teams and whoever made it for the longest time would get a prize… which should probably be to be allowed to keep the house they’d successfully been living in, but I’m not sure how the network would feel about coughing up that much money.

 

Think about it. There’s already an opposite version in which millionaires (poor babies) try to survive in the world of the homeless. I’m sorry, but having been close-to-homeless on many occasions myself, I JUST don’t find that entertaining. (Does anyone?) But this! Don’t you think people would LOVE IT? I know I would. In fact, a stipulation of selling the idea to a network would have to be that I get to be one of the competitors. And I know JUST the place I’m going to settle into: Yup, the bargain basement one that’s been marked down another mil. No point in being greedy.

 

OOOOH! I know what I’m going to call it. Are you ready? (Wait for it….) Here it goes:

 

“Poorhouse/Dreamhouse.”

 

Huh? Do you love it? 

Who knows a smart executive producer that’s ready to back the next big reality show TV hit?

 

Call me. Wherever I’m living, I’ll have my cell with me.

 

 

 

          An acquaintance who somehow stumbled upon my blog actually called to ask me if it was truth or fiction. (Obviously she is not a close acquaintance or she’d know.) I told her that it was all fact so far, with a few names/identifying circumstances changed to protect the embarrassed.

            “Why would anyone be embarrassed?” she demanded with what I can only assume was mock naïveté.

            Could she really be that oblivious?

            “Well, you know….” I explained, “last year these people were donating to charities and doing volunteer work for them, and now they’re recipients of their services… if they can bring themselves to apply, and if they qualify.”

            She responded that that was “just silly” (or something equally dismissive) and I surrendered any possible crusade to enlighten her because, as we all know, some people just don’t get it. And while I don’t suffer these fools gladly, I do sort of understand them. I think.

            For instance, when you vent to them that you’re sweating out when your utilities will be turned off and they respond that they’re spending the equivalent of your two-month past-due electric bill on holiday outfits for their dogs, and go on to describe in great detail how adorable they are, they don’t REALLY intend to be hurtful. It is their money after all and … whether those funds are coming from the job they’re fortunate enough to have or a trust fund or a significant other or whatever … they are not in anyway obligated to hide the fact that while you are struggling to survive they are having frivolous fun. They aren’t trying to be mean … are they?

            It brings to mind how F. Scott had Gatsby describe Daisy: She was careless. That word is open to a lot of interpretations, some of which appear in Wikipedia:

            Careless – Adjective:

  1. Careless (Not giving sufficient attention or thought, especially concerning the avoidance of harm or mistakes.)
  2. Not concerned or worried about.
  3. Showing no interest or effort.

       While those all apply, I would also add “without a care,” although I guess “carefree” would be the more appropriate word for that.

       When people are not under the gun, especially if they never have been, I think it’s hard for them to be empathetic. Oh they may think they’ve had similar experiences, but if they’ve always had some kind of safety net or back-up, they really can’t understand what it’s like to be on a greased tightrope over a moat full of alligators with no one below to catch you. They probably shouldn’t be faulted for that.

       And it goes full circle, in the tradition of “I cried because I had no shoes…”

       Probably even those who are having a tough time here in America and think losing their utilities and jobs and cars is a major deal could take a look at what’s going on in other parts of the world and know that there are undoubtedly millions of people who would trade places with them in a moment, viewing these perceived  “major malfunctions” as mere bumps in the road of what to them would still be a pretty cushy life.

       I try to remember this when a friend or relative doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate what I consider to be the urgency of certain needs and situations, when they brush me off or make careless empty promises to help “tomorrow;” they aren’t experiencing it, so how can they understand?

       While every day in everyone’s lives may well be Anything Can Happen Day, if it isn’t happening to them on that day at that moment, if they aren’t feeling the discomfort and frustration and panic and sense of hopelessness, it isn’t really happening.

Not for them.

At least not yet.

FOOD STAMPS AS CURRENCY

 

Disclaimer: Some of this is probably illegal so understand that I am NOT advocating  trying it, just looking into and thinking about the whole situation…

 

O.K., so food stamps are definitely a wonderful thing for those who truly need them and I am not by any means suggesting that the recipients look a government gift horse in the mouth. HOWEVER … it’s come to my attention that there are a couple of little kinks in the system, and rather than spend years trying to persuade government to straighten them out, savvy food stamp recipients are coming up with ingenious ways to cope.

 

First and foremost let’s note that while bread is certainly better than nothing (especially when you’re TRULY hungry), man does not live by bread alone. There are certain limitations on food stamps that seem to make sense (like you can’t buy alcohol or tobacco products with them), some that appear a little ill-advised (no deodorant, toothpaste, toilet paper, or laundry goodies), and some that I’m not sure how to regard (no pet supplies or cleaning products). Non-food items must be purchased with cash, and if you bring them to the check out with your grocery purchases, the cashier will tell you your “food stamp total” followed by your “non-eligible items total” that you must pay in cash.

 

The few people I know who are on food stamps really appreciate receiving them, but they DO NEED some non-eligible items as well and truly don’t have the cash to cover them.

 

So… what to do, what to do…

 

“I’m not planning to be on food stamps for long,” says one acquaintance, “but if I show up for job interviews in dirty clothes, with B.O. and bad breath and dirty hair, it could be a lot longer than I’d like…”

 

Well YEAH, that makes sense…

 

A neighbor who is a fellow animal lover is trying to figure out how to supply her dog with nourishment, and before you suggest “Get rid of it” allow me to interject that for many people (including myself) getting rid of a pet is akin to getting rid of a child and simply not an option no matter what the circumstances.

 

“I get inexpensive cuts of meat that are on sale and feed her people food and vegetables,” she admits. “I know that’s not really a good answer, but it’s the only one I can come up with right now.”

 

And apparently she’s not alone: The local Meals on Wheels program has started working in cooperation with our county Humane Society and other area animal welfare groups to supply pet food as well as people food. Why? Because the delivery people have discovered that the humans they serve are sharing with their pets, thus defeating the goal of keeping needy people nourished. As one elderly woman who lives in a questionable neighborhood explained to the courier, “How am I supposed to enjoy a meal in front of a hungry dog that’s protected me and been my only family for the past eight years?”

 

Indeed.

 

Some recipients are learning how and where to use their food stamps as currency. (This is the part I think is illegal, but, sorry; I’ve always asserted that what’s “legal” isn’t always necessarily what’s “right.”) Anyway, a coworker I know was concerned that her car insurance was about to be cancelled… which would mean she could not (legally) drive to her part time jobs. She approached a relative who, though not in a position to lend her the money, did agree to give her the cash (which was her grocery money for the week) in exchange for groceries paid for with food stamps.

 

Necessity really is a mother, and the savvy working (or unemployed) poor are figuring out ways to make Food Stamps serve up more than meals. Now if they could just get the utility companies and gas stations on board with some kind of barter agreement …

 

A nice batch of cookies maybe…

 

And that’s the anything that’s happening today, Thanksgiving, in the land of plenty, my friends.