Monthly Archives: November 2011

Live Blogging The Day I Got Fired By A Sad Sad Alcoholic Trust-Funder

6:30 AM
Hit snooze button.

6:35 AM
Hit snooze button.

6:40 AM
Hit snooze button.

7:17 AM
Get out of bed.  Resolve never to hit the snooze button again.

9:04 AM
My mouth hurts.  I wonder if it’s because of my enchilada accident.

11:00 AM
I show up at Roy’s.  The cleaners came last night.  It looks better.  All the foil balls are gone.

11:12 AM
Waiting in the Taco Bell drive thru.  Roy hasn’t had anything to eat for over fifteen hours on account of him having to supervise the cleaning ladies.  I don’t know what this means.  Sorting foil balls I guess.  That one.  Not that one.  Anyhow apparently it was such a big job it left no time for food and now he’s hungry and we’re waiting for his combo meal.  Nothing like breaking a fast with Taco Bell right before hockey.

11:24 AM
I am now 99% positive that my mouth injury is indeed a burn on the inside of my cheek.  Last night I made chicken enchiladas filled with, among other things, sour cream and cheese.  I mention these two items because apparently when heated for a sufficient amount of time, it is possible for them to attain the temperature of liquid magma.  I put a way-too-big bite of liquid magma in my mouth.  And because another person was sitting across the table from me, I held it there next to my cheek while I fanned, panted, sweated, smiled and tried casually to utter the word “hot.” Had it been recorded, it would have sounded more like a greeting from Quasimodo.

11:25 AM
Why not just spit it out?  Why indeed.

11:26 AM
Honestly I didn’t know you could burn your mouth off with sour cream and cheese.  But you can.  You can burn it off.

11:37 AM
I sit in the ice rink stands, warmed by the glowing atomic-orange heaters.  While Roy skates, I work on a freelance assignment, writing Facebook wall posts for a large fast food chain.  I contemplate the irony that the one person in Southern California who has opted out of Facebook – and for several people I’ve met recently, this has been cause for sincere alarm – is charged with engaging a subset of people who consider lobbing comments at a corporation’s Facebook wall (my favorite are the ones that profess love) to be a fine way to spend an afternoon.  I literally shake my head as I write the copy.

1:24 PM
We arrive back at Roy’s house.  Roy has devised a system whereby I will call lawyers’ offices and explain that I have a “friend” who recently had three speeding tickets in a short amount of time and never bothered to take action on any of them. If I get a good feeling about them, Roy instructs, I’m to set up a consultation appointment.  I explain that the only feeling I will be getting (besides the constant urge to reevaluate my life choices) is about the receptionist, not the lawyer, as lawyers generally do not answer their own phones – at least not the kind you get a good feeling about.  No problem.  Roy is convinced I’ll still get a sense for the office.

1:32 PM
Mostly the sense I’m picking up is skepticism.  And some sarcasm.  Oh, your “friend” got three tickets?  And what did your “friend” do about it?

1:57 PM
My mouth is infected.  It’s going to spread through my body and I’m going to die.  I’m going to die because I took a big boy bite of molten cheese.

2:05 PM
I set up appointments for Roy all over town.  He will have to forgo hockey tomorrow.  He’s not happy about this.  I get solemn.  I know, Roy, I know….

2:21 PM
We’re done with lawyer calls.  I mean “my friend” is done with lawyer calls.  Now we’re apparently shooting the breeze till closing time.  I ask him what else needs doing.  He tells me why “Three and Half Men” is the Best Show on TV.  I look around for a sharp object.

2:22 PM
Damn you molten cheese.

2:55 PM
The window treatment guy calls.  He’s still coming to give an estimate but he’s going to be a bit late.

3:36 PM
I check my email.  There’s something in my inbox from a major network.  My heart skips a beat.  If it weren’t for the hole in my cheek, I would momentarily stop receiving oxygen.

Three days ago, I got a voice mail asking me to call someone at a network.  I was a semi-finalist for a prestigious writing fellowship.  I had a phone interview, which consisted of a person saying, congratulations, you’re a semi-finalist, the next step is a phone interview, so what are you doing right now?  I was sitting in my car having just flunked an interview at an automotive museum.  What I should have said was, hold on, Alec Baldwin’s trying to ask me something.  Alec, be cool.  Sorry about that.  Go ahead.

I click on the email.  I don’t even have to read it.  It’s short.  I have seen these before.  There were many exceptional applicants this year.

3:37 PM
My mouth effing hurts.

3:38 PM
I want to go home.

3:47 PM
I tell Roy I need to go.  My mouth is going to fall off.  And the chance to get into this writing fellowship, the one thing I was really hoping for, my one prospect for radical, wonderful life-change, has been swept away with one boilerplate email.

Time to go.

Roy is confused.  The window treatment guy isn’t here yet.

Now I’m confused.  You don’t need me to be here while the guy shows you samples.

Roy is incensed.  All this time since I’ve been done lying to receptionists (it was a lie, he’s not my friend) he thinks that’s what I was doing.  He thinks I was waiting around because I wanted to be here for the window treatment man.

The window treatment man?!

I just stare at him.  I admit, it wasn’t a very nice stare.  It may actually have been the kind of stare you give someone who doesn’t work but lets his house fill up with foil balls.  Someone who gets three speeding tickets and ignores them.  Who drinks vodka in the backseat of his BMW while you drive.  Who takes pleasure in teaching you lessons about his integrity.  Who thinks “Three and Half Men” is the best. Fucking.  Show.  On television.

A moment between us.  And we both know.  This is over.

DING-DONG.  Window man is here.  I answer the door on my way out.  Window man greets me.  I’m the one who made the appointment but I just nod to Roy – talk to him.  I have to go.

I have to fix my mouth.  And my life.

You Bury Me

The best thing about learning another language is discovering that there are words from other places, spoken by other people, that describe things your own language has neglected to name. It’s a humbling and liberating moment, realizing that your native tongue – which has illuminated the world and taught you to see – does not illuminate everything.  There is still more to behold.

So with all due respect to our beautiful and versatile language, I’ll pass along this list of the “Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable in English” (and what is the Internet for if not for distributing such things?) in which I found not one, but two, foreign phrases that elegantly express the seesaw state of my achy-breaky heart.  (“Achy-breaky,” of course, being one of the unique idiomatic triumphs of the English language.)

The first is the Portuguese word: Saudade.  Described as:

a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”  It’s interesting that saudade accommodates in one word the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love.

I would venture to say that, in the process of coming out, every gay person has been intimate with this word.  Has lived this word.  Woken up with it and gone to bed with it.  Fought it and nurtured it.  Despised, denied, treasured, and cursed it.

And, speaking for myself, the “vague desire” of saudade is anything but vague.  It can be perfectly expressed in the second word: Ya’aburnee.  From the Arabic, meaning:

“You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

A tad morbid, I guess.  But until Billy Ray coins another phrase, it comes closest to conjuring that muted longing in my heart, roiling just below the surface.

Last summer I read Benjamin Mee’s memoir We Bought a Zoo in which he describes his wife’s death from cancer.  With frank and piecing eloquence he writes about his utter devastation, his howling, inconsolable collapse.  I put the book down and cried.  Not for Benjamin, though his story had earned my sympathy, but for the kind of love that would make such grief possible.  The kind of love that impales when its object is snatched away.  The kind that requires other words from other places.  The kind that exchanges saudade for ya’aburnee.

GUEST BLOG: So You’ve Taught in the Bronx. But Can You Multi-Task?

We are honored to welcome our very first GUEST BLOGGER! While we have promised to preserve her anonymity, I’m afraid her radiant prose, razor-sharp wit and rock-star resilience may just give her away…

In my morning sift through the rocky stream of Craigslist posts, I suddenly feel a rush. The gold nugget of gigs: a job with a built-in gym membership. Eureka! Iknew I moved to California for a reason.

Let me back up. I’m a “filmmaker.” Recently earned my MFA in directing. 36. Poor, with insurmountable debt. Unemployed, in any traditional sense. Moved from New York City to L.A. a month ago. And I don’t have a car.

Yes, you read that right.

Most days I feel far from filmmaking. Scrambling for gigs is a full-time job, leaving little time for creative work. My standards for what I’ll do to make money have sunk under the limbo pole of my bank account balance.

“front desk position at busy fitness center.” Not enough corporate branding for capital letters. That’s cool, a little homey. I ignore the hourly rate, barely above minimum wage. If I dwell on it, I’ll recall earning more as a babysitter when I was twelve. “must have reliable transportation.” What could be more reliable than my used bike?, I scoff, as I prepare to lie about having a car. FREE GYM MEMBERSHIP blinks on and off in my head. And it’s near where I live in the East side, unlike so many posts at the city limits.

I mark my calendar and plan my schedule around the open house later in the week.

Thursday comes. I print my service-oriented resume, do some pushups, tickle my marathon medals like a wind chime. I was born for this job. Just a formality really, going to the open house. I’ll be the first one to arrive; their eyes will gloss over during subsequent interviews. My only worry is being so overqualified.

Now let me clarify something: I’m not some rich kid with a sense of entitlement and effortless social mobility atop a safety net. I’ve worked hard my whole life at a series of challenging jobs, and I also recognize the privilege of my education and experiences. This particular transition from graduate school and across the country, however, has lit a fire under concerns I’ve struggled with for years (in good company): what it means to live as an artist in our capitalist society, the disparities between professional training and opportunity, our country’s distribution of wealth, the state of the job market, the detriments of un- and underemployment…

But back to my impending free gym membership and side career as a receptionist.

I pack my wardrobe change in my hand-me-down backpack and set out, over the L.A. River and through the palm trees. It’s never clear from Google Maps just how hilly a street can be. I stand, climbing steadily, willing myself not to sweat too much.

Finally, the neon GYM sign. I do my standard recon for the nearest potential bathroom where I can spin around faster than the speed of light into my Wonder Woman interview clothes. A Starbucks! Best case scenario.

Yes, I know I’ve been in here for too long, I tacitly respond to the impatient jostle of the door handle. As I exit, the snarl of the next-in-line man softens into an unapologetic stare at my miniskirt. Transformation confirmed. I hide my helmet
in my backpack and stroll past my own bike like we’ve never met. I enter the gym’s parking lot, and step out of my imaginary car.

The gym facility is average. Not disgusting, but it’s no Equinox. A few interviewees mill about. They’re younger than me. Fit. Polished. They hold car keys. I see a headshot through a translucent folder. The non-stop casting session of this town.

I’m told I look angry when I’m not actively smiling, so I force a friendly expression as I encounter my future colleagues.

Brian emerges in all his 5’5” salt-and-pepper splendor. “I’m Brian, co-owner. I’ll be doing the interviews.” I re-think the 4-inch heels that predispose short men to hate me.
“Hi Brian, nice to meet you,” I muster everything I know about interviews and first impressions. Eye contact, name, firm handshake. I try not to tower over him as he gazes up my nostrils, but it’s impossible. I can’t slouch if we’re gonna talk yoga. It’ll be better when we sit. He warns me he only has a few minutes per interview then proceeds to tell me his life story. It’s fascinating to him.

“So why do you want to work in a gym?”

An obvious question. So obvious I should have prepared a response. “Well, I love gyms. I’m a member at Equinox.” No. Not a good answer. “Why do you want to scrub my toilet?” “Well, I love porcelain. I own stock in Lladro–”

Brian was waiting to pounce: “I always tell people: I looooved Great Adventures when I was a kid, so fun, so exciting. But you know what? Not so fun when you get a job there and you’re spending ten hours a day on your feet, cleaning the rides.”

It’s a little too convenient, the analogy. If I wasn’t begging him to be my new boss, I’d call his theme park bluff. But instead I nod. Yep. Got it. Smile. Keep smiling. Your jaw is trembling. Can we get to my Ivy League degrees?

“What about multi-tasking? No offense, but when I look at your resume it doesn’t say multi-tasking.” Right. Teaching middle school, directing movies, running a film camp, waiting tables, serving cherry-dipped Dairy Queen cones… But multi-tasking?
That would be new for me. Perhaps checking people into your frumpy no-name gym could teach me a thing or two.

“Yes, sure I can multi-task. Definitely.” I’m nodding like a bobble-head. The lady doth protest too much. “I multi-task all the time.” Brian jots something down in the handwriting of an adolescent girl, presumably “not a match.”

I listen to the spiel: first round open house, second round interviews with the other owners for just the top people, training days, probationary period. He has a lot more people to see, so he’ll walk me out.

En route, he starts up with another candidate mid-sentence. I turn and attempt a “Thank you, Brian.” Nothing. Like I’ve held up my hand for a high-five. I walk away. Back to my car I mean bike. It hits me that there’s no way I’m getting this
job. I will need to earn an extra fortune this month if I want to keep my actual gym membership, the only optional expense I allow, the only thing keeping me sane and in shape for the obstacle course of this city.

I return to Starbucks, but why bother with all those doors when I can just slip my shorts on underneath my skirt and shimmy out of my power outfit right there at an outdoor table. Am I homeless? No, I remind myself that I do pay rent somewhere,
and in fact, it’s due soon. And this gig clearly isn’t happening. So it’s back to mining. I’ll settle for copper. Mica even.

I fasten my helmet and if nothing else, take small pleasure in peddling past the stagnant, rush hour traffic.

Madame Chancellor Makes Her Exit

There is something about this scene that’s been haunting me all day. The power of the silence. The footfalls on the sidewalk. The shutter-clicks of cameras. And the deafening disdain for this woman whose actions and horrible reactions have demonstrated the precarious and easily breached boundary between upholding order and sanctioning blatant brutality.

But this is not the parade of a war criminal surveying her victims.  Nor a petty tyrant deigning to acknowledge the rebels.  This is the steady, deliberate walk of a person clinging, however unworthily, to some kind of dignity, as she is forced to encounter the unequivocally damning (yet completely peaceful) judgment of the students – her students! – whom she has notoriously declared a threat to campus safety.  Their mute condemnation, it seems to me, leaves her astounded.

And maybe that’s what floors me about this video – the eloquence of her bewilderment.  The image of a person in authority, a decent, perhaps even humane, person being confronted with the outrage she has induced.  There is genuine discomfort, it seems to me, when she is asked if she still feels threatened by the students.  I read her barely audible response as a quiet plea for understanding: “I never felt threatened.”

This is the staggering moment that an academic politician, who has made difficult, and, it turns out, terrible decisions (and then failed utterly to own up to them) confronts the human costs of her failure.

But she is not a monster.  And this scene is all the more haunting for the humanity it displays, both from the protesters and their Chancellor.

On Getting Fired By a Sad Sad Trust-Funded Alcoholic, Part III

The rest of that first day with Ron proceeds like so:
Roy wants me to make several calls arranging for the carpets to be cleaned, a gardener to come spruce up the yard, and a window treatment guy to give an estimate on installing blinds.  He also wants me to call a few lawyers just to feel them out, see if they can help his traffic ticket situation.
Since cell reception is bad in the house, Roy suggests I take my phone upstairs. Just make sure you take your socks off up there, he says. 
I decline.   This bothers him.
At the end of the day we arrange for me to return at the same time the next morning.  We talk about payment; I say the end of the week will be fine. 
That night, I tell a few friends about my day and nearly everyone is in agreement: I should have insisted on being paid right then and there.  I’m not sure what to make of this.  Roy may have been strange – yes, he was certainly strange – but he’s out to scam me.
Their doubts needle me.  Maybe they’re right.
The next morning, Roy is in a good mood as he opens the door.  Just doing some sun meditation, he says.  
I tell him, before we go to hockey, that I have two requests: one, no open containers when I’m driving.  Non-negotiable.  He nods.  You’re right.  And two, I thought it about and I changed my mind.  If it’s all right, would you mind paying me for yesterday and today at the end of the day?
This does not go over well.  I see the frustration and anger rising.  He accuses me of questioning his integrity.  I apologize.  It’s not enough.  He goes in rhetorical circles for fifteen minutes.  I stand there.  Nodding.  Every once in a while objecting, trying to smooth it out.  Trying to get him to see it from my point of view.  It’s hopeless.  He brings up the socks from yesterday. 
Roy: Maybe you think you’re too good for this job. 
And I think: There was a time when I was too good for this job.  Then my loans kicked in.
Roy: I just want a relaxed atmosphere. 
Easily achieved with raspberry vodka.
Roy: I don’t want this to feel like a boss-employee relationship.
Which is why you sit in the BACK of the car.
Roy: I want it to be like a frat.
He simmers.  I ask if he’d like me to leave.  He stews.  Mulls it over.  Decides I can stay, finally convinced he has taught me a valuable lesson.  There will be many more valuable lessons by then end of all this.
We drive to hockey in silence.  Turns out it’s a pick up match today.  Lots of guys show up.  Including this big tall alpha dude who was born furious and only finds occasional relief by winning insignificant contests.
I watch this guy as Roy plays.  Trash talking.  Screaming expletives.  I watch Roy slice past him, out-skate him and score a goal. 
Could you believe that guy? Roy asks on the way home.  I know, I say.  What a tool.  It’s like everybody’s there to have a good time, he says, and this guy’s playing like there’s NHL scouts in the stands. 
I smile.  A moment of solidarity.  Maybe this will work out after all, I think.  Maybe this will be okay.      

Do Like Natasha

This week’s “Do Like Natasha” (in which we explore alternative “modifications” to everyday life) is about exercise.

I can’t afford to go to a gym right now.

So twice a week I’ve been hiking Temescal Canyon Trail in the Pacific Palisades. It’s a great hike.  Just the right length with lots of great up-hill sections for some really nice cardio, and some of the best views I’ve found: the whole city on your left and the Pacific ocean on your right.

And it’s free.

But there’s something about hiking that’s also exceptionally useful for staying sane. And staying sane is the name of the game right now.

When I hike, the swirl of (mostly useless) thoughts and (entirely useless) anxieties that are always loafing about, falls away as I move up the trail.  These are lazy thoughts, you see.  And so they can’t keep up.  Get a little momentum going, and I can always outpace them.

But something else remains in their place – the weightier thoughts, the deeper, creative, spiritual thoughts, which seem to float along with me, like balloons tethered around my waist.  They are good and respectful companions.

Maybe others have had this sensation when running, but when I attempt that honorable sport, my thoughts generally go like this: I hate this I want to stop I hate this.  So I hike.  And leave, if just for an hour or two, my lazy loathing in the dust.

Quoting Mad Men

Season 4, Episode 3: “The Good News”

Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves.  And everyone else can see it right away.