Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting to it, Job Search

This summer finds me once again in the unfortunate circumstance of having to find gainful employment. At this point I'd happily accept pretty much any job for any amount of money, just to deviate from my current trajectory which can only conceivably land me in a state of full-fledged agoraphobia and complete disconnection from the world as it is. I don't want to get this culture shock I seem to sense every time I venture down my hill and into the land of lives being lived. It's truly disturbing. So, in an effort to redirect, I recently went to this free "job readiness" class. It was just a little three-hour presentation by a woman from the Workforce Center on things like building a resume, what occupations are most in demand, "workplace basics," internet resources, things like that. Couldn't hurt, I figured, and it would get me out of the house, kind of a test-run, to see just how alienated I truly am.

Turns out I'm not actually much of a lost cause after all. 

When I walked into the chilly little conference room where rectangular folding tables and chairs had been arranged three-deep, I decided I was going to stuff my natural inclination to hide somewhere in the back of the class and be passive in every possible way. I was going to participate. So, I didn't sit at the first table, but I didn't sit at the last either. I sat at the second table, at the end closest to the wall facing the door. 

Giving the presentation was this sprightly older woman with grown children of her own. She dotted her "i"'s with little circles and said things like "a positive attitude is contagious." She introduced herself and explained that, with her husband working and kids gone, she took a job at the Workforce Center and gave these classes because she loves interacting with the public, it was one of her passions. Then we were encouraged to go around the room and introduce ourselves and name our passion. Luckily she started at the back table, which was the most full, so I had at least a little bit of time to not listen to other people's introductions and try to figure out what my "passion" is. I started kind of listening when she got to my table and was in fact rather interested when she got to the girl who was sitting next to me.

It didn't escape my attention that my very presence in this class, among the others who seemed to be in attendance, didn't paint me in an especially good light. The class started at 9:00 AM and most of the people there looked like they had just stayed up all night in order to get there at that hour rather than set an alarm. Although much time seemed to have been spent applying makeup and fixing bleached or colored or permed hair, not many of the women in attendance took similar care in selecting professional-looking clothes, opting instead for short shorts or ill-advised leggings and oversized shirts with graphics like "God, Guns, and Guts Made America." The girl sitting next to me had a really painful-looking black eye and had already been talking to me like we were old friends by the time she introduced herself.

I had been agonizing over what my passion was going to be, but she had to stop talking to me, mid-sentence, to make her introduction and declare her passion to the class and she stumbled upon the best "passion" one could have, given the type of job opportunities which seemed most readily available for this, my, demographic. She loved fast food: cooking it, serving it, especially the drive-thru. She wanted to go back to college and learn to "talk good" and get some kind of business degree so she could manage a fast food restaurant.

I was so busy thinking about her life when it was time to give my introduction that I kind of just blurted out my name and said I enjoyed writing. As soon as they moved on to the next person, this girl next to me started talking to me again.

"You like writing? I'm actually a published author," she announced.

Then I was really interested. "Really? That's really cool. What did you write?" I had to ask.

She said, "Remember back in grade school, they had that "young author" award?"

I did remember. She said she had won in fifth grade for a story about a lost horse. Then she proceeded to tell me about the last time she got out of prison. 

By the end of the class I had learned that first impressions last a lifetime, that Spanky the drug-dealer gave this girl a ride home from prison, that we should all prepare a "master resume" and a "targeted resume," that this girl had a son named "Camo, after camouflage," and that the windshield of a car is so big and the rear view mirror is so small because we shouldn't focus too much on what is already behind us and look instead to our big and bright futures.

On our way out I stopped to thank the woman who had given the class and I shook her hand. That day I happened to have some blue string with some beads on it braided into my hair. I was instantly self-conscious about it when I had walked in, but this woman now said that she really liked my hair and asked how I had done it. For some reason, her saying that to me lent some dignity to the whole experience and I left feeling really good. Or maybe a positive attitude really is contagious.

I'm Still Here

Yep, I'm still here. I don't feel good about not having written anything for so long and I have no excuses to offer. I think I just waited a little bit too long, maybe a week or so. Already feeling like a failure, I then started to try to figure out why I got complacent so that I could explain it to you with a more satisfying and elegant word than "sloth." I thought about that for probably a good three to four weeks. Having met with failure again with that task, and as my lists of things to write and worry about grew longer by the day, I decided there's really no noble segue back into posting on a semi-regular basis and if I don't want to succumb to total defeat I've got to just get to it.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Oh, Deer!

When I was little my mother wouldn't let hunters do their hunting on our land. Back then I figured that was strictly because she couldn't stand the thought of something being killed on her property, on her watch. Now I understand that a big part of what drove her to go charging up the ridge, into the forest, to ask hunters politely to leave, wearing earth tones, risking her own life, was that we kids were always running around on that ridge, wearing earth tones.

So, I come by it naturally when I say I don't like hunting. I don't know what it's like to go hunting, but I know I don't want to go because it's everything terrifying wrapped into one experience. Waking up early, trudging off into the cold, sitting perfectly still for hours waiting for... something, loud noises, carnage, heavy lifting, and all to produce a rotting corpse I now have to deal with in a time-sensitive manner. I don't care much if other people want to hunt, I just don't want it to impede my life in any way. I never had any problem with deer. They never seemed to have a problem with me. We were coexisting perfectly, better than most humans and me even. And now this:

We pulled into the driveway the other day and were met by what I interpreted to be a gang of angry punk/grunge adolescent deer standing around trying to look bored and offended at the same time. It was like if deer replaced every album cover from the '90s. They barely lifted their heads. I don't know if there's a poppy plantation nearby where they gather but it's the only thing that makes sense. That or they're organizing.

I was so stunned at their total denial of my entire existence that I actually found myself kind of like, "Hey, deer, uh, these rules were made thousands of years ago, how DARE you stand there in MY way. When I come YOU go, that was the agreement." I was shocked at their audacity and at my reaction to not being considered enough of a threat to their existence to even meander out of the way of the car. They clearly have no idea what I am capable of. As I said before, I still would never kill a deer, but in return, I WOULD appreciate some acknowledgement from the deer of the grace I'm giving their piddling little existence. I'm a MAN! As in, I'm a woman but it sounds better to say "man" when declaring your person hood in front of any sort of obstacle.

I was equally miffed and intrigued after this stare-off and wanted to test them right back, because that's what you do when you find yourself feeling those two emotions equally. So, I waved my arms from inside the car. Blank stares. I actually opened the car door, got out of the car and yelled "Hey, DEER!" A few kind of looked at me like they'd be looking at me while lighting a cigarette, "You sure you want to do this, Slick?" Damn right. So in a display of the most boldness and confidence and superiority I've given in at least a decade, I came from where I was standing behind the car door and marched right up to them. "Hey, DEER!" Looking behind me at Justin still seated in the car. "This is amazing!" I tried to look as menacing as I could, as I felt my bravery slowly crumbling into mere bravado. I raised one arm like it was a gun. It's stupid, I know, but I couldn't back down now, I had to do something. I continued my calculated march with my arm-gun, head kind of tilted like I might be looking through a scope or aiming. Whatever I was doing, just take my word, it was really dumb, but at the time I felt like it was incredibly cool. Before I got within arms reach of the mob I started clapping and they finally skittered off into the back yard, which is where I last saw them, where they probably still are, building a bigger, nicer house behind me to make me look more ridiculous.

So, if only in the interest of maintaining our dignity as MEN, and women and children, infants and infirm alike, someone take some of these deer out. Let 'em start hunting with machine guns and grenades. Otherwise I'm liable to just drift off into the woods in shame and let them move on in because what possible value can a person be if you can't even make deer acknowledge you? Sorry Mom, the world is moving on, changes are afoot, it's a free for all down here.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Parroting and Parrots

I'm not an animal person. They're unpredictable, needy, and just one more living thing I pathologically want to like me. Justin, on the other hand, will welcome anything into our home which requires regular maintenance. Despite our limited space I have deemed one corner our "Flotsam and Jetsam Corner," wherein we have a revolving door of fish and birds. The Flotsam fine as they require minimal attention. The Jetsam, two parakeets, were a nuisance at best to begin with but I've been shocked to find that I am rather intrigued by the birds, Blue in particular. Blue is the blue parakeet, there is also a green one called Green who, when outside of his cage, regularly gets stuck in corners and small spaces inconsistent with life after a time and requires rescuing, which he doesn't even have the sense to recognize he needs and flaps around and bites and fights your good will the whole time. It makes me really resentful.

Blue has a little more sense. When he's let out of his cage he stays pretty much where he's placed and doesn't cause a lot of fuss. I attribute that to higher intelligence than Green, but is more likely due to the fact that we have one of those cool looking old fans with the razor sharp spinning blades behind about four "s"-shaped "protective" wires, about the gage of an earring post. It had occurred to us that the fan did pose a threat to a none-the-wiser pet shop pet with the ability of flight but, as with most potential threats which occur to us, we dismissed it, until one warm night when we heard the sound of something possibly going through a wood chipper and then a bunch of flapping around. We collected him off the floor from among a pillow of chopped feathers and coddled him to soothe the shock and tried to keep him awake to, I don't know, I mean, you're not supposed to let people sleep after a concussion, right? I doubt Blue had gotten a concussion, but we were trying everything short of immersing him in ice water that we'd ever heard of people doing to keep someone from dying. Minus a few feathers I think he came through the better for it since he was clearly significantly traumatized enough to stay where he's put. His favorite place is Justin's old baseball glove.

Justin gets obsessed with certain things over periods of time and once he's amassed a significant collection of products, gear, books, what-have-you pertaining to said obsession, the obsession moves on to something else. For instance, we will never again have to buy light bulbs because he went through a light bulb phase which compelled him to buy several of every size, type, color, wattage, and shape of light bulb. Right now, it's birds. He's a studious man and has devoted himself entirely to learning everything he can about birds, parrots in particular. And I have to say, they're fascinating, more interesting than light bulbs anyway, Tesla connection aside.

Apparently the most intelligent bird is the African Grey parrot, in terms of verbal communication. I find it fascinating that birds can talk. I had always assumed that when a parrot talked, he was merely "parroting" what he had heard. But according to Justin's research, the African Grey, among a few others, actually tell you things, they really are communicating.

The local pet store has a parrot that talks. His name is Clyde. He doesn't like anybody except the owner of the pet store, Mary. There is a sign on his cage warning customers to keep away, he bites. The sign is redundant though because if you even attempt any cutesy stuff with Clyde, he'll say "watch out" or "back off," depending on one's proximity. He acts mean all day but when it's closing time he starts talking his head off to Mary. "Clyde is hungry!" "Clyde wants out." When he gets too chatty, Mary will tell him "that's enough, Clyde, no more talking." To which he'll respond "Clyde doesn't want to stop!" Aside from referring to himself in the first person, he's like a little kid. He's got a vocabulary of about 150 words. And he uses those words not only to express what he's thinking and feeling, but to amuse himself.

Mary has a dog at home and when it's nice outside the dog is let out through a sliding glass door. This would not be a problem except that Clyde has learned that the dog's name is Sue and how to mimic the sound of Mary's voice calling Sue. Mary has had to learn to leave the sliding glass door open when Sue is out because if she closes it, Clyde will call for Sue in Mary's voice just to watch her run headfirst into the glass door. And he'll do it until Sue is about knocked out. Clyde finds it hilarious.

Humor is a pretty sure sign of intelligence. There's kind of a riddle, a thought process that goes with a sense of humor. For an animal to do something strictly because it's funny is amazing to me. On the other hand, these highly functioning parrots are known to mourn. Their life span is something like 30 years. That's a long time to learn language and emotions and form attachments and opinions. When the caregiver of a parrot passes away or is no longer around, they have been known to go into a kind of depressed state. They'll quit talking. They won't eat. They'll even weep, not necessarily shed tears, but will tuck their head under their wing and make sobbing sounds. They're mourning.

So, like I said, I'm not an animal person but I can't deny that they can be endlessly interesting, more so even than light bulbs. Every animal, if you study them enough has something amazing about it, bees, whales, dolphins, dogs, all of them are incredible. I don't want them in my house necessarily but I can appreciate a bird with a sense of humor and attitude enough to tell people to "back off." As for right now, Green is safe in his cage and not lost or stuck or anything and Blue has climbed/flapped up onto the couch and has been sitting on my leg the whole time I've been writing. He can't talk, of course, but I'd like to think that if he could he'd be saying "I like you."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mea Culpa

I've been long in writing because for ten days I was in county jail for a misdemeanor issue from long ago and I wasn't sure if I should say anything or not, but it is a flawed system and I had to experience it and I doubt anybody in there with me has the ability to express the craziness of punishment. I spent my days freezing, starving, bored beyond belief, reading crime novels and putting together puzzles. It would have taken $180 to get me out. I have more time than money so there I sat. It's not a reality you can accept. Every day you have to decide to be miserable and anxious all day because to "make the best of it" makes it okay, and it's not. For now, let his words suffice for mine. I don't want to offend or off-put anybody, but I can verify that what he says is absolutely true. There's no such thing as a "fair" and "speedy" trial. Those words are too abstract. A misdemeanor mole hill can quickly turn into a felonious mountain in no time. A clean record can muddy really quickly when you'll do anything to get out of jail. You find yourself part of a demographic you'd never have dreamed. And it goes on and on. The best defense, of course, is a good offence, but once your defense is gone, you're at the mercy of the prejudices of those determining your fate. I come from a good family, I married into a good family. My mistakes and consequences are purely my own. Being as I have found myself in a questionable, if not totally unfair and ambiguous system, and I have a small platform, I guess. I just wanted to make everyone aware of what happens once you're part of that system. Salil Dudani says it better than I could, and he's probably more credible, but all he says is true, and worse. Again, my consequences are strictly my own, mea culpa.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

...and then I was hit by a truck.

I have a hard time with emotions a lot. I have a hard time figuring out how to behave and when confronted with some emotional outpouring I usually respond in whatever manner I consider most likely to tame that emotion and bring the interaction back into equilibrium. I'm the emotional version of the second law of thermodynamics. Usually this is a good thing, unless it's not and I find myself laughing at totally inappropriate times or saying something morbid and depressing when I should be laughing.

I ran into this girl, a friend of a friend, whose name I couldn't recall in 1,000 years but she talked to me with the familiarity of a lifelong friend, which in itself throws me right away. I was only paying a minimal amount of attention to what she was saying because she looked a little worse-for-wear in the traditional Walmart-shopper uniform of fleece Mickey Mouse pajama pants bursting at the seams, over-sized Duck Dynasty t-shirt, and flip flops. Her red hair was a greasy mess perched atop her head and similarly-clad children were running circles around us. I had to come up with something so I asked her what she'd been doing all these years since I'd last seen her. I was expecting the social standard "not much" or "oh, you know" or something. What I got was more like a list of increasingly tragic circumstances, recounted with all the weight and melodrama which makes these situations so dangerous for me, not a hint of humor or light, something along the lines of:

"Oh girl... well, you know that [what's his name] left me after [what's her name] was born, but what he didn't know was that I was pregnant again! And I guess that's just as well because I lost that baby. Oh, I nearly bled to death on the way to the hospital because the dadgum car wouldn't start and I had to wait for [what's his name two], you know, these two's dad, to pick me up. Anyway, I lost the baby and spent nearly a week in the hospital. I told my boss and had doctor's notes when I got out, but she already hired someone else. We lost the apartment so me and the kids moved in to Mamma's trailer. She has a bunch of cats. Yeah, the cats just come and go. She always has a feed bowl outside for them. Her food stamps don't buy cat food so she usually buys a bunch of bologna and cheese and milk so the cats can just eat what we eat. Well [what's his name three] had just started crawling and got into the cat bowl. Girl, you should have seen it! He had cats climbing all over him! I think I have a picture... [pause for picture of traumatized child] ...Have you ever seen anything like that? Anyway, I took him to the doctor for all the scratches, just to be safe. I just got this stuff I have to rub all over him twice a day. He seems alright, that stuff is sticky though so we have to wipe all the cat hair and crumbs and dirt and crap off of him all the time. Anyway, I found a new job working nights at this gas station but it was about a dadgum mile from the house and I had to walk. I worked there almost two months and then I was hit by a truck."

And with a "what can you do?" shrug her story was over. I had managed the first several sentences with what I felt to be an appropriate degree of sorrow and empathy. About the time the food stamps were used to buy food for the cats I started wondering if I was being messed with but I maintained an empathetic expression while watching her closely for some indication that she recognized how crazy this story was and that it's a lot to react to in a grocery store aisle, but she just plowed right through in an Eeyore-esque monotone. Then she was hit by a truck and, with that, her story was over.

Now it was my turn to look hit by a truck. There was a moment of panic as my hyper-self-awareness tried to reason with my totally-uncalibrated sense of humor. Then I actually issued a giggle as my sense of humor overwhelmed my social grace.

"Damn, girl! You were hit by a TRUCK?!?! I would have started my story with that!" I managed to explain, and it was okay because she seemed to recognize how absurd life can be and that despite all the horror she lived, she had a great story and a captive audience for just those few moments leaning against her shopping cart full of bologna and cheese. She kind of chuckled. I laughed, encouraging her, and she started laughing. I told her I would pray that things got better for her, to "keep in touch" even though we didn't exchange any information, and I patted her on the back with "...hit by a truck, good Lord, girl!" as she giggled and wiped a mass of cat hair and fluff off of the toddler in the cart.

Things might always be horrible and scary and it's hard to keep from being mired down with all the regret and shame and fear and negativity, but, as for right now, I'm thankful that my story doesn't end with me getting hit by a truck. And, as thanks for the story she provided, keep my friend in your prayers.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Boo Radley Is My Neighbor, Maybe

I moved to this nice little plot of land at the "loop" part of Dowdy Loop over ten years ago. In all that time I've not spoken a single sentence to our next door neighbor, Jeff, or Boo Radley-my euphemism for him, the reclusive hero from Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird". We've never even exchanged the niceties one would expect of neighbors. It's not that I'm snooty, and I've been told I can seem snobbish on occasion, nor do I consider myself overly shy or rude or ignorant of social norms. The thing is, in all these years I can't think of a single face-to-face encounter he and I have had. There's the strangeness of that, and then there are some other eccentricities and unflattering stories about him, the validity of which I question but I certainly wouldn't be shocked to find they're true.

There is a wooden fence between our properties. Nearest the road is a nice little house where his mother lived. Behind that is a two-story dwelling that looks kind of like a tree house without the tree. Between the two is a graveyard of old cars and BMX bikes. Sometimes we hear him revving the engines of the cars but they never seem to be driven or even moved. I think he cleans and "restores" the bikes but, like the cars, they never seem to be ridden or moved. And I've only ever actually seen him outside working on his toys a handful of times. In fact, I've had the most luck catching sight of him in the evenings walking from his house to his mother's to get his plate of supper, returning home to eat, then taking his plate back to his mother. And every Thursday he rolls the trash out to the curb for Friday pickup and back again the instant the the trash is emptied. Other than that, he's a rumor, a hypothesis, a phantom. Sometimes we'll be working in the yard and we'll hear footsteps through the leaves on the other side of the fence. Sometimes when we're getting ready to get in the car we'll catch a glimpse of him peeking around the side of a tree. Once, and I still try to convince myself I imagined this but I know it happened, we were sleeping with the bedroom window open, which didn't have a screen, and an arm reached up and through the window. It was jerked back and we heard retreating footsteps as soon as Justin and I had about three heart attacks apiece and turned on the light, but I'm fairly confident I know who it was.

When I first moved here, Boo's mother seemed to be at death's door. We wondered to ourselves how he would one day survive when she was gone. The old dear hung in for a good many years longer than was expected or humane and only passed on about two years ago. We had kind of concluded that Boo would have to move to some sort of assisted living-type establishment based solely on his reclusive and creepy existence which we assumed would prevent him from doing things like paying bills and feeding himself, not to mention interacting with at least one other human being. So now, since he continues to tinker with his toys, wheel his trash out like clockwork, peer at us from behind fences and trees, and presumably pay bills and inexplicably acquire food to sustain life, I'm desperate with curiosity. Is he a sneaky deviant as assumed or is he really a misunderstood kind-hearted recluse more like the fictional Boo Radley who saves the Finch children?

Today as we were working in the yard, a guy, a stranger I'd never seen, approached us from Jeff's property. He was talking to Justin, asking him if he needed any help with his project, but the stranger had my full attention. I'd never known anyone to visit Jeff, much less someone socially appropriate, even outgoing. His name was Steve and the best I could gather, he's some sort of relative of Jeff's and is just staying the night, hanging out and being familial I guess. He said Jeff was talking his ear off.

I couldn't help it. I had to ask what Jeff talks about. How does he survive over there? What does he do all day all by himself? I couldn't contain my curiosity and had to admit I really don't know how to think of him. Steve was easy enough to talk to and conceded that Jeff is certainly not your average guy, may not even be quite all there mentally, but Steve and I did agree that he is an interesting case. I learned that he ventures out about once a month to stock up on necessities. He receives some sort of income, Social Security or disability or something, with which he pays his bills. Steve said he had a TV and a couch in his bedroom and he listens to music and he has a bunch of photographs he likes to look at. I kind of bristled at that and questioned the content of the pictures, but it wasn't what you just, and I at the time, assumed. Steve said he takes pictures of his house and his room. Then he likes to sit in his room and look through all the pictures of his room. In his room.

I'm still undecided as to the eccentric but endearing Boo Radley-ness of my decidedly eccentric enigma of a neighbor. There has been enough questionable behavior to make me uneasy, but in over a decade I've yet to truly fear for my safety, well, aside from the arm through the open window horror show. There's no justification for that, assuming it was, in fact, him. Steve seemed comfortable with, yet aware of Jeff's proclivities, and appeared to even be somewhat amused by him and considers him a kind of harmless oddity. Of course, he spent time in the same room with him as opposed to having him peek at him from behind a tree. Maybe I'll start leaving notes for Jeff in a hollow tree. Maybe one of these days he just might save me or my children. Maybe there are real-life Boo Radleys. Maybe Jeff is one of them. On the other hand maybe one day he'll climb all the way through an open window and murder me...or take pictures of our house that he can look at in our house when he starts coming in night after night.