Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Whence Cometh the Muse?

I went back to work for several reasons:
  1. I was beginning to imagine the results of a good taxidermy job on my husband;
  2. My "hood-rich" spending habits required funding; and
  3. There is no street fashion in the suburbs.  There are Moms, who are inevitably dressed in yoga or running ensembles.  There are kids, with better wardrobes than their Moms.  And there are Geezers, who seem to be doing a dress rehearsal for their own funerals.
I am not a fan of Yoko Ono.  But if she has left one enduring legacy to this planet, it's that she managed to cross the Rubicon of 60 Years Old and did not start wearing stupid clothes.
I also went back to work in search of inspiration.  There is nothing like real life for inspiring rants.
I thought that a $10/hour job at a Chicago tourist destination would be a goldmine for great stories about the standout members of our species who manage to survive to adulthood and occasionally spawn offspring without the aid of a measurable IQ.  I was wrong.
Not that they don't exist at my new job.  But the job itself is so much fun and my co-workers are so nice that one is never left to the mercy of idiots.  Consider the following snippet of conversation, overheard on my second day at work:
"I'm relieving you for lunch now, because I'm leaving early today."
"You're leaving early?"
I never thought to hear anything like that in an American workplace.
So I have nothing to rant about.  And no complaints.  No complaints!  In fact, I am quite happy.  Yes, there are annoying people.  But for the most part, I am free to ignore them.  Which I do, happily.  If they choose to override my lack of interest, I call a supervisor and leave the situation to them.  A comfortable set of circumstances, indeed, but counter to my purposes.  Which would I rather have?  The comfortable circumstances, of course, as I seldom find rant-worthy situations amusing until much later and only then after altering my state of consciousness in ofttime illegal ways.
Thank God for public transportation.
Summertime is the worst for public trans.  Teenagers (many in possession of fake ID's) and children are out of school.  Parades, festivals, and the beach beckon from the big city.  Suburban "tourists" venture commuter rail, with all the trepidation of taking a canoe down the Amazon.  And everybody who just wants to get to work is utterly miserable.
Regular commuters try to cope via strong coffee (in the morning), cocktails (in the evening), headphones, and books.  We try to keep in mind the future well-being of our planet as we stand with aching feet staring wistfully at the six seats taken up by bicycles.  Babies wail, neophyte riders knee you in the back, underage drinkers shout with abandon, and the word "fuck" ricochets loudly through the cars with more frequency than a Quentin Tarantino marathon.
Seldom is any summertime commute completely free of these transgressions, though most of us count ourselves lucky if there are no weapons involved.
I am pleased to announce that I have already had a richly unpleasant encounter with one of the "summer folks".  I was on my way home from work, at an hour which unfortunately coincided with the mass exodus from Chicago's Pride Parade.  The costumery was a treat, but the ride home promised to be sardine-like.  In the crowd waiting to board the train, I noticed someone with a debilitating handicap.  I tapped the shoulder of the blond party-goer next to me.
"Let's see if we can make some room for this lady to get through."
She looked at me with utter - and unwarranted, I think - contempt, and snapped,  "There's someone in front of her with a buggy."
I tried again.  "I see that.  But I just thought..."
She turned away in a huff, while I muttered something lame and ineffectual like, "Some people..".  Which caused her to giggle and whisper into her friend's ear.  Then she shrugged her sunburned shoulders and said, "You can't move everybody."
Well yes, actually, you can.  Rosa Parks.  Mahatma Gandhi.  Etc. 
But not if you don't try.
To be fair, I wasn't feeling very Mahatma Gandhi-ish at that moment, so I let it drop.  Which cancelled out any brownie points I might have otherwise felt entitled to.  Self-congratulatory opportunities, sadly, are few and far between.
However, my confidence in the incidental muse is now restored.  And for that I want to thank you, sweetheart.
My one day both you and I be famous. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

My First Day of Work

Last Monday was my first day of work.

Any new experience involves feelings of discomposure.  One rises at a different hour, travels a new route, interacts with strangers.  I certainly felt discomposed, but I was not nervous. 
This lack of nervousness led me to the revelation that there is a HUGE difference between desperately needing a job and just really wanting one.  Yes, I really wanted this job, but if it didn't work out...oh, well...I could simply walk away with a bruised ego and a somewhat diminished sense of my abilities, a common enough by-product of getting older.  Acceptance can be a virtue (or an excuse to eat Cheetos) but, except for an almost imperceptible erosion of self-esteem, there would be no dire consequences should I decide to stay home and pretend to write the Great American Novel.    

So I did what I usually do when faced with a new experience:  I try to control it.  I have always labored under the delusion that, with careful planning, life can be lived with a minimum of discomfort.  No amount of intrusive reality has ever been able to sway me from that conviction.
Thus, as I set out for my new horizon on Monday, an hour earlier than what was reasonably necessary, I did so with suitable clothing, ready cash, a plethora of public transportation schedules.  And lipstick.  Always lipstick.
None of which helped, of course, during the tornado.
From the beginning, it was clear that very little of my planning was going to be actually helpful.  I woke up on Monday to be greeted by a non-functioning home computer, depriving me of my morning meditation ritual, which depends heavily on Spider Solitaire.
Next, before I donned the clothes that I had mindfully laid out the night before, I applied my new organic deodorant, "Fresh Lemongrass".  Little did I know that fresh lemongrass deodorant makes one smell like Thai take-out food.  I do now.
But I arrived in plenty of time for the train, and purchased a cup of coffee for the ride.  I put cream in it.  At least I thought it was cream.  It was not cream.  It was almond milk.  Have you ever tasted almond milk?  If the answer is "no", count yourself amongst the very fortunate.  I can't believe how rank it is.  Really rank.  Fucking ratchet, in fact.  If you have somehow persuaded yourself that you like almond milk, I don't even want to talk to you.
The train came on time, but the conductor immediately issued an announcement that the train in front of us had broken down.  That we would be pushing it all the way to Chicago.  That we would be delayed at least forty minutes.
Still, not a disaster, since I had left early.  I assured myself that I could hop into a taxi and manage to be on time for my first day of work.
Just my luck, the moment I stepped outside the station, it began to rain.  Rain, of any magnitude, in downtown Chicago, means that every available taxi is immediately occupied by guys in suits and women who live in abject terror of frizzy hair.  I waited 20 minutes for a cab.
I made it to work with one minute to spare.  Then I had a lovely, lovely day at my new job which was filled with fun and wonders and friendly people.  It was everything I had hoped for in my dreams of working at a museum - an escape from the ordinary, an entree into the Emerald City, the merry old land of Oz.
However, like Dorothy, the time came when I had to leave Oz and return to my metaphorical Kansas, and - unfortunately, and also like Dorothy - a tornado was involved.
The rain started again as I began my journey home.  I managed to get on the bus intact, but with each passing moment the severity of the storm increased.  Cars, trucks, and buses began skidding all over the roads, high winds furiously smashing rain against the windows.  Our bus hit a car, which sent unprepared passengers, including a small and surprised boy, flying.  Then the sirens began to wail - the unearthly, aliens-are-invading kind of sirens that warn a tornado is on the ground. 
I had an umbrella, but no jacket.  The umbrella lasted approximately three-tenths of a second after I got off the bus.  Sensing that I was destined to drown if I did not get to shelter, I made a dash for the train station.
And missed being the victim of vehicular homicide by about six inches.
Over the years, I have developed a working relationship with the bartenders at the station.  I need not speak a word to have a vodka/rocks/olives magically appear. 
They poured me a double.

There is something disturbingly biblical about all this.  If you have been following - with appropriately bated breath - my journey back to the joys of underemployment, you will know that I have already survived a plague of locusts.  Now I find myself somewhere in the middle of weather which promises to be of the forty-days-and-nights ilk, with forecasts providing sufficient evidence of a Great Flood to prompt the consideration of building an ark.
The Bible (what I remember of the Bible) implies that Noah survived because he was prepared.  Hah.
I say it never hurts to have friends in high places.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Interview

I had a job interview on Tuesday.  And you know what I said about omens in this post?  Forget about it.

I prepared for the interview in my usual way.  After a quick perusal of my potential employer's website, to give me an idea of what was currently going on with the organization, I printed some copies of my resume and references and put them in a folder.  Then I put the folder, a notebook, and a plethora of writing implements into my backpack.

And then I began the very stressful process of deciding what to wear.  Job interviews are so much like first dates.

The process consisted of:
  1. A check of the weather forecast (terrifying);
  2. A determination of the astrological sign of the moon at the time of the interview (Virgo);
  3. A review of the contents of my closet (panic-inducing).
Perhaps I am over-thinking this?  If you believe so, than you are not:
  1. Female;
  2. Over 50;
  3. Paranoid.
The biggest error - if you are female and pushing 60 - is overdressing.  Especially in the United States.  Especially in Chicago.  Well-groomed and well-educated people are met with a great deal of suspicion in Chicago.  A well-groomed and well-educated person in Chicago is regarded in much the same way as Snow White by The Queen. 
With that in mind, it is best to avoid a too formal, buttoned-up look.  When your interviewers are inevitably as young as your oldest child, it is wise not to remind them of their mothers.  Or Hillary Clinton. 
The forecast was for thunderstorms, hence terrifying.  In Chicago, thunderstorms are always accompanied by the distinct possibility that howling winds and funnel-shaped clouds are going to come roaring off the Great Plains and deposit you into Lake Michigan, which is - for all intents and purposes - an ocean.  The interview took place in a building actually on the shore of Lake Michigan which therefore precluded cute shoes.  I decided on ballet flats.  Not brilliant for the rain, but if I needed to run (which I did) or swim (which I almost did), I would be prepared.
Ballet flats, grey cropped trousers and a white blouse (Virgo; you should try this sometime).  Black linen jacket.  It was adequate.
The interview went well (then again, I always think my interviews go well).  It was a "group" interview and involved a lot of role-playing, which I usually hate but which was fun this time due to my general lack of caring and because the other people in the group were really nice.
Interview over, I went outside to wait for the bus.  A hundred feet or so from the lake itself and the skies looked ominous.  Suddenly they opened up and it was raining sideways.  Raining sideways, with the wind so strong it was bending trees.  I ran.
And ducked into a bus shelter.  Where I was promptly descended upon by hundreds, if not thousands, of small flying creatures.  This is true.  I wish it weren't.  There was not a square centimeter on my person that was not crawling with nasty little bugs.
I hate bugs.  I HATE BUGS.  Yes, I understand that they are essential to the ecosystem and generally harmless to humans.  I don't care.  My brain understands that.  But my fear of insects is primordial, and therefore supersedes my thought processes.  When faced with a bug I do not take the time to consider its role in the fertilization of flora.  It's fight or flight.
Yet I was in a dilemma.  Do I stay under the shelter, and try to refrain from screaming?  Or do I run out into the storm and risk being blown into Lake Michigan?  What should I do?  What would you do?  What would ANGELA MERKEL do? 
Then I noticed that if I stamped my feet and/or jumped up-and-down, a considerable number of the vile little bastards flew away.  But just for a few seconds, so I had to be continually stamping my feet and jumping up-and-down, and that is what I did.  That, and prayed I wouldn't run into an old boyfriend.
A hurricane and a plague of locusts.  How's that for omens?
I will soon see, because I got the job.  Maybe because I demonstrated, mathematically, why LeBron James is better off shooting a three-basket foul than going for a three-point shot.  I'm sure it didn't hurt.  There's a bit more to the story, but none of the rest of it is funny.
I start on the 15th of June.  It's part-time and temporary, but it is my dream job of working at a museum.  Though I am not going to say which museum.
The names will be changed to protect the innocent.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wife Bonus

Will wonders never cease?

Finally, after four months of a semi-dedicated search for gainful employment, I am the joyous recipient of that Holy Grail of all job seekers: 

The callback.

The callback came right after I had gone to talk to the charity thrift shop people about being a volunteer.  Of course it did.  It's like lighting a cigarette at a bus stop.  As soon as you do, the bus comes, as if summoned by a higher power.

I am well-versed in this phenomenon, and its accompanying disappointments, so I understand that a callback is not the same thing as getting the job.  But I have an interview next Tuesday and, if nothing else, I will have an excuse to dress up, go downtown, and - after the interview - spend the rest of the day at one of my favorite museums (note to self: bring flats).

That's all I'm going to tell you.  Until then.  So, woo-hoo! wish me luck.

In the meantime, in an effort to dissipate some of the nervous energy currently surging through my brain, I'm going to contemplate something that has recently been brought to the attention of the world:  the "wife bonus".

I consistently seem to be on the south side of trends that, were they happening when I was, I would have been genuinely interested.

One of these was the "push present".  And now the "wife bonus".
The push present, I get.  After the birth of my first child, I immediately understood (in spite of, or maybe because of, my penchant for uber-radical feminism) why men should buy women jewelry.  And open doors for them.  And walk behind them when entering a room.  And go out and hunt mastodon.  Personally, I think mothers should receive the same benefits as military veterans, especially if they stay home to raise the little buggers.  Unfortunately, I was of the generation who was bullied into "natural" childbirth.  Two of them.  One was almost ten pounds.  For that, there should be a Congressional Medal of Honor.  And don't tell me I'm a whiner.  That's what they told me in Lamaze, and they lied.
Now we have the "wife bonus" amongst the rich and powerful in New York City (and elsewhere, too, I'll wager, it's just too good), according to a somewhat casual anthropological study by one of the denizens of this caste.  A wife bonus is money given to a stay-at-home wife/mother who lives up to the expectations of the working, mucho-bread-winning husband. 
The criteria for the amount of money awarded is somewhat vague, and apparently varies according to the couple.  It seems to involve producing multiple offspring, terrorizing them into accomplishments, not getting fat, running the households (plural) within a prescribed budget, and throwing dinner parties culturally indistinguishable from those on Downton Abbey.  What's not to love?
Is there a performance review process?  I hope so:
"Please step on the scale.  Right.  Two pounds up."
"But still, under the maximum limit."
"True.  But I'll need to put you on warning.  How are the kids?"
"Three of them are fine.  One keeps setting his East Shore Country Day Pre-Pre-School classroom on fire."
"I don't know.  He can't talk yet."
"Hmmm...Household budget?"
"Ten thousand over.  We needed a sailboat."
And so on.  Perhaps this is a trend that will trickle down.  Imagine the same concept interpreted for a more typical American home:
"Please step on the scale."
"I'll step on your head."
"Go on, get up there.  Right.  JEEZ, lay off the cheeseburgers!  How are the kids?"
"On probation."
"Good!  Household budget?"
"Five hundred over.  The kids are out of jail, they gotta eat."
I happily welcome the phrase "wife bonus" into my vocabulary, as will Webster's in some future edition, I predict.  I will amuse myself with this for years.  For instance, what kind of bonus could I imagine for myself...?
Nah.  Forget it.  Too complicated. 
I would prefer just to be tipped.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I am a big believer in omens.

This has always driven my children crazy.  My pathetic attempts to console them in their disappointments were mostly centered on "going with the flow" and what was "meant to be" and what wasn't.  Which, obviously, was inadequate since they were/are worldly, informed millennials, and I am:
  1. An old hippie;
  2. A second-generation Sicilian;
  3. Slowly coming to believe that what I know as "reality" is actually a highly sophisticated computer simulation game, played by what appears to be a disgruntled teenager, living in the far distant future.  Whose parents don't understand him, either.
Whatever the case, it's worked for me as often as not, so I have no reason to change.  Lately, I have begun to suspect that my inability to find a job is "the cosmos" telling me  that maybe I have enough money and there's something else I should be doing.  Which is so much nicer than thinking that I'm just washed-up.

At any rate, I went online yesterday looking for volunteer opportunities.  And I came upon an opportunity to volunteer at a local thrift store, the proceeds from which go to provide services for disadvantaged families in my community.

My son called me last night:

"Hi, Mom!"

"Don't laugh at me."

"I won't laugh at you."

"I've put in a request to work at 'Little Treasures'.

"I'm not laughing."

"It just seems like a good way to 'give back'.  Even if I do it just until I find a job."

"Well, you're the Queen of Retail, so I'm sure you'd be great at it."

"I mean, I could be doing something like working with children with disabilities, or the homeless, or something, but..."

"Yeah, I know.  Me, neither.  I don't have the bandwidth."

Bandwidth???  Bandwidth!  I love that!  What an amazing insight!  Kinder and gentler than blaming oneself for straight-up "emotional cowardice" or "sheer laziness", the concept fits in - perfectly - with my #3, above.  Thank you, dear child of mine, for taking the edge off my occasional bouts of self-loathing. 
In fact, I may never have another bout again.   I feel empowered now to combat the amalgamated guilt of a lifetime caused by:
  1. Catholic schools;
  2. the '60s;
  3. public radio;
  4. Spike Lee;
  5. vegans.
And now Amal Clooney is going around demonstrating what kind of perks come with NOT spending your formative years being stoned all the time.
Bandwidth.  With a word, what was elusive comes into focus; and with a name, the unknown is known.   
Along with "bandwidth", there are some other wonderful phrases brought to our colloquial consciousness by our preternaturally wise millennials:
  1. "my bad";
  2. "don't judge";
  3. "because duh";
  4. "NBD";
  5. "nope"
Love me a generation who knows how to say no without feeling guilty.  Without making excuses.  Who can be fearlessly honest.  Who waste no time with self-recrimination and, instead, deal with what is.  This may be the biggest leap forward for humankind in history, our collective spiritual release from the endless succession of tyrants who have always known so well how to use our own minds against us.  These children cannot be fooled.  And they have brought to the lexicon simple phrases that convey a depth of understanding of human nature that boggles my mind and calms my soul.
You think I'm kidding.  I'm not.   
High time, I say.  And Bra.Vo.   

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Grey Hair - The Final Frontier

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ...I have grey hair.

And you don't.

In fact, now that you want it, it's going to cost you bucks.  Big bucks.  Like hundreds of dollars.  And all I had to do was get old.  Fucking brilliant.

It wasn't always easy.  While you all were hastening Silent Spring with your chemical dyes, I was suffering sympathetic looks ("Poor lady!  Is she homeless?"), negative judgemental treatment ("You are obviously too old for this job."), and the occasional verbal abuse.  This, from my dearest aunt:  "I don't know what you think you're doing.  And don't tell me that it looks good.  'Cause it don't."
Ha!  Tell that to Rihanna.

The list of the enlightened is impressive.  Besides RiRi:
Nicole Richie
Kylie Jenner (who spent 12 hours in a beauty shop going grey; good candidate for an astronaut)  
Kate Moss
Lady Gaga
Nicole Kidman
Stacy London
Emmylou Harris
Helen Mirren
Miranda Priestly (a ficticious character, but Meryl Streep never looked so good)
Sharon Stone
Nichelle Nichols (the original, and best, bad-ass babe)
Of course, there are the old stand-bys, like Jamie Lee Curtis and Judi Dench, who have been laughing up their sleeves at their over-processed sisters for years.  Just like me.
And is it a coincidence that "mom jeans" are also having a moment, as is Baddie Winkle?  What's next?  Asking your plastic surgeon for a wattle?
Actually, I know what's going on here.  There are two forces at play:
  1. Fashion, like The Environment, is going through a conservation crisis.  With social media spewing out trends faster than society can integrate them, we've used up all of our resources.  There's simply nowhere else to go, grey is the final frontier;
  2. In a world where everyone can make themselves perfect, the exotic beauty will be the girl with the space between her front teeth.
Something else I've learned:  the secret to fashion is that everything (even denim-on-denim) will eventually be in style.  So do what you want, be patient, and wait.  Know that, one day, you will wake up to paparazzi. 
Speaking of hair, let's talk about Hillary's.
As I have mentioned before in these writings, I am a dead (albeit somewhat younger and more fashionably dressed) ringer for Hillary Clinton.  (Our eyes are a different color, but when I'm wearing my "brain damage" glasses, it's not noticeable.)  And, for years now, I have noticed that, whatever I do with my hair, Hillary is not far behind.  If I let it grow, she lets it grow.  If I add layers, she adds layers.  If I cut it short, she cuts it short (I was in Spain when she went all helmet-head, so don't blame me).  And my latest haircut...
This is what I think is happening:  Clinton Foundation drones surround my house, monitoring my coiffures.  Imagine this:
"Honey-bunch?  That underemployed lady in Chicago cut her hair again."
"I'll make an appointment tomorrow."
"Looks like she's going with a full bang.  Looks good."
"Wonderful!  Cancel my Botox." 
"Oh, and...Honey-bunch?  It's just a thought, but..."
"Bring it, Bill."
"...maybe you should think about going grey."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Still Waiting...

I have now submitted five applications for jobs.  All of which I would be perfect for.
More than perfect, which is why I wait in confusion with my silent telephone wondering what the hell is going on.  I figure it has to be one of three things:
  1. Flat-out ageism.  No, my age is not on my application.  But the year I graduated from college is.  Which gives me pause, since it took me ten years to finish college.  Don't judge;
  2. Bad karma.  I'm overqualified for most of what I'm applying to, and since - once, long ago - I turned down a job applicant because he was overqualified, I might be getting a cosmic taste of my own medicine.  I'm sorry I didn't hire you, mister.  Very sorry.  Because the dork that I hired instead of you turned out to be a 24-karat freakazoid, which should have punishment enough, but I guess not.  I hope you found a job.  I hope it's not the one I want;
  3. My resume.  I seemed to have lost a year somewhere.  Whatever.  At this point, I just can't keep track of every little thing.
And it is true that one of my references goes by the name of "Final Boss" on his Facebook page, but I should think that would cancel out any reluctance on the part of a potential employer related to item #1, above.
So I'm still waiting.  Like Rapunzel.  All this silver hair to let down and no takers.  It has been suggested that I go blue.  I wonder...
In the meantime, I am keeping myself busy and happy with other things.  I keep busy studying mathematics and Italian online (which has made my Spider Solitaire "win" percentage go up a point), and I keep happy taking pleasure in small things, like noticing that Amal Clooney has short legs.
It's not that I don't love Amal.  I do.  She broke my heart marrying George, but won it back again by being photographed wearing stockings.  It's just that these superwomen, like Amal Ramzi Clooney (beautiful, thin, rich, Oxford graduate, barrister, author, human-rights activist) and Sophie Hunter Cumberbatch (beautiful, thin, rich, Oxford graduate, theater and opera director, playwright, actress, singer), loom a little large over my underachieving ass.  And keep marrying my favorite actors.
I can't go all Yoko-Ono on them and resent the very existence of these demigoddesses in our midst.  I am older and wiser now, and I understand that the world of the "beautiful people" is a world apart, an Olympus, one I will never understand nor have the opportunity, and that there never really was a chance of me ever even meeting a Beatle, much less marrying one.
But still.  I hope they can't cook.