The minute I saw the Republican candidates all lined up on the stage, chomping at the bit to get debating, I knew who the nominee would eventually be.
And how did I know this?
Hair. It was all about the hair.
Needless to say, my vision of next November's election began with noticing that Donald Trump's hair looked a little weirder than usual. Donald Trump's hair has always befuddled and, dare I say it? disturbed me. It has befuddled me because it's not like he's poor, or clueless, or doesn't care. He's a gazillionaire and goes to great lengths to get his hair to look that way, which can only be described as "surreal". And I have been disturbed, because it creates an eerie connection with Bill Gates that can't possibly be coincidental.
Jeb, I promise you, Woodrow Wilson would never have been elected president if TV had been around back then. Along the same lines, Mr. Huckabee, your likeness to Hubert Humphrey is doing you no favors.
Rand. Dude. If that's a perm, stop it. If it isn't a perm, cut it.
Chris, are you trying to look like "Big Boy"? I mean, is it necessary to have the hair, too? You haven't noticed? Don't get me wrong, darling. Personally, I find the resemblance rather endearing on account of the nostalgia I always feel when I see you. Because I knew, as a small child, that we were near Grandma's house as soon as I saw that jolly guy smiling down at me from the top of his restaurant.
Scott Walker? A walking ad for Hairclub for Men. To be fair, some of the hair on the back of his head may have defected and moved to Megyn Kelly's eyelids.
Ben, your hair is okay. But you're going to need more than okay to distract people from the growing suspicion that you hear voices.
(Where did this Kasich guy come from? Did I spell that right?)
So who's going to be America's Dream Date?
Marco Rubio, of course. With Ted Cruz (the thinking man's Donald Trump) right behind him.
Merriam-Webster defines underemployment as: "the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs."
That's a pretty fair assessment, though I would argue that one may not be a trained burger-flipper, but a job flipping burgers may hasten the onset of dementia in those who are predisposed to it. In other words, you can be intellectually underemployed, too. This type of underemployment occurs in many positions where one is dealing with the public and is provided with a "script" (the most imbecilic of which always begin with the word "welcome") created by people with marketing degrees and very little knowledge of how Earthlings actually talk.
You can also be morally underemployed, and these are the people in fields like politics, law, medicine, entertainment, and education who find themselves waking up in the middle of the night, pondering what sort of assholes they've become as a result of their daytime activities.
Then there is age-related underemployment, where you are required to do things on the job that are ill-suited to the mature person. This can be:
Physical ("Can you be on your feet for nine hours, with one 45-minute break?" "No. Do you know anyone who can? I mean, without repetitive stress trauma?");
Cultural (listening to FM radio "lite rock" all day. Every day);
Experiential ("I know what happens when you cut back on payroll. It's not good.").
The underemployed geezer is a class all its own.
If you think I'm talking about the AARP crowd, think again. I am using the word "geezer" in accordance with the evolved meaning currently in use by our society i.e., anybody over 40.
This is especially true in the workplace, where very young and inexperienced people are often given supervisory and management positions beyond their abilities because:
They make an attractive dating pool;
They perform their jobs acceptably if you take away their smartphones;
They are more flexible with their work hours, because they haven't yet reached the age where they need to sleep;
They're cheaper than old and experienced people. At least in the short-term;
They don't question authority. Mainly because they don't take it seriously. I would say with good reason.
Are, by definition, undateable;
Want more money. Sometimes, lots;
Need to eat and sleep. Sometimes, lots;
Are usually recently-fired refugees (which they desperately try to sugarcoat during the interview process), or moms returning to the workplace with computer skills the same age as their oldest child;
Will, often as not, greet corporate mandates with responses like "Really?"
Hence, it is difficult to find any employment when you are a geezer, which is why geezers so easily settle for underemployment. But once the 24-year-old hiring manager gets over his or her complete lack of personal interest in giving you a job, what happens next on the career path of the underemployed geezer is both a blessing and a curse.
Here's the blessing:
If you have anything on the ball at all, within one month at your new place of underemployment you will be enthsiastically embraced as the go-to, relied-upon, can't-live-without, employee-of-the-year. I promise you. Not that you will be offered a full-time position with a decent salary and benefits. You won't. But this is a wonderful thing if your self-esteem is dragging in the dust due to the dismissal circumstances of your previous job and/or the more visual effects of menopause. And you will happily respond by turning in a stellar work performance.
Which leads to the curse:
At that point you will be scheduled for exactly 34.5 hours a week. Every week. Given the work typical of most underemployment, this is not so wonderful unless you are desperate for money. Even if you ARE desperate for money, being at work almost full-time, all the time, tends to rule out any attempts on your part to look for something better. Or, if you're not desperate for money, to enjoy any of the potential benefits of underemployment, like free time. Furthermore, you will never take a sick day because you've already had, and are immune to, most of the endless cold and flu bugs that take down your younger workmates. (Yes, geezers get broken hips and have oral surgeries. But we bounce back quickly, having had practice with bouncing back from things like childbirth.)
In summary, you just can't win.
I write this after working 60 hours in the last seven days, most, cleverly arranged to straddle two weeks so that I wouldn't go into overtime.
You decide. I had to work, so the day began with getting up at 5:00 am, facing a ten-hour workday, and racing the clock to make the train. More importantly, I was racing to get to the Starbucks across the street from the train in order to grab a cup of coffee to comfort me on my ride into the city. A cup of coffee is crucial at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, and timing at Starbucks is everything. You have to be there early in case the place is mobbed by joggers ordering "skinny" decaf vanilla lattes.
There were no joggers when I got there. In fact, nobody was there. Starbucks was closed (!) and I stood at the door reading the note that said - apologetically - that they were remodeling and that there would be a beverage truck to attend to the needs of their cherished customers. I turned around to look at the street. No beverage truck. Though I did see a man with a cup of coffee who, upon questioning, admitted that he bought it at Einstein's Bagels, a block away and on the far side of the train tracks. There would be no time.
(I believe Starbucks is remodelling in response to the threat of a Dunkin' Donuts opening soon just a few steps away. Dear Starbucks, this is not an effective response to that threat.)
No big deal, I finally decided after a few deep breaths, thinking of how much cheaper Dunkin' Donuts is than Starbucks. I could be at the exit door and waiting to dash off the train as soon as we reached Chicago. I would glom some coffee in the station.
Then there was an announcement (also apologetic) from Metra: The train would be boarding from the OTHER side of the tracks, so if their valued passengers would please make their way to the other side...?
In my town, making one's way to the other side of the tracks involves going down a block to the next street, crossing the tracks, and then walking another block up to the point where the train will stop. In doing so, I passed within 50 feet of Einstein's Bagels, where coffee was surely perking merrily away.
But I still had another block to walk, and the train was coming.
Once on the train, I fought against caffeine deprivation to stay awake. If I was the first one off, I could score coffee. I tensely awaited my moment.
As we neared the station I sprang to my feet and sprinted to the vestibule. But a mere seconds before pulling in, the door opened.
And in walked, not one, but two blind people. With canes and service dogs. And the need for space. And courtesy.
I would be the most evil bitch in the world if I:
didn't back way off and give these people the consideration due to them; or
resented their very existence.
Caffeine deprivation can seriously mess with your mind.
I went back to my seat and did what the nuns told me to do in grade school: I offered up my suffering for the starving children in China.
I wondered if my commute was a bad rehearsal for a fabulous performance, or an omen of things to come. Upon making my groggy arrival at work, I learned that three people in my department had called in sick and that the computers had crashed. Which pretty much answered my question.
At the end of the day, my legs hurt. Specifically, my left leg was killing me and it was difficult to walk from the bus stop to the train station. My left leg has been bothering me ever since I began working again, but I chalked it up to being old, washed-up, and not lately used to being on my feet for ten hours, the hallmark of underemployment. I was exhausted, too. I mean really exhausted. Kaput.
As I walked, my mind was focused on the pain. Suddenly I realized that it centered around the area where my large crossbody bag was slapping against my thigh with each and every step.
When I got home I weighed the bag: 4.5 lbs. Four-and-a-half pounds?? Pounding against the same nerve in my leg for weeks? I weighed my backpack, too: 7.5 lbs. So after ten hours on my feet, I was putting on twelve pounds worth of equipment and walking up floor flights of stair, a block to the bus, six blocks to the train, and another block or so to where my chariot awaited.
Being a contemplative sort, I contemplated, "Why do I need to take twelve pounds of shit with meevery day to go to work?"
And I looked in my closet. An overwhelming wall of STUFF. I checked my dressers, too. I was swimming in stuff.
It's one of the few downsides of thrift store shopping. One can afford everything. Thus, I have been buying everything.
All at once, I felt suffocated.
I realized that having stuff, and having much of it accompany me everywhere I go, is my way of exerting control over my environment. No blame, because my experiences with life are such that I have been, at times, transported suddenly to places where I had little or nothing of my own for long periods of time. As a result of those experiences, I have been trying to be eternally prepared for any eventuality so that, if it ever happens again, I will have something of myself with me for solace.
I have now come to the conclusion that I could accomplish that with a flask and a credit card.
Since then I have been downsizing. Before I buy, schlepp, eat, drink, or smoke anything, I asj myself, "Do I actually need that?" The answer is almost always, "no".
The results have been encouraging.
And the next time I have some time on my hands, I will be doing a major "stuff de-tox". I'm at the age where I can accurately determine whether or not I'll be using something in this lifetime.
Hopefully, my "loss" will be other people's gain. A lot will be recycled back to the thrift shops.
Except for my purses. I no longer have any desire to own leather bags, and I have a veritable treasure trove.
Girlfriends, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Purse party at my house!
I don't want to be. I try to be nice. One of the benefits of getting older is that one's reflexes slow, so I've developed a delay that gives me a few seconds to pause and contemplate situations which heretofore would have elicited an immediate "fuck you" from my younger self.
Some of it has been a conscious effort. I carry around, in my wallet, some pages I once saved from a "Zen Quote of the Day" calendar. They are:
"Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always." (Rainer Maria Rilke);
"If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are." (Zen proverb); and
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." (Dalai Lama).
These are my commandments. These are the words I try to live by.
But - damn! - it is so hard. Try as I might, my first reaction to a clump of chubby suburban tourists standing posse on the escalator, and blocking any and all of my attempts to get to work, is: "Move it, heifers!"
The compassionate reaction would be: "Oh, how sad! These poor women are:
trapped in a prison of fat, due to an inability to overcome the genetic programming that prompts us to hoover up as much food as possible at every meal because we don't know when our hunters will be bringing home the next mastodon,
unfamiliar with the protocol of urban public transportation, which might cause them some difficulties on what should be a delightful visit to the city,
wearing khaki shorts."
I know I complain a lot about public transportation. There's a lot to complain about. I would like to cite as example the person behind me on the train last night who jabbed me in the back with her knees all the way home. ("She is just trying to take a nap. She must be SO tired after getting dumped by her boyfriend. Ommmm...")
I have learned recently, however, that Chicago public transportation is much, MUCH better than NO Chicago public transportation.
I love my new job, but one of the downsides is that it is near Soldier Field, a venue in Chicago that accommodates large gatherings of people for concerts, football games, sports rallies, etc.
Last weekend, it was the Grateful Dead farewell concert.
Nearly a quarter-million people attended, over three days. So what did the Grand Poobahs of Chicago Government do, in a spectacular display of sheer idiocy? They stopped public transportation to the venue and, by extension, my workplace.
They wouldn't even let cabs through.
So, in addition to being on my feet all day, I had no choice but a forced march of a mile or more at the end. Swimming upstream against the throngs of yowling, hairy, overage flower children, I entertained dark thoughts about them, the city, the band. Yes, I was letting life happen to me. I wasn't trying to make sense of it. But I couldn't summon up the compassion. I was in pain. And nobody even offered to share their weed.
Fuck them. AND their mayor. Ommm...
Starting today is Taste of Chicago, the city's annual five-day food orgy. So far, I haven't heard of any more genius ideas to modify public transit. For that I thank all the gods. On the other hand, I am anticipating invading hordes of suburbanites in search of sanctuary from Olive Garden.
For that, I will practice compassion. And cherish profound hopes that they will find nirvana in the scungill'.
I was beginning to imagine the results of a good taxidermy job on my husband;
My "hood-rich" spending habits required funding; and
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.
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.