“Withholding” (2001-2002.)

Several people tried to talk me into applying for a job writing business news for a local company named Hoover’s. Indeed, the employment page on the Hoover’s website said it was looking for writers who were business news junkies—something that didn’t describe me at all, because business new bores me almost as much as sports news does.

Carter Newton tried to get me to apply to Hoover’s in 2001, and suggested I read the business pages of the newspapers for a few weeks to get my bearings. It was like drinking down castor oil. When I landed the uRb-N-gUyDz job instead, I was ecstatic because I could finally stop having to read that crap and trying to develop an interest in it.  

People against suggested Hoover’s after the uRb-N-gUyDz lay-off, and I still found it distasteful. But then when I heard my old nemesis Ariana Pappas worked there, I refused to apply altogether. I didn’t want to risk being put into a position where I’d have to work under that bitch….

I thought that because I’d goofed off so badly in school in 1985, that I’d been punished severely since 1986.  

I fucked up badly that year at uRb-N-gUyDz . How long would I have to pay for that?


I asked Matt if he knew any head hunters. It was my understanding that head hunters found people jobs. Matt called his head hunter friend, Stephen Block. He told Block what I wanted. Then he told Block what he thought I needed was not someone to find me a job, but someone to retrain me, to teach me how to do interviews and such, and find the jobs myself.

Block and I talked on the phone and set a time for an appointment. He gave me some things I needed to do first. I got stressed out and had a panic attack. He changed the time of the meeting and made me even more stressed and panicky.  

Block was a big, belligerent bald guy. I’d had my fill of taking orders from belligerent bald guys—my father chief among them—and I despised this guy on sight. Then he admitted the change of schedule had been a test and a mind game to see how committed I was to the process. The assignments he’d given me were also tests. I was enraged. I did not like to be given tests, especially by someone I wanted to work for me.

The conversation turned to my writing skills, and he made another mistake—he played devil’s advocate. He didn’t seem to believe that I was a good writer, and when I provided proofs, he didn’t think them good enough. He wasn’t convinced.

This asshole was making me angrier and angrier.

He also insisted I prepare a list of every possible job connection I could come up with, and contact them all, not matter how tenuous our connection or how awkward reconnecting with them would be.  

I didn’t like the way this asshole was fucking with my head and bullying me around, so after our second meeting, I ceased having anything further to do with him. I was angry with Matt for a long time for siccing this guy on me, and especially for trying to parent me, deciding what he thought was best for me, contrary to my express wishes.

But then again, I’ve always had a segment of friends that have tried to parent me. Their efforts always ended badly, but they never learned that was not the way to deal with me. As soon as I feel someone is bossing me around, treating me like a child, parenting me, I always do the exact opposite of what they want.

One of the people I looked up while under Block’s thumb was Ed Darby, my former colleague from Augusta Throckmorton School. He was delighted at the chance to resume lecturing me about how he thought I should live my life. We arranged to have lunch at El Patio Mexican Restaurant. Since I regarded this as a semi-important meeting, I wore business casual. Ed dressed like he was going to Woodstock. I mention this only because he was wearing Birkenstocks, and while we were sitting there in the restaurant, he started picking at his toe jam, which almost put me off my food.

I told him about the rise and fall of my fortunes….

He boasted about his life, of the money he was making administering charter schools, of the greater amount of money his wife was bringing in as a lawyer, of the big house with the beautiful view he had in South Austin, and implied that all this could be mine as well, and should be—if only I followed his advice.

As usual, he ignored or dismissed most everything I said.

I did, however, mention that I had been looking into grant writing as a possible career. I’d been to a local foundation library, and was thinking about taking some classes on the subject. He snorted,

–Aw, J____! Save your money! You can learn by doing. That charter school I just resigned from needs three grants written up this summer. It’s easy work, and you get to keep ten-percent of the money awarded. I’d been writing the grants for the school myself, but since I don’t need the money that badly, I’d just been giving my fees to the school.

This sounded promising. He promised to help answer any questions, but insisted the grant writing process was easy. I began investigating, and got some forms from the Texas Education Agency. I soon found out that the first grant was a no-go. Ed had failed to file a certain form a few months before, so I could not in turn file the forms that were to follow it.

I moved on the Grant Number Two, but when I had questions about it and called Ed, he said,

–Aw, don’t worry about that one J___. The third one’s the big one. Just concentrate on that.  

It was a big one indeed. My fee would’ve been $9,000. That would’ve been very helpful to have in those days.

Ed announced that he was going on vacation, but would be at home off and on during that period. If I couldn’t reach him, I could always call the charter school’s new principal.

I got down to work, but soon realized that apart from the school’s name, address, and phone number, I knew nothing about it. I couldn’t answer any questions about their enrollment for the previous few years, their programs, budgets, plans for the grant money, objectives and goals. This was like trying to do a complicated income tax form for a stranger.

I called Ed, but he blew me off, insisting that it’d all make sense if I just kept reading. But I couldn’t answer any of the questions. I called Ed again and again over several days, but couldn’t reach him. The application deadline was getting closer. I called the new principal over a period of several days before I finally got ahold of her. But she said she was too busy preparing for the start of school to answer all those questions. She said to just forget about the grant.

I was mad at Ed for ignoring me, for leaving me dangling, for failing to teach me this new skill, and mostly for screwing me out of $9,000 that I really needed. [My family thought the fiasco was my fault, blaming it on my “bad attitude.”]


I noticed that Tower Records was hiring a staffer to head up its classical music department, so I filled out an application and dropped off my resume. To my surprise, the manager called me in for an interview.

The manager was a plump woman in her thirties, and like most retail managers, she seemed cagey and on the verge of a temper tantrum.

–So tell me, how much do you know about classical music?

–Well, that’s a rather broad question. Hard to answer unless you give me a test. I am a fan of classical music, and I know a great deal about it. I come from a musical family, and my mother used to play French horn in the Houston Symphony back when Sir John Barbirolli was Conductor….

–But how much do you know?

–Well, compared to all the people walking down the sidewalk out there, I know considerably more, though probably a lot less than someone with a Ph. D. on the subject. I don’t know, for example, the plot to every single opera you have for sale out there.

–Well, that could be a problem.

The conversation continued like that for awhile. Then she asked,

–Do you have any questions for me?

–No, not really. I think you covered….Oh, I know one—how much does the job pay?

–Well, normally we start employees at $6.00 an hour, but since this is a special position with special duties, we’d pay more…[And here she paused for dramatic effect]…$6.50 an hour.  

Through a titanic act of will I managed not to laugh out loud, but I probably failed to keep the “You’ve-got-to-be-fucking-kidding” look off my face.

She told me she should have a decision in a couple days. I called her several days later and she’d not yet made up her mind. I called again about a week after the interview and she said she’d decided to go with someone who was more of a “classical expert.” I had to wonder how much of an expert she could find for that kind of money. I was quite pleased when that store, and indeed the entire Tower chain went out of business some time later. I felt it was a slap in that manager’s face for being so cheap and  stuck-up.


A friend worked at a Montessori school in South Austin, and suggested I apply. I had no Montessori training, but figured what the hell. I did the paperwork, then interviewed with the director the day before he set off for a working vacation to Italy. I was given a packet of papers to study, as well as a book on the Montessori teaching method, written by the director. I was expected to read it in order to prepare for a more formal interview.

I worked my way through all this stuff, slowly read the book, tried to get an idea of this particular school’s operating philosophy—which seemed overly obsessed with preventing children from consuming refined sugar—then spent several weeks trying to get a follow-up interview. But this was the tail end of summer, and the office was only open sporadically. When I finally got ahold of somebody, the director had returned from his trip, school was about to start, and they’d hired somebody else. So all that preparation had gone to waste.

Matt was a regional campaign director for gubernatorial aspirant Tony Sanchez (or as everyone called him behind his back–”Dirty Sanchez”). Matt didn’t seem to enjoy his job, and often complained about the guy with whom he shared an office, and what a difficult ball-buster he was.

After a few weeks, though, Matt said he’d found me a temporary work assignment with the campaign. But I would be working with his office-mate.

On the morning of the day I was to start, I was walking to my bus stop and seriously dreading what I was going into. I was afraid I’d be bullied by the office-mate. I was afraid Matt would take me around the office and force me to meet everyone, showing me off like a new China doll. The more I thought about what this work situation would be like the more upset I got.

I was walking through an alley behind some houses and started feeling severe pains in my chest and left armpit. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was afraid I’d drop dead and lay there in the alley for hours until some homeless guy found me and stole my shoes and wallet.

I turned and headed back to my apartment. Then I thought, no, I really need this job, so I headed back to the bus stop. But my chest pains increased. I turned back to the house. I went back and forth like this about three times before I finally went back home and told Matt I was too sick to work.

I later found out that I’d had a panic attack.


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