“Withholding.” (2002-2003–Austin Conspiracy News, Barry Brookman City Council Campaign, Job Club, “Writing Austin’s Lives,” and the job hunt.)

Austin Conspiracy News.  Part-Time. Contributing Writer.

James threw me a few paying jobs from time to time. I’d write a few things for some new website he was trying out or do a script for an industrial film he was producing. He told me that his friend Peter was Editor of a free local magazine called “Austin Conspiracy News.” It dealt with the paranormal and, as they put it, the “para-political” (translation: governmental conspiracy theories). James was sure I could get on as a contributor, though he didn’t think it’d be a full-time job.

I wound up contributing several articles over a few months, on such subjects as the Nephelim and a statue of Ganesh that was said to drink milk. It was important for me to write the articles in such a way that the readers would be informed and entertained, while at the same time I, if pressed, could [distance myself from] some of the more fantastic stuff about which I was writing.

I enjoy reading about the paranormal and conspiracy theories, but I don’t necessarily believe in all that. For example, I do believe JFK was assassinated as part of a conspiracy and that 9/11 was an inside job,  though I don’t believe the Apollo moon landings were filmed on a sound stage or that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim who wants to turn the United States into a socialist country governed by sharia law. I’m unsure what I think about the idea of ghosts, but I’m pretty well convinced there’s no such thing as leprechauns.

The publisher had quit a good job at Dell Computers to run this magazine. The problem was that this asshole used revenue that should’ve gone to his writers to pay his child support. Peter tried to defend him:

–Well, gee, you can’t fault the man for trying to support his kids. That is the most important thing for him.

–Well, it’s not the most important thing for me. My landlord isn’t gonna be too goddamn sympathetic if I say I can’t pay next month’s rent because the money I was supposed to make is going to take care of some other guy’s child support. His responsibilities are none of my concern, and it’d be cold comfort to me if his kid’s taken care of but I wind up homeless.  

And so, because I made the loudest fuss, I wound up being the only writer on that publication that ever got paid regularly.

Peter assigned me a book to review about the East Texas Big Foot written by a local [journalist named Ted Torrance.] Once I finished the book, I was to interview the author for the magazine. Meanwhile, James decided he wanted to start a cable TV channel that specialized in paranormal programming. He needed some original programming. So it was decided that I’d interview the author on camera.

…[Torrance] suggested that not only was there a Big Foot living in the Big Thicket of East Texas, but that said creature could also shape-shift and jump back and forth between different dimensions of time. He also said the Karankawa Indians that had lived in that area also had those abilities.

The interview took place in Peter’s home, which was full of paranormal-related memorabilia. The interview ran two-and-a-half hours…. Both Peter and I questioned Torrance. At the end of the interview Torrance said I was the only one who’d talked to him so far who really seemed to “get it,” which made me feel a little sad.

Peter said that for the book review and the interview I should give him 1,100 words. But after I transcribed the whole thing I realized I had a [truly wonderful article] on my hands. Instead of 1,100 words I submitted 11,000. Peter was a little taken aback, but with a messianic tone of voice I explained that I felt it was our duty to get all this information out to the people, that it was all useful, educational, and entertaining…. [And anyway] it wasn’t going to change the modest size of my fee.

Peter had to divide the article into two monthly installments. For both monthly runs, the publisher had to buy several more extra pages than normal from the printer to accommodate the lengthy piece. I got my check. And a few weeks later the magazine went out of business.

Incidentally, Ted Torrance may’ve gotten the last laugh. Years later, when I was broke and depressed I saw a notice that he was doing a reading and signing for “Lone Star Conspiracies and Oddities,” a book which he’d co-authored, at my neighborhood Barnes and Noble. I couldn’t bring myself to attend.

*******    

Barry Brookman City Council Campaign–2003–About 1 or 2 months–Part-Time, then Full-Time Office Manager.

In the spring of 2003 Austin attorney Barry Brookman made his second run for City Council. My friend Paddy was his Campaign Manager. Paddy told me if I came by the campaign headquarters and did some occasional jobs, he’d pay me out of his own pocket. Later on, closer to the election, there would probably be positions available that paid hourly. If I worked hard and well, lots of prominent people would see me up close, and they might offer me a permanent job elsewhere.

So I agreed to go down there. Besides, the campaign headquarters was in a three-story Victorian house downtown that I’d always wanted to explore.

The first thing Paddy had me do was work on campaign signs. He led me to the back yard, to a little two-room Spanish-style cottage, and showed me how to fold the signs in half, stick them onto metal stands, and then stack them against the wall so the sign crew could load them up easily. He left me a CD player and some of his CDs—a collection of Neil Diamond’s greatest hits (he performed “Sweet Caroline” before he left) and the soundtrack to “Zorba the Greek.”

I later started doing work in the main house, supervising the phone bank, doing map work, tidying up, doing really anything the others needed me to do. After all, I wanted to get noticed.

Since I couldn’t remember anybody’s name or didn’t care to learn, I started giving people names that I thought sounded close enough or which I thought fit them better. A political consultant named Mark became “Mike,” Clark became “Calvert,” and Sam became “Lloyd.” The receptionist, a sour-tempered young woman who apparently didn’t believe in wearing underarm deodorant and who consequently stank up the whole reception room, was secretly dubbed by Paddy as “Grape Ape.” Everyone called me “Barkley.”

There was an incredibly stupid and stupendously well-endowed young blonde who worked the phone room. I was the only man on the staff who couldn’t remember her name. I always called her “That Big-Titted Rascal.” One day she was holding forth to the volunteers in the phone room about what she wanted to name her future children, and I couldn’t help but join in.

–I want to have a Taylor Layne, Chelsea Nicole, and Briana Sky….

–Jesus Christ! How many fucking kids are you planning to have?

–Oh, that’s just the girls. I want to have three girls and two boys. The boys I want to name Jacob Chance and Render Philip.

–What? Did I hear you correctly? Did you just say “Render Philip”?

–Yes. I used to date this guy and he had the cutest little brother named Render Philip, and I decided if I ever had a son I wanted to name him Render Philip.

–Yes, but Render? Render? As in the process of recycling pig fat and other animal waste?

And she just looked at me as if I was making nonsense up out of the thin air.

I had started my ideological shift from the far right to the far left several years before. Paddy was trying to sell me on the idea of becoming a Democrat, but I wasn’t sure. Both major parties seemed to be full of assholes.

I was surprised by how many people in the office who described themselves as liberals were also bigots.

Paddy had an impressive office in the front of the house, with French windows that opened onto a wrought iron balcony overlooking Lavaca Street. He received a steady stream of visitors who treated him like the Mafia don he’d always wanted to be.

One night after we’d wrapped up for the day, a skinny little female journalist who Paddy was friends with came in and gave a status report of how the election was shaping up. Then she shook all over and made a confession:

–Whew! I’ve been in meetings all day with men. Nothing but men and testosterone since 10am. I need to go find a place with some women and decompress around them.

Everyone exchanged awkward looks. I was offended and wanted to make a nasty comment, but  since I was essentially Paddy’s guest I held my tongue. But after this gal left I said,

–What the fuck was that about? Had she said, “Oh, I’ve been on the East Side all day—I need to hang around with some white people now,” she would’ve been run out of town on a goddamn rail. But why did ya’ll just give her a free pass with that feminist shit?

The day before the election I was told to call all the other candidates and figure out where everyone would be listening to the returns and what the protocol would be regarding concession and acceptance speeches. Everyone I talked to was polite and friendly. Then I called Muffy Beardsley’s office.

Muffy and Barry were the front-runners. Both were Democrats. Muffy appealed to rich ex-hippies in Central Austin, liberals, feminists, and lesbians. Barry appealed to people from the suburbs, moderate and conservative Democrats, and by default, Republicans. It also didn’t hurt that he was the son-in-law of a prominent former State Senator, Everett Nelson.

Muffy herself answered the phone, and after I identified myself, she went into a profanity-laden attack of Barry, and then of me for working for him. Then a very embarrassed campaign manager wrestled the phone from her and gave me the needed information. But the damage was done and Muffy had made an enemy.

Though I wasn’t even registered to vote at the time, and had never given a damn about city politics, I vowed I was going to bring that bitch down for being rude to me. The next day Barry won 43% of the vote to Muffy’s 35% and they went to a run-off. I started working for the campaign seven days a week, and often twelve or more hours a day. Muffy’s uncalled-for rudeness to me put a fire into my work ethic that had not been there before.

I usually arrived at work in mid-morning and stayed until well after midnight. Around 3pm I’d sign out, go up to the third floor to an unused office, climb under a desk, and sleep on the floor for exactly one hour. I’d somehow wake up without an alarm, then go back downstairs, sign back in, and continue with the workday.
 
I spent a lot of time working with Lloyd, a rich, cocky, chain-smoking, chain-spitting eighteen-year, who despite his young age already had an impressive number of connections in the field of journalism. But now he was already tiring of journalism and wanted to immerse himself in politics. And though we became friends, when I asked if he’d recommend me to some of his journalist friends, he refused, never giving an explanation.

Lloyd and I were usually the ones who went out at night and put up or repaired signs, and if we could get away with it, rip down those for Muffy. We were also usually the ones who went on grocery store runs, to stock the two kitchens at the campaign headquarters. And we shared office space in a basement room known as “The Hobbit Hole.”

For many years, political humorist Molly Ivins would hold an open house on the last Friday of every month, no matter whether she was in town or not. Lloyd had a standing invitation to these parties, and took me along several times as a guest.

Molly had a beautiful home in South Austin. The core was a one-story 1940s ranch-style house, but she’d hired an architect to build onto and around it. The house sat on a hilly site with landscaping that was hard to negotiate at night. You entered through a lofty, angled, greenhouse/atrium which was filled with plants, and lined with ice chests full of beer and soft drinks. This is where the smokers and most of the big shots gathered.

Inside was a large living room with picture windows. One wall had photos of her famous friends. The buffet was set up on the dining table in one corner, with Molly’s writing awards used as coasters. Molly’s bedroom included a huge wall of books, and was usually occupied by children watching movies. The kitchen was filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and appliances, and led to a deck where people were always singing and playing acoustic guitars and other instrument. The guest room and garage were the only spaces that seemed closed.  

The first party I attended was right after the “Killer D’s” incident, where fifty-two Democrats from the State House of Representatives fled the state to Oklahoma, in order to avoid a quorum and stymie Republican attempts to pass a redistricting bill. Needless to say, there were hundreds of people at this party, but then again, it was said of Molly’s parties that had you dropped a bomb on that house it would’ve killed the liberal wing of the Texas Democratic Party.

I had had a very busy day working outdoors and had gotten quite over-heated. And with all that crush of people most of Molly’s house was hot and humid as well. So I retreated to Molly’s study, which was a long room divided in half by an archway. One section was taken up by books and a table, the other by a U-shaped formation of desks. Compared with the rest of the house, the study was much cooler and substantially quieter.

For a long time, I sat on the floor, petting Molly’s dog, who I think was named “Minerva.” Indeed, the dog was the only person at the party I really bonded with. One of the women overseeing the party (Molly was out of state at a book convention), came through the room, wondering if I was okay. I must’ve looked flushed and rather out of it. But I said I just need to cool off and sit down.

Eventually I moved over to the table, and a man and woman walked in and sat opposite me. They had just met and were discussing their occupations. The woman, Sheila, mentioned that she worked for the Texas Workforce Commission and was in charge of something called Job Club. My antennae went up and I spun around:

–Well, then you’re just the person I need to talk to.

Sheila gave me a rundown of what Job Club was about and I said I’d soon stop by.

In the campaign, we stepped up our dirty tricks. Both Barry and Muffy were scheduled to appear on a popular talk radio program. Our staff called all of the show’s telephone lines, and using assumed voices, asked Barry questions that would make him look good, or Muffy questions that would expose her weaknesses. She very quickly figured out what was going on and had a lot of trouble containing her anger on the air.

Barry was opposed to enacting a smoking ban in Austin restaurants and clubs. This won him the support of the owners of those businesses, because they believed the ban would cost them customers.

A week before the run-off, Paddy got very sick, but he kept coming to work. It seemed like he had the flu, and he was taking flu medications, but they weren’t helping. We were faced with a crisis. On the one hand Paddy was getting too sick to work, but on the other, how could we win an election if the Campaign Manager was sick during the last week?

Finally Barry told him personally to go home for a few days. Paddy went to another doctor, and the mystery was soon solved.  It turns out that the owner of the strip club The Yellow Rose was such a huge Brookman supporter he had invited the campaign staff to come up and enjoy an evening at his club for free. Paddy had contacted mononucleosis from French-kissing a stripper. Paddy was more or less over this illness in a few days.

Some of us went down to the South Congress “First Thursday” event—a street fair where the businesses stay open late, bands play in parking lots, and tons of people come out with their whole families. Barry was meeting and greeting. I was standing in the back of a pickup truck, waving signs and screaming myself hoarse:

–BARRY BROOKMAN FOR CITY COUNCIL!!! WE ARE BACKIN’…BARRY!!! BACKIN’ BARRY RIGHT HERE!!!

People laughed at me, but I didn’t care. I wanted a revenge and I wanted the big shots to give me a good job.

The night before the run-off Lloyd and I stayed up almost all night, putting out and tearing down signs. I even talked him into tearing down the signs that stood in front of Muffy’s campaign office. We drove into parts of Austin that I’d never been to before, and have not seen since.

Barry won 64.16 % of the vote to Muffy’s 35.84 %. The victory party was probably the peak of Barry’s career. He looked to everyone like the Next Big Thing in Austin politics.

Lloyd introduced me to the new Mayor, Herb Henderson, who aimed a few well-rehearsed words my way about what a worthwhile pursuit politics was for young people. The funny thing was that I was older than he was by a few years and that I’d been politically active for a decade longer than he had.

Paddy was named Barry’s Aide. Grape Ape was hired as his secretary. Paddy thought those two were having an affair.

Barry pissed off many of his supporters and former campaign staff  by flip-flopping on certain positions. Paddy quickly became miserable with his job and traded up for a job as the Mayor’s Aide.  

I sent Barry a copy of my resume and asked if I could use him as a reference. He praised my embarrassing resume as being “very impressive.” I wound up not adding him as a reference.

Barry and his wife had a son, born almost nine months to the day from the run-off election. His wife discovered he was fucking around and divorced him, taking all her father’s important political connections with her.

Barry served a few terms in the City Council, ran for Mayor, and was defeated.

Paddy later told me that a few days after the run-off, he, Barry, and all the important members of the campaign gathered in Paddy’s office to go over the final bills for the campaign. The campaign’s Treasurer saw a very large check that didn’t look right to him:

–What is this check for $700 to J____ B____? Who the fuck is that? A campaign worker?

Barry looked up, excited.

–What? Are you kidding? B_____? He was the hardest worker in this whole campaign. He did everywhere and he never stopped. He’d spend hours working the phones, then he’d pick up a broom and sweep the floor, then he’d go to HEB and buy groceries for the office, then head out and put up signs all night! He was fucking amazing.

All that being said, if any big shot was impressed with the quality of my work, they didn’t act on it. No one ever offered me a job.

Every now and then I’d mention to Paddy that I still needed work. He’d say,

–Well, I think we can fix something. Let me make a few phone calls tomorrow and see what I can stir up.

But if he made any calls, he never told me about them.

As soon as the campaign ended I started job hunting again, and went to the Job Club office up north on Burnet Road several times a week. The Club held meetings where everyone discussed their work history, what they’d been looking for, if they’d had any interviews that week, or if they’d heard of any prospects. I noticed very quickly that this group consisted almost exclusively of people who’d worked in high tech, because when they mentioned their past job titles or their specialties I never understood what the fuck they were talking about.

Training seminars were also held during the days and evenings, to show people how to improves their resumes and interviewing skills. None of them, however, talked about what I wanted to learn—where to find the job prospects in the first place.

The front room was filled with computer monitors, and the receptionists tended to get pissy if you just grabbed a free computer without going through the elaborate sign-up ritual first. Sheila, the Club’s Director, posted job notices in a big newsletter almost every night, but I don’t recall ever seeing a job listing that even remotely matched my skills.

Job Club had something of the feel of a 12-Step group. Indeed, for some people it seemed to be the only thing they had going in their lives. They’d come to Job Club to hang out, to socialize, to try to resolve their problems. Some of the people came across as professional job hunters—the hunt was their career—while paying jobs were just the brief, temporary things they did every now and then. Landing a job seemed of minor importance compared to the hunt. I wondered if they were all hoping for the ultimate be-all, end-all dream job at the end of the rainbow, or if they just intended to spend the rest of their lives hunting.

Their also seemed to be an overly optimistic attitude that reigned at Job Club and which ran counter to reality. One night I went to a seminar called “How to Re-Allign Your Career.” The speaker taught a class on this topic at one of the area colleges, so he wasn’t about to reveal all his secrets to a non-paying audience. This gist of his message was that to have a happy, successful and fulfilled life, you needed to pursue a career doing something that you enjoyed and in which you were skilled. Find what you love to do, then pursue that as your career.

Well, from the enraptured looks on the faces of the audience, it was apparent that none of these people had considered this approach before, and they were all fired up to sign up for his class and learn more. And all the Q&A seemed to consist of everyone agreeing with this guy and everybody bathing together in a big, warm pool of good cheer.

But I wasn’t buying it.

I shot up my hand.

–Excuse me. I certainly agree with the premise that the best way to be happy is to do what you love, and it’s certainly logical to assume that you do your best work in an area in which you’re skilled, but I have to ask: in this poor economy, how likely is it that you can just make a decision and jump right in from a bad career into an enjoyable, fulfilling one.

The audience gasped as one. The speaker was completely broadsided. He had never counted on that love vibe stopping. He grasped. He fidgeted. He stammered.

–Well, uh, yes. In times, like these…naturally, you…might not be able to…make that transition…right away….It could take some time…even a few years and a few different jobs…to pull it off….Um, everyone….Thanks for coming out tonight….I really enjoyed it.  

And he quickly closed his briefcase and the audience rose up and surrounded him, chattering.

I was getting nowhere with Job Club, so I made an appointment for a private meeting with Sheila. I explained that I was not getting the specific type of help I sought. I still hadn’t learned the secret of where to find job leads. And the job leads that did get posted were not for jobs in writing and editing.

She confessed that she seldom got requests or leads for those sorts of jobs. She made a cursory search of some of her online resources, but didn’t turn up anything useful. Finally she handed me a fax she’d received that morning.

It announced a writing contest called “Writing Austin’s Lives.” It sounded interesting and I wound up submitting several essays to it. One of them won a $50 prize, and two of my pieces were published in an anthology the following year. I was one of three contributors to have two essays put into the book. I did some readings and signings, the book was named the 2005 “Mayor’s Book Club” selection, and the book’s contributors were all named “Best Writers in Austin” in the 2005 “Austin Chronicle Best of Austin Poll.” Nevertheless, no one was sufficiently impressed to offer me a job in writing.

I contacted my old college buddy Carmine Andolini, who now worked as a head hunter, and explained my situation. I think the whole thing—my crappy work history and minimal skills, my psychological and family problems, the various conditions I placed on what I was looking for, and all of that—were just too much for him. He didn’t have a lot of ideas.

He said I’d need to get out of my comfort zone. (Advice I can never really accept.) He told me to find a certain type of local business guide, and photocopy the names and addresses of key businesses from lists located therein. (The guide was really too expensive for me to buy.) Then I was to cold call people with specific titles, give them a set speech, and see if this would get me any interviews. He said he’d call me in a week and see how this was working out for me.

Now cold calling or anything that remotely smacks of sales makes me very uncomfortable and indeed scared.  I REALLY did not want to do this thing Carmine was suggesting. Every day that I was supposed to be doing this my heart would pound and I’d get a panic attack. I’d put off calling for hours. I was so frightened of the process that I made sure I called at a time of day when I knew the contact person would be at lunch or away. That way I could honestly tell Carmine I’d tried to call, but had come up with nothing.

Carmine was disappointed. He didn’t really have any other ideas for me then or when I approached him again with the same problem a few years later.

My friend Jill made the strange observation that since her brother-in-law was also out of work, but had a wife and kid to support and I didn’t, that I really didn’t have any right to complain. But to her credit, a few months later she offered to devote a day to driving me around to potential employers. We hit a lot of businesses, but I didn’t get any offers.

My friends were beginning to realize how unenthused I was at the prospect of getting another dead-end job, though it took a few more years before I accepted their theory that I must intentionally or unintentionally sabotage interviews for jobs I don’t really want, either through body language or things I say. My objection to this theory was that I’ve not wanted most of the jobs I’ve had, yet I’ve been hired for them nonetheless. Their explanation for this was that the employers must’ve been so desperate they looked beyond my attempts at sabotage and hired me anyway.

Jill kept saying,

–No job is degrading. It doesn’t matter what the job is, as long as it lets you survive.

But I don’t believe that, especially since most of the jobs I’ve had have not paid survival wages. This all reminds me of that ridiculous expression– “The dignity of work.”

There’s a dollar store near my house. A few of the items it sells are useful, but most of the stock there is crap—food that tastes nothing like what it purports to be, plastic items that break upon first use, clippers that don’t cut, mirrors that don’t reflect, magnifying glasses that don’t magnify. And there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people involved in making, selling, and distributing that crap, and it’s all useless and shoddy and non-functional. I’m sure there’s some people at the top of the totem pole who are making a killing, but what about the guy on the bottom, whose job it is to go into a factory every day and make a plastic item that doesn’t even work? Where’s the dignity there? What is so ennobling about making a piece of garbage that no one needs?

In recent years I’ve noticed a lot of businesses hiring homeless people to stand out on roadsides and wave signs advertising these businesses to people driving by. Sometimes these homeless people even have to dress up in costumes, as Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty or a cartoon character, and stand for hours in the heat, waving their signs and dancing around. And I’m sure there’s a large number of people who drive by and smugly think,

–Well, at least that guy’s got a job! At least he’s doing something!

Now I’m not a big fan of the idea of human dignity. Indeed, I think human beings are pretty much the worst thing on earth. But there are times even a misanthrope such as I will be taken aback by the things men do to degrade one another, especially in a work setting.

In America, “burger flipping” is considered about the worst type of job there is. You’re the last stop in a long process that involves environmental rape and animal cruelty on a colossal scale, and you work long hours, in hot, uncomfortable conditions, selling crappy food that has no nutritional value, for a wage that is significantly less than you need to live decently, you have to deal with bossy customers, and clean up after them and their rotten, shrieking children, and on top of all this you have to wear a paper hat, a polyester smock, and a tag with your name on it. So tell me, where is the dignity in that?

My parents always used to say,

–Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

And I would annoy them by adding,

–Well, that may be, but there’s a lot of things that just aren’t worth doing in the first place.

I cannot find dignity in something that is silly or trivial or pointless.

No one who preaches about “the dignity of work” has ever worked for minimum wage.

Now I’m not saying that work cannot have dignity. There are some tasks where the inherent dignity is self-evident: building a piece of furniture by hand—or a house, growing your own fruits and vegetables from seeds and cuttings, painting a picture, writing a book,  researching, exploring, discovering, healing, educating, guiding, protecting, creating. I believe Art and Nature are the two most important things on earth, and that anything connected with those areas is noble. But man has a tendency to debase noble things, to take what is fine and high and make it course and low, especially whenever exploitation is involved.

I think of the people who sneak across the U.S./Mexico border, risking death, deportation, and abuse, as well as the criticism of self-centered and overly-comfortable Americans, who take every dirty job those same Americans refuse to do, in order to support their families. They wash the dishes, cook the food, mow the lawns, build the houses and skyscrapers. They were lined up at 5am today, outside your neighborhood hardware super-store, waiting for a truck to pull up and a white contractor to offer them a day job. The work may be crappy, the men may be uneducated and dirty, the pay will undeniably be low, but they have a nobility of purpose while performing those demeaning and degrading jobs. And these people are, in my opinion, far superior to the slick-talking asshole who calls me during dinner and tries to dupe me into buying a time-share condo in Orlando.

But to get back more specifically to me– …

At some point in the spring or summer of 2003, I decided to do a massive job hunt in many of the major commercial areas of Austin. This story will be much more effective if you’re familiar with Austin geography, or have a map of the city before you.

Now [my family] believed there was one method of job hunting better than all the rest, and damned near foolproof….. They thought if I was serious about finding a job I should start walking up one street along one side and go into every business there, asking if they were hiring, then cross over and work the other side of the street. If I worked enough streets, they felt, and approached the owners with the right attitude, I was sure to get a job.

I don’t know if this was an effective technique fifty or sixty years ago, but it doesn’t work now. Maybe my [family] had seen too many old movies, but they sincerely believed in the scenario of me taking the “Help Wanted” sign from the window, walking up to the owner and humbly stating that I was the man  he was looking for, and though I had absolutely no experience in his line of work, I was eager and willing to learn and do whatever it took to be an effective worker. The owner would size me up, nod his head with satisfaction, decide I was a good egg and that he liked the cut of my jib, would extend his hand, receive a firm, honest handshake, and with that I’d be hired and all my problems would be solved for the rest of my life.

As long as I neglected to do things like that, I was condemned to failure….

And so, to prove to my [family] that I was indeed trying and to guarantee at least one more month of food, shelter, running water, and electricity, I set off on a grand quest—on foot.

One day I went down to Westgate Mall in South Austin, and job hunted down there. I crossed under a series of freeway bridges, then worked my way up South Lamar, running back and forth across the road, checking in at likely businesses. I did not go into every business I saw because certain ones, like garages and ladies’s dress shops, clearly wouldn’t be the right fit. That first day I made it all the way up to the intersection of South Lamar and Manchaca Road. The next day I came back and went up South Lamar from Manchaca, all the way up to Town Lake, and from there up North Lamar to 12th Street.  

The next day I went down Burnet Road from Highway 183 to Greenlawn Parkway, just south of Anderson Lane. The day after that I went from Greenlawn down Burnet to 45th, then came back the day after that to go up the north side of Anderson Lane from Burnet west to Mo Pac, cross over, then do the south side, including what was then Northcross Mall, all the way back to Burnet.

I finished a few days later by doing a block-by-block sweep of downtown. Starting at the corner of Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez, I worked my way east over to IH 35, and north up to 11th Street. I finished the next day walking from 11th to Chavez, and Congress over to Guadalupe.

In this massive job hunt I not only received no job offers, I wasn’t even so much as given an application to fill out—anywhere….

The highlight of this trip was when I was exploring South Lamar, I went into a store that imported items from Italy. The two men that owned the place were speaking quietly in Italian when I walked in, and paid no mind to me. It took me only seconds to realize that these men were bringing in furniture and decorative items that had been made recently, distressing them, and then passing them off as Italian antiques.

I made a half-circuit of the store, and stopped at a large, expensive chest, leaned forward, then produced a folding magnifying glass, and used it to examine a detail of the finish. From the other side of the room, both men saw me, and started shouting at one another in Italian, very excited and very alarmed. They calmed down when I moved away, glowered at me as I finished circling the store, and nodded unenthusiastically when I bid them good day.  

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