“Withholding.” (HillTex Digital, 2006-2007, Part I.)

HillTex Digital-2006-2007–5 months–Full-Time Proofreader/OCR Scan Corrector.

My inheritance money  ran out a few months after I got back from Paris. Then I lived off my credit card until I’d maxed it out. I had no way of making even the minimum payment, and soon the big fees kicked in.

I went back, as I’d feared I would have to,  to looking for shitty jobs I didn’t really want….

Yes, yes, I could’ve spent that money on classes to possibly learn some skills to lift me up out of my poverty and endless cycle of bad jobs, but I didn’t think that far ahead. Even when I had all that money I was seriously depressed. I knew that if I spent the money slowly or quickly my fundamental problem would remain.

And I had this dangerous need to just get rid of that money as fast as possible. It really wasn’t giving me any pleasure. I figured the sooner I got rid of the money the quicker I could embrace oblivion. I didn’t learn for another year-and-a-half that everything I had felt was typical of the manic phase of Bi-Polar Syndrome, Level II….

My Paris book was generally not well-received by my friends. Most seemed to be bored with it. Carter Newton said he thought the book had a better chance of selling if I tried to write more like Chuck Klosterman. His brother Riley thought I should write more like David Sedaris. When I told him I thought I was funnier than Sedaris he got so offended that he stopped speaking to me.

I was also annoyed and offended that so many people suggested I self-publish. That to me is like playing “pretend author,” the step you resort to when real publishers tell you that your work isn’t good enough, and you’re so deluded and egotistical that you’ll do anything, even spending your own money, to see your name in print. I figured if my work couldn’t make the cut, I’d just keep it to myself, rather than compound the problem by taking on foolish airs.

Towards the end of summer [I got the chance to take] some courses at Austin Community College, so I could acquire some new job skills. [After a lot of trouble, I wound up signing up for only one course–in technical writing.]

The first few weeks of the course, which I took online, went very well. I turned my work in on time, and got straight A’s. The first assignments were stand-alone projects.

But then the professor gave us an assignment that left me stumped.

I was to come up with a fake proposal to present to a fake boss of a fake company, offering a detailed and fake solution to a fake problem. This was to be the basis upon which we built all future homework assignments for the class, culminating in the big final report we wrote at the end of the semester.

I had no fucking idea how to proceed. I contacted the professor. He suggested I base the proposal on similar problems and solutions with which I had been associated in my previous jobs. But I had nothing  in my past working experience that seemed to fit. He suggested I read certain articles. I did so, and came up with nothing. I got contacted my classmates, but they couldn’t help me either.

As I said, I was stumped….

Then, my beloved dog Fred started urinating quite a bit more than he normally did. He lost his appetite. I took him to the vet. The news was devastating—He had a serious kidney ailment which would either kill or profoundly impair him….

I wasn’t ready for this latest disaster. I wasn’t ready to lose Fred, but then again, I never would have been. Fred was the only person I gave the slightest fuck about on this Earth. He was the only friend who had stood by me when things were at their worst. He’d gotten an excellent vet report in January. Why was he suddenly dying?… 

I looked at the tech writing class assignment again. I examined it from all the angles and I was goddamned if I could figure it out. Time was running out to submit my paper. I knew if I’d been given six months to solve the problem I’d not figure it out. Almost five years later I still have no answer.

I dropped the course. By this point we were so far into the semester that I didn’t get any money back….

Ever since the Paris trip I had been making myself crazy trying to figure out some way to find a job and move to Europe. Now that Fred was dying I started planning for life in a post-Fred world. I believed the only thing to do was get the fuck away as fast as possible from the familiar world that I’d come to despise.

I began researching teaching English overseas. I learned that it was hard for non-EU citizens to get teaching jobs in Europe, and that most Americans had to teach in Asia….

I got on a message board and poured out my troubles and questions. I revealed much too much about my private life and my dysfunctional relationships…. I also added that I wasn’t interested in teaching English overseas so much in and of itself, as that I wanted it as a springboard for foreign travel and a source for a new book.

Well, some of the self-righteous, sour, and pessimistic overseas teachers on the board took a huge dislike to me and everything I seemed to stand for, and sadistically attacked me, and made horrific suggestions as to what I should do with Fred. One of them even tracked down my blog and saw where I mentioned I enjoyed trolling, and announced this to the board as proof that I was full of shit.

Now, the thing is, I have enjoyed trolling in the past, especially when I’ve been looking for a fight. But I’ve never posed as a fictional character, and I’ve never written or posted any opinion or comment that I didn’t believe. But much of what I believe is controversial and pisses a lot of people off.

The comments got nastier. James thought all this was hilarious, saying,

–They sure have your number!

I thought he was an asshole for siding with them.

Back on the message board, one of the posters got nasty with me. He said I was a bum, a mama’s boy, and that I should kill and mutilate my dog. I told him to go fuck himself, and that I hoped his little daughter, whose picture he used as his avatar, died of crib death.

These assholes worked me over so badly I was near-suicidal. I decided I would never pursue a career teaching overseas, because I didn’t want there to be even the slightest chance I’d encounter these awful people again this side of Hell.

Also, I heard from a friend in Shanghai who used to teach English in Japan. He connected me with a friend of his whose company was looking for English teachers, but I didn’t have the $3,000 + I’d have needed to move over there, get an apartment, and live for a month before I got my first paycheck, and the more I read about China, the more unpleasant of a place it sounded, so I passed on that opportunity.

I concentrated on taking care of Fred. He was fading fast. A vet tech friend said she could get me one bag of subcutaneous fluid for Fred if I got my vet to teach me how to inject Fred with it at home. I didn’t ask where the fluid was coming from.

I called in my favors. Paddy gave me some money. After that I stopped pestering him about returning some belongings of mine he’d had for several years. Fred was the only thing that mattered now.

Fred wasn’t eating his regular dog food or the special food the vet has prescribed for him. I tried various human foods, even though I didn’t have enough money to really feed myself. One day Fred would eat yogurt. The next day he’d refuse it and I’d eat what was left. Then he’d only go for fajita meat. And so on.

I started taking pictures every day, as many as I could. I wanted a detailed record of my baby. Looking at them now I can see the degree of his decline, but seeing him all day every day, I didn’t notice it as much. When James saw Fred for the first time since he’d been diagnosed, James was breathless with shock, and said if it was him, he’d euthanize Fred immediately.

Fred’s condition fluctuated every day. One day I’d think he had no more than twenty-four hours left, and another it seemed like he could hold on for weeks. I’d pray he stayed alive so we’d have just one more weekend together,…and then another,…and another.

He was having trouble walking and had lost a lot of weight. He was having more and more accidents inside the house. I didn’t care if he pissed and shat  on everything, as long as it made him feel better.

I posted messages on a Basset Hound message board. Everybody had advice. One or two women castigated me, saying I was cruel and selfish to keep Fred alive for my own needs, instead of taking him out of his misery. That cut my heart apart.

Other people wrote saying that I would know when would be the right time to euthanize Fred. Still others said that Fred would let me know….

[In the middle of all this, I was given a deadline to find a job by mid-October.]

I looked all over the place [for work], but I was in a daze.

The party supply store across the street was looking for temps to work through the end of Halloween. The pay was $7.00 an hour. I filled out an application. The manager, who was perfectly willing to hire me on the spot, said,

–Well, one thing: this ain’t a brain job.

I looked around, at the millions of items of crap on display, and began to imagine how many hours of boredom and monotony were possible in this store. I saw the slack-jawed employees, with dead eyes. They reminded me of the genetic defectives in the wedding banquet scene of the movie “Freaks,” chanting,

–We accept you! One of us! Gobble, gooble! One of us!

I told the manager I was still waiting to hear back from another job, but I’d let him know what happened one way or the other. I think he was shocked at my level of professionalism.

The other job I was waiting to hear about was as a so-called proofreader for a company named HillTex Digital, which did OCR scans of books, magazines, and newspapers. The job was permanent, full-time, and paid $9.00 an hour. But for some reason they took an awfully long time to make decisions or process paperwork, so I had to wait a week or more after interviewing to find out what they’d decided….

Eventually HillTex did hire me. My first night was October 15th.–exactly the deadline [I’d been given]. I went over to tell the manager of the party store, but he had quit his job the week before.

The job ran from Sunday night to Friday morning on the graveyard shift. I worked from 11pm to 7am. I’d have to catch the last bus from a corner by my house around 9pm, go about four or five miles away, the cool my heels in the break room until my shift started. On Sunday nights when the bus didn’t run that late James would drive me to work.

When I started there was a police guard in the parking lot. From what I heard, the company had just fired a bunch of employees who turned out to be serious criminals and thugs—all with police records. It was feared that these people might swing by the offices and try to get some retribution, or at very least spray the windows with random bullets.

The office was located in the middle of a soulless office park. On my way to work I’d pass the nearby office for Siemens and peek in, because they’d leave all the lights on and the blinds up. I would see row after row of cubicles, all identical, stretching out to infinity. I couldn’t see how anyone could work in such a setting without committing suicide.

Of course, my job was no fucking bargain either. My supervisor was a nice enough young Indian man—totally Americanized. He had an unpronounceable alphabet soup last name, so he insisted we all call him “Nick.” All the young thug employees sat in the back of the room near his desk and chatted with him all night long. I sat as far from his desk as I could, by the windows. Even though the blinds were usually down, I always liked to imagine the world beyond them. I also figured that the further I was from the boss and my co-workers, the less I’d have to do with them.

As rough as the third shift was, I was glad I didn’t work the second shift. The supervisor for that was a humorless, middle-aged Hispanic man, who came across as a real ball-buster. My private nickname for him was “Santo,” after the Mexican wrestler.

My co-workers were a mixed bag. There were a few overly-friendly hicks, a strange black woman who acted like a crack addict and slept through most of her shift, and whom I dubbed “The Creature,” a frat boy who looked out of place, a thug who always wore an oversized black Misfits T-shirt and kept the enormous hood of his coat pulled up over his head, eight hours a night, five nights a week, for five months. But most of them were the usual tele-marketing crowd, who’d stopped their education somewhere around high school and now had nothing to do.

There was a room in the center of the office that was kept locked, its contents secret. This was where scanning was done. We peons were then sent the results. On one side of our computer screens we’d see two pages of a book as they appeared in the scan. On the other side would be the two pages of the original. We were to stare closely at these pages, look for the errors on the scans, mark them, then send them on. This was incredibly painful on the eyes. Naturally, my friends and family dismissed my objections by saying,

–Oh, you’ll get used to it.

Since I was about the only person on that shift that didn’t smoke, I usually didn’t bother taking the two fifteen minute smoke breaks we were allowed. I did take the thirty minute meal break, would eat sadly, and in silence, sitting at the elevated aluminum table in the break room. Then I’d go back into the main offices, where the salaried staffers worked in their cubicles, and I’d furiously pace from one end of the room to the other, back and forth and back and forth, like a demented and depressed zoo animal. Amazingly, there were sometimes people working in those cubicles overnight, and a few of them complained about me, and I was told to stay out of the main office.  

Though I was the fastest and most accurate worker on my shift, I was still very bored. The computer program often crashed or would take forever to reload. I always brought dozens of CDs with me every night. I listened to every CD I owned until I was sick of all of them. I listened to KUT-FM’s overnight shows even though I hated the DJ’s and half of what they usually played. The one bright spot was between 3 and 5am, when they’d play the BBC World Service. Whenever the theme music would kick in I’d imagine the morning light slanting through the trees on the Mall in London, and for a few split-seconds, would be happy. NPR, from 5 to 7am, was considerably less enjoyable, especially when the ancient news reader Karl Casell’s dentures would slip and it would sound as if he was drowning his microphone in a bucket of spit.

Max had made me a bunch of mix CDs several months before, but listening to them now, I noticed a lot of the songs made me deeply depressed, because they reminded me of the situation with Fred. But I’d continue to listen to them, so I could heap live coals onto my head and feel worse.

When I’d finally escape in the morning, I’d run the half-mile to the bus stop, thinking that might get me onto the bus and back to Fred faster. But of course, the bus was on it’s own schedule, and I usually had to wait about thirty to forty-five minutes for it to arrive. And all the while I’d be praying desperately that Fred would still be alive when I got home.

On one, maybe two mornings I came home and found Fred in his favorite spot in my walk-in closet, laying in a puddle of his own urine, unable to right himself, and having barked himself hoarse. He could’ve been like that for as long as ten hours or more. I cursed my fucking [detractors] and that goddamned useless job…. I had no business wasting my time doing that bullshit when I should be at Fred’s side in his final days!

Finally, one day Fred started barking incessantly and I realized he was sitting in a pile of his own feces and couldn’t move from the spot. He looked and me and I knew he was telling me he couldn’t take any more of this.

The next day, October 30, 2006, I had Fred put to sleep. He died in my arms. James paid for the cremation, though my mother later called him and insisted on covering half of it. James drove me around town that morning until I got tired and decided to go to bed. I very reluctantly decided to go to work that night, even though I didn’t want to. But I’d already taken several nights off already to look after Fred….

Fred was cremated a few days later, on my birthday, November 2nd.

I had a major nervous breakdown. It lasted the better part of a year. For the first six months, I had violent crying jags one to four times a day. And I don’t mean quiet, decorous eye mistings and repressed sniffles—I mean loud, anguished sobbings, howls rising up from the gut, tears flowing in sheets down my cheeks and over my jawline and down the front of my throat, snot globbing out of my nose, over my moustache, and onto my mouth. I had to stuff a bath towel into my mouth to muffle the screams, because I was afraid my neighbors would hear it and think a woman was getting killed in my apartment and would call the cops on me.

My “loved ones” were largely not sympathetic. Most said nothing at all. Some said, “He’s only a dog, or worse, “It’s only a dog,” and encouraged me to get rid of Fred’s ashes and get on with life.

One guy, whom I’d thought of as a good friend, didn’t even acknowledge my e-mail about Fred’s death with so much as a perfunctory, “Sorry about your loss.” He just wrote that he had a new girlfriend, wanted to bring her to Austin, and asked if I knew of any cool new clubs to visit. I didn’t speak to him for a year-and-a-half, and when I finally did again, I brought up his callous behavior, and his response was so unfeeling I was immediately sorry I’d made any attempt to forgive him….

*******

A blog posted on September 8, 2006.

Bad news on the Fred front. While the lump on his neck turned out to be benign, he does indeed have kidney failure. This may be due to a kidney infection, cancer, or just naturally weak kidneys. There is a certain number–I forget what it’s called–that indicates a healthy kidney range–I think it’s between 1 and 27; Fred’s number is 73.

The vet said there were all sorts of possible treatment options–$90 urine culture, $211 ultrasound, and the super-deluxe 2-3 day stay at the vet hospital, with IV fluids. This would run $500-$600 and up, and is by no means a sure thing–it can either help long-term, help just a few days, or not help at all.

I opted for the medium-range package: kidney-healthy diet food, pain meds, antacids, antibiotics, and twice-weekly vet visits for sub-cutaneous injections of fluid at $20 a pop–in the neighborhood of $300 a month….  

*******
A blog posted on September 24, 2006.

(5/14/07–It’s amazing how prophetic the second dream would prove to be.)

I’ve always found that as my day-to-day life gets worse, my dreams improve proportionally. I’ve had a lot of cool dreams lately, but uncharacteristically, I’ve been forgetting much of them.

Now is the time of the month, as it is every month, I’m threatened with the specter of eviction, starvation, and the loss of my possessions. So naturally I had a dream about the workplace.

I dreamt a friend and former supervisor had pulled some strings and landed me a job in his new workplace–at a call center. Now I’ve done phone work before and frankly, I’m no good at it. I run out of breath too soon and have to take long pauses between calls. I get distracted by the doodles I’m drawing or the interesting customer names I write down.

And, at bottom, I am just not a salesman. I find sales and marketing and those that practice such things to be tacky, vulgar, and in the poorest taste. Salesmen are little better than child molesters in my book, always grubbing after money, regardless of whether it’s the time and place for such behavior. To me beggars inspire pity, even sympathy, but salesmen inspire contempt.

And so when I’ve been in positions where I’ve been expected to sell things I just have not been able to do it correctly. I feel awkward and unclean, as if picking my way barefoot through a ditch filled with shit. Though I am by no means the most polite person in the world, I just cannot bring myself to force people to buy something they don’t want, and that I don’t think they need. That may in fact be my last remaining connection to the human race and the civility with which said race should conduct itself.

As for the dream, well, I found myself in an office park, in a large, brightly-lit ground floor room with a big band of windows, long rows of tables and chairs (no cubicles), all divided up into two rows. On the far side of the room, in a corner, sat a former boss of mine, looking a bit embarrassed and apologetic. He apparently held only minor managerial duties now, and I wondered what had brought about his apparent fall from authority and responsibility. I soon realized his facial expressions and body language were meant to apologize for the nature of my new job and the company as a whole.

I remember very little of my working shift. At one point an old friend from high school, whom I’ve not seen since 1988 or 1989, waved at me from the other side of the room. He then came over and sat across from me at my table. He was shirtless, but wearing tuxedo pants. Apparently he was very hot and uncomfortable, because although I attempted to launch into a story, he completely ignored me and tried repeatedly to flag down minor employees, to ask them to bring him ice for his drink. He finally cut me off in mid-sentence and walked away with some co-worker friends.

Not too long after that, two snitty supervisory types, both much younger than me, came over to my table with handfuls of paperwork. There was page after page of figures and data, hundreds of phone numbers, each with names scrawled in cramped handwriting over them. Apparently I was in trouble. I’d been getting all my work done–that was okay–but I’d also supposedly made some phone calls and e-mails and looked up some websites that weren’t work-related and this to them was a Serious Problem. They really made a bigger deal out of this than the situation warranted.

I finally decided to hell with it, that I wasn’t going to work in an environment where someone was breathing down my neck all the time, nit-picking about every single mistake I made. I’ve been in those situations before (most recently at the local public library and at a seasonal bookstore), and life is just too fucking short to put up with shit like that.

I got up to leave, but found that this was no simple matter. It seems I had taken off my pants to get more comfortable while seated (I do this at home), and I had wrapped a blanket around myself. It took me awhile to get dressed, and even longer to collect all the shit I had strewn about on my desk. The delay really robbed my abrupt resignation of its impact.

I decided not to bother with telling the numerous people I knew in the office farewell. Then I realized that just walking off the job like that would make my old supervisor look bad. He had, after all, vouched for me. What could I do now? I hated to stay in the job, but I also didn’t want to repay a kindness with a slap in the face.

*******

A blog posted on September 25, 2006.

…As for the foreign teaching thing…well, that’s stumbling along….
 
So I’ve been looking and posting a lot at a [language teaching] message board…..A lot of people on this… board are angry with the randomness and naivete of my questions. Then I made the mistake of asking for suggestions….In the process I revealed way too much about my personal situation, misfit existence, and family skeletons, and this caused several people to scold and berate me and tell me to get off my ass, get a job, and grow up. But one guy in particular took it a little too far. He got very nasty, called me a bum and a mama’s boy, and made insulting comments about Fred. So I told him to go fuck himself.

*******

A blog posted on October 6, 2006.

Maybe it was the discount imitation Spam from the dollar store I’d had for dinner, maybe it was the stress of knowing I had two job interviews in one day for jobs I didn’t really want, but I was awakened in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with explosive diarrhea and an unsure feeling that I might need to throw up. These have been stressful days here [at home]–Fred has improved or at least stabilized, but the threat of eviction and total financial crisis, as well as the other threats of either living in childlike confinement… or getting another crappy dead-end job, have all been very real.

In the last few weeks I have stepped up my job-hunting efforts, which have been helped by the fact that I’ve stopped listing how much I’d like to be paid on the applications, and have also noted I’m available “any day, any time.” Another thing working in my favor, if you could call it that, is that stores are beginning to hire for the Christmas season.

In the past two or three weeks I have applied to the following businesses: Petco (two applications, each with asinine personality tests, for three jobs–did an interview yesterday), Petsmart (seven separate online applications, also each with asinine personality tests, for seven jobs), Bath and Body Works (group interview Monday), Bed, Bath, & Beyond (did two interviews and an honesty test), Barnes & Noble, Border’s, Book Stop, Half-Price Books (two locations), Book People (they only pay $6 an hour), Pottery Barn, Express for Men (I think you have to be really slim, really pretty, and really gay to get on there, though), The Sharper Image, Restoration Hardware, Costco (well, I looked at the site–I didn’t apply), HEB supermarket (I applied for an over-night stocking position for God’s sake, even as I prayed I wouldn’t get called in), Randall’s supermarket, Pier One Imports, Starbucks, some local coffee house called Primo’s, Office Depot (took a customer service test), Ross Dress for Less (I picked up an application–the store, the merchandise, and the customers were repulsive), EB Games, The Container Store, Party Pig party supply store (sleazy), some used video/CD/game store by my house, 2 camera stores, Lenscrafters, The Cadeau gift store, Whole Foods, Central Market, Fry’s Electronics, the Catholic Diocese of Austin, the University of Texas, Harold’s clothing store, the Arbor Cinema, Sun Harvest organic grocery store, numerous anonymous or forgettable businesses advertising in the newspaper or on Craigslist, and much else besides. The majority of these places are supposed to contact me in the next two weeks, but I don’t have that long to wait.

Today I kinda, sorta landed a job, doing proofreading for a company that digitizes books and magazines. The interviewer was impressed with me, said he would recommend that I be hired immediately, said I can start proofreading for them at home, but also said it would be about a week before a slot opened up that would allow me to work at their offices. (They have three shifts but only a finite number of desks.)…

Just when I thought some of the people on the TEFL Board couldn’t get more chickenshit, a few of those silly cocksuckers have upped the ante. As I mentioned, I made the mistake of revealing too many personal details, weaknesses, and so forth in one of the threads I started. A few self-righteous, twenty-something, backpacker pseudo-teachers with nothing better to do smelled the blood in the water and decided to attack. I didn’t mind so much when they picked on me, but they began talking trash about Fred, saying I should kill him and do unspeakable things to his body. These were really vile, disgusting human beings. And their malice attracted a following.

One thread got really nasty and ran to 18 pages. After these sons of bitches prodded me I started responding to their abuse with abuse of my own. Then they got a moderator to shut the thread down. After that a few of these losers hunted up every place on the site where I’d asked questions, and tried to tell the other posters not to listen to or answer me. Obviously this filth has nothing better to do with their time and is threatened that I might come to their part of the world and take a job from them–that is assuming they even have jobs in the first place; I can’t imagine they actually work if they spend so much time investigating my life.

Today one of the worst of these pricks went to the trouble of Googling me (yes, like an idiot, I posted under my own name on that site) and he found this blog, and a passage where I admitted to being a troll and a starter of flame wars on other sites. For some reason, some of my detractors on the TEFL site don’t believe the things I’ve said, or think I’m making all this shit up in order to be a troll. So now that they have a quotation from me admitting to trolling on other sites, they think that is proof that I troll everywhere I go. Never mind that a more thorough examination of the posts on this blog indicates that I am on the level and that all the stuff these cocksuckers think is made up is in fact true.

I’ve got to get out of Texas.

*******

…Friday James and I ran errands. He showed up earlier than I expected, so I wasn’t ready–I was still outside with Fred. James hadn’t seen Fred in awhile and was appalled at how much weight he’s lost and how dehydrated he seemed; he advised killing him. That put me in a depression all day. I was anxious to wrap up the day’s activities quickly so I could get back home and give Fred his second sub-cutaneous injection of fluid this week….

We went to ACC Friday morning so I could drop my Technical Writing course. I was making A’s in the course until the most recent assignment, which involved thinking up a corporate project and trying to sell it to a company owner. But I am not an entrepreneur, a salesman, or a marketing guy. I looked ahead and found this project had to be expanded on throughout the semester, with graphs and a Power Point presentation and so forth added. That is way outside my comfort level. I consulted the textbook, some websites, and even the professor, but couldn’t come up with any decent ideas. Meanwhile Fred was getting sicker…. The course had to be cut….

James was having a lunch meeting with some old man he’s friends with, a former typewriter repairman whom James considers an expert on writing. This old fucker dislikes my writing because of how many commas I use. I have made it clear to James that he needs to keep me and this old guy far, far away from one another or I won’t be responsible for my behavior. So James dropped me off at a bookstore while he met with him.

Afterwards I applied for a job at a teacher’s supply store and arranged for an interview on Tuesday….

[Pressure continued for me to divest myself of my library.]

Wannabe Zen masters/perfected assholes on the [message board] keep saying,

–Burn or sell [your] books. Don’t be attached to material things.

Well, fuck you! I don’t care about fast cars or jewelry or any of that crap, but I do care deeply about my books. I don’t have a stack of old Stephen King and John Gresham paperbacks–I have a carefully selected collection of books, picked out over four decades. Putting together this library has been my life’s work and the only thing I’ve ever really accomplished. When I travel I look for the local bookstores. When I move to a town I judge it chiefly on what access I have there to books and magazines. My long-term goal to one day own a house is so I can have a safe and comfortable place for all my books.

Generally speaking, I don’t like people. I don’t get the same pleasure being around people that most folks do. That’s not saying I don’t have people I know and dearly love–just that people are by no means my priority. When I’m out in public I’m usually looking at the clock, trying to figure out when this current activity will be over with so I can get back to my books, my files, my computer, my TV, and my movies. And my dog. The more time I spend away from any of these the more irritable I get.

Books give me information, entertainment, comfort, escape, release, and company. They remind me of the few happy memories I have. Unlike human beings, books have never let me down….

What harm is my library doing to anybody? Why doesn’t everybody just leave me the fuck alone?

The people who have my ear–or wish to have it–are increasingly indicating that my library is a luxury I can no longer afford, that it was a fine idea to want to have a library, but that a man in my loathsome position in society has no business having so many possessions. Friday James [suggested] that if I want to break free of Texas and my life of piddly-ass jobs then I have to sell my books in order to finance that move.

I will not. I cannot. Apart from Fred that library is the only thing I have to live for.

*******

A blog posted on October 9, 2006.

Monday I hit all the places I wasn’t able to go to Friday. I started with a 10:30 interview at a toner cartridge store. The job would involve minding the front and working the register while the delivery guys went out and filled orders. The job sounds easy, albeit extremely boring.

I had some time to kill before my 1pm interview, so I got a shake and hung out at Barnes and Noble, mostly looking at travel books of the various places I’m thinking of going to to teach. Then I checked on some places I’d applied to last week. Lenscrafter might have a decision this week. The Sharper Image won’t be hiring for two or three more weeks. Ditto Restoration Hardware. Express for Men was vague.

I knew I was in for trouble when I learned I had a “group interview” scheduled at Bath and Body Works. (I had a group interview at Central Market a few years ago and they made us draw pictures with crayons, which frankly, was humiliating. At any rate, it made me feel like a little kid.) The rest of the “group” in this case was just a middle-aged woman. We were told to select our favorite item in the store and take it in with us to the interview.

Oh Christ. Was the interviewer gonna make me try to sell her item?

We were led through a labyrinth of stock rooms shared by four stores, and seated at a table. I had heard the interview would take between 30 and 90 minutes, but the interviewer said we had to vacate this area in an hour to make way for a staff meeting. (Ugh. “Staff meeting.” Few words can instill me with a greater sense of dread.)

Generally I tended to give better answers than the woman did. I definitely talked more. I noticed the interviewer looking at the clock several times when my answers ran long, and I gathered she didn’t think I was answering some of her questions precisely. I did more or less fuck up on one question. The interviewer (a “low-talker,” almost impossible to hear) asked for my best customer service experience as a consumer. I couldn’t think of any. I said that generally I find customer service in stores so bad that if I can’t find something on my own, I rarely bother to ask for help.

The woman said that on the contrary she has noticed an increase in good customer service when she shops. Then I added that while I don’t have much contact with store employees, I can definitely read the vibe of a store, whether the employees are happy, or miserable and eager to clock out, or anxious about making commissions and hanging on your arm.

The little gal interviewer kept trying to find out what I’d done in certain hard-sell situations in my retail experience and I had to keep telling her that I’ve mainly just sold books and they don’t require a hard-sell; they pretty much sell themselves.

We were then taken out to the sales floor and told we were gonna be tested on how we interacted with the customers. The interviewer said she wanted us to try the “signature hand lotion massage” on some customers, something she says we’re supposed to do to everyone who comes into the store.

Now I generally don’t like being touched by people I know, but being touched by strangers freaks me out. And the idea of me touching the filthy hands of strangers is a total violation of my comfort zone as an introverted germophobe.

The little gal interviewer demonstrated the move on the woman, and the woman tried it on me. I’ll admit it was soothing and produced a serotonin cascade in my brain, but I could never imagine doing that to another human being– certainly not dozens of times a day. As I have said many times, I am not good at the hard sell. I don’t like violating peoples’s privacy and trying to force them to buy things. I was also broadsided by the fact we were expected to sell merchandise without being trained as to its benefits.

We were set loose, and before I knew it, the woman found a woman her age and was working her. I then looked around and found the only other customer–an emo boy. I wasn’t gonna try to massage his hand, so I asked if he’d like to see the scented candles. He looked totally perplexed that I was asking him all these questions. Then I saw an older woman–she was just looking around. A quartet of pre-teen girls came in; I was too embarrassed to try to sell them anything and would’ve felt like a perv offering to massage their hands. Anyway, they were too busy running around giggling. My other dealings with customers were just as awkward. Eventually I just felt like I was hovering and breathing down everyone’s necks, which even the interviewer said was not something the company advocated.

After this extremely uncomfortable experience we were told there was yet another step to go through–one of those fucking personality tests, which we needed to do on the phone within the next 24 hours. Then the little gal said that the job we were applying for was only a part-time one, and that at first they’d probably only give us enough hours for one shift a week.

Fuck that. Bath and Body Works just ain’t my scene. I would be just as painfully uncomfortable doing the hard-sell and massaging customers’s hands as I would be waggling my penis around on the “NBC Nightly News.”

I did, for whatever it’s worth, smell like a little nancy boy when I walked out of the store, what with the lotion and perfume spritzes.   
       
After this I walked over the freeway bridge and went to the Container Store, the one that stinks of wet carpet. I explained to the manager a problem I’d had sending them my correct online application; the best she could tell me was, “We’re always looking to hire great people.”

Crate and Barrel might be hiring in a few weeks. After turning in resumes and applications staffers at a toy store and Linens & Such told me that due to all my years of retail experience they were sure the managers would be calling me immediately. Smith and Hawken is going to start hiring next week. REI is opening a new store downtown, so many of their staff have already been transferred down there; they’re hiring in my part of town immediately. And a clerk at the Gateway Cinema wouldn’t tell me jack-shit.

Tomorrow I have an interview at noon at a teacher’s supply store. I figure that is one of the places that will give me an offer this week, along with the proofreading place, the toner store, REI, Smith and Hawken, and the toy store. Of course, I have several other places I need to call back tomorrow, some online ads to follow up on….

*******    

A blog posted on October 11, 2006.

…I was awakened today by a thunderclap so loud and so close that it almost threw me out of bed. I tried to get back to sleep but kept worrying that the power would go out and I’d miss my alarm. When I finally did get up I had a bit of the diarrhea that’s been plaguing me the last few days. I checked the news–we were under a tornado watch.

On the way to the bus stop I saw a dead deer on the opposite side of the road. My father devoted his life to killing deer, but I would rather just enjoy their beauty. I always feel it an omen of good luck, so to speak, when they wander out of the woods onto the grounds of my apartment complex to graze and explore.

I had a 12 noon interview at a teacher’s supply store and had to take a fairly unfamiliar bus route to get there. I got there 30 minutes early and prowled the store, compulsively straightening items that had been put back in a half-assed way. (This is a habit I picked up during all those years I worked in bookstores. I was even doing this in the bookstores in Paris earlier this year.)

I saw big posters announcing grammatical rules I still haven’t learned, and mathematical principles that will always be a mystery to me. I found something I wanted throughout my childhood but had never been able to locate–a prism.

After 10 or 15 minutes of this I started to get really bored…. My bowels started to twist and I was afraid I’d be hit with diarrhea again. I found a bathroom and went in, but no dice. Anyway, all the major “rah-rah”/”go get ’em” job-hunting handbooks counsel against leaving shit stew at any place you’d like to work.

The interview went well. The manager was a young woman from one of my mom’s hometowns. She should let me know whether I’m hired in a few days.

The only real problem with the job is the bus from home dropped me off quite aways from the store, and to get to the return bus I had to run across two busy streets and a freeway exit ramp, walk under an overpass, and wait for the better part of a fucking hour for the bus to arrive.

The ride home was dominated by some mush-mouthed fucker who wouldn’t shut up. I couldn’t understand most of what he was going on about, but to kill time I started counting how many times he punctuated his monologue with “Know what I’m sayin’?”

Once back in my ‘hood I bought some stamps and mailed off an application for a job with the State Bar of Texas, then applied for a job at a smoothie place, it’s heavily pierced-and-tattooed clerk–young enough to be my son–clearly in shock that an old fucker like me was applying for such a shit job.

I got home wet from rain and sweat, walked and fed Fred, started peeling off my clothes in anticipation of a shower and nap, then noticed I had quite a few messages on my answering machine. Restoration Hardware wants me to come in for a group interview in several weeks. Linens & Things (the manager has a belligerent voice) wants me to interview tomorrow. And the manager for Pottery Barn checked her schedule and asked if I could come in…today…at 3pm. It was already 2:38. I said make it 3:30 and began getting dressed again, cussing that gal over and over. I considered wearing my bright yellow fisherman’s-style slicker in order to make a scene and show this bitch how much trouble she was putting me through by expecting me to come in at a moment’s notice on a stormy day, instead of waiting until Wednesday or Thursday. (And no, I did not consider her insisting on an interview at a moment’s notice as that big a fucking favor to me.) As I was re-tying my shoes I checked my e-mail….

A few weeks ago I’d applied at a party supply store a block from my house, but I was immediately sorry that I had. The store and its employees were sleazy and the manager had the shifty, criminal quality of someone just released from a methadone clinic. He had tattoos all up his arms like sleeves and names and numbers written on the palms of his hand in ink. I was repulsed.

He offered me a temp job–“definitely not brain work” was how he put it–for only $7 an hour, with the job ending in mid-November. I said I’d like to think about it and immediately went out in search of more permanent jobs that would pay at least a little better than that….

Then when I got that tentative job offer for the proofreading place I called the party store to tell the scumbag boss I was passing on his offer (I figured it was the professional thing to do), but was told the guy didn’t work with the company anymore. Nobody was even aware of the offer he’d made….

But first I had to deal with this Pottery Barn interview. The more I thought about the manager there the more pissed off I got. I had to walk a half-mile in the rain to get there, and all the while I was muttering, “Fucking bitch!,” over and over.

I had to pass that deer again, and this time on the deer’s side of the road. She’d been dead a little while now. Her body was swollen and stinking. There were no eyeballs in the sockets. I guess the ants had gotten to her. The useless mother-fuckers in my apartment’s maintenance department hadn’t bothered to remove the body, nor had the groundskeepers who start running their mowers and edgers and leaf blowers at 8 in the goddamn morning….

When I got to the Pottery Barn I looked like a drowned rat. The interview went fine for a few minutes. I even managed to dodge the awful question,

–Why do you want to work in retail?

(In truth  I do not really want to work in retail– I only got stuck in it the way I got stuck in restaurant work and telemarketing back in the 80s.)

Then everything suddenly came to a screeching halt. She asked if I’d be uncomfortable with the way their registers work.

How so?

She said during the holidays it gets incredibly hectic in the store and they add dozens of extra employees. Everything is fast-paced. (Definitely not for me, then.) And they have three people to a register.

What does that mean?

She explained that for each register there’s one person actually using the register, one bagging waiting on the customer, and one bagging his item–not to mention there’s a supervisor standing behind them all, breathing down their necks–all in a tiny space.  
 
And it’s like this at each register. So in a row of three registers there’s like ten or eleven people crowded behind the counter.

I asked,

–Is that by design? Do ya’ll actually intend to do it that way? Because that sounds really chaotic.

She said that yes, that was the Pottery Barn way.

I confessed that yes, I would be highly uncomfortable in such a scenario. I’m used to working a register by myself, ringing the purchase up, waiting on the customer, bagging his purchase, running the credit card machine, without having a bunch of other people to trip and stumble over. I didn’t bother to add that I really hate having people hovering around and breathing down my neck, waiting for me to fuck up.  

That response seemed to piss her off. She described other jobs in the store that didn’t involve the register, yet this rocket scientist kept coming back to the topic, saying,

–So what I’m gathering is you’d really been uncomfortable with the register set-up?

And I seemed as if suddenly stricken by amnesia–I couldn’t think of any good questions or answers. The conversation just dried up. It was as if I’d dropped the dreaded “c-word” and we were just looking for a way to wrap up this messy, awkward, and irreparably damaged conversation as quickly as possible. It ended like the morning after a shameful one-night stand: we barely even looked at each other when the interview ended and went our separate ways.

The rain was finally beginning to let up. For the half-mile walk back my litany changed from “Fucking bitch” to “Fucking whore.”

I got home, determined not to agree to any more interviews today, undressed again, and phoned six of my prospects to see when they might call me in for interviews.

As I was reading my e-mails Fred came in and begged for a vanilla wafer. I gave it to him, he turned his nose up at it, scratched around it as if it stank, then pissed on the spot. He’s always been a much ballsier food critic than I ever dared to be.

Tomorrow I have the Linens & Such interview (excuse me–Linens & Things–actually they call it Linens ‘n Things, but I find the use of “‘n” in a grown-up name, like “rock ‘n roll,” ridiculous)–which I have a bad feeling about–and will call around at a few more places. I still haven’t gotten to my leads from the Sunday paper….

*******

A blog posted on October 12, 2006.

Another busy day on the hunt. Before I left the house I dealt with another case of the squirts, fixed myself some chicken stir fry dish, and called around to check on the status of my applications at different businesses.

I talked to a lady from REI and she was trying to figure out a good time for me to come in and interview. I said I was already interviewing at that shopping center in a few hours so I could come by after that.

I arrived 45 minutes early and cooled my heels at Whole Foods. There was an old woman sitting in the cafe that I initially took to be homeless and mentally ill, but it turned out she was just out campaigning for the Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas, a guy named Chris Bell who seems to have poor recognition with the public and I’m sure is #4 in a four-person race. This woman had all sorts of pictures and buttons and posters all over her clothing, including a color computer print-out of Bell, encased in plastic, and onto which she’d written in black marker, “Chris Bell for Gov of Texas Make us Blue True.”

That reminded me of a homeless guy James and I once saw standing at an intersection, holding up a sign that read, “Homeless. Need Money. Please give what you can. God Bels You!”

About 2:20 I headed over to Linens & Things. They were horribly short-staffed. I waited in line at a register so I could ask an employee to page the boss and tell him I was in. The gal at the register kept desperately calling for back-up. A young man walked up. He seemed to have a degree of authority. He also seemed very pissed off. I asked him if he was the manager and he snapped,

–No, I’m not.

Shortly after that I saw the actual manager and he led me to the break room, sat me at a table covered with crumbs, grease-spattered old company memos, and a sticky tablecloth, and gave me a 66-question multiple choice test in Scantron style. It included customer service questions and some math, so it’s good I brought my calculator.

The manager was interviewing somebody else and I had finished the test, when in walked the impatient guy to take his break. He apologized for his behavior and explained/complained about what a crazy day he’d had. We then had a pretty entertaining conversation about that store, customer service in general, and the movies. I was actually kind of sorry when I had to leave and go interview.

The interview went well. The job sounds very, very demanding physically, but I told the guy what I thought he wanted to hear.

There was one big problem, though: throughout the interview my stomach was growling “Yerdle yerdle yerdle” and it sounded like I was farting loudly and incessantly. The manager and I apparently just decided between ourselves that we were going to pretend this wasn’t happening.  

(This reminded me of my Grandfather Bankston, who was so deaf towards the end of his life that he’d punctuate his sentences with loud, chunky farts: “Hey there BRAAAAAPPP son, you called that old BRAAAAAPPPP fella about that BRAAAAPPP estimate yet? BRAAAAPPP.”)

I went from there right over to REI for an interview with two managers in a attractively-appointed office. REI seems a nice company and a good place to work. The only problem is they probably won’t have a decision until next Thursday and I’ll likely get an offer from another company before that time.

And this time the growls and gurgles in my G.I. tract were even louder. I finally looked off to the side and said, “Oh, pardon me,” which caused the interviewers to glance in that direction, thinking someone else had walked into the room. After the interview I ran to the men’s crapper but nothing happened.

Can a person flunk a job interview based on gas?

*******

A blog posted on October 12, 2006.

I was telling James about my ill-fated interview at Bath and Body Works the other day, how I was just way too uncomfortable to do the “signature hand lotion massage” on customers.

He said,

–Had it been me applying, when the lady was giving the demonstration on my hand, I’d have said “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.” Sure, they’d have run me out of the store, but it would’ve been worth it.

I’ve been kicking myself for not having been clever enough to come up with that.

*******

A blog posted on October 15, 2006.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I had two job interviews a day. By Thursday I was exhausted, so I stayed home, made follow-up calls, and applied for jobs online. When the lady from the toner place was 48 hours late in calling me back I called her, and learned to my amazement I’d not gotten the job there. I thought sure I had that one in the bag.

I also got a phone message from the manager at Linens and Such. He told me to call him back. (Oh God, that means he wants to give me a job. I wasn’t expecting him to call back so soon.) It was only part-time, paid a mere $7.50 an hour, and was according to his description “very physically strenuous.” I really didn’t want to work there. The idea he was calling to offer me a job made me sick to my stomach. I decided to lay low and screen my calls even more carefully than usual in hopes someone would call with a better offer. But what if no one did? What if I was forced to take that crappy job?

Everyone hates their job. That’s a cliche. But I don’t think anyone understands just how much I’ve hated most of the jobs I’ve had, how I die a little every time I come to work at some of these places.

Maybe Vincent understood. He worked with me at the Discount Book City in Bryan/College Station for three-and-a-half wretched years. He used to tell me that when he worked in the section next to mine he’d hear me repeatedly heaving heavy world-weary, “I-wish-I-were-dead”-type sighs.

I have no problem with working per se. I love writing, editing, doing creative things. What I loathe is wasting any second of my life doing pointless bullshit that has nothing to do with my talents.

Later on Thursday I got what I took to be good news. Anyway, I told James my good news, and naturally he put a negative spin on it and explained why it was all in fact bad news….

Late that night James and I had to run some errands in town, including dropping off my UT library books. I’d had these books for about two years and had been photocopying them at the mailing place across the street, but I just hadn’t gotten to them all. Now they were overdue–all 66 of them–and since I wasn’t allowed to renew them online after a certain point they were costing me $106 a day in fines. The books filled four huge handled grocery bags. James had suggested I take them on the bus, but since I could barely carry one at a time, and each bus trip would take three hours round trip, that seemed a bad idea and poor use of my time.

Once we got into Central Austin we passed through my old neighborhood and I saw there were big changes at the “Ramon Navarro House.” Ramon Navarro was an old silent movie actor who eventually lost his fortune. He was also gay, and when he was an old man he brought two young hustlers back to his house for sex. They’d heard he had a lot of money hidden away and they beat him to death when they couldn’t find the money. Charles Bukowski based a short story on the case.

About three block from my old apartment, the one that burned down, was this dilapidated old Spanish bungalow with a big arched porch. It seemed like the sort of place an old gay silent star would retire to, so a friend of mine gave it that name.

The actual owner was the Henry Darger of our neighborhood, a reclusive old man who kept to himself and drove an old car from the early 1960s. (It was not a restored collectible–he just bought the thing in the ’60s and just kept driving it the rest of his life.) The car, front seat and back, was filled with garbage to a shoulder-high level–newspapers, bottles, cans, jugs, rags–with just enough space for him to sit inside and drive.

In a front window of the house was an enormous air conditioner window unit of a make and design I’d never seen before. I used to walk by the house at night and see a light on in a back window and wonder what the hell that old man did all day and all night. I sometimes entertained the idea of one day buying and restoring the house. I took photos of the house from every angle the same day I went by my old apartment complex and discovered the ruins had been demolished.

And so, on Thursday night, when James and I drove by the house, I noticed a huge dumpster was sitting in the lawn and several interior lights were on. I guess the old man finally died and the house was being cleared out.

Something similar had happened years ago a few blocks away. There was a nice old lady who was always good to Fred, who wandered the streets and alleys and picked amongst everyone’s garbage cans. I believe she had several cats and that she was a retired UT professor. She lived in the second floor of a duplex. One day when I was going to work I saw a poster-board nailed up on the light pole closest to her house, announcing her death and celebrating her memory. It was decorated with a photo and flowers drawn with red and blue marker. A few days later a dumpster the size of a boxcar was brought up beside her house, and for the next two weeks workmen tossed all the junk she had been hoarding into that duplex for decades. When that dumpster filled up a second was brought in.

Riding around with James, I was amazed by all the changes in the campus area, all the new buildings that had gone up. The former site of Tower Records was a newly-opened academic bookstore. I made a mental note to apply there, though I was sure if they’d just opened they had a fairly full staff already.

On Friday the 13th I had an interview at a gaming store. James said,

–So, I suppose you’ve already decided how you’re gonna fuck that interview up?

(James told me the reason I didn’t get a job at another gaming store is because I didn’t claim I was a gaming expert. The fact is I’m not a gaming expert–I’ve played maybe six computer games my entire life–and it would become pretty obvious pretty quickly to any manager of a gaming store that I knew nothing about the field. James suggested all I needed to do to become an expert was read a current gaming magazine cover to cover, but I admitted I just wasn’t interested enough to do that.)

But first I called the manager at Linens and Such. I was exhausted from stressing out over this job, so I just told the guy I’d decided to accept a full-time offer from another place (thinking about the proofreading job that still hadn’t called me back).

My noon interview at the gaming store was mercifully brief. I didn’t really care if I got that job or not, because it only paid minimum wage, offered 10 to 15 hours a week, and was strictly for the Christmas holidays….

I waited for the better part of an hour for the fucking bus, and didn’t get home until about 3pm.

I had a message on my machine. The proofreading place was offering me a job, on the 11pm to 7am shift, Sunday nights through Friday mornings. I felt a mixture of relief, dread, and nausea. I’d been faced with three ugly options–homelessness and the loss of my possessions, […], or taking another dreary job that would made me wish I was dead…. This new job would start October 15th.

I called the company and accepted the offer, trying to sound happy about it. I announced my hiring by mass e-mail…. I called James and told him; he said he could tell me why this was in fact bad news for me, but he held his tongue and just offered congratulations….

Getting this job is a symbolic victory on one level–it’s the first full-time permanent job I’ve landed since the Big Lay-off of ’01, which so badly knocked the wind out of me. I’ve landed temp jobs and part-time jobs during the last five years, but nothing full-time and permanent. So I’ve proven I can get back on the horse. But now–can I land a real job again?

On the up-side, at least I can sit on my ass, not have to deal with the public, or work retail during Christmas. And proofreading might look okay on my resume when I look for more writing jobs.

After this I called the credit card company to announce a change of my status. I thought this would be a quick thing, but the guy I got ahold of kept me on the phone, blabbering at length on all the different payment plans I could sign up for, pestering me if there were any relatives or friends I could put the touch on to pay off 75% of my debt. I explained that I didn’t even know what my take-home pay would be yet–I’d discuss payment plans only when I knew what I was going to be making….

I went to bed depressed, dreading the idea of having to start this job Sunday. The depression continued throughout Saturday. I was convinced the job would be boring and monotonous. As is always the case when I land a job I don’t want, I became obsessed with the idea of making every second of my free time matter, since all the time spent on the job would be huge chunks of my life that would be wasted, never to be regained.

I sat outside for awhile Sunday evening with Fred and had a long talk with a neighbor. She got to witness the awful spectacle of the Chinese couple next door having one of their very loud and very public arguments. She also suggested I might ought to try my chances in New York.    

I’ve been mulling over the idea of moving to New York for years, but it didn’t seem do-able. I had lots of obstacles, it seemed. I’d have to find a place where I could bring Fred. I’d have to find an apartment for myself alone, with no room-mates, that was large enough for all my stuff–how could I swing that with bad credit and little money? How could I find a job in the big city with a crappy job history? How would I begin to look for work in a huge city full of options when I can’t find work in a small city with no options?   

Well, much as I hate to admit it, I know that Fred and I don’t have much longer together. I need to figure out a life in the post-Fred era. And since I’ve already been considering living overseas awhile, which would naturally involve putting things in storage, I suppose I could just as easily put things in storage and go to New York (or any other big city, like Chicago, LA, Boston, etc.). And as utterly repulsive as I find the idea of having a room-mate, maybe that’s the only way right now I could get an apartment in one of these cities, especially with my current money woes.

My long-term goal is still winding up in Western Europe and settling there, but that may take some doing. I’m beginning to suspect I have some years of wandering ahead of me that will start very soon. Fine–whatever it takes to get me out of my current situation and on to my ultimate goal.

*******    

A blog posted on October 16, 2006

Sunday Freddie woke me before my alarm with his one-two “Rurr-rurr” bark. I sat up, put on my glasses, and slipped my right foot into a slipper that Fred had filled with diarrhea.

The rest of the day was in keeping.

I was dreading the hell out of going to my new job, but if anything, it proved to be worse than I was expecting.

Friends keep e-mailing me congratulations on my new job, but the truth is, I’m not happy about it at all. It’s a shitty job….

Right about the time I was getting ready to walk out the door and go to my bus stop James called to offer me a ride. (The bus doesn’t run as late as I need it to on Sunday nights, my job going as it does from Sunday night to Friday morning, 11pm to 7am.) It’s a good thing James called, as I’d totally misread the schedule and would’ve been sitting at the stop a long time otherwise.

I took Fred for a quick walk and had just come back inside when James arrived. Fred plopped onto the floor, looking sad and sickly and in need of loving. But I couldn’t stay and take care of him. I had to go to this goddamn job. I then became tormented by the idea Fred would die alone while I was off at work.

In the car I went into a rant about this job… James tried to say,

–Well, at least you’ve got a job in publishing.

I scoffed,

–Publishing?! Well, you also say your friend the typewriter repairman is a writing expert.

A person who works this job is about as much in the publishing industry as a school janitor is involved in education.

(I’m trying to prepare some food for me and Fred and am counting down the minutes before I go off to my second night of work…. The fucking smoke alarm kept going on, despite the fact I had the exhaust blower running and the patio widows open. The alarm annoys me and scares Fred, and so, since I have no other way to express my anger over my current situation, I took a stick {a thick piece of bamboo to be exact} and just beat the shit out of the alarm, knocking the whole thing off the ceiling. Oddly enough, the goddamn thing kept ringing even after the battery was removed.)

I got to the job site, which looked disturbingly like the set for “Office Space,” way too early. I was given a basic run-down about the job and told the guy who had interviewed me two Fridays ago had already been canned. (I later heard it was because he was trying to get the bosses to pay the grunts a higher wage.) But that’s the second time this month an interviewer got sacked after talking to me. My new supervisor was an Indian dude who talks like a teenager trying to fake a deep voice.

My “colleagues in the publishing industry” were a rag-tag pack of slack-jawed mouth-breathers, who’d all probably flunked out of the telemarketing biz. I picked a seat as far from the supervisor as I could get–way over by the window. All the seats faced away from him, so I had the uncomfortable feeling of constantly being watched.

The only person in my row was some middle-aged black woman who worked with her coat up over her head. Towards the end of the shift she leaned away from the computer and took a series of naps. Food and drink were allowed at the computers, and most of my co-workers had sacks full of junk food of an abundance and diversity that even the most dedicated, obese, pony-tailed, Harry Knowles-esque online gamers would envy. One woman even had dip to go with her chips.

A good deal of the staff seemed to be black or Hispanic kids fresh out of high school. Some spent most of the night hanging around the supervisor’s desk, talking to a female boss, or running outside for smoke breaks.

I had eaten chili for dinner, so I had to run to the bathroom to take a dump five or six times that night. I went into one stall, set a seat cover over the seat, and tried to do my business, but I had the repulsive feeling that my balls were dragging in the water. Was the water level really that high? Did my balls really hang that low? During the course of the night I tried all the toilets in the men’s room, and had the same experience in each one. I finally concluded that the paper “tongue” for the seat cover, that trails into the water, was drawing water upwards toward the seat cover. This was getting my balls wet. When I just spread toilet paper over the lid I had less problems.

The job? Well, this company has a contract with Harper Collins to digitize its stock. Some of the staff scans the books. The heroes in the “proofreading department” just compare the scans with the originals and make corrections, if needed. the job is monotonous, boring, and a great strain on the eyes. There’s no way in hell I’m gonna last there a year or even more than a few months.

I spent much of the night trying not to break down in tears. For awhile I was so depressed I considered walking out during my break, walking home, taking a bunch of sleeping pills, and tying a plastic bag over my head. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

The software that is used on this job is only six months old and is full of flaws. I found I was often working faster than the software allowed, causing the thing to bog down. In some cases I’d just have to log off, go take a shit, then come back ten minutes later and try it again.

The pages of text generated were very random. I edited excerpts from a book on my ancestress, Mary Queen of Scots, a biography of Will Rogers, a guide to natural childbirth (yuck!), a couple Christian novels, and a history of Nazi racial policies (filled with pages of complicated bibliographies, featuring entries with 38-letter German words, chock-full of a diacritical marks). All this was really hard on the eyes.

I was allowed to bring music, so I took along about 35 CDs, a CD player, and a radio.

When the shift was finally over I walked in the rain to the nearest bus stop and waited 35 minutes, trying again to keep from bursting into tears. There has to be something better than this.

Fred was still alive and well when I got home. I walked him, fed him, took a shower, and then buried myself in my covers.

******* 
A blog posted on October 17, 2006

My last posting was in error. It turns out I was wrong about the toilet seat covers at work. In fact the water levels are high in the tanks and I got my balls wet again last night.

This job is taking more and more of my time. I wake up, get ready, go to work, then come home, shower, and go to bed. How the hell can I find anything better at this rate?

Last winter James said whenever he’d come over to pick me up to run errands, his heart always sank if I came out of the house wearing warm-ups. He said it always seemed an indication that I was deeply depressed, that I felt hopeless and had given up on life, because I’d stopped caring about my appearance.

Last night, my second night on my new job, I wore warm-ups. I’m wearing them again tonight.

Also last night I wore a white T-shirt that was stained with blood from where I’d scratched my belly too much a few hours before.

Maybe I’ll listen to some French language CDs at work tonight….

I pray more as a result of this job. I pray when I leave for work, while I’m at work, and while I’m on my way home that Fred will still be alive when I return, then I offer a prayer of thanks when he is there alive and well.

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