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

A blog posted on January 14, 2007.

–Monday the 8th–I applied for a bunch of out-of-state writing and editing jobs before the holidays. I heard back from one today. The editor of a magazine in Boston said she’d made a mistake advertising right before Christmas, when things get busy. Now she was writing back to see which of the applicants were still interested. I do so hope I get to interview. It sounds like it’d be a perfect job for me.

Work has been uneventful, except for the fact the system keeps either breaking down or working very slowly. Several times we’ve been sent home early. It’s a good thing I bring paperwork with me from home to keep me entertained while I work. Plus there is also my radio and CD player to lean on.

The Creature is still with us, by the way.

–Wednesday the 10th–…I am always the first person from my shift to arrive at the office. This is not because I enjoy my job–far from it–but rather because the bus just gets me there early.

If I arrive before a certain time I always find the second shift supervisor, a cross-looking, middle-aged Hispanic man, gossiping in English and Spanish in the break room with a morbidly obese woman who works under him. The break room is about the size of an apartment bathroom, so when those two are in there, I just stay out–it’s too claustrophobic.

So I was impatiently waiting outside the break room for them to stop yakking and get back to work so I could grab a snack. It turns out they were talking about the third shift, my shift. The guy said the employees liked the third shift supervisor, a young Indian dude, but they didn’t respect him.

–Well, those third shifters aren’t gonna know what hit ’em.

From what I could tell my boss was being replaced by this Hispanic dude. Now I don’t like change, and change in an employment setting is almost always for the worse. So I was dreading what might happen.

As it was, my supervisor was fifteen minutes late to work, so the Hispanic guy stayed on waiting for him, standing at the back of the computer room, scowling, arms folded, breathing down our necks, looking like an overseer on a plantation. But I didn’t bother to tell my co-workers what I’d heard. Fuck ’em.
 
–Thursday the 11th–At work they passed around a sign-up sheet, so we could list our birthdays if we so desired. I handed it on to The Creature without looking at or signing it.

At the end of the shift tonight my supervisor reminded us not to come in Sunday night, that we have MLK Day off, then announced he was being transferred to the second shift and that the second shift guy was taking his place.

–All I can say about him is be careful about your breaks. He’s very strict about break times.

There were 25 shocked faces and one that was bored and impassive.

I asked a co-worker about the new boss and he said since I don’t take smoke breaks I really had nothing to worry about.

We are allowed a childish 20 minutes every night for lunch and two ten-minute breaks elsewhere during the shift. I’ve worked at this shit-hole almost three miserable months now and I’ve never taken the ten minute breaks, and since we’re allowed to eat at our desks and there’s really no place to go in a deserted office park at 3am when you have no car, I often don’t even take lunch breaks. The last month or so when I did take lunch breaks I’d just go into the main office–the cubicle corral–and pace from one end of the office to the other, hands behind my back, going back and forth for 20 minutes, trying to restore circulation to my extremities. I got the impression this behavior confused and creeped out the simple beasts I work with.

I just hope “Santo” doesn’t try wresting with El B____, getting up in my fucking Kool-Aid, and trying to get me to stop bringing paperwork from home. He doesn’t know what he’s dealing with. I talked to a friend who used to work for the company and he said this guy’s bark is worse than his bite, that he’s easily put in his place. Anyway, I do very good work, so the fucker has nothing to bitch about.

–Friday the 12th–…I am still very, very distant from the rest of the world, perceiving things, if at all, from the end of a long, dark tunnel. My grief is still all-consuming, and I’m barely aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world or what other people are trying to tell me….

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A blog posted on January 16, 2007.

The week is shaping up rather nicely. I had Sunday night/Monday morning off due to the MLK holiday, and I had Monday night/Tuesday morning off due to an ice storm which I’m praying will continue on for several more days. The only way things could get any better is if my fucking office burned to the ground….

I’d not been up long when I heard a cat howling outside. What kind of an asshole would leave a pet outside during an ice storm? I opened my front door to try to locate the cat, then heard what sounded like the opening moves in a cat fight. I wanted to go break up the fracas, but the bridge and stairs that connect me to the rest of the world are impassable….

Sunday I woke well before dawn. there was little food left in the house. In the late morning I tried calling James to see if he was going out to gather supplies for the coming storm. I needed to go to the store but I wanted to avoid walking there and back in the cold and rain if I could help it. I called about four or five times over the course of a few hours, said to hell with it, bundled up, and headed out. I went to the HEB rather than the Randall’s that’s a block closer, because HEB stocks printer paper, and one cannot well face being stranded indoors during an ice storm without printer paper.

The website for the local paper said grocery stores had not been that crowded since Thanksgiving, while I had not seen crowds and chaos like that since the Hurricane Rita scare of 2005. (Although the crowds weren’t quite as bad as that this time.)  Lines to the check-out counters were incredibly long, and store officials had even opened up the check-out lines they usually keep shut down and blocked up with stored materials.

Actually, the line I got in to check out wasn’t all that bad, but I was subjected to the babble of the people behind me in the line, and I realized I now had a new pet peeve: Spanglish. This guy was saying, “So I told my mother we’re fixing to vamos a la groceria to get some sandwich meat, bread, y lechuga y leche for Sunday dinner esta noche.” What the fuck? What’s the point of all that? I have no problem with people speaking in whatever language they like, but pick one and speak it for the entire sentence!

So naturally when I got home there was a message from James, wanting to know what was up. He had long since gotten over his illness of last week and offered to take me to the store. Since I’d just done that we agreed to go out to eat at Arby’s.

As is so often the case when we get together, James and I discussed my work situation. He said if I would only read a bunch of self-help books then I would be able to sort through all the bullshit in them and discover the grain of truth that is at the core and thereby change my life. I explained that over the years I have had to read a few of those types of books for various reasons–often because they were tied in to a term paper I was hired to write for someone, and I usually got so quickly bored with these books that I’d begin to mentally edit and proofread and critique them. They are usually written in a dull, tendentious style, where the same points are belabored over and over again, and twelve words are used where five would suffice. If I’d actually corrected these books to what I would consider their proper length they’d wind up being no longer than a magazine article. Most of them seem nothing more than a collection of “rah-rah” cheers to motivate the feeble-minded, the naively optimistic, and all the other mouth-breathers out there who lead unexamined lives.

But James is convinced they hold the secret to my happiness. For Christ’s sake, why doesn’t he just tell me what it is he thinks they’re saying that’s so fucking important???!!! I read slowly and I don’t want to waste lots of money and months of my life reading crap. Just tell me the fucking message you want me to get!

Part of the problem is James is distressed by my hatred of sales, marketing, and business, and the people who are involved in such activities, activities I regard as sleazy and sordid. But he says I will never have the things I want out of life if I don’t learn how to sell. He was saying over lunch,

–You’re so close to getting everything you want–you have no idea. You just need to flip-flop your brain over.

But predictably, he wouldn’t spell it out; he stayed vague. It’s funny, because I don’t feel close to my goals at all–far from it.

He did agree with Jonathan that my goals in life are very realistic and do-able. It’s not like I’m aspiring to be a billionaire or rule the world. Fortunately, though, he didn’t repeat, as he does over and over and over again, that the secret to my success is for me to start selling books on Ebay and do freelance writing in a major way. Every time I ask his two cents, those are the only two courses he’ll specify. He thinks, as my mother does, that if he just says the same thing over and over I’ll  conclude that course is wise, and yield to it. (Neither of them have learned that belaboring a point with me only turns me all the more against it.) I wish he’d just answer my fucking questions, the way I ask them–directly–instead of being vague and waiting for me to have a complete mental breakdown, which is what I feel I’m headed for soon if things don’t change soon….

Also on Sunday I finally finished, in ink, a 130-page book of crossword puzzles that has kept me highly entertained on the toilet since September. The sad thing is I had a greater sense of accomplishment from doing that than I’ve had from most of the jobs I’ve worked since I entered the workforce in 1980.

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A blog posted on January 20, 2007.

So I returned to work Thursday night for the first time in a week, and found both my old and new supervisors there. They announced we would not be paid for the emergency days off that THE COMPANY CALLED. If we wanted, we could make up the missing days by working over the weekend, when the company would pay us time-and-a-half, but I’d rather eat the $198 loss than take a hand-out from those cocksuckers on their terms.

I sarcastically asked if we were getting paid for the Martin Luther King holiday or would we be expected to make up that too, then pointed out that this latest decision ran totally contrary to the stated company policy on emergency days off that was posted in the break room. The supervisors looked embarrassed, then shrugged and said this was just what the management had decided. So I guess policies don’t fucking matter–they just make shit up as they go along.

I was so angry I was shaking. It took me several hours to calm down.

Around hour seven in the shift, my new supervisor, just as I’d predicted, came sniffing around and asked what all those non-work-related papers were around my desk. I explained they were there for my entertainment when the computers break down (something that happens quite a lot). He told me I needed to put them away.

I was really angry now, angry to the point I was getting chest pains. I wanted to punch the mother-fucker or throw my Coke across the room and quit and storm out, and would have had I not known my mom would go into nagging overdrive about it. I stayed angry all morning, even after I got home. I didn’t really calm down until early afternoon, when I went to bed and slept for 18 hours.

I have a feeling my clashes with this high school drop-out dullard are just starting, that things will not end well with me and this current job, that I will not part with my employer on good terms.

The nerve of that mother-fucker! I come in 25 minutes early every night, I don’t talk to anybody, I don’t even take lunch breaks, and I’m sure my production numbers are pretty high, but he comes riding in, thinking he’s Buford Pusser, coming to clean up the town, and he zeros in on me first? I’m gonna speak to my old supervisor to get him to hep this asshole to the situation.

Oh, and after this incident, about 30 minutes or so later, he calls me up to his desk like I’m a disobedient child, and all the others in the room go, “Ooooo.” Turns out he was just calling me to give me my paycheck, but he made it look like he was calling me to give me a talking to. He held onto the checks until the end of the shift, instead of paying us at the beginning, like the other guy did.

James called in the late morning, and could tell I was in a rage. We discussed a dream he said he had several days ago. In the dream I called him from work and told him to pick me up. I had quit my job and was going to Paris, contrary to the loud objections of […]. I’m not sure if this was a real dream or if James was just trying to use some transparent and ham-fisted child psychology on me.

I told him about all my job-hunting efforts. I applied for 20 jobs Thursday, including a newspaper job in Europe, the advertisement for which included the warning that I was not to apply if I wasn’t serious about relocating.  He said it’s all well and good for me to want to move to another town or country, only I shouldn’t use that method expecting it to change my life, that I needed to fix myself first—whatever that means.

He said he didn’t think I have what it takes to support myself working for myself, but that I also am not a good employee, if for no other reason than that I have violent objections to and hatred for authority. We concluded that I’ve had only about two or three jobs in my life where I had managers that were  interested in getting the actual job done and not in flaunting their so-called power or trying to manipulate office politics. He said unless I’m lucky enough to find a job with a good manager like that again, that I’m bound to stay miserable as an employee, if for no other reason than that I resent being ordered around. But the thing is my issues with my parents were what caused this hang-up, and they’ve built up for decades. Bad bosses are just substitute parents to me. James wasn’t able to finish the analogy, because he had to rush off to a lunch appointment, so I was left to ponder how to deal with my parental/authority issues, which are especially difficult because they are so ingrained.

I had reiterated for the umpteenth time that the problem was I was financially dependent…[…] If I made an adult-sized income, as I have before, I would not have to suck up to […]. James countered that if I got a job that paid well then I’d have to suck up to that boss… out of fear of losing the job and the money that would make me independent.

I said that I don’t suck up to bosses. Since most of the jobs I’ve had are jobs I never wanted in the first place, I tend to have an easy come, easy go attitude towards them. As time has passed I have experienced less and less fear towards the idea of being fired. It’s certainly not the worst thing that can happen.

But most people don’t want to lose their jobs, or at least the money the jobs provide, yet most employed people, I would assume, feel like adults. One of my chief problems is I’ve only briefly ever felt like an adult, and whenever anyone, be it parent or boss, puts me into a position where I feel like a humiliated child, I fly into a rage.

James did comment that I always regard the option “I can quit this job anytime” as one of my few expressions of adulthood and independence. Yet I’ve seldom exercised it because of threats from […].

Which makes it appear we are arguing in circles now….

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A blog posted on January 22, 2007.

This afternoon I was laying on top of my bed, reading, stressing out about my job, and suffering from a tightness in my chest. I suddenly became aware of the strangest sensation, that my heart was vibrating, buzzing almost, as was the rest of my chest. It was like I had a motel’s “Magic Fingers” device inside me. It passed after a bit, then I finally took off my glasses, pulled a blanket over me, started shivering, and tried to take a nap.

I just couldn’t face work tonight, so I called in sick.

I also spoke to James, and told him I’d not be needing a ride. I told him about the symptoms I’d had, he looked them up, and they sound a lot like atrial fibrillation, a condition that can cause a stroke. Some of the causes for this include poor diet and lack of exercise….

So if something should happen to me I wanted to give everyone the heads up in advance.

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A blog posted on January 27, 2007.

–Sunday–21st–Upon waking I had a major panic attack–or series of them–at the idea of going back to my hated job, so I called in sick and spent the night watching episodes of “Dark Shadows.”…

–Wednesday–24th–My mother called to announce that a cousin of mine had died–his mother was my grandfather’s sister, so I guess he’d be my first cousin once removed. He died at the age of 68–pretty young for the men in that branch of the family–who usually live to their 90s or 100s.

I didn’t know this cousin well. I only saw him three times–at my grandmother’s funeral in 1976, my grandfather’s funeral in 1997, and in 1981, when he took me and some classmates for a tour of a technical college, where he was head of the architectural drafting department. At the time I really wanted to be an architect, although in truth I was really a lot more interested in architectural history.

Unfortunately, the chief emphasis of this school was practical training for work. There were no architectural history courses, no liberal arts department–no literature, history, art history, music, etc.–none of the things I’d always wanted to attend college to study. Worst of all, at the school’s commencement exercises, those graduates who had already landed employment wrote “HAVE JOB” in white on the tops of their mortarboards. This horrified my sensibilities–I saw going to college as a means to soak up culture and broaden my understanding of the civilized world–not as a means towards something as vulgar as job training. I decided not to go to this school….

I got James to drive me to work because the night was rather cold. Amazingly, I had nothing to scream at him about, though I did question him about something he said the other day–he had said something to the effect that he didn’t think I was serious enough about becoming a writer or in achieving my dreams, because I hadn’t moved to an efficiency in East Austin yet. I said I didn’t want anything so badly that I’d move to the ghetto for it. A few days later he clarified what he meant–that either I’d have to increase my income or drastically cut my expenses even more than I already have in order to get what I want.

He scoffed at the idea of moving me across the country, but laughed that there are plenty of people who’d gladly fork over money to get me out of Austin….

At work I spent about half the night proofing a fascinating book on William Butler Yeats. Santo twice caught The Creature sleeping at her terminal and sent her home. Did he fire her? I actually found myself feeling some pity for her. I think one of the reasons people get so unsettled at the sight of others getting fired is because termination from work is so analogous to death–the boss is telling the fired employee that he or she is not worthy of food, clothing, shelter, and health care, that his quality of work is so poor he doesn’t deserve the money he needs to stay alive….
    
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A blog posted on February 9, 2007.

…I woke up deeply depressed and filled with anxiety over my job, and spent awhile curled up in the fetal position, before getting up and calling in sick for the third time this week. I’m looking into doing the job from home, which pays a lot less than office-bound workers get unless you’re really fast at it, but it would spare me having to deal with the commute, the bosses, my co-workers, and the unbearable monotony. It would also keep me away from those vending machines and the junk food they offer.

After attending to that I had another phone conversation with James that left me so depressed I wanted to take another Vicodin and go back to bed, but I decided to apply for more jobs first.

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A blog posted on February 10, 2007.

In many ways it’s been the same-old, same-old around here. My health and job have sucked, …and James has continued to suck the hopes and dreams out of me with his heart-rendingly negative evaluations on my chances for a future.

I’ve been having lots of panic attacks and calling in sick to work because I simply cannot bear to spend any time there. I still cry a great deal and have been waking up curled in the fetal position, unable to get up and face the world. I had two teeth pulled Tuesday morning and as of early Saturday night my mouth and teeth still hurt like hell, despite the painkillers I’ve been gobbling down.

I have been applying for out-of-state and international jobs at the rate of 40 to 60 a week for some time now, though James says I should just tear the notices in half, that I have no hope of getting these jobs. Matters are made worse by the fact that few of these businesses have actually responded to me as yet.

Nevertheless, James is under the mistaken impression that all or most of these jobs require …skills I don’t have. Most of them are simple writing/editing jobs. At any rate, the job-hunting books I’ve read and experts I’ve listened to have said that a job notice represents a company’s perfect image of a candidate for a particular position, that most companies will hire a candidate with less skills if they come off well in certain areas. When I told James this he condescendingly said,

–Just throw all those job-hunting books you have from the 1930s away and find books that agree with what I say. Unless you meet and greatly exceed the requirements, they won’t hire you. And unless a job is your ideal, 100% dream job, why are you even bothering to apply in the first place?

So you can see why talking to him discourages me so much. But if I don’t keep applying, how else will I get out of this situation I’m in? It is an active attempt to improve my station, right? It’s not like I’m just sitting on my ass waiting for my world to get better on its own….

At work Santo and that old bitch from HR fired The Creature the other night when she dragged in thirteen minutes late for the umpteeth time. Oddly enough, I felt half-sorry for her. I even acted with a frog-hair of human sympathy for her one night, handing her a roll of toilet paper when she went into a sneezing and coughing fit.

One night someone tapped on my shoulder–a new employee I’d never seen before–and said my noise was bothering everyone. I wondered for a second if he meant my headphones–surely not–everyone else wears them too–how could my music/news combo be bothering anyone? But he was bitching about the volume of my yawning. Why that presumptive cocksucker! Who the fuck was this newbie to dare comment on my behavior? He’d returned to his seat before I had time enough to react. I stayed in a rage the rest of the night. The following night I was still so upset I had another panic attack over the idea of going to work, and called in sick for the third time that week.

(The first time I called in was Sunday–I couldn’t stay awake. They probably thought I just wanted to watch the Super Bowl, when in fact I’ve not seen the Super Bowl since 1986. The second time was Tuesday when I was doped up on Vicodin after my dentist visit….)

I have been in negotiations for some time with some gal in the recruiting department so as to change my status from an in-office to an out-of-office employee. She’s been very negligent about getting back to me and I’m in a hurry to get the hell out of this current situation. The chief change involved would be that instead of getting $9.00 an hour I’d get 12 cents for each page I work on, which would mean I’d have to do 75 pages an hour to make $9.00. But I’d rather do that than deal with the commute, the bosses, the co-workers, the monotony, the stench of the office, that whole environment–and the fear I’m going to have a breakdown in public. I’d rather work extra hours if it kept me out of that shit-hole.

And it would only be to my benefit that I was kept away from the 25 cent per item Coke and candy vending machines.

They won’t tell me what my production rate is, but a couple weeks ago I was moved to a computer right next to Santo’s desk for a one-night project. Me and about five others were put on the best computers in the room in order to finish a proofing project that was due in 24 hours. We were apparently the fastest proofers in that shift. I did 100 pages in under 45 minutes.

But as for my real life, what have I been up to?

My crying jags continue, although I seem to be having fewer of them each day. Then when I think I’m done with them completely I get hit with an urge for another when I’m on my way home, and just make it inside the door before another one starts. Why, just while writing this blog, I had a Damien Rice CD on and during “Accidental Babies” heard once again the line “But do you really feel alive without me?” and began crying convulsively. The same thing happened the other night when KUT’s overnight DJ played “My Funny Valentine,” which was a special song for me and Fred.

I’ve been trying to clean my apartment and toss stuff–with little success….

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A blog posted on February 28, 2007.

A year ago today (the 27th) I took off on my epic trip to Paris.

Recently I shocked James by saying that except for the time spent with Fred, every single day I’ve lived since I returned from that trip has totally sucked ass. Everything here has been a huge let-down and disappointment and drag compared to Europe.

The trip changed me in many ways–not the least being that I now will be unable to know any peace until such time as I finally manage to live in Europe. But how will I pull that off?

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A blog posted on March 3, 2007.

For about four or five weeks I’ve been trying to get transferred from in-office work at my job to telecommuting, and finally this week, after leaving dozens of phone calls, e-mails, and notes, and dealing with several buck-passers, I finally got the go-ahead. Wednesday was my last night as an employee. Today, as a newly-minted contractor, I finally got the password and logged in, only to find my completed work wasn’t processing correctly. I hope it doesn’t take all weekend for their support crew to fix my problem.

Thursday night James took me by the office to pick up my paycheck. Since I’d turned in my key card we had to go around to the back door that leads directly to the computer room. We pulled up right under the windows by my former desk and James was afforded a view of the room. He seemed shocked and disgusted and said he now totally understood why I wanted out of there. He said,

–I’d have quit too. It would’ve been a bad idea, just like I think it is for you, but at least now I understand it.

I agreed that this job was/is bound to end in tears one way or other–either there’d have been some blow-up in the office or else there will be a technical snafu on the telecommuting end (probably involving me not getting enough work sent my way to pay the bills). I hope I can continue to support myself doing this from home, but I am stepping up my search for other work elsewhere just to be safe.

I talked to […] this morning and she said I sounded the calmest I’d been in months. She disagreed with my friends James and Max’s assessments that I’m days away from a nervous breakdown–she just thinks I need to work from home, maybe find a better job, take deep breaths, exercise, and stop sleeping so much.

I was glad to finally leave that place, but since I’m still connected to it by telecommuting, I didn’t have the near-orgasmic elation I normally get when I leave a bad job with a clean and definitive break. Naturally, considering my recent mental state, during the walk to the bus stop on that last morning I felt melancholy; leaving that dreadful office wasn’t going to make up for the nine nights I wasted going to that fucking place while Fred was left home alone, dying.

A week ago Thursday I went back in to work after playing hooky for two nights, only to find the office in its all-too-familiar crisis/lock-down mode. But some back story is required first so I can explain how things got into this state.

Now I have mentioned how I gave nicknames to my co-workers, since I didn’t know and didn’t want to know them. I’ve mentioned “Milton,” the hulking social misfit who resembled the character of that name in “Office Space,,” “The Creature,” a woman totally lacking in social graces or awareness of self or others, “The Frat Boy,” a guy who always dressed in UT Longhorn-themed paraphernalia, ball caps, and Eddie Bauer, but there were others. “Reverend Mac Daddy,” was a middle-aged black man who, when he wasn’t telling female co-workers about the Lord Jesus Christ, was trying to get into their pants, “The Junkie,” was a forty-something dude with a scarred, craggy face, “Bernard Shaw,” was a fairly sophisticated middle-aged black man with salt-and-pepper hair, nice clothes, and an excellent voice; he quite resembled the CNN anchorman of that name.

A middle-aged, dykey woman who had short hair, a fondness for men’s clothes, a long-visored baseball cap that she never took off, and a perpetual matter-of-fact expression on her face I dubbed “Ann B. Davis,” after the maid on “The Brady Bunch.” The short Oriental dude with the 60s-style bangs, who wore black clothes and horn-rimmed glasses, was “Roy Orbison.” And my Hispanic supervisor was christened “Santo.”

I didn’t really speak much with these people, chiefly because I was working almost constantly while I was at the office (I didn’t take breaks), and I had my headphones on. The few times I attempted jokes or conversation my topics always went over everyone’s heads.

Recently I saw a young hipster in the break room reading a book about the Talking Heads. I told him that the other night I’d heard on BBC Radio News that David Byrne had written a disco/pop opera about Imelda Marcos. Byrne had learned that Marcos was fond of going to Studio 54 in the 70s, and had built discos on the roofs of her homes in New York City and Manila. The kid’s response to my story:

–Who’s Imelda Marcos?

Even when I mentioned her infamous fondness for collecting shoes he was still clueless as to her identity.

I had had a few dealings with the Frat Boy. Sometimes we would arrive at the office at the same time and he would grunt greetings, or he’d call his room-mate, who worked as some junior executive in the company, to come let us in. All I knew about him apart from those things was that he was one of that group of third-shifters who was always running outside for a smoke break.

On Sunday nights when James would take me to work we’d often see the Frat Boy sitting in his SUV in the parking lot, waiting for the shift to start. Thanks to his usual conspiratorial frame of mind, James was convinced this guy was up to no good. He saw the flash of the Frat Boy’s lighter several times and concluded that no, he couldn’t possibly be lighting a cigarette–he had to be smoking crack.

A few weeks ago the powers that be installed a complicated time-clock program on our computers, no doubt a busy-work scheme set up by the company web designers so they could keep their jobs. The program wasn’t showing up correctly on everyone’s computers, so some of us had to gather around those computers that were working. It was then that I actually heard the Frat Boy speak for more than a sentence or two. And when he opened his mouth, as the saying goes, a Prada handbag fell out. He was a big ol’ queen.

Well, that at least explained the “room-mate.”

I had had an amusing conversation with this guy two Mondays ago. So when I returned to work that Thursday I was surprised to learn that he no longer worked for the company and was now persona non grata. I knew something was up when I saw the HR Bitch hanging around like grim death. An hour into the shift she called everyone together and announced this guy was no longer with the company. He was not allowed in the building or in the parking lot. He could get no closer to the building than the turn-in by the street. No one was to go out into the parking lot at night. Anyone that spotted him should run inside immediately, but it would help the cops if someone snapped a camera phone picture of him.

Ann B. Davis, who’s been with the company maybe a month, stepped forward in a state of excitement, eager to present herself as an expert on this guy. She said she was a good judge of people and could tell immediately that Frat Boy was devious and sneaky. He had been planning, she insisted, to find some reason to sue the company and use the settlement to buy some land. She said,

–It’s the quiet, ‘normal-seeming’ types you’ve gotta watch out for. He was always looking for an angle, wanting to get revenge on people. He’s definitely the kind who would come back here at night to slash tires in the parking lot.

Her know-it-all manner on this subject was really annoying.

Rev. Mac Daddy then countered that he had been around lots of criminals and that no one from the third shift was of a true criminal bent, least of all the Frat Boy. He said he regarded everyone there like family. I was immediately reminded of a scene with a similar comment on “The Larry Sanders Show,” which prompted the producer Artie, played by Rip Torn, to spit back,

–Fuck “family”! Manson had a family!

I was standing next to the HR Bitch and asked her,

–Is it just me or does this sort of thing tend to happen way too much at this company? When I started in October and all those people had just been fired ya’ll had the place locked up with security guards 24/7, afraid they were gonna come back and go postal. Why does this company seem to have this problem to a degree I’ve not seen on other jobs?

(I was implying none too subtly that maybe there was something wrong with an HR Department that kept hiring crazy mother-fuckers.) The HR Bitch didn’t really answer my question, but gave an insincere smile, asked my name, and said that sadly she’d seen this sort of thing at lots of companies she’d worked for, but she hoped that at last they had rooted out all the bad apples here.

But something didn’t quite add up. What had happened during those two days I was gone that caused that guy to quit or be fired?

About fifteen minutes after the meeting broke up I heard Ann B. Davis yapping her gossip in a fairly conversational tone of voice to someone sitting behind me. I took off my headphones, spun around in my chair, and asked,

–Well, what happened?

She clamped her mouth shut and just stared at me, refusing to answer. I wanted to slap her, but I went back to my work instead.

About twenty minutes after that I went to the break room to get a snack, in hopes I could zero in on some explanatory gossip. As fate would have it, Ann B. Davis came in, now very eager to fill me in.

Apparently a night or two before, Frat Boy, Santo, another supervisor, and a big-haired woman from the smoker’s group had been in a meeting room talking about something. They were filing out, and Big Hair wanted to get Frat Boy’s attention, so she reached out to grab his sleeve. Supposedly Frat Boy flipped out at this innocent gesture and had filed assault charges against Big Hair. But that still didn’t explain why Frat Boy had quit or been fired and why everyone was afraid he’d come back to the office and get violent.

But unless there are further, uglier developments that should somehow make it into the news media, I’m afraid I will learn nothing more of the case.

*******

A blog posted on March 11, 2007.

There have been some complaints lately that I don’t post often enough or that my post aren’t interesting. As far as the latter goes, well, my life hasn’t been all that interesting lately—full of pseudo-drama, yes—but not all that interesting. I have spent a lot of time lately mentally commemorating the Paris trip, which ended a year ago this past week.

This was my first full week working from home, and it was a great improvement over having to go in to the office to work. The only problems came at the very beginning and end of the week, when proper material wasn’t delivered to me to work on.

Last weekend I kept getting notices that read there was no content to proofread. That didn’t get fixed until Sunday.

Now in-office proofers are considered employees and they get paid $9.00 an hour. At-home proofers are considered contractors and are paid a mere 12 cents a page. I’m a fast proofer and can usually get one page completed in a minute. So if I work about eight-and-a-half to nine hours a day I should make what I made at in the office, right?

The catch is the in-office folks can often pick and choose which page they want to work on while the at-home folks have to take whatever’s sent to them, and starting Friday they began sending me pages of one book full of pop song hit parade chart data from a thirty year period. These pages are full of information and numbers and every one of them has come to me totally fucked up and in need of correcting. It takes at least 20 minutes to set them right. The problem is the system automatically logs you out if you spend over 20 minutes working on a page. That means once you’re done you can’t send or save the page, your work is for naught, and you don’t get paid for it. Even so, if I just managed to get it in under the 20 minute mark, but got five of these pages one after the other, I’d only make 60 cents an hour. I e-mailed the person in charge of the operation, to get her to fix this, and naturally she was unavailable for the weekend.   

My job-hunting efforts continue, but have borne no fruit. […] sent me a notice for a job doing test-scoring—basically the same sort of crap I’m doing now. It paid $11.00 an hour, but was a temporary assignment that only lasted two-and-a-half months. I was supposed to interview Thursday, but canceled because the commute to and from the job site would be three to four hours a day.

[…] also sent me a notice for an opening for teachers and teaching assistants at a Montessori school, and though I wasn’t even remotely interested in these positions, I called anyway. They asked me to come in Friday, fill out an application, and presumably interview. (I say presumably because they wanted me to come at a specific time–11am.) As it was I mistakenly set my alarm for 8pm rather than 8am, and when I woke up at 9:30am, I had to call in and reschedule. But frankly, I really don’t want a job that’ll keep me in Austin.    

My friends James and Max are convinced I’m about to have a nervous breakdown, and have been nagging me to go to a shrink. (Like […], they haven’t learned that nagging me doesn’t help my stress levels any.)  […] doesn’t think I need a shrink, that I just need to relax and apparently resign myself to a life of mediocrity and shitty jobs. But she is convinced, based on no evidence whatsoever, that I have turned all my friends against me, and that no one wants to be around me anymore except for James.

I explained to her that that is not the case, that I just live in a distant part of Austin that is very much out of the way, and that most of my friends are incredibly busy with their jobs or marriages or kids. Either way, there’s hardly point in staying in Austin just to be close to my Austin friends because I only see them once or twice a year on special occasions—if then.

I was telling Max about this silly theory and oddly enough he said he agreed with […], and then went into a rant of his own, going on about what a whiny, self-pitying, angry prick I’ve become in recent years….

Oh well. What was it Rick Nelson said? “You can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.”

Still, you cannot imagine how unsettling it is to be surrounded by people constantly telling you you’re crazy. It reminds me of something that happened when I was ten and was sent to summer camp….

[After I’d had those seizures and various doctors concluded I’d been sexually molested] I was going to a “family counseling” clinic once a week. The counselors were husband and wife–the wife talked to my mom while the husband talked to me. ( I should add that a few years later this couple divorced, which should indicate how full of shit they were. Oh, and the MD that pronounced me cured and finally took me off the Phenobarbital? He blew his brains out in his backyard.)   

Anyway, this pair recommended I be sent away for two weeks to Camp Webwood, near Palestine in East Texas, a camp for kids with learning disabilities. The kids there were real nutcases, some little better than retarded. I didn’t know what I was doing there–was this because I had difficulties in math? For the entire two weeks I kept insisting to the counselors that I didn’t have any learning disabilities–after all, tests had proven I was in the top 99th percentile for kids my age in the whole nation. I was a genius, I insisted–not a retard! But the counselors would just nod and smile, and let me rave on. It was so frustrating to know I was in the wrong place, but couldn’t convince anyone that I didn’t belong there.

Anyway, that’s how it feels now with everyone around me thinking I’m crazy. The only difference is I know I’m having some psychological problems right now, but I disagree with the others as to how I should deal with it.

Friday afternoon James settled into his nagging/preaching mode, something he does a lot these days, and which annoys the shit out of me. Our phone conversation had started innocently enough on the topic of photography, but he soon shifted over. He denies that he is actively attempting to get a rise out of me, but I have to wonder. He knows certain things he says either plunge me into a suicidal despair or a screaming rage, so why does he say these things if he doesn’t, at some level, enjoy watching me get like that?

I was bemoaning yet again the almost total lack of response I’ve been getting for the dozens of writing and editing jobs I’ve been applying for lately. He went out on a big limb and made the far-fetched claim that hiring managers can read between the lines of my resumes and cover letters and can sense that I have psychological problems and issues …, etc., and that is why they don’t contact me.

I told him that was the biggest load of mysto-babble I’d ever heard, as well as a ham-fisted attempt at child psychology—to try to push me into counseling–and that I was sure the answer was much simpler: that either I was unqualified for a given job or the company didn’t want to go to the trouble and expense of hiring someone from out-of-town.

The more he talked about jobs the less certain he sounded. He’d compile a list of all the negatives and obstacles, then would act amazed that I concluded the task was all but impossible. He would advise one course of action, then basically contradicts himself a few minutes later. He made it appear that  it’s all a big crap-shoot, that nothing is sure, all is illusion, blah blah blah, which is a total shift away from his usual custom of making flat, black-and-white, dogmatic statements (“This is ALWAYS what happens,” “No one EVER does that”).

I said that while I know I have psychological problems, I don’t really have any faith a shrink can help me. The shrinks I dealt with as a child were useless, and God knows the meds they’ve tried on me since 2003 have only made my condition much, much worse—they actually seemed to flip a switch inside my head that let loose a whole torrent of something or other that made me feel much crazier and less stable than I had beforehand. As I’ve said, I have no insurance and cannot afford to go to a decent shrink and refuse to go to a free clinic with all the crack mothers. Plus, I don’t want to go to the trouble of starting to tell one shrink the whole long, drawn-out “Astonishing Tales of B____,” then having to do it all over again with someone else. My immediate priority is moving and getting a better job in my field. Feeling like a self-sufficient adult again is what I want. Getting counseling is at the bottom of the list, if it’s even on the list at all.

James then made another ridiculous suggestion. He said I should apply the principles of scientific research to my resume and cover letter. He asked if I changed my cover letter and resume for each job I applied for, and I said I change a few words on the letter but the resume not at all, that all these jobs I’ve been applying for are pretty much the same and don’t seem to warrant major overhauls in the texts. He said I should make changes each time I apply, then compile and study the results, with a “successful” letter/resume presumably being one that results in a job offer.

I said that was an exercise in intellectual masturbation. I have never, ever gotten any comments regarding my various letters or resumes from anyone over the years, be they bosses who hired me or bosses who did not. So there is no way to determine if the letters/resumes are helping or hurting. I may get hired or turned down based on my job history, the quality of my handshake, or how I dressed for the interview.

Nevertheless, every time I’ve dealt with someone who presents himself as an expert on job-hunting, he has told me to change my resume and cover letter from one style to another.  I have taken the advice of each one of these people, and the end result has not been, as far as I’ve been able to see, especially better or worse–just different. I’ve not noticed that any style has helped me more than another. So any further investigation into this area seems pointless to me, especially since I have no way of confirming any findings.

Talk continued along these tiresome lines for some time. I alternated between being frustrated with James and with the non-cooperative computer program from work.

For some reason James likes to make the first half of provocative statements, then go silent, refusing to “drop the other shoe” and finish the statement until I ask him specifically to do so. This really slows things down and enrages the absolute fuck out of me. I don’t know how many times I have told him to just get to the point, say what he’s going to say, and stop waiting for me to ask for it.

After he did this slowdown technique about three or four times in a row I was so furious I started screaming “goddammit!” over and over, pounded my fist on my desk, then began beating my desk with my phone receiver until I accidentally managed to put it completely out of commission. It’s a good thing I didn’t hit my computer keyboard as well or I’d have really been fucked.

James called back repeatedly to make sure he’d not pushed me over the edge. Half-embarrassed and still half-angry, I finally had to e-mail him and explain what had happened. Fortunately he has lots of extra phones in his “Inventory Room” at home and said he’d bring one by that evening….

*******    

A blog posted on March 25, 2007.

It became apparent last weekend when my first paychecks rolled in for my switch into tele-commuting that my current “employer”–if you want to call it that—wasn’t going to pay me enough to live off of. In fact, I’ll be lucky to pull in $100 a week with this outfit—and I need at least $1000 a month just to scrape by.

So first thing Monday I called a temp agency that I’d signed up with last summer and asked them to re-activate my file. It turns out they were doing a lot of hiring for an insurance company, but the catch was I had to score 80% or higher on eight or nine tests, which included spelling, filing, problem solving, reading comprehension, typing, Word 2003, Excel 2003, and office math. I had no worries about the first four, but expected trouble with the rest.

Despite the fact I spend long hours of almost every day at the computer, and have for at least six years, I type only 41-47 words per minute, and find I must look at the keyboard, at least every now and then, when I type. James insists this is one reason why I am so unemployable and says I should take a typing course. I said I took typing in high school in 1982—I know enough to suit me and I don’t want to be someone’s fucking secretary. And anyway I’d rather be accurate than fast.  

As for Word, well, I use some of it every day, but I don’t know the whole suite inside and out—I’ve never had occasion to use it. I  plugged numbers into pre-made Excel forms when I did invoicing back at uRb-N-gUyDz in 2000 and 2001, but I never had to create Excel documents or use any other aspect of it.

As for the math—well, I have a proven math disability, diagnosed by a UT educational psychologist. He said it was deep-seated and probably incurable at this point in my life. His diagnosis saved me from having to take a math course in college. I have arranged my life around avoiding math wherever possible, and using a pocket calculator when the occasion arises. For this temp job test, I used a calculator for the arithmetic and put down random answers for the rest.

I had started taking the tests in the wee hours of the morning, but there was a technical snafu on the spelling test that prevented me from either proceeding or logging out. I tried the “24 hour” help desk number and it disconnected me after the second ring every time I called. The “24 hour” on-line help desk also did not respond to my e-mails. Finally, about 8am I managed to speak to the telephone help desk—in India naturally—and got everything up and running again. After I finished the tests I called the local temp agency office to explain that I had not in fact taken four hours to do the spelling test.

I also said I was afraid I’d probably done poorly on three of the tests, but in fact the guy said I’d scored very highly on most all of them—even the math (!!!???)–but had flunked the Word and Excel portions. The guy said I needed to study their Word and Excel tutorials and retake the tests, and that I had three days to get this done.

I was sort of looking forward to these tutorials, thinking they might prove helpful to me beyond the parameters of this temp job. Unfortunately, they were poorly designed. I tried to print the pages out, so I could study each concept at length, but each time I got a pop-up prompt that asked if I was through with that page and ready to move on to the next topic. And the tutorials were only designed to show short-cuts—to show the quickest way to answer the questions on the tests. In fact I recognized each of the test questions on the tutorials. But they didn’t explain the why and the when and the how—under what practical circumstances I would need to use that particular procedure.

So I might wind up passing the test, getting the temp job, and still finding myself unable to know when to do what. Add to that the fact I have virtually no short-term memory—due possibly to my ADD—and you can see that the tutorials were basically useless.

I did and redid the tutorials step by step, and my head was about to explode from the stress of it all. I could not believe, for instance, that the mail-merge procedure took sixteen fucking steps! They were trying to cram way too much information into the tutorials without, as I said, teaching the contexts during which those procedures would be used. As a result, I retained almost nothing that I’d read, got a major headache and took to hyperventilating, and pretty much skipped over most of the questions on the tests, leaving them unanswered….

I continued to apply for dozens of writing and editing jobs, with no result.

For reasons unknown to me I applied for a job as a beat reporter at a newspaper in a small Texas town. Knowing my fucking luck that’s probably the one potential employer who’ll call me back.

I hate small town life, and am deeply ashamed of all the backwards-ass small towns I’ve lived in. I despise the values of small town people– their pettiness, their nosiness, their prudish middle-class morality, their cheapness, their boorishness, their unquestioning obedience to flawed institutions, their deification of “conformity uber alles,” their tastelessness, their embrace of all that is boring, tacky, and banal, their utter lack of interest in anything that is entertaining or cultivated or sublime.

Yeah, I think if I get a call from that job I’d better tell them I got another offer.

I picked up an application at the dry cleaners next door to my apartment complex, and dropped off applications for a clerking job at a fucking juice bar and a hosting position at a crummy Italian restaurant where I once got food poisoning. It makes me wonder why I even bothered to go to high school, much less college.

I saw an ad for a pharmaceutical testing company that’s doing studies on people with ADD, depression, bi-polar disorder, and anxiety, but their website is very close-mouthed as to whether they actually cough up decent money for the studies or just compensate you with travel money and meds. If the latter is the case, then I won’t mess with it. (Though James seems to think  this would be a back door way for me to get the therapy he insists I need.) …   

I have an ugly feeling I may be vacating this apartment soon. I’d rather move some place of my own choosing with a nice job offer under my arm, but I fear things might turn to shit….But I think I’d swallow two fistfuls of Clonazepam and Vicodin, tie a plastic bag over my head, and crank up a Wagner CD before I’d let it come to that.

But as I’ve been saying for years, there is nothing wrong with me that a good job and an adult life wouldn’t fix.

Oh, and a change of scenery.

And a Basset Hound.

*******  

2007 started badly and went downhill from there.

My grief got worse.

The company cheated me for some paid days off.

My supervisor Nick the Indian got replaced by Santo the Asshole. Santo chewed me out for having non-work-related papers on my desk. A co-worker I’d never seen before chewed me out for thumping on my desk in time with my music.

I continued to listen to sad music. I cried at the bus stop. I cried in the grocery store. I spent almost all of the time I wasn’t at work sleeping. I rarely saw sunlight. I scoffed at Max and James’s suggestions that I seek psychological help.

I applied for a transfer from on-site work to at-home work, despite the considerable drop in pay that would entail. It took the fat-assed, incompetent women in the office weeks to make the transfer happen.

On one of my last nights at HillTex I noticed we had a police guard again, and the frat boy was nowhere to be found.

It turns out Frat Boy was a psycho queen, the boyfriend of one of the company’s junior executives. He’d concocted some elaborate scheme to either defraud or blackmail the company out of a huge amount of money—money he needed to buy a piece of real estate that was in the direct line of a major development. Frat Boy bragged about his plan to his co-workers on their smoke breaks. The Higher Ups found out about the plan and fired Frat Boy. He flipped out and vowed to come back and shoot the goddamn office up—hence the fuzz.

And I left too. After I’d worked for HillTex at home for a short time, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a living wage with them. The job hunt began again.

I applied for fifty writing jobs a week all over the country. Or was that fifty a day? It didn’t matter—almost none of them responded to me.

I went to a mixer for local professional writers, held by a national writer’s job website. They held the event on the roof deck of a downtown bar. It was as hot as the surface of the fucking sun. I was sweating like a bastard. And as is usual for me and mixers, this was a disaster.

Carter Newton had said he’d meet me there. Since he’d worked in publishing and is great at social interaction, I had planned to cling to him like grim death and let him introduce me. But naturally, he didn’t show up.

I think everyone smelled the stink of desperation on me. They could tell how much I needed a job, and they kept their distance. When they learned that my last professional writing job was at a newspaper that had folded the previous year, they avoided me entirely, knowing I couldn’t help them.  

Eventually, I sat at a table with some people and awkwardly tried to get into the conversation. One of the women had just written a book on historic hotels of Texas. (I thought, Fuck! I could’ve written that in my goddamn sleep!)

I steered the conversation into Mid-Century Modern architecture and design, and mentioned how there was a house just up the road in Temple, Texas, that had been built in the fifties by the owner of a laminate company called Wilsonart International as a showcase for his products. A Mid-Century Modernism enthusiast managed to save the interiors just before they were scheduled to be gutted, and now the house was being restored and opened to the public.

Not two minutes later, someone at the table commented that the Editor-in-Chief of a major Texas magazine was walking by. The hotel gal, sprang from her seat and went over to talk to the editor. Eventually we all got up and moseyed over that way, and I heard the hotel gal pitching the editor an idea for a story about that house in Temple! The fucking, thieving bitch!  

*******

I’ve never mentioned this before, but all my life I’ve retained the childhood habit of plucking dandelions, making a wish on them, and then blowing on the pappi, scattering them to the winds. But after Fred died I pretty much stopped this practice, because I had nothing to wish for and had given up all hope on life….

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