Friday, June 8th–I woke a little before 11am. I had vowed to myself that since I’d stressed out Belle so much over the previous four days by being gone so long, I would stay home all day, not even venturing across the street to shop for twenty to thirty minutes. This also kept me fairly well removed from the damnable noise of the motorcyclists gathered for the annual biker rally, my least-favorite event of the year in Austin.
Thus the day passed pleasantly. I posted to my blog and puttered.
A column of ants entered the house under the front door and began feasting on bits of kibble Belle had spilled. Not wanting to kill them, I brushed some into a dust tray and emptied them out outside. The rest I sucked up, along with the kibble, into the hand-held vacuum cleaner. I’m sure they’ll be fine there until I empty the dust catcher.
During a walk with Belle I found a large, attractive rock, one of those put out by the management for landscaping purposes, and I claimed it for my own. Normally I go for smooth rocks. This one, however, was rough and chipped, but had many fascinating textures and colors.
James and I got into an Instant Messaging conversation, and my peace was shattered. We settled into discussing my job situation and my upcoming meeting with the career counselor. After he worked me into a screaming rage with his usual childish, passive/aggressive stunts, he finally went back over the transcript of our conversation and managed to distill my basic points to five.
Summarizing the rather sprawling, extensive material I’d planned to talk about would, he insisted, keep the counselor from getting frustrated, confused, and upset with me. I basically agreed with what he came up with, though I may add a little bit here and there. Still, his summary has managed to save me a lot of unpleasant work over the weekend.
I did some reading, and noticed most of my photo files have been moved off of Picasa. I’ll have to fix that soon.
I have lost most of my friends over the last few years. Sure, many will probably still give lip service to their titles, but they have ceased to play a significant role in my life and I have ceased to do likewise.
Some friends are merely separated by geography. They live either across the world or across town, but we almost never see one another and we’ve basically written one another off.
Others have demanding, stressful jobs. Some are forbidden by their insecure wives to have male friends. Still others have betrayed me, quarreled with me, let me down, or very badly hurt my feelings. In some cases either my friend or I have changed our opinions, beliefs, interests, and views to such a great degree that we are no longer the same person the other befriended all those years ago. And with some friends we’ve just grown bored with one another or run out of things to say.
Of course, I have not been very lovable or likeable these last few years. An endless series of bad jobs, family squabbles, physical illness, and deaths of loved ones left me in a severe depression. Things seemed on the upswing for a little while, but then eleven years ago I lost the only decent full-time job I ever had, and my obsession with my inability to restore my career, along with my mental illness, grief, bitterness, misanthropy, and poverty made me an unpleasant person to be around. People avoided me and I avoided them. And you can’t make new friends if you’re too broke and too chained down by social anxiety to ever leave the house.
A therapist suggested I start attending Meet-Up groups. I went to quite a few of these meetings, in all sorts of areas of interest. I did so to win my therapist’s approval, to show my commitment to the goal of “getting better,” but I hated the meetings. I didn’t like leaving my apartment and going out in public. Even more, I hated the people I met there. I don’t like middle-aged people, even though I’m middle-aged myself. I found these people boring, with dull, suburban lives, crushed dreams, and pointless pre-occupations. And it didn’t help that Meet-Up groups all have a rather desperate, frantic “singles mixer” vibe that I picked up on immediately with distaste.
I turned my attention to the Internet, and there, through the wonder of social media, I met people from all over the world, including a few rather amazing, intelligent people who shared my interests. Like an attention-starved, affection-starved beast, I bombarded these people with my thoughts, my questions, my writings, my photos, my musings, my problems, my obsessions, my ambitions, my interest in them, my interest in myself, my time. And since I was unemployed, I had nothing but time.
But these other people had lives, full, three-dimensional lives away from the Internet. My attentions, my personality, and my presence overwhelmed them. (People I know from real life have often said a little of me goes a long way, that I tend to exhaust others, but they never explained what that meant.)
At any rate, my Internet friends grew annoyed, angered, frustrated, disgusted. Some ignored me. Some avoided me. Some indicated they didn’t want their friends to know about me. Some told me to back away from them. I had thought I’d found new friends. So naturally, I was crushed. And I think, gentle and disinterested Reader, you can see why.
Saturday, June 9th–I slept until about 3pm, and did the usual waking rituals, after which I went over to Petsmart and spent the last of my cash on dog food and treats. I saw a beautiful Pit Bull there, and wanted to pet him, but he backed off and was apparently a little scared of me. Maybe he smelled all the dog odor on me. After that, I got some groceries at the dollar store.
Belle had a fit when I got back home. I eventually opened up the patio window so she could go out there and hang out. That didn’t do the trick, though she eventually calmed down.
I had some computer trouble. The computer automatically did a Check Disk Scan and I did some some defragmenting myself.
I finally finished Sebald’s “On The Natural History Of Destruction.” It was in keeping with Sebald’s high standards of excellence. And while the last three essays in the book all have aspects by which they can be recommended, the first essay is really a powerhouse. The account of the bombing of Hamburg is in itself so shocking and disturbing that the reader is likely to stumble through the rest of the book in a daze.
Leaving the patio window let in hot air as well as flies, and Belle became so frightened of them, thinking they’d sting her or something, that she started trotting around the house in distress, trying to hide in the bathroom, and for the first time ever, the laundry room. So I closed the patio door.
I made Belle’s favorite for my dinner–refried beans on tostada shells. After I finished with the pot, I set it down on the kitchen floor as usual, and she went up to it, sniffed it, picked it up with her mouth, and carried it at a hilariously jaunty angle–spoon and all–into the living room, spilling part of the contents on the kitchen flooring and the living room carpet. She was hilarious.
Later, when I was on the computer, I noticed through my peripheral vision that she was sprawled on the carpet, wanting a belly rub, and when I looked up to see her, she was giving me a funny, crooked smile, baring part of her teeth, knowing correctly that if she looked especially adorable I’d get on the floor and rub her belly.
I took a shower, then read at length in “Resident Alien.”
I sometimes wonder if the whole point of social media is that if you’re not getting enough satisfaction out of being an asshole to the people you know in real life, you can now be an asshole to total strangers.
Sunday, June 10th–I finally finished “Resident Alien.” Though Quentin Crisp was better-known for “The Naked Civil Servant,” I found that book grim and depressing. In it he describes entering into sexual and romantic entanglements that seemed to have no real point. And his life sounded so unpleasant I couldn’t understand why he didn’t kill himself.
In “Resident Alien,” however, he is an old man, free of the nonsense of romance and sex, and enjoying the life of a celebrity. There are portions where he talks about staying in his dirty little apartment all day doing crossword puzzles and watching TV, but for the most part he is very active for his age.
His number is listed in the Manhattan phone book, which means he gets weird phone calls from people from all over the world at all hours. This he allows because he does not like to turn down requests, a policy which gives his life a degree of adventure.
He spends a good deal of time doing small film roles and posing for photoshoots. He rubs elbows with the rich and famous at parties, gallery openings, premieres, and fund raisers, and goes to the movies, the theatre, and the ballet. He is flown all over the country to do book signings, speaking engagements, and personal appearances. All of these activities are described in an entertaining manner. It seems that at the end of his strange life, Crisp was able to find a degree of fulfillment that hitherto he had lacked.
Monday, June 11th–Belle woke me about an hour-and-a-half earlier than my alarm, which meant I was still very tired. She woke me with her bicycle pump move: she climbed into bed, stuck her snout next to my ear, and began to rhythmically puff in bursts of air.
I got up, got ready, and dreaded the day to come. I think I may’ve talked to James abut the upcoming meeting. Workmen were infesting my apartment building, nailing up new downspouts.
I left the house around noon. I got to town a little early. I went to a CVS drugstore and bought a Dr. Pepper and a big chocolate bar. I wandered down Fifth Street past the site of the old KOOP Radio building and the new Hilton. I ate two-thirds of the chocolate bar, and the rest immediately began to melt there in my flimsy little plastic bag, thanks to the hot air. I walked by the Convention Center, saw the new downtown commuter train station, then headed to the [Tek Skilz] offices for my appointment.
I went to the restroom, did my business, and washed up, but I was still hot.
The counselor was waiting for me. He was a young man. His office had Wilco posters in frames. He had conspicuous tattoos on his arms and wrists, which lowered his IQ several hundred points in my estimation.
To summarize my situation again–back in April, I guess, I was taking a night course. The instructor came over gushing, telling me my friend [Paddy] had called her boss (Margo) and told her how much I was enjoying the courses and how helpful they had been, blah blah blah. I smiled and nodded and agreed, and wondered what words [Paddy] had put into my mouth. The instructor encouraged me to meet with their career counselors, saying they could really help me. I said I planned to do just that, but I needed to get my paperwork and talking points in order first.
I also wanted to find out just what the hell [Paddy] had told Margo. It took me several phone calls and e-mails to get [Paddy] to answer. And even then all he said was he called Margo, “channeled” my praises about [Tek Skilz], and she said she could definitely help me, that most of the people who go through those offices remain anonymous names and faces, but now that she knew who I was she could help me. He also mentioned he and Margo were friends and that he was once offered a seat on the [Tek Skilz] Board of Directors.
But he didn’t tell me all I needed to know. And I wasn’t going to walk into a meeting with a career counselor if [Paddy] had put words into my mouth that I didn’t know about but was expected to back up. I believe that’s what was behind that fiasco last year with the grant writing job….
I finally got to talk to [Paddy] on IM and ask what had been said. And he said he’d asked Margo if she could get me a job and she said “Sure,” just like that. He never specified what the job was, but knowing [Paddy] and his tendency to try to speak for me and put words in my mouth, I was afraid he’d say, “Oh, he’ll take anything–janitor, call center, whatever–he just wants any job he can get.” Which is not true.
I restrained my intense anger that he was yet again trying to mother me, acting out of what he considered to be my best interests instead of my specified wishes. He said, not realizing he was quoting [someone else], that “You need to just get a job–any job–right now.” He totally ignored and shrugged off my comments and objections. He barely managed to acknowledge my mental problems, and then after he did that implied they were basically unimportant, a dodge, and an excuse to not work.
He then sketched out his vision for my future, where I would get a temp job and parlay that in the next six to twelve months into some secure State job (assuming any State job is secure these days), and work there until I retire, making about $40,000 to $45,000 a year, taking two weeks of annual vacation, and accruing some retirement benefits, after which, if I wanted, I could go travel somewhere I actually wanted to see–a hot country, in his plan–and maybe retire there.
I said none of that was what I wanted for my life, and I was especially anxious to get the hell out of Texas.
“What’s wrong with Texas?”
“Well, I hate it here, for one. I hate the hot weather, the people, their values–you name it.”
And he brushed that objection off.
So for a few weeks I was depressed and brooding, afraid I was going to be pushed against my will into [Paddy]’s plan for my future, just the way I’d been pushed for over thirty years into [someone else’s] plan for my life.
And so I set an appointment with one of the career counselors and decided I just wouldn’t mention [Paddy]’s talk with Margo. That way no one would offer me a job I might not want. I even made a point of going to the meeting dressed informally–it wasn’t an interview, after all.
Now when I sat down to prepare my notes and talking points for the meeting, the first thing I came up with was a long list of “no’s”–things I absolutely didn’t want in a job. I discussed these and other notes with James, and he made the rather odd claim that if I bombarded this guy with all this information he would at best get completely lost and at worst get angry with me and stop listening.
James then looked over all my notes, and came up with five points that he said I should mention–a sort of “elevator interview,” so to speak. The points are:
1) I need to work isolated from others, ideally at home, or at least in a private office with no co-worker or customer contact. This is because of my social anxiety disorder.
2) I need work that isn’t time- or speed-based (with x-number of words typed a minutes, hourly quotas and such). This is also due to my anxiety.
3) No physical labor. Nothing where I’m on my feet, talking constantly, or exerting myself. This is because I’m just not a physical person.
4) I need at least $15 an hour or more in order to live decently and thrive.
5) (A point I’d have never thought to bring up) I don’t have a driver’s license and I’m not qualified to drive. Any job I do would have to be accessible to public transportation.
I though this a reasonably good list, but decided to mention a few more things, as well as do a quick sketch of my background, with the few ups and the many downs.
I also mentioned that while some people identify themselves primarily through such things as their religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation, my identity has always been tied to my intelligence and my view of myself as an intellectual. I said that most of my jobs have not taken this into account, and have not utilized my skills or nursed, coaxed, and stroked my intelligence.
The counselor’s first observation was that I had little if any chance of getting a job that fit those criteria, especially in this market. The more questions he asked, the more objections I raised and the more mental/personality problems I brought up.
He admitted that he was not trained to deal with people with psychological problems, that the people he counseled were all up and ready to go and start work as soon as possible. He just helped them with their resumes and job-hunting.
He thought I really needed to ignore all the stuff […] says, and noted that I seem to have been told or have convinced myself that I can’t do anything right, and that I need to rack up a few wins in my column. (I’ve been saying that for years.)
He liked my resume, but brought up the point James and a few others keep mentioning, a point I choose to ignore, that I should change and tailor my resume for each job I apply for. I didn’t bother to mention that most of the jobs I apply for are ones I really, genuinely hope I don’t get, and the ones I do want are all pretty much the same, so there really doesn’t seem much point to monkey with my resume there. (If my resume presents me as a writer and editor, and I keep applying for writer and editor jobs, why bother changing anything?)
I said I wouldn’t be averse to doing something a little different from writing and editing, but it is about the only thing I do well. He asked about my hobbies and pastimes, but offered no suggestions of alternative careers. I said if I had my druthers, I’d go to art school right now.
He asked what my dream career would be right now, and without stopping to think it over I just said, “Something I could do online, anywhere in the world.”
I didn’t get too much into how much I have hated most of my jobs, though I did touch on how they had come to cause me physical and mental health problems.
He suggested I check out a state agency called DARS (Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services), which provides job training and placement, I believe, for crazies like me, and also some outfit that’s connected the the Texas Workforce Commission and finds crazies temp work. I wasn’t too excited by these suggestions. My first MHMR Case Worker had brought up DARS once, then decided it probably wouldn’t be the thing for me, as she thought the sort of work they found their patients was mostly crap like janitorial and service-industry gigs.
He suggested some freelance writing jobs with Groupon and something called Living Social, then explained deal-maker sites while my attention wandered. I explained I don’t want any more freelance or contract work–I want a steady paycheck.
I mentioned my desire to relocate. He asked where I’d be willing to go. I said the only place in Texas that might interest me is San Antonio. Other than that, I don’t want to go anywhere hot.
I explained how, right after my  layoff, I asked numerous people where to find job leads, and how they’d just ignore me and start talking about resumes or how to behave in an interview. And even he didn’t give me very good information on where to find leads–he dodged the question as well. He told me about one site, called Indeed.com.
He said the four main places to look for jobs are online (the worst and most common way to look), through employment and staffing agencies, through cold-calling (a method everyone hates, and which I explained to him has terrified me the times I’ve tried it), and networking (which I explained I’m lousy at, since I’m not a people person).
The counselor felt that since I’d been “essentially unemployed for the last eleven years” (not strictly true), I would have to start at the absolute bottom, from Square One, all over again, in low-skill entry-level jobs, which he added would not utilize my intellect. This was totally unacceptable to me. I’m not willing to go back to those retail/service/call center jobs again.
He asked if I’d ever volunteered at a non-profit, but I explained that not only was I really not a people person, I was a pretty serious misanthrope.
He said my refusal to do any jobs that would keep me on my feet ruled out a great many jobs, especially in the medical field. But I explained I’m hugely overweight and have plantar fasciitis, which makes standing incredibly painful.
He gave the same trite speech [Paddy] gave, that everybody pretty much hates their job, and that we get paid to do these things we hate. Clearly I had failed to convey to him how much anguish my jobs cause me.
I think at some point he even implied that I might have to take a job as an HEB night-stocker. (I’d told him of […]’s obsession with that.) I think he thinks it’s not as physical a job as all that. But any kind of physical job is off-limits, as far as I’m concerned. I want to be sitting on my ass at a desk.
He said I needed to “think outside the box” (really original there!), and see which of those conditions I’d be willing to give up. He asked what it was I chiefly wanted, and I said the money to live completely independent…, to cover all my needs, and have a pleasant life.
I so wanted him to tell me something encouraging, that wouldn’t leave me devastated, that I played the card I hadn’t planned to use: I told him about the [Paddy] /Margo conversation.
“Oh, so that’s where I’ve seen your name before!” Apparently they wrote and approached me back in April after [Paddy]’s call (I never got the e-mail, if there ever was one), and Margo’s “job” really just turned out to be an offer of “help,” which really only turned out to be her telling one of her career counselors to talk to me–something I’d already planned to do on my own anyway. So her offer wasn’t all that impressive.
I told the guy all the details, saying I’d kept silent because of [Paddy]’s tendency to try to speak for me and put words in my mouth, and I was afraid he’d agreed that I’d take some janitor or phone center job.
I stumbled out of the building in a real daze, feeling as if this career counselor had just signed my death warrant. What the hell would I do now? He all but declared me unemployable.
I somehow made my way to the Library, turned in four books, checked out five DVDs, prowled around on the Third Floor for awhile, then checked out seven books. I went over to Lavaca and caught the bus. I sat staring blankly, not knowing how to get out of this latest mess. Standing in the aisle of the bus was a guy who looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place him. And where would I know him from, anyway, seeing as I so seldom go anywhere?
I got back to my neighborhood, got some groceries at HEB, and had the usual struggle carrying them home in the heat. By the time I got home I was shaking–especially my arms.
Belle was not sitting by the window waiting for me. Nor did she bark as I walked over to the bridge, approached the front door, and put my key into the lock. I opened the door, and was relieved to see her still curled up and napping in her fort of throw rugs.
I talked to James. He was a little shocked by what the counselor had to say, but didn’t have any solid advice. I looked up this DARS thing the counselor mentioned, and filled out a brief online questionnaire, asking for their help. Then I took a much-needed shower.
I watched a DVD of “Resident Alien” and “Losing the Thread,” by the end of which my eyes were crossed with exhaustion and I went to bed.
Tuesday, June 12th–Today the Austin Fire Department was to come inspect the complex at 1pm, and I was fearing my apartment would be invaded. As it was, I didn’t wake up until 1:45pm, still very tired and sore from my exertions yesterday. I did a little tidying here and there after walking Belle, but nobody came knocking.
The day started with the tragic news that the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland voted to execute the dog Lennox on account of his breed. Though he never attacked anybody and was well-tended for by his family, and was a child’s pet, the officious cocksuckers in Northern Ireland declared him a “dangerous breed,” and locked him up in a filthy, undisclosed location and tortured him for two years as the case dragged through the courts. The goddamn Supreme Court wouldn’t even grant his family one final visit.
I hope to fucking God somebody assassinates all the judges involved in this case, the prosecuting attorneys, their spouses, children, relatives, and friends, and burns the goddamn courthouse to the ground!
I spent much of the day puttering around and making posts, and later read about fifty pages in Welch. My computer automatically started doing updates, which threw off my plans for watching a movie on it, so I retired. After I went to bed I read another twenty of so pages.
Wednesday, June 13th–Of the dreams I had in one I was near the UT campus. It looked nothing like it does in real life. I found myself on Guadalupe, facing north. I was at the corner of West 20th. People were being hauled around on wagons pulled by golf carts, and someone commented that Austin had not been designed for such a dense level of population. I think I was riding in one of the vehicles myself for a time, my right leg hanging out over the side, the sole of my shoe almost scraping the pavement, especially when we’d hit a bump.
Most people seemed to be going to class. The vehicle turned right onto 20th, and I think I got off there and turned left (north) up some narrow side-street. There were all sorts of narrow food stalls lining these streets and as I recall it was dark outside. I turned left again down another side street, now heading west towards Guadalupe.
Out of the press of the crowd emerged a little girl, much shorter than my five feet and six inches. She wore pale blue denim jeans and a pale blue long-sleeved denim shirt. She had a shaggy mop of almost white blonde hair, which practically covered her face. She laced her left arm through my right and pulled me ahead. I tried to engage her in conversation, asking her name and other questions, but all she would say, in a bored, purposeful, matter-of-fact voice, was “High school.” That was her answer for everything.
We went out onto Guadalupe, and I noticed everyone was turning right (east) on 21st Street. There was no traffic on Guadalupe beyond that point. Off in the distance, beyond a rounded rise in the road, which doesn’t exist in real life, I could see the sky was noticeably brighter, as if lit with artificial lights, such as those used in night-time road construction or movie shoots. I think in this case the latter was going on.
At any rate, I decided to investigate, despite the feeling or sense that I was forbidden to go up there. I shrugged off my bewildering and laconic young companion, and began walking north.
Belle and my prostate tried to wake me several times today, but I didn’t get up until around 4:30pm. I got a message from some woman at DARS, saying she’d repeatedly tried to send me an e-mail, but my account wasn’t accepting her message. Then she left her her name and phone number, neither of which were intelligible.
I puttered. I got more and more angry at the way certain people have been treating me lately, especially some of my online friends. I am also going to try to ignore the terrible things that career counselor said, if at all possible, and try to press on.
Later on in the evening, I watched the delightful animated film, “My Dog Tulip,” then read more in Welch. I retired after 6am.
Thursday, June 14th–I was awakened in late afternoon, mostly by Belle rattling around on the papers strewn over the floor for her to relieve herself on. I got up, walked and fed her, and after a few calls, managed to get ahold of the woman who called me yesterday from DARS. We arranged for me to attend an orientation at their North Austin offices (near James’s old place), Wednesday morning.
I puttered around, then returned to bed and read Bukowski’s “The Continual Condition” in one sitting, before turning to Welch. I then napped for a couple hours, got up, ate, walked Belle a couple more times, and looked up the patient’s guide to these DARS vocational services. The process of getting in and staying in the program sounds rather involved. I hope it doesn’t prove to be a pain in the ass the way the Texas Workforce Commission was. I certainly do not intend to get entangled with any system that requires of me more than I am willing to do, such as putting in a number of hours job-hunting weekly, or that sort of thing.
I didn’t get around to watching any movies or doing any tutorials, but I did begin reading Graham Greene’s “A World Of My Own: A Dream Diary” and Larry McMurtry’s “Books: A Memoir,” and continued in Welch. It was about noon when I went to sleep.