A Rough Week in May

Sunday: Devon has the baby shower at Kate’s. Kate does not like me, and has persuaded members of the Clique to act likewise, but they’re stuck. I’m invited, and the exclusion will be too obvious. There are lots of others in my situation; exclude us all and you don’t have a shower. I bring the most minimal gift(s), not diapers but pretty close, in nice wrapping. I leave the affair a little early, and D acts very sweet, tries to soothe me. She was abusive and insulting to me a couple of weeks back, and knows an apology is again in order, but she doesn’t do apologies, preferring just to act friendly, as though the cross words were never spoken by her. I wince a half-smile and go out the door.

Monday: To a skyscraper in Brooklyn, at least as much of a skyscraper as you can get in Brooklyn, for a job interview with the local department of education. Three men interview me in a tiny room. One of them thinks I have an English accent. I do not.  Outside I stroll around the downtown area, a dismaying slum that always promises to get better but never does.

Tuesday: Early in the morning, a sweet young lady downtown phones me about a web job at a local subsidiary of Macmillan. Oh I remember Nature…used to log it in at the Forestry Library. I tell her, you may certainly submit me for this position. Work among civilized people for a change, not the mutants and slobs in pharmaceutical ad agencies. What a lovely phone encounter…could it ever pay off? I think that’s asking too much of Fate. Recruiters phone me incessantly, often for the same damn jobs. They always want to talk your ears off on the telephone, ticking off facts about YOU, the victim, in a process that shouldn’t take five minutes but they prefer to stretch to twenty-five.  These are phone bullies, no doubt about it.  Us little forest creatures who are insufficiently overbearing and glib, we shall always be at their mercy. When I can, I flee to the library for peace…

Not today, though. Today I have two back-t0-back “phone screens” around noon and one. In the first, a couple of web techs from Reuters tell me about their revamped site, and don’t get around to asking me any substantive questions. They will have to ding me on account of my stammer, or just on general principle. Nice folks. Then a three-way conference call with these two Jewish girls in LA, who are quite eager to get me into one of those cutting-age interactive agencies, which here in town are invariably in the West 30s. Oboy but they are chatterboxes. Pleasant, and I am flattered that they dote over me, but the more they tell me about their client, the more I hate it. I am exhausted by the time we hang up forty-five minutes later.  It is a fiercely cold and rainy day, and I am not ready to face D again, so I skip the track races over at the stadium and do a long indoor workout at my gym downtown.

Wednesday: Battery of interviews with that interactive agency, the one the Jewish girls in LA were so eager about. It’s in Hell’s Kitchen (never a point in its favor), though the neighborhood is more salubrious than what I’ve seen at Draftfcb, which is pitched over the third-world hellhole of the Manhattan Mall, at 33rd and 6th. (At let us not forget downtown Brooklyn.) Two young senior developers interview me, and when the time comes to tech questions, I panic and go blank. Me, write a function? I can barely read three words in my condition. I do better with the next interviewer, but by then my goose is cooked and I am in a manic state of derangement. You can’t get me out of this scene fast enough.  I dread the afternoon’s interview, with some Indian in a big international banking firm. All these Indians! He better not ask me technical questions. As it happens, this is the nicest interview ever. My Indian is at sea, newly plucked out of his usual department to head up a new project. He asks my advice, what sort of software would be needed, what the usual procedure would be. I may have this job. I won’t know till the lead developer starts next week. He has to interview me too, but we’ll all be at sea, all three of us. So the only issue will be whether he likes me, or we can understand each other. Hope it’s an American, or at least a Caucasian.

Thursday: I get a rejection email from one recruiter, telling me that Thomson Reuters is taking a pass on me for the job. I assume that this is for the job I interviewed for on Tuesday. Later I realize that it’s a different job, through a different recruiter. Has Thomson Reuters rejected me tout court, or was I rejected only for this particular job, for which I recall nothing and never even made it to a phone-screen. Another recruiter contacts me in the morning about positions at WebMD. (WebMD is always looking for people. One of the reasons they’re always looking for people is that they have a very bad rep. They like to low-ball, bait-and-switch, invite the recruiters to get you interested for forty or fifty an hour, enough to get your interest, then when you’re ready to come aboard you hear from the recruiter that WebMD can’t pay that much anymore, and would you work for thirty? I’ve seen it go as low as $23.00. You can’t even get a colored girl to answer your phone for that, not through a temp agency or recruiting firm.) All the times I’ve been contacted about WebMD, and I’ve never made it to the front door. I think I had a nice phone interview once, though, almost two years ago… My recruiter and I never really connect on the phone. He’s one of those who must get you on the horn for a while before he’ll submit you for the job. I don’t get it, never will. WebMD and I will never meet face-to-face.

And the week is still young.


A Job at the Times

You don’t have to read this; it’s about a dream I just had. Your dreams are of interest only to yourself.

I got a job at the New York Times. I am not sure how this happened, but it appears I had some vague social friends there. Not my own friends, for the most part, but those of Mr. Ashley, my perennial penniless benefactor. The friends-of-friends are all folks with names like Bartle Bull and Monroe Denton. One of them lives in an old stone townhouse on the corner, somewhere in the East 40s or 50s. Riding home on my bike recently, I noticed there was a cocktail party/barbeque going on there, behind his wrought-iron garden rail.

It will be understood that my job at the Times was not really at the New York Times, but rather a phantasmagorical dream-Times, populated mostly by upper-class gentiles who wander the floors with whiskey sours and panatellas in hand. The men are large and wear tweed coats, like the real-life Monroe.

Anyway I show up at the job, and it feels like an ad agency. There are two types of people: the “creatives” who do the donkey-work and are surly and inarticulate, and the nice jolly account folks, who wander the floors and chat you up. Somebody has told the creatives that I am a great Creative person, a designer of some sort. They try to find work for me to do. I am assigned a blank dummy of a Style section, and told to rough out the layout. I ask to see past issues of the Style section, as well as some content. They give me one torn page and a couple of pictures. I sit down at a drafting table and start to draw lines with a non-repro-blue pencil. This is like a very very bad temp job.

One of the Ashley friends drops by and tells me not to sweat it. The layout work probably isn’t needed for a few days. Anyway, I should be writing and doing editorial work. “Even copyediting would be better than this!”

He hands me a list of article ideas and promises to square it with the powers that be. I tell him I saw him hanging out at his barbecue a few days before. He invites me out for a drink and introduces me to a few other swells. “Monroe, of course I know you. You are from Andersonville.”

Next day at work, my bosses in the “creative” den tell me that I am off the Style project, because I clearly don’t know what I am doing. They are assigning it to the freelancer Allison, who is very talented at finding places to stick pictures on a page. They reverently show me her portfolio. It is about the size of a scrapbook. Each page has a rectangular hole cut in it. These are examples of where to stick pictures. I laugh and snort with contempt.

In my pocket I have business cards from my contacts in editorial. I am sure they will be happy to see me.

EXEGESIS: If this a moral allegory, it is a very transparent one.


Unfrock the Mockingbird

I was happy to see Grumpy Old Bookman found  it politically correct and twee.

Charles Shields […]

(Foregoing is an aborted draft from the end of 2009. CJS and I had a nice exchange of emails when he found my Amazon review.)


Daddy changed jobs. We had to move again.

We were just getting acclimated to our new bungalow in Kinkajou Springs, and our new crop of Zoysia Grass (TM) promised to look a treat once the winter was over. Did you know Zoysia Grass turns brown after October 1? The guy in the ball cap who advertised Zoysia Grass on the back of the Sunday supplement for 45 years never let us in on that bit of information.

Anyway, the kids were getting settled in their new school (St. Vacance of Fonsonby’s) after many fits and starts. It took months for their new uniforms to arrive  (the only vendor is a Dark Satanic Mill some 40 miles away; it did a thriving business during the Battle of Gettysburg but has not upgraded its facilities since, save for a few bare electrical bulbs hanging from the ceiling) and now the children Fit Right In, no longer objects of wonder and ridicule as they wander the corridors in party dresses and shirtsleeves.

The children have also figured out the arcana of lunch. To wit: nobody buys the Hot Lunch except for the weirdoes who sit at the weirdo table over by the janitor’s closet. The done thing is to bring your lunch in a brown paper bag specially designed for the purpose. No re-used grocery bags or old cut-down Little Brown Bags from Bloomingdales.

For children in the third grade and below, lunch boxes are also permissible. However, they must be made of metal, not plastic, and if they carry the image of a television program or animated cartoon character, that character needs to be current–no Hopalong Cassidy or Ding Dong School lunchboxes, please. Oh, and they are not to be called lunch boxes. They are lunch “cans,” unless you are from Exdale Township and thereabouts, in which case you say “lunch kettle.” (I would love to know the origin of that!)

In the local twang,  the actual pronunciation of  “lunch can” comes out something like: lay-unch kee-yun. The children have been picking up this patois rapidly. You learn so quickly when you are young!

I mention all this so you’ll have some idea of how we have struggled to adjust these last few months.  And now here we are, forced to move again. Well perhaps “forced” is too strong a word. We were offered a better home, one where we could put down roots and own our own domain. Yes, presenttension.net suddenly became available, so we phoned the realtor and snapped it up. Even now we are still living in two–three!–places, unsorting our lives from the jumble of tea crates and wardrobe boxes we’ve been living in for what seems like an eternity.

Sallie, the youngest, tells me that the children hereabouts had no idea what she was talking about when she asked them what kind of layunch keeyun they carried. She seems to be very upset. Though we lived there for only a few months, Kinkajou Springs is the only home she remembers. Ah well, she will adjust in time!

(Postscript: In a later, expanded, version of this farce the town name was Kinkajou Springs. I did not realize till now that it hadn’t always been Kinkajou Springs. “Kinkajou” just doesn’t sound right. So I’ve amended it here. Aug. 31, 2016)