The Neighbors, the Homeless and the Jailbirds

Before heading to the bread distribution on Friday, we took a detour to the next street over to check on one of our elderly neighbors.  We thought she might like to join us, not only to pick up food, but also for an opportunity to get out of the house.

It’s not that she isn’t able to get out, it’s just that she doesn’t have any regular source of transportation.  We often see her walking along the road on the way to one of our few local shops (or even along the shoulder of the freeway, on the way into town), picking up discarded cans and bottles along the way.  Many residents of this area take advantage of litter to make a few bucks at the recycling centers.

Our neighbor lady said she was busy, so we offered to pick up some bread for her.  We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to share, as we often receive food items that we are unable to use.  We save excess canned goods to give to the homeless or hungry who come to the door of the parsonage asking for food.  When it comes to perishable items, however, it’s either eat it right away, freeze it or find someone who wants to share.

Arriving at the bread distribution, you stand on a short, fast-moving line, at the end of which a church volunteer hands you a tied-up plastic bag or two, filled with food.  Then you amble over to the bread tables and take what you need from the large stock of expired bread products.  Most of it consists of long loaves of French or Italian bread, with some half-loaves of garlic bread, round sourdough loaves and bags of dinner rolls.  Sometimes, there will be a few cakes that have been around too long for the stores to sell them.

The grab bags (which I have so named both for the mystery of their contents and the conduct of some of those standing in line) could contain almost anything.  Three outdated yogurt cups, a tiny sausage-and-cheese for one, a jar of cocktail onions and a package of stale donuts, for example.  Or perhaps an individual size squeeze tube of liverwurst, a small carton of liquid eggs, a package of bleu cheese crumbles and two cans of soda.  Whatever the supermarkets couldn’t sell and want to get rid of for a write-off.  The experience of tearing into one of those bags is something like Forrest Gump’s chocolates.  You just never know what you’ll get.

What we do know is that we will rarely use anything that comes in those grab bags.  We always try to give them away immediately.  This time, we drove directly to our neighbor’s house and gave her our bags along with some of our bread haul.

At the moment, our neighbor is living with an adult daughter who has lived a hard life of drugs, jail and mental illness.  And then there is Homeless Guy #3, who sleeps under a tree in a corner of her back yard.  I’m pretty sure he’s related to her in some distant way.  I hear he’s not allowed in the house due to threats and actual violence that has occurred in the past.  Our neighbor would like to get Homeless Guy #3 to leave, but the sheriffs say that since he’s been there for a while, she would have to file an order of eviction.  This would entail things that she is unwilling or unable to do, things like filling out confusing paperwork, going to court and paying fees.  Some days she’ll walk over here and hand us a few crumpled dollar bills, asking to use our washer to do a load of laundry.  I so badly want to tell her “Look!  The paperwork is right here online!  You’re on a fixed income and are eligible for a fee waiver!  I can even take the forms to the courthouse for you!”  But I somehow feel as if I shouldn’t get involved with the situation.  You want to help, but at the same time you know that it’s none of your business.  And then there is the matter of Homeless Guy #3.  Do I really want to be complicit in separating him from his rough arboreal bed?  It can be very hard to know what to do.

As for Homeless Guy #1 and Homeless Guy #2, they’re both in jail.  #2 is still awaiting his hearing date, at which time he plans to plead not guilty to violation of probation charges.  The public defender is hopeful.  I, however, have my doubts.  The guy was temporarily living with a friend who happened to have some old ammunition in a drawer that he had forgotten about.  I’m sure nothing would have happened had not #2 been picked up for public intoxication, leading his probation officer to search his living quarters.  The very presence of that ammo was a violation of the terms of Homeless Guy #2’s probation, even though he didn’t even know it was there.  It’s a strict liability type of situation, so I think he may have a hard time of it in court, despite the PD’s optimism.  With a little luck, however, he’ll serve a short sentence and get another chance at probation.

Unfortunately, things look much more bleak for Homeless Guy #1, the one who lived in the tent with his sleeping bag and Coleman stove.  Some very serious felony charges have been leveled against him, including forcible rape.  I have to admit that I was shocked to learn about this.  To be honest, #1 is not one of my favorite people, primarily because he is a whiny pest and a liar.  I have to remind myself not to judge, however.  Long-term homelessness does nasty things to people.  But forcible rape?  (Shudder)  If he did this horrible thing he is charged with, then he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison.  Just my opinion, folks.  I don’t know the woman who has accused him, but I hear that both he and she have some serious mental problems.  I have to wonder whether the public defender will go for an insanity defense.  Or will Homeless Guy #1 insist on pleading not guilty and take his chances with a jury?

Either way, it blows my mind to think that we have been feeding this guy regularly, allowing him to use our bathroom and laundry facilities, visiting him in jail, ministering to his spiritual needs, buying him new shoes, paying him to water the church grounds (on the few occasions that he actually got around to it), and listening to his whoppers about why he is desperate for a dollar.

#1, how could you???  (Uncle G hangs head in shame.)




We went out to pick up bread last evening.

To most, this is a mundane and routine task that involves driving to the local supermarket or convenience store.  For us, it means visiting a local church to pick up the expired bread that the local supermarkets and convenience stores have discarded.

The trick to making this work is using the bread promptly or freezing it immediately.  That’s because many of these loaves are a week or more past their expiration dates.  Just a day or two on the kitchen counter and all you’ll be left with is a moldy mess.

We were able to pick up a package of brown ‘n serve rolls that we stuck in the oven and turned into crunchy garlic bread.  We did the same with part of a round loaf of sourdough.  Two other loaves of bread and a package of rolls went into the freezer.  We’ve discovered that if you defrost just a few slices of bread or a couple of rolls at a time, you can make the package last for quite a while.  True, it’s not even close to fresh bread, but when you’ve been out of work for as long as I have, it will do just fine.

My sister has been out of work, too, although only for a few weeks.  As a traveling sonographer, she lives a nomadic life, serving 6 or 12 week stints at hospitals around the country.  The disconnect, at least for me, is that she owns two homes, one here in California and one in Idaho.  Without a steady job, however, she cannot afford to live in either one and has to rent them out to pay the mortgages.  So she recently did a gig in New Mexico, returned to California to visit family for a few weeks, then drove five days to her next assignment in Ohio.  Now that she’s done in Ohio, she is back in California for a bit before she starts her next gig in Oregon.

Last time my sister was between jobs, she planned to stay with my parents for two weeks.  She lasted four days.  This time around, she only lasted three.  My poor mother told me that those three days felt like two weeks.  Let’s just say that my sister is not an easy guest to have around.  Particularly when she is accompanied by her two cats, who enjoy jumping up on tables, climbing the drapes and generally tearing around like hellions.  She does, however, provide an endless source of entertaining stories.

My sister is currently driving a rental car.  On her way back from Ohio, after 12 hours on the road, driving Interstate 80 at freeway speed in the middle of the night, the front end of her Subaru experienced an unfortunate meeting with a deer crossing the road.  Despite extensive damage to her car, it managed to limp back to the Bay Area where my sister visited her two children while her vehicle underwent repairs.

Since my sister’s divorce, my niece and nephew (both of whom are now adults) have been residing with their father and his new family.  When my sister pulled up to her ex-husband’s two million dollar home, she couldn’t help noticing a new development that had sprouted on the lawn.  It seems that, with the aid of a kit, her ex had managed to construct a yurt.  A full-sized yurt that sleeps 20 people.

Then he carpeted the yurt.

Then he installed air conditioning in the yurt.

To stave off being ticketed by the cops and groused at by the neighbors, he erected an explanatory sign.  It says something like:  “This is a yurt.  If I am here, please come in and ask me about the yurt.  The yurt is temporary and will be removed shortly, so calm down.”

It turns out that my former brother-in-law constructed his fancy yurt for the purpose of attending Burning Man.  After participating for several years, it appears that he has now become one of the volunteers or staff or something and needs a large yurt to hold yurt meetings.

I’m really not that familiar with Burning Man other than its reputation for peace, love, music, art and nudity reminiscent of Woodstock.  Some say it’s all about self-reliance (surviving in the inhospitable desert), while others say it’s really all about connecting with one’s fellow man.  Some say that everyone is a participant, no one a spectator.  I hear talk of self-expression, of being yourself, of finding yourself.  Nothing can be bought or sold at the event, just shared.  This anti-consumerist aspect of the event is supposed to bring people closer together by removing the cold convenience of the arm’s length transaction.  Then they set the sculpture of the Man on fire and everyone goes home.

Burning Man claims to operate on ten principles that it encourages participants to incorporate into their lives back home after the event.  And although folks online often describe it as a life-changing experience, I cannot help but think that Burning Man is the last bastion of aging hippies and those seeking outlets for their midlife crises.

I don’t claim to understand what attendees actually do at the annual event, but I’ve heard stories about donning body paint and dancing naked in the 100°F heat, stories that may or may not be true.  And I certainly don’t believe my mother’s assertions that sexual orgies are part and parcel of the festivities.

Then again, the Burning Man website discourages artists from handing out flyers because, after all, naked people lack pockets.  And, well, their site does contain a section titled Sex and the Single Burner.  Who was it that said Mother is always right?

One thing I can tell you for sure:  You won’t find me at Burning Man this year.  Or any year.  But if I ever suffer a severe midlife crisis and feel the need to walk about naked in the desert and connect with my fellow man, I’ll be sure to bring a yurt.



Free Parking


(c) Hasbro… please don’t sue me, I’m unemployed.

God is watching over us. Of this I have no doubt.

We drove down to the Central Valley yesterday to appear at the first of six job interviews (yes, six!… can you believe it?) I have scheduled this week and next. The employer was located in a huge office building downtown, which can only mean one thing: No parking!

In the name of honesty, we could have left the car in a nearby parking garage and paid by the hour for the privilege. The plan, however, was for my wife to drop me off and come back for me in a couple of hours. I had to take a written test and then attend a panel interview, so I knew this would take a while.

The problem: Where should she drop me off? The information that the employer sent via email instructed me to use the entrance on a side street. This seemed relatively straightforward until we drove around the block four times before finally verifying to our satisfaction that there was in fact no entrance to the building on the specified side street! We saw a woman unsuccessfully attempting to use a locked side street entrance to what appeared to be the building next door. We had no idea what to do and I started to worry about being late. I knew I had to get out somewhere and look for an entrance. The wind was blowing and, remember, I have been battling agoraphobia for years. As you may imagine, I started to panic.

Finally, I agreed to be let out at the main entrance in front of the building. Although most of the area was a “red zone” (no parking or standing any time), we found the loading and unloading zone. I figured that I’d hurry up the steps, duck inside the building, do my breathing exercises and find someone who could tell me where the hell I was supposed to go.

I took the elevator to the second floor, where the interview was supposed to take place. Having no idea how to navigate the maze of corridors and offices, I stuck my head into the nearest doorway and asked how to get to HR. The young lady at the desk didn’t know and had to ask her superior. Make a left, walk all the way down to the end, turn right, walk all the way down to the end again, then pick up the red phone and someone will talk to you. Clearly, this was not going to be a good day. For this I got dressed up and drove two hours down the freeway? I was a nervous wreck before I had even arrived at the interview.

Walking the long corridors, I passed a series of floor-to-ceiling windows that showed me that I had in fact crossed over to the other side of the street on an interior bridge and was now in another building. I located the red phone, over which was posted a notice to dial 2 for HR. The human resources representative who answered the phone did not recognize my name and had no idea what interview I was talking about. She asked me to hold on while she checked with someone else — and then promptly disconnected me. I dialed 2 again and spoke to a different HR rep who said that someone would be out to talk to me. Sure enough, here comes the HR lady from the locked door at the end of the corridor. Don’t you know that you are in the wrong place, young man? Interviews are being conducted in another building on the next block.

I thanked her, turned around and began to retrace my steps. I texted my wife: “Please come back!” By this time, she had already gotten way down the road, completely out of the downtown area. Back down the elevator, out the door, down the stairs. Time to wait on the street and have a staring match with the guy selling hot dogs, chips and Skittles from under an umbrella. At least he had a canvas folding chair to sit on. A prominent sign warned NO SITTING ON STAIRS, so I compromised by leaning on a railing. Finally, hot dog guy deigned to speak to me. “Some wind, huh?” Yeah, rub it in, why don’t ya?

Meanwhile, my poor wife, who was somewhere on the freeway, got off at the next exit and somehow turned around and headed back to where she had left me. Both of us were entirely frustrated by the time she arrived, and she kindly drove me over to what I thought was the building that the HR lady had specified. “Please wait until I text you that this is the right place,” I asked. My wonderful wife is long-suffering and I have no idea how she puts up with me.

When she let me out of the car, I had to climb two half-flights of stairs. Unfortunately, bushes had overgrown the hand railing. Did I mention that I have bad knees and have to use the railing? Back in New York City, we used to call it “the bannister.” I did my best with the foliage, arriving at the door with leaves and stickers all over my left sleeve. A kind woman appeared at the door just as I approached. This entrance is locked, she explained, but I saw you coming. She didn’t know anything about an interview either, but directed me to Human Resources. Now, I knew that HR wasn’t going to be able to help me, as this building was occupied by a different company than the one with which I was scheduled to interview. These days, however, I’ve learned to take it as it comes.

The nice HR lady at this company also had no idea where I was supposed to go. Here’s our meeting schedule for the day. See? We have nothing scheduled for 1:00. I thanked her and asked for directions to the elevator. I’ll just head up to the second floor and see if I can ask someone up there, I said.

On the second floor, I noticed a couple of people sitting in a lounge area way across the atrium, past the splashing and whooshing fountains. Not knowing what else to do, I walked over there and heard a woman calling my name. Yay! I had finally found the right place! I texted my wife to let her know she could be on her way (again), then sat down to write essays.

Next came the ubiquitous panel interview, during which it became highly apparent that they were looking for someone with many years of experience in their very specific type of work. That person, by the way, would not be me.

My wife returned to retrieve me and we started to look for somewhere to have a late lunch before we headed home. We settled on a restaurant a few miles up the road for which we had a discount coupon. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we discovered that they aren’t open for lunch. So we headed north toward home and decided to stop and eat in Stockton.

If you’re familiar with Stockton, you know that it’s a big place and has many exits off the freeway. We kept looking for the exit we needed, but never found it and drove right out of Stockton. Forget about it, I said, let’s just go home and save some money. We can’t afford to be eating in restaurants anyway.

Later, we learned that the precise street that we had been looking for was the scene of a bank robbery, a shootout and a high-speed chase. Two of the three robbers and an innocent bystander were killed. Let’s just say that never in my life have I been gladder to have been unable to find my exit. Glad to have avoided an exit of another type entirely, my wife and I both thanked God that He continues to take such good care of us. In the grand scheme of things, it makes the little inconveniences of job hunting look small indeed.

On Thursday, I am scheduled to return to the employer in Sacramento at whose office I recently dropped off my application after learning that they never received the one I had mailed. I am scheduled to take a written exam; days or weeks later, the employer will call the high scorers back for an interview. This is also a downtown location where there is no parking and at which I must walk across a lengthy plaza to reach the building from the street.

In the meantime, however, I have applied for yet another job in a different section of Sacramento. As an apparent incentive to lure applicants, the job announcement prominently indicates FREE PARKING!!!

Anyone want to play Monopoly? I fully plan to land on that little orange car in the corner and pick up all the booty dumped in the middle of the board. You can be the top hat, the wheelbarrow, the thimble, the shoe or the racecar. I’ll be the cat, Hasbro’s newest token.


Eggs Eggs Eggs Eggs


It must be the mushroom harvest here in California.

We attended food distributions yesterday (the county’s) and today (federal), and each had at least a dozen heaping, overflowing boxes of fresh mushrooms on display. “Cream of mushroom soup tonight!” proclaimed a guy a few places behind me in line.

Pastor Mom sautéed some of the delightful fungi in vegan margarine and garlic for me tonight. Then my wife got out the rice cooker and also baked some tofu in the toaster oven. As you can see, they spoil me rotten. The mushrooms were positively heavenly, and we still have a big pile of them. A large portion of this bounty has been washed, packed into plastic bags and frozen, to be added to spaghetti sauce in the near future. The irony is that I had been craving mushrooms and we had just purchased a small package the day before!

We also visited Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard this week. This is the food pantry at a church located two towns up the freeway. Those in need are eligible to receive food here only once per month. This was our second consecutive monthly visit. The volunteers at this place are so kind that they may have the ability to restore one’s faith in human nature. Last time there was a bit of a line, but this time I was the only customer. There were four volunteers sitting around just waiting for someone to come by for help. The woman at the computer appeared to be about 70 years old; the other woman and the two men had to be in their eighties. While they looked up my information, I related how much I enjoyed the loaf of vegan blue cornmeal seed bread they had included in my bag in June. I explained that I had frozen it, defrosting two slices at a time and making it last all month. They didn’t seem quite sure what I was talking about, so I provided the brand name. They seemed genuinely sorry that there didn’t seem to be anything like that around. How about a loaf of dark rye? Scanning the ingredients for eggs or dairy and finding none, I accepted it. Wait! They had this other loaf of bread in the back of the freezer. Could this be the seed bread that I had enjoyed so much? Yes! Uncle G lucks out again.

During our June visit, I was pleasantly surprised to receive half a dozen eggs. Although I don’t eat them, I know that Pastor Mom enjoys them boiled. At that time, the volunteers warned me not to get too excited, as this was unusual. They don’t typically have any eggs to hand out. So imagine my surprise when they gave us a whole dozen this time around!

Um, there is too much of a good thing, however. I have to ask: What is going on with the eggs this month? At the USDA food distribution today, each person in line was given three dozen eggs! Are the chickens working overtime or something?

If this were a year ago, I’d be happily eating scrambled, fried and boiled eggs morning, noon and night. Now that I’m a vegan, I’m just happy for the mushrooms. And I know a homeless guy who lives in a tent who will be frying eggs on his Coleman stove this week.

Meanwhile, my job search efforts have gone weird on me. Several weeks ago, I applied for a job with a state agency about 40 miles from here after one of our church parishioners who works for that agency informed me about the opportunity. He was even kind enough to agree to put in a good word for me. When he mentioned me, however, the hiring people indicated that they had never received my application. Say what?!

Either my application got lost in the U.S. Mail or, more likely, somewhere in the agency’s mailroom. If not for my friend and his inquiry, I would have known nothing about this. I would have assumed that the application was received and that the agency, like so many employers, simply chose not to respond. One cannot help but wonder how often this situation has occurred with my other applications.

My friend recommended that I drive to Sacramento and physically hand my application to the agency’s HR person. Okie dokie. Gas up the car for an eighty mile round-trip. And now I have to reconstruct the application. Applying for vacancies at a state agency is not a simple process in California. First, you have to take an “exam,” which may refer to a test given to hundreds of people at a time at a hall in Sacramento or may refer to an online assessment or may refer to a series of essays that the applicant must write. Once you qualify for a particular job classification by passing the test, then you can apply for specific vacancies. The application process generally involves writing a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) and a cover letter and filling out the standard state application form. The notice of vacancy specifies what subjects must be discussed in the SOQ and how long it may be. The SOQ requirements were fairly complex for this particular position; it had taken me three hours to write it. Fortunately, I had it saved on my laptop and was able to print it out. The state application is another matter entirely, however. The web version of the form allows the user to fill in information online but not to save that information. The instructions suggest printing a copy if you need to save it. Therefore, I keep a filled-out form on hand in hard copy. All I had to do was fill out the first page again, since it contains information specific to the position applied for. The rest of the pages I could just photocopy. Collate, staple, fold. Let’s get on the road.

It came as no surprise to me that the agency turned out to be located in a downtown skyscraper without a parking lot of its own. Fortunately, my wife was able to find a parking spot on the street. Still, I had to walk across a long plaza to get from the street to the building. This would not be a problem for most people, but it stretches my limits or, as my wife says, takes me “out of my comfort zone.” When you’ve been fighting agoraphobia for years, and have entirely too many physical issues to boot, walking across an outdoor plaza with the wind blowing in your face requires a combination of will power and luck.

I did it. Somehow. Turned in the application to HR. Walked back to the car.

Don’t ask me how I would ever be able to work in this building. Where would I find a handicapped parking space close enough for me to “do the walk?” Calling the Americans with Disabilities Act… Hello? Hello?

As for the job in Washington State that we drove 1,600 miles to interview for last week, I have heard exactly nothing. At the interview, I was told that the employer needed to hire someone as soon as possible due to an impending retirement. I was assured that a decision would be made within the next week. More than a week has gone by. And I know what that means. They always take their time sending out the rejection letters.

Whoever said that no news is good news was never an unemployed person hunting for jobs for nine months.

American Idle

Ampla Yuba City

Clicking around online, I recently saw a comment calling out the unemployed for sloth and lethargy.  What on earth do these slugs do all day?  Sit in front of the TV?  If they’re not contributing to the economy, then surely they can’t be doing anything useful.

This made me think.  What do I do all day anyway?

After talking this out with my wife, I realized that my waking hours are roughly divided into four categories these days:

Errands and Doctor Appointments

Some of you who are reading this have multiple health issues and know what I am talking about here.  Take today, for example.

Excursion #1:  I drove over to the next town to pick up drought relief food boxes from the Catholic church.  Turned out they weren’t distributing today.  On the way home, I stopped at the post office to pick up mail from our box and at a taqueria to pick up a meatless burrito for lunch.

Excursion #2:  I had an appointment with a specialist at a clinic two towns up the freeway.  This involved 35 minutes of driving (round trip) and an hour in two different waiting rooms (this clinic has one in the lobby and one upstairs — in the above photo, you can see part of the eleven patient service windows in the lobby) for a ten minute appointment.  By the way, only four of the 11 windows were staffed; the line extended all the way to the door on the other side of the lobby.  Go figure.

While at the clinic, I checked on whether there was any chance a doctor could see my wife today, as she has been suffering from a horrible case of bronchitis and our own doctor is booked solid.  As it turned out, they had no vacant appointment slots left, but they would take her as a walk-in.  I drove back home, stopping at the health food store on the way.

Excursion #3:  My wife was almost ready, so it was back in the car to head to the clinic two towns away.  This involved another 35 minutes of driving and two hours in the waiting room for a 15-minute appointment.  My poor wife had a fever, so we stopped to get her a drink before heading to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription.  It wasn’t ready yet, so we waited another 15 minutes.

Tomorrow won’t be a whole lot different.  It’s the eighth of the month, which is always a good day because it is when our monthly Food Stamp allotment is added to our EBT card.  This means grocery shopping.  And we’ll be back in the waiting room at the clinic again because my wife has an appointment with another doctor to read test results.  That’ll kill another hour and a half for sure.  Then there will be stops at the post office and to gas up the car and who knows what else.

Applying for Jobs

I won’t belabor this point here, as I’ve already gone into it in detail in numerous past posts.  Suffice it to say that applying for a single management position takes an average of two hours (and can take an entire day at times, depending upon how many essays I have to write).  There will be turning PDFs into Word documents and turning Word documents into PDFs.  There will be cover letters to write, forms to fill out by hand or online, documents to edit and print and envelopes to prepare.  There will be adjustments to my résumé and list of references to emphasize the type of work done by the particular employer to which I am applying.  But the truly time consuming part of the process is finding jobs to apply for in the first place.  Hours of combing the web may net just one or two positions that I can reasonably apply for.

Ghost Writing

That’s right, I have become a part-time ghost writer.  Thanks to the website, I have been able to earn little scraps of cash by writing web pages and blog posts for others to publish under their own names.  I try to do at least one of these each day, for the princely payment of four to seven dollars.  One time I stayed up all night until dawn writing a lengthy article that netted me 40 dollars.  But those opportunities are rare indeed.  At any rate, ghost writing five to seven pieces per week buys us a tank of gas.


If I have any time left, I tend to this humble blog.  As my faithful readers know, I no longer post daily.  I aim for three posts per week, and I usually spend at least two hours writing each post (longer if I’m uploading photos or if I have to mess with HTML).  Then there are the usual housekeeping chores such as moderating and responding to comments, checking up on the blogs of my followers and conducting research for my next post.

As you may imagine, all of this may go straight out the window on days when my wife and I are babysitting for our little grandniece or driving to out-of-state job interviews.  And yes, I do waste more time than I should on playing in my online Scrabble tournaments (I’ve been doing this for 15 years now) and Words With Friends on the cell phone and texting my nephews and niece.  I try to take time to switch the laundry, prepare healthful meals and have meaningful conversations with my wife.  And occasionally, I’ll even indulge in the luxury of parking myself on one of the old outdoor church pews with a book.

So, yes, we long-term unemployed people may not be producing widgets or providing quality customer service all day, but this does not mean that we are lazy slobs.  We have plenty to keep ourselves busy.

And maybe, with a little luck, one day we will once again become productive contributors to the American economy.


Interview in Washington


Suddenly, the job interviews are materializing out of nowhere. I am no longer surprised when I receive a phone call or email asking me to interview for a position I can barely recall because I applied for it two or three months ago (which translates to 50 or 60 applications ago). This can only be a good sign; each job interview brings me one step closer to securing employment.

June 27, just over a week ago, marked the nine-month anniversary of my layoff. I received state unemployment insurance during the first six months that I was out of work. As Congress (the House of Representatives, to be specific) continues to refuse to extend federal unemployment benefits, I have been without income for three months now.

Meanwhile, economic indicators are looking up here in the United States. Just this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.1%, the lowest it has been since September, 2008. The good news is that 325,000 Americans found jobs in June. The bad news, however, is that 9.5 million of us are still out of work. And 315,000 of us filed new unemployment claims last week.

The U.S. economy expanded in June, adding 288,000 new jobs and sending the stock market through the roof. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 17,000 for the first time ever. While Wall Street is partying, however, there are those who inject a note of sanity into the situation by focusing on the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Barron’s quotes MKM Partners chief market technician Jonathan Krinsky as recognizing the warning signs. This “kind of sector rotation generally is seen in late-cycle bull markets,” he stated. “The question is, how late in the cycle are we?” Like my grandniece’s tower of toys or giant soap bubbles, everything inevitably takes a tumble or pops when it gets big enough.

My mother, who invests in the stock market and follows it closely, reminded me on the phone about former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s warning regarding “irrational exuberance.” I get it, Mom. The stock market is cyclical. What goes up must come down.

So my mother says I had better find a job quickly, while there are still jobs to be had. Because once that bubble bursts, the jobs will all go skittering away into a recessionary rat hole, hiding from the light of day until the economic roller coaster begins its uphill ascent once again. We’ve been on the road a lot lately, so I think of those signs that warn “last chance for gas.”

Discussing this, my wife and I wonder what exactly we should be doing that we haven’t already done. I have now applied for 140 jobs in 26 states and the District of Columbia. I haven’t refused any work, nor have I refused any job interviews, even when I wanted to. True, I took a pass on going to Colorado for pre-employment testing because we couldn’t afford the trip. But I keep grinding out the job applications, writing insipid essays on improbable topics and getting dressed up to put on the smile and the handshake.

I hope that my current spate of interviews hits pay dirt while Wall Street is still flying high. Because if the market tanks, sending us into another recession, I honestly don’t know whether I will ever work again.

In this spirit, we spent most of the week on the road to allow me to interview for a job in northern Washington State, close to the Canadian border. We had planned on leaving at dawn, but that turned out to be the only day that an employer in southern California could reschedule a phone interview that it had already postponed once. Thus, it was past noon before we left. Here in northern California, it was 107°F; when we stopped for the night in Medford, Oregon, it was still 104°F.

Accordingly, you can imagine how much we appreciated the coolness that greeted us in northern Washington. We arrived on Wednesday evening to a cool breeze and a delightful temperature of 59°F. I tend to think of heat as an inevitable part of the summer months, but it is easy to forget that there are some parts of the country that enjoy a much more temperate climate.

What stood out most to us about Washington is how green it is up there. “The Evergreen State” is justly nicknamed, as I don’t believe I have ever seen so many spruce, pine and fir trees in one place. The beauty of such lush greenery defies description. In some respects, Washington seems the opposite of California, where severe drought has left us with a brown landscape and the dry brush finds us in constant danger of wildfires that threaten homes and lives. O carry me north to a forest of conifers!

Although the job for which I interviewed is more than 800 miles away from family in California, I would not hesitate to seize the opportunity to relocate to the cool beauty of Washington. This, I think, is my kind of place. I’m sure, however, that all the other applicants for this position feel the same way.

It took us forever to get home, as we struggled through one endless traffic jam after another. However, this did afford me the opportunity to take some photographs of Seattle. Enjoy!

Columbia River Bridge
Columbia River Bridge, heading north from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington

Seattle skyline at twilight
Seattle skyline at twilight

Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle hotel

Flower Pot Art - Sheraton
Modern art, Sheraton Hotel, Downtown Seattle

Seattle Public Library
Seattle Public Library

Federal Court of Appeals
Federal Court of Appeals in downtown Seattle

Seattle Art Museum
Seattle Art Museum

Space Needle
Space Needle

Fecal Fried Fish

Warning:  This post is rated D, for Disgusting!

I have a complicated relationship with my mother.

This is a statement that I would expect a teenage girl to express in confidence to her high school BFF.  I, however, am 55 years old.  I suppose this means that I ought to do some hard time in psychotherapy.  When I ring up the mother, however, I tend to feel more inclined to a cheaper and speedier solution, such as breaking the top off a bottle of whiskey with my teeth and flinging the cap across the room as a prelude to shoving the contents of the bottle down my gullet.

Lest you peg me for a hopeless exaggerator or prevaricator, allow me to present an illustrative example.

On the phone with the mother last week, I was treated to an expository essay on why, healthwise, the most dangerous time of life is within the two-hour window immediately following the consumption of a large and enjoyable meal.

Exhibit A, I discovered, is the mother’s late Uncle Aimel.  Apparently, he was an insurance adjuster for Prudential until the fateful evening that he met his untimely demise at a company banquet.  After eating, drinking and listening to umpteen speakers, the poor man stood up, stepped out into the corridor and promptly dropped dead.

Although the mother insists that the body is simply unable to process the large quantity of food in which a person might be expected to indulge at, say, Thanksgiving dinner or a well-catered shiva, I am of the opinion that Uncle Aimel died of boredom brought on by exposure to two hours of dull, droning rhetoric marked by weak attempts at misplaced wit.  The only thing we know for sure is that if Uncle Aimel had begged off the festivities and instead made an early evening of it, he might well still be alive today.

As a glutton for punishment with an overactive sense of filial guilt, I again rang up the mother today.  I swear to you, I will never learn.  Apparently I am an incurable masochist who is unable to resist the opportunity to keep coming back for more punishment.

Today I had the distinct pleasure of being regaled with the story of the mother’s recent abortive fish dinner.  As I understand it, she had purchased a package of flounder fillets at a well-known chain outfit and, back in her kitchen, began preparations for a fish fry.  Upon removing the wrapper from the package, however, the mother could not help but notice the wafting of the distinct odor of — well, poop.  This wasn’t a fishy odor, she clarified, but the pure essence of E. coli.

One might think that a reasonable course of action in such circumstance would be to rewrap the package and return it to the vendor from whence it came at the earliest possible opportunity.  But, no, the mother doubted her initial impression and proceeded to wash the fillets under running water to see whether the vile odor would dissipate.

It didn’t.

So the mother did the natural thing that anyone would do when finding one’s self in possession of a packet of fish fillets exuding the odor of feces.

She squeezed some lemon on it.

Alas, even the lovely odor of cut lemon did little to improve the essence of shit that continued to permeate the now thoroughly clean fillets.  I don’t know about you, but I believe I’d be two miles down the road to the store bearing receipt in hand by this point.  But then again, that’s just me.

So what did the mother do with her stinking fish fillets?  She breaded and fried them.

Personally, I cannot imagine going through all that labor of beating the egg, preparing the bread crumbs (matzo meal, in this case), dredging the horrible-smelling fillets, heating up a pan coated with oil and then actually setting the bacteria-laden mess upon the stove and turning it at intervals so that it browns evenly on both sides.

When the fecal fish was done and piled high upon a platter, the mother continued to detect the distinct odor of putrefaction emanating therefrom.  Fearing that actually eating it could potentially make her and the father ill (ya think?), the mother wasn’t yet ready to actually sit down and make a meal of the fried fish poop.

So she fed some of it to the cat.

Now, the mother has a lovely cat by the name of Taffy who is about sixteen or seventeen years old and has more sense than most people I know.  Miss Taffy, who has never been known to turn down a choice bit of fish, took one sniff of the fecal dish and walked away in disgust.  Even a cat knows that we do not eat anything that smells like the stuff that comes out of the body from beneath the tail.  Okay, I know some dogs that are into eating poop.  But a cat?  Never.

Finally, the mother was convinced that this particular fish fry could only have the effect of sending her and the father to the hospital.  So she threw the whole mess in the trash.  (And the angels sang Hallelujah!)

I am told that the parents plan to return to the supermarket with receipt in their hands and a complaint on their lips.  They won’t have the evidence with them, however.  I am certain that it is currently rotting in the landfill (known to them as “the hole”) that they have created at the rear of their property as an alternative to paying a monthly trash removal bill.

I’d like to say that I was gobsmacked by this story, but really, it’s not atypical.  Which is not to say that the mother is always wrong.  Recently, for example, I was convinced that she was wrong in her assertion that we would qualify for Food Stamps even though we still own an old car and aren’t yet totally destitute.  When we received our EBT card, I was forced to eat crow, a tough dish for a vegan to handle.

And then there is the matter of my upcoming job interview.  I actually have several in the works, including a couple of truly long-distance ones for which the employers have kindly accommodated me by conducting the interview via telephone.  I do have this one in-person interview on Thursday, however, and it is more than 800 miles away, at the northern edge of Washington State, close to the Canadian border.

I initially informed the mother that we are not going due to the expense of such a trip.  This would be one job prospect that I would just have to turn away.  The mother vehemently disagreed with our decision.  “But what if this is the one?” she whined.  Then she rang up my sister, who proceeded to rave and rant about how could we turn down the possibility of a job in as beautiful an area as the coastal Northwest.

After going over the issue with my wife about fourteen times over the last few days, we ultimately decided to bite the bullet and travel to the interview.  After all, it’s nearly 110 degrees here and barely 70 degrees there.  If nothing else, we will cool off, enjoy some lovely scenery and take a break from standing in food distribution lines.

So once again today, I found myself on the phone with the mother, tearing into my favorite meal of crow and humble pie.  I’ll try not to indulge in too much of it, Mom, as I’d hate to fall over dead like Uncle Aimel.  I mean, since I have an interview to prepare for and all.

As I said, I have a complicated relationship with my mother.