A 5th Grade Hebrew-English Dictionary

Some 45 years ago, I attended an Orthodox (very strictly religious) Jewish elementary school called a yeshiva.  All boys, of course.  Up through fourth grade, we experienced relatively normal school hours, except that we had early release each Friday to allow us to assist our families in preparing for the Sabbath.  We had “Hebrew” (religious studies) in the morning and “English” (those pesky 3 Rs required by the state) after lunch.  Corporal punishment was the norm; in second grade, we had a rabbi who would “give you ruler” (pound you with a thick piece of wood) anytime you misbehaved, were caught daydreaming, didn’t know the answer to the rabbi’s question or sometimes, I thought, just on general principles.

Starting in fifth grade, however, things changed.  We were considered older and more mature.  We were expected to set an example for the younger kids.  We were certainly old enough to know better than to misbehave, and when we did, the rabbi thought nothing of putting us over his knee and spanking us mercilessly in front of our chastened classmates.

The other change was that we were required to attend school for an increased number of hours.  School would start about 7:30 in the morning and run until 6:10 in the evening (followed by prayers in the chapel).  We still were released early on Fridays, but in exchange, we had to attend school for half a day on Sundays.  We could get to school in the morning on the bus provided by the local public school district (except Sundays, of course), but the buses had long stopped running by the time we got out of school in the evening.  Parents had to pick us up, usually via carpools.  As for our studies, we had “Hebrew” in the morning, then lunch, then more religious studies followed by a break for “gym” at 3:00.  The school called it “gym” due to the state’s phys ed requirements, but what it really meant was an extended, largely unsupervised recess.  After “gym” came our “English” or secular studies, at the end of the day when we were already tired from being in school since morning.  That was okay, however, as whatever secular learning we did or didn’t pick up wasn’t important.  It was all about the religious studies.

Despite the regimentation, we found ways to blow off steam.  When we were at “gym” or in the boys’ room during lunch or in “study group,” we honed our skills in the fine art of goofing off.  Although we were still preadolescents, we pretended to be horny bastards whose chief interests were in learning as much as possible about the mysteries of the female body.  We also enjoyed saying profanity of every ilk and honing the fine art of inventing creative new insults to use on each other.  This was all strictly sub rosa, as any word that leaked out to the rabbi would certainly have yielded a beating for the guilty party, if not the ultimate punishment that was always held over our heads:  Expulsion. 

On the very rare occasion that the rabbi called out sick, there was no substitute rabbi.  We were given our assignments, a rabbi from a neighboring classroom would look in on us occasionally, and some of the big boys from eighth grade would be called upon to work with us for a little while.  On one such day in fifth grade, we were given the busywork assignment of creating a Hebrew-English dictionary.  The idea was to come up with a word that started with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, use it in a sentence and illustrate it with a little picture.

The problem with this assignment was that most of us knew very little modern Hebrew.  Many of my classmates spoke Yiddish at home, but none of them spoke the Holy Tongue.  Hebrew was reserved for prayers and for reading the Torah.  As a result, most of the words in our dictionary were Hebrew words found in the Bible or in the Hebrew liturgy.  As for Hebrew grammar, we were totally clueless.  For aleph, we would write abba (“father”) in Hebrew and try to draw a picture of Dad.  For bet, we would write bayit (“house”) and draw a picture of our dwelling place.  Gimmel was a tough one.  I settled on gamal and did my best to draw my idea of what a camel might look like.  As you can see, this was a great busywork assignment, as it took hours to complete.

When we were unsupervised for a few minutes, we would giggle about naughty words that we would like to include in the dictionary.  This occurred far too long ago for me to remember precisely what those words were, but I offer up what our fifth grade selves might have written had we no fear of being beaten and expelled.  Enjoy!

אבא (AH-bah) – father
My אבא likes to say the word fuck a lot, so he’s not going to heaven.

בית (BAH-yeet) – house
I got my sister in trouble when I caught her making out with her boyfriend in the basement of our בית.

גםל (gah-MAHL) – camel
I hope a גםל spits on you then sits on you.

דלת (DEH-let) – door
Don’t let the דלת hit you in the tokhes on the way out.

הגדה (ha-GAH-duh) – Passover prayer book
My favorite part of the Passover Seder is singing the songs at the end of the הגדה because everyone’s totally drunk by then.

ואכל (v’ah-KHAL) – and eat
Sit your tokhes down in that chair ואכל!

זבוב (zvoov) – fly
You let a זבוב in the house, you stupid idiot!

חלון (kha-LONE) – window
My dad says that the word defenestrate means to throw someone out of the חלון.  I want to do that to my sister.

טלית (tah-LEET) – prayer shawl
The strings of your טלית are as twisted as your stupid brain.

יד (yad) – hand
My mother walked in while I using my יד to jack off.

כסף (KEH-sef) – gold, money
When I grow up, I’ll make lots of כסף and everyone will have to follow my rules.

לבנה (l’VAH-nah) – moon
Go shit and bark at the  לבנה.

משפחה (MISH-pah-khah) – family
The members of my משפחה are my tattie, my mama, my brothers (Yitzhok, Yankel, Shlomie, Shraggie, Dov, Beryl and Shmeryl) and my sisters (Tziporah, Rivkie, Rokhel, Dvorah and Malkie) and my dog, Spot.

נס (nes) – miracle
My mother says it’ll be a נס if my father gets his tokhes home in time for Shabbos.

סביבון  (suh-vee-VONE) – dreidel, toy top
My סביבון is bigger than your  סביבון.  Hahaha!

עברה (ah-VAY-ruh) – sin
It’s an עברה if you kick your little brother in the nuts and shove his head in the toilet bowl.

פנים (PUH-nim) – face
Your ugly פנים looks like your mother had sex with a rhinoceros.

צפזרים (tzee-poo-REEM) – birds
My father says one day he’ll tell me all about the צפזרים and the bees so I’ll understand exactly  how I’ll be stung and shit on.

קטן (kah-THAN) – small, little
The other night, my mother cussed out my father and yelled that his putz is קטן.

רשה (RAH-shah) – wicked one, evil person
Mama told me that tattie is a damned רשה because he says the F-word so much.

שנים (shee-NAH-yeem) – teeth
My mother says she’ll knock my שנים out if I ever talk back to her again.

תרנגלת (tar-nuh-GO-let) – chicken
I dare you to pull down your pants in front of the rabbi, you big, fat תרנגלת!

 

Dogs and Babies

Shelby
Shelby

I have recently discovered that dogs and babies have something important in common (other than being cute, that is):  They both like to vomit in the most inconvenient of places and at the most inconvenient of times.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against either dogs or babies.  I’d probably be un-American or some kind of heartless ogre if I objected to either.  Seriously, they rock our world.  And I believe that both are entitled to good homes and the best of care.  Just as long as it’s not my home or my care.  This is largely a product of the aversion to bodily secretions (and cleaning up same) that my wife and I share.

For 15 years, my wife and I enjoyed a blissfully child- and dog-free married life.  Then I was laid off from my job and we moved in with family, 650 miles away in northern California.  Now we spend a lot of time babysitting for my little grandniece.  As for my two young nephews who live here in town, each one seems to own three or four dogs at any given time, and usually a couple of cats thrown in for good measure.

Among my realizations as a human and canine uncle is that, in both cases, there is a lot of slobber, puke, pee and poop involved.  It looks disgusting, smells worse, and I routinely go running to find someone else to clean it up.

After Pastor Mom opened her birthday gifts on Saturday, many of us walked from the social hall over to the church (where the air conditioning was actually working) to sing karaoke.  This proved to be an interesting experience, as my nephews promised Pastor Mom that they would be duly respectful of the church atmosphere and would avoid singing any inappropriate song.  In this day and age, that pretty much eliminates everything.  My nephews settled on country music, a genre in which there are a few songs that do not contain any profanity, references to drinking or drugs, or overt misogyny.  Okay, very few.

As a technodork, I had to ask my savvy wife how this was going to work.  She explained that it is no longer necessary to have backing tracks on CD because karaoke versions of most popular songs are available on YouTube and can be played directly from a smart phone through the church’s amplifiers.  Mindful of their limitations, my nephews settled on, of all things, Bobby Vinton songs.  For some reason, however, there didn’t seem to be any karaoke versions of “Roses are Red” or “My Melody of Love” available on YouTube.  Undaunted, the boys proceeded to use the versions that were available, meaning that we were treated to decidedly unique performances of Mr. Vinton and my nephew singing over each other.  No matter, however; there were several babies in attendance, and we were soon treated to the distraction of one of them barfing all over Pastor Mom.

Unfortunately, we’ve had no better luck in the canine department this past week.  Pastor Mom’s friend (also a pastor) was here visiting and helping with the birthday party preparations.  Although she lives in the Central Valley, she came here directly from visiting friends and family in Oregon.  Now, Pastor Mom’s friend had her dog with her.  Pastor Mom planned to drive her friend home to drop the dog off with a neighbor, then turn around and come home, only to do the trip a second time after the party.  My wife and I told Pastor Mom that all that driving was just ridiculous and that there was no reason we couldn’t put up with the dog for a week.  <insert laughter here>

Weeeelllll… Um, where shall I begin?  What a cute doggie!  A chihuahua/terrier mix with a face that looks somewhere between a bear’s and a fox’s.  And, of course, she had to come with a cute name, too:  Shelby.  And then she’d jump up on the sofa, curl right up next to me as if I were her BFF and start licking my hand.  Even if you’re not a dog person, how can your heart not melt?

And then I awoke at 3 a.m. for one of my never-ending pee runs (among the many delightful perks of being 55 years old), only to find that ol’ Shelby had beaten me to it.  Only she didn’t bother using the toilet.

And the next night, we moved from liquid mode to solid mode when my nocturnal pee run was met with, uh, well, let’s say I just barely missed stepping in it.  Peee-yooo!

And the next night, my niece, who was also visiting with us, allowed Shelby to jump into bed with her, whereupon our canine friend proceeded to barf all over the nice clean sheets.

Everyone, repeat after me:  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  Okay, you can beat me over the head now.

Good girl, Shelby.  Yes, I’ll pat your head and scratch your ears.  Please stop begging me for my food.  Your food dish is full.  Besides, dogs aren’t supposed to like pickles.

I suppose I should digress here and mention a little something about my mother’s cat, Taffy.  Now, Taffy is a very old cat at age 17.  She no longer stays outside at night, instead curling up on the couch or on one of the rugs or else just roams the house as she pleases.  We stayed over at my parents’ house two nights last week.  One of their two bathrooms is out of order at the moment (which could itself be the subject of an entire blog post), meaning that if either of my parents needs to pee in the middle of the night, they have to leave their master suite and walk down the hall to the bathroom that is near the front door.  On our second night there, my father did so in the middle of the night.  In the dark.

Taffy
Taffy

Well, you know what comes next.  “Mrrrooowwwww!”  My father stepped on poor Taffy, narrowly missed pratfalling onto the floor himself (not a good thing when you’re 80 years old), and suffered a lovely scratch on his left foot to seal the deal.

Back on the home front, Shelby had to take her turn playing this little game as well.  I guess she was happy I was home.  After all, it only took two days for her to quit barking her head off every time I walked through the door.  I think she finally figured out that I live here.  So when I entered the house with an armful of bags and took a hard left into the kitchen, Shelby bounded after me and ended up underfoot.  Before I could put the bags down, I heard a sickening yelp that let me know that I stepped on her paw.  I believe I yelled something decidedly uncharitable in her general direction, for which I am truly sorry.  I promise never again to refer to any canine friend as a cur, a mongrel or a bitch.  Honest, I do.

As for babies, toddlers and their stinky bodily secretions, I may also need to take back some of the things I may have said in various fits of olfactory pique.  After all, just tonight my little grandniece finally said the word “uncle” for the first time.

Turn me into jelly and knock me over with a feather, why don’t ya.

Pastor Mom’s 70th Birthday

70th cake

The past week or so has been an emotional minefield for me.  The witch’s brew of unemployment and family problems is a bitter potion that goes down hard.

I survived six job interviews in nine days, spending three of those days on the road tracing the map of California for which this blog was named.  I have already received a rejection notice from one of those employers.  Of the five remaining, two were in-person interviews and three were phone interviews.  I will undoubtedly be waiting for weeks to hear about callbacks for the in-person interviews.  As for the phone interviews, those employers say they are sufficiently open-minded to hire a manager sight unseen.  Theoretically, that means I could receive a “When can you start?” phone call at any time.  Realistically, however, I’m not likely to hear from them for months, if at all.  You might be surprised at how many employers never even bother to extend unsuccessful applicants the basic courtesy of a rejection email.

But it has been busy on the home front, too.  We have spent weeks planning and preparing for a celebration in honor of Pastor Mom’s 70th birthday.  Somehow, we managed to pick one of the hottest days of the year for the event.

122

Most of Pastor Mom’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in attendance and a good time was had by all, despite the many challenges we faced in our efforts to pull it off.  The plan was to serve spaghetti, salad and garlic bread in the church social hall, washed down with lemonade and sweet tea and followed by birthday cake and cookies.  About 60 guests RSVP’d that they would be in attendance.

For starters, we were unable to cook the spaghetti and sauce in the social hall’s kitchen due to problems with our gas line.  We’ve known about this issue for some time, but expected it to be resolved well in advance of the party.  This did not happen; when the county inspector came out to approve the work that was done, he found leaks in the gas line.  That meant that the gas could not be turned on and sent us straight to Plan B:  Cooking the food in the parsonage, hauling it over to the social hall, and keeping everything warm in a series of crock pots.  Thanks to an enormous amount of labor by my sister-in-law, my niece, my wife and Pastor Mom herself, we were able to make it work.  Imagine working in a small kitchen without air conditioning on a 100°F+ day, with all the stove’s gas jets blasting under stewpots and the oven cranking away.  Even the social hall was warm.  We have a brand new air conditioner out there, but when the weather is this hot and the place is full of people, much sweating is bound to ensue.

As it turned out, we didn’t have nearly as many guests as expected.  Only about 35 people showed up following a morning full of calls and texts from those who had to beg off at the last minute.  We’re talking about people who woke up this morning to find their entire family ill with the flu.  People whose vehicles broke down on the way here.

bakery

My wife and I headed up the freeway this morning to pick up the cake and cookies at Sam’s Club, located two towns away.  We arrived past the appointed time, but the cake still wasn’t ready.  The guy at the bakery department suggested that we finish our shopping, as the cake should be done in about five minutes.  When we returned to the bakery, still no cake.  We ended up waiting nearly 40 minutes for a cake we had ordered a month ago. Happily, Sam’s Club agreed to give us the cake for free.  We checked out at the register and were heading for the car when my wife examined the receipt and noticed that we had been charged for the cake after all.  We couldn’t understand how this happened when the bakery department had written NO CHARGE in large letters on the box.  Back we went to demand a refund.  “Oh, the clerk gets in trouble if he doesn’t scan the box,” was the explanation we were provided.  “Bakery should have covered over the bar code.”  Don’t you just love it when a store’s idea of customer service consists of making excuses?

no charge

We rushed home to get the cake in the refrigerator.  The guests would begin arriving soon.  Among those guests were my parents, who drove up from the Central Valley.  They had initially made a hotel reservation, but then decided to just stay for an hour or two and head home.  That meant more than seven hours of driving for them today.

Truthfully, we weren’t sure whether my parents would actually show up.  Last week, we stayed over with them at their home for two nights on our way to southern California and back again.  The problem is that my mother is highly opinionated and does not hesitate to say exactly what she thinks even when it is extremely rude to others.  Let’s just say that she has made more than a few uncalled for remarks regarding my wife’s family.  My wife, God bless her, held her tongue for as long as she could.  Just before we left my parents’ house on Thursday, however, my mother started in again.  My wife just couldn’t take it anymore and let my mother know how she feels about it.  I believe that my wife was totally justified and I don’t blame her an iota.  After all, we’ve been married for 16 years, and my wife has been heroically putting up with my mother’s sharp tongue for all that time.  Sooner or later, things have to come to a head.

So I was a little surprised when one of my nephews informed me that my parents had arrived.  And that’s when things turned rather sad for me.  First, my wife’s great-aunt came over to our table to tell me that she had just received a call informing her that her son-in-law had been found dead on the floor.  He was only 58 years old.  I asked if he had been ill and she said yes, he had diabetes and one of his legs had already been amputated below the knee and he had heart problems and wore a pacemaker.  I have always had a strong sense of empathy that makes me say “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”  But in this case, the similarities to my own health situation (heart problems, leg problems, diabetes) made me feel as if I were looking in the mirror two or three years from now.

And, well, this was a seventieth birthday party.  When you’re a kid, a birthday is exciting not only because of the gifts and all the attention fawned upon you, but also because a birthday means you’re one year closer to being able to do all the adult things you want to do.  As the decades go by, however, birthdays begin to represent something entirely different:  They mean you’re one year closer to the finish line.  And the feeling is never stronger than when it’s a seventieth or eightieth birthday party.

My parents, who are both 80 years old, sat across from me at one of the long tables in the social hall.  My father won’t admit it, but he is almost certainly in the early phases of Parkinson’s disease.  His hands shake so badly and he has trouble keeping food in his mouth and off his face.  My mother, who told me the heat was making her ill, didn’t want any food other than lemonade and a slice of birthday cake.

Then my father mentioned that at Pastor Mom’s 80th birthday party, ten years from now, he would be 90 years old and probably would be unable to drive.  “You’ll have to come pick us up and bring us to the party,” he said.

“You mean you’ll have to dig us up,” my mother added.

“You may have to dig me up to drive you,” I responded.

“Nobody’s doing any digging,” my wife wisely added.

“I can dig it,” I retorted, smartass that I am, hoping to lighten the mood a little.

But the death in the family of my wife’s great-aunt, combined with the gallows humor at my parents’ table, had descended heavily upon me.  I remembered what a wonderful time we all had at the eightieth birthday party for my wife’s grandmother.  We had planned on doing it again for her ninetieth.  She almost made it, too.  She passed away just a few months shy.

I remember the times that my wife and I visited her grandma in the nursing home, how the staff would force her to get out of bed, how she would sit in a wheelchair in the hallway with nothing to do, how half the time she barely recognized us when we came in, how she begged and pleaded to get out of there and come home, and how near the end, Pastor Mom finally did take her home.  And I wonder what will happen in the next ten years, whether my elderly parents aren’t already heading down that very same road, whether I will end up visiting them in a nursing home as well.  I watch my father’s hands shake as I tell him about the rejection letter I received this morning, and I notice the black spots on his head where cancerous growths were recently removed for the third or fourth time.  I wonder how long I will have him here and what will happen to my mother who can’t control her tongue after he’s not around anymore.  Lord, you’ve got to help me, because I don’t know how to do this.

And, who knows?  Maybe I won’t have to deal with any of this after all.  Maybe my health problems will get the best of me and I’ll end up the same way as the son-in-law of my wife’s great-aunt.  Maybe I’ll never get to find out how this story ends.  And maybe that’s for the best.  Because I don’t know that I have the emotional strength to bear it.

Because this is one movie in which there is never a happily-ever-after before the final credits roll.

The Accidental Peach Tree

LOS ANGELES

Sitting in heavy traffic on the 5 freeway for two solid hours, my wife and I munch sunflower seeds and pass the hull cup back and forth. The stream of vehicles increases with every on-ramp merge and we wonder when this will ever end. Not anytime soon, apparently. The radio informs us that President Obama is in town and that some of the local streets have therefore been closed. And the long-distance travel to job interviews just keeps on coming. This trip: 850 miles for what turns out to be a 40-minute interview.

I am the last candidate of the day; it is easy to see that the panel has been at it for hours and is ready to go home. The questions are printed on a laminated sheet that is taped to the conference table. It must be boring to have to ask the same questions over and over again to wannabe employees, the management detritus of God only knows how many companies’ staff reductions, washed up on the shores of unemployment. When I ask about their timeline for making a decision, I am told that they will still be conducting interviews for several more days. “It’ll probably be several weeks before we notify candidates about who has been selected to continue on to the next phase of the process.”

I know what this means, and it puts me squarely between a rock and a hard place. Either I will receive a rejection email or I will be asked to make this expensive trip again to participate in another round of interviews. This was already our second trip to southern California for this position; the first occurred in April when the employer invited me to take a series of tests. The expense and stress of these trips does not seem to blip on their radar. Some days, I feel like a TV game show contestant. “Uncle Guacamole, come on down!” I think I’m supposed to go screaming down the freeway with excitement, waving a flag or something. Someone please tell me when it’s my turn to open Carol’s box or spin the plinko wheel.

To break up the trip, we stayed over at my parents’ house in the Central Valley last night and will do so again tonight. This allowed us to do only eleven hours of driving today rather than nineteen.

In the morning, it will be a three and a half hour drive to Sacramento to sit for testing to derermine whether I am worthy of an interview for another in an interminable lineup of positions for which I have applied.

This morning, I was shocked to discover that I had received a voicemail from an employer that wishes to schedule an interview with me for next week. This very thoughtful employer plans to conduct the interview by phone so I don’t have to go to the expense of traveling. I am so grateful for this generosity, particularly since this job is located in Chicago, nearly 2,000 miles away. My wife is very unhappy about the prospect of relocating so far from both our families. I feel that her view is valid. No employer, however, is tripping over itself to hire me. I cannot stress out over a decision that it is extremely unlikely I will ever have to make.

Meanwhile, we get to visit my parents, whose home has been serving as our way station. My mother took me out in the garden to show me her “accidental peach tree.” She had thought it was a wild, weedy thing that was choking the life out of her rose bushes, so she cut it down two years ago. Much to her chagrin, the unwanted visitor returned last summer. She cut it down again. This year, the tree made its third appearance, twisting among the thorny branches of her roses. Only this time, it triumphantly returned in all its fruited glory, displaying dozens of huge, juicy, sweet orange-yellow peaches.

My mother also pointed out that a mourning dove has made a nest in one of her hanging baskets on the back patio. Two fledglings recently left the nest and now, she told me, the trespassing bird that has proceeded to make itself right at home has laid another egg. When I took a peek, lo and behold, two eggs were now sitting in the basket! Looking out the kitchen window, one cannot help but notice the mother bird returning to the nest every few minutes to check on her babies-to-be.

When I arrived at my parents’ house yesterday, among the first things I noticed was the hooting of an owl. But it’s not an owl, my mother corrected me. It’s those damned mourning doves. And indeed, a cursory glance revealed that an entire flock has taken up residence in my parents’ back yard.

My mother is sick of all the mourning doves. She says there’s only so much you can put up with, particularly when you’re constantly accosted by avian grieving and every day sounds like another funeral.

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.)

 

 

Yurt

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

FreeParking

(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.

Meow!