That Homeless Guy in Your Living Room

So Homeless Guy #1 is finally out of jail.  For how long, I have no idea.

I gleaned a fairly good idea that his release was in the offing when I phoned the court last week to find out whether his case was on the docket for his scheduled trial.  No, the clerk told me, the judge had granted a motion to continue the trial due to the unavailability of witnesses.  I then asked whether the court had heard the motion in limine that had appeared on the calendar the day before.  The clerk didn’t know, but informed me that #1 had a whole string of motions set for hearing that afternoon, one of which was a motion for ankle bracelet monitoring.

That told me he was coming home.  But to what?  How do you parole a defendant to house arrest when he has no house to go to?

In this case, I suppose the court either didn’t know or didn’t care, as #1 had provided his mother’s address as his own.  He forgot to mention that his mother won’t let him in the house.  Oops.

Well, you know what?  I wouldn’t mention that fact either if I knew it might stand between me and (relative) freedom after being locked up in the pokey for three months straight.  Sleeping under the stars has to be a whole lot better than sleeping in a jail cell.

Homeless Guy #1 used to pitch a tent on the grass near the back edge of his mother’s property.  He had a sleeping bag, a Coleman stove and all sorts of stuff.  I have no idea what happened to his worldly chattels during his recent period of incarceration.

Given the circumstances, my hope was that perhaps his mother would give him a second (or 97th) chance and allow him under her roof.  I hear that a small pile of blankets has been seen out on the rear section of his mother’s lawn.  So much for that idea.

My guess is that house arrest doesn’t mean he actually has to stay in the house, just that he’ll be on the property.  Then again, it must not even mean that, as #1 has been seen wandering about the area.

A few days ago, as my wife and I prepared to head out the door at 6:45 in the morning, Pastor Mom got out of bed and started talking about how she should handle the situation.  The church is located just the other side of the fence from the verdant spot where #1 makes his bed in the great outdoors.  We knew he’d be showing up at the door of the parsonage.  And then what?

Pastor Mom told us that she had been praying about this and that what came to her was “innocent until proven guilty.”  I rankled at the very thought.  The man has been charged with a violent sex crime!  Yes, I believe in the American justice system, but I also see its imperfections.  Homeless Guy #1 is out on the street not because he’s innocent (although he may be), but due to the serendipitous intersection of a successfully argued motion and the jail overcrowding situation that we are currently experiencing here in California.

Sure, I like to think that he didn’t do it.  Homeless, mentally challenged people are easy targets for everyone, those who would like to take advantage of them as well as those who are charged with protecting them.  But what if he actually did commit this crime?

It’s possible that #1 will ultimately be acquitted due to lack of evidence, particularly if the district attorney fails to bring his witness back here from out of state.  My support of our justice system is not because I have confidence in its ability to distinguish guilt from innocence, but because it’s the best we’ve got.  I’ve yet to read about any superior system of justice.  The truth in this case is known only by God and the parties involved.  And I’m not so sure about the parties involved, considering that both of them have severe mental challenges.  I am not convinced that even they fully understand what did or did not happen.  After all, the allegations were made by a third party, not by the alleged victim.  I believe it is entirely possible that #1 may be convicted of a crime he did not commit or acquitted of a crime he did.

One thing we decided for sure is that #1 will not be permitted to enter our residence when our little grandniece is present.  That’s a risk we are not prepared to take.  Pastor Mom’s concern was about what we will do when he shows up at the door asking for food, coffee, water or ministry.

To me, it’s not about “innocent until proven guilty.”  We will never know what really happened.  In my humble opinion, however, it doesn’t matter.  When a homeless person is hungry, lonely or in need of spiritual guidance, I believe it is our duty to provide for his needs regardless of the sins of his past, present or future.  I’m pretty sure Pastor Mom would agree.

On Friday evening, I arrived home from work exhausted from the week, and walked through the door dragging my lunch bag behind me by its handle.  Lo and behold, there was Homeless Guy #1, relaxing in our living room.  He greeted me immediately and asked how my new job is going.  “Tiring,” I replied, “very tiring.”

As I headed into the kitchen to unpack the remains of my lunch, it occurred to me that #1’s misfortune could happen to any of us.  You never know what you could end up involved with.  Anyone can make a stupid mistake and end up in jail.  Anyone can find himself or herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Anyone can make a series of bad decisions or suffer a run of bad luck and end up homeless.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

That homeless guy in your living room could be me.

Two Cars

We’ve always been a two-car couple.  His ‘n hers vehicles just seemed natural.  My wife would go to her job, I would go to my job.  On the weekends, we could each run our own errands.  If one of us had someone to visit or an event to attend, the other wouldn’t be left with the choice of tagging along or sitting at home.

This all came to a, shall we say “crashing” halt some months ago when my teenaged niece managed to wreck my vehicle.  We’ve been down to one car for a while now, and it’s actually starting to feel normal.  My poor wife definitely has the raw end of the deal, as she gets to ferry me through rush hour traffic back and forth to work in Sacramento every weekday.

Although we have found that we can get along just fine with one vehicle, I can’t help but look back fondly on the days when we lived in Fresno and owned two fully paid for cars.  My wife purchased her car long before we were married and, through careful maintenance and mostly local driving, made it last for years and years.  As for my car, well, I had the good fortune to obtain it at no charge, thanks to the generosity of my parents.  For decades, they would buy a new car every four or five years and would give me their old vehicle rather than trading it in.  For a long time, I was totally broke and this was the only thing that made it possible for me to have a car, and by extension (this being California), to have a job.  So my wife and I rolled along in the marital bliss that comes with not having to factor a car payment into the monthly budget.

As for our two vehicles, they were as different as night and day.  Women may be from Venus and men may be from Mars, but the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our cars.

My wife had a little economy car known as a Nissan; I had a big bomber called a Tishrei.

If I had my druthers, I’d pass over the opportunity to buy a Nissan.  It’s a crumby vehicle, but what can you expect will all that matzo?  One thing I can say is that it got good gas mileage.  We hardly ever got gas at all.  In fact, you could even say the thing was constipated.  The owner’s manual (for some reason the cover says “Hagaddah Shel Pesach”) guaranteed it to be 100% hametz-free.

We only had to fill up the Nissan every eight days, but it was rather finicky.  The engine wouldn’t run efficiently unless we used a high test called Malaga, and we’d have to throw in an additive, one part horseradish to two parts haroseth.  As the Nissan aged, it developed a rattle in the chassis, which (thankfully) could be relieved by cracking open the driver’s side door for Elijah.  Eventually, we began detecting an unsavory odor emanating from under the hood.  I thought it smelled like eggs, but my wife seemed to think it smelled more like a burning shank bone.  If we left a pan of salt water on the radiator, the odor would dissipate after a little while.  We’d use any excuse to blow the Nissan’s horn, which sounded a funky little tune that sounded for all the world like mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh.

In the end, we were just counting the days of the Omer til we could get rid of the Nissan.  If only we had some bread, man.

The Tishrei was another story entirely.  Everything about this car was enormous:  The cabin, the trunk, the gas tank.  It was like you could fit Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in there, and still have room for Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.  Every time we filled it up we’d spend at least 50 bucks.

When my parents first gave us the Tishrei, it was early in September.  It was a cool color, kind of reddish brown, like apples and honey or something.  We had to go to the Bay Area to pick it up, because they had left it at the airport when they flew to visit my sister in Texas for the High Holy Days.  There they would buy their new car, a Heshvan, and drive it back to California.

With all the luggage room, this car was great for going on road trips.  And we’d go on a lot of them in the Tishrei, mostly to synagogue.  But the Tishrei was already a high mileage vehicle, and it didn’t take long before it started to develop a lot of problems.  It was always something.  One day it would be shaking like a lulav and the next day it would start emanating a sour lemon odor (it was actually citron, we learned later).  And (I must confess), a lot of the problem could be attributed to the error of my ways.  Every time I got in that Tishrei, something came over me.  It was like I couldn’t help myself.  Maybe it was that new year smell, but I felt the urge to drive fast.  And, oh baby, that thing could move.  I’d step on the gas and be halfway from Tzom Gedaliah to Chol Hamo’ed before I could say “Tashlich.”  Yes, we had a lot of fun in the Tishrei, so it was hard not to forgive its sins.

And we loved to blow the Tishrei’s horn even more than the Nissan’s.  The looks on people’s faces were priceless when they suddenly heard a blast of “Tekiyaaaahhhh!”

About Uncle Guacamole

Uncle Guacamole is a Borscht Belt comedian who still thinks it’s 1963.  Although a transplant to northern California, he left his heart at Grossinger’s midnight buffet.  His dream is to buy a kochaleyn in Loch Sheldrake, drive to Monticello to shop the outlets on Sundays and play the Concord for all eight nights of Passover.  Please don’t tell him that the Catskill comedy scene went the way of vaudeville forty years ago.  You might make him cry.

Uncle Guacamole can often be seen driving Highway 99, which he calls the Quickway, on the way to the abandoned site of Mammoth Orange, which for some inexplicable reason he refers to as “The Red Apple.”  He is still searching for Wurtsboro Hill and wondering when the land became so flat.  Although he is a big fan of schmaltzy jokes and bad puns, please refrain from throwing rotten tomatoes at him.  (If you do, he’ll just break out the jalapeños and make salsa.)  Throwing avocados, however, is perfectly okay, particularly if they are ripe.  At nearly a dollar apiece, he can’t afford to buy them anymore and is going through guacamole withdrawals.  These are marked by profuse sweating of garlic and lemon juice followed by fits of uncontrollable shaking known as the “Oy Veys.”

Revenge of the Carnivores

I find it interesting that some people find vegetarians annoying.  And when it comes to vegans, it’s even worse.  We are pegged as morally superior, self-righteous food snobs who not only harbor deep-seated psychological problems that prevent us from enjoying the finer things in life, but who are also sanctimonious creeps who insist on making our carnivorous brethren feel bad about their dietary choices.

I have noticed that this animosity toward the veggie community has begun to generate something of a backlash among the meat-eaters.  I first got a whiff of this several years ago, when Jessica Simpson appeared for a photo shoot in a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo “real girls eat meat.”  Then Lady Gaga appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards in her now famous meat dress.  While this was likely created for its shock value and was more in the nature of a career-boosting publicity stunt than anything else, I suspect that, at some level, it was a pie in the face of vegetarians.

Nowadays, there are some carnivores out there who appear so intent on advertising their love of meat that they feel compelled to make public displays of it.  For example, I have now twice seen people wearing shirts bearing logos announcing “All God’s creatures have a place in this world:  Right next to the potatoes and gravy.”  Assuming that the wearers of this apparel are also God’s creatures, I have to restrain myself from asking them just when they intend to become an entrée.  I really want to know this so that I can stay as far away as possible from the secret cannibals among us who enjoy partaking of such a feast.  With Halloween coming up, I suppose anything is possible, right?

Then I visited the family restaurant chain Red Robin (where I routinely eat a lettuce-wrapped Boca vegan patty) and saw this displayed on the lobby wall:

Red Robin

I’ve always been told that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so perhaps there is some logic in the idea that the truest bovine love is manifested among devotees of the hamburger.  I have visions of them marching out into the pasture with knives and forks just to salivate.  (You can find me in the next field over, doing the same thing among the soybeans.)

Then, of course, there are the dimwitted/insensitive remarks that folks innocently or not so innocently make when they learn that you don’t eat meat.  This has led to more than a few postings online about ways to piss off/annoy a vegetarian, some of them from the veggie community (poking fun or venting at the stupid things people say) and others from the carnivore community (ways to get back at your neighborhood holier-than-thou vegan).  You can find a few of these here, here, here and here. (I particularly like the last one for its mention of Red Robin’s insensitivity.)

So what’s a vegan to do?  I thought of buying a PETA T-shirt, but when I Googled that, I found this.  Some days you can’t win for losing.

My current dilemma is how to “come out” as a vegan at work.  I eat at my desk daily, in the privacy of my own cubicle, so I am able to keep my food choices relatively private.  No one really knows what I have in that plastic container I am toting to the microwave in the kitchen area.

The problem is that I work with a partying crowd.  It seems that there is a celebration of something every three or four days, and that it always involves food.  Welcome the new employees.  Welcome a supervisor returning from leave.  Say goodbye to an employee leaving the agency.  Meetings.  Potlucks.  It goes on and on.

It started on my first day at work, when everyone gathered to welcome me.  There were all kinds of cakes and cookies, but also some fruit and orange juice.  “Aren’t you going to eat?” I was asked as I poured myself a cup of juice.  “Juice is good,” I replied.  After a few minutes:  “You’re not eating anything?”  I took a strawberry.

One possible strategy is to just grab something, plead an approaching deadline and rush back to my cubicle.  Not wanting to appear antisocial, however, I have been trying to avoid this.  So this week, it happened again.  There were all kinds of cakes and cookies, along with bagels and cream cheese.  “Aren’t you eating?”  I groaned inwardly, grabbing half a bagel and holding it up to show that yes, I actually do eat.  Anyone giving even a cursory glance to my girth knows that I do.  And regularly.

I know it’s just a matter of time before I am going to have to fess up.  I’ve been trying to think of polite, politically correct ways to do this.  I think I’ll begin with “I have three strikes against me.  I’m diabetic, a Jew who keeps kosher and a vegan.”

Somehow I just know that this is going to blow up in my face.

You know that someone expressing intent curiosity will ask me why I am a vegan.  In the past, my wife has suggested that I say “it’s a personal decision.”  I like that approach very much.  But I also know that my very kind coworkers, whom I truly appreciate, will demand further details.  There will be no end to it.  I will become the resident vegan.

And then what will I do?  Will I explain about the health benefits of veganism?  Will I explain that I don’t believe in visiting death upon our fellow creatures to satisfy my palate and stuff my gut?  Will I explain about the shameful and cruel way that commercially farmed animals are treated?  Will I explain that I harbor a weird personal preference for not eating the flesh of rotting corpses?

Will I then be forever pegged as a morally superior, holier-than-thou, sanctimonious, self-righteous ass?  I really enjoy this job and would like to keep it for a while.  I would prefer to piss off as few people as possible.  But I know the day is coming when the tofu will hit the fan.

As I’ve heard said:  You can’t win, you can’t break even and you can’t get out of the game.

High on the Hog

piggy bank

One of the trickiest parts of the job application process is broaching the matter of salary.  As money has a nasty little tendency to bring out the worst in all parties involved, we often try to hold off mentioning compensation until the last possible moment.  As we glide back and forth through the steps of the interview dance, we pointedly seek to avoid prematurely stepping on that sensitive dollar spot.  Instead, the prospective employee pretends that money is not an issue and that, in fact, it would be a privilege and an honor to work for this employer under any terms.  Often, the employer does nothing to counter this notion, making the most of its superior bargaining power in a job market in which employers can have their pick of applicants.

Some employers use “salary requirements” as a means of unceremoniously culling the daunting stack of applications down to a manageable level.  This part of the application form is often specifically labeled as required to avoid having applicants dodge the issue.  Ask for too much and your application goes in “the pile or the file” (the reject pile or the circular file, that is).

When I first graduated from college, I would ask my father for advice on how to fill in the spot on the application form where the employer would ask how much money I want.  He would tell me to just write “Scale,” an indicator of submissiveness that rises to the level of utter capitulation.  Some aver that this tactic is a clever way of saying “pay me whatever you think I’m worth,” but really it’s just a statement that the applicant needs this job and is willing to roll over and accept whatever paltry sum is offered.

I have read articles suggesting that an applicant that always negotiates his or her salary will, over a working lifetime, earn much more than those of us who simply accept whatever is served up by the employer.  The idea is that an employer has more respect for those applicants who are willing to ask for and justify the compensation that they feel they deserve.  The hidden implication, of course, is that the applicant must be willing to walk away from employers who will have none of it.  This may be possible in an economy that is close to full employment, something we haven’t seen in the United States for quite a while now.

Of course, applicants with sought-after skills will have more bargaining power than those with, say, a liberal arts degree and no job experience beyond fast food and babysitting.  The problem is that it can be hard to know what skills are valued by this particular employer.  I once worked for a small business for more than a year when the owner admitted that she had been so desperate for someone who knew how to work her finicky computers that I could have asked for much more money and she would have gladly paid it.

The fact remains, however, that applicants for many positions have absolutely no ability to haggle over their compensation.  Salaries are often set in stone, either by union contract, corporate policy or employer stubbornness.  Many employers treat applying for job like purchasing a gallon of milk:  The price on the sticker is non-negotiable.

And there will always be employers who take offense at the mere mention of pay.  I recall one phone interview that went swimmingly right up until the very end.  I had answered all of the interviewer’s questions to his satisfaction and he asked me whether I had any of my own.  That’s when I took the opportunity to ask about compensation.  It’s not as if I demanded a particular figure; I simply asked what the salary was.  The employer made it abundantly clear that I had a hell of a nerve to even bring up such a topic.  Obviously, I was more interested in money than in working for the company.  I was shocked, and of course I never heard from them again.

Another land mine that applicants can step on is the “salary range.”  Some employers advertise a range of compensation that leads applicants to believe that the starting salary may be anywhere in that range.  So, if I have a great deal of relevant experience and education, I could potentially start near the top of the range, right?  Wrong.  Most employers hire at the bottom of the salary range as a matter of course; the top number is the compensation to which an employee may work up to over a period of years.

These days, I am employed in government work, where salary ranges for most positions are matters of public record.  It is, at least theoretically, possible to start at a salary above the bottom of the range if you have particular skills that are needed and can’t be easily found.  I didn’t immediately understand how this works, but it didn’t take me too long to figure it out.

After two interviews with my current employer, I noticed that I had a missed call from Human Resources.  When I called back, I was told that they had started to call me but then realized that they would have to do further research and call me back because I had requested ham.

Excuse me?  Now, I am a Jewish boy from New York, and a vegan to boot, and I have never eaten ham in all my life.  Why would I ask for ham?

Well, what a doofus I was.  It turns out that HAM stands for “hiring above minimum.”  And it’s true:  Based on my years of experience, I had asked to be hired at a salary above the bottom of the range.  I ended up getting turned down for HAM, because they don’t offer HAM to unemployed people.  To get HAM, you must have a job which you may or may not leave for new employment depending on whether the compensation offered makes it worth your while.

Instead of HAM, I would have to be satisfied with BACON:  The Basic Agreement on Compensation Of New-Hires.  Oh my goodness, I had totally forgotten!  This is a union job!

Okay, it is what it is.  I very much need this job.  But that doesn’t mean that I have no negotiating power whatsoever.  I knew I had to stand up for myself and get everything I possibly could.  So I demanded the California Retroactive Income Supplement to Paychecks.  That’s right, if I’m going to bring home the BACON, I’m at least going to make sure it’s nice and CRISP.

Oh, and I wasn’t done yet.  I am no dummy.  I know all about the various programs for which state employees are eligible.  The legislature has been good to us and I plan to take full advantage of that.  So for my next move, I insisted upon being signed up for Salary Augmentation Under Senate/Assembly Grant to Employees.  You read that right, folks.  I demanded my SAUSAGE rights.

The poor HR lady sighed.  I could tell she hates dealing with know-it-alls like me.  Well, she informed me that, in that case, I’m going to have to choose one of the two SAUSAGE options.  If I have dependents, she told me, I should select a Partial Adjustment to Taxable Income for Employees of the State (PATTIES).  Otherwise, I’d be stuck with the Low Income/No Kids Subsidy (LINKS).  I ordered up PATTIES and thought that I was finally done with this whole unappetizing mess.

But, as it turned out, HR still had one more course to pile on my plate.  It was my own fault, really.  I stupidly admitted that we provide day care for our two-year old grandniece, and wouldn’t you know, that changed the picture entirely.  I was forced to take an additional payroll deduction for a savings plan based on the state’s acknowledgment of the effects that the Price Of Raising Kids Can Have On Personal Savings.

You guessed it, folks.  I’m stuck with PORK CHOPS.

Dealing With Family

Shofar

To paraphrase the younger generation’s pejorative, “oy to the vey.”

In all my years on this crazy planet, I still haven’t figured out how to deal with family.  When God gave us the Fifth Commandment, “honor thy father and thy mother,” I think he was putting us to the test.  And I think I’m getting a failing grade.

My wife tells me that it’s not my fault, other than perhaps my habitual failure to tell my mother to stop already when she gets into serious nagging mode.  “What did you ever do to her?” my wife asks me.

Well, if I were to trip merrily down the path of Jewish guilt, I suppose the answer to that question might take several hours.  For starters, I was born.  By all accounts, my mother had a hell of a time with that one.  It pretty much went downhill from there.

My parents are both eighty years old, and I can’t fathom what on God’s green earth we are going to do when they can’t manage by themselves anymore in that huge house of theirs out in the country.

My wife and I tried to dilute some of the bitterness that is always part and parcel of a visit with my parents by running into town to shop, eat some great restaurant food and visit with other family members and friends.

After synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashannah, my wife and I snuck off to our favorite Italian restaurant, staking out our old table in the corner from back in the days when we lived in the area.  In updating its menu, DiCicco’s has pulled off a feat that is rare indeed:  Their food is now even better than we remember it.

As a vegan, it is next to impossible for me to find decent food when we are on the road.  It is a refreshing treat to be able to patronize a restaurant that is willing to adjust the way a dish is prepared in order to accommodate the dietary needs of customers.  This is a two-way street:  Some accommodation had to be made on my end, as well.  I am not among the dogmatic camp of vegans, although I do admire their commitment.  I consider myself “as vegan as I wanna be,” and I am willing to concede that even if my eggplant is fried in olive oil, that bread crumb coating is likely to contain some grated cheese.  Even the bread used to make my sandwich is likely to contain butter in the batter.  However, after eating a million salads without dressing and plain baked potatoes at restaurants up and down California, I am happy to be flexible enough to be able to start out my new year eating this:

DiCicco's

It was so amazingly delicious that we returned on the second day of Rosh Hashannah to eat it again.  This time, we invited my parents to come and experience the incredible right along with us.  My mother felt she had to decline the invitation, pleading orneriness on the part of my father.  “If I go, your father will want to eat out every Rosh Hashannah.  He won’t want to eat at home, and when I tell him it’s a holiday, he’ll remind me of the time I went out to eat with you guys when you were visiting.”

So we went by ourselves again and enjoyed it just as much the second time.

Then we went to visit some babies.

On a residential side street, we saw an SUV prominently proclaiming “world’s sexiest husband” in the rear window, while the side windows were emblazoned with the vehicle’s apparent sobriquet:  Shaggin’ Wagon.

I guess that explains all the babies.

We drove out to the boondocks to visit my wife’s nephew and his girlfriend in order to make the acquaintance of Payton, their newborn daughter.  I had never before visited this Central Valley farm town, about ten miles from Lemoore, itself a backwater known for a military installation and an Indian gambling casino.  We drove by vineyards, citrus groves and multiple dairy farms.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many cows in one place.  The aging apartment complex, complete with rudimentary playground and barbecue grills, all sitting next to a tiny supermarket with  curved façade, reminded me of something right out of 1962 New Jersey.  All I needed was some Skeeter Davis on my headphones to transport me right back to the Baby Boom era.

Payton

My wife held the baby, fed her a bottle and gave her a good burp while Mama ran back and forth to her own mother’s apartment right next door.  We headed back to my parents’ for dinner, but we knew we had had about enough.  We had planned to stay another day, but when I found myself escaping the oppressive heat of my parents’ house by sitting out on the patio in the evening breeze, and my father tried to make dinner plans for the following evening, I knew I just couldn’t do it.  I surreptitiously texted my wife and told her we needed to get out of there.

And so we escaped, intending the make the nighttime drive up the Central Valley, all the way home.  We made it about halfway when my wife admitted that she couldn’t see straight anymore.  As I try to avoid night driving due to vision challenges, we ended up in a motel by the side of the freeway.  You know the kind I mean.  For $55, you get one tiny bar of soap that you can transport back and forth between the sink and the shower should you have the audacity to engage in such frivolity as wanting to wash your hands after using the toilet in the evening and to bathe the following morning as well.  I guess I shouldn’t be so picky.  When you’re traveling, you get what you get, right?

Our unscheduled overnight stop had the advantage of allowing us to visit another baby, Zoë, granddaughter of a couple who is among my wife’s oldest friends.  They are fun people and we took the opportunity to cut up with them at lunch and then spend part of the afternoon watching the local favorite San Francisco Giants have their way with the Padres on a big screen TV in our friends’ living room.  Our friends have adult kids and their spouses, grandkids and dogs all living with them, so my wife got to hold the baby while various human and canine residents wandered in and out, seeking our attention.

Our friends’ little grandson ran outside to pick two tiny purple blossoms, presenting one each to my wife and me as we got in the car to head home.  Somehow it seemed like a fitting ending to the holiday weekend and an auspicious start to the new year.

And that’s when I remembered the feeling that overcame me when, at services on Thursday, the rabbi unexpectedly called on me to come up to open the ark and recite the lengthy Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King) prayer in English.  With my wife, my father and my mother all in attendance, I could not help but reflect upon the importance of family.

Yes, dealing with family can be a bitch and a half, but I need to count my blessings and remember the many out there who don’t have family with whom they can celebrate the holidays.

We have been blessed over and over again, no two ways about it.

Rosh Hashannah with Family

Six years have gone by since I last spent Rosh Hashannah with my parents.  And I would need all my fingers and most of my toes to count the number of years it’s been since I celebrated the Jewish New Year with either of my sisters.

It’s not that we haven’t planned to spend the High Holy Days with family.  To call upon one of our tritest expressions, “life gets in the way.”  Or, to be more honest with myself, I have made other choices.

Let’s see:  Last year, I made an eleventh hour decision to forgo spending Rosh Hashannah with my parents in order to make a nearly 1,400 mile round-trip drive to attend a job interview.  I knew that I had just a few weeks of work left before I would be laid off, and I had begun to panic.  The interview was a disaster, a total waste of time and money.  I guess it serves me right for not doing the right thing by turning them down in order to spend the holiday with my parents.

2012:  My parents were being feisty and we didn’t want to deal with them.  We blew them off, instead opting for a lovely trip to the ocean, attending a very friendly synagogue in San Luis Obispo and hanging out in Pismo Beach.

2011:  I was able to secure only minimal time off work.  We were living out in the desert, so we settled for attending synagogue near Phoenix, about two hours away.

2010:  I was only a few months into a new job and was denied any time off work.  I worked right through Rosh Hashannah and prayed at home on Yom Kippur, which (thank the Lord) happened to fall on a Saturday.

2009:  There was a death in my wife’s family and we had to attend a funeral at the other end of the state.

Thus, 2008 was the last time I sat down at my parents’ dining room table to dip the apples in honey, pour the wine and recite the Kiddush.

The last time I started a new job, I forgot to ask for the High Holy Days off as a condition of employment.  This time I remembered, although I just barely mentioned it in time.  It’s a Jewish job hunters’ conundrum.  You know they’re not going to allow you time off early in your first year of employment unless you insist on it as a hiring condition.  But if you start asking for time off before you’ve even begun working, will the job offer hold?  What employer wants to hire someone who asks for time off before he even starts work?  It makes an applicant sound suspiciously like someone who doesn’t really want to work, or for whom work is not the first priority, in any event.

Until I was ten years old, my father’s parents lived two hours away and visited us often.  My grandmother worked as a clerk in the office of a large clothing manufacturer, and I remember her telling me that she was able to get one Jewish holiday off each year by switching with a coworker.  You work Yom Kippur for me and I’ll work Good Friday for you.  My grandparents weren’t religious in the slightest, so they just worked through Rosh Hashannah and thought nothing of it.

When I worked in a call center that operated 24/7, I was able to obtain time off for the High Holy Days by switching days with coworkers who wanted a Sunday off.  When I worked in the Silicon Valley high tech industry, I was able to get the High Holy Days off by working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, all of which were days that meant nothing to me.  My employer didn’t insist that days be switched within the same pay period or even within the same month.  An added advantage was that I would find myself the only one at the office on Christmas and New Year’s, enjoying the peace and quiet as I got some work done.

Today, however, I have a job in the public sector where everyone works Monday through Friday and the office tower is closed up tighter than a drum on weekends and holidays.  Fortunately for me, I have a very kind boss who is willing to accommodate my needs.  I am truly blessed.

So tonight we will head south for a visit with my parents in Madera.  They attend a super Orthodox synagogue in Fresno.  Back when we lived down there in the Central Valley, I had more than a few philosophical run-ins with the rabbi, which resulted in me changing my synagogue of affiliation while my parents stayed put.  For three days out of the year, however, I figure I can handle it, if only for the sake of my parents.

After all, they are now in their eighties and I don’t know how many more opportunities I will have to share Rosh Hashannah with them.

L’shana tovah tikatevu… Best wishes for a happy, healthy and sweet new year to all!

Employed!

It happened about a week ago.

While I was concentrating intently on something else entirely, I suddenly thought I felt a tickle in my pocket.  Sure enough, my trusty iPhone was vibrating.  I wasn’t expecting a call from anyone and I didn’t recognize the number on the screen.

As it turned out, it was an employer to which I had applied sometime in the past few months.  They would like to invite me to travel hundreds of miles to their out-of-state location on Friday to sit for testing.

Hmm, I know how this song goes.  The angst-ridden lyrics include a mention of “I’ve been down this road a time or two,” perhaps as a rhyme for “and this is not the job for you.”  Let’s see:  First, you spend hundreds of dollars in gas, restaurant and hotel money to sit in a training room with 20 or 30 other wannabes in various stages of unemployment discomfort.  I went through this twice down in Orange County this past spring.  Either you type insipid essays in Microsoft Word or you bubble in your multiple guess answers with a Number 2 pencil.  Then you go home and a couple of months later you receive a congratulatory email along with notification that you have now been added to the list of candidates for any management position for which the organization should happen to open recruitment within the next year.  About a month after that, you receive another email inviting you for an interview.  You make more hotel reservations, take gas money out of savings, drive hundreds of miles again to get dressed up, shake hands and tell a lot of stories about your management style and a time when you disagreed with your employer’s decision and how you implemented it effectively among your subordinates anyway.  After that, who knows?  You might receive a call inviting you back to a second interview (now that you’ve already blown through $1,500 in travel expenses) or you might receive a form letter informing you that a better qualified candidate was selected and better luck next time.

All of this flashed through my mind in the ten seconds I had to respond to the employer on the phone.  My answer tasted delicious on my tongue.  “Oh, I’m so sorry,” I burbled in my most sympathetic voice, “but I’ve already accepted another position.”

You read that right, folks.  After nearly a year of unemployment, Uncle Guacamole is once again gainfully employed in a full-time job.

It gave me great pleasure to be able to turn down this offer to spend a lot of money on nothing.  This pleasure was enhanced immeasurably by uttering it from my own cubicle at my new job on a very quiet floor of an office building from which several dozen of my nearby coworkers could hear my heartfelt rejection.

About six months ago, one of my readers asked that I be sure to inform her when I finally find a job by uttering “Hooray!” and “Yeehaw!” in this space.

Hooray!  Yeehaw!

Never say that I’m not a man of my word.

I have now been on the job for one week and, I’ve got to tell you folks, I am loving it.  I was a supervisor for years until I made my way up to manager.  This job is neither of those and thus represents a significant demotion.  Also I had to take a big salary cut from my last position.  But then again, it’s a big raise from the zero dollars and zero cents I was earning as an unemployed person.  And I will unequivocally assert that it is a heck of a lot better than standing in line for three hours waiting for a food handout.

I am also now a commuter.  My job (ooh, it sounds so lovely to say my job) is in downtown Sacramento, which is 36 miles away, nearly an hour’s drive in rush hour traffic.  Also, there is no parking to be had without paying a monthly fee to a garage and then hiking from there to the office tower in which I work.  Thus, my wonderful wife drives me to work each morning, then returns at 5 p.m. to pick me up.  At two round-trips daily, that’s about 144 miles, which works out to well over $150 in gas.  And we will certainly have to purchase another vehicle sooner rather than later.  Our old trusty isn’t going to last long at this rate.

It is truly a blessing from God that my wife is willing to do all the driving.  The rush hour traffic as one approaches downtown on Interstate 5 reminds this New York boy of his romps of yesteryear on the Long Island Expressway.  It is enough to fray the nerves of one stronger than I.  My wife, however, has it down to a science.  She has memorized every lane change from Arco Arena to Q Street and manages to execute this automotive dance with balletic aplomb.  I’ll say it again:  God has been very good to me.

As if that weren’t enough, I have a boss who is an answer to prayer.  His kindness and patience humbles me.  And if, someday, I make it back into management, I want to be like him.