Eggs 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.

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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 textbroker.com, 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.

Blogging

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

EnteringWashington

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.