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!

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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.

Ten Decembers

Dec

Inspired by the DP Challenge Ghosts of December 23rds Past and particularly by Jeni’s delightful post Nine Decembers on Joy and Woe.

December 1977

No room at the inn.  Transferred colleges and couldn’t get into the dorms, so lived in a tiny hole in a decrepit, single room occupancy hotel in downtown Albany.  Took the bus back and forth to campus, five miles away, even when the temperature was below zero.  Glad to go home for the semester break.  Bundled up and walked a mile to the record to store to buy the double album Barry Manilow Live to bring home with me.  Planned to take Amtrak down to the Hudson Valley, where a friend would pick me up.  Had to take a taxi across the river to the train station in Rensselaer.  Had the hotel bellhop call me a cab and carry out my luggage.  Became frightened when he started to yell at me.  Later realized I was supposed to give him something called a “tip.”

December 1978

Slacking and slouching my way through college.  Finally got into the dorms and hated living with a bunch of creeps. Accidentally bumped into the dorm Christmas tree and knocked it over.  Hated taking political science courses to please my parents, who wanted me to be a lawyer.  Allowed my mother to talk me into taking Constitutional Law.  Hated it with a passion but was afraid to drop it.  Plowed through piles and piles of mimeographed cases, understanding next to nothing.  Final paper was due right before Christmas, but I put it off until it was too late.  Stayed up all night to try to put something together.  Couldn’t.  Wrote a note to the professor explaining that I am a square peg being forced into a round hole.  Walked across campus to the PoliSci office and gave the note to the secretary.  Told her to tell the prof to just fail me and get it over with.  Walked back to the dorm and went to bed.  Went home for winter break the next day.  Shouted “I hate the Constitution!” in front of my parents, earning a tongue-lashing from Mom.

December 1979

My parents had recently won some money in a lawsuit and purchased a Honey motor home.  The thing slept eight, got nine miles to the gallon and drove like a tank.  Rode down to Florida in it with my parents and sisters.  It was my senior year of college and I figured this would be my last chance to do this.  One of my college friends had taken a shine to my sister, and she really liked him.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t Jewish and my mother was having none of it.  Mom and Sis fought and carried on the whole trip.   My sisters and I slept on chaise lounges on my grandparents’ lanai in Florida.  Sis cried all night and my heart ached for her, particularly since it was my stupid friend who caused this mess.

December 1980

After graduating college with a useless liberal arts degree in May, my job prospects were exactly zero.  My mother was working in Rhode Island, so I lived with her and started taking the courses I needed for a teaching credential.  Took summer and fall classes, but Mom quit her job in November and moved back to New York.  I moved into the dorms (where I lit Hanukkah candles but blew them out after about 30 seconds for fear they would set the curtains on fire or set off the smoke alarm), but when the semester was over in December, my parents said they were done with Rhode Island and I should come back to New York and look for a job.  A few days before Christmas, my father arrived to pick me up.  I cried as we drove away.

December 1981

Quit my first job.  Eleven months on the night shift at minimum wage was enough for me.  I had found another job, so I just called in and quit without notice.  It was a weird feeling, half guilt, half liberation.  On Dec. 8, started working at a huge, stinking chemical plant that I will call Carcinogens R Us.  Thought I had won the lottery because I was making union wage, $8.07 per hour.

December 1982

Threw a thirtieth anniversary party for my parents on Christmas Eve.  Tried to keep it a secret, but then learned that they were planning to fly to Florida for Christmas and had to tell them.  Invited distant relatives whom we hadn’t seen in forever.  Most of them came.  Spent a lot of money on catering but had no music.  My girlfriend, who was also Jewish, kept asking me if this was a Christmas party.  Dumbass.

December 1983

In charge of the Christmas party for our section at work.  There were a hundred of us.  Arranged for the food, but there was no money in the budget for music.  Didn’t have any Christmas music because I still lived at home and, well, we’re Jewish.  Went through my collection of vinyl records and made a party tape using the cassette player on my stereo.  Discovered that a lot of people really hate Barry Manilow.  Was mildly embarrassed when my coworkers kept rewinding the tape to play Gloria Estefán singing “Conga” over and over again.

December 1987

Quit my job back in August to go to law school full-time.  Quickly found that I was in over my head.  I had begun exhibiting agoraphobic tendencies a couple of years before and started having full-blown panic attacks as exams approached.  At Christmas, foolishly decided to ride to Florida with my parents again, with yet another girlfriend along for the ride.  We were staying with my grandparents while the girlfriend was staying at her father’s house down there.  My sisters had wisely flown the coop.  Mom hated everyone on my father’s side of the family and hated my girlfriend even more.  She decided to take it out on me.  Endured ten days of listening to Mom scream, yell and curse at me.  Never rode to Florida with them again.

December 1988

My parents drove to Florida by themselves.  I stayed up at law school in Massachusetts.  I was renting a room along with several other law students in a huge house owned by empty-nesters.  They invited me to stay for their family Christmas and I eagerly accepted.  Their four children came home for Christmas with their spouses.  The depth of the pile of gifts around the Christmas tree staggered my imagination.  It took hours to open them all on Christmas Eve.  My landlord’s son-in-law referred to this exercise as “death by presents.”  I just called it awesome.

December 1990

Quit my job as a clerk (Do you see a pattern here?) when I realized the temp-to-hire position was all temp and no hire.  Also because I had failed the bar exam once already and figured I’d better study full-time for a couple of months if I were to have any chance of passing in February.  Also because I was sick and tired of the boss and his secretary imitating my parents by having daily screaming matches with each other.  The first Gulf War got underway in Iraq and I was horrified.    Wrote my first letter to “any soldier.”  Wrote an anti-war poem and had it published in “Yellow Ribbons,” a tiny local mimeographed piece of shit.  Wrote another poem titled “Daddy Hates Chicken.”  My agoraphobia worsened and I tried to stay at home as much as possible.  Of course, “home” was still my parents’ house, where I figured I’d have to live til I was old and gray.  Had multiple fights with my girlfriend (who still lived with her mother) because she didn’t know how to explain to her friends that I wouldn’t go places.  Memorized the causes of action for all the intentional torts and wrote one practice essay after another, lying on the blue carpeted floor of my childhood bedroom.