The Little House

Little House

Home sweet home

A little over a month ago, we decided we were living a little too far away from my place of employment.  We were spending a little too much on gasoline each month and wasting a little too much time sitting in freeway traffic.  My wife was getting a little tired of spending a little less than four hours on the road each weekday.  In short, we were getting a little sick of wasting our lives commuting.

To be honest, we were also getting a little tired of living in a little parsonage next to a little church in a little town located a little north of nowhere.  Granted, we were more than a little grateful that we had the option of camping out at the parsonage at a time when we had little other choice.  That occurred a little less than two years ago when my former employer found itself a little short of funds and a little long on staff.  After the layoff, we moved a little more toward the northern part of California and were grateful to be a little closer to both my wife’s family and my own parents.  The timing was more than a little auspicious, as our niece had just popped out a little one and we wanted to be able to see a her a little more often than just on Christmas and her birthday.  It all worked out, except for the little fact that I didn’t have a job up here.  It took a little too long for me to remedy that situation, which involved a little too much travel to southern California for interviews as well as a little too much debiting of our little bank account.

When I was finally hired, it was for a temporary position that was slated to end in a little less than ten months and also paid a little less than I had been earning previously.  Nevertheless, I was more than a little relieved to be working again.  In a little while, I found myself promoted to a “permanent” position, although there is still the little matter of passing my probationary period, on which I have a little more than nine months to go.  As luck would have it, our governor gave state employees a little gift of a (very) little raise that will take effect next month.  We are more than a little appreciative of the many little blessings that have been bestowed upon us in the last little while.

Among those blessings is our new place of residence, which we have officially dubbed The Little House.  Originally built as in-law quarters, it sits behind the main house, which is occupied by the family to whom we pay rent on a monthly basis.  Our little corner of paradise consists of a bedroom and another room that serves as kitchen and living room.  There is also a little bathroom tucked a little inside the front doorway.  We have a little couch (courtesy of the owners) that affords my wife and I a little less room than we need to sit comfortably, particularly at time like, say, now, when we are each wailing away at our little laptop computers.  There is too little room for both of us to use a mouse, so we entered into a little compromise under which I sit a little to the left of my wife and use the little touchpad mouse on the keyboard.  Oh, and we also have a little patio just outside the back door that has just enough room for a little chair.

Abby Rufus

Abby and Rufus

Strawberry

Strawberry

Oreo

Oreo, our resident kitty

On the upside, our 600 square foot little piece of air conditioned heaven costs us a little less than an apartment in an urban complex filled with a little too many noisy neighbors.  Here we have peace and quiet, that is, except when the owner’s dogs decide to bark all night, an event which occurs a little too often.  He raises Yorkshire terriers and sells the puppies for a little less than three months of rent payments.  I think people are more than a little crazy to pay that kind of price for a dog when there are so many cute canines sitting in the city animal shelter and waiting to be taken home for the price of getting them vaccinated.  At any rate, we’ve become more than a little fond of the critters, even as we feel a little bad that they’re being treated like factories for creating more little ones.  But money makes the world go ‘round, does it not?

Chickens

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Damned if I know!

We live just a little outside of Sacramento in an area that looks a little like somewhere out in the country.  Across the street is a little flock of chickens that cluck and coo to their heart’s content while they are lorded over by a couple of roosters who are a little too sure (cocksure?) that they own the neighborhood and therefore needn’t be concerned about their little habit of cock-a-doodle-dooing any time they please, like say, a little before two in the morning.  Oh, and there is also a pair of peacocks a little way down the road who come a-visiting every now and then, often with their brood of little ones following behind.  As anyone who has ever visited Casa de Fruta on the Pacheco Pass Road between the Bay Area and the Central Valley knows, the male peacock loves to preen and show off its fancy feathers.  What we didn’t know, however, is that peacocks have quite a little set of vocal cords on them.  When they decide to screech, the blood-curdling yowl can only be described as a little like a call for help uttered by a cat being raped.

In our short time here, we have come to appreciate the many murals, sculptures and old signs that are found throughout Sacramento.  I present a few of our discoveries here for your amusement.

Nahl Satire

Probably my favorite downtown Sacramento mural.  This is a satire of a 19th century painting, “Sunday Morning in the Mines,” by Charles Christian Nahl.  The original, without benefit of the 3-D effect of people climbing out of (into?) the painting, is on display here in town at the Crocker Art Museum.  This mural is painted high on a building, with the man at the bottom (yellow jacket) appearing to stand on the top of a billboard.

Downtown Mural

So, yes, I am a fan of 3-D effects.  We drive by this mural every day and I still can’t get over how real it looks.  The cat is a nice touch!

Scarcity

William Leung mural in the run-down Del Paso Heights/Haginwood neighborhood of Sacramento.  For the text of the Tim Kahl poem above the center of the mural, click here.

Canada Dry Sign

Old Canada Dry sign, 16th Street in North Sacramento.

So, what comes next?  Reno, that’s what!  We have three trips to that ramblin’, gamblin’, broken-down town scheduled for this summer, one each in June, July and August.  The first of these little jaunts is scheduled for this Friday.  I can hardly wait to hit the video poker machines road!

Daffodils Howe Avenue

Daffodils, Howe Avenue, Sacramento

Ars Gratia Artis

art for art's sake

My father called this week to ask why I’m not spending every minute of every day pursuing job leads, sending out résumés and going on interviews.  He expressed concern that a fiftysomething middle manager could become unemployable and impoverished if he stays out of the workforce too long.  I could tell that he was following up on my mother’s call of last week (she was of the opinion that my ambivalence toward writing job applications must indicate that I am depressed over having been recently laid off).

This doesn’t take into account the fact that I knew about the layoff two months in advance and that I’ve applied for more than 25 positions to no avail.  That I am not applying for dozens of jobs right now appears to be the issue.

“You have to have somewhere to go in the morning,” was my father’s advice.  I responded that it’s also nice not to have to go anywhere in the morning.  I omitted mention of the fact that he has been retired for twenty years and doesn’t have to go anywhere to go in the morning other than outside to mow the lawn or into town to a doctor appointment or the grocery store.  I also thought it circumspect to skip the part about how the only thing this night owl wants to see in the morning is the back of his eyelids.

Dad pointed out that there is a difference between not working because you’ve been thrust out of the workforce due to the economy and not working because you’ve decided to retire and have a nice pension from the state retirement system.

It’s not as if I haven’t thought long and hard about whether to keep working or to throw in the towel.  I tried to explain that I’ve had enough of the cubicle life and that I would like to work in a results-oriented environment in which I can exercise my nighttime creativity rather than being stuck in the 9-to-5 routine.  I fear I was not very successful in my efforts to relate how much I love blogging every day and, hopefully, finally finishing the last part of my memoirs.

“And what will you do then?” he asked.  I offered that I hope to market my manuscript around and hopefully attract the attention of a publisher who can afford me the services of a professional editor.  I’m realistic, I told him; I don’t expect to earn a penny from this endeavor, although I won’t be self-publishing the book either.  Why, then, would I waste my time?  Good question.  My answer:  To satisfy myself that I can do it.

This got me to thinking about how, along with my fellow writers, I am a member of a society of professionals who work without compensation.  In a capitalist economy, this sounds crazy.  Who would work for free?  Plenty of us, apparently.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece (“Slaves of the Internet, Unite!,” Oct. 26, 2013), author Tim Kreider observes that those who wouldn’t think of giving away a haircut or a can of soda for free think nothing of asking writers to compose work for publication for no pay.  The applicable currency, the theory goes, is not money, but “exposure.”  In other words, no compensation is really needed because the public gets to see what great writers we are so that they can ask us to write more stories, poems and articles for free.

The whole idea of us creative types pouring out our blood, sweat and tears for love (not money) struck a chord.  Kreider’s article took me back to my “volunteer” work for America Online in 1995, 1996 and 1997.  I worked as a message board monitor, a content provider, a leader of virtual “tours” through AOL’s Entertainment Channel and a “love doctor” (facilitator in a love, sex and relationships chat room called The Hot Bed).

I’ve heard anecdotally that several of my fellow chat hosts and content providers have unsuccessfully attempted to sue AOL for back wages.  I am told that AOL’s legal people took the position that all of us willingly and eagerly volunteered our time in order to be a part of the excitement of the early days of the Internet.

I believe it is true that we agreed to work for free, but not necessarily for the “coolness” factor. Like myself, many of us were addicted to the friendships and connections we had made online back in the days before Internet access was essentially free. 

In the mid-nineties, AOL was behind a firewall and the charge to use its services was three dollars per hour.  Quite a few of the volunteers were students, unemployed or just too poor to be able to pay the huge bills that we tended to rack up.  I recall working 20 hours per week as a combination desktop publisher and technical writer for a tiny Silicon Valley startup, getting paid ten dollars an hour, crashing with my sister and sending almost all of my paycheck to AOL.  I just had to get my chat fix at any cost.  See?  Addicted.

When I ended up unemployed and broke, I found out a way I could stay online.  Those who were willing to perform tasks such as hosting chat rooms and message boards would be “compensated” by being credited with an hour of online time for every hour worked.  In some of AOL’s channels, it was possible to earn two or even three hours of online time for each hour worked.

And then there was Nirvana, the Holy Grail, the mysterious “overhead account” that was only whispered about and was rumored to be a myth.  It wasn’t a myth, however.  Some of us managed to cadge content wrangling volunteer positions that required many, many hours of research and HTML coding, compensated by an entirely free AOL account.  For addicts like myself, it was the ideal situation.  As long as I got my work done, I could spend all day and all night online.  Which I frequently did.  I wouldn’t sleep until I collapsed in my chair.  To buy food, I borrowed money from family and friends.  I freeloaded, I mooched.  I moved from California to Connecticut and back to California again.  Anything to avoid working so I could be online all the time.

I loved hosting the chat room, particularly on Saturday nights when the place would be rockin’ and rollin’. This was a double-sized chat room that held 46 rather than the usual 23.  There were always a few “snerts” in attendance, kids who had no interest in taking part in the conversation and would repeatedly violate the no polling/no scrolling/no profanity rules.  We had macros, pre-typed scripts, that could be sent into the chat room at the touch of a button to warn these miscreants that they risked being tossed out by the higher-ups.  For most of the chatters, however, it was one big party and I was the emcee.  I would have thought-inducing questions prepared ahead of time; if I received responses, I would type follow-up questions.  I would do my best to recognize participants by addressing them by their screen names.  As the text scrolled down the screen, it was my responsibility to try to keep up with all the threads of the chat and to make additional comments to provoke the expression of a variety of opinions.  It was a heady experience, quite the thrill.  And I did it all, if not for free, than at least for the free account.

At one point, my “supervisor” asked me to conduct a seminar to let my fellow chat hosts in on the secrets of my success.  That was when I finally put my foot down and demanded compensation.  Of course, AOL was unwilling to pay actual money, and so I stood my ground and took a pass.

These days, I can’t help feeling that I am falling into a similar pattern by blogging in this forum.  None of my fellow WordPress bloggers are paid a penny; we do what we do as a labor of love.  As the old saying goes, “writers write.”  The instant publishing tools that WordPress makes available to us at no charge enable writers to gain, as Kreider terms it, “exposure.”  I love the Times graphic attached to his article, a bank deposit slip that lists, in part, “1,530 page views, good karma, 872 likes, 490 comments, 2 days notoriety… Total: $0.00.”  He points out that, despite all the feel-good vibes, a writer cannot eat and pay the rent on this.  He cites the old joke headline “Artist Dies of Exposure.”

Kreider proposes that writers could remedy this situation if we’d only stop giving away the fruits of our labors for free.  “Not getting paid for things in your 20s in glumly expected, even sort of cool,” writes Kreider, while “not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, [is] considerably less so.  Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift.  Now I am 46, and would like a bed.”

Being a considerable number of years past the age of 46, I can certainly appreciate Kreider’s perspective.  He rails against a public that, by expecting us to work for free, relays the opinion that “our vocation is worthless.”

Clearly, Kreider doesn’t believe that our vocation is worthless.  And this is where he and I part company.  Say what you will about the virtue of the starving artist, the fact remains that, in a free market economy, things are worth exactly what people will pay for them.  In that respect, my work and that of most of my fellow writers is indeed worthless.

But that’s okay.  Just as in my days as a chat host, I do what I do because I enjoy the process and take pride in the product.  More than likely, Kreider would argue that I can’t have very much pride in my work if I am willing to forego compensation and simply give it away.

I respectfully disagree.  I blog for the same reason that I spend time with my little grandniece:  Both pursuits light up my life.  They make me smile, and hopefully they make you smile, too.

Ars gratia artis, baby.

NaBloPoMo November 2013