Thursday, May 31, 2007

First Return Whisper From the Job Market

I AM SCHEDULED TO interview next Thursday at a local magazine publisher/trade show company. Oddly enough, the office is within walking distance of the career counseling outfit I used. This is only a 15-minute drive via back roads.

I found this position online, rather than via direct contact with hiring managers as per my program guidelines. The career counselors state that online ads yield far fewer jobs than networking directly with hiring managers or those close to them. Still, they do advise using a blend of tactics, as long as the time invested in each method corresponds to the odds it will work. Pure percentages. This poker degenerate can appreciate that. So I do look at online ads during the week, but not all day.

I got a call back early Wednesday afternoon, which gave me some hope as I had sent the note and resume first thing that morning to a contact with a West Coast area code. The screener interview went well. The woman who called told me straight out that they wanted to have me in, then asked me some screener questions (she actually used this term). I would have imagined the opposite sequence of events, so I relaxed, feeling I had a bit of an advantage.

The only point where I felt I had to do a quick save was on the topic of the subject matter. She asked me if I had any experience working with medical material. I replied that I have extensive scientific-journal layout experience, as well as several years' worth of psychology copyediting under my belt, and that I used American Medical Association style for some of it. I covered many of the desired proficiencies in the ad via my cover letter, though, so I suspect — as per India Amos's friend in the comment to this post — my experience and flexibility will make for a short learning curve.

The search continues, though. I got a good letter out to Dow Jones for a desktop publishing position that was another close match to my resume. This gig would be at Harborside Financial Center in Jersey City, so my commuting time would still be fairly long and a two-step process. There is also the slight possibility that, if hired, I might eventually become an employee of billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch. Are stellar benefits worth working for the Devil? I might just have an opportunity to find out. For now, though, I am looking forward to this first interview.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My (Almost) Life as a Pornographer

IN HUNTING FOR A new job this spring and summer (though, I hope, not this fall), I have thought about the two previous job hunts of mine. The most recent was in the spring of 1999, beginning in about March and ending in early May. I recall riding to the interview and seeing the headlines about the Columbine shooting on everyone's newspapers.

It was my first job hunt, the one most folks face right after college, that crossed my mind today. This one was an extended, half-hearted affair beginning in June 1991 . . . the Great Bush (40) Recession . . . and was made longer when I sought refuge in a part-time job at a healthcare marketing-research firm. Phone interviews with medical professionals, combined with clerical work and eating the leftovers from focus groups, formed half of each weekday from that July through mid-September 1992. Between the scarcity of local publishing jobs, my deficient internship experience, and a general lack of interest in my future, my actual job-seeking activity was sporadic at best.

Before I took this stopgap job, however, I did get a callback for an interview from one of my resume mailings to the publishing field . . . or at least, one niche of it. I forget the precise name of the position as it appeared in The New York Times, but the first sentence will never leave my memory — "Hot opportunity on a hot title" — because the job was with High Society magazine.

Those of you who were never teenage boys, or single, middle-age guys who haunted 42nd Street before it was Disneyfied, may not be familiar with this rag. Go about one and a half steps downward from the porn level of Playboy — none of the occasional investigative reporting and Quagmire-level class of Penthouse, but none of the truly disgusting layouts and abhorrent attitudes toward women rampant in the various Larry Flynt titles. Not that women were all that positively depicted in any of these magazines, but at least Playboy would run an interview with Tom Wolfe or an excerpt of his work, and a review of the newest BMW coupe, alongside some airbrushed bim. High Society by contrast might carry a pseudonymously penned pulp story, and maybe some lurid exposé of a Third World death squad or a gory shark hunt, but the pictorials lacked all pretension of art.

Still, all magazines need to be both written and produced by someone, and High Society needed a writer and editor. As a lark, I sent them the laughable document with my name on it that fit the description of resume. If they had the gumption to advertise in the Times, why not give it a spin?

To my surprise, I got a call a week or so later from a guy with a heavy New Yawk accent to set up an interview! It seemed I would be editing the letters column of the magazine, in addition to office work and possibly layout, depending on qualifications. I wondered, as he described the job, how much of that would merely be writing said letters from whole cloth. I envisioned myself at a wheezing Selectric, light filtering feebly through a window layered with Eisenhower-era grime, in some sinus of an office in the Thirties, clacking out page after page of "I never thought I would be writing High Society . . ." mini-essays about forbidden lusts run amok. I told him I would come in for the interview. Why not? This job had high comedy written all over it.

The question of telling my parents opened up the first sliver of doubt over this job. This was a far cry from the usual postcollegiate English major jobs of proofreader, editorial assistant, or manuscript reader in the bowels of some obscure press or magazine . . . and certainly was not the gateway to graduate studies in my field should I decide to continue my schooling. The workplace itself was also a dubious factor. I imagined stumbling into "fashion" shoots in the office, rubbing elbows (and probably little else) with porn stars pushing their latest projects, and cologne-reeking sleaze merchants oozing out like balding Weebles at eleven for a steak and cocaine binge at Delmonico's. Not the best mentor for a sprout seeking a fast track in publishing.

I also wondered what sort of samples I would acquire to show future employers. It's one thing for me to pass a copy of the accounting newsletter across a desk to show a prospective employer how much table typesetting I can cram into 8 hours. It's quite another for me to read to a group of hiring managers a sampler of my finest letters to the editor, or worse, to fan out a grotesquely splayed — if meticulously color-corrected and retouched — centerfold.

And I had a genuine concern over the exact source of my paychecks. What sort of an organization was "Drake Publishing," the parent corporation that produced High Society, Playgirl, and other skin books? Who owned it? I assumed that Drake, like most pornography companies in New York, both legit and clandestine, was at least partly Mob affiliated. This hunch would prove correct; years later, the then-current cugines behind the scenes would plead guilty to using phone-sex numbers in High Society to rack up hundreds of millions in credit card and phone charges. At the time, however, I imagined the Boys would be using this legitimate business as a shell for some manner of dirty dealings, and I didn't want to end up running numbers or taking football bets while grinding out my torrid narratives of two nymphets getting locked overnight in a pudding factory, or whatnot.

With all this to ponder, and the offer to work at the marketing-research firm also on the table, I called the High Society guy back and canceled our interview appointment. He sounded genuinely surprised and asked me to reconsider, but I offered my regrets and stood firm. I was working on a phone survey with pain-management professionals for the Duragesic patch not two days later.

I don't have any regrets about passing on the opportunity to become a 21-year-old pornographer, though I do sometimes regret not at least going on the interview, just to see how the degenerate half lives. I still managed to find my way into publishing, by the more honest route of an independent producer of psychology, social science, and human factors books and journals. I got to strip down art with white tape instead of placing black bars across incriminating eyes and erogenous zones. The only reason to have taken this route, I feel, would be to have the most potentially riveting tale to tell at my high school reunion . . . or its career fair. Especially because I attended an all-male Catholic school.

Now there? There, my samples would have been most welcome.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Alone With the Iron

ON THIS MEMORIAL DAY, I all but had the gym to myself. The number of cars in the lot was closer to what one might find at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon in early December . . . when most folks are huddled next to heaters for warmth, cheeks red but knuckles white on their armrests, while the Giants or Jets clash with some foe in late-season battle. The only reason to venture outside in the brittle late-autumn air would be to fetch more wood for the fire. The gym can wait until Monday morning, before work, if they can get up that early . . . depends on how late the Late Game runs. . . .

If I have done nothing else right since my layoff — and I believe there are a few things I have done right — I have logged almost 3 months of consistent gym attendance. At the one-month mark after my layoff, I reported that my next step, after establishing regular gym attendance, was to get my eating habits into better shape as well. I have mostly succeeded, with few deviations from a more thoughtfully planned diet. I was right about avoiding the morning bagels; it's made a big financial and caloric difference. Though my weight chart has not shown a steep plummet, and I don't look grossly muscular or rail-thin compared to when I began charting my weight, I can tell the ratio of fat to muscle tissue has changed. My clothes are getting just a little looser each week. My stamina is higher, whereas around this time last year, it was a chore to walk the two long blocks from my subway stop to my workplace. I don't get as freaked out by the spikes that occur on my Excel weight chart, because I know they are either due to slight variations in muscle or water weight, or are the result of a long weekend, big dinner, or scheduled binge, like a wedding. On the day of each month that corresponds to my birthdate, I disregard all limits and eat what I want. You need a break once in a while.

It's not a matter of looking good in swimwear. Though I'm not one of these monstro-guys who you see on TV being removed from their house through the wall, on a shipping flat, I've carried 30 to 50 pounds around long enough to render public toplessness a nonstarter, no matter how much fat I eventually lose. I'm always gonna have some sort of gut, I fear. Rather, I am trying to lay the foundation now for long-term heart and sugar-level health into middle age and beyond. I can minimize the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes now, or I can wait — like I suspect many Americans are foolishly doing — until I get whatever ailment strikes and assume health care at that point will bail me out.

I can't make a guarantee that I will have comprehensive health care that far in the future. I have to invest now, in more healthful food intake and regular exercise, to stave off as long as possible the cancers, heart attacks, and joint erosion that will swamp the Baby Boomers and their children (and grandchildren if no revolution of health spares them) in the coming years. I've gotten to the point where making these investments is easier. I avoid having crap in the house. I don't eat out much, and when I do, I try to keep portions and food choices reasonable within that day's intake context. I minimize refined sugar and sweetener intake. It sounds bland, and perhaps motivated more by long-term hypochondria, but little decisions made now, reflexively, along with the occasional controlled deviation — a poker spree in Atlantic City that includes a trip to the Borgata Fatburger, a chicken parm hero, or a dessert with my mom's home cooking on Sunday — keeps me motivated.

Motivation drove me out of bed this morning. I awoke before my alarm. My sleep is more shallow in warmer weather, so when I drifted to consciousness and couldn't fall back asleep by 7:00, I decided not to fight it. I got my gym togs on, made up a bottle of "fruit punch," and headed out. I noticed that, during the bottom third of a workout, I get bone-tired. Not wanting to choose some overpriced, chemical-packed energy drink that will give me kidney failure 5 years from now, I decided to make my own. In the fridge, I have a big glass bottle of green tea, about half strength, and a jug of Trader Joe's 100% cranberry juice with no added sugar. Into a Poland Spring bottle I pour a quarter cup of the latter and a half cup of the former, then fill the rest with water. This I sip while lifting, which gives me some blood sugar and antioxidants along with the hydration (and just a bit of caffeine to rev the engine). Unsweetened. It makes me angry. Good angry; motivated to fix my busted ass angry.

My apartment complex lot was nearly free of cars, as were the roads. Aside from a couple of folks staking chair space along the Memorial Day parade route, and three soldiers standing next to a Humvee tricked up with Army recruitment branding, the town was dead. This was nothing compared to the vehicular desolation at the gym lot. Beautiful. I could proceed from one set of weights to the next without pause.

What few patrons were there were split evenly, if thinly, between the aerobic machines downstairs and the upstairs weight floor. I logged a 10-minute warmup on an elliptical trainer and then toted my clipboard to the second floor, where a mere handful of people were coming to grips with the iron.

I am by no means a bodybuilder of Schwarzeneggeresque dimensions, nor am I ever likely to be. But I think I have tapped into the right attitude, the honesty and simplicity of challenge to which Henry Rollins alludes in "The Iron," his essay on weight training. When I grab a dumbbell, 40 pounds is always going to be 40 pounds. The task is simple: Pick it up and move it, then put it down. Conscious more than ever of my inevitable physical breakdown, I focus on those steps to the exclusion of all else, taking a second to check the feel of the bar in my grip, the position I'm in, before budging it from its perch. Good form counts for more than heavy weight and keeps you out of the ambulance.

I try to screen out the distractions that other members bring. I do sometimes bring an iPod when I use the aerobic machines, because that can be a long hour with nothing to accompany one on the trip, but I recoil at the sight of them on the weight floor. I especially revile goons who stride about the floor with a cellphone — or, even more ridiculous, one of those fucking wireless Borg rigs on their earlobe. Pick an activity: chatting or lifting. Do both at once and you chance failing at them both as well. I also try to ignore the ill advice and poor form that some of the so-called experts exhibit, which sadly includes some of the staff. What I need to learn, I can ask of those who have made more of a life of this than I have, either in person or through the written records of their success via the bookstore or the Internet. When the gym is empty, however, the distractions are absent.

When I eventually snag a job, I hope to move my workouts back to the morning, at the very opening hour of the club, while preserving the anticipation I feel for them now. That I let this habit slide while at my last job typified the imbalance plaguing my life. This time away from work, though not a permanent or truly desirable circumstance, has allowed me to lift the veil on the rest of my life . . . shining light on areas where I need work. If I can begin fixing these now, I'll have a better shot at maintaining that balance once I start with the new 9-to-5. If nothing else, though, I at least want to keep moving forward with my weight training. This has been the most positive stretch of work in that area for years. I can't stop now.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Taking It Up the Verizon Highway

NEW JERSEY'S BEACH SEASON begins this weekend, as the northern and western populations of the state pack their cars and boom south for three days of surf and sand. State officials always lust for a strong Memorial Day showing to set a lucrative tone for the summer tourist trade. Should we get rain or $4/gallon gas for a couple of weekends, however, legislators and budget drones in Trenton will wring their hands and glance nervously at the yawning $15 billion debt-hole they have dug over the past decade and a half. "However shall we fill it?" they will wail, as sales projections for salt-water taffy plunge to new lows.

Privatization to the rescue! New Jersey officials have been stroking their figurative beards at the course Indiana has taken in leasing roads and other public works to private companies. Sale of naming rights is no alien practice, especially not in Jersey, what with names like "Continental Airlines Arena" and "PNC Arts Center." tripping gaily off the tongue. Auctioning off rights not merely to rename, but to manage, an entire highway raises the profile — and the possible revenue — by an order of magnitude. Tops among our thoroughfares for shopping out to corporate interest is the New Jersey Turnpike, and pols are said to be eyeing its sister road, the shore-hugging Garden State Parkway, for the same treatment.

Clapping a dotty moniker on a stadium or arena is one matter. Ceding maintenance of some of our most important transit arteries is quite another. Consider what Tri-State Area businesses might take a financial interest in these roads, and your support for this method of funding might change.
  • The Verizon Turnpike, now featuring VZPass: Segments of the elevated Turnpike will suffer from "dropouts," resulting in cars falling through gaps in the rebar. You can get a billing adjustment by dialing #HOLE as your car sinks into the Meadowlands. In addition, credits for tolls will be available like cell minutes for your VZPass box. Overage and roaming charges apply, so don't leave the state without a second mortgage.
  • The Cablevision Parkway: You will receive a basic suite of exits you can take for a flat fee. More popular exits, such as Belmar, Point Pleasant, and Atlantic City, will be available at higher tiers. Slowdowns are blamed on "network traffic," but help will arrive soon, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays only; please listen to all options, as our menu items have changed. Speaking of change, every six months, the numbering of the exits will be rescrambled. Your shore getaway could become a trip to Newark Liberty because of a numerical glitch.
  • PSE&G Bridge: Former Governor Thomas Driscoll gets the Brendan Byrne treatment, courtesy of our beloved local power authority. Tolls will spike during temperature extremes, based on a formula that would leave Einstein curled in a ball under his desk. The landscape will be spiced up when PSE&G builds a nuclear reactor station on the site of the Amboy Cinema, so keep your windows closed.
  • The Merck Expressway: The South Jersey Transportation Authority decides to boot Atlantic City off the signs and cash in on Big Pharma's largesse. You will need a referral from your primary-care physician to get onto the highway. Tolls are 50¢ if you have in-plan drug coverage, $60 without. Side effects include dizziness, blurred vision, and getting rear-ended by a Chinatown gambling bus.
No word yet on interest on the 495 helix or the Warner Bros. bowtie of asphalt that links Routes 4 and 17. Should the first sale close, and if hurricanes and $5/gallon gas ravage the land this summer, soon you might be able to say hi to Lucy the Fox News Channel Elephant.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

WSJ Article on Getting Jobs Without a 100% Skill Match

TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL carried an article, "How to Land That Dream Job When You Lack Certain Skills" by Sarah E. Needleman, which reinforced a sentiment I've heard elsewhere in this job hunt. The nut:
If you're passionate about a certain industry but lack the skills commonly associated with its most visible leaders, you can try to pursue a career working on the sidelines. Being behind the scenes may offer more than just the opportunity to score freebies and gain exposure to your dream industry's superstars. The career choice may also help you enjoy what you do for a living as well as pay your bills.
In discussions with M, my friend and former supervisor, she said that my lack of full facility with design software doesn't disqualify me from careers in publishing that have tracks upward from where I left. Our bosses, for instance, had little to no modern experience with any of the software, hardware, or production methods we used to create our work. As a veteran of these particular trenches, I have an informed opinion on these areas, and I can make managerial decisions affecting them without stepping on scores of toes or wrecking a budget. I was also given sound advice along M's lines by the always awesome India Amos.

I found echoes of the career-consulting program in the article as well. "Think broadly about the types of employers to target," advises Needleman. Early in the program, job seekers are encouraged to do just that, including employers in industries outside the candidates' resume experience. I recall an example given in one of the program texts, in which a job seeker wants to break into the entertainment business, but — lacking the experience needed to do it as talent — does so by joining a business that serves the industry, thereby gaining contact with potential mentors and employers while remaining close to her passion. On this topic, Needleman also cites joining organizations in one's field to build a network, a linchpin of the counseling service's method.

I am mulling my next steps in the job hunt as well as in skill acquisition. The School of Visual Arts runs summer programs for continuing education (including one-weekend concentrated courses) in various software packages, including Illustrator and Photoshop. I took a combo course in both back in 2001, but based on the number of ads that cite both as primary skills, I feel I'd need a full-frontal immersion in just one of them to get in tune with the basics needed by most of these employers.

This article, and the discussions I've had with M, have me wondering whether this is a strictly necessary prerequisite. If I do some digging and make active contacts with hiring managers, maybe I can get into the head of one who might need me as I am . . . or as I soon will be. I have skills along the editing and writing axes as well, which makes me a potentially useful combination plate. (These are the images I use when I blog around dinnertime.)

If nothing else, I will be careful to avoid making the same mistake one person alluded to in the article made at McFarlane Toys. Apparently this dork showed up with a sheaf of comics for the boss to sign. As their HR director put it, "He didn't last very long."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

These Dreams Began When I Closed My Eyes

I DON'T NORMALLY REMEMBER many of my dreams. Last night was different. This is how the film festival went, with my interpretation/footnotes in italics.

1. I am walking along a NYC street in daylight, probably Chelsea or the Village in Manhattan, on my way to the weekly poker game (which is held in Bergen County, so this was odd). It is held in a nondescript basement store front, so I walk down a short flight of stairs and open the curtain-covered door. About half of the regular players are sitting around the two tables in the store, including the host and, to my surprise, my buddy Len. We greet each other happily and ask what brings us to this game.

Len mentions that there is also a no-limit hold'em tournament in progress in the store next door, but that it seems tough, because "the players look like pros." I wasn't aware there was another game so close by, so I walk over to take a peek. Sure enough, there's a tourney in progress: four full tables (so it must've been early in the game), no talking, just the sounds of cards and chips being shuffled. I assume that Len took this silence for professionalism, rather than there being any actual TV pros present, and I go back to the first store and share my skepticism.

I also notice that the regular host has disappeared. Nobody knows where he went. A couple more players show up over the next several minutes and ask where he is too. By the time we have enough for a single full table, the players are restless, so I tell them, "The hell with this, I'll get it rolling." Amid grunts of assent, the guys and Len gather around one of the tables. A player begins selecting cards from A through 9 for the seat draw, and I retrieve the cash box and begin cutting out stacks of chips, $100 worth each.

Len is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We saw each other at Jen and Steve's wedding recently, and he mentioned playing poker with family members. The host and players were both from my regular, real-life Thursday game, which due to job-hunting, I haven't played in for a few weeks. I was also contemplating going to Foxwoods yesterday afternoon and trawling in the fishy waters of shite players through the afternoon and evening, but I decided against it.

I used to host the regular game, until Danny, one of my players, volunteered his finished basement; now I act as occasional backup. Even at his place, I helped run the game for several months by selling chips and running cashout at the end of the night. As for the location, one of the former regulars in the game, a hustler type of guy who always seemed to have watches or iPods to sell, mentioned he was trying to start an illicit game in a disused storefront somewhere in Hudson County. Also, my walk to and from my former workplace in Chelsea led along a street with just these sorts of basement-level shops. So the game and tourney in the dream were literally and legally "underground."

2. I am in the bedroom of my present apartment, but it is located in the Bronx, at least 4 stories up, My friend Leanne is my next-door neighbor. I am looking out my window, and spot her looking out of hers. She is holding a camera, and says she has one more shot on the roll before she can get it developed. I volunteer myself as a subject. I try to strike a pose in which I am nonchalant, gazing into the distance in a sort of James Dean/Jack Kerouac casual way. For some reason I even imagine she's shooting me with black-and-white film. She takes the picture, but she seems displeased with it because of the awkward twisting to get the shot while hanging out thew window, and she withdraws back into her apartment.

While getting myself posed, I noticed that a bookseller on the ground floor had set up his wares outside, so now I look down to see what he has for sale. Paperbacks mostly, old ones . . . nonfiction texts from the 1960s and early 1970s, and pulps from the golden age of the medium. The spines indicate these books have been read repeatedly. One of them looks like a book I own. I want a better look, but I'm nervous about leaning too far out the window.

From my recent trips to the Bronx and Queens, city apartment dwelling has been on my mind. Leanne is another longtime friend who I saw at the wedding two weeks ago. Doubtless I saw her taking pictures when she wasn't serving in the capacity of bridesmaid. Also, she circulated a note last night about Memorial Day doings at her house. As regards my pose and the monochrome nature of the film, I probably had in mind some of the shots in the magnificent book The Birth of the Beat Generation. I can tell you that living over a used bookstore is as much a waking dream of mine as a sleeping one, and whenever I pass such displays in the city, I always dig in. Old nonfiction paperbacks that were probably someone's textbooks intrigue me; I page through to dig the highlighting or marginalia. I've also been thinking about old pulp novels, in particular Chip Kidd's use of Thomas Allen's sculptures on the reprints of three old James Ellroy novels, and the long lost B&M Avenue Victor Hugo bookstore on Newbury Street in Boston, a frequent cash-sink during my college years. And of course you can usually find a wealth of Beat lit in any decent used bookstore.

3. I am in the front yard of my childhood home in Jersey. This is some time ago, because a birch tree that in real life succumbed to fungus is growing in good health next to the patio. I hear the cheep cheep of small birds coming from the tree, but I also hear barking! In the main crotch of the tree there is a very large nest. A voiceover, in the style of a nature special, informs me that a mother bird has captured a puppy to feed to her young. The mother bird returns at this point — a raptor resembling a giant, angry crow — and I realize it's standing on a struggling black furry mound, presumably the puppy.

I am not letting some shitty bird tear up a puppy and feed it to its young. I retrieve a .22 rifle from just inside the house and plink at the bird until it flies off. (I do hit it directly a couple of times, but the bullets don't drop it.) I then climb up to the nest. The puppy is a black Labrador retriever, unharmed and feisty, and he is snapping at four big black birds in the bottom of the nest. I lift the puppy by the scruff of its neck and set him down on the lawn, hoping he won't run into the street. Still angry at the bird, I then invert the nest and dump the four chicks onto the lawn. They continue cheep cheeping, but are too young to fly away. The voiceover says, as the puppy notices them, "Then the puppy expresses an instinct even deeper than the mother's need to feed her young: revenge." The dog tries to bite them, but they have big yellow beaks and nip back, at which he jumps back in surprise. I decide to even the battle up and stomp once on each chick. The dream ends with the pup chomping one of the chicks — still alive but subdued — and shaking his head wildly.

I do miss the birches that used to stand on my parents' property. My childhood dog was a black Labrador/beagle mix, and I have loved the pure strains of both breeds since. I am a longtime nature-show viewer, and one of my most hated moments in these shows is when a baby animal gets snapped up by some predator, such as the skua eating penguin eggs or sea turtles getting snapped up by prick shorebirds. Perhaps the urban legend of an owl or hawk grabbing a person's poodle before their horrified eyes also played into the setup for this dream. Either way, I make no apologies for stomping on baby birds that might grow up to steal some kid's puppy. Insert stock nature-special line here about man being the world's worst predator.

The rifle is one that my parents retrieved from my maternal uncle's condo in Parkchester after he was murdered. They wrapped it in a couple of pink towels with rubber bands, then drove it and an amber-plastic box of .22 shells back to New Jersey. It stood behind the door to the dining room for a week or so, still swathed absurdly in pink, while my parents tried to figure out how to get rid of it. They eventually took the rifle and ammo to the cops and let them dispose of it. For most of my life, I have had dreams in which the [weapon] I use to kill or repel [adversary] does not work. Look that up in your
Interpretation of Dreams.

4. I am in the bedroom of an apartment, presumably mine, but the layout and my possessions are all different. Not sure where it's located. I live next door to a woman I have not seen in real life in many years. My door is open, and I can see into her apartment, where she is weighing herself. Dissatisfied with the read on the first scale, she tries a second. This also fails to please. (She is fully dressed, which can't help the reading.)

"Do you want to try mine? You could average the three of them," I offer, half serious.

She looks at me for a second, then rushes past to try my scale. I discreetly peek at the LED: 206. Completely inaccurate; the woman probably doesn't weigh more than 155 in the altogether. This seems to please her anyway, and she walks over to me and thanks me. What weight she carries is very nicely distributed. "So, do you invite people in to weigh themselves every day?"

"Maybe I just wanted a pretty girl in my apartment."

She laughs and steps within my reach, fixing my gaze. "Are you being facetious?"


She puts her arms around me and kisses me deeply. I return it like I was waiting for it. Evidently I've known this woman longer than just the 2 minutes that have passed thus far in the dream . . . which, annoyingly, cuts off about ten seconds after this.

I am tempted to say I was living in a college dorm. The halls were painted cinderblock and uncarpeted. In many of the dorms I've seen, one could open a door and see straight across into your neighbor's cell. This seemed more like a suite of rooms, one that uncharacteristically had a second entrance in the bedroom. Giggity. I do weigh myself each morning, and I had discussed my loss of a pound this week with M. the previous evening, so weight loss was on my mind before I hit the hay.

As for the woman . . . the Internet and Google being what they are, I will leave her ID blank. She was quite curvaceous, had a sweet smile and gorgeous face, and she appreciated my sense of humor. I look fondly on the short time I knew her. As for me, such
rêves de l'amour are extremely uncommon for me, a surprise considering I haven't been in a relationship since the Clinton Administration.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Breakfast Binge at the Original Pancake House

TODAY'S PLANNED ACTIVITY PRESENTED what Homer Simpson might call a crisatunity. I had a meeting in Parsippany with the career counseling service, but it was scheduled at 9:00 a.m. Driving on the three highways I'd need to take from where I live to reach the office during morning rush had all the charm of a syphilitic cobra. I figured I'd just have to suck it up and drive out there early, find local grub, then wend my way over to the office.

I then recalled one of the famous local attractions: The Original Pancake House. Maybe it was Felix's recent rant at me about how ridiculously easy it would have been for me to hit this place from Morristown after the wedding two weeks ago. Perhaps it was India Amos's tempting pic of a Waffle House sign from her post on Michael Bierut's font-selection wisdom. Either way, I Googled the location, found it to be a spare mile or so from the conference location, and made a command decision. I would cap this week with a first-class breakfast.

These days, breakfast consists of some whole grain cereal with milk or long-cook oatmeal, with a Twinings chaser. Considerably more healthful and cheaper than the bagels with cream cheese and Diet Coke I was munching on the train rides into work until my layoff. Either way, I have a cellular affinity for the idea of a decadent, hours-long, multi-course breakfast.

Until I made my first trip to Sin City — where the Paris Las Vegas breakfast buffet approximates this concept most closely — I've had to live vicariously through late Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's take on the issue:
Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with Lunch or Dinner.

I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every 24 hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas, or at home — and regardless of whether or not I have been properly to bed — breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon or corned beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for desert. . . . Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next 24 hours, and at least one source of good music. . . . All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.
Subtract the blow, most of the booze, and the nudity, fine-tune the menu to my own tastes, and swap in a little wireless Internet access, and Hunter's vision is just about spot on. Still, not something I'd do on a daily or even weekly basis. That much bacon or hash four times a month would turn my heart into four-chambered knockwurst.

The menu at the Original Pancake House lets a body come pretty damn close as one can to this ideal without access to the kitchen staff at Windsor Castle. If I had to dodge commuting traffic for this morning meeting, at the end of a long week and on the day another severance check is to arrive — "payday," if you will — I saw every reason to launch the day with a decadent run through their bill of fare. So I laid out my gear the night before to facilitate a swifter exodus, and hit the sack early.

THIS MORNING ROSE DARK with clouds swathing the area and a chill more fitting to early spring than mid-May. Were it a workday, I'd be tempted to prolong the bed time via the snooze-alarm tango. With an OPH visit in the offing, though, I was out the door in less than 30 minutes. Traffic blurred past me. If I can score a job this compelling, I'll have done well.

I arrived 10 minutes before it was scheduled to open, but the OPEN sign was lit. I have an odd quirk that makes me reluctant to be the first person to arrive anywhere (which meshes awkwardly with my other quirk of arriving early for events). I killed a couple of minutes buying a bottle of water at a bagel shop nearby. Finally I could delay starchy gratification no longer, and I barged in.

I was a bit stunned to see the joint empty, even though I had arrived at the open. It took a minute for anyone to realize someone was standing at the register. Spanish music echoed from the kitchen, but I couldn't see any waitstaff around. A woman finally rounded the corner into the dining room, spotted me, then asked how many in my party, checking her watch before doing so. Tough shit, lady, you don't want people coming in before the time on the front door, tell your boss not to turn on the OPEN sign. Instead of queering the deal by voicing this, I told her I was a solo act and followed her to a booth. I wondered how she handled the opposite extreme of activity, in the form of the starving tide of humanity that washes into this joint on weekend mornings.

I dropped my bag, raincoat, and umbrella in the other side of the booth and scrutinized the menu. Of the main course and meat I was certain — buckwheat pancakes with a large order of bacon, well done. Eggs were a tempting add-on too. By the time the waitress returned to ask if I wanted coffee (which I did), I decided to tack two scrambled eggs onto this blizzard of sugar and cholesterol.

This was my first large breakfast since the one I scored after Steve and Jen's wedding, and it was everything I had imagined, with the exception of the coffee, which was a tick weak. Five hearty brown buckwheats, five slabs of bacon longer than my hand, and a steaming pile of eggs soon appeared . . . one of the benefits of being the first order up. The dining orgy commenced. Memories are hazy. There was butter . . . lots of butter . . . and pepper falling on eggs like soot from a coal furnace . . . and bacon. . . .

I awoke some time later in my car, sated and sedated despite the caffeine infusing my synapses. No cooks were pounding on my hood with whisks, so I must have paid my bill. I assume I scaled down my tip by an appropriate amount for the watch-glance. I'll have to count my money at the end of the day. Regardless, I arrived at the conference glad at having dodged the brutality of Jersey highway rush-hour traffic and having broken my fast in belt-loosening, Thompsonesque style.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Argument Against the Wilhelm Scream

LONGTIME MOVIEGOERS WITH WELL-TUNED ears know of the "Wilhelm scream," a throwaway sound effect that has become an not-so-inside joke among sound designers and film geeks alike. The death-by-alligator howl of an extra in 1951 (and its 1953 use as the reaction to an arrow in the leg of a character named Wilhelm) echoes through a panoply of films now, from the Star Wars saga and The Green Berets through more recent, ironic use in Team America: World Police and The Venture Bros. As mentioned in a 2005 On the Media segment, sound editors continue to be fascinated by the scream, and still try to drop it into the mix of feature films, cartoons, and even commercials.

Hearing it makes me wince.

I have an ear for film and TV audio tracks — not soundtracks, mind you, but the ambient sound that makes up the atmosphere of a movie. I like listening to a film and figuring which sounds were woven in by a skilled sound designer, and which were the craft of Foley artists. Learning just what performers broke, twisted, punched, or threw across the room to generate a sound intrigues me. I devour the extras on a DVD that address the sound environment of a film. It does not rob a visual effect of its magic if I learn the mundane details of its onscreen sound signature. Inventive new sound effects are always a treat; one of the reasons I rented Attack of the Clones was so I could hear that wild noise used for the concussion mines Jango Fett dropped to deter Obi-Wan's pursuit. (Its acting was better than Hayden Christiansen's.)

Likewise, as a child I quickly noticed that standard sound effects were used across movies and TV shows, and I came to hate them. There is one sound of a car screeching to a halt that was used so often in cartoons that, when I heard it in 1987's The Untouchables, I frowned at the sound designer's laziness. Early on, I learned to dislike M*A*S*H because of one particularly irritating laugh cluster in a section of the canned laughter . . . which I also heard in most of the DePatie-Freleng cartoons.

The Wilhelm scream has become a distracting audio smirk. If you consider a film's job to immerse the viewer into its world, so as to believe in its logic and its influence on the characters, the Wilhelm is like swapping a lush CGI landscape for a BSOD. It boots me right out of the fantasy. If you look at the list of media employing the Wilhelm, the curve of incidents rises sharply into the present day. This is no longer merely sound designers nudging one another from the sunless depths of their studios. With DVD Easter Eggs made as easily available on the Internet as video game cheat codes were 10 years ago, there are no more secret-handshake moments in any medium. Short of angry production artists secreting porn, Tyler Durden–like, between scenes or in packaging design, these "surprises" are now touted as features.

If we acknowledge there are no more surprises, why continue to let an obtrusive, overworked clip wreck suspension of disbelief? The Wilhelm scream is the Arial of sound effects. Time to retire that soundfile to the great vault in the sky. If it wants to emit its eponymous cry on the way out, let it be its last.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Further Adventures in NYC

THE WEEKEND SOCIALIZING CONTINUES with a trip to Queens Saturday to celebrate M's completing graduate school. Commencement ceremonies were Friday, and she had planned a party once she had given that mortarboard a good stiff toss into the air. She first informed me of this back in the waning weeks of our job, when I needed such a shot in the arm for the future. Early May still seemed very distant from that standpoint; hell, from that date, the final day of work still seemed like a remote, dim star of hope.

Time being the sprinting bastard it is, the two intervening months sped by. M worked nearly 24 hours a day during April to complete the many stages of her design-school graduate thesis project, including a graphically intensive printed presentation and construction of a prototype. I helped by proofreading PDFs of her presentation, marking them up in Acrobat and sending back corrections. She sounded more and more frantic as the deadline for sending the presentation to our old newsletter printer, and we chatted extensively while she entered the corrections to InDesign. Initially I felt guilty for possibly taking up design time, but she told me that talking to someone relieved her anxiety. She was an excellent supervisor when we worked together, and a fine conversationalist (we took more and more time during our final weeks at the salt mine just shooting the shit), so I was as happy to help calm her down as I was to chat with a friend whose daily presence I miss.

She got everything in on time and passed that project — as well as two other classes — so by Saturday, she was a full-fledged Master of Science. Friends and family converged on Astoria to celebrate this awesome achievement. I began Saturday by purchasing a jeweled picture frame with a large wire dragonfly on the corner and a graduation card. From Paramus, I drove down to the Weehawken Port Imperial complex and hopped a boat over the Manhattan. Twice in the Big Apple in the same week . . . I had nipped over on Wednesday before doing some volunteer work at WFMU to see M's work along with that of her classmates at the Hammerstein Ballroom. This, by the way, was a stunning display of design talent: typographical manipulations, painting and computer art both aesthetic and commercial, blueprints, and product and packaging design, which is where I found M's projects. I wondered what sort of work I might have been able to produce if my employment had offered these sorts of creative opportunities. That M was able to cultivate her talent among the sterile confines of our newsletter layouts and all of her administrative worries was great testimony to her focus and discipline over these past 3½ years.

From the ferry terminal, I took their shuttle to the bus station, and caught the R over to Queens. This was my first visit to the borough in 16 years. Through his father, my pal John had scored a block of U.S. Open tickets back in 1991. I have no interest in tennis, but free passes to a world-class tournament were tough to decline. I recall deadly traffic both ways, nightmarish concession-stand prices, and Stefan Edberg stomping Michael Chang firmly into the earth in straight sets. The brief lesson in how tennis is scored lasted about five minutes longer than the actual match.

M had selected an Italian restaurant near her neighborhood that carried a good rep among some Sopranos actors, who had been spotted dining there on breaks from the nearby Kaufman-Astoria Studios. I arrived obscenely early — a bad habit of mine — so after determining that neither she nor her family were there yet, I strolled around a bit in this unfamiliar borough.

I've worked in NYC for nearly 8 years, but my range was always tightly circumscribed about my two offices. I only strayed outside when taking a long, frustration-ridden break or in taking alternate means of transit out of the city to dodge a train malfunction or tunnel jam. I was somewhat better at our Chelsea location, from which I made fairly frequent forays into the Village just two blocks away. Still, I've only been to Brooklyn twice, Queens thrice (now), and never to Staten Island. Any deep expeditions to Manhattan's many charms have come on weekends, when friends and I would make museum runs, or when I pulled solo trips to the FMU Record Fair or to scope an indie flick. So I appreciated the chance to take a turn around Astoria. It especially helped fill in some of the blanks from last month, when M would take me with her in cellphone form to make the odd coffee run. I could "see" her trip up and down from the apartment, but all I knew of her environment was that there was a source of hot caffeine.

Folks began filtering in as the start time passed. I finally met her recent fiancé, and saw for the first time since his January layoff one of the two junior designers in our group. Aside from M, I hadn't been in touch with many other folks from the old company, so it was good to get a live update on his doings. As for her fiancé, he confirmed that they would actually make the announcement of that arrangement later on at the party, providing folks with two reasons to celebrate.

M arrived shortly thereafter, looking positively radiant and a touch frantic. I don't think I've seen her at rest since the late-January "holiday" party our company threw, and even then she had to run out to class before it wrapped. None of that now; classes were over for good, and her only mission for today was to have fun and ensure that others did the same.

She had set up her prototype and the bound thesis in the main party room. After having proofread the pages so many times, I was able to walk curious viewers through the thesis and the philosophy behind the project without even cracking the text. Reviewing it in hardbound form, however, and seeing the model there, drove home for all those gathered just how much work she had exerted in this class. And this was for just one of three she did in the spring semester, and after delaying some of the thesis work when construction of the prototype was delayed!

By the time we were seated for dinner, our fourth designer from the old company had arrived. She faces some unique challenges in her job hunt, the most prominent being her early-60s age. Despite her incredible diversity of experience across the graphic-arts world, employers still freak over age, sub rosa in most cases, as such discrimination is illegal. The career-counseling service cautioned us on ways to circumvent this tendency via our resume entries and responses in interviews, so I hope she got the same message I did when she undertook the program. M had seated us with her thesis advisor, a tenured professor at the design school, with the thought that she might be of service to us in the job hunt. My fellow designer was able to ask some questions about Web design and getting attention for the jewelry she manufactures via a decent Web site. Both of us were generous in our praise of her student, M, and told her she had been an excellent manager, the likes of which we might not see again.

Dinner was quite excellent, especially a seafood sampler we received as an opening course. I can't cook seafood here because I have no ventilation, so this was a rare treat. M took the floor after the main course to thank everyone who came out, as well as those who had helped her in her graduate studies and on the thesis project. I was pleasantly surprised to be thanked first for my help in editing and proofreading the thesis text. That was a tremendous honor and I was gratified to be credited and applauded. The most deserved applause of the evening, however, was for the tired yet happy graduate at the head of the room, both for her completing this academic journey and in announcing the engagement to the crowd.

With the sun gone over Queens, I made my goodbyes to M, her mom and fiancé, and our remaining coworker. I'm sure I'll see M sometime in the future, but when is a question. I do intend to keep in close touch with her, now that she's got her life back, and ready to get the career-counseling program in motion. For now, though, I am deeply proud of her achievement, and I look forward to seeing the ways she exercises her talent at whichever company is wise enough to hire her.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Playing Hooky at City Island

TUESDAY MORNING, I DROVE over to my parents' house for a trip to City Island in our ancestral homeland, the Bronx. We planned to visit Johnny's Reef Restaurant at the tip of the island, a long-time weekend escape for my family long before I was born. We try to get out there at least once per open season, which lasts from May to October, but last year we didn't get the opportunity. My mother was laid up for a few weeks after surgery after the joint opened, and by the latter part of the summer, I had managed to get very low on my available vacation days. Now, being jobless and therefore more free to take a day off, I mentioned to my parents a couple of weeks ago to keep an eye out for a day to make the trip.

We had chosen this Monday, but my mother didn't feel too hot when she woke up. This is another concern. I don't know how many more times we'll be able to make this trip together. For now things are well. With elderly parents, however, one tries to grab moments when one can, while everyone is healthy. Knowing this, I had told them to keep Tuesday open as a contingency, which turned out to be necessary.

We in the New York area have been graced with stellar weather for days. Tuesday was no different. We rolled across the Tappan Zee Bridge with a view clear down the Hudson to the Citibank Building and the ominous Goldman Sachs tower in Jersey City. The Palisades behind us were greening over in gorgeous spring fashion.

Dad elected to go the 287/Tappan Zee route through Westchester County because the GWB and the Cross Bronx Expressway were jammed solid with inbound traffic. After my family moved to Jersey, we visited my grandparents in the Bronx just about every weekend. During baseball season or holiday weekends, that highway clotted like a bad coronary, and as a child I became so familiar with the details of its graffiti-spattered brick canyons, its crumbling overpasses and wreck-choked exits, the spindly Washington Bridge dangling over the Harlem River, the stripped tenements with their fake cardboard windows placed by the Koch Administration, that I still see that ride in my dreams. My dad made many a trip in and out via that road, mostly with white knuckles and a barely contained swearing fit at either the other drivers or the hourlong pileup of traffic in front of us. This was trying enough during his forties and fifties; in his seventies, he was having none of that shit. So we dropped onto the Bronx via Westchester and left the suckers backed up onto the bridge alone with their exploding forehead veins.

Traffic was minimal and we snaked onto City Island with no difficulty. Familiar landmarks passed us by after we crossed the bridge. My parents and grandparents had eaten at most of the major restaurants on the island long before my birth. The demographic of the island has changed somewhat since then. Still, I could pick out most of their old haunts despite name changes or closures. I also kept an eye out for reputed City Island resident Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore. I don't know when his Sirius show is broadcast, but he was either there, or perhaps hunkered in the Bing and bitching about his back. I contented myself with studying the condition of the old shops, the yacht clubs, and near the end of the island, the cluster of seafood joints amid which one finds Johnny's Reef.

Johnny's Reef commands a spectacular view of Eastchester Bay, the Bronx Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges, the northwestern coast of Long Island, and the Sound. Diners usually choose from the nearly 100 tables outside to take in this grand vista, which includes several old, historic Long Island estates along the far shore. Coin-operated binoculars ring the dining area and parking lot for a closer look at the scenery. My dad, an amateur birdwatcher, packs a mean set of optics, so we could save our quarters for the other major reason to come to Johnny's: the food.

The big yellow menu boards inside were time-capsule similar to my last two or ten visits, with slight variations in prices. I went with my old standby, a hot dog and a boat of fries, with Diet Coke. Ditto for my parents. Others chose Johnny's famous fried fish or shrimp, and later that day I saw someone tote two Styrofoam containers of Manhattan clam chowder, along with corn on the cob, out to the picnic tables. Bottled beer is available at ridiculously low prices: $2.50 to $3.50 if I saw correctly . . . another reason to make this trip now, at the beginning of the season, rather than in the depths of July, when we would compete with every other hooky-playing worker and about a million kids. And that was on the weekdays. This place is a seething mass on summer weekends.

Food secured, we headed out to the picnic tables to take in the view, dine heartily, and rap about this and that. My folks will be taking a week down in Wildwood Crest in a week and a half, so this was a chance to talk to them before they got out of town for a while. I am hoping their stay down there is somewhat better than the ones they had last year, which were plagued by ill health on and off for both of them. They deserve better in this period of their lives.

After I polished off a hamburger, we decided to take the usual trip through the old neighborhood, Parkchester and the Castle Hill area of the Bronx. Dad hooked off the Pelham Bay Parkway onto Westchester Avenue, where we had our French Connection moment of the day while driving beneath the 6 train el. From there, we drove down E. Tremont Avenue, taking in the sights and noting which business were still there. We stopped making regular pilgrimages into the city when my maternal grandparents moved out to New Jersey in the late Eighties. A few stores still remained from that era, but changing demographics and the shifting tides of city prosperity had made substantial changes. These streets were also part of my dreamscape for many years after we stopped returning here.

We passed by the former homes of my grandparents on both sides, then the two locations where I and my parents lived in Parkchester. We were surprised to find many of the Art Deco terra-cotta miniatures placed during the construction in the late Thirties, like a mermaid above a doorway or a bear on a pillar, still intact in the neighborhood. Considering that maintenance of this area had been in freefall since my grandparents' departure, I was pleased to see the grounds neatly maintained, the buildings free of graffiti, and a diverse populace on the streets breathing life into the community around the old prewar structures. It amazed me that, as a 4-year-old in 1974, I used to ride my Big Wheels around this area alone. As much improved as the neighborhood is, I can't see that happening in today's parenting-via-bubblewrap era. (Shit, I can't even find a decent goddamn lawn dart these days. Candyasses.)

After touring the old turf, we snaked our way to the GWB and rolled past the still-jammed eastbound traffic to New Jersey. My parents' street seemed far quieter and spacious compared to where we used to live, which is more or less my impression when we moved into the house in 1975. I cannot entirely rule out living in the city again at some point in my life. I doubt I'd do it while my parents are alive; nobody wants to return to the days of brutal Cross Bronx Expressway weekend traffic. Still — and especially after they are gone — nothing can entirely be ruled out. You never know where my next job might need me, or if I might have a freelance position for which train access to Manhattan would be advantageous, or where I might suddenly encounter the woman of my dreams. If she lives in the Bronx, I'd have to come to a decision. At least I know there's decent Italian food on that side of the river. And hell, my dad married a chick from the Bronx, and that seemed to work out okay.

For now, and for the smart-money future, I suspect my feet will tread Jersey soil, and my returns to NYC will be as a tourist or a worker. Hopefully I'll be able to get out to Johnny's with my parents at least one more time this season, and a few more down the road. Both the food and the view are worth sharing.

Monday, May 07, 2007

My Wedding Gifts

I HAD THE PRIVILEGE this weekend of attending the wedding of my friends Jen and Steve. This is the first one I've attended in a while, and since last Christmas season, my most recent chance to see folks from out of town. Having this opportunity gave me reason to think about how much I believe I have changed in the decades I have been lucky enough to know these people . . . and how much I owe them for sticking by me when, at times, I was not such good company.

Though a core group of us still dwells across the green, glowing expanse of the Garden State, many of my friends moved during the Nineties to start lives across the country. The Internet is no substitute for having one's near and dear within an hour's ride on the highway. So we end up seeing snapshots of one another . . . literally in the form of Flickr or Snapfish collections, figuratively as clusters of men and women in their wedding or holiday duds, bringing one another up to speed on their doings and tidings since the last such event. A few hours of happy contact, a brace of shots on the digicams, and then back to the latter-day telegraphy of email and blog posts.

So when I do have a chance to meet up with them, I inevitably think about our shared pasts. I go back as far as 24 years with some of these folks. I treasure much of it. Some of it makes me shudder, because I was, at times, a grievously immature man. Despite whatever inherent loyalty, trustworthiness, and charm I had through college and in my twenties, my friends also had to endure my whining, mood swings, jealousy, irrational nostalgia, refusal to experiment with the unknown, and other random idiocy. I'm sure at the time it wasn't as constant as it seems from this vantage point in my life, but they stand out as regrettable. Yet through these stretches in my life, these people stood by me.

This weekend, in speaking with those friends of mine who live far away, I gave them a capsule summary of my recent layoff and the state of my current plans. I felt very much like a grownup. Not in the sense of having to pay bills and work a job, or raising kids, or coping with the aches and pains of aging — or getting married, for that matter — all very tangible aspects of adulthood. I mean it in the sense that I felt in some control of my life, able to speak about the next steps intelligently, and to describe the unknowns with some confidence in my ability to manage them when they emerge from the shadows. I was able to communicate my present state of being positively, without bitching about my layoff or denigrating my skills or prospects. For those who know me as long as they do, it's a huge difference from even 10 years ago.

I write all of this not to brag, because I will surely relapse at some point, being only human. I write this instead to thank those who have kept me close despite my very human failings and my less desirable behavior over the years. They believed in me far more often than I believed in myself for quite a while. Ultimately it's my own skin in which I lie down each night, and to which I am most responsible. But it's my friends I think about at the end of the day, and without whom there'd be very few reasons to rise the next morning.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

One Month After the Layoff

IT'S BEEN A BUSY few days. This week will see the end of my free month with the career-counseling company whose services I received as part of my layoff. I had the pleasure of joining a friend of mine and his cohorts in Atlantic City for a bachelor party. In addition, over the past week, I've been assisting my friend and former supervisor, M., by proofreading pages of her graduate thesis.

This past month flew by. I am glad I dived right into the career-development process. I was delayed early by the understandable need to assist my parents when Dad had to visit the hospital. And I also had two days where my motivation was considerably subpar. Seeing as my motivation to get up in the morning during my final weeks of work was usually subpar, this is an improvement. My spirits seemed to sag around the times when I speculated the most about needing to change careers. I am still thinking about that. I have not forgotten my writing on, well, writing, either, and in making that a greater part of my life. Speaking with friends has helped greatly in refocusing my efforts and in just venting.

It took a little time to get into the swing of spending most of my time in the apartment. I am ashamed to admit that I still haven't rearranged my "home office" to my liking. If Thursday, my first day without access to the career service's Website, is a rainy day, I'll "reward" myself with a storm of housekeeping to match the cleansing waters outside.

If there's anything that gives me pride from this past month, it's my gym attendance. My weight is close to the same as the beginning of the month, but I have visited the gym five times per week since my layoff, and I have new muscle on my frame. I tracked each visit on paper (thank you, InDesign) to chart my progress. With this habit established, I can focus more completely on my diet, which — though much better — still needs work. Not hitting the bagel store each weekday morning alone has been beneficial, both to my waistline, my blood sugar, and my wallet. ($3.89 each visit adds up!) Plus, this has given me the chance to get the hell out of the house once per day. I've also been able to take good long walks with the return of reliably clear weather. If I can keep this up, I will come ever closer to fulfilling my pledge of improving my fitness and diet, and maybe enjoy whatever job I eventually get just a little bit longer.

At one month out, I realize I bear my previous employer, and those who currently do my job, no ill will. This tells me I was done with the joint long before I departed. I have reminisced with M. about some of the ill-advised or short-sighted things that happened in our last months there. But those are now learning experiences. They will serve us both in getting our full worth from future employers or clients. It's way too early to call this game over. Likely, we'll both face job changes again, possibly even involuntary. By then we will both be far more resilient, as a result of our experience at the previous employer, and by absorbing the lessons from the career center. I can't see how this layoff hurts us long-term, even if it takes months to find work.

I have exciting times coming. M. graduates in two weeks, and she was gracious enough to invite me to a party she is throwing to celebrate it. I have the privilege of watching two pairs of friends marry in May and June. I face the challenge of continuing my fitness training, which has been successful so far. I will place into practice the lessons I've absorbed on job hunting in the coming weeks as well. I will share as much as I can here, in pursuit of my goal to write faithfully and truly. I may never sell a word of my work, but it doesn't mean I shouldn't write as well as I can muster. Silence is a luxury no mortal has.