* Manager 9/90 - 11/90
Center Stage Recording Studio (age 26)
The job I went to see was in an ad for a manager of a music entertainment company, which was kind of vague but it caught my interest and there I was in a small office with old paneling in a one-story brick professional building. About five other guys were there for it too and a girl and the owner Andy had us all in the same time to talk about what his company would be doing and the kind of person they were looking for. He was in his mid-thirties and clean-cut in a polo shirt and looked more like a cop than someone in the music business.
He would the next week be buying a portable recording studio that was twelve feet high and designed as a large jukebox that customers enter through a door on the side and record a cassette tape inside singing along with the music, like singing along to Karaoke in a sound-insulated booth and recording the songs. Everything came together as a package: the studio, the music tracks on tape with three hundred titles, state-of-the-art rack recording equipment, microphones, cables, the whole thing and Andy needed a manager to do the scheduling and training and pretty much run the whole show. He had a radon remediation company taking up a lot of his time and effort and he would stop by at night around seven o'clock to check up on how things were going. His wife was also eight months pregnant I soon found out and that was going to take up even more of his time.
Andy called me the next day for an interview and hired me on the spot after about twenty minutes. I was happy as hell to get a job that was so cool, this was going to beat working at the banks and offices, screw that. I was going to be in show business. Well, I wasn't quite making it out like that but it was exciting, even if it was set up in a mall next to a Sears in the wing near the bus stop. We went to the location and paced off where it would sit and Andy got up on a ladder and put his tape measure down to the floor to show how high the jukebox studio would stand.
Three days later on a Thursday, I was driving a twenty foot long Ryder truck to pick it up in St. Louis and in the passenger seat was Alex with stringy, greasy hair smoking Marlboros and generally chatting about nothing but it was nice to have the company and I bummed a few smokes from him along the way.
The rocks and hills and mountains of Pennsylvania through passes lead to the flat, open land through Ohio and Indiana, thirteen hours out to Indianapolis in that big, rattling truck and approaching 10:30 at night, we were ready to find a motel and pulled off the exit and gassed up for the morning. We could have continued on for another couple of hours but from what we saw on the map, we figured we'd be stuck in the middle of nowhere without even an inn, let alone vacancy. Besides, we were ready to check out ol' Indianapolis and see what kind of night life they had and we got a room at the Dillon Inn near the Raceway. A quick shower and fresh change and we got back in the yellow truck and headed for downtown.
The streets were mostly quiet and dimly lit in the fresh wetness of the day's rain and we found a jazz club with a small crowd and a three piece band warming up and tuning. Cold beers and seats at the bar and a Cheers for our find, the piano player tinkling and the drummer with a sparse kit and a tall bass player ruggedly handsome jump into a groove and the piano dances about and pops in between them and we clinked our glasses and took a long drink and settled back. A smoke goes with jazz too.
At the break, the bass player sat down next to Alex and ordered a beer with a fling of his long brown hair back. "How's it going fellas?"
"All right, I like what you're doing man, you're really plucking that thing" or something like that and he said they were a group that let each other go out there and they hold you up on a breeze to feel confident enough and it just flows. You can feel when jazz comes together in the right mix of players.
His name was 'Ratzo' Harris and I noticed his long fingers and what looked like little clubs at the ends. He turned over his hand and stretched out the palm and on each fingertip was a callous that rounded it out and stuck out from the sides and were aggravated and rough from playing.
"That's how it happens, from practice and gigs and over the years of layer on layer since I was fourteen."
The drummer was back on stage soon and Ratzo finished off the beer.
After the last set as the bar was closing, Ratzo mentioned that the next week they had a few gigs in north Jersey and gave us the dates and places. We'd be there we said and gave him our numbers to call if he needed anything.
The next morning around ten we took off west for St. Louis. We should have left sooner but with only one break, we reached the city by three o'clock and the Gateway to the West and soon were at the warehouse and backing up to the dock. It was a sprawling workshop and we were led to the station where our red and orange and yellow blinking jukebox sat and waited for our inspection before it was loaded. Andy had given me a checklist before it was loaded and the supervisor had the same list and we went over it together with Alex and a few of their guys that were idle.
I gave it the okay and their crew loaded it while we watched that nothing was damaged. Everything went all right except for a small scratch on the back and Alex and I headed east on I-70 and made it back to Indianapolis sometime around ten o'clock and shacked up again at the Dillon Inn. We headed to the jazz club because nothing else seemed too exciting. The band was good but it wasn't Ratzo's band and we left before closing.
It was another thirteen hours drive back to Jersey after getting a late start and we didn't pull into Andy's driveway until after midnight. I had called to tell him when we were arriving and he was pissed that we didn't take off earlier and I told him that we just took a few hours to see Indianapolis and that shouldn't be a problem. He thought it was.
The situation deteriorated after that because Andy was so wrapped up in radon remediation and being a new father and I never saw him except when he jogged in to pick up the money or to grumble about something and promise again that he would get around to the advertising and the stuff we had talked about. His wife had been in marketing in New York and she would be working with me after having the baby and we could get things going.
What happened was that wifey wanted to go back to her job in New York instead and would rather commute there every day than work on the recording studio from home with her baby and they were going to get day care and I could do all of the marketing and take care of it for them, a creative and energetic guy like me.
It wasn't long before I was being blamed for not doing enough and wasn't coming through on what I promised. There hadn't been a big jump in business and I was supposed to be drawing in flocks of young people from the surrounding high schools and colleges. I did get some with posters and college newspaper ads and an interview with my friend who was a journalist for the Rider College paper but he expected much, much more.
One morning I walked into the mall to open at ten o'clock... and it wasn't there. That twelve foot high recording studio was gone and there was nothing but open floor space. It couldn't be lost and nobody could heist it, so where the hell could it be? I had just closed at nine o'clock the night before and now walked all the way down the first floor to the other end looking for a stray recording studio. Up the stairs to the second level and all the way back and walking down the stairs to where the studio had been, I was dumbfounded. Where the hell is the studio? Andy.
I called and told him the studio was gone and did he know where it was? He moved it out, he was through and was thinking about opening it in a larger mall near Philadelphia and thought I was just sitting on my ass and not coming through on my promises.
"I'm not coming through with my promises? What about you? You've done nothing except buy the damn thing and collect the money and bitch!"
He thanked me and said he no longer needed my services and hung up. I slammed the receiver into the hook a few times, bashing it and chipping the earpiece.
"What the hell happened? I can't believe what just happened! I can't take this!"
* Cashier & Salesman 11/90 - 3/91
Triangle Art & Reprographics Center (age 26)
"Damn! How in the hell am I going to get a job now? And doing what? What am I going to put on my resume for a job for the last four months, yet another one that's dropped me like a hot potato? Who the hell is going to hire me?"
By this time I was slipping up and down the slippery slope of depression with the nagging questions of who am I and where do I fit in and will I find ever where I belong and am I good enough for anything and will a woman ever take a chance on a guy who's flat broke and flapping in the breeze? Another nobody, just another body.
We are raised over the years to identify each other by what occupation we have and that becomes who we are more or less. Athletes are dumb jocks and academic types are all liberal bleeding hearts and the geeks gravitate to being scientists and business people are all conservative Republicans and you identify with a group or a faction with a stereotype that you more or less adopt and you feel like you belong to something.
I used to feel like that, like I was part of a scene happening no matter how minor the part but a few times now some of the other players up and kicked my ass out in a bum's rush. Where do I belong and what could I do to make a living? I had to land something, anything and right away and hopefully I would like it, and decided to start right there: where would I like to work?
Well, Triangle Art Store was nearby and I get along well with people. Selling art supplies would be great, I'm pretty versatile, dabbled my fingers in a little bit of a lot. In an art store I could get away from office politics.
I went in one afternoon and filled out an application with four months tacked on to the G&P Marker gig to cover my ass (George would go along with it if they called). My handwriting is neat and clear and this always gives me the first step up and the shaggy-haired woman in black with boots complimented my style and hired me fifteen minutes later. Someone was leaving the next day and they hadn't put out an ad yet and I happened to walk in at the right moment. The next week they probably would have hired someone else, a real artist who really knew all of the materials and not some jerk out on his ass from a business career.
My beard had grown dark and full and I cut and shaved it down one night into a goatee to try a different look and it's actually a funny story how I did it. Ed had borrowed a Super 8 camera from a friend and had an idea about filming this. I shaved the sideburn to halfway down my face on the right side and then posed for Ed to shoot a frame from the front right side. I turned ninety degrees and he shot the back quarter of my head on that side, then I shaved the left sideburn from the middle of the cheek down to just outside the mouth and he shot the left back quarter and then the front and we repeated, shaving the remaining opposing patches of hair. Viewing it, my head quickly spun around twice with the beard disappearing in patches to a goatee in two seconds.
Before long I was cleaning and reorganizing the shelves at the store without being asked and making displays and signs. The store was shaping up and had more color and the supplies now made more of a presence to the customers walking by, even if only because they were dusted. The collection of art books and magazines were labeled and the manager called me over to ask if I wanted to be in charge of designing and making floor displays, she liked my work.
Gee, would I? Maybe I can be the manager of this place some day or get an outside sales job if one comes up. The store also had a few people selling outside to companies for big print jobs, supplies and drafting and engineering equipment and that I could do. If only I could hold out on six dollars an hour until then.
A few months later an outside sales job came open, the guy leaving was going to work for one of his customers. Great, even more opportunities, working for a customer. The interview with Sid the Sales Manager who looked like Bert Convey went pretty smooth. He was slick and coifed and elegant but a real person and I warmed up to him and thought he would be a great boss.
Two days later, Sid came over as I was finishing a display of plastic paint supply boxes stacked with a few opened to show the brushes and paints and palettes stored neatly inside. I was the one he wanted for the job, he knew I could do it. Only there was one problem. Mr. T. the owner was closing the upscale stationary and expensive pen store and that would leave his niece, the manager of the store, out of work. She had expressed her desire for the sales job and that put him in a real tight spot.
"Mr. T. has the final say and it's probably going to be for his niece. You know me Rod, I would do something if I could. I'll let you know as soon as I find out" and he squeezed my shoulder and walked away. Fuck!
A full week of anxiety later, I got the thumbs down from the emperor. Niecey-poo got the job and another one slipped away by no fault of my own. I was stunned at first like it was unexpected and then the temper bomb started ticking and then louder and louder while I tried to see how I could possibly stay and keep a good attitude and not want to rip their throats out and bash their heads into a brick wall.
"There's no way I can stay here", I told the manager. "Who the fuck do they think I am!" and kicked over the display of paint boxes and ripped up my signs. "Fuck Mr. T. and the goddamned rug on top of his head! Fuck you's all!"
* Salesman 3/91 - 4/91
NSA Water Filters (age 26)
I think I blew my chance for a good referral there too and was out at sea on a holey raft called my resume with the creditor sharks circling and chomping away at my life support. A persecution complex set in deeper and feelings of inferiority were collapsing my core and threatened to crush it. Maybe I could stage a comeback selling water filters in a pyramid marketing corporation. They didn't care what I did before either.
Maybe I could convince people to jump on my bandwagon and climb up to where the people on the video were living it up and riding high on top of the pyramid they started.
"Start right now and see how your life will change. Tired of your boss, tired of your job? Maybe you've been downsized. Tired of getting paid just enough to get by? Want to take control of your life?"
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes."
The whole scheme is that the big money isn't made in actually selling the water filters, that's small time. The trick is to get as many friends, family, anybody to join up under you and then they recruit more people who recruit their friends and family and others and so on and so on and you get a cut of everyone under you, whatever they sell or buy for themselves. And let's not forget the fifty-five dollar starter sets. I wanted it to work so much I thought it could. I was desperate and temporarily insane. Losing my drivers license didn't help.
On the way to an appointment, I was pulled over by the police for the inspection sticker on my car that was four months overdue. It was easy to spot because the current year's sticker was yellow and mine was green and due back in November. The cop asked for a license, registration and insurance and walked back to his car. The insurance hadn't been paid in months and the registration was expired because I had no insurance and that's why the car hadn't been to inspection. It would probably fail for exhaust emissions, which was too expensive to fix and I would have been running around with a red failure sticker even if the insurance and registration were paid.
The policeman was taking a long time and when he did walk up with his hand on his holster snap, he handed me four tickets for no insurance, expired registration, suspended drivers license (that slipped too) and overdue inspection sticker. The court date was in two weeks and I was required to be there. He was supposed to tow the car he said but would let me go and I'd better drive straight home and not drive again until everything was paid up.
I didn't until three days later to go food shopping and minutes from my house with groceries in the back seat, there were flashing lights behind and I pulled over. The same expired and suspended everything was handed over and this policeman was really taking a long time. What could be holding him up?
A tow truck appeared in the distance in the side mirror and normally there is no reason to think anything about a tow truck if you're not broken down but the cop got out of his car when it got closer and then I knew it was coming for me. He was towing the car and I must step out and grab my things.
"You can't do this, please, what am I going to do without a car?"
He had to do his job he said. If he let me go and I got in an accident with no insurance, he could be sued and that's all there was to it. End of discussion. I opened the trunk and grabbed the box of water filters and the blanket and the groceries in the back seat and put them in the police car. He shut the door behind me and drove to my apartment as I sat in shock and noticed the doors without latches or knobs or switches. There was no getting out of this one.
I wouldn't have been in this trouble if I swallowed the morsel left of my pride and borrowed the damn money to pay off the insurance industry monster and the DMV. There was a one year mandatory loss of my drivers license for both times caught to make two consecutive years (DWI is a six month loss of license). The judge in the first case denied me a public defender and because I couldn't afford a lawyer and the sentence was mandatory, I represented myself. He was so belligerent and treated me like some criminal and suggested that I retain an attorney for my own good. What for, I wasn't paying one of his ilk so he could slap it to me just the same.
"I will continue to retain my own counsel. Thank you."
The next day after the slam of the gavel, I mailed him a letter giving my mind about his unwarranted behavior and pomposity and suggested that he treat the people in his court with respect, even if they have no money and cannot afford legal representation. About a year later the good Judge was on the front page of the newspaper after crashing his BMW into the broadside of another car while driving drunk. He was recently divorced and missed his children he cried, he was distraught. Normally I would be sympathetic to a man like that.
His sentence was six months loss of license for DWI and about half the community service he gave me. Today he still sits on the municipal court bench in a new term with the support of the mayor and town council and hands out sentences quite often for drunk driving. I am to this day without a car.
* Shift Supervisor 3/91 - 6/91
CVS Pharmacy (age 26)
I took the job because I could ride my bike to it. Really, there not being too many places around that could be biked or walked to living in the town of Plainsboro. A bus driver once said that there's no place plainer than Plainsboro, but I wonder if he's ever been through Indiana. The land was once tracts of farmland that got in the way of the encroaching automobiles and condos and townhouses sprang up rapidly in the eighties and paid the landowners a helluva lot more than the corn and potatoes that used to sprout. The only place to go outside the condo was a parking lot or road or a strip mall or an office complex or a golf course. For a guy without a car it's hell.
Getting to work now meant getting on a ten speed and biking four miles on the main road through town connecting two busy state highways, cars whizzing by with no shoulder to ride on and stones and gravel under the wheels and honking horns. The first week of March is still winter and I pedaled against the wind freezing and whistling across the plains and punishing me for being in this situation. Pulling into the strip mall parking lot and coasting to the store, I extended my fingers gingerly and cracking and rubbed warmth into a forehead frozen like a block. Underneath the winter coat rose a steam bath of sweat fogging my glasses.
My job was to start every cashier on the shift with their cash drawer of a hundred dollars and run the break schedule and get them change from the safe when they needed it and coordinate the shelf price changes and signs that had to be done constantly. Sounds exciting, right? At first I was just relieved to get any job anyone would give me that I could get to.
The things you do to convince yourself.
There's no jobs out there, maybe I'll work up to manager and be able to buy a car and insurance and work my way out of this pit. Besides, I presently enjoy cycling as my main mode of transportation. As a friend said, "With all that clean, filtered water and the walking and biking, you're going to be so healthy."
Part of the sentence was to do forty hours of community service and I managed to get in the public library on Saturday mornings shelving books with volunteers and others also satisfying their sentences. There was no pressure from the librarians glad to have the help and I was reading more books than those replaced, and was sorry when my time was served.
A month later my laid-back manager with a beard left for a store closer to home and his replacement was a pear-shaped man with receding hair and a ruddy, unfinished face and Terry was all business about CVS. Thinking about him now and looking into that face, I see the official CVS Employee Training Manual in its thick red binder. The first and enduring impression was there is no life behind this mask that can be seen.
His condo was a half mile away and he worked about eighty hours a week, even coming in for a few hours on his day off to walk up and down the aisles straightening and dusting even though it was done just the night before and every night when the store closes. I still feel the pity for him as he fiddled with rows of aspirins and cold medicines like a glass menagerie.
Terry and the job were grating my nerves, with the never-ending rotation of sales to be put up and taken down and price changes and rain checks and stocking and inventory and the crush of demanding, coupon-silly old ladies or the arrogant business attitudes. I was damn tired of being the water boy of the pharmaceutical industry.
An ad in the paper appeared for an Office Manager at Bed, Bath and Beyond and I got the job and quit CVS with two days notice. It was fifty cents more an hour and the new job was at a store selling bedding and bath and housewares. How fast-paced and hectic can that be?
* Office Manager 6/91 - 9/91
Bed, Bath & Beyond (age 26 to 27)
The store was expanding to the vacant space next door and the wall in between was being demolished. Guess where my desk was. Right, on that wall near the front of the store and the saws rang and hammers beat throughout the day and a fine dusting of plaster settled on everything as the phone rang constantly and I tried to order stock from the many manufacturers and mills.
"The new store will be great Rod. Just another three more weeks."
The manager was a thirty-two year old woman with short blond hair and a fit body and she was so charming and smiling at the interview and the first few days. She wasn't much older than me but seemed secure enough to not be a tyrant like a lot of bosses. Watch out for those first impressions; remember, con men exploit them.
I noticed how she was treating the others and from what they were saying, it was looking like maybe this wouldn't be all I wanted it to be. Her teeth were bared to me by the next week with chronic nit-picking and complaints that I should be going faster, faster, faster. The store was expanding to three times its size and a lot of orders to fill it had to go through fast, fast, fast but it was a tedious process on sheet after sheet of ordering forms with codes and symbols and it had to be accurate and it had to be faster, faster, faster, faster, faster. "Come on Rod, you have to do better than this, what's the matter with you?" and I swallowed it down and kept my cool while the ranting raved and the saws ripped and the plaster floated down and the phone rang with another order or a stupid question.
Now I don't want to make it seem like she was always a bitch, I mean her other personality was just fine. Some days she came in smiling and singing like a lark and joking with the crew and ordered pizzas for lunch and you soon forgot how she was yesterday and wondered how you could have thought what you did about her. But my heels were greased and I was headed for the door.
I started to talk back and tell her to lay off, that I was doing the best I could and she called me into her office at the end of a shift and said that if I didn't straighten up in the next week that she was going to hire someone else to replace me.
"What more do you want from me, I'm doing the best I can."
"That's not good enough."
"How much faster can I get? Every few seconds is another phone call or an interruption and I'm working non-stop in between."
She said there was a woman in another store that's three times faster and gets her orders done boom boom boom.
"How long has she been working there?"
"There you go, of course, she can probably do it in her sleep by now. And how big is the store?"
"About half as big."
"Are they expanding it?"
"So what more do you want from me?"
"You've got one week to show me you still want this job".
My brittleness snapped and tears threatened as I swallowed back hard to hold the dike.
"Please... can't you see I'm trying my best. I'm all motion the whole time I'm here. Where am I gonna get faster?"
Oh this sucked, crying and groveling to a bitch like her but I was broken and wanted anyone, even her, to hold me and tell me that she wanted me and I was good enough.
"One week. You can go home now."
I quit the next day.
Change of residence
* Cashier & Stock Person 10/91 - 2/92
Gerkins Hardware Store (age 27)
You could say my life was pretty shaky and the only company I could put on a resume from the last year was CVS but Terry wasn't likely to give me a glowing recommendation to a prospective employer. An ad for a cashier needed at Gerkins Hardware brought me in to see Irv, the owner who took over the business from his father. He looked over the application with a couple months tacked on to G&P and CVS and I let him know that I left BB&B because of the attitude of the manager and maneuvered through his questions, fudging around the edges the best I could.
He would have in me a hard worker who was on time I told him and is courteous with the customers. Irv said he wanted to telemarket to commercial real estate management companies and asked if I could also do a few hours a week making calls. You got it big guy!
So there I was, working in the hardware business. A friend said I should get back to the nuts and bolts, but I took him too literally. It was a friendly bunch who worked there, one guy in his early forties named David worked there for twenty years, but they were sour on Irv and his grumbling and small raises. Even the manager there for seven years was looking around but it was the recession. The woman part-timer said that Irv needed to take a rest and that they ought to put him in a rest home.
"Or a rest room", I said, "If that's all he can afford."
Besides the traditional plumbing business, the store had an interior design department run by Irv's wife Sandy who whined and bossed everyone and went through three assistants before I got there. One was a guy working in the store who had begged Irv to not work with her anymore. Wanting to secure a footing in the store, I volunteered to work with her and kept smiling and let everything roll off my back. She couldn't be as bad as my last manager.
It was working out okay and Irv started to warm up to me, well maybe it was more like lukewarm. I scratched out a few sales in the telemarketing campaign, even though the recession and declining real estate market had frozen spending on supplies and materials. Sandy liked working with me and this took some of the pressure off Irv and lessened the whining and bitching I'm sure he heard in the car going home. In the hours with the hardware, I was cleaning and organizing the shelves and making signs for the things that college students need for their rooms.
I was still sending out resumes and receiving back a steady flow of letters thanking me for my interest in their company but there was not a suitable position for a person of my qualifications and they would keep my resume on file. "Thank you and good luck in your career endeavors". Actually, you know it's bad news when you get a letter because if they want you, they call and set up an interview right away.
Disappointment turned to anger when one more rejection letter was more than I could carry. From that point on, I would only send my resume to the presidents of companies. That's it, just presidents. No longer would my resume get quickly passed through the hands of Human Resources and shuffled out. To get anything, there had to be a bold move. And what did I have to lose? Nothing, absolutely nothing. The president was either going to tell his people to give me high priority because of my chutzpah or shuffle me off to HR where I would have started anyway.
I got a bite. Homestead Federal Savings Bank called up and set a lunch interview with the Executive Vice President and the man who would eventually be my boss, the VP of the Treasury Department. I was impeccable in a suit for the first time in a year and a half and laid on the charm and manners and said that I'm a quick learner and could do anything they needed.
"Do I know Lotus 1-2-3? No, but I'll master it in no time at all. That's me, a very quick learner indeed."
A woman was leaving in two months on maternity leave and my resume arrived at the perfect time. While there was no promise of a job, they made it clear, I would be a very strong candidate if they did hire for the position. I realized that was just talk and that they of course would be hiring. Why else would these two VP's be meeting me for lunch at one of the nicest restaurants in town?
The next week they called to set a second interview at the bank where I met with the president who received my resume and with the two VP's and the three people in the Treasury Department. I swept them off their feet (it was the performance of my life) and a job offer came through days later for $24,000 a year, which I accepted on the spot. It meant only a three day notice to Irv but I had to jump. At dinner that night with Ed and his wife Trish, they served stir-fry to me on a big red plate that hung above the stove. "You are Special!" it said around the top and the bottom. I did feel special, for the first time in a long time.
* Helped to renovate Farrington's Music Store - 11/91 (age 27)
Change of residence
* Securities Administrator 2/92 - 4/94
Homestead Federal Savings Bank (age 27 to 29)
It was like stepping into another world, even though it resembled the places I had touched down in before. This was a small savings bank and more informal so the jacket and trousers could be mixed and matched but it felt like I had stepped into someone else's clothes, any one of the guys in the office but if I did, none of them seemed to notice. Our ties were somehow always different though, thanks to the wild tie movement that allows guys to think they're showing their own personalities and styles.
It does make you feel different wearing a suit. You walk differently, with the swagger of a man with savvy in the business world... your tie silk and swinging across white cotton and the knot to the collar inside of a broad-shouldered jacket and the crisp seams of the trousers falling to polished Florsheims. This to people looks like the picture of success and because I was born with a look that, for some reason, goes well with a suit, I got more attention and respect than I do now. It was the glasses also.
My job as the Securities Administrator was to execute trades of the investments held by the bank in their portfolio; some US Government Treasury Bills and Bonds but mostly mortgage-backed securities called Fannie Mae's, Freddie Mac's and Ginny Mae's. These are bonds made from mortgages that the banks sell at a discount to the US government shortly after the closing so they don't have to assume the risk of defaults and interest rate risk over thirty years or fifteen The taxpayer now assumes the risk and the bank claims their take on the mortgage right away and washes their hands of it. Then they'll turn around and give a mortgage to someone else who chomps at their teaser rate and pays them their fee.
Stick with me here, this is all going somewhere and you might learn something. What the government does with all of these mortgages is separate them into pools based on region, interest rate, principal, duration and by term and put them together into tradeable securities, bonds that pay principal and interest quarterly to the holder and can be bought and sold on a large and active market.
Just a quick and relevant lesson to the uninitiated: When you buy a bond with a fixed interest rate and time goes by and the current, prevailing rate has gone higher than that, the value of your bond is worth less than the dollar face value that is shown. Say for instance you bought a 30 year bond a year ago that was issued with a rate of 5% but the current rate for a bond of that term has gone up to 7%. The value of your 5% bond will be less than the dollar amount that is shown because you are only getting 5% on your money when you could be getting 7%.
You are losing money but if you want to sell the bond to get a new 7% rate, you have to sell it for less than you bought it for because the only reason why anyone would buy this bond is because they can get it cheaper. Nobody's going to pay full price for it, so if both bonds are for $10,000 face value, only the 7% percent bond is really worth the full $10,000. The 5% bond might be 99% or 98% of the face value and be worth $9,800-9,900.
The opposite is also true and if the current rate for bonds goes lower than what you are getting, then the price of your bonds are higher than the stated face value and might have a price of 101% or 102% and be worth $10,100-10,200. Of course the rates are driven by the market in these bonds and in bonds in general, in the stock market, in the financial markets in general, the rate of new housing building, the real estate market, consumer confidence, the rates of default, the Consumer Price Index, rates of production and inventory levels held, the rate of employment, inflation, the environment of business, forecasts for the future, politics, the rates set by the Federal Reserve and globally influential banks and central national banking systems, the Persian Gulf War, the bombing of the World Trade Center...
Just about everything influences markets and the successful financial manager will constantly be reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the important regional and local papers and more recently the financial information that is provided up-to-the-minute by Dow Jones and Bloomberg and others so that an informed decision can be made about how to react to these uncontrollable factors. That's right, there is nothing you can do about any of it except to react, and react in the best way you know how.
The life in that lane is made of trying to predict and forecast what the economy will do with the help of highly paid MBA's running their computer models with a few facts thrown in and a heaping of assumptions and an answer spits out with a deviation plus or minus that gives a range that the right answer should fall into with varying probabilities. There's no way to foresee surprising events though and the astute financial manager could not have known Ross Perot was going to drop out of the Presidential race that afternoon or he might have adjusted his company's portfolio accordingly.
Besides buying and selling these bonds in trades generally $5 Million to $50 Million at a time, making wire transfers and updating the portfolio using Lotus and Paradox, I would several times a week trade securities to one of four brokerage firms in New York City for a Repurchase Agreement, where the brokerage firm temporarily takes possession of our bonds for two weeks or a month as collateral and would lend my bank cash based on the current price for a mortgage-backed security of that type and charged a rate of interest over that time. When the term matured, we would buy back (repurchase) the bond as agreed with the same amount of money we borrowed plus the interest due.
The money we borrowed was used for things like making principal and interest or tax payments or purchasing more bonds or repurchasing. We wouldn't have just sold the bonds to get the cash because the rates in the portfolio were higher than the current rates as they kept dropping a quarter and then a half and then another quarter and the value of the portfolio was going up, up, up. All that was available out there were lower rate bonds and there were no signs that they were going up soon. The economy still wasn't jump-starting.
The value of the portfolio climbed from $250 Million when I started, up to around $300 Million and my boss and the officers and President down the hall were doing the jig because of their good fortune, the first for a savings bank that had convinced the RTC and FDIC that they should not be closed down and could successfully reorganize their financial structure and improve their capitalization ratio, which had dropped well below the minimum 3% capital to assets allowable. The government's accountants from both agencies were in and out to audit us, so they were a constant and menacing presence. By the way, my stint with the FDIC was never on my resume or ever mentioned.
Ed and I had finished writing "1(800)" and had a reading with people we could trust to give constructive criticism and it went off all right but the play needed doctoring here and there. That's the purpose of having a reading for a play that will eventually get up on its feet on a stage, you need to find out where the clunkers and misunderstandings happen so you can rewrite those parts.
We were, after the rewriting, faced with the classic dilemma: do we send the script to theaters and agents and maybe wait two or three years for it to get put on, or do we produce it ourselves and make the leap of faith in a play that we felt would be a success. Tottering like see-saws from "Absolutely not, let's send it out" and all the way around to "Yes! Yes! Let's do it", it took us three months to finally decide that if we were ever going to do it, then now would be the time.
We would also be intimately involved in every process and make mistakes and learn valuable lessons and that's exactly what happened with the help of many friends who contributed their unpaid talents and time when, like Mickey and Judy, we said "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" We did the whole thing, renting the theater, auditioning the cast in Princeton, New Brunswick and New York, assembling the crew, rehearsing the ensemble, building the set, rewriting as gracefully as possible under pressure, selling tickets and sweeping, mopping and scrubbing.
From a doctor friend who postponed his long-awaited vacation in Jamaica to help build the set, to those who breathed paint fumes and sawdust, to the prop master searching high and low and inexpensively, to the actor who climbed a pipe up the wall like a chimpanzee to hang a black backdrop because the ladder was too short, to the daring lighting crew hanging instruments on the overhead grid, down to the last person who made a miracle come to life, the play grew feet and talked to an audience that paid twelve dollars a ticket to be there.
Sure it had its rough spots, there was a lot of dialogue because it was set in a telemarketing office where they just don't shut up, and the difficulty right away was for the actors to remember all of those lines. The script also had its weaknesses. Because we were unknown writers, the actors that we could attract were from community theater where the script is intact and proven and doesn't get rewritten and shoved in their face to learn before tomorrow night. They had full-time jobs or went to college and I'm certainly not knocking them because I believe they did their best, but they were part-time actors and this was a challenging play about creativity through the art of talking and the roles of order and chaos, scripting or ad libbing.
My bio in the program said, "Those of us who know Rod have at some point witnessed him catching his trail leg clearing the last hurdle. With skinned up knees and teeth full of tar, Rod comes up with a laugh to distract us from the gravity of it all. Tonight, in rare form, he is antisepticized and freshly flossed."
There were some people who walked out offended by a few necessary obscenities and at the end more than half left not really knowing what happened. We learned that we went for way too much and hit them over the head with a ton of bricks. My stomach churned and knotted through every moment dressed in stage crew black waiting for the next cue.
I was working in the Treasury Department from 8:30 to 5:00 and then getting to rehearsal by 6:00 and running until midnight or so, sleeping about five hours and getting up at 6:30 to hit the bank again and I felt raw most times, like an exposed and frayed wire and it was telling on the quality of my work. I was progressively through the week more exhausted, preoccupied and dozing at the wheel and gave up some responsibilities to my two co-workers who were supportive and bought tickets for Opening Night. The auditions had started in December so by the time the show rolled around in February, their charitable feelings were chipping away and the end of the three-week run came just in time before the damage became irreparable.
I was proud of what we were all able to accomplish but there was a feeling that it was a Pyrrhic victory because there was no special woman in my life to share it with and my triumph came at the cost of my loneliness. And then the executive secretary for the bank officers, a blond Germanic woman of twenty-seven interested in theater, asked if I would like to take a walk with her around the office park during lunch. She was divorced two years before and lived with a guy who had just directed a community theater production that ran at the same time as mine. Our attraction was becoming bolder as we broached the subject of sex and then with each other.
As we passed a distant parking garage from our building, I grabbed her hand and led her between two vans and kissed her and pressed into her with hands cupped over sturdy hips, her lips cushions and a mouth that called and sought at the same time. My God, the best kiss ever and more I wanted and thoughts of total abandon in the cold, hard garage came in a flood and if not for the high heels approaching in staccato... we parted and straightened each other's clothes and hair and waited for me to go down. She wanted to hold it again, rubbing my leg but we had to regain our composure.
My short time with her brought back feelings that had been sublimated in my distress and I so much wanted to please her and love her during our few and precious moments together. She was on my mind through the day and my ear became tuned to her sound, her gait as she walked past behind my cubicle and her dress rustled over delectable legs that never let you go. But when she left at eight or nine at night for her man waiting at home, the old feelings draped over me and didn't let me go either.
From my desk at a window on the first floor, I noticed everyday an exotic girl who intrigued me, seeming to be of Asian descent but something else was there, maybe European and I wanted somehow to meet her but didn't know where she worked. Not in any of the bank's offices, I would have seen her and weeks went by and all there was of her was coming and going.
Reporting one afternoon to the Mortgage Banking VP in an office on the second floor occupied mostly by other companies, I walked down the hall slowly, trying to catch a glimpse of my mystery lady. At the end of the hall reaching for the handle of the gray stairwell door, I looked right and through the window of a door that until the day before had been solid wood with no window. There she was sitting at the reception desk and her eyes looked up to mine and I was drawn in, turning and reaching for the knob on her door and knew not what I was going to say or if anyone else was there but I was going in.
I made some remark like I was thinking about applying for a job there and she smiled and gave an application. Renee was her name and her boss was in New York at a meeting and the salesman was usually out, leaving her all alone in the office. Yes! She was the Office Manager.
I tried to stay calm in her presence now that we weren't separated by glass or wood or brick or distance and tripped into her dark brown almond eyes framed with shiny black hair. Perhaps we could get together for lunch Wednesday or Thursday. She said yes and gave her number and I was floating high walking down the stairs to my office. Yes!
We fell in love quickly in the spring and the secretary drifted away and it seemed that the hard road had led me to the woman who had waited and knew I would be there for her someday. I could hardly believe that I was the answer to anyone's prayers and wondered how this could possibly be true. No longer would my heart have a gaping hole in this world but how long could this hold out?
All was well with work again with my full attention back. Well, except for the time on the first basement floor making out in a corner with my love stuck in a lip-lock and two or three times someone passed by behind but it was probably some peon that wouldn't care anyway and I passionately carried on. The next day word got to my supervisor and my unbecoming behavior was made part of my record and I promised never to do it again.
Interest rates were climbing out of the trough and there were no signs the Fed would reduce rates any further and none of the banks were moving lower either except for a renegade bank in Florida trying to get loan and mortgage business with a lower price. More often came orders to sell off securities and realize the gains that had been made before they disappeared, and other orders were to be executed if prices dropped to a certain point to protect the profit.
My boss and the Controller and the Exec VP and the President were in my large cubicle periodically to check on the latest prices and the value of the portfolio and they'd go back to the conference room for another meeting. Our MBA was running his models full-steam and the government also wanted daily reports.
Soon came the word that we were selling off the portfolio down to $65 Million to meet and surpass the capitalization ratio for the first time in four years. Because it's measured as the amount of capital divided by assets, the number can be made larger if the value in the denominator, the assets, are made smaller. Not only would the bank be in the clear with the FDIC but the bank's investors would be happy when they started getting dividends again.
Once this was accomplished and congratulations went around the bank, there was no longer a need for someone to buy and sell because they weren't buying anymore and there was little to sell. They decided to make due with the woman who returned after maternity leave and the other two that were there before me.
The bank wanted to cash in on the wave of mortgage refinancings and I was transferred to help start up the new department but they were about a year and a half too late and it soon dried up when rates went higher and higher and refinancing at those rates were no longer attractive. Heads would roll and mine went with them as I was given my third layoff in six years because of interest rates moving in a way I could not control. Leaving the building that Friday at five, the only thing I knew was this would not ruin my fun at the Rush concert I had been waiting for on this Friday, April 22, 1994.
* Helped to renovate Incogneeto Vintage Fashions - 4/92 (age 27)
* Started co-writing "The Center of Gravity", a play set in Arkansas - 6/92 (age 27)
* Finished "1(800)" - 7/92 (age 27)
* Co-produced a live show of music with a slide and film sequence - 5/93 (age 28)
* Helped to renovate The Book Cellar - 8/93 (age 28)
I was still okay on Saturday, it was a great concert, I love Rush and Neil Peart just never stops moving, he's a drumming machine. And what the hell, I got a month's severance pay and thought I'd get a job right away, no problem, and get some time off to boot. Hey, I didn't have a wife or kid to worry about, everyone reminded me again, good thing.
Sunday it was sinking in that I was shut out again and left to scratch for another job by selling myself and representing and misrepresenting who I am, contorting myself for a new master with a new set of commands to follow and once again from a junior grade. I was damned tired of being a plebe and putting off what I wanted. When would I ever be able to buy a car and insure and maintain it? When was I ever going to be in a financial position to marry, to buy a house? When was I ever going to pay off my student loans?
Renee came over after I called and asked her to spend the night. She chatted a few minutes with my roommate and then we went to my room, I shut the light and crumpled into a crying and sniveling mess.
"How can they do this to me again? Why? Why can't I just have a job? Why is my future always being wrecked? All I want is to earn enough money to support a family some day, for us if we were..."
In the morning, she went to work and I fell like a sack of potatoes back in bed and laid there in shock and fatigue from wringing out my guts all night and wondered what was happening over at the bank without me. There was nowhere I wanted to go or do or see or anything for about a week and it took that long to tell my parents that it happened again.
In the second week, my job search got started with new and improved resumes going out thanks in large part to Renee letting me use her boss' office when he was traveling. My cover letters were getting bolder and with a writer's style that would surely stick out from the same copied script sent by the others. When she locked the door at six, we sometimes found love in the conference room in the dark under the table.
Four or five weeks later, I scored an interview with a non-profit public policy research organization. The first interview went great, the second interview with the Center's boss from Washington went aces and they called the next week to say it was between me and someone else. Someone else got it.
On June 6, 1994, I received my first unemployment check fifty years to the day after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Who could have called that? Who could have called that fifty years later, to the day, I would be getting my first unemployment check? Who could have called that?
* Administrative Assistant 6/94
Professional Entrepreneurial Resources (age 29)
Two weeks later, my resume sent for an Administrative Assistant position at a company named Professional Entrepreneurial Resources turned up an interview with the company's president, Ms. Karin Strathmore. The office building was near my condo and I could walk to it or take the bus for three minutes. What a find. It sounded interesting too, "Professional Entrepreneurial Resources", whatever that is.
They are a company of two women partners and three others, including the administrative assistant, who provide interim and transitional management personnel (temps in the management ranks) and bill themselves as "Senior management expertise for assignments that have a predetermined duration". You know who these senior management level people are? They're in their late forties or fifties or sixties and were laid off or bought out in early retirement and no other company will touch them so they sit in PER's databases and filing cabinets waiting to be plucked out for a temporary assignment, some of them overseas.
Karin was fiftyish and wealthy I could tell as we sat in the reception area, and had a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford and with a haughty smirk, she kept digging and posing questions from different angles but I was wise to her after all the rounds of interviews I've weathered. She was running the opera's annual fundraising campaign and was interested in my play also and the production and how I managed it while working full-time in such a responsible position (a big loaded question with a hairspring trigger). Convincingly enough, I explained how it's not like me to do less than the best possible at my job because my standards for writing and art would suffer by accepting less in another part of my life.
Her partner would be out in a moment and when she came into the room, Karin said she would be in her office. She was a plain woman wearing an out of character business suit and could be warmed up and was won over to my side. Karin had to be listening in around the corner. Was she on my side too?
She came back in and said they would like to talk it over back in the office before making a decision. That was fine with me, it pretty much meant I had the job if it was so important that they talk about it now. Standing to acknowledge their leaving, I thanked her. You don't see people do that much anymore, get up out of their seat when someone, especially a lady, leaves or arrives. There are people I see slouching back in a chair putting their hand up to shake. Where have our manners gone, our civility?
Karin and her partner said they would love to work with me and hired me on the spot at 24K to start in one week. We signed a contract, great! I had a job after two months and Renee came over to celebrate with a nice dinner and a bottle of champagne. I pulled it out again. I was back on track.
Five days later came a call from Karin that she wouldn't need my services, they found someone else.
"The contract says that either the employee or the employer may at any time, for any or for no reason, with or without notice, terminate the employment relationship, but not this agreement."
"But I haven't even stepped foot in the office since you hired me, how can you fire me?"
"Thank you and good luck in your job search" and she hung up.
"What the fuck, the fucking bitch!"
I had canceled another interview and stopped sending resumes. Good thing I hadn't stop Unemployment yet because I still was.
Layoff #3 (cont'd)
I was broken on trying to look for a job anymore and spent days unshowered and unshaved in boxer shorts worn for days and wallowed in my own shit stewing and looking out the window to the woods and the canal out back and making frequent visits to the porch to smoke more pot. Phone calls were rarely made to companies or friends or family anymore. Nobody was going to see me like this and it was better that way, I didn't have to put on a brave face and answer their questions and they didn't have to get all of my anger and frustration and depression loaded on top of them.
When I was all right, they would hear from me. The only thing pulling me through this was writing "A Hop, Skip and a Jump" which should be the next one I complete. It has now been on hold for over a year as life and other projects have intervened.
The idyllic relationship with Renee was falling apart as our differences were becoming more apparent. Not that there was anything so wrong with either of us, it was that our approaches to life and priorities were too divergent, hers running along her solid Catholic martyrdom and mine running more along an irreverent Protestant way that couldn't deal with the restraint and guilt. She's a sweet girl who had accepted my faults though, why couldn't I do that for her?
My resume I designed on PageMaker as a three-paneled brochure, the rectangular ones that you fold out to the left and then the right and on the front it said "Roderick Carson" and below in a smaller font size, "Special Projects" and near the bottom the address and phone number. Opening it, on the right flap were "Accomplishments" with check marks and on the left and inside panel was this:
Change is inevitable.
Change can be rewarding.
If only you could find a strong, resourceful
agent of change.
My name is Roderick Carson
and I easily join up with or start a team
and keep hauling on my end
until there is
wind in the sails
and sun in our eyes.
I live for the challenge of a new project.
Let me help your team by
collecting the facts
narrowing the options
planning the strategies
gathering the resources
fashioning and assembling
the working parts
and fine-tuning the operation.
Then we will be ready to launch our project,
with a champagne christening
and a band blowing fanfares.
I have done it before
and will certainly do it again!
When you folded the right flap out, my resume was inside and everything was now together, the cover letter and the resume, and it was presented uniquely and compactly and would cost less to mail. Surely this would do the trick.
Trying to hang a shirt in my stuffed closet where the shirts and suits were tightly pressed to each other and wrinkled, convinced me to pull out all the clothes I don't wear anymore and give them to the Salvation Army; white shirts yellowed in the pits and suits that hadn't fit in five years and stuff from the eighties like the blue and white striped Le Tigre shirt that Jeranne in Houston loved on me but now was too tight and showed a budding paunch.
Those suits were the uniforms that identified me to the class of people that I had hoped to join. When I pulled the first one out, the blue pinstripe, and held it up and thought about the possibility of needing it anytime soon it was clear that the suit as well as that time for me was already out of fashion. I wouldn't be reviving that time and trying to regain distant and fleeting success again in that way.
My course was being determined by me and other forces on a different plot and those days were fading away like the visions of being a dashing naval officer of the high seas fleet. I tossed the old pinstripes in the pile and turned for the others and tossed them over my shoulder until there was the white back wall and the clothes rod with only a third of the clothes left hanging. It was a freeing experience. It inspired me to write:
I choke up my tie
to go to work
and leave my shirts
on their hangers
I had just read the current edition of "What Color is Your Parachute?", a book for job and career changers and it really shed new light on who I am and what I'm good at and that we should assess our strengths and weaknesses and desires and go with whatever we want to do and that generally what we want to do is what we are good at, which makes perfect sense. Usually what we don't want to do, we do poorly. I strongly recommend this book for anybody, no matter what their situation in life, unless you're one of the very few people that are doing exactly what you want and are truly happy.
The best job offer I got in all this time was at Barnes & Noble for six dollars an hour and Unemployment was running out in six weeks. Sitting in the dark, my head in hands with a candle at the desk after deciding that afternoon to break up with Renee before the weekend, feeling like my life and love forever had been crumbled to dust and all that was left of me was a hollow husk, it flashed across my mind.
"Amsterdam", I mumbled and looked up to the candle. "Amsterdam!" and got up and paced the room back and forth.
Should I? Could I? I have a lot of debts and this trip will put me even further behind financially. But I'm thirty years old and may never have the chance again. I have no dependents, I have no commitments like a job or wife or girlfriend and this could be the last chance.
"I'm going to Amsterdam. I'm going to Amsterdam, damn it!"
Personal Overseas Travel
There was now hope. There was something to live for. There was something to anticipate and be anxious about. For my survival, I had to believe again that I have enough control of my life to determine its course and if I couldn't find a way to get somewhere through impenetrable obstacles then I should know when it's time to give up a predetermined route and follow one that is closer to the heart.
My parents couldn't understand why I was going to Europe by myself on money that should go to paying off something (they would be one of them) and why in the middle of winter and what if I got hurt?
"Granted, it doesn't look logical at first but think about it. I've been working since I was ten, right? What do I have to show for the last twenty working years of my life now that I'm thirty? I can't drive, I'm fifteen thousand in debt, I'm out of work for the third time in the past six years and the only job I can get is for six dollars an hour in a store. What happened? I've been working hard, you know that, I'm not lazy. I'm intelligent, I communicate well, I'm generally liked by people, I'm honest. What happened? This is a long way from where I was supposed to end up.
The way it looks to me is that I have to get out of here and see a new way of life that isn't crushing me so I will know that there can always be a new way of living. People that are alcoholics or addicted to drugs or food or someone who abuses them, whatever... they don't see that their world can be without this weight pressing down on you and eating away and there's nowhere to go and you either jump out of the way or it crushes you. I'm not going away. I'm going to."
As far as going in the winter, friends were saying I should wait for the spring to go when it's warmer and there are more people and it's more fun. My cycles don't correspond to the seasons. Sure I wish it was warm, would be glad to have it, but it seemed right to ride out my winter of discontent in the looney bin of Amsterdam. London was also on the itinerary.
Without a fat roll of dough to bankroll the trip, those were the only two places I'd go but that was okay. You know what, it was even better to take my time and really get to know those two places and the people and slow down enough to see what it's like if you lived there. Spending a lot of time and money on trains traveling, no matter how friendly it's supposed to be, was not what I was looking for.
I was asked that. "Why are you going there? What do you expect to find?"
"I don't know... not myself. I'm not going there for that, that's asking too much. I don't really know much what to expect, but that's the excitement of it. The relying on yourself to be the guide through whatever happens, whatever comes your way as you search it out.
I had heard the stories from people who were there and saw their pictures and felt their excitement. Now it was my turn. Several people wished they could go along and it would have been great to share the experience but they had the commitments and dependents holding them down that no longer strapped me. On the other hand, I was free as a bird to fly where my heart and mind decided.
My dear friend Claire gave the most precious gift, "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran for inspiration and insight.
I'd like to relate the trip in the way it was written in the journal. These are observations, passing thoughts, stimuli and a few damn funny stories.
Approaching the drop-off zone at JFK Airport in a rush to make the flight on Royal Jordanian Airlines: I feel like a paratrooper almost over the landing zone and the jump light switched to yellow. "Shuf-fle fo-wahhhd!"
The four others in the car were already late to see our friend dance in a performance she choreographed because we got stuck in traffic. They sped off after quick hugs and kisses and left me at the curb with my two bags.
"Aren't you nervous flying an airline from Jordan?"
"When have you ever heard of a plane crash from Royal Jordanian Airlines?"
"What about terrorism, what if you get hijacked?"
"They're not going to terrorize their own, it's safer than taking an American plane."
Middle Eastern music, dark-eyed stewardesses, women in robes and veils, signs in Arabic and English for "No Smoking, Toilets, Life Vest Under Your Seat, Fasten Seat Belts". I'm too tired to be scared. Color bars flicker on the TV. I wonder what movie they'll play. Probably not Chuck Norris in Delta Force.
The lights of New York are fading out behind. Now it's only what is ahead.
Touch down at Schiphol Airport at 9:30 AM (next stop: Amman, Jordan), now I'm scared, a train to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Taxi to The Flying Pig Hostel on Vondelpark near Museumplein at eleven and then headed out for the first sights. Dog-tired but I'll find coffee soon. Cold rain, November 20 on the North Sea, wind. I would go by the name Roderick, instead of just plain old Rod.
At Leidseplein and what do I see, one of the must-go-to coffee shops, "The Bulldog". Well, I thought I'd walk around a little to see some of the city, besides it's still early. Ahh what the hell, there's coffee there. Kaffee mit melk, rolling papers, 25 guilder bag of Thai from the pony-tailed guy at the corner counter with tattoos. What a way to start. Will wait a few days to see museums and galleries, want to find out where there's action.
Up the stairs and down colorful, stony Leidsegracht, spray-painted trams passing, street performers, musicians, rounding the old Munttoren (Mint Tower) and to Rembrantsplein with a statue of the famous painter. Walked for an hour and a half through the city that bore also Van Gogh, Descartes and Spinoza, filling in my head the map as I went and then entered an eetcafe on Singelgracht. Ordered a beer, they give you Heineken. It was quiet, four or five other people, mostly older in the early afternoon.
Ordered another, then on the stereo John Denver singing, "Sunshine... on my shoulder makes me hap-pyyy. Sunshine... in my eyes can make me cryyyy" Ahhhhhh! Had to get out of there fast, couldn't endure that whole song here and now and gulped down the beer, grabbed my coat and ran. Outside someone yelled behind and I turned around to the bartender.
"You did not pay for your beer sir."
Oh shit, John Denver in that silly-assed song from the States. Ran out so fast and forgot to pay. Re-entered the cafe and everyone turned to me and I tried to explain that it was the song and apologized profusely.
"It... that song... can't stand it... I'm so sorry" and gave him a ten guilder note to cover the five g's owed, the rest was his tip. Slunk out.
Signs: The Lion King - "de Leeuwekoning"
Snow White - "Sneeuwitje"
Don't get too cold, duck in sometimes out of the wind. Time to head back to the hostel for some rest. Walking back along Leidesegracht and heard an English guy and two girls asking directions to Leidse Square (Leideseplein). That's where the Bulldog is on the way to the hostel. One of the girls appeared to be with the guy but the other had no one and was the prettier. Offered my charming assistance. Une was with Jim and there was Marigold. Marigold was her name and she had a tone of something when she said it.
"Do you say your name like you're proud or ashamed?"
"You should be, it's a beautiful name. My name isn't as interesting. I'd give anything to have a name like Marigold."
"Okay Roderick, today you can be named Marigold."
After that, they weren't very interesting and were leaving for London anyway in two hours, only there for the weekend. They were amazed I already knew my way around.
"I try to tap into my homing pigeon instinct."
At the hostel, Damian from the Isle of Man had just arrived.
"You're the first American I ever met".
"You're the first person from the Isle of Man I ever met. Better than living on the Isle of Lesbos I suppose."
"That's funny mate."
Cafe Balou, a coffee shop with ferns in the window as the sign that ganga is permitted and sold. On the TV is a really bad L.A. inner city blacks vs. Puerto Ricans street gang flick with a Chinese gang thrown in to boot, with subtitles in Dutch.
Gary's Muffins, Leidsegracht at Prinsengracht is my favorite place to start the day with a muffin or bagel and strong coffee in a wide cup. Go down four steps and into a low-ceilinged place big enough for about eight or ten people. It's intimate and cozy with newspapers and the entrancing, petite, Indian girl with a Cheshire grin behind the counter.
Amsterdam is civilized to uniquely fit the practical needs with the equally important need for chaos.
Ducked into a coffee shop at The Dam, Choice Exact, and sit now at a great window seat with a ledge and a techno-dance number is on with heavily-reverbed girl harmonies. Painted on the window is a sexy black woman in green, yellow and red lustily looking your way wherever you are in the room and a droopy-lidded, bald, black man with a fat spliff dangling from the corner of his mouth, his large ears seeming to wiggle to the techno-beat. People walking and riding by on bikes: a girl with green hair, nose ring and tiger-striped hose saunters by, a mohawk on a moped, a gorgeous Anne Margaret look-alike looks in and continues on.
People here hold each other, especially women locking arms and parents holding small children to their chest.
I have a good sense of direction with the map of Amsterdam pictured in my mind, but sometimes will get lost and have not been disappointed to see a baby girl with a black and white puppy around the wrong corner or an art gallery or a bakerij (bakery) with warm sausage rolls or a statuesque blond in black sweater and boots.
Falafel is cheap and nutritious. I foresee a lot of falafel and coffee in my dietary future.
Keith, a tall and handsome Indian living in New York, just dropped out of Wall Street, 28 years old with an MBA who worked for Bankers Trust and decided to cut loose. His boss asked if he needed psychiatric help when he quit.
We went to the Red Light District at night and looked at the girls of all colors and sizes in the windows on either side of the canal framed with red and purple neon. You walk by and look at these prostitutes in the windows, it's window shopping for a piece on a meter. Surprisingly, half of them are fat and bored and make no attempt to seduce you. And you think they would do the sit-ups.
Some of the girls wiggle their hips or push their tits together and coo to you. Down on Thai Row are the most seductive women with long, shiny black hair and the smallest waists and they beckon or give a welcoming gesture with their eyes to entice you. We speculated which would be the one if we did.
I have been training myself to absorb all sights, sounds, smells and everything around me; in front, behind, to the sides, above, in all directions.
The Van Gogh Museum on a cold, damp day. It was time for a rest. My favorites: "The Potato Eaters", a rugged peasant family with features like their food. "Crows in the Wheatfield", strokes and dashes of orange and yellow with three roads leading to nowhere and the black angle crows closing in for the kill. "The Reaper", painted from the asylum at Saint-Remy of bountiful wheat being cut down by a man with a scythe. An earlier painting was "The Sower". "Undergrowth" focused on the tangle of a forest floor in dark green and black tentacles that captures the viewer and leads the eye up to the trees. Deep.
I miss my family on Thanksgiving and call them at eleven o'clock PM (five their time) and let them know I'm okay and thinking about them all together. They miss me and wish I was there. They are with me I tell them.
Walking past the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) and approaching is a tall punker in black leather with hair shaved on the sides and he points a finger at some flowers like a gun and goes, "Whoosh... fire, fire!" like Beavis would to Butthead in a Dutch accent.
Met Linda and Joe at The Bulldog, Americans on the High Times Hemp Festival from Atlantic City who ate at McDonald's when they first got to Leidseplein. Asked me to go and meet some new friends at The Greenhouse but I declined, maybe another time. Didn't feel like getting caught up in the coffee shop circuit with people from New Jersey who ate shitty American fast food in a foreign land. See ya!
Walking past a women's clothing store window and a brunette girl is about to pull a sheer green blouse over the head of a mannequin from behind and is doing it so sensually, with fingers outstretched and poking into the fabric and our eyes locked as she exposed the breasts and held it under the chin for a moment and then pulled the blouse over the blond hair and fluttered it to the counter. She smiled at me and reached for another blouse.
"The King of Nepal looks like Sergeant Bilko", Dave said at Coffee Shop Johnny on Elandsgracht. Dave is English but lived in Amsterdam for years, a big hash smoker. In London after the war, the King of Nepal arrived and the police had cordoned the area. When the king entered, everyone bowed but Dave only went down halfway to take a look.
"You know what he looked like... like your Sergeant Bilko."
He usually had Moroccan but it wasn't like the Lebanese you could get in the old days. His voice rose in ecstasy from remembering, I could see it in his face. I thought he was going to break out in joyous song, "Oh Lebanese hash, oh oh". With his Turkish friend sitting between us at the bar, he was telling of his dream of buying a houseboat to grow grass and hash under grow lights and make a tidy living.
Either that or we (he was now including me) could own a floating brothel that is plush and opulent and would have the best to serve kings and presidents and parliamentarians, anchoring outside the twelve mile limit in international waters. It would be all discreet, important people not chasing down a lay and getting caught by the tabloids. Low risk, high reward, all clean, medical exams, screening, the best. A small fortune for complete satisfaction. Of course the girls would be taking care of their bosses too.
Met an older man named Jankees Van Dyk at Centraal Station, forty-six years old with a scraggly beard, a former medical researcher who lost his job seven years ago. Now he's on the government dole and sells bird song cassettes on the street and collects phone cards. That's how we met, he approached me and asked if I had any phone cards to discard. He would be happy to take them and especially liked foreign ones and pulled from his pocket a deck of them and before long we were strolling south on Damrak toward Vondelpark, where he also lived, and passed under the canvas awning of an Argentinian steakhouse, with another steakhouse across the street. Jankees slapped the awning above us.
"Ahh, all of Amsterdam is one big steakhouse."
Soon we passed a New York Pizza and he pointed up to the glowing sign and shook his head with disgust, "New York Pizza" and chuckled derisively.
Becoming friends with the slender Indian girl named Jerri (for Geraldine) who works at Gary's Muffins and wears a beret over her short hair. She is adorable with a beautiful smile and is funny and likes when I make her laugh. Jerri is an actor and model who studied three years in London but is originally from Sydney, Australia and Catholic and has been finding it hard to get parts because who writes for a funny and witty Indian woman? She pulled off her beret to show hair buzzed and with squiggly lines shaved in it for a modeling shot two weeks before.
Got in a conversation with Dan, in his early forties and from Berkeley living here ten years, with an open Times of London and we talked politics and religion and were joined by Ron from Ottawa on the High Times Tour but he was straying from the circuit. He was a champion of capitalism but loved his socialized medicine.
On Leidseplein, across from The Bulldog at the Stadsschouwburg Theatre, is a stout woman with her face painted in red streaks running from her eyes and dressed in a peasant's humble clothes, bellowing heavenward.
"Oh mein Gott... (in German, probably 'Forgive me Holy Father, I have sinned against you, blah blah blah)... Oh Vater! Boo hoo hoo! Oh Vater!"
The Torture Museum is being dismantled before I had the chance to go in. An upper window is open and workers are throwing down old wood and broken-down furniture into a dumpster. One man comes out the front door dancing with a ghoulish mannequin. By the looks of the shit, the place had to be a fire hazard. The dust is too much, move on.
(A black shirt with white letters on a well-endowed woman)
(You just go sister.)
A street bum, an older one, with a wheelbarrow to truck all of his stuff around. As he passes, I see a new suitcase and a lot of other nice stuff for a homeless guy. How did he get it? Maybe he's some eccentric millionaire living on the streets. In New York, he would have been robbed and probably killed.
Outside my room at The Flying Pig, met Jon from Sheffield rowdy and drunk with a few of his mates there for the weekend, and Norton from southern Australia who I could understand better than the Englander. Jon is 25 and a work hard/play hard owner of a company that builds pre-fab buildings and says at work he goes at it like a one-armed drummer.
"You know Norton, in Sheffield with a name like Norton, that could put you in the middle class."
"You think so mate?"
Black licorice is tasty and seemingly medicinal and soothes my sore throat.
Wrote a song called "A Song for You from Vondelpark".
Japanese and Dutch together sounds interesting because of the Japanese high-pitched syncopation with Dutch rolling, guttural tones.
The last gulp of coffee lightly sweetened just before it cools too much: sip into your mouth and slowly close it and compress the coffee on the tongue until slowly, your tongue touches the roof of your mouth and there is a warm, bitter sweetness.
In Smokey Joe's on Rembrantsplein, an old Salvation Army woman in a scarlet bonnet hands me a pamphlet in Dutch and English about repenting for sins. A Madonna video comes on the TV.
Every time before going out, I go through the checklist. Do you have everything? Are all hatches battened? Energy level, perception vs. reality, direction, speed, weather, muscles, bones...
Heading north on Prinsengracht to Prinsengracht 263, the Anne Frank House. It is a misty, dreary day and I imagine it like that day fifty years ago when the Germans came for the Jews hidden in the attic for two years. I am deeply moved by the experience, being in the place it happened, and imagine a squad of Nazis approaching and the sound of their boots along the canal as scared Dutch civilians move aside and somewhere down the street a girl is crying.
Even here, people tell me I look just like Judge Ito. Can't escape it. That damned CNN, can't escape the O.J. trial or my appearance.
Booked passage to London via the ferry across the English Channel. There will be a bus ride from Amsterdam at 8:30 PM, south through Utrecht and then through Belgium and France to Calais where the bus will board the ferry that crosses to the white cliffs of Dover. The bus then continues to London Victoria Station, arriving 9:00 AM. The hydrofoil costs more than I want to spend and traveling while you sleep allows you to save paying for a room.
Since my budget is on a frayed shoestring, a job in London will allow me to stay longer. If I can get a full-time job, then by spring when it turns warmer and a little traveling money is saved, I'll leave to see more of Europe. They normally require a work permit to get a job and it takes months but what the hell, I'll see what happens.
Faxed my resume to the three Marriotts (yes I brought it) with the restaurant and bar experience written in and the personal references of my brother who worked in Princeton and the Marriott Marquis on Times Square and my former roommate, a manager at three properties. Here is the cover letter:
30 November, 1994
Marble Arch Marriott Hotel London
134 George Street W1H 6DN
My name is Roderick Carson and I will be arriving in London on Friday morning, 2 December 1994. I would like to work with you this season until April or May if there is a suitable position on your team. My work has allowed me to acquire hotel, restaurant, professional and entertainment experience. You will find me quick on my feet and faster in my thinking.
Enclosed is a copy of my resume. I will stop by your office on Friday afternoon to see how best to serve your hotel and its customers.
A demonstration outside the Marriott on Vondelpark, one person in a pig costume, others as a chicken and a cow and shrill whistles are blowing and chants of "Vlees is Moord! Vlees is Moord!" (Meat is Murder). Three butchers in white smocks spattered in blood blow whistles and stalk the animals, raising their knives and cleavers high and then theatrically slaughter their prey to "Vlees is Moord! Vlees is Moord!"
Walking up Ouderzijds Achterburgwal, an old residential neighborhood surrounding a canal, I look up and see a brightly painted white wood ceiling engraved in an intricate design. On the next window is a mirror on a bracket so the person sitting just inside can see down the canal street. If they can see me, then I should be able to see them at that point. Walking further up the street and looking up to the mirror inconspicuously as possible, there are shelves of books, books, books... and then a person, a blond woman of forty with dark-framed glasses smiling as if she is chatting. Watched her for a minute and then wondered if she saw me from the corner of her eye looking at her. Moved on.
Saw Jerri at noon walking down the other side of Prinsengracht from Gary's Muffins and followed her to a bridge, hustled across and caught up to her. She was glad to see me and flattered I had followed her all that way. For her I'd go a lot further than that I said. She had been having a weird time at work, things were breaking down and she felt odd.
She was heading for the Bibliotheek (library) at the university to return a book. We did that and then stopped for coffee at a cafe at Spui. Oh, she was so captivating in a beige beret and funny and I loved her sloped nose and brown lips turned up in a smile again. Jerri was twenty-four and had been on a successful dance tour in Australia and chucked it all to move to Amsterdam with a Dutch man she met on the tour. They broke up eight months ago after a year and a half but housing is so tight here that they have been living together since because there is nowhere else to go. There are waiting lists up to seven years and the flats are very expensive. The city is not large and people from all over the world want to live here.
She was studying psychology at the University of Amsterdam after learning to speak Dutch and Jerri gave me inspiration as we talked and laughed and discussed Dutch culture and American and comedy (they are not funny in Amsterdam). She just got a call-back for a dancing movie directed by a young, black Dutch film student, one of very few black actors or directors here.
We rambled on and laughed until about 3:00 as twilight descended and she had to go home to study. We walked to the tram on Rokin and talked about her friends in Sydney who are married with children and we compared our lives to those people who mostly seem to be unhappy and distanced from friends by family obligations and shutting off from others. As the tram pulled up, she grabbed my arm and kissed me and we hugged as my lips and beard found her smooth, brown cheek. I promised to call when returning from London.
A flute plays from a room below street level near The Flying Pig on the park.
Brigitte behind the bar at Coffee Shop Johnny: one quarter Portuguese, one quarter Surinaamese and half Dutch with brown kinky hair pulled back, light olive-brown complexion. To die for. Talked about London and shopping and New York and how well she tans. She was ten days in Aruba, topless most of the time. I imagined.
Passing the window of a women's clothing shop and the woman working there is fully clothed and everything around her is for sale. In the Red Light District, the women in the windows are barely clothed and only they are for sale, not the garments.
Tonight is the journey to London. The bus is pulling out of Amstel Station on time.
Crossing the English Channel on the ferry at 5:30 AM: Jose Feliciano singing, "Light my fire, light my fire, light my fire, come on baby light my fire... come on baby light my fire..."
Over the speaker at Victoria Station in London: "For hygiene reasons, we ask you to please do not feed the pigeons. We are trying to persuade them that life is better somewhere else".
* Room Service Waiter 12/94
Marble Arch Marriott Hotel, London, England (age 30)
After settling in at a hostel in the West End, I was hired on the spot at the first of the three Marriotts by an Australian Food and Beverage Manager with not one question about a work permit or anything. They were desperate for help and it's an American company and I had such nifty work experience and references and just figured they didn't need one in my case. What a break, to get hired on the first day here so there would be no worrying. This is it, life is making a break for me finally.
I would be a room service waiter. The pay wasn't much (3 pounds, 59 an hour and one meal a day) but it was enough and I planned my route for the grand sightseeing tour of Europe in the spring after working all winter: France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, maybe Poland, and then Germany.
At the 100 Club at 100 Oxford Street: the first band is a duo with piano and the trumpeter John Cotton of the John Cotton Sound in the 60's. Don't worry, I never heard of him either, but that doesn't mean he isn't good. A very entertaining fellow.
A group of six entered and sat near me, three men and three women but they weren't in couples. The woman nearest to me was beautiful and fifty wearing a short black skirt and ribbed sweater and heels and her name was Zoe ('life' in Greek she told me).
"Yes I know, I love that name for you."
She was French and Armenian, separated from her husband with a son and a daughter and had danced ballet until giving it up to work for NATO in lesser developed countries. We talked, listened, watched dancers and talked more until 12:30 when her group left. Ahh Zoe, I met a wonderful woman named Zoe in a jazz club in Europe.
Westminster Abbey during the second Sunday of Advent and a pipe organ played with an airy choir as we tourists filed through in awe. Many famous and lesser-known people are buried there. There is a memorial to FDR - "A Faithful Friend of Freedom and of Britain".
Adjacent is St. Margaret's Church where Winston Churchill was married. Consecrated in 1523, the stained glass windows commemorate Caxton and John Milton who worshipped there. Sir Raleigh is buried in front of the altar, headless from his execution. The church was restored 1984-1992 by 600 contributions from corporations, associations and individuals. A plaque inside gives some of the names: Messrs. Armand Hammer, Walter Schoenfeld, Danny Schwartz and Frank Sinatra.
Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square: Whoa! A huge phallus erected in your honor with your likeness carved on top. What monumental achievement can I make?
People in Amsterdam and London walking down the street talking on mobile phones, must be the newest status symbol.
Found a room in Brondesbury Park, a well-kept middle class neighborhood in NW6, fifteen minutes by foot from Abbey Road. The landlady is Rosie Lafferty, the universal mother who asked me down to Thanksgiving dinner with her family. They live on the first floor and rent the upstairs which has a separate entrance. She is so sweet in a dress and flowered apron and let me move in owing fifty pounds of the security deposit, after putting down fifty and the sixty-five for the first week's rent.
The room is large with two beds and also a kitchen, living room and bath to share with a Welshman and a Scot. Finding this cozy room is better than taking a cramped bed-sit and is about the same rent, 65 quid a week.
My favorite person at work is Magdy, an Egyptian Christian about forty-five and fat and friendly who likes to laugh. He said I am not like other white men, especially the status-conscious English, and he likes me and we are forming a cordial friendship. We entertain each other waiting for the phone to ring with an order from one of the rooms. He gave me his pocket corkscrew and bottle opener because I didn't have one and he had bought a new one anyway. I really appreciated this gesture.
All Hallows by The Tower Church, near the Tower of London: there was a church on this site for 1,300 years and sections date back to Roman and Saxon times. Samuel Pepys saw the Great Fire of London from its tower, William Penn was baptized here, President John Quincy Adams was married and Albert Schweitzer recorded organ works at All Hallows. The medieval church was destroyed in the bombing of London in 1940 and rebuilt after the war. HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in 1948 laid the foundation stone of the present church.
Cleopatra's Needle: an obelisk pointing to the sky on the Thames with two black sphinxes on either side that was quarried at Syrene in Egypt and erected at Heliopolis by the Pharoah Thothmes III about 1500 BC. Lateral inscriptions were added two centuries later by Ramses the Great. The obelisk was removed during the Greek Dynasty to Alexandria, the Royal City of Cleopatra. It was there erected in the eighteenth year of Augustus Caesar in BC 12. It was then presented to the British Nation in AD 1819 by Mahommed Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt, as a memorial to Nelson and Abercromby. Almost lost at sea in a gale, the obelisk was erected on this spot at the bank of the Thames in the forty-second year of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1878... and here I am.
A plaque below the right, black sphinx: "The scars that disfigure the pedestals of the obelisk and sphinxes were caused by fragments of a bomb dropped in the roadway nearby in the first raid on London by German aeroplanes a few minutes before midnight on Tuesday, 4th September 1917."
St. Paul's Cathedral: a cathedral church on this spot since the year 604. The present cathedral was built after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not quite so impressive.
The British Museum: the Treasures of Byzantium Art and Culture, The Rosetta Stone, marble slabs from the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis at Athens, sculptures of the Parthenon, Romano-British Collection.
In Chinatown, stopped at a Japanese restaurant and country music is playing. Charlie Rich, "Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world? And if you did, whooa she's crying, crying..."
The National Gallery: Monet, Seurat, Picasso, Edvard Munch, more Van Gogh, Manet, Jacques-Louis David, Delacroix, Murillo, Velazquez, Preti. In the Sainsbury Wing was a special treat, "Making and Meaning, The Young Michelangelo".
In Trafalgar Square at night as Christmas approaches, a band of fourteen kids age eight to fourteen or fifteen in military-style red uniforms, two with snare drums, two xylophones, one bass drum, bugles and lower horns playing carols with a military cadence in between. They are very good and with no conductor, led by the older snare drummers.
Another night, a choir softly singing "Silent Night" makes me choked up because I will miss everyone at home during the holidays. I'm such a cornball.
At EMI Abbey Road Studios where the album cover photo was taken, a group of three Japanese girls have a camera and one is ready to take a picture of another crossing the road in the crosswalk like the Beatles. A few steps out she almost got creamed by a speeding black taxi hurtling around the bend on the left side of the road and she dashed to the other side to safety. Every curb at a crossing in London is painted with "Look Right" but every year there are a few fatalities.
The third girl crossed to her friend and the two of them then crossed Abbey Road together from the other side where oncoming traffic could be seen, but the picture is no good because they are walking the wrong way, right to left. After they leave, I patiently wait for the delivery truck to move from the front of the studio and for no cars to be moving in the frame to snap a picture. Other pilgrims have left their mark in respectful graffiti on the white stone wall in front.
One night on foot approaching the London Bridge to cross the Thames, en route to the Tower and the Tower Bridge for the first time, I wanted to stop midway across to soak in the sights on such a clear evening. At the foot of the bridge just ahead, an older gentleman in a London Fog and hat exited a pub and crossed the bridge to the middle where I was intending to stop and thought that he too wanted to admire the sight and slowed my pace and stopped a distance away that respected his privacy.
He looked east to the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London was to the left and the HMS Belfast anchored to the right on the southern embankment. It was beautiful. Decided to walk up slowly and saw then a stream emitting from behind the trenchcoat and a river of piss flowing downhill towards me and I stepped aside to let it pass. He zipped up and staggered along and my vantage point was soiled.
In the West End, walking around and the streets got narrower in SoHo where there's live sex shows and cinema and shops. Looking down a narrow side street, there was a yellow and black sign that said, "Bed Show".
"A show, of naked women, on a bed? All right!"
At the doorway, a woman in a black leather jacket charged five pounds to get in and past her was a dark stairway with worn, burgundy carpet and faded paneling. At the bottom I turned right and into a close, dingy room with a small bed to the right, disheveled and two black girls fat and thin on a love seat were talking to the left and looked up at me.
A fat English girl in a black body suit with torn black pantyhose grabbed my hand, led me to a couch and asked if I wanted a beer.
I looked around the room and sat down, nobody else but me.
I don't think I want to be here.
The fat girl returned with a small juice glass of beer and a cocktail for herself and asked if she could sit next to me.
"Hey, you can sit anywhere you want, as long as it's not in the way."
The hard-faced one at the door came down and went in the back.
A bigger, heavier girl also in a black bodysuit and hose and an even bigger belly stood over me and said, "That'll be five pounds, sixty for the beer, and ten for your companion's drink (my companion?) and two more for her company. That's seventeen pounds, sixty."
I had fifty pounds in my pocket and it looked like they were going to try and eat it all up. They weren't getting any of it.
"Whoa hey listen, I didn't think this was going to be so expensive, really. You can keep my five pounds at the door, I think I'll be going" and grabbed my jacket between me and my "companion" and stood to leave. Well, she took a hold of my jacket and wouldn't let me leave. The Enforcer, the bigger one, pushed me back on the couch.
"That's seventeen pounds, sixty. When you walked down those stairs you agreed to..."
"Agreed to what? I didn't see any sign that..."
"You just came down here to laugh at her, saying she isn't a lady."
"Oh no... she's a lady, I'm sure. I just didn't think that..."
"We got one who doesn't want to pay. Security!"
"Listen, I don't want any trouble... all right? Okay... I'll see the show" and sat down slowly.
I'm not getting out of this by talking and they're not getting my money. A minute or two had gone by and there was no security person. I've got one shot at this or I'm dead.
I grabbed my coat inconspicuously with my right hand and hoped the Companion didn't notice.
The Enforcer put out her hand for my money as I felt a rush of adrenaline, sprang to my feet and jammed my left elbow right into her chin. Booom! She was falling away as I raced for the stairs and the Companion yelled, "Get him!" and I felt her drink whiz by the back of my head.
Bounding up the stairs two at a time, I was so pumped at the top of the stairs and turned and yelled, "Fuck you!" and then ran away and circled around behind two bobbies on patrol. I knew I wasn't getting out of there by talking... and knew I had to nail the fattest one first.
Seeing some of the history of Europe over the many centuries and countless generations and innumerable discoveries and inventions, and how some countries and societies progress faster than others, it occurred to me what happens is everything becomes bogged down at some time by what made them great. The things that make you great eventually make you obsolete and lead to your demise under the weight of antiquated systems and beliefs.
On December 19, lost my job at Marriott because I had no work permit. Was working two and a half weeks and doing a top job, everything was great, a go all the way. Fifteen minutes before the end of a 7am to 3PM shift, a call in the kitchen from Dee in Personnel.
"Roderick, do you have a work permit?"
"Ahh... no, I don't."
"Could you please see me in my office when you're through?"
"Tell me please you have a European passport."
"I don't of course, I'm an American."
It turns out I was hired illegally by the F&B Manager who quit three days later. They could not allow me to stay on the property as an employee without a work permit because they would be heavily fined and I would be deported. Sorry Charlie. I can't afford to stay more than a few days and have to return to Amsterdam because my ticket home is on Royal Jordanian from Schiphol Airport.
There is just enough money to get home in a few days without settling my debt with wonderful Mrs. Lafferty for the phone and utilities after she put her trust in me and allowed me to move in without paying the whole deposit up front. At least she would have the fifty pounds. Wished I could face Rosie but the thought of going to her with my sob story and not being able to pay was repugnant.
Wrote a letter to her and her husband explaining what happened and my predicament and how sorry I was and that the debt to them would be paid as soon as possible after reaching the States. The next morning at 5:30 I slipped out as the Rolling Stones sang, "Under cover of the night" and left the letter and keys at the doorstep. There was a full moon, which I cursed on this occasion, a blue and temperate morning and I felt like a heel lugging two overstuffed bags waddling and expecting any moment for Mr. Lafferty to yell at me from behind and run up. It wouldn't be the first time this trip.
Jumped on the 5:39, the first bus out to Oxford Circus, took the Victoria Line tube to Victoria and then walked about a half mile with the heavy bags to Victoria Coach Station. With more money, I would have taken a taxi. With enough money, I wouldn't be leaving.
Wondered at what time they would find the letter and what they would think and say about me and if they would understand at all. Realized that I hadn't written Merry Christmas in the letter. It would have been a nice thing to do, but maybe inappropriate, six days before Christmas as I beat out of the country on them.
Slept most of the bus ride to Dover that departed at 8 AM, hadn't slept much that night or several days before. Wanted to see as much in the last couple days as possible. Next to me in the window seat was a funny-looking girl with short reddish-brown hair that looked like John Astin with Jay Leno's chin. We said only a few words in the hour and a half to the ferry.
When the bus disembarked at Calais, Louise and I started talking and continued to talk just about non-stop for the next seven and a half hours to Amsterdam, probably annoying a few hopeful snoozers. We became very close friends in that time, talking intimately of our lives as you can with a complete stranger. She was Australian, 26, tom-boyish and an orphan until the age of eight, both parents died and she was 50% hearing-impaired in both ears which I only caught on after four hours. She had been reading my lips and was remarkable, though she said it was harder because of my beard. After all of the acute attention to the things around me, the sounds of trams and bicycles and bells and music and languages, here was someone with trouble hearing me even closely.
My new friend had studied acting and travelled through Europe in the last two years on a ten thousand dollar inheritance that was just about depleted. She had grown and matured being alone in new situations confronted with her fears and weaknesses and had to make decisions and be self-reliant. It had been an inner journey as well.
Louise shared her Toblerone and was fascinating in her determination to overcome her handicap and was fun to listen to (she said I'm a good listener) and we talked about writing and stories and who we are and sights and smells and tastes. The girl who barely made an impression on me initially, except that she looked like Gomez with a big, squared Jay Leno chin, I now wanted to kiss and an erotic scene flashed in my mind. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we made a date to meet the following night at Lucky Mothers Coffee Shop, and along would be her male (but gay) friend Remy who she was staying with for six weeks.
Instead we met at Remy's and I saw for the first time a flat in Amsterdam, climbing the steep stairs that were almost a ladder, and it had the feel of an attic living space. A pretty artist friend named Mina from Connecticut was also there, a friend of Remy's from the university whose father apparently had oodles of dollars to be footing her tab. She split to study soon and Remy decided not to join Louise and I, who were bent on making some fun in my last night in Amsterdam.
At a cafe overlooking Rembrandtsplein, we had cappuccino and shared a decadent chocolate and berry cake and then went to my hang-out Smokey Joe's for the worst game of pool ever played by two people cackling and acting like fools. Stepping outside, Louise said that I could not leave Amsterdam without being doubled on a bicycle.
"Doubled?" Is she talking about sex?
Sitting sideways on a narrow rack over the back fender of a bicycle as someone else peddles and is in control. Usually it is a woman that is riding as a man pedals.
"Are you sure, I weigh a hundred and eighty pounds. I'm probably too heavy."
"I can do it, you'll see" and I shot a look to her body again. She was a solid woman all right.
She just bought a bike that afternoon for twenty-five guilders and we gave it a quick inspection. The rear tire was a little soft and wobbly but it should hold. She demonstrated how to run alongside and grab the narrow rack as the bicycle is being pedaled and you are running and then jump on gently so the bicycle doesn't tip over.
The first try, I jumped on and caused only a little wobbling as she pedaled around a small square on my virgin run and we were doing fine until we tried to stop and I didn't get off the bike in time and the bike fell with us on top of it. Nobody was hurt and we got up laughing.
Getting on again, this was it and Louise aimed the bike down the street as the cobblestones rattled us and the waist-high metal posts at the edge of the road whizzed by my knees. We were howling and laughing and I was under her control and tried to tune into her movements as she stood to gain more speed and looked back with a tongue flapping from the side and took me on a wild ride.
Louise stopped and said it was my turn and I was pumped and ready to go for it, having been a motorcycle and bike rider from way back, and took the bike two blocks down just with me first to get the feel and returned and slowed down and asked if she was ready and she hopped on. When she was settled and I had the feel of our weight and balance, I gunned it with my strong sprinter's legs and she roared her excitement at a ride she never bargained for, over canal bridges and around people, in front of a tram and just as we started to cross a bridge, a car stopped at the foot and left little space for us to fit through. If I slowed down too much, we would probably topple I thought and yelled to Louise to pick up her legs to avoid the posts and I hit the gas. She was terrified but still yelling like a sport as we sped through the two feet between the car and the posts.
I slowed down as we approached the Red Light District and we hopped off, breathless and laughing like hyenas.
"That was good fun" she was saying as we walked arm in arm, "That was good fun."
On a cantilever bridge with the lights of den Waag behind, I snapped a photo of her with the bicycle and red cheeks and I cherish this picture and the capturing of this precious moment.
She walked me back in a light rain around three o'clock to The Flying Pig and we kissed and agreed to meet at ten o'clock at Gary's Muffins. I would be flying back to the States in the afternoon. Jerri was working and I told her that my trip was cut short and would be leaving for the States. I was going to miss her and she wished I could stay and gave her address and phone and we kissed.
After breakfast, Louise took me to the film and music studios and offices off Leidseplein where I had noticed the sign weeks ago and nobody was working on Thursday, December 22. There was a rehearsal space with two pianos and Louise played a melody she was composing that was beautiful. It still needed work but she had created space. She then pointed to an ad design studio across a courtyard owned by an American that Remy knows, a dream studio with high ceilings and windows.
At Vondelpark, we went to a white building near the Filmmuseum and crossed a large courtyard smelling of horses and through a high wooden door where an equestrian practice was inside in an open, dirt-floored space with a slight brunette and pony-tailed woman riding and a stern Dutchman in a turtleneck calling out commands that echoed. He turned as we entered and said loudly, "Ve are not sleeping here. Ve are verking very hard".
They were, doing sidesteps and prancing as the horse snorted and steamed and the balance of the beast and its rider was slipping. She was also fatiguing, I could see it in her face. The horse caught a hoof on one of the others while sidestepping and stumbled into the wall but they regained their balance quickly.
They had enough and the trainer took them through some easy steps and slowed the pace and started to cool them down. Louise and I left and walked to The Pig because the time to depart had arrived. We kissed and hugged and gave thanks for such a perfect meeting and promised to write.
A tram from Leidseplein slowly to Centraal Station and a big and heavy yellow and blue train pulled into the immaculate station as instructions in Dutch and English reverberated, and ten minutes later I was en route to Schiphol Airport. What would be ahead for me back home I was more unsure about than traveling alone on another continent.
As far as I know
there's no one way to go
All the roads in the end
will come together
Then make your first right
onto Eden Way
And make this time a permanent stay
I'm looking inside for Eden
I'm looking inside for Eden
I'm looking inside for Eden
* Waiter 1/95
The Seasons Restaurant (age 30)
A restaurant job was what I could pick up the fastest and make immediate cash in tips. One of the benefits of working as a waiter or bartender is that if you walk in flat broke, without even a penny in your pocket, you will leave at the end of the night with cash on hand. While this can sometimes be a lifesaver, it's also why restaurant people walk into work with no money. They walked out last night with most of their day's wages and blew it in another bar or restaurant or club.
Working room service in London helped me to get hired because it had been five and a half years since being a banquet server and my skills were kind of rusty. Season's had an ad in the paper and I didn't think I'd get it, there must be plenty of people with more experience or younger legs but the manager barely looked over the application and said I was hired. The W-2 and citizen status papers I filled out and he put me on the schedule for training the next day at lunch. The whole thing took twenty minutes and I wondered why I even bothered to take a shower.
Soon I found out why I was hired on the spot. There wasn't much money to be made there and the servers were always grumbling at the back table smoking cigarettes and talking about other places hiring and every week or two one of them would leave. I was the latest hiree and it was obvious they didn't expect me to last long.
It's mostly lunch shifts you get until you've been there a while, and then it's split shifts so you can get in a few dinners and make better money. The novelty was wearing off fast and hustling my ass around to serve people who should be serving me made me think that I should jump to something else soon. Certainly this wasn't going to be a career or anything but I'd sort of pictured doing it for two or three months until I figured out what would be next. It wasn't even two weeks yet.
Also what got on my nerves was on Friday and Saturday nights when the tables were cleared from the dance floor and the DJ came in and they pumped up Club Seasons for the college kids and it was too loud and downright cheesy. The other servers changed clothes and drank at the bar and were always asking me to join them and I didn't want to and was always making excuses instead of outright saying that it was a blatant waste of my time and money and wasn't fun anyway.
So I quit. I decided that never again will I serve anyone lunch or dinner or drinks or anything.
* Assistant Manager 2/95 - 4/95
Paper Quick (age 30)
Yet another ad in the paper was for an Assistant Manager at the paper supply store where I bought the three-paneled brochure paper for my resume, the resume that drew compliments for style, ingenuity and credentials but resulted in little. The market for paper for copying and laser printing had boomed with desktop publishing technology and while it is not what you would call a razzle-dazzle business, it had to be one that would provide some security and maybe some growth I thought.
The interview with Mr. Relish the owner was an hour and forty minutes and most of it was him telling me in detail about how paper is made and the finishes and qualities and colors and sizes that are available. He was particularly fond of the expensive Crane's paper that is the highest quality paper money can buy and is also what the Treasury uses for paper currency. Handing me a clear bag of shredded dollar bills with the Crane's label, I did my best to keep up the oohs and ahhs to make like I cared and would occasionally ask a question that set him off for another fifteen minutes.
I was eating the shit as fast as he was shoveling it and he must've figured I was his man and hired me to start on the following Monday. He barely asked any questions about my past and jobs but then where would he have fit it in? It was just as well, having omitted the three week stint at the restaurant and this made it that much easier. He told me the Assistant Manager wasn't doing a good job and would be leaving soon and I would be stepping right in. Sound familiar? She had made an error that spelled the end for her.
Two nights before, there was a break-in and robbery of the cash receipts that were kept locked in a filing cabinet overnight and the police had not yet discovered how they broke in and didn't set off the alarm. They did find out that the Assistant Manager forgot to lock the cabinet the night before when she left and the boss was threatening to fire her, insinuating that she was a part of it.
It was freezing in the store because the heat wasn't working Sue said and we walked up and down the aisles and she showed where everything is. I happened to look up at the air conditioning duct in the ceiling and could see the blue sky and clouds. This had somehow escaped everyone's notice, even the police, and Sue told the manager and the manager called the owner to let him know that the break-in was from the roof.
She was pretty but also a reborn Christian with a boyfriend, so that pretty much ruled out trying to go out with her. A couple of nights when we locked up, she offered to give me a lift home so I didn't have to take the bus and I enjoyed talking with her. They still had no leads on the robbers but after two weeks she was fired when I knew enough what to do. I didn't think it was right and asked her if she was going to sue Mr. Relish, he had no evidence that she was an accomplice. All she had done was forget to lock the drawer.
She said she must have the power to forgive and could not allow this to cause an unnecessary conflict in her life. God is watching out for her. Was she for real?
Think about paper with me here. One sheet of paper is light and can float on the wind. When you buy paper, it's in a ream of five hundred sheets and weighs, I don't know, five pounds. The reams come in boxes of ten and weigh a lot and everyday we got a morning shipment from the warehouse in Trenton and the fifteen or twenty or twenty-five boxes had to be opened and the shelves stocked in stacks of reams or put high upon a shelf in the back or put together in a printer's order.
Another guy named Tyrone was hired as a stock person and cashier to replace the other guy who left before I got there. The story coming out was that the place had one of those familiar revolving doors and while all of this weight we buggy-lugged all day long, customers were at the register or needed help or the phone was ringing with another order or for custom cutting or sometimes it was the owner spinning off again about the Crane's paper that was a miniscule percentage of sales but a majority of his attention.
This was the really frustrating thing when he held us up on the phone, or worse yet, when he was in the store rambling on about his pet paper and customers were waiting and the phone was ringing and he was oblivious. He drove up in his polished black Mercedes and meddled in the operation of the store, upsetting the flow, and never seemed to be in much of a hurry and didn't understand that his employees were.
It was killing me with all of the lifting and running and learning on the job and worrying about getting everything done and the other guy and I started grumbling. It looked like another opportunity was falling apart. Damn, I finally had benefits again. He told me about a job he interviewed for and was thinking about taking if there was an offer and I was rooting for him but it wouldn't be the same without him.
By the next week, he was sour and didn't say a word and was sulking and avoiding me as we stocked the shipment. He didn't get the job and hated this even more. The only thing to look forward to when we first started was joking around with him in the mornings and now there was nothing.
It was going to be his last day that Thursday I could tell and when he left for lunch, it was no surprise to me that he didn't come back and the others asked if I knew anything but I didn't, not officially, and just shook my head and shrugged. The part-timer and I legged out the rest of the shift and that night I decided to quit in the morning because, even with him there, it was hard enough keeping up and without him, I would have broken my back.
* Bookseller 4/95
Pyramid Books (age 30)
There's not much to say about what happened in this discount book store, it was only for two weeks and consisted of shelving books, selling books, shelving more books and buying used books. By the end of the first week, I scored an interview with Peterson's Guides as a telemarketer and accepted the job offer. I spent most of these two weeks behind book racks reading.
Change of residence
* Sales Supervisor 4/95 - 12/95
Peterson's Guides (age 30 to 31)
Now, I had vowed after writing and putting on "1(800)" that never would I ever do telemarketing again. Ever. But I had been trying to get a job at Peterson's for two years, even sending my resume to the President a couple times and this was the proverbial chance to get my foot in the door.
An ad in the paper lo and behold one day was calling for telemarketers. Well, I guess it's going to be telemarketing. At least for a while. I was hired in the Book Sales Group to sell the company's college and career information guides for ten dollars an hour with bonuses and prizes.
Before the interview for this job was when a friend asked if I was using my real resume.
"No, I'd have to have it bound."
Four months later, I was promoted to the Book Sales Supervisor and created a circus where there once was a barren lot. Sales increased 200 - 300%. My boss every other day was praising me about how well the group was doing and that she knew she could count on me and that I had reacted to every obstacle like personnel problems perfectly and positions would be coming available as we expanded and I would be at the top of the list.
But that was to be short-lived too.
Yup, I just lost my job again, the fourth one in the last seven years and it is today that I set about drafting my real resume from the beginning. You can be sure I won't be mailing it out to prospective employers. So how truthful is the one they're getting?
Today is Tuesday, December 5 and Friday the eighth is the last day. Something about an accounting error that was just discovered and caused a million dollar loss and they have to cut expenses. That's their story. There was just a merger in October with an international publishing conglomerate and their beancounters and our beancounters reconciled every account, the value of the company was determined and there was a deal made. So how could this "error" be missed and just now be discovered a month and a half later before year-end?
We were probably part of the deal. Our heads were on the block when they shook hands.
"Sorry it's before the holidays, you all did a great job. We will be mailing your last paychecks, there is no need to return to the building. Thank you very much."
I have to wonder about how much of what I've been told is the truth.
My Sales Manager, a chain-smoking Jewish woman, called me last Friday morning and asked if everyone was in today and that she wanted to meet with all of us at three o'clock. Okay, and I hung up the phone. Then it started to occur to me. Why don't I know what this meeting is about? We always discuss what will be happening.
Of course everyone in the group wanted to know what the meeting was about and I said I didn't know but it was probably about what we were doing next. Good, so they looked forward to the meeting and stopped asking questions. In the meantime there was a nagging suspicion in the back of my head.
At three o'clock sharp, we were herded into the slaughtering pen, the gate was shut and we were cut.
I was played, played all the way brilliantly. In sales, you have to be excited about your company and its products. If she had told me there would be an end to this in December, I wouldn't be so excited and wouldn't have gotten the people in my group so excited. She sold me.
And that's what I did with my group, like every salesperson does. Every morning I went in and had to get five people excited again about sitting down to dial phone numbers so they can create excitement in the person on the other end of the line and sell them Peterson's guides. Every day.
Most of the time I didn't want to be there myself doing the same old shit again, but I had to. Where was I going? It's like I had dated and screwed over all of the girls in my small hometown. If I wanted to get another date, I was going to have to move.
Why? I have to ask, why? Why do I keep getting laid off from my paid employment? Why am I sentenced to spending too much of my energy and time and money looking for the next place that will hire me, for a lousy job?
Having to sell myself all the time and post my accomplishments and places of employment and fudge the facts and spice up what really happened so that when my credentials are held up for a moment above the rest of the pile, by someone who doesn't know me, I will be judged and selected to join them and my life's path will follow yet another group of strangers that I say hi in the hall to and give a little smile.
At least a little smile because that's what they're looking for. If you don't give them the little smile, then the next time you see them, they don't know whether to smile. Should they or shouldn't they?
Should they decide next time not to smile, to not put themselves on the line, and should I decide this time to smile, figuring that we'll get along much better if I throw them the ol' smile bone... now they're uneasy again, some scared, because now they really don't know what to do. We didn't both smile or not smile to each other at the same time.
Most just drop back to their favorite face. The old ladies have the Gracious Hostess smile down pat and can flash it in a second. Those are the fastest muscles, I think, on an old lady are the "Come-on-inside-where-it's-warm" smile muscles, "Let me take your coat dear". Ahhh, everybody's got their faces all right, but that's another story.
So I lost my job... again. Again and again and again. This is a pattern here in my life. It's fully developed, up and running.
- The Next Day -
I left work at lunchtime today. The group is disintegrating, all looking in the papers and combing the ads and waiting for the dog to die. I don't think I'll be able to stick it out until Friday and go down with the ship. Tomorrow might be my last day.
In the kitchen at work this morning talking with the Jehovah's Witness Woman at work, she wanted to give me an article at home that would lend some understanding or inspiration to my situation. I wanted to say, "What the hell, I'll take anything inspirational at all if you got some." She reminded me of the prophesies that this is the end of the world coming and it's happening just as it was foreseen.
"Well at least it's not going to happen in our lifetimes."
"Yes it is. It can't go on like this, people can't take much more of this."
"You're right, people are at a breaking point."
"It's going to happen in our lifetime. It's already happening, look around."
Hopefully this is where Nostradamus and the Jehovahs and all the other doomsayers get tripped up and people suddenly wake up to the problems and the conflicts and the greed and the lust and the envy and all of the sins are washed away and we will all start fresh with a new outlook.
So what's it going to be this time? Fire? War? Disease? Pollution? Sheer lack of will?
As I was leaving work, Lee handed me a note to read. She's a sixty year old woman I hired with bright green eyes and long blonde Dutch hair you would think is at least fifteen years younger. She was a history teacher at a Catholic school for thirty-three years and goes to Mass early in the morning before work and has been the unofficial group den mother. It's all right, she can't help it and everyone seems to need some mothering sometimes.
Her note said that God is the only one who really understands you and the only one that can truly defeat you is yourself. I read it and looked up at her and she just looked at me with those big puppy dog eyes and all I could manage was a weak smile. Why is this happening again? Why would God let this happen to me and many others around me like wonderful, lovable Lee Kinsman at the age of sixty, one of the most faithful in His flock?
Or did He do this to us? Would He, do this to us? I don't think so. Some would. Some people imagine a sadistic, angry God that gets his jollies from our struggles and death and follies.
Some would say that God is dead, like Nietzsche that God did exist and that He created the world and has since perished from sheer neglect. Maybe it was atrophy. But if God is dead, I wonder if it could have been by natural causes or if he was killed by another supernatural being. It would have to be someone of that caliber right, you can't just go up there like Rambo with a head full of fury to kill God.
Or did God get wiped out in an accident, maybe a messy, tragic spill on a cosmic banana peel? Dying in his folly like one of his sheep.
I think He's gone. Just gone, not here anymore. Or if He's here, He's using a hands-off, laissez-faire style of management.
Because if you think about it, if God is so great, what do you think He did after he created our world, after the seventh day? What did He do on Monday? What did He do the next week and the week after and after that?
I think that after God made our world, he left us to our own devices to choose our own course without interference, to have our free will and freedom of choice, no matter what the consequences. And this is what we naturally get.
I think He left us to go and make new worlds and more new worlds and creatures different than us to master those creations and He leaves them alone too. Maybe we weren't the first creations of God, who knows? There are probably other beings out there who are less equipped and less successful than we are right now, some of them on the verge of extinction, some of them already dead. We are a speck of existence at a different stage of our existence than the speck nearest to us, different than the next speck of existence nearest to them.
So did He make this happen to me again? He didn't, He's got other fish to fry. He either doesn't know, or doesn't care, or just can't care.
Besides, do I want a God that hovers over me, everyday, and watches everything I do and intercedes or interferes with my life as I am living it? Then where's my freedom of choice? What part do I play in my own life then, as a spectator? I mean sure, if I'm about to get run over by a bus, I hope He can spot me a little more spring in my legs, but beyond that...
So we're left to our own devices. And there's never going to be a time that everything is rosy and right and we never have another day of trouble and every single night we have a peaceful sleep. It's never going to happen.
I've started to remind myself everyday as I'm leaving my house for the world, that today I will probably encounter conflict, maybe death and anything, anything about my life could be thrown out of its delicate balance. That's life, and maybe I'll find something funny in it.
- The Next Day -
Today was my last day of work. The dog dies tomorrow and I won't be there but there's something to look forward to. Tonight at 7:30 I'm going to meet Lulu for our first date. Our first date, but I never actually met her before. No, it's not a blind date or a set up. Oh no, I've been that route.
One time when I was twenty-two, my mother and a woman from work set me up with her daughter. Nice girl, nice kisser I remember, but she was just coming out of a bad thing with her boyfriend of three years. We might have worked out but it wasn't the right time.
Lulu had an ad in the personals and I've been looking to meet somebody and thought what the hell, it's one avenue to try, another way. Her ad read, "Hey Sis, I'm dating a younger, tall, charming, sexy, professional man who adores me" and the voice message said, "Hi, my name is Lulu, a.k.a. Maryann and I'm thirty-five, five foot five, in good shape, I work out and write poetry and essays, and I write music. Oh, and I'm a gourmet chef. I'm looking for a younger man because they're more enthusiastic and more flexible than guys my age".
I figured all right and I'm still pretty limber at thirty-one so I'll leave her a message, hoping she would go lenient on the tall requirement, issue a waiver for me. Charming I can be, professional, sexy, got that. Tall? No can do.
I'm going to have to be a really good talker. Always had to be. No woman has ever looked across a bar at me, as far as I know, and said to her friend, "Look at that guy over there with the glasses. What a hunk!"
So I left her a message, using my best voice with just a touch of Barry White. Women are stimulated by voices and sounds and most of them love the voice of Barry White or a derivative. Oh yeah baby ooohh.
The rule here is, if you're not Barry White or at least something like Barry White, don't try to be Barry White. It can be very embarrassing. It's like trying to seriously talk like James Earl Jones, it comes off like a joke and it's hard to seduce a woman when you're being a dope. I've noticed.
The next night she called and we hit it off right away. At one point talking about poetry, she said she would be the new American voice of the next century.
"Oh, I'm glad to meet you."
She did have a sexy, husky voice and she commented about how she loved my voice. Of course she did, it wasn't by accident.
We talked about me for a while and writing plays and I got the subject back to her and Lulu said she's been working out, especially the last six weeks and likes to work out and sweat at home and she loves her body and stands and looks at it in the mirror and said something like, "I'm a strong woman, half Russian with long blond hair and blue eyes, and I've got beautiful tits baby. I got 38C's with nice cleavage and great curves, kind of like Sybill Sheperd. You might get to see them sometime. So when do you want to meet?"
Sybill Sheperd, I can go for that.
Okay, so I got a seat at the front bar and an Amber Ale and looked for long, blond hair and blue eyes. You know, Sybill Sheperd at a micro-brewery. I knew immediately it was Lulu when she walked in and thought she looked like someone my friend Tom avoided a couple months back when we were walking in town, but I wasn't sure. I hadn't gotten a really good look at her from a distance.
After some small talk and the first flirtations, I stopped to write something in a pad and she remarked about how much she loves my hair and how shiny and started to stroke it and run her fingers through and was cooing.
"And oh your beard, it's magnificent, I just love your beard."
"Well, it goes well with what you're wearing."
This really tickled her and I stopped again to write that and noticed then the smell of Halls' Mentholyptus from her.
I was telling her how I loved living in town and being near everything and I can walk home and I have a friend who lives on Witherspoon across from the Library and...
"What's his name?"
"You know Ron?"
"Yeah, I met him and his friend Arto at the Rusty Scupper last summer playing pool."
Later on, I noticed she had a pool cue case in the back seat of her car.
There was a sign on the front door for Help Wanted and Lulu took a few minutes to fill out a job application on our date and jawboned with the bartender while I looked around. When she was done, she called over another bartender who she hadn't seen in a while to chat. Apparently she was a regular.
The initial high expectations and anticipation of what might be, what could be, started to disintegrate into what really is. A few quick glances down and around were proving that she was not quite the bod she portrayed on the telephone and was now into her second or third menthol. Her name was Lulu but she was not little. I had been baited and switched.
Two beers later she asked if I wanted to go and smoke a joint with her. On the way out, I figured we should also get some wine or beer. Didn't need to. When I got in her car, on the floor of the passenger side was a bottle of red wine and four beers with two of a six pack missing. She was a rolling party and we were pulling away from the curb.
As she parked in front of my house, she said that if she was going to drink wine she'd better not drive and should stay over.
"Sure I'll ah, just sleep on the couch. You can have my bed, I'll just sleep on the couch, no problem."
We sat on my bed and sparked up while my roommates were practicing their band downstairs in the basement. I poured wine and we moved to the living room, taking off our shoes and I made a fire as she talked about tutoring reading at her full-time job and we wound upon the subject of poetry and reading it aloud. She asked if I had any to read and I pulled a few books off the shelf: three anthologies, an old hardcover Wordsworth, Shakespeare sonnets and Edgar Allen Poe. Nothing current.
She loves Poe and snatched up the book, leafing for the Table of Contents and asked what is my favorite.
"The Cask of Amontillado."
"Oh yes, the Cask of Amontillado", she mischievously sneered with a grin and set about finding the page.
I settled back for her performance, knowing she was going for a performance as she licked her lips and assumed the voice of Montresor, an Italian man at carnival with revenge on his mind and a plot.
The story came back to me in color and the smell of the cold, underground wine vaults and the echoing and lines like "the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough" said Fortunato as he is led unsuspectingly to his death. "True - true", Montresor replies.
Lulu was nearing the end just as my roommates were coming up the stairs and they caught the last two minutes as the bricks were built up tier by tier over the niche and Fortunato screamed from within. She was very good and aided my imagination and appreciation of the story.
There was a guy with my roommates, a guitar player they were trying out for the band, and he popped in a videotape of the band he was in during the summer and they really, really sucked and they were just way too loud. There was nothing but loud.
Lulu by this time was drunk and stoned, swaying slightly next to me on the couch with another cigarette and she blurted out, "This band is sloppy. They could really use some work. (puff) Take my word for it, I don't know who's band this is, but I write music... I know, good shit, not like this. I'd make a damned good music critic because I know what's good and what's bad. And it's just... this band is just sloppy".
What she said was true, absolutely, but I was at least going to give my roommates the right to the first response though. Lulu either didn't recognize that right or didn't care to observe it. I think she probably just reserves her right to first blurt wherever she finds herself.
The guy tolerated it, he was kinda pissed yeah and he left soon after and the others went to bed or work at the lab. Lulu laid out on the couch with a pillow under her head and I got another for her and her talk turned to mumbling and the room was spinning and she asked if she could sleep in my bed.
"Sure yeah, go right ahead, I'll ah... just sleep out here."
She staggered in and closed the door.
My stomach was grumbling again because I hadn't eaten dinner in case we decided to grab a bite, but she already ate and wasn't hungry.
There's a drunk woman in my bed, what am I going to do?
Pierogies with cacciatore sauce hit the spot and with my stomach full and sleep coming on, I looked over at the couch, a love seat really, and knew there was no way I was getting much sleep there. If I went in to my bed with Lulu in it, she maybe wouldn't mind if I kept to my side and didn't make any advances and besides, she hadn't shown herself to be afraid of crashing in a stranger's bed. I wouldn't be making any advances anyway because I had no desire.
She was puffing a loud, drunken snore.
I just met this woman five or six hours ago and now I'm going to sleep with her.
Her stomach was growling and she was taking up most of the bed and had a head cold so you could hear the phlegm sucking around and then, at about four in the morning, she let out a big old pig fart.
"Pfffffgggghhh, pffffggghh, pfff".
Of course she was on her left side with her ass facing right at me and was passed way out. She didn't even move like she knew she just blew me away, like you would if you knew you had just farted that loud. It was loud. Good thing it didn't smell as bad.
She wound up sleeping until nine forty-five in the morning. I got up at eight-thirty and now being unemployed, I had some leisure time and settled into a chair in the living room to read the poems that Lulu had written and brought for me to read. She was particularly proud of Moondaughters and so I started with that. She didn't start with much and ended with less.
Looking like a beast of burden slugging glasses of milk and smoking a morning menthol, she was no beauty to wake up to. Lulu told me about how she lives with her mother who was never a very nice woman and how after her father died, her mother could never be happy with anything, especially her and found everything to pick on and called her names and was abusive verbally and she just needed to stay out last night, to not go home. She needed a place to go and thought I wouldn't try anything and I'm an artist and would understand that she needed to get away.
I thought that while cooking pierogies, that she needed to get away from something last night. She had no intention of going home and was taking her chances with me. Well, the farting and belching and snoring didn't do it for me so she was safe. She might not have been as lucky with other guys.
The next morning, talking with a roommate after she left, I offered that at least she wasn't boring. He said, "Yeah, but she was a little too not boring". That's true but if I hadn't met her, there wouldn't have been anything funny that happened yesterday.
* Started "The Real Resume" - 12/95 (age 31).
I almost posted this ad in the classifieds:
I've been laid off now for the fourth time
and am past apologizing for it when
looking for the next job. Rest assured,
it was not my fault. Yes, I have worked
at many places. My real resume would
have to be bound and one page resumes
are fictitious, but you know what?
I still believe there is an organization or
company where I can be the best I can be,
just as I've always been, and can make a
decent living doing it. We wouldn't be
getting married or anything, but you'll be
invited over to my place for some holiday
cheer. So if you're looking for someone to
kick off the show, give me a call.
The next week came the call that my grandfather was in the hospital with cancer.
He had beaten it earlier but it caught up and the surgery would only give him a few more months. We wanted to visit but it was going to be several weeks before he was able to see more than my grandmother and aunts. Grandpa was a remarkable man with dignity and didn't want us to witness the condition he deteriorated into so rapidly. Three months before, his hug was still strong at my brother's 30th birthday party and the three of us made plans to go out for a round of golf in the spring. Grandpa, even at eighty-one, still pulled his own bag over eighteen holes.
I'm out of work again but it's the first time I haven't been absolutely miserable trying to scratch out a job that pays a living wage with some degree of security and the possibility of promotions. I've given that all up and have concentrated on my writing and music, my creative forms of expression that I control and into which no one else can force their hand unless I allow them. Life is too short to play someone else's rules for too long, especially if they're not working for you.
During the blizzards and icings this winter, I have been at the keyboard in the hours that I set and slept when I wanted and didn't have to worry about getting out early in the morning to shovel snow and de-ice a car and warm it up and take my life in my hands getting to work to earn my daily bread. Resumes have been mailed and a minimum effort to find work is being made but my expectations have not been foiled yet. There's nothing much out there anyway or nothing I want or would be willing to do. As long as something happens by mid-June when the Unemployment runs out.
I am thankful for the freezing winter that makes going out for a job difficult and sometimes impossible so I don't have to suffer the guilt. I also wish for Grandpa to be free of his pain and suffering. Such a man that made his impact in life should not decease with it slowly escaping and wracking his body and soul.
Two years ago when he turned eighty, we had a party. I wrote to him in a blank card:
Dear Grandpa Howard,
Today is an event like no other event you have experienced in your eighty years. We celebrate today not only the marking of your longevity, but also what you have given to each and every one of us here. That is why I have chosen to give you the most valuable gift I have - my words.
When I was eleven years old, something extraordinary happened to me. My Mom and new husband called us kids into the kitchen and asked my brother and sister and I what we thought about being adopted by him. Your face appeared to me and I said that I didn't want to be adopted so I could carry on your family name of Carstensen. At eleven years old, I was thinking about carrying on the family name. Eleven years old. And if I had, today I would be Slayton... Roderick Slayton.
Since then, the matter of respect has grown in importance to me. I strive to gain respect and never demand it. People who demand it from me never get it. I cannot be a friend or lover to someone if they haven't earned my respect. This is not an attitude of conceit, but of principle, and while we have a relationship through blood and name, you won my complete respect long before I really knew what it was. I love you Grandpa.
The last breath of the earth we take is as natural as the moment we were born.
When your grandfather dies, you move up one notch in the male order of the family.
I am now where my father was, and he is now in the place of my grandfather. It really helped the family that my estranged father and I talked and made peace with the past. There was the feeling of the passing of the torch to my father and we will run side by side until the day he slows and falters and passes the torch to me and to my brother so we can run our legs. My nephews will carry on long after we're gone but I don't know yet if I will father a child to carry on the family name. Perhaps my work will be my only torch-bearer.
* Box Office Sales Assistant 5/96 to present
McCarter Theatre and Performing Arts Center (age 31)
I found my place in a world-class theatre, the Tony Award winner in 1994 for Outstanding Regional Theatre and the Theatre of the Year in 1995 named by The New York Times.
Two months after the funeral, I boarded an Amtrak train to visit my father for a weekend so we could begin a chapter in our lives that never seemed possible even a year ago, even the day I arrived for the viewing. At one time I would have killed him but every man pays his sentence and there comes a time for forgiveness. He is my father.
As I stepped from the platform and over the crack into the train, I recalled in a flash that time crossing the chasm from the platform of the FDIC job to the unscheduled journey that followed no set of tracks and led me to this point far from the coordinates that were charted. The trip to my father was just as momentous. It would give us both the chance to be bigger than we ever were, to have more understanding, to reach a new plateau in our lives. And not only for us but for our family, and for the people we know. When everyday you hear so much crap that happens in the world... but I knew it could fail. I knew it could fail.
In this thirty-one year journey to find my place in the world, I believed so many times that I had arrived and could finally rest my weary load but was soon goaded to move on by external forces or by a will to do what was in my heart even when I had no car and no job and no girlfriend and all there was for dinner was a hot bowl of Oodles of Noodles.
There is no longer a need now to affix a label to myself and no longer will my "identity" represented on a page called a resume be cast on the wind like leaves, only to get caught in the first corners they blow. I have no more need for corners.
But remember, if you must use a resume, never ever give them a true, objective picture of yourself. Fudge the facts and spice it up just right. Make it even better than it really happened.
Backward to Resume_2.html
Backward to Resume_1.html
Back to Andrew Bellware's homepage.