Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chartreuse Mustard and the Prospect of Employment - Part 1

It’s been so long since I’ve been invited in for a job interview that I can barely remember what it’s like. I do remember that sometimes you get a so-called human resources person (that personnel departments are apparently no longer allowed to describe themselves as such is damned spooky, if you want my opinion, and you do, desperately) who doesn’t know Thing 1 about graphic design, and who, after going through everything on your CV, asks something like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Why do you want to work here at Acme?” In a little over five years I see myself in adult diapers in a nursing home in which none of the staff speaks English. And I want to work at Acme, to the extent that I do, solely because nobody else shows the slightest interest in having me, and I need an income and health insurance, thanks so much.

I like having structure in my life. I like having 13 hours of my day (including the long train rides to and from Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan) spoken for. I don’t like waking up in the morning, having only a trip to the gym planned for the day, and having to try to think of a way to fill the other 14 hours in some meaningful way. That sort of structurelessness leads to feelings of uselessness, and they to existential terror.

Not, of course, that working the sort of job I had the last time didn’t. I was the art director at an Italian-owned company that was in the business of selling ringtones, presumably to teenagers. It hardly felt meaningful, and the dour little sourpuss to whom I…reported had no taste at all; she was unable to distinguish the mostly appalling work a succession of undertalented freelancers had done before my hiring and my own stuff, which, by and large, was pretty goddamned snazzy, if you want to know the truth. Nor did I bond with any of the motley crew with whom I shared a big slovenly office. They were a great deal more interested in Lil Wayne, for instance, than I, and a few decades younger in most cases. One of them used the word awesome three times in every sentence, and another, who spent $15 on breakfast every morning, reminded me unpleasantly of a huge chicano kid at Orville Wright Junior High School who every morning during our so-called Nutrition break, for those of us foolish enough not to have eaten A Healthy Breakfast, would order a submarine sandwich he’d pay for with 35 cents he’d “borrowed” from classmates. In today’s money, the sandwiches, whose phosphorescent chartreuse mustard occasionally appears in my nightmares to this day, would cost around $17.50. Profligacy has always made me squeamish.

I will wear what I wore to my sole job interview in Wisconsin — a blue cotton shirt with epaulets I had custom-tailored for me in Huahin, Thailand, in 2006, and the very long, black pinstriped Edwardian blazer that was my favorite clothing acquisition in the United Kingdom during the five years I lived there last decade. Someone at the company in Wisconsin — which didn’t offer me the job in the end — told me I looked very much a rock star in that outfit. I’m hoping that the company with which I’m interviewing tomorrow isn’t the sort where everybody appears to have been dressed by Bruce Springsteen, as at the Italian ringtones company. I hope no one is aghast at my prolifically creased face or faded hair.

I have prepared by examining my prospective employers’ Website. It’s visually slick, but some of the prose makes me more squeamish than profligacy. There is talk, for instance, of communication infrastructure. It reminds me of a time in the early ‘90s when suddenly there was no longer such a thing as software, but only solutions; one didn’t buy graphics, accounting, or test processing software, that is, but graphics, accounting, and text processing solutions. My theory is that nobody actually fails to realize that such jargon is gaseous nonsense, but that everyone feels compelled to keep using it for fear of appearing not with the program or something.

[Continues tomorrow.]

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brandy and Nimbleness (A People Person - Part 3)

He had a bottle of cheap brandy. I hadn’t any better offers, and so accepted a long pull. It felt like fire going down, and then, when it got, a moment later, to my brain, like heaven, or at least morphine.

His name was Roy. His loneliness was as evident as a vainer man’s aftershave. Ordinarily I sprint from such persons, but there was something irresistibly plaintive in his expression, and I had to wait for tiphanee anyway. It soon came out that we had something important in common. Years before, while working at Studio Instrument Rentals in Hollywood, delivering and retrieving rented musical equipment, he had met Tom Petty, whose music he kept hearing — and detesting — years after the fact. “He won’t back down?” he marveled. “The guy’s four feet tall, weighs 82 pounds, has a handshake like overcooked linguine, and he won’t friggin’ back down? From who — a nine-year-old girl?”

“Whom,” I said, because I can rarely help myself, and am particularly helpless with a bit of brandy in me.

“Whatever,” he said impatiently. “At the time his so-called hits were first released, I managed to tolerate most of them. I mean, he sucked, but I’d take him over Guns N’ friggin’ Roses's screeching, for instance, or friggin’ Madonna or even Springsteen in his mumbly friggin’ folkie mode; now that’s friggin’ unlistenable. But now it’s years later, and I’d like to go 72 friggin’ hours, thank you very much, without hearing ‘I Won’t Back Down” or ‘Free Falling,’ or any of them, for that matter.”

(Little did I realize at the time that I myself would find the whimpering little ferretface’s music inescapable in 2010. I hear it on my car radio. I hear it virtually daily at the gym. I hear it when I take my car in for an oil change. I hear it being played by the bands the Egyptian restaurant around the corner, down the hill, hires to play on weekend evenings in the summer. I understand that its inescapability owes to radio programmers and others believing that, bland as it is, the Petty ouevre doesn’t particularly offend anyone, but its blandness offends the devil out of me.)

By the time I was halfway through telling him that I shared his feeling, there were grateful tears in my new friend’s sack-lunch-colored eyes. He began trying to make plans for joint activities, asking if I liked fishing, or bowling, or going to Bulls or Bears games. I told him that, living in San Francisco, I was much more interested in the Warriors or 49ers. He observed that I was a long way from home, and wondered what I was doing in Naperville, of all places. When I told him I’d come to meet a young woman, his Adam’s apple seemed to become twice its former size, and bounced like an overinflated basketball. He stammered, “Well, I’d better be getting home,” and tried to jump to his feet, but he’d had too much brandy for nimbleness.

My worst fears were confirmed. He was tiphanee. As I looked around to try to ascertain if anyone were watching, or if I could strangle him with impunity, he blurted that it was loneliness that had inspired his deceit. When I relaxed my hold on him, he pointed out that I’d been no less deceitful than he. I realized he was right.

I couldn’t figure out, in my agitated state, what he would have wanted with a 16-year-old boy who resembled a member of a boy group. When it dawned on me that he must be homosexual, I was of course filled with revulsion, and then dread. What if he suddenly decided that he found me attractive, and I liked his doing so?
Panicked at the thought, my first thought was to strangle him, but then I reconsidered, and we wound up living together in Naperville (I dared not show my face in San Francisco!) for seven years, during the first of which I discovered that it’s possible for two men to have sex without any ickiness. We might be together even now if he hadn’t run off with one of the former members of New Kids on the Block, one whose identity I am not, of course, at liberty to disclose.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Helluva World (A People Person - Part 2)

I hadn’t been on the job four hours before Gene appeared breathlessly in my cubicle saying he’d just heard form a Yemeni caliph willing to pay six figures for a California virgin if we could deliver her within 72 hours. “Yemeni Christmas!” I exclaimed, unable to resist the pun. Gene just looked at me quizzically.

I tried another tack; “How many?” I said.

“How many what?” he said.

“Caliphs,” I said, "and how many of them are from Caliphornia?" But he didn’t get that one either, as I’m not entirely sure you do either. Groucho Marx might have gotten it, but he’d gone to his final reward decades before. I told Gene never mind, and was struck by how nonsensical that expression is. Why do we English speakers not instead say, “Don’t mind”? It makes no sense to make the sweeping statement “Never mind,” for who knows what fate might have in store for us? It could be tomorrow that the most dire emergency will present itself, and that we most assuredly will want others to be very attentive indeed to our predicament.

That said, I began dashing, if you will, from chatroom to chatroom. A fascinating discussion was going on in one of the BDSM ones between a Mistress Tyrant and slave joe; she was making him eat the contents of his own nostrils, and then thank her for having done so. But I couldn’t allow myself to be deterred, however amused.
I finally found a likely prospect on the site of a record company that had a couple of hot boy groups under contract. She identified herself as tiphanee. She was about to turn 14, she said, although she had been well “developed” since 12. She liked movies and cute boys and music and cute boys, and cute boys. She disliked her parents because they didn’t understand her, and her younger brother because he smelled gross and was retarded, though not, I was able to ascertain, in the literal sense.

I told her I myself was 15, and looked like Justin Bieber. It was 1994, and Justin Bieber wasn’t a tingling in his father’s loins yet, but I have long been blessed (or is it cursed?) with the gift of prescience. She wasn’t pleased, of course, having never heard of Justin, so I told her I also looked a lot like the cutest member of her favorite boy group, not that I knew New Kids on the Block from Shinola, or a hole in the ground. She was excited to hear this, though, and said we could indeed meet face to face.

The problem being that she lived in Naperville, Illinois, near Chicago. I asked Gene if the company would reimburse me for airfare, and he said of course. I grabbed a vial of chloroform and several handkerchiefs and called a taxi to the airport. After flying to O’Hare and renting a Korean subcompact, I arrived 15 minutes early in front of the Burger King on the southwest corner of Route 34 and N. Eagle Street, where tiphanee had agreed to meet me. It was bitingly chilly, and there was no teenage girl there, well developed or otherwise, but only a sad-eyed guy of maybe 56 or 57 in a much warmer jacket than I was wearing, one of those inflated-looking ski affairs.

Just to be polite, I asked how he was doing. He was the type who feels called upon to try to answer rhetorical questions, and said he’d been doing a lot better before reading earlier in the day that sometimes professional executioners put too little anesthetic in the pharmaceutical cocktail of paralyzing agents and cardiac arresters they give condemned prisoners, with the result that the prisoner then suffers excruciating internal burning as the potassium chloride enters his bloodstream, but is unable to scream because paralyzed. “And they don’t call that cruel and unusual punishment,” he marveled bitterly.

“Yeah,” I agreed, shaking my head. “It’s a helluva world.”

[Concludes tomorrow.]

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A People Person - Part 1

I mentioned last week that in the mid-90s, while I was making the transition from extremely unsuccessful freelance writer to comparably unsuccessful graphic designer, I briefly worked in human trafficking. I remember my first job interview in the industry very vividly. It took place on the second story of an office building in the dismal Sunset district of San Francisco, where I lived at the time. The district had originally been an expanse of godforsaken sand dunes, and then an enclave of working class Irish Americans. By the time I moved there with Nancy, who liked its proximity to the San Francisco Zoo, where she looked after penguins at the time, and later koalas, it had pretty much been taken over by upwardly mobile Chinese. Houses, like the one we inhabited, that had been sold in the 1930s for $12,000 were fetching $280,000 — and the commercial streets were getting progressively uglier.

One of the best designers I’ve ever worked with was Taiwanese. I have no doubt that in mainland China, there must be brilliant artists and designers literally beyond counting. But I must tell you that in San Francisco, Chinese-owned businesses seem to be competing to come up with the most hideous exteriors and signage. There’s a block on the south side of Clement street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, in the Inner Richmond district, on which each storefront is more hideous than the one before it, and the first is quite inexpressibly monstrous in its own right.

The building in which I was interviewed for my first human trafficking job was less spectacularly ghastly, but the white plastic, back-lighted sign that hung above its entrance was more than enough to make me wonder if, instead of going through with the interview, I ought to just jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and be done with it.
The guy doing the interviewing, Gene Hsieu (I memorized the spelling off his business card), wasn’t like most of the Chinese in the Sunset, who tended to disdainful aloofness. He greeted me like a friend he hadn’t seen in years, and insisted I accept a garish ballpoint pen bearing the name of his company, Hsieu International Staffing and Restaurant Supply. He grinned at me ferociously and said he could tell straight away that I’m a real people person, which was exactly what he was looking for.

I wasn’t then, and am not now, any more a people person than I am a member of the North Korean Olympic fencing team. I like people very much in theory, but generally can’t stand them in practice. They talk too much about themselves, or imagine themselves wry for using catchphrases from television, or fail to get my jokes. Naturally, I didn’t say any of this to Gene. What I in fact said was, “People are awesome. What would society be without them?” He dutifully furrowed his brow for a second to suggest he might be savoring the wisdom in what I’d said.

He explained that my duties, if I accepted his job offer, would be to troll this new thing called the Worldwide Web for attractive virgins of both sexes. In “chatrooms,” whatever they were, I would make them think I was their age, and had much in common with them, and would arrange to meet them in person, whereupon I would hold bandanas soaked in chloroform over their faces until they lost consciousness. Then, via pager, I would alert “support staff” to come whisk them away to an undisclosed location.

Because the company firmly embraced the notion of dedication to family, its first choice was always to exact a ransom. Failing that, though, they would contact Arab or other billionaires who prided themselves on never having sex with anyone who’d had it before. “It wouldn’t work for me,” Gene said, winking fraternally. “I want a lover who’s been around the block a time or two.”

“You got that right,” I said, winking back at him, and lo, I had a new career!

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Love a Parade

If civic pride were rainfall, the lawns in the southeastern corner of Dutchess County, the county that can’t spell Duchess, wouldn’t be their present accusatory brown, but a vivid green. Only two weeks ago saw the unveiling of Beacon’s deluxe volunteer-built Welcome Center, where visitors can acquire informative brochures and what-not. Yesterday afternoon saw the annual Beacon Spirit parade, and the number of notables and celebrities either participating or just viewing made clearer than ever that it won’t be long before we are known as much more than just the Gateway to Poughkeepsie.

As I have mentioned here many times, Beacon is very popular with artists, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to see riding in the parade’s third car — a vintage Cadillac convertible with Connecticut plates and covered with chrysanthemums — David Hockney, Leroy Neiman, and the great American impressionist David Mamet, the water lilies man.

The Beacon, Fishkill, and Wappingers Falls Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Alliance (BFWFGLBT) was provocatively represented by a shocking pink phallusmobile that I understood to have begun life as an Oscar Meyer weinermobile of the sort Christopher Milk once coveted to arrive in at personal appearances, and the occasional impersonal. Half a dozen young men with yummy bodies danced to a tape loop of Gloria Gaynor’s immortal proclamation of resoluteness, "I Will Survive," while a phalanx of masculine lesbians trudged along on either side scowling challengingly, as though in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

A handsome young couple in Bisexual and Proud T-shirts pretended over and over to exchange wedding vows on a little platform on the back of the penismobile. I guess the BFWFGLBT’s notion was to get the populace comfortable with the idea of bisexual marriage before they start trying to sell that of gay marriage, but I worry that the bisexuals being of different sexes might have softened the message to the point of unintelligibility.

New American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez received an ear-splittingly enthusiastic welcome from Beacons’ many Latinos, but quite pointedly did no waving or smiling of her own, as her bodyguards ran ahead of her Lexus convertible warning everyone not to make contact with her. It’s not my way to be told whom I can and cannot make eye contact with, but it isn’t something one can make on his own, and Jennifer was talking to her companion in the Lexus’s back seat as she passed where I was filming.

Jennifer was followed on foot by a crowd of local Roman Catholics calling for the beatification of local de facto saint Pete Seeger, even though he’s nobody's Catholic. One of them expressed to me that the group viewed as insensitive Pope Benedict XVI’s having recently found time to beatify John Henry Newman, the 19th century English cardinal who converted from Anglicanism, while his secretaries fail even to acknowledge the group’s letters, telegrams, and emails.

Also on foot were a succession of marching bands, each more excruciatingly shrill than its predecessor, and a predictably ragtag delegation of local homeless who delighted onlookers by soliciting spare change as they shuffled determinedly forward in mistmatched footwear, or even barefoot. Gaudily costumed passengers on a float festooned with red, gold, and green carnations pelted onlookers with plastic trinkets, and were thought by many to have missed the turn off Interstate 84 to New Orleans.

Besides being the Gateway to Poughkeepsie, Beacon is known also as Prisonville, New York, owing to the large number of correctional facilities in the area. Remarkably, the bright orange (like the inmates’ jumpsuits, you see) Hummer atop which rode Warden Derek N. Miller and an honor guard of correctional officers in full dress uniform drew only scattered applause. It pains me to realize that my neighbors sorely undervalue Warden Miller & Co.’s keeping rapists, murderers, and crack dealers out of our homes and back yards, schools and offices, and I was outraged by the fact that the float sponsored by, and ridden by the owner/chef of, the Last Meal Diner — which supplies last meals for local prisoners about to be executed — was much more warmly received.