Thursday, January 27, 2011

end of this, end of that

Is this the end of the middle class?  I never imagined I could ever be in this kind of position, and I'm sure my folks never were.  But we are both out of work, Barry gets his last unemployment check in a week, and we have about enough (emptying my small 401(k)) to get by about two more months.  It's a really short time to find a job.  It took me four months of looking before I got the Dweck job.  But I have my third interview of this job search on Monday, which gives me some hope.

Other things I never imagined:  food stamps.  Medicaid.  welfare.  We've already applied for food stamps, and I think we can do the other two once Barry's unemployment has stopped.  Food stamps, actually, I considered many years ago, when I was unemployed in Binghamton.  (Unemployment was kind of a quaint process then, compared to now.  You'd wait on line and make marks in a little book.)  I think I moved back to New York before I had a chance to apply.  Food stamps are unhappily common now; I understand that a lot of people who are employed get them.

And how can I turn up my nose at Medicaid when I have no health insurance?  The health insurance issue has been an incredible burden for nearly three years now.  I went without for an entire year after I left Penguin; Barry had it through his job, but we couldn't afford to add me.

Welfare is a whole other thing, and mostly I'm afraid that it won't be nearly enough too hold us together.  Even though our rent is relatively low, it's still a chunk of money, about half of what we spend each month (half of the minimum we're going to have to stick to -- in better times it was about a third).  

If I can temp for about four weeks between now and the end of the month, I can qualify for unemployment.  The formula to qualify is weird.  You have to work during two consecutive calendar quarters, and in the second quarter you have to work at least half as much as the previous quarter.  So I have to earn half as much, between January 1 and March 31, as I did from October to December.  Of course, the availability of temp assignments isn't what it used to be.  I spent pretty much all of 2005 in four long-term temp assignments.

I'm spending about half of each day job-hunting online.  It's kind of intense and I'm usually pretty blown-out after that time...although I feel guilty about quitting after half a day.  As perhaps you can tell, I'm feeling somewhat desperate.  I'm pinching pennies like crazy; in fact, I'm really looking forward to getting the food stamps so I can go do a supermarket shop instead of buying things piecemeal in expensive little nearby groceries.

I found a song last night that I'd lost for 30-odd years.  The big problem was that I couldn't remember the artist's name.  He was one of those guys whose album was getting around in the late 70s -- everyone was calling it punk, but a lot of it was more like British pub-rock and was even called New Wave before that became a dirty word in the 80s.  Anyway, I heard the album, or at least the song, at the college radio station in Binghamton, and took a liking to it, and played it on my show a bunch.  (We'll talk about my college and professional radio career some other time, I promise.)  I always remembered the name of the song -- "Rattle the Cage" -- but couldn't remember the artist's name.  I only remembered snatches of the song.  Didn't get anywhere when I searched the song name on Napst*r and its successors.

But somehow, last night it came into my mind and I did a Google search (I've been in the habit of looking for song lyrics that way).  I ended up on some crappy site that didn't have a link to the song, or the lyrics, but it did have the singer's name:  Lu Janis.  (I had thought at one point that it might be Mickey Jupp, but I just confused the era and the J-names).  I couldn't find a free d*wnload so I bit the bullet and spent .99 at Amazon.  And bless Amazon for having not just a couple of his albums, but that particular song for download.  I did see the vinyl on eBay.  The album was called "Or Dervs," which I really should have remembered.  Anyway, there sure as hell isn't a YouTube video of it (it wasn't even a single) -- there's exactly one Lu Janis song on YouTube.  And I still don't know any other way to get music up on this blog, or if it's even possible.  It's hard for me to say if it's a good song...I thought it was when I was 17 or 18 or 19, and it's so great to hear it again that I can't seem to judge it fairly.  If you want to spend .99 to see what you think, visit my good friends at Amazon.  My Amazon widgets are still not working, and I reinstalled them all a couple of weeks ago.  I'm not sure if I'm doing it properly, although I know I did at one time.  I don't have very advanced knowledge of Blogger.  I mostly just write and post pictures and YouTube videos.

Yet another triumph of illeg*l d*wnloading:  a file of 972 eBooks for the Kindle, many not public domain.  I moved about 485 to my Kindle, and around 25 were public domain, with the average eBook costs 9.99 at Amazon...that's $4,600 worth of books.  I had to actually do that math on a calculator because I couldn't quote believe it.  There were lots and lots of series:  all of The Hitchhiker's Guide books, all of the Anne Rice vampire books, the Foundation trilogy, all of the Dune books, all of the Sue Grafton letter mysteries, all of the John Updike Rabbit books.  There was Catch-22.  There were what I believe to be all of the works of Stephen King and all of the works of Kurt Vonnegut.  Bill Clinton's autobiography.  The new Jonathan Frandzen., and The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.  The Nasty Bits by Tony Bourdain.  Freakonomics and Steve Martin's books and George Carlin's books and all of David Sedaris.  You get the idea.  It's really tremendous.  It replaces a lot of books that were lost in The Great Storage Disaster (and which I doubt I would ever re-buy), and provides more than I could afford in ten years.  I've also been collecting a lot of classics at Project Gutenberg, and I'll read a lot of them, but it's good to have an enormous shelf of contemporary books as well.

And if I ever do get to grad school, I'll be all ready to write a comparison of Theodore Dreiser and Stephen King.

It's funny how certain kinds of learning stick with me quickly and easily, and others are extremely difficult and seemingly near-impossible.  For instance, I pretty much understood baseball as a kid, but am just now beginning to get the rudiments of football.  And it's not that people didn't try to teach me, or that I didn't try to watch.  I always enjoyed reading, and with some schooling, was able to see more deeply into structure and meaning and language.  But I still bang my head up against classical music.  I saw a great story on CBS Sunday Morning last week about the pianist Simone Dinnerstein, which centered on her recording of "The Goldberg Variations," and also on the earlier recordings of Glenn Gould.  So I poked around a little with C*ptain Cr*wl, and found two different recordings of "The Goldberg Variations" by Glenn Gould.  I thought I'd listen and see if I could see any differences, or even what the composition was like.  I started listening to one, and I just feel like I don't know how to listen to this kind of music.  (Ironically, one of my professional radio jobs was as a classical music announcer.  Go fig.)  

I do get opera, even though I haven't listened to it much.  It's kind of Extreme Musical Theater.  I appreciate the voices, but can't really hear the fine differences from one singer to the next.  (My brother was an opera fanatic for many years, and could identify a particular singer immediately.)  There are particularly classical pieces that are played often and are familiar and I like them:  some of the Beethoven symphonies, The Four Seasons, a couple of concerti.  But honestly, I'm not even sure I could identify composers just from hearing them.  I could probably guess correctly if it were Mozart, or I could say if a composer was later or earlier, but I'm not sure I could tell Brahms from Schubert.  And I took piano lessons as a kid!

But I know I did learn how to listen to jazz, when I was about 17.  I took it on consciously; I wanted to learn about jazz.  OK, and right after I decided I wanted to learn about it, I fudged my way into a part-time, professional radio job as a jazz programmer/announcer. I learned very fast, and luckily, it was something I took to and was able to learn well.  Had to.

So don't think I'll stop trying to understand and appreciate classical music.  Being familiar with a handful of pieces isn't the same.  Interestingly, my brother took a music appreciation class at his public high school, and it actually took.  He was an opera fiend in a year.  (And, pardon the stereotyping, he's straight.)  I had music classes and sang in my school chorus and took piano lessons.  Hopeless.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I know you are, but what am I?

I used to have a VHS copy of Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (1988). I watched it many, many times.  I loved Pee Wee's Playhouse, but the Christmas Special pretty much had all of the characters and bits in it, plus a ton of wonderful and bizarre guest stars.  I downloaded a copy a couple of days ago and just watched it again.  Holds up pretty well after 23 years.  Plus a lot of the guest stars are no longer living or no longer performing.

Let's see if I can name them all:  Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Oprah, Cher, Charo, Whoopi Goldberg, Dinah Shore, Grace Jones, k.d. lang, Little Richard, the Del Rubio Triplets, Joan Rivers, Magic Johnson...I'm probably forgetting a few.  And then the usual suspects, including Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis, William "Blacula" Marshall as The King of Cartoons, and so on.

My two favorite lines:
1 - Pee Wee:  "Look, it's Little Richard On Ice!"
2 - Magic Johnson:  "Magic Screen and I are cousins!"

This show was the first time I ever saw k.d. lang.  I seem to remember saying to my brother, "There was this weird person on the show who looked like a guy in a cowgirl dress."  He said, "k.d. lang, dyke country singer."  ("Dyke" was just shorthand -- my brother is a great friend of many, many lesbians.)

The Christmas Special is not available from Netflix but is available from Amazon.  (I swear, I recently reinstalled all of those links from this blog to Amazon, and it's still not working.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Cute Guys Revue

(The Cute Guys Revue was an expression that Robin and I used as teenagers.  As best I recall, it meant at least two cute guys in the same place.  The "revue" part came from imagining the cute guys as a chorus line, kicking their legs, accompanied by a little vaudeville dancing-off riff.)

Somewhere around 2000, I went with V. to another state, day trip, where he was playing, and first we stopped in a shop owned by a guy he knew.  Let's say it involved a type of collectible, this shop.  We spent some time there, and I enjoyed meeting the shop owner, who was very knowledgeable and charming and very handsome.  There was a woman there with him -- he lived in the building where his shop was located, and it seemed she was wife/girlfriend, business partner, or both.

The two of them came to V's gig that night, and decided to hang out with me.  I spent more time talking to both of them, mostly to him, and he and I took a shine to each other, for sure.  We connected very powerfully.  He started telling the woman how well I would get along with such-and-such friend of theirs in New York, and how we'd have to stay in touch and they would come to New York and we would all get together, including the friend, and on and on.  (He said he had a small showroom in New York and traveled here often.)  He and I swapped e-mail addresses.

I e-mailed the collectibles guy a few times and never heard back.  I have to figure that either the woman friend came down on him, or he was just kind of spooked by the way we hit it off.  When I didn't hear anything back from him after a couple of months, I knew that something wasn't right.  I kept him on V's mailing list (which I maintained and which at that time was snail-mail) for a couple of years, but he never turned up at any shows.

Very rarely, I see him on TV, appraising something in his field of expertise.  I saw him tonight.  He looks absolutely unchanged to me, ten or eleven years later.  I do vaguely wish we had met at another time, or at least kept in touch as friends.

I need a second guy to officially make this The Cute Guys Revue, and I've been looking for an excuse to post this picture of Jackie Earle Haley.  The Human Target is a profoundly stupid show, but I watch it pretty regularly just to see him.  I like the way he looks on this show, with the longish hair, glasses, and facial hair.  I just like seeing him play a non-weird part.  He in fact plays someone who is mysterious, intelligent, and a serious kicker of ass.  (He does have a bruise on his face in this pic, but I think he had just beaten up half a dozen guys.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

interviews and Williamsburg

I actually had two job interviews today, which is not too shabby for my second week working.

The first one was in Sunset Park, an iffy Brooklyn neighborhood (albeit loaded with great Mexican luncheonettes) with a fair amount of industry. The main drag is 4th Avenue, but this business was between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, right past the BQE (= Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a big elevated roadway).  It's a wholesaler of souvenir items, and the job is administrative assistant.  The interview took about three minutes.  I was asked if I was working, what I did at my last job, and when I mentioned that I entered information into a proprietary computer system, she said, "We have that here, too."  She said it was general AA work, that the hours were 9-5:30 Monday through Thursday, and 9-5:00 on Friday.  She said that health insurance was offered after three months, and the medical was "OK," but the dental and vision are very good. She asked when I could start.  She asked if I had any questions.  She said that she'd call later this week and the idea was to have someone starting on Monday.

I figure they either decided from my resume that they absolutely wanted me, and this was just a formality -- or that they had already chosen someone and were just keeping this appointment to be polite.  Since I was actually interviewed by the assistant of the person I was supposed to see, I have to figure that they already had their candidate.  Also, there was no discussion about salary, though I filled out an application that asked for "salary desired," and I wrote "$32-35,000."  Then again, she did talk about benefits.  So this was all kind of weird and confusing.  

I feel like I've been out of the loop for a long time as concerns office work.  I have no idea what anyone wears to work any more.  I was super-overdressed for both my interview and my first day of work at Dweck.  Everyone wears jeans.  The woman at the souvenir company said that it's casual, and jeans on Friday.  I apologized for having dressed a little casually, but it was fine with her.  It was 25 degrees out, so I wore burgundy cords and a burgundy-on-beige blouse.  I don't think I have any pants that aren't jeans or cords except for a fairly busted pair of black chinos (pants with even a little stretch tend to get hopelessly busted and droopy).  I think I also have beige capri chinos, and some black-and-red pull-on Tienda Ho pants which are fairly not-plain (NG for an interview) and also way too lightweight for this weather.  (If you think about it, I started buying my new wardrobe in the warm weather, figuring I would add cold-weather pieces once I started working.)

If I get a job that's "casual" but not "jeans," I'll probably just have to get some decent pull-on pants (I have a brown pair that needs hemming) and wear tunics with that.  I mostly wore tunic-y shirts and jeans at Dweck, except there was a temperature problem.  The room I worked in was like a sauna.  It was something about the steam pipes traveling overhead, because no other part of the offices or factory was so hot.  In fact, the other end of the complex was often cold.  Basically, I wore short sleeves every day.  Every day.  I don't think I have as many nice long-sleeved shirts.

Second interview:  this was for a four-day job to work for a jeweler as a sales rep at a trade show.  Possibly a potential to stay on in sales.  The designer/jeweler is someone craftsy and already fairly professional (has a very beautiful website and has done trunk shows).  I met her and her husband at a cafe in Williamsburg.  Her jewelry is very nice and I could certainly talk about it with authority.  My sense is that they haven't talked to anyone yet who knew what vermeil was or what wire-wrap was or could name every stone in every piece.  I think the Dweck thing also impressed them.  They're paying a reasonably good hourly rate plus commission for the Javits thing, and are thinking about putting together a showroom and are looking for someone to staff it, which I said would certainly interest me.  They're going to have two people at Javits besides the designer, and I'm fairly sure they'll offer me one of the spots, though it's hard to say.  They might hire someone younger and cuter and teach her about the jewelry.  They had assumed that whoever they hired would need to be brought up to date on the particulars of the jewelry, which is why their ad mentioned a paid orientation session.  When I asked about the orientation, they told me what it was and pretty much indicated that it wouldn't be necessary for me.  But maybe they'll hire young cute people and orient them.  It would not be a smart way to go, but I'd understand it.  

I think it would be a lot of fun.  I also think it would be fun to run a showroom, but it's hard to imagine they would be able to make that a full-time job at first.

I actually do like her jewelry, although it's mostly very different from what I do.  It's probably the only way I could ever work for another jewelry designer:  that I admire his/her work, but it's very different from mine.  (Just like with Stephen.)

More than ever, I now know that there are no certainties in job-hunting.  Answering an ad for a job which seems like a perfect match is no guarantee of an interview.  A good interview -- or even three good interviews -- does not in any way mean there'll be an offer. An offer and acceptance doesn't mean that the job won't vanish.  And having a job doesn't mean you'll still have a job in three months.  (It wasn't recent, but I did have the experience of having accepted an offer, salary and start date fixed, and then someone else was hired instead.)  And getting two interviews out of ads answered in the first week of answering ads does not in any way indicate that I will get a lot of interviews.

I'm going to push fairly hard to temp, since if I temp around four weeks before the end of March, I'll be eligible for unemployment.  This will make hunting for something permanent a little less stressful.  End of March is pretty much when we'll be totally out of money.  Barry has three more weeks of unemployment benefits, I have about $5,000 in my 401(k), and that's it.  I get fairly panicky looking at that head-on, but that's pretty much it.  We are looking into pretty much any kind of public benefit we can qualify for, and I just don't want to list those right now.  It's fairly depressing.  Also kind of shocking, since I never in my life imagined even considering any kind of public assistance.

So, I'm just answering ads, putting my best foot forward, and hoping.

I did want to say something about Williamsburgh, the neighborhood where I met the jewelry people today.  WB is kind of like what Soho or the East Village was thirty years ago, but it's the first neighborhood of this type in Brooklyn.  That is, a neighborhood that was fairly poor and run-down but was colonized by young and artsy people because space was cheap.  This worked in Williamsburg even though it's in Brooklyn, because there's very quick and easy subway access to Manhattan.  So now it's all full of trendy restaurants and cafes and art galleries and lots of music clubs.  Some Manhattan clubs have even moved there.  There are some artists you just plain can't see without going to Williamsburg.  The problem is that it's kind of a pain to get there from anywhere else in Brooklyn.  I actually had to go from Brooklyn to Manhattan to get a train back to Brooklyn that goes to Williamsburg.  I think the "cool" section of WB is quite a distance form the subway, since I had to hike quite a bit from the train to the cafe, which only seemed to be at the outer border of the artsy area.  (Part of the overall neighborhood is also Hassidic, which has been the case for many years.)  Williamsburg doesn't seem to be all that gentrified, though it's now unaffordable.  The younger folks and students are now gravitating to Greenpoint and even Bushwick, which are adjacent to WB.  (Greenpoint is an old-school, middle-class Polish enclave, and I hate to admit that I know pretty much nothing about Bushwick.  I believe that Bushwick is/was referred to as "dangerous," which I think is Polite Code for "poor" and/or "minority."

In the early and middle 90s, before WB got cool, I used to go there once in a while to shop at the late lamented Domsey.  Domsey was an enormous bargain store but mostly known for the gigantic used clothing section.  The prices were quite gentle, and you could go with $30 and come home with three enormous shopping bags.  Williamsburg was terrible then, partly Hassidic, partly bombed-out/ghetto-looking.  But Domsey was awesome.  Also, the very famous steakhouse, Peter Luger, has been there for many years.  I believe I was taken there once as a teenager; apart from the location, it's way expensive, and still considered one of the very best in NYC.  From before Williamsburg was cool.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

testing, one, two, three

I may have mentioned that my doctor recently found that I had high liver enzymes, which he attributed to one of my diabetes meds, metformin.  He wanted to put me on another med instead, but there's no generic and even with pharmacy insurance, would have run $250 a month.  So I won't be taking that, but I have to be very careful about my blood sugar. 

I knew that my blood sugar was probably pretty bad, as I'd been pretty bad over the summer, though I've recently improved some.  I know that the only way to keep myself honest is to test once a day.  And I hadn't used my meter in so long that the batteries had leaked and I had to throw it out.

We checked with our pharmacy insurance to see if they covered a meter and strips, which they don't.  But the woman from the pharmacy plan recommended a website called Hocks.  Their stuff is super cheap, which is important because I can easily go through most or all of a jar of 50 strips in a month.  I ended up with a brand called Acura.  The meter cost $11 but most important, the strips are $18 for 50.  A lot of strips are $50-60 for 50.  The meter is very easy to use and a lot more modern than the one I had before.

This morning's number is 181.  This is not as high as I expected.  When my diabetes was first diagnosed, the reading was around 300.  However, it needs to come down.  I'd be happy with 90-120.  To be continued...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arizona and dead birds/fish

My views on these things may not be particularly mainstream or popular.

Concerning the Arizona shootings:  violent language and images in the media (e.g., Sarah Palin's "target" map) do not cause violent behavior.  Rather, the violent impulses and thoughts of the populace promote a desire and support for violent imagery.  If enough people did not care for this kind of imagery, there would be no market for it and it would vanish. Same thing with any kind of free speech to which some people object.  There must be enough people willing to consume it to promote its continued existence.

This is where I say, read Lloyd Demause.

Dead birds in the sky and dead fish in the water:  the explanations for this seem like scientific best-guesses.  Like scientists from older times, contemporary scientists like to make "educated" guesses for causes of things they don't understand. 

Respected scientists in an earlier era believed that worms were born spontaneously from meat (if you left meat out for a few days, worms would be seen on it), and that each sperm cell carried a complete, tiny little human called a homunculus. This was the best science, thinking, and guesswork of that time.  No scientists ever want to say, "We just don't know," so they put forth these best-guess theories, which were later proven absolutely wrong.

This is how I see contemporary scientists who are trying to develop a "real" explanation for these kinds of phenomena.  My belief is that we just haven't yet developed the science to offer a true and provable answer.

Another good contemporary example is anti-depressants.  Doctors know that they work, and how some, like SSRIs (Prozac and its ilk), actually behave in the brain.  But they don't know why those behaviors in the brain often combat depression...but sometimes don't work at all.  Contemporary science is particularly prone to guesswork when it comes to the brain and brain chemistry.  Freud was all about guesswork based on observation and filtered through his own experience.  A lot of his ideas seem to be right, but this psychology, though it often holds up under clinical treatment, requires a lot of belief without proof, just like religion.

There was a very smart writer in the early 20th century who did not seek to explain unusual phenomena -- he simply found reports of them and collected and published them.  Unlike scientists, he had the courage to say "These things happened, and we don't know why," embracing the kind of doubts that scientists tried to cover up, wish away or explain in a totally guesswork manner.

This writer's name was Charles Fort.  Jim Steinmeyer wrote an excellent biography of him several years back, and Fort's collected works are still in print.  (Odd bedfellows:  the novelist Theodore Dreiser was a great champion of Fort's,)

If Amazon Associates was working properly on this blog, I would link to them.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

hat shopping with Herb

I went to Manhattan yesterday to meet Herb, the purveyor of fine herbal remedy, because even when times are tough, one needs to relax -- maybe especially when times are tough.  

I have perhaps mentioned what a sweet guy Herb is, although very, very serious.  I don't think I've ever seen him smile.

The last time I saw him, he was wearing a great hat -- one of those trapper hats that turns up in the front and has earflaps that tie and is lined with fur, faux or real.  (It's one of those garments that was so uncool at one point that it cycled around to being cool again.  I was at V's once and had mislaid my cold weather hat.  Mrs. V said she could lend me one, and dug around in the winter hats.  She pulled out a trapper hat, an old-school plaid one, and asked, "Do you want the retard hat?"  She pronounced it REE-tard.  And truthfully, you used to see a hat like that on TV and the movies as a signifyer that someone was slow or unsophisticated.  Maybe it was because only someone not-smart would wear such an uncool hat.)  With the weather getting colder, my cheapie knit hat was not doing it, and I had in mind to look for a hat after meeting Herb.  There's a TJ Maxx diagonally across from where he and I meet.  

So after we conducted our business, he asked if I was going right into the subway, which is often the case.  My trip each way is about an hour and fifteen minutes on a good day, so I generally don't hang around much.  But I said, "I'm going to TJ Maxx to look for a hat.  Actually, I want one kind of like yours."  He said, "You know where's a great place to shop? Daffy's.  I got this hat there, for about twenty dollars.  They have some really good bargains there."  I said, "I'll have to try that, but I'm not sure where there's a Daffy's."  He said, "Come on, and walked me half a block to Daffy's.  Then he came in with me.  

He asked if I wanted to try the men's department, so I tried a couple of hats there, but the winter hat supply is getting low at most stores and the couple I tried on were too small.  So I said, "I'll try the women's department."  He said, "Well, I'll leave you here."

It's hard to explain Herb because he doesn't seem warm and smiley, but he's actually extremely sweet and caring and friendly, in a perfectly innocent way.  I like him a lot, and I'm really glad to have found him.  Haven't had a dealer I liked so well since the late 70s, and that one, Joe, became an extremely close and lifelong friend.  (His life, alas, ended about eleven years ago, but that's a sad story for another time.  There were actually two Joes I loved dearly who both died too young.  The one who sold the herbal remedy was more like Saul in Pineapple Express.)

As far as a hat -- couldn't really find one in the women's department either.  A couple of cute ones were too small.  (Either I have a big head, or they were sold out of all the big sizes.)  And none were really the style I wanted, or another style that was sufficiently close around the ears.  It's all about keeping the ears warm.

So I went to TJ Maxx, and even before I was through the door, I saw the hat in the window.  Trapper hat, pink with white fur.  It fit and it was twenty bucks and I wore it home.  Checked out the label on the train, and found it was real fur, rabbit.  

I don't have a problem with fur, since I eat meat and wear leather.  I'm not too crazy about fur made from animals that were raised for fur, which to me kind of perverts the food-chain thing.  But I don't worry for a second about fur and leather from meat animals.  Also...well, my aunt has two minks, her own and my grandmother's, and when they're eventually mine, I'll probably have them remade -- if someone can remove the stink of cigarette smoke.  She's smoked heavily for maybe 50 years, and has lived in the same apartment all that time, so the place pretty much reeks.  Or it did when I was last in that apartment, maybe 20 years ago.  She became something of a hermit after IBM early-retired her, after having spent her entire career there.

Animal rights people, especially the extreme ones like PETA, bother me.  (This is totally separate from people involved in animal rescue, whom I admire greatly.)  I always feel like they have their priorities wrong.  Once every single person, at least in this country but maybe in the whole world, is properly housed, fed, clothed and educated, then I'll take up the rights of animals.  

Am I a great crusader?  Not really.  But any volunteering I've ever done, any fundraising or donating, is about bettering the lives of people.  (Again, this excludes animal rights/shelters.  I give a few bucks there when I can.)  I'm particularly partial to AIDS organizations, and used to do some fundraising stuff for Gods Love We Deliver (they deliver meals to homebound AIDS patients).  They used to do an annual Dance-a-Thon, where you'd have to have raised at least a certain amount, maybe $150, to get in.  And it was a monster dance party.  They also did things like walk-a-thons.  I've also been known to give ten bucks to the MDA (the Muscular Dystrophy Association, often known as "Jerry's Kids"), mostly because I loved the train wreck that is the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.  Maybe I give the money partly because I feel a little guilty about laughing my ass off at the telethon -- not at the heartbreaking stories of sick kids, but rather at the many teeth-grindingly bad acts and performers, and Jerry himself, who gets weirder and crankier every year.  My brother and I used to watch the telethon together -- at our separate apartments, with phones nearby, so one could call the other and say "How bizarre was Liza?" or whatever.

Speaking of Liza -- there's someone I know slightly who sets off people's gaydar for miles and miles...and yet is married with numerous children.  I'm talking like Big Gay Al on South Park, not Anderson Cooper.  (I've seen and met the wife briefly, and it's clearly a for-real marriage.)  No one we know in common really discusses it, but my feeling is that there's a lot of headscratching.  So I happened to catch the guy on TV tonight, where he was appearing as himself -- on something sort of like a talk-show setting but not quite -- and he actually mentioned "Dorothy" and "the ruby slippers."  I imagine he was setting off gaydar all over the country.

(I'm super, thanks for asking!)

Speaking of Anderson Cooper, I met Gloria Vanderbilt when I was working at Penguin (she attended a reading by one of my authors), and sat and spoke with her alone for a few minutes.  And with everything she's done and been through, being Gloria Vanderbilt for eighty years or whatever, you what what she talked about?  She bragged about her son. (Well, she spoke of him with pride, lets say.  She is just as soft-spoken and proper as you would imagine.)  I guess moms are the same everywhere.  There's a perfect Yiddish expression, which like so many perfect Yiddish expressions, does not have an English equivalent.  The expression is "shep naches," and what it means is to derive pleasure from one's children.  (Isn't that a lovely expression?)  (And yes, it's pronounced with that hard "ch" like "Bach."  We are the chosen people who have been chosen to pronounce that sound.)  It's something a little different than "bragging about" or "being proud of."  Gloria Vanderbilt was definitely shepping naches from Anderson Cooper.

Friday, January 7, 2011

day one

Ironically, my right wrist is killing me from carrying maybe 30 pounds of beads back from Manhattan yesterday.

A couple of friends have offered advice or said they would keep an eye out.  I talked to the NYS tax people (they levied my account about a week ago, and then released part, and I was to make payments of 10% of my gross).  I told the man that I had lost my job and offered to pay the percentage from my last two paychecks.  He was very nice and said, "Well, you might need that money."  I said I was worried about my account being levied again.  He said if I do not make the voluntary payments (that 10%), they would contact my employer. He said I should call back in a month to make sure there was no action against my account.

I'm also going to file for unemployment -- I don't think I'm eligible, but all they can say is no.  Can't file right now because I worked four days this week.  I can do it on Monday.

I finished a beautiful bracelet last night, and really enjoyed myself making it.  I haven't made as much jewelry in the past couple of years, but I find when I do it now, I'm slower and more meticulous and take more pleasure in the process.  For instance, when I was working on the bracelet, I decided that I didn't really like a three-pearl element I had used.  I used to let that kind of thing go.  But this time I removed it, and removed anything that I tried and didn't really love, so when it was done, it was exactly the way I wanted it.  Well, almost.  The clasp I had wanted to use turned out to be a bum one, wouldn't stay closed.  It was a drag, because it was a box clasp with a beautiful faceted peridot that mirrored a small portion of peridot in the bracelet.  But I ended up with a silver box clasp, which looked just fine.

I am planning a lazy day today, although I did check into the state tax situation and unemployment.  But I'm definitely going to kick back a bit, and then start the job-hunting grind tomorrow.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

sucks to be me today

I got laid off.  Business was bad.  I heard eight of the factory staff were also losing their jobs.  There were a handful of people I felt really close to, and it was sad to say goodbye to them.  As much as I enjoyed the three women with whom I worked closely, there were also a few in the design rooms and the factory who were lovely and a great help to me.  The design and factory women were all native Spanish speakers, and spoke English in varying degrees (like me with Spanish, they understood more than we spoke).  When in doubt, we smiled a lot.  I hope to stay in touch with Marisa, who was probably my best friend there.  She works with off-price designs and knows her rocks.  She's closer to my age than any of the women in administration (I think the next oldest woman in admin is 34), speaks good English, is from Argentina, and has a very lovely personality.  I stopped by almost every time I was in the factory, but since her station was right there, I usually couldn't hang out too long.  Ana and Soledad in the production design room and Monica in the one-of-a-kind design room were great, and Marisol and Margarita in the factory.  And Lupe in QC.  Lupe was the only person there who ever asked me to make her a piece of jewelry -- I think Marisa must have told her that I made jewelry, because I didn't talk about it that much.  Lupe said that she loved purple and had no purple earrings -- could I make some for her?  Lupe wears big earrings, often wide, so I did a kind of clustery thing with a lot of wire-wraps around a chain, amethyst chips and oval beads, and then I threw in some tiny Swarovskis, 4mm smoked topaz AB2X, which for some reason threw off purples and worked beautifully.  I just gave them to her this week but never got to see her wear them.

I e-mailed my favorite local vendors to tell them I was leaving and to let me know if any jobs ever opened up.  Ironically, I saw four of my vendors this morning, when I went into Manhattan to source some beads.  I would love to work for any of them, especially Wonder, whose store (wholesale only) is very beautiful and classy, a lot of glass and very tidy displays, and a tank with two decorative goldfish.  It's kind of like a temple of beads, and the guy I worked with there, Tenpa, was lovely.

(Of course, I'll be putting in a lot of job-hunting work:  Craigslist, employers' websites, employment agencies and temp agencies, and I've heard that Linked-In is useful.)

Also, I have to say that Edmond handled letting me go in a classy manner.  I've been fired mean and fired nice, and he was very kind.  He made a point of saying that they loved my work and that I was well-liked and had caught on fast, and would give me a glowing recommendation.  Stephen also said some very nice things to me.  Stephen was not always the easiest guy to work with, but he was basically very nice and we shared a lot of tastes and got on pretty well, for the most part.  It wasn't fun when he was unhappy, but we did like each other.

So I had just a few hours to show Heidi, for the most part, how to do the bead end of my job (Jess will probably take the in-house computer program stuff), and updated her on everything that was outstanding or in process.  Heidi already handles all the stones, but she's going to be seriously overloaded.  She generally works with three or four vendors, but the bead vendors will add about ten more.

Of course, the biggest problems are mine.  Barry's unemployment benefits run out in a month, and I don't qualify for any (I have to work six months within a year to get benefits again).  I have this week's paycheck and next week's paycheck and about 5K in my 401(k), and that's it.  We have no health insurance.  In December, unemployment benefits were stopped for a couple of weeks while congress considered the tax bill.  We considered that our finances would be much better off without the $500 insurance bill.  The plan was for me to be on company insurance as of February 1, and we would buy inexpensive insurance for Barry which we would pay in January, to start in February.  I never officially learned what my health insurance plan would be (my 90 days would have been this coming Saturday).  Someone told me that she got individual health coverage for free, but couldn't add anyone else to the plan.  But she also said she wasn't sure that this was still the deal, and she was higher up in admin than me.  I was counting on it being free or cheap, only for me, and that I would be able to get on February 1.

We kept the pharmacy portion of our insurance plan (which was a crappy plan that basically pulled together a medical plan, pharmacy plan, and I'm not sure what else, a crappy vision plan and/or a crappy dental plan).  We were figuring/hoping that our prescriptions would be the bulk of our January medical expenses.  $50 a month means we can keep getting most of our generics under ten bucks, and most of what we use is generic.

Speaking of health, I had my periodic bloodwork done at my doctor's request, and he found my liver enzymes alarmingly high.  I know that they go up when I gain weight, but I hadn't gained any weight for about a year, and he said he'd never seen those readings so high.  I do have a fatty liver (grosses me out just to think about it), but again, that wouldn't have raised the levels.  The doctor thinks it's probably one of my medications, maybe the metformin (which is for the diabetes).  Anyway, he wanted to do the test again, which we tried to schedule before the end of December, but a blizzard intervened.  (We had, I dunno, a few feet of snow.  My office was closed last week on Monday and Tuesday -- I showed up on Tuesday, along with four others, and even though we all turned around and went home, the five of us got paid for the day, no one else.  And no one got paid for Monday.  But we were asked to come in on Friday because we were behind on inventory, so I actually got paid for the usual five days.

So I didn't get the blood test before the end of the year, and I asked Barry (who has been unbelievably great with errands and phone calls since I've been working) to call the doctor and find out the name of the test, then call the lab to see what it would cost to pay for that test out of pocket.  But the doctor said he could take the blood at his office, and get the test done at a very low price.  He even put the fee for the visit on a tab (though he only charges $40 for non-insured patients), plus he's been giving Barry heaps of Crestor samples, since that's one of our few non-generic drugs.

Here's what else can cause high liver enzymes besides overweight or medication:  jaundice, Hep A, B and C; cirrhosis (sp?) of the liver.  Cancer.  Guess which one I'm afraid of, since I don't have any of the Heps, I'm not turning yellow, and I haven't had a drink since 1986?  The truth is that my body doesn't feel quite right, I'm forgetting a lot of stuff, my hand was trembling when I was working on some jewelry the other day, and I've been unusually clumsy (knocking things over and bumping into things).  I'm hoping these are maybe just signs of the liver enzymes.  But I'm basically not feeling too optimistic about my health.  (P.S.  I checked, and I actually did spell "cirrhosis" correctly.  I guess I haven't lost my spelling skills.)

OK, let's perk things up just a tad with a really cool klezmer/hip-hop video.  The David Krakauer, the klez guy (playing clarinet), is the brother of an old and dear friend of Robin's.  This is a very different sound and somehow it works.

Tweet, tweet, gang.