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.

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