Monday, February 28, 2011

publicly assisted 2: electric boogaloo

I got a little lucky last week.  On Thursday, I (finally) saw my job counselor and job developer.  Since those titles are very confusing, I'll expound:  the job counselor helps with "life problems":  childcare, health issues, etc.  The job developer actually helps in your job search, one-on-one.  So I got to see my job counselor the other day, mainly because I wanted to ask about emergency Medicaid and emergency food stamps.  I wanted the Medicaid so I could get Januvia right away (more about this in a moment), and the food stamps so we could begin conserving our limited amount of cash.  No go on either, but the counselor was so impressed with my resume and my person that she grabbed my developer and I got to spend a few minutes with her.

The developer said that I ought to focus a little more on a career and not just on a job.  She said I should shoot for a creative company where I can learn and move up.  She's very sold on Google.

Later that say, I was grabbed by a second job developer, although each person is only supposed to have one.

Let me back up and explain about FEGS:  FEGS is a Jewish non-profit that has a number of programs, including a career development program called Connect to Care.  Barry's gone there some for job-hunting and resume workshops. I went to their orientation before we got into the public assistance stuff.  FEGS also administers (for the NYC Human Resources Administration, the HRA) the Back to Work program we're attending as part of the public assistance process.

So this second job developer works two days at BTW and three days at CTC, and basically wanted to hijack me, at least in part, to CTC.  (Let me be super-nice about this:  BTW is geared to less skilled, often blue-collar folk, and CTC is a lot more white-collar.)  So Ms. Garber "calendared" me for "independent job search" on Friday and I went to see her at CTC. 

CTC is way closer to where I live, nothing close to the overcrowding they have at BTW, and a lot more civilized overall.  Ms. Garber signed me up for seven software classes at CTC in March (she assured me they were much better than the ones at BTW), and will see me again at BTW tomorrow afternoon.

Januvia:  my doctor recently took me off of one of my diabetic meds, Metformin, since it seemed to be causing "elevated liver enzyme readings."  Unfortunately, the replacement, Januvia, costs over $200 a month, even with our pharmacy insurance  The pharmacy insurance, which runs us $55 a month, makes our generics very cheap, and is all of the health insurance we have.  My dad, in fact, sent me a check for $250 for the Januvia, but I am embarrassed to say that we had to spend it on rent.

My doctor didn't like the idea of my going without Januvia, but said that for the time being, I should be careful with diet and monitoring.  I being being OK but not great with diet and monitoring, and the weekend I was at Jannah's, I started to have dreadful foot pain.  This basically scared the shit out of me.  (It was partly because I've been in the habit of creaming and massaging my feet nightly, and I missed a couple of days, plus I was walking quite a big with a heavy overnight bag.)

So I put myself on a *really* strict diet and doing more testing, and finally got my numbers where they should be, plus I lost several pounds.  The reason I wanted Medicaid right away (we're due to get it through our regular application in about a month) is I wanted to start right away seeing my doctor once a month, my podiatrist once a month, and getting an eye checkup and getting the Januvia etc etc. 

Apparently there's no emergency Medicaid unless you end up in the emergency room, so I contacted Merck, which does indeed have a problem to supply meds if you can't afford them.  I'm seeing the doctor today and I'll have him complete his portion of the application.  My doctor is good about waiting for his money (plus he only charges $40 for a visit with no insurance coverage).

Another mitzvah (Yiddish for good deed) -- my wife-in-law Harriet had a pile of test strips and lancets that she got for free, and sent them to me -- nearly a years' supply.  (Those test strips cost a mint.)  They don't fit the meter I have now, but luckily, I found an online deal to get the correct meter for free.

Right before I got the materials from Harriet, I had reordered strips for my current meter from an online place where I'd bought my last meter -- I'd particularly chosen a meter that takes relatively inexpensive strips ($18 for 50, as opposed to the $40-60 per 50 that others cost).  I had run out of strips pretty suddenly, since I'd been testing a lot more, and had to have them overnighted at a truly stupid cost.  So they arrived...except instead of a box of 50 strips, they sent me a whole new starter unit, which includes 10 strips.  I sent a scathing e-mail, and told them that they WOULD overnight me the proper order at no cost to me, and if they wanted the starter pack back, they had to send me a prepaid mailer, but what I would prefer is that they let me keep the starter kit so I could use the ten strips there until the new ones arrived.  The squeaky wheel got her way.

We have our "home visit" today, which I understand is simply a formality and they just glance into the apartment.  But it excuses us for the whole day, which is why I'm seeing the doctor later.  I used my excused time on Friday (Ms. Garber only kept me 20 minutes) applying for jobs from home.  Then I had a call from another developer at FEGS who wanted me to interview tomorrow morning for one of two HR jobs at Luna Park in Coney Island.  I'm a little underqualified for one (it involves a lot of accounting), and the other pays crap ($12-14 an hour), but I'm taking the interview anyway.  After all...well, I guess we know how I feel about Coney Island.  And I do indeed love the new Luna Park, although I'm having my doubts about what Zamperla's doing with some of the other spaces it's developing.

I've now applied to Google, of course, and also to a few more universities.  I'm still looking at Craigslist but I'm being a little pickier; I'm actually looking for a job I'd like to keep.  Also, I've taken the advice of my classroom instructor, the wonderful Ms. Munchez, and have been writing much peppier cover letters (I had been using a very formal letter which was essential a form letter tinkered for each instance).

I also seem to have volunteered myself to edit Rafael's novel.  I will certainly start, and then see how much work it is and how much time it will take, since I hope I'll be employed before it's done.

I'm certainly feeling less depressed and more hopeful...honestly, I was feeling a bit like a sheep after a couple of weeks at BTW.

Well, on to job-hunting!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Folk City and other great clubs of the past

I mentioned Folk City in my "best shows" post, and I wanted to say something about that venerable institution.  I waitressed there on Friday nights for a while in the early 80s, maybe 81.  As one might imagine, most of the shows were various sorts of folk music, and it was home to the "Fast Folk" bunch.  (Fast Folk was a "magazine," an occasional record album showcasing a group of singer-songwriters.  Some of them, if I remember this correctly, were Suzanne Vega, Tom Intondi, Frank Christian...I can usually remember more names when I'm not sleepless at almost 5 AM.)

As mentioned, this is where I saw George Gerdes, Andy Breckman and Michael Hurley, as well as whatever band Peter Stampfel was fronting at the time (it must have been the Bottlecaps, although I don't remember hearing that name).  I'm not remembering a lot of performers' names, although I remember a rather popular trio called the Bermuda Triangle.  It was a guy and a couple of women (rumor had it that he was involved with both), and the guy played autoharp.  I have a vague recollection that they were funny and well-liked.

Of course, even though I've forgotten a lot of the performers' names, I do remember some things about working there, including a couple of pretty good stories.

I was friendly with another waitress there, named Mary.  She was gay, short and pretty with long chestnut hair and bright blue eyes (if I went that way, I would have gone that way).  We used to smoke a joint after getting off work.

Waitresses were permitted two drinks per shift, but I usually had mine after the shift was over.  While we were working, we waitresses favored their yummy coffee, brewed with cinnamon, which for some reason we drank out of tallish bar glasses.  (Maybe there were fewer mugs than there were glasses, or that the mugs had to be returned to the kitchen instead of the bar, or we just plain thought it was cool.)

Folk City was mostly a drinking establishment, a small cove and a two-drink minimum at each table, but they did have a small kitchen that cranked out some really good sandwiches, made on home-baked bread.  I can't remember the name of the woman who ran the kitchen, but I do remember that she was extremely beautiful and was dating Loudon Wainwright.  Lynn Samuels, later famous as a talk-radio host in New York, hosted open-mike night (which we referred to as "zoo night").

I had a day job, and my Friday nights at Folk City generally made me a nice chunk of spending money for the weekend (averaging around $35, as I recall).  I was heartbroken when they rearranged the schedule to give the full-time waitresses better shifts; I was taken off Fridays and offered a weeknight shift, which I couldn't take because of my day job.  I tried to explain this to the manager, who basically didn't care, and I departed feeling not very good about the management there.  Even though I understand why they did it, I still feel kind of unhappy about it.

Three stories:

I wandered in one day, not during my shift, and Frank Christian was sitting at the bar with Dave van Ronk.  I knew Frank slightly -- I had taken a couple of guitar lessons with him -- and he introduced me to Dave.  The three of us ended up at Dave's apartment.  I remember Dave playing us a record of Bulgarian folk music that had lovely harmonies, and Dave said he had played it for Simon & Garfunkel when they were newbies.  The harmony lines of the Bulgarian music were indeed very similar to S&G's.  I remember that Dave flirted with me -- he was kinda drunk, but it was an honor anyway.

Number two:  One night when I was working, Maria Muldaur was playing, which was a big deal.  I was asked if I wanted to work as her assistant for the night, and I said yes.  I would fetch drinks for her and for her band, and screen anyone who wanted to visit her dressing room.  I was told that she would give me a substantial tip at the end of the evening, and that I would not receive my regular shift pay (which I think was $10 per night).  It was kind of thrilling to be with her, and I remember her band members were nice.  She said that her daughter had the same first name as I (Jenny Muldaur is now a well-known musician in her own right).  At the end of the evening, Maria said thank you, and "God bless you," and didn't give me a dime.  At 21 or 22, I was not assertive enough to say, "The management told me to expect a tip from you, since I'm not being paid by them."  I did complain to the management, though, in hopes they would say something to her or pay me something themselves. but the manager just kind of shrugged.  Ironically, the waitresses made tons of money that night, and I didn't make a dime.  Someone told me later that Muldaur was "born-again," and informed me that born-agains did not believe in tipping.  I think it was told to me seriously but I have no idea if that was true (I've certainly never heard about born-agains not tipping in the 30 years since).

Number three:  I worked there one Christmas night.  The musical act was a klezmer band, which made sense.  The regular bartender had off and one of the waitresses replaced her for the night.  Most of the crowd were older Jewish people, clearly not too experienced with this sort of place.  Unlike most of the audience, who ordered things like beer, rum-and-cokes, and gin-and-tonics, these folk were ordering things like dacquris.  The bartender was rummaging madly through an Old Mr. Boston book (this used to be the standard drink-mixing guide).  I remember that someone sent back a dacquri saying that she wanted it weaker and sweeter; the bartender added some water and sugar, and sent it back to the table.  I seem to remember that the tips weren't too good that night.  It just wasn't a "club" crowd.

Folk City no longer exists, and there is nothing comparable around.  The club mixed new singer-songwriters with well-known folk artists, and it's just not done any more.  There are plenty of outlets for singer-songwriters, but not with the connection to and inclusion of folk-revival icons.  (On the other hand, there aren't that many folk-revival icons left.) 

Lots of great clubs no longer exist.  It was a sad day when NYU booted the Bottom Line out of their longtime home.  That was a great venue for folk, blues and jazz artists, and singer-songwriters; it was crowded, but the tickets were relatively reasonable.  It was also home to the famous multi-night stand of a soon-to-be-known Bruce Springsteen.  (I had a horrible boss at NYU who once told me that she had seen Springsteen at the Bottom Line, which was one thing I did like about her.  It was kind of like saying you'd been at Woodstock.)  I also met J. Geils at the Bottom Line, and probably some other people I've forgotten.  -Tramps is gone; I saw Los Straitjackets there, Wilson Pickett, Delbert McClintock, and met Debbie Davies and Rick Derringer.  At their old location, I once saw Big Joe Turner (I went with the late Bill Dicey).

All of the blues clubs and bars -- Chicago B.L.U.E.S., Manny's Car Wash, Dan Lynch, Mondo Cane and Mondo Perso -- are gone.  Only Terra Blues remains as the only NYC club dedicated solely to blues.  Saw the Holmes Brothers at Chicago B.L.U.E.S. and was greeted from the stage.  Saw them at Terra, too, and was introduced backstage to Catherine Russell, on whom I have had a fierce girl-crush ever since.  Mondo Cane and Dan Lynch were where you saw Slapmeat Johnson & the Titans, although they did play one New Year's ever at Mondo Perso.  Dan Lynch was home base to a lot of folks:  the Holmes Brothers did a lot of Saturday nights there in the 80s, before Alligator signed them.  Flamin' Amy and Sweet Potata, an all-female group.  Bill Dicey, of course, with the fabulous guitarist Jon Spector, and sometimes with Dave Keyes on keyboards (he still used his real name, which I'll be nice enough not to print).  Jon Paris played there; I just love Jon.  I think Bill Perry also played there, although he was more a Manny's guy.  A lot of the bigger names played Manny's, like Luther Allison, Coco Montoya, Anson Funderbaugh and the Rockets with Sam Myers, Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Johnnie Johnson.  I met Luther and Coco there, also Jimmy Vivino, who backed Johnnie Johnson.  (I was writing for Blues Revue at the time and got to meet a lot of blues performers.)  Saw Vivino play once at Chicago B.L.U.E.S., and fledgling talk show host Conan O'Brien showed up; Jimmy now leads the band on Conan's show.  Jimmy's brother Jerry also plays in that band, and a third Vivino brother -- wait for it -- is the legendary twisted-kid-show host Uncle Floyd.  In fact, I saw Jimmy open for Floyd at the Bottom Line, and an old pal of theirs was introduced out of the audience, and we all wished him a happy 75th birthday:  Soupy Sales.  (Just saw a show about him on PBS with commentary by Floyd.)

A couple of places ran jam sessions: Jerry Dugger and  Dave Doneghy, as I recall, ran the Saturday and Sunday jams at Dan Lynch, and Popa Chubby ran the jam at Manny's. 

Barry has a great Uncle Floyd story; Barry is a huge fan of all Vivinos, especially Jimmy.  So Barry went into a used vinyl store one day -- this was within the past ten years, when vinyl was out of date and basically a collector's item.  He spotted Floyd, whom he did not know, and said, "Floyd!"  Floyd responded, in his Jersey accent, "I don't owe you money, do I?"  Later, as they browsed the vinyl, Floyd said, "So, you into 'black crack'?"  He was referring to vinyl.  Still makes me laugh.

Rodeo Bar, which still exists, had and still has some good blues acts as well as other strong performers.  Bobby Radcliff used to play there, and I saw Sleepy Labeef (Dave Keyes played with him when Sleepy was in town).  Another great band that played Rodeo was Simon and the Bar Sinisters, Simon Chardiet's band for many years.  (He previously led Joey Miserable and the Worms, which included Jono Manson and Milo Z.)

Simon also played Continental a lot of Friday was (still is?) a pretty scuzzy bar, and I only went there to see Simon, who would often play until 2 or 3.  Big Ed Sullivan ran into me there on night; I was by myself, which I guess he thought was dangerous, and he watched over me all night.  (Who has a bigger heart than Big Ed?)

Simon also played Nightengale's which was a few doors down from Dan Lynch, on Second Avenue.  Nightengale's was also fairly divey, and another place I only went to see Simon.  (I missed seeing the spanking-new Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler, who also played there frequently.)  I specifically remember one Simon show at Nightengale's, one New Year's Eve (it must have been 1993).  I started out at Mondo Perso, where Slapmeat Johnson was playing, but it was kind of crowded and rowdy.  Then I went to Lynch's, where Kid Java was playing; he was another good one.  Then Susana and I went to Nightengale's, where Simon was playing.  Chuck Hancock was playing with him that night, and for some reason, the two of them dropped trou and played for a while in their undies, pants  pooled around their feet.  Chuck wore tight colored briefs and Simon wore big white boxers.

I mean, these were some great times in local joints, both in my drinking days and later on.

Another note: I was rewatching a documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, the late bassist for the New York Dolls, and the filmmakers interviewed, among other people, a photographer named Bob Gruen.  During a piece of Gruen's interview, you can clearly see a photo of Jon Paris on the wall behind him.

I was interviewed twice for the documentary Bound to Lose, about the Holy Modal Rounders, but both interviews ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor, although I was thanked in the credits.  Steve Weber will not talk about the film or talk to anyone who participated in or has a good word to say about it.  I shut up about the movie and shifted my allegiance from Team Peter to Team Steve, for many reasons best left unsaid.

Like the song says, I don't get around much any more.  I lived in Manhattan during the blues-writing days, and could easily get home from clubs by bus or taxi (back then, a taxi ride home from any of the clubs was no more than $6).  These days, it's a way longer trip from, well, north of Coney.  Even Williamsburg, the hot new neighborhood in our very same borough, is a terrible trip if you don't have a car.  You have to go into Manhattan, change trains, and go back to Brooklyn.  Long damn trip.  Don't have the money for clubs now, anyway.  Can't wait until the free concerts in Brooklyn again, round about June.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

best shows ever

We're talking music, people.  It's not a 10-best or 20-best, because I haven't counted them, or ranked them, except for a very clear #1 and #2.  I'm not saying "concerts" because while some of them are, some are also small club dates or other venues.

The guideline I set for myself is that it has to be memorable for the music and the performance.  There were a lot of shows I went to that have an I-was-there! quality to them, but I really don't remember the performance, often due to youthful partaking of various substances.  A lot of Grateful Dead shows (college days) fall into this category, as does a 1977(?) show with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Mink deVille (Landmark Theater in Syracuse).  I think it was a great show.

Dates are as best I can remember, and I think I have the venues right.  For some of the better-known acts, it's probably easy to look up the exact dates -- rather, easy for you, because I'm too lazy to do it.  It's a lot of work to write this post, and you can do a little if you really need to know.

I have been lucky enough to see some wonderful music at private parties, rehearsals, recording sessions, and even played privately for me, one-on-one.  I'm not counting them.

It's impossible to put them in any kind of order, except for #1 and #2, but I'll do my best.  I had to wait in a car by myself for a couple of hours on Sunday (that's another story), and one of the things I did have was pen and paper.  Pen and paper!  When's the last time I wrote anything that way?  So I made a pile of notes and scribbles.  This all came from seeing a show on Saturday that belonged on this list/group/cluster. 

#1 - Elvis Costello and Burt Bachrach with orchestra, Radio City Music Hall, late 90's.  If you haven't heard their album, Painted from Memory, get with the program, folks.

#2 - The Unholy Modal Rounders and the Central Park Sheiks, Social Room, SUNY-Binghamton, March 1977.  I booked that show, but it was life-changing nonetheless.

The others:

Michael Hurley, The Other End, NYC, somewhere in the mid-late 70s.

Michael Hurley, Folk City, NYC, early 80s.  At one of these shows, his band was called The Sensitivos, and at one of them, he covered The Walk, but I'm not sure which was at which.  The 70s show was the first time I'd seen him live.

The Du-Tels/The Dysfunctionells, Mercury Lounge, NYC, early 90s, maybe 93.  This was the first time I'd heard the Dysfunctionells, and also the night I met my music pal Greg Grady.

The Holy Modal Rounders/The Dysfunctionells, the Bottom Line, NYC, maybe 1995.  Of which there is no whicher.

The Du-Tels, the Knitting Factory, NYC, Christmas night (maybe 1994), with Amasa Miller on accordion.  Absolutely exquisite.  I don't think Stampfel was ever as good as he was when he played with Gary Lucas; Gary seemed to keep him on his toes.

Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve, the Supper Club, NYC, early-mid 90s.  I saw both shows.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, the Pier, NYC, 1983.  This was the Punch the Clock Tour with the TKO Horns.  I saw both shows.

Roy Orbison at the Pier, NYC, July 1988.  This was only a couple of months before he died.  People stood and applauded when he hit the high notes, and he looked happy but a little surprised.

James Brown/Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, the Beacon Theater, NYC, mid 80s.  James was hot from the song Living in America, from the second or third Rocky movie.  Kendricks and Ruffin each strolled down one of the orchestra aisles as they sang, and the women went crazy.  This was the same week I saw Frank Sinatra at Carnegie Hall.

Dan Hicks and his Acoustic Warriors, the Bottom Line, NYC, somewhere around 1994.  Greg Grady turned me on to this, and I returned the favor the same week by turning him on to Jonathan Richman (at Wetlands).

Jonathan Richman/Pianosaurus, Summerstage, Central Park, NYC, maybe in the early 80s.  The first time I ever saw Jonathan.  Pianosaurus was a lot of fun and played on toy instruments.

The Microscopic Quintet, Summerstage, Central Park, NYC, also around the early 80s.  Sax player Paul Shapiro made such an impression that I recently friended him on Facebook, all these years later.

Black 47/Don Byron Klezmer Band, Summerstage, Central Park, early 90s I think, definitely July 4.  A really hot, sunny day.  The redheaded Back 47 fans were sunburned to a crisp; the Jews who came to hear klezmer puzzled over Black 47.  A good time was had by all.

Don Byron at the Village Vanguard, 1994 or 95.  I don't listen to much jazz anymore, haven't really since the late 70s, but I love Don Byron.

I have to mention one live-on-tv show:  Black 47 on Farm Aid, maybe the mid-90s.  When they launched into the big horn riff that begins Maria's Wedding, the country folk removed their hats to scratch their heads.

The Wretched Refuse String Band, some Irish pub on the east side of Manhattan, probably early 1975.  Welcome to Wretched Refuse!

Larry Johnson at the Binghamton Folk Festival, Social Room, SUNY-Binghamton, winter 1975-76.

Larry Johnson at Dan Lynch, NYC, 1980 or 1981.  Larry Johnson is the best and truest of all of the students of the Reverend Gary Davis; check out the album Fast and Funky.

The Highwoods String Band, Social Room, SUNY-Binghamton, fall 1975.  I think the Red Clay Ramblers may have been on the bill but I'm not 100% sure.

The Red Clay Ramblers as the stage band for the off-Broadway show Diamond Studs.  Around 1975.  I saw it twice, and finally got a recording, from a recent revival production in North Carolina.

The Central Park Sheiks at the Folklore Center, NYC, maybe 1974 or 75.

The Delaware Watergap, Folklore Center, NYC, 1974 or 75.  The Folklore Center was a small shop that sold records and instruments and boasted the fabulous guitar-repair guru, Eddie Diehl (also a phenomenal jazz guitarist).  They used to have tiny little shows, maybe 20 or 20 folding chairs in the shop. 

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY, late 70s.  Nuff said.

The Holmes Brothers, summer 1993, Summerstage, Central Park, NYC.  I love me some Holmes Brothers.

Bill Perry at Manny's Car Wash, NYC, several times in 1995-96.  RIP.

Luther Allison, Manny's Car Wash and New York Blues Cruise, 1996.  RIP times 100.

George Gerdes, several times in 1980-81, Folk City, NYC.  What I remember most clearly was a song called Possession and just how damn sexy he was.

George Gerdes at Ed Sanders' 65th birthday tribute, NYC, maybe the early 00's. I went with a friend, and went back to his house after.  I told his wife about the show, and when I got to George Gerdes, she asked, "Is he still so hot?"  I said yes.  In fact, I saw George outside before the show and didn't recognize him, but when he got up on stage:  George Gerdes,

Jonathan Richman at the Lone Star Cafe, sometime in the 90s. When he played an instrumental version of Blue Moon, he caught my eye and made guitar faces at  me.  I made guitar faces back at him.  I met him some years later when he was playing the Knitting Factory, but nothing ever topped making guitar faces at each other.

Slapmeat Johnson & the Titans, Dan Lynch, NYC, late summer or early fall, 1993.  First time I saw them.  I know that Jerry Dugger and Craig Dreyer were definitely there, and I think the astonishing Hiro Suzuki was on guitar and Yoshi Shimada was on drums.

Emily Kaitz at the Bottom Line, NYC, somewhere around 1995.  It was a bill of funny female songwriters.  Emily sure is funny, and can sing her ass off.

Andy Breckman at Folk City, 1981 or 82.  How funny is Andy Breckman?  He sang Where is Rabbi Finkleman?  David Letterman, in his morning-show days, was in attendance. 

The Red Clay Ramblers/The Texas Tornados, Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, summer 2010.  We've probably established that I love the Red Clay Ramblers, and it was the first time I'd seen Flaco Jimenez live.

Los Lobos, Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, summer 2006 or 2007.  Maybe 2005.  Apart from the fact that they are an absolutely awesome band, I have a painful crush on David Hidalgo.  Don't tell anyone.

This past Saturday night, my dear friend Jannah Bensch bought me a ticket to see David Johansen at the Record Collector in Bordentown, NJ.  This place seats about 50 and stands maybe 50 more.  The seats are stage-level and I sat in the third row.  Just David Jo singing and playing a little harp, Brian Koonin (sp?) on acoustic guitar and a teeny hi-hat.  Unbelievably good show, and a great venue to boot.

There's nothing quite like seeing a best-ever show when you're in the process of applying for welfare and food stamps and Medicaid.  Can't dwell on bad times when you're seeing a show like that.

These dire straits remind me of a line that Charles "Honeyboy" Otis used to use on stage:  "We was so po', we couldn't even pay attention."  Luckily, I was able to pay attention the other night.

If I've forgotten anything, I'll post it later.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

publicly assisted

I haven't written much because I'm still getting used to the public assistance thing and there was a period of jumping through a lot of hoops.  Going to the Coney Island HRA (Human Rights Administrator) and waiting hours to see our caseworker.  (I've never had a "caseworker" before.)  (And the upside of the wait is that I read a big chunk of "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," which I can't recommend highly enough.)  Presenting many documents.  Getting more documents.  Getting a letter from our landlord.  Going to the job center in downtown Brooklyn to get excused from orientation to keep an appointment with an HRA office downtown to prove who we are (showing yet more documents).  Then we had to go back to Coney Island, I can't remember why.  (Believe me, this is not the fun part of Coney Island.)  This brings us up to yesterday (the rest was maybe the preceding five business days).  I went to my first-day orientation at the job center, but Barry had a bad stomach and stayed home.  I had to call him at home and tell him that he had to bring -- guess what? -- documentation today.  He needed a doctor's note even though he hadn't seen a doctor -- or he'd be "FTC'ed."  This is about the worst thing that can happen at the job center, and we are often told that certain things -- like not presenting the right documents at the right time -- will get us FTC'ed.  FTC is Failure to Comply, and if you get it twice, you get kicked out of the job center program, which means no cash benefits.

If you want to get cash benefits (rent and/or cash assistance), you have to do the job center, which is five days a week, 9-4.  If you don't, you can apply separately for food stamps and for Medicaid, but you can't get money.  (They don't call any of this "welfare" any more, but that's what they used to call the rent and cash benefits.)  Our caseworker suggested that the job center "might not be for you," but that we should at least try it for a few days.  I guess he was implying that we had enough skills and experience to job hunt alone.  My thinking was that if we hated it, we could quit and just get Medicaid and food stamps, and if neither of us had a job a month from now, we could go back into it.  Unfortunately, it takes 45 days from the time your case opens until you see a dime, and if we don't have at least one job in a month, we will not last 45 more days.

So Barry brought in his doctor's note today, and he had his orientation while I had my first day in a classroom.  And by the way, they give you plenty of papers in orientation and in class.  The papers and documents get a little dizzying.  I am constantly walking around with a purse full of paper, and every night I check very carefully to see what I need and do not need the next day.  Tomorrow I need to bring proof of a job interview on Tuesday, and of a home visit on next Friday.

"Home visit" kind of freaks me out the way "caseworker" does.  If they were still saying "welfare," I would be crying my eyes out.  Mostly I manage to see the whole thing as something that will help us out until we have a decent income again, but I have those moments of "I can't believe we're going on welfare."  I was brought up to think that was only for poor people...and then I remember that now I'm poor, too.  I was never rich, but I was also never poor before.

I was glad to see that the classroom is by in large a relaxed atmosphere and not very strict (except about arrival time and documentation for absences, duh).  Oh, they're also pretty serious about dress code.  No jeans, no sneakers, no hats.  In warm weather, no sleeveless shirts, no flip-flops, no shorts.  (Basically, you have to be dressed as if for an interview, though not necessarily a formal one. Lots of guys in chinos and a button-down shirt, no tie.  People chat and leave the room to see a "job developer" or work in the computer room, or just to stretch their legs.

You get assigned to one of four or five classrooms, and each one has an instructor.  Mine is pretty amazing.  Very smart, very funny, and very perceptive about the people in the room.  She picks up on someone's attitudes and characteristics very fast.  I think she knows quite a bit about me already.

The other folks -- there are about 30 in our classroom -- are more varied than I'd expected, quite a few well-educated and talented people and people who have held pretty serious jobs.  Most of them are very friendly and I met and had nice talks with quite a few. The instructor noticed the publishing experience on my resume and asked if should could introduce me to a guy in the class who had written a novel and was trying to get it published -- maybe I could tell him something about the process.  I said sure, and the guy was really nice, took me to lunch and we talked for a couple hours, mostly about publishing, writing, and his book.  I haven't really talked about that stuff with anyone for a while, and it was great fun.  I offered to help with his query letter and I asked to read the ms.  (He e-mailed it to me, and I realized that I could use this to convert it from .doc format to .mobi, and put it on my Kindle.  Have I mentioned that I love my Kindle?)

I'm going to Jannah's on Friday evening, and staying over through Monday (the center is closed for President's day).  Unfortunately, because of the holiday weekend, she and Linda couldn't gather "the girls" for a jewelry party, which is a bit of a bummer, since I was hoping to come home with a few hundred dollars.  But I'll get to hang out with her, take a break from everything going on here, let Barry have a little time to himself.  (Luckily, we are not assigned to the same classroom at the job center.)  Jannah even bought me a ticket to see David Johansen in Bordentown, and we're going with John and Linda, which will be a blast.  We're going to try again soon to either do another jewelry party or for me to do a Sunday sale at her shul.  I love Jannah's shul.  ("Shul," I think, is Hebrew rather than Yiddish, and I'm not sure how it differs from the English "temple."  I think that "temple" refers to the building itself, and "shul" means the building and the congregation, the synagogue (same as temple) and its community, but I might be dead wrong.  Jannah's shul is reconstructionist, which I'm not explaining now, but I'll say it's a branch of Judaism like reform, conservative, and orthodox.  I describe it as "reform reform."  As someone once said (I'm tired and forgetting names), You could look it up!

Monday, February 7, 2011

stupid newbie

I joined "LinkedIn" because everyone says you have to, when you're looking for work.  I guess I did the sign-in OK, but I have absolutely no idea what to do now or how it works. I am hoping that jobs fall from the trees.

Otherwise, it's just the usual morass of stress.  I saw a couple of employment agencies last week, temp and perm, and they all basically said, "Sign up with as many agencies as you can."  The market is kind of bleak.

Speaking of bleak, Barry and I have to do paperwork today for medicaid, food stamps, and cash assistance (or whatever they're calling welfare these days).  We had already completed the food stamps application, but apparently we have to do it all over again as part of applying for all three types of benefit.

Bleak is bleak, just plain bleak.  One break in the bleak is that I'm going out to Jannah's on the 18th, partly to visit but partly to see if I can sell some jewelry.  I'm making some very inexpensive memory wire bracelets for the occasion.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

things are crazy

This job hunt feels like a death march.  It's hard to keep the anxiety and panic at bay.  I went to an orientation yesterday at a non-profit agency that Barry's been using.  I had a different orientation leader than he did, and she was awful.  She was doing a lot of "career counseling."  I don't have a career, never did, never will -- I want a job.  There's something of a difference.  The other four people there had real skills:  a CPA, someone with deep computer knowledge (I wouldn't know what to call it), someone with many years in finance.  Then there was a guy who had skills in about three different areas:  photography, marketing, and one or two other that I can't remember.  He also mentioned being four months behind on his rent.  (He seemed to be the only other person who needed to work fairly immediately.)  The leader actually said to him, "Pick one!", meaning to look for a job in only one of his skills areas.  Really?  I'd say make up three different resumes, and send them out for all three kinds of work. 

The leader was also talking about a lot about networking, but in a very different way than I can use.  She actually said she used to walk around Manhattan in a business suit, in case she ran into someone, blah blah blah.  She was also talking about going to seminars and professional meeting, and giving out your business card.  I asked if there was something I could use, since they don't have seminars and professional meetings for administrative assistants. She said, "Yes, they do!"  I'm wondering how I never heard of such a thing in 30 years, but never mind.  Business cards?  Talking to your doctor or manicurist or hairdresser?  I guess it's nice if you can afford any of these things.

The only thing she mentioned that could possibly be useful to me is LinkedIn.  Honestly, the whole thing made me miserable.  Made me feel fairly useless and left-behind.  I'm not sure why I never did have a career.  I guess the few areas where I worked and could have built a career didn't work out in some way (in recent years, that would have been both Penguin and Dweck).

I've actually had a couple of interviews and seen one agency; I'm seeing another agency tomorrow and I have another interview on Friday.  At this point, I will basically take anything where I can earn money.  I haven't applied to any corporate/conservative places because I'm not a good fit and would never be hired.  I'm also looking for temp positions -- if I can earn about $2000 between now and the end of March, I'll be eligible for unemployment, which would be a nice safety net.

I guess I'm feeling a little sad about who and where I am.  I often feel like a failure, but now I pretty much feel like an absolute zero, like I'm very close to evaporating and no longer existing.  Maybe it's partly because of that orientation yesterday.  I'm out of people to network with.  I have only a handful of friends, and as much as I appreciate them, none of them can help me as far as work.  Facebook yielded one friend whose aunt's friend makes beaded jewelry in New York and sometimes hires someone to help her assemble.  We were introduced by e-mail but nothing has come of it.  (Assembling jewelry is kind of scut work anyway.)

On top of it all, Barry is feeling terrible because I'm getting some nibbles and interviews and he hasn't.  Then again, I don't think he's filing a tenth as many resumes as I am.  He seems to kind of wait around for these seminars and workshops.  I don't think he knows how to respond to this situation, although he's been pretty good about staying within rigid budgeting.  This week is his last unemployment check, and I withdrew the first chunk from my 401(k).  That has to last all this month, and then there's one more equal chunk for March, and after I pay April's rent, we have no more money.  Barry's working on medicaid and public assistance and we're waiting to hear about food stamps, but I just can't count on any of these until we have them in hand.

I'm going to Jannah's the weekend of the 18-20th, partly to visit but also so I can try to sell some jewelry to her posse.  I'll sell it cheap -- I just want to turn it into cash.  I've started making some things with silver-plate and even base metal, because silver is insanely expensive of late and I can't really afford to buy anything.  I did blow $4.50 on an ounce of bracelet-sized memory wire the other day, which will make over 25 one-wrap bracelets.  I can sell those for $5 each, assuming someone wants to buy them.

 I signed up for something called Resume Rabbit, which for $29, sends your resume to 87 job search sites.  The orientation lady said it was a bad idea, "because who knows who's seeing your resume," but I've already gotten 5 or 6 e-mails with job postings.  The orientation lady can go fuck herself.