Well, Either You’re Closing Your Eyes to a Situation You Do Not Wish to Acknowledge, or You Are Not Aware of the Caliber of Disaster Indicated. Ya Got Trouble, My Friend, Right Here, I Say, Trouble Right Here in River City.

In case you haven’t heard, times are very tough.

unemploymentMillions of people have been laid off from their jobs and the national unemployment rate is 7.6 percent as of January.  In California where I live it’s higher, at 9.3 percent.

The state of California is broke with a $42 billion budget deficit and it’s only getting worse by the day as the state legislature can’t seem to come to an agreement on the budget.

Can we all agree that times are tough?

I’ve known this all along but somehow I guess I didn’t really get it.  I’ve been suffering from “not me” syndrome.  “Yeah, it sucks.  Yeah people are hurting and I wish I could do something, but at least it won’t happen to me.”

Before anybody get’s too worried about me, no, it hasn’t happened to me… not yet, anyway.  For weeks, maybe even months, Douche Bag has been saying that we have to tighten our belts and cut back on spending, but he’s also been saying that we were not going to be facing any lay-offs.  “Senior Leadership” has stated that it won’t benefit The Company that Created the HMO to lay people off because after you pay severance packages you don’t realize any cost savings for at least a year if not longer.

Last week an e-mail went out from the President of Operations addressing the current economic crisis.  The e-mail said that we were facing some lean times.  It said that in an attempt to deal with these lean times they were taking certain measures to ready ourselves for the tough times ahead.  Among those measures was freezing the salaries of the top 500 employees.  This is a good move.  It proves that they are not just out for themselves and that they are trying to take care of their employees.  The e-mail went on to say that while The Company that Created the HMO was still going to give merit increases, they were reducing the overall budget for the increases by 1%.  Normally, my region’s budget is 3% so this year it would be 2%.  Not great news but livable.  In addition they were still going to give out the annual bonuses that we traditionally get in March.

Honestly, I had full expected to get absolutely nothing this year.  Not an idea I enjoy but not surprising, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when the follow up e-mail came today.  While The Company that Created the HMO as a whole is following those measures, it has been determined that some regions will need to take additional measures, determined by the market they serve.  Northern California is one of those regions.  Not only will the top 500 Executives have their salaries frozen, but not a single one of the Northern California non-union employees receive a raise before fourth quarter when they will re-evaluate our financial status.  (Read, probably not then either.)  We will still receive our bonuses, which comes as a surprise to me but, raises will not be happening.  And then the big shocker, the e-mail stated that it will not be sufficient to maintain our 2008 staffing levels.  We must reduce the number of full time employees.  There’s no other way to read that, there will be lay-offs.  I think, perhaps, it would have been good if they’d included in that information when and how many they are planning, but at least now we know that it’s going to happen.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the last few weeks, as rumors started flying, about how I could see this playing out and there are a number of scenarios that could play out that would leave me vulnerable.  I have the most seniority in the department, besides Douche Bag, and my function is somewhat unique, in that no one else in the department does what I do.  It could be that the seniority will save me, but on the other and it could be that the seniority also makes me too expensive to keep around.  It could be that the uniqueness of my position will save me, but then again I do have a counterpart in another building that does the same thing and there was a time when our jobs were a one man operation for all of Downtown Oakland.  There has already been a proposition that the functions I currently perform should be consolidated to this other person leaving me free to take on other responsibilities.

I see three possible scenarios with that as well:

  1. Captain Oblivious will approve the proposal to consolidate the function to my counterpart and I’ll continue working here fulfilling other responsibilities – and potentially finding a way to like my job again;
  2. Captain Oblivious will deny the proposal with concern that doing this would leave me vulnerable to being laid-off;
  3. Captain Oblivious will approve the proposal and instruct that I be laid-off.

I have a peace about this.  There’s nothing I can do to change how things will play out.  I go to work everyday and do the best job I can do (when I’m not reading or writing blog entries or Tweeting) and wait to see what happens.  In the end there’s not much more I can do besides leave it in God’s hands.  I trust that he will lead me through it.

Yes, times are tough, but things will turn around.  They always do

Better Left Forgotten

Today is an anniversary of sorts. Not one that I’m proud of by any means, but one that is somehow unavoidable and unforgettable.

Five years ago this morning, I walked into my managers office, very nervous about what was going to come of our conversation.

The previous Saturday, Green M&M and I had gone to a club in San Francisco to meet up with some friends. There was some sort of event that was supposed to be happening there. I can’t remember the name of the club now but it was some sort of arctic theme which was tremendously ironic to me, because it was hotter than hell in there. Green and I had a couple drinks while we surveyed the crowd trying to find the group of people who were supposed to be meeting there. Forty-five minutes later, when we still hadn’t found anyone we knew, we decided to bail and go to another club we knew of that was likely to be less crowded and not so hot.

We spent four hours at the other club, closing the place down and then it was time to go home. When it was time to go, I did something, for which I remain completely ashamed and disgusted with myself and would give anything to undo.

The club was in San Francisco and Green M&M and I lived in Richmond, California, roughly 20 miles drive. The club was also in the South of Market (SoMa)/Mission Districts and while not a terribly frightening place to be, it was not a place I felt great about leaving my car over night, either. Plus a cab ride home would have cost a considerable amount of money.

I believed that I was fine to drive home and opted not to leave my car behind to be vandalized and broken into. At first it was no big deal. I used to subscribe to the old, “I drive better when I’ve been drinking” philosophy. I now know that the only reason why anyone can say that is because they know they’ve drunk more than they should and they’re afraid, and therefore are far more focused and “present” while behind the wheel… Sometimes.

The problem was, that as I was driving on the highway, and across the Bay Bridge I became increasingly drowsy and was having difficulty staying awake. I was on the bridge though and had no way of pulling over or exiting the highway. And then, for just the briefest of moments, I fell asleep. Fortunately, I was driving in the far left lane of the one way bridge and my car drifted to the left until my wheels hit the curb shocking me back to awareness and causing a surge of adrenaline that woke me up. Sadly, it’s likely that, had there not been any intervention, I probably really could have made it the rest of the way home safely on the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins.

Fortunately, there was intervention. The ruckus that was caused when I drifted into the curb was enough to attract the attention of the highway patrolman that I had passed a few minutes earlier and when I looked up again there were flashing lights behind me.

I was asked a number of questions I couldn’t possibly repeat. I did the “usual” tests. I’m not sure that I failed most of the tests. I never have been able to walk in a straight line, even when stone sober. No one can say the alphabet backwards. But I had no problem touching my nose. After going through all that I was given a breathalyzer test (which I kinda thought they shoulda done first). I blew a BAC of .18 (later lowered to .17 by a blood test) and was hauled off to jail.

I spent five and one half hours in a jail cell before being released “on my own recognizance” on the streets of downtown Oakland, without my wallet or cell phone, both of which went home with Green M&M who was not driving and therefore not arrested. I had to call Green from a pay phone and waited inside the front door of a local movie theater for her to pick me up.

The following Monday morning, I told Douche Bag as little as I had to and still feel like I was being honest. I had no idea what the outcome of the situation was going to be. I didn’t know if it was grounds for termination, but I knew it would be worse for me if he found out some other way. I also, didn’t know what was going to happen with me legally. I was terrified I was going to go to jail.

I didn’t lose my job (dammit) and I didn’t go to jail. I’m tempted to say that everything turned out alright but that’s taking things too lightly. This was a trying and difficult time for me and it has definitely not been worth it.

When I appeared for my court date, I was sentenced to “2 days in jail with time served.” The 5 hours I spent in jail after being arrested counted as one day. The second day was commuted to Community Service, which amounted to six hours on a municipal work crew. I had to pay a $1750.00 fine. And my automobile insurance skyrocketed. Before the DUI, I had an impeccable driving record. I had the very best rating possible with my insurance company, “E”, and after the DUI my insurance rating was “7”, the absolute worst rating. Every July, my record is reviewed by the underwriters and every year that I have no additional blemishes on my record that number decreases. Currently, my rating is “3”. Thankfully, my insurance has gotten far less expensive, but the blow to my pocketbook at the time was substantial.

Five years is a long time, and much of the time, it has felt as though the DUI was a lifetime ago. I’ve become accustomed to the insurance rates, and am only grateful when my rates go down each year. I have done my community service. I have paid my fine. Until last year when I applied to be a Big Brother, I had mostly put it out of my mind. Big Brothers and Big Sisters requires that you not have had a DUI within the last five years, and only have had one in your life. That’s when I did the math and realized it had only been four years.

So today, it is with mixed feelings, that I tick off the five year anniversary since my DUI. I’ll be paying for the damage to my record, by way of my increased car insurance premiums for three more years, but as I stated, I’m accustomed to that. Otherwise, I can finally put this thing behind me. There’s nothing left to stand in my way. I’ve learned my lesson. I know better than to take the risk. I’m glad it’s over.

Maybe now this anniversary can be forgotten after all.

Holy Daze

OK.  Don’t anybody panic but we seem to have a problem.  The sun seems to be broken.  It’s out of cycle, or in rebellion or something.  It doesn’t seem to realize that it’s mid-November and that we should be cold.  The temperature today, here in Northern California was in the mid 80s!  This is not right.  It’s Autumn for crying out loud!  I have very mixed feelings about this time of year.  Always have had.

When I was a young boy living in Ohio, it was at this time of year that the temperature began to fall.  The nights were longer, the weather colder and we would pull out our sweaters and heavier coats while the children waited and prayed for the snow to fall and the promise of a snow day from school.  As a teenager in Oklahoma, it was around this time of year that the morning ground was sparkly and crunchy with frost and your breath would form clouds of vapor before your eyes. The sun would shine clear and by mid-day it’s back to carrying your coat because it is too warm to wear it, but by late afternoon as the sun is setting it becomes winter once again.  Coats, scarves and sweaters are all must have items even if you don’t want to be wearing them at the moment.  And the children will wait and pray for the snow to fall and the hope of a snow day that will probably never come.

Here in the Bay Area, at this time of year, it’s no surprise if the temperature reaches or exceeds 60 degrees after the sun comes up.  But even with the warmer temperatures, there’s a chill in the air.  It’s called, “the holidays” (and dammit, make sure you call them that, for we may offend someone if we use the Almighty’s name).

In a lot of ways the season started in October.  There’s something truly amusing and simultaneously disturbing about walking through you’re local “Discount Store” and seeing an entire section of Halloween costumes and decorations, only to turn a corner and find rows upon endless rows of Christmas paraphernalia.  But in my mind the frenzy starts this Tuesday.

Tuesday night, I’ll arrive at my humble abode, in the dark and the “cold” all alone.  I’ll slide my truck into my narrow garage and gather my belongings to take inside, and I’ll walk up to the mail box.  Inside, I will find all the sale ads for the coming week, for the local grocery and drug stores. The sale ads will be chock full of holiday specific offerings like turkeys on steroids, cranberries of all varieties (fresh, canned, jellied or juice), green beans and fried onions, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, pumpkin pie and Cool Whip, wine and booze out the ass and cornucopias of all varieties.  And it will be all down hill from there.  This week-end when I go to do my regular bachelor shopping, I’ll fight crowds with their carts flowing over with pastry crusts and assorted greenery of the vegetable kind.  There will be Christmas music assaulting my senses from overhead, and though I’ll be listening to my iPhone whilst I shop, It’ll be virtually impossible to block it out entirely.

The following week is the short week.  For me, that week represents pure bliss!  It’s the week Eve spends in California and even though she’ll be here for days before I get to see her, I revel in the idea that she’s near.  I do love her in a very real way!  This time of year is filled with the conflicting emotions of loneliness, having no family around and no one to share my holidays with; joy, knowing I won’t be enmeshed in any turmoil of family drama which can not be avoided on such occasions; and excitement, getting to spend this time with the love of my life…  Even if she insists on bringing the love of her life with her.  I’m a happier person with her in my life and I only wish she was a constant part of my world.

Soon, “holiday” lights will be strung around the border of Lake Merritt near my office and lit up for the duration of the season.  The lighted Christmas Tree will be put up, appearing to hover above the lake as it occupies that space which normally functions as a fountain.

They finally finished construction on The Cathedral of Christ the Light this Summer.  It’s the ugliest Catholic “Cathedral” you’ll ever see and I have to use the quotes because it doesn’t even resemble a cathedral.  There’s no stained glass anywhere, no steeple or bell tower, and only at the very end as a final touch did they put a cross at the entrance.  Barely an accent, it doesn’t measure up to the original cross designed to tower above the diocese offices to be seen for miles around.  This cross would almost go unnoticed as you walk past to enter the hall.  No, this building resembles a sinking ship, or half a foot ball, or a really odd looking punch bowl turned upside down, perhaps a rotary club fez cap, but not a church.  I can only assume that it will be decorated for the holiday’s as well, adding to the general “festiveness” of the Downtown Oakland District.

As the season progresses, things will quiet down in my office.  More and more, I’ll arrive mornings at the parking garage and find more open spaces to park.  People with families (and money) taking days off to get a head start on their shopping.  Taking weeks off to spend with family as they visit from out of state, or going out of state to visit with family.  The calls for services or to complain will slow until they cease entirely.  There will be office parties and other gatherings where people will pretend to be friends and care about the plans and goings on of others, all the while wishing the pedantic ramblings of the office jabber mouth would come to an end.

In general, things will be in full swing after this week.  Wherever I look there will be decorations and lights and carols and smiling and offerings of good tidings and great cheer, or some horse shit like that. People rushing about with nary a care for their fellow man.  Only the mad dash for the finish line that is December 25th. There will be pressure to find just the right gift for everyone you know and two for your mom.  There will be deadlines to get the job done while still trying to make all the parties and pick the perfect bottles of wine to bring to the hosts.  And there will be no stopping it until late January when the final post holiday sale has ended, and the last straggling black and dying Christmas Tree has been put out to the curb.  And to be honest, that can’t happen soon enough.

Yes the holiday season is upon us.  There’s no stopping it now.  So sit down, shut up, grab something and hold on tight!  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.   I’ve entertained the idea of putting an end to my drinking career this week-end, but now I’m feeling, as they say in the movies, “I’ve picked a bad (month) to quit drinking!

What’s My Next Move?

“Hi.  I’m Jesse.  I’ve been assigned to walk around with you during the fire drills” he said.  He’s a rookie firefighter.  Been on the job for three years.  Can’t be much more than 26-27 years old.  He’s 6’2″ ish with piercing blue eyes the color of the sky.

I work for the Facility Management office of a 25 story high-rise building in the Lake Merritt district of Downtown Oakland, California.  Twice a year we conduct Fire Drills and we always invite a crew from the Fire Department to come and observe.  Douche Bag always assigns a fire fighter to the staff members and today I got Jesse.

In the fourth and final segment of today’s drills I was assigned to the fourth floor for observation where I saw an  old acquaintance of mine searching the floor for stragglers.  Her name is Connee and she’s from Niagara Falls, NY.  I LOVE her.  She’s a sweet little older lady who has always been very nice to me.  After searching and then evacuating the floor we met up in the park across the street where we waited for the announcement that it was time to return to the building.  I was chatting with her when Jesse returned to my side and she asked, “What’s your name Mr. Gorgeous Blue Eyes?”

“Kevin.”  Jesse answered.  “Just kidding.  I’m Jesse.”

Connee laughed.  “Oh I thought you were going to tell me you both had the same name.”

“Wait,” I said.  “Does that mean I have Gorgeous blue eyes, too? —  Never mind.”

“Yep.  That’s what I was saying.” He replied.

Now you see, this is where I fall short as a “newly” gay man.  This guy was cute.  I liked him.  I’d have been interested in talking to him more.  But I never thought he was gay.  Still don’t know that he is.  But here’s what his comment suggests to me.  He thought I had nice eyes.  Had been thinking it all along, and Connee gave him an opportunity to bring it up and see what happens.  But because I’m insecure, and an idiot nothing happened.  I don’t know how to react in a situation like that?

So I’m looking for advice.  What should I have done?  And I’m seriously asking, so no smart ass, “You shoulda jumped on top of him” kind of responses.  How could have I have conveyed to him that I was interested without making the scene crunchy if I had misinterpreted his statement?

What, Mr. Reader, would you have done?

The Entry it Took Two Weeks to Write

I have fallen into almost every job I’ve ever had.  The first job I had was working in the gift shop of the hotel where my mother worked as the hotel managers secretary.  Sure, in high school, I worked at a Hardee’s fast food restaurant for about a year, and then worked as a cashier in a local grocery store, but first of all those are not particularly ambitious jobs, and secondly, they hire any warm body that will apply for those positions.

When I was 19 years old I was engaged to a woman.  We were to marry two weeks before my 20th birthday.  Problem was I did not own a vehicle and was relegated to jobs I could walk to.  The jobs I could walk to couldn’t pay for a car, let alone a life with a wife and child (She had a two year old son.)  We agreed that I’d go to live with my father in Cincinnati, Ohio for six months.  He had a car I could drive (It was my father’s Oldsmobile, despite what the commercials always said.)  With my father’s Oldsmobile, I could drive anywhere and get a job anywhere.  So I went to the mall.  It seemed like a logical next step after the grocery store.

I went into a Men’s Clothing store in the mall that I’d never heard of called Webster Menswear and applied for a job.  I apparently made a good impression on the manager and he wanted to hire me to be his Assistant Manager right then and there, but I was honest with him and told him I was only planning to be in town for six months and that I would be quitting to move back to Oklahoma when the six months were up.  He hired me as a sales clerk and then two weeks later he promoted me to Assistant Manager.

My engagement ended shortly thereafter and I end up staying in Cincinnati for nine months instead of six.  I moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma on Father’s day, 1995.  Before I left I made contact with the Regional Manager of a different clothing store – owned by the same parent company – called J. Riggings, advised him that I was moving to town and would like to see about interviewing with him if he had any open positions.  As luck would have it, there was a Second Assistant Manager position open at the store in Tulsa and he hired me for it.  I worked for another roughly nine months in Tulsa at Woodland Hills Mall before being promoted to Store Manager at a store at Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City.  Three months after that I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas where I spent the longest nine months of my life managing the store at the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

I hated it there and I felt trapped in that job, like there was no where else for me to go.  So I decided that it was time to go back to school.  I was 22 years old and had no idea what I was going to do with my life but I had to take action.  I quit my job, moved back to Tulsa and into Vengeful Mother’s house.  I applied for a job at one of our favorite restaurants as a waiter.  I figured that would be easy enough money and good flexible hours for a college student.  WRONG!!!  I was the worst waiter you’ll ever encounter in your life!  I forgot things constantly, I was slow getting the orders in and the food out, and I was perpetually sweaty!  Who wants their food served to them by a fat, sweaty guy?  I averaged $2.00 tips on every table and lasted about three months.  Somehow during this time, school never seemed to come to pass.

It was during this time that I decided I wanted to reconnect with my best friend from High School, “Batman”…  Batman was a huge fan of the superhero, stating that he liked him so much because he was just a man and all his “abilities” came from his gadgets and not because of some superhuman trait.  Batman was an artist and he sketched bat signals on his book covers and notebooks on a regular basis.  When his parents bought him a Ford Ranger Splash pick-up truck, he had a Batman symbol custom painted on the tailgate.  I could probably write a whole post about Batman and not scratch the surface, but the bottom line is, I was very attached to him.  I realize now that I was probably in love, but I was in no position to acknowledge or profess that at the time.  Batman was a year younger than I, and when I graduated from high school we lost touch.

So it was when I returned to Tulsa after my stint in Arkansas that I decided to try and locate him.  Turned out to be pretty easy.  I opened up the phone book and there it was.  His distinctive, three-worded, German last name right in the beginning of the Vs.  I wasn’t positive that it was him so I sent him a letter.  A few days later the phone rang and it was his voice on the line.  We made plans to meet for lunch by his work a few days later.

Batman worked for what was then LDDS WorldCom.  We talked about his job and he told me that I could easily get in with the next training class and that he’d put in a good word for me.  A few weeks later I was training in the telecommunications industry to work in the customer service call center.  Much to my dismay, Batman informed me that he and his wife were moving to California a few weeks later.  His wife grew up in Turlock and they were going to move there to be closer to family since his family had moved away from Tulsa already.

Batman had already lined up a job with what was locally known as MFS WorldCom.  He’d pretty well settled in by the time I was nearing the end of my training.  With Batman’s recommendation and assistance, I too got in to MFS WorldCom and moved to California in March, 1998.

When I left MCI WorldCom in March of 2000, I expected to have no problem finding a new job in the telecommunications industry.  How could I?  The whole world runs on phone lines and data connections.  In October of 2000 I started a new job with a small hole in the wall Telecom company in San Carlos, California.  That job lasted 10 months.  The owner was a psycho and he didn’t like me because I didn’t cower before him and jump at his every whim.

On September 15, 2001 I moved in with Green M&M and started looking for a job.  When my unemployment benefits had run out and I still hadn’t found a job I signed up with a local staffing agency.  A week or so after I signed up with them I got a rather excited call from the rep telling me they had a great job for me, working in the Facility Management office of a high rise office building in Downtown Oakland, with a great company and a great manager.  It was a temp job, but I was desperate for full time work and the job was easy so I applied to be the new Administrative Assistant.  Nearly six and a half years later, I still work for The Company that Created the HMO, and still report to Douche Bag.  I’ve been promoted three times now, and I’m not an Administrative Assistant anymore, but the last promotion came when I was ordered to take on an entirely new set of responsibilities, despite the fact that I’d been very vocal about the fact that I did not want to do that work.  I wasn’t asked, or offered.  I was ordered and if I wasn’t happy about it I could quit.  I had every intention of it…  If I could just find something new.  It’s been three years.  I hate my job and I really want out.  But I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how to proactively get myself a job and I don’t know what I would want to do if I did.

What, you might ask, is the point of all this?  Well, more than once it has been the topic of my therapy sessions: “I hate my job.”  “I want a new job.”  “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”  “I don’t know the right steps to take to find a new job that I’ll be happy with.”  This is all very true, but the biggest issue has always been finding something that I’d be happy to make a career out of.  I have fears and insecurities about all the things I’ve ever considered and most of it requires educational experiences I do not have.

Lately I’ve really been thinking more about creative things.  You see, when I was young I wanted to be an actor.  If you’ve read this blog before you know this already.  The problem is, I have no confidence in my abilities anymore.  I took some drama classes in high school and I really enjoyed it, but I stopped and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Eight or nine years ago, I took an acting class from a man named Ed Hooks.  Ed was an actor in his earlier days, but hadn’t worked in years.  I now know that he didn’t have a terribly illustrious career (although I did see him on an episode of Quantum Leap on DVD the other day.)  Anyway, Ed was moving to Chicago and I knew going into it that my time in his class was short term.  During those few months I attended this man’s acting classes, I lost all of my remaining confidence in my ability to act.  I know I had a lot of growing to do and I wanted to do it but it’s hard, and Ed’s criticism always made me feel like I didn’t have the ability.  I’d like to think that my time in therapy has helped but I’m not sure that I’m any more able to be comfortable making a fool of myself than I was then…

Most of my formative years I was a singer.  I was in choir most of my school years and at church.  I love to sing.  And before my balls dropped– er puberty hit, my voice was pretty good.  I had solos regularly.  But something happened as the bottom started dropping out of my vocal chords and my voice became weaker, and my range far more limited.  I still sing all the time (in the shower, in the car, in places where no one can hear me, usually.)  Yeah, I have an OK enough voice that most people aren’t bothered by my singing, but I’m not any kind of performer.

I don’t have any dancing experience, and though I do have rhythm I’m not particularly confident on that front either.

All that is to say that I have been thinking a lot lately that I’d really like to get involved in musical theater or television and movies, but I don’t have the skills or the confidence to go for it.  I’m aware that there are classes I can take, but they cost money and I don’t have it.  Plus I spent my entire childhood living in poverty, and in the last few months things have been really, really tight.  I just can’t imagine how I could possibly take any cut in pay, financially, or emotionally.

So that’s my dilemma.  The only thing my entire life I’ve ever imagined I could be happy doing, is the one thing that I’m afraid to go for.  So I stay in my lousy job, with my decent, but not great, salary, and horrible working conditions, because I don’t know how I could possibly go for the one thing I want, and I don’t know what job to fall into next!