Bits and Pieces

Just a few quickies, to catch things up...

• Found out that one of the churches in IHN won't be hosting families after this year. Won't say which one, but it's one of the ones we've previously been guests of. Fortunately, it's not due to anything negative. They're just going to be doing some necessary renovating and won't be having the same amount of space or facilities to host overnight families. I say to them, Godspeed, my friends. And thank you for being there when we needed you.

• I'm currently locked in mortal combat with several nasty computer viruses*. The computer at the Day Center, which is set up for the families' Internet use, curiously had almost no protection on it whatsoever. No firewalls, no spyware killers, little antiviral protection. And as a result, the thing's caught several pieces of malware that have set about merrily disabling the antivirals and playing pure hell with the system. I've been doing some research on the Web and downloading what I could to stop the infectious march. It goes back and forth. Some days, I manage to kill some of the little buggers, some days, they make me want to tear what little hair I have out. But at least I seem to be learning another skill. Of course, the whole thing would be easier if the staff would (1) remove the administrator lockouts so I can install some heavy-hitting software, or (2) buy a Mac.

• There has been a new development that I don't want to report in detail just yet. For now, all I'll say is that off in the distance, I can see a little pinpoint of light, but I don't feel the concurrent rumbling of the tracks or hear a train whistle, so maybe, just maybe...

• I've decided to switch careers, because I'm sick of beating my head against the wall of obstinacy regarding trying to get a job in graphic design, although if a job comes through in the near future, I'll grab it. I'm just not treating it as a priority anymore. Meanwhile, I think I'll look into training for something in medicine, or even biotech or nanotech. It's layoff-proof, not likely to be outsourced, and pays pretty well. Plus, I've always had a soft spot for the applied sciences.

• I'm starting to wonder if Nessie isn't locked in struggle with her Beast. She'd been managing to keep hers at bay through the arts and friends, so I haven't been too worried. lately, though, we've noticed that she doesn'r seem to eat very much. I'm planning a doctor visit soon to see if anything's seriously wrong. Fingers crossed...

• Found this blogpost through Kevin Barbieux's blog. As an experiment in capitalism, this guy bought bottled water cheap and sold it at a profit, partnering with a homeless man to learn the ropes of the street and to avoid trouble with the cops and other homeless. It's a good idea, and one that's far more useful than walking up and down with a "Homeless-Hungry-God Bless" sign. He did the right thing, in finding out what the reactions of the cops and the homeless denizens would be, but did he have to refer to them as "bums"?

• Speaking of Homeless-Hungry-God Bless (and I know I'll raise Cara Michele's ire with this -- sorry Cara!) but I saw a man carrying one of these signs from the bus yesterday. The problem was, he not only had no visible informities of any sort, he looked to be younger and in better shape than me! I couldn't help but think that employers tend to fall all over themselves trying to hire guys like this. He could make more in five minutes at a job than he could by begging all day. Just my two cents...

*Ha! Thought I'd say "locked in mortal combat with the Beast", didn't you? Actually, he's been quiet of late. Hmmm, maybe too quiet...


Got Milk (of Human Kindness)?

Four days since my last post. I've gotta find a way to get back on schedule...

I must relate an incident that happened the other day when Mama and I were in Winston (and which I'd left out of my last post due to a regrettable combination of time running out on the library's computer and a horrendous lack of sleep). I'd previously mentioned it was raining all that day. We needed to catch the bus back downtown to catch our connection to Greensboro. If we hurried, we'd just make it. Trouble is, the stop in question was across the street and several blocks away from where we were at the time. Nothing for it but to scamper through the raindrops and hope we didn't get too wet. Mama had an umbrella, but it was one of those dinky little things designed to fit into a purse. I, of course, being a Macho Man American Male (grunt!) Who Has No Need of Such Pansy Contrivances, yo-hoooo, carried no umbrella.

Of course, that just meant that the rain would begin coming down faster. Oh, well...

As we were making our way thus, a car pulled up to an otherwise-empty parking lot we were approaching. A elegant-looking older lady got out with an imprerssive-sized umbrella and was heading directly toward us. She held out the umbrella saying, "Here, I think you need this!"

We thanked her profusely, and headed toward the bus stop, which, we were gratified to see, was one of those plexiglass affairs that would just about keep us dry until the bus showed up. Thinking the lady would want her umbrella back, I started heading toward the shelter with gusto, but to my surprise, she wasn't headed toward the bus stop, but toward her car.

"Wait, ma'am -- don't you want your umbrella back?"

"Oh, no, you can have it," she called back over her shoulder as she hopped in her car and prepared to take off. I barely had time to call out "Thank you" to her as she left.

See, guys, this is what I'm talking about. The Milk of Human Kindness. Doing Unto Others. This lady Got It. She extended herself to help two strangers in need and asked for nothing whatsoever in return. I feel guilty that I wasn't to at least return her umbrella (which Mama immediately claimed, passing along to me the little dinky affair that's kind of an unsult to a Macho Man American Male (grunt!) Who Needs No Help Against A Few Little Raindrops, yo-hoooo!) or to offer some sort of remuneration in return. I guess I'll send a Letter to the Editor to the Winston-Salem Journal thanking her and hope she sees it.

For the record, I have indeed given away such things as umbrellas, raincoats and even jackets to those in need. I don't do it often, of course, being of short fundage, but you know something? It feels good knowing you've made a difference in someone's life, no matter how small.



Betwixt Mayberry and Manhattan

I haven't posted in four days?! I'm really getting slack...

I can't blame it all on my inherent slackness, however. Sleep deprivation and time constraints are beginning to take a heavy toll. And I ain't as young as I used to be.

Still, a few things of note happened over the past few days:

We're currently being hosted by Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church. It's only the second Catholic church I've ever set foot in in my life, and I'm finding I have to shake the TV image of Catholic churches I've been exposed to. I keep expecting to see nuns everywhere, and I know that not every Catholic church has them, since I never saw any at St. Pius X. Still, the members are very nice people (like all the IHN volunteers we've met so far) and the food is very good. The space allotted to u for the week is a detached house owned by the church in the lot next door. In its day, it must've been a very nice house, and even now I like the way it's laid out. I'd very much like to own a similar house one day. Maybe I'll make a sketch of the layout before we leave, and pass it along to an architect someday.

Went to Winston today on some business and to do a little networking. I took Mama along because she enjoys visiting the arts district downtown. It rained the entire time, but I didn't mind; I like rainy days, although they're better suited for sleeping and...ahem...than strolling.

Despite sharing a region (and at the rate they're growing, perhaps in a few years, a common border), Greensboro and Winston-Salem are vastly different cities. Even going beyond the "we're us and they're them" thing. For one thing, Winston takes art and artists very seriously, as evidenced by the murals and other works of art you see all over the city. Winston also has a well-defined and developed arts district and community. Greensboro on the other hand sees art and artists as purely commodities, nothing more than something to show off to other cities and corporations via developers orgasming to build the latest and greatest gaudy gewgaw. Mama and I have observed that Winston is awash in older buildings, most of which are still in general use. As a result, there are all kinds of eclectic little hole-in-the-wall shops tucked away in buildings that range up to a century old. Greensboro tends to sweep away such places as soon as they appear, except for, lately the downtown district, which is coming back to life after lying comatose for years. Winston, although smaller, seems to embrace its own potential and is willing to try all sorts of social and architectural experiments to try and better the quality of life. Greensboro on the other hand, seems to be, well...terrified of its own potential. It desperately wants to be another Charlotte, but doesn't want to give up being another Mayberry. So, we stay sadly stuck somewhere in the middle.

Ah, I hear the inevitable question, one I've asked myself many times: So why not move to Winston? Believe me, I've pondered it long and hard; I may yet at some point, but at this immediate juncture, several things conspire to stop me: lack of money, lack of desire to uproot the children from their schools (where they're doing very well) and the fact that Winston is set in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We're talkin' some steep streets over there, folks. And ice storms and I (of which North Carolina seems to get more than it's share) don't get along. I've slid down way too many Greensboro hills (which tend to be gentler) -- on foot and in a car -- to not respect Winston's.

I know that's a petty point; obviously Winston's citizens have techniques for dealing with ice. Call it a quirk, I guess.

Besides, as I've pointed out, the way these two cities (and High Point) are trying to grow together, it'll all be one sprawling metroplex soon enough. There's even a local civic effort called "Heart of the Triad" designed to plan the future growth of the region and attract good jobs and industry. They've already make a good start.



They Also Serve, Who Only Stand and Wait

I haven't said enough about the many IHN volunteers that serve at the churches. They're the engine that makes the organization run. They take time out to cook for us, chaperone us at night, make sure we understand something about how the churches run, make sure things stay neat and orderly, make sure the kids don't get too rowdy, make sure the trips between the churches and the Day Center are safe and risk-free, are ready with the histories and backgrounds of the churches, communicate and coordinate schedules with the Day Center staff and each other, and another billion little things that go one behind the curtain that grease the wheels of IHN. Yes, even providing a sympathetic ear when the weight of our situation presses down just a tad too hard. And I've met an astonishing number who are quick to provide job leads or make employment inquiries on our behalf. you heard of "networking"? Well, there you are.

I've written before of my guilt at these fine people taking time out from their families to help us through a difficult situation. In one of his columns, the News & Record's Doug Clark encouraged me to put my mind at ease about the service of the volunteers. It took me a while, but I finally realized that the volunteers do this out of a sense of wanting to help others and extend a helping hand to someone that's fallen. In other words, they Get It. Would that so many others of us in this age of hip-hop, Lookin' Out For Number One and Death to [insert whatever group or race has drawn the ire at the moment]. Would that more of us would Get It.



Quick Hits

Exhaustion's setting in, so maybe just a few quickies:

An IHN volunteer at Starmount Presbyterian, our host church this week, asked a good question yesterday morning. Unfortunately he asked before I was fully awake, so I don't recall the exact wording. Acknowledging the fact that the blog has been read all over the world now, he wanted to know if perhaps readers in other countries were getting a one-sided or slanted view of America. Through a fog of sleep deprivation, I believe my answer fell somewhere along the lines of people will always have a perception of America, good or bad, and I don't think what I say will necessarily make gross changes in that perception. He seemed satisfied with the answer, so I guess I wasn't totally inarticulate.

It seems lately that we're constantly on the move. Each day begins the same: up at 5:00-5:30, get the kids up and ready, eat a hurried breakfast, on the van, back to the Day Center. Then there's still the routine minutiae of each day: kids in school; Mama handling her business, including looking for work; me at work or looking for more work. Then back to the Day Center in time to be there when Nessie gets back from school and get ready to take the van over to the host church. Unless I'm at work, in which case, I often have to do a lot of standing, walking and lifting. And the stairs -- oy! Afterward, I take the bus to the church; the route is farther away at night, so that means a goodly hike.

My battle with Miss Stern at the store the other day made me forget that the vast majority of the people that come in are very friendly, or at least neutral. Such as the smiling lady that very same day who waited patiently while I tracked down a bottle of rug cleaner for her in the stockroom, or the nice couple just last night who dropped a bundle on some patio furniture and kept apologizing because they thought they were taking up all my time (they weren't; all part of the job). I just have to focus on the nice ones, is all.



Of Prices and Powerbombs

There is a dictum that states "the customer is always right".

Sorry, no.

The customer is not right when accuse an "evil" store worker of rigging prices just to trip up an "innocent" shopper. I'm sure there are businesspeople Out There ruthless enough to do such a thing, but I'm not one of them. Nor, can I safely say, are my co-workers.

Ah, but an explanation is in order, framed by a bit of background: Yesterday, I had a chance to work in the ad agency in Winston for a half-day, but I had to decline, as I was already scheduled to work in the store. I wasn't happy at this turn of events because I would've made five times as much money at the agency that I would've at the store. This certainly colored my mood as I reported for my shift.

As I was cleaning up the Domestics department, I get a page over the store speakers to call the Customer Service desk. Such pages are usually to inform me that a customer needs help finding [insert desired object here] and that they're on their way back to the department. This time, however, was a little different. A woman wanted to buy a rug, and had seen that it was on sale by dint of the little red sign toppers we use to indicate sales. But the price was coming up as the regular price. Okay, so this one was going to be slightly more complicated than the usual "somebody needs help finding something." With a sigh, I headed to the desk to see what the problem was.

When I got there, a stern-looking woman was standing hard by with a long hallway rug rolled up on the desk. Whipping out my hand scanner, I scanned the barcode to see if my scanner would register a sale price. (It's rare that the hand scanner and the cash register disagree, but it's happened before.) My scanner also showed a regular, non-sale price. I asked the woman to show me the sale sign that she saw. This is standard procedure; when there's a price dispute where the customer claims to have seen "their" price on a sign, I have to verify it for myself. Most times, it's simply due to an error; a sale topper or sign will be inadvertently left up after the sale ended or some similar problem. In such a case, we simply give the customer the sale price and explain the store policy on discrepancies. They go away happy, and we all get on with our lives.

This time, however, the problem was a little thornier. The sign, which advertised the regular price, was correct, but the sale topper should not have been on the sign. Probably just an oversight by the Sign Crew. I explained to the Stern Looking Woman what the problem was, and that the presence of the sale topper was no doubt just an error. After all, we have to change hundreds of those signs -- of varying sizes -- in that store on a regular basis; some are bound to get overlooked.

The response cam in an exasperated huff: "Well why does it say 'Sale' if it's not on sale?"

I tried to explain patiently -- again -- that the presence of the sale topper was no doubt an error...

"Well, if it says 'sale', I ought to get it on sale, shouldn't I?"

Yes, ma'am, but the policy is we have to give you the price that the sign says, and in this case, the sign doesn't actually indicate a sale, despite the sale topper, which is no doubt an oversight by the Sign Team...

"Well I ought to get it on sale if it says 'sale'!"

Sensing the approach of a spiral argument, and my own rising ire at having to deal with such a dullard on a day when I didn't even want to be there in the first place, I tried to end the affair quickly by offering Miss Stern a 10% discount, which is all I'm authorized to do on the spot. And more than I was required to do, since the blasted rug wasn't even on sale to begin with. But it's Good Customer Relations to at least offer.

The stern look turned to a look of disgust. "That's not enough!" she spat as she thrust the rug back on the shelf. "You only offer me ten percent after you tell me the rug was on sale!"

But ma'am, I didn't say that it...

"That's why I don't have an account here! You people do this all the time...!"

My shields went down. Hard. Ordinarily, my customer service training would've allowed me to simply stand there and let the old bag rant while I simply smiled, nodded and repeated store policy until she shut up and stalked off. But I didn't want to be there in the first place. I didn't want to be making a pittance listening to some rogue 70-year old who should've had the good sense to die fifty years ago harangue me about a situation I had no knowledge or control over, all to get a few lousy bucks knocked off the price of a rug she could've just as easily bought from a half-dozen other stores in the immediate area for half the price. I wanted to be making far more money farther away in a far cooler town with far smarter people. Yet here I was, having to stand there and be verbally lashed by some old twit with more money than sense. Probably harrassed her husband into giving her that money; poor guy probably gave it to her so she'd go away and leave him alone to have a glass of beer in peace.

Then I felt it. Sensing a disturbed psyche, the Beast came shambling out of his corner headed straight for my forebrain. But it wasn't me he was after this time. His focus was on Miss Stern as she went on about how she felt cheated and how store policies were dishonest and how the Universe In General Seemed To Be Created To Pick On Poor Little Old Ladies...

She really needs to shut up.

"...and there's no reason to have a sale sign up there if it's not on sale, right?"

My responses by this point were flat and monosyllabic. "Yes, ma'am."

You stupid piece of [expletive]*!"

"Then why in the world would there be a sale sign if it's not..."

"I don't know, ma'am."

I'd love to smack your ugly face lopsided, you withered [expletive]!

By this point, the Beast was being granted full reign. He was getting bigger by the second. He was currently the size of T Rex and growing. Claws scraped dangerously on the walls of my psyche. His spines scrawled across the ceiling of my emotions. His growls as he anticipated finally letting loose on someone were horrible to behold.

Miss Stern had no idea how close she was to a Major Incident.

"...and talk to the Corporate Office..."

I'll break your arms, piledrive you through the floor and twist your back until it snaps like a dry twig!

Bring it!

That last was me. The Beast was in full control now.

You'll be fired for this.

I don't care. Let's do it!

My gaze, which had been trained on one of the upper-level store fixtures in a final Customer Service technique to try and let Miss Stern's stupidity roll off my back snapped onto her old, tired face. The Beast, by now Godzilla-sized, bared his claws and fangs, eagerly ready to pounce. I had everything locked and loaded. Questions about her ancestry and intellectual level. Insults about her, her family, her upbringing and how she made her money. Jibes about her age and her lack of beauty. Inquiries as to why she had lived through three major military conflicts without becoming a casualty. Yes, even the Race Card**.

I opened my mouth to begin the salvo...

"Ma'am, that sign is there because someone here at the store made a mistake."

A co-worker of mine, who unbeknownst to me had been working in the aisle just behind us and who no doubt heard the entire exchange, had stepped in just in time. As she took over the conversation, I had a moment to hail another co-worker who was passing by. I told him to go get the manager. The look on my face must've been fearsome because he went scampering off at double speed.

Meanwhile, the girl who had stepped in for me was doing an admirable job of defending store policy against Miss Stern. The Beast deflated back into his corner, a little disappointed that his full fury wouldn't be needed after all. A few more seconds of explanation, and Miss Stern finally gave up, storming off in a huff.

Good riddance.

Although I still wanted to give her that piledriver.

The manager showed up a few seconds later. I gave her the 25-words-or-less version of what happened and let her know in no uncertain terms that I was within two seconds of letting that old bag have it, and I didn't care if I'd gotten fired for cussing out a customer. I let the co-worker who'd stepped in know that I was grateful to her for her help, and that I'd been close to losing it. She said I'd actually handled the situation calmly, but had stepped in because she'd wondered, as she heard the event unfold, if I were suddenly going to start yelling at the old lady. I told her that yes, I was but she'd stopped me in the nick of time.

The Beast wasn't done yet, however. For the rest of the afternoon, I was treated to fantasies of actually doing violence to that old lady and her husband too, if he dared to show trying to do the manly thing and defend his wife. Luckily, it was all in my head. Can't get arrested for fantasizing about it. Yet.

And wouldn't you know most of those fantasies involved piledrivers, powerbombs and other painful-looking wrestling moves.

*In the interest of not corrupting impressionable young minds that might be reading this (not to mention all the IHN volunteers in the various churches around here, I'll keep things clean. But you know what was running through my mind at that point.

**An indication of just how the situation had deteriorated, if I was even for a moment contemplating dredging up that uncharacteristic unpleasantness.



Observations in Pastel

Easter Sunday today. Funny, I don't see any rabbits...

We had to be up and out extra early this morning so the pastor of Glenwood Presbyterian could get ready for Easter Sunday services. I've found that each church has its own unique features. Glenwood's is that it has the smallest congregation so far of all the churches we've visited, but seems to have the richest history. They've actually got a History Room where they keep copies of church records. The vast majority of them are handwritten meeting minutes filed in binders, but there are still fascinating glimpses of the church history almost from its inception in 1914. I turned to some of the entries from 1945 and the 1950s, but there was curiously no mention made of the end of WWII or the Korean War, respectively. I guess no one wanted to talk about it. Can't say I blame them. The room also has pictures of the way the church originally looked, pictures of the damage done by a fire in the middle part of the century, and the rebuilding effort. It looks much the same now as it did then. The room also sports the original altar bible that was rescued from the fire by a 17 year old member at the time, who risked the flames to do so.

It's called dedication, folks.

Glenwood Presbyterian is set in the Glenwood (duh!) community of Greensboro. Glenwood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in town, and the architecture of many of the houses reflects that. It is also one of the most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in town. Unfortunately, the economic scale tends towards the lower end of the spectrum, and there is considerable criminal spillover from some of the rougher neighborhoods bordering it. Still, many sections of Glenwood are quiet, and there seem to be a lot of houses there that are either empty or for rent/sale. Maybe when this nightmare is over...

The other unusual thing about Glenwood Presbyterian is that we've had much more contact with the pastor this week than we've had with most of the other churches. We've met some of the other pastors, of course, but usually as they were stopping by briefly to have dinner with us or in some other official church capacity. Pastor Randy (as the kids call him) is one of the most hard-working, down-to-earth people we've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I made the suggestion to him this morning that the material in the History Room should be digitized, burned to disk, and a copy kept in a safe deposit box somewhere, in case there's another calamity that threatens the records. He seemed to like the idea; I only wish I could also have recommended a good scanning service. Some of those pages are kind of fragile; it's not simply a matter of laying them on a flatbed scanner and firing up a copy of Photoshop or OmniPage.

After we'd gotten back to the Day Center, I realized how tired I was. These early mornings are really starting to take their toll, but I couldn't rest yet. I still had to go for my Sunday paper. Gotta see who's hiring and for what, yessiree. Mike and Nessie had gotten Easter baskets from the members of Glenwood Presbyterian. Despite my best efforts, Mike had eaten half of his candy by the time we'd returned to the Day Center. My exhortations against eating candy for breakfast and warnings about poor dental health and the possible onset of diabetes fell on deaf ears. As usual.

Note to self: have no more kids. They tend to become teenagers...

I went and sat on the porch for awhile first to gather my strength. Besides, it was already hot inside, and there was a light breeze wafting by at the time. The sun was still early into its climb into the sky. Yet, there were people rriving for church across the way. Being still too tired to start my walk to the convenience store, I observed the congregants for a little while. All were dressed in their Sunday best, the women working the pastel angle because of Easter*. There were all ages, of course, ranging from a few babes in arms all the way up to wise old grandmothers. Most were couples or singles (with what seemed to be a few single parents), but there were a few families that were going in as well. I envied these, with the well-dressed father who owned his house and made good money doing a job he liked; the gorgeous mother who was totally devoted to her husband and family and no doubt had job skills of her own; and the scrubbed, well-behaved kids who never talked back to their parents and brought home straight As. The contrast against my own dysfunctional family was of course quite stark.

Crap! The Beast was stirring. Time to go. I abruptly got up from my chair and headed toward Fisher Park and the store beyond.

On the way I passed by the large houses I'd passed by last Sunday. I paid particular attention to one, built sort of in a faux Southwest Spanish style. The place was big (although not as big as the Professor's House), and again, I imagined what it would be like to live in a place like that.

Fah! You'll never have a place like that! What are you, 43? And you've done nothing with your wretched existence so far but land a low-wage job, get yourself evicted, fail your family and ruin any chance you've ever had to get ahead! Not to mention all the girls whose hearts you succeeded in breaking! Maybe you better move on before the people in that house have you arrested. Of course, that seems to be all you're good for...

Damn! The Beast was awake and in full form. I tried to throw my internal soundtrack at him, but it had been stuck on Alec Costandinos' "Judas Iscariot Suite" for several days now, in honor of Easter. And the Beast had long since built up an immunity to disco. To help combat him, I left the house at a double pace and headed down a set of steps into the park. At the bottom was a small stone bridge spanning a brook. It was quiet there -- environmentally and mentally -- so I sat down for a minute. Birds were singing all around, and I heard the frequent rustling of squirrels scurrying above in the branches and below through the underbrush on some inscrutable squirrel errands. I reached a set of steps that led down into the park and found near the bottom a small stone brisge over a creek. Sitting for a moment, I took in nature. A bird flitted up to a branch not far away and I recognized it as a gray titmouse. I didn't think any were around here. Of course, our state bird -- the cardinal -- was well represented, and there was no shortage or robins. Several were engaged in feathered flurries of combat to establish territory.

Feeling rested and Beast-free, I moved on. He chortled somewhere in the back of my mind, but seemed to content to simply ride along and observe. For the moment.

Reaching the store, I noticed a flyer taped to a glass door of an associated diner. Apparently there was to be a seminar oon Saturday run by two people who promised to take Biblical and corporate principles to help people discover how to make $50,000 in just a short time. The registration for the seminar was only $20; in fact the promotional blurb mentioned how the seminar leaders had used the last $20 they had to learn the techniques themselves. It wasn't lost on me that the flyer was taped to a business that sold state lottery tickets and I wondered if the odds of winning were any different.

On the way back I passed the Professor's House again. This time I noticed that a driveway I thought was associated with teh house next door actually wound around the back of the Professor's. I also noticed that there was a name on a brick post next to the driveway. I kind of wish I hadn't seen that; it took away some of the mystique of the place.

The rest of the walk was a blur as I focused on simply getting back to the Day Center, since by fatigue was returning. I got inside, sat down with my paper and have been battling sleep since.

And I still haven't seen any rabbits...

*Aside to the single guys out there: some of the hottest women on Earth are in the churches. Pick a large church some Sunday morning and see for yourself...



Karyn, Saved

I don't know what reminded me of it, but some years back, if you recall, there was a woman that, having run up over $20,000 in credit card debt, took to the Web to ask people to help bail her out of it. She got a lot of coverage in the media (where I first heard of her), and actually persuaded the Internet community to donate over $20,000 to pay off her credit cards. Save Karyn is still around. Her effort is being called one of the most successful Internet panhandling stories ever, and started the trend.

I've always envied and hated her at the same time. Envious that she could get people to give her $20,000 to help her with her needs, hated her because she could get people to give her $20,000 to help her with her needs.

For the record, I never donated to her cause. My reasoning at the time was that okay, she chose to run up a bunch of credit cards, didn't pay them off, and now, instead of filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, she's crying for help. All she had to do is cut up her credit cards. Why should I help her?

Just replace some of the foregoing with the proper words, and you have a quick summary of my situation, nez pas? Matthew 7:1.

Still, although I'm in much worse shape, I never ever considered actively asking for money. As most of you know, I finally put a PayPal Donate button on the blog and set up Google Adsense, but only after many people had made it clear that they were willing to donate. Even so, I've made less than 2% of the amount of money Karyn has.

I gotta admit, it'd be nice. She set hers up so that everyone who visited her site donated a dollar. That's 20,000 visitors in 20 weeks. If I'm reading the data from Google Adsense right, I've had about 30,000 visitors in less than half the time. If I were to be gauche enough to ask for a dollar from everyone who read the blog, I'd be in my own house in no time.

The key words above, of course, are gauche enough.

Although I believe in taking any help that's offered (and thanks to all who choose to donate) I just don't think it's right to take advantage by assuming that people will donate, and framing the relationship accordingly. Sure, I could ask for everyone who visits to chip in a buck (or more), but then I'd be doing just what Karyn did and asking the community to subsidize my own bad judgment. Not to mention the fact that I'd be poisoning the relationship with all you readers (as if several indendiary posts haven't already done so).

Y'know, this might sound perverse, but if I had to choose, I'd rather have a circle of readers who didn't give me a dime, but who had found some sort of help and solace through the blog, than a legion of people who simply scanned the first few words of the latest post, and threw money at me without seeing what I and other homeless people go through.

But don't get me wrong; if Bill Gates or Warren Buffett wanted to write me a big check...


The Pendulum Principle

Hmmm...meseems I haven't posted in a few days. Well, there're good reasons for it, but the drawback of having to play catch up is that my mind isn't the steel trap it used to be. Still, I'll give it a go, as the Brits would say...

Tuesday, 4/11...

The day passed slowly but uneventfully. The kids have been out of school all this week due to Spring break, so it's been a bit hectic at the Day Center. Mama had been burying herself in some of her books to keep from going insane while I pounded the pavement looking for work.

I returned to the Day Center about 3:30 and five minutes later was fielding a call from one of the agencies I'd sent a resume to the previous day, based in Winston*. They urgently needed help; would I be willing to come in the next morning? I usually like to give it a day or two to prepare, get my clothes ready and examine the logistics of getting there without a car. But I'm also not fool enough to turn graphic design work in a place where the guy also hinted that I could go full-time. So I quickly agreed. That fast agreement would come back to bite me...

Checking on the logistics that night at our host church, Glenwood Presbyterian, I found that I'd have to ride the 6:30am GTA bus running past the church to get downtown by 7:00, where I'd board the PART bus to be at the PART regional hub by 7:30, where I'd board the PART conneector that would have me in Winston by 8:00, where I'd board the WSTA bus that would take me to the office before 8:30, which is when they'd have me there.

Wednesday, 4/12...

Okay, now pay attention; this is where Murphy** decided to go to work with me...

I was up on time, on GTA on time, on the PART bus on time, at the Regional Hub on time...

Yep, that's where it went to hell.

A round trip to and from the office in Winston costs $8.00. I had on me roughly half that. I knew I'd have to get to an ATM at some point, but have you ever noticed that when you most need to tap an ATM, there are never any handy? We can't leave the church at night, so I couldn't find the nearest one there. I didn't have time to go hunting one in downtown Greensboro, so my earliest chance to hit an ATM would have to be once I got to the regional PART hub; there's a convenience store nearby that has one. I figured I'd be able to run over, tap my account and get back to the bus in time to get to Winston. Piece of cake.

As soon as I got off the bus, I rushed over to the convenience store and went looking for the ATM, which, for some reason, was tucked behind a stack of recklessly-placed soda pallets. Working quickly, I got my money and went to the counter to have it broken, since it was a case $20. A quick glance out the window told me that the Winston connector hadn't arrived yet. I went to the counter, grabbed a newspaper, asked the woman for a lottery ticket, grabbed my change, and headed back to the hub. I rounded the corner just in time to see the three PART buses, of which Winston's was one, pulling off!

Cursing my fate (and the fect that ATMs are always to doggone convenient till you need one) I sat down to wait for the next bus. I could still pull it off, if I took a taxi in Winston instead of waiting for the hourly bus. It'd be more expensive, but I figured I'd but the money back when I got paid. At least I had the want ads and a lottery ticket. The ticket wasn't a winner and the paper had no jobs I was quallified for, so I figured today would be One of Those Days.

Got to the job site on time and settled in. At least the work was good, if confusing, because they had to explain things in a hurry, but I put in a full day and was asked to come back the next day. That's always a promising sign.

Thursday, 4/13...

The routine of catching disparate buses was a little better today, although I arrived at the office 30 minutes late because I'd misread the WSTA bus schedule. They assured me that it was okay, however, since I was still on freelance status.

Still, you don't want to deviate too much from the office schedule. It looks bad.

Anyway, I'd not had time to pack a lunch, so I got to eat at one of the quaint restaurants nearby. It was small and sort of crowded, but I liked the cozyness of it. According to the sign outside, it originally used to be a carriage house, although it no longer really looks like one. I observed the other patrons there; they were mostly middle-aged and up, no doubt retirees out enjoying the warm weather. A couple of the younger set had laptops, including the girl at the table next to mine. I fought down the urge to peek.

After work, I entertained thoughts of bunning in Winston for a couple hours and taking a Greyhound bus back to Greensboro. Tempting though it was, I decided to just come on back and avoid getting in trouble.

I was very tired when I got to the church last night. I remember watching "Smallville" on the color TV downstairs, and then went upstairs to our room. By the time I got settled and changed into my bedclothes, it was nearly time for bed. I figured a little light reading would be in order, and stretched out on the bed with my book. Mike was on his bed sketching, Nessie was playing with the other children in the program, and Mama was playing the video game on my cell phone as usual. So with everyone in place, I opened my book...

...And was awakened by the most godawful commotion downstairs under our window. Glancing at the clock, I was shocked to realize I'd been asleep for over an hour and hadn't even realized it! The noise was the result of what sounded like a large group of teenagers. Raised, angry voices told me that it was probably due to gang activity or some other such foolishness. Somewhere in the shadows in the back of my mind, the Beast suggested that maybe it was a mob come to storm the church and burn it down. I swatted him across the nose with a few bars of Olivia Newton-John's "Magic" and sat upright in bed. Mama had already gone to the blinds to peer out for a look, before I could raise the possibility that whatever was going on downstairs could only end in gunshots. Grumpily, I fought down the impulse to go to the window myself and reached for the phone. I must really have been tired, because I only vaguely remember dialing 911 and telling the dispatcher that there was a disturbance at the church and gave the address. Things seemed to quiet down a few minutes later. I don't know if the ops ever showed up, because I think I went back to sleep very quickly.


I'm still a bit tired. Running between two cities and getting up at the crack of dawn seems to be taking its toll. Fortunately today is Good Friday. Not much is open or occurring, although I have a job interview later this evening at a place here in Greensboro. Probably I'll just spend most of today resting up. Have to be back in Winston Monday.

*The official name of the city is Winston-Salem, so named in the early 20th Century when the neighboring cities of Winston and Salem merged (get it?) But most folks around here simply refer to it as "Winston".

**You do understand about Murphy's Law, don't you?



A Kingdom Transferred

I've been meaning to post this for awhile, but never seemed to get around to it. Before I dash off to begin my daily whatnot, I want to mention the one member of our family that has managed to find a place to live.

Alexis was a domestic shorthair cat that had charmed her way into our hearts back in late 1995, when we went browsing in a new pet store. She resembled an oversized dust bunny when we bought her but it wasn't long before she'd filled out and taken her rightful place in Catdom.

I'd never been able to get a picture of her; she had this uncanny ability to know when a camera was trained on her and refuse to sit still for it. She somewhat resembled the cat on the Alpo cat food label. In fact, when Nessie was younger, she'd see the label in the store and insist that it was Alexis's picture on there. It took some doing to explain to her that no, it was another cat that just happened to look like Alexis.

Alexis turned out to be the cat with the longest tenure I'd ever owned. About three months old when we got her, she turned 9 in March of 2005. But she was still basically just a big kitten, always up for chasing a rolling ball or a wriggling string, or launching herself into impossibly high and largely inaccessible places. Her favorite spot was my knee, however, where she'd sit purring contentedly while I watched TV.

When wew got evicted, I had to scramble to find someplace for her to stay. I hurriedly put her up at a vet's office for a week until I could get plans in place. She hated traveling in her cat carrier, and probably wasn't too fond of the vet's office, either, since her shots had to be updated as a condition of her staying there, but we had no choice. The last we saw of her was when we said goodbye through the bars of the cat carrier. The lok on her face will haunt me the rest of my days.

This sad tale does have a happy ending, however. A week later, I called to try and make arrangements for the next week for Alexis' care and boarding and found out that the office manager for the vet had recently suffered the tragic death of her own cat. She'd seen Alexis and fell in love (apparently Alexis resembled her cat). She asked if she could adopt Alexis and I quickly agreed. One faxed copy of cat adoption papers later, and I'd finally done right by at least one member of my family.

We miss Alexis, of course, but at least we know she's in stable surroundings. I bet she doesn't mind one bit adding another household to her kingdom.


The Network

Thanks to lucky for the Family Guy reference (didn't think I caught that, didja? I needed the laugh...) and the idea to start my own business to help get out of this mess. I've tried that before; trouble is, I admit I'm a lousy businessman and a worse salesman. Freelancing is sort of running your own business, but unless you can land a long-term contract (3+ months of steady work), the money/hours are very unstable. I like stable. Yeah, it's a little boring, but at least you know where and when the money's coming from and how much.

Still, I may get up the gumption to try it again at some point. There are classes at GTCC that show you how to get started, and navigate the gauntlet of Uncle Sam and The Governor.

As for why I'm waiting to write a book, I want to wait until all of this is over so I can name names if I have to without jeopardizing my present situation. Plus, time's at a premium these days.

Had lunch with two friends and former co-workers last Sunday. We had an excellent time, and the food was delicious. The conversation went wide, touching on a lot of topics; including, sadly, the fact that one of my friends had lost his job just a couple days prior. But here's the rub: he worked at a place that I'd longed to work for since it opened a couple years ago. But after hearing the things he told me about the place's dark underbelly, I don't ever want to set foot in there, let alone work for them*.

Hm, I guess networking does work. If for no other reason than to let you know where not to work.

*And he wasn't just sour graping. This guy is very dedicated and good at his job. He just got under a bad boss, is all. The upshot is, he'll bounce back in no time because there's a surfeit of jobs in his field around here.



The Odds of Winning

I played the State Lottery earlier. I didn't win; c'est la vie. But soft; a moment if you will while I put in my two cents on the lottery.

As many of you know, North Carolina is the last state on the East Coast to institute a lottery. This is due solely to the puritanical attitudes of all too many in our completely ineffectual state legislature. These prudes fought even the slightest notion of a state lottery for years citing a law written in the 1600s that supposedly forbade gambling.

This despite the fact that once Virginia and South Carolina started lotteries, North Carolinians streamed across the border to play.

This despite the fact that polls consistently showed that 70-75% of the state's adult population wanted a lottery.

This despite the fact that these are the same people that were always braying about how working people should be able to spend their money how they choose.

This pack of pusillanimous popinjays* fought the notion of the lottery for years with the same tired argument that "it'll hurt the poor." These are the same people that fight any notion of a raise in the state minimum raise with the same tired argument, coupled with the rejoinder that "it'll hurt business". Yet these are the same people that raised not one voice in protest when our vaunted state legislature rammed a statewide sales tax increase down our throats several years ago.

Funny, I don't recall hearing about how much the poor would be hurt then.

Naturally, politicians being what they are, they're not interested in the lowliest of their constituents. They're not concerned with the problems the poor and the homeless face every day, many of which are the fault of legislators trying to play God with the lives of those beneath them. So they very rarely do put in programs that actually help people. They simply let the local municipalites and the private sector do their jobs for them and then crow to the Folks Back Home about how effective a legislator they are and how they've raised so-and-so much money for their district and remember to re-elect Representative John Q. Porkbarrel this fall, y'hear? Thanky!

Of course, Rep. Porkbarrel doesn't live down here in the mud along with the rest of us. He's too busy drawing up blueprints for his mansion up on Mt. Olympus.

As someone who is actually poor, let me enlighten our Esteemed Legislature on a few things about us, in case any of them are actually reading this. Which I heartily doubt.

Poor people are not stupid. We understand that playing the lottery means going up against astronomical odds. We understand that most of the time, if we win anything at all, it'll be a niggling prize like 2 bucks or a free ticket. We understand that the money that is supposed to go for the power bill and the children's lunches isn't to be used on the lottery. We understand that there are those that have a compulsive gambling problem and have to be protected from themselves. We understand that there are moral grounds against playing the lottery. We understand that winning the lottery doesn't solve all our problems.

We understand all of this, and more.

But we also understand that even a slim chance of getting in on the good life is better than no chance at all, which is all the naysayers, fundamentalists and Rep. Porkbarrel can offer. We understand that winning will drive a stake in the heart of some of your most persistent financial problems**. (I always like to say money won't buy you happiness, but it puts a mighty dent in the sadness.) We understand that winning for a change, just once, is better than a string of morale-crushing defeats. We understand that winning gives us a shot at full participation in the American economy by reducing dependency on a broken social system. We understand that for some of us in the minority community, lottery winnings are the only real money we'll ever see in our lives. We understand that even modest lottery winnings can be a springboard to something better, if used properly. We understand that you can't win all the time.

We also understand that we're adults, and we can decide these things for ourselves.

I'm poor. I'm homeless. And I'll play that lottery as many times as I can. If I don't win, no big loss; I don't plan to blow a lot on lottery tickets. If I win, it'll be the happiest day I've had in recent memory.

And I'll finally get to go home.

*With apologies to Dr. Smith

**The top prize in the state lottery is currently $100,000, with a chance to double it. What would I buy with $200,000? Hmmm...maybe a house? Maybe college for the kids, so they can get good educations and never, ever have to spend another day homeless as long as they live? Maybe finally pay off some old bills so I can put my credit back in order? Nah, that would be wasting all that money, now wouldn't it?


A Walk in the Park

These Sunday morning trips to get the newspaper are becoming mini-odysseys. The lack of loaded paper racks and nearby open stores force me to walk a goodly distance to sang the latest want ads.

That's okay. It's good exercise and gives me time to reflect.

The drawback is that this morning is a lot cooler than it was yesterday. It's currently 39° F (just under 4° C, for you European readers). Not 24 hours ago, the temperature was nearly twice that*. Still, I threw on a jacket and headed out before I caould talk myself out of it.

On the way to the nearest convenience store (at least a mile walk) I passed by Anderson Baptist Church. I could hear the music all the way up the block. They had apparently gotten an early start on the day's worship service. There are several churches near Anderson that I didn't hear a peep out of. I don't know whether that was because they hadn't gotten in yet or they're just more sedate. The decibel level and the beat of the music also told me that Anderson apparently has a majority black congregation. How do I know this? I've heard black Gospel music all my life. I can pick it out anywhere.

Moving on, I passed by an absolutely gigantic Tudor-style mansion. We've passed it many times on our way from various churches to the Day Center in the mornings, but this time I had an opportunity to stop and get a good eyeful of the place. I think it's even bigger than the Day Center. Our old house in Northwest Greensboro would fit easily within its walls, possibly even within its living room. As I stood taking in the view from the sidewalk (nudge!) I easily imagined an owner of the home, maybe a tenured professor at one of the local colleges; an avuncular fellow with hair graying at the temples, wearing a tweed jacket with the patches on the elbows and clenching a pipe stem between his teeth. "Morning," he'd say, appearing at the door. You're the fellow who writes the blog, aren't you? C'mon in and have some coffee and let's see if we can't find you a job somewhere."

Then I woke up. It's 2006, for Pete's sake. Time to shake the Leave It To Beaver reveries and move on. Besides, there are some who would consider me...out of place in this neighborhood. Bes to keep moving.

Y'know, it's a sad commentary on my life that I imagined someone else at the door of that house and not myself. Maybe I'm just getting used to not having anything of my own.

A few more minutes' walk brought me to the convenience store. I picked up a Sunday paper and heard a song with a disco beat coming over the store speakers. Unfortunately, it wasn't loud enough for me to pick up from where I was standing, but by the time I'd manuevered myself under the speaker, the song had gone off. Shrugging my shoulders, I headed for the counter to pay for my paper and saw tickets for the new North Carolina Lottery. I hadn't formally played yet in that I hadn't yet spent any money on it, although I have played. Last week, on my way to an interview, I found eight unscratched tickets on the ground that someone must have dropped running for the bus. One of them won $2.00. A piddling amount, but not a bad profit insofar as I had won with a free ticket. Today, however, I didn't win. Que sera sera; I only spent $2.00 for two tickets and got another two tickets with the winning $2.00 ticket I had. 1/3 of the 2 bucks I spent will be going toward educational purposes, so all in all, it wasn't a bad thing.

Leaving the store, I decided to head back the way I came instead of taking a circuituous route. It had gotten a little quieter in Fisher Park as I moved through it. Off in the near distance, I heard the machine-gun staccato of a woodpecker drilling for his breakfast. I tried to get a look at him, but couldn't pinpoint where the sound came from. I passed by the Professor's House again*, getting another look at it. I didn't linger as long this time, however, although I did try to imagine walking in that front door. Without subsequently sporting a shiny new pair of handcuffs, that is. Or carrying a mop and pail.

My attention was distracted by a squirrel scurrying across the street to avoid an oncoming car. Yes, Greensboro has no shortage of squirrels, but this one was carrying something in its mouth. I couldn't tell what it was, but I could tell it wasn't a nut. I couldn't get a good look as the squirrel kept in the move and scampered up the nearest tree, no doubt ensuring that my sudden attention to his business wouldn't interfere with his own.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something dodge another car and blur up a set of steps not far away. A few paces brought me to the place where I could see what it was. A gorgeous black and white cat had parked herself under a small bush. She seemed friendly and even approached when I called her, but she never came near enough to allow me to scratch her behind the ears. After a moment, she bounded off in the direction of a nearby house, and I continued on.

Approaching the home stretch, I saw that Anderson Baptist had now grown quiet, no doubt having moved into the sermon portion of their service, but churchgoers were beginning to arrive in force at First Presbyterian, one of the city's largest and most distinctive churches, being built in a gothic style. In fact, for many years, I assumed it was a Catholic cathedral, as it shares many of the same design features.

Mama and Nessie had left for church by the time I got back to the Day Center, and the place has grown a bit quiet. Maybe after I post a few times, I'll stretch out somewhere with my paper and see who to hit up for work this week.

*As I guess I'll now refer to it as. I don't know who actually owns that gigantic dwelling, but I envy them. A lot.



The Incredible Someone Else

The homeless (and by extension, the poor) face a thousand little frustrations every day, and most of the time, these manage to coagulate themselves into one huge frustration by the end of the day. One of the biggest, most looming frustrations is trying to find work that will pay enough to allow you to finally escape homelessness.

Over the past three years I've sent out literally hundreds of resumes and been on dozens of interviews and have yet to garner anything more lucrative than a couple of part time gigs that didn't pay the bills. Okay, part of that is my own fault -- I spent too much time focused on trying to get back into the graphic design field and not enough time trying to get into Guilford Tech or some comparable insititution -- but a lot of the time it's just plain old (a) bad luck; (b) bad timing; (c) ruthless competition; (d) age discrimination (e) racism*; (f) all of the above; (g) some horrendous combination of the above.

I found out yesterday that a very lucrative job I'd interviewed for in Winston-Salem went to Someone Else. Again. I did everything right in that interview. I watched my hygeine and body language. I made sure to give a firm handshake and look anyone that greeted me in the eye with a smile. I made sure to pay close attention to what was said and any instructions I was given. I researched the company beforehand and prepared several questions to ask during the interview, and got to ask them. I didn't use "er", "uh", and "well..." when answering questions. I wrote thank you notes to everyone I talked to, and I followed up diligently afterward.

And the blasted job still went to Someone Else.

Meanwhile, I'm still stuck in retail. Part-time.

Someone Else has a helluva life, neh? Someone Else always gets the good job. Someone Else always has the cool car. Someone Else has the good education. Someone Else has a spouse with a BMI of 19. Someone Else has overachiever kids who make straight As. Someone Else has the big house with the basement rec room.

Maybe it's the Beast stirring in me, but I really wish that Someone Else would lose out on a good lob for a change. I'd like to see Someone Else have to deal with a snotty social worker who uses program rules like a battering ram. I want Someone Else to have to worry about tomorrow.

I want Someone Else to be me for awhile.

*Please do not haul out the tired old argument that racism no longer exists in America. Yes it does; it's just far more subtle and insidious than it was in previous decades.



First, Do No Harm

Apologies in advance to chosen fast, who will no doubt disagree with me big time on this view, Michael here in the city, whose sister is studying for her BSW, and to any social workers out there who Get It. This will be a rant, but always remember, Gentle Reader, YMMV*.

On April 4, Ashley Clocher's Letter to the Editor posted in the News & Record. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I read it. But take a look for yourself first before we move to the discussion. Her letter is here.

For the record, I despise social workers.

I know that's a harsh generalism. I'm sure there are many out there that are dedicated, selfless, and bend over backward to help their clients get the help they need. The social workers assigned to the various area schools seem to be okay, if largely ineffectual; and the former social workers for GIHN seem to be, according to the people we've talked to, salt of the earth.

Unfortunately, I've been on the business end of far too many of the bad ones. And the resulting encounters have, admittedly, colored my perceptions of them.

Still, as my workshop leader was fond of saying: "It is what it is."

The social workers I've encountered are far too busy looking down their nose at the people sitting across the desk from them. The ones I've had the misfortune to have to deal with are simply taking up office space waiting for another paycheck all the while treating their clients -- the ones they're supposed to be helping -- with a protracted disdain most of us reserve for street dogs. The ones I've had to endure are often just going through several motions -- not the least of which is simply to keep clients bottled up for hours filling out forms, answering intrusive questions and enduring a roomful of kids whose parents refuse to discipline them only to be told that "we can't help you." With no explanation forthcoming.

We've had to deal with social workers who worked overtime answering a spurious charge of child endangerment and threatening to take Nessie away, only to find out subsequently that the charge was baseless (something we'd told them all along). We've had to endure social workers who put the word of a child over ours when said child decided that I'd be better off in jail and thus made up a lie that I'd molested her. Another charge that was found to be baseless**. We've had to suffer through the depredations of a Medicaid social worker who decided to punish me for not putting a stack of documentation directly in her hand (3) by cutting off our Medicaid and getting into a verbal battle over the phone. We've had to dread dealing with a social worker who insisted on treating us like addled kindergartners, although Mama and I are much older. And then there's the seemingly endless parade of social workers who simply sit and watch you snobbishly through the fog of a jaundiced zeitgeist while taking copious notes on your family's situation -- including how much money is in your poscket and why it's there (4) -- knowing that there's no way they plan to help you.

If I may quote Ashley's letter:

Why is there such a stigma with social workers? We do some of the best work in
this country and get little or no recognition. People react negatively when you
are out on a visit or even meet them in a hospital setting. They think you are
there to take their children or do something else that will bring harm to their

Because in my experience, my dear, nine times out of ten, that social worker is there to take your children or do some sort of harm to their family. We've had to deal with one one night at Cone Hospital that was there for just that reason, when one of the children (I forget which one) had fallen and was hurt enough that I thought a doctor should have been involved. Turns out it was much ado about nothing, but we learned a lesson that night. Now if the hospital staff asks if we'd like to speak with the social worker, we give an emphatic "no!"

I don't know what sort of training most social workers receive, but much of it seems to involve learning just the right way to strip you of any vestige of your self-esteem; make you feel as though your skulll wasn't occupied by any brain cells whatsoever and make you wonder what's wrong with you; all while keeping you totally dependent on a system that, if not actively murderous, seems to take great interest in wanting to see you down, out and deceased. And making you think all the while that there's light at the end of the tunnel, when really that's just the headlamp of the shinkansen.

I hope I meet one of those selfless, dedicated social workers one day. I'd love to shake the hand of someone who truly Gets It. In the meantime, Ashley, I understand the prickliness of choosing a profession that most people scorn and think you're nuts for doing so. But at the same time, perhaps the Hippocratic Oath applies here as well.

First, Do No Harm.

*Your Mileage May Vary, for those not up on chatroom shorthand, It's just a quickie way of saying this is me callin' 'em as I sees 'em.

**Thank God for Detective Washington of the GPD (since retired) who was the only one who didn't believe that cockeyed story for a minute and set out to get the proof. And she did.

(3) Even though in the lobby there sits a large mailbox with a timeclock attached. The proper procedure is to insert the information in a provided envelope, put our identifying information on it along with the employee number of the social worker, stamp the envelope, and drop it in the box. Unfortunately, this chick was apparently too lazy to get off her fat rear and go down to the mailroom to retrieve her mail.


Fetch Me Out That Doodle-Do!

Our host church this week has been Fellowship Presbyterian. Fellowship is much more low-key than most of the other churches we've been guests of so far, with not a lot of comings and goings. This may, however, just be a slow week for them, since Easter is not for about two weeks.

Fellowship has two co-churches that share space with them but have different services and times. I don't know how that works out logistically. It must drive the schedulers crazy.

They also have a pet rooster that patrols the grounds, but I've yet to see him. Everyone else has seen "Earl", and I've heard him crowing in the woods each morning when we're loading into the van, but I've yet to actually lay eyes on him. If it weren't for the fact that I hear him crowing in the morning, I'd chalk his existence up to just a prank the others are playing. I haven't gotten around yet to asking why a city church has a chicken patrolling the grounds; There's probably an interesting story in there somewhere.

Update: I finally saw Earl the other day. He was standing regally under the front door canopy out of the rain. He's one of the biggest roosters I've ever seen. I'd been wondering before then if he ever had to worry about any of the area hawks, but seeing him now, I'd have to say I'd feel sorry for any hawk that was stupid enough to try it.



I'm Still Standing*

"So is this the way you thought your life would end up?"

It was an innocent enough question, and since it came in a nonthreatening environment (work) during the course of routine duties (work), I just as innocently answered it.


Too late did I realize that it was the Beast that had asked the question. The whole thing was just another ploy to fling wide the gates of my tortured psyche. And fling they did. The Beast lost no time dredging up every inadequacy, regret, failure and shortcoming I'd ever experienced, sharpening them to razor-sharp points and hurling them at my emotional core. I fought back, bolstering my shields with the advice given me by trula, susan, parched earth opals, chosen fast, or, lucky and other commenters.

I'm sorry, guys. He went straight through those shields like tissue paper.

The struggle went on for hours, and was made worse by the fact that every soccer mom and office dad in Greensboro chose that day to come wandering into the store looking for the latest whatnots and gewgaws to drop money on. Kinda hard to battle the Beast when you've got to select a smile, put it on, and make the customer feel that they're the most important person in the world at that moment. At least it is for me because I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve.

Lunchtime was a blur as I spent most of it trying to put down the Beast's latest incursion. He'd used the intervals of my having to deal with customers to good advantage; now he was bringing up regrets from my old high school days. The girls I made cry through my immaturity. The grades I would've gotten had I not been too busy trying to be popular. The friends I lost, and the enemies I gained. The loves I lost and the fights I lost worse. The time I wasted. The things I said and did that are by now too late to take back and make amends for.

About midafternoon, I was wavering under the onslaught and thinking that a tall, frosty glass of Drano would just about hit the spot when I heard it.

Coming over the store speakers.

The first strains of Elton John's "I'm Still Standing"!

God, I needed that! I latched on tight, and sang along with the track, something I typically don't do because I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I didn't care. I needed something to lash the Beast with, and that fit the bill nicely. Fotunately, no one needed to page anyone right then.

It took until about halfway through the song, but the Beast finally fled howling back into his corner. It was over, for the nonce, and I had won. Just.

I've really got to find time to see a good shrink...

*With apologies to Sir Elton.


The Other Side of the Glass

Some days I know exactly how Tantalus felt.

Tantalus was, of course, the figure in Greek myth wo offended the gods* and was thus punished to spend eternity standing in a pool of water underneath a tree full of fruit. Whenever he'd try to satisfy his hunger or thirst, the water would drain away at his approach and the tree branches would move just out of reach. Tantalus' name is where we get our modern word "tantalize"**.

Riding the bus affords me the opportunity, for good or ill, to gaze out the window at a life that always seems just out of reach: a coffeeshop we used to frequent. A grocery store where we used to buy our food. The store where the boys would rent their video games. The playground where Nessies liked to hang upside down on the jungle gym. The shop where Mama would buy her herbal teas.

And not just figments of the life we once lived, either, but the one we'd like to experience: The mansions with the immaculately cared-for lawns. The sleek new vehicles lined up for prospective buyers. The gleaming office buildings where the high-paying jobs are. The scrubbed private schools with their track records for providing good educations. The happy, smiling couples on their way to some exotic, exciting locale.

All just out of reach. Close enough to be just on the other side of the glass, perhaps a fingerprint away. Far enough away to be blurred by the persistent fog of envy.

*Of course, from my reading of Greek mythology, ticking off Zeus and company was like shooting fish in a barrel. I don't know how the universe in those stories survived.

**And for you fellow Trekkers, Tantalus was also the name of one of the Federation's prison planets.



Parry, Riposte!

I was in motion all day Friday, which was pretty good considering I was running on little sleep and recovering from a hay fever attack I'd suffered the evening before. I had two job interviews, one in Greensboro, the other in Winston-Salem. I couldn't reschedule one, especially since I don't get too many interviews these days. I also don;t yet have a car, so it took some very careful planning on my part.

But I did it.

I think they both went well. Both interviews seemed positive, but again, I've learned not to count the paycheck before the tax forms are signed. Still, I'm glad I took that workshop at Guilford JobLink. I remembered a bunch of tactics that I employed during my interview in Winston, which was with a very large firm (operations in four states).

Some interview tactics are just common sense: treat everyone you run into at the company with respect, not just the interviewer; prepare your answers ahead of time, especially questions concerning your employment history and your future goals; research your target company as thoroughly as you have time and brain capacity for -- you never know what topics will come up; and show through your voice and body language that you want the job (which I did). I caught myself slouching a couple times, not out of disinterest, but because of fatigue. But I corrected the situation quickly, straightening up in the chair and keeping my gaze firmly locked on my interviewer.

Some interviews adminster a test of your abilities. Make sure you follow all instructions to the letter, even if you've done it a million times before or the instructions seem silly. And don't be afraid to ask questions. I try to prepare at least three questions in advance to ask the interviewer. This seems to impress them and make them take your application more seriously.

In fact, here's another piece of advice I'll pass along from my workshop. The most powerful question you can ask the interviewer is: "Would you describe for me your ideal candidate?" Then listen closely to the answer, because what you'll do then is become that candidate. For example, if the interviewer responds with "My ideal candidate is someone who is well-versed in Microsoft Word, can quickly learn our proprietary software, and can stay overtime if needed during the week," you'll reply: "You know, in my last job, I used Microsoft Word on a daily basis to produce correspondence. I had to learn how to run several auxiliary programs very quickly when our Office Manager was out sick, and I almost always stay until the work is complete, even if that means I'm still at my desk when everyone else has gone home*." What have you just told the interviewer? You've told her that you have a mastery of their preferred software, that you can pick up other skills quickly so that you'll be even more useful, and that you put dedication and productivity ahead of the nine-to-five. Even if you don't get the job, you definitely go on the short list to get called in in case the person they hire walks out in front of a truck (hey, you never know...) I've already landed on two short lists doing that.

In fact, if you think about it, the entire interview is nothing but a series of parries and ripostes. Just make sure your parries and ripostes land without throwing you off balance.

*Obviously, your answers will vary. Just make sure your crafting yours to the reply you get from the interviewer, plugging in your experience and skills where needed. And tell the truth while you do it. But you knew that...


Traces of Home

We just completed our week at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. This church is unusual in two ways: one, it's the largest church -- physically and in membership -- in Greensboro, and second, it's the only predominantly black* church currently participating in the Interfaith network in Greensboro.

The first twenty-four hours of any of our church assignments is always a "feeling out" period; just like when you first get hired on or you join an organization for the first time. You want to make sure all your ducks are in a row and that the organization, well, feels right. With Mt. Zion, this process only took a bare few hours. Even setting aside the fact that we're also black, it just felt more comfortable at Mt. Zion more quickly. It also helped that the members, which included members of the Good Samaritan Ministries, went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

The first night at dinner told the tale. At all the other churches we've been guests of, dinnertime was definitely a friendly affair, with good food and good company. But dinner at Mt. Zion was different in that it felt more like a family reunion. It's a difficult feeling to describe; We knew this wasn't "home", and the members weren't "family" in the strictest sense, yet it felt like it. I don't know if that description (admittedly it's a weak one) makes sense to someone that's never been to a family reunion.

Typically, such affairs are quite boisterous, where young and old alike swap viewpoints and experiences. Any and all topics are broached, as long as it's done in good taste and humor. And all of it is done around large bites of some of the best homecooked food. I know this describes the same experience as people of all ethnicities take part in; it's just...different.

Nessie had her time in the spotlight the night before last. She brought her violin home from school (as she does every weekend) and her guitar that she got last Christmas. She gave an impromptu performance that the members all seemed to enjoy. I believe she was even invited to perform at the church this morning.

The subject of the blog came up last night when we were all in the Common Room welcoming a new family into the network. Several members seemed thrilled to finally meet the "Mama" they'd read so much about. To her surprise, none of them seemed to mind that she practiced yoga, a source of anxiety for her up until last night.

Mama and Nessie spoke very highly of Mt. Zion. I think the church may have gained two more members.

*I don't much care for the term "African-American". First of all, although genetically I share similarities with the denizens of the sub-saharan African continent, I've never been to Africa in my life. Nor do I have any desire to go. Second, if the anthroplogists are correct, we all share an African ancestry becuase that's where Earth's first humans appeared. Third, "African-American" seems too stilted for me. It just smacks of an artificial attempt to be overly polite. I'm black. It's okay to call me that. Actually, I've lived long enough to be many things: "colored", "Negro", "Afro-American", "urban", "African-American", and of course the loathsome "N-word". At the end of the day, they're just words.

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