Monday, March 31, 2008

Jobs, Uncertainty, and My Grandpa's Seattle Adventure

Today was the day the grant for my fantabulous temporary job ran out, and hence it was my last day at work. (I've got a few on-call shifts in the next month, but that's different) I spent the morning finishing up and distributing my big final report (with real Excel charts and graphs; a first for me!), walked my sort-of boss through all the craft supplies I bought, gave out candy and cards to everyone, and left early to pick up the Mermaid Girl from school.

I didn't get that job for which I took a cab to interview a few weeks ago, though I did get on the on-call list for the (large, prestigious) library system that posted the job. I had another interview after that for another job at another system that I found out today I also didn't get. I'm waiting to hear about a third job at yet another library system; they won't even be interviewing for that one for another couple of weeks, so I'm not holding my breath.

So I guess I'm sort of freaking out. This is the first time in ten years or so that I haven't had a solid regular job prospect right in front of me. (Well, the first time since last summer. So, the second time in ten years.)

On the other hand, I think I'll get something sometime if I can just hang in there. After all, I keep getting interviews, so eventually I'm bound to interview better than the other two or three final prospects and get the job. Right? Uh, right??

Also, not to jinx things (ptui, ptui, ptui,) but in general my family has a tendency to land on its feet, work-wise. I was reminded of that this evening when I had occasion to remember this
story about my grandfather:

My father's father came to the United States the long way around: he escaped from the czar's army via Siberia, then to China, and then took a boat to Seattle, where Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) workers helped him out by giving him money so that he could take a train to New York, where he had relatives. My grandpa decided that instead of taking the train, he'd use the money to stake himself to some time in Seattle; later, he told my dad he'd heard there was lots of opportunity there.

Well, opportunity there may have been, but I guess he didn't catch any of it, and after a few weeks he was back at the HIAS office, broke, and asking once again for train fare to New York. This time the HIAS workers got smart and just bought him a ticket. They may in fact have seen him right to the station and personally put him on the train; I'm not so clear on this part.

So, that's how I came to be born and grow up in New York. But I like to think I sort of have Seattle roots. I did drive his car out there when I came West in 1989, anyway.

Hmm. I'm not sure if that story is as encouraging as I thought at first. Well, my grandpa did get steady work in New York, anyway; he was a jeweler, and made the ring I gave the Renaissance Woman at our wedding in 1998.

So, that's good.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Summer of Nadia Comanici

This morning, on our way to the tea house for breakfast, my mom said, "Oh! Guess who emailed me the other day? Lulie Morelli*!"

"Lulie! I remember her! And Bianca! And...what was her name...the oldest one?"


"Right, Gabriella. Gabi. What happened to her, anyway?"

"Heroin. She died. And Susan died last year. A stroke, I think, or maybe a heart attack." Susan was the mom, my mom's friend from an exchange program back in high school, a New England WASP who married an Italian exporter and went on to live a life of glamorous transatlanticism, while my mom married a nice Jewish guy from the Bronx and settled in the suburbs.

I was afraid to ask about Bianca, the one who was my age, but I did anyway.

"She was addicted too," my mom said, "But she's alive. She's getting clean, she's in treatment."

"And Lulie?" Lulie was the youngest. That Bicentennial summer, she'd been six or seven years old, a small elfin presence, slipping in and out of rooms, hovering on the sidelines as Bianca and I walked chalk-line balance beams over and over in the driveway of their rented place in Montauk, the week we visited them there.

"Lulie's a rock. She's great. She's doing well, she's a nurse, she has three kids, they live in London, but you know how that family always was, she's always travelling-- to Italy to see her family, to the States to see her husband's family. I saw her last year when I went to knitting camp in England."

It's been a weekend of reminiscences, this time in Victoria. The other night, I regaled the Mermaid Girl with stories of growing up in the far-off 1970's (Computers were the size of a whole room! Our TV had a dial, and you had to go over and turn it to change the channel! Everyone got very excited about the Bicentennial!) But I'd forgotten all about the Morellis. They were so different from everything else in my universe, like people in a story, a fairy tale, even, that it's hard to fit them in with the rest of my memories-- the ones about walking to school, and marching in the Fourth of July Parade, and playing ping-pong in New York with my dad.

They lived in Italy, mostly, and had Italian names. But their mother, Susan, was American, so they spoke English like regular kids. And they seemed sort of regular, at least they did that summer. At least the two younger ones did. Well, mostly regular. Maybe a little different. I couldn't put my finger on it. Something about the lilt in their voices, the graceful way they carried themselves, the casualness with which Bianca tossed off a litany of their travels back and forth to England, America, back to Italy.

Even their family was different. My parents were divorced, spoke civilly of and to one another, and I lived with my mother and visited my father, in what was, by 1976, becoming as normal a way of life as any for a kid my age. Susan and her husband, Francesco, were married, but if I ever met Francesco I don't remember it; he was always on a business trip. And they fought. I don't remember how I knew this, but I knew.

Gabi was fifteen that summer, and far apart from the rest of us. She had her own room which we rarely entered; I remember it as swathed with scarves, dark, messy, intriguing. Once I think I saw her reach into a drawer or closet or behind a shelf, pull out a bottle of whiskey-- or maybe gin?--and take a swig. (Though what was I doing there, in her room? More likely it was Bianca who showed me the bottle, both of us sneaking in while Gabi was out.)

Another time it was Susan who ushered us in to Gabi's room while she was gone, my mom and me and maybe even my brother. "Listen to this," she said. "This is great." She dropped a record onto Gabi's player and set the needle down, and I listened, sitting on the edge of Gabi's bed like a student in a classroom, looking at the scarves and the posters and the scattered necklaces and the shadows cast from the window as Lou Reed sang "Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side...hey, sugar, take a walk on the wild side, and the colored girls sing do, de do, de do, do do do do, de do, de do..."

I didn't understand most of it, except for the chorus. That was clear to me. Gabi was on the wild side, already, anyone could see, even me, unworldly and willfully naive as I was, young as I was in some ways even for ten.

Bianca, the middle sister, was the one I was friends with, mostly. I don't think I noticed at the time, but in the one blurry photo of her I have I can see that even then she was beautiful, with smouldering dark eyes and dark hair. "Like Sophia Loren," my mom remembered this morning. She was the one I made up stories with, played games with--though we were always being reminded to include my little brother and her little sister--and my chief companion in that summer's Olympic dreams.

I don't remember us talking about the unutterable strangeness of her family, the mystery of Gabi. I didn't know what to say, didn't want to seem nosy or rude, and I don't think they seemed strange to her. I think we played with dolls, though she was probably getting old for it. I know we lived the Olympics that week, the week of Nadia Comanici's perfect 10s in gymnastics. At night we watched the competitions on the country-house television; in the daytime we put on our bathing suits, not to swim, but to pretend they were leotards and be Nadia Comanici, only fourteen years old and world-famous, impossibly lithe and flexible. Montauk is near the water, and we must have gone swimming that week, but I don't remember it; only setting one bare foot in front of the other in the driveway, endlessly balancing.

Gabi was a mystery, and Bianca an intriguingly matter-of-fact playmate, but Lulie was a little sprite, a clown, good-natured and mostly unruffled, except for the one time she cried when we beat her at Parcheesi. One night in the kitchen, my mom shoved the cat out of the way (how did they bring their cat here from Italy?) and called it "catso," meaning just to make a nickname for "cat." But Susan gasped in shock and then laughed and laughed, after explaining sputteringly to us what "catso" meant in Italian. "It means...well..penis. But it's the worst-- the most crude--you'd never, ever say it in polite company-- and you just went and--oh!" and she was off again. "Catso!" she laughed. And Lulie, echoing her, chirped up "catso! Catso, catso, catso!" her face so wry and mischievous that her mom, and all of us, doubled over again in helpless laughter.

One night the grownups, Susan and my mom, went out for dinner or maybe a movie, leaving Gabi in charge. We had dinner, and then something happened--maybe just a movement in the trees outside, maybe someone coming to visit who shouldn't have--and Gabi called the police. I remember feeling vaguely nauseous as they checked the house, asking us what happened--not just Gabi but me and Bianca, too, as the little kids sat silent and edgy. They were supposed to be in bed already, but no one had remembered to make them lie down. Everything felt upside-down, untethered.

I wish I could remember what happened that night, why Gabi called the police. My imagination, knowing what happened later--the heroin, the running away, Susan's frantic searches for good rehab programs for teenagers--puts Gabi in the middle of it somehow. After all, wasn't she already drinking, at fifteen? Maybe some of her friends came by when they weren't supposed to, maybe they had drugs or wanted drugs, maybe she panicked. But maybe she was just an anxious teenager, only a year older than the tiny gymnast on TV, feeling responsible for us younger kids, worried about the dangers of the world outside our door.

Gabi's beyond asking now, and so is her mother. My own mom can't remember what happened, though she's right down the hall as I type. I haven't seen Bianca, who was my friend, since we were eleven or twelve, though she's out there in the world, still my age, still living an unfathomably different life, but maybe one that is--who knows?--just the same in some ways, as we were just the same in some ways thirty years ago.

Lulie might know; my mom is in touch with her, and I could be too, if I wanted to. But she was so young that summer; I'm amazed she remembers us at all, though my mom says she does. It's hard for me to understand that she's a grownup, like me, with a job and kids, living a regular life in the regular world. Her family was so otherworldly, and I knew them so long ago, that it feels like they all might as well have existed only in a dream I had.

All I can remember is how I sat on the living-room couch that night, the cool sea air wafting in through the open door, and focused my eyes on the the cover of the latest Cricket magazine, lying closed on the round wicker-and-glass coffee table. It was an underwater scene, laughing baby mermaids with pearl necklaces swimming smilingly across the green sea of the page. I'd finished the issue already, and now felt as if I were looking at it from underwater, myself, or from the wrong end of a telescope, so far away was the girl who had read those stories and contest entries and cartoons. That girl didn't know what I knew: that the wild side could blow into the house with the wind, nothing between me and it.

*I've changed all the names and some identifying details about this family.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Real Victorian

Here is something else I love about Canada: Easter weekend is 4 days long!

Back in Seattle, unless you were an observant Christian, Easter lasted for one day: Easter Sunday. Which meant that, effectively, for most people, aside from the jellybeans etc, it was no holiday at all. Here, you get Good Friday *and* Easter Monday as well as Sunday. The libraries are open on Saturday, but for most people (including me as I have no Saturday hours right now) it is one big four day par-tay.

(I hold that this celebratory stance in relation to a Christian holiday that has become a state holiday in no way conflicts with my annual Christmastide angst. So sue me. And I wished "happy Easter" right back to the probably Muslim or maybe Hindu guy at the grocery store who wished me a happy Easter yesterday, yes I did. I mean, hey, who isn't happy about a four day weekend?)

Anyway: we are in Victoria! Hooray! My mom and the Mermaid Girl have been here for a couple of days already, but the Renaissance Woman and I just pulled in this afternoon, whereupon we all promptly went out for tea, which is the proper thing to do in Victoria. And it was a proper tea, too. With scones and crumpets and a lovely great big bowl of cream in the middle of each of our plates. Mmm. Not to mention pictures of the Royal Family everywhere. Right across from me was a huge double frame of Princess Di and Prince Charles, circa 1981. It took me back.

The other thing this tea place had was a handwriting analysis guy, who for $5 would come to your table and get a sample of your handwriting and go off and analyze it and bring you a complete handwriting profile. My mom, who was underwriting the whole jaunt, volunteered to spring for all of our handwritings (except MG whose handwriting is too new to be analyzed), and they sent over the handwriting analyst, who was this dapper little guy about seventy-five years old.

He brought us back our folders, with their analyses, which we agreed didn't necessarily reflect our views of ourselves, and then asked if we had any questions. RW asked him if there were generational handwriting differences (on account of different teaching methods) and he misunderstood her question and explained quite genially that young people now are very different from young people thirty or forty years ago, that nowadays the youngsters think they can do anything they like, and that this has all come about because teachers are no longer allowed to hit misbehaving students with a strap, so how will they ever learn about consequences?

He wasn't ranting, mind you, just explaining that this is the way it is, these sad days, while we all gaped at him. Finally the Mermaid Girl politely raised her hand and volunteered that at her school, if you do something wrong once you get a card, and then if you do something again you get a warning, and then the third time you get a time out, and she has never even gotten ONE CARD. (I think there is also a green-yellow-red component in there that she was leaving out for simplicity's sake. She is somewhat obsessed with this system and told me once that she'd had a dream where she was just sitting in class, behaving herself, and she looked up and all of a sudden had a RED CARD. Not green, not yellow, but RED. And she didn't even know what she had done! She recounted this with the delicious horror that accompanies the telling of a truly grisly story.)

This encounter made me more skeptical about the analysis's reliability, for example its conclusion that I am one who "likes to spend money and has to constantly check this tendency," as actually I'm pretty thrifty. On the other hand, I'm quite willing to agree with the claim that I am "easy to get along with and not too demanding," and in fact intend to remind RW of this incontrovertable fact next time we have a disagreement. Because the Handwriting Analyst said so! And it must be true!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mom, If There Are Dishes in the Sink Tomorrow, Here's Why.

Remind me to opt out of Daylight Savings next spring, okay? Oh, what's that? I can't?


I was actually quite vigilant about changing all the clocks on Saturday evening, so that wasn't the problem. The problem-- the first one, anyway--was that the Mermaid Girl has her New, Improved, Advanced, 4-hour Circus Class on Sunday morning. She's ambivalent about the class on the best of Sundays-- she was bored in the old class, and proud to get jumped up midyear, but 4 hours is a smidge long for her--and last week was not the best of Sundays. I let her sleep in a bit and brought her in late, but even so she was sleepy and crabby and had huge circles under her eyes.

Monday morning was more or less a rerun of Sunday morning, only half an hour earlier and with extra added whining and dragging of feet. I let MG sleep in a bit and drove her the five blocks downhill to school, rather than walking, drop-kicked her at the gate about five minutes late, then rushed back to the house where the Renaissance Woman and I were both working like fiends at home: me on my second job, which reached a critical, deadline-heavy stage this week, and she on a presentation she's been preparing for for months.

I screeched into the school parking lot at 2:59 to pick up MG and her friend Trillium, who we'd called in a fit of expansiveness on the weekend to invite over that afternoon, only to have another parent mention gently that today had been the big all-primary skating trip (she'd been a driver), and MG hadn't brought her skates or gloves or helmet. It turned out not to be a big deal--I paid the teacher for the (unnecessary if I'd had my act together) skate rental, and presumably someone lent her gloves and a helmet--but it just reinforced the legs-cycling-helplessly- in-the-air-off-a-cliff character the week was already taking on.

Monday afternoon, in the midst of complex mid-playdate phone negotiations over whether Trillium could stay for dinner, the other phone rang, offering me an Interview.

Tuesday...I don't remember Tuesday. Did something happen on Tuesday? Oh, that's right: I went to work, for my last day at my regular Tuesday location, and freaked out about my Interview, scheduled for the end of the week, which came with as-yet-unspecified homework to be prepared. And when I picked the Mermaid Girl up at her Beloved After-School-Care Provider's house, the Beloved Provider informed me that she's going away for six weeks starting in early May. Then MG came home from her 1-to-9 shift, tried on her Conference Outfit, and tried to calm down about her speech while I wrote something for another extremely small job.

Wednesday was RW's big presentation and my late-to-work day, so I spent the morning getting ready for the Interview: printing out extra copies of my resume (at RW's printer, since my cartridge ran out of ink on Monday and we haven't had time to buy a new one), putting my references together anew, making sure I had presentable clothes, sponging off my Interview Bag which has spent the last six months making friends with the dustballs under my desk. Then I spent the rest of the day on the desk, helping hopeful would-be-investors with shaky Internet skills and several schoolkids whose assignments were due TOMORROW. Yeah. I was a little twitchy by the time I got home at 10:00.

So by yesterday I was pretty well beat, but I still had a full day of work and an evening meeting for my second job (the one that was all critical with the deadlines this week). I picked up the Mermaid Girl from the library where she'd accompanied RW for the beginning of her 5-to-9 shift, took us both out for an uncharacteristic Burger King dinner, then slammed us to my second-job-boss's house for the meeting.

Fortunately, 2nd-job-boss has a daughter about MG's age, and they'd met before during a previous after-hours meeting, and got along pretty well. Actually they got along so well that I'd had to more or less drag MG out of the house, so this time we had a big talk over dinner about how she Had To Leave When I Said, Or Else. I laid it on a bit thick about how Arabella's mom was my BOSS, and I didn't want to have a big fight with my kid in front of my BOSS. Also, I told her that if she cooperated she could have a piece of candy from her stash when we got home. (Ah, yes. My parenting skillz, let me show you them.)

We're still on Thursday, aren't we? Right. That's how it felt at the time, too. So: Meeting at boss's house wherein boss and I get done what needs to get done while MG and Arabella have a jolly time bouncing repeatedly down the stairs and running to the airport to get away from monsters, then we go home, then we review MG's excellent report card that came home with her that afternoon, then we remember that tomorrow is MG's Special Helper Day and she needs to get her book and her show-and-tell item together, then somewhere in there RW comes home and takes over and we finally shove MG into bed with vain prayers that the circles under her eyes will be slightly less dark tomorrow.

Then I start my Interview Homework, which I finish a bit after midnight. Then I do one last bit of work for 2nd job and collapse to sleep.

Which brings us to this morning, which I took off work for my 10:30 interview.

It started out all right, though I would've wished for an hour or two more sleep. I got up just as MG and RW were leaving for school and work, took a shower, ate a scrap of breakfast, reviewed all my interview materials, got dressed in my interview outfit, and trotted out to the car at 9:40, which allowed for plenty of time to get there and even find parking.

The car wouldn't start.

RW had the other car, and she was already at work half an hour away.

This car has never, ever, ever failed us before. I had it serviced just over a month ago. It's a late-model, well-cared-for vehicle, which we are looking after for a family friend. It's much nicer than any car we would actually buy, and we are extra careful driving it, because we want to give it back in the excellent condition in which it was loaned to us.

I checked to make sure it was in Park. It was. I turned the key again, and again, and again, to no avail: the computerized dashboard informed me helpfully that the "immobilize" feature had been activated.

I wasted precious minutes in adrenalinized panic before doing anything. Then I called RW; since my brain didn't seem to be working, I needed to borrow hers. She suggested that I call a cab. I called a cab, the cab came, I grabbed the bare minimum of stuff I'd need for the interview and went. I got there with ten minutes to spare.

I don't want to talk about the interview. I've had a few interviews this year, and so has the Renaissance Woman, and the one rule I've come away with is that there is no way to tell how an interview went by how you felt about it. I didn't feel great about how I did at this one, but as you can imagine I was somewhat addled so I might not be the most reliable witness.

Then I had to get to my regular job from downtown. I work in a suburb over a bridge, and I'd never taken public transportation there, and I certainly hadn't had any time to research the matter that morning. So after grabbing a lunch across the way, I used the downtown library's computers to look up bus routes and found the way to work.

Only, the bus stop that the computer had told me to go to wasn't in service any more, so I wandered around downtown for a while in the rain in my interview clothes and inadequate interview coat before I found the new stop.

I guess it's no surprise that I didn't get too much done at work this afternoon once I got there. Actually, I thought I was doing pretty well by staying upright at the desk rather than crawling under it and curling up in a fetal position. But I did stay upright for three hours, then figured out how to get home, took three buses, and walked uphill to the house.

The car was still parked outside. I had to try it one more time before I went in; I'd called the repair shop from work and been told that I might have to disconnect the battery to make it work, and I didn't want to do that without checking in with its real owner.

The car started just fine.

Then I went inside and jumped out the window. No, really, I went in and made dinner and waited for my family. We had Shabbat. MG was only moderately obnoxious, which isn't bad considering how exhausted she was. RW kindly reminded me of the interview she thought she'd blown that ended in her getting her favorite job so far this year. We ate macaroni and cheese. And then I went to bed.

(Then I woke up again at 10:00 and wrote this endless post. But we'll just ignore that part and leave me sleeping peacefully.)

Tomorrow, we pick up my mom at the airport!

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Right Priorities

So, a few months ago we bought a couch. A sofa bed, in fact, so that when our friends (like you! That's right, you!) come visit, after they go out and see the wonders of the Greater Vancouver Region and ride a skytrain and a ferry and walk on the beach and eat sushi and come back to our place and admire the view and we all stay up talking and laughing hysterically and drinking the wine we brought back across the border from Trader Joe's, they (you!) can have a nice place to sleep that does not involve waking up at 3 in the morning with a metal bar digging into their/your back.

Now, of course we tried the couch out when we bought it; we made the couch salesman unfold it and we all lay on it and bounced and tried to determine whether, aside from the overwhelming self-consciousness brought on by lying down in broad daylight in a couch store, we felt comfortable. And we were pretty sure we did. But that's very different from actually sleeping on the thing, which is what my relatives did a couple of weeks ago when they stopped by to visit on their way up to a ski resort. They pronounced it "surprisingly comfortable" the next day, so we were relieved.

Mostly, though, we use the sofa function of the sofa-bed rather than its bed capacity. It is an excellent place for napping or reading or all sitting together to watch a DVD on the computer. We all chose it together, and it is a cheerful red color that clashes in a homey way with the falling-apart overstuffed chair that we brought up from Seattle with us.

It is also the most expensive piece of furniture, by far, that either the Renaissance Woman or I have ever bought. At one point, I tried to calculate how many times we would have to sit on the couch for it to have paid for itself, at about $1 per session (on average; more for extensive naps, less for just sitting down for a couple of minutes). It will take a while, so we had a discussion about how imperative it is for all of us to use the couch as often as possible. We agreed that this was a highly worthwhile endeavor.

The past few weeks have been very, very busy, and both RW and I have to-do lists that do not seem to shrink no matter how energetically we attack them. We each have multiple looming deadlines with a lot riding on them, involving tasks that are new for us; at the same time, we have eagerly-anticipated family visits and holidays and vacations and just the daily business of life. On top of all that, I've been sick, with some kind of low-grade infection that I just can't shake, and RW has been working more hours than usual, often on evenings and weekends.

So there hasn't been much time to relax, and neither of us feels much inner permission to do so, not in the face of piles of laundry and stacks of dishes and more deadlines than we can even keep in our heads. But still, in the midst of all this pressure, we try to keep our priorities in order.

The other day, I went looking for RW, probably to ask her about some to-do item or other. I was calling down to the laundry room for her, and was surprised to hear her voice from the living room.

The Renaissance Woman was lying down, reading a book, her head propped on one of the couch cushions we'd hand-picked.

"I'm amortizing the couch," my spouse explained cheerfully.

The Mermaid Girl and dolls, amortizing the couch.