Saturday, November 10

Come Saturday Morning

The title to a song in one of the first "dirty" movies I ever saw: "The Sterile Cuckoo." It starred Liza Minelli and was rated "R" (scandalous at the time) because it contained a scene of pre-marital sex and Liza spouting "rough" language. Truly nothing by contemporary standards. Any episode of Will and Grace is far more risque.

My thoughts are somewhat scattered this morning (by now you've probably noticed -- using a 32-year-old Liza Minelli film as a lead -- what was I thinking?). A job opportunity looms on the horizon but it comes with a price tag: leaving the area. Not far. But far enough. Part of me says this would be a good thing. The Valley is getting me down and things aren't looking up for full-time, permanent employment. Part of me says, you moved back here to make it work, so do it. I'm no Don Quixote though folks, and right now it seems the more I search, the more I tilt. This job would take us away for a little while, we can make plans and plant seeds for after the first of the year. Everyone says it will be better then. As a friend of Rick's says, "when what you are doing doesn't work, try something different." I think we will.

I'm not mentioning any more specifics at this time because I'm from the school that maintains the more you talk about something in the planning stage the greater chance you'll jinx it. Rest assured, however, it will be fodder (however it turns out) for a future post.

In one of my former lives I worked for a software company that required me to travel roughly 90 percent. I loved it, but the job coincided with my mother's health problems, so I couldn't maintain that pace and take care of her. It gave me a lot of opportunities to see the country (Sioux City, South Dakota; Limoni, Iowa; Troy, New York; Georgetown, Texas -- places where Comfort Inn is always ready to serve you). I became quite well acquainted with the airline magazines, particularly United's "Hemisphere's". They used to have a regular fiction column called "The View From Seat 23A" or some such thing. The stories revolved around the person sitting in that seat. Kind of clever.

I'm thinking about doing the same type of piece, only my mode of transport will be the city bus. I'm certainly well versed now in the bus routes throughout the Valley. Rick and I are have become somewhat reluctant bus aficionados. We've even named the side mounted seats on the VTA buses "the fag seats" because a) you look good sitting in them and, b) we all know it's about how you look. Since they are seats that can be folded up to accommodate wheelchair passengers, we are always quick to release them to someone who needs access. We also realize it's about doing the right thing. Then you really look good.

But we have seen some interesting things. And certainly interesting people. There are stories there, I know there are. For example, the 22 line, which runs from Menlo Park on the peninsula to the east side of San Jose, is the lifeline of the mass transit world in the Valley. It runs 24x7 and has been dubbed a "rolling hotel" by the local newspaper. Folks who can't get into a shelter ride the bus all night. Changing from one to another as the reach the end of the line. A one way stretch takes approximately 1.5 hours, so people sleep in those increments until the morning comes. Some continue to ride all day. It strikes me as a metaphor for something.

Life maybe?

Friday, November 9

Have I Ever Told Myself How Lucky I Am?

Well, sometimes. Yesterday brought it all home. There was a major "housecleaning" at the shelter. The rules, which everyone knows, states that you have to have a job to be in this program. They ask you to fill out an employment verification sheet and put it on file. Somehow mine got misplaced. (I've learned now who to give things there to and who not).

When I came in last night after work, my name was off the list and I appeared to have been discharged. Were it not for Rick and one of the night staff members who liked me, last night I would have stayed at the Highway 87 Hyatt, also known as under the bridge.

There were some folks who fell victim to the purge. A couple of them have no idea where to go or what to do. They will find other shelters, not as nice, drug riddled, theft rife. But they will survive. One thing I have noticed about the lot of people I am with right now: they are survivors. They don't eat barbecued rats or live grubs, but they do get by ingeniously.

Even with a job this can't last forever. We are going to have to move on. A friend at the shelter is going to Squaw Valley to work the ski season. That would be fun and I'm thinking about it. You can make some pretty decent money up there and it's truly seasonal. Give you some time to get something else lined up. We'll see.

Otherwise, Friday is just that. Another day. There is no closure to this week from today. Uncertainly abounds and we have to remain vigilant.

I'm used to that.

Thursday, November 8

It's Still Baghdad By The Bay

Herb Caen, one of the S.F. Chronicle's most beloved columnists coined that nickname for San Francisco. After my trip up there yesterday it's still true. Rick said I needed to get out of the south bay for a while and he was right. Or was he? I spent the afternoon and better part of the evening up there and it made me long to return. It was almost unfair (as if we have a right to expect a fair life) to have to come back down to the shelter.

Before I left for DC I had become jaded with the City. Any more jaded and you could have put me in the window at Tom Wing's -- a local Asian jeweler. After yesterday I began to appreciate what I had left. Smug defines a lot of us in this area. We know the area's one of the nicest in the country. Returning to the shelter humbled me, but it also steeled my resolve to get the hell out of there -- soon. I need to get my life going again at any cost. Well, just about any.

The calendar reveals it's exactly two weeks until Thanksgiving. Don't know what I'm thinking about that at the moment. The thought of being in the shelter on a major holiday repulses me, but there are so many other worse options. It was cold last night. I could have been huddled under a bridge. (For those of you who don't believe me: people really do live under bridges. They are usually doing or selling drugs, but they are there).

So life continues at the moment with a background theme of "it could be worse." Little consolation at times. It's all I've got right now.


Today's diversion (look to the right) will appeal to the truly sick minds out there. Rick actually has a subscription to this publication. I read it because I need to know the about the comings and goings of Bat Boy, the miracle of the mini-mermaid found in a can of tuna, and the latest fashion accessory: the flatulence muffler. Go on. Check it out. You know you want to.

Wednesday, November 7

I Am, Therefore I Think

Got a haircut last night. Gay Boy's Regular. After swearing I would not let a clipper jockey loose on my hair, I couldn't stand it any longer and let a fellow resident shear me. It really had to be done. My hair had gotten so long I was in serious jeopardy of losing my card. Rick was embarrassed to be seen with me. The guy didn't do a bad job. It's not exactly the type of cut I have gotten in the past, but that was then. That was also $45 with a tip. That type of hair luxury will have to wait.

Working the focus group thing again tonight. An easy $100 for an hour and a half of my time talking about auxiliary power supply units. Riveting. Plus I get an afternoon in San Francisco. That's not bad.

More later as it develops.

Tuesday, November 6

Happy 31st Birthday to Ethan
Oh, The Places I've Seen, The Things I've Learned

Here it is, Tuesday, known by Rick and I as "Holy Hot Dog Day." Members of a local Pentecostal church come to the shelter on Tuesday and Thursday and serve hot dogs (with all the "fixings'" -- they really do know what homeless people like to eat). We dubbed the day "holy" because they lead the group in prayer before serving the food. That was, until someone against prayer made a stink and now it's just hot dogs. But "Holy Hot Dog Day" has a nice ring to it, so it's staying.

For shelter food, today's lunch is widely known in homeless circles as a "don't miss." You see, not only does today's lunch feature something resembling a real meal, it comes complete with chips and soda. That's a find. You learn these things when you are "out there." For instance, I know never again to go to Salvation Army to eat (really old food). And, even though the United Methodist Church serves lunch, you know not to go on Thursday, because it's the same thing that will be served for dinner at the shelter I'm staying at. The night everyone has on their calendars is Saturday night. The Buddhists come to the shelter to dish up generous portions of chow mein, spring rolls, fried rice, salad, soda, soup. I wonder if I will ever be able to have an intelligent conversation about a restaurant again. Somehow I don't think measuring the food on it's freshness as in, "those donuts were only three days old," would go over well.

Strange the things I've learned over the past few months. Not only can I tell you where to find the best meal, I know which of the job banks has the best offerings, where to look for new donated clothing, and how to arrange for a deeply discounted monthly bus pass. My vocabulary has grown quite a bit as well.

I entered a residential alcohol and drug treatment program in late May. I was one of the few there who had come in voluntarily. Most were there to avoid jail or prison terms. Until then I thought only James Cagney called a prison "the joint" or "the pen." One man shared a story of being "violated" by his parole officer -- yikes! I had never heard phrases like "so that's how it is, huh?" or "it's all good. Don't trip." I've managed to keep most of this out of my personal vernacular. But at times you have to speak the language of the locals to gain a level of trust. When I first came into the shelter, some folks thought I was an undercover agent. Believe me, even the most dedicated undercover cop wouldn't want to do this duty.


More job opportunities on the horizon. My current job appears very uncertain at the moment. I think my luck played itself out over the first couple of weeks. Maybe my calling voice is not as convincing as it once was. Telemarketing requires a skin of tempered steel. The hang-ups, the "go aways", the just plain obstinate. I always thought it was quaint that many young Chinese couples had their parents living with them. The return of the extended family. My telemarketing experience has changed my perception. I now know that young Chinese, who are usually fluent in English, let their Mandarin or Cantonese-only speaking parents answer the phone to confound telemarketers. I've had too many conversations now with elderly Chinese men whose only response to my statements and questions has been "Annngh?"

This morning Rick proclaimed his ability to assume a position as a Human Resources Manager. I was a bit taken aback since I haven't heard of his expertise in this area. There would be a reason: he has none. But on second thought, a plethora of health insurance forms, a company picnic, a few recognition certificates and doo-dads, maybe a safety video. . .you are in there. I see him as Catbert, the evil H.R. Director in the Dilbert comic strip.

Maybe it will work.


The irreverence and wit of The Onion, only daily. Check out one of my favorite e-newsletters: SF Gate Morning Fix. It's written by a tortured soul at the San Francisco Chronicle and the only place you'll find stories on "The Tragic Side Of Insane Transvestite Dermatologists."

As the author's subscription copy reads: Hie thee to the Gate's newsletters page , honeychile. It's free. It's easy. It's one of those deeply satisfying sensations you recognize as being essential to the overall well-being of your various glands.

Monday, November 5

"What would bother the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?"
-- Ellen DeGeneres during the 53rd Emmy Awards

One of Rick's best qualities is reminding me at times how blessed both of us are to have certain people currently in our lives. He's right. We have both mutual and independent friends who are caring, loyal, concerned, and loving. When either of us starts to grouse about temporary inconveniences or problems, we remind the other of what we really have. Sometimes it works.

I've been thinking a lot lately about giving to people. Not necessarily charity, but simple kindness. We both do things around the shelter to help the community, but often it's what we do for individuals that is most meaningful. Often, skills and abilities we take for granted are seen by others as gifts. Knowing how to write a resume, a cover letter, to solve a software or hardware problem for another person can often change their lives. I don't mean to make this sound profound. It's not. But being aware of when and how you can help someone can be significant.

Last summer I was living in Washington D.C. Every afternoon in June and July the sky would begin to darken around 3:30 p.m. and the most spectacular thunderstorms would unfold. Having grown up in California, I was in awe most of the time, thoroughly enjoying "the show." After about two weeks, though, rain is just rain.

Union Station in the District is a magnet for homeless people. Even though I wasn't one of them, I would go to the station after work to meet friends for a drink. I remember one afternoon my friends stood me up and I went outside to witness that afternoon's storm. The panhandlers were in full force. By that time I was skilled at deflecting their pleas with a curt "No, I don't have any spare change." As I was walking along the covered walkway, I noticed an elderly woman, laden with plastic bags from the local pharmacy, scurrying through the crowd. I couldn't hear what she was asking people, but I was sure she was hitting folks up for money. She approached me and asked, "can you spare $1.10." Before she was finished with the sentence I had delivered my pat line and was moving down the sidewalk.

I continued walking, but I felt bad. Here was an older woman asking for money and I was, in true high-alcoholic fashion, guarding every cent I had for another drink. I had plenty of money on me, had I spent all I had on wine I would have been dead. I stopped and turned around. She was now nearly at the end of the promenade, feverishly looking for a kind soul. Then I started to think. She wasn't like the other beggars -- she asked for a specific amount. Then the amount clicked: it was one-way bus fare. Then the brain cells finally clicked in: she didn't have a way to get home.

Here it was, nearly 7:00 p.m., rain coming down in sheets, and she didn't know how she was going to get home. I started walking back down the promenade. By the time I reached her she was looking frantic. "You need bus fare, don't you?," I asked, holding out five one dollar bills. "How did you know?," she asked. I can't remember if I said anything. She blessed me and hurried off to her waiting bus.

One of the reasons I had moved to DC was to take a vacation from the Bay Area and some bad memories of my mother's lengthy illness and recent death. I found myself thinking of her that afternoon as I watched the woman leave Union Station. I thought how much I would have appreciated a stranger helping my mother if she were stranded during a rainstorm one afternoon. I realized that I wasn't blessed because I gave the woman the money, but because I knew to do it.

Here's to hoping I never forget.


I worked for a woman who used to call everything we did "a work in progress." It drove me nuts at the time, but start working on a page like this and I have a new appreciation of the saying. Some of the links aren't complete, just yet, so now you are warned. I'm changing things as I see fit, adding as I please, hoping that it's entertaining and informative.


Today we continue on the job search road. One of the pitfalls of being "out of society" is not being front brain on holidays. Neither Rick or I realized today is Veteran's Day until I noticed the traffic was much lighter this morning. It screwed up Rick's plans -- something he'll get over and move on from. Things will happen tomorrow, too.

Sunday, November 4

I Am The Bubble. . .

I didn't go to church today. Stomach upset, Montezuma's revenge, whatever, kept me otherwise occupied today. Rick went ahead and went to church. We attend the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment here in San Jose. I discovered the Center while I was in rehab. The congregation is about one-third people in recovery, one-third spiritually inclined, and one-third curious. The center's approach touches all major religous/spiritual schools of thought, including Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Christianity, etc. The services include music, meditation, a message, and chanting. Yes, chanting. Not my favorite thing to do, but some of them are quite amusing. One of the more recent ones included the line "I am the bubble, make me the sea." OK.

I do enjoy the church and Rev. O'Brien is a wise woman. But chanting?

It's not easy work being the bubble. A friend of Rick's and mine here at the shelter thought the Bubble chant was hilarious. It was fodder for many a joke and jibe for weeks. I've never really felt like the Bubble, certainly not the sea. I see myself more today as foam.


Planning strategy for this next week. Job search, retention, etc. Thinking about doing some volunteer training here at the shelter -- things like MS Office applications. Would be good for me to keep my hand in things and would help around here.