Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Eating Machine

John was amazing last night. Sonya was working late. He and I got home about six.

"Cheerios? Milk?"

Why not? I gave him some milk and a bowl of Cheerios. Then I went to work on his dinner: five chicken nuggets - baked - and a can of green beans with salt and pepper and a little butter. As soon as the milk and Cheerios were gone he came into the kitchen.

"Mac and cheese?"

"Not tonight, bud. You're having chicken and green beans."

Standing in a chair at the dinner table at this point. "Mac and cheese! Mac and cheese!"

"Nope," I said, picking him up, "you're having chicken and green beans." I carried him over to the stove so he could see what I was cooking.

"Oooooh," he said, eyes wide, "green beans."

He ate all the chicken and a whole can of green beans.

He was in the tub when his mother came home. She had fried chicken with corn on the cob. He left the bathroom before I did, and when I got in the kitchen he was holding the cob and devouring corn.

And then, once the pajamas were on: "Cheerios? Milk?" So I gave him another round. He drank all the milk, but he didn't quite finish the Cheerios. I guess he would have exploded if he had. Then he fell off the couch and bumped his head. Then he went to bed. Monday's are tough. They make you hungry, too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A job interview what I went on.

Not that nothing has happened over the past few months. Far from it. There were job interviews – lots of job interviews.

One in particular stands out. It was with a big company Downtown. I won’t mention any names, but it rhymes with Fardslark. Now, if you know anything about the corporate community in Memphis you’ve probably heard that Fardslark can be a very demanding place to work. I’d certainly heard this. Over the course of two interviews, I came to believe it.

The woman from HR – we’ll call her Faye – called me on Wednesday night, right about seven o’clock. There was the standard phone interview hoo-ha, and then she asked me to come in the next morning. I said yes.

Have no doubt: Faye was awesome. She knew how to talk about both business and personal issues, all the while conveying professionalism and maintaining an attitude that said "we really want you to work for us." If I were starting a company, I’d hire her to hire people.

But there were some things she had to tell me, I guess. They included:

  • Fifty hours a week, minimum. It wasn’t an hourly job, either. This violated my first rule: "Harold don’t do volunteer work."
  • I would be working very closely with the company’s famously eccentric founder and president. Specifically, I’d be writing the company newsletter that comes out every two weeks. Mr. President and Founder has final edit on every issue. "And sometimes," Faye said, "he’ll come back to you on the night you’re supposed to go to press and tell you to rewrite." Really? Neat! Sign me up!
  • "And I should tell you," Faye said at the end of the interview, "this is a business formal environment. Suit and tie, but most people do take off their jackets once they’re in the office." Again, make with the signing up!

All the while, a huge brown speaker on the wall was pouring out elevator music. These speakers were everywhere.

"Has that got a volume control on it?" I joked. I never got an answer, though.

I’m not without my resources. I start working the phones and talking to people who’ve had experience with Fardslark.

"People don’t give notice when they quit there," James said. "They don’t have another job lined up. They just get fed up one day and walk out."

"I told them I was a single mother and I might need to work through lunch so I could go pick up my son or things like that," said a friend and mentor to both me and Sonya, "they said that wouldn’t be a good idea. They did offer to pay me enough to hire a full-time caregiver. I said, 'no! I want to be the caregiver!'" She didn’t take the job.

"If it’s not too late, I’d advise you to run screaming into the night," said a friend who’d worked there for quite a few years. Later, she told me the money was awesome but that so many people took the job, got used to the kind of money they’d never get anywhere else and found themselves indentured to the company.

In the midst of all this Faye called me back and asked me to come back on Friday so I could do some more interviews. I said fine. She asked that I try to complete the application before I came back.

It was no ordinary application. There were fields for number and description of tattoos and piercings. I wrote "multiple." Had I ever smoked marijuana? Who were four neighbors who could vouch for me? Was I aterrorist? Did I know any terrorists? Would I vow to uphold and defend the Constitution?

At some point on Thursday night I became pretty sure that I didn’t want to work for Fardslark. I was so intrigued by the possibilities of the next day’s interview, though, that I couldn’t stay away.

See, on Friday (I put on a jacket and a tie and some khakis – I don’t own a suit that fits) I had my interview with Dr. Frankenfurter. Dr. F, Faye had told me the day before, pretty much invented workplace psychology back around the turn of the century. The twentieth century, I mean.

Oh, the questions he asked me! He really hammered away at me to get me to describe my best friend and my relationship with my mother. Questions, questions. A couple of times he did some prying and I told him, as politely as one can in the context of a job interview, to back the hell off. And then there was trivia! "Who wrote Faust?" "Twelve times six?" "How many miles from New York to Paris?" All rattled off as fast as he could.

I sat in the lobby for a few minutes after Dr. F was through with me, slumped on a sixties mod couch, catching my breath. I watched the people coming in and out. Late arrivers, I guess, and people going around the corner for coffee. It was fascinating to watch. They’d leave and as they walked out the door they’d stand up straighter, take a deep breath and stride into the sunlight. You could all but see the chains fall off of them. And when they came back in they’d stoop a little, turn gray and assume the attitude of a thoroughly beaten dog. Faye arrived to walk me out and gave me some more paperwork to fill out. Could I come back Monday? I shrugged. Sure. After two hours of that I felt punchy and battered and staggered out the door when the guard buzzed me out.

(Speaking of getting buzzed out: The eccentric president I mentioned? Every time someone left the building the guard wrote it down. When they came back, it was also written down. Who a person went to lunch with and how long they were gone was written down. All of this was sent to Mr. President and reviewed weekly by him. Personally. I got this story from multiple sources.)

So at this point it’s Friday, noonish. Sonya and I are about to go sign the papers to close on our house. We check the answering machine on the way out the door, and there’s a message from Faye. Dr. Frankenfurter really like me! Can I come in on Saturday for a few more hours of interviews? And don’t forget to bring in the sheaf of paperwork she’d given me on the way out. Completely filled out, of course. And wear a suit this time. And don’t be late.

Obviously, Mr. President was already under the impression that I worked for him. I dreaded going back to the place, and I didn’t even work there yet. I called Faye back, told her the stuff I’ve said here, and wished her good luck in her search for a candidate for the job. Her attitude on the phone was basically "oh, crap" and I’ve no doubt she got in trouble for letting me slip off the hook.

All this was about a month or so ago – middle of December, right before Christmas. And now I’ve got a good job, eight hours a day, no one wears a tie, everyone’s pretty happy. I made a good choice, and it feels so good to brush off The Man.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Better times on the edge of civilization.

I've been a security guard for the past month. I did it long enough to know I don't want to do it for a living, even though the work isn't bad or anything. Yesterday was my last day, and I found myself standing in the middle of a busy street stopping two lanes of traffic with nothing more than an outstretched hand. It was pouring rain, and a huge tractor-trailer rig was backing towards me.

"Time to quit," I told my boss, "after standing in traffic in the rain this job can't get any better."

He laughed and laughed. I gave him a bottle of Crown on my way out the door last night; he'd taken my quitting pretty hard.

And now I've got a new job. I know you can't really talk about your job on things like this, but I will say it's a good job with some great people - even without the hurricane I would have considered moving back to Memphis for this job.

We purchased a house. A real-live, three-bed-two-bath house. There's a garage and a back yard and everything. Tonight, for the first time in years it felt like, I got to come home and have some blessed routine. I made John some mac and cheese and peas. Sonya came in a little later, 'cause she'd stopped for some groceries. I gave the kid a bath, then we read some stories. He was asleep by nine. The dryer and the dishwasher are running, Sonya's watching some bad reality TV and I'm futzing with the computer. Outside it's cold and the wind slinks in from the north, across the soybean fields and around the unfinished houses on either side of ours, and that's just fine. Our house is cozy, the refrigerator is full of food, and all is right with the world. These moments are rare; I'm savoring it.