Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Leaning In At Lowe's

My neighbor is a woodworker.  What started as a hobby has turned into a business and for the crafters/garbage pickers/yard salers around here he is a dream come true.  Whatever you haul down to him he can fix, replicate or repair.

He now has a store and a partner, making, selling and repairing musical instruments.  Since it opened I don't like to bother him with my lame craft projects like I used to.  He's a legit business owner.  Sometimes I'm just bored.

A few years ago I bought a print from the thrift store just for the frame and recently decided to turn it into a chalkboard.  Before I would have run down to Mark's house with baked goods and a sad face and he would have picked up on my not so subtle hint that I needed some wood cut for it.  This time, though, I decided to leave him out of my project and headed to Lowe's with my measurements.

I got the piece of wood I needed and took it to the saw to be cut.  I gave the employee the dimensions, he lined up my wood and then nicked his finger on the saw blade before he even started.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

It bled profusely and he apologized and said, "I'm on Coumadin. Do you know what that is?  It's a blood thinner. Makes me bleed a lot."

"Aren't you kind of young to be on Coumadin?" I asked.

And that question opened the door to his story.  He pulled down the neck of his tshirt to show me the scar on his chest.

"I grew up in a little town in central Illinois that nobody has ever heard of.  I went to college in Bloomington and got a chance to play on the football team.  I loved it but I was kind of small.  After a year or so of being there I found out that some scouts were coming to the area to look for prospects for the NFL and I decided I was going to bulk up so I'd have a better chance.  The NFL.  I could already see me there.  I started taking steroids. Don't say it. I know what you're thinking. Anyhow, I bulked up pretty quick once I started doing that and it was great.  Lost a little speed but made up for it in tackles. I didn't even look like the same person with all those steroids.  Completely changed my body.  I kept taking more and more but it eventually caught up with me and I got sick. Really, really sick all of a sudden.  My parents came to town to check on me because I wasn't answering my phone.  Sometimes I would hear it ring and want to answer it but I couldn't get up.  I couldn't even lift my head up off the pillow.  I don't remember much once my parents got there but I do remember my mom crying.  They took me to the local hospital and they said I needed a specialist so they loaded me in an ambulance and drove me to this hospital in Champaign, Illinois.

"Was it Carle Clinic?" I asked.

"Yeah.  How would you even know that?"

"I lived in Champaign for four years.  My daughter was born there."

"That's kind of crazy to me that you know that. Who would have thought?  Well, I get to Carle Clinic and I need emergency heart surgery. Let me tell you it was a long road back and many times I didn't think I was going to make it but here I am.  You see where I'm at, right?  From football to steroids to this scar to being on Coumadin the rest of my life.  Never finished college even though both my parents have a PhD."

"I didn't finish college either and married someone with a PhD. so maybe both of us ended up in the right place after all."

"Maybe.  I'd sure go back and change things if I could, but heck, who else in Kansas City has ever been in Carle Clinic besides you and me?  For all we know we could have been there at the same time. You having a baby and me trying not to die."

The piece of wood he cut was off by 1/4".  I'm not sure if it was my mistake at measuring or his at cutting and I ended up taking it to my neighbor to get it trimmed.

My project got delayed by a day but I didn't even care. 

It's not often that a small world and a big story collide.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last Interview I'll Ever Go On

Since leaving my job in April I have gone on twelve (that is 12) interviews and that doesn't even include the phone ones.  Here's the highlight reel of rolling the please-hire-me job dice:

*The first interview was at a private, expensive school.  I was grilled for an hour and I do mean grilled.  I was so exhausted by the end of it I didn't think I could walk to my car on my own accord.  I sent a follow-up email thanking them and said, "By the way you are not the CIA and I am not Edward Snowden."  Not really.  I said I was "seeking other opportunities" and by other opportunities I meant some Xanax.

*I went on an interview a week after I broke my foot.  The parking lot was closed so I hobbled across the campus in 90+ temps with my ortho shoe.  I arrived sweaty and exhausted.  My interviewers arrived bored and with fifteen minutes to spare even though the entire place was void of any activity. Or energy.  I thanked them in an email the next day and said "Have you ever heard of providing reasonable parking options when you close the only lot to your school?" Not really.  I said I was "seeking other opportunities" and by other opportunities I meant handicapped parking.

*I interviewed with the owner of a jewelry store for an accounting position.  I waited forty minutes to talk to her while the head of one of the German Shepherd guard dogs rested on the knee of my black pants. She told me she's not the least bit afraid to sue people (three currently pending) and that there were five more dogs in the back.  I looked at my hairy pants and wondered if all the dogs there shed or just the German Shepherds. I sent a thank you email the next day saying "I'd consider working here but between the dogs, the lawsuits and the fake Christmas tree by the register in July I don't think we're really in synch." Not really.  I never even sent a thank you email for that one but they still called me to come back for another interview.  Declined.

*I interviewed for another part-time accounting position and at the end was asked about my HR skills? HR? Who the heck said anything about HR?  Not them in the job description but they tacked on that little something something as a special surprise for the interview.  I followed up the next day with a thank you email that said, "I will not be that person that has to tell the tech support guy that his B.O. is offensive to other employees and that he needs to shower more often."  Not really.  I said I was going into the soap making business to save the world from tech support guys with B.O.

*I interviewed twice at a job in the hinterlands.  It was a done deal until they gave me the weekend to think it over and the more I thought about driving to Hinterland every day (a pain in good weather and misery in bad) the more it seemed this job wasn't for me.  I sent them a thank you email and said "Good luck in your search for a candidate as AWESOME as me."  Not really.  Well, maybe on that one I did.

I've smiled and laughed at dumb jokes and awkward silences.  I've picked my outfit to match the job. Conservative? Check.  Bohemian?  Check check check.  The fake diamond earrings that go with me everywhere?  Out out out.  I need to look like I have to make money ASAP.

I've blathered on about my good traits (think Girl Scouts) and my weaknesses (applying for jobs that I'm never going to get because I'm 58 so I might as well be dead).  Diversity, a bad boss, annoying coworkers, stressful situations. Are you organized?  Is that some kind of work thing? You name the scenario and I can guarantee you it's been asked of me. I have flatly stated the amount of hours I am able to work and the pay I want without even a hint of hedging or backpedaling, which might mean I'm growing up to be a real working girl who knows her worth.

Which so far hovers around zero.

I have had a filler job for the last six weeks but out of nowhere I got an email for a job I applied for months ago.  One more time I did the interview tango - this time with a Zyrtec chaser that made me want to do an antihistamine face plant on the desk.

Did it go well?

I'm no judge of that.




Sunday, October 11, 2015

For Good

This is a post about the women I encountered over the course of a week.  Some I knew, some that were new to me.  I have been changed by all of them.

The first week of work at my last job I bonded with the HR manager.  I have written about her before - we did Listen To Your Mother together.  She left a few months after I started which left me twisting a wee bit in a fierce wind. Luckily the bond held after she left the job and then eventually me, and we keep in touch on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago she texted me to see if I wanted to see Kristin Chenoweth.  The non-profit where she is currently working was doing a fundraiser at the performing arts center and she had free tickets. FREE??!  Kristin Chenoweth!!!!  Darling, funny, talented Kristin Chenoweth???  Yes please.

We donned our night-on-the-town finest and headed off.  We were supposed to do some volunteering prior to the event but since that was under control we went upstairs, had a glass of wine and admired the beautiful Kansas City skyline that is so prominent from the performing arts center.  Making our way into the theater Amy said, "I'm so glad to get out for a night.  I don't even know who this person is."

"What????  She was in Wicked on Broadway.  Glinda?  You know Wicked, right?  Popular?  I want to be Popular?  No?  Well, she's fabulous.  We're going to have a great time."

We checked our tickets with an usher - the loveliest woman who told us it was a sold-out event and that the ushers were put in a lottery to see who would work as everybody wanted to see this concert. She pointed us in the direction of the section we would be sitting and said as we left, "You two have a great time. It's going to be an amazing concert!!"  She was so gracious and good at her job that of course she should be a winner in the usher lottery.

Kristin Chenoweth came out in confident, sparkling glory and started off with Que Sera.  Amy leaned over and said, "Do you ever feel like the universe is talking right to you?"

******

In Wicked there is a duet between Glinda and Elphaba called For Good.  It is one of my favorite songs.  Kristin introduced the song and the lights went up while she interviewed two women in the front row to sing the part of Elphaba.  A young music student from the conservatory got the honors and went up on stage.

If ever there was a person that the crowd was rooting for it was this girl.  Nervous and clutching the bottom of her dress she did her best.  Kristin coached her with the words to her part and she did her best in what was surely an out-of-body experience.

When the song ended the girl apologized for not knowing the words.  Kristin looked at her and said, "That's okay because you know what we just had?  We had an experience.  You and me, didn't we? That's all you need to remember."

*****

My writers group meets early at Panera on an overcast Friday morning.  We usually meet on Saturday mornings at a different Panera.  The summer had gotten away from us, though, and even stealing these few hours was difficult to pull together with everyone's schedule.

I bring the drawing of the main character for the children's book my niece and I are plotting.  "I'm stuck," I say to them.

Stuck is an understatement.  I have a beginning that is utter crap, an end I can see perfectly and the entire middle that sucks wind.  I didn't think this was going to be so hard but so far it has been. 

They look her over and listen to my problems.  They offer advice, good, solid advice and suggest names for her - one that I love.  I drive home thinking I might be capable of pulling this off.  The imaginary Fiona agrees.

***** 

She waved me down on a Sunday afternoon as I was pulling out of our street to go to the grocery store.  "The flowers," she yelled.

I had met her a couple of weeks prior when I was working outside and she was walking her dog.  We had briefly been introduced once before through a mutual friend.  A fellow gardener, her charming house and yard look like a page right out of a fairy tale.  She asked me what kind of hydrangeas I had in the front of my house and we talked for a long time.  When we started talking about traveling I said we had just come back from a trip to New York City and loved it. She told me that they had just moved their son from there. "It's not the best place for him now."

She teared up and told me he wasn't doing well but that she thought he had turned a corner in the last two days.  I could feel her heart.  Her heavy, breaking heart.

While talking about my flowers I offered to cut some for her and bring them by her house.  "Oh no, you don't have to do that.  I just wondered what kind they were so I can plant them next year."

"Well I have a few to spare," I said as we looked at these heavy-headed flowers drooping from their own weight.  "I'll drop them by your house one of these days."

I often get asked by passerbys about my hydrangeas - what kind they are and how I got them to grow so big.  Sometimes I offer cuts of them when they have started to dry but rarely do I follow through.  This time, though, I was not going to let time and laziness win.  I went onto the screened porch and found a basket that I loved but had never used - oblong with bark on the outside, it feels natural and connected to the earth.  I held it up and debated.  This one or another?  Maybe I hadn't used it yet but one of these days....... and I decided not to overthink it for once and let it go.

I crammed as many flowers as I could into that basket - it was a showy display of gardening goodness, and a few weeks after our initial conversation I drove them over to her house.  I tucked a note inside that said:  Here are your promised hydrangeas.  I hope things have changed for the better for you and your family.  I'll see you in the neighborhood.

She wasn't there when I went by but the dog sitter was and I left them with her.

There on my street corner on that Sunday afternoon she said, "I can't tell you what it was like for me to walk in after what I've been through to see that basket of flowers and note.  It meant someone cared and I really needed it then.  You have no idea."

We talked for a long time.  Her heart remains heavy - maybe even heavier if that's possible.  Waving cars around us we exchanged phone numbers with plans for coffee. Her challenges and those of her son weigh heavily on me - so heavy at times that it feels like I've been asked to take my turn wearing a backpack of worry all day.

And if it feels like that for me what must it be like to be her?

Her phone rang.  It was her son and she had to go.  I watched her as she and her dog walked away, my heart full and sad and confused about how I happened to be outside on that September morning when she stopped by to ask about some flowers.

"One other thing," she said.  "You could not have picked a better basket to put those flowers in.  It's so me but it's too nice to keep.  I'm going to give it back to you."

"Keep it.  I think it was meant for you."

*****

 I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you