Friday, February 27, 2009

Looking on the Bright Side of Unemployment

Earlier this week, Date forwarded me an article from the Boston Globe about people delighted to be among the newly unemployed. “We’re so fing cutting edge,” he wrote in the subject line. I suppose we are. He’s taken to calling unemployment Funemployment. I am in complete agreement.

The past couple of weeks of not having to work have left me positively giddy. My hellish commute? Gone. My should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dance I’d been doing with my job for the last couple of years? Over. Sitting in an office all day, doing someone else’s bidding? Nope. Not me. Aside from the still, small voice telling me that the money is going to run out sometime soon, I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I’ve been happier.

In the days that followed the layoff, I followed the advice those gurus offer the newly unemployed and got in touch with contacts and friends to share with them the news that I’d become a statistic. The results amazed me. Not only did people promise to be on the lookout for jobs, they also reached out to let me know that they cared for me and wanted the best for me. Those close by invited me over to their homes, or out for a meal or a drink. I’ve been in touch with old friends I haven’t talked to in years. My old coworkers pitched in and sent me a care package. However cheesy it may sound, knowing that people value me and my contributions to the world has been affirming.

My life has a natural rhythm to it these days. I get up without an alarm clock. I stay in my jammies long past when it is proper. The Great American Novel this blog ain’t, but these scribbles represent the first writing I have done in over a year. I’ve been cooking real food again, with joy instead of begrudging necessity. I made bread this week! Last week I cooked dinner for Date, and yesterday I had my sister and nephew over for lunch. Sure I also spent Tuesday working on my résumé and sending out applications (I can’t be completely impractical), but I’ve also spent a lot of time imagining how my life could be. Because if I am really honest with myself, if I could get away with it, I would never work in an office again.

Yesterday I went to the Pink Slip Coffee Meetup, and until Date showed up, I might have been the only one happy with my current lot. I know I am lucky, in that my severance was generous and that I have a little bit of time before I need to scramble, but I really talked up the upside of unemployment. It was the first time I’d admitted to anyone outside a few close friends that I do not want to rejoin the rat race. It felt really, really good.

What am I going to do? I don't know. I do need to figure out a way to make a living, and soon. But right now, in this moment, with the sun shining through my open window (it’s warm!), life is absolutely perfect.

I have to go now. I’m going to go to my favorite North End caffè and then to a wine bottega. After that, I will pick up some fruit, veg, and cheese at Haymarket before heading home to cook some more. Date is coming over this afternoon to watch Twin Peaks.

It’s Friday. And I don’t have to work.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hash Wednesday and Why Sassy Is Going to the Bad Place

This year I forgot all about Mardi Gras. Drat! I love dressing up in masks and beads and partying down. In times past, there was often a big party, and Mardi Gras was one of my favorite holidays.

No partying this year. So busy was I on Tuesday polishing up my résumé, applying for jobs, and following what was going on with Obama’s non-State-of-the-Union address that the whole whoopdepoop happened without me. Sigh. I not only missed the show, but also Obama has ruined the State of the Union drinking game. How are we going to get smashed without “nuke-u-ler”? Maybe by the time he gets around to delivering an actual State of the Union, we’ll have figured out some new rules. Every time Obama speaks in complete sentences, drink one shot. When the policies make sense and will do the country some good, drink two shots. Something like that.

Anyhow, yesterday I was in the Post Office to pick up a registered letter (I have learned that getting laid off involves tons of certified mail), when I noticed that the woman at the counter had a giant ink stain on her head. A dripping continent of ink. Gorbachev would have envied this inkblot. Given that postal workers work with ink pads and such, I figured she had had a mishap and thought I would be a nice person and tell her about it.

“Um, I’m sorry, but I think you have a little ink on your forehead.”

I saw her mentally roll her eyes at me. She replied flatly, “Religious holiday.”

Oh shit. It’s Hash Wednesday! “I’m so sorry,” I said, trying to recover, “I forgot all about Ash Wednesday.” Because I’m going to burn in the Bad Place. “My sister is Catholic,” I offered weakly in an attempt to redeem myself. At least I didn’t say Hash Wednesday?

I’m an asshole. Drink two shots.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mmmmm Doggies! The 89 Bus to Outer Space!

Yesterday evening, I caught the 89 bus to meet up with Date in Davis Square. As I tapped my card, the bus driver called out, “Good Evening! Thank you for riding the T! Doors are closing!”

Startled a bit, I said thanks and took a seat near the front. Another rider pressed the stop button, and even though the mechanical voice registered the request, she called out, “Stop coming! Woo hoo! We’re riding now!”

As she jerked the bus to a halt at the next stop, she thanked every rider. “Thank you, folks, for riding the T! Doors are closing! Mmmmm doggies! We’re riding now! Yahoo!”

I looked around the bus at the other riders. Many wore nervous smirks. Was this the bus to Davis Square, or an alien abduction? "Yes, indeed, folks! We are riding!"

“The bus driver is insane,” I texted to Date. Next text, “She keeps saying whoo doggies! And then she thanks us for taking the t.” I kept looking around. A few riders shrugged their shoulders. Language barriers tumbled down. Amusement registered everywhere.

The bus driver kept it up. “Mmmmm! Doggies! Yahoo! We’re riding. Eighty-nine to Davis Square! Thank you for riding the T! Next stop coming! Bus connections!”

A decided freak she was, but the thing is, people started responding kindly to her. A rider sitting next to me got off the bus at Winter Hill and thanked her for the ride. “My pleasure. People ain’t got no manners these days. I always say thank you. Thank you, folks, for riding the T! Mmmm doggies! Yes, we are moving now!”

She kept this up all the way Davis, where everyone thanked her profusely as they got off the bus. What a fun trip to outer space.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Disney, My Heart’s Devotion! Let It Sink Back in the Ocean!—Another Eavesdropping Story

Last Friday evening, before Fresh Hell played “It’s Fun to Smoke Dust” (see post below), you could have found us at a packed bar in Union Square. There we had discussed, among other things, Florida. Specifically, how much we hate Florida. “See,” Fresh said, “when I think about Florida, I don’t feel so bad about global warming . . . Florida is just going to go away.”

I shook my head. “Ah, Fresh. You really do know how to push buttons, don’t you?”

“Come on, now!”

She had a point, I suppose. Maybe part of a point.

Anyhow, like I said, the bar was crowded. A birthday party had gathered at the end, and the hostess asked Fresh and me if we wouldn’t mind moving down, so we did. We talked some more, and then I had to go off to the loo.

Three women, friends, were already in the stalls when I arrived, and they were gushing about one of the friend’s upcoming vacation.

“Aren’t you excited about going to Disney?”

“Yes! It’s going to be so great. I know I haven’t been there in, like, ten years, but it’s going to be so great!”

“Oh yeah. There’s so much to do there as an adult.”

“Shops, restaurants.”

“It’s just so clean!”

They all flushed at the same time, and came out discussing Magic Mountain. Upstairs, they rejoined the birthday party.

Hmm . . . Maybe Fresh is onto something.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fundamentalists Are Dope! Queen, Backward Masking, and Sassy’s Warped Education

Friday night while driving me home from an evening out, Fresh Hell played Lobsterdust’s mashup “It’s Fun to Smoke Dust” (Queen vs. Pastor Gary Greenwald vs. Midfield General) from Best of Bootie 2008. Overlaid on Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” is Pastor Gary Greenwald’s passionate sermon about how the song contains an evil “backward masked” message, saying, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana!” (Thank you, Freddy, for stating the obvious via satanic technology). I’d heard the mashup before, courtesy of Date, but I hadn’t really listened to it. Now that I was listening, it sounded very familiar.

“Wait a minute! I’ve heard this before! Is this from Hell’s Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll? We had to watch this movie in high school!*”

Even though Fresh knows I was raised by fundamentalist Christians and had to go to fundamentalist school, sometimes my knowledge of such things still manages to surprise her. I thought perhaps it might surprise you. Here is a tale of an attempt to inoculate me and my fellow inmates against what fundies call “The World.”**

Sometime during my junior year in high school, our Christian Education teacher, who had also been our eighth and ninth grade history teacher (she had an associates in physical education), decided that my class had grown too worldly and that we needed to be aware of the dangers of backward masking and other messages hidden in rock and roll music (aka “Worldly Music”). To that end she had signed out the school’s VCR (usually reserved for showing anti-premarital sex videos) and told us that we were going to watch a movie during class. That movie was Hell’s Bells.

Oh, Hell’s Bells. Made in 1989 at the height of the satanic cult scare, it saw the Dark Lord’s sooty fingerprints everywhere. The early middle-aged narrator, still sporting a mullet (all the better to appeal to “the youth”), left no stone unturned. From the usual heavy metal suspects to the Bauhaus, XTC, and the Cure, according to him every genre had but one, singular goal. To turn young people into knights in Satan’s service (yeah, Gene Simmons. We’re onto you).

While degenerate rock musicians peddled messages of sex and drugs as a matter of course, far more insidious was the phenomenon known as backward masking. Hidden in certain rock and roll songs, were messages discernable only when the track was played backwards.*** The subject of these messages? Pure evil. Groups like the PMRC blamed backward masking for everything from suicide to Satan worship. Listen to rock? Become a zombie for the devil.

Most of the examples of backward masking in Hell’s Bells had to do with worshipping Satan, but Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” announced that it was fun to smoke dope. So I guess when I was bopping my head, skating around the roller rink, I should have been thinking about toking up instead of shooting the duck. Sigh. I’d always misheard lyrics.

Thing was, when mullet guy played the backward masked message to “Another One Bites the Dust,” it didn’t sound a bit like “It’s fun to smoke marijuana!” It sounded like this:

Eetssss nnn te kehhh erijNAH!

Excuse me? Don’t you think Satan would make himself a bit clearer? I was trying rather hard not to laugh, but some of my classmates couldn’t help it and started snickering. That pretty much did it for the effectiveness of Hell’s Bells. We weren’t going to be burning our Led Zeppelin albums and replacing them with Steven Cutis Chapman any time soon.

When our teacher left the room to return the video player, Queen was all we talked about. We tried to figure out what the heck was going on. “That didn’t sound anything like marijuana!”

A number of us tried, but the young Smokestack imitated the backward masking best. She’d grunt and yell, and then someone would follow with “Hey hey!” and we’d bop our heads to the tune in our head. At some point, someone (maybe it was me, but I don’t remember) realized that the backward message sounded a heck of a lot like “Another One Bites the Dust” written backward:


That clears things up. Of course it says, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana!” Hail Satan! Pass the bong!

Among other oddities, Queen’s supposed backward masking has become a symbol of our warped education. So when I got back home after hearing Lobsterdust’s mashup, I immediately sent the following e-mail to Smokestack:

Run. Do not walk. Google directly "Best of Bootie 2008," and download the Queen song. You will laugh yourself peeless.

She replied with the suggestion that we use it as a theme song to our next reunion.

*The particular sermon in the mashup was not drawn from the documentary, but the message is the same.

**“The World”—To fundamentalist Christians, existence can be bifurcated into two groups, Christians (meaning born-again fundamentalists—no Catholics or “mainline” churches welcome) and everyone else. Everyone else = “The World.” The customs and music of the others are viewed by fundamentalists as the slippery slope leading directly to the Bad Place.

***It is indeed possible to add a “backward masked” message to an album track. The new wave band the Waitresses added a backward masked message on “I Could Rule the World if Only I Could Get the Parts,” and then slapped a warning label on it. I’d heard the story, and when I was in college, I convinced my computer science geek friend to feed it through his computer. The message? “Anyone who believes in backward masking is a fool.” Genius.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oh, the Horror!

Blood, guts, slasher gore, psycho clowns, fangs, ghouls, monsters—my childhood best friend lived for horror movies. The scarier the better. I, however, lived to avoid horror movies. My overactive imagination recreated the movies, altering the plot so that all the mayhem happened to me, in my room, at night, while I was trying to sleep.

“Chicken,” CBF would taunt when I tried to beg off watching the latest flick to come on HBO. In the bright light of day, I’d deny everything. “I’m not a chicken! I can watch anything you can watch. I just thought making cookies would be fun.” It never worked. Watch the movie I would. Then night would come and no amount of daytime bravado would save me from the terror.

For her tenth birthday party, we all watched Poltergeist. That clown. Oh my god that clown. Clowns still freak me out. Poor Mrs. CBF. She had a roomful of traumatized children. If my mother’s reaction was any indication, Mrs. CBF got an earful for allowing CBF to screen such fare at a birthday party.

But Poltergeist was the parent-sanctioned horror. That wasn’t the year that Valentine’s Day immediately followed Friday the 13th. That wasn’t the year that CBF had me watch My Bloody Valentine, immediately followed by the first Friday the 13th. That wasn’t the year I completely lost my shit.

That fateful Friday the 13th I slept over CBF’s house. All day at school she’d been talking about how her two favorite horror movies were going to be on cable that night and we were going to sneak downstairs and watch them while her parents were sleeping. “It’s going to be so scary!” she said. “Just you wait! It’s going to be great!”

I was quaking in my boots on the inside, but I just said, “Yeah!”

Later that night, as CBF’s parents snoozed away, we crept downstairs to the living room. We grabbed some cookies from the kitchen and some soda and settled in. The first one we watched was My Bloody Valentine. I’ve blocked out most of the carnage, but I do remember that this wasn’t the one that did me in. That mask certainly creeped me out, and there was a lot of blood, but I managed to hold it together. At least kind of. I knew I’d be up all night, but I figured it would be OK after that.

Then it was time for Friday the 13th. I’d heard of it. I heard it was the scariest movie ever made. It took place at a summer camp. I went to summer camp. All the counselors get killed in the woods. What if I got killed in the woods? These thoughts were racing through my brain as the opening scene started. What was that? “Kill kill kill”? “Ha ha ha”? Then something slashed those counselors to death. CBF was bouncing up and down, she was so excited. I was bouncing up and down because I was catatonic.

Kevin Bacon got a spike through his neck after having sex with one of the other counselors. Then a girl got an axe in her head. There was a creepy old guy warning everyone. More blood. More blood. More blood. AIEE! The mother showed up. “His name is Jason. He was my son. And today is his birthday.” AIEEEEEEE!!!!

Then the plucky girl cut Jason’s mother’s head off. And then Jason popped out of the water. That did it. I couldn’t even scream. His skin was falling off. And he was still there. In the water. What was I going to do?

All night, I kept hearing, “Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!” She was coming after me. So was the dead boy in the water. CBF slept soundly. I didn’t dare wake up her parents. CBF would get in big trouble, and I would forever be known as a wimp. I was eleven. And eleven year olds are supposed to be able to take it.

I sat up in bed. I pulled up the covers. I shrank away from the window. I listened to CBF breathe. I didn’t breathe. Every little noise made me die a little inside. We went to bed really late, but daylight never came. I kept hearing the voice hissing, “Kill kill kill! Ha ha ha!” I don’t mean I heard it in my head. I heard it. The streetlight reflected in the window was the glint of the blade. CBF rolled over. I nearly fell of the bed. When will morning come? I can’t see! They are going to get me! What am I going to do?

I stayed awake all night long. The next day, my mom asked me why I looked so tired. I just burst into tears. I didn’t rat out CBF, but I never watched another horror movie with her again. I also didn’t sleep for a month.

Epilogue: Somewhere in my late 20s, I finally figured out that the boogie man is not out to get me. I love horror movies now, and I love watching horror movies on Friday the 13th, especially when the next day is Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Riding the Rails

Until I got laid off, I took the commuter rail to get to work. My train left North Station at an unholy hour. Between the early time and the reverse commute, there were not that many fellow riders. While I spent most of my time doing Sudoku, reading, or looking out the window, I did get to know some of them a bit. I’ve found myself thinking of them these past few days.

There was the woman who either slept right up through her stop or boarded the train in a rage, talking to someone named Patty on her cell phone. “Patty Patty Patty, I ain’t gonna fuckin’ talk to Mary no more. NO! Listen to me Patty. She’s such a fuckin’ bitch. . . .” I liked it better when she slept.

Then there was the tall Southern man who often regaled us with his cooking adventures (chili—it took a couple of days, or fried chicken) or his political opinions. We once had a fascinating conversation about funk. A man from my neighborhood, always sporting a golf hat and his iPod, and a business man whose fondness of jazz made me want to find more music. There was an autistic older man who mostly kept to himself, except when railing against the lack of air conditioning in the summer. He once yelled out “I can’t find a place of solitude!” I knew just how he felt. Apparently he worked with “Patty Patty Patty,” and sometimes muttered about her foul language.

There were the two schoolgirls, one a bit of a tomboy with a sense of humor past her years, and a beautiful young girl who I hope doesn’t move too fast. The conductor always teased them, and they always gave him the business.

A silent young man had an air of mystery about him.

Several of the riders worked in a factory, and one of them was a motherly figure who I think I will miss the most. Her white hair was always perfectly done, and while she was a bit gruff, she was also warm. She loved her grandkids and was always interested in my nephew. I can’t remember her name.

It’s funny. While being able to sleep past Satan’s Witching Hour has been the best part about unemployment, I do think of my fellow riders and wish them well.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Tragic Lives of Porn Stars: An Eavesdropping Story

An admission: I eavesdrop. A lot. Not because I’m particularly nosy, but because I find the random things people talk about when they think no one’s listening endlessly entertaining. OK, I guess that counts as nosy. Sue me. Sometimes it’s worth it.

Saturday afternoon found me in my favorite North End caffé, enjoying an espresso and reading. A late middle-aged couple sat next to me, ordered coffee and grappa, and began chatting. She sported short hair, dyed, and a vaguely athletic style, and was bit younger than he. He, dressed in a forest green shirt, a bit paunchy, with white, wavy hair, reminded me a bit of a character actor. The life and times of the over 50s are usually safe from my eavesdropping ministrations, but my ears perked right up when I heard what they were talking about.

“Yeah, it’s sad, really. Tragic. These poor people think they are going to break into the movie business, but they hardly ever do.”

“There was that one. The one in the [garbled] Titty [garbled].”

Titty? What on Earth are these two talking about?

“It’s true. She was in those horror flicks for a while. She could scream. But that hardly counts as success.”

“Yeah. The poor guy in . . .”

Deep Throat.

“Yeah, Deep Throat. That poor guy only ever wanted to be a real actor.”

“He was a real victim. He had no idea that he would be famous. Infamous.”

“Do you know of any others?”

“There are always a few who get some kind of role. Usually in slasher flicks. But then, there are so many people who think it’s going to be their big break, only to wind up with nothing.”


Just at that moment, I read a hilarious sentence in my book (the secret to all good eavesdropping is to multitask. I was still reading). I’d share it, but out of context, it just doesn’t make much sense. Anyhow, I burst out laughing. Hard. The couple looked stunned, and somewhat wounded.

“Oh,” I exclaimed. “My book is so funny.” It was really hard not to say, “I assure you, I’m not laughing about the tragic lives of porn stars. That would just be cruel. That said, I’m really impressed that you even know about this. I consider myself to be pretty open minded, but I’ve never heard of the porn starlet in the titty movie. Please do tell me more.”

Instead, I left it at my book, and the couple looked relieved. I turned away from their general direction and kept reading, but the moment was gone.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

So When Will It Be THAT Bad?

This will not become the Sassy’s Miserable Unemployment Blog, I swear, but this little tidbit seems worth sharing.

My dad is great, really, a kind man, and he’s always been good to me. However, the man is a true believer Republican. Although our political fights aren’t personal, you can imagine they get rather heated. My parents came down from New Hampshire on Thursday, to see me and my sister (and the very, very cute little nephew). And he offered up this little pearl of wisdom:

“The economy really isn’t that bad. People just need to realize that they’ve lost nothing until they sell the stocks.”

Excuse me?

“Dad,” I said, “your DAUGHTER just lost her job. Her date lost his job. Several of her friends are looking for work. Exactly when does it get to be THAT bad?”


Then my mom decided to chime in with her two cents about the stimulus package and how Obama was bankrupting America.

Then snotty little me said, “Funny, I didn’t hear you saying anything at all about money when we spent all this money on unnecessary wars. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the last eight years.”

Civility eventually returned, but the whole thing really turned my head.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Unemployed in Greenland

Well, add another check mark on the life experience list. This morning I was laid off. I got the news, packed up my stuff, and, for the first time since 1999, joined the Legion of the Unemployed.

It feels very strange to be a statistic.

Bright side? Blogging is back on the agenda.