Saturday, June 14, 2014

Just a Couple of Guys

Let me tell you about a couple of guys.

Actually, I was just going to tell you about one of them, in honor of Father's Day. Then it turned out I had to travel to New Jersey this week for the funeral of the other.

The first one is, of course, my own father; the other is my Uncle Ciro, who was also my godfather, who passed away this last Tuesday at the impressive age of 95.

Tom Brokaw called them members of "The Greatest Generation." The television show Mad Men presents them and their peers as misogynistic cavemen. The more I think of both those extremes, the more uncomfortable I am with painting one group of men with one, wide swath. It robs them of their humanity and make too many assumptions.

And yeah, yeah...they were just normal guys. Pa was a salesman; Uncle Ciro was a pharmacist. They went to work, paid the bills, took their wives out for anniversaries and birthdays, fired up the barbecue, popped a beer, always drove. They were the framework and infrastructure that enabled our mothers to focus on nurturing and, if at times they seemed to be less present than our mothers, a lot of ground could be gained by an afternoon at the ballpark or a Sunday picnic. 

Even that is too broad a description of what these two men meant to me. The thing is, even though they were in-laws, Pa and Uncle Ciro genuinely liked each other. And they were both really funny guys. They would find some stupid TV show (their favorite show to rag on was The Lawrence Welk Show), turn off the volume and then dub in some stupid recording they always managed to have around. When my brothers, cousins and I would try to "put on a show," they'd sneak off, festoon each other in Crazy Foam and join the act. There was never a generational separation at family gatherings in those days.

In fact, one of my fondest memories are of the post-dinner conversations, the tablecloth covered with crumbs and coffee cups (and probably a bottle of Sambuca), sitting sleepily on Pa's lap listening to the grown-ups swap stories. They'd talk of people with exotic names and sometimes a story would slip out I wasn't supposed to know about. I'd try to keep very still and very quiet so that there would be no cause for anyone to realize it was close to midnight and I was still up and taking in every word. It was a very secure feeling.

Oddly, as secure as I felt and as calm and light-hearted as my father was, I now know that during some of that time, my parents were going through some major financial troubles. I never knew, never saw or felt any indication of the disaster from which they were trying to recover. 

All I remember are the crazy, quirky, wonderful things that used to just spontaneously happen. We were supposed to be driving the four hours home to Maryland from New Jersey one night when Pa and Uncle Ciro decided that instead we were going to go to the New York World's Fair. One boring, hot summer day in Maryland, we were just about to be sent to bed when up drove my Uncle Ciro, Aunt Marie and cousins Steven and David; they'd been out for a Sunday drive in New Jersey and just decided to visit us in Maryland. 

So you see, I could write about how Pa and Uncle Ciro fit in as members of The Greatest Generation and defend them from being cast as the shallow caricatures of 1960s businessmen. But I'm no sociologist or historian. I'm just a grown woman who remembers two men I love sitting at the head of the table, clinking together frosted mugs of Ballentine Ale, one attempting a toast in Italian (my father) and the other in German (Uncle Ciro) and both laughing at each other's mangled accent. 


"Don't feed the dog at the table -- do you hear me, Jeanne?
If you feed the dog at the table, he'll always be begging. Don't
let me catch you feeding Shane at the table.
Do you understand?"
I just quote 'em as I hear 'em.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Last Days of the Mom Dress

I think every mom has one of these. It's the go-to warm weather outfit when the last thing you want to think about is what to wear. It's comfortable, practical, durable and timeless. It works in heat or cold and you can, in a pinch, wear it in public.

And one sad day, when you are old and your kids are grown and gone, you take it out of the dryer and have to admit: It needs to be thrown out.

My own mother had one of these that got it's start during what I call her Doris Day period. It had a full skirt and was white with yellow, orange and gray flocking and came with it's own thin yellow belt. The gray may have at one time been black, but I don't remember back that far. She had plenty of full-skirted dresses in those days, but that was the one that stuck.  When I think of my mother, she is wearing that dress. I remember sitting on her lap in the car and falling asleep while picking the flocking out of the fabric.

The white flocked dress even soldiered on through her Jackie Kennedy period, which consisted mainly of a black pill box hat and a classic navy blue and black fitted sheath dress and, for casual occasions, a kerchief and sunglasses. It was hopelessly out of fashion, but still showed up on hot Saturday mornings for a run to the grocery store or summer Sundays after church.

I was at least a teenager when one day when looking for a dust rag I pulled out a white piece of cloth with yellow, orange and gray flocking (with some blank spot where the flocking had...um...disappeared...). And there were more of them in the rag bag, all neatly cut into 12-inch squares.

I was horrified! Why wasn't I consulted? It was as if my mother had taken my favorite stuffed toy, Saffie, and decided to scrub the kitchen floor with him. Ma was mildly amused at my outrage and, now that I'm a mother of grown children myself, I know she probably throught it typical that I hadn't noticed the deterioration of the dress prior to this. No one really looks at a Mom, do they? I mean, you just know what she looks like. She's just supposed to be always there on the periphery, waiting to serve. Wearing that dress.

My own Mom Dress first appeared on the scene shortly after I had my first son. My mother-in-law bought it for me after the birth of Heir 1 so I would have something new to wear on my post-pregnancy body after having endured maternity clothes for so long. It is made of a cotton knit that is cool in the summer and has a skirt heavy and full enough that it didn't require a slip. And the print on the fabric was so dense, it never showed a stain.

I took it out of the official wardrobe rotation a few years ago, but it remained something to wear around the house when no one but family was around. But now, I have to admit -- draping yarn around my neck would be just a effective as putting on this dress.

I don't want my boys, without proper warning, to encounter the Mom Dress in its forthcoming disreputable state as, say, the rag with which I ask them to wipe up dog vomit*. So, Heirs, I'm just letting you know:


It's going in the rag bag

*Go ahead, Charley...say it: "Wiping up dog vomit is a fitting end to that dress."

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Faceblock

I've given up Facebook for Lent.

I won't go into the boring details about how I came up with this "hardship" as my Lenten sacrifice. Suffice to say it was an attempt to give up something that wouldn't allow for any wiggle room (I can't help it -- I'm notorious for finding a loophole in my Lenten commitments), was enough a part of my life so I'd notice it was gone (I thought of sushi, but these days sushi is as much a part of my life as arriving in the Bahamas in my own private Lear jet), and wouldn't set me up for failure (I thought of giving up reading or movies on Netflix and On Demand -- but I knew I'd never be able to do it).

It's been a long time since I really recognized the Lenten season. Growing up as a Roman Catholic, the point was never fully explained to me. I knew the Biblical reason -- the 40 days before Easter, representing Christ's 40 days being tempted in the desert -- but the practical value of what I was doing was always lost on me. I'd either give up something that I wouldn't miss (kale) or I'd give something up...but not quite; like the time I gave up science fiction movies...except on Sundays...or except regular programs like Star Trek...or except if it involved a nuclear bomb, because nuclear bombs were real and not fiction...

This was not uncommon for most of the Catholic rituals and traditions -- we were just supposed to do without really knowing why, other than, if we didn't, we were officially committing a Mortal Sin (deep echoing voice), which meant an uncomfortable trip to the confessional. It is only now that I'm older and have been out of the Catholic Church for almost 35 years that I understand the value of some of those practices as a spiritual tool.

So just as I've come back to the comfort of reciting the rosary as a mantra to enhance my prayer life, I recognize Lent as a time of reevaluation and repentance without the crushing fear of Father Giratti yelling at me to, "Speak up!"

Facebook, I thought, was an automatic habit that eats time and, I admit, controls how I present myself to the world. Also, this would be a good practice in keeping my ego in check: is an observation still clever if there is no one to give it a thumbs up?

At first I thought I'd wimped out choosing Facebook -- I don't spend that much time on it, mostly because I don't have a huge amount of "friends" and those I do have are, like me, people who don't spend that much time on it.

Still, even checking the site takes time, so the first thing I notice is that I'm not online as much.

Granted, we're only into Day 3.

I was going to take the link to Facebook off my toolbar. I tend to automatically go to click on it, just out of habit and then have to stop myself. But I've kept it up there as a reminder of the self-evaluation that is the entire point of the Lenten season.

Each time my cursor hovers over that blue logo, I'm reminded how easily I'm hypnotized by culture and acting unmindfully.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

An Awesome Post About

My Awsome Endeavors to

Obtain an Awesome Job

If you are looking for a job, being in your 50s sucks.

There. I said it.

I know -- it's tough out there for anyone job hunting. But when your employment history pre-dates your interviewer's birthdate, there is an entire minefield of issues to overcome.

I really thought I had a handle on what to and not to say to an interviewer. I knew not to romanticize the way things used to be done or to throw in old war stories of how tough it was back in the day and how easy all these young whippersnappers have it with their newfangled computers. I knew not to be condescending to someone younger than me and by no means act like I knew more than they did. And -- though it took every ounce of self-control -- at no time did I mention all the misspellings and grammatical errors in every piece of professional employment correspondence I've ever received from an HR department.

Little did I know how sensitive a 30-something can be when interviewing someone who can't help but remind them of their mother -- and not in a good way. Usually, I'm not only defending my own employment history, but also the pre-conceived notions born of whatever messed-up mother-child relationship my interviewer is working through with their own mother. Your mother may be a critical hypochondriac, but I am not her. 

I've been on very few face-to-face interviews. I'm told that's step 2 these days. I have done numerous phone interviews, which I suspect are done because I fit a demographic they don't really want, but have to prove they're at least giving a chance to. Either way, it's so easy to say something innocuous, only to have it blow up in your face. I can usually point to the exact moment an interview fell apart.

For instance, there was the interview I did for a bank teller job. I know that these days a bank teller is expected to do more than process bank transactions; they are also the first line in selling more banking products. See? I did my homework. And I formed my answers as such.

So, even though I was't expected to do much selling back when I was a bank teller, I was prepared with an answer when the interviewer asked this question:

Interviewer: (obviously reading from a script): "Can you give me an instance from when you were a bank teller where you sold a customer a product or service?" (Note: She asked me. I was not offering an old war story.)

Me: Well, if I knew a customer had a heavy balance in their savings or money market, I would suggest a Certificate of Deposit.

Interviewer: But how would you sell it?

Me: Well, I have to admit, it wasn't too hard to sell when you told them the rates were over 10 percent.

Interviewer: (Icy edge to voice) You could get into a lot of trouble misquoting a CD rate. How would you sell it without exaggerating?

Me: (Clueless as to what she was saying) I didn't misquote the rate. It really was around 11 percent at the time.

(Can you feel it all falling a part? At this point, I could. I was getting sucked into telling a "back in the day" story.)

Interviewer: (chuckling) That kind of rate would never...

(I should have just backed off and made up some hard sell line about the wonderful virtues of a one percent return. But NO. Stupid me, I had to defend the fact that 11 percent wasn't hyperbole...and I had to do it without using the word "hyperbole," which I think would have made matters worse.)

Me: It was the Reagan era (shuddupshuddupshuddupshuddup) and interest rate were incredibly high. Look it up; it was a phenomenon. (STOP TALKING!!!!!!)

Sigh. It was all downhill after that.

Another bank teller interview:

Interviewer: What was your favorite part of being a bank teller?

Me: Well, we got to know most of our customers and it was nice and friendly. (Requisite "I'm a people person" answer required for any position involving contact with the public) But I also really enjoyed helping other tellers when they had trouble proving out their drawers. It was like a puzzle and I loved proving it down to the penny...

Interviewer: (interrupting) What services were you able to direct your customer to? Accuracy is all well and good, but...

(Wait. What? YOU'RE A BANK AND ACCURACY IS "ALL WELL AND GOOD?")

Interviewer: (continuing)...did you enjoy presenting new products and services to your customers?

(I know, I know. I should have taken her advice and focused on how much I enjoy...cough, cough...foisting products on people...cough, cough. Instead, I jump on the "accuracy is all well and good, BUT" part of the conversation.)

Me: Well, you see, we really weren't expected to sell to customers (NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!) and in our annual reviews, our accuracy is really what my manager was concerned with.

...And there it went.

Then there was the interview panel I went before for one very diverse office job. Part of the job was running a cash register, an exact copy of one I've used before. On the panel was the current employee (being "promoted") who had devised this elaborate system of "cashing out" that required adding up handwritten receipts, separately adding up sales tax,  and subtracting refunds from both. I innocently (honest -- I wasn't trying to be sarcastic) asked if the register was broken that it couldn't run the report automatically, to which there was an awkward silence since apparently no one realized the register had that capability.

Stupid me -- I thought, Aha! They were trying to see if I had the chutzpah to point this out. Failing that, I thought it would certainly be a good reason to hire me -- that I knew a piece of equipment better than they did.

It wasn't until after the fact I realized they could never hire me -- I'd embarrassed them.

I've had my resume evaluated and gone through mock interviews with a consultant. We've gone over wardrobe and how to use the proper slang (I was actually encouraged to over-use the word "awesome" -- not, I might add, a synonym for "awesome," -- but the actual word "awesome" over and over and over again). I can't tell you how this grates on my brain.

Really, my interview skills turned out to be not all that bad. So said one consultant around my age, who was offering her consults for free. She confided in me that she was offering these consults in order to launch her own business because, after a year and a half of searching, she couldn't get hired either.

Actually, interview skills are a tiny portion of the problem. Just getting a response from an application is a practice in futility; and, believe me, I will apply for anything. They won't even let me dress as Lady Liberty and flip a sign outside a tax prep office (though, I can see their point -- an old lady out in the freezing cold flipping a sign is just...well...sad.).

Still, I soldier on. This week I applied for a job as an insurance adjuster, newspaper reporter, convenience store clerk, administrative assistant and a dog bather. I can't tell you how very, very AWESOME I feel about my chances.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lost in translation

First Scenario

It's noon and I'm in the kitchen.

Me: (staring into the cabinet containing all my pots and pans) You want uh...

Dirtman: Yeah.

Me: You know they're not...

Dirtman: So, three.

Result: I make him three cheese quesadillas for lunch (not four of the small tortillas because instead I'd bought the burrito-size tortillas).

Second Scenario

I've just watched a Netflix movie I really liked and want to watch it again, this time with Dirtman, who I think would enjoy it. He asks if it has any actors in it he would know.

Me: It's got that guy in it. (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) He was in all those movies. (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) The ones about that special kid. (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) You know...the English lady was in it too and then he was in another one with her. (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) You know...that movie with all the people in it. (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) Remember? He was in it and she was in it and...OH! Hugh Grant was in it! (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) THAT GUY! (Dirtman stares at me expressionless.) Oh! And he was with her in another movie -- all dressed up.

Dirtman: Oh. Alan Rickman.

Result: We watch Bottle Shock.

Conclusion

I am forever tied to Dirtman simply because he is the only one who can translate for me.