The summer of my discontent (part 2)

For this interview, on July 9th, I wore my professional clothes once again, but it no longer felt like a disguise, as I allowed my hair to remain in it’s wild wavy state. I was fairly certain my interviewer would be dressed this way as well. Confident I had a reasonably accurate picture of what to expect, my nerves were only marginally spiking.

I drove inland for fifteen minutes, where mountains, dry and sparsely green, bubbled upward and the temperature escalated dramatically. It had been ninety degrees when I left my apartment, but now my car read one hundred and two. My gps instructed me to an open air school, uncovered hallways and buildings with sports fields sprawling outward paralleled the beautiful school in the dark movie, Thirteen. Once again I checked my email for the address, as this did not appear to be residential treatment, but, once again, I was in the instructed location.

I parked my car and found a map behind thick plexiglass mounted onto a wall near what I assumed was an entrance, as there was a break in the chain link fence. Apparently there were many offices here as well as the school. I followed a yellow line painted on the ground to a door marked 136 LLYC and entered.

“Hi, I’m here for an interview at 10,”

It was 9:30. I am habitually early in my efforts to not be late.

“Alright, do you know who with?”

“Hmm, it’s for the Mental Health Counselor position in residential, …” I really couldn’t remember the name of the person who had called, his accent had made our conversation feel like a Jenga puzzle, where I carefully interpreted what I thought he was saying and slowly shifted blocks around in response until he emailed me this address.

“I gotchu, you’re with William, I’ll let him know you’re here.” She handed me a clipboard of paperwork.

I sat in a small knook of four wooden armchairs and squinted at the small print. There were seven pages to fill out,

“Hi, sorry to bother you, I filled out this information online too… Do I need to do this paper copy in addition, or…”

“Yes. They would like the paper copy.”

“Ok, just checking. Thank you!”

I sat back down.

A Hispanic family entered, a young boy flanked by his young mother and grandmother. They nestled around me, talking to each other in Spanish. It seemed the mother was nervous, her knees jolting up and down. The grandmother appeared to be more nervous, wringing her hands. The boy was silent, sullen, uninterested. He kicked my chair as he leaned back, jolting my pen across the page.

“Alejandro, stop!” His mother said, and smiled nervously at me.

Alejandro crossed his arms in front of him.

“It’s fine, really.”

Alejandro swung his legs precariously close to my chair for the next ten minutes, his mother staring so hard at his scuffed sneakers, waiting for him to kick me again, that I thought they might ignite.

I didn’t want to participate in this stalemate.

A woman with a silver gray bob appeared from down the hallway and leaned down, her sweater flowing open, revealing overflowing and freckled cleavage, “Hi, is this Alejandro?”, she gazed at the woman surrounding him.

Alejandro stared at her, and said nothing.

“Yes, hi, I’m his mother, Maria, and this is Alejandro.” She gestured toward her son and then her mother, “This is his grandmother, Carmen.”

The woman looked at me expectantly, “I’m just here for an interview,” I smiled.

“Alright, well I think if it’s ok I’ll just talk to Alejandro for a little bit on our own. How does that sound Alejandro?”

He stared back at her, unblinking.

“Alejandro! Go!” The mother swung her arm around his back and leveraged him upward. He slowly walked beside the woman down the hallway and the mother and grandmother resumed speaking in Spanish.

I turned my clipboard in, “I’m finished, here ya go, thanks.”

“Perfect, thank you. William is ready to see you, so if you go outside and walk three doors down, on the left, just knock and someone will come let you in.”

“Awesome, thank you.”

I continued down the sidewalk, knocked, and waited. Another woman opened the door to reveal an identical set up as the previous office. I was escorted down the hallway.

“Hi, I am William, so nice to meet you!” William extended his hand. His skin was dark and shiny, like he was a wooden man crafted from Burma Blackwood and vigorously polished each morning.

“Natasha Foster, nice to meet yoh!” We sat at a small circular table across from his desk, in navy plastic chairs, which matched the carpet, “I know that my accent make it difficult for people to understand what I say, so please, if I say anything you don’t understand just stop and I will repeat myself, Ok?”

I nodded, “Sure, I’m really sorry about our phone conversation, but I think it’ll be fine in person,” I smiled.

He opened a manilla folder and placed my resumé and cover letter beside each other. He lowered his head into a separate folder, “So I see yoh have worked in residential treatment befoh and also with trohma. That is very good foh us. Tell me, how does Lyle Lincoln Youth Center fit into yohr career path?”

“Well, from the information that I’ve been able to read online it seems like a good fit, consistent with the other non-profit organizations I’ve been able to work with in mental health. Ultimately I’m interested in going into psychiatric nursing so I’d like to stay in direct care in the meantime, until I’m able to make that transition.”

“Nursing, yas, that is great, great. Yoh could even stay, we have a medical coordinator position for nurse!” William looked down again, at his stapled packet. He was reading from a list, “Tell me about a time in yohr work or educational experiance where you were faced with a challenging situation, and how yoh responded,” He looked up and smiled.

“So when I worked in residential, my second week, another new staff and I took a group of boys outside to a little playground and two of them broke into a fight. We tried to walkie for more staff to come, but no one came. We got them to separate and then the larger male, who was over six feet, ran around the side of the building so I followed because I knew I had to keep him sight. He was extremely escalated and ripped a wrought iron fence out of the ground,”

“Oh, wow,” William smiled, he was entertained. People who work in mental health always have these sort of stories. Whenever I am asked, What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?, by curious parties I can’t  even choose, and I’ve barely started my career.

“Right, it was quite a scene. So he’s pulling the fence up and there’s dirt flying everywhere and then he turns around runs past me, and starts kicking out the glass doors and windows to the main building. I start repeating his name, because I think I’m going to be able to get his attention and, snap him out of it, I don’t know. But when he hears me, he turns and punches the wall beside my face and yells ‘SHUT UP’,” I hold my palm in front of my face to communicate how close he was,  “At this point another of the residents, who was also very large statured, comes around the corner and basically takes him down into the grass. Then staff finally came because they had heard the glass breaking from inside.”

“So another resident restrained the one acting out?”

“Yep. He had lived there like three years and whenever things got out of control he acted as if he were staff, which was an entirely separate issue, obviously.”

William laughed, “What an introduction, yeah? So what did yoh learn from this crisis?”

“To check that my walkie works as soon as I get it… Never to be alone with a resident, and to take a lot more space when someone is escalated. Not to send two new staff out with a group of adolescent males.”

“Yas, Natasha, these are all important lessons to learn!”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

“So, given that this work is very difficult, uh, very emotionally challenging, how do yoh practice self care?”

“Well at my job in Pittsburgh I worked a huge amount of overtime, there were always extra shifts available so I doubled several times a week. I don’t do that anymore. It was way too much for that setting. I have found that I have to have a certain amount of sleep to be at my best and making sure I have time for friends and my boyfriend and my dog, things like that, really rejuvenate me to be present and focused at work.”

“Yas, yas, that is great!” At this point William switched from asking me questions and writing down my responses to just handing me the packet of questions and telling me to fill it out. At the end he began introducing me to everyone in the office, which felt like a sure sign I had the job, despite that the people I was being introduced to seemed decidedly bored by the disruption.

I followed William through the school, into the classrooms, and onto a sports field where the “participants” were dribbling basketballs.

“Hello everyone, this is Natasha, she is interviewing for the MHC position.”

They turned and nodded, “Hi,” one of the girls eyed me suspiciously.

William lowered his voice, “So our residents often have cognitive delays or developmental delays. Sometimes from, neglect you know, sometimes autism spectrum. Right now everyone is pretty high functioning, but yoh’ll notice in the school program that many are doing work at an elementary level. The girl with the dark hair and pink shorts, you’ll here people call her Apple, she has a very strange voice,” he gestured to his throat in an up and down motion, “but she’s actually very smart. She’s obsessed with pets though. Talks about them all the time. She’ll probably ask yoh about yohr pets.”

“So, is she allowed to talk to me about my pets, or?”

“Yes, as long as it’s appropriate, yoh know, she likes to talk about, uh, where they poop, yoh know. Just don’t talk about their poop.”

I smiled, “Noted.”

William then had me follow him to the actual residences, which were a mile away. A steep driveway, landscaped for privacy, led us to an archipelago of buildings amid an abundunce of palm trees and overgrown bushes. A tall black gate enclosed the outdoor space between the buildings. It reminded me of my story, and I wondered how deeply rooted into the ground it was.

“So these are the cottages, where our participants live. All of the evening shifts will be at this location, where as some of the morning shifts begin here but are mostly at the school,” He jangled a ring of keys between his hands as we walked, “These are the vans where yoh will drive the participants to school, yoh will not have to use yohr own car for that,” he opened the gate and walked into a beautiful courtyard, “Hi, this is Natasha, this is Jasper our AM assistant supervisor.”

RT3

Jasper was rail thin and tall, leaning dramatically backward in his seat. From behind his mirrored sunglasses he said, “Not too much going on today, Juan is having a hard time, taking some space.”

Juan was twenty paces away at a picnic table, he glared dramatically over his shoulder in our direction at the mention of his name.

We entered one of the cottages, the sudden darkness in comparison to the outdoors was disorienting. When my eyes had adjusted I scanned the room for signs of violence. The furniture was unbroken, heavy wooden chairs and sofas, with plastic maroon cushions, appeared worn, but– Ah, they had been screwed into the floor. The television was bolted to the wall, behind plexiglass. A massive chart of levels and rewards displayed a list of about a hundred actions which constituted aggression, which was an automatic demotion to copper level.

I needed more information.

William introduced me to Melinda, who was sitting in a tall captains chair inside the office. The office was smaller than my closet. The open door masked the shelves of binders and toiletries behind it, while the other side had a raised counter with a singular computer and shelves above it. This is where Melinda sat, kicking her feet against the chair. Behind her was another door which led to the staff bathroom. There was not enough room for both doors to be open at the same time.

“Hi Natasha! I’m Melinda! I’ve been working here on-call for about four years now. I love it. It’s a fun job. I know it’s really quiet right now but that’s not really typical.” Her blonde hair was so light it looked almost transparent.

“Oh, I’m sure,” I nodded, “Can’t trust it.”

“Exactly,” She brightened, “Have you worked in mental health before?”

“Yep,” I smiled.

William spoke, “How many kids stayed back from school today?”

“Just the two.”, she pointed her pen to the door across the living room, “This one is on freeze because she won’t take a shower, and that one is sick as a dog. The nurse is supposed to be here any minute.” She looked at her watch.

“How long has it been since she showered?” William asked.

“Two and a half days. I really don’t want to go down this road with her again.” Melinda shrugged, “But you know it’s up to her.”

“Yas, yas. Alright,” William tilted his head toward the kitchen, “This way,”

“Nice to meet you Natasha!” Melinda said as we exited the cottage and entered another building.

“This is building numbar tree. This is where we have all of tha staff mailboxes and walkies and where yoh clock in and out. This is the schedule. So the position we have open for full time is from two to ten pm with Wednesday and Thursday off. And then we have on-call open too. Would that work for yoh?”

I imagined a florescent sign flashing, ISOLATION, above the schedule.

“So I would work every weekend? It doesn’t change?”

“Yas, all of our full time positions work weekends, but their schedules do not change. You know exactly when yoh will work, always,” He jangled his keys in his hands and smiled, trying to make this positive.

In Pittsburgh the schedule had rotated so that if you had Thursday/Friday off the next week you had the following two days off and so on. Which meant you eventually had Saturday-Tuesday off every six weeks or so. Always rotating. In Baltimore, I had thought working every other weekend was awful. Ha! Ha! Ha!

I shifted gears, “How many shifts do on-calls generally work?”

“It depends, of course, but most work four, maybe five shifts a week. Morning shifts are hard to get. A lot of our staff are on call, but they do not get benefits and their schedules are always changing.”

Before the move to California Josh and I agreed that neither one of us could be regularly absent for work. We would be too far away from anyone else to leave the other on their own. This conversation arose when he warned me that he might be MIA quite a bit, and I had recoiled from the whole moving idea. So he promised that if his hours got really late during the week (as hours are wont to do when working at a start up) he wouldn’t work on his side projects that weekend, and I, in turn, had promised that I wouldn’t work exclusively evenings and weekends. We had to protect our together time, out here on our own.

And here I was, having been always available a hundred percent of the time since the move, but still– “I think on-call might be a better fit.”

“Really? Why is that?” William tilted his head and jangled his keys. He was clearly struggling finding someone to accept this schedule.

“Well, I can’t do most of that self care stuff we discussed earlier if I work this schedule.”  The issue seemed really obvious, to me, at least.

“Alright, on-call Natasha,” He put his keys back in his pocket, “Please let yohr references know I will be calling them.”

“Wonderful, thank you!”

We shook hands and I cheerfully bounded to my car, feeling a resurgence of confidence rush through my veins. I will be gainfully employed in no time! I can put all of this morose depressive bullshit behind me and if I’m on-call I can definitely swing school! Look at me now, func-tion-i-ing!

Boston Traffic 6 am

As I merged onto the freeway a faded red Ford Explorer blew out a tire in the far left lane. The vehicle tilted forward, and flew across six lanes of traffic, desperately trying to make it to the shoulder, and narrowly cut me off. They hit the large hill which bordered the freeway and rolled upward. The impact into the drought deadened dirt exploded an orange-brown cloud across traffic.

I couldn’t see anything but the murky red of brake lights ahead. I slowed to the right, onto the shoulder.

Horns were erupting loudly.

And within just a minute, the dust had settled. Another car had stopped ahead and the battered SUV had landed right side up, facing oncoming traffic, but mostly in the relative safety of the shoulder.

I dialed 911, and exited my car. Another driver stopped on the shoulder leaned out of her window, “Oh good, you’re calling 911 right? Ok, I’m gonna go, but I saw the whole thing. Their tire blew out and they were going way too fast.” With that, she clicked on her blinker and merged back into traffic.

I approached the car cautiously, as I gave the dispatcher our location. A stout Latin woman placed her child in the grass, speaking Spanish rapidly. An equally petite man was walking in circles around the vehicle. All of the windows had shattered and there was glass everywhere.

The dispatcher asked, “Was anyone thrown from the vehicle?”

“I really don’t know. They’re walking around, but they’re all bleeding. The glass shattered in from the windows.” I approached, “Did you all get thrown out of the car?” The woman stared at me for a moment and moved to shuffle things around inside the car. I turned my attention to the little girl sitting in the grass, her eyes were as big as saucers. She looked to be around five.

“Is anyone bleeding from the head?”

“Yes, but not profusely.” I scanned scene, “They’ve all got cuts on their head, and kind of all over…”

“Ok, we need them to sit down. We don’t want them walking around and–”

The woman approached me, her long dark hair was knotted. A thick strip of her upper leg was hanging away from her body, blood pouring down toward her foot, “Agua?”

“She wants water,” The girl said.

The woman pointed to her feet,

“She wants to wash her foot,” the girl said, staring ahead blankly.

The woman seemed completely unaware of the portion of her leg that was dropping away from her, gravity pulling the piece downward, “Water? Sure, ok.” My eyes lingered on her injury, it didn’t even look real. Like we were on a movie set and were meant to believe Freddy Krouger had reached for her as she ran past him in the boiler room. From my phone I head the dispatcher say,

“Don’t let them drink anything, it’ll make them nauseas and they could throw up.”

I reasoned if I gave her the water to wash her feet she would continue washing her leg and readily discover the injury on her thigh. That seemed traumatic. Plus, I couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t drink it.

“Sorry, I don’t think I actually have any water. Lo siento, no aqua, lo siento,” I said. Then squatted down beside the girl, “Hi, my name is Natasha.”

This broke her trance like gaze, and she turned toward me.

“Do your parents speak any English?” she shook her head, “But you do,” She nodded.

“Awesome,” I squatted down beside her, “So I know this all seems really scary right now, right?”

She nodded.

“Car accidents are really scary, I know, but everything is going to be ok. I’m on the phone right now with someone who is sending doctors who are going to help us, ok? You’ve been to the doctor, right?”

She nodded.

“So it’s just like that, except they’re going to come in a big vehicle that has lots of lights and sirens. It can be pretty loud. And they might all be wearing the same uniform, which looks different than what a doctor wears, but they are here to help. They’re going to clean us up and make sure we’re all ok so we won’t get sick, ok?” I wondered why I always talk in plural to children. They’re not going to be cleaning me up, but it seemed more reassuring if I included myself.

“Ok,”

“Everything is going to be alright, we’re completely safe” I reiterated.

The mother began speaking to the girl in Spanish, assumably wanting to know what we were talking about. Her voice grew louder and she reached for my phone, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!”,

I stepped backward and held my phone away from her,

The girl spoke, “She doesn’t want the police to come!” Tears welled up in her eyes,

“Stop. Stop.I’m sorry, they have to come,” I extended my right arm completely forward, holding her at bay and tucked the phone into my left arm, it hung up. “When you’re in a car accident you have to see a doctor, to be safe. They’re already coming,”

The girl spoke to her mother, again, in Spanish. The mom abruptly turned and started rearranging duffle bags that were inside the vehicle. The father threw up his hands, and continued to walk around the shoulder as cars whizzed by, picking up random debris that had been thrown from their car.

I really wished he would sit down.

I walked past the girl to try and tell him to get away from the road, as I passed I realized that the back of the girls shirt was saturated in blood. Her shoulder opposite me had been bleeding freely while we talked.

Shit.

A weird vocalization escaped me, “Aeroohhh, Hey, honey, can you do this?” I crossed my right hand onto my left shoulder. The girl mirrored me. “Great! Awesome! Just hold your hand there really tightly ok?”

She nodded. Surely her own germs, through the t-shirt, was better than no pressure at all? I really had no idea if this intervention was remotely helpful. You put pressure on things that are bleeding… you raise injuries above your heart to slow the bleeding, right? I knew only so much. I had no idea what to do for the mother, for instance. Surely pressing the skin back in place would just pack in the germs and visible dirt? I only had a Murphy blanket in my backseat. I smiled to myself, I can’t imagine how irritated the paramedics would be if they arrived to discover a dirty dog blanket wrapped around a wound. If we were in the woods or something though it would have had to do.

Plus, I was certain her ignorance of the injury was probably best at this point. With no medical background whatsoever I decided she wasn’t in danger of bleeding out in this short time before professionals arrived, and kept my distance from her erratic behavior.

Luckily my best guess response wasn’t being relied upon, and finally, the ambulance and policeman arrived, almost simultaneously.

“Here they are! It’s a lot of people, but they’re all just here to help! They’re safe.” I said to her before backing away. I was really hoping a kernel of what I was saying would make this whole ordeal less frightening, if she at least understood what was going on. The men descended, kneeling around her, others speaking to the parents in Spanish, getting them to stop meandering around the scene. The girl let out a loud cry, and finally, tears arrived.

The policeman grilled me about what I saw, drawing a diagram of the six lanes of traffic. I was asked many pointed questions about what speed I estimated they were going when this occurred.

“I really don’t know. I was entering on that ramp so I was going only like 40-ish, so they were going probably twice that and they didn’t appear to slow down at all before they hit the hill,” I gestured to the hill behind us. The vehicle beyond was bent severely inward and the roof was now concave, “So they rolled up and then back down.”

In truth I believed they were going faster than that, but who was I to assign a number?

He took my information and I drove home. As soon as I was parked I called my Joshua and relayed the story, “And of all the ridiculous things that make me anxious, I felt totally calm! What sense does that make?”

“I really don’t know. I would have passed out. That’s so crazy. You’re a hero, Zoots!”

I laughed, “Hardly, I had no idea how to help, I just called 911. It actually really frustrated me that I didn’t know what to do, but I’m glad the carnage didn’t freak me out like I always thought it would. Maybe I could stomach nursing.”

“Yeah, absolutely. You could definitely do it. How was your interview, by the way?”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve got it. It pays marginally more than my last job, but my hours aren’t for sure. It could be kind of violent. We’ll have to see. I’ll tell you about it when you get home.”

“Yeah, we’ll have to talk about that,” he said, “Love you.” and hung up.

treewalk

So, with that, my interest in going back to school rekindled. It would be much cheaper to go to a community college for the pre-requisites at least and I applied for the one I was geographically closest to. Within the week I had been accepted and ironed out my federal financial aid. I was told that I would be last to register because I already have a degree, and because it was already July and classes started in late August. That seemed fair. I might not have an ideal schedule, but since my schedule was wide open I could make it work.

The week William called,  “Hello, Natasha, this is William. I have only heard from one of yohr references. I need to speak with all of them before we can proceed,”

I was confident everyone I had listed had glowing remarks and I had left them messages. They had all agreed to be a reference when I started job hunting, but that was approaching five months ago. I emailed him additional references, and apologized, offering that perhaps the time zone difference was a contributing factor.

In mid July, he called to offer me the job. Or rather, the following e-mail read “conditional offer of employment” and “Please let me know if you do not receive the pre-employment conditions in your email by the end of the week”. It was Monday.

The idle misery that had reigned over the summer was getting kicked to the curb, and a wave of relief swept over me. I counted the months on my hand, April, May, June, July. Had I really disintegrated that rapidly in just four months? The timeline alarmed me. The barricade against my depression that I had secretly, and fervently, congratulated myself on achieving was much more fragile than I’d thought. At least it had only been the slow circling at the top of the well, right? I hadn’t gotten really bad, after all, I reassured myself. No matter, I was going to be in school and working and all this would fade away. I could return to the obnoxious, funny version of myself that I liked best.

On July 24th I opened an email from Eugena McNulty, the directer of HR over at LLYC. There were thirteen attachments, and a highlighted warning that I had one month to complete the pre-employment conditions.

A month? I intended to complete them tomorrow morning.

“Hey Josh, I need to go to Kinkos, can I use your card? I also need to get a new clasp for my swimsuit at Michaels so it doesn’t fall open,” We had figured out early on it was much easier if he just left a credit card with me than to have him depositing money into my account all the time, during this period of dependence. It felt decidedly parasitic every time I used it. I reminded myself that, indirectly, this was his doing. I didn’t have a job because I left the one I had to follow him out here, after all. He knew he would have to support me when he conjured up this plan, but still, I hated using his card and always felt the need to justify what I needed to buy, no matter how small.

And while I had this internal debate about using his money Josh stated simply,

“Of course,”

By the time I had printed everything off it was twenty dollars, and I needed to fax back most of the paperwork, after signing or initialiing it, in addition to my college transcripts. Geez.

joannstore

I stopped into JoAnn’s fabrics, just across the street, to replace the swimsuit clasp and pick up some hair ties. It was six dollars, I swiped Joshua’s card at the reader in front of me. The machine blinked, and didn’t respond.

“Here I can do it back here,” the cashier stated, taking the card. And then, “Can I see your ID?”

Well, this was unexpected. The card did not say See ID. I presented my ID, “Sure,” Her teenage eyebrows furrowed, “But this is my boyfriend’s card. He knows I’m using it.”

“This isn’t your card?” She asked loudly, with thinly veiled excitement seeping through her suspicion.

“No, it’s my boyfriends card. I can use this one instead,” I extended my bright orange debit card across the counter.

She picked up the phone, and over the store intercom she said, “Can I have a manager to register one, a manager to register one, please,”.

“Um, I have my card right here you can use.”

The young woman was holding my ID and Joshua’s card hostage. She hadn’t taken my debit card off the counter. Her eyes were narrowed to slits.

“Yeah, I get that but you can’t just use someone elses card. Plus I have to void it out and start over. A manager has to do that,”

“Alright.” I rolled my eyes. If I was going to go on a spree with a stolen card I would not be stopping into Joann’s Fabrics for six dollars worth of plastic clasps and glittery hair ties.

The manager appeared, pleasantly plump and bespectacled, “What’s going on?”

“This woman is trying to use someone else’s credit card to buy her stuff,” the cashier stated in a stage whisper, handing the woman my ID and Joshua’s credit card.

“Oh my, where is she?” The woman pushed her glasses upward, into her hair, and held the cards close to her face.

“I’m right here,” My blood pressure was bubbling upward, I gestured like Vanna White to the counter, “My card is right here, ready to pay the six dollars.”

“Oh, I see,” she said. They exchanged a look, “I’m not sure what to do here,” she picked up the phone, “Mary can you come to the front please, Mary can you come to the front.”

I took a deep breath. A line of customers had formed behind me, “I’m pretty sure the best course of action is to let me pay with my card, the one right here in my hand, so I can leave.”

Who I could only presume to be Mary appeared, with silver hair in a bun and a bright red apron. The three huddled together, and the original cashier laid out the facts as she saw them, This disheveled woman is trying to commit fraud! She has a stolen credit card and is making off with our quality merch on someone else’s dime! Now that I’ve caught her she’s trying to just use a different card to get off easy! Who knows what her real name is! That’s probably not even a real ID!

“Here I’ll ring you up on this register down here,” Mary said judiciously, eyeing me up and down before handing both my ID and Joshua’s card back to me. We both stepped three feet downward and she dumped the small plastic bag out on the counter and began the process anew.

There were five people behind me in line.

“I still can’t void this off,” the original cashier said, jamming buttons dramatically with her index finger, blatantly disappointed the police weren’t being called.

As soon as I made it to my dented car and shut the door, I screamed at the top of my lungs.

july-2014-calendar-image

On July 28th I faxed my paperwork back to Eugena, and emailed her, wanting to confirm that she had received my paperwork and informing her that my fingerprinting appointment was for the following morning, so that would be taken care of soon.

My fingerprinting was booked at what turned out to be an immense office park. I approached the large building skeptically. When I had been fingerprinted before it was done at a Post Office Plus, where you could also get your picture taken for your passport, or in-house. I was forced to enter this monstrous building in my standard yoga pants and t-shirt uniform, carrying an iced coffee from Burger King, walking in beside men in formal suits.

My instructions of “Suite110-A” had led me to picture more of a strip mall set of offices, but Suite 110 turned out to be a doctors office? I surveyed the empty waiting room and glass encased counter. There were posters of children running after each other, the text read, An Active Child is Having Fun. A door beside the glass encased counter read “110-A” and had a paper clock taped to the front. Will return, the clock indicated nine o’clock.

It was 8:50.

I played Hello Kitty Café on my phone until 9:05 when a man hurriedly entered the waiting room, “You here for fingerprints?”

“Yep,” I stood.

“Awesome, just wait one minute.” He opened the door narrowly, and squeezed in, taking the paper clock with him. A loud humming noise emitted from the room and I heard a woman’s voice greet him.

“Alright then,” I sat back down.

At 9:15 the man opened the door. He gestured for me to sit in a folding chair immediately to my left, and he shut the door. My knees were touching the end of a table where a woman sat, shuffling papers. To the right was the giant humming machine which would scan my fingers. There was scarcely enough space for the three of us to occupy this room.

“Do you have your employer’s paperwork?” The woman extended her hand, impatient.

I produced the single sheet from my purse.

She stood, “We have seventeen appointments today you know, we can’t afford to get backed up,” she said to the man, who was entering information into a second computer, which rested on a raised desk beside the machine.

“Yes, I am aware,” he retorted, typing quickly.

The woman’s dress was completely open in the back. She was braless at work. The hi-low hem was alarmingly short in front.

How bold, I thought.

“Great, good,” She copied my paper, and handed one to him and the other back to me.

“For billing did it end up being—”

She cut him off, “The memo in your email already explained that. I’m not repeating myself today, Sonny. Not today,” she leaned back in her chair, and her head bumped into his backside.

He pressed himself into the desk, “Yeah ok, excuse me,” as she recoiled forward into her desk.

What a work environment, I thought, trying not to giggle.

Sonny then took my fingerprints, a bright green light scanning them repeatedly as I twisted each digit against the glass, following instructions to “roll them all around” one at a time.

The woman handed me my sheet.

“Do I need to fax this to my employer or do they get a copy from you?”

“We do it, that’s just for your records,” She said, picking crud from underneath her acryllic nails with a paper clip.

“Alright, thank you!” I exited carefully, since the door opened inward we all had to reposition ourselves cooperatively to release me.

Geez.

I emailed Eugena, on July 29th, having still not heard from her,

Eugena,

Good afternoon! I faxed my documents yesterday and did the fingerprinting this morning. Just writing to confirm that you received them. Would you like me to fax the sheet from finger printing to you in addition to the copy that they are sending? How do we go about arranging the medical clearance appointment?
Thank you!
Natasha Foster
On August 1st I received a reply,

Hi Natasha,

 The original email I sent you had the instructions I’ve attached to this email.  Please review this document.  It has information on how to complete the conditions of employment…

 You asked: Do I need to fax the sheet from finger printing to you as well?

Initial Steps: Live Scan Fingerprinting

 ….After you have completed your fingerprinting, the person conducting the fingerprinting will give you a completed “Request for Live Scan Service” form. You must retain this form and submit it to the HR Department.

 Where to Submit Documents

You must submit several documents to the HR Department to meet the conditions of employment. You may send them via fax.

 You asked: How do we go about arranging the medical clearance appointment?

 Next Steps: Health Screen & TB Test

An HR team member will contact you to make arrangements for your Health Screen/TB Test (and Drug Screen if applicable) after you have complete all other non-medical related conditions of employment.

Have a great weekend.”

 
 Josh returned from work, carrying his spring green laptop briefcase and a plastic bag of tupperware I would inevitably later discover in the sink, covered in corroded salad dressing and soggy sandwich crumbs. He surveyed the living room in a single glance. I had spent the entire day playing a delightfully weird text based game on my phone, A Dark Room, and alternatively reading every single article anyone I was friends with posted to Facebook. I had absorbed a varied and strange array of information.
“How was today?”
“Oh you know….” What had I actually done again?,  “I finally heard from Eugenics the HR lady a week after I originally emailed her. She still has not answered if she actually received my faxes that cost a fortune to send and was super passive aggressive. I asked her how to set up the medical clearance and she basically sent me a screen shot of her first email which has an attachment that says that I would be contacted by HR about it. Well, I haven’t been contacted, Eugenics, that’s why I’m still emailing you about it. C’mon,” I turned my computer toward him, the affronting email on display.
Josh smiled, “So now we’re calling her Eugenics?”
“Absolutely. Rude. So rude.”
He pulled my lap top onto his lap and read the chain, “Ok, so you could have figured out to send the fingerprinting sheet, but she also legitimately emailed you fifty pages and we’ve already spent a decent amount faxing her things.”
“Hitler liked Eugenics,”
“Yeah, I get that. Well, just send her the stuff I guess and see what she says,”
“I just want her to answer my questions! It takes a lot more time to construct these rude screen shot emails than to just say you received the faxes, still need the other thing faxed, and whatever info on the medical appointment!”
We drove to Kinkos and faxed her the sheet. I emailed her back promptly,

Eugena,

I have faxed the fingerprinting information. Did you receive it? Hoping the medical clearance can be scheduled soon!

Thanks,
Natasha Foster
 images-9
This was August, our fifth month in California. Not a sentimental passage of time, but a benchmark nonetheless. While I had things lined up, I still didn’t have the traction I’d hoped for five months in and the long-winded process of actually beginning my job was draining my relief at having gotten it. My mother left voicemails, “Natasha Marie, stop saying you’re doing nothing and nothing is happening. You’re working on that app with Josh, and YOU’RE WRITING AGAIN, that’s huge! That’s what you were put here to do. I’m sure Murphy is the happiest he’s ever been. The summer isn’t a wash at all! And I can’t wait to see you! Just a few more weeks!”
At five on the dot Josh appeared at the top of the stairs, dropping his things onto the counter, “You know you drag me out here, make me leave everything behind, and I’m supposed to just cater to your every need? Make your lunch like you’re a little boy? It’s ridiculous.”
I brightened, this was my favorite game. I dropped my voice an octave, “You know I go to work every day for eight, ten, twelve hours while you do who knows what here at home. The least you could do is have the house proper when I get home. Make a dinner with the groceries I buy you. What do you have to be so melancholy about?”
“What do I have to be so melancholy about? You drag me out here away from everyone I know to follow some haphazard dream to make it big and we’re eating manager’s special meat and rice all time time. We can’t even go to the movies. Some provider you turned out to be!” Josh kicked off his shoes, “Can’t even buy me new sandals…chump,”
I slammed my fist into my knee, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN, WOMAN! You don’t know how good you have it! I wish I could nap and laze about at my leisure. You’ve got it made! How much Netflix have you watched today while I coded til my fingers bled?”
Josh, tilted his head backward and rolled his eyes, “Oh yes, here I am in the lap of luxury sitting on my used sofa I had to strong arm you to buy. Can’t even go on that Vegas trip you promised. So much to write home about!”
“Woman, I said ENOUGH!” I giggled, and threw a pillow at him. Our hyperbole role reversal fights proved to be remarkably fun and cathartic for our changing relationship dynamic. I broke character, “You know I really don’t care that we didn’t go back to Vegas, right? I hardly need a vacation from having nothing but time and sunshine. I just want to hang out with youuuuuuu,” I rolled onto my back and flailed my limbs, “SO I’M NOT ALONE ALL THE TIME LIKE A HERMIT CRAB! Eckeckeckeckeck!”
This behavior was why I could not be left alone all the time.
“Yes, I know. But I do have an idea for a weekend trip to LA that I think would be fun. Warpaint is playing,” He shimmied his eyebrows at me, “Anything else you wanna see in LA?”
(to be continued, again.)

Shopgirl

10873I will admit that I purchased this book (at BookOff, no less) exclusively because I wanted to watch the movie. I wanted to watch the movie because I really love Claire Danes. I really love Claire Danes because of her role in “My So Called Life”. Oh, the webs we weave.

The premise of this book is extraordinarily played out. There is a beautiful twenty-something woman who is having romances with an older, established man with money and someone her age, in the same phase of life struggling with money. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT? Will she choose luxury, ease, and early widowhood or a long life of average struggles with someone who has childhood memories from the same decade?

(Spoilers ahead).

Far from the woman-savvy George Clooney type, our incredibly rich older man is clueless. Ray Porter has missed an entire phase of development and doesn’t know what he is looking for in a woman or what they are looking for in him. He repeatedly tells our heroine that this is not an exclusive arrangement in the beginning. But he waits a year and a half into their relationship to write her a letter, that he gives to her in person, explaining that he just slept with someone else. He is surprised when she falls apart. He later makes comments like, “I think I’ll buy a house in New York so that when I meet someone, etc. etc.” reinforcing that while he loves her in some kinda way, she is not his person. Their separation is an exasperatingly long erosion, where long after they stop sleeping together or visiting he is still bankrolling her and calling weekly.

Meanwhile, the counter balance to the millionaire is your working class Joe type of character, Jeremy, who Mirabelle met in a laundry mat. Initially, Jeremy is also clueless. He is a clumsy lover and insists that they go dutch on all their dates. Things naturally dissipate. While Mirabelle sees Ray we are supposed to believe that Jeremy undergoes an incredible transformation while he is touring with bands, selling amps. This transformation is caused by Jeremy listening to self-help books and Buddhist readings on tape at night, for like a year. Still, there is a genuine tenderness to Jeremy which is endearing.

Martin has Mirabelle and Jeremy run into eachother at an art opening in the midst of the Ray romance, and then once Mirabelle has moved to San Francisco they reconnect and hit their stride as a couple.

During this time Ray is still financing Mirabelle despite her new relationship, and realizes that he feels an obligation to take care of her as if he is her child. He feels he is like a parent to her.

I cannot roll my eyes hard enough.

I must note that Steve Martin comes across as a misogynist in this novella. Mirabelle is a weak, easily manipulated character who is ascribed qualities she doesn’t demonstrate, like being smart. The other women in story (which does not pass the Bechdel test) are weak, if not offensive, depictions of women. Perhaps most telling are the descriptions of Mirabelle’s coworker, Lisa. Lisa is so petty and hyper-sexed that when she intends to sleep with Ray Porter as a one-over on Mirabelle she takes home a completely different man because she does not slow down long enough to even confirm his name. Further, Lisa does nothing to move the plot forward and seems to serve as an outlet for Martin to create caricature of LA women.

While I did laugh out loud a few times, overall this book is just a weak story with little character development. It troubles me that it was a bestseller.

Two stars.