Broken Sidewalks

It’s been a year since I began volunteering for Culver Palms Meals on Wheels (CPMOW) in Culver City, CA (http://www.mealsonwheelsculverpalms.org). The mission of CPMOW is to enable our clients to stay in their own home and remain independent through the delivery of well balanced, nutritious meals to their door.

After the layoff, I knew I wanted to give some of my time volunteering for a good cause. My parents had volunteered for Meals on Wheels in their town, delivering hot meals to many people younger than themselves. I checked around and found the closest chapter here in Southern California.

Meals on Wheels originated in the UK during the Blitz of WW2. According to Wikipedia, volunteers prepared food and delivered it to homebound people in old prams to transport the meals. The service took off during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the UK, Australia, the US and Canada. Today in America, 1 in 9 seniors — an astonishing 5 million people — is at risk of hunger. Here on the Westside of Los Angeles, there are hundreds of people unable to shop, cook or prepare meals due to illness or age.

I remember my first day packing food and learning the ropes. The hot and cold bags for the 9 delivery routes are laid out on tables. Each route has a book with the names of our clients on separate pages showing their age, special food needs, and directions to their home. As I flipped through the book, their birthdates jumped off the pages of history…one man, born in 1915 during WW1, several during the Roaring 20s and many during the Great Depression. They are of the Greatest Generation (1901-1924) and the Silent Generation (1925-1945). They’ve lived through so much and helped build our country into what it is today.

Volunteers deliver one hot meal and one cold snack to an average of 90 clients a day, Monday through Friday — that’s about 20,000 meals a year. There are so many wonderful people who volunteer and work there. Pam, the Executive Director, always has a smile on her face and has so much energy and excitement for her job and the organization. She’d make millions if she could bottle and sell that enthusiasm!

I took on Route #7 early on and look out for my clients to make sure they are doing okay. Every Monday, I pack and deliver food for 8-10 people. I usually thumb through the book first to check for any new clients. Many homes I drive through in the Venice, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey neighborhoods have become gentrified over the last 15 years. Generally when there is a new client and I turn down their street, it’s not difficult to find their home.

Between the new builds and renovated homes you’ll find the house with the broken sidewalks, overgrown grass, and old paint chipping from the shutters and walls. Mark, a client I’ve never actually met, lives in one of those homes. He lives on a pretty tree lined street on a hill in Mar Vista. Across from him is a newly built McMansion that looks like it belongs on Nantucket Island. His home is surrounded by pretty homes with manicured lawns. When I first drove up to his house, the grass was knee high with an old garden hose stuck in the dirt. I’ve never met Mark because he is bedridden. I usually leave the food hanging from the doorknob or once in a while hand it to a nurse.

I often wonder if the neighbors are upset at the eye sore, yet don’t know Mark’s name or even his situation. Wouldn’t it be great if the neighborhood got together and cleaned up his yard? We live in a self absorbed world rarely looking up from our devices to see our community around us. Our social networking has made us anti-social human beings.

Margie, 91, lives alone in the house she bought with her friend back in the 1960s. Her friend died 15 years ago. The outside of the house is kept up by a gardner and the pool (she doesn’t use) is also maintained. Inside though, it’s a different story. While she’s not a hoarder, there are papers piled up on every surface. She is depressed and feels overwhelmed. Every time I visit, I try to be upbeat, but many times Margie is down in the dumps. She doesn’t have any family except for an 85 year old cousin who lives over an hour away and doesn’t drive. Last week she mentioned that she hadn’t paid her taxes in over 3 years. I said I’d try to find someone for her. It’s not easy to find a tax volunteer who makes house calls. For many people, the volunteers are the only interaction they have with another human being for an entire day. And that interaction may only be for 5 minutes.

Once, when I delivered food to Margie, she said she was so happy for Mondays and having food delivered. I told her that she could order extra food to be delivered on Thursday’s and Friday’s so that she would have food for the weekend. It was added to her delivery schedule that week. I wondered how long she had been going without food on the weekends.

Joe, a man in his late 60s, lives down the street from me in a small studio apartment. He began Meals on Wheels a few weeks ago. When I dropped his food off for the first time he met me outside and said he was just trying to keep food down — his cancer treatments were making it hard for him to eat. Joe stayed on the program for about a month. Happily I saw him recently riding his bicycle with two small bags of groceries hanging from the handlebars.

Most of our clients were born before TV was invented…most do not know how to use a computer or even own one. Their technology consists of cable TV and a landline. They are isolated from a world which has everything at its fingertips. Think about how easy it is for us when we need something: you need anything you order it from Amazon, you want food delivered you click online read the menu and order, need to go somewhere you Uber. Think about living without a smartphone, tablet or laptop (I know, a nightmare for most!) and then throw in the fact you can’t drive any longer. You’re trapped.

Today is World Food Day. Take a moment to look up from whatever device you’re reading this on and think about your neighborhood. Where are the broken sidewalks? Which house is overgrown and where you rarely, if ever, see the owner? Is there a newspaper lying at the end of their driveway or garbage cans that haven’t been put away? Ask who lives there and find out if they need help. The folks in the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation rarely ask for help. They are stoic, quiet and proud.

Culver Palms Meals on Wheels is a non-profit, non-sectarian, volunteer community based 501(c)3 organization that has been serving the homebound in Culver City and surrounding communities since 1974. It relies on donations and grants to keep up its good work. If you can, please help CPMOW by making a donation at: http://www.mealsonwheelsculverpalms.org or find an organization in your community.

Need or Want?

This past weekend it rained. Not a big deal to most people, but big news here in Southern California where we’ve been living through a drought for over 4 years. I like rainy days…I don’t feel guilty about staying inside all day. With nothing on TV and no desire to binge-watch, I walked into my bedroom and, starting with the closet, began pulling out clothing I hadn’t worn in a long time.

Professional organizers say you should toss out clothing that hasn’t been worn in at least a year. I had just gone through my clothing 8 months ago so I didn’t expect to find much to discard. Was I wrong! I ended up filling two green bags with shirts, jeans, dresses, and a few scarves (I have a bit of a scarf problem which I’m trying to manage).

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Scarf Problem

How did I accumulate so much stuff? I’m not pointing the finger at anyone but myself, however as I looked around my condo I saw things that I really didn’t need. It’s funny when you get a pet how many people give you pet related gifts. I love my two cats, but I’m not a Cat Lady…cat statues, cat salt & pepper shakers, cat books and bookends among many other cat items have been given to me over the last few years. I try, really I do, to pretend how much I love the item, but honestly, I don’t need or want any more cat stuff! 

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Do I really need Lucky Cat?

Last week while visiting my mom, I went into the attic to help purge and organize 53 years of old stuff. Ancient luggage, deteriorating boxes and decorations for EVERY holiday were piled high across the attic. Did I mention that it was 85 degrees outside with 90% humidity? Or that the attic fan was broken? And that I couldn’t stand upright? I was basically working in a dwarf sauna, but this excavation work brought out the archaeologist in me. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I saw Indiana Jones twenty-three times in the movie theatre and an undetermined amount on TV. The attic is a time capsule into our family’s history and I wanted to sift through the dirt.

And there was some actual dirt. Several months ago there had been a furnace “blow back” which had blasted charred black pieces of God knows what everywhere, even into the garage. Did I mention that I could talk to my sister from the attic while she stood in the garage? There’s some flooring that’s been missing for a long time so I could toss her things that were either going to the garage sale or into the garbage — I just noticed that garage and garbage are only one letter apart…interesting.

The three items worth noting that day after all of the sifting, sorting and tossing were our airline tickets from NY to Bermuda in 1977, my sister Caroline’s high school year book and the dog bank. I guess the tickets were sentimental to my dad. All of our family trips until then involved driving, mostly along I-95 south to Florida or north up to Canada. Bermuda was our first plane ride together. I remember we rented 3 mopeds, mom and dad on one, Phil and Caroline on another and Dave and I on the last. Knowing how uptight parents are today, I doubt we would have done that now. We saw Bermuda’s famous pink sand beaches, crystal caves and old forts. I was 9 years old, as written on the ticket alongside the price of $75, which was probably a lot back then. I was amazed at how new the tickets looked given the attic elements of extreme heat, cold and occasional “blow back.” 

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         Now that I have a photo of it, can’t it be tossed?

As sweat dripped along the sides of my face I yelled down to my sister that I had found her yearbook. Caroline was so excited you’d have thought I had found The Arc of the Covenant. She thought the book had been lost in one of her moves. Flipping through the pages seeing the 70s styles, or lack thereof, it was hard to imagine that the book was over 35 years old. How quickly time has flown. I’m glad she got that book back. It’s one of the few things that’s nice to keep for life.

Then when I unearthed the Saint Bernard dog bank, I knew I had struck gold! I remember this in my brothers room. I couldn’t remember if it was Phil’s or Dave’s but I knew it was their piggy bank. I texted Dave asking “remember this piggy bank?” and he wrote back, “isn’t that mine?” Yeah it’s yours, don’t worry, I seriously don’t want it. We’re saving it for you. 

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The Doggy Bank

What does all of this stuff come down to? We eventually have to throw it all away or pass some other things on to the next generation. I am sentimental, but I find it’s the little things that offer the most value — not monetarily, but in the memories.

I know a woman who doesn’t speak to her sister over a photograph one has and the other wanted after their father died. First of all, don’t they know what a scanner is? I digress, but the fact that they don’t speak over a “thing”…well, I’m sure there’s more to that since they’re from a very dysfunctional family, but the bottom line is, are you really going to cut someone off over a photograph? Isn’t it the memories of your dad that matter most?

Other friends I know have a beautiful home, except for all of the stuff they’ve accumulated. How many shampoos, conditioners, lotions, potions, treatments and creams do you need until you realize you no longer have counter space in your bathrooms? Why not finish one before buying a new one? Their dining room is used for miscellaneous storage (I guess it is cheaper than renting a unit somewhere) and the refrigerator and cabinets seem to burst from excess stuff. They only have 2 people living at home!

Are they happy? It’s hard to know, but I believe I’m trying to move towards the Buddhist way of thinking — the more we are consumed by material desires, the less enlightened we are. Now I’m not going to shave my head or wear an orange robe, but I do think they are onto something. George Carlin’s comedy bit on Stuff sums everything up very well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x_QkGPCL18

I find that I really don’t need a lot of things anymore. They just take up more and more space and eventually I will have to get rid of the stuff. When I was younger and working my way up in the world, if I wanted something I bought it. Now, I ask myself, do you WANT this or do you NEED this? It makes a huge difference when you ask yourself whether an item is a want or a need. Toilet paper for example is a need, whereas that stupid fuzzy cat snow globe is a needless, spur of the moment, I may have been drunk, WANT (or maybe someone gave it to me…).

Start asking yourself the WANT vs. NEED question now because someday you may find yourself in a dwarf sauna trying to figure out how you accumulated so much stuff!

The Funny Thing About Dad…

My dad has always had an incredible sense of humor, one that I’ve always enjoyed. Even when I’d heard the same joke for the millionth time, I still laughed. There’s one where Mickey and Minnie are standing before a judge and the judge says “Mickey, you want a divorce because Minnie is crazy???” “Your honor, I didn’t say Minnie was crazy, I said she’s fucking Goofy!” Dad would repeat it in a high-pitched Mickey Mouse voice. I know, a bit of a racy joke, but funny as Hell nonetheless.

Dad taught me how to splice wires, change a tire and even install a commode. The Great Toilet Bowl Incident of 1984 will go down as the true lesson in making sure all the parts have been installed before trying a out the crapper. When we had moved the commode into place, Dad lifted his hand in the air and exclaimed, “and now the ceremonial first flush!” Water shot out from every direction. He forgot to put in the gasket. Laughing turned to serious cursing in seconds flat. After that he always used a professional plumber.

Early last month dad had to go into the hospital because his metastasized thyroid cancer had spread further into his lungs. While he was in there we made sure to have a party in his room every day. My brother Dave bought copious amounts of red wine. Dad said — “but we can’t drink from paper cups.” So Dave and I drove around town until we found a 5 & 10 store which sold wine glasses. Those glasses were $1.79 each and are better than crystal! Dave set up a beautiful bar with the wine chilling in pink plastic bed pans by the window. My sister Caroline cut hot pink azaleas from our yard for a vase in his room and friends and relatives came by the dozens to see dad.

One afternoon two security guards and an administrator came into the room to tell us that liquor is not allowed in the hospital. Dave hid two wine bottles in a cabinet as I was escorted out with two bottles by a security guard that could barely grow facial hair, least of all drink. I placed one bottle in the car and then put the other at the bottom of my bucket purse and walked back inside.

From then on the room became a speakeasy as we kept the door closed during Happy Hour. When an unfamiliar worker entered the room, dad asked “did she rat us out?” Caroline bought a bottle of Welch’s grape juice and we emptied a bit of it into the sink. “Get the prop,” dad would say so his ‘grape juice’ looked legit. That bottle sat on dads food tray when we were drinking and never seemed to empty out.

Dad loved his Cheerios and had two bowls full at breakfast. He poured orange juice over it because he didn’t like milk. One morning a nurse who looked horrified while he was making his breakfast concoction asked “what are you doing?!” Dad looked at her and shot back with “is there a Federal Cereal Law that says I can’t put orange juice on my Cheerios?”

At 11:30 one morning dad turned to me and asked if any wine was open. Of course we started drinking then. “Dave knows how to pick wine!” dad said over and over again. Dave had to fly back home in part to dry out his liver, but we continued the party. At some point dad forwent his lunch and dinner and just drank wine and ate his favorite dark chocolate.

Everyone was wonderful that came by to visit and call him. But there was one guy who meant well, but missed the mark completely. One day some flowers arrived and I quickly edited the card as I read it aloud. Later, I read it to my mom — “Dear Phil, It was great seeing you recently. Please say hi to Steve, Cousin Joe and Bob for me until we meet again.” Those three people are dead! It wasn’t like dad was going to visit them in Boca Raton! Dad would have been dumbfounded and laughed if he wasn’t dying, which is why I couldn’t read it to him.

He was moved to hospice after a week in the hospital. The nurse came out of the room and said they had to put in a catheter which was an extremely painful procedure for him. As I walked back in dad looked at me and said “I NEVER GAVE UP THE INVASION PLANS!” And he never gave up his sense of humor. Later that day he went to sleep and never regained consciousness. He died peacefully the next day.

I can only hope that I leave this world in the same manner as my dad. He had family and friends visiting and he told us how much he loved us all and that he was so proud of his family. “I’m so lucky. We really have a great family. Is it bad to brag about that?” he asked.

You can make the best and the worst from everything in life, even death. We chose to make dads exit as fun and happy for him as possible. Even when planning his funeral, mom was given a book of readings to choose from in the old and new Testaments. She looked up at one point and said, “Jesus, these are such downers…I mean there’s a bunch of readings in here about the devil!”

Dad had said he wanted a celebration not something depressing. In the end mom found two uplifting psalms and some great music. He was given a beautiful sendoff with family and friends coming from near and far. He had said that he would be there in spirit, and I know he was.

Oh, he definitely was. As my friend Carolyn was laying a rose on his casket at the cemetery, her heel got caught in between the pathway bricks. She tried to lift her shoe, only to have her foot come out of it completely. Carolyn was mortified as the funeral director came over to place the shoe back on, Cinderella-style. Dave winked at her and said, dad did that and is laughing right now.

I know he still is.

A Wes Anderson Movie Kind of Day

I had been writing another blog post on trying to write positive things on the internet (as we all know, negative things are much easier to write about) when something crazy happened to me this week which I needed to share.

It started in the wee morning hours the day after my birthday. I was in The Bahamas with my parents and my sister staying at a time share we’ve been going to for almost 30 years now. We know all of the guests that go at the same time every year and we love them like relatives we only have to see once a year. I had already been there for a week with my parents when my sister came down to overlap with me and spend the second week with mom and dad as they are getting on in years and need some help getting around.

On Sunday, my birthday, we ended up ordering dinner from a restaurant down the street where my sister and I picked up the food. While we were there, the credit card machine wouldn’t work. Not to the fault of the credit card, but to the internet that seems to come and go with the wind down in the islands. My sister and I pooled our cash and paid for the dinner. On our way home a man, who was holding a lot of new mops and brooms walked past us and asked for the time. Upon finding out, he was upset since he clearly missed the last jitney (bus). He asked us where we were from and then told us he’d recently lost his mom. His mannerisms and odd comments gave me pause as I tapped my sister on the arm to fall back in our walking speed until he was further ahead of us.

My sister said “thanks for always protecting me!” She reminisced about an incident that happened a few years ago in Rome. We were at the train station walking up a large staircase with my sister in law and niece when two street kids ran up on either side of our group yelling and screaming. I looked up to see one kid looking back down the stairs at his friend and as I followed his gaze I saw the other one reaching for Caroline’s purse.

“GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF HER GOD-DAMNED BAG,” yelled this guttural voice from deep within my body. My sister in law and niece who were ahead of us spun around thinking it was a man screaming. The street urchins ran away. I scared them and myself a little.

Back in The Bahamas, Caroline and I laughed about Rome as we walked to the resort. Our time share is a three level ocean unit with a kitchen, living room, powder room and dining room on the ground level, a spiral staircase that takes you to the second floor where the master bedroom and a guest room are located, then the staircase ends up at the top bedroom which doesn’t have a door. Mom and Dad stay in the master and my sister is in the guest room — I call it the cocoon room (she likes to keep the curtains closed and very dark). I stay on the top floor with the curtains slightly open so I can wake up with the sun. I also generally have to wear earplugs when I sleep since I can hear everyone downstairs talking in the living room.

Dinner was delicious and then I opened some lovely gifts. We all went to bed around 10PM. I put my earplugs in that night.

Somewhere around 2:15AM, in a deep sleep, I felt something touch my thigh. I turned my head opening my eyes to see the silhouette of a man dressed in only a bathing suit standing in my room. Within seconds, I was on my feet running and screaming THERE’S SOMEONE IN THE HOUSE with that same husky, rough Rome voice multiplied by 1000. As I chased him down the stairs unable to say anything else over and over and over again, my sister ran out of her room as did my parents from theirs.

When I got to the bottom step, logic took over telling me to be cautious. I looked around the living room and then I saw the dining room slider slightly ajar. I also saw the kitchen door open. Both had been locked before we went to bed. They lead out to an enclosed patio with a 12 foot wall surrounding it. I ran to the kitchen door still screaming. All I saw was the arm and top of the head of the intruder. I stood there screaming into the wind hearing the ocean waves crashing thinking no one could hear me.

It didn’t look like anything had been stolen as everything was in its place. The police came and went. Then when the general manager and head of security arrived, we realized that cash had been taken from our wallets. Credit cards and other id’s were left behind as were our iPads and electronics. The odd thing was my moms purse, which was in a bureau drawer near the entryway, had been taken out then a rubber band removed from around her wallet, $130 in cash taken, the rubber band was put back on, the wallet was tucked back into the purse and the purse placed back in the drawer. This guy had time and he was a pro.

In my room, my wallet was zipped up but $40 was missing and my Tiffany watch and another watch were gone along with a ring from my nightstand. All he was looking for was cash and jewelry.

On the counter near the dining room slider we found two knives. One clearly had a fingerprint on the blade. Even with the slider latched, the guy was able to pull the glass apart just enough to slide the blade in and pull the latch up and open. Damn I wish I hadn’t worn my earplugs that night…I know I would have heard something downstairs. The head of security reviewed the tapes and said she saw nothing outside. The camera was 4 units down and a large palm frond hung down covering the field of vision. I asked where the camera was on the unit next to us. She said that the sea air had corroded it and they were waiting for a replacement.

None of us ended up sleeping the rest of the night. I finished packing as I was heading home that afternoon. Neighbors all came by to check in on us as the story spread around the complex at lighting speed. One neighbor said he did hear what he thought was a “woman being mauled by wild dogs.” Since I wasn’t screaming HELP, he couldn’t understand what I was saying and didn’t come out. Note to self, I will throw HELP in should something like this ever happen again.

Two more officers showed up and took my statement. One of them didn’t know what the word ‘silhouette’ meant. When I finished my statement the other officer asked “So what do you want us to do about this? Investigate it?” Hmm, I thought, ‘Isn’t that your job?’ I looked at the resort GM and said now that everyone out by the pool knows what happened, I would think you would want to investigate this, especially since it looks like an inside job. It didn’t take a CSI investigator to realize someone knew the slider was defective and that the camera was missing. The cops who were completely disinterested took some tissues and placed the knives in a used zip lock I handed them from the kitchen. They looked at us as if we’re wealthy American’s and who cares if you were robbed of a few things you can easily replace.

I got in my taxi and headed to the airport. As I sat on the plane the pilot came on and said that one of the computers wasn’t responding…the one that controls the steering. Great, is this day going to get any worse I thought. He said he was basically going to perform what amounted to a CONTROL ALT DELETE to see if it would start. Seriously? It didn’t work. We were towed back to the gate where the pilot told us he would turn the plane OFF then ON again. Are we going to have to get the India call center on the phone next, I wondered. The on/off worked, just like at home with my laptop.

We arrived in Miami too late for me to make my connection to LA. I was automatically booked on the next flight so I went to the counter for my seat assignment. It could have been my voice, which sounded like Marge Simpson at this point, or maybe it was my overall disheveled appearance but the guy at the counter did a double take when he saw me, and definitely not in a good way. He printed out a pass which when I looked at it over the counter I said desperately, “I’m sorry, but I can’t sit in 39F.” He said let’s see if we can upgrade you. You can do that I asked…it was a mileage ticket and usually you can’t upgrade those. Magically he handed me 12D…Business Class. “I love you,” I croaked.

I had just settled into my seat when the flight attendant came over with water, champagne and orange juice. I chose water as I glanced up at her. She appeared to be undergoing gender reassignment transition from a man to a woman. Having recently watched the Bruce Jenner interview, I was very happy for her. Unfortunately she wasn’t looking as good as Bruce. She had a potbelly, still developing small breasts for her frame, shoulder length pomegranate red permed hair wearing wire rimmed glasses, all which gave her the appearance of a life size Raggedy Ann doll.

During the flight I ate my dinner, watched a movie and then fell into a deep, deep sleep. I felt a tap on my shoulder and began to scream at the top of my lungs. As I opened my eyes Raggedy Ann stood over me looking panicked saying “Oh no, it’s ok, calm down. I just want your head sets.” I covered my mouth and apologized profusely explaining what had occurred just hours before in our condo.

She was so sweet and comforting even bringing me some water. She then asked me if I’d read Homers Odyssey. The non sequitur was a bit jarring given my day so far and waking from a deep sleep. She said it was about a blind cat and that I should read it. I was confused and still shaken and I couldn’t remember if I’d read it…maybe I just read the Cliff Notes but I didn’t remember anything about a blind cat in The Odyssey. Then I drifted back into a lighter sleep and upon landing I found a scribbled note on my armrest which read HOMERS ODYSSEY BLIND CAT. A day or so later I Googled it and found a book called Homers Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wondercat. Definitely not The Odyssey by Homer. One of the stories written includes how the cat thwarted a robber in his owners apartment. Ah, now I understood why she told me about it. Sorta.

All in all, it was the strangest 24 hours. By the time I got home, I half expected Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody to be sitting in my living room asking my thoughts on quantum physics.

In retrospect, I am looking at all of the positive things that happened on that crazy day.

1) No one was hurt — thank God!

2) Since the credit card machine wasn’t working at the restaurant and I had to pay cash, the robber only got away with $40 and not $100 that would have been in my wallet.

3) The ring he stole had two crisscrossing bands, one in black tourmaline-like stones and the other looked like diamonds. It must have sparkled beautifully on my nightstand. The joke was on him though…I got the ring in a store which was having a seventy-five percent off sale. The ring was $12.50…so I bought two. I would love to see his face when he tries to fence the crystal ring only to be told it’s worthless!

4) I learned that of Fight or Flight, I’m a fucking fighter who won’t let anyone mess with her family.

5) CONTROL ALT DELETE and OFF/ON work for pretty much everything…even Life.

6) People are inherently good — from the resort Lifeguard who gave me a towel with the Bahamian flag on it because he felt bad about what had happened to the gate agent who upgraded me and finally to the sweet flight attendant who was so very kind, I saw the goodness in people that day.

7) I just downloaded Homers Odyssey to my kindle. The one about a blind cat.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” ~ Mark Twain

No Risk, No Reward

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had just graduated from college with a BA in Communications from Towson University in Maryland and was seeking employment in New York City. Like all suburban born New Yorkers, I headed back home to commute into “The City” for work. I spent the summer looking for a job. During that time, my friend and partner in crime, Carolyn and I, scoured the Want Ads in the New York Times (yes children, this is what we used to do back in my day). We also went to the beach and made it home in time to watch General Hospital. Ah, the simpler days.In between signing up with employment agencies and interviewing for real jobs, I also temped on Long Island (pronounced Lawn Guyland for those non natives).

My dad asked a friend who was a VP at a large cable company in Manhattan to meet with me for an informational interview. Walter was a classmate of my dads and they’d been buddies for over thirty years.  I dressed in the only suit I owned and grabbed the train into The City. I learned a lot about suits by owning that first one. It was white and it was linen. Was I channeling Mark Twain? With those wrinkles, I never bought another linen suit again, in any color.

I met Walter in his spacious corner office. He asked me about about my college degree and what I was interested in pursuing work wise. I told him that I was interested in TV and Film. At that time I thought I wanted to work on the production side of the business.

After a few minutes, of discussion, he suggested that I tell my dad to send me to Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School to brush up on those skills. In retrospect, I must have had a dumbfounded look on my face. Hadn’t we just discussed my college experience? I knew I had to start at the bottom, but he was saying secretary like that was it, there was nothing else for me. I totally respect anyone who wants to be an assistant or secretary — it is one of the hardest jobs out there — but that’s not the career path I wanted for myself or expected others to tell me would be my only option.

It never occurred to me to ask Walter if he suggested secretarial school to men he interviewed. He was of the Mad Men generation and it was doubtful he saw women as anything else but assisting a man. When I got home that night and told my dad about the conversation, he went MENTAL. I swear his head was going to spin off!

I ended up signing with Career Blazers employment agency and met my career counselor, Fredda Brotza. A short woman with a thick Brooklyn accent, she pulled no punches and told it like it was. Fredda sent me out on an interview for a receptionist position at PBS. As soon as the elevator doors opened my gut said I’d be working there.I had a great interview with the lovely office manager, Mary Ann. A day later Fredda said that they wanted me to come back for a second interview with the Director and Associate Director.

Donning my white linen suit, I had another great interview. I thought I’d nailed it and they’d be calling soon with an offer. A week passed, and nothing. I called Fredda daily for updates. Most of the time she didn’t take my call. Then on a random Monday, I got through to her and she said, “ it’s between you and another girl and frankly I think they’re gonna go with her.”

I was so bummed. As I paced the living room in my pajamas, I kept thinking there was something more I could do to land this job. I thought about a singing telegram, then seriously considered it. I opened the yellow pages (the book with pages, not the website) and found a local company that when I called they referred me to another company in Manhattan. I dialed (on a rotary phone hanging in our kitchen) and spoke to a terrific lady who when I explained I wanted to send a singing telegram in order to land a job, she loved the idea, but then said “the only problem with that is if the person you want to send it to is unavailable.” She did have another idea though. A Brownie-Gram. She described it as a large brownie wrapped in cellophane which included a note card and had several balloons tied to it including one mylar star that could be written on.

I went bananas! On the star I told her to write “PLEASE HIRE ME!” and on the card “I’LL MAKE THIS JOB A PIECE OF CAKE.” I gave her my credit card number for the $36 charge (a lot back then) and hung up. I continued pacing the house in my pajamas with no one to talk to except the cat, who somehow kept me positive. There was no way I was going to tell anyone what I had done in case it went bad. At 3:12PM the phone rang. It was Fredda. “I can’t believe you did THAT!” she yelled. “You should have called me first though. They want to see you tomorrow.” It turned out that their coordinator had given notice as well, so they figured they could pick a candidate from the receptionist pool.

People are funny. When I met with the crew at PBS again, they were all smiles and loved the brownie. Except one who said that I should have made it without nuts (seriously? A) I didn’t make it and B) Don’t effing eat it if you don’t like nuts!).

I got the receptionist job and the other woman I was competing with landed the coordinator position. It was all good. She stayed for one year and then I was promoted. Mary Ann, the office manager, became a great friend of mine who has since told me what happened when the cake arrived.

She left it on Harry’s desk. He was the boss. When he returned from lunch, Harry asked her “am I supposed to be bribed by this?” She said “YES, she really wants the job!” Everyone who worked on that floor ended up going into Harry’s office at some point that day to tell him to hire me. One man, Tom, even went so far to say “by golly Harry if you don’t hire her I will!”

This story is about taking chances and not letting others fit you into a box. If I’d listened to Walter, I wouldn’t have followed my dream of working in TV and Film. If I had called Fredda first about sending the brownie, she would have talked me out of it and made me question myself. If I hadn’t taken the risk, I wouldn’t have gotten the job at PBS. No risk, no reward.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized taking chances is harder because there are the inner voices of negativity telling me I’ll fail (don’t worry, they don’t speak to me often and I usually tell them to shut the hell up!). But we also have people who dissuade us from trying something new. “Oh you can’t do that, because you’re too old or too young or <fill in the blank>.” They box us in and make us believe it’s impossible. And we seem to believe that if we try and fail, then we’ve just failed. If that were the case then The Wright Brothers would have never flown and Edison would have never created the light bulb. Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb before getting it right!

Our society makes us believe that failure is not an option, when in fact it moves us closer to our goals by the process of elimination. We eliminate the processes which don’t work in order to find the one that does. So next time you want to try something risky don’t let negativity from within or from others stop you from taking a chance. What you end up creating could illuminate the world.

What I’ve Learned So Far

One year ago next week I was given my walking papers from Hackensack, where I had worked for over 17 years. It’s been a fabulous ride with only one complaint…it’s gone WAY TOO FAST! It’s mind boggling how quickly one year has flown. As I think about the weeks and months that have blown by it occurred to me how much that I’ve learned in the past year since being laid off.

Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned so far. Number 10 is for you Rory who wanted me to write a blog that was a bit more Martha Stewart-esque.

  1. Love: It sounds corny but the week I was laid off, I had never felt such an outpouring of love from family, friends and colleagues. It was truly a blessing. As my friend Brian said, it’s like an Irish wake without the dead body! There were calls, emails and even a going away party. I felt and still feel truly blessed.
  2. Present and accounted for: I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my family and friends now. No more “sorry I can’t be there, but I’ll be out of town on business, or I have an event that night, or I’ll be in the middle of a huge project, or…” I am now present and I won’t let work rule my life again. My friend Adam, who was laid off a few years back, told me that when he got his new job he now enjoys his life more and doesn’t let work be the boss of him.
  3. Attentive: I leave my smart phone in my purse and enjoy the conversation I’m part of. No more looking at my phone and ‘kind of’ listening to what the person is saying across from me. I check my emails a few times during the day when I’m alone. If there were a code blue emergency, I’m sure I’d get a call. The only important thing happening is the time I’m spending with a friend.
  4. Meeting new people: What an eye opener this has been! I moved into my condo four years ago and hardly knew my neighbors three years into living here. During the time I’ve been home, I’ve met so many terrific people in my neighborhood. I frequent several shops down the street where people now know my name and I know theirs! It’s amazing what happens when you become part of a community instead of living like a transient.
  5. Volunteering: Over the years I’ve participated in one-off volunteer events. A walk-a-thon here, a holiday help the underprivileged kids day there, etc. I never had the opportunity to truly give time weekly to an organization. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s that my schedule was so crazy week to week that I couldn’t commit. Now I pack and deliver for Meals on Wheels once a week. They liked me so much they asked me to join their Board of Directors. I’ve also been volunteering with the Venice Family Clinic helping them acquire items for the silent auction at their gala fundraiser. They’ve also asked me to work with them on this event permanently!
  6. Exercise: The thought of sitting behind a desk and not standing up for three hours makes my legs cramp up! That’s what I used to do though…now, I practice yoga 2-3 times per week and ride my bicycle all the time. I love being outdoors!
  7. Lowering the bar: There were a few people (not many) who I knew I should lower the bar on so they could meet it. And they didn’t disappoint. It’s ok, I had a gut feeling on them to begin with and never heard from them again. Which brings me to…
  8. The unexpected charms: These are the people that have come out of the woodwork to call, email, ask me to lunch or teach me how to make sugar flowers (thanks Val)! Wonderful human beings that I wasn’t necessarily close to while I was working but have been so generous and lovely to me. How incredibly wonderful these unexpected charms have been!
  9. Realization of what I want and don’t want: I want to be the boss of me! I don’t want to sit in an office from 9AM-9PM ever again. I’m starting my own business and excited about what this new career will bring. Yes I may be working twelve hour days, but they will be MY twelve hour days!
  10. Banana Bread: I’ve been making banana bread a lot lately. It’s been warmer than usual in LA so I guess the bananas aren’t staying fresh as long. A few days ago I decided to freestyle with the recipe so I added candied bacon to the batter. My former colleague Rory wanted my blog to be more in line with my work as an event producer. So far be it from me to disappoint a loyal reader, below is my special Candied Bacon & Chocolate Chip Banana Bread recipe. It sounds sick, but it’s sooooo good!

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs beaten

4 ripe bananas, finely crushed

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

8 slices candied bacon, crumbled

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of brown sugar to sheet. Layer bacon strips on top of the brown sugar. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup of brown sugar ton top of bacon. Bake for 18 minutes at 400 degrees until crisp. Cool bacon on rack and crumble.
  3. Cream together butter and sugar.
  4. Add eggs and crushed bananas. Combine well.
  5. Sift together flour, soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture.
  6. Add vanilla.
  7. Toss bacon and chocolate chips each in a tablespoon of flower to coat (so they don’t settle to bottom of pan).
  8. Mix bacon and chocolate chips into batter.
  9. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. Keeps well, refrigerated. 

When life hands you rotting bananas, make banana bread!

What’s My Worth?

Three jobs were recently brought to my attention. The first was for the VP of Special Events at an entertainment company, another was short term freelance work at a performing arts school and the last one was a typo at a newspaper.

I received a call from an in-house recruiter at a movie studio who asked if I’d be interested in coming in to meet with them about the job. “Absolutely,” I said. I emailed him my resume, then waited. And waited. I dropped him another line the following week. “I’m waiting to hear back from the hiring manager and once I do, I’ll be in touch. Thanks,” he wrote two days later. He never was in touch.

I had a former colleague and two friends lob calls and emails into the company. These are well respected industry heavy hitters. Still no response.

Three weeks later I emailed the recruiter again. A few days later he wrote back, “Nice to hear from you. At this time I am told that there are a few candidates the EVP has been speaking with. I should know more in the next few weeks. I will keep you posted should anything change.” Huh?

How did I go from ‘we’d like to meet you’ to leper so quickly? I found out that at least two people were interviewed for the job. One a manager from another entertainment company and the other in events at a newspaper. Their mid level titles indicated that I was out of the price range.

I’m too expensive. Or at least I’m perceived to be. They were looking for cheap, inexpensive, low-budge. It seems that many companies are going that way. Why pay for experience when you can get someone for half the price? Budget-cutting is the new black.

During those six weeks, I had mixed feelings about going back into the same job I had once held. On the one hand I knew the job, the players, and the frenetic pace. It’s comfortable. It would have been turn-key. But there was a pang in my gut telling me to move forward not back. The fact was that I had been bored with my last job for at least three years so getting back into the same position in a new company could have made me miserable. Familiarity breeds contempt.

“You need a new stage, not a repeat performance,” a good friend texted me. He was absolutely right. I want to learn something new so I will stay engaged and interested in my work.

I heard that the woman from the newspaper got the job. My only disappointment was for the people who had gone to bat for me. The company didn’t even give me a courtesy interview for their sake. But maybe it was for the best that I didn’t interview. If I had met with them and didn’t get the job I would have felt bad.

A few days ago I had an interview at a performing arts school for possible freelance work. Their events manager was leaving and it coincided with their two biggest annual events of the year, so they were in a major bind. I met with five people at once. This doesn’t bother me as I’d rather get it over with instead of sitting in a frigid conference room as people come and go for five hours (see blog post The Similarities Between a Tech Company Interview and Waterboarding). As it turned out, the head of the department knew my brother! Small world!

The meeting went very well. They were looking to either hire a new manager or find a freelancer to fill in until they found someone permanent. Since the manager job was well below my experience, I was looking to freelance. The HR person met with me alone after the meeting to discuss my fee. How do you put a price on your experience? I first asked her what their budget was for these projects. She skirted around and didn’t answer but told me what the manager made per year. I had thought about my last salary and divided that down to an hourly rate. Then I took $25 an hour OFF of that and made it a lump sum per project (I know, if I were a man, I would have ADDED $25 an hour). Part of me thought I had undercut myself and the other part of me thought I was way overpriced.

Turns out it was the latter. I’m not sure if they can find a freelancer who will work 40 hours a week for less, so they are continuing to try to fill the permanent position. I happen to know someone who would be a great fit and suggested they interview her…she’s meeting with them today. If you aren’t suited for a job, then suggest someone else who might be. I believe in good karma!

Two weeks ago I saw a job posting on Career Builder. It was for an Associate Director of Special Events at a newspaper. The listing read $350,000 in bold! Now, I’ve worked in events for a very long time — ain’t nobody getting $350K as an Associate Director, Director, VP or SVP! What a huge misprint for a newspaper! So, for shits and giggles, I applied.

A week later, I received an email from the Director of Events saying that he was looking to fill this position quickly and would I be available to come in the next day. Sure, of course I can (after yoga). He wrote back with a huge email listing everything that he wanted to discuss during the interview. This included the seven large events they have each year (“come with questions and ideas on their current events”); list the five largest projects I’ve worked on; a summary of my history supervising a team of employees and vendors; a summary of my history with regard to managing the P&L for an event including best success stories; and a couple of examples running difficult sponsor integrations/activations. Sure, no problem.

And finally, the last question: “So that neither of us wastes time on something that is not a good fit, can you let me know minimally where you’d need to be on salary in order to consider the position?”

I wrote back that I was confirmed to meet him at 1PM and was looking forward to it! I pretended not to see the salary question. I figured that I should just take the meeting and we could discuss money in person. How far south of $350K could he be? Turns out he was in Antarctica!

He wrote back saying that he understood the questions he was asking were a lot to turn around in less than 24 hours (true, but I could do it). “Also, if you have any insight into my compensation question please let me know. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page before you drive down here.” I wrote back my minimum salary requirement. It was $75K BELOW my former salary.

“Shoot, that’s going to be out of our range,” he wrote. The maximum was ANOTHER $75K LESS than my minimum. “Let me know if that’s in your wheelhouse” he wrote. Uh, no, it’s not in my wheelhouse, boathouse, bathhouse or any other type of house I don’t own. Geez, for everything that the position is asking for, they were paying next to nothing!

I wrote back that unfortunately the salary was too low for me, but that I was available for freelance work if he were interested in moving in that direction. Also, I wrote, “you should know that the Career Builder ad listed the job at $350K” and included a screenshot. I bet he had to put a diaper on after reading that.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the woman who was the Associate Director at the newspaper got the VP job at the movie studio. She moved up. But what happens when you are at the top of your game, then what? It’s a smaller square footage to move around in at the top of the pyramid. Your resume is impressive but perceived to be expensive so you don’t even get an interview. You interview but what seems logical in price scale for you is absurd to the organization. You discuss minimum compensation requirements only to find that they are a 26 hour flight south of what you can afford to live off of.

What do you do now? You stay positive and move forward. You think about freelancing…or if that crazy idea you once had could work…

Stay tuned.