Category Archives: Employment

That same dream.

I dream of being cast aside. I dream of being homeless. Afraid and adrift.

Last night I was dreaming that I was negotiating the end of a relationship with what I think was my first girlfriend (I consider her to be my first girlfriend) at a more domesticated level than we ever reached in reality. Youth is wasted on the young.

So we’re in this ferocious argument about what I did and didn’t contribute to our relationship, like shouting your resume. I argued that I moved all her stuff into the apartment. The book shelves. The furniture. It was strange because I actually threatened her, imposing my physical presence upon her, when in reality I was more afraid of her than she ever was of me. And somehow we negotiated that if she gave me $5,000, I would be alright and able to live a life after our “divorce”.

In the dream I got on a bus and rode it down the straight boulevard lined with trees, still reeling from the definitive nature of my summary dismissal. At the next stop, three members of the New York Knicks got on, one of whom was stuffing a gun clumsily into his Speedo underwear. He and I started a conversation, and I insisted he was Carmelo Anthony. He denied it with a smile, but did deign to sign his name on my forearm. His signature immediately transformed itself into an ornate tattoo.  I was pleased, but he still wouldn’t admit he was Carmelo Anthony. He was very accommodating, however.

We passed a large university setting, and in the dream I was asking him what the name of the university was. He didn’t know, but I recognized it as a place for which I had applied for admission and been denied. It filled me with a sudden sadness. Sadness that became mitigated when Carmelo Anthony and I noticed a woman running after our bus. Carmelo insisted she would make it but I opined that she wouldn’t. She did!

And then I woke up. Opened my email. Lots and lots of job boards.

I’ve been applying for work through these job boards for years and nothing has come of it. What is it they say about insanity?

I own three copies of this:

 

 

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This sort of thing fills me with anger.

When you get a call on your cell from a number you don’t recognize, the natural inclination is to call the number, right? I mean theyinvaded yourprivacy, right?

So it went this afternoon. I answered the call but all I heard on the other end was office noise. Was it a potential employer calling to schedule an interview? How would I ever know? So I called the number. No pickup. I didn’t leave a message. I did call again, though. And once more with no results.

Unsatisfying.

I was in the pasta aisle at Food Lion. And my cell rang. Not the same number, but pretty close. “This is blabbity blabbity from (the last office you worked at)…can we help you? You called one of our employees three times….”

Who’s phone called me?

(name of ex-boss who said she’d keep in touch after your contract ran out, and would consider you for any permanent positions that open up, And even though one didopen up the week you left, your repeated attempts to contact her went unanswered…)

Turns out my old pal had my number in her cell phone and somehow accidentally pushed my button.

Yeah.

One hand smashes the other…

Saw another “Calvin at the cross” coming out of Walmart and launched into a tirade. Sorry kids.

After reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, I don’t think I can watch Bait Car anymore in good conscience. It has made me see things in a new light. Or rather, a new darkness.

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How things just might be.

Until the unity is threatened by
Those who have and who have not –
Those who are with and those who are without
And dangle jobs like a donkey’s carrot –
Until you don’t know where you are

Are you gonna realize
The class war’s real and not mythologized

-The Style Council. “Walls Come Tumbling Down”.

Employment Agencies or “Recruiters” are irritating me lately. They give me hope. They take it away. They disappear. Was the hope ever real? Have I been a part of some quota that needed to be filled? It’s vexing to be so cynical but lately I feel like I’m nothing more than a number. I wonder how many others there are just like me who pore through a myriad of computer-generated “leads” every night and diligently fill out every form. Upload your resume and the software automatically populates the application. Usually incorrectly. You have to go through and correct the mistakes. And even then, you STILL have to enter all the employment information on another page. Over and over. Every night. And so it goes. And so it goes.

Every call I get is from someone who’s really friendly. Sometimes I am asked to go in and interview at the agency, which is usually around the RBC Center in Raleigh. The interviews leave me feeling hopeful. Like they went through a hundred resumes and thought mine was one of the few that were worthy of further examination. Sometimes I swear a job, a perfect job is so close that I can’t help but plan for life after being hired. What will I buy? When will I be able to record a new CD? What bills can we pay? In that order.

So close. So far away. No success as of yet. All I want to do is use my given gifts.

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They can have their trivia. I have the lamb shank. Well, had.

Every day the editorial department would break at about 3:30 or so to have a trivia contest. We were right next to them, could hear every question and answer, but were almost never invited to participate. The one week we were I smote my enemies with an unmerciful thwack. But that’s beside the point.

We were in a meeting and I told my peers that I had an excellent trivia question that no one would know the answer to. It was “Who was the first artist to record Barry Manilow’s ‘I Write The Songs’?”

The answer I got: “Who’s Barry Manilow?”

One weekend the fam went to the Greek Festival in Raleigh. There, I enjoyed the tastiest lamb shank I ever had. I was obsessed! So the next week, whenever we had either a meeting or a group discussion, I would try to insert the topic of lamb shank. But when someone asked me why I was obsessed with lamb shank, I denied that I was doing anything differently.

Why don’t I have more friends?

Ron White, I miss you.

 

My favorite day

The booger chair needed oil, bad. My chunky frame had tested the chair’s integrity like it had never been tested for a longer epoch than it was designed to withstand. I loved making it squeak. I’d lean back on purpose real slow-like. And wait for the editorial people to notice.

Squeak.

Squeak.

Squeak.Squeak.Squeak.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkkkkk………

Or I’d mix my devil brine (coffee) in my porcelain mug and intentionally let my spoon hit the sides for a longer-than-necessary time. All the while, staring at the one guy we (not me alone, but quite a few of us) had pegged as a candidate for “To Catch A Predator”, waiting for him to make eye contact. Then stopping.

Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink!

Tink! Tink! Tink!

Tink!

Tink!

Tink!

Tink!

Tink!

Slower and slower.

Can you picture it?

 

So aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyhow, the chair is squeaking and I ask the maintenance guy to bring me a can of the WD 40 (which stands for “Water Displacement 40th Attempt–true story!) and he does, but a collection of three people (me, my manager, and the janitor) trying to figure out where we need to put the nozzle to get the squeaking to stop. It really reminded me of my honeymoon. The squeak didn’t stop, though, and I continued to use the sound as a weapon against nobody. A weapon against nobody.

 

That was my favorite day.

Sistahs.

The only real people (in that their facade matched their souls…is there really anything wrong with that?) were African American girls I worked with. Maybe it’s not “PC” to say and maybe I shouldn’t notice those things, but it’s been true almost everywhere I’ve worked, and especially my last position. These women often got me through very rough times, and they know it now, because I told them before I left. Two in particular ended up in my department. They were demoted, frankly. Their department was a branch of our overall section of the company. They took a pay cut to be there. They had no choice but to stay and take it. Is it me or does this happen a great deal in companies like this with entrenched management and low-paid employees? When I started there were five Caucasians and one sistah. When I left there was me and three sistahs. The job I interviewed for started out pretty evenly apportioned, but that turned all honkeys by the time I left. Is it too much of a reach to see a class division even in that?

I miss those two gals, and I hope they find happiness, but not all class wars are imagined. They worked hard and followed the rules. They did what the posters on the wall said. They gave it their all and didn’t cut corners or take shortcuts. And I’m certain they both left nothing in the toilet when they left it. One chick told me that the ladies room was nasty. She told me there was the odd used tampon on the floor, left by a sistah, she assumed to me. I loved it. Can you imagine? What a culture.

Once I asked a sistah (a different one) if she wanted to go to lunch with me. Once the words came out of my mouth, I felt a wall go up. Not because she didn’t like me. But because in her world, the concept seemed so…odd. It wasn’t a date or anything. I liked her. But there you are!

I like to believe lots of things.

 

Stay strong, Sistahs. I love you.

Who dunnit? Answers.

So let’s see here:

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(After meeting you on a blind date) I’ve decided to stay with my boyfriend.

That happened! She was one of these BPO women. We connected via my phone solicitation and the “action” quickly went to my apartment (phone) where we shared many bawdy stories. Very, very bawdy. Needless to say, her boyfriend was on his way out and she and I should get together and do…stuff. When she opened the door to my teeny tiny apartment and saw my silly wardrobe and ill-groomed countenance, her eyes sort of dropped back into her skull like mine would when Scott Norwood missed. We had an awkward drink at some Buffalo bar, she dropped me off, no kiss, no fantasies that we had discussed would be acted out, and three days later (we spoke every day for a week leading up) I called her to give it the old college try…again…but she was going back with her boyfriend. The one that hit her.

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I have made a pledge with myself and my god to remain a virgin until I’m married. Even so, I am not attracted to you.

This happened! A devout catholic who’s snark and intellect would seem to be a dream match but that’s just a theory. A great gal. I remember going out on a date with another couple. I was asked to tell the story of how we met. I blabbed on like I was Shakespeare or Gore Vidal. Romance this. Chance that. And on the way home, all happy with myself for being so damned eloquent, she blindsided me with the line above. Does oral count? It doesn’t matter. She tapped my shoulder like I was being shelled by the Yankees.

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I have invented a paint that changes color when you look at it, and the government is after me to steal it. Also, I want to remain a virgin. I really like being a virgin.

This happened! Whoa nelly!!! I asked a stunning girl out in 1989 or so. she worked at the Towne Restaraunt in Buffalo. She had a delightful bodice, nerdy glasses, and random braids of random colors. Sweet poppa chongo I loved that gal. Or at least the idea of her. When she said yes to a date I was three feet off the floor and full of flippy floppy!! So we went to dinner and a movie. She sat down a seat from me, which really crushed me. I feel like I wrote this before here. Did I? Well, we went on a couple more dates, each one providing more solid evidence that no, she was not going to prance around in a silk camisole for me, and no, we were not going to act out pages from my own adaptation of the Kama Sutra, and no, I would not be getting a boyfriend discount on souvlaki. The kicker came when she told me about the paint she had invented that changed colors when you looked at it, according to your mood. And the government was out to get it, and her. I swear I told you all this before. Anyhow, even a horny fool knows when to bow out gracelessly.

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I must stop seeing you because your dirty apartment reminds me of my mother.

This happened! Dave and I were looking for something to do in Buffalo on a Friday night. And I needed to go to the Wilson Farms next to my apartment for some smokes, so that’s what we did. I made nice conversation with the gal behind the counter, and she agreed to meet us at the Towne. She was a little pedestrian, which is probably why she kept having to avoid cars on the road when they couldn’t see her, but she was also very attractive in that Buffalo girl way. I couldn’t tell you her name. But she dumped me over the phone with the line you see here after spending a few evenings in my apartment.

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I cannot date you because I am training for the Olympic Archery team.

When I was working at Ingram, I had a crew that I would go to lunch with on a regular basis. When I was with them, my cocksure ego overrode my normally shriveled self-esteem. Everything I said, it seemed, was funny. Every time a pretty girl was waiting on us, the charm got turned on. And so it was at one of those delightful pizza places on Hertel Ave. I couldn’t tell you what she looked like now, but I thought she was diggin’ my rap. So I asked her out. She gave me her number. I waited the requisite two days and called her. She told me that she was too busy. She was training for the Olympic archery team. Too busy. Sorry. I think I may have called the National Olympic Committee to check if her name was on any roster that they knew of, but the answer they gave escapes me, as did/does common sense.

See, when there’s a barista or a waitress or a service industry worker of any kind, they’re PAID to be friendly. They are friendly because that’s how they make more MONEY. It never occurred to me that her pleasant demeanor and tepid acquiescence to my flirtations were a means by which she would be able to get more cash out of me. How stupid was I?

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Your hygiene is terrible.

If anyone ever thought this of me while I was either smooching them, trying to manually close the deal that my other parts could or would not, or getting out of my fast-food wrapper-carpeted Chevy Spectrum smelling of repeated, un-showered layers of Pierre Cardin cologne in the phallus-shaped bottle from my mother for the 5th straight Christmas because once I said it smelled nice, they never said it. So congrats, one person who guessed this.

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Those who cannot do…AND cannot teach.

It all started in the summer of 1991. (cue harmonica music)

I was “Reet Petite and how d’ya” do with my government job cashing unemployment checks, waiting for my next raise. I had been fired the previous year from my lucrative position as a software/hardware salesperson at Ingram Micro. I was playing in a band, delving, in a pinch, into the powdered remnants of my long-abandoned Slim Fast regimen. And somewhere within the din of this self-made miasma, the phone rang. It was my old friend Dan Lewis.

He had “had to” “refuse” an “opportunity” to teach music at a South Buffalo Catholic elementary school, but he suggested I might be a good “fit”. That little prankster. He had assumed that his lack of proper accreditation would make the interview process futile. That made perfect sense. However, as I spoke to the nun in charge on the phone (I have forgotten her name, but for this story, let us refer to her as “Nunzilla”.), it became clear that this would not be an impediment. I think they just needed a warm body to spell the “real” teachers for an hour or so on Tuesdays or Thursdays. And I did what any college graduate with an Associates Degree in Music Performance from Villa Maria College was expected to do. Teach music.

I took the job. I took the first step toward fulfillment of my destiny. To change young lives. To transcend the banality of the elementary school teachers I remembered. Miss Nixon with the gray beehive, neck mole, and predilection for irrelevant Americana. Miss Mohr, a stern yet bewildered woman with the countenance of a very unamused Industrial Revolution-era matriarch. I remember how unlucky I felt as our 7th grade chorus endured the verbal derision of our peers as we traipsed through a tepid rendition of “A Little Bit o luck”.

There’s the Casio (a tiny keyboard that fit in a closet and had its own speakers – she called it the “piano”). There’s your desk. This is your room. You can design it the way you wish.

I chose to keep thing fairly austere. Stark, in fact. I eschewed the heavily thumb-tack-holed array of light cardboard half-notes and dancing G-clefs.  I jettisoned the 5-stick chalk holder and decided instead to write two simple words on the blackboard. “Rhythm” and “Melody”. What was I thinking? I was thinking the thoughts of a man who had never been in a room with two children, much less 22, at a time. And Nunzilla led the polite 1st graders into their seats, instructing them to behave for the new teacher. The new teacher could swear that the entire lot of them could literally smell the fear coursing through his blood. As soon as the nun left, the muttering began. And I sat there. Paralyzed. A fake. A fraud.

A year?

Then, as the din subsided, a sweet toe-headed boy approached my desk. Was he going to ask me about music? Was he going to ask me about my experiences in music? My education? Was he going to tell me how cool I was?

“Mr. Neal, what does the INRI on Jesus’ cross mean?”

This one.

“I don’t know.”

And as deadpan as a six year old boy can muster, “It means ‘I’m nailed right in…‘” and he returned to his seat.  I honestly don’t think I heard another word from him the whole year. That was the first day.

I taught every grade from 1-8. I tried everything. Teaching rhythms, having everyone try clapping along to my terrible piano playing. Singing the songs in the tattered old songbooks that they had no doubt been used to from years past. I took attendance. Why? I graded them. On what? At a loss, I resorted to what Miss Nixon did when I was that age. I made them sing. We sang “Kookaburra”.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh, Kookaburra!
Gay your life must be

Each and every time we sang it, the coda was greeted with snickering, from grade 1 to grade 8 (yes, I had 8th graders singing Kookaburra). And after a while, the best part of my day became pretending I had no idea what anyone was laughing at.

We sang “My Favorite Things”.

….and then I don’t feel…so…bad…

And as the year went on, I would start sneering the last few words out, as if I was making fun of the composers to their faces, which I had totally earned the right to do. When the kids would make it through a song a few times without anyone getting hurt, they would ask if I could invite Nunzilla in to hear it. They dutifully sang, with their best posture, she would complement them. But without fail, she would turn around before departing and give me this combination smirk/glare, like she knew I was a fake, and she knew that I knew that she knew I was a fake.

I got in trouble. Once I was trying to impart the history of rock and roll to the apathetic 8th graders. I felt I was in my element. Hip, speaking their language. Snapping my fingers. I sat on the front of the desk like those cool teachers we all liked back in the day. I could be their buddy, their confidant. I figured some of them were getting the shit kicked out of them at home. This was South Buffalo, after all. I could be their refuge. To Sir With Love and all that. Feeling self-satisfied, I went home. There was a message on my answering machine from Nunzilla, telling me that some of the female students were upset because of the proximity of my groin to their faces. Could I please remain behind the desk?

I was a terrible teacher, and the guilt I felt every day kept me up at night. How laughable that I was thinking I could be the spark that could ignite their love for harmony, The Beatles, Stravinsky, I had momentary dreams that I could stage a giant extravaganza featuring all the grades performing in harmony with the others.  A seminal music program to rival any private school in the state. The truth was that I could barely get them through “Erie Canal”.  For the more advanced grades I tried to teach actual theory, but that was a waste of time. Their half-notes (especially the male students) tended to look like little penises. Why were they laughing as they handed them in? And how was I to grade if every single person in the room was waiting for my pants to split?

The highlight of my experience was when I was trying to get the 3rd graders to pay attention, and I shouted “GODDAMMIT SHUT UP!” And needless to say, there was a message on my machine when I got home, telling me that swearing and taking the lord’s name in vain was not to be tolerated. So the next day I meekly apologized to everyone. “Sorry, kids. I fucked up…”

I didn’t really say that last thing.

What a year it was. I wanted to quit very badly, but I’m a real bulldog when it comes to avoiding being seen as a quitter (which will come in handy should any of you decide to include me in your future poker games) and those kids needed me. I think the last thing we did was a talent show which lasted something like 4 hours because I let everyone do anything they wanted to. And everyone wanted to dance to Paula Abdul. Every class. Every girl. Over and over. “Opposites Attract”. About 10 times. I was a terrible teacher. Nunzilla pointed to her watch and gave me the sneer.

Nunzilla said that the music program would be discontinued the next school year. I had destroyed music. No more music. And as I walked past the hand-made “Why God Hates Abortion” posters the 5th graders had crafted, with their Swede-porn-red depictions of what looked like borscht but was, in truth, an array of aborted fetuses, I hung my head in shame, ruing the day that I said yes to this pristine example of the Peter Principle writ large.

The next fall, I went to pick our drummer up on the way to practice and as I pulled up, a kid from the 2nd grade class stepped up to my window in the middle of a street hockey game. He said “Mr. Neal, you’re way better than the music teacher we have this year…”

The Morbid Mahatma and The Harem of Sharons.

Myself and Holden at Toddler Time at the Century Center in Carrboro.

Well, this is what I get for not choosing a viable career in high school. Did I miss a guidance counselor appointment? Was one even scheduled? As a product of a somewhat broken home (father died when I was 6, mother was into refining her sommelieristic aptitude – she never lost her taste for a fine muscatel) I was not really prepared for what lied in wait for me after high school. One could say that my resume, post-colleges (there were about 5 – I honestly lost count) was the curriculum vitae of a fish flopping around in a boat. Once, I got lucky, and landed one of those “dot-com” jobs that paid way more than I deserved for doing way less than I was alleged. When that luck ended, we had our first child, our daughter Olivia.

Since I couldn’t find a job like the one I had (I was told by my peers that I had it made as a Content Supervisor–I think the exact quote was “They’ll come looking for YOU!”) it was decided that I would stay home and we would eschew the costs of day-care in favor of my fatherhood skills. My wife didn’t have this problem. She went college for her chosen field, got an internship, a job, then when we moved to NC, another job in literally weeks, and now she runs her department. So while she slept (she worked third shift) I took our daughter, and then our sons, to the park.

Usually, people would look at me like I was either retarded or unemployed. “You sure have your hands full…” or “You stuck with the kid today?” or “THAT’S GREAT” when I told them I was the stay-at-home parent. It was still taboo for a father to be the care-giver, and there were all sorts of little prejudices that I never knew about before.  Little assumptions. Is it any wonder? Every day, on television, in the movies, men are portrayed as doddering dolts, one hand desperately trying to grab a diaper or some other, the other arm clinging to their seemingly radioactive child with a look of bewilderment and panic as if this was the first time that the father had ever held his own baby. No father in the entertainment industry ever changed a diaper without making a horrible face or getting pissed on. People would occasionally refer to me as “Mr. Mom” in a strictly pejorative sense.

My daughter made me proud to be a care-giver. She was beautiful, inquisitive, and kind to her peers. And a couple of years later, my twin boys Holden and Harrison.They don’t remember now, but they spent a good amount of time being hustled around to the various parks in the area. My feeling as a parent was that they must never spend an entire day home.  Whatever the weather, we could always find something to do, and the park was a gathering place for like-minded people. Ostensibly. If you know me, you know that “like-minded people” is a ridiculous conceit.  No, it was always “How old are they?” “Where do you live?” “Where are you from?” and little more after that that would be considered adult conversation. Being a man, I was obviously trying to glean personal information in order to begin the seduction process. Sigh.

There were plenty of “mother groups”, but no real “father groups”. Even if there were, why should parents be separated into groups according to gender? We were all sharing the same role, weren’t we? The same “miracle”? It made sense that we all had time to spend our days at the park, so it could be safely assumed that everyone’s family income was at least middle-class. Or was it that the bigotry inherent in the tacit realization that I was not the bread-winner for our family render me somehow less than ideal? When mothers got together, did they talk about intercouse? Afterbirths? Boobs? Their husbands and their penis sizes? Why couldn’t I shake the trend? It was the early 21st century and it felt like there was still some sexism going on. Women have a glass ceiling. It was apparent that men like me had to find our footing on the glass floor.

There weren’t many men about on summer mornings, and the men I did see were usually taking the day off, not being a permanent member of “the circuit” like I was. Or standing idly by while the grandparents meted out their brand of affection. One fellow I saw often had a kind of nervous son, unsure of each step, talking to other children like a hostage on a phone, even his young happiness tempered by…something. There were red half-rings around his neck and what looked like thumb indentations.  His father constantly barking out his name like he was trying to warn his boy not to step on a land mine. That dad didn’t seem happy at all, and everyone knew it. And I wonder what they all “knew” about me. Some of them thought I was gay. Or divorced.

There were plenty of “official” gatherings at the parks in the area, some scheduled through the mother’s group. I joined the mother’s group like the brave suffragette-in-reverse that I was, mainly so that I could have a steady group of people with which to meet. A usual gang of similarly aged children that Olivia could get used to seeing.

In addition, this mother’s group included a “mom’s night out”, during which everyone gathered in the evening at a different restaurant each month and, ya know, get to know each other. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It cost $5 to join, at which time they would forward you their exclusive list of shared babysitters, a schedule of playgroups catering to various age groups, and, of course, the “night out” information. And the secret handshake and a mantra, “memaymimomoo”. Well now I’ve gone and done it.

I went to the night out and the restaurant they chose was pretty expensive for my tastes. I was hoping we could sit around and drink coffee and shoot the bull in a relaxed fashion. I looked around the room for anyone I could recognize from the days at the park but there were no familiar faces. Finally I inquired of the waitress if there was a group of people attendant to our little club. The table she pointed me to was full of very well-appointed ladies, with expensive jewelry and nice scarves. None of them had ever gone to the park, they told me. They formed the group to network with others with babysitter/au pair/governess/maid needs. These were “ladies who lunched”. I was not a good fit. I was not supposed to be there. I was not the wife of a rich UNC professor or a scientist at Duke or whatever. I was a guitar teacher barely scraping by, looking for friends, I guess.

After a few drinks (them, not me) talk began in earnest about having a party. A theme party. I was not supposed to be listening to this discussion, obviously, and in fact, really, I was probably not supposed to come at all. After all, why would I, a man, wish to attend a sex toy party of all things? Why ever would I be sitting in an immaculately designed room watching these well-heeled southern belles attacking each other with vibrators and dancing mid-room with “The Satyr”, a “real doll”-type everyman with an astonishing cock and real-life pubes from Japan? No, I was distinctly out of my element, and I knew it. Pretty awkward. I tried some of the old comedy routines, but everything fell fallow. Fallow tallow.

It felt like I was back in high school, to be honest. Not really belonging but there.

More awkward was the news that came over the phone the next week. I was getting my $5 refunded and was uninvited from the evening functions of the group, since some of the ladies felt uncomfortable in the presence of a man. Oddly, this time, I had not said or done anything untoward. No, it was the mere presence of my penis (presumed) that disqualified me from the sushi, $10 white wine and paisley prints. I felt pretty horrible. I felt like Rosa Parks. JUST KIDDING!!!

The choreography at the park wasn’t much better. There were the occasional play-dates. Sometimes I would get along quite well with some of the women at the park. As you are my witness, I never had any intention of rubbing, touching, licking, boning, scraping, cunnilingating, lightly smacking, spanking, flippy-floppying, nipple-flicking, lip-balming, boner-showing, or anything from columns j-z. I was merely trying to find good, smart, friendly women to pass the time with.

One of the best things that all of my kids got to do was Toddler Time at the Century Center in Carrboro. For a mere $2 per child, they got the run of the gymnasium/stage (with piano) for an hour and a half, which, on a hot Carolina summer day was nothing to scoff at. You’d mingle. You’d make acquaintances. Angie, the director of the program at the time, was very nice, and took my humor in stride, never getting too flustered, acting as a sort of sensible conscience. Moral compass. There were crayons and books, gym mats, some musical instruments for the kids. And you could see the years pass as I and other peers brought new children as their old ones were off at school.  Some were warm and friendly. Some were cold and distant. I can imagine now how much one or two might have dreaded my presence. I was nice to everyone, but nicer to some than others.

But pretty soon, cliques would form, and as a man, or as an obnoxious man, I was not included in them. I felt uncomfortable, as I still do today, when I felt the vaguest whiff of prejudice against my particular brand of indignant self-righteousness.  Once I wrote a poem, published in a local zine, about the Carrboro experience. Like to hear it? Here it goes!

we basked in the sunshine, we gave the man change,
we break brittle boundaries and say what we feel,
we twitch like a cat at a firing range,
my twins are my weapons for long looks to steal,
and long conversations with nouveaux nubility,
plumbing the depths of my facile ability,
able at once to be caring and crippled,
hoping that some of the well-rehearsed ardor might
stick to the walls of an unprepared partner,
discourse left dangling, time a loose end,
Fair-trade organic Peruvian blend

My twins and I float to a once-a-week party,
I watch the door for an old friendly face,
Or maybe a neophyte shakes off the cold,
so i practice my alchemy on our acquaintance
and remake this leaden discourse into gold,
my twins lurch around as if boxers on opium
spinning toward the next noise, the next light,
and looking to me as their morbid mahatma,
sanctified, seething, and barely upright
dispensing bon mot to an unamused audience,
got to get into that vague innuendo,
got to claim victory over the sane,
got to march on against hints of uneasiness,
got to rebel against boundaries hard-won,
got to have tales to relate to the others,
should this last best shot at transcendence fail,
always another next week, little friend,
Fair-trade organic Peruvian blend

I didn’t want to have an affair. I wanted to have my own clique. I wanted to start my own group of friends. I wanted to have women as friends because men and women should be allowed to be friends. Men and women should be allowed to confide in one another without there being any sort of silly insecurity from spouses. Do we stop being people when we marry? Do men and women have nothing to share with each other outside of the context of poly-amorous opportunism?  I was insulted when my wife or someone else would suggest I start a men-only parent group. Wouldn’t that just be an admission of defeat?

Lessee. Sharon 1 (this article doesn’t name names–they are all given the pseudonym Sharon) had me over to her apartment quite a few times, and her kids and mine got along well, even regaling me in tales of other mothers aghast at her choice to associate socially with a man. A married man! All was better than pleasant, until I emailed her one day, telling her I honestly enjoyed her company and it meant a great deal that she would invite us into her home. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Let people know we appreciate them? That freaked her right out. That was it. Over.

Sharon 2 liked me fine, motivating me to record my own music and stop waiting for a band. She and I visited often until her husband thought our friendship was inappropriate. Done.Once I took a picture of her after we had had a long talk about “us” and we were so happy to have resolved our differences that she just glowed. Maybe she was just someone who glowed. I don’t know. I know nothing.

Sharon 3 met us at Olivia’s preschool. She was a cool, funny redhead.

Sharon 3 had been having trouble with her daughter’s discipline problems. The little girl was not developing along the lines that the doctors had expected. We happened to have had a play date scheduled for the morning of a big gig that evening, and I wanted her to come, so I called her that morning to reestablish our plans. She said she couldn’t come to our play date because she had just discovered through the doctor’s diagnosis that her daughter was mildly autistic. She was devastated, as anyone would be. What can you say?

Well, if you’re a five-star asshole like me, you ask if she’s still coming to the gig. Then, exhausted by your bullshit, shocked by your insensitivity, tells you that you need some psychiatric help and hangs up.  Then you don’t see her again until her daughter goes to your daughter’s school a few years later. Sharon 3 sees me occasionally, but she treats me like a ghost. She treats me like I’m street noise. And when I see her, I am.

Sharon 4 co-wrote some songs with me which I played in Philadelphia. We met at the Century Center in Carrboro, and was one of the most natural, secure, funny people I’d ever met. We talked about music and things like that, but it all ended tragically. As you know.

Sharon 5 and I would meet at night, for coffee, in public. Maybe an hour and a half at a time, and we had great conversations.  I honestly don’t know what has happened to her. She hasn’t returned most of my emails. When do you give up on someone? Vague allusions to something life-changing in a negative way. Not confiding in me, regardless.

In fact, aside from the odd Facebook remembrance, there’s really only one person (Sharon 100, let’s call her) from all those years at various parks and play times that I can truly consider a real friend, and even that comes complete with its own set of sex-based taboos which prevent us from transcending the hard-set boundaries inherent therein. Sometimes I feel forces pulling us apart as I fight the feeling that, aside from seeing my kids grow up and have fun, that it was nothing more than another version of high school. A fucking waste of time. I hope Sharon 100 is around for a good long while. She was and is the best one I met.

Now my kids are in school, and that entire timer period seems like an old job that I left for something else. There’s no nostalgia, no connections that were made and kept, just killing time.

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