Category Archives: Workplace

Bland leading the bland.

We saved all our marriage money and spent it on a down-payment for a house in North Carolina, like thousands of other newly cemented couples. Imagine, if you will, thousands of couples like us. White. Educated. Professional. Some, like ours, had a decidedly weak link in the chain of responsibility, income, qualifications. That was me. In fact, the wyfe left it to me to send resumes to all the hospitals in the region, and I misspelled “laboratory” on the cover letters. Something someone who had probably written that word a trillion times in her life had worked out pretty firmly. How mortifying that was. Still, her experience, dedication and work ethic overcame this.

So, we were all descending upon cities like Raleigh. When we got here, it was difficult to find good food, good culture, any sense of place. Any depth and breadth of…experience. When you live in Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester, Detroit, Albany, Erie, I imagine Cincinnati as well, and travel south, you imagine yourself, like we did, ready to assimilate a new way of doing things. A new cuisine. A new feeling of community. A real sense of place. But those things didn’t happen.

There’s thousands of people moving into these thrown-up apartment complexes, the likes of which I had never come across up north. Immaculate, luxuriously appointed, even though they were pretty pricey for their size, some with handball courts, some with pools and gyms. But all the same. All the same. When we were planning our move, we tried to differentiate between them but it really was impossible. It was bad luck again when she got a job 25 miles and some horrible traffic away from our first apartment in Cary. However it was right in her wheelhouse, as it were. She has but one wheelhouse, but it’s quite the fucking wheelhouse, professionally speaking. I have wheelhouses up and down this world, but they’re all tiny, I’m afraid.

We moved to Hillsborough, a house that we could have two of in Buffalo for the same money. And again, since everyone who moved here COULD afford to move here, those people who had enjoyed Buffalo’s hospitality and history brought with them stories but nothing more. Every “yankee” I met then, and every one I meet now (one just yesterday) laments this. There’s no food here that even approaches real Buffalo chicken wings, pizza, Avenue Subs, the theater scene isn’t as gritty, the music scene, a selling point at the time of our move, was even more incestuous, even less welcoming, even more dictated by one or two powerful reviewers than my home town. We all brought memories of the culture of Buffalo, but the culture itself did not travel with us, since we could afford to imbibe, but only as an audience and not a creator. We could all afford to move. Those people who could afford it were not the ones who made the place what it was, and it stands to reason that the wave of northerners who came here from the 90’s to today have had virtually no impact on the culture. Only the economy, and only for a while. It all collapsed in the “dot com collapse“. And now it’s just…hot. Hot as fuck. Or as the kids and I say, “hotter than a monkey’s diaper.”

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I tell them that my job is two-fold. To keep them alive and to say “no”. “No” is an impulsive response after a while. They ask me for something. I want them to have that thing. And yet I still say “no”. Then I turn around and say “ok”. And Olivia gets her Hank Williams Jr. Brand BB Gun. It’s my means of having empowerment without, say, smashing my kids in the mouth or grabbing their necks.

I still hear the word “no” every day. Unanswered job applications, unaccepted demos, unresolved friendships. “No”. Every day, a few times. Sometimes I get messages on my phone before I roll out of bed. “No”. “We’ll keep you on file.” “Please respect the restraining order.” And I’m not going to lie. It still stings. Thinking about an email I just got wherein my song was rejected for consideration for this or that.

Some people never see or hear a “no”. I imagine a handsome man or pretty girl with an appealing decolletage learn pretty early that a certain use of these assets can turn a “no” into a “yes”. It is, I imagine, second nature after a while. I don’t blame people like Madonna or the guys in Color Me Badd for using this skill. The word “no”, whether spoken or delivered through the proverbial smoke signal, is something we instinctively avoid, like a fake punch. We pull back.

I think that this is why so many of my good, talented friends have, for lack of a better word, resorted to either playing other people’s music or treating their own compositions almost as something for which they should apologize. And unruly guest. Not my brother’s keeper. All that shit.

People who never hear “no” in their adult lives, like Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, the great Chris Schenkel of ABC,  athletes, any sort of celebrity really, can turn to substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. I think of Kurt Cobain in this regard. It’s unnatural to hear the word “yes” all the time. There’s nowhere to fall. You cannot know what is real and what is fake. Does the woman love you? Does the friend merit trust? Does the prostitute take Best Buy card? I think that’s why so many people off themselves when they’re famous. It’s not that they’re sick of fame. I think they’re sick of “yes”.

And if the world should smile on me someday and treat me with favored-fatty status, if my next CD or any of my songs come into the public eye, if I “blow up” as the kids these days say, I’m not sure I would handle it any better. But I will tell you this. It would be nice to hear “yes” some day in a professional regard without paying someone to “say”it. If you know what I mean. And I think you do. Why would you be here otherwise?

Ninety-nine. One thousand.

And one. Two. Three. Shit….

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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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Hello. My name is Porcine, and I am a “Closure Addict”.

Where, when and how did I become a “Closure Addict”? I cannot count the times where I was left holding the doorknob to the front entrance of a house that had just been destroyed. Banging on the entrance-way until the whole frame collapsed in front of me to reveal nothing but rubble and someone once familiar walking away, wiping their hands. It’s really the hardest thing for me to reconcile in my professional and personal life. Why is it so easy for the other party to walk away without a concise summary of how it ended, and why, and when. This world is not meant for people like me.

When is the game officially called? I know it’s happened to you. You see someone you used to be much closer to, maybe even intimate with on some level, and as the eyes meet (grudgingly on their part) each of you takes inventory in your mind as to what it would be appropriate to discuss as opposed to what should remain unsaid. I remember after I torched the bridge that lead back to my first job here in NC by writing that article in Salon, seeing a bunch of ex-coworkers at a Chik-Fil-A as I was having lunch with another more friendly (at the time) ex-coworker. Such grimaces we all made, choking down the unsaid! Not just them, but me as well. What was it alright to discuss? What was to be left out?

Or if I used to meet someone at a park for a play-date on a regular basis, what is the expiration date on our intimacy? Is there a statute of limitations on what we can and cannot discuss? Does a lack of familiarity breed contempt? It’s odd. I’ve made so many mistakes. This article (also on Salon, right or wrong, got me thinking about this. There’s a woman who’s daughters go to our school. I was a friend, had been to her house and she to mine, we had met at a park here many times, and I thought we got along famously, until I fucked it up, I guess, with no chance of a reprieve, since there was no closure. And now I see here every day in the line to pick up the kids after school, and we can’t even say hello. I wonder if she sees me. How can people be so strong that they don’t require closure? How do people just…walk away? I could never do that. As the years go by, I wish I could. That’s bad, right?It all seems like such a waste to share intimate details with someone, and then have it all just evaporate. Seems…inhuman in a way.

At least I’m not Billy Mitchell.

I did see all the nominated Best Documentary movies this year, I forgot to mention, and think they got it right, although “Gasland” is my favorite.

Damned abandonment issues.  They have defined my life more or less.

It takes guts to go out and be the first. To my ears and eyes, Bjork was so courageous and innovative, versatile and heart-breaking that all who follow her are merely cowardly imitators.

Look at this. Listen to this.

 

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Sure is nice.

Pandora equates the Bee Gees with Donald Fagan solo stuff (Morph The Cat). Nice to hear that  CD even though I have it at home. All my CDs are on the floor in piles. “Christmas without the chintzy stuff…”

Have you ever visited glassdoor.com?

My co-worker Meechee has one of those dancing Santas that dance and sing when you press the button. I made the mistake this morning. It sings some seasonal lyrics to the tune of “La Vida Loca” for an excruciating 3 verses and choruses.  When you’re in an irony-challenged office like mine, with everyone’s head bowed down in reverence to their own malaise, even a chaos-loving dude like me starts to get a little uncomfortable when that third verse kicks in…

 

The culprit.

The Meechee. My Christmas girlfriend.

 

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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…”

It’s “Mismatch Day” here at the old office.

Saw an old friend this morning.  It was nice.

Someone from the executive branch of our office came around to see if any of us were playing along with “Mismatch Day”. Those puppy eyes settled on my cubicle, but all I could offer was “I present a friendly facade, but I feel contempt for everyone.” WHY WON’T THEY PROMOTE ME?!?!?!?

Last night’s election was proof that people are ever so easily manipulated into following the brightest lights, the loudest noises, the shiniest hair, ultimately in direct opposition to what would actually make their own lives better. Congrats, you fucking ignorant cattle.

 

Sometimes I sits and thinks…..

And sometimes I just sits. And when I do the doo, these signs are there to greet me inside the bathroom stalls at work.

In no way does this make me think I’m either an Iraqi Army trainee or a 5-year-old child.

Resolution 2

“Rubenesque” is no longer considered a complement under any circumstance. I guess. Jeesh, what am I, a mind reader?

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Men’s Room Political Missives.

Two nattily adorned signs, fresh from someone’s PC to the inside of the men’s room stall doors.

“Please use aersol [sic] can before leaving”

“Be kind leave nothing behind [sic]. Flush before you leave.”

I love my job. By “love”, I mean “need”.

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Disciplines.

Hey! Who took the gabbagoo?

The guys who wrote “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” also wrote “Shine On Harvest Moon”.

“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police, “Beth” by Kiss, “We Got The Beat” by The Go-Gos. “Dancing In The Moonlight” by King Harvest. All these songs have what in common?

Another sensitive female chord progression song is Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”, possibly the worst song ever to hit the top 10. A mawkish, thick-headed attempt to relive past glory days by writing basically the same feel-good shit. Yeah, just write some stupid lyrics, throw in some distorted pentatonic noodling, and keep playing it over and over, in different forms. Do an acoustic version! Do it as a waltz! Play it as a Slavic Folk song. Keep it in the public’s face until it becomes a sort of classic-by-association.

Any band that plays an acoustic set but cannot reinvent their accompaniment to facilitate this vastly different discipline is merely wanking to make more money. Nothing more.

Yesterday was the busiest day ever for this blog, and I thank you. I’m still finding my feet, but I do so love writing. Almost as much as I do singing.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that Led Zeppelin were just a group of cynical music thieves. Well-documented are the various complete and utterly fraudulent bastardizations of their betters, but I revisit it now and again to remind me.

I was thinking about the latest incident wherein I was disciplined or admonished by a manager. It was back in March, I think, and it was for singing in my cubicle. And I thought about how choppy a resume I’ve sort of slapped together, and all the stuff that isn’t on it because it’s either too old or not what I want to do any more. I suppose…ahem…you’ve all seen this?

I was a telemarketer for the Buffalo Philharmonic. This was back in 1987 or so. Our job was to solicit credit card donations over the phone. Later, we were asked to call former “subscribers” to the season and ask them to renew. Hot, relevant acts like The Lettermen, John Dankworth and Doc Severinsen were an easy sell. In the middle of our big oak table, strewn with ash trays and coke cans, a wicker basket held about 100 or so blue computer-printed donor cards with information on people who had donated/subscribed in the past season. We (the young, hip co-workers, some of whom I still speak with today) would grab a random sampling and go to town. Not me. I would grab more than my share of cards. Then I would find the women. The ones with “Miss” were the best. Then I would work the Neal Magic©.

“Hi, this is George Smith. I’m calling for the BPO, and I have this script in front of me, but I’ll spare you that if you would like to donate this year like you did last…” or something witty and urbane like that. Thus did I turn my $5.50/hr. base salary into about $6.75/hr via commissions. I actually kept a log of how well I did from week to week. Not just that, though! I actually met 13 women outside the office for dates thanks to my everyman jive. None of them were consummated (and more than one were humiliating) but it was a sport to me. One lady crocheted her own sweater. One wanted to go out dancing at the Playboy Club near the airport, a 40-year -old in stone washed jeans and high heels. One claimed she was a lesbian as soon as we met face to face. One shared her deepest sexual secrets with me over the phone, which was nice. But we had to go and spoil it all by meeting face to face. Who could live up to that?

My manager started to notice that I was eschewing all the male donors in favor of the fairer sex. I was gently admonished and sent back to my seat. It didn’t bother me too much, because I knew that I was starting a new job the next week at a large computer software/hardware distributor in Buffalo, NY. A bus ride from my apartment. Sales. I knew nothing about any of it, but it was exciting, and the money was much much better. But, like most of the things I had done to that point, I exerted the least possible effort, coasting on my gawd-given intellect instead of trying to improve myself.  Sometimes I would go days without showering, wearing the same dirty shirt days in a row. A small heap of ties in the middle of my bedroom to choose from. When I was doing well, it was fantastic. Sadly, eventually, the truth caught up to me. I knew next to nothing about software compatibility (back then it was a big deal) and when a customer would call with a yes or no question about what would work with what, I would just say “yes”. If need be, I would pretend to be on the line with customer service for a few moments, and inevitably come back on the line with an affirmative answer.  One day a savvy customer accepted my answer, called our tech support people HIMSELF, got the REAL answer, and then called my manager to express his disappointment.

This was the job where the owner of the company flew all 100 or so of us to Nashville, TN for some sales conference weekend. It was my first flight, and I have never known such terror. Not because of the bumpy flight, but because it was the first time I had experienced such claustrophobia in my life. Mercifully, we connected in Detroit, so the longest part of the flight was only 1.5 hours.It was a beautiful hotel, but I was in no shape to enjoy myself. You could say something snapped. For some reason, I brought my sad excuse for a boom-box to the hotel, perhaps so I could play my latest 4-track recordings to myself to help me sleep. However, there was a party down the hall, being hosted by a new guy whose name I won’t say here. He was one of those good-time fellas who always seemed to attract a party wherever he went. I wanted to be that. Why wasn’t I that? He wanted to borrow my tape player for his party, so he could enjoy the Grateful Dead while drinking and flirting. So I let him have it. Even though his presence made me sick. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with him. Maybe he was just someone who exemplified everything I was not.

Everyone liked him.

So I’m in my room, trying to get to sleep. But the thought wouldn’t let me go—Why wasn’t I invited? Why does HE have my boom box? Why is he so popular? Am I ever going to see that thing again? Is he, are they…laughing at me? Am I some kind of sucker? Is the tinny warbling of Jerry Garcia’s aimless jamming going to ruin my speakers?

They’re all laughing at me behind my back.

So I did the only thing I could do. I marched into the party, politely handed party boy his 75-minute version of Dark Star or whatever, and yanked that thing out of the wall socket. While the chorus of “Awww…” and “Jeesh..what a…” serenaded my twitching countenance, I ran out of the room, and quietly enjoyed my latest soon-to-be-forgotten 4-track incompetence, serenely satisfied that no one would forget me now.

That act changed people’s opinions about me for years to come, I discovered later. Where I was once just some dude who might have let his love affair with his own musk linger on a bit too long, I was now “that asshole”.

I worked for Harlequin Books in Depew, NY as a temp. It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds (haw haw). Our job was to collect all the mail correspondence, try to decipher what Gertrude Albrecht, age 87, was begging us to no longer send her because she didn’t ask for it and her arthritis kept her from opening our boxes, and click some computer buttons to ensure that we no longer send her that thing.  About 100 times an hour. Over and over. Our manager was Nicole. She was from France. I asked her what “Zoot Allures” meant, but she didn’t know, assuring me that no French person would ever say that. These piles of postcards and letters were called “batches” (every office has these little proprietary terms. I know so many that I sometimes dream in their terms) and when you were done, you would “batch back”, or, as non-sexy French woman Nicole would say, “botch bock”. As ever, one of the first things I learned how to do was a spot-on impression of my boss. I shared it with my co-workers in the break room and they loved it! Once they asked me to do it in front of Nicole herself. I did. She was like John McCain in front of a Wii. Mystified.

I would try to be very funny and open one day, and when I began resenting people’s reaction to that, dead serious. In a small break room, it’s pretty easy to affect other people’s moods with your own, especially when you run to two extremes and nothing in between, like I did. There was one devastating beauty working there, and when she asked me to go bowling, I thought “Boy oh boy!” But she had a boyfriend. Turns out the Harlequin Batchers were a bowling team and they needed a fourth. Cue Mr Hostility. I didn’t speak another word to this poor girl for the entire three months left on my contract. However, it’s still a handy conversation starter to be able to say “I worked at Harlequin Books” and be telling the truth. The stuff about me authoring an entire (rejected) series of books based on lovers who had Down Syndrome, books like “Strong Like Hulk” and “We’re All Winners” were falsehoods, and trying to describe the book cover illustrations becomes burdensome after a while.

I tell people I was a dancer just to see their reactions. You might not find that funny, but it is disarming, and that’s what I thought I was doing. But if people don’t know if you’re kidding or not, pretty soon they just assume you’re kidding. Who has the energy for that?

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