A Blast from the (Recent) Past

Sexy Lebanese Guy called last night. He arrived in Halifax late yesterday afternoon after spending a week with a friend on Prince Edward Island. Unfortunately, he’s returning to Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning, and given his busy agenda, it looks like the odds that we’ll be able to meet up for a quick coffee are getting slimmer by the minute.

It’s funny, but just last weekend, I finally set a few minutes aside to send him an e-mail message. He didn’t get it (yet) because he was already travelling in Canada. Indeed, he has to spend a set amount of time in this country, where he has citizenship, in order to stay another while in the U.S.

The schooling idea he was telling me about on New Year’s day didn’t pan out, but from the sound of what he was telling me last night, maybe that’s just as well. He only got into the line of work he’s in to please his parents; what he always wanted to do — and is now looking into — is radiology. That profession would certainly make him more marketable in the U.S.

Update: The phone just rang and a window of opportunity just opened. I’m going to go pick him up where he’s staying and we’ll be heading downtown for coffee. I must say: I’m looking forward to seeing that sexy little guy again. 🙂

How Do They Do It?

In one post last weekend, I referred to how New Job is providing me “the best (steady) paycheque I ever received.” That, by far, may go down as my greatest understatement of 2006. It’s not that I’m pulling in an obscenely large amount as much as I used to pull in an obscenely small amount before. That said, from what I was able to find from Statistics Canada, even if I don’t factor in my revenue from part-time work, as a single-person household, I now rank well above average. But if you think my social democratic side is feeling guilty about that, think again. After 17 years in the workforce earning well below average, I figure it’s catch-up time. And in fact, given my age, it may already be too late to catch up fully for if/when I reach retirement age, so it’s hard for me to muster up any guilt.

Although I have allowed myself to make some not-completely- indispensible purchases in the last two months, generally I’m in aggressive debt-reduction mode until at least next spring. The day I started New Job, my total debt (minus Junior’s lease) was slightly more than half the gross I’d be earning in the first year at New Job. In two months I’ve sliced one third off that debt, although I project that the remainder, proportionately, will take more than twice as long to eliminate. Given from where I’ve come, combined with a brand of thriftiness that’s quasi-genetic to someone raised by parents with four kids and modest means, what may strike some as austerity measures doesn’t strike me as a great hardship.

As a kid, when schoolmates compared what they got for Christmas, I was convinced my parents had managed to give me the moon, only to find out many of the other kids had gotten the moon and a few planets to boot. That’s how I realized there was a reason why I couldn’t get that 15-cent Slush Puppy every time we went to K-Mart. I suspect that’s how I learned that we don’t always have the luxury of making a choice, and brooding on that inability to make a choice is not going to make that choice more possible. Rather — and if possible — you have to figure out what you can do to set the stage so that one day you could be able to make the choice. So right now I’m in deferral mode, so that by 2008, I could be able to choose to vacation in Provincetown, or Puerto Vallarta, or Palm Springs, or Mykonos……

But these thoughts have brought me to think about the large number of households that earn considerably less than I do now, yet have a couple of rugrats to support. I simply don’t get how they do it! I remember how floored I was went my brother, his wife and three kids at the time came to visit me in Halifax in ’91, and he bought us some pizza for supper. To me it seemed to cost a fortune even back then, and they were on a 10-day or 2-week vacation, meaning this was just one of many meals they had to buy like that. And that’s certainly not the best example. I’m thinking more of today’s single parent who, on average, earns considerably less than I do, yet has to provide food, clothes, shelter and all the other necessities. (Let’s not even get into all the “stuff” that we feel are necessary yet weren’t even part of most households some 30 years ago.) While I know my priorities would be different if I were a single parent, I still think single moms are freakin’ magicians for pulling it off! Or seriously in debt. Or going to bed hungry so their kid(s) won’t.

The only grandparent I got to know, my mother’s father, once declared to us in the ’70s, “Vos enfants et leurs enfants auront d’l’argent plein les poches, mais l’argent ne vaudra plus rien” (“Your kids and their kids will have pocketfuls of money, but that money won’t be worth anything anymore”). Recently, the topic of Rex Murphy’s Cross Country Checkup on CBC Radio was about the rising cost of gas, and a retired economist called in. He had figured out — and was quite surprised at his discovery — that once one adjusts to 1961 dollars and considers the average wages and cost of living back then, the cost of gas and keeping a car on the road was proportionately far LESS then compared to now. Our buying power has eroded in all fields except telecommunications. I’d bet you that today, it wouldn’t take any of us very long to walk into the neighbourhood supermarket and make a comprehensive list of what you can buy for less than $1. That wouldn’t have been as easy to do when I was 10 …and that was only 30 years ago. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Mr. Noodle, macaroni and cheese (if it’s the no-name brand), bottled water (if it’s the store brand), and a can of ordinary tomato soup. Yet if I had been given $5 when I was 10 and let loose in a corner store, I could have done some serious damage.

It’s all very strange, really. Even with less buying power, we still manage to amass more and want more. In my mind, SUVs are the emblem of this consumerist drive gone mad. Even the fact I feel I can’t do without my little Junior although I live in a perfectly walkable city with an adequate transit system is proof that I’ve succumbed like a lot of us have.

Rejuvenating Long Weekend

The sun was not supposed to shine here in Halifax yesterday, but it surprised us all. But although I should have taken advantage of it, I didn’t. Soaking it in from the inside was good enough for me.

For the last two nights, I’ve slept like a log. Last week was really long and hard at New Job. While my coach Ex-Friend remains available by e-mail or phone for any question I might have, I’ve been doing client calls on my own (i.e., without Ex-Friend monitoring, ready to jump in should I err) for about two weeks now. For a variety of reasons, these calls are surprisingly exhausting: there’s the fact you have to be “on” all the time; there’s the fact you end up repeating the same thing over and over, except with different people; there’s the fact you’ve heard 9 out of 10 questions clients typically ask many times before but you have to let them pose their question and not cut them off with the answer (politesse oblige) even though doing so would speed things up. However, there’s also the fact that I’m at the tail-end of one of the most intensive learning curves I ever experienced, and that previous six-week period has left me exhausted. Also, because a disproportionate number of the work orders coming in to my team have been from west of Ontario and we have only one team member on that side of the country, I have offered to move my work schedule ahead a few hours for a few weeks to allow me to take more appointments around my time zone’s suppertime, which is only after lunchtime in British Columbia. But live and learn: what should have been 8-hour workdays Thursday and Friday turned into 10- and 11-hour workdays because I didn’t schedule my appointments smartly.

All this to say that by the end of my work day, I’m pooped and unable to contemplate more work. And this long weekend, I’m not able to bring myself to do much of substance. For instance, catching up on blog reading and hopping was all I managed to do yesterday afternoon, as that’s leisure and not work. The thought of doing any work — even housework — was too much for me to handle. It was already 8:00 pm when I managed to haul myself out of the apartment to get some much-postponed groceries. Afterwards, with much clamour, I hauled up the (many) pieces of what will be my new dining room table, which will match the new glass-top L-shape desk in the living room and will replace the very tired and battered table I’ve had since October 1989. (I may keep the table for the balcony, but the chairs are much overdue for retirement.) Typical of the fag manquĂ© that I am, I will be calling upon my friendly neighbourhood lesbian (a.k.a. BeeGoddessM) later this weekend to assemble the new table.

Still, by the end of today, I hope that I will have (1) balanced my chequebook, (2) cleaned the apartment, and (3) maybe run a few loads of laundry. Regarding (2), I’m seriously considering once again having someone come in every two weeks to clean. I have no problem keeping a place tidy for that long; my problem is getting motivated to do the major cleaning frequently enough. Getting a cleaner to come in will definitely throw a tiny wrinkle in (1), but I realize that something has to give. I can’t realistically expect to get back into my part-time work with the demands of my full-time work and the normal domestic stuff on top, but that’s a topic for my next post. As for (3), I just have to plan better, because, given that I work at home, there’s nothing preventing me from doing the laundry while I work.

What I find somewhat distressing, though, is that I’m clearly falling into the “all work and no play” trap. I do fear that I’m becoming an even greater bore than I already was. Now that spring has sprung and summer is just around the corner, I can feel that the ol’ hormones have kicked in and I wouldn’t mind squeezing in a few adventures. I’d also like to get away more on weekends despite the high price of gas. Yet as I write this, I can’t help feeling that I’m whining the old tired whine gay guys are often accused of overutilizing: “I wanna have it all!” But really I think it’s just that I desperately want to start working for a living instead of living to work. I want the former to become the hallmark of my forties.

I Never Would Have Thought

I never would have thought that one day I would be employed by a huge corporation. I also never would have thought that I would accept a position requiring me to spend so much time on the phone. That might strike you as funny — especially to those of you who know that I have no trouble talking a loooooong time on the phone — but I never much liked the phone for business purposes. Surprisingly, however, I’m enjoying the calls I’m having to make for my new job.

My learning curve in the last two months has had two facets. On on side, there’s trying to understand the procedures and terminology of a huge bureaucracy; on the other, there’s figuring out the products — the new ones and those being phased out — and how people use(d) them. When I started, I knew a little bit about the technology behind automatic withdrawals and deposits, but frankly I didn’t have the first clue as far as “wiring” money. Now I do.

But the most interesting challenge has been talking directly to clients and teaching them over the phone new ways of doing what they’ve been doing another way for years. Everybody has a different way of learning and a different comfort level with computers. When teaching in a class setting, it’s easier to flatten out those differences and calibrating for the median. But on a one-to-one basis where you don’t see the learner, let alone the screen the learner is seeing, it’s a completely different ball of wax. And since I’ve been talking to people from coast to coast to coast, I’ve had to overcome my fear of not being able to understand people’s accent and having to make them repeat stuff over and over, or simply not knowing the answer to their question. In the very short time I’ve been working this job, I think I’ve become a much more attentive listener, a skill my coach Ex-Friend has in spades and has patiently been showing me. In fact, I always had a lot of respect for Ex-Friend’s competence, but after these last two months, my esteem of him has gone through the roof.

One trap I need to avoid, though, is the trap I fell into with my own business. I coddle my own clients way too much and give them much more than what they’re paying. I have my theories as to why I do that. In one situation in particular this week, Ex-Friend reminded me that clients have to assume some responsibility and it’s not up to me to follow them closely to make sure they meet their commitments. I think in my own business, self-doubt made me worry that if something didn’t go as planned, I would be blamed even if it wasn’t my fault. But when you have the clout of a huge corporation behind you and you do exactly what you said you’d do by the time you said you’d do it, you can easily deflect attempts at having unwarranted blame pinned on you.

As I sit here reflecting upon my new job, I honestly can’t tell you how long it’s going to last or if it’ll evolve into another contract or even a permanent position. And I know even less how I feel about the prospects of a long-term stay with this employer. For years I cobbled together a meagre existence, but every penny I earned, I earned honestly and, damn it, I could take full credit for having earned it on my own. Also, it’s not like I disliked what I used to do for a living before and, in fact, a part of me hopes I’ll get back to it full-time one day. However, I can see it not taking long to get accustomed to the best (steady) paycheque I ever received and not wanting to go back to the uncertainty of running my own business full-time.

But that said, I think this new job is teaching me something valuable. And it’s a simple notion, really. That is, until I can figure out how to make my business work for me instead of always working for my business, the current arrangement is where I have to be right now.

I See Assholes Everywhere

The Bush Whacker is in town this week and our volley of phone tagging finally ended Thursday afternoon, at which time we agreed to meet the next day for dinner at Athens. But just as I was about to sign off from my day job, my work phone rang: it was a client two time zones away. I figured I could get through this client’s training on the spot rather than book an appointment for later, so I did that …but by the time I diarized the call and the one I was diarizing when that client called, I knew I would be a few minutes late meeting the Bush Whacker. I hate being late, whether it’s for work or a social engagement, but …oh well.

I hop into Junior, swing by Saddam’s first, then head down Robie and Quinpool, hoping I wouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot to park Junior. I turn up Harvard Street and, lo and behold, I immediately find a spot. I take it, but just as I do, a minivan pulls out of the tiny parking lot across the street, and I see and hear it bump the car parked at the exit of the parking lot. The minivan drives away but turns on the nearby street, and the male passenger comes over to the car to inspect the damage on the bumper of the car they’d just struck. But he simply shrugged his shoulders, went back to the minivan, and shortly afterwards they were gone.

Through all of this, I pretended being busy gathering my shit before stepping out of Junior, but really I was looking to see what the minivan people would do and fumbling for a pen and a piece of paper. When I realized the minivan people had left the area and not left a note on the car, I ripped the paper in two, keeping the piece on which I had written down the make and plate number of the van and writing on the other, “I witnessed what happened to your bumper. Call me at 555-5555,” which I then wedged under the wiper of the parked car.

The owner of the parked left me a voice-mail message later in the evening and called me back this morning. “Thank you so much for doing that,” she said, at which point I explained to her what had happened. And as to what motivated me to leave my number, I told her how I’d be pissed if that had been Junior, plus the fact I know that such damage could easily cost nearly $1,000 to fix. I gave her all my contact information as well as my consent to be contacted again by whomever if more information was required of me.

“I was just coming out of Athens and was heading to Exhibition Park with friends,” she said. “Thanks to your note, I had a good time anyway because I knew I didn’t have to fume about the damage and never finding out what had happened.”

I don’t know what this lady’s financial situation is, but I know what it feels like to be poor and having unexpected car repair bills. I could have chosen not to get involved, but that would have been as wrong as the minivan people not owning up to their responsibility. And yeah, there’s a selfish side to my action: I like to view it as a tiny deposit in the Bank of Good Karma, under the “kindness of stranger” column of the ledger.

By the way, dinner with the Bush Whacker was most enjoyable and afterwards we had a fun visit with BeeGoddessM and Stephanie.

Update, Mon., 15 May: The police called me around 7:30 this morning to confirm my report. I think somebody is going to get an unexpected call today. They should have done the right thing to begin with…