During the meeting I put her name in quotation marks on my notepad after witnessing her hostile response to a simple question from another coworker. It wasn’t the first unusual reaction I’d seen from her since I’d started the new job.

I understand frustration in a fast-paced contracting environment. But with no training, no mentors and an immediate need for a perfect product, it happened a lot. I’m pretty good with picking up new content management systems and email marketing tools. I’ve been doing it for three years now. But some degree of patience is required if you’re not going to train, or don’t have time to manage or answer questions. I’ve managed staff before, and you simply have to accept taking time out to help people. And if your requirements are exacting without a standards document, be prepared for questions.

For those reasons, the first time she yelled at me I let it pass. I know yelling, running, slamming doors and dropping the f-word at work are unacceptable. But I needed to work and swallowed my pride and continued to do the best I could.

I’d gotten good progress on the e-newsletter last week, but a few stories were missing from the news agenda, most of the last bits of information I needed were from her. But running up to the deadline was commonplace so I prepared for patience. There were still questions to be asked, mostly to cover my ass and make sure her needs were met before submitting it to the client.

Although her office was four doors down, she preferred to communicate on Skype. OK, I’ll learn Skype and communicate that way, even though I prefer face-to-face communication. Her responses to my questions were curt and then she used all-caps. At the end of the exchange I replied, “All caps isn’t necessary when I’m reaching out for help and trying to fix things.”

In under a minute I heard a slam, and shouting from next door office where my boss sat: “I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL HIM!!! I CAN’T GET MY WORK DONE!” And another slam, then dead silence throughout the office. I tapped away at my task, intent on getting the newsletter done by deadline. Then my brain started to scramble and all my text and apps made no sense. I got up and went to my manager’s office and said, “I’m sorry that just happened to you, I don’t think this job is working out.” My manager assured me quitting wasn’t necessary at that moment and that we would talk later.

I later learned that the operations lead was also in that room where “Joy” made her case so emotionally to my manager. Bad move for “Joy”. She had been quickly escorted out of the building and hasn’t been seen since. If that action hadn’t been taken I surely would have left that morning too. I would later learn she had a history of outbursts and anger management issues. Her outburst that day was beyond inappropriate, and although I only heard the outburst through the wall, apparently it was downright frightening in person.

It hadn’t really sunk in how bad the outburst was until this morning. I certainly didn’t want to work with her again. Although I was well-liked by most other coworkers, things hadn’t been going well there across the board. It really wasn’t working out, even with Joy’s help.

I started the job right after returning from dealing with my mother’s funeral affairs. I had interviewed for the job the day after my mom died. The immediate pace of the work didn’t leave much time for me to deal with mental stuff I really need to deal with. So there’s gonna be a break from work stress for a while, no immediate hurry to get another job, no immediate hurry for anything for that matter. And I am in no condition to deal with any more “Joy” in the immediate future.

We had a good day for rugby yesterday vs. the Georgetown Law school team. We won! While my fitness level and body kept up, my head was not in the game. I seem to play much better on Thursday practices when I’m full of angst and rage from the work week. By Saturday I seem to lose that focus. Or maybe I just play better at night than in the day.
vs Georgetown Law
I’ll try to work on bringing the rage to the weekends. Georgetown was short on players so I played hooker for them for a while and got to hug a ginger in the game:
Georgetown Law
Away match up in Pennsylvania next weekend. The night before is a Duran Duran concert in DC, featuring super-producer Nile Rodgers. I don’t want to miss that, but would be tired for a long road trip the next day. Plus it’s good to give this old body a break for a bit. Still a few months of rugby to go.

seeds of springDandelions are in bloom, there’s a mosquito in the house, and the purple grackles have returned. In the DC area, robins aren’t the best indicators of spring’s arrival since many stay here over the winter.

I started gardening today, planting elephant ears out back and red okra, castor beans, dwarf red sorghum and sunflowers there and also in our neighborhood tree boxes. We’ll see if they remain over the summer out in the tree boxes or if they get removed by city crews or do-gooders. It should be an explosion of reddish hues come fall if they are allowed to grow. They’re all drought-resistant species so they shouldn’t need much watering.

Entering the second month of my job and it’s going all right. There’s been a steep learning curve with new apps and processes but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Lots of writing and editing all over the place.

Also passing through The Week of Pain with rugby. It’s that week after your first real match where your body is adjusting to the new workout and tackling on a dirt field, fitness-wise and with muscle-building. It’s a big time commitment though, which is my biggest complaint about it. I like how it gets me in shape though. We have a big gay rugby tournament in Nashville over Memorial Day weekend. We’ll see how it goes and decide to continue rugby after that. But what would I do? Bowling?

During this time of turmoil we have so many other things on our plate to worry about: what brand of Greek yogurt to buy, choosing our next dictator, or where to park your car. But I want to share with you a little-known crisis that affects almost all of us: our potting soil is in danger!

Here’s why: the potting soil you buy at most garden centers or hardware depots is merely ground up wood product. It contains no mineral content. It’s great for the potting soil industry because that lousy fluff is light and cheaper to ship. But for you, it sucks. I don’t know exactly when real soil stopped being sold, but it happened right under our noses. I hope the following information will help you nurture your plants in pots.

soil pyramid

What is your soil type? Sandy clay or silt loam?

Real soil (esteemed soil scientists don’t call it “dirt”) is comprised of mineral content – a mixture of sand, silt or clay, and organic content like dead plants and stuff. And don’t forget water and air. These two are vital, especially when you consider the importance of the space between mineral particles and neighboring organic matter.

A pot that contains only ground bark product will dry out faster but harbor a wet core. This is because there isn’t a lot of air circulation to the middle of the soil mass since it’s so compact, so basically the soil doesn’t breathe. And a wet core means root rot. Add to it you have to water bark product more frequently, it’s just too much to ask a backyard gardener.

So here’s what you do: get some sand, and some clayey soil and mix it in with the shitty bark product to condition it. I’ll often haul a bucket of beach sand from Rehoboth or Assateauge, or from the creek bed of Rock Creek Park. If it’s from an oceanside beach rinse it out with fresh water first. If you come across a construction site, grab a bucket of our lovely old Appalachian clay-heavy soil. Mix that sand and clayey soil in with your bark fluff and you have a nice environment for healthy roots and happy plants.

That’s all I got for a blog post today. Clearly I’m running out of things to write about.

This morning before I even got out of bed I see a horrid text from BrettCajun and his boyfriend wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day. I threw up in bed when I saw their pic:
Thankfully there’s only about 3 1/2 hours left of this holiday.

In other news, grievin’ and processin’ as you might imagine. It’s weird, and sad. Thinking back on the funeral weekend, there’s not much to remember – a lot of it was haze. When you’re working to coordinate a funeral with your two brothers you just put your head down and organize. But ironically it doesn’t leave a lot of time for self-processing. But here are some things I learned:

  • Old emotional issues you long thought buried bubble up like hot lava. Sibling issues, longtime grief from previous deaths, and even unexpected surprise issues. Good times.
  • In the south, everyone bakes stuff for the grieving family. Not so much in the north, but we got some hot dish and lefse delivered. It helps a lot when you just don’t feel like cooking.
  • Funerals, markers and urns are expensive! When you only have a week to organize a funeral, you don’t have a lot of time to haggle – and don’t feel like it either. Gifts from family and friends helped, and so does life insurance of course.
  • It was surprising which relatives and friends stepped up. The Irish side of the family really loves a funeral, the Scandinavians not so much.
  • The memorial service was exhausting. As a close family member of the deceased you have to greet everyone and chat, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to process.

I may get a car out of it all – no one else wants mom’s car, and it’s a Subaru Forester, which I’ve always liked. But then again cashing it in could help relieve the debt I’ve accumulated in the past 3 years of unstable job situations. On the other hand, getting out of DC more often to hike or be outdoors would be good too. Still thinking about that…

In better news, I accepted a job offer last week, and start on Tuesday. It’s content management stuff for international agriculture development. Being off work was sort of convenient as I was back home in Wisconsin for so long, but it’ll be good to be back to work after being unemployed since before Christmas. And income!

Hello from the cold outside. Actually when I arrived in Wisconsin it was warmer here than it was in DC. You had all better have your sidewalks shoveled when I get back. And guess what? You don’t get a badge or a prize for shoveling your sidewalk. It’s just something you have to do.

Been processing here and there, and it’s good to be with family and family friends. Looking back I was in a bit of a haze when I left DC. I can’t believe I made it through an interview, but I think delayed grief played a big part. I was pretty lucky to get out of DC ahead of the storm.

I went on a road trip to my alma mater in Central Wisconsin for a day to meet up with some old D&D gaming buddies. I stopped at a few landmarks, including the cranberry marsh where I had my first romance after coming out.

At one gas station along the way, an older gentleman was stooped over, his hands on his knees as if he was catching his breath. I asked him if he was OK, and that he should have it looked at since pneumonia is nothing to laugh at. I didn’t tell him that my mom had died because of it a week before.

Then at one mall where I had stopped to have lunch, there was a frail old woman with a walker who looked lost. I asked if she was OK, and she said her husband was down the hall at the senior center in the mall, probably reading. I looked down the hall but didn’t see a senior center, but could see that she was probably having a hard time with the ramp on the way there. So I went to the senior center in the mall and found a nurse who could help out and told her the story, then brought her back to the woman. She eventually got to the senior center with help.

So I guess I got to help in different ways, even though I did not arrive in time.

Thanks for all your kind words, people. Sadly, my mom has passed, peacefully in the early hours this morning. It’s sort of a relief as she was struggling so hard, whether conscious or in a sedated state. Imagine not having enough air to breathe and that’s what she was going through. I wasn’t able to be there in her final hours but I’m expecting funeral arrangements will be underway by this weekend or next. The only problem now is me getting there with this Snowstorm Of The Decade expected to hit on Friday when I fly out of DC to Wisconsin. My plane leaves early in the morning so I hope to get out before the snow hits.

From mom's visit in April, 2006My mother is dying. After an ill-advised trip out west she contracted both pneumonia and an intestinal bug, and lost weight she didn’t have to lose. She’s been struggling with COPD for many years due to lifelong chain smoking and had a pacemaker installed to slow her heart that has been struggling to get oxygen to her system from decreased lung capacity. The pneumonia took breath away that she couldn’t afford to lose as well.

The impact of those illnesses has caused a cascade of new conditions, and lately she’s been in and out of consciousness. I couldn’t go home to see her over the holidays due to being dead broke, but one of my brothers has come through with a ticket and I’ll be there by Friday. I hope it won’t be too late. Of course I hope she gets better, but new conditions keep popping up every day and I think her time is coming soon. She’s been struggling the last month so hard, but she keeps losing weight, losing more breath and getting sicker.

My two older brothers are dealing with this in different ways, and as far as I can tell I’m dealing with it as I do. As a child of the anti-smoking propaganda of the 80s, I knew this was coming. But it still doesn’t curb the impact of the situation. My dad died a few months before I was born, so all my life I’ve known that death hangs around and will always be there. I think I deal with it from a morbidly practical point of view, to the point where I feel awkward around others who are dealing with their own mortality issues. I try to say the most comforting things I can but in the back of my head I know it is always there. I’m not the only person in the world without parents at my age but I’m sure it won’t be easy.

Add to the stress of being let go from my last job right before the holiday break, leaving a long period of silence from potential employer calls due to the holidays until recently. I had a good interview this week, and will have another next week, but that’s just another uncertainty on my horizon. At least I get unemployment compensation, but it’s been a tough, uncertain time.

The last job I had (which I liked) didn’t pay very well. I was on a temp hourly salary far lower than what you need to survive in DC. You need to be earning at least $40/hr to pay the bills in this town – especially when you have bills built up for 3 years of un- or underemployment. Anyway, before I lost this job, I had already been exploring ways to earn extra cash on the side. Stripping is out of the question, as I am now old and fat like BrettCajun, who no one wants to see rolling, undulating layers of beef on a stage. Turning tricks is actually hard work, and you have no control of your schedule. Being on call is always a pain in the ass. So catering seemed like a good idea. I had heard the pay was pretty good and the busy DC holiday work party season was fast approaching.

However my only experience in a serving situation was at Dairy Queen in high school and serving beer for rugby team fundraisers. Fortunately I’m cute and made it through the catering interview with Igor. But I needed a tuxedo, which cost money that I don’t have. It was clear that catering wasn’t going to meet my immediate needs to pay the rent since buying a tux would negate any holiday earnings.

So I put out an all-points bulletin out on Facebook which is the only thing Facebook is good for these days. My network did not disappoint, and I was able to put together a passable catering tuxedo for free that ended up being quite comfortable. Thanks y’all!

Tux in hand, the next step would be to wait for a gig. You’re on call and whoever responds to the call first gets to work. Since I’m on the Internets 24/7, I got my first gig offer which was a work party held at a prominent Smithsonian museum on a Saturday.

Now this was the Saturday after my last day at my last job, so I was already pretty much emotionally drained and not ready for greeting guests. But I need the money so I took it.

The first challenge was to find out where the caterers enter the building. Because we are “The Help” we are not to be seen as humans or at all by the party guests. So we must enter through alternate means. But the alternate entry was not shared by the team leader, so it was an issue of walking around the perimeter of said museum in my white polo and black pants – the required setup uniform for caterers before you change into your tux when the guests arrive.

Did you know if you are cute and Caucasian and arrive at a museum or government building at dusk during the holiday season, you can get in anywhere you want? I flexed my White Privilege and got in through the loading dock without an ID and made it to the orientation on time. It was clear when I burst into the room I was pretty much the only speaker of English as a first language.

Sorting took place, much like in Harry Potter where they put the sorting hat on your head to figure out which House you are in. Since I most resembled the hot Bulgarian bartenders, I was put on the bartender crew. I was flattered. They were all hot and probably would get a lot of tips – at least at a gay bar. If I had to fake it, Russian sounds a lot like Bulgarian and I could pretend to be a Bo-Hunk for more tips. In fact when I was in Kazakstan I was mistaken for a crazy person from the Caucasus – my coworkers would later tell me I was basically called a “Wild Caucasian Mountain Brute” by people on the train who I had pissed off trying to disembark.

So anyway my crew leader was Victor, a cute scruffy Bulgarian who clearly had a grip on the situation. The logistics for catering is bewildering and incredibly complex. I was seriously impressed by the pre-party planning involved in throwing a holiday party for a thousand people at a museum. And my respect for those people vilified by current G.O.P. candidates and that party has increased. If you are afraid they are coming to take your job, you should be. Because they bust their ass harder than anyone at a Trump rally could.

One of my initial tasks was to cut lime and lemon wedges for the bar, which I did furiously. I asked the bar lead Atilla if there was anything else I could do for him, and he curtly dismissed me. Atilla was MEAN.

Later I was assigned to serve drinks on a plate. Which was fun the first hour, but after that my bicep started quivering from fatigue. Those glasses are heavy, but I was good at describing the evening’s unique signature drink, the “Jingle All The Way” featuring vodka, lime juice, champagne and a sprig of oregano. Honestly I thought the drink was gross but the guests loved it. Because vodka.

And the guests were quite fabulous for an established internet company. One of the employees had a straight orange silk gown with a cherry blossom sprig and I wanted to tell her she was fucking fabulous but I couldn’t because The Help must not speak to the clients. But she was fucking fabulous let me tell you and she won the evening. Props to that young hipster in the fabulous orange silk gown. You. Won.

Salvadoran women worked the hors d’oeuvre table. The men brought in more food. Bulgarians and other Eastern European laborers served drinks. The racial and gender segregation of tasks was downright blatant. As the evening went on it was time to clear tables, which is like doing laps in an Olympic stadium. Round an ’round you go picking up plates and glasses. I had helped some guests get extra Jingle All The Way drinks earlier on, and they remembered me and kept asking me for more. I tried to help them but we ran out of oregano.

As the evening wore on the laps took a toll on my lower back. I could tell it was wearing on the other caterers too. That shit is hard work and those fucking Mexicans and bohunks are working hard to get your fucking food to you, so you should show some respect in the next election and not vote for Trump, because he’s a fucking racist yo.

Anyway, soon it was Midnight and the guests were leaving. I hadn’t gotten any feedback so I went up to the mean bar leader Atilla and asked him how the lemon and lime wedges worked for him. “They were great,” he said dryly. “I knew there was something special about them when I served the drinks.” Thanks Attila.

It had been years since I’d been to New York City. Too long, in fact. So it was nice to get up there and catch up with friends and catch a good show with Joe.My.God. Cyndi Lauper is always fun and this time it was for a good cause. She sang “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” with Boy George:

Boy George still has a good voice! Also peforming were Natasha Beddingfield, Patty Smyth, and Valerie Simpson peforming “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”!

I saw the Highline, holiday decorations and had a short walk through Central Park:

Sadly, I didn’t have a whole lot of cash for Christmas shopping. It turns out my current gig where I’m temping is having a financial crisis. I was expecting to work until January with potential to go permanent. My immediate boss just retired, with two others having moved to a new department. But that was just rats leaving a sinking ship. I was warned about the financials being bad when I started – I just didn’t think it would come to a head so soon. So by Friday I’ll be on the job hunt AGAIN. It’s been 3 years now of job instability and I’m about at the end of my rope.

There have been jobs applied to and temp agencies activated, but every time I get to this point it’s another financial setback, a gap in health care coverage, and another adjustment period to a new commute, new workplace and new personalities. Thankfully I’m pretty nimble with learning new skills, but my luck may run out some day. I’m worried I’m one of those chronically unemployed people they write about. And don’t believe what you hear about job prospects improving. There may be new jobs, but they aren’t permanent, and the salaries are lower.