Archive for August, 2011
“Beware of judging [people] by their outward appearance.” Jean de La Fontaine
When I worked in the phone room, I often misjudged people, assuming they were something they were not. I found out that many were very different from what I thought them to be at first, and vice-versa, others wondered what someone like me was doing there. Below is an excerpt from “Don’t Hang Up!”
“You Never Know Who You Will Meet in the Phone Room”
“Don’t you people have anything better to do on the Sabbath?” the man on the other end of the phone asks. “Today is the Lord’s Day. To be kept holy. Not for material gains.”
He hangs up before I can give him an answer as to what “material gains” represent to people in low-paid jobs. Things like a week’s groceries.
Why should I give a damn? I’ve had a good day. Not like the young man next to me who is struggling to get surveys. Perhaps it’s the slow, hesitant way he reads the opening statement. From his appearance, he doesn’t seem to be “one of us” phone room people. More like an executive doing a weekend stint here. Too well groomed. Trimmed dark hair and beard, suede jacket. Mid-thirties. Attractive.
It sounds like he got a survey until, throwing up his arms, he stands and shouts, “That f… computer just cut me off.”
Hope he’s not freaking out. I’ve seen interviewers break down over surveys gone wrong – bursting into tears, shrieking, or wrecking a phone. Crazies smash computers and one assaulted a supervisor.
“Don’t worry, that happens to everyone.” I try to keep my voice calm.
Anger recedes from his face. He nods and sits again. “What did I do wrong? I was half way through the survey and it went blank.”
“Sometimes it cuts you off for no apparent reason,” I tell him. “Ask the supervisor.”
He returns with a dispirited expression. “She gave me some half-assed excuse about how this happens when a quota’s full. Let me see if I got it right. First, to qualify, the respondent has to be between forty-five and sixty. Second, he/she ate dinner – no lunch or takeout – at this Chinese restaurant chain at least once in the last three months. Third, only week nights, but not Fridays. Come on. Talk about looking for the proverbial needle.”
In the next two hours, I dial over a hundred times, twenty people answer, four agree to do the survey, and only one qualifies.
Would it really affect results if a respondent went to that restaurant on a Friday? Or had lunch instead of dinner? Or is sixty-one instead of sixty?
By this point, I’m sure many interviewers, desperate to get surveys, are twisting answers. It’s tempting.
Every so often I glance at my neighbor to see how he’s doing. Only two surveys vs. my ten. The supervisor is sure to send him home yet, when she checks, all she says is, “Pick up the pace.”
Another sign he’s special? Lucky man. It’s not as if his livelihood depended on this. Tomorrow, he’ll be back upstairs thanking God he doesn’t have to work down here for a living.
Great. I get another survey.
I feel his eyes on me. Probably feeling exactly what I felt not so long ago. “You really know how to get them,” he says.
Why should it matter if he’s an executive posing as an interviewer? I say, “Let me give you a tip,” and tell him what I learned from Lucky León, our Star Performer, how to tweak the opening statement. “And put a smile in your voice.”
“Hey, thanks, I really owe you.”
Talk about coincidence. On his very next call, he gets a survey.
But with the quota filling, every interviewer is struggling with the almost impossible task of finding someone who fits the profile – and agrees to do a survey. My neighbor is literally begging people, a tactic that rarely works.
I hear him slam down the receiver. “Why can’t those high-and-mighty bible thumpers understand that people like us need to work on Sundays?”
“People like us?”
“Working poor, who else?” He gestures at other interviewers.
“Is that what you consider us to be?”
“What they pay here is just one step above poverty level.”
“How would you know?”
“My paycheck, for one. I’m almost embarrassed to cash it.”
“So you are working here?”
“As far as I can tell, though who knows about tomorrow?”
“Why this job?”
“Because it’s all I could find, and it’s work, and a lot better than being homeless.”
“Yes, homeless – as in people who live on the street. I’m sure you’ve seen them around, kind of a blot on the landscape of America’s finest city.” Sarcasm shades his voice. “Last month, I was one of them. Not that a lady like you would know anything about that lifestyle.”
“I can’t imagine you sleeping in a doorway next to filthy drunks and bag ladies.”
“I couldn’t imagine it either”
“Why the streets? Why not a shelter?”
“Ever tried to get into one of those places? Let me tell you, I did and on cold nights they’re stuffed to overflowing. I was afraid to sleep – they steal your shoes right off your feet – and there’re guys crying out from booze or drug withdrawal, or honking away because their noses are clogged up with shit. You get used to the smell but it sticks to your clothes even after you go outside. So I found a couple of homeless, interesting guys – one plays chess in the park and the other reads anything he can lay his fingers on – and hung out with them a few days.”
I shiver. Being homeless seems only a couple of steps from the phone room. “Dressed like you are today?”
“Course not. Hocked my watch, left my bag in the Greyhound terminal, except for an old army jacket and sleeping bag. You’d never tell the difference between me and the real thing, though people don’t look at the homeless – not if they can help it. Finally, I got hold of some cash and rented a room in a downtown hotel. Not the swankiest in town, but it’s heaven after that.”
As the day wears on, the room becomes silent. Surveys have tapered off. It’s hard to be cooped up in here while the California sunlight beams through the front windows. Three hours before our scheduled leaving time, the supervisor tells us, “Everyone, clock out for the day.”
I step into the bright, semi-deserted downtown. After the refrigerated phone room, the March sun on our side of the street is warm and welcoming.
“Isn’t this great?” My neighbor smiles as if we were old friends. “Days like this, who cares about leaving early?”
“$24 less on my paycheck.”
“Didn’t think of that.” He shrugs. “Hey, wanna go for coffee?”
“This your regular work?” he asks. “You don’t sound like you belong in a phone room. More like you should be upstairs with the executives. Sure you’re not just posing as an interviewer?”
“Funny, I thought the same about you,” I say and we both laugh at how misleading appearances can be.
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” Wayne Dyer
Should I blame or thank Thom Brown of “To Gyle and Gambol” for “inflicting pain” on me – his words not mine – for asking me to select seven of my blog posts, and also nominate four others whom I admire? I see this as more of an honor, or a challenge. In addition, he saved my day since my Hard Drive crashed last night and my ready-to-go blog post was lost, so this is also a relief of sorts.
I already had a pretty good idea of which blog posts would fit the seven categories listed below. However, in one case, I’m including a guest post that is particularly relevant to my message and because of the outstanding person who wrote it.
My most Beautiful Post was the hardest to choose, a toss-up between three, but eventually I decided on, “Farewell, Old Friend!” because of the reactions and comments that it received.
My most Popular Post was a tie but I chose, “Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight.” This post seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people who are making late life new starts.
My most Controversial Post, “I’m Mad as Hell!” occasioned a flurry of e-mails that varied from “Are you O.K.?” to “I recommend you seek help.” Probably the only time I ventured to air my political views, it was based on a journal entry two years earlier. I didn’t dare post the entire entry, which broke every politically correct rule in the book.
My most Helpful Post was one of my earliest, “I Never Thought This Would Happen to Me.” Words uttered across the country and indeed, across the world by many bewildered men and women who have lost jobs, home , status, etc.
Who knows why this post was Surprisingly Successful (not in comments but it has had more views than any other)? A funny little true story, “What A Slip!” about an unfortunate New Year’s incident. The only reason I can think why it’s had so many views – and comments that I haven’t dared approve – is the bright red pantyhose photo that must have appealed to every porn or physical services site in the world.
A post that Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved was, “Better Late Than Early.” A guest post written by bestselling author, Elle Newmark, about her Cinderella story that led from self-published author to a multi- million dollar book contract two weeks later. Her second book, “The Sandalwood Tree” recently came out just before her death two months ago. At least, she lived long enough to see her dreams fulfilled.
The post I am Most Proud of is, “I Will Not Go Gentle Into the Night.” In this, I ranted, raged, spoke my mind, gave it my all, lifted my – at that time – sagging spirits, and received the kind of responses I needed to hear – both times it was posted.
Now for the four Bloggers whom I would like to nominate to carry on the baton – if they so wish.
Giulietta Nardone at Giulietta, The Muse constantly exhorts her “rebellious” readers to “Take Back Your Life” and not be a follower.
Sonia Marsh at Gutsy Living wites about gutsy people, gutsy accomplishments and gutsy ways with her own special blend of humor and dedication. She led the way when she uprooted her family from American culture and comfort to live a year in a shack on a beach in Belize.
If you want to read about travel and living in Turkey, read Mary Holan’s “The Adventures of Cilgin Kiz.” Her posts always have both beautiful photos, lots of information, and her crazy descriptions and antics make me laugh.
I hope that you will enjoy these four bloggers as much as I do.
Again, thanks to Thom Brown at To Gyre and Gambol for choosing me and to Hajra at Hajra Kvetches who started this challenge.
How on earth did I ever end up in, of all places, Tijuana? A question I ask myself all the time. But what else could I do? I can hardly walk except for a few steps, and this is the one place where I may find an inexpensive cure.
Before, I’d heard Tijuana described as “a hellhole” and “a den of vice,” a city of whores and drug dealers. Now, I’ve discovered the real Tijuana. Apart from being a tourist spot and red light border town, it also has a burgeoning middle-class with the same family values as any others. Just don’t get mixed up with shady characters and mind your own business. And better pretend not to know what your neighbors are up to.
In the afternoon, I rest on the balcony that runs around the building. On one side, shacks cover barren hills and, on the other, the elite inhabit white condos in a residential area way out of my league. Next to our building, a junkman has his yard piled with growing mounds of trash. I keep the window shut so that the giant cockroaches climbing up the wall don’t get in, but they drop off the roof at night onto my balcony and I have to sweep up their smashed corpses.
A burning odor from the mechanic’s shop hangs in the air adding to the stew of gasoline, tar, dirt, and fried food. In front, two neat little yellow middle-class homes stand side-by-side to the house where a drug dealer – a narco – plies his trade. I know because my neighbor overheard men knocking on the door and giving the password, “Es el mero-mero,” meaning, “It’s the big boss.”
I watch the goings-on in the drug dealer’s house below. It’s intriguing to have such a neighbor, almost as if I’ve become part of a secret and dangerous clan – if only by proximity. What does a Tijuana narco look like? A normal person? A gangster? A corrupt politico. No way to tell.
He’s had a busy afternoon; Friday is good for sales. By my count, the two men knocking on their door are numbers ten and eleven, and it’s only four p.m.
A car tears into the street and comes to a shrieking halt in front of his house. The driver jumps out and runs to the front door, making it inside just before another car zooms to a stop. Four men leap out brandishing shotguns and splatter the house with fire. Windows shatter behind iron bars. Someone inside retaliates and I hear bullets thunk the assailants’ car as they crouch behind it.
I have a balcony seat to the Wild West, Mexican style. A rival drug gang? No, probably cops. Maybe a raid. Like in a TV series.
“Salgan, hijos de la chingada!”
The men outside regroup and shred the door with gunfire, then use brute force to break it down. No more return fire from inside. From my vantage point, I see two narcos emerge behind the house. One jumps over a fence and disappears into the maze of backyards while another zigzaggs sideways and crosses into the junkman’s yard. Four attackers enter the house followed by shouts and gunshots.
Not a sound on the street and nobody sticks out a head to see what’s going on. Let the gangs kill each other or the cops catch the narcos; they don’t want to get involved.
I hear a scuffling sound at one side of the balcony. Next thing, a skinny young man is climbing over my railing; he’s managed to get up to my second floor. Looks like a teenager, trembling, tears in his eyes – one is bruised and half-closed, a finger across swollen lips for me to be quiet. Not scary enough for me to scream. Anyway, I’m not the screaming type. So I just watch as he crouches at the end of my balcony. A smell surrounds him in the dusty air, a smell of fear and sweat.
He looks too young to be a narco. But are they ever too young? Rather, he reminds me of those mangy curs that roam the city, stalking food, growling if you get too close or groveling if you give them something. He could be armed and dangerous, only he doesn’t look dangerous, more like vulnerable, standing in the shadowy part of my balcony so he can’t be seen from the street.
Maybe that’s why I don’t scream at him to go away or maybe it’s because I’m rarely afraid of anything. Not of bomb scares, or life-threatening accidents, or earthquakes, or machine gun assaults – I’ve experienced them all and more – and he’s just a narco teen on the run. Though for all I know, the young ones are the worst. Probably has a weapon tucked under his shirt.
He hangs back while two men from the car yell at each other, glancing up and down the street and no, please not at my building. Then their cohorts reappear dragging a couple of drug dealers. My mouth opens, in surprise that they caught them so fast.
The boy whispers, “Please, Señora, don’t you scream.”
I’m not about to. Those men are busy taking turns kicking the dealers though they are huddled over on the ground. Crunch, howl, crack, yelp. Cuss words. Screams, moans. I’ve seen scenes like this on TV, and they are bad men, but I scrunch up my body as if they were hitting me. When, finally, the men pull-drag the narcos into the car, I close my eyes and rub my head in relief. What will happen to them? Prison? Or bodies left in the desert for the vultures?
The boy sits on his haunches, back against the wrought iron railing. “What’s happening?” he asks, in the jerky voice of a nervous teenager caught in the act.
“You heard.” Why should I play lookout for a narco? Because he’s young and scared or because, in a way, he threatens me and I can’t move to help myself. “Looks like those men are taking them away. Who are they?”
“Cops – drug squad,” he said. “Bad men, cruel. Find us, hurt us, our families. Say they know things about us. I don’t want to tell them, Señora, but they force me.” That explains his swollen lips, half-closed eye and bitter fear odor. “They tell me if I not help them, they kill my sister – rape her first, my little sister, she only twelve.”
“The cops would do that?”
No expression, and his eyes are so dark that they aren’t giving away anything. “The drug squad. They all threaten, make you do what they want. No choice. I must get to el otro lado, los Estados Unidos, and hope they never find me.”
“What about your sister?”
“To save her, I tell them what they want. If I go away, they not hurt my family. I will pray to la Virgencita every day that they will be safe.”
“What if you get caught as an illegal and sent back?”
“They will kill me.” He glances around, up and down, reminding me of a trapped animal. “Senora, how I get out from here and they no see me?”
“Only through the front gate. Or the way you got in.”
“Perhaps over the roof and across there.” He points to the junkman’s yard and beyond, the mechanic’s shop.
We watch for about twenty minutes while the cops probably tear apart the drug house, finding or not finding whatever they are looking for. Obviously, they do because they haul out another man, and at last, take off in a swirl of dust and screeching tires.
“They’re gone,” I tell him. “Now, you can leave.” If he wants money, I don’t have much. Nor much of value here.
He must sense my thoughts. “Don’t be concerned, Señora. You save me from those hijos de puta and for that, I am in your debt. Before they arrive, we have a good day. I have cash.” He shows me his wallet, stuffed with bills, and pulls out, counting them, five hundred dollar notes. “Here, for your trouble.”
I stare at the money, speechless, then shake my head. No way. It’s drug money, blood money. Don’t even want to touch it. “Thank you,” I say, “but I can’t,” wishing for all the world that I could accept them. Get another cartilage shot. And another pain relief one.
“Are you sure, Senora?”
I manage a smile. “When you get to the other side,” I tell him, “no more drug dealing. If they catch you, they will send you back here.”
“I promise,” he says. “My cousin will give me a job in construcción.”
Maybe he just tells me this to please me. I’ve heard that once a narco always a narco and, as he turns to leave, I notice the gun – tucked into the side of his pants.
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Albert Schweitzer
Today, Friday, August 5th, 2011, seems the perfect day for this post. A good time to take a good look at my life and find reasons why I am thankful.
(Originally, I wrote this piece for “Hajra Kvetches” at www.Hajrak.blogspot.com
“Fridays will be different” where people gave five reasons why they were thankful, but she ended the series before I sent it to her. )
I’m thankful that I can walk. Yes, put one leg in front of the other and so on for several miles without needing a cane or any form of support and most importantly, without it being painful.
Often, especially in downtown San Diego, when I see people with physical impediments struggling to cross the road or walk a block, I remember the two years that I was like them. I’d take 10 minutes to hobble, grit-my-teeth-and-bear-it, two short blocks to the corner grocery store.
The other day, an old friend who is having leg problems told me how he envied people the freedom to walk without cringing at the idea of having to go from A to B. I could understand and empathize because that was exactly how I had felt when I had that problem. All those carefree walkers have no idea how fortunate they are to be able to walk whenever and wherever they want.
So use your legs while you can and glory in the fact that you have them.
I’m thankful that I still have work coming in. The same as many others, I was affected by the economic downturn in 2009 when my work source dried up. I’m glad that I looked into other options, became active online, started learning about SEO, and am now finding work in the field I like most, writing. Also, some of my former clients are again sending me projects.
Having work also gives me a goal to go after more.
I’m thankful that my generation of the 60s is still going strong in their sixties. They are an inspiration to all of us especially in this age group. I won’t mention names because there are too many, but the sheer number of outstanding writers, actors, activists, musicians, film directors, politicians, pundits, businessmen, inventors, scientists, leaders, innovators, commentators, physicians, etc. who are still active and highly productive in their sixties speaks for itself.
These people motivate me to keep trying to achieve my goals.
I’m thankful for my family who have always encouraged and supported me, even during my crazy years. A loner by nature – despite my many friends – the two things I valued most were my privacy and independence. I loved doing my own thing, having a routine, sleeping in my own bed, and living in my neighborhood. All this changed when, due to the economic recession, I came to stay at my sister’s home. She has a big house in a very different (high-class) area from my former downtown one, with seven people currently living here: her and her husband, her daughter and her two teens and one pre-teen, and a part-time housekeeper. With me, we’re eight, and then nine, as my son turned up four months ago.
When I first came to stay, I feared that any privacy would be out of the question. To my surprise, my family has respected it, though they are always there when I want company, help or advice.
This is an opportunity to get to know the kids – rather than be the isolated aunt of yore who only saw them on special occasions. I’m almost used to things like their penchant to jump out at me and shout, “Boo!” a family trait that we owe to my father’s naughty streak.
I’m thankful for my many friends – the kind who last a lifetime. They are spread all over the map and I’m glad to be able to keep up or in-touch with them. Due to modern technology and social media, I’m rediscovering or being rediscovered: in the last two days, two former very close friends turned up after years (8 and 15) of not knowing anything about them. When I go to Mexico City, the fact that I’m there means it’s party time, or at least an excuse for a bunch of us to have a reunion.
I’m thankful that I am still writing. That I can still experience the same crazy out-of-the-world high when I write something good. And that ideas gush out all the time – when I’m walking down the street, or I wake up in the middle of the night, or I’m driving – anywhere and at any time. I hope I will write all the books still inside me. I hope that my books, when they are published, will make a difference, even in a small way, to people’s lives.
I’m thankful that I still have the same illusions and hopes for my writing that I had as a child and young adult.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey
Free Blog Updates
- A Writer's Life
- Challenges & opportunities after professional job loss
- Discovering a different America
- Don't Hang Up!
- Don't Hang Up! series
- Excerpts from Don't Hang Up!
- Facing Obstacles in Life
- Growing old
- Guest Posts
- Life Challenges
- Mexico City
- Mid life motivations
- Midlife professional challenges
- Multi-cultural aspects
- never give up
- On the U.S.-Mexican Border
- Overcoming Setbacks or Failures
- Phone room
- Power of Memories
- San Diego
- Writers and Writing
BLOGS I LOVE
- 40 BlogSpot
- Get In the Hot Spot with Annabel Candy
- I've Become My Parents
- Just My Thoughts
- Reflections from a Red Head
- Stuart Nager
- The Adventures of Cilgin Kiz
- To Gyre and Gambol
- Unlock the Door
- What Little Things