Sunday, February 14, 2016

Home On The Ranch

An 89-year-old aunt went into care, and for reasons having to do with bureaucracy and the need for an injection of some serious Socialism into our economic model, two years have to pass before her house can be sold without the government grabbing the proceeds.

And because I'm a full-time student chronically under-/unemployed, I'm in it in the meantime, keeping an eye on it, doing the upkeep, taking on improvement projects like removing THE ONLY WALLPAPER ever put up since the house was built in the 1950s, tearing up carpet that I'm certain I saw attacking Earthlings in a Roger Korman movie, and organizing the cellar.

Here's the cool part: my aunt and her (now deceased) husband have left behind an unassuming ranch-style house whose contents would put Pacific Northwest survivalists to shame, as befits their generation. The operant philosophy seemed to be: buy it if it's on sale, even if you don't have an immediate need, because one day you will, and you won't get the deal you can get now, and the more we have, the greater our protection against The Dark Times Before We Could Afford So Very Many Paper Towels.

It's not hoarding in the sense that the place is packed; it's more a really, really good example of redundancy. The cellar is a Forty Thieves' stash of Tupperware, coffee makers, pots and pans, miscellaneous nuts and bolts, square baking dishes, round baking dishes, bundt-cake pans, pie pans, baking trays, plastic flowers, ceramic fruit, and hand tools. Suits, dresses. Furniture with a distinctly laminate finish.

There is enough bug spray to lay waste an entire zip code, rolls of cling wrap to send a hundred Helicopter Parents into conniptions, and an infuriating wall of toilet-paper rolls that teases with the promise of sweet, sweet hygienic security, but which turns out to be single ply, the worst kind of prank ever played on the American consumer.

And everywhere -- EVERYWHERE-- plastic shopping bags. Wrapped around bowls, aluminum trays, the puzzling ten containers of Quaker Oats, around the plastic pitcher, bearing the handwritten label "plastic pitcher."

There are plastic shopping bags full of carefully folded plastic shopping bags.

I've almost run out of the five gallons of laundry detergent, but there are enough bars of soap, baking soda, and borax to make ten gallons of laundry detergent from the homesteading website. Which I can do because there are also plenty of buckets.

I find myself giddy over the fact that I have access to five plastic basins, drawers of non-electric kitchen appliances (an EGG BEATER with gears!) an endless supply of hand towels, potholders, and batteries, enough wax paper to pack a truckload of homemade cookies into the (ample supply of ) cookie tins, and don't even get me started on the toothbrushes. Candles with matchbooks, saved over decades, to light them.

I have things I wanted but for which I could somehow never earmark money: An immersion blender. A coffee grinder. Parchment paper.

I have bottle scrubbers of various sizes. I have a metric ton of assorted spices. And if I ever get really bored, there is an entire wall of VHS-recorded TV shows and movies, emphasis on John Wayne and Columbo with some Streets of San Francisco making a respectable appearance. For the total ambiance, I can watch while burning ancient Avon candles in a dusty fog of Sweet Honesty or Cotillion.

I found a bottle each of B&B and banana liqueur, which I drink in the small aperitif glasses that are also in abundance. I can't hold my liquor, which means that after a couple of tiny red glasses of hooch I dance in the kitchen to the (supplied) radio, lie on the floor nose-to-nose with one of my rabbits and say, "We've gone the distance, Man," and follow around one of my cats, calling out "SHAKE YOUR MONEYMAKER, EMILY!!!"

There will be a Salvation Army run with the lesser possessions, and I need to find whatever toxic-waste disposal program will take the five cans of Raid from the cellar, but for now I'll stroll to the garage, open the door, and revel in my untold wealth of trash barrels.

Behold the Suburban Warlord.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Danger! Danger! Working From Home!

Back in November I transitioned from a full-time Office Manager for a startup where, when I started,  I was told by one of the co-founders that my main goal was to come up with systems and processes; to take the chaos of their workplace and impose order and efficiency.

Which I did. I developed protocols of hiring, for onboarding, for submitting expenses, for paying bills, for ordering supplies. I posted laminated signs about sink cleanliness in response to a directive to come up with "a process" for cleaning dishes. (The orignal push was for me to do them at the end of the day. At which I drew a line faster than you can say "Betty Friedan.")

And every single one (except for the dishes) was disregarded and confounded by the same person who was so adamant about order and process. Add to this that, despite my attempts to schedule a day so that I could tackle the many assignments I had on my plate, I would be blindsided by a sudden decision that, for example,  the computer cords in the office needed to be organized under the desks, or the entire back hallway had to be organized because a candidate was coming in the next day. Never mind that this hallway led to an old loading dock, an area the candidate would never, ever see: no, I had to drop my work and fold boxes in the recesses of a building so creepy that I kept imagining a soft voice hissing "Clariiiiiiiiice..."

There was an obsession with order on the part of the co-founders, an anal-retentive need for decluttering a space crammed with the hoarded second-hand business furniture and tools they'd acquired. (I should point out that this obsession with order rarely translated into them taking on the problem; it usually translated into yours truly having to drop what I was doing in order to  arrange into a very limited space a shit-ton of boxes, product, and tiny metal screws and bolts that seemed to propagate like fleas.)

Everything was a priority: critical projects that I had to attack with the desperation of a Titanic mechanic were suddenly dropped and replaced by completely different tasks with even more urgent deadlines. Once, while in a previous, temporary space,  we were told that we were moving to a new temporary space. Right at that moment. So we found ourselves marching three blocks, carrying computer monitors and pushing dollies of office supplies. Another day I had to stop, drop, and roll because it was suddenly my job to get a second-hand Keg machine up and running. Because you know. Priorities.

So when I'd had enough of the thrill of banging my head against a wall in a job where I controlled no part of my day or work, when  I decided I was going back to school to do something that did not involved answering emails all day, we decided I'd be a part-time independent contractor working from home, at least temporarily.

Now, I'd been warned by others who worked from home about the social isolation, the boredom, the lack of structure.

The thing is: I. friggin'. loved. it.

I loved not having a commute, loved being able to work in my jammies, walk away from my desk and make some coffee when a particularly annoying email came in.

Best of all, I didn't have to stop what I was doing ten times a day because nobody else could figure out how to, say,  start a coffee machine. No more back hallway, no more supplies. No more meetings.I was invisible and out of mind, freeing me to get things done.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a fairly lonely person right now, but I was just as lonely when I went to work every day and felt like a frustrated fish out of water. At least this way I got to step away; I got to control my time and avoid being crowded.

The job ended last week, and I was also warned about being bored. Well, I go to school full time, am memorizing lines for a play, and I still need to clean a house, and get things done, and you know what?

I love this, too.

Free Range.. Not Really Free

Keeping up with the many ways in which companies greenwash their products is time-consuming and frustrating.

Take chickens, for example. Or eggs. You walk into a supermarket and see cartons with claims like "Free Range!" "Cageless!" "Fed An Organic Vegetarian Diet!"

Here's what they don't say:

"Cageless" doesn't mean the chickens have all kinds of space to run around and play; in fact, they may just be crowded together on the floor of a large building.

"Free Range" doesn't guarantee that the chickens are out playing tag on the grass; producers can cram chickens into a warehouse that has, attached to the outside, a sort of long narrow cloister with a cement floor, enclosed in chain link. One small door (which most of the chickens don't know is there) allows the chickens access to this confined area where they can stand like little kids in a housing-project balcony, but most never go out because there is nothing there for them. Not food, not water, not grass. Yet, the eggs from these sad birds can be legally labeled "free range," and people trying to make the right choices buy them, thinking they are supporting humane practices.

"Vegetarian Diet" is a key that the birds are kept in unnatural  conditions, because hey, guess what: chickens eat bugs. So your "free-range" chicken on a vegetarian diet is indeed probably some poor bird crammed into a warehouse and fed grain.

I won't go into how incredibly cool and friendly and social these birds are when properly cared for and engaged, because their right to humane treatment shouldn't be based on how cute or cuddly or friendly they are. They could be the most vicious creatures on the planet and remain entitled to humane treatment.

The Cornucopia Institute is a good resource for understanding who's trying to label cruel practices as progressive and humane. If you have local farmers and can see how they raise their animals, that's a good start. An educated consumer is the best weapon against corporate lies.

Here's a quick Organic Egg Scorecard.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Red leather, yellow leather

So after years of auditions, I finally landed a role.

I will be performing in a bona fide comunity-college production.

Here's why it's great: 1. I have a small but really good part. 2. The play is amazing. 3.The director is a faculty member and also affiliated with a small Boston theater company. 4. After tonight's read-through I am pretty certain I will not be the worst performer.

Here's why it's not so great: 1. College students who are all kinds of eager but who are pretty green (I know because I used to be one of them). 2. One of the purposes in college theater is to provide an educational experience -- sometimes at the expense of the finished result-- so one of the cast members is a young man who is maybe African, judging from his French-accented, execrable pronunciation. Seriously; if you don't have the script in from of you, he's unintelligible. 3. COMMUNITY COLLEGE THEATER.

But you know, I'm happy about it because I can go in and feel like a pro. Yes, I'm going for the small pond because that's apparently the only place I can get cast, but god help me, I will have the audience in tears. Plus the other actors seem like a nice, friendly bunch, even if they are probably wondeirng what the hell a 50-something woman is doing in their show.

I have fantasies of becoming a role model.

So yeah, by the way, I'm in community college. I'm studying horticulture, classes so far are good, and I'm hoping to get a job this spring/summer somewhere that involves dirt and plants. My classmates are pretty nice.

It went like this:

Last job was office manager for a startup that turned out to be a bunch of guys who have no experience running a business but think they know everything because they got a bunch of Kickstarter money, and alienated any professionals with experience that they worked with. Hot mess. I decided: right. I can either keep trying to work in administration, or I can look at the long, bloody trail of adminstrative tears stretching back a good ten years, and make a change.

Several things fell into place. I'd been living with my uncle, and he was fine with it, but after a year it was time to stop mooching. A relative went into a nursing home, where she is having the time of her life, but her house can't be sold for two years for medicare reasons. So here I am. I did some cosmetic work to make the place less extremely Little Old lady House, but I'm not emotionally invested. It's a tiny ranch house with cramped rooms, and I basically live in the kitchen and living room, which have nice south-facing bay windows. I sleep in the main bedroom, use the other as a holding place for supplies, and the other bedroom holds my aunt's belongings.

I pay utilities and take care of the place, so it's good for all involved. I'm on a busy street that intersects one house away with another busy street, and there is no charm. The neighbors are fine, and I'm close to school, and I keep telling myself that this is a passage in life while I get my education.

I binge on Netflix because it costs no extra money, and because the last 1.5 years have been such a social desert that I actually think of TV characters as my friends.

I'm hoping for a job that will give me some social outlet and doesn't involve any more insanity. My clay class has some cool people, but this time around it seems like it's just all the cool kids sitting around and talking summer camps and schools.

Note: If you are one of these women who say things like, "I know what [insert unpleasant or arduous scenario] is like: I have a 5-year-old," hear me: I don't pity you. You had a kid, and you want all kinds of sympathy for the completely foreseeable fact that parenthood is hard? No. As a single woman with no kids, I am CONSTANTLY on the outside of most conversations. The ones about family trips, and who made supper tonight, or what your husband and offspring did for Mother's Day. You with your cluster of other moms sharing restaurants and clothing stores and whatever the hell you seem to mine from the bottomless pit of My Life With Husband and Kids.

You want hard? Do. It. All. Alone. Eat alone,shop alone, go to movies/cafes alone. Do it on one income.

Soooo.....yeah. Having a bit of a hard time, but bearable since I have my education goal. And then, well, we'll see.