The winter of discord, discontent, dislocation and discombobulation (Dancing on the Cliff’s Edge, Part 2)

Ready to roll again as winter turned to spring. The new bike before its first ride, April 2011.

For Part 1 of this epic, click here.

Mid-January. My final night in Connecticut, I stayed with my dear Paola in New Haven, had one final New Haven pizza at Abate’s, and she drove me to the Connecticut Limo airport service at Long Wharf in the morning. It would bring me to Bradley, where I took off for Oakland, a night’s layover in San Francisco, and then, begrudgingly, back to the Big No. (But my plane did take off from Bradley six hours before the start of the Blizzard of 2011 – the worst since ’78, which dropped about three feet of snow in the Northeast.)

I had been hoping someone would call me about a job while I was home – especially since I included that little tidbit in the cover letter, and told New York employers it would be nothing for me to get on Metro-North and head in to see them.

Well, wouldn’t you know? The limo van was somewhere between North Haven and Wallingford when my job cell phone rang. It was a girl from a PR place in New York where I had sent one of my résumés. She asked me, “Well, how serious are you about coming back East?” I told her, “Well, most of my stuff is packed; all it would take is someone offering me a job.”

She told me to call her when I got back East. Not “Well, we think you’re good enough to want to interview” — it was, “We don’t want you unless you’re here.” Wonderful. Just wonderful. Just my timing. Just my luck.

And thus began my winter of discord, discontent, dislocation and discombobulation.

*****

Discord and Discontent

When I returned to Fresno, I was optimistic about being able to come home. I flew back West fully expecting to be out of Fresno soon and seeing the country from the driver’s seat of a rental truck, even if it wasn’t the most scenic time of year. After all, I was cranking out the résumés, and law of percentages said something had to happen, right? My résumé certainly didn’t suck that badly! I was thinking I would be gone by March at the latest, in time for spring.

And not only would a new job get me out of Fresno, where there are no job prospects for me, it would get me out of an extremely uncomfortable living situation that has probably taken some underlying toll on my well-being.

*****

Namely, it’s the male half of the couple that owns the house where I’ve been renting a room the last two years. He’s the boyfriend/fiancé/significant other/whatever of the House Mom who offered the room to rent in the first place. He’s a “so-called liberal” – my term for people who talk the talk but can’t walk to save their lives, and tend to be among the most intolerant, and intolerable, creatures going.

He’s a college professor in his early 60s who’s all about causes and proclaiming how liberal he is and reading The New Yorker for intellectual street cred – but he’s been irrationally shitty to me for the two years I’ve been here. At best, he’s been an absolute dick to me. At worst, he’s been an absolute dick to me. (House Mom has been, for the most part, fine with me, but I would be lying if I said he hasn’t, in his way, gotten between us.)

It could be little, snipy, cowardly, run-away, passive-aggressive things he says or even does here or there – shutting the lights off on me at night; or the time or two he got home just ahead of me, walked in the door, saw me getting out of the car, and shut the front door anyway, leaving me to unlock it.

Or snapping at me occasionally for stupid, simple things – such as the morning he called to wake me up to yell at me for the problems with the house’s ancient front-door lock, after they themselves had tried to take it apart and made the problem worse. Or the time I needed a new part for my toilet float, since the old part practically crumbled into dust. As if a minor, 20-year-old, wear-and-tear part was my fucking fault.

And this all started, believe it or not, the night of my welcome party. House Mom told me they needed an excuse to throw a party, and I was it. She asked me to load up some of my music on the iTunes on their Mac. Since I was a music writer and DJ for 20 years, and in the spirit of being collegial and communal and all that, I gladly obliged. But what to upload for the party? Since there was gonna be an extremely wide range of ages and cultures in one place, I figured a safe middle ground would be to plug in a bunch of my old soulrare stuff, of the Northern soul variety, not the usual Motown fare (but a few Motown rarities for fun).

I must have uploaded at least 10 mix CDs for the party. And at some point early-to-mid-party, when no one was around, Dr. Liberal came up to me, glass of wine in hand (not an unusual thing for him, by the way), and sneered, “What’s with the Motown crap?”

Huh?!? Where the fuck did THAT come from? Up to that point, he had been civil with me. This came totally out of nowhere. But what crawled up his ass and died, I haven’t a clue.

I know music the way he knows his field. Conversely, he knows music the way I know his field. Had he known as much as he thinks, he would’ve known that 90 percent of what I uploaded wasn’t Motown and 100 percent of it wasn’t crap. Then again, as I’ve learned, he thinks The Eagles are the greatest band ever. (Though he does listen to a lot of Bob Marley for liberal street cred. “One Love,” my ass.)

That was the start of the downhill slope – the increasing tension and me gradually withdrawing from life at the house (which, as you’ll notice, I refuse to call “home”).

The worst episode was last September. I was on my way back from picking up cleaning stuff at Walmart when my mom called at an unusual time of day. I pulled off the road to call her back; she told me my father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. (Thankfully, after six weeks of radiation treatment last fall, Albie got a clean bill of health the day I flew home in December.) After a long talk with her, I went back to the house; no one was there. I shut the bedroom door, cranked up the tunes in my laptop and set to vacuuming my room and cleaning the bathroom.

I must have been in there an hour and a half, and when I walked out to put the vacuum back in the storage space, Dr. Liberal was in the foyer. And he glared full-bore at me and snapped, “Can we not hear this?”

“What?”

Can we not hear this?!?

It hit me – he meant the music. But I didn’t give a fuck. I walk out of my room, minding my own business, deep in thought about my father, having just found out he had cancer, and this asshole is in my face for no reason, snapping my head off like I’m his personal piece of shit?

“WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?!?” I yelled.

I was now officially in his face.

I get annoyed very easily, but as the Gemini I am, it takes a LOT to truly piss me off. I’m very slow to that volcanic level of anger. I have not taken out my last 2 ½ years of hell on anyone. I have not raised a fist in anger at anyone since I was 14, a freshman in high school, and that was with my brother Jim, so that doesn’t count as a fight. And even my alcoholic roommate from hell in New Haven in the late ’80s/early ’90s, close as he came a couple times as he egged me on, didn’t get me to snap.

But between the chronic unemployment and gender-transition tensions, and now my father’s cancer, and now this uncalled-for shittiness on top of all the other uncalled-for shittiness from Dr. Liberal? I was so ready. All he had to say was one more word. One more fucking word.

And at that point, House Mom grabbed me and brought me into my room. She was in a state of panic, and her words came out in a jumble. Without me going into details, she told me I had inadvertently walked into a pretty heavy-duty domestic hornet’s nest. And I told her, well, I had just found out an hour before that my father had prostate cancer. And I was minding my business and cleaning my room and I walked out of my room to his shit. And she now found herself trying to defuse not one, but two powder kegs. Anyway, only out of deference to her and her terrified state, I took the high road and took a few deep breaths and spent the next hour or two calming down.

And two mornings later, I was sitting in the kitchen having my cereal and he sauntered in and said, with a lilt, “Helloooo!”

Huh? ExCUUSE me? How about “I’m fucking SORRY,” asshole? How fucking DARE you! I just glared at him with a look to kill, grunted and went back to eating. And we haven’t spoken since.

Dr. Liberal proclaims to peddle in ration and logic, someone who demands facts from others to back up their arguments. But his treatment of me has been far from rational.  There was never a reason for him to be a dick to me in the first place.

I’m surmising, based on things I’ve heard here and there, that it has a lot to do with my gender transition. Which, the scientist doesn’t seem to understand, is also based in science. Which is pretty fucking ignorant coming from someone with a doctorate in a science. (And it’s not as if he didn’t know about it before I moved in; I spent four hours with him and House Mom when I checked out the place, and I told them, and I was told it wouldn’t be a problem.)

Or maybe it’s his general intolerance of others who are different from him, or the 99.9999 percent of the universe he treats as beneath him; or maybe it’s some deep-rooted insecurities; or whatever other toxic baggage he carries – which is, as he’s fond of saying, not my problem. Because I’ve done absolutely nothing to him to warrant it. Nothing. I live my life, I go about my business, I stay in my room, I try to keep my distance from the housemates, and I spend most of my time at night at my hangout coffee shop – anywhere but the house. But those rare occasions when we’re in the same room, you need a Ginsu to cut the tension and can serve it on a plate. The disdain and contempt are mutual.

All of the so-called liberal’s bullshit has made my situation all the more stressful and unhealthy. And it has added to the increasing despair of being stuck in Fresno. And I can’t afford to go elsewhere at the moment, so I grin and bear it – well, maybe I just bear it – and hope he stays the fuck out of my way.

This is something I haven’t written about before, or told many people about, but the constant vortex of negative energy has done some sort of number on me. And I do hope karma truly works. (Or, to flip it: What did I do to anyone to deserve this? I must’ve been a terrible person in this life …)

All I know is this was supposed to be my cocoon, a sanctuary from which this beautiful butterfly was soon supposed to emerge, ready to fly out and take on the world. Instead, it’s become another test of my sanity.

*****

So, given my domestic Cold War, I wanted to go home to Connecticut, and soon – where I’ve already plugged in very easily to my old friends and old haunts (everyone at home knows about Frannie 2.0). I still would love a job in the Bay Area if one arises, but I also want to be back home – well, anywhere between New Haven and New York – for my folks’ final years. They’re pretty militant about their self-reliance – I offered several times to help them when I was home, but they declined, and I respected their need to maintain their independence – but I want to be close enough by in case they do need me.

But I really couldn’t go back home for good without a job. Or could I? I was kinda flipping a mental coin – stay here; or just pack up everything and see the country by rental truck and go home, where I could figure everything out on the fly, maybe stay with the folks or Paola for a short while until something materialized.

Well, I flipped the coin. I was staying in Fresno until the right job at home came up.

It seems I’ve lost that coin flip. And as January turned to February and then March – and especially April and May – the tension and anxiety mounted again. There might have been one night so far since late January where I’ve slept more than six hours straight through – most nights, it’ll be three, four, sometimes an hour and a half, two hours – before I wake up and have to fight to get back to sleep. And life – and the universe in general – was starting to pile on me.

And come mid-March – March 11 was the second anniversary of my layoff from The Fresno Bee – the thoughts of walking to the cliff’s edge and hurling myself over started to erupt in a way I hadn’t encountered in a long time. I was back to the dark place.

*****

Dislocation and discombobulation

One thing I had planned to do when I returned from the holidays was get back on the bicycle and ride.

Riding the mountain bike had as much to do with my huge weight loss last year as the hormone therapy and the path away from depression – and the depression noshing. I was doing 10-15 miles a day, four or five days a week, getting the cardio workouts I needed, and with little impact on my body.

Then I hurt my right ankle – dislocated it – the Wednesday a week before Thanksgiving. I don’t even know how I did it, but by that weekend, I was in absolute agony. And I compounded the problem by treating it as a sprain instead of a dislocation, using Ben-Gay and applying heat instead of ice and ibuprofen. In all, I was off the bike for the four weeks before I flew home for the holidays; the ankle finally popped into place two days before I left for home. I so wanted to be in good shape before I went home and pigged over the holidays, which I knew I would do (and most certainly did).

Within a day of coming back to Fresno, I was back on the bike, but I was taking it slow, as I didn’t want to reinjure it. Wouldn’t you know – a few days later, my third bike ride, I tweaked the fucker again. Shit! I so wanted to hit the ground running, or at least riding. That upset me, as you can imagine. This time, I was a little smarter: ice, ibuprofen and, for the first time in my life, crutches, which I bought at a Walgreens. I actually found it easier to get around on one crutch, but still, I was smart about it. After about five days, I was off the crutch, but I was off the bike for three weeks in all before I gingerly attempted it again, this time alternating between a bandage and an ankle brace.

And slowly but surely, I began to round into shape again. Until the first Thursday of March. I had just left the house and gotten about six blocks down Huntington Boulevard when I felt what I thought was the chain slipping. And it got tangled in the frame.

And I must’ve accumulated an inch of black grease on my hands over the next 20 minutes, cussing and grunting all the way, trying to muscle the damn thing off. And when I did, and tried to reattach the wheel, I found that there was a reason I was having so much trouble: The right bracket holding the rear wheel in place snapped. It was only about a half-inch break, but it was fatal. It was a stress-related break, and even if I knew a welder, it wouldn’t make a difference – it broke at a crucial stress point.

In other words, my bike of 6 ½ years had just shit the bed. At the worst time – less than two months before my unemployment was to run out.

Fuck! What else is gonna go wrong?

Well, I couldn’t go without a bicycle. I truly needed one to stay in shape and to keep my endorphins up, because the stress was mounting with each day I didn’t get a response to the dozens of jobs for which I applied, compounded with my benefits ebbing away and the unspoken tension at the house.

My first recourse was to figure out what I wanted next. I was looking for a hybrid this time – something with skinnier and larger wheels than the mountain bike, though without the bend-over-the-handlebars ride of a road bike. And the first place to go: craigslist. I knew someone who bought a beautiful, near-new Trek road bike – yellow, with blue trim and blue chromed wheels – for $100 a few years back. I started my search for the right bicycle – or, at least, something close. But hybrid bikes aren’t quite as plentiful as road and mountain bikes, and after four weeks, I kinda realized that maybe, just maybe, craigslist wasn’t the best way to go.

But how was I gonna swing this? I didn’t want to put this on the credit card. Let’s see … I had saved much of my pub quiz winnings from the winter, for starters. And then, there was the shoebox. I had a shoebox into which I had dumped nearly a decade of loose change. The damn box weighed at least 70 pounds, literally, and I had to bag it in a Hefty bag to leave the house for fear it would fall apart on me. A Union Bank branch a couple miles away had one of the few coin-counting machines in Fresno, and, well, it was time. And even with their 9-percent ripoff charges, I was astounded at how much money I actually had. And between that and the pub quiz cash, I pretty much had enough for some decent new wheels.

And the weekend before Easter, I finally had myself a brand new bike. A Raleigh hybrid, 24-speed, disc brakes, narrower and larger 700-size wheels with mildly treaded tires, matte black with gloss black trim. And I subbed out the racing seat for a gel one with much more cushion and transferred the black rack from my old bike. Added a black water bottle rack. Somehow, the beat-to-shit green metalflake Rat Fink bell from the mountain bike wasn’t gonna quite look good on this black beauty. (Then again, Rat Fink was never supposed to look good, period.

I'm always riding behind the 8-ball.

Anywhere.) But it was a grown-up moment – I bought myself a black bell with an 8-ball motif. And I took out a little bit of cash from the ATM, but I didn’t have to put the bike on the card. And I was back in business and riding proudly.

And not a moment too soon. My mile-each-way walks daily to the neighborhood Fresh & Easy to pick up lunch were a cheap substitute for the bike rides. And they were starting to tweak my lower back.

*****

Disrespect

So here’s Part 1 of How Not to Treat Someone Who Needs a Job:

One of the places I applied in early March was a sports website. Let’s give it a name … OK, how about Bleacher Report? Yeah, that works. They were looking for a managing editor, and their offices were in New York and San Francisco, two cities that work for me … and if they’re as serious as they make themselves out to be in their ads, then they’ll want someone with plenty of experience as an editor and in sports journalism  … Why not?

I got an email back in mid-March from the honcho in charge; let’s call him … I dunno … Joe:

Fran, I’d love to set up a time to speak to you about our available positions. Let me know your schedule availability between Tues-Thurs of next week. I’m based in NY and on ET. Thanks.

Coolness. We arranged a time; I then went deep on their site and armed myself with questions. And three days later, about 12 hours before the scheduled interview, I got this email from Joe:

Fran, Due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m going to have to postpone our scheduled interview.
I’ll advise about setting up an appropriate time should we have the need to reschedule.

“Should we have the need to reschedule.” What the fuck does that mean? “Should we have the need to reschedule”? How did he go from “I’d love to set up a time” to “should we have the need” in three days? Did he just look at the résumé and realize that I was over 30 or something? Or … did he read my blog and realize that maybe I was just a little bit different?

Of course, discrimination – age, gender, whatever – is hard to prove in most circumstances. But regardless, it was just one humongous tease – dangling an interview in front of an unemployed worker who needs a job badly, then pulling it back with no explanation. It just seemed suspicious. And cruel. And it pissed me off.

I emailed back, rather diplomatically: Hmmmm … “should we have the need” … Is there something I should know? Let me know when. Thanks for the heads-up …

I’m still waiting to hear back from Joe from Bleacher Report. And I still see their ads occasionally on the media jobs websites.

*****

Discould be it!

A little more than a week later – finally! A break on the job front! And once again, it came from Colleen, my close friend from home through whom I connected for my first two job interviews.

In mid-March, a week after the planned interview fell through, with me feeling more desperate less than two months from my benefits running out – she told me one of the magazines for which she was freelancing, in Southern California, was looking for a copy editor. Well, it’s not home or the Bay Area, but it would get me working again, and doing something I was good at, and it would be a way to crack into the magazine biz, which has its own rhythms and discipline separate from newspapers. Within a day, I had a résumé and letter out to her editor, the edtor-in-chief.

A week later, I got an email from the executive director of the company, telling me she wanted to bring me in for an interview, provided I knew two things ahead of time: 1) the salary they had budgeted – not a lot of cash for that area of the world, and about 15 percent less than what I made in Fresno, but double what I was making on unemployment; and 2) they weren’t paying for relocation, which would be about four hours from Fresno.

This isn’t gonna come easy, is it? Or with the fairytale ending? But it is a job and a foot in the door, and it’s a lot better working than not working. And I get to prove myself with a national publication. I quickly put up a Facebook feeler asking for input from anyone who was familiar with the area – i.e. quality of life, cost of rents, etc. And within three hours, after talking it out with a few friends, I felt comfortable enough to message her back and tell her yes, I’ll come down for an interview.

So, on a Tuesday at the end of March – actually, the seventh anniversary of the day I started at the Bee – I was driving a Dodge Caliber rental over the Grapevine to SoCal, where I booked a motel room for the night, would get up early next morning, get my interview look together, have a leisurely breakfast, drive around the city some and then go to the interview, which was set for 1:30.

But I wasn’t feeling it. What I was feeling was a lot of stress – and the sleeplessness – and I had absolutely no mojo. I wasn’t feeling this. At all. I was scared and feeling like this wasn’t gonna happen. I felt dead inside. I settled into my motel room for a short while to check emails, then drove downtown to get a lay of the land and see where the office was – it was a sun-splashed, quaint and beautiful downtown and a very Spanish flavor, very tony and very crowded and alive with beautiful people.

I had a dinner date about a half-hour drive down the 101 with Joanne, a friend I know from Fresno who lives down south for now. We met up and wound up at her favorite Mexican restaurant, a great and inexpensive little family place in a very Mexican neighborhood, where I experienced her favorite dish, fish tacos, for the first time. (Yes, in seven years in California, it was the first time I had tasted a fish taco.)

But I was in a pretty disturbed and distracted and agitated state. What if this interview was another huge disappointment, like my two previous ones in New Haven? What if this was another enormous waste of time? What would it say if the universe was sending me on a four-hour goose chases – and with the rental, gas and lodging, it was about $300 – with nothing to show for it? I was kinda beside myself. Here I was, less than 18 hours from my interview, and I really needed to get my mojo back, and in a hurry. And it wasn’t coming.

Joanne has been through her share of hell in recent years, as a divorced mom raising two girls (the third is a grownup now), and one way she has coped is yoga. And, well, she said something she’s learned from her yoga experience, something that cut straight through the fog of anxiety and misery as readily as if she had the knife at her side: “Expectations often bring disappointment.” As in, don’t go in expecting anything. Just let it flow and see what happens. And she resonated as loudly as if she had wheeled a gong into the packed restaurant. She brought to life something that I had been thinking for a while but hadn’t articulated. I just hoped I could internalize it enough to get me through the interview.

So up the coast I drove again, deliberately letting myself get lost in the city and getting a feel for the place by osmosis. I drove out to the areas where I had been looking at apartments on craigslist and was astounded at the number of laid-out, mapped and signed bike routes there were. Mentally, I was figuring out in my head how long it would take to get from Point X to the office on a bike – a form of positive thinking, if you will. And I was in by 10, but I couldn’t get to sleep ’til just after 1.

And I was awake at 5:25. Another 4 ½-hour night. And I found myself plunged straight into the emotional shitstorm once again. Here I was yet again – not sleeping, not feeling anything resembling mojo, leading into what could be a life-changing meeting. And stressed beyond all belief. And I found myself in a crying jag, and in a battle of angels and demons once again – railing against God and saying “Who the fuck am I kidding? What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m no fucking good! Why the fuck am I here? Why are you doing this to me?!?

And from somewhere inside, I mustered the best selling job I’ve ever done on myself. And the inner voice talked to my frightened self, out loud, in a voice that was amazingly resonant, clear and calm – methodical, even:

“You ARE good.”

No – I’m not worth shit! I’m a total fucking loser!

“No, you’re not a loser.”

Of course I am – they’re not gonna hire me!

“Look – they wouldn’t have had you come all the way down here if they didn’t want you.”

Really?

“You’re smart and you’re talented. You know your stuff. And you’re beautiful. You’re gonna go in and dazzle them. You’re gonna get this job.”

And so the conversation went along those lines. As I said, it was a pep talk the likes I’ve never had with myself before; I’m astounded that I had that much positive energy – and that much calm – in the midst of this mental maelstrom. I really didn’t know I had it in me.

Around 6:30, with an hour and a half until the alarm, I was calm – and spent – enough to roll back over and get some sleep.

I very rarely remember my dreams. There’s the one I could never, ever forget: the morning I was home on vacation and was dreaming that I was listening to WCBS-AM, one of New York’s all-news stations, and hearing the coverage of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing – then woke up around quarter to 11, turned on the radio for real and heard Dan Rather talking, in an urgent, measured tone, about “the destruction of the World Trade Center and the bombing of the Pentagon.” Yeah, 9/11. And I was dreaming about the ’93 bombing, probably as the planes hit.

But on this interview morning, I had a longer dream, this one pretty vivid. And it had to do with the New Haven Register, where I worked for 11 1/2 years.

I kept hearing the booming voice of Bob, one of the old compositors, conversing with someone, but I couldn’t see him. Then I was in a newsroom that looked nothing like the Register. It seemed to be sunny, around 8 in the morning. It’s supposed to be the morning of my job interview, and I was in Fresno, four hours away. But, as different as it was, it really was the Register newsroom. In addition to hearing Bob off-camera, I saw Joe, the TV editor, sitting along a wall, doing his work as some (fictitious as far as I know) old-timer named Pat sat next to him, bending his ear off, as retired employees tend to do when they visit, oblivious to the fact that their old colleagues are swamped and really can’t chit-chat.

And then I walked over to a sunny place – much like the sun-drenched mini-courtyard next to both my old desk and Uncle Ricky’s. And I turned and, along the glass, his desk perpendicular to the windows and his back to me, was Uncle Ricky, the features editor and my old boss. And he looked like the Ricky of old. In the years since I left, he’s kinda morphed into his own version of the pre-transition Frannie – casual sport shirts, developed a tummy, grown a ponytail halfway down his back. But this was the Ricky I worked with – the Billy Crystal lookalike with the short salt-and-pepper hair and the crisp dress shirt and tie.

And I came up behind his left ear: “Uncle Ricky. I’m in [Southern California]. I’m interviewing for a job this afternoon.” And he turned and looked up at me: “Really? Good for you. Well, let me know how it goes.”

I woke up after that – 7:52. And just in time for the phone to ping with a text: a good-luck message from the House Mom back in Fresno. I wasn’t getting back to bed. I actually felt great. I felt alive. The spirits had done it all in one night! I sat up, said out loud in a falsetto, “It’s shooooowtiiiiime!” and immediately went to the laptop to write down as much of the dream as I could recall before it disappeared.

Then I took my sweet time donning my black interview outfit – a two-piece top/sweater combo from Lane Bryant and a skirt from Target – putting myself together for the interview. Black stockings on without a run? Check. Makeup? Oops – the eye shadow primer ran out, but I had enough to spread around, and the pink powder went on just fine. And while I normally have trouble with my eyeliner, owing to wrinkly eyelids, this morning it went on like buttah. My best wig? Check. Comfortable black pumps? Check. Pink lipstick? Check.

And as I glanced in the mirror, I allowed myself a big smile. And I got excited all over again. I somehow had my mojo back.

I checked out around 11 and had a leisurely omelet at a nearby Cajun restaurant, thumbed through the local alt-weekly, and then had an hour to kill and drove around some more, getting more of a feel for the lay of the land.

I arrived downtown around 1, a half-hour ahead of time, and I needed a loo. I ended up at a Nordstrom a couple blocks from the office. The ladies’ lounge, as they call it, was on the third floor.

As I approached to the sink, a woman was standing to my left. She was in her 60s – very refined, befitting the city I was in, and platinum blonde. Think of Jessica Tandy in her 60s. But she had a bit of the refined Bohemian about her as well – her long hair scrunched back, with two extremely thin braids on each side of the part, black leather jacket, red tank top, cargo pants, running shoes. And she turned to me as I dried my hands:

“You are so beautiful! Peace be with you!” she said, face beaming, glowing. I’m not sure whether she read me as trans or not; it didn’t matter.

I was taken aback. This was certainly a shot across the bow from the universe. I smiled back at her broadly and said humbly, “Thank you soooo much!” I then rapped on the counter: “Knock on wood – I have a job interview in 20 minutes.”

“You are sooooo gonna get that job!” she said back. “I thought you already worked here!”

The elderly, refined, Boho woman of obvious means from tony SoCal thought the unemployed trannie from Fresno belonged at a Nordstrom in her city. How about that? Pretty fucking incredibly wild. And while my original plan was to get a cup of coffee ahead of time, who needs caffeine when you can go into a job interview off something like that? I gave her a hug and strode back out and back toward the car and the office.

I arrived five minutes before the appointment. It was in a beautiful old building in a historic section of the city. I walked around from the rear parking lot to the front courtyard and paused for about five seconds. “Okay – it’s showtime!”

After my encounter with the angel, I walked into the place flying, and got a good feeling right from the second I met the assistant at the front desk. The online editor came out to meet me and gave me the 50-cent tour of the renovated building. For its historic bones, it was spacious, and the walls were vivid with sun-splashed colors. I met the executive director, whom I would talk to later, the two copy editors, the art director and the two staff writers in a magazine otherwise populated by freelancers.

The online editor actually grew up in Fresno and was a friend of one of my old Bee colleagues. The editor-in-chief was on vacation that week; I found that odd, but then again, I was hired at the Bee without the executive editor having met me, as he was on a leave when I interviewed there. Anyway, the online editor explained to me how the place worked, and he had some things to ask me, and I had things to ask him in return. We spent 45 minutes talking; as we eased in after the initial jitters, the conversation flowed very well.

He then passed me off to the two’s copy editors, and we hit it off well, too. It was much more a conversation than a formal interview. Actually, the staff was expanding; one of the copy editors was going to become a Web/interactive editor full time; hence, the desk opening. And it was the type of office where everyone pitched in, where there was room for personal and professional growth, with the opportunity to expand my expertise in matters such as Web production and go on occasional workshops and seminars out of town.

Then it was time to sit with the executive director of the organization running the magazine. Since gender identity is illegal to discriminate against in California, it’s one of the things companies aren’t allowed to ask about in job interviews. I knew that going in. Still, I wondered, as I sat with everyone else, whether they had gotten the memo ahead of time and had known about my little something extra.

And the first thing she said to me as we sat down was, “I really enjoyed your blog.”

She knew. They knew. And it didn’t matter. That was huge. That felt great.

And I asked her, as I did the online editor, what piqued their interest in my résumé, and both of them said it was my social-media skills. The blog. And their online magazine, like this blog, is a WordPress site. Plus my wide experience wearing various journalistic hats. Plus dropping Colleen’s name.

We talked for nearly a half-hour, and then it was time for the copy-editing test – one relatively raw story, a half-hour time limit, on a Word format, write a headline and a drophed, and add highlighted notations about changes and questions with the story where needed. I was nervous until I got about three paragraphs in, and despite this being the first journalistic copy I’d edited in two years, it was like riding a bike – just a little harder putting baseball cards in the spokes. I very quickly found a rhythm, and I was able to make most of the changes before the editor came in and said, “It’s time.”

I really didn’t know how I did. But the whole interview process took nearly three hours – okay, 2:45 – which couldn’t have been a bad thing. And as I said my goodbyes, one of the copy editors asked, “Are you headed back to Fresno tonight?”

“Yeah, but I’m not in a rush. I’m not gonna get back in time for pub quiz.”

And the online editor said from his office, “Did you say pub quiz?” He and the two copy editors played on a team in town.

Well, now they knew they would get a formidable player if they hired me. And maybe this was meant to be after all.

I called Colleen the first thing back in the car; she caught up with me as I was driving down toward the beach. I pulled over and we talked for a half-hour. She was very pleased to hear it. She told me she’s been saying some extra prayers to St. Joseph, the patron saint of work. I also told her I’m nervous about it because I’m not sure how I did on the written test.

“Well, think of it this way,” she said. “Whatever happens, this was a strong validation that you don’t suck.”

She’s right, of course. But it’ll be much better not sucking and being employed than not sucking and still not employed.

I did take my time getting back to the Big No that night; caught a gorgeous pink/purple/orange sunset over the trees on 126 halfway between Ventura and I-5, had a leisurely Double-Double dinner at the In-N-Out in Gorman after climbing the Grapevine, then home. But it was gonna be hard to be patient. I was told the editor-in-chief would call me early the following week.

Stay tuned for Part 3 …

One Response to “The winter of discord, discontent, dislocation and discombobulation (Dancing on the Cliff’s Edge, Part 2)”

  1. ed Says:

    great piece fran (which sounds weird calling it a piece because i know it’s true).

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