Five years on already

February 8, 2015

5th candleIt was a cloudy Friday afternoon in January 2010, about 12:30, at the place that was my de facto second home in Fresno, the Revue coffee shop (since sold and renamed Mia Cuppa) in the Tower District.

I met up for a lunch/coffee appointment with my former Fresno Bee colleague, Jennifer Ward. At that point, it had been eight months since I was discarded, in a mass layoff, by the McClatchy chain, from the job for which I had moved from Connecticut six years before, as an assistant features editor at the Bee. Jen was the paper’s interactive editor, brought in from the Dallas Morning News to implement and oversee the paper’s online operations.

But Jen had just been let go, too, and unlike this frustrated, depressed, middle-aged editor and writer who couldn’t even get a dog to sniff me despite a glowing resume, she had some ideas.

So she sat down with me this particular afternoon to introduce me to the world of social media.

She told me I needed to do three things — start a Facebook account, start a Twitter account and create a blog — so prospective employers would see that I was adept at social media.

I told her no Facebook — for one, I reasoned that the same people who told me “You need to get on Facebook!” were the same ones who told me “You need to get on MySpace!” two or three years before, and who’s to say that in a year they wouldn’t be telling me “You need to get on Zork.com!” or some other site? Also, while I was out as transgender to my family, my friends in Fresno and my closest friends back in Connecticut, I didn’t feel comfortable having a social-media page as Frannie 2.0 yet, and wouldn’t be for another year.

But I was more than amenable to Twitter and a blog. She walked me through both. She told me to go with WordPress, as it was an easy-to-manage content-management system. I came up with the name Franorama for my blog — same as my radio show back home at WPKN in Bridgeport — but someone had beaten me to it. So I settled on Franorama World, and she left me to play with the blog and learn to navigate my way around it.

But what to write?

I had the world in front of me, but what would I write that would make sense? And people would want to read?

Also, when I left my longtime job as the entertainment editor/music writer at the New Haven Register to move to bigger and better across the country, I was seriously burnt on writing. My job was two and a half full-time jobs compressed into 55-60 hours each week — planning, laying out and supervising a Weekend section, writing one or two feature stories, planning and lining up interview questions, writing a music column — and the new job in Fresno was strictly editing, no writing, 40 hours a week. And save for posting an occasional CD review on Amazon, and a handful of blog posts on MySpace and Fresnobeehive.com, I had done no writing for nearly six years. I had to dig a lot of ashes out of the furnace.

So I was seriously out of practice.

Technically, my first post was on Feb. 3, 2010 — an automated introductory post from WordPress on the day I finally activated the account. But I finally found some inspiration four days later, the first Sunday of February. One of my two football teams, the New Orleans Saints, was ending decades of frustration by playing in its first Super Bowl. I banged out a post before the game about the excitement level I felt going in … and afterward, a little more ragged (and buzzing) for the wear, I posted again about the glorious aftermath.

I figured I would go back to writing entertainment/review pieces — after all, I reviewed albums and the occasional movie for 20 years in my professional life — but I still didn’t feel I had a purpose.

Then came April — and I found my purpose, not to mention an outlet to keep me relatively sane as I went through both my transition and the looooooooong unemployment.

And here we are, five years later; I can’t believe that. And now, where the hell am I, really?

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‘That’s that Jackie Gleason thing, huh?’ (Joe Franklin, 1926-2015)

January 25, 2015
A stupendous! Colossal! Life. Big! Big big big!

A Stupendous! Colossal! Life. Big! Big big big!

Last night (Saturday, Jan. 24), when I shared the New York Times and New York Daily News obituaries of the great Joe Franklin on the Book of Faces, some of the comments I got included the standard “I didn’t know he was still alive!” variety. Well, the man was a month and a half shy of 89, and, let’s face it, he was born old. And he gave up The Joe Franklin Show, his record-length talk show of 42 years, two decades ago already. Yes, that long ago. So excuse those who didn’t realize he’d been whistling past the graveyard all these years. And now he’s another great New York institution that’s disappeared.

If you didn’t grow up in the Tri-State Area, or see Billy Crystal’s impersonations during his lone year on Saturday Night Live, Joe was the King of Television, the King of the Talk Show, the King of Late-Night and King of Nostalgia. He pretty much gave us the talk-show format as we know it when he started on the tube in 1951 — sitting behind a desk and chatting with a couch full of guests. He also gave us the concept of nostalgia as we came to know it — regaling viewers and guests with stories of performers such as Sophie Tucker and Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson on his many travels down Memory Lane.

And along the way, he interviewed an estimated 300,000 people. A handful were bona fide legends, such as Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis, Joe Louis and his idol, Bing Crosby; some others were up-and-comers who caught a huge break early on from Joe and his show, such as Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Bette Midler; some were regular guests who could be called upon in a pinch, such as Joe’s longtime producer and trivia quizmaster, Richie Orenstein, or Morris Katz, the world’s fastest painter, who created works in a minute or less using a palette knife and toilet paper. As a rock and pop music fan, there were other great names along the way, such as Tiny Tim (another quasi-regular), The J. Geils Band (who made a paint-splashed mess of his studio one Friday night my senior year of college) and The Ramones.

But most of his guests were everyday people who would fall into the categories of never-weres, never-gonna-bes and wannabes. And from time to time, they shared the couch with the greats. Thus, the show sometimes ran toward the mundane, or even the surreal. But the democracy of the panel of guests was one of the most endearing qualities of Joe’s show. For even a few minutes, anyone could be a star. And Joe was perhaps the most accessible TV host of all time — his number was in the Manhattan White Pages.

And that leads to my personal experience with Joe Franklin, and how he could launch something Big! Big! Big! with the exposure from his show.

Let’s just say that without Joe, fans of The Honeymooners would never have seen the “Lost Episodes.” read on …

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Graduation day, or Frannie 2.0 goes to her high school reunion

December 15, 2014

You need to understand two things about me going to my 35th high school reunion the first Saturday of October, at Holy Cross in Waterbury, Ct.:

1) I was actually a little nervous heading into this. I have no clue why. I mean, granted, it was the first reunion I’d attended in 15 years, and a lot of things had transpired since — two

A years-ago shot of my old high school.

A years-ago shot of my old high school.

cross-country moves, one huge, honking stretch of unemployment, four jobs and, oh yeah, one gender transition. But I’m through the worst of my hell now, at least as long as I’m able to keep my job. And I’m out and living in the everyday world and either people don’t read me as trans, or they do and they don’t give a shit. And I really don’t give a shit what people think anymore, which is huge for someone who always strove to please everyone for most of my life (and often failed).

But when I do think of it, maybe I do know why I was so apprehensive — because I was a good Catholic boy, went to a Catholic high school, and due to a depression brought on by a combination of the harassment by the kids in my hometown of Prospect growing up and the hormonal imbalance that lasted from puberty to my first hormone shot in 2010, it was four of the most emotionally turbulent years of my life. Not to mention four of the most formative. And these were the people I shared those four years with, for better and worse. And I was going back to Waterbury, a place as provincial — and in some ways nearly as right-wing — as Fresno, my home-in-exile for eight years. (Three of my school’s most notable alumni include a former governor and two former Waterbury mayors — all Republicans, all of whom are doing, or have done, or have done and will do again, prison time.)

2) Five years ago, as the 30th reunion was going on, I was 3,000 miles away, laying in the fetal position on my bed in Fresno — the Waterbury of California — in the room I was renting from, what I was painfully starting to learn, an alcohol-dysfunctional family. While the gathering of successful businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, moms and the obligatory movie star (Dylan McDermott finally made it to a reunion) took place back here, I was in T-shirt and shorts, a couple days’ growth on my face, alternating between bouts of sobs and trying to sleep. After an hour or so, I would get up off the bed and make my way over to the desk and fire up the laptop and play online poker, and when I was too tired to concentrate any more, I walked back over to the bed, went fetal again and back to bouts of tears. Lather, rinse, repeat.

At that point, I was out of work for seven months, and in the time since I was laid off from The Fresno Bee, I got not one nibble, despite a solid resume — no jobs to be had, no prospects anywhere. And it was a little over two weeks since the night I came out to my parents, and I was starting to feel the weirdness from them. (It would take another 14 months, and more anguish, before they were finally on board with 2.0.) This was not what I bargained for when I moved across the country five-and-a-half years earlier. Instead of being an editor at one of the biggest papers in the most populous state in the country, I was now an utter, absolute, total, complete, supply-your-own-creative-redundant-synonym-here failure. And in between sobs, I prayed to a god that had abandoned me and asked for the courage, the energy, to get up off the bed, grab the bicycle and go riding to one of the many grade crossings in Fresno and wait for a train to come by and hit me. And like my many other prayers, and many resumes, over the coming years, it went ignored. I wussed out, eventually drifted off to sleep at some point, and there was a morning after, and the sun came out.

So yeah, I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into this particular Saturday night.

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Black 47: I FINALLY get it — better late than never (Paddy Reilly’s, Manhattan, 11/6/14); UPDATE: The final reel (B.B. King’s, Manhattan, 11/15/14)

November 7, 2014

Black 47 ticket and takeout, Paddy Reilly's, 11-6-14

 

How does someone like/know/follow a band for 20 years and NOT totally get it — until last night, their sixth-to-last show, my penultimate Black 47 show? Didn’t know how necessary it was to see them last night at Paddy Reilly’s.

I’ve seen them at least a couple dozen times at nightclubs, at fairs, at Irish clubs and, once, an amphitheater in Hollywood. But I never saw them in their true element until last night. Never saw them at Reilly’s. Yeah, I know, there was that bar up on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx where they cut their baby teeth, and the original Reilly’s, when they first achieved fame, was a block south on Second Avenue, but nonetheless, it was Black 47. It was Reilly’s, their last hurrah there. And a week from tomorrow night, on the 15th, when they play their final note at B.B. King’s, everything truly, sadly, will be one huge was.

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Love those fortune cookies, part 30

September 3, 2014

fortune20cookieSo yeah, I didn’t realize it was so long since I cracked open a fortune cookie worth writing about. Last time was January, when I started my current job at my old place in New Haven.

And I ended up with two — plus a third fortune I forgot I had socked away in my purse. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Time: Thanks for nothing.

June 6, 2014
I guess transpeople are trendy, now that Time says so.

I guess transpeople are trendy, now that Time says so.

One of the big buzzes at the beginning of last week (the day after Memorial Day) was that a transperson was to be featured on the cover of Time — Laverne Cox, one of the co-stars of Orange Is the New Black. Time teased us with a Q-and-A with Ms. Cox but kept the online version of the cover story behind a subscriber paywall. Some of my wonderful and extremely supportive friends were excited about this and messaged me on Facebook and sent links to the Q-and-A and offered me their copies of the issue when they were finished with it. And I, too, was somewhat excited, cautiously curious at how Time would play this story.

I finally got a copy in the mail at the beginning of the week (courtesy of my friend and former Fresno Bee colleague, Diana Ramirez-Simon), and, well, I wanted to read it and let it swirl around a little bit before I added my two cents to what I’ve been calling the last frontier of civil rights for some time now.

Okay, I’ve read it, all nine pages — actually, four pages, after you take out the photos and the half-page of air on the lede page — and, well, I’m not happy. Time, thanks for nothing. I’ll explain …

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Why I do cry, or all good things do have to end (Chip Damiani, 1945-2014)

February 24, 2014
The Remains in their first prime. From left: Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian and Vern Miller.

The Remains in their first prime. From left: Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian and Vern Miller.

How I got through the last three hours of work this past evening and remained something resembling productive while being emotionally numb is beyond me.

I’ve written tributes to deceased musicians many times, both for newspapers and here on this blog. But until now, I had never been written one about a friend.

As in any instance when a friend dies suddenly, totally unexpectedly, it’s awfully hard to articulate. It’s hard to even say it.

Okay, I’ll just get the hard part out and let the rest flow. After jamming through a whole bunch of work, I stopped around 9 p.m. to have a bite and check out my Facebook messages. A writer from Westport named Dan Woog posted a link to his blog on my page: Chip Damiani, the drummer for one of the best rock’n’roll bands America ever produced, The Remains — and, what is really important to me, a good friend and former neighbor-of-sorts — died yesterday afternoon of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 68 going on 35.

Go figure — trim, in a fighting shape forged from all those years as a roofer, in the best physical shape by far of everyone in the band, their backbone and fiery, no-bullshit, you-knew-where-you-stood presence. And he’s the one who went first.

And it was Chip who provided me with one of my favorite stories in two-plus decades as a music writer. And introduced me to the band that provided me with two of my favorite moments as a music fan.

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Almost old enough to drink (the blog turns 20), almost old enough for kindergarten (my blog turns 4)

January 30, 2014

Birthday cupcakeNormally, I would just post a news item to the Book of Faces and be done with it. But this one? Nah! That wouldn’t do it justice. It has to be answered in the form of a blog post:

Not sure of the exact birthdate, but the blog turns 20 this year. And all of us who have used this medium to share some of ourselves should give credit where credit’s due.

Until I read this story from the Guardian this morning (and thanks to Jim Romenesko for tipping us off via his blog), I hadn’t given much thought to how the weblog began or who invented it. I mean, do you think of Gottlieb Daimler when you sit behind the wheel and turn the key? I wouldn’t be able to pick Justin Hall or Meg Hourihan or Dave Winer out of a lineup if my life depended on it, but wherever you are, thanks much. Maybe my life would be a little different, and not for the better, had there not been a blogosphere.

Read on …

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 29 (the back-to-work edition)

January 26, 2014

fortune20cookieWell, last time I posted was four days back, the day before I headed into the office — at my old haunt, the New Haven Register building, where I was starting my new job as a Northeast design hub for the Register’s parent company, Digital First Media. There, I’m paginating (electronically laying out) pages for the company’s seven Connecticut/upstate New York dailies and some weeklies, and proofing some pages.

No, I didn’t lose my job; hardly. Just groping my way through the frustration of the learning curve, as was/is to be expected when working with new tools. Give it a

Just before walking into the Register building for my first day of work, 1/23/14.

Just before walking into the Register building for my first day of work, 1/23/14.

couple of weeks and the training wheels will be off. Meanwhile, it’s throw the baby into the deep end and let ‘er learn how to swim. But the crew — none of whom I’ve worked with before — seems pretty cool and pretty helpful and patient with the newbie.

Come dinner break the first night, I didn’t want to deal with traffic and parking downtown, so I went out to State Street for Chinese takeout at Blessings II Go. (I have to get used to the late dinner breaks and readjust my eating schedule.) Picked up a mediocre sesame chicken combo and cold sesame noodles.

But good fortunes, or at least ones that are weirdly to my given situation at the time, make up for mediocre food.

I actually was given two fortune cookies. As I sat at my desk and quickly nom-nommed my dinner, I smiled at what the first one said:

“Today is an ideal time to water your personal garden.”

And then, if that wasn’t enough:

“Keep in mind that home is where the heart is.”

Wow. Just wow.

I look at my second go-round in New Haven as a totally different experience — while the building and much of the furniture and quite a few of the people there are still the same as when I lefty nearly 10 years ago, it’s a new job, with new management up top, a new immediate boss, a new way of doing things and, as mentioned, a new crew. I don’t spend a lot of time — or any, really — dwelling on “Well, this isn’t the way we used to do things.”

But yeah, in a weird way, I am, most definitely, home. Kinda sorta. Time to go do some more watering …

Is this really it this time? The light at the end of the tunnel?

January 22, 2014

light at the end of the tunnel

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything — the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from this here blog of mine — for a number of reasons:  severe loss of mojo, having to dig into the job hunt again and dealing with a very sick mother. Let’s see if I still know how to write …

I know I’ve written a similar story before.

I thought my employment hell — which began nearly five years ago, when I was let go the first time by The Fresno Bee, in a mass purge by the McClatchy chain — was finally over last July, when I landed a contract job as a part-time copy editor at MSN.

It was my first time working in New York (doing the beast of a commute from home to Midtown Manhattan, at least 2 1/2 hours each way, between the drive to Stamford and the train to Grand Central, which I would have to do until I got the computer access card that would let me work from home). It was the largest company for which I ever worked, which never looks bad on your permanent record. (Technically, I worked for a worldwide staffing company, and my manager was based in Seattle, but you get the picture.) And it was my first time back in the work world as Frannie 2.0 in a place where I was a total stranger. (I returned to the Bee for 10 months, from September 2011 to August 2012, as an on-call copy editor, and was met with nothing but open arms by my now-formerly formerly-former colleagues.)

And it went wonderfully. The commute sucked, but I absolutely thrived on the energy in the City. (And I made the most of my Fridays after work; since there was no way I hell I was gonna sit in the 20 miles of Friday-afternoon traffic jam on 95, especially in the summer, they became Linger Longer Fridays, full of adventure and meeting and befriending a lot of new people.) I passed well and encountered no bullshit along my commutes — just another of the 8 million trying to get by. The work itself was cake. I was starting to break the ice and fit in and make friends in the newsroom, And my supervisors really liked me — so much that they were planning to give me more hours. And come September, I was eligible for benefits — for the first time in three years, I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Anyway, I was supposed to have been able to work from home by the second week. It took 6 1/2 weeks to get the computer card I needed to telecommute. And then, the morning of 9/11 — my first day working from home — my manager from Seattle emailed me at 10 in the morning. That would be 7 a.m. her time.

“Can I call you?”

Oh, shit. This can’t be good.

It wasn’t.

Some nameless, faceless beancounting scumbag at Microsoft with absolutely no news sense decided that it was time to gut MSN. Which, on the surface, made — and makes — absolutely no sense, as the company was, and is, between CEOs; it was only two weeks before that Steve Ballmer announced he would be stepping down within a year. How do you make such a drastic change without a new person at the helm?

And with that, all the freelance writers were discarded. So were 15 of the 18 us contract copy editors. Including one of my supervisors, who had come on board a week or two after me and had just spent two weeks out at the mothership in Redmond. That really didn’t make sense. (And if I could ditch my Microsoft operating system and office software right now without losing anything or going through a hassle, you bet your ass I would.)

We were all blindsided, even the staffing company; when I asked the manager when she first found out, she said, “This morning.” Our last day was Sept. 30. And just like that, I was Charlie Brown, and Lucy was pulling away the football once again.

Yet more stress.

Anyway, fast-forward to Sunday afternoon. I got a call from the director of the Northeast design hub for Digital First Media. He offered me a job as one of his deputies; I’ll be part of the design hub, which paginates (electronically lays out, for the layperson) stories for the company’s seven Connecticut and upstate New York dailies, plus some community weeklies. Once I’m up to speed on the software, it will entail laying out at least 15 pages a night, plus proofing pages.

And Thursday afternoon (Jan. 23), I go back to yet a second place where I once worked — The New Haven Register building, where the hub is located, and where I worked for 11 1/2 years as the entertainment editor/music writer before moving to Fresno in March of 2004. I returned first thing Monday morning for my orientation. It felt kinda weird, to tell you — the building is the same, as are quite a few of my soon-to-be-formerly former colleagues. But the situation is radically different. It parallels my homecoming nearly a year and a half ago — things are the same, yet things have changed a lot.

So, Frannie, back to work. And now, the $64,000 question:

Is this finally — after all these years of wandering around in a sea of uncertainty and questioning my worth and worried about falling off figurative and sometimes literal cliffs and plunging down an economic hole of no return — the light at the end of the tunnel?

*****

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