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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Love those fortune cookies, Part 28

November 10, 2013

fortune20cookieWell, I guess the timing of this one is pretty good — though I seem to have heard this before.

If you believe in the whole Mercury-in-retrograde thang — which supposedly impacts us Geminis, and Virgos, more than anyone else — well, tonight is the night we come out of the third and final one of these frustrating and aggravating phases this calendar year.

It has, indeed, been a frustrating period — dozens of resumes out since the start of my last layoff with nothing to show for them, a car that’s been a little screwy of late, some emotional strains that come with the double-whammy of joblessness and a mother who’s been in the hospital. So something has to change, right?

Right?

RIGHT?!?

So this evening, I ordered takeout from the Golden Wok, the Chinese place up the street from me. And I shouldn’t be surprised about getting messages such as this at this point:

“The path is getting easier from here on out. Luck is helping.”

I mean, I’ll believe it when I see it, but any word of encouragement at this point is greatly appreciated. Let’s see if a job materializes this week.

10 years ago: What if I had said ‘No’?

September 29, 2013

Ten years ago Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 25, 2003. A drab and dark day in New Haven, as I remember it. A Thursday, which meant I was in the midst of wrapping up another Weekend section at the New Haven Register, where I had been the entertainment editor and music writer since September of 1992.

And somewhere in between putting out one fire or another, I took a breather and checked my personal email. Since the evil Yahoo has chewed up and spit out a lot of my early emails, the exact wording is long lost to the ether (and possibly the NSA). The subject line read something like

The Fresno Bee/Assistant Features Editor Position

And the message, from the then-features editor at the paper, pretty much read:

Dear Fran:

Hello. I’m the features editor at The Fresno Bee. I saw your resume on journalismjobs.com and was wondering if you would be interested in discussing an assistant features editor position with us.

And for the first time — and certainly not the last — I heard the inner voice, loud and clear. The same voice that came to me a little over four years later and asked me if I could transition genders.

All of a sudden, the busy newsroom (straight out of the ’70s Lou Grant School of Newspaper Interior Design) became quiet. And things got very calm — a state to which I certainly was not accustomed, especially working at a fanatic’s pace all the time with little downtime. And I was introduced, at long last, to my inner voice — the creepy whisper from within that sounded an awful lot like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And HAL simply said:

Okay — it’s Fresno.

And six months later, minus two days, I was on a plane out of Bradley International, headed to the heart of the San Joaquin Valley to start a new life. In more ways than I could ever have imagined.

I listened to the voice.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I not listened, or had I been too scared to do anything.

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Pre-first-day-of-school jitters, mixed with much gratitude

July 28, 2013

Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up a little after 4 (meaning I better get to bed soon), jump in the shower, then get in the car and drive the hour or so to Stamford to beat the I-95 rush-hour traffic and get a decent parking spot at the Metro-North station garage, catch a train to Grand Central, perhaps read the paper and find a place to get a decent breakfast bagel, then, at 9, show up at MSN’s offices in Midtown to begin my first steady job in nearly four and a half years, as a copy editor. (It’s actually the start of two weeks of training, most of which will take place in Manhattan; after that I’ll telecommute.)

The clothes aren’t laid out, but the adult version of the really cool pencil case with all the geegaws and gizmos — a new work laptop, which was overnighted to the house Friday afternoon — is ready to go.

And you know what this feels like? It’s the jitters and eagerness and anxiety the night before the first day of grade school all over again. Except a few things are different.

Well, for one, for the first time, I’ll be going to class in a skirt. (That shit wasn’t gonna fly in my goober hick hometown of Prospect growing up.) And unlike grade school, where I was the subject of much abuse, I won’t have to worry about that with my new classmates. I’ll wonder how I’ll get along with the new classmates and the new teacher(s), and what new and exciting surprises are in store for me.

And I’m going back as Frannie 2.0 — which, as I’ve learned, hasn’t been a problem. It hasn’t hindered me from getting interviews … and now, it certainly hasn’t hindered me getting a job, a contract job working with a major corporation.

It almost seems surreal to know I’m actually going to work.

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 27

July 28, 2013

fortune20cookieI’m guessing this is a going-back-to-work gift.

I came down to Orange to do some writing before I head home early, go to bed early and wake up godawfully early to head to Manhattan to start my first day on what I hope is my first steady job in four-plus years.

As a mini-celebration, I stopped at Shanghai Gourmet, across the street from here, to pick up a little dinner. And with my meal came a bonus fortune cookie.

And wouldn’t you know that both fortunes are pertinent to my situation? Well, at least one of them. This one, I hope, is a prelude to something that turns into something wonderful:

“One who admires you greatly is hidden before your eyes.”

The other, I hope, is a summation of all I’ve been through these nearly four-and-a-half years, five-and-a-half if you count the little gender trip:

“Those who endure most are rewarded the most.”

And there are some out there who have endured a lot longer, believe me. And I hope for much, much better for them soon, like yesterday.

But I do also realize that I’ve also been clueless most of my life about people admiring me. That one could certainly be true and I wouldn’t know it.

Oh well, back to writing …

We interrupt this unemployment again — hopefully for good this time …

July 24, 2013

Monday was one of the most rollercoaster days I’ve had in a long while. Actually, it was more like seven-and-a-half hours.

I hadn’t posted anything about this anywhere until now, but my mom has been in the hospital since last Wednesday night with pneumonia — and, as you might possibly know firsthand, it’s painful to see one of your parents laid up and suffering, especially if they’re elderly. My family and I have been visiting her daily. On Saturday, the color was back in her face, and she was animated, and we had a great heart-to-heart.

But Monday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave the house for a checkup, my father and youngest brother came home from the hospital, and they told me she had taken a turn for the worse. And they’re not alarmists by any stretch. Naturally, visions of mortality come at you like bats at twilight when you hear something like that. I did my damndest to keep calm while suddenly confronted with the thought that maybe, just maybe, I’m about to lose my mother.

Well, imagine my surprise when I walked down the hospital hall two and a half hours later, and I heard her voice coming from inside the room, talking with a doctor. I was expecting tubes and a respirator and maybe a coma. Nope — she’s pretty tough.

Came home a little after 8 and was cooking a small bowl of pasta when the phone rang. It was a job recruiter calling from the suburbs of Seattle.

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Cygnus Radio playlist 7/19/13: The heat was hot and the ground was dry but the air was full of sound

July 20, 2013

sunFranorama 2.0 airs live every Friday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT on Cygnus Radio, and in semi-perpetuity in the archives. To access the archives, click here.

No, for the record, I did NOT play “A Horse With No Name” on my latest Franorama 2.0 show. But it was, indeed, a hot one — in a heatwave of a week here in Connecticut. The projected high here was 96 degrees — in or out of the shade — with the humidity around 70 percent. And so, the show responded accordingly.

(And yes, Fresno friends, the heat is a lot different back here, as someone who knows. The mid-to-upper 90s out there are bearable. The low-to-mid-90s here are brutal when you throw in that humidity.)

Lots of songs about heat, and coping with it, on this latest show. But some detours as well:

  • “In the City,” “In the City”: Decided to throw two totally different songs with the songs back-to-back in the opening set, which I tend to do sometimes. The first was by The Jam, of course. The second was by the Big Boys, one of Texas’ first hardcore bands — a group that really was too eclectic and experimental and way-before-their-time to be categorized so rigidly.
  • Supporting the loosely based tribe: Laura Jane Grace fronts the pop-punk band Against Me!, and she, like your hostess, has gone through gender transition. (I don’t talk about this much on the radio because 1) Many listeners are friends who know my story already; and 2) It often has no bearing on what I play.) But her transition has been a little harder than mine in two regards: 1) She’s the singer for a nationally known band; and 2) She came out in Florida, that clusterfuck of radical right-wing gooberism and intolerance. Anyway, she released a free download online of her new single, “True Trans Soul Rebel,” so that triggered a set.
  • “Mi Sento Felice”: The Box Tops in Italian! From 1969, set to “Cry Like a Baby.” The only American recording I’ve seen that includes it is Rhino’s Best of The Box Tops compilation LP in the early ’80s. And now you’ve heard it — or can if you click the link to the second hour …
  • “Long Blond Hair”: Bookended my final set with two versions of this rockabilly classic (which I used to sing occasionally with New Haven rockabilly trio Gone Native in the ’90s). The opener was a 1997 version by an artsy, atmospheric Los Angeles combo called The Hyperions, from their album Howl. Saw them play this at the Continental Club in Austin when I was at South X Southwest in ’98. The latter was Johnny Powers’ 1957 original. (Powers was a Detroit native who was the only artist ever signed to both Sun and Motown, and the first male artist signed to Motown. And he did the foot stompin’ on The Supremes’ “Baby Love.”)

Okay, that’s enough. Off to have an iced tea. Please drop in live or in the archives. And tell your friends — we’ve got a thing going on. Ciao …

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 26

July 16, 2013

fortune20cookieWell, I’ve cut back my consumption of Chinese food considerably in recent months (what a stretched budget does to you), but I broke down tonight and splurged for a chicken chow fun takeout from Shanghai Gourmet, the excellent place across the Boston Post Road from my coffee hangout in Orange. (That’s Connecticut.)

And, well, it seems as if the universe is speaking to me through fortune cookies again, at long last.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with the last few years, thanks to the lingering job(less) situation, is the pervasive sense of failure. And that has crept over into my personal life — just at the time, thanks to my transition, that I started to develop self-esteem for the first time in my life.

Starting with my little gender epiphany 5 1/2 years ago, I’ve confronted and conquered just about every single fear in my life — except failure. Every no and nonresponse to every resume I’ve sent has added to the feeling of failure, as if my life has amounted to nothing. It’s made me curtail my writing on this here blog — few people read it anymore, so it must suck. I must be a terrible writer. And if no one reads the blog anymore, if I write the book, it’ll be a failure, too. And that’s one last failure I’m not ready to face. That one would be devastating.

Rationally, I understand that this kind of thinking feeds off itself and isn’t healthy. Rationally. The logical half of the brain. But the half that rules the heart says it’s true.

Anyway, I’m at a point where I’m getting nibbles again on the employment front — encouragement and discouragement and a lot of waiting all at once. On the whole, I’m in a decent place. Which set the table perfectly for tonight’s fortune:

“Do not fear failure.”

Easier said than done, but I’ll take that as a gentle, subtle hint from the universe to start writing again. Maybe I don’t suck after all. And the only thing we have to fear …

Cygnus Radio playlist 7/12/13: The Fleshtones and the American Beat

July 16, 2013
The Fleshtones in action -- they're never at rest -- this past Saturday at Sailfest, at the Hygienic Art Park in New London, CT. From left: Ken Fox, Peter Zaremba, Bill Milhizer and Keith Streng.

The Fleshtones in action — on stage, they’re never at rest  — this past Saturday (July 13) at Sailfest, at the Hygienic Art Park in New London, CT. From left: Ken Fox, Peter Zaremba, Bill Milhizer and Keith Streng.

Franorama 2.0 airs live every Friday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT (9-noon CDT, 7-10 a.m. PDT, 2-5 p.m. GMT) on Cygnus Radio, and in the archives in semi-perpetuity. For the link to the archived shows, click here.

“The Fantastic Johnny C! Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon! The incredible James Brown! Roy Brown! Chuck Brown! The Reverend Richard Penniman! Elvis Presley and all the kings of rock’n’roll. Lou Costello! The Intruders! The Illusions! Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly! The Dell-Vikings, Del Fuegos, Del Shannon, MC5. The Velvets! The Stooges! Louie Jordan, Rosco Gordon! The Raiders and the Wailers and The Kingsmen and The Sonics. Phast Phreddie, The Last! The Unclaimed, The Plimsouls! The Lyres and The Real Kids. The Modern Lovers! Alan Vega, Los Lobos, The Gentrys, The Dantes and The Headhunters, too. Mitch Ryder! Ritchie Valens! The Osmonds! Parliament and The Jackson 5. The Rivingtons! Donna Summer! Martha Reeves! Richard Berry! Berry Gordy! Hoo — Chuck Berry! LouieLouieLouieLouieLouieLouieLoueeeee! Come on, Louie! LouieLouieLouieeee!”

The above roll call comes at the tail end of the Franorama 2.0 national anthem — the song I use to open nearly every show, be it on Cygnus Radio online or WPKN in Bridgeport — “American Beat ’84” by my eternal favorite band, Brooklyn’s uncrowned kings of pop and soul since 1976, The Fleshtones. A re-recording of their very first single, from 1978, it ran in the end-title credits of Tom Hanks’ first starring feature, Bachelor Party (where he shared marquee time with the illustrious Adrian Zmed and Tawny Kitaen).

Peter taking his chances out in the crowd.

Peter taking his chances out in the crowd.

And in this re-done version. Peter Zaremba, the group’s kinetic frontman, honored some of the people who’ve shaped rock and soul — both familiar and unfamiliar names.

And since they were playing in Connecticut for the first time since my move home last August — this last Saturday (July 13) as part of New London’s annual Sailfest, and playing in the prime pre- and post-fireworks slot once held by The Reducers, I devoted the whole show to them. And, in particular, the American Beat. Took me more than 20 years to finally do this show, based on the roll call. I’m not the first person who’s done this, but hey — it doesn’t happen very often. And I had more fun than a barrel of people.

Keith impersonates Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" album cover.

Keith impersonates Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” album cover.

Anyway, by the time I put together all the songs for the roll call, I realized, “Holy shit! I have over three hours of music for a three-hour show! And no Fleshtones!” So I texted Gary Gone, the head G of this Cygnus operation, seeing if he minded if I go over an extra hour; he was fine with it — after all, there were four hours until D.J. Lotto’s Happy Hour show, and I draw (hopefully) better ratings than the autobot that runs during the dead-air times — so all’s well that ends well.

And their show Saturday night was as fun and energetic as I’ve seen them in years. They were firing on all cylinders. I’ve seen both good and bad shows over nearly 30 years, and this was one of the good ones. The Fleshtones are the most fun you can have on a Saturday night without a prescription, and this show was proof.

Keith and Eddie Munoz during The Split Squad's opening set.

Keith and Eddie Munoz during The Split Squad’s opening set.

And the opening act was a revelation. ‘Shtones guitarist Keith Streng also plays in The Split Squad, all of whom have other jobs. Surrounding singer/bassist Michael Giblin (of The Parallax Project) are Keith and Eddie Munoz of Plimsouls fame on guitar, organist Josh Kantor of The Baseball Project and Fenway Park, and, normally on drums, Clem Burke. But since Clem was away with some other band he plays with (Blondie), pinch-drumming was Linda Pitmon, also of The Baseball Project and, with husband Steve Wynn, The Miracle 3. Lots of unexpected fun.

Anyway, back to “American Beat.” Some notes for the uninitiated:

Peter gave a quick mention to “all the kings of rock’n’roll,” so I took artistic license to conjure as many American Kings as I could muster … Thee Precisions were Phast Phreddie’s band — longtime L.A. scenester Phast Phreddie Patterson … The Unclaimed was an L.A. garage band  from the late ’70s/early ’80s, best known for being Sid Griffin’s first band, before The Long Ryders … Alan Vega was half (with Martin Rev) of minimalist no-wave duo Suicide in the late ’70s/early ’80s … The Gentrys, of “Keep on Damcing” fame, included future famed pro wrestling “manager” Jimmy Hart … The Dantes were a garage band from Ohio whose breakout single from 1964, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” was covered by The Fleshtones in the mid-to-late ’80s … Motown mogul Berry Gordy, of course, was never a recording artist, and Motown was represented already, so I included his first big claim to fame — as co-writer of “Lonely Teardrops” for his Detroit friend Jackie Wilson.

Well, that’s all. No themes planned for this Friday’s show. But I guarantee a fun time. So tune in while you work, tell your friends and, if you haven’t done so yet, please “like” my Facebook radio/blog page. I want this show, and this station, to blow up bigtime. Have fun — I know I did.

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Cygnus Radio playlist 7/5/13: The Zombies were having fun …

July 7, 2013
Yes, it's the Zombies, but no no no, no, no, no, it's not from last Friday night's show in Hamden; this is from June 16 in Rockville, Md. From left: Rod Argent, Jim Rodford and Colin Blunstone. From YouTube.

Yes, it’s The Zombies, but no no no, no, no, no, it’s not from last Friday night’s show in Hamden; this is from June 16 in Rockville, Md. From left: Rod Argent, Jim Rodford and Colin Blunstone. From YouTube.

Franorama 2.0 airs live from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT (9-noon CDT, 7-10 a.m. PDT, 2-5 p.m. GMT) on Cygnus Radio, and in perpetuity in the archives. To go to the archives, click here.

Well, all the years I was writing about music at the New Haven Register, the Hamden Arts Commission would hold a free summer concert series at Meadowbrook Park, an old golf course in the center of town, but despite writing about it every year in the Weekend section, I never went to a show. (I think it was just not wanting to do anything on a Friday night after a 55-to 60-hour work week. Usually just exhaustion and/or decompression.)

Finally, in this, my first summer home from my eight-year exile in California, I went to a show. And it was, indeed, a show. This year, the commission opened its four-Fridays-in-July series with The Zombies.

I’d heard good things from discerning musical friends about the reconstituted Zombies — maybe the most understated and underappreciated act of the British Invasion — since singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent began touring under that name again in the early 2000s. But I’d never had the chance to see them.

My friend Theresa and her hubby, Fred, picked me up (thanks again!), and we made a night of it. And for such a skeevy, sticky summer day, it was a gorgeous evening. And The Zombies were well worth it. A packed hour and a half as it got dark — all the hits, five tunes from Odessey and Oracle, some newer stuff, Rod playing “Hold Your Head Up,” “She’s Not There” to end the set, then “Just out of Reach” and “Summertime” to end it.

And Blunstone — who, like Argent, just turned 68 — was in most excellent voice. All these years, I’ve seen so many performers cut corners to compensate for the vocal ranges they’ve lost. He still has his. The only other singer I can think of who kept his voice well into his 60s like that was Ronnie Dio (who lived to 67; his stomach may have failed him, but not his larynx).

Anyway, I celebrated in advance by playing a half-hour of Zombies on the show that morning, a 10-song set.

And some of the other tunes of note from the 5th:

  • Musicians, get played here! A wonderful thing happened in the midst of the opening set. The irrepressible Palmyra Delran — onetime guitarist and leader of The Friggs — messaged me on Facebook with links to her two most recent singles, “Shy Boy” and “You’re My Brian Jones.” My unofficial motto is “If I like it, I’ll play it” — so I processed both cuts and got them on before the set was over. The moral of the story: If you have an album (CD or files) you think is worthy of playing, well, as I said, if I like it, I’ll play it! message me here or on my Facebook page, and I’ll let you know where to send the album.
  • Musicians, get played here! Part two: The Lost Riots, from New Havenish. I’ve known the lead guitarist, Sean Beirne, since he was a young squirt playing with The Battlecats. Saw them for the first time Wednesday night at the Punk Rock BBQ at Cafe Nine. And ahead if the show, they posted their forthcoming cassette (yes, cassette), “Crown Street Stories,” as a free download on Bandcamp. I played “You Don’t Like Otis Redding.”
  • 50 years? Really? According to the FB page for the documentary The Wrecking Crew, Friday was the 50th anniversary of the day the famed group of L.A. studio musicians laid down the tracks for “By My Baby” at Gold Star Studios. Brian Wilson’s all-time favorite single and source of production inspiration. History.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Coming up this Friday: A special rave-up with the band that’s headlining before and after the fireworks Saturday evening at the Sailfest in New London — my faves, The Fleshtones. Get ready for three hours of wildness.

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