Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fish Face

I’ve recently started swimming and it’s hard. A few times a week I struggle into my little black sport suit with the neon yellow stripes and the thin, white straps. I’m cranky on the way over in the car and I’m essentially a bitter old person the whole time I’m there. It’s hard to believe I once held a Junior LIfe Saving Certificate or was on the swim team. Just about everything jiggles when I walk so I try not to think about what it looks like when I swim. I think of Shelly Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. Inside, I too am a very skinny lady.

 

I usually do breast. It’s the easiest and that’s why. I cheat and count once across as a lap instead of the regulation once and back is a lap. If I do ten cheater laps, I call it a day. If I do twelve I feel like someone should give me a parade. The lap lanes are surrounded by riot-like kid areas and they are usually populated by only a few grown ups. The whole place is next to a college so there is pretty much always a young person or two barreling up and down the lane, total freestyle all the way. When they go by me, I get my one taste of what it must be like to swim in The Olympics. The water boils around me, making rushing, chopping waves that create drag on my already dragging self. The sound charges at me, helicopters seeking landing pads. I think about Michael Phelps, before the world knew he was a bong smoking pothead, and Mark Spitz, with his tiny suit and gorgeous neck full of medals. I think I can almost imagine how violent the water was when they swam, how the sound of the crowd was drowned out by the sound of swimming. I think about Diana Nyad, the water nymph who can’t stop swimming. I feel like a moron. I can barely make twenty minutes and Nyad swam fifty-three continuous hours just to get to Cuba. She’s not even Cuban and she swam through some of the most hostile water on the planet to be greeted by complete strangers. And she’s sixty. As a paddle along, I realize I have nothing but poor excuses.

 

The pool used to be free. Today they had a sign up, $3.50 for adults. I was pissed and told the woman that that’s over a hundred a month if I swim every day. I realize, of course, that if I actually did swim every day, I’d be so full of endorphins I probably wouldn’t care that the pool is no longer free and I’d be fit like a Marine. Then again, if the time ever came when I swam every day it’d be a miracle to rival the second coming of Christ so there’s not even a real reason to talk about it. As I try my hand at a lap and back of free, I think about how this is the last straw, I am no longer going to fantasize about swimming every day because it’s close and saline and free. Now my whole un-acted upon plan is ruined. I blame the three fifty.

 

I come home exhausted. I lie in the hammock under the grape arbor and think about the total train wreck that is my life. I think about the almost entire lack of love I have schlogged through, decade after decade of having it “not work out” with the once endless stream of lousy boyfriends. I think about the eternal poverty, the just keeping my head above water, the periodically getting the shoulders and chest up, too, only to fall back into the inevitable abyss of missing out on most everything cool or creative or social because I can’t afford it. I think about the disastrous family and how almost none of us are really well-adjusted. Or happy. I think about women who get facials and spa treatments, people who go to the doctor whenever they want because they have insurance, how vacations are supposed to increase your health and longevity. I reflect on how my body has been affected by my income. I eat Red Flame grapes off the vine and look at the birds flying into the fountain for their end of day bath. I swim at night because I am too lazy to swim during the 6 – 8 am time slot. If I had a boyfriend, or even a girl friend, I’d swim with them. But my one non-attached female friend in LA is entirely non-athletic. She came with me to the pool once. While I tried hard not to drown out there in the lane, she hung on the side and did a few leg kicks. She is at least fifty pounds overweight. We will never be running partners. Or hikers. But she sews like a garment factory. And embroiders. And quilts. She just doesn’t do sports. Of any kind.

 

I know I should self-motivate, meditate and stop eating meat all together. I know that doing so will solve all my problems and I will suddenly have the day job of my dreams, leaving my nights free to eat dinner out and go to concerts and plays. I know these changes I fail to make every day will keep me from dying a horrible death. I know they will take away my wrinkles and make my butt a firm two sizes smaller, which it seriously needs to be. I know the result will be infectious happiness and an overabundance of cash. I know all this and yet, I eat carbs before I swim and carbs after I swim. I watch every episode of Nurse Jackie, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Nashville, True Blood up until mid-way through season six and The Colbert Report. I have my first grade teacher beat me mercilessly at Facebook Scrabble, game after game. I bitterly remember the past so often there doesn’t seem to be much point to my future. It’s exhausting, though, so I do sleep well.

 

As I lie in the hammock, under the fat, colored light bulbs that some poor slob made for me in China, I realize that middle age truly is inconceivable when you are young. I mean, you see it, you get that it has happened to, say your mom or your aunt or a million other people you know. You can do math and take in the hideous details of a wrecked face or dimpled, saggy body. You know the difference between old, yellow teeth and your shiny white ones. And yet, your brain really can’t make the connection that one day, that will be you. And you will turn fifty only to realize that you are, beyond the shadow of anyone’s doubt, going to die. Your body will work less and less. Even more less than it does now. It is shocking. You think back at how incredibly beautiful you were when you were young and how you took that for granted. You are stunned by how much of your shot you wasted, how you just lagged at the back of the pack: an extraordinary potential that waited for someone to pick you and that that never happened, and that it surely won’t at this age. You realize that you just aren’t going to take any shit. Period. Those that are with you, great. Those that aren’t, sayonara, palsie. You learn to cut bait and not be sad when you throw it over the side of the boat. You give into the bitter reality that you knock things over, kick things inadvertently and drop things because your vision is permanently deteriorated and you don’t always wear your glasses like you know you should. You wonder what life will be like when, after almost four decades, or roughly five hundred months, you stop getting your period. Forever. You wonder what life support is like, what your mind does to deal with it. You look at your flabbed up arms, long guns that used to be toned like a puma’s ass, and wonder how far they could get you in a wheelchair. You think about diapers and all food tasting the same, or not tasting at all. More than any other clock your body may have heard in the past, it hears the ticking of the clock that will one day stop permanently. And it’s scarier than anything I’ve ever encountered.

 

 

I think about my mother, now dottering and fat. I wonder what she thinks about death, about her life: wasted? not wasted? I wonder if there are things she would like to say to people, face-to-face or in some letter, things she knows she is not going to say. I wonder if that bothers her. My hair is frizzy and making a big soak spot on the cushion and I don’t care. There is no one here. There is no one to know if I wash out my suit or let it dry with the pool water in it. There is a solitude that has come with my age that I do not mind, but there is a terror that I know, I just know, as sure as I know I do not want to drown in open water, is only going to get worse.

 

A life not lived is possibly worse than a young death. But this is a luxury only a living person would be arrogant enough to believe. I think about Melinda Mitchell, who went to high school with me and was killed in a car crash when she wasn’t even twenty-five. I wonder if she would be angry at me, for all this wasting. I wonder if she’d want to swap or if my life is so boring and under-involved that she’d rather stay dead. I wonder what my mom thinks about me being so old. It’s not a conversation a lot of people want to have. People want to tell you how young fifty is, but that’s bullshit. Twenty is young. Fifty is death’s walkway. You’re off the sidewalk and on your way to the door. It really is kind of like falling. There just isn’t a way to stop the forward motion. I can’t honestly imagine the final moment, but I don’t think it will be pleasant. I worry that so much has been wasted, lost and squandered that it will actually be awful. So, next week, I’m going to ride my bike to the pool. I promised myself all last month I would. I worry about getting hit by a car.

 

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Tap, Tap, Tap.

Not having a job is a very strange thing. Sometimes I feel like the lack of any meaningful contribution to society, focusing of my time or responsibility to others has drained the very substance that makes one alive right out of me. Not having a job means not having an identity: I am an architect, I am a mother, I am a writer, I am a teacher. Anyone can say, “I am a person” unless the utterer is a dog. Or a pony. Having a job shoe horns one into an entire life of routine, co-workers, schedules, goals, achievements, rewards and cash in the accounts. Not having one leaves one adrift: a sea of opportunity sloshes against your hull waiting for you to master and command it. While the toll economically has been great, the toll emotionally seems to have been greater.

 

Looking for work used to be fairly easy and pretty fun, actually. You’d wear appropriate clothing and meet a manager or someone close to a manager, face-to-face. You’d get a feel for them, they’d get a feel for you and sometimes, you’d even get an interview on the spot if your timing was right. Either way, you knew what you were dealing with. A phone call within a day or two was the sign you’d either hit it or swung and missed and that was that. An entire day of applying would put your hand in the hand of ten prospects, sometimes more. It was invigorating; you could check things off your list.

 

Now the unemployed get up in the morning and face applying for jobs online. You log on. You subscribe to job sites that funnel you industry specific jobs. Each click on a link takes you to one of a dozen sites, all of which require you to register. Welcome to your thirty new login names and passwords, all of which are variations on a theme as not all sites allow the same criteria for registration. Oh, joy. Next you are invited to upload a resume, which seems like the solution to all your problems. You select one of your twelve unique resumes and upload with confidence. Custom-made resume in the inbox of employer in need. You feel great.

 

Until the next screen pops up and you are faced with a scrambled egg version of your uploaded resume wherein most of the information needs to be reentered into a series of different screens all asking for the information that is on your resume, leaving you to wonder why they would ask for your resume in the first place.

 

You schlog through another fifteen minutes of inputting information and hit submit. You are rewarded with an auto-reply thanking you for submission and letting you know that they will contact you if your qualifications match their needs (wasn’t that the genesis of the applying in the first place; that they placed an ad and your have the qualifications?) You generally hear nothing, although I was recently told in an auto-reply from a retirement housing facility that my qualifications, which include a college degree, matched their need for a dishwasher. While I am not opposed to being a dishwasher, there must surely be something at a retirement housing facility for which I am better suited. At least they led me to believe so in college.

 

Of course, you also go to Craigslist, home of the great cheap stuff. Also, home to scam-o-rama on the job front. Liars, cheaters, identity thieves and thieve thieves all invite you to work for them in their amazing new business that has its finger on the pulse of the hottest new trend and is looking for eager, young, smart people to make things happen. They just need to use your PayPal account to make the sales. It’ll be exciting. Or they require fifty different skills for their fantastic nine dollar an hour job that regrettably can’t pay benefits at this time. Craigslist ads often ask for photos to be submitted with resumes, further instilling confidence that this truly is a fine, legitimate job. Getting work through Craigslist is surpassed in its lack of success rate only by its getting a boyfriend through Craigslist lack of success rate. Stick to buying used furniture there. Your financial planner and your roommate will thank you.

 

There is the occasional walk-in application, where you are usually thanked for your resume and then directed to, you guessed it, their website to fill out an application. More tapping on the keys, more registering, more uploading, more scrambled eggs. More waiting.

 

But the real answer is temp agencies! Everyone rallies around the temp agencies, most of whom are struggling to stay alive in this economy. Why go through an agency that is going to ding you 15% on top of salary when you can post with Zip Recruiter or Indeed or The Ladders or Simply Hired dot com? Why? And temp agency reps should really be toothpaste ad talent. The smiles! The awesome smiles when they meet you, greet you, sweep you off your feet you and then fail to get you even an interview. This does not stop them from sending inspirational emails asking you if you are ready to take your game to the next level, are really competing as well as you should, are on the cutting edge. Are we at the Olympics or the office, I’m confused. Do we want a long jumper to arrive at the front desk or a mature, educated person who can do her job without a babysitter or buddy? I am smart, reliable, competent and pleasant, and believe me, this is not enough. It’s not even close to enough.

 

It. Is. Exhausting.

 

“Who am I” is not a new question. The touchy-feelies will say, “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are”. And then most of them either go to a job or lead a life funded or supplemented by another person. They don’t get it. Millions of people used to be this or are hoping to be that, but in the interim, are simply un-categorizable. If you don’t have a category, you can’t fit into the Internet. It’s hugeness requires your narrowness. When you don’t have a job, there is only one reason to get up in the morning: to look for a job. When you don’t know what you want to do, you might as well stay in bed and wait to die.

 

Everyone says, “Go for your dream!”. The question is, what if you don’t have a dream? What if your dream requires a day job to fund it for a bit? What if you just want to hard work and you’re not all that particular about what it is you do? What if you can do a panacea of things? The answer is, “You’re screwed.” The time for that person has passed. The place for that person is Burma Shave. The chances for that person are slim at best.