Wednesday, March 30, 2011

diffusing pearls

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 351

The strangest thing about being laid off is the need for a hug you feel when it happens. Not from the HR person with the knit brows trying to offer you one metaphorically through an offer for getting you something, like a coffee, tea, or box of Kleenex. They mean well, yet you just need the hug from someone else, someone not seen as inadvertently hostile, someone outside the management layer. If there's a group of you being let go, perhaps commiseration hugs help ease the sting a bit, yet that's always rung hollow for me too, like cows locked in a rail car bound for the butcher trying to reassure one another that all will be well in the world, just wait until we get outside, hold our  heads up high with nostrils flared to breath a deep lungful of air, and have some schmuck in a smock put a bolt through our brains. 

No, the need for a hug is a deep yearning for someone outside the condition suddenly opened up like a velvet Judy Chicago womb to engulf us to birth us through the other side, with hands like forceps to pull us kicking and screaming out into the harsh reality of unemployment, of lining up interviews and contemplating relocation and rooting around for the details on your mortgage insurance and dreading the call to your Mom. With those same hands to also hold us, close as can, and assure us that despite being found unfit, untenable, redundant, difficult to work with, a right pain in the arse, or however the case might be framed in the affected person's mind, that there is still warm regard for them elsewhere. That spec of objective affirmation can gestate into a glowing tanning bed of assurance, a sunshiny day after a rainy month of Mondays.

Not like a grain of sand turning into a pearl so much, because the pearl is a protective coat built up around the grain to insulate it and cut it off from irritating the fleshy bits of the tasty mollusk. The hug, real or metaphorical, from the right person or people does the opposite, cutting through all the milky excrement ball a wallowing, smarting, self-pity prone, victimized, deflated, insecure, vulnerable, disheveled person swiftly throws up around themselves, a bit of warmth punching through all the shocked white noise like a knitting needle through a dung ball to rescue the peanut of a person cocooned inside, withdrawing and isolating self from further exposure like a bumper nicked cat dragging itself beneath the biggest, nastiest dumpster it can find so no one can ever inflict that much pain on it again, just let it die in peace, inside a self wrought sense of dignity.

What does this have to do with beer, you ask?

Today is the second time I've ever been sacked, for any reason, and not had a pint with friends to commiserate or what have you. Let's break that down some. Well, have I ever been let go before? Yes. Only once ever though for being a rebellious jerk and seeing how far I could push a manger before getting fired. Showing up two and a half hours late with only half a uniform and an afternoon's worth of other plans was how far.

I'd walked my bicycle into the mall, hooked a left, and tread softly along the tall and narrow hallway that fed back into the three screen cinema. The same theater where a year or so earlier I'd sat through Return of the Living Dead twice with my friend Steve. The staff had played the ROLD Official Soundtrack between the showings, and when the usher came in to clean the theater and saw that we'd elected to stay and groove to the likes of the Cramps and TSOL, he'd simply shrugged and said cool. I decided as we left that day that when I turned 16 that cinema would be the place I'd one day earn my wage. How things change after a year of minimum wage employment. Ms. Shannon Kidd, my fiery yet largely fair manager, met me at the island ticket counter, and informed me my services would no longer be required because I had not just shown up late, I'd wilfully missed an entire showing, the 12:45 to 1:15 block, with each film's start time offset by 15 minutes to try to stagger the surges assaulting the box office counter and the concessions counter.

The freestanding counter Ms. Kidd intercepted me at like Little John guarding his bridge was a spot I'd spent many boring afternoons standing around trying to remember all the words to Iggy Pop's "Repo Man" song, and make up a lot of new ones, shifting my weight back and forth like a teenage dinosaur so my legs wouldn't fall asleep since Ms. Kidd wouldn't let anyone use a stool at the island counter when selling tickets. Staring at the Snow White standee long enough to notice one of the dwarves in it had an extra finger on one hand.

The island ticket counter sat like an abandoned astro mech droid at the end of the long, patterned maroon carpeted hallway. It exclusively existed for busy weekends to intercept prospective patrons early, before they moved on to the irresistible concession counter. During the weekdays, tickets would be sold at the concession counter, meaning on really slow nights the same person both sold tickets and shilled popcorn, snacks, and carbonated sugar water. Concessions, that name always amused me, because the term meant both the frivolous food stuffs you'd buy to consume while watching your cinematic feature, yet the term also seemed to indicate the concessions you'd have to make as you pulled far too much money from your purse or wallet to procure said munchies and soda pops. Ms. Kidd had this thing she'd do when she wanted to treat the staff after a busier shift, or when she felt board, or both. She'd ask one of the concessionists of ushers if anything looked wrong in the candy case, perhaps the Junior Mints, or the Twizzlers? I recall staring in to the case long and hard, then leaning back and shaking my head, no, everything looked OK to me, i said. She glared at me as though i were an idiot, same time with a cockeyed smile to tell me there was a joke afoot, before she theatrically pulled a box of candy from the case and made a big show of juggling it as though trying to catch a clumsy mistake before letting the box hit the ground, inevitably denting a side or caving in a corner. "Well, look at that. Clumsy me!" She'd shrug and look at us all, making us now all her unwitting accomplices. "Spoilage!" And then she'd share the contents of the damaged box with everyone while reminding her right hand woman, the assistant manager, to make a note of the spoilage to report with the stats when she phoned them in at the end of the night.

The island counter had a metal flip top riddled with metal flaps the ticket strings fed up through, triggers by pressing metal push buttons numbered to denote how many tickets to spew out before a razor mechanism sliced through the strand with a decisive Kuh-chunk! followed by a raspy Shhhhip! sound as the razor slid through the paper molecules, parting them like brothers beneath a separatist flag. I thought I heard that same sound when a producer came around to find me today. Kuh-chunk! Shhhhip! But I digress.

Tickets at the theater were the same sort of inch wide two inches between perforations, acre long color coded print enumerated paper stands you see at carnivals, or beer tickets portioned out at company events. Each film typically had a corresponding color, as did elderly / children tickets at night versus matinees where everyone costs the same. Matinee shows were like an act of socialism, while after 6 pm shows were segregated, and even more so during the first week or two of a film's playing, where all coupons and vouchers were void for admittance. The tickets were like ammunition belts, and were stacked into thin metal open top boxes that resembled pistol clips. Sliding a fresh stack of tickets into the feeder boxes was always a tense task, both for the risk of overcompensating with the foot tall refill strand of fresh tickets and the risk of slicing fingers open on any of the thin metal edges of the clips or the various clamps and edges of the overall feeder mechanism. More than a few tickets sold at Fayette Mall Cinemas had my blood on the edges.

Everything depended on either counting, or tracking the printed numbers. Drink cups and popcorn cups (this was the pre-bag era) were stacked and counted, and grouped like bundles to expedite counting; drink cups in stacks of 50, the much bigger popcorn cups in stacks of 25. If you looked at the bottom of your cup and saw a number 50 or 25, it was from the top end of the stack. If you popped the lid off and saw Coke syrup grime has browned the rim of the cup, it was on the bottom of the stack. Tickets, because they were numbered, had to be tracked, with a starting and finishing number. Everything had to be counted or accounted for before and after every shift, and if busy after every set of shows let in. Candy had to be counted, and restock counts had to be kept. Everything ended up on a page on a battered and stained brown chip board clip board, date at the top, boxes in columns, with adjacent spaces for notes, and a box on the bottom for noting spoilage, real ones or managerial mishaps. At the end of the business day every theater had to tally and then call in their numbers to head office, thus informing box office receipts and concessions sales. all the cash had been counted, and the cash in hand minus the fixed "banks" kept in the safe to start each day with had better match up to the figures on the sheet. After all that the cash not going into the safe had to be zipped into a lockable deposite bag, and that bag went to a key locked deposit box at the bank at the far end of the mall. Multiple mid-day deposits weren't uncommon during the busy seasons. The last usher would always walk with the female managers when dropping deposits, not safe walking around with a bag full of cash in an empty mall after hours. With everything being cash only, a sold out show for a 400 seat house plus concessions meant a pot belly pig of a deposit bag to send squealling all the way home.

Something I liked about the all cash system, particularly since the concessions counter didn't have cash registers, came from the need for a system teenagers would be less likely to fubar under duress as the frenzied throngs of movie going barbarians stormed their gates and demanded service in time for the trailers. So at some point long before I started working their on my 16th birthday someone clever had decided to make a little sign that said simply "taxes included in price" and affix that sign to the front of the center pop fountain. That clause allowed all of the prices for everything to be multiples of a quarter. No pennies, no nickels, no dimes. Just quarters and whole dollars. I believe that even now, in a progressively more and more cashless society, all businesses and government should find ways to round everything out so cleanly. I don't mean interest percentages or capital gains so much, just banal things like cups of coffee or bag of pork rinds. There is no reason at all that Starbucks has a $2.53 cup of coffee. Is it really that difficult to sort out a price that with tax rounds out nicely?

After Ms. Kidd let me go, I went for a long ride, enjoyed my freedom until about an hour later when I realized I might have shirked off the shackles of an oppressive employment situation, yet fact remained I still needed income, and I knew i weren't nearly cute enough to get by on my looks or athletically skilled enough to get bankrolled by a collegiate booster sponsor. I went to visit my friends that worked at the cinema across the street, a newer freestanding eight plex that had enclosed box offices and state of the art platters systems in the projection booth. They suggested I ask their manager for a job, and tell her I'd left the other theater, spin my termination as a deliberate act, which fair enough it had kind of been an act of defiance, just not the sort they intended me to make it. I'd been defiant because I was

bored and had perceived rightly the diminishing return that is being 17 and working for a mall cinema without becoming a manger or projectionist. I had become great friends with the key projectionist, a mister Reginald Forest, a gentleman and a scholar, and a cat I'll write an entire post about another day. Mostly, though, I'd become bored, and teenagers plus boredom equals all sorts of mischief and hootenanny. I met with the manager of Southpark Cinemas, the sister cinema to Northpark Cinemas, the one on the far side of town famous for

having been driven into by a semi trucker angered over not receiving a full refund after watching 3/4ths of a film and deciding it was crap. He managed to drive 3/4ths of his tractor into the lobby, though slowly doing so as the roof of his rig peeled away against the concrete roof that covers the sidewalk leading to the cinema's box office. telling her I'd quit the mall cinema through getting myself fired as an act of defiance against Ms. Kidd's oppressive managerial techniques won me the gold stars with Southpark's Big Bertha of a manager just as my friends had advised, as this manager had some deep beef with Ms. Kidd and viewed hiring me as a chance to thumb her nose across the belt line at Ms. Kidd sitting over there all high and mighty in the mall.

I felt a pang of guilt almost immediately, felt as though I'd sold Ms. Kidd out to get ahead, or at least, get a new gig working with way more girls and boys my age, some of whom had uncanny access to things like beer via their frat boy older brothers. One girl taught me how to drive in her hand me down Celica so that I could chauffeur her and her college age friend when the two of them got too wobbly on Peach Schnapps. Driving them around dark city streets the couple times I did felt like the Chauffeur in a Duran Duran song, there on Planet Earth, and didn't even occur to me to get past awe or feeling fortunate like the kids Tom Sawyer convinced to white wash the fence to develop a crush on her, though i did let her talk me into going to a pledge party mid-day BBQ at her brother's fraternity at the end of summer before I began college, everyone was very nice and I was way under-dressed and feeling like a John Hughes character. They played Jarts, which felt so edgy to me then since Jarts went off the market years earlier after impaling a kid and making them like animals more than railway work or something like that.

I recall driving that particular girl once to the grocery store, still awed by her but viewing her as so far out of my class as to have positioned myself into the role of either eunuch or gay friend, not sure which, and as we walked along the aisles looking for whatever she thought of or remembered suddenly like Helena Bonham Carter on a support group bender I suddenly wondered if this is what marriage felt like, this banality, what one moment had felt so awe inspiring, so I'm not worthy to step on your shadow under merciless florescent lighting between shelves laden with canned peas or boxes applicator tampons  suddenly transformed into something so mundane, so common. after that I drove her home in her car, she fell asleep in the passenger seat. I parked the car in her wide driveway behind her parents van, tried to nudge her awake, got a whiny grunt and sleepy deep breathing, pulled her jacket from the back seat, immediately ascertainable thanks to the compact Flinstones-mobile nature of the Celica, covered her up, whispered good night, locked the car doors and her inside it, and walked home in the dark feeling like I'd probably finished my career as a chauffeur.

A couple years later I took a film criticism class, and quickly discovered my breadth of exposure to of 80's films would do very little to assure that sure A I'd thought I'd be getting oh so easily. Competing theaters had a friendly agreement to let employees from one company attend shows at the other as long as it wasn't opening week or typically on Friday or Saturday, though there were exceptions and manager discretion prevailed always. Since I could effectively see anything I wanted for free, I saw basically everything, sometimes 3 films in a row on my days off. The moment of enlightenment of a sort for me came with watching and analyzing David Lynch's Blue Velvet. I'd been floundering and largely lacking the depth of worldliness, or cultural diversity, or classical viewing, or critical exposure to get better than low B marks on my papers so far. And that was after trying, something I'd been hit or miss about, lackadaisical even with English sorts of papers. You might even say cocky, and this film criticism class was handing me my ass ala mode on a heaping helping of humility pie.

David Lynch's Blue Velvet changed all that. because somewhere in the flow of the post viewing discussion a flashback happened. Kids were discussing, and the Gene Shallot style mustachioed instructor egging on, the real meanings of the violence in the film, the tone, to lead to the ending as it did. What did it all mean? And as I stared at my knuckles feeling stupid and unwanted and desperately in need of a hug i remembered trolling the grocery store with the girl and suddenly not finding myself in awe anymore, and upon finding the situation boring, electing to change my situation. I kept my hand down and worked the idea into an opinion, an assessment, and eventually, into critical thought. I layered it up into a pearl if I might invoke the mollusk metaphor again. And I wrote out my theory and included my explanations for my perceptions as counterpoint, that the film is charting a person's journey of discovery through something initially shocking and dangerous until he fully understands the constraints of it, and the limits of it, and the repetition of it, enough to find it banal, boring, and elect to take action to change it, and to confront how something inherently dangerous becomes more so when challenged or threatened.

Might not be Ebert caliber, but it netted me my first A in the class, and taught me to begin trying to understand and interpret things by relating them as best I can to my own experiences, if I can. And meantime, work really hard on garnering more experiences to compare against, through travel, friends, reading, vicariously through the shared experiences of others, etc.

And that brings us full circle to the point of this post. When unfortunate circumstances happen that leave me feeling vulnerable or alone, the need for some sort of impartial validation is like air for drowning, it's essential, imperative, maybe more like air for a spark on kindling, fuel for stoking a fire that can rebuild confidence. For me beer has often been a part of the first stages of the healing process, basically have a pint with friends and bitch a bit, have another and find something to laugh about. Feel more relaxed, get some rest, and start out fresh the next day with the rest of life ahead of you. Let me be clear, beer is much less useful as a curl up on a sofa in a basement with a two four and drink your troubles away part, or as a double-fisting pitchers life of the party until a bouncer tossed you teeth first onto a curb for trying to liberate some woman's coat so you can tango with it on the bar. I've written before that beer is best when part of occasions shared with friends and family. Getting let go is certainly one such occasion, and a great pint can be a handy way to open up and let your concerns and disappointments flow out so some healthy healing can begin. Just remember that when you're fragile that moderation is key.

After Symantec let a whole lot of us go after only one day on the phones, I felt seriously sorry for myself and tried to bolster my spirits with an excessive number of pints. First mistake is that instead of getting together with more impartial friends or family I went to a Mexican joint a block away from Symantec's big office in downtown Eugene with a slew of the fellow lay offs and a couple still employed, including a manager in a wheelchair. If you're in a wheelchair, and drinking alcohol causes you to have seizures, maybe don't drink alcohol, just a thought. Mistake one, everyone there is cocooning into balls of self-pity and or loathing. Doing that as a group exercise isn't any better. Second mistake, having management there. Fosters a weirdly passive aggressive aspect to the conversations, people begin fostering

some naive hope something they wittily or poignantly say will earn them favor to get back into the forbidden city, or get paranoid that everything they say will be recounted at their expense by the obvious mole in their midst. Third mistake, no life lines present, no one there that isn't involved somehow. No impartial spectators, no referees. Three sodden hours later my friends finally come to haul me out of that ceaseless cesspool of crummy commiseration and get me home to air me out. Net gain, less than zero. Not Symantec's fault, not my former coworker's fault, not beer's fault. My fault. Picked the wrong square-dance to go to for a person in my circumstances, and the results were abysmal.

So while I seldom get laid off, when I do, I drink moderately, and only with people that really care for me to know I'm not worthless.

And for the record, today I'm having tea Lindz procured in Montreal. Very soothing stuff.

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