Discover Prompts Day 10 – Orchestrate: Eastward, Ho!

I once taught a class called “Road Trip!” with an exclamation trip. It was a sophomore-level introduction to literature course focused on the journey as metaphor. On the reading list was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a book that I really don’t like very much. The other works featured road trips of a kind, starting with the archetypal road trip, Homer’s The Odyssey, which served as a framework for the class. Other works on the list included fragments from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Nabokov’s Lolita, Hunter S. Thomson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and some others, including L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz for extra credit. The class seated 35 students, but on the first day, 125 students showed up hoping to crash the class. Upon seeing the syllabus, maybe half of the students departed, which left a good many still disappointed as I was forced to cut off enrollment at 35.

The class attracted wannabe Beat generation and granola types. They knew more about Kerouc and Thompson and the beats than I ever cared to, so I was able to put them in charge of delivering the content for that part of the course. I did my homework, of course, and led them to some ideas about the books that they hadn’t considered as well. The class was so popular that I was approved to teach it a second time.

At the conclusion of the course, I gave out evaluations asking the students which reading we did that they liked the best. Almost universally, they responded that they enjoyed Homer’s The Odyssey the best. Obviously we read it in translation. But I was surprised by that choice, considering their preference for Beat generation-type writings. The classics resonate with people timelessly for so many reasons, which is one of the definitions that make them classics.

So I know a thing or two about Road Trips! with an exclamation point in the abstract and in art. But I’ve also taken a great many road trips in my life, especially cross-country, or cross half the country and back. In August 2018, my girlfriend and I moved from San Diego, California to New Haven, CT with her mom accompanying us. We filled two cars to the roofs, with a luggage carrier on top of the one, and a week (plus) to make the trip.

We had several months to plan, so that made everything easier. I sold almost everything I could, donating things that wouldn’t sell, and practiced loading the car a couple of times to make sure everything would fit. I would have to drive my Toyota Rav4 by myself because my small SUV was full, including the passenger’s seat. The girlfriend’s Toyota Corolla was filled but they kept space in the front seats for the two of them to ride comfortably. For some reason my girlfriend’s mom wanted to do most of the driving.

Of course, to orchestrate this monumental move, everything had to come off without a hitch. As I said, we had months to plan and practiced packing and had everything worked out. The girlfriend’s mom would arrive the day before our trip and we would finish packing that day and then head out bright and early in the morning on August 10. I would have my last day of work on August 8, giving me the 9th to pack and clean, and then we’d hit the road. My girlfriend could clean out her shared apartment and stay with me for a couple of days so we would only have to wash down the one bedroom on the morning of August 10th before we headed out, having reduced everything to our change of clothes for the driving day and a blow up mattress. We even had a AAA Trip-Tik, and a plan as to where to stop each day, including some sight seeing destinations (St. Louis Arch, Niagara Falls) and a visit to my distant relatives and the girlfriend’s friend, who were both coincidentally in Ashtabula, Ohio. Our lists were crossed off, and everything went very smoothly . . . until it didn’t.

I’m not a believer in multi-tasking. Neurologically, we must perform one thing after another, even if our brains allow us to do those things very quickly. But it’s still one thing, then another, then another. Of course, when you get multiple people involved, you can do many things at the same time, just like an orchestra can play multiple lines of music on different instruments simultaneously, sometimes in harmony, sometimes dissonantly.

On August 1, I got sick. I had a pimple in my nose. I thought it was on the surface and tried to express it. But it was deeper. And it became very sore and inflamed, and then my nose swelled, like a clown’s or a TV drunk’s. And it was incredibly painful. It was also oozing a bit. I was working at a deli counter at a grocery store, so I couldn’t work with that ailment. I thought I would just let it do its thing for a day or two, rest up, finishing up the packing that I could, and it would clear up. But it kept getting worse.

At the time, I was also nursing a sore thumb, which I thought I might have hurt at work, but I wasn’t certain about that. My work was steady so I never got enough time off to see if some rest would improve my thumb. It was a sore spot under the webbing in the fleshy part of my thumb, a little bump under there, and it was also incredibly painful each time I went to cut a sandwich. I looked forward to some rest so the thumb could improve prior to our trip.

My nose got worse and worse. It was the most pain I had ever had. I didn’t really have access to a doctor at the time, and with moving, had no real time. I also had no medicine. I went to the emergency room. I sat there for 6 hours and when they finally saw me, they took a few tests, said there wasn’t really anything they could do, and they said to take some Tylenol and some antibiotics and rest. But the pain got worse. By the next day, the pain was excruciating, and I went back. I sat in the emergency waiting room again for 6 hours. This time they said, “well, it’s a MRSA infection, and that antibiotic we gave you won’t work. Here’s another medicine to take.” They still hadn’t given me anything for the pain. Finally, they gave me some hydrocodone and some extra strength motrin. My nose felt like a big red balloon. They tried to express it, but that didn’t work, so they stuck a needle into the end of my nose three times! I cried and held the girlfriend’s hand through that excruciating procedure. The aspiration amounted to nothing. There was nothing there though it felt like it. It was just that damn MRSA having its party. I learned that MRSA – the dangerous kind – is actually present in most of our bodies. It’s the same MRSA that leads to dangerous infections in hospitals. All I knew is I needed MRSA to stop the party. I had moving to do.

Over the next couple of days, the medicine took effect and I began to improve. It was nearing my last day of work, and I had missed almost a week of my last week. When I woke up on August 7, after a week off work, I couldn’t move my thumb. It wouldn’t bend. It had completely stiffened up. I thought maybe there was a reaction with the medicine. And then I figured out that this really was a work injury, but I was running out of time as I was quitting that job. I called my boss, told her about the MRSA, and then told her about my thumb. She was peeved that I hadn’t told her about my thumb injury sooner, but she understood when I explained to her what it was like. So now I had to file for workman’s comp, and see a slew of doctors on the last two days I was going to be in town.

So in those last two days, between packing boxes, helping my girlfriend pack the last of her things and clean her apartment, and cleaning my apartment, I had to juggle doctors appointments for two ailments – my thumb, now a workman’s comp claim, and my nose. My nose had cleared up and the doctor’s were encouraged that it would heal normally and not come back, though I had to practically bathe in Hibiclens, a surgical scrub – a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate solution.

As for my thumb, they got me in to an orthopedist immediately, who diagnosed a trigger finger (the second one I ever had). At this point, when I tried to bend my thumb, I couldn’t, though once in a while I could and it would pop or snap or click as if the tendon was getting stuck and then gave way. I was given a brace so as not to click it, and had to drive across country with the brace on my wrist and also had to do exercises for my thumb.

The last two days were filled with doctor’s appointments, 4 to be precise, cleaning my apartment, packing the cars, and resting. I don’t tbink I got to bed until almost midnight, the night before I left San Diego for good at some way too early time in the morning to beat Friday rush-hour traffic.

I’ve had much practice orchestrating other moves or multi-event work functions, so all of my practice came in handy when faced with these obstacles to our well-made plans.

Our cross-country drive went well, though we got tired and had to be less aggressive with miles made per day near the end of the trip. Moving into a 6th floor apartment in August humidity without a service elevator was another unforeseen obstacle – exhausting and sweaty.

As a final note, my nose completely healed, though now I suffer from a kind of trauma whenever my nose itches inside. I clean it with hibiclens as a preventative. No more MRSA outbreaks for me, thankyouverymuch! My thumb, however, was much more problematic. It took me many months to get authorization from the California worker’s comp office to see a physical therapist and then orthopedist. I went to PT, and he claimed it just needed stretching and exercise. The brace they put on it was counterintuitive to what the PT guy thought should be. It needed exercise, not stability. So off came the wrist and thumb braces. But still I couldn’t bend it properly. The orthopedist gave me two cortisone shots that did nothing. So we spent three months trying to get approval for a small surgery to cut the ligament so the bump could pass through and improve the movement range of my thumb. As soon as we got the approvals, which were good for 6 months, I scheduled the surgery, but then I was out of work and finally found a temporary job, which I couldn’t leave because the surgery would keep me out for 2 weeks. The temporary job was very physical and required me to use my hands (moving books) in a different way than at the deli counter. The exercise actually improved my thumb, and though my surgery approval passed without the doctor ever even reaching out to reschedule, I didn’t need the surgery anymore because I’ve regained 95% of my thumb movement and reduced the pain to almost nothing.

At the end, the orchestra plays those final notes, all together – Da-Dummmm! And there is rest. And applause.

West vs. East – Part IV – A New Hope

Photo by Lynnelle Richardson from Pexels

I’m a hopeful person. I try to see the good in people and situations. But that has led me to being taken advantage of, to not seeing people clearly who were troubled or narcissistic, or worse. It means that I grate against cynics and half-glass-empty people.

When I moved from San Diego, California to New Haven, Connecticut with the girlfriend, it was with high hopes of something new and better. She was off on an adventure, a new chapter in her life, and I willingly took a supporting role with the hope of forging a new path for myself as well. After a rough few years in San Diego, a change of scenery was just what I needed.

But my first 15 months in New Haven, Connecticut have been more of the same. I’m trying to evaluate everything evenly, not jump to conclusions, take things as they come, not attribute any malevolent force to the universe. I don’t consider myself a hard-luck case. But it’s becoming harder and harder to find an advantage, to forge that advantage, even when I put my best self into the world. Here are examples of what has happened since I’ve moved to New Haven – a list:

  1. Landed a job teaching at Southern Connecticut State University, as I drove across country without a job.
  2. Once in New Haven, I looked for more teaching jobs and was turned down for one I had been angling for for 6 months back in San Diego. I landed a different assignment at Norwalk Community College.

    (Those were the good things – sort of. They at least provided monies to help me get started. But then the world shifted on its axis.)
  3. Commute to Norwalk turned out to be 90 minutes to go 30 miles at 9:00 am. The last 5 miles took 30 minutes in Fairfield County, CT – New York bound traffic. It sucked!
  4. Teaching position was a glorified babysitting position with an unfair curriculum the didn’t allow students to learn. Director was an egotist who didn’t help when true problems arose (such as, I didn’t have access to the faulty intranet for the first month, and he wouldn’t take the time to help. Such as, evaluating students without a rubric, saying “I just don’t feel it.” How professional is that?)
  5. Teaching position at Southern CSU was better, but I had one posse of three students in one class who were disruptive and a hostile student in another class. The institution would not back me up with regard to the hostile student and let back in the class. Absurd and dangerous.
  6. When parking one day near my apartment, a guy was crossing the intersection as I was waiting to turn right into that street. He was looking over his shoulder away from me, eating a sandwich from a wrapper. When he turned and saw me waiting for him, he yelled “fuck you, buddy!” Really? Welcome to New Haven. I should’ve hit him.
  7. On my commute to Norwalk CC one morning, I behind a car that hit a deer. Traffic screeched to a stop. No one was hurt, but the deer sat in the road, its legs buckled under it, while one of its hoofs dangled at the end of his broken leg. Heartbreaking. I regularly saw about 5 deer carcasses each morning on my 3 day a week commute.
  8. The teaching assignments were so awful that I developed chest pains, trouble breathing, anxiety, and vertigo.
  9. I had a work injury to my thumb, which I reported the day I left California for Connecticut. It took three months to get approval for physical therapy, and when I finally got to PT, I had trouble arranging a visit with the orthopedist. Two cortisone shots later, my thumb was not improved and it was decided I needed surgery. It took another three months to get through to the worker’s comp office in California to get approved. Once approved, I had a job that I couldn’t leave to have the surgery as the surgery would have taken me away from work for more than 2 weeks for healing. If I had gotten that approval sooner, I could’ve had the surgery while I was unemployed. Fortunately, my job at the library helped my thumb injury. While it’s not completely healed, it is better than it was while I was getting PT.
  10. I had to pay for my health insurance (1/3 of my monthly earnings), from which I would receive 70% back 3 months after I stopped that health insurance coverage. I found a doctor who didn’t really listen to me about my worries and prescribed me Ativan!
  11. Christmas break in California with the girfriend, meeting some of her family for the first time. It went well, but I was sick most of the time.
  12. I was down to one class (earning less than $500/mo) in the Spring 2019 semester, waiting for my health insurance refund, and applying for unemployment. I was denied for a special appeal based on an extreme change of income. Found out 5 weeks later that the appeal was denied, but that a regular unemployment disbursement was approved, but no one had told me. I started receiving some unemployment compensation.
  13. Because I lived in California part of the year and Connecticut part of the year, my taxes were complicated. I barely made any money and still had to pay an exorbitant amount, almost a third of my income for the year for California taxes. They billed me later and I’m on a payment plan. I still think they miscalculated.
  14. I got Husky Health, Medicaid, because I had practically no income. I had a battery of tests done and everything came out negative. I am fit as a fiddle – stress was the major issue.
  15. Once I got unemployment figured out, I no longer qualified for health insurance. Unemployment counts as income and priced me out of any form of free health insurance. And the lowest costing plan, even with the Affordable Care Act, was too much for how much money I was bringing in. So I couldn’t afford health insurance for a while.
  16. I applied for a job as an Assistant Manager with a luxury pet kennel company, looking for a change of careers. I had two interviews, which both went very well. I called when reviewing the job terms, and found out that they didn’t offer medical insurance. They would pay for half of it – you present a bill each month and they write you a check. A tax professional said what they were doing is illegal, for them, not for me as a potential employee. My experiences fit exceptionally well for this job and I was excited for this opportunity. They complained in the interview about past candidates being offered the position and then never following up with them, just disappearing. After my interviews, they said they’d call me the following week. I waited…and waited…and waited. They ghosted me.
  17. I signed up for a job placement service at New Haven Works, which takes some follow up to get enrolled in. After the initial sign-up and conference, one is assigned a job coach. My job coach seemed active and engaged, and I had high hopes of being placed into a temporary position rather quickly (I have 33 years of higher education experience in management type jobs, as well as classroom teaching in college.). I even found a typo on their PowerPoint Presentation materials, which impressed them. But then, my job coach missed three straight meetings, one of which I walked to their office over a mile in the snow to attend. On the third missed meeting, I waited almost a week and then called my job coach. She answered the phone, “Oh you. What?” I was astounded. SHE should have called me back and apologized for missing and tried to reschedule. But evidently I was an inconvenience to her. We were in the middle of revising my resume based on recommendations from Employee Services/Recruiting at Yale University, and a month had gone by. I was livid. I wrote the executive director of the company and explained the situation and requested a new job coach. They wanted to mediate a discussion between me and the previous job coach, but I declined. There was no need to try to continue working with someone with that level of contempt. She had her chance.

    17. I got a temporary 6-month appointment for a very physical job at the Yale University library. I love it. My appointment was changed to a limited duration appointment, which qualifies me as an internal candidate. I have applied for a few jobs, but I haven’t landed anything yet, though I don’t know why. I’m waiting to hear back on a promising position for which I had an interview on Nov. 12. This job is perhaps the lone good thing that has happened since moving to New Haven, other than getting our dog, our now 1 year old Dachshund named Herman. While it’s certainly not a career job, I have the best boss I ever had, a work environment that values me, an inspirational place to work (Sterling Memorial Library), and no grading to bring home at nights. My time is my own, and I can write before or after work. I’m surrounded by books every day! My appointment ends at the end of February. I am still looking for jobs and hope to land something permanent before I lost my internal status.

    18. I had a major car accident that has left me with a car for the first time since I was 16 years old. I walk to work, about 0.3 miles, and I live downtown, so everything is within walking distance. If we have to drive anywhere, the girlfriend has a small car that we can use. But my beautiful Toyota RAV4, the first car that I negotiated with and fully bought on my own without a parent or spouse to help, was totaled at the stupidest freeway onramp ever. At the top of the ramp is a yield sign and a road coming from over the driver’s side left shoulder. A car was stopped at the yield sign, and I remember saying, “you gotta go! you gotta go!” and before I even reached him, I was rear-ended so hard, and then pushed into the stopped car. The person behind who rear-ended me hardly had anything wrong with his car. The person in front had back bumper and gate damage, but both cars were drivable. Mine was smashed in front and back and had to be towed away. It was a total loss, for which GEICO paid everything off in a week. Fortunately, the girlfriend and I were completely unscathed, though we were curious as to why the airbags did NOT go off. We were lucky – so losing the car wasn’t such a good thing, but one good thing is that we weren’t hurt.

Am I a magnet for bad luck? I don’t think so. Do I think the world is out to get me? No, not at all. I do think there is a great difference between living in California and living in New England, and I can see where a more cynical person could drown in New England. The beauty of the fall scenery is not enough to make up for the incompetencies and outright awfulness of many of the people.

I’ve done what I can on the job front, I’m revving up my writing career with a blog here and on Medium.com. I’ve made great progress (250+) pages on a memoir over the course of a year of writing. I’ve got a great girlfriend, a fantastic puppy dog, an enjoyable job that allows me time to live my life, my health, a centrally-located apartment, and enough money to pay my bills and food to eat. But this is still life on the edge.

I take care of what I can everyday, and I don’t overly worry about the future. There are times when I worry, when I can see that I’m not getting anywhere substantial, and I’m not getting any younger. But as long as I keep focus on my integrity and not doing anything to betray myself and my values or to hurt those I love, then…….. every day is a good day, I hope.

West vs. East – part 1

Some differences between living on the West Coast vs living in the East. A West coaster sounds off.

Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

As I start my long-delayed career as a writer, I’m struck by just how different the West and East (coasts) are. To be fair, I don’t live on the East Coast. I live in New Haven, Conn., home of Yale University (and famous New Haven pizza, and the controversial home of the hamburger). As a West coaster, anything from New York eastward was the East coast to me. My extended family lived in Ohio – in the Eastern time zone, even though Ohio definitely aligns more with Midwest flavors. I was told upon arriving in New Haven that New York is not New England and it’s not the east coast – it’s New York, (or New Yawk, or Neu Yowk depending on who you tawk to). Be that all as it may, after a little over a year in New Haven, I’m here to detail some of the differences between the West and the East.

I consider myself a West coast writer. The obvious bias in publishing still favors the East. New York is the publishing capital of the world and has been for well over a century now. The sheer amount of Ivy Leaguers making it in the publishing field is astounding and does not give credit to the vast creativity of those who live in the West.

Sitting in my small apartment, I was day-dreaming and looking at a loaf of bread on the counter. The emblem looked the same, but on closer inspection I saw the word “Arnold” within the shafts of wheat. What is this foolishness? I’ve been buying Orowheat bread for years in San Diego. Certainly this is a mistake. Turns out it’s the same bread but branded differently. A quick search on the Internet reveals that Orowheat started in California in 1932 and Arnold started in Connecticut in 1940 and Brownberry, a third variety started in the Midwest in 1946. All three are owned by Bimbo bakeries as of 2017. That’s one small difference between West and East (and Midwest).

Southern California is as much car culture as anywhere anybody can live in. Los Angeles traffic is infamous and nothing is improving much even in sleepy L.A. suburb San Diego. But other than in the rare rainy times when Southern Californians lose the capability to drive as if their driver’s training is completely forgotten, southern Californians are really very good drivers compared to all other places I’ve driven (New Mexico, Kansas, Connecticut – representative of Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones). In Connecticut, people cannot drive, or do not drive well. Forget driving rules and laws. I’ve seen people cut across 4 lanes of busy traffic to exit the freeway. Left turns on surface streets – drivers gun out quickly and turn left BEFORE traffic goes when a light changes. They routinely flip off whoever is in front getting ready to go straight through the intersection. Because the lights are hung on wires across intersections instead of on light poles, one can’t line up in the left turn lane to wait for traffic to stop before turning left because you can’t see the light if you pull out. So you have to wait in the left turn lane for a left arrow or wait for the next light. Or you can do like the locals and gun it for a left turn before the flow of traffic starts.

People walk across intersections whenever they want or can. Pedestrian walk signs don’t align with the flow of traffic. Rather, there is a “walk” period in which traffic is stopped in all directions and the walk signs allow pedestrian crossing. That means, of course, that pedestrians walk diagonally into across the middle of the street too. Because of that, and due to the number of one way streets and No Turn on Red signs, pedestrians walk whenever they want. It’s the wild west out there in the East!

There is an attitude on the part of pedestrians too, the same brash New York/New Jersey attitude seen stereotypically on television. I found a place to park my car a couple blocks from where I live. One day, as I was approaching the small one way half circle street, onto which I must turn right off of a one way road to my parking spot, some guy was walking across the intersection. He was eating a sub sandwich wrapped in paper, and looking back over his shoulder. In other words, he didn’t see me as I stopped before turning right otherwise I’d hit him. So I stopped and waited with my blinker on. He turned and saw me looking at him as he was nearly across the street. His immediate reaction, through a mouthful of food was to say “Fuck you!” and flip me off. All because I didn’t run him down! That’s a nice introduction to the East.

Even the homeless population are much more brash in the very hot and humid summers and bitingly cold winters here in the East. In San Diego, there is a large homeless population, able to live on the streets year round due to the weather. Other than same creative signs – Need Money for Booze or Need Cash for Weed – the homeless people in New Haven are always on the move. One particular gentleman cries out “Sir! Sir! I won’t touch you” before asking for money or declaring “It’s my birthday! Can you help me get something to eat?” His birthday occurs several days during the week, rain or shine. Another doe-eyed young woman who can turn on the waterworks instantly (maybe a drama school drop-out?) approaches with a story – “Hi,” she says timidly, “can you help me, I’m seven months pregnant and …. ” She’s been seven-months pregnant for the 15 months I’ve lived here and the many times she’s approached me for help.

I started this journey as a teacher, my last year teaching freshman composition and development English at a University and Community college. Both jobs proved crazy-making, with lack of institutional support, something I never encountered in San Diego. That’s the subject of part 2 of West vs. East.