Wednesday, September 30, 2015

music anorexia

That's how I think of it. I sometimes go for long periods of time without listening to music, which is just plain crazy, because so much of my life has been built around music. I can't explain it in any way.

So I've just snapped out of it, and reactivated my Sansa mp3 player (since I don't like listening to music on my phone). My intention was to listen to music I haven't heard before, but when I saw the old familiars that were already on it...I did delete a bunch of them, but mostly added music I knew well. Though I did load a couple of albums I haven't heard: Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello & The Roots, an Alabama Shakes EP, and John Lennon's Rock n' Roll (how ridiculous is it that I've never heard the latter?).

Also bought me some new headphones that arrived today.

Speaking of the Beatles...I realized at some point within the past few years that I know all of the lyrics to all of the songs from the band albums (not the solo ones). That certainly happened without my even trying. I think that seats me firmly within my generation.

When I go on trips from the dayhab, whoever is driving the van chooses the music. I often seem to end up with a counselor who loves country music (which strikes me as odd for an orthodox Jewish guy from New York). He will sometimes defer to me and put on an "oldies" station. (I remember when "oldies" meant the 1950s, but whatever.) One day, we reached our destination, but he kindly sat in the car while I sang along to Werewolves of London.

Monday, September 28, 2015

visit to Loisaida and Chinatown

Barry left his phone on a bus yesterday, so I ran out and bought him a new one. He's in the middle of a 2-1/2 day shift (Succos duty) and can't live without his phone. He's on it a lot of the day, mostly looking at Facebook and YouTube music videos.

I went to deliver it today; I would have done it yesterday, but they were doing weekend work on the F train and the trains weren't stopping at our station (which is why Barry was on a bus yesterday).

The residence where he works is on the lower east side of Manhattan (aka Loisaida). I'd never been there before, so I visited for a while. Got to meet a couple of the counselors there, plus I got to see two of the clients who come to my dayhab (five men from Barry's residence come to my dayhab). The residence is really nice, his coworkers were quite nice, and it was good to see the two Maxes outside of dayhab. They are both very sweet guys and my hands-down favorites from the East Broadway residence.

The neighborhood is very mixed and kind of cool. It used to be heavily Jewish (Barry was actually born there), and there's some Jewish left, but also a lot of Hispanic folk, a lot of Chinese (since it's right next to Chinatown), and some hipsters starting to colonize.

Since I finally got an anti-glare screen put on my phone when I bought Barry's yesterday, I can now actually see my screen when I was outdoors, so I walked down Canal Street a bit (which is where Chinatown starts) and took a couple of photos.

Beautiful Chinatown building:

Chinatown firehouse door:

I also found a Chinese store that sells nothing but jerky. I'm a fan of jerky but am never happy with those expensive little bags, with all of the chemicals added. I was once in an all-jerky store in Jim Thorpe, PA, but it was all "artisanal" and expensive. This place was a lot cheaper than either, so I bought a quarter-pound each of spicy beef and regular pork. (They also had chicken, and shrimp.) Absolutely delish, much softer than regular jerky.

It was a lovely day to be walking around, and I hadn't been in that part of town for years.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

where to begin again

Recovering, then unemployment running out, then job-hunting was rather nightmarish. Job-hunting was particularly bad. With 30+ years of office experience and several finely-tuned resumes, I couldn't get arrested. No offers, even for plain old administrative assistant jobs paying $24K. I applied to every single analytic institute in the area, since that's such specific experience. Two interviews, no job. (I did find out later on that one had hired from within.)

So I made a radical change. I am now a Direct Service Professional, working at a day habilitation center ("dayhab") for developmentally disabled men and women. I work for the same Jewish non-profit as Barry, except that he works overnight at a residence for men, and I work days.

We have about 60 clients and close to 20 counselors. (The clients are properly called "individuals" these days, though in the past they were called "clients" or "consumers," and a lot of us use "clients" because it's easier. And we say "DD" for developmentally disabled. We counselors actually have the title of "Dayhab Trainer," but we are called "counselors." "Direct Service Professional" is our profession - in the past, it was called "Direct Care Worker" or "Direct Care Professional.")

Our clients range from low- to high-functioning. The activities range from education to entertainment; puzzles, math worksheets, walks outdoors, cooking and baking, shopping, Jewish learning and Hebrew, dance and exercise, computers, etc. The idea is to help improve the clients' lives in at least some small way. Some already have part-time jobs and some are preparing to get jobs.

All of the individuals and most of the counselors are orthodox Jews of some stripe. Everyone is very tolerant of everyone else, although some of the clients can't quite wrap their minds around my being Jewish but not being religious. So I get asked a lot if I'm going to shul or fasting on Yom Kippur. Cooking is a big activity, since some of the clients may eventually move to independent living situations. We have a big kosher dairy/parve kitchen (parve meaning neither dairy nor meat), and make things like cholent, challah and kugel.

OK: cholent is a slow-cooked vegetable stew, traditional for Shabbos since it can be prepared on Friday morning and eaten Friday night, since you can't cook on Shabbos. Challah is a traditional braided bread, also eaten on Shabbas. Kugel is a side dish, sort of a baked pudding, usually made with noodles and eggs, but there's also potato kugel (and I've made sweet potato kugel as well). I never made or ate cholent before I worked there, and it's kick-ass delicious, made with beans, potatoes, barley, and just about any kind of seasoning you can imagine. It can also be made with meat. We make it on Thursday in a huge slow-cooker and serve it for lunch/snack on Fridays. (Did I mention that we only work until 2:00 on Fridays? I also lucked out because my therapist was able to give me a Friday 4:00 PM session; my job is in Sheepshead Bay, deep in Brooklyn.)

But these are the details. After three months, I find I enjoy working with the clients. It's low-pressure and satisfying, for the most part. Most of the clients are quite nice and understand us well, for the most part, although some have very limited communication skills. Some don't speak at all, while some could pass for non-DD. I haven't looked at the diagnostic logs yet, but there's a lot of autism and OCD going on. We have maybe five Down Syndrome clients, and they're all pretty smart (and a couple of them are rather devious).

They also get very attached to us, since they spend most of their days with us during the week. They all work with all of us, but each counselor certainly has a little fan club.

It's set up like this: there are AM and PM groups (45 minutes each) with the same counselors and the same clients every day. (I have GED in the morning, which is basically 1st-3rd grade worksheets, and writing/journaling in the afternoon. The afternoon group is kind of a bust: we only have four clients, two of whom never want to participate; one is a good writer but prefers to stay in the computer room. The fourth is a Down/OCD guy who generally writes the same stuff over and over, and has to be watched very closely because he steals food and is a choking risk.)

There are then 2-3 other activity periods during the day, with rotating counselors and clients, and a lunch break in the middle. Both the set groups and the rotating groups have 2-3 counselors and 4-9 clients.

It took me about a month to learn everyone's name. I have a harder time learning less-familiar names, plus there are a of names that are very similar. We have four Davids and a Dovid; we have an Aryan, Aryeh, and two Ariels. We have a Chana Rifka, a Chaya Brunchy, a Rivky and a Ruchy and a Rochel. We have two Yaakovs. I even mixed up the counselors for a while; they're mostly in their 20s, and there are about five women with long dark hair, and two skinny guys with short hair, yarmulkes and similar glasses. Maybe five of us are older, around my age.

It's nice not to sit on my ass in front of a computer all day. And I can dress any way I want - basically, a tee shirt and shorts or jeans. Even printed tee shirts are OK, unless they're offensive.

The most frustrating thing is probably when five clients want to talk to me at once. I say, "Please don't interrupt, I'm talking to Moshe." (We have two Moshes.) That doesn't always work.

The counselors are just plain wonderful. Which is a good thing, because I had zero training before I started. We got a little talk on clients' rights and what's considered abuse and how to report it. But I got a call on a Monday to start on Tuesday, and I had to hit the ground running. I'm still learning the little quirks of the clients and how best to handle certain situations. Some of it I've learned by experience but most I learned from the counselors.

The pay is terrible but the benefits are great; most of the bennies are about to kick in since I'm days away from the three-month mark. We work 9-4:30 and 9-2 on Fridays. We have paid time off for tons of Jewish holidays. I wasn't paid for the recent ones since I was still on probation, but will be paid for them retroactively.

Apart from work, there isn't a whole lot of change or news. Barry broke his foot and needed surgery in the spring of 2014, and I spent most of the summer keeping him off his feet - meaning all of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. I did manage to visit Jannah twice and go to the beach with Robin twice. None of that this past summer, though. I missed most of the summer events this year, due to low income and other factors, such as bouts of depression. Last fall, we visited my aunt and uncle, who live near Princeton, for a long weekend, and they spoiled us rotten: put us up in a very nice hotel, took us out for fantastic meals, and we went to Philadelphia to see the Barnes Collection. The last one was my choice; I don't go to museums much lately, but I'd seen a documentary about the Barnes and was very anxious to see it.

My friends are not very available of late. I recently cut my brother off, after yet another year of his not replying to texts, emails or phone calls. I've also cut off my aunt, who had a heart attack some months back. I visited for two days in a row, and on the second day, she was extremely mean to me. I realized that she's been extremely mean to me for about 20 years now, and I cried for a whole day. I talked about it with my therapist and psychiatrist, both of whom said, "You don t have to see her."

My dad is in extraordinarily good health, and about to hit 85. He and my stepmother left today to fly to Amsterdam, then cruise to France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I only see them on Thanksgiving, since they're way too far away for a day trip (about three hours each way on the subway and LIRR), and their two guest bedrooms are to cluttered with the stuff they moved from their New York apartment when they gave it up to live in East Quogue full-time. When it was still a weekend house, I stayed there a lot.

My health and weight could be better, and once again, I need to stop smoking.Our landlord wants us out by December 1, which is going to be fairly impossible, since we're still catching up and bills and don't have a spare dime.

But overall, life is pretty good. Having an interesting, do-gooder, pressure-free job is a big part of that.

I don't think I've missed anything major in this catch-up, but I will try to post more often.

Friday, April 18, 2014

to begin...

My job had become too difficult and stressful. My duties increased gradually over the nearly three years I was there. Then there was a huge mess earlier this year due to a water main break down the street. We were without phone service for about three weeks, and then without internet for about six weeks. I was using internet from home early in the morning, going into work around 11, leaving around 3:30, then more internet from home. I was practically working 7-7. Once someone suggested that we get a wi-fi hotspot, it improved some, but my desktop didn't take wi-fi so I was working on a laptop and a desktop at the same time. By the time the regular internet was fixed, I was dreadfully behind, and it was one of those spring seasons where there were two major events, two open houses, fall registration to prepare in addition to a lot of catch up.

At the same time, I was seeing a new psychiatrist, who took me off Lamictal and put me on Prozac. I'm not sure how fast Lamictal leaves the system, but I know Prozac takes a while to build up, so I was basically "uncovered" as concerns my depression and anxiety.

So I melted down. It's hard to remember a lot of it, though I was crying at work a lot during the last couple of weeks, then unable to go in at all. My analyst spoke to me by phone every day for a week. As I continued to see the psychiatrist and my meds settled in, I began to feel better, but also realized that 9-5 wasn't for me, never was, and I'd been trying to make myself accustomed to it for years.

I asked if I could return part-time, but they only offered me 14 hours a week, so I chose unemployment instead. I am finally going to find the patience to take better pictures of my jewelry and start an Etsy store, and look for freelance writing work.

In the aftermath, I had some emails from friends at the institute saying they would miss me terribly but also saying they felt I'd been dreadfully overworked. I'd never realized it. One said, "I am very angry with [my two supervisors]. They always overwork and then lose their best people." I hadn't seen it - I just thought that had been the job, and even though I was working flat-out, I was sometimes behind and sometimes very stressed-out.

I worked off a few hours I owed them training the new guy for a few days, but now I'm clear of it. Between that and the meds fully taking hold, I feel a lot better. Freer.

Right before I saw the new psychiatrist, I saw a new primary doctor, who put his foot down about my weight and blood sugar. My blood sugar had been out of control. So I took the whole thing in hand, totally changed the way I was eating, and my sugar is now down to normal, and I've lost about 6 pounds in 8 weeks.

I've changed to Barry's health plan, which was cheaper co-pays, and am beginning the process of a bunch of specialist checkups. Also have to have yet another trigger finger fixed, but it's a thumb, which means just a shot of cortisone and not surgery.

We're shooting to move next month. I'm rather stuck on the idea of living in Bay Ridge.

I apologize that this entry is heavier on news than on feelings, but I'll get caught up on all of it. I feel I have a wealth of time and energy, and being able to keep up with this blog will be one of the benefits.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

what's there to say?

Not moved yet. Having a multi-dimensional crisis over life, work, health (physical and mental). We'll see how well I pull out of this one.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

where I will no longer live

We've been asked to move out of our apartment. It's a long story, but the relevant facts are that we caused some damage to the apartment (leaking air conditioner, which we did not know was leaking or causing damage), and that the landlord never felt we kept the apartment tidy/clean enough. The latter has to do with the fact that the apartment has always been too small for us. When we first moved in, we had to put a lot of stuff in storage, and when we were unable to pay the storage, we lost it all. Even so, what remained in the apartment was not neatly storable and we certainly did have clutter. Not insane clutter, but clutter.

You have to figure that two middle-aged people who have all of their belongings in their possession (nothing stored in parents' attics etc) and who have some interests (reading, music) are going to have a lot of stuff. A lot of what I lost in the Great Storage Disaster was years and years of writing, many cartons of books, a lot of CDs and albums, a collection of baseball cards and a collection of postcards, and similar items. Barry lost some papers and all of his vinyl. While this was a lightening experience in some ways, it would have been nice to have the choice to keep some of these.

We've been sorting and clearing and throwing out as we look to move, and I'm starting to have a better understanding that I need to let go of a lot of things. As attached as I have been to my "stuff," it's clear that we'll never have a large enough home to make use of all of it, or store it neatly. I got rid of all but 100 or so books, pretty much only keeping those that are out of print, autographed, or books I worked on as a publicist. We got rid of a lot of CDs. We got rid of a lot of clothes.

As we needed to raise a good deal of money for the move, I sold my collection of 7,000 vintage bottle caps in one lot, to a collector in Germany. I kept about 20 that I'll display at some point. That was a little wrenching, but the truth is that it's all been packed up for about nine years, and I haven't had the money to add to the collection. It also turned out to be the single most valuable thing I owned.

Apartment-hunting is a hopeful and depressing thing. We saw a large, beautiful apartment in a great part of Bath Beach and put in an application, only to be turned down for poor credit. We've only seen one really bad neighborhood (Ditmas Park), but quite a few bad apartments. And there's no finding an apartment without a broker any more. There actually may be no obtaining a decent apartment without a co-signor, and it may be difficult to find one. Everything is much tougher, even since our last move eight years ago.

Although we were originally asked to move by the end of November, we asked for and were given until the end of December. Then the landlord called and offered us two months beyond that. This makes it less impossible but still hard.

The other bad part of this whole thing was that when we were asked to move out, the landlord decided that "cat" also had to go (we always told him we had only one although it was actually three), so the girls have been with Rochelle for about a month and a half, keeping company with her four. It's been a godsend - we couldn't have afforded to board them. But it's hard to have this kind of stress without the comfort of the cats. I've been visiting every couple of weeks. Maya won't speak to me, which just breaks my heart.

Other things go on, nothing too world-shattering. Barry and I celebrated our birthdays earlier this month with minor festivities. Things go well at both our jobs. I'm still reading and seeing movies and making jewelry.  Hard to balance mind and body, as always. Peacefulness is elusive. I want to make some changes once the move is behind me.

When I was looking to sell the bottle caps, I did approach V. by email, first time in five years. I caught the hobby from him, and felt it would be right to offer them to him first (also, I knew he would be able to afford them). He emailed back and said that he was in a cash crunch and couldn't buy them right now, but would I like to have lunch? I said I'd have to think about it, and never emailed again. I'm still patting myself on the back for that one. If he had said some small thing along the lines of "I've missed you" or "I've been thinking about you," I might have given it some slight thought. Maybe it was self-centered of me to contact him about the caps, since I was only interested in turning them into cash, but it was such a small instance of self-centeredness by comparison to the years and years that I let him take without giving. I'm really glad I didn't give in to a nostalgic blindness, nostalgia for the times that I enjoyed his company and believed we were friends, and conveniently forgetting how badly he treated me and how many times he hurt my feelings. I think that toxic mess is thoroughly out of my life.

And here are some of the scans of selected corks that I prepared for prospective buyers:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

where I live

I live in a neighborhood in south Brooklyn that few people have ever heard of, even other Brooklynites. I'd like to keep it that way. Too many Brooklyn neighborhoods have of late been colonized by youngish people priced out of Manhattan, and their new neighborhoods have become trendy and expensive (Williamsburg, for instance, and Greenpoint and Bushwick). Ours may not be at risk of falling victim to this trend as we're not very close to Manhattan, but I'm still not going to name it. Suffice is to say that we're somewhat near Sheepshead Bay.

It had been a working-class Italian neighborhood, but most of the Italians are gone. There are still a few Italian grocery stores and restaurants. But for the most part, the neighborhood is mixed working-class. Avenue U is the main drag. On the opposite side of U from where we live, there is a colony of rich Orthodox Syrian Jews, who live in large private homes. So we also have a decent smattering of kosher food stores and other stores that cater to the wealthy (designer clothing, fancy tabletop goods, fine jewelry). It's basically a safe, family-oriented neighborhood.

There are a number of industrial businesses under the elevated subway line (about five blocks from us); the jewelry company where I used to work is one of them. There are quite a few factories and auto repair shops. It's the only stretch of the neighborhood that's less than pleasant. Quite a few Mexicans and South Americans work there, so there are some Mexican businesses near the subway - including a little grocery where I can always get good mangoes and avocados.

The only thing we don't really have is a good supermarket. There's a Met Food about fifteen blocks away, but it's a pretty old market, narrow aisles etc., and I don't trust any of their perishables. But they're not bad for packaged foods. There's an excellent Shop-Rite a few subway stops away - we used to shop there, carry our perishables back on the train, and have the rest delivered. But they won't deliver to our area any more. We used Fresh Direct for a while (shop online and they deliver), but we had problems with spoiled meat a few times (though they always gave a store credit, no questions asked), and the prices aren't that great. So we're back to mixed shopping. Paper goods and cat products at a few cheapie places nearby; chicken and pork and beef from an Italian deli; other groceries, wherever. Produce is a bit of a problem. A wonderful kosher produce store closes during the summer, and is only open on weekdays the rest of the year. There is a really shitty produce market up toward Met Food; every time I go in there, everything looks pretty icky except the bananas. I shop some at the Union Square Greenmarket, near my office, especially this time of year, when there are great tomatoes and stone fruit. I've recently discovered Trader Joe's, also near my office, which has canned tuna at a great price and other useful groceries. It's basically impossible to get a decent loaf of whole-grain bread where I live, so I've been buying unsliced loaves at the Greenmarket, but just discovered whole-grain bread at Trader Joe's for a dollar less. (Counting pennies, as always.)

We have a great mom-and-pop pharmacy near us for prescriptions, and a Rite-Aid for discount-drug-store stuff (cosmetics, shampoo, deodorant). We have a store called Meats Supreme which is good for cold cuts, but we've gotten spoiled meat from them as well. (Got a couple of well-priced and excellent packs of beef and pork from Trader Joe' recently.)

For fish, we're a short bus ride from the second-largest Chinatown in Brooklyn, with many groceries full of gently priced fresh seafood. You can get salmon fillet at $5.99 a pound, which is mostly what I crave. We also sometimes buy white fillets of some sort (sole, flounder, etc) and occasionally shrimp. There is a kosher fish market a few blocks from where we live, but it is quite expensive and of course you can't get things like shrimp.

I don't consider our neighborhood all that great for walking, and we don't have a park of any sort. But we're decently close to Coney Island (a few train stops) and not that far from Prospect Park (two buses).

We've been there about six years and doubt we'll be moving any time soon (although we'd love a bigger apartment). It's still cheap, we have a good landlord, and you need all kind of good credit and hefty income to rent an apartment these days.