Friday, January 31, 2014

2nd Breakfasts



Living the life of a Hobbit isn't so bad, at least for a few moments, especially those that don't involve fire-breathing dragons. I know, breakfast selfie, right?

Totally!
"Go back to Instagram, Hipster!"

Well you know what? It's French Toast! I don't care. It's my second breakfast, I'm learning about the Fundamentals of Accounting, and you know what? They go effing GREAT together!

"Mr. Spicoli, what are you doing?"
"Having some food and learning about the Sarbanes Oxley Act, dude! Huuahahaahaaaa!"

Anyway, this isn't what I really wanted to blog about. I'm doing another Illustrator project and something's been bothering me about them and I'd
like very much to vent my frustration out here. Something about the assumption that everyone's on the same page when it comes to being creative.

But, first things first. First, finish this one section in the Introduction to Accounting, "Yaay.....spreadsheets...". Then it's off to do my domestic responsibilities and then jump back into it.

Follow up soon.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You Can Tell A Lot About Someone By the Way They...

Foggy windows in Florida. Not a good sign.
Sitting around today knowing I should write about something. The weather right now in Florida comparatively no better that the rest of the country and I have this throbbing pain in my back where this growth is....nevermind...too gross. I need to keep my hands and my head occupied and I don't really feel like crossing that Entrepreneur river again. Not this week. While I'm thinking about it, I should take the time someday and narrow down my focus of what my blog is about. Do I want to keep it in the realm of entrepreneurship, freelance and all things practical? Or, do I want to adhere to this blog's namesake and doodle and scratch writings for the sake of polishing a craft? Not sure. Still kicking the tires on whether or not I should make the plunge to Wordpress. Maybe if I did, I'd have no choice but to create more content. Maybe better content? Another platform wouldn't hurt, would it?

Anyway, sitting around, avoiding responsibility and worming my way out of elevating skills of any kind, when I read this post from novelist Jon Simmonds. He recalls upon what a teacher once told him in regards to character development. "...To really understand a character you’re writing," his teacher told him, "you should make a list of the items they carry in their pockets." Being a dutiful student, he posited his own theory and determined that you can understand a lot more about your character by what they have in their living room.

You see the hook where a hand should be and maybe there's an eye patch involved, so more than likely, you'd be more than correct in assuming that this person is a pirate. But what does he have in his bunk? Does he have a bunk? Is there a picture of someone under his pillow? Does he sleep with a teddy bear? All of these things once answered will lend greater insight to any character and make for a much richer story.

To this end, I have also developed an exercise on character building. I started it many years ago and I wasn't sure if it would ever catch on. Maybe other people use it? I don't know, but I find it extremely useful. I call it, "You Can Tell A Lot About Someone By the Way They..." It came to me one night while I was working as a waiter. At the end of the shift, the waitstaff would sit huddled close together either at a table or at the bar with our various after-work beverages and blazing cigarettes (people still smoked back then) and we'd all add up our tickets and share a couple of calculators figuring out our tips. After a while, I would notice the various differences on how each individual would go about counting their money. There was one who would just grab the stack and count the bills as they came without giving any regard to denomination. There was the other who would separate by denomination and then count; highest to lowest. Then there was that other one who would do the same as the previous waitron, but make sure all the Presidents were facing the same way.

That was one way to find out about someone. The other, and more telling, was how they counted it. Although I never inquired any further into one person's personality, and I never wanted to presume anything, but I felt as though I had a pretty good idea by the way they counted their money. The exercise is akin to learn to spot a tell at the poker table. You Can Tell A Lot About Someone By the Way They...


     Count Their Money: If they count from the top of the stack utilizing a moistened thumb and moistened fingers, then they're used to being around it, accumulating cash is easy for them and they secretly hold a desire to flaunt their earnings in front of other people. The act of quickly swiping bills from one hand to the other is a cathartic ritual for them. They are motivated by cash. If they count from the bottom of the stack, it's a pretty strong indication that they don't know what they're doing. They aren't used to counting their earnings, they are used to getting paid with a check, going to the bank to cash it and having somebody else do the counting. They are generally uptight and will work hard to not participate in this activity any longer than they have to. These people are motivated by something else.

      Cut a Deck of Cards: Do they unconsciously deal from the bottom of the deck? Do they always catch themselves to make sure they deal to the left? Do they know what they're doing?

     Fold Their Clothes: Is it a "one, two and done" thing for them, or do they approach it like a GAP employee?
Boom...done...

How do they sneeze? Do they freak out if their food touches? Do they have a ritual for getting out of bed in the morning? Everything we do means different things to different people. We humans are fascinating creatures. We are all open to interpretation. We all do the same thing. How we do them, speaks volumes on
who we are.

 Photo Credits:

Counting Cash
Dealing Cards
Folding Shirts Like a Boss 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WWHAD: What Went Right



Take a look at this logo. Go ahead, marvel at it....I SAID MARVEL AT IT!!!! I'm not the best at logging how many hours I spend on a particular Illustrator project. I'm still a novice and it feels like I spend more time pouring over tutorials and searching for fonts and vectors than actually producing anything. I suspect that I spent a good eight hours on this, five of which was research. Don't judge, I'm just starting.

Alphonse Mucha
This was the logo I wanted for my new business. Well, close to it anyway. I still wanted to texturize the name a little further; give it more of an old-time feel. I wanted to decorate the badge a little further in the center too. Everything is just slightly askew, it needed to get tightened up. I also attempted to put this through Photoshop to give it a look like peeling paint so it would look cool on a t-shirt. What I'm trying to say is that I wanted this to stand out. For the past few years, the style of old-fashioned signage has been coming back into vogue; a retro style that runs that gamut from late 1800s Neo-impressionism to 1950's Pop Art. In the midst of doing research, I sort of fell in love with the Art Nouveau Period. The way the function followed form
intrigued me; the emphasis on the ornate especially in advertising. In imagining my logo, I pictured an old wooden sign hanging above a bakery entrance. Hardly original, I know, but there's something comforting about this style. When I see a sign like this swinging gently in the breeze, it makes me want to come in, buy a pastry and a coffee and spend some time inside watching the world go by outside. 

Anyway, eight hours or so later, I put the finishing touches on it and met my deadline to have them printed before the weekend. All the cakes were baked and trimmed, boxes were folded, a makeshift menu was constructed and it was all systems go. Our inaugural run was met with great indifference, feel free to read all about it in the first half here.

~*What Went Right*~

The day was behind us and lessons were learned. Later on that evening, my girlfriend posted a copy of this little poster to her Facebook page. Not a few minutes after it went live than one of her more Redneckish friends chimed in:
"Cake? Oh. For a second there, I thought he was selling alcohol. My bad..."

Hours of work, of constructing a concept, of making something that I thought that would be appealing to the eye, and just like that, someone equates my logo to a bottle of Tennessee Sour Mash. Here I am thinking that I constructed a logo that's friendly and warm and inviting, now I look at and I need a whiskey on the rocks and for someone to rack 'em up on the next snooker table. I wasn't insulted because I know the person that said it. I was more self conscious. For about 10 minutes, "What if everyone thought that? What if everyone thought about Jim Beam or Jack Daniels rather than cake? What if I thought about Jim Beam or Jack Daniels when I was designing it? What if I'm a raging alcoholic and didn't know it?..." And so on as I spun out of control. Okay, yes. "Angel's Share" is a term that is used in the distillation of alcohol and has absolutely nothing to do with baking. I was completely oblivious to the proper meaning of the phrase. It sounded like a wholesome, home spun term. When I was mass producing cheesecakes for Christmas, there was a bunch of sponge cake crust ends that I couldn't use in anything except serving it with ice cream. The act of up-cycling something that was going to be nothing I felt was some psychic good deed. Good equals angels....angle's share?....is this thing on?...maybe I'm just a raging alcoholic....

But then I thought, "Hey wait a minute, that isn't necessarily a bad thing." (about the business logo, not my drinking habits) The design caught somebody's eye. Granted that person's mind went straight to whiskey, but it did catch someone's eye. It made them stop and pay attention, if only briefly. This point was validated earlier that day when a customer walked over, tried a sample and asked where we were located. As if we were and honest to goodness full fledged bakery with cases filled with treats. We had to tell her that we were just starting and everything was being run out of our kitchen, but for a brief moment, we were bigger than we actually were. And that counts as something. For a brief moment, we may have caught a glimpse of our future. For a brief moment, we were a real business, and in that one glance, there was hope.

And hope is always a good thing.

Monday, January 27, 2014

WWHAD: What Went Wrong



Can't find who this pic belongs to.
Back in the late Eighties, there was a band called The Smithereens. The band had a few detractors, namely Rolling Stone who snarked that their sound was too influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds. Sure, they peaked at #43 on the 1990 Billboard Album charts, but for some of us, and by most of us, I mean me, they were essentially "the gateway drug". Were it not for them, I'd still be stuck listening to mindless Cock Rock, or Genesis, or whatever happened to be popular on MTV at the time. Were it not for them, I wouldn't have taken that leap and gave an ear to bands like REM, Camper Van Beethoven, Sonic Youth or Husker Du. Were it not for them, I wouldn't have developed an appreciation for the New, for the Alternative, for the notion that television does not dictate my life. Were it not for them, I probably would have been happy being another member of the Wal Mart walking dead.

The Smithereens were a loud, guitar and amplifier driven band out of New Jersey. Perhaps it was their particular style that they didn't get enough air play given that Madonna and Wham! was still dominating the air waves because those music executives in their glass towers knew what the kids wanted! Yes, they might be considered too loud for Top 40 radio, but beyond that, the music was rich, melodic, honest, straight-forward rock and roll; the perfect antidote to the mindless landscape that was Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. There was a purity to it that influenced many bands that came after them, as the case with most notable bands like The Velvet Underground, for example. Ironically, one of the one's who were greatly influenced, was Kurt Cobain.

Blogs that sub-reference alternative bands to make a point STILL suck!
Then 1991 happened. From 1992 to this day, the epitaph that tattooed on every rock musician's forearm read:
We were almost there. Then Nirvana came and they ruined everything!
This passed weekend, I took that leap again to try the New. Having been recently laid off and assessing my own worth in today's job market, I decided to devote some of my time to making an effort and go into business for myself. I decided to sell cakes at a winter carnival at my daughter's preschool. I decided to sell cakes, because it's what I like to do; I'd like to think that I'm more than a little talented at making them, why not sell it and make more people happy and make a profit at the same time? Right? That's the name of the game, right? Do what you love and the money will follow? Well, the day finally came and things were progressing as expected; lots of people milling about, nobody really buying anything from anybody. Everything was going well...

...Then the petting zoo came...and they ruined everything....
Suddenly....people....

~*What Went Wrong*~

Well, for starters, I had no comprehension of what I was getting into. When I think bake sale, I think of crowds of people crammed into a church basement, their eyes scanning the tables of baked goods and home made crafts while they make a not too subtle bolt for the door. Sure, there's a kiss-your-grandmother-on-the-lips awkwardness about it and there's a faint odor of ointment that doesn't seem to go away, but there's a guaranteed traffic flow, and with that more eyeballs checking my stuff out, which means that probability of moving product goes up exponentially. Instead, what I got was a table in the middle of a field. Away from everybody else. With no chairs and no tent. We were this unexplored island in the middle of the Pacific and people passing by were 737's on their way to vacation destinations.
Scene from The Lonely Cake Table.

"Look Martha, a little table in the middle of nowhere!"
"OOOhhh, how WONDERful, let me get my camera! *click* What do you think they do down there, Gerald?"
"It looks.....it looks like they're selling cakes."
".......Oh.....well....isn't that nice. Are you done with the Skymall?"

Psychologically speaking (if I knew how to psychologically speak), my odds of selling something would have been greater had there been some sort of continuity.  Instead of putting me where you think the most traffic is, put me where the traffic will be. Think of it in terms of opening a Starbucks on a busy intersection where there's guaranteed traffic, as opposed to putting one on some deserted stretch of highway.

Secondly, it would have probably been in my best interest to diversify the product. I only offered chocolate cakes. Maybe if Angel Food were offered, or pound cake...or cheesecake it would have been better. Given the situation I faced, the venue that it was and the capital that we could use, I chose to stick with one thing but offer it a few different ways. It was a risk, but it was all I could work with.

Not actual "cake" cake, but more like fancy muffins. Really GOOD fancy muffins.
Thirdly, I needed to take a bigger risk and start giving product away. I had plenty in stock and I wasn't convincing anyone to buy with pathetic pieces of cake at the end of a toothpick. What I needed to do was to take the hit and give them a whole cake. That way, it'll be a situation where the customer would be established having been convinced that the quality of the product is up to snuff; a test drive, try before you buy, first taste is free, pal. Pick any scenario you want, but when your back is against the wall, it might be wise to step up the game a little. It might have also been our best interest to not make so much. Two dozen would have been plenty. Eight dozen was a tragedy.

Lastly, and there's no way around it and it's nobody's fault, trying to build up a brand from nothing is hard. People are skeptical to buy from you if they've never heard of you. Business cards would have been nice, but it wasn't in the budget. Flyers were nice, but they got lost. We had to make due with what we had. I could have opened a Facebook/Twitter/G+ account, gotten our name in everyone's faces, but there was no time and on further speculation, no point. I had no idea how this venture would turn out. If all else failed, it would be a success to get people to notice me.

Which they did, and that leads me to what went right.....

Watch this space...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Capricorn Initiative: What Would Horatio Alger Do (chapter 1, part 1)

Author's Note: I should stop titling anymore of my future blog posts with 'The Capricorn Initiative'. I was at a loss to find a title for a blog a few posts back and these two letters just appeared while I was writing. 'The Capricorn Initiative' sound more like a Tom Clancy novel than a random blog of some dude trying to make it on his own. Seriously, I think I'll tuck this away and use it for another one of Chuck Wendig's writing challenges someday. So for the time being, I'll just stick with the Horatio Alger aspect of it.

~***~
[Section removed after Blogger thought it would be a swell idea to freak out after I input some simple HTML code. Now it's late at night, and I'm tired. It's something that I always do, but tonight, you didn't feel like doing it...again. I'm telling you, Blogger, I'm severely disappointed in you. This is the second time where you killed my content for no reason. Wordpress is indeed looking better. Shove your precious Ad Sense...]
 
I'm trying not to give the wrong impression where I'm blogging just for the page views. On one hand, I track my views to judge which way the wind is blowing; to see if my content is worth reading. On the other hand, I'm seeing if any of this amounts to anything financial; vis-a-vie Ad Sense. I don't know why I bother looking. I generated a whopping five cents all last month and I don't see that improving any time soon (Wordpress is looking better and better). All of these things sound like I'm writing for the wrong reasons, but honestly, regardless of all these metrics that I make for myself, the real reason that I keep going on this is watching my viewership grow, and watching my followers grow from a paltry 2 to a now-we're-getting-somewhere 21. I keep going because I love seeing notices in my email letting me know that more people are following. I keep going because it is worth it and because it feels like I'm getting somewhere; I'm on the right track. I keep going because I appreciate everyone who drops by and sits a spell. Thank you, my readers.

Imagine my chagrin when I check my stats last night and find out that not that many people checked me out today. I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with not posting anything? Simple physics: don't expect a reaction when an action hasn't started.

I was absent for most of the day yesterday because it's getting close to crunch time for me. I have been preparing for the better part of two weeks for tomorrow. Tomorrow is my first venture at going into business for myself. How am I going to make my first million? You guessed it. I'm going to sell cakes at my daughter's fundraiser for her school!

FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE, HERE I COME!!!!

[For those of you keeping track at home, this is the part of the movie where Chris Farley has a brilliant idea while David Spade mugs the camera facepalming for five minutes straight.]

Now I know what you're thinking, any MBA worth his salt would tell you that the first step towards financial prosperity is always going to be a bake sale. I mean, duh, right? Everybody knows that.

Anyway, it is now 1:30 in the morning and I'm going to end this abruptly. It's been several hours since I started this entry because I had to pull the last of the cakes out of the oven, make dinner and so on...I have eight dozen cakes, a stack of flyers and no idea what tomorrow will bring. If anything, it'll look good on a resume, right, MBA dudes? I have a lot to catch up with and a lot more to come.

Watch this space...

Photo Credit:
Typewriter

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'll Be Your Friend. Always.

 

The first day when we brought her home from the hospital, he was curious. He was never jealous of territorial like other cats might be. I raised him better than that. There was always a fear, justified or not, that the old-wives-tales might be true and that, ridiculous as it may sound, a cat will jump into a baby's crib and steal their breath. I haven't heard of any documented cases of murderous, breath stealing cats...but still...there's always a possibility.

We introduced our 18 hour old daughter to our apartment. She had her eyes closed and missed the tour. It's okay, she'll catch the next one eventually. I held my swaddled daughter in my arms while I sat on the couch. My eldest feline stared at me from across the room. Not in rage, but in genuine curiosity. He wanted to know at this cooing bundle I was holding. He has never seen a baby before. The scent was different, the sound was different. All of these thoughts were showing on his face as he took careful steps toward this new creature. He climbed up on my lap, brought his face close to hers, touched his nose to her forehead and was completely...unimpressed. Were it in his vernacular, he would shrug his shoulders, let out a barely audible, "Meh" and walk away, which is what he basically did.

In the days that followed, he was always present. He somehow figured out that this being was a really big kitten and took on the role of a protector; a surrogate father. In the weeks and months and years that followed, he would always be near her.

She is five this year. She is five, and every year she has been on this Earth, she has developed an uncanny ability to attract, and to some extent, communicate with animals. I might write about this in the future, but just to stick to the point, she is five years old now and he is the ripe old age of 13. These days, they talk to each other. Literally, talk to each other. He chirps these sounds that only she can understand, it almost as if he's speaks in complete sentences and she responds in kind. When she was a baby, he'd stand vigilant. Now she's older, and his number one snuggle buddy. In this picture, her smile is cheesed, his is genuine.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

...And That's When I Woke Up

Author's Note: Look, I'm really, really sorry! I know it's certain death to start off anything with, "Hey, let me tell you about this dream I had." It's like yelling fire in a crowded movie house. It's not my style to dive into this territory, because it's not my thing. Then again, maybe it is.

I don't keep a dream journal. There is no point. I sleep restlessly; I go to bed late and get up early leaving no time for my brain to do it's thing. I drink too much coffee, I'm prone to fits of cleaning things obsessively. I don't dream.

I don't dream...that often.

I think it was around my fifth time trying to quit smoking and I was relying on the patch to settle my nerves was the first time since I was a child where my dreams were as clear, as wonderful, as scary as they were since then. Going to bed with a patch on your arm is not unlike dropping acid to enhance your experience of
I don't condone this behavoir...
going to Cirque du Soliel with your grandmother. Well, not entirely, anyway. Close though.

Nicotine in a more concentrated dose is supposed to reduce your cravings for lighting up, which it does. Tremendously. That is, until they don't work, but that's another story. The manufacturers of these patches tell you to wear these for at least 24 hours in a row, but at the same time advise against wearing them to bed. (???) That never made sense to me and since I considered myself on the more chronic end of the scale, I always chose to go to bed with one firmly attached to my flesh. The nicotine in the patch does not stop dispersing its poison into your system until its done, meaning that while you rest, you are essentially still lighting up. Your brain doesn't know how to handle this; the body is at rest while the mind is still having a barn-burner of a party. To put it simply: dreams without the patch are like watching foreign art films in fast forward while you look for the naughty parts. Dreams with the patch are like watching a Stanley Kubric film at normal speed, in IMAX, while tripping on acid with your grandmother...never mind.... Your dreams are in HD, and you're living it. Something like that.

It's called a lucid dream: a dream that's crystal clear and the dreamer experiences the illusion of total control of all action. Think 'Inception' if it were happening in a mind that isn't Leonardo DiCaprio's. There are ex smokers out there who would know what I'm talking about. Your dreams aren't scary, per se. They are only scary to the extent that you aren't used to things being so clear in your dreams. Your brain freaks out a little.

Anyway, my last lucid dream I had was so intense that I just had to write it down. It was a couple of years ago. I wasn't on the patch, but it was around the time where I was habitually dozing off at work. I was dozing off so much that it was kind of getting to me. So much so, that the echos of it were affecting my actual sleep.

~***~

I fell asleep at work. Hard this time. For a moment, it was welcome. Lovely, undisturbed slumber. But your subconscious has a tendency to tap you on the shoulder if you tend to doze in a place that you're not supposed to doze in, so I snap myself awake.

*Snork* "I'm awake!" I yell to no one in particular. No one heard me because I was no longer at work. I was in my old college lecture hall, books at my feet, my desk slick with drool. No one heard me, because I was the only one in there. There were no instructors, no students, no light apparently either. The normally droning fluorescent bulbs were silent. The only real light came from the outside hallway and the exit signs that emphasized that point. I was alone. I was forgotten about.

I had the instinct to realize that it felt like early evening and I needed to scramble out of there to catch the last bus to my old apartment. I packed up and started to run. Loose leaf paper floating cartoon like in my wake. I leave the hall and out into the common area. Nothing. Nobody. There were the ghosts of voices of people who were there a few hours earlier. But right now, they are closing everything up. I had to hustle to catch that bus. I walk quickly past collegiate collages that I take for granted for having something to do with my school. But on a second glance, I see that the collages were for a Maritime College. My college wasn't a Maritime College.

I wait for the bus, I look at the campus clock tower and notice that I made it with a few minutes to spare. Sudden fear raced through my veins when I feel my backpack is lighter now than before I dozed off. I forgot something. A book? Whatever it was, it was important enough for me to start running back to the lecture hall. The doors were locked as they normally were at the end of the day. Whatever I needed was still in there and in the distance, I hear my bus slowly roll away.

I couldn't call anybody because for some reason, I'm still conscious of the fact that I am me now and not me back then. I couldn't call a friend to pick me up because they've all grown up, moved away and started families of there own. I was stuck. Stuck on my old college campus with no way home. I ran out of options so I walked over to my old dormitory to see if there would be anyone who could sneak me in so I could spend the night in the lobby or something. The building's lights were on. There was activity all about; voices, laughter, typical miasma of any college dorm. Everything was normal, only there was no one paying attention to the old dude trying to get inside to spend the night.

I couldn't get in the regular way, I had to improvise. I loved my old dorm room. It was the one I lived in before trekking out to find an apartment in the city. The room was old, full of history. The building itself, as I recall in my dream, was haunted; a suicide in the attic and the ghost still roams the halls. I am conscious of  this I try and locate the window to my old room on the third floor. I thought if I could sneak in there, I would be safe for the night or at least find passage back to the lecture hall*. "Okay, 1...2...3 up and 1...2...3...4 across." I found it. No light came from inside the window. "Good," I thought. "At least I won't be barging in on anyone." I climbed up the side of the building, which I could do easily in this dream, opened the window and crept inside.

Dorm rooms that are occupied by roommates are divided in half. The half of any particular room sheds a little light as to whom is occupying it at the present time. For example: you can tell automatically that they put a jock and a goth in the same room. On one side of the room, nothing but bobble heads, on the other, nothing but THE DARKNESS OF MY SOUL!!! Such as the case when I came in through the window of this room. On one side, the side that I came in on, it was practically bare; nothing hanging on the walls, no pictures on the desk, no clothes on the floor, bed made in perfect fashion as if no one had slept in it in a while. This was on the side that I could see. On the other side of the room, the side I couldn't see, there were hints and shadows of life. I could make out frames on the wall, general clutter about the space and perhaps, more poignantly, the gentle snore of a young woman fast asleep. I knew I shouldn't be in there. I knew I should just keep on sneaking out and find my way to the lobby or something. But that bed near the window looked so comfortable, and I was so tired. I lay my head down on crisp, linen pillow cover.

I woke up. How long was I out? An hour? Two? It was still dark and a restless subconscious kept me alert if not awake to remind me that I was still in a girl's dorm room and I had to get out before she woke up. I straightened out the blankets and fluffed the pillows the best I could and proceeded to sneak out undetected. I made it to the door. I opened it carefully hoping there wasn't any cliched creaking that a door would normally do in this situation. It remained silent. I took a deep breath and took the first step out through the door when a tired voice suddenly chimed in from behind me.

"She's gone, you know."
"I'm sorry?" I say.
"She's gone. She's gone for the weekend just in case you were looking for her."

Street lights shone broken on my face through partially opened blinds as if I were in some Noir film. The other half of the room was indeed occupied. There was someone sleeping there even though I couldn't see anybody and she thought I was a boyfriend or something looking for her roommate.

"Oh. No, I'm sorry. I wasn't looking for her..." I proceed to tell her my story up to this point to which she replied, "Oh..." As if it were a regular occurrence or something. I turn to leave. "You had better leave before the shut down everything and find you. They'll be looking for you."

I shut the door. Panic moved my feet.

I found myself inside the school's book store** where I could already feel that something ominous was closing in; the faceless and nameless 'they'. I had to get out of this store because I knew on the other side of the door was my freedom. I no longer had my book bag which might have been a good thing. In order to not look suspicious to the students who worked there and the campus police that was guarding the door I picked up some random texts to blend in. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that these were books that I actually needed so I decided to steal them. I shoved them under my shirt. I wasn't going to pay the bookstore's outrageous mark up, besides, I had no money. This didn't go unnoticed by a member of the staff and so he started to approach me. From out of nowhere comes Anthony Bourdain. I had no idea how or
I don't condone this either...wait, what?
why he showed up here, but it was enough to distract the employee. Tony regaled the book seller with a tale he brought back from Greece while he subtly motioned to me Mr. Miagi-style that safety would be found in this direction. I crept closer to the exit. The only thing between me and my freedom was the campus cop. I hid in plain sight. Waiting for the cop to get distracted. It was at that point where this...how should I put this....hand drawn woman caught my eye. I say hand drawn because she looked made up to the point of being grotesque. She look as though she came to life after she spent years hanging in a tattoo artist's portfolio; disproportionate facial features, breasts way too big for the rest of her body. I might have regarded her has completely cartoonish and completely out of place had she not been dressed in loose-fitting jeans and a zip up hoodie with the school's logo on it.
...Yeah, something like that. DragoArt.com

Her arms were full of books. She studied the rest of the row looking for that one last book on her list when she noticed me hiding in the end cap. She looked at me inquisitively. I shot a quick glance at the cop. She looked at the cop, then at my worried face, then it hit her. She tousled her hand-drawn hair, sauntered over to the cop and said, "Excuse me," in her best Betty-Boop."Could you help me find this one book? I just can't seem to...find it." Sex oozed from her lips as she unzipped the hoodie ever so slightly to reveal her phenomenal cleavage to the cop. Needless to say, the cop at the door was perfectly distracted, she motioned the same way Bourdain did before that the door was that way.

 I ran out. I didn't know where to go exactly because I felt I couldn't trust the buses anymore, let alone be seen by anyone else. I remember there was a spot in the woods that was almost off campus grounds. It was a secret place to get drunk and do whatever drunk co-eds do. I moved in that direction. It was daylight, so I knew that there would be no one there.

Fought my way through the brush. Through the trees. Through the silence of a forest. Somewhere a voice told me to get down because "they" could see me, so I started crawling away like a crab. After crawling for a few yards, I decided that there was no one watching me. If there were, they'd be laughing at the way I contorted my body to move like a crab. I kept walking through unfamiliar woods.

I followed a path. Dirt changed to gravel. Gravel gave way to grass. Soon there was nothing to follow but the sound of cars whooshing by. I found myself near a road that wasn't supposed to be there. It was a road that remember taking many times as a boy, but that road was in my hometown, my college wasn't. I was miles away from where I should have been. "Hunh, that's odd." I said as I started walking in the direction of my parent's house.

And that's when I woke up and wrote this down.

~***~

I know, I know. I'm sorry. I didn't have much to write about today and I thought that if I fleshed out this a little further it might reveal something to me. If anything, it's worth a blog post for posterity sake. It'll work for practice. I promise I'll do better next time.


*-Impossible, because the lecture hall and the dorms are nowhere near each other in real life.
**- Again, not true because they are both in separate buildings. Oh well. Dreams, right?

Photo Credits:
 Dream
The Good Doctor
Anthony Bourdain
Pin-Up 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Capricorn Initiative: Learning to Cope

"Are the birds chirping your name, Capricorn? Is the breeze playing its own musical composition for you? Is the sun highlighting your path as you walk along? It may feel that the entire universe is up to to something, and it feels like something good. If you have had the sense that a positive energy is surrounding you now, you are on to something. You are entering into a phase of great abundance and prosperity. It is not your imagination. The winds of change have arrived, and they are blowing you into a much brighter future." --My horoscope, January 15th, 2014
There was a brief moment a long time ago where I was completely fascinated with how the stars would dictate my path. Without giving it too much thought, I would start to line up and justify the random occurrences in my own life and allow myself to believe that the position of the stars had anything to do with it. I was a pretty hardcore, flag waving, cheerleader for this sign. Those were the days when I was trying to figure out my identity. It's some thirty years later, and my identity is not any more clearer today. Now whenever I read my horoscope, that is, when I feel like reading my horoscope, it's regarded with a glance. Now I know that most horoscopes are just generic platitudes to distract the reader from everyday society, if only for a few seconds. It's fiction. It's a condensed sci-fi novel.

Still...

Still though, there is something to be said when I read my horoscope at the END of the day instead of the beginning and noticing how often what's been predicted for my day came true. Although I regard my horoscope with a grain of salt, I can't help but lend my ear from time to time. Because even though there might be great swathes of time where I feel that it might be blowing smoke, there are weeks where it is eerily accurate. That is the time when it deserves an audience.

Today will be the beginning of the third week in my quest for employment or to be self-employed and I'm looking back at the past week. By Wednesday, I was indeed feeling like I had a clear(er) vision of my future and it felt like I was making the right decisions and through that, everything would start to fall together. Everything had purpose and I couldn't wait to put things into motion, to become the Captain of my own ship and sail off into that sea of prosperity. After all, the wind was musical and it's just what I needed to fill my sails.

By Thursday, I was curled up in a fetal position in bed.

Fear and doubt has a tendency to creep in whenever I catch myself not doing anything. My chores are done, personal and financial obligations have been met, things that I would usually space out throughout the week have been taken care of immediately because I have lots of time on my hand. It's that gap of time that is now vacant that disturbs me. By Friday, I'm usually ready to pack it in, and not in a TGIF kind of way. More like a, "Well I'll guess I'll hit the rails and be a hobo for the rest of my life" kind of way. It's an emptiness. It's the void that is staring back.

It's a pattern. I start off the week with great inertia only to find out that I've burned myself out mid-week. It's frustrating. Partly because there's a part of me that is still hanging on to that old concept of "I have no job, therefore my life is over" and partly because I'm still trying to come to grips with my new mentality of going out on my own.

I'm not kidding myself. I know that self-employment is tough. Going through the motions of sending out resumes and going through the motions is even tougher. There's a part of me that is still used to being employed and living in a world where the jobs are plentiful. The fear comes from knowing that that's not the case anymore. Doubt comes from the feeling that any can-do attitude that I put forth into the universe will be crushed and devoured.

But Monday always comes, and perseverance comes from the fact that I am a Capricorn. I was born stubborn.

Just because there's no clock to punch in to, doesn't mean that there isn't anything else to do. In order for me to keep my sanity, I think I'll have to stick to a regiment of my own design: The Capricorn Initiative.
  • Spend the AM Hours Job Hunting: This should not take too long. Two or three is all it takes. Fill out applications, answer emails and send out resumes. Don't be so eager to get through them so quickly. Save some for later.
    ...That was easy...
  • Take An Hour or Two to Network:  It is highly unlikely that a potential employer might respond a few seconds after applying for a job. Calm down. Take the time to read articles. Take the time to respond to articles (I've taken a fondness to G+ and the assorted groups who inhabit it). Take the time to write, you never know what might come of it. Blog. Contribute. Become a functioning member of society.This is your time. Use it wisely.
  • Devote Some Time Later to Pursue Your Goals: This means research and develop. For me, it's working with Adobe Illustrator so that I may someday become freelance. Navigating my way around that program takes time without a mentor looking over me. I want to learn it. Learning takes time.  Take the time. 
    Allow some time to dream
  • Finally, Learn to Relax: Today is Martin Luther King's Birthday. That means the kids are home from school. So far, this year has had some extreme weather patterns for Florida; temperatures within a stone's throw from freezing. My youngest has not had the privilege of growing up in the Northeast. She has only a fleeting concept of what it's like to be chilled to the bone. For the past few days, she's been wanting me to take her to the beach and I've always countered, "No, baby, it's too cold outside." Today, I might just take her up on that. I could use the fresh air. I think I should get into the habit of taking a walk in the afternoons. If anything to clear my head.
I cannot predict the future. I cannot guarantee that things will get better. I can, however, keep moving in one direction. Even if it involves kicking and screaming. I have no idea what a Capricorn is either. A water goat? Really? Couldn't go with anything conceivable like the rest of the Zodiac like a lion, a fish, an archer or a scale? What the heck is a water goat anyway?

My youngest the last time we went to the beach in the winter

"You may be feeling very determined about a decision or opinion. You have come to a conclusion after a great deal of thought, and you probably feel certain that you are right. But maybe you aren't right, Capricorn. Maybe there are aspects of the situation immersed in your version of things that you have stopped being objective. But if you try to take a fresh look at the situation--as though it is the first time you thought about it--you may find that your viewpoint has changed." --My horoscope. January 20th, 2014.

Today.

Picture Credits:
 Watercolor Capricorn
Networking
Dream 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wishful Thinking

Just got out of the shower. I'm documenting this photograph in case I need to improve my appearance in the near future. Just in case I get a job (fingers crossed). Took me a year to get this mop and in all honesty, I'm quite proud of it.

On a related note, it's been over seven months since I smoked my last cigarette after a lifetime of lighting up. Wasn't that hard, all I had to do was to WANT to quit. That want had to be stronger than the need to smoke. Quitting was easy, I've done it like twenty times. Anyway, I bring this up now because for the past few weeks, I've been noticing that familiar "dirty chimney" feeling in the back of my throat. The feeling that you get usually in around sunrise when you haven't lit up in a while and the back of your esophagus feels like a barbeque pit. Every time I breathe through my nose, that familiar, poisonous air gets inside me. It's been months since I last lit up. I shouldn't feel like this, should I?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dog Star God: A Flash Fiction Challenge

 While Stumbling the other night, I came across this blog and it was just the thing I was looking for to keep my mind occupied and my fingers moving. The first time someone threw down a challenge like this was years ago. I lost interest in what I was writing and abandoned it completely. These days, inspiration is coming a little more naturally; I don't have to go out and chase it as much.

Flash Fiction Challenge: "Roll for Title" provided me with the title, Dog Star God. At first, there were plenty of ideas swirling but nothing standing out. I had ideas from ghost stories to legends of old sailors go around until I landed on a Richard Adams type of drama. The idea kind of took on a mind of it's own until I came up with a rough draft of a first chapter to a pretty interesting adventure. I might just keep moving forward with this and see where it takes me. I'm a little rusty and I appreciate any feedback I might get. Thank you for reading.

~***~

Something flickered in front of his eye lids. It was a dancing light. It was that hot creature that devoured vast sections of the forest. The creature that is sent from the heavens whenever the Gods weren't appeased according to legends that his father would tell him. Fire, was the name he gave it, he recalled. But it couldn't have been that, there was no smell of burning fur, no singing of flesh, no wailing of kin as the monster devoured them whole. This fire was trapped. Tamed, he thought, because it felt like it wasn't moving.

He forced one eye open, then the other. The fire was indeed trapped behind some crude, derelict man-made thing. His head, he realized, was too heavy to lift as he tried with great effort to navigate his surroundings. In the distance more fires glowed in other man-made things. The voices and sounds of various beasts busying themselves all around echoing through his heavy skull; Beaver parents playing with their young near a river, the slow, measured hoof step of an adult moose finding her next meal, the relentless poetry of Foxes selling their wares, no doubt stolen from various farms and villages. The light from the flames slowly revealed that he was surrounded by walls not made of stone. He was in no cave. These walls were created by man. He could tell because the walls were painted in the crude, blasphemous, false imagery of his beloved heavens.

Where was he? He could make out no discernible voice. Nothing sounded familiar. Fear gripped him as he realized that he was no longer near his clan. The scent of his brothers and his father were as faint in the night air. The stink of human had not completely vanished from this place, though it was not overwhelming. Fear slowly turned to panic as he felt his tail involuntarily creep between his haunches.

"Oh," said a tiny, relieved voice behind him. "Thank the Gods, you're awake."

"Who...?" he struggled to find his voice. It felt like its been ages since a sound left his muzzle. "Who....are you? Where am I?" Tiny feet quickly shuffled themselves from behind him and took a long route to park themselves within his eyesight, but out of reach of claw and tooth. It was a Mouse and from the color of feather in its hat, he recognized through his grogginess, that this one belonged to the Honeysuckle Kingdom. His clan very rarely had dealings with them. They were not enemies, nor were they necessarily allies. The laws in the Forest were held together with a shaky truce at best, but peace was always enforced by the Wolf.

"Y...Your Grace," stammered the tiny rodent as he bowed a gracious bow, doffing his tiny cap majestically. "Please allow me the courtesy of introducing myself. I am Alfalfa Longwhisker of House Milk-Thistle. My kinsfolk and I rescued you a fortnight ago and brought you to safety. I have been tending to your wounds ever since." He gestured to the area on the Wolf's side that appeared to be covered in dried mud.

"Rescued?" asked the baffled Wolf wincing at the sudden, sharp pain in his gut. "and what made you think I needed rescuing, Master Longwhisker?" The first hints of indignation creeping up in his throat like the blood that he still coughs up.

"I...I beg your pardon, Your Grace. Rouge Elk stampeded from the north. Apologies, I neither recognized their scent nor their allegiance, they may have been from the last of the lawless tribes that still roam the borders."

His memories rush to meet him like the first breeze of autumn. That is why he's here. The last thing he remembered was meeting those horned beasts on the field, standing cheek and jaw next to a pack of his brethren, ready to take on the marauding stampede. He remembers hearing the battle cry, the awesome rhythm of hundreds of hooves getting louder. He remembers seeing the first wave tear through their ranks with ferocious horn. He remembers feeling the warmth leave his body as a sharpened barb ripped through his hide. He remembers it all going black. "Those Godless barbarians of the north shall have their day soon enough. Where are my brothers?" bellowed the Wolf finding the strength to stand. "Are there more of us here?"

"I'm sorry, Your Grace," said Alfalfa as the color vanishes from his face, "there....there were just...so many clinging to life as it was."

"...and my father?" the Wolf asked, expecting the worst.

War was something the Honeysuckle Kingdom was not accustomed to. Especially on a scale of the one a fortnight previous. Alfalfa's words stuck in his tiny throat with his fear as he recounted the carnage, "I....I...."

Rage spewed from the Wolf's lips as he lunged at the mouse. "YOU WILL TELL ME WHERE MY FATHER IS, OR I...." he would have finished, had it not been finished for him by an ancient voice that bellowed like thunder across the fields.

"...WILL DO NOTHING TO HARM THE YOUNG MASTER!" The Wolves eyes darted across this man-made cave to see who would dare to be so insubordinate. "I will not allow violence in my domain. Especially against those who mean no harm." said this ancient voice. The Wolf heard what sounded like shuffling feet; like an old Wolf who has survived past his years. His eyes finally fell upon an old dog. He would be identified by humans as an Australian Sheep Dog. Old and not as nimble as he was in his youth but his blue eyes shone directly into your soul. A slave of man, cousins far removed by time and necessity. Wars have been fought between Wolf and dog for many years. Ever since dog started protecting man from Wolf. "Oh?" the Wolf snarled, "and what would a domesticated bitch do about it?" His teeth ready to inflect damage.

"You would do well to mind your tongue here, Prince Phelan," said the sheep dog limping closer to the young braggart unafraid. "This bitch took you in and gave you shelter while we made sure that 'The First Offspring of Sandulf' recuperated from his wounds."

 'The First Offspring of Sandulf' was a title that Prince Phelan grudgingly accepted but it was only known amongst royalty. "You..." Phelan started as he tried to recall if he'd seen this domestic's face anywhere in his Kingdom. He could not recall. "You know of my father?" The sheepdog smirked as he limped away, "Oh, you can say we are acquainted, Your Highness."

Knowing that his wounds were still too deep and this old dog would not kill him, Prince Phelan relaxed his muscles and remembered his teachings. He is, after all, The Prince of The Cedar Valley and not a King yet. "Kind dog," said the Prince wincing at his own change of tone. "I commend you for your remarkable healing craft and will put you in good standing in my Kingdom. Pray, tell me where I might be?"

A chuckle escaped the old dog's throat, "Heh...oh, you royals. Always so formal. You are in what the human's called a 'Musement Park. At one time, this place was crawling with fat, screaming humans practicing in strange customs that...well, I have no idea why. These things you see before you are what they called 'Musement Rides. This one is my home." A derelict ride that had a half dome shaped roof festooned in stars. "The reason why the human smell is so faint is because this park was no longer needed. Man just forgot about this place and left everything here, giving a sanctuary for all manner of beast. At one time, man made pilgrimages to this place day after day, now it is abandoned," a heaviness filled the cave, "just like me." The dog changed the subject before his sadness took over. "Your father and your brother are still alive. Many of your kin have suffered and perished during this last skirmish, but your family took their scars, and found their way out."

"Where are they?" asked the Prince.
"Well, I presume they made it back to their...your Kingdom. You were the only survivor that Master Longwhisker could find. And the Gods be praised that we did, 'ere the lineage would be in jeopardy. I am the master of this domain and you are safe from any danger. You may call me Duke." An old name that his humans gave him long ago. He continued, "Your wounds still haven't properly healed and will still need to stay here until the moon is lower in the sky. Until that time, you will need our help."

"Preposterous!" Prince Phelan bellowed, "I have the strength of kings! I need to return to my father to make preparations for the coming hordes. You must...I...you.." the room spins and pulls him back down off his feet forcing his eyes closed again.

"You," Duke whispered, "need your strength, Your Highness. Rest here for now. I will return when the sun rises. Master Longwhisker will keep watch over you until then." Somewhere, a Mouse in a colorful cap stands at attention. "I will take my leave, rest well." With that, Duke shuffles towards the opening where Alfalfa stands atop an old and battered sign. "Keep a sharp eye, young master. Alert me if there is any change in his condition."

"Aye, Duke. 'Til the morrow." said the Mouse with another glorious flourish. Stout of heart, a young Mouse keeps vigil. The sign that he dutifully marches across is written in an ancient man dialect and reads:

"YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE THE DOG STAR ROCKET."

Somewhere in the darkness, the forest stirs.


Photo Credit:
White Wolf by Mukul Soman

Formal Response to the Robot Who Emailed Me.

Ummmm.....
I wake up this morning, looking forward to sipping my coffee and going through my new morning routine of updating contact information and scouring the want ads. Perhaps later on, I'll put the finishing touches on a writing project I'm working on and maybe taking some courses that might bolster my resume. I have been looking for employment for about a week now and I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I'm not qualified for anything.

Nevertheless, I will not let that deter me. I would like something, but I know that I have to wade through an ocean of no's in order to wash up on that tiny, deserted island of yes. So as I said, I wake up this morning, fire up my computer, sip my coffee, send the kids off to school, check my email and the first thing in my inbox is an email with the words JOB OPENING in big, bold letters in the title. Wiping the last of the sleep from my eyes, I opened it up and couldn't help feeling like a kid on Christmas Morning getting exactly what he wanted. At least, for a minute or two. Then, I re-read it. And the magic sort dissipated with the dignity of a fart in church. To be honest, if I would have received this email in my twenties and looking for work, I would have fell for this without question. But I'm not in my twenties. I am much older, wiser, jaded and battle scarred. I would like something, but I'm not at the point of desperation where I'll just fall for anything.

What could possibly go wrong?
What? Someone taking advantage of my situation with intention of stealing my personal information and hijacking my life? Seems ligit....

For delight, amusement and target practice, I have saved a copy of the email and lovingly rendered it in Paint to enhance the mocking! OBSERVE!


In case you can't read it (I know you can't because I can't. I apologize), the body reads:

Dear Applicant
We have reviewed your resume posted on EMPLOYFLORIDA and believe you Are qualified for the Data Entry position you are yet to occupy. We have forwarded your resume to the Head of Operation.  Mrs Tricia Hale.  She will like to conduct an online interview with you on Wednesday 15th of Jan 2014  9:00am EST  to discuss more about the Data entry Position that you are yet to occupy.

Set Up a Screen name with the yahoo Instant Messenger online at www.messenger.yahoo.com   and add up the Head of Operation to your buddy list.

Her Screen Name with Yahoo Instant Messenger is:tricia.hale
If the time is not convenient to you feel free to email Mrs. ********* at this Email Address:   *****@yahoo.com

She will be waiting to talk to you on yahoo messenger right away.

 Okay, so many things wrong with this. Keep in mind, I'm applying for Auditing positions. Scarce as they may be, it's what I did at my previous place of employment and I've kind of got a taste for it now. These days, I'm pointing out discrepancies in everything. Especially when it's personal like this. Let's pick this turkey clean, shall we?


1. Generic Greetings with Generic Titles coming from Generic Authors: M'kay, so already off to a rousing start. Jobberman's a real person, right? I think I might have gone to high school with a Jobberman...or maybe it was a Matilda? I dunno. I get those two confused ALL the time. "JOB OPENING" Great! Who's offering it? Do you have a license number? A web site? How about a LAST NAME or a REAL NAME to start off with? If you lack these things, if these pieces of information aren't the first few things that you start off with, then you're on the fast track to be shut down. It's a habit I developed dealing with telemarketers: if I pick up the phone, say "hello" and a voice doesn't respond in two seconds, I hang up because it usually meant that it's a person preparing their script or a bot hitting the play button. If you can't identify yourself immediately, then you don't exist. Buh'bye.

2. Congratulations! You Received Google's Yellow Band of Spamitude!: Hmmm, Google couldn't
verify that this email was sent by a human. Oh but that's okay, everyone that emails me something is a real person. The Internet told me so. Hey, if some nameless person emails me to let me know that they are giving me an interview for an as-of-yet unnamed company, it's TOTALLY real, dude! In fact, I'm going to respond them right away to thank them for the opportunity....oh, but wait.....

3. Already Feeling Important: ...if I just glance at the first sentence of the first paragraph, you state that "...we have reviewed your resume...". Well, if you did indeed review it, you'd know that my name isn't "Applicant", Jobberman. Geez, it's almost as if we didn't go to the same fake high school together or something.

4. The Department of the Redundancy Department Called....: Yes, I know that there's a position that I've yet to occupy, but is it so important that you point it out twice in a row? With the same wording? Are you half asleep and spamming people again, Jobberman? Heh...same old Jobberman, up to his crazy antics again.

Seriously?
5. You want to talk to me...HOW?: Here is where I had to shake my head and make these people my personal whipping boy for most of the morning. I've been around the block more than a few times and I've been on my fair share of interviews over the years. I have had responses ranging from a quick phone call to well written and elegant rejection letter that was mailed to me through the post office (it was from an auto parts dealer looking for part-time workers. I was depressed but impressed at the same time). I can say that this is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the first time that a potential employer wanted to conduct an interview through instant messaging, regardless if they are using Yahoo's or not. Over the past few years, I have learned a few pointers in constructing and maintaining a relevant resume so it would be pleasing if not passable by any potential employers. The #1 thing that everyone that dispenses advice for a living on this topic is: If an employer sees the words "Netscape", "Aol", "Hotmail", or "Yahoo" anywhere on your resume, you will be immediately be regarded as someone who doesn't know what they're doing and as such, will have your resume placed lovingly in the "Circular File". I have a question for you Jobberman: If any of the above are considered verboten by any employer, if any of these things are considered a laughing stock to anyone with a college education, then how the hell do you expect me to take you seriously as a person, as a company and as a future employer when you are using those very items I'm told to avoid? Or maybe you're just a poorly constructed and ill conceived scam?

Yahoo Messenger? Really? Couldn't join the rest of the Twenty-First Century and use Skype or Google Hangouts? No? Couldn't just send a simple email arranging an appointment for an interview? Couldn't pick up a phone? No? No, you chose to conduct business on a platform that is mostly inhabited by pedophiles, perverts and scam artists. You chose to conduct an interview where I have to divulge personal information on the one platform where practically anyone can see it? Right. Let me chat with someone whom I've never heard of, who works for a company that has no name, no phone number and no physical address to speak of and give them my name, my address, my phone and social security number and keep my fingers crossed that I might be employed, while at the same time unravel the mystery as to why my credit card is maxed and my bank account is wiped out. You chose to conduct business in a virtual back alley. Son, you are really, REALLY bad at this.

6. Well, Nice Talkin' To Ya!: Really? No "Sincerely, Jobberman" with signature, email address, phone number and such? No hugs and kisses? Nothing? Well, hunh. I didn't feel like talking to you neither.

This. Is. Not. My. First. Rodeo. I've been a target of scammers for a few months now. I've been targeted so often that my full time job should be rounding up these wastes of flesh and sending the FBI after them. I'm going through a reputable, state sponsored agency and here you come preying on people's fear hoping that someone might just trip up.

I regret to inform you, Jobberman or whatever your name is, that I will not be able to attend the aforementioned interview on the grounds that you are a complete fucking idiot. Thank you for the opportunity, but I feel that I must seek employment elsewhere.

Go back to Craigslist, you moron!


 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Upon Suddenly Finding More Time on my Hands

I've been feeling particularly dry this weekend. I know that this isn't saying much because I'm not the most steadfast when it comes to updating. A booze tinged temper tantrum that lasted a couple of years is one thing. Gaining momentum and then slamming on the brakes because I just plain ran out of things to say is something completely different. One thing has nothing to do with the other...

...okay, so it does.

But honestly, two weeks ago, I was laid off and now I have oodles of time on my hands. Normally I'd be freaking out because, y'know, THE END IS NIGH! NOBODY LIKES ME BECAUSE I HAVEN'T GOT HIRED YET! The last couple of times that this happened, I spent at least two months with my heart in my throat. This time around, I'm kind of over it. This time around, I'm going to find some time to nurture some of the things I would have rather been doing had I not been punching a time clock. Things like writing, like starting my own business, like networking, like becoming part of society and well, like blogging.

I know it's important to write anything done because it's good practice. I've heard this over and over again. I get it. But if I blog about my breakfast every other day, I honestly don't think I'll be seriously regarded as a "Content Provider". I mean, not like I am now. Friday hit, and I felt dry. Everything that needed to be done got done. I sat down at my computer and nothing. Just nothing. Nothing to share. Nothing to talk about. I had it in my head to crawl back under the covers. For the next two days.

Tonight, upon suddenly finding more time on my hands, I did what I usually do and make myself fall asleep while Stumbling. Then I found this. Now I have something to do for a few days. I have about five days to write 1000 word story around the title: "Dog Star God."

I don't usually build a story around a title, but I'm a sucker for these types of challenges and I haven't played this game in a while. Besides...

...it's not like I have anything else to do...

This is gonna be fun.

Photo Credit:
The End

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Open Letter to an Old Friend Who Will Probably Never See This

Somewhere in the background cue balls shattered another intricately racked 8-ball formation while tipsy chatter veiled hushed conversations like so much smoke from so many cigarettes. Sometime during the night, the bartender switched every glass holding alcohol into cheap, red plastic cups. It was a not-so-subtle tell that last call was coming soon. Somewhere in the background, the jukebox wailed a Van Morrison tune.

Three out of the four of us were packing up our equipment while the fourth, our intrepid leader, talked business with the owner of this establishment over in the corner. Our home base was one block up so there was no car pack. Some of us smoked and played air hockey waiting for our fourth to arrive. Our leader was probably lining up future gigs and getting a clearer picture of where we would play next. Our band was hard working, loud and melodic, completely occupied by drunk idiots and had, on several, fleeting occasions, the potential to become a mainstay on the local circuit. In a few minutes we'd be on our way to an all-night diner to soak up an evening's share of cheap keg-beer rotting our stomachs. We'd eat, we'd laugh, we'd commiserate because tonight was a special night. Tonight was our official first paying gig as a band.

"Alright guys, let's head out," said our leader upon his return. That last little bit of warm beer still swirled in my cup. "Dude!" I said as we collected ourselves, "We got paid, right?"
"Dude," he countered, "you're drinking it," glancing down at the red cup in my hand. No actual money exchanged hands.

In the short time that we were together, I caught a small taste of what it was like to work independently and have it be meaningful; to be a contractor of sorts. Up until and even years and years afterwards, I have always blindly burdened myself with the notion that in order to become successful, you needed to work for someone else. Perhaps that's what my motivation was when I decided to become an actor (although I would probably never admit it at the time)? I went to school to learn acting as a craft, even headed to New York, only waking up many years later finding myself floating from one dead end job to another and moving further and further away from what I set out to do. In the short time that we were together, I knew what it was like to love what you do. A few months later, we disbanded.

Years later, you call me up out of the blue to catch up. It was a welcome surprise. It was also a welcome surprise in the years that followed where we'd talk as if decades haven't passed. The first time we caught up, you told me that you made a break for the west coast. You said you started out working in a coffee shop but you couldn't see yourself lasting as a barrista and you made that leap into the unknown and formed a band. A band that stayed together for a while, went on tour, released a few albums, achieved a measure of success. But that wasn't enough for you, you started another band, even went solo for a while, and eventually started your own company. Every step you took brought you further into happiness and well being and every time I thought about this, I could not help being slightly jealous.

I was jealous of the fact that you got your life together. I was jealous of the fact that everything seemed to work out for you. But here's the real kicker, it's not just you. I cannot help but feel at least slightly jealous of the people I know that had the bravery to step off of the treadmill. Of which there are quite a few. I only bring this up now because I think I figured it out.

I have always blindly burdened myself with the notion that in order to become successful, you needed to work for someone else. Up until recently, this is an infallible rule for me. I have discovered that this is not necessarily the case. Success is not measured by loyalty. It is measured on what you do you with the time that is presented to you. I am in my mid-forties now and the echoes of our band are still noticeable these many years later. For my birthday this year, I got laid-off. This would be a bigger shock to the system if this hasn't happened to me before, or if I was younger and more ambitious to take over the world. But, I'm much older and wiser than that guy in that band. That time you called me out of the blue, you said, "if I don't do this now, I don't think I'll ever get the chance again." It's been many years since you said that to me. It just now finally started to sink in. Now, I realize that I might be better off being my own boss rather than spending most of my life trying to find one. Now I realize that following your dreams and doing what you love aren't just catch phrases to sell self help books and greeting cards, it might be a viable alternative. Because as it stands right now, it might be my only option. If I don't do this now, I don't think I'll ever get the chance again. I get it now.

And I am no longer jealous.

Fear would destroy me every time I lost my job because I didn't see any alternative to punching a time clock. It was either work crap jobs for crappier pay or oblivion.These days, I will gladly take that fear and have it motivate me to do the things that I love because now I see the alternative from a different perspective. The jobs are more scarce, they say companies are hiring but it sounds like folklore, like myth. I woke up recently and decided that I still have a craftsman's heart. I have the drive and ambition, the money will come later once I figure out how to get paid from it. I get it now. I thank you for planting that seed in my head years ago.

Namaste, old friend. I hope all is well with you. Look me up sometime, these days I have plenty of time to spare.

Photo Credit:
Billiards

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Gift of Cheesecake Part 2

To be sure, this recipe has been copied many times on the webs by bloggers and cooks who have fallen head-over-heels in love with this cake. The recipe has been published several times in actual cookbooks by the owners of the establishment as well, so it's no real secret. No harm in publishing what is already common knowledge, I suppose.

So it's Christmas time and I want to give gifts. I almost ran out of ideas until I decided that I would give presents that I could make. The more I look around, the more I notice people are reverting back to crafting, selling and gifting items of their own design, whether it be out of some rejection or objection to modern technology, or out of necessity. I like to cook and since I chose to make dinner for Thanksgiving and not Christmas, I decided to make my cheesecakes that spread vast amounts of cheer. The cheesecake I want to give is the Junior's recipe. Full disclosure, I sleep with a copy Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook under my pillow. Not really. I could make a joke about having sweet dreams, but I'd hate myself afterwards.

...too late

To be sure, this recipe has been copied dozens of times and I am no different. However, I have yet to see a recipe that accommodates mass production. "Sure, you can juggle geese. But can you juggle geese while gargling Gershwin?" I needed to do this to meet the numbers I wanted. I wrote nothing down and chose instead to plan this as I went along. I think it took a little longer than I would have liked to, the space I had to work with was limited (tiny kitchen) and things had to be improvised. The end result is pretty darn close to what I wanted regardless.

A lot of work? Yes. Worth it? Totally.
Perhaps it was because it was a shortened shopping season, perhaps it was because December 25th was in the middle of the week this year, perhaps it was because we have all of us faced bigger challenges this year than we ever have before, perhaps it was because I opted out of catering to the in-laws this year because of lack of funds, but there was a palatable sense of, "let's just get this over with" as presents were handed out. The children were first and they're always happy with everything. The parents were next followed by the grandparents, the aunts and then the great-grandparents. After everything was unwrapped and all the "thank yous" were expressed, it was my turn. I produced a box. And inside that box were several smaller boxes; white cardboard boxes that you would get a bakery all wrapped up in red ribbon. And inside those boxes were petite packages of goodness. The only other people that knew what everyone was getting was my family and none of them said a word. What followed was magical; grown ups who have turned rigid by age and time suddenly reverted back to being children. Children opening presents on Christmas Morning. The way it should be. Even the crankiest amongst them squealed like a young boy finding a bicycle under the tree.

I hope that hand-crafting your own gifts never goes out of style. It's something that I believe that is sorely forgotten about these days. Sure, there's a little investment in time and money involved, but trust me, it's insignificant compared to the smiles that you'll get, the moment they'll always remember and the crippling debt that you won't be paying in January. Sure, scoff all you want at the things that were made by the hand of someone who loves you. I guarantee you, once you realize that what you got was a one-of-a-kind item, it'll make that PS4 pale in comparison.

...Not that I...y'know...have anything against....getting a PS4 *coughcough*hint.

 ~*THE HARDWARE*~

  • White Bakery Boxes & Cake Rounds While I highly recommend going to your local restaurant supplier, I do realize that not everywhere has them in their town. In that case, Amazon might be able to help you or many assorted online suppliers would be glad to fill that capacity. Oh, and don't forget ribbon too.
  • Small Spring Form Pans Daytona is known for it's Flea and Farmer's Market. The pans I got were from a couple of ladies who love to see me coming. Again, while I realize that not everywhere can accommodate, there are several vendors online that would be glad to be of service. The dimensions of mine are 4 1/2" by 1 1/2". Anything in that neighborhood would be fine. I recommend getting at least 4 pans.
  • Roasting Pans One large, one not so large. Not the size you roast turkeys in, the ones you might bake a lasagna in.You can use cookie sheets if you have them, they just need to have walls tall enough on one of them so you can utilize it for a water bath. (For those who don't know what that is, keep reading). It would probably be a good idea if they weren't beat up (well loved) as well. Non-stick is best.
  • Stand Mixer Goes without saying. 
  • Hand Mixer You could get away with just using a stand mixer, but I strongly recommend utilizing an electric hand mixer along with the stand mixer if you have them available. A further explanation to follow.
  • Piping Bags with Attachments 
You'll also need cooling racks, parchment paper, silicone spatulas...y'know....the usual.

~*THE SOFTWARE*~


Okay, here's where where taking notes might have come in handy. If I recalled correctly, I had to TRIPLE the recipe for the crust but leave the recipe for the cheesecake unchanged. The recipe for the crust is the original multiplied by 3.

Sponge Cake Crust
Proof of trial and error: check out the lopsided one on top

- 1 Cup sifted cake flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt (heavy pinch)
- 6 extra-large eggs, separated
- 1 Cup sugar
- 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 6 drops pure lemon extract
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of the roasting pans. (Note: don't use the butter used for melting, a Tablespoon or so would be all you need to do this.)
  2. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes (time it!). With the mixer running, slowly add 6 Tablespoons of the sugar and beat until thick, light yellow ribbons form, about 5 minutes more. Beat in the extracts.
  4. Sift the flour mixture over the batter and stir it in by hand, just until no white flecks appear. Now, blend in the melted butter and prepare to give yourself a workout. This part hurts.
  5. Now, here's where using a stand mixture in conjunction with using a hand mixer comes in handy. Originally, they intended for you to follow steps 1-4, empty out the mixture into another bowl (?) and thoroughly clean the beaters and the bowl, dry them and use them again for the following steps. Which I would follow completely, if I were only using one mixer. What I like to do is when I separate the eggs, I put the whites in the provided bowl of the stand mixer and the yolks in a separate stainless steel bowl to be used for mixing the other way. This method will insure the fat and the protein will stay separate. It's also quicker. Yes, there's more of a clean up, but trust me on this, it's the better way to go. Put the cream of tartar in the bowl of the egg whites. Using the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, beat on high until frothy. Gradually add the remaining sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form (the whites will stand up and look glossy, not dry.) Fold about one-third of the whites into the batter, then the remaining whites. Seeing white specks? Don't worry, they're like those specks in pancake batter. They'll disappear when baking.
  6. Gently spread out the batter on the bottom of your pans. The batter will have the consistency of  bread dough; slightly elastic and sticky. Don't worry, take a silicon or rubber spatula and spread as best you can from corner to corner. You'll need to cover the pans with about 1/2" of batter. A decent cheat to use would be if you don't see the bottom of the pan, you're in pretty good shape. Bake until set and golden (not wet or sticky), about 10 minutes. Touch the cake gently in the center. If it springs back, it's done. Watch carefully and don't let the top brown. Leave the crust in the pans and place on wire racks to cool for about 45 minutes to an hour (when the pans are coolish to the touch).
  7. When the pans are cool to the touch, roll out some parchment paper to cover the wire racks. Gently coax out the cake from the bottom of the pans. A trick I use is to just turn the pans upside down and let gravity take over. Sometimes they'll pop right out. If not, grab a spatula. You'll need to keep them in one piece, so take your time. After de-panning, allow them to cool a little longer.  
  8. When cool enough, pick up the cakes by the paper and transfer to a flat surface. Grab your spring form pans and arrange them on top of the cakes. Press down in a slight twisting motion like you were using (say it with me now) cookie cutters. Separate with pieces of parchment paper and stack on a plate. You can refrigerate over night. Uncovered if you want (they'll stay moist for that long). There is going to be an "Angel's share" in the process. I find that saving them and serving them later with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce keeps the kids happy.


Original New York Cheesecake

- Four 8-Ounce packages Philly cream cheese
   (full fat) at room temperature
- 1 2/3 Cups sugar
- 1/4 Cup cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 3/4 Cup heavy or whipping cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, Generously butter the bottom and sides of your spring form pans and wrap the outside of them in aluminum foil. Place your sponge cakes in the bottom of your pans. Depending on how many pans you have, you'll repeat this process a couple of times.
  2. Put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 Cup of the sugar and the cornstarch in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times. Blend in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down the bowl after each one.
  3. Now, at this point they say to increase the mixer speed to medium. I've done this before with mixed results. First, they tell you to increase the speed to medium and then later on, they tell you to not over-mix. If you increase the speed to medium, the batter will liquify too quickly. If the batter is too liquidy, it won't bake right. I can't keep count of how many times that I cut into this to have a pudding-like center. Your goal is to keep this closer to a custard consistency. I recommend keeping your mixer on a low speed. Beat in the remaining sugar, then the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one. Beat in the cream just until completely blended. Gently scoop batter into the pans. Don't fill completely to the top, the batter needs room to expand.
  4. Place your cakes in a large, shallow pan containing hot water that comes up to about halfway up the springforms. Bake until the edges are light, golden brown and the top is slightly golden tan, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove the cheesecakes from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack and let cool for a few hours. Leave the cake in the pans but remove the foil and place in the freezer overnight.
  5. When ready to remove, take the cakes out of the freezer and gently rub the bottom and sides of the springform with a cloth that's been run under hot water. Place individual cakes on separate cake rounds and refrigerate until ready to finish. 
Fault lines? Don't worry. They will sink when they cool.

The Garnish

- 2 Cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 pint strawberries (optional)
  1. Prior to making your whipped cream, take your mixing bowl and your beaters and chill them in your freezer or refrigerator for at least 1 hour (overnight is best).
  2. Remove bowl and beaters from chill chest. Hook up your beaters and promptly pour heavy cream and vanilla extract into the chilled bowl. Slowly add sugar while beating on high speed until stiff peaks form (if you can flip the bowl upside down and nothing comes out, it's ready).
  3. Load up your piping bag with your cream. Use the star attachment. 
  4. Remove your cakes from the freezer or refrigerator and pipe the whipped cream along the bottom and top edge of your cakes. Slice and fan out a fresh strawberry for the top if desired.
Box up and chill immediately. The challenge at this point will be to keep these chilled until ready to gift. I recommend freezing your cakes BEFORE you are ready to pipe the whipped cream. That way if you are
Frozen and ready to get dressed
lacking room to keep these chilly, they'll be able to stay out at room temperature for a length of time. My friends in the Northeast don't usually have this problem during the Holidays. Just stick the boxes out in the garage until you're ready. Down here in Florida, well, you might have to indulge in dessert before dinner. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.








Don't be jelly of my piping skills