Wednesday, 30 April 2014

What's this? Happy hour!

Hi all! In this snippet, I've ventured into the world of temp work back in Winterville's smoking-hot job market of 2009 and found a drinking buddy at last. Enjoy! 
  In my new position, I tried to make friends with some of the people around me.
  Since I emanated the stench of someone who didn’t grow up in Winterville and had a bachelor’s degree, I gravitated toward people like me.  It was a big-enough workplace for that to be possible.  That’s where I met Patti Drinking-Friend.
  Patti was thin and wore business clothing to work every day.  She may have enjoyed dressing the part more than playing the part, but her work persona was very dignified, in control, and professional.  Her hair was always up, and her shoes were always sexy. That’s what I liked about her at first; she didn’t seem like a stupid hick.
  My job, while busy and ever-changing, wasn’t very challenging, so I didn’t need much coaching, but she and I would talk from time to time. I was amazed one day when she popped up with an invitation to Happy Hour. I felt like a contestant on The Price Is Right; I’d been in Winterville for over a year and never had the opportunity to take part in this type of workplace ritual[1]. So, I went.[2]
  At Chili’s, the de-facto Happy Hour hotspot in our area of town after Bennigan’s closed, the drinks were flowing, and skinny little Patti was downing a great quantity of them while I nursed a rum-and-coke and promised myself I wouldn’t be too tipsy to leave if the evening got lame.
  “Stressful week, Patti?” I asked her.
  “You don’t know the half of it.  My boyfriend who lives 100 miles away dumped me last weekend,” she slurred.
  “I am so sorry!” I said.
  “Yeah, he said the distance was too much, yadda yadda, although he never made the effort to come see me here. Seemed put out when I didn’t have 4 extra hours in my weekend to make that drive to see him. Didn’t want to make the effort himself. He’s a Taurus, you know? His way or the highway. Or in my case, his way AND the highway.”
  “I always choose the highway,” I told her. “It’s why I’m single.”
  “The reason you’re single is because you’re here!” she said. “When was the last time you had a date?”
  “That I could get excited about? 2006.”

[1] Note: Finance professionals tend to drink excessively.
[2] Note: Diva and I are allowed to ridicule finance professionals as much as we want, given that both of us worked in that anti-female, semi-toxic environment at a time when finance jobs were plentiful; we had to learn “new marketable skills for the workplace” to keep our heads above water in our post-college twenties and early thirties. Our foray into the financial world didn’t last for either of us, but we made some money and learned about finance as businesses mutated and shrunk due to the Great Recession. Besides, some of our best friends used to work in the financial industry- and a few still do.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Two women walk into an office...

OK, I've already had some feedback on this section. The main consensus was, Jenny was too obnoxious before. I've changed the scene around to de-emphasize her quirks. What do you think of this scene? Feel free to send comments via email on Facebook or add comments below. Thanks!


(Note to reader: Patti is a somewhat friendly coworker at Jane's temp job at Thompson, Bell, and Johnson, a mortgage company in Winterville.)
Patti’s cousin, Jenny Cupcake, soon joined us at Thompson, Bell, and Johnson as yet another temporary worker. She spent the first week learning the ropes and seemed competent at answering the phone and taking messages, although no amount of training could teach her how to transfer a call. She shrugged and giggled a lot. In many ways, she was the polar opposite of Patti, and I soon figured out why. Jenny Cupcake had married young and didn’t have real work experience. More recently, her husband had left her.
“EEEEKKK! I dropped another call!” Jenny said, looking to me for help because my desk was near hers. 
“I’m sorry. Jenny, talk to the office manager about that. I have no idea what you’re doing.”
My productivity dipped (to say the very least) in the time Jenny worked in my area.  Her constant squeals and manic laughter, punctuated by tears, made it difficult to concentrate.  My headphones and I developed a very close relationship as a result, since they could block out much (but not all) of her noise.
Her story had tumbled out of her in the first few days she worked for TB&J, and her loud squeal of a voice ensured that everyone in the general vicinity of her desk knew it.  She was part town crier, part cheerleader as she shared a great deal of personal information with those around her.  Her story was this: she’d never worked before, except when she took classes in junior college and worked at the mall. Steve, her ex-husband, proposed to her when she was just 20.  She lived with her parents while she planned the wedding. Then, he bought a house, and they moved in as husband and wife.  It had just been perfect.
Some years later, he left her for someone he’d met at work.
I was nice the first few times she came to my desk crying.  I listened to her while she said terrible things about her ex-husband and comforted and encouraged her as much as I could.  Being constantly monitored and responsible for a certain volume of work, though, I would have to send her away after a few minutes.
I learned to be polite but distant, a skill I had honed in Winterville, and tell her I couldn’t talk to her then. She could come to Happy Hour with me and Patti, I told her, but we just couldn’t discuss this type of thing at work.
Then, she started calling me at home. At first, I was flattered.
Conversation 1 went like this:
“Hey Jane! Jenny Cupcake here. Omigosh, girl, you won’t believe it! My parents are handling all my bills AND paying for the divorce lawyer.  You know what that means: it’s time to go shopping!”
“That’s a nice offer, but I can’t afford to go shopping. Maybe lunch, though.”
“We can go to the outlet mall. That solves that problem! You can afford stuff at the outlet mall, right?”
“No, seriously, I don’t have the money to spend, Jenny. But thanks for the offer.”
I did the best to let her down easily, and then I heard from her again. Conversation 2 went like this:
“Oh, Jane, I’m so glad you’re home. I’m having a terrible day here. Can’t stop crying. How could my fairy-tale romance go so wrong? What does Steve see in that bitch?
“Sorry, Jenny, I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, while I thought to myself, Honey, I don’t even know you that well. Why are you calling me up to vent your problems? “Maybe there’s someone you could talk to about this?”
“Right, I’m talking to you,” Jenny said through her tears.
“No, I mean like a professional. Someone who can give you good, solid advice. I don’t know what I can do for you aside from listen.”
“It’s such awful timing,” she said, brewing a fresh batch of tears. “Have you heard? Andy and Patti are probably getting back together. How could she do this to me in my time of need?”
“Well, I don’t think that’s about you at all,” I said to her. “It’s between Andy and Patti.”
“Yeah, well, what was between me and Steve is off, and I don’t know what to do,” she pouted.
I thought back to the other places I’d lived and the phone calls from new friends I’d received before moving to Winterville. It was usually, “Hey, Jane, want to get together for game night? Let’s meet for lunch! I want to see that movie, do you want to come too?” I wasn’t used to, “Excuse me, I need to dump all my problems all over you and then make you feel inadequate for not having enough money to spend the day shopping.” This was definitely something new.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

It's a work in progress, but aren't we all?


I've been lucky enough to get involved with a top-notch group of fiction writers in my new state, California. We get together every two weeks (or so, depending on holidays) to read and critique each others' work. The atmosphere is friendly, and the rule is that you can be critical of someone's work but you can't be rude about it. As you can imagine, I've met several wonderful people and even enjoyed talking with them afterwards over lunch or bumping into them at other writer events I've attended in LA. Many of them have mastered all kinds of writing, PR, and technical skills too. It's a forum for us to share all that we know with each other and develop our writing skills together.

There is an upcoming opportunity for me to have up to 200 pages of a book reviewed by four or five of these esteemed colleagues and as you can imagine, I am over the moon! I've been working on this story for over 6 years. After all, this blog started out as a way to vent about all the stuff going wrong with my life, but then after a while I realized that I could make it into a pretty interesting story.

Here's where you come in: I would like to ask for a favor from you, the reader. Please read through the excerpts I've written this month, along with the ones I'll be posting in the future if you want to see more, and give me feedback on them. The rules of this website and Facebook should be the same as the group: you can be critical of my work but you can't be rude about it.

April 23 is not only Shakespeare's birthday, it's also the day of the Grand Cardinal Cross. In astrological terms, this is a significant event. But perhaps most significant is that it's the sixth anniversary of a life-changing dream I had that led me to tell this story. (See the previous post for the link to it.) And this year, it will be the day that the woman who's writing the story of Jane Q. Phoenix reveals her stories to her mass of friends on Facebook!

As they used to say in the Bartles and Jaymes commercials, we thank you for your support.

Your friend,
Jane Q. Phoenix

P.S. Here is a new book excerpt for your reading pleasure. It takes place when I (Jane) befriend a guy in the neighborhood and we go to pick up lunch together. It never really happened, although the odd situation at the end DID happen in the course of knowing someone else in recent years.

  He drove us to the nearby Chinese food restaurant in his shiny new Honda sedan. It had a medium-blue exterior and gray interior that still held the new car smell.
  “Nice car! How’d you get it?”
  “You know about my crash, right? Insurance. When I replaced that car, I wanted a brighter color so that the trees would see me coming and get out of the way, but this was what they had.”
  “When you drive, you’re not supposed to hit anything,” I told him. “Isn’t that like the first rule of driving?”
  “Ha ha, very funny.”
  “You really should be more careful.”
  “I make no promises.”
  “Well, you’re a dumbass,” I replied. I hadn’t actually considered him as a potential beau, but this conversation made me unable to recommend him to any other single woman either.  “So, how’s life treating you?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
  “Not bad,” he replied. “We had layoffs at work, but I’m safe for now. I can plan on having that job for at least six more months, so that’s good news.”
  “Good for you,” I said. “Well, too bad for the people who were laid off. Was it a lot?”
  “Yeah. Every day looks like we’re working as a skeleton crew now. Some stuff has been automated, other stuff has fallen by the wayside, and those of us left inherited a bunch of stuff. Still, it’s good to be busy.”
  “Do you think you’ll stay with working for newspapers? It’s kind of a dying industry.”
  “I don’t know. I’ve thought about teaching, but that would require more school. I might do that if I get laid off or something.”
  “Well, that’s as good a plan as any. You’d obviously have to move.”
  “And there would be so much to miss here,” he added.
  “I hope you don’t cry too much when that time comes.”
  “I’m pretty sure I’ll be all right.”
  By then, we’d arrived at the restaurant. We placed our orders individually, but he insisted on paying for both. I sighed and agreed to it, all the while wondering if this would get me on the hook for something.
  “Jane, would you do something for me?” he asked after we’d started eating our steaming lunches.
  “What is it?” I asked.
  “Well, I’m trying to get this woman to notice me, and she’s on Facebook a lot, so I was hoping…”
  “Well, I posted some pictures of myself.  Would you comment on them? Maybe then they’d appear in her feed.”
  “Oh sure, that’s fine,” I said, glad to know what the ulterior motive was.
  “Whatever happened to that skinny blonde you were with? I used to see her around.”
  “The skinny one? She was psycho. Tried to kick in my door at one point.”
  “I heard her. Are you sure you didn’t do anything to provoke her?”
  “Of course not.”
  “Rebel without a cause. That’s your line, huh?”
  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, rolling his eyes.
  That’s the reason for the parade of women who want to fix him, I thought. I’m not sure why they can’t figure out that he’s a dumbass with a drinking problem and leave him alone, though. It’s sad about what happens to single people here. They will cling to anything with a pulse rather than be alone.
  When I went home and logged in, I had a treat waiting for me.  He’d added various pictures to Facebook of himself, shirtless.  These were the pictures he wanted me to comment on?  Oh boy.  How could I refrain from lusting over that Keith-Richards-at-the-beach physique?
  The first one I saw was of him standing next to a smoking barbecue grill with a red plastic cup in one hand and a metal spatula in the other.  He was smiling but had that angsty quality in his eyes.  His boxer-briefs were poking out of his shorts.
  I recalled a rhyme from my childhood for the occasion. I see London, I see France! I see TW’s underpants! I wrote as a comment.
  Another featured TW, shirtless again of course, with extremely pointed nipples. Have you taken up making stained glass? I commented. Because you could cut glass with those things! They need you at the community center for art night!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Easter and thank you, thank you very much


I hope this note finds you well. I'm taking a break from posting excerpts to tell you how much I appreciate your tuning in each week or so to read this blog. This project began in 2008 on April 23, early in the morning. You may recall that I reported a most wonderful dream at that time. Now, it is six years later and I'm still working on that story. I owe the most casual of reader as well as my writing groups a big THANK YOU for feedback along the way. It's a lot of work to get a story in your head onto paper.

Six years and more have taught me so much. The best lesson I've learned is to keep negative people at bay while welcoming the good and positive influences. Learning to see when people manipulate you is a lesson everyone needs to learn. I caved to a few people I knew in my twenties and kept them in my life despite my desire not to be around them out of some odd kind of "loyalty." In truth, all I did was prolong the inevitable and keep the truth of the situations from myself; namely, that these people were not supportive of me at all, and that I was not a bad person for letting them go. Why not let someone go who badmouths you and puts you down? It makes perfect sense.

Of course, manipulative people don't want you to ditch them. They use charm, guilt, and everything else in their arsenal to convince you otherwise. I am not sure why. Some clearly have egos that need to be fed. Others want to leech ideas, energy, and whatever else off of you and then take credit for it. Whatever the case may be, it's nice to be free of that obligation. (And they offer great inspiration as you characterize antagonists!)

Sometimes in the best of circumstances, it's finally safe to look back and assess the past. That's where I find myself now. I live in a safe and happy environment and get to start over in a new place. Of course, the lessons follow you, and sometimes they haunt you. There have been many times when I've given thanks for the ending of one situation or another.

Times of stress bring out the best and the worst in people. That's a universal truth. At my most recent employer, people are banding together while the department is being closed down. We are in touch on LinkedIn, endorsing each other for all the skills we displayed when we worked together, and passing on headhunter information to anyone who needs it. I worked with some very smart and kind people there and I do miss them. On the other hand, at other times in my life, I've come across people at work (with job security) who make trouble and go out of their way to put stress onto their coworkers, and it baffles me. Who needs that? As that lady on the Internet said, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

In any case, let's try to emphasize the good and learn from the bad. I am reminded of this every year in April when I remember that wonderful dream and the feeling of peace and love that accompanied it.

As the Catholics say, Peace Be With You.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Meanwhile, back at the office...

Hi friends! This scene is from when I first realized that my job just down the road from the townhouse I'd paid way too much for was probably not a long-term situation. Ahhh, memories. I mean, excuse me if there are a few blips on my resume. Companies contract, markets plummet, and $hit happens, right?

  “I’m not yelling because of anything you did,” Barbara Morris hissed at my boss, Larry. “I’m yelling because nobody’s hiring us anymore! How are we going to continue working if there isn’t any work? Why the hell should we go to conferences that we can’t even afford to attend if nobody’s going to hire us?”
  Apparently Larry had asked to go to a conference to drum up some business. 
  “Half of our clients aren’t going to the next conference,” she added. “They won’t be there for you to even approach.”
  “Well, I’m sorry I brought this up,” Larry shot back at her. “I was trying to help!”
  I had the dubious honor of working in the office next to Larry’s. The good part of that was that I could approach him and his staff easily since they worked nearby. The bad part of that was that I could hear Barbara’s frequent meltdowns in stereo, since she felt most comfortable yelling at Larry.
  Maybe the bad performance review wasn’t entirely personal, I thought. Maybe Barbara and her rich uncle can’t afford every member of the staff anymore. They might be too embarrassed to fire me, but they wouldn’t mind chasing me off.
  Happy holidays, indeed.
  I stopped enjoying the holidays in my twenties, so it wasn’t a surprise when the 2007 holidays passed in a blur. Yes, there were some good times with family and friends back home, but I knew I had a cold, sad, mostly-empty townhouse in Winterville waiting for me when it was all over.
  Welcoming the New Year in 2008 was more of a challenge than I’d imagined. I made a list of what was happening in my life:
-Townhouse down payment was gone, and the purchase price of identical homes was trending downward. I was locked into owning it for the first year of the mortgage, until mid-2008.
-My love life was just a memory. Most guys in Winterville were married and/or repulsive. But to be fair, guys elsewhere hadn’t rated too well, either.
-Place of employment was in financial trouble. Official “job performance rating” was low, although the actual reason for that could be debated.
-Group of “local professionals” seemed not very professional and not very nice, either. Networking seemed a fool’s errand when people everywhere were losing their jobs and no one was hiring.
-My other investment balances were about 60% lower than they’d been the year before. The savings account was still there, but for how long?
-Thank goodness for Diva. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

When Life Hands You Lemons, Try the Psychic Friends...

Hi friends! Happy Sunday. In this scene, my good friend Diva visits me in Florida and we run off to a psychic community called Cassadaga to find out what the future holds. Since my finances, career, and love life were in the toilet at the time, I figured any good news would be welcome then!
Diva visited again for Spring Break, and her appearance was most welcomed.  She whisked me off to Cassadaga, which is a community of psychics, mediums and spiritualists near Orlando.
Cassadaga was a very soothing place. The energy there was calm and palpable. The streets are lined with oak trees fringed in Spanish moss.  The houses there were built many decades ago, and several have big, shady porches.  It is like a trip back in time to visit Cassadaga.
When I got out of the car and walked up and down a few streets, I felt lighter than I had in a long time. I had a buzzing in my head that made me feel light inside. I don’t remember what Diva and I discussed. We were just happy to be somewhere new, where the people we’d run into were bound to be cool. And, they were.
We happened upon a guy named Psychic Bob sitting on a bench outside a New Age shop. He was a tall, overweight man in a navy blue t-shirt and khakis (not exactly mystical apparel), but we loved him the minute he opened his mouth.
Diva chatted him up first, as usual. She said, “Hi there! What do you do?”
“I do readings with tarot cards,” he answered. “What are you two looking for today?”
“Oh, whatever strikes us,” she answered. “We just had our auras photographed- wanna see?”
“Of course!” he answered. I liked him already; I thought it was fun to see a grown man get giddy about colors.
“Hey, I’m Jane,” I said to him.
“Hi Jane, I’m Psychic Bob,” he answered.
“And this is my friend, Diva.”
“Diva! Well, let’s see the auras for these fancy ladies.”
Diva showed her aura photograph to him first.
“Orange, orange, orange,” he said. “You must be very creative, Diva.”
She nodded. Regardless of the day jobs she’s held, Diva’s always been an artist, so his assessment was spot-on.
“And you, Jane.” He paused for a beat to take in the red, yellow, and green. “Yours looks like Mardi Gras!”
We laughed.
“That’s what I said!” Diva added.
“Red corresponds to family and community; orange can be creativity and can also be survival and sex. The yellow in there deals with self-esteem, and the green is all about the love,” he told us.
All were issues going on with me. All were things I wanted to feel or have or secure. After exchanging glances, we decided to get tarot readings from Psychic Bob. I went first.
Psychic Bob had a private room that was used for readings, just beyond the sidewalk where he sat and met passers-by throughout the day. It was painted turquoise and had a table and two chairs. The table was covered with a turquoise and gold cloth, while the chairs were simply gray folding chairs.  A tall, narrow window let in sunlight through a translucent yellow curtain.
I sat down on the gray folding chair across from him and tried to be nonchalant. I didn’t want to show that my life was unraveling to a psychic; that would make his job way too easy.
So I said this: “I want to know about where my life is headed.”
Psychic Bob whispered a blessing over his tarot cards while he held them in his clasped hands. Then, he handed the cards to me, and I shuffled them three times, cut the deck, and handed the two piles back to him. He placed one pile on top of the other and started laying cards down on the table between us.
I looked at the seven cards. One was labeled “The Devil” and showed a man and a woman in shackles. Another showed a man lying face-down in the dirt with 10 swords in his back. A third, called “The Tower,” had people jumping out of a flaming building. The other cards had symbols that I didn’t understand.
Psychic Bob took a breath and started the reading with a question.
“Are you working now?” he asked
“Yes,” I answered, trying to force some enthusiasm about it. He looked puzzled; his forehead wrinkled up in reply.
He hesitated, and then he asked: “Why does your workplace remind me of The Devil Wears Prada?”
My eyes bugged out and I laughed. He took the burden of my life, the struggle I felt every day, the weight of this horrible work environment, and turned it into a pop culture reference that mentioned Simon Baker. What a great way to spend a day off, I mused. At least he’s making me think about Simon Baker.
“Psychic Bob, it’s horrible,” I said. “I don’t know what to do. I’m new to this town, and I feel stuck where I’m working but don’t know where else to go. I haven’t found any decent job leads. I meet people who seem to want to see me fail. Nobody there wants to know me or be my friend. It’s awful.”
“I know you are feeling stressed, but you have to take charge of this situation. Look at this card,” he said, pointing to the Tower card, with lightening striking the tower, bricks falling down, and people falling to their deaths.  “You can’t wait until the walls are falling down around you to get out!”
“But what if I can’t find anywhere else to go?” I asked him.
“Keep looking,” he said. “It’s always the last place you look, anyway. You have to find a more secure place to work. That’s the only way you can improve your situation.”
He moved on to the awkward subject of my love life and looked puzzled again after he laid down seven more cards.
“This card,” he said, pointing at the six of cups, “talks about happy memories, things that have passed. But, it can also mean future opportunities and good times.  It’s up to you. I don’t think your best days are behind you at all.  We just need to make sure you don’t think that, either. As far as finding someone, you will have the opportunity to meet someone who lives a distance from where you are now.”
“Thank goodness,” I muttered under my breath.
“That you might meet someone? Or that he’s far away?” he asked.
“Both,” I answered. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

My search for a roommate was fraught with peril...

Hi everyone. Jane here again. Happy Hump Day! I've included part of the story of when I tried to find a roommate in Winterville. Buckle your seat belts, because it's a wild ride! 

I needed to find a roommate, too. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but the idea of having someone there to split the bills was a tempting one. My goal was to find some professional, neat, normal-enough person to share my space. Just like in a big or mid-sized city where professional people live and work, surely in all of Winterville I could find someone to rent my extra room, I thought. 
First, I put an ad on a website that catered to people looking for places to live, and people advertising places to live.  Then, the emails started rolling in.
“Diva, I have never seen anything like this,” I told her as we chatted on the phone.  Her move to California was complete, and we were three time zones apart. Usually we’d talk in the evenings when she was done with school for the day and I was getting ready for bed.
“Have you found any takers yet?” she asked.
“There were a few students who wanted to do chores in exchange for free rent.”
“What?” she asked. “Man, if that scam worked, our college years would have been so much easier!”
“Yeah, I’ve never heard of such a thing. And then there was this woman who said she was willing to house-sit for me.”
“But you live there.”
“Right, I know. So I explained that to her and she said she’d still be willing to do it, and that she wouldn’t even charge me.”
“For letting you live there for free?”
“Yeah, apparently.”
“And that doesn’t even cover the old guys, Diva. These old men write to me.”
“You advertised for a female roommate, didn’t you? In the ad, I mean.”
“Apparently that means nothing to them. I guess they want to wear me down so I’ll allow it. They seem to all be working together.”
“Seriously, Jane. Why go through the trouble of going out to bars and hitting on women half your age when you can talk one into letting you live in her house? Look for one desperate enough and the plan just might work!”
“I know, right. Did I ever tell you about The Professor?” I asked. “Oh, you are going to laugh!”
“What? I don’t think you did.”
“This one guy included a picture with his reply.  He was flexing his biceps. I kid you not. Wearing a muscle shirt. Big white handlebar mustache. Must have been 60 years old!”
“Ewwww,” Diva said. “Well, I mean, unless you like that sort of attention. What did you write back to him? ‘Where have you been all my life, you raging bull of a studmuffin?’ Because that would set the tone for a great flirtation.”

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Meeting the Yokels... I mean, Locals...

Hi friends! Thanks for tuning in. It's Jane here. This scene below is from when I joined a "young professionals group" through the Winterville Chamber of Commerce. I was in a bit of a pickle: new to town, single and in my mid-30s, and not having the greatest of career success at this juncture. I'd bought a house but the value of it was falling quickly, and I couldn't afford to sell it and start over somewhere; in fact, I needed to find a sane, employed person to be my roommate and help me afford it! Most of all, I wanted to see if I could feel "at home" in this town and make the best of my circumstances.

   Maybe if I had a better job, I would feel better here, I thought, and maybe I can meet some people who can help me find a better job or a roommate.
  I had nothing to lose, so I paid the $100 membership fee and joined the group.
  I walked into my first mixer as a “member” and filled out my nametag. It was held at an upscale apartment complex that had just been built.
  Outside the door to the clubhouse, a woman greeted me and provided me with a nametag to wear. I wondered if I was the first person to arrive, as the room inside was quiet. Back home, I’d attended events where people spilled out of venues onto the sidewalk, which had a much friendlier vibe.
  I glided into a clean, well-lit clubhouse that had overstuffed couches, a pool table, and French doors that overlooked a pool area, complete with beach chairs and tables with umbrellas on the deck. Recessed lights shined down from the ceiling and bounced off several ornate mirrors hung throughout the room.
  I sighed when I surveyed the guests. Groups of people stood around in clumps, talking intimately to one another. Many of the women had fake blonde streaks in their hair.
  Most of them wore mall clothes: khakis and polo shirts for the men, and Capri pants and blouses for the women. The women accessorized their outfits with ostentatious jewelry and expensive high-heeled shoes. By contrast, I wore a nice pair of jeans and a black top. I was going for the plain but cute look, since I couldn’t do the preppy look with a straight face unless it was Halloween. My flat shoes came from the Target 2004 collection, and I wasn’t about to apologize for that.
  This quiet, funereal, cliquish gathering was a mixer for Winterville’s young professionals. I couldn’t help but think about other places where those gatherings were festive. A crowd of people would mingle and share job tips, job search ideas, and exchange business cards. Strangers would approach and welcome others into their conversations. At some, we’d had the option of having drinks, too, which allowed for more fun and flirtation, even.
  This gathering looked too daunting for me, and I wanted to leave. How could I get through a drab room like that? I took three deep breaths and tried to calm my heart and sweat glands. I’ll stand here until I get some sort of sign, I decided.
  I spotted two women talking and laughing, and one looked over at me. Her facial expression was somewhat approachable, so I walked up to her to introduce myself.
  “Hi there,” I said. “I’m new to this group. I’m Jane.”
  “I’m Shelley.”
  “Riley,” said the other. She offered me a limp handshake.     
  “So, what do you do?” I asked.
  “I’m the hardest working woman in town,” Shelley boasted as if she were the most accomplished woman on the planet. “I am raising triplets.”
  “Wow, that’s great!” I said. “How old are they?”
  “Four. And I can’t believe I have a few hours away from them!”
  “They are so cute,” added Riley. “All boys.”
  “Well, that must keep you busy.  Riley, how about you?” I asked.
  Riley got a faraway look in her eyes and brushed a stray hair away from her forehead.  This showcased what I imagined was a 2-carat diamond engagement ring.
  “Well, I’m sort of between jobs now,” she said, and she and Shelley giggled like they had some sort of inside joke.
  I knew that tone. It was the “I’m too good to work” tone. It was the “I don’t work, I shop” tone.
  “But I’m really busy planning my wedding,” she added, motioning to a tall, dorky guy across the room and beaming.
  “Congratulations,” I said. “So, I joined this group so I could network to look for a better job. Do either of you know any place that’s hiring?”
  Riley scoffed, while Shelley gave me a quizzical look.
  “I have no idea,” Shelley said.
  “OK, well, do you know anyone else here who might know?”
  They both laughed again.
  “Oh, we know all these people! We’ve been members for years,” Riley told me. “Most of us went to Winterville High School together.”
  “Oh wow, that’s different,” I said. “All of you still here, still in touch.”
  “Is it?” Shelley asked as she tossed her hair.
  “There are people who put their families and their friends first, and there are people who don’t,” Riley said, looking at me with her arms crossed. Wow, I am a demonic career woman compared to these two. How dare I move from place to place to gain work experience and have a career? “I’m sorry,” she said when the conversation stopped, but I knew she wasn’t.
  “So are you dating anyone, Jane?” Shelley asked. “Or are you married?”
  Are those the only two options? I wondered.
  “No, actually. I went through a breakup last year and then moved here for a job, but it’s been slow going meeting people.”
  “Yeah, that’s hard,” Riley said with a sneer, and then faded off again.
  I decided to make a graceful escape.
  “Well, it was nice to meet you both,” I said. I had assumed, from the awkward pause that followed, that even though they knew everyone in the room, they weren’t going to introduce me to anyone.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Attempting conversation with a Winterville local, take one

Hi friends:
In this scene, I am stymied by my inability to have what I consider a "regular" conversation with a Winterville person. Let me know what you think!

Diva visited at the holidays for a few days before jetting off to see her family. This was awesome for us, as we could spend time shopping, lounging at the pool, and doing all the stuff people can do in Winterville (such as eating while listening to the din of laughter from the red hat ladies at Mimi’s Cafe).
We went a local bar one night and I happened to run into someone with whom I thought I was decently acquainted through volunteer work. We had never socialized, but I thought we had a decent rapport.
I spotted her and waved. She smiled back, so I walked up to her. She and a group of her friends sat around a large, rectangular table on the patio of the bar.  Upright heaters and neon signs lit the area. Our conversation went like this:
"Hey, (name), how are you doing?"
"Great! How are you?"
"Oh, I'm doing pretty well," I answered.
There was an awkward pause while she didn't introduce me to the man she was with, whom I could only assume was her longtime squeeze. I tried to pick up the conversation.
"Are you still at (place of employment)?"
"Yep, going good."
"Great! What's new?"
"Oh, I'm headed out to a vacation at (fabulous location)."      
"Wow, that sounds great. I went there once and it was awesome."
And then there was another pause. Do they teach how to avoid conversations with non-locals after they finish teaching Creationism in Winterville schools? I wondered. Am I crazy? Are people everywhere incapable of conversation, or is it just places like Winterville?
"So, do you still see (people we know in common)?" I asked, hoping to start a new thread of conversation.
"Yeah, they're around."
"OK, well, tell them hi from me."
"OK, I will."
There was another pause. I was tired at this point. I saw Diva returning from the ladies room and decided there was no need to introduce her to this woman.
"Well, it was great seeing you. Have a good night!" Then, I headed off to a spot we’d staked out at the bar, where I met Diva and a few people who were home for the holidays from other cities and states.
One guy at the bar told Diva about his scuba diving exploits. I listened and smiled at his stories while Diva asked questions and more questions. The evening ended late and happily, and the weekend ended too soon on Monday morning, when I took her to pick up her rental car and then headed off to work.