9/13/2018

The fifth season finally ended. For New Yorkers, there are five seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, and the Season of Bad Smells and Tempers. It is usually shorter than the rest, although I find myself imagining a post-apocalyptic Fifth Season that is constant (no relation to the excellent book of the same name). After my last post, a friend reminded me of the Fifth Season in New York. She was right. I would say it lasted about two weeks. Now we are definitely into fall. I enter the subway with daylight and I exit in darkness. The weather is cooler, I’m wearing a jacket and boots alternatively with sleeveless tops and sandals.

The good news. The claims processing gig I’ve been working on for a month invited me (of its own violation) to continue on their next project, citing my accuracy and speed. So, last Friday there were 125 of us working away on claims. On Monday, there were about 60, and on Tuesday one of the project managers mentioned that I’d been recommended to her for a job because of my speed and accuracy (the first approvals, sweet!) and the next day the invitation. It is supposed to last for six to eight weeks and fifteen of us were chosen. It could also end any day if the client decides not to declare bankruptcy, but you take what you can get.

In the meantime, I am actively shifting my thinking from hoping and praying to “knowing”, that something good will happen. I still apply, I still research, but I am employed and have some income, so it’s not so bad. I can’t remember a time in which I’ve done active thinking “this will happen, and you will be pleasantly surprised” I tell myself on the one-hour commute in the morning. Rather than, “Please God, let me get a job soon!”

I apply for everything: data entry, communications, freelance writing, editor, technical writer. That last gets me at least three calls a week from recruiters asking for permission to send in my resume. I think I would like it, and I don’t think it’s that different from what I’ve been doing – translating statistics and data into readable material I did it before, in Kalamazoo and it was a bit bogus. I found that the companies would be so desperate to hire someone once their funding got approved that I’d get the job, and then sit there and do nothing for weeks at $35 an hour. Or, when I did do something, it wasn’t that different from the word processing I’d been doing. Still, I would like to get more credentials on my resume and build it up. Some recruiters call me, push me, and then when they realize I haven’t had the Technical Writer title for 15 years they tell me I’m not applicable. But others go for it, and I don’t see why not, with my experience. No interviews though.

I was very discouraged over last weekend. My dear friend Arlene (from NYC Life Chapter 2 and now 3) recommended me for a freelance job to a banker who used to work at the firm where we met. The man needed someone to put together a PowerPoint presentation for his companyin a week, and I said sure! I thought I knew PowerPoint. I know I know it better than most people I know. But, alas, faking it doesn’t make it. I’m not adept at or inclined to faking it, anyway. And I was being honest when I told him I could do the job. We agreed on a fee and, bless him, he even upped it a bit. I was very upfront telling him I’d never freelanced before and didn’t know the ropes. I worked on the logo and setup for 2 hours on Saturday, and then he started sending me stuff on Sunday. I worked on it for five hours. When I didn’t know how to do something I did YouTube tutorials. Pie charts, master slides, etc. I tried to make the first four pages perfect and I sent them to him around 8pm. He asked where the other 12 pages were. Shit. I’d gotten so engrossed in the work I’d forgotten about them. I rushed to get going on these screen shots of what he wanted, and they were all charts. Complicated charts. I’d taught myself how to do some charts when I was taking the test in July for that law firm, but these were far beyond my ken. I spent about two hours trying, and I realized I was going to fail him. And that’s not something I do. The whole job came about because someone in his company had done a PowerPoint that was not up to their snuff in the first place. When he sent it to me I asked him to tell me what he liked and didn’t like about it – the colors? I could tell it was overcrowded, but it also wasn’t terrible to me, so that was my first clue I was over my head. By 10pm on Sunday night -two tutorials and hours later – I admitted defeat. I emailed him that I was not the right person for the job and that I wouldn’t charge him for the hours I’d spent (7 total!). A weekend lost but a lesson learned. You can only fake it so much, and I can’t do it at all.

So, back to the bankruptcies job. On Monday when I arrived, I was told to change seats to another area on the floor. Even though we hadn’t talked that much it was eerie trying to figure out who was still there and who was gone. We all worried about “Ray” – he of the wonderful voice and personality, but he showed up on Tuesday. Most of the dapper young men I started with were gone. I, unfortunately, still found myself seated next to the “cruncher”. Although, I must relate – last Friday she became very talkative and was quite fascinating. She’d been a professional women’s basketball player and traveled/played in all sorts of countries. Once she mentioned it I couldn’t help but ask her questions. Such a life. China, Turkey, Israel – and then another job that sent her to exotic places too. Her 11-year-old daughter designed clothes, and she made and wore them. She was a model who’d done fashion week? True? Maybe. On Monday she went back to being “the cruncher”, eating potato chips and other things that make noise. Make me crave potato chips. The other woman in my room, Sariah had traces of a London accent. Everyone has that undertone way of talking which I find very difficult to hear clearly. So, I’m constantly saying “What was that?” or maybe I’m getting old and my hearing is going. I swear, no one enunciates. The cruncher is always cold, and the rest of us are always too hot. I loaned Sariah the fan that Vincent bought me from Chinatown to help her cool off. I swear the air conditioning stops midday for two hours and it gets stuffy.

On Wednesday I moved to a quieter office. That was the day the Project Manager invited me to the new project. Sariah was in my new room, along with a woman I’d not met before named Sabrina. On Wednesday, Sariah arrived late and then was miserable because of Rosh Hashanah. She’d forgotten about it and not eaten the day before, so she was starving. She and Sabrina compared Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah fasting rituals. Apparently, they are identical. They also started talking about beliefs in the afterlife. Also, identical. So interesting to listen to. I didn’t’ know they weren’t even allowed water while fasting. Sabrina called her rabbi and got permission to drink a caffeine infused water to help stave off her headache during the day. I added 10 minutes to my lunch because I didn’t want to eat in front of her. I ate baked potato chips in the hallway.

On Thursday the elect started the new project. We moved back to the office we’d started at down the street. Fortunately it is much cooler, although those who are cold have heaters. I myself felt that I held myself with a slightly more elevated posture: I had been “chosen”. I think the 15 others felt the same. At first everyone who showed up were the ones I liked – recognized as hard working Sariah, Sabrina, but later I noticed “the Cruncher” was also amongst us, so I’m not so sure.

We’d been told to report at 10am for training, but training didn’t really commence until 2:30. When I compare it to where I was a year ago it is still a win because I am learning something new. I love learning something new. As I try to accept whatever the universe brings me I remind myself that learning something new is the foremost in my requirements. We get so caught up in careers, etc., but I like to learn. I am curious. This is a whole new world, and maybe this is what I will be doing: new projects, learning new things. I would like a new and higher pay rate, though. Maybe it could lead to my next career.

Encounters. The train I take to work, the 1, has been speeding past the World Trade Center stop (my old stop)all this time, but on Monday the 1 train stopped at WTC-Courtland. It was magical. On Friday, I had noticed that the workers were hanging “exit” signs, and looked nearly done, but I didn’t realize they’d reached a deadline. On Monday, September 10th, 2018, 17 years after 9/11 the subway re-opened, and the trains stopped. Some of us in the car made “awws” of recognition. A bank type man caught my eye and gave me a nod. Momentous occasion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new subway station. It is pristine. The walls have words on them, that I haven’t identified yet. Everything is new and shiny. The next day the train didn’t stop there because of the 9/11 ceremony. The platform was crowded with MTA workers.

I wasn’t in NYC on 9/11. But I did work in the World Trade Center. From 1993-1995 I worked at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter on the 64th floor as a word processing operator. I worked with a guy named “Kenny” and he drove me nuts because we were a two-person department and he, literally, fell asleep while typing. He would make entries like “sljopcuoufjs0g8e” and the banker would receive it, and then return it with a special request for me to fix it.

Each evening I went to the WTC mall after 8:30 to get half-off sushi. One night I did this and when I was on my way back up the elevator got stuck. Back then, the elevator went up to the 44th floor, and then you had to switch to anything higher. I was on the 66th. I got on the elevator and hit the 44th floor button and when it arrived, it jerked. Or lurched. It was a jolt. After a moment of nothingness, I pushed the emergency call button. I was told that “Otis” was looking into it. I pictured some old guy with a cigar in his mouth. At first the guy on the other end of the line was nonchalant. But after about 40 minutes he started with “Are you okay?” more concern. In the end Port Authority rescuers had to come.

They arrived in the adjacent elevator shaft, which was six feet lower than where mine was stuck. Apparently the car I’d been riding in had shot past the 44th floor stop. They opened the panel between the elevators, tied a fire hose around my waist, and assisted me in climbing between shafts down about 6 feet to their elevator. I was rescued by the Port Authority Fire Department. I was stuck for nearly 2 hours. Before opening the panels, they asked “are you incapacitated?” I thought about saying I was 9 months pregnant, or something, “I’m overweight!” I don’t know. I didn’t, it was clear when they saw me. I was trembling, I don’t think I’ve ever trembled before, as I watched them prepare for me to cross the shaft and climb down on a cart. They asked if I was okay, so they must have noticed, butI insisted I was fine and climbed down. And I went back to work, but soon found that I was shaking, and went home on boss’ orders.

Other things I remember from working at WTC: watching the firework practice on the East River every Fourth of July. The way the building would sway in high wind if you stood in the middle at the crossroads of the elevator. These memories take on so much weight after 9/11/2001 and I keep trying to tell this story to my students, but they don’t care. After 9/11 I wonder how many of those people I met, and how many of them are gone.

After 1995 I worked at a firm Midtown that moved downtown and from 1997 to 2000 it was right across the street from WTC 1. That building was heavily damaged and has since been demolished. I imagine that pictures of my children were pinned on cubicles and notes from me to friends as well.

I have many friends who were there for 9/11 and some have told me their stories, while others keep them close. One friend related her story last week to me. I had a phone conversation with my former supervisor on 9/10/01. That was the last time we spoke. She has disappeared. So many of my friends endured, or disappeared on that date. It makes for a messy resume.

The new project is much more interesting than the old one. I read through the contracts and mine them for information, interpreting what’s being said. Time goes quicker. Friday morning my Project Manager was telling another worker how we were selected. We’d been whittled off a list of 30. All the PMs had gathered names and we were chosen. She pointed out that personality was part of it, because she said she, and the others, liked everyone on the final list on some level. I did a little “Aww” voice and gesture (I get from Sabbi Merz, hand held palm down and flat under chin). The good part is it is finally relaxed enough that I share bits of my personality and humor. Bad part is we are now 12 in a room and everyone is talking. I find it very difficult to read through long docs when there’s a lot of chatter. But I’m not going to make any drama.

When I get discouraged, I seek encounters. One day for my 30-minute mandatory break, I simply sat on the stairs in front of my office and watched New Yorkers and tourists walk past. Reminding myself why I love it here. Another day a man and a pit bull were crossing the street just in front of me. The man led the dog into the crosswalk against the light then realized a bus was speeding towards them. He stepped back, but the dog was still in front. Not really in danger, but a little too close. The pit looked at me with his big grin and I waved him over, just to get him to move back. He came immediately and licked my hand. So cute. I looked up and the woman next to me was smiling at us.

I love endearments. Ismael, from the deli next door says “Hi love” when I come in. I still say hi to the Halal food vendor each night when I see him. Vendors smile and I still keep smiling. Sometimes I need to remind myself to do it. Sometimes my smile is fake. But it’s there. There’s beauty everywhere. In the people, in the buildings. The thought that goes into things. The giant balloon rat someone setup to protest scabs at a union work site. The effort is beautiful. Like the flowers growing in the tiny fenced patch of ground in front of the apartment building. Effort is everything.


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