Archive for New York

Not in the Spirit This Year.

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/21/2014 by Angel D. Vargas

Alright. So it’s been a long time. Christmas is upon us in less than four days.  To be honest, I’m having a little trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year. However, it seems I’m not the only Grinch. I’ve been seeing a lot of people in 2014 who just want to throw up their hands and say “bah humbug.”

Why might this be the case for so many of us? If you’re like me, you’ve been watching the racial tension in America build thanks to senseless violence, and the mistakes being made by people who seek the wrong kind of justice. You’ve witnessed the President of the United States reduce our unemployment rate to less than ten percent, kill off a bunch of terrorists, and actually rescue people from Somali Pirates. Yet Obama STILL comes under fire for “not doing enough” or “not bridging the bi partisan gap.” What nonsense is this? The man inherited a hot mess of almost Biblical proportions. That mess is now being compounded by ever increasing racial tension, abominable threats to US safety made by dictators who can’t take a fucking joke, and the ever ready conservatives who would sooner try to pass a 1600 page bill filled with ridiculous pork projects and hidden agendas than to enact any real change.  It would take President Obama a second term just to make some headway repairing the damage. That takes more stamina and courage than most people in this nation possess.

I wouldn’t do it. Would you? Would most of us?

Then there’s the question of money.

According to some sources, the average American adult is planning to spend an estimated 781.00 this year for the Christmas season. This is up from the 749.00 per adult that was spent just two years ago, and the 701.00 total from last year.  According to a recently released gallup survey, this could mean that Americans might spend up to 600 billion dollars this Christmas season.

I have two questions. Who is the average adult in this country, and can I come over to their house this Christmas? I don’t know these people. Most of the adults I know in my age range are working for a temporary staffing agency, living from paycheck to paycheck. The one gift I could afford this year for the love of my life is still sitting, unwrapped, in our clothing closet just above a pair of pants with a hole in the crotch, and a shirt with holes in the armpits. My God, I can just picture the Clark Griswold rant from National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation playing over and over again in my head. I recently took a silly online quiz to see how much of that rant I could actually remember from all those years ago. I scored an 80 percent. I would have gotten a hundred, but I haven’t watched my favorite holiday movies this year. Not one.

Halleluyah! Holy Shit…. Where’s the tylenol?

So what’s the solution to the “Bah Humbug” spirit that seems to be in the air this year? Thanksgiving was harsh enough. I thought people in my neighborhood grocery stores were going to murder one another over frozen turkeys and Stove Top Stuffing. I’ve seen Santa Clause visit my place of employment to give toys out to sick children in the pediatrics ward. Santa handed me a candy cane. I had to smile, though deep down, I would have traded that candy cane for a pay raise.

In my opinion, every one of us (myself included) may want to wake up and start counting our blessings. That’s easier said than done. In a nation where more people would rather vote for American Idol than the average political race, where innocent people are being hurt and killed on either side of a potential race war, and where it’s ok for the “average American” to spend almost a thousand dollars on Christmas, one has to wonder what our priorities actually are, and how we define joy. I myself don’t have the money to even pretend that money buys happiness. I can’t even define what holiday traditions exist in my family. That was somehow lost in my adulthood, and that makes me sad. Perhaps what’s missing for me is the creation of a new tradition with my new loved ones. I live with a woman and a cat somewhere in New York City. If I can’t create a unique and exciting new Christmas tradition here, I probably won’t do it anywhere else.

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State Certification Exams, and the End of Certified Nursing Assistant Training.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 03/05/2014 by Angel D. Vargas

3/5/14

My Nursing Assistant training is put to the test during a four day externship to a long term care facility. The adventure begins with the scheduling and organization of the entire affair, but by the time the dust settles, I’m decidedly chagrined with the end result. I somehow have it in my head that we are supposed to get our choice between two facilities. Furthermore, I’ve deduced that those of us who get the required medical forms filled out the earliest are supposed to have first choice in where we want to go, as in a “first come, first serve” basis. I seem to be the only member of the class that got this taken care of early. Since home for me is at my girlfriend’s apartment in Harlem, I am hoping to be placed in what appears to be the only Manhattan location affiliated with my particular training program. Given the living situations of my classmates, they are all more or less hoping for the same placement. I am silently confident that I am going to go exactly where I wish.

Before I even set foot in a Program Administrator’s office for what feels like an official debriefing, my hopes are dashed. Our professor has come back to the classroom and dispersed our assignments to us. Not only has everyone been sent to the same facility, but its “way-the-fuck-out-in- Brooklyn” location staggers us all, as though, like some distant star, its light would take billions of years to reach our planet. Our one student who hails from New Jersey looks at me as though she wants to throw something. Another female pupil lowers her eyes to the ground, a defiant “Hell no” escaping pursed lips.  I cross my arms over my chest and turn my head, disgusted. Once again, I feel as though I’m being backed into a corner and forced to accept yet another arbitrary set of rule changes. Moments of frustration comprise my patchwork quilt of experiences with this school’s administrative communication. This nasty realization comes in the middle of my preparations for state certification tests which suddenly seem to loom like Servants of Darkness on the periphery of my life, waiting. Now I find myself wondering if those rules will change too, or if I will be handed the wrong exam without my knowledge. I vow to be extra vigilant on the first of two scheduled exam dates.

Sure enough, exam day creeps up on me like a stalking burglar. Contrary to the other two of my classmates who will be with me this day, I no longer feel as though I need to do any last minute studying, or partake in any hurried, whispered discussions of what it might be like. Our maternal professor wishes us all luck, marches her “children” into the CNA state exam room for one hour of focused study, and closes the door. The three of us sit at a large table and go over a practice exam, but I just can’t bring myself to care during “the Zero hour.”

It takes no time at all for any of the three of us to complete the Patient Care Technician exam. Sure enough, one of us is handed the wrong test, I am handed the wrong identification number for my test, and the last of my classmates has her name spelled wrong on the official roster. Despite all this, panic blossoms in the middle of my chest, and I forget to be indignant. Once the test begins, however, I feel as though I am in my element, dispatching each question with brutal efficiency. My fabulous progression sends a thrill through my body. Post test, my confidence begins to manifest in a warrior’s swagger. As I calmly stride over to the proctor to take my Phlebotomy exam on little more than a whim, I might as well have the flat of Masamune’s legendary blade resting against my shoulder. My classmates look at me as though I’ve grown an extra head, but then they nod. One of them pats me on the back as I begin the second exam.

“I know you got this,” she whispers before exiting the exam room for the day.

The externship is set to begin shortly after the test on a Monday, the 24th of February. As the day looms closer, tensions rise in the classroom. Some students begin to express doubt about travel time and cost. Others seem to lose their focus, chatting with each other or texting on their phones when they are supposed to be practicing skills for the yet unscheduled C.N.A. practical exam. One exhausted student who also works retail becomes so testy that others begin to express concern.

I become a knot of anxiety and resentment. I will have to wake up at the ass-crack of Dawn and be on a D train headed toward Coney Island for more than a hour each morning. I need to buy new white scrub pants and new white sneakers in order to follow the official facility attire standard. Meanwhile, I get the grim news that I am being laid off “until further notice” thanks to the cold calculations of a regional manager with whom I’ve only exchanged two words in almost as many years. I am still grading the test papers of nearly all my classmates, and our teacher has not stopped handing us paper after paper for our folders, all of which seem to be bursting at the seams like the bellies of expectant mothers.

None of this adds up to anything with which I would want to deal. In fact, the discussion I have with my girlfriend less than a week before the externship’s inception includes both the news of my lay off and the news about my new “wake-up” time.

I won’t bore you all with how awkward the words were as they came tumbling out of my mouth, but I will say that there is a reason to celebrate the love, understanding, and companionship of someone special. Without fail, she arranges for a couple’s massage treatment at a midtown Manhattan spa, a late one-year anniversary gift that comes just at the heels of my surprise dinner reservations for two at the Thai restaurant where we first met. There could be no better time for something like this. The treatment is so lovely and enjoyable that I almost cry when my girlfriend dashes off to a stage management assignment while I go home to melt into a puddle on our futon.

I settle in for the weekend. The fact that I’ve had my last official class in school settles on me like a spring dew. I smile, albeit wearily. It doesn’t take long to map out the walk I need to take once I get off the D train somewhere near Coney Island. I am forced to buy a pair of pants one size too large for me, and without any pockets. It’s all I can afford, and after an exhaustive search in the city, I am lucky to have found that much. My sneakers are cleaned and ready to go. I am as prepared as I am going to be, and I try to take the time to rest.

Monday

It seems, however, that the weekend passes within the blink of my burning, wearied eye. Church bells cut through the night,  and I sit up in a panic until I remember that this is the phone alarm that we’d agreed upon since my schooling began. My girlfriend jokes about wedding bells, but she can’t bring herself to climb out of bed before the sun begins its game of “peek-a-boo” with the clouds. I don’t blame her, and I don’t ask her to go through any more trouble than she already has. Until now, she’s made my breakfast at close to 6 in the morning for almost two months. It would be madness for her to wake up even earlier without a damned good reason. Love and emotional support can only go so far for those of us who are not Mother Theresa.

Without sufficient cause to travel on the D train, I might avoid the aggressive aura from the 125th street stop in Harlem. Still, the train arrives at about ten minutes to seven in the morning. I trundle on, aware that I’m already feeling stand offish. Fellow straphangers can make me feel as though I’m about to enter an arena rather than a public transit vehicle. Getting from point A to point B can be tiresome on such mornings. I don’t manage to attain a seat until about 34th street, but that is still at the very beginning of my journey. I’ve not traveled toward Coney Island for more than a decade, and I forget how long a ride it can be.

I also forget the cold. And this isn’t just any kind of cold. It’s the frigid, carve-a-hole-in-your bones-and-leave-a-wet-mildew-on-your-soul kind of arctic blast you can only  find near the water in the middle of the winter. A coastal city like New York will make you pay for any gaps in winter attire. I chose to wear my white uniform pants without a thought to long underwear. I also chose to don my winter coat without a sweatshirt beneath. The wind howls, and my teeth rattle as though I am a baby being shaken by a mother in the throw of alcoholic rage.

I still manage to get to my assigned Long Term Care facility in once piece. Many of my classmates are already there, dressed from head to toe in white. I find myself torn, wanting to either turn around and walk away, or look for the hospital identification band around my wrist. Everyone except our instructor for the day sports the raised eyebrows and hunched shoulders of apprehension. I forget to be hungry for a few minutes while we settle ourselves in, and our instructor for the week explains the importance of following the facility’s rules for attire, for conduct, and for the treatment of patient information. HIPPA is a big deal, and yet there seem to be so many different ways to violate it. By the time speeches are made and questions are answered, I’d rather like to become a deaf mute.

Receiving our assignments is fraught with nervous tension. We go to our assigned floor, and we receive a warm welcome from the charge nurse. However, the C.N.A.’s under her command are already busy. They arrive an hour earlier than we did, and it appears as though a good portion of their morning duties have been accomplished. Just when I begin to feel like a fifth, white-walled wheel, I, along with the only other man in the class, am assigned to a Nursing Assistant. She takes us to the male patients on the floor, and we set to work right away.

Our first assignment is breakfast. We get to feed a male resident who cannot even hold a spoon in his hand. Nerves mount once more as my partner steps in, meal-tray in hand, to begin. The first few spoons of hot cereal dribble down the man’s chin in embarrassing rivulets. After some nervous titters, we clean the detritus from his face and attempt to find a rhythm to the rest of the meal. I’ve hung back, surprised that my partner feels more comfort with this than I do. Our instructor finds us, nods in approval at our progress, watches my classmate feed the older gentleman, and then tells us to switch places. I don’t know why, but this takes me by surprise. In the end, I remember the classroom training, and I begin by offering the resident his apple juice. “Three sips, three spoons, three sips, three spoons.” This becomes a silent mantra in my head as I calm the shaking of my spoon-hand and proceed to offer encouragement.

The meal is soon taken from my hands by a smiling Nursing Assistant. My confused expression prompts the N.A. to tell us that the man’s wife will be visiting later in order to feed him a lunch. I am almost mollified by this explanation until I hear the bedbound man’s teeth grind against each other so hard, I’m afraid he’ll tear one of them from his gums.

“Does he do that often?” I ask.

I find out, of course, that this is regular behavior for him. It makes me curious, but something in the N.A.’s light, but insistent tone tells me we’d better get going with the rest of our morning duties. Sure enough, there is plenty to do. By the time all is said and done for the morning, my partner and I have made no less than six beds, participated in three bed baths, and learned why bedsores are not something to be taken lightly.

After a lunch and a debriefing with our instructor, our afternoon looks to be more or less the same. The morning’s activities make three hours fly by in a cosmic blur, yet the afternoon seems to drag as though someone pressed the “slow motion” button on my life. Still, things seem to be going rather smoothly. We’ve learned the scope of a Nursing Assistant’s hands on duties, and we are soon taken back to the employee break room. It’s only one o’clock in the afternoon, and our assignment keeps us here until four p.m. for each of our four days.

Our class doesn’t return to the floor. Nor are we released early. Our instructor, a registered nurse, has to go over so much paperwork and administrative procedure with us that I, along with all my other fellow pupils, become slack-jawed and bleary-eyed. Once the end of the first day arrives and we are released to our respective destinations, I find myself hoping that the next three days are just as easy. Yet I am also certain that they won’t be.

Tuesday

When I arrive the following morning, the only apparent difference between Monday and Tuesday for me is that I am now following a male Nursing Assistant instead of a woman. I am sure there will be differences in the male assistant’s approach to the male residents. I am right of course, but that doesn’t stop the work from getting done. He moves quickly, allocating duties for me and my fellow male classmate without missing a beat. Things appear to be the same as the day before, right down to our first task of feeding the same man his breakfast.

Just as we begin to find the rhythm to how to week might progress, another C.N.A passes by the room door and utters something to the effect of “the state is here,” and my stomach almost drops. Just to clarify, our class was taught that the State will often do inspections of long term care facilities in order to document procedure, look out for resident safety, and “ensure the quality of all the employees.” Facilities can be fined for evidence of resident neglect or abuse, and some have even been closed down and the staff arrested and charged with various crimes against the elderly and otherwise vulnerable. In theory, we should all be thankful that State regulators have arrived to oversee our stay at this facility.

The staff’s reaction to a state visit could not be further from one of gratitude. A frantic energy begins to build in the facility. It affects the way we handle the rest of breakfast. It alters the speed with which we attend to the other residents. The sheer volume of cleaning seems to climb exponentially. Even the charge nurse seems apprehensive, and I don’t know why until I recall our visual lesson regarding bedsores. Now I wonder what the State will observe in its tour, and why it seems that we as students are doing three times the work that we were doing just the day before.

Then I think back to my work at a major metropolitan hospital in Minnesota, and I sigh. I’ve dealt with important inspectors before in a healthcare setting. JCAHO (Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) sends their own investigative officials to hospitals and clinics. I’ve met with and spoken to these people during my time as a nightshift Psychiatric Associate at a major Midwest Metropolitan hospital. The entire affair ceased to intimidate me the moment I realized I always did what I was supposed to do and did right by the psych patients with whom I was in contact. There was never a real need for me to worry.

Wednesday

Still, the state inspectors give off an aura of self importance. During our Wednesday afternoon repose in the employee lounge, our guiding instructor leaves to run an errand, and no less than three state officials open the double doors and stand there, their roaming eyes calculating, their postures tall and aloof. I glance around, quickly noting the varied expressions on my classmates’ faces. Undaunted, I turn my attention back to the interlopers and nod. After another long day, the smile on my face is small, and I can feel my facial muscles tighten. The self-appointed State Official leader and I exchange pleasant remarks, and I exhale as my fellow pupils chime in with their own greetings. I am well aware that we can’t forget the function of State Inspectors, but I refuse to think of them as above me in any way. It does help my case that I recognize the leader of the group, a tall man wearing what appears to be an ornate yamaka. I only recognize him because we bumped into one another in the men’s restroom just that morning. A chance meeting of that nature has a way of humbling both participants.

After a tense few seconds, the double doors close, and I feel like a gunfighter that just bluffed his way out of a Spaghetti Western Standoff. I want a piece of tumbleweed to roll across the floor. Our instructor returns from her apparent disappearance, and we regale her with the sordid details of what feels like a clandestine waltz with fate.

Thursday

We finally come to the last day of our externship. All of us are tired. At this point, we’ve been told so many things to do and NOT to do because of the State visitors, I’m growing increasingly paranoid. I’ve washed my hands so many times using “state mandated technique,” that my fingers are beginning to dry, and a painful crack has erupted like a tiny fault line along the outside of my pinkie’s knuckle joint. Staring into the faces of my classmates doesn’t provide much consolation. Many appear to have grown sick of the commute, the bags beneath their eyes telling more stories than I can ever truly record. Our instructor reminds us to remain grateful for the opportunity, but I’m sure we’re all more glad that our time here is up in less than eight hours.

My final day at this facility proves to be the most challenging. As adept as my partner and I have become at feeding a particular male resident, we are denied this opportunity because we refuse to allow ourselves to be left alone as students without another employee’s supervision. This continues to be a frustration for us all, as the Nursing assistants all appear to be anxious to get things moving, yet none of the residents seem to be having an easy time of it. At our instructor’s behest, students are forced to stick like glue to their assigned C.N.A.’s. Our C.N.A. is not annoyed with us, but he does appear a bit more distant, as though his morning coffee hasn’t quite kicked in. I don’t blame him. I feel much worse for wear just having contended with this added stress for four straight mornings. I try to remind myself that my C.N.A. has chosen to do this for a living, yet this is when the existential questions begin to manifest like apparitions at the foggy cemetery of my mind.

Did I ever tell you I think too much?

In the middle of handling a struggling male resident who refuses to allow us to clean him, another male resident who can’t seem to eat his hot cereal without coughing up a lung, and a final male whose condition appears to have deteriorated so badly this week that he proceeds to vomit and defecate in the same moment, I ask myself the one question I thought I would save for a lonely walk in the park.

“Why would anyone do this for a living?”

Much to the credit of the staff, they answer me without my having to ask. One female Nursing Assistant reminds me that she chose this occupation because she feels for the elderly and vulnerable of our world, and wants do as much as she can to provide care and comfort. Another employee tells me her grandmother was in such a place, and was treated well by her caregivers, which inspired the Nursing Assistant to pursue this line of work. My C.N.A. doesn’t offer us a tale of woe or of courage, but he simply does his thing. A sparkle does seem to come to his eye as he assigns me and my partner certain rooms where multiple beds need to be made, confident that we will both do a good job. At this point, my partner and I each make our own beds, and I am encouraged by our individual progress.

We also learn to chart on resident cares on the computer. I am surprised at how little one actually gets to comment on their individual impressions of resident progress, and I don’t like being left out of the equation, so to speak. Visual icons represent the various items on a patient’s care plan itinerary. A bedpan, a toilet, or a commode icon speak for themselves. Just point with a mouse, click, and a patient’s abilities with toileting have been recorded for the day. After watching a Nursing Assistant do this with a series of activities for one resident, I realize that this can become rather mundane. I wonder if we’ve made a mistake depersonalizing patient charting, ultimately removing ourselves from the empathy needed for such undertakings. For me, the act of writing something down elicits emotion, for good or for ill. I suppose that’s why I am pursuing professional level fiction writing. Being able to talk with others about what has transpired also matters. As a former mental health worker, I am all too aware of how subtleties in body language and tonal voice changes can comfort, alarm, or galvanize an individual. This new way of charting comes off as cold and impersonal, and leaves me feeling as though my accomplishments were just not that important. Nobody should feel this way about such an important job.

This proves to be the longest feeling day this week. By the time I sit my aching body down on the most comfortable chair in the employee lounge, I find myself unable to process much of anything. My thoughts shift uncomfortably, as though they are a series of songs on a malfunctioning ipod that won’t do anything but shuffle. To make matters worse, during our lunch break, we spy snow falling outside our window, as though we are sitting inside a gigantic snow-globe. As we eat our way through our three dollar meal tickets, the wind outside intensifies until I’m sure I’m looking at the beginnings of a blizzard. This year’s winter has worn New Yorkers down, and I groan as though I’ve been asked trek through the tundra and procure snacks for everyone in the cafeteria.

The afternoon seems to fly by us like a flock of snowy owls. The storm passes quickly, and my mood lifts almost as fast. My partner and I rush around at the beck and call of our Nursing Assistant/mentor, fully aware that this will be the last time we make a bed or dispose of unpleasant human biological deposits in such a setting for a time. Finally, when the last piece of electric assistive equipment has been put away, the last bed has been made and the last resident have waved a frail but warm goodbye to us both, my partner and I head back to the employee lounge for the last of our debriefings. More paperwork followed by words of encouragement and pride seems to hover just in front of me. I think back on my experience, and I can’t help but note one ultimate truth.

This is not the work I will pursue once I graduate the program.

My conclusion has less to do with the residents than I thought it would. But, as always, one is forced to think of the big picture when undergoing such things as internships or externships. And why shouldn’t this be the case? As shaky as the economy still feels, I didn’t go back to school just to feel as though I have to take yet another job I don’t want. School is a risky investment of time as well as money. For this to feel like a success, there must be a true reward for the work I’ve put in. Gainful and meaningful employment was the goal here. Even when the idea of volunteering here is presented as an option to our group, I shudder. The location is just too far for it to be worth an unpaid opportunity.

I am the brave soul who volunteers his reluctance to pursue this line of work. I am also forced to accept another reality for which I was not prepared. The elderly and infirmed force me to face my own mortality in the simplest of terms, in the most direct line of sight. There is no escaping the ravages of time. The human body ages and dies. I may not have been alone in my awareness of this phenomenon, but I admitted it to my class. It depresses me almost unutterably.

The externship is ultimately a humbling experience for me and for so many others. Our goodbyes are short, and the Nursing Assistants can’t seem to let us go without words of advice or encouragement. I don’t give away my true feelings about the work they do, but I understand the meaning of caring for another person in the twilight of their lives. I can’t begin to imagine where I will be at that age, or what society will become in regard to its elders. I can only hope that I am surrounded by warmth and compassion, even when I forget the spelling and meaning of such words.

 

Okay Universe. We Need to Talk.

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10/01/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

Fair warning to you all, I’ve not written a blog entry in a long time. This is a rant. It’s long, it’s full of vitriol, swearing, and colorful political commentary. Kids should not read this.

Depressed people shouldn’t either.

The rest of you voyeurs, thrill seekers, indignant crusaders and general rabble-rousing types should read on. You know who you are.

 

Okay. So here it is. I’ve tried faxing and emailing every iteration of a resume and a cover letter you can think of, essentially kissing invisible people’s asses. I’ve tried working with employment agencies with names that sound like the names of gay porn movies aka “Manpower” and “Steadfast.” I’ve tried mental health counseling, talking with friends and loved ones, and I’ve even tried to use a little something called family connections. I’ve done all this not just to land a job, but to land enjoyable employment that can become a gainful, secure career.

I’ve gotten almost no bites whatsoever. In the nearly three and a half years I’ve been living in New York City, the closest thing I’ve got to a job is a minimum wage senior bookseller position, where I have yet to even see a pay raise though I essentially do the better parts of a former department manager’s job. I’ve had promising interviews, even to the point where I was told I would be offered training and an eventual position, only to be shunted aside and left to wait until training was nothing but a pipe dream. Nepetism, among other things, has kept me from utilizing yet another family connection to a potential rockstar dream job as a company proposal writer.

Then, there’s the Individual training grant I’ve been trying to get my hands on for work as a Certified Nursing assistant.

Get this. In the system to which I pay taxes, it’s essential for those with intelligence and a penchant for being able to pay rent AND eat a decent meal each day to use their brains in order to land more solid employment. Better still, it is supposedly easy to land a job when the requirements are more or less commensurate with one’s employment experience.

But there’s more. If one desires  a change in career, but doesn’t yet have the financial means to pay for yet another two years of schooling, one might wish to find something known as an individual training grant. Such things exist in New York City, and certain work programs offer a means to attempt to attain them. The training grant offers you access to training courses that can earn you the education and skill set to land a much more fulfilling and financially sound employment opportunity.

Sounds good, right? There’s a catch, of course. The instant one tries to apply for these grants, even for training in jobs where there don’t appear to be enough qualified individuals to fill the positions out there, one is hit with someone’s fubar interpretation of a “skills assessment.” The idea is to determine what level a participant has achieved in several key skills pertaining to the desired occupation. There are not supposed to be right or wrong answers on this multiple choice test because it is assumed that when one doesn’t know something, it’s because they need the training to learn it. This logic would be the reason one might be hauling one’s tired, overworked, underpaid ass to an institution filled with men who use toothpaste as underarm deodorant, right?

I failed my one and only assessment. Then I was told I could take the test again. After breathing a small sigh of relief and recovering from my rather spectacular humiliation (I’ve never before failed any sort of multiple choice test) I was told I needed to wait a month in order to let my name be flushed from the computer data banks like a piece of crap down the pipes of a toilet and into the Hudson River.

Well, slap me silly and call me Tza Tza, I almost pissed myself when I heard that thoroughly encouraging news.

But I waited patiently, hoping against hope that this bass ackward system might actually be made to work in my favor. I spent a month looking up information on CNA skills, trying to find cliff notes for this “assessment,” but to no true avail, for I could not remember the random-assed questions that were hurled at me by a computerized proctor without an ounce of humor.

The month passed in a haze of unavoidable financial crises, moving my girlfriend into her first apartment, more unlucky financial disasters, the decline of my current employment situation, and my own desperate search for a means to get the fuck out of my parents’ small midtown apartment.

I found no answers. But I waited, for I was handed a business card by the person at a company with whom I had a somewhat lukewarm conversation regarding my original skills assessment.

“A business card?” you ask .. or at least you should if you haven’t cracked the hell up or shot yourself in the head yet. “But wait a minute, sir. That means you have someone’s name, an address, a phone number, a fax number, and an email address. What seems to be amiss? Just connect with that person and get the ball rolling!”

This person is about as easy to reach as the top of Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s head, and that’s if my feet are glued to the floor and I am Verne fucking Troyer! The organization for which she works runs like an underfunded homeless shelter without the carnival atmosphere, and it’s just as fucking organized.

This is the point where I stand in a quiet, rural field underneath the stars of the Milky Way and have frank (and somewhat drunken) conversation with the universe .. or at least I would if I could afford to travel to such a field, lay a tent down for the night, and wander barefoot through the wet, fall grass in my favorite old Aikido uniform pants and a sleeveless red tee shirt. I might be carrying a djembe in my hands if these hands didn’t feel cracked and broken, and if I felt a spark of desire to even play. You see, my rhythm feels off, oh great mystery that is life. I can’t even enjoy that part of my existence anymore.

I might have to sell that drum to pay my next credit card bill.

I can afford six pack of smirnoff. The cherry lime flavor. Sweet.

But let’s not forget two things. One, I have an awesome girlfriend, I mean AWESOME!

Two, I can write. Of course, I’m still working on my first novel.

Dear Universe,

What the fuck do you want from me? My first born manchild? The blood of seventeen Vestal Virgins covered in olive oil? A bloody Mary and a pack of cigarettes? How ’bout a bloody cigarette and a pack of Hungry Maries? I read Hunger Games, it fucking sucks! Tell that slacker to get a real job! Fifty Shades of Grey? Try Fifty Shades of the color of Shit. I can write better than that clown!

Okay. I’m over that. Really. It’s okay that I get passed over for all the hotel doormen and concierge jobs to which hundreds of invisible applicants (all of whom MUST be better looking than a young Harrison Ford and smarter than motherfucking Einstein) MUST be applying because our economy “just isn’t what it was.” It’s just dandy that nearly every head hunter and temp agency I’ve talked to in the last three years has told me that because of my “unique” background as a mental health worker in Minnesota where licensing WASN’T required at the time I got my extensive experience, that they can’t help me land a job as more than a minimum wage factory worker. It’s grand that the most memorable comment I’ve had in all the job interviews I’ve had in the last three years was this:

“Sorry, sir, but the economy is just in the crapper.”

I’ve said that to myself in all sorts of accents. Try it. These are the apparent benefits of a classical (and insanely expensive) education 🙂

And it’s fan-fucking-tastic that each job I’ve held since college has paid me less and less per hour, but has expected more and more miracles to come flying out of my rectum. If I’d been trained to walk on water, you think I’d be wasting my time making cardboard boxes and mopping Hobo Joe’s crap off the floor of my bookstore?

It’s ok. really. Like I said. I’m over it all. These are just the thoughts that run through my brain when I feel like my time and money are no longer even remotely connected.

 

 

 

Working Class Heroes, Their Boomsticks and Their Dreams

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life, The Writing Process (How do I Come up These Beats?) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 05/12/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

What happens when you try to fly solo?

I start my blog entries like that these days.  The above question looks very straight forward. I want to know what happens to the person who decides that they’re going to make a go of life on their own. I want to understand how an individual functions when they try to pull themselves out of mediocrity and live their dreams.

We live in a curious time in American History. Western culture demands that the average individual seeks guidance as a youth. A person is supposed to depend upon their parents for warmth, shelter, wisdom and love. Moms and dads nurture their children by providing the basics as well as opportunities for their education.

But children grow up. Expectations change. Life becomes high school (or is it the other way around?) Children are taught to believe that they are supposed to broaden their minds with books and technology. Yet they are also supposed to round out their learning experiences with intense athletic pursuits or “extra curricular activities.”  Meanwhile, if adolescents succumb to the bombardment of commercials, internet ads, or peer-pressure situations in which they find themselves, they learn that silence is no longer golden. To survive, one has to be a social butterfly, not just in real life, but on the internet. Social Media websites commit younger and younger people to creating a secondary persona that either modulates or inhibits their popularity in school or in other social situations.

A self-reflecting adult might scratch their head at the contradictory messages they received  about life. I was raised as a child of the eighties. Adults of our generation were taught that education was the key to financial success. I used a have an enormous, light-up  picture on my wall with three fancy sports cars in a three car garage by the beach. The motto that was emblazoned at the top of the picture screamed “Justification for a Higher Education.”  Enough Said.

Except not everyone who gets a higher education automatically get those sorts of things. Even going to a top tier college in the country guarantees nothing if you don’t get to know the right people and you don’t focus on the things you love. Anybody who tells you that time is money hasn’t had to look for a job for the last five years in this country.

“The economy is in the crapper.” Those were the words of someone who interviewed me for a sales position years ago. They still pretty much hold true.

Somehow despite all the contradictory forces screaming for our attention, we’re supposed live our dreams. We’re told that we’re better off pulling ourselves out of mediocrity by our bootstraps. We’re also reminded by oversimplified hallmark moments on television shows and food advertisements that we somehow can’t do it alone.

We have to do it by ourselves, but we can’t do it alone.

That includes living our dreams, doesn’t it?

I’ve been sick for the last week and a half. This is the cold that never ends.

Major illness tends to sharpen one’s focus when they begin to recover from it. I, for one, will make it through a major cold like this one and begin to take stock of how well I’m doing living my dreams and meeting my personal goals. Since my largest one by far is writing, I have to remind myself that I can and will write every day.

But like the rest of this story, I’ve come to learn that I can’t really make my dream a reality all on my own. While I try to get my name out there by submitting more and more of my work to various publishers for consideration, I’m getting to the point where I spend a lot of my time with my nose to the grindstone. I push so hard to get more and more writing done, it feels like I’m only picking my head up to notice that everyone else walked off to some social gathering. I’m perfecting the swing of my samurai sword, and everyone else walked to the river to drink beer and sake.

From a professional standpoint, my current solo method seems like a piss poor way to garner real opportunity. From a personal standpoint, I feel more and more like a lone warrior. What happens to warriors who stay alone for too long?

They go nuts and start saying things like “This is my BOOMSTICK!”

Now that I more or less know where I am from a professional and a social standpoint, the question I have to ask myself is “What now?” It’s one thing to understand how much one misses social connection when they’ve been ill for more than a week. It’s quite another thing to realize that this uniquely Western notion of “independence” is not quite all that it’s cracked up to be.

Nobody ever really meets their goals without help, even on a minute level. I’d love to sit here and tell you that I got my first short story published because I woke up one day and inspiration struck me like a bolt of lightning. But that isn’t even close to the truth. I got that story accepted by a publication only after my first attempt with them flopped. I never even asked the editors why I was rejected. I got really annoyed and decided to up the ante. I thought I was a warrior recovering from wounded pride.

But this isn’t about revenge, proper action or silt. I would not have even bothered to finish the story had it not been for my friends, writers or otherwise, who were there to encourage me from day one. My friends are still around, though it’s been a while since I’ve been willing or able to talk with them.

It’s also been a while since I’ve felt like I was a part of a real writing community. I don’t know if I need that feeling again so that my writing can reach the next level, or if I want to be a part of a community so that my social skills don’t fade while I write my next manuscript.

At any rate, here I am world. I’m not quite recovered my from my eternal snot fest. And yes, I know that that description of my illness will make everyone want to stay around me. I’m going to start small and post this blog entry. I’m reentering my former social media sites. I’ll keep on writing, of course. Maybe I just won’t use all of my words to add to the chapters of unseen stories and manuscripts.

Living in the Surreal ..

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 04/14/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

Life is surreal.

“Surreal” isn’t a term I really like. When I use it, I feel like I’m dumbing down a process through which some major epiphany has granted me the power to move on with my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life with a fresh, “up with people” perspective.

But if you had been in the neighborhood of 125th and Lenox in upper Manhattan at about a quarter to six this morning, life would have seemed pretty surreal to you too.

I was sleeping next to my girlfriend. She awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Everything seemed normal. She crawled back into bed next to me and we remembered that it was Sunday and that we really like snuggling together and talking under the covers during a lazy weekend. It helps us remember what matters, even if it’s just a moment in time.

Not five minutes after she came back to bed, a horrible sound of crunching metal and plastic erupted just outside the apartment. It seemed to rattle the bedroom window.  I didn’t know what the sound was. I wasn’t awake enough to make sense of it until a horrible screeching noise followed. Rubber scraped against asphalt, and the squeal seemed to echo into eternity.

“Jesus Christ!”

I think I might have said that twice. I said it once before we both sprang from the bed and ran to the bedroom window to see what had happened. Even now, the fucked up visual doesn’t make any sense without context. I said it again after I told my girlfriend that I had to go take a major piss.

Why I decided to go relieve myself at that moment is still a bit beyond me. All I remember is that I was nauseated, and I still didn’t understand what had happened.

I also recall my knees shaking like the leaves of a quaking aspen in the wind. I sat down on that toilet seat and put my head between my sweating hands. I might have stayed like that for minutes or hours. I didn’t really know or care.

Eventually, I stood up and washed my hands. Like some character out of the show Supernatural, I thought I smelled a Reaper in the air.

I was sure that death lingered close by, waiting to claim the lost soul of the victim of a freak accident.

“Jesus H. Christ!”

I got back to the bedroom and stood next to my girlfriend. She seemed more than willing to give me a blow by blow of what was going on out there.

“Nobody’s gotten out of either car yet.”

“Motherfucker.”

In all honesty, I don’t recall saying that last word. I don’t remember much of what was said after that. But as the haze and the shock of the accident seemed to lift from around us both, things started to fall into place. Out the window, on our side of the street, we only saw two cars. The first one was a silver Charger with its back turned to us like a wounded dog hiding its face.  The second car was sort of sitting to the right of the first. It was a green SUV that didn’t appear to have been even been scratched, at least not from our vantage point. The only thing that seemed to have happened, in fact, was that the SUV was nudged a few feet out of its parking spot.

It made no sense. Such a horrible crash followed by a rubber screech that lasted for at least three seconds just didn’t do … what we saw.

But time ticked by. Some of the neighbors from across the street turned on their bedroom lights and peeked outside like we were doing. Thanks to them, I felt a little better about being some sort of voyeur. The cops were on the scene immediately. The fire department came minutes later. EMT’s never showed. That struck us as odd until we came to the most important conclusion.

Nobody died.

I thought for sure someone was going to buy it. For about a nanosecond I was disappointed. I can’t lie. I’m a horror writer.

Then the stomach ache began.

About an hour later, all sorts of things had happened. The driver of the silver Charger, wearing a black shirt with green writing on it, angrily shouted into his cell phone that the car for which he was responsible was a “fucking wreck.”

“What de’ hell I’m ‘a do wid ‘dis shit?”

His friend, a shorter man with a grey tee shirt on, seemed to be the voice of reason.

“Look, dude, least you’re alive.”

And that was what mattered. When other details fell into place, we learned that nobody, in fact, was dead. A third car was apparently involved in the accident. That unknown driver may or may not have been at fault for the entire catastrophe. We never really got to figure that much out.  A tow truck driver couldn’t even tow the silver wreck out of the way in one try. His truck’s hook lost its grip on the wreckage twice.

I grinned. And call me sadistic, but I was thankful I wasn’t going to have to figure out how to pay for THAT repair bill. The driver and his friend drank two cups of coffee purchased at the deli just below our window.

My girlfriend and I  went back to bed. We didn’t fall asleep right away, of course. We talked about the accident. We talked about how our weekend was going before the crash, and how it might go afterwards. Things like money and job woes don’t matter as much when you’re thankful just to be in one piece. That lesson sinks in deeper when you’re with loved ones.  The problems might not go away, but their importance in the grand scheme of the universe dwindles.

I just got through sending out something like 6 job aps. I took a break to watch a show. I thought about my latest submission of a short story to a magazine for consideration. My girlfriend’s out teaching a dance class. We still have lives to live and things to do to survive in this city. She still has to talk to her dad about her insurance costs, and I still want to start writing the latest chapter for my online serial. At least I know she’ll come home in one piece, and we’ll have an easier time figuring out how to scrounge up enough money for dinner together tonight.

There’s a cat purring in my lap too.

Surreal or serene? Take your pick.

Warrior of the Word.

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life, The Writing Process (How do I Come up These Beats?) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 04/03/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

Sometimes a warrior just has to come home, throw their weapons in a corner, sink their tired, broken bodies into a chair and cry their eyes out.

 

Countless soldiers throughout history have probably done this. I know what we all see in the news when war heroes come home to their families. These survivors hug their spouses who’ve lived without their touch for years. They hug their children though they’ve missed precious milestones. Many people have moved on in their absence. Most have gone through their own trials and traumas. Still, everyone big and small feels that their story is the important one.

 

That’s just the human condition.

 

I’m guilty of this too. The good thing is I’m not alone. I’m about to tell you a story.

 

I’ve become a warrior of the word.

 

I know what you’re thinking. I sound like one of those nut jobs who quote the Bible and hurl Molotov cocktails into abortion clinics. If you’ve read some of my writing, you might think I’ve snapped and begun channeling one of my favorite characters.

 

“Pleasure to meet you. My name is Ezekiel.”

 

But that’s not the truth either. The reality may be just as difficult to fathom.

 

I moved back to New York two years ago. I had little money, a soaring credit card debt, and the wisp of a hope that I might get a job through a relative.

 

Time has a way of revealing one’s destiny. While I was putting interview clothes I couldn’t afford on a credit card, I was searching. I was waiting. I was hoping that I hadn’t wasted my time coming back home. I didn’t want a repeat of the six months I’d spent in Illinois trying to figure life out. That stretch of time saw me spinning my  wheels and not knowing how to make ends meet. Opportunities were few and far between. Though my best friend from college reached out to me and tried to help me out, I just wasn’t prepared for life in a Midwestern suburb. I didn’t even have a driver’s license. I failed.

 

Mental note. Don’t ever live in a suburb without a car or a license.

 

I came back home hoping that I wouldn’t go insane. I was a thirty something and living in a tiny apartment with my parents and my grown autistic brother.

 

If you’re doing a double take after that last statement, don’t worry. You won’t be the only one.

 

But times are tough for “thirty -somethings” these days. I’ve heard it all before. People in my generation with college degrees can’t even get into entry level retail work. I won’t even get into that hot mess. People have tough choices to make even though some of us just paid off twenty five thousand dollars in student loans. Sure, one could go back to school if one could somehow pay for it. Being out of college for more than a decade might mean your college credits mean nothing for all those associate’s programs.

 

There’s just one other hitch. Assuming that there are affordable school programs to attend, it pays to know which jobs aren’t being whittled down to nothing in this economy.

 

I was applying for a job in Portland, Oregon to work at a Sears as a clerk.  I applied online, landed the interview, and was asked to come in during a Thursday afternoon. The human resources recruiter seemed nice enough, but very sad and distracted throughout the conversation. After telling me that the original position was being whittled down from twenty hours a week to twelve due to “a major oversight,” he older woman turned to me and laid in on the line.

 

“There are thirty, forty, even fifty year old people applying for entry level clerk positions with this company. We’ve got people with Masters Degrees and PHD’s who need this work, and we can’t do much for them. Let’s face it. The economy is in the crapper.”

 

After 14 months in the city, I was able to land a part time job as a book seller at a local Barnes and Noble. Since then, I’ve not been able to attain anything else.

 

I think it might be safe to say that for some, the economy STILL looks like something a toilet bowl cleaner ought to erase.

 

Life is funny. Promises are broken, constant effort feels more like the definition of insanity, and broke people start to quote musicians and philosophers as though looking for a reason. Life can feel like a cruel joke. Of late, it leaves me feeling a bit like those broken warriors.

 

Is there a reason to it all? Is life what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans?

 

I’m still struggling with that question.

 

On one hand, I would officially call myself an underemployed janitor for the local Barnes and Noble. I just happen to know a thing or two about a book.

 

Perhaps that’s because I’m writing them.

 

Writing has been an anchor for me since I reclaimed it more than a year ago. I might never be a real estate tycoon or win the lottery, but writing is something that I will be able to do no matter what my financial or family status. I won’t put the computer down unless it breaks. Even if that happens, I used to use a little something called a pen, and I used to put that object to another handy object called “paper.”

 

The things one learns in school really can make a difference.

 

Nobody talks to me for more than a few minutes without realizing I’ve got more sarcasm in my pinky then most have in their entire bodies. But I shudder to think what my life would be like today if I hadn’t started to write. I’m not always going to write short stories or books. I can’t imagine I will always show my words to people. But I’ve made a few good friends along the way. People have read my words. More will read them one day, and I may even be able to make a decent living because of it.

 

Life seems to be split down the middle of chaos. On the one hand, I don’t make enough money at my current job to scratch my testicles. But on the flip side, I write because I have the time and the imagination to come up with the stuff. Real life might not be glamorous, but it offers me a chance to experience love, hate, anger, euphoria, and all the other emotions that I can pour with such realism into each and every one of my made up characters.

 

Fate doesn’t normally interest me. I like to think that I am always in control of my own life. These last few years have been like a huge dose of humble pie. I’m not powerless, but curious things do happen when I allow myself to engage in what matters to me. In the last year, people have come to me that I did not expect. People have read my words, and some have been able to relate. A special someone has danced their way into my life.

 

Philosophical discussions of fate either annoy or terrify people like me. Maybe that’s why fate sneaks up on so many of us. It probably happens despite everything I believe, and all I can do is the best that I can until God or the universe reveals my purpose.

 

Until that happens, I’ll write, I’ll love, and I ride on the roller coaster that is my life. I can’t be the fatalist, but I can sure as hell strap in. Let other people deal when someone releases the fucking Kraken. I’ll write a book about it when it’s over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Pictures from January, 2013

Posted in The Flow and Rhythm of Life with tags , , , , , , , , , on 01/24/2013 by Angel D. Vargas

 

 

Hello all! It’s been awhile since I’ve posted the picture’s I’ve been taking. I want to say that I took these near the end of December and the beginning of January, but in the whirlwind of daily activities, I’ve forgotten. At any rate, I’ve been experimenting more with light and shadow at certain times of day. Enjoy! 🙂

 

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