Saturday, January 29, 2011

Charlie Sheen Checks Into Rehab - What Year is This?

I feel like this same drama plays out every five years or so since around 1986, when Mr. Sheen caught my young eye playing the "Bad Boy in the Police Station" flirting with an otherwise unfriendly Jeanie Bueller in the great comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Little did I realize that Sheen was either the world's greatest method actor or he probably looked coked out sexy because he arrived onset that way.

Charlie Sheen, born Carlos Irwin Estevez, is the father of five children: a 26 year-old daughter named Cassandra from a previous relationship with Paula Profit, two adorable little girls, Sam and Lola, produced during his tumultuous marriage with actress Denise Richard, and twin boys named Bob and Max, hardly more than babies. In between spreading his seed, Bad Boy Charlie made a tabloid name for himself by shooting then-girlfriend Kelly Preston in the arm in 1990. Puzzlingly, she ended the relationship shortly afterward. His name was heavily tossed around during the titillating events of the Heidi Fleiss scandal in 1995. That's when we learned the man likes hookers - a lot.

In 1998, Charlie overdosed on an injection of cocaine, leading his beleaguered actor father, Martin Sheen, to issue a public plea for support before turning his own son in for a parole violation. I am sure it was a gut wrenching decision, but Mr. Sheen Sr. is obviously a caring father. He should have been rewarded with a post-rehab, together child.

But of course we know that's not what happened. Back in the professional hot seat and richer than ever due to his starring turn in the long-running CBS comedy Two and a Half Men, Charlie picked up right where the party left off. Denise Richards has had the class (something I never figured her for) to stay quiet, but rumors abound that she dissolved her marriage to the actor for the same old reasons: drug and prostitutes.

A later marriage to the gorgeous Brooke Mueller seemed like Charlie might be settling down for good. Mueller was not involved in the Hollywood world and they stated their intentions to start a family as soon as possible. But then we learned, oops! Brookie likey the nose candy too, culminating in the Christmas 2009 arrest of her husband for domestic violence and second degree assault. The grapevine had it that both halves of the couple were in an alcohol and cocaine-fueled rage when Charlie held a knife to her throat.

Of course he received little more than a slap on the wrist from law enforcement, and voluntarily entered rehab in February 2010. Much good that obviously did.

During the early morning of October 26, 2010, Sheen was removed from his hotel room at the Plaza Hotel after causing damage to the room and admitting to having been drinking and taking cocaine. There was also a woman (you guessed it! a hooker!) locked in the bathroom. Did I mention that ex-wife Denise and his five and six year-old daughters were in another room across the hall?

Finally, just this week, Charlie was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital "for severe stomach pains" stemming from a reported three-day coke binge and the usual harem of adult movie actresses. After the scandal, Sheen has once again entered a rehab facility. Is there any reason to believe it was work out this time?

His bosses at the network continue to pay him $2 million a week, not daring to take the chance of losing their #1 show. The court system has been unusually kind, rendering Sheen some sort of Teflon multi-felon. When there are no real consequences for one's long running bad behavior, how can one routine trip to the emergency room finally bring the clarity needed?

Fat chance. I admire Mr. Sheen's body of work, particularly from before 1995, but so what? He is a loser at life in everyway that matters: as a son, a husband, a father and a human being.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Drug Company With Integrity?

Is it me, or in our cynical, "me first and only" age, does this question appear oxymoronically improbable? Yet here we have an example of drug maker Hospira Inc. not only refusing to profit from the death of others, but ceasing production of the item under discussion to be certain.

The back story is that state prisons have experienced a "national shortage" of the sedative, sodium thiopental, commonly used in the lethal injection method of executing prisoners on death row. Like any resourceful angels of death, the states, particularly Oklahoma and Ohio, went in search of a replacement. They settled upon pentobarbital, "a barbiturate used to induce comas during surgeries to prevent brain damage when blood flow is interrupted, and to reduce possible brain damage following strokes or head trauma. It is chemically related to the same product used to euthanize pets."

So now felons in the "Big O" States can have the same kind of peaceful end as the cancer-ridden family dog. Sounds humane enough right? Well in an unforseen twist, the company that produces pentobarbital wants nothing to do with its product becoming synonymous with loss of life. Lundbeck Inc., whose U.S. headquarters sit right to the North of my beloved Chicago, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. "This goes against everything we're in business to do...We like to develop and make available therapies that improve people's lives....That's the focus of our business."

It is typically my business to believe that a corporation, particularly one in the racketeering-like game of prescription drugs, must have some other agenda. But faced with a sizeable loss of revenue due to their stance, Lundbeck appears to be merely (dare I say it?) articulating its reasoned moral position. Though the article admits that "Lundbeck does not sell the product directly to end users and has no way of preventing either state from using the drug," I find it creditable that they chose to speak up rather than quietly continue to count money.

I have shared, directly in my profile biography, that I am in a surprising number of cases, onboard with the death penalty. Jared Lougher, the smug and unrepentant shooter in Tuscon, Arizona, is an individual who tends to bring out the more barbarous nature in me. However, nearly every belief I have lies on some sort of continuum and though I can be stubborn, I like to believe I am not completely inflexible.

I am reconsidering where I stand, day by day, as states like Illinois move to outlaw capital punishment. There seems to be too many weaknesses in our justice system to stand behind such a final solution. And when you have a drug company's experts testifying in a court of law, "Because of these significant unknowns, and a lack of clinical history related to using pentobarbital to induce anesthesia, using pentobarbital as part of a 3-drug lethal injection protocol puts the inmate at an undue risk of suffering," - well, that's another good reason to take a pause. Because drug manufacturers have rarely been accused of humanitarian activism.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Real State of the Union

Tonight’s much anticipated address by President Barack Obama, almost four weeks into the New Year, is a huge test for our Commander-in-Chief. However, unlike last year, the rub isn’t his ability to withstand peanut gallery heckling (House Republican Joseph Wilson’s famous “You lie!” sneer). Rather, a large section of the American public, myself included, is looking to assess Obama’s ability to keep it real – to look that camera straight in the eye and drop all the b.s. about the nation’s “exceptionalism” and “competitive advantage.” We need the President, struggling with staff overturn and the formulation of an agenda for the final two years of his term, to level with his constituents, to give voice to the hard truths that so many of us have experienced for too long.

We are a nation at a crossroads. Despite the amassing of record corporate profits during the last two years, unemployment numbers remain puzzlingly and consistently high. State governments continue to slide into insolvency, and once stable jobs in the public sector (teachers, first responders, etc) are vanishing in unprecedented droves. We don’t need a cheerleader to sell us the “everything’s looking up!” routine. Things are definitely on the upswing for CEOs, for the NYSE, but not for us. We want to know why this happened and we don’t want to hear it from Timothy Geithner. We deserve to know how to fix our structural weaknesses so we never find ourselves victimized by them again, and to experience comfort in the form of a solid plan of action. It’s not permissible to kick the can down the curb anymore, leaving the hard decisions to future administrations. It’s not fine to play the role of the soothing parent. We are adults and we know we’re hurt. I think Mr. Obama’s poll numbers ought to be the first hint that we don’t believe the “measurable growth” fairy tale.

There is still too much rightful insecurity on Main Street. Millions have been out of work for periods of a year or longer. Those of us who have been lucky enough to secure new employment often find it to be of the contract or temporary kind, transient and without livable wages and benefits. We have no idea if the health care overhaul passed last summer to such tremendous fanfare and Tea Party howling will be overturned before the close of 2011. This is not an exercise in political gamesmanship. There are real stakes involved. It’s hard to formulate a five month plan, let alone a five year one, immersed in so much uncertainty.

I am certainly no defeatist. There is a time and place in tonight’s address for a celebration of our progress, to acknowledge how far we’ve come from the days of late 2008 when it seemed entirely possible that American economic and political relevancy could go the way of the Edsel. However, keep that sort of self-congratulation to a minimum. This is the first generation to fare more poorly than the previous in terms of wage growth, home ownership and educational opportunity. Let’s talk about how we arrived here, and what we’re going to do in the next 24 months to help the once-thriving middle class get back on the road to dignity and prosperity.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bearly Watchable

"Somebody needs to tell the Bears this isn't a preseason game."

- Terry Bradshaw, NFL Fox Analyst, 3:30 PM today

At the risk of alienating my rabidly "Bear Down" family any further (please stop the bitter posts on my Facebook wall!), I must acknowledge the Bears miserable play in today's NFC Championship Game. But I will not say I told you so.

The final score of the home advantage matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 21-14, really doesn't tell the story. If there are kudos to be handed around, they are reserved for the members of the Bears' defense, who kept the tally board from reflecting the lopsided mess in play that really occurred. Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher had a particularly effective day. A solid golf clap is also owed to third string quarterback Caleb Hainie, who honestly got the Bears back in it when it seemed all but impossible.

Hainie's surprisingly able play does not excuse the drastic mistakes in coaching that occurred, underscoring my season-long opinion that, division championship notwithstanding, it is time to show Lovie Smith the door. The inexplicable time-out call in the fourth quarter, on a huge fourth down and three yards? Also, by playing Hainie before the conclusion of the third quarter, benched alternatives Jay Cutler and Todd Collins lost their eligibility to return to the game. What if Hainie had been injured?

Not that we missed either one of the former sorry asses. I expected nothing from second stringer Todd Collins, and with two near picks in a matter of minutes, I was not disappointed. But you Jay Cutler - you. Everything Denver Bronco fans said is 100% accurate. You are a sissy, a quitter and a quintessential pouter. When you left the game shortly after a pathetic first half with the flimsy "knee" excuse, I wanted to call Jo the Super Nanny to slap the puss off your face before you sat for the rest of the game on the naughty bench. After two unbelievably lackluster seasons, I wonder if we were really not better off with Rex Grossman, the Bears' 2007 Super Bowl QB. We had more money at least.

As a Chicago native, a passionate sports fan, and an adrenaline addict, I am deeply saddened by the Bears ejection from post season play, no matter what my critics may believe. In this case, if not others, I am terribly sorry to have played the Cassandra-like spoiler to the conclusion of the Bears' idiosyncratic ascent.

But if I am being honest and gracious, the better team won. A couple less concussions for Rodgers and the standings in the NFC North may have looked very different. The Bears had the luckiest run of any organization this season. I will go to my grave saying it. I wish the Green Bay Packers well in two weeks. It may make today's debacle sit easier if it was dealt by the hands of the Super Bowl champs.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I have had extra nocturnal time on my hands lately, so I started inventing new words. “Insomnity,” a combination of “insomnia” and “insanity,” pretty much conveys my physical and mental state. Feel free to use it.

It was a week ago that I wrote about finding the clarity needed to take myself less seriously. May I ask where that all that quiet calm went?

I am so frustrated. Back in December, I understood my sleeplessness when I actually had something to cry about. After being unfairly terminated, I went on interview after interview with no results. My father continued to weigh down my sister and I with increasingly odd and unlawful behavior. My husband disappointed his parents to an extent I found psychologically intolerable, and of course the holidays always bring a modicum of distress, no matter how ultimately enjoyable.

But the continuation of this now weeks-long battle to sleep just doesn’t make sense in the New Year. I am employed again. I secured a full-time temporary business writer position with a consulting firm located in downtown Chicago. Of course there is no guarantee that I won’t find myself back on the market at the conclusion of tax season, but I have a better than 50% shot at being asked to stay. I used to like those odds in my 20s. It brought out my competitive spirit. But now? I spend so much time worrying about the lack of security that I may ultimately render 2011 job seeking a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who wants to hire a strung-out looking curmudgeon?

I have had other blessings come my way in this new decade. Last Friday evening, I received a pleasant surprise in the form of being asked to edit the quarterly newsletter of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. This is a board level appointment, and though no monetary compensation is involved, a job well and dependably done could open a wealth of doors for me. The association is largely run by female writing professionals of retirement age, and the current President made it known that selecting me represented a huge effort to engage young blood. It’s a terrific opportunity.

Yet five minutes after I accepted the appointment, I was on the verge of peeing my pants with anxiety. Apparently I have come to associate career openings with contingencies for failure. What if I flop? I do not even need to be told that this, to quote Al Franken’s legendary Saturday Night Live character, “Daily Affirmations” host Stuart Smalley, is “stinkin’ thinkin’.” But awareness that one is self-destructing and being able to control it are two totally different matters.

I have seen a doctor, several times in fact. Ambien was a nonstarter. Anti-anxiety meds seemed to help calm my system for awhile so I could get some shut eye, but I tend to grow immune to medications rather quickly. Rather than covertly up my dosage, I thought about Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson and gave it up altogether. A night or two a week I am managing six to seven hours with Nyquil or OTC sleeping pills, but really? This should not be necessary. My doctor recommended therapy, which is fine and all, but I’ve been there, done that and am not going to talk my way into a restful state. If that were the case, I’d be passed out at the conclusion of every blog post.

I am impatient and disenchanted with my own neuroticism. I am as bored with it as everyone else in my life is. Sunken eyes, blank stares at loved ones who wish to engage, and running behind on daily tasks is not sexy. Nor does this condition demonstrate a tormented artistic spirit in the style of Edgar Allen Poe (though come to think of it, some opium might be handy). It’s nonsense, and until recently, I never considered myself to be a frivolous person.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ear Worm

After several thousand opportunities to view this commercial (most often during NFL football games - I wonder who Apple's target audience is?), I have altered my opinion of its theme song. It is purposefully catchy, so much so that I often find myself waking in the morning with its sunny notes on the brain. Initially, this made me hate the tune, the iPad product as well as the overexposed company itself (Team PC, laptop and Blackberry!).

However, when nodding in and out of a multi-stage nap in front of the TV this past weekend, my semi-conscious began to take note of the interesting musical progressions comprising this deceptively simply ditty. As a music lover, and with my curiosity piqued, I came to learn that the tune is called "Never Stop," by an artist named Chilly Gonzales. Let it be known that I am a fan of anything bearing the moniker "Chili" in all its various spellings - the food, the singer from legendary girl group TLC, and of course Chilly Willy the Penguin.

The 30-second clip begins with the light, percussive off-rhythm sound of snaps. A few moments later, a pretty neat piano refrain is added. Let it be known that I am a fan of the ivories, though I never learned to play. I never recovered from the simple joy of the "Heart and Soul" duet danced out by Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in the 1980s flick Big.

Midway through the sample, hand claps can be heard on top of the snaps and piano. And finally, a fairly awesome bass line completes the wordless composition.

Funny that when I realized I enjoyed the song on its own merits, rather than running from Apple constantly forcing it down my throat, I no longer minded its persistent occupation of brain space.

I still won't buy an iPad, but "Never Stop" certainly does its job. You can't stop the beat - or its association with the technological best seller.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coming out of the Dark

It was around the time I found myself sitting in my sister's closet, sandwiched precariously between my brother-in-law's suits and casual clothes, willing my body to remain silent and still, that I realized I have been taking myself far too seriously of late.

From the floor below, I heard occasional crashes and the sounds of mild confusion before two little voices pleaded in weary exasperation, "Give us a hint Aunt Becky!"

I am no ventriloquist but I attempted to throw my voice into the hallway as I yelped a quick "upstairs!"

More chaos and giggling ensued until I could no longer help myself. Besides, my right elbow had gone stiff from the modified fetal position I had chosen as my battle stance. Out I leapt, shouting "Here I am!" scaring the beejesus out of my beloved nieces, KK and Rosebud, ages 11 and 3, who ran away screaming and laughing.

Is there any sound more cleansing to the soul than that of happy children? When my sister Jen asked if I could help her out of a jam yesterday, I initially thought of all the bureaucratic business of my own life that would need rescheduling. It's not that I don't covet time with my girls, who live more than an hour away, it's merely that I have allowed myself to be sucked into an unhappy, routine vortex of sending out resumes, interviewing, feeling like a loser when I don't land the job, repeat. I tend to feel panic and guilt if I am not devoting every spare second toward contemplating my future. The funny thing is, the more I think, the less I move.

Babysitting duties: board games, movies and lunch with Rosebud, before picking up KK from school and taking the girls for an afternoon treat, left me no time, energy or desire for ruminative ill humor. It was the total break from "normal life" that I desperately needed.

I really forgot how good I am at being an aunt. And to fill the role of an auntie is no easy task. One must be game for anything. Throughout the course of the day, the woman who no longer saw herself fit for anything was alternately a horse, a chef (and per Rosebud, the maker of "the best turkey sandwich and pickle ever!"), a cat whisperer, a dancer and a catcher of imaginary butterflies. These may not be skills that an employer seeks when reviewing a resume, but I can tell you from experience, they're damn valuable.

For the first time since I can remember, I wore a smile unforced. I handed out more hugs and kisses than I can count. I stopped thinking, in a real and honest way, about the burdens I have allowed to turn me a person with whom I'd no longer like to party.

And it must be true that good things happen to those finally ready to receive them, because after a relative dry spell, I was called for not one, but two interviews whilst cuddling the girls, enthralled by Toy Story 3. As always, I will put my best foot forward when speaking with these potential employers, but I am tired of this game, and I vow not to over think it anymore.

I was reminded that at its core, life is mostly a very silly business.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let's Everybody Calm Down

The image above is certainly incendiary isn't it? The nation is aflutter, once again, over an unconscionable act of violence that took place over the weekend. On an otherwise lovely Saturday in the parking lot of a Tuscon, Arizona strip mall, a lone gunman, 22 year-old Jared Loughner opened fire on a crowd of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's constituents, killing six, including a 9 year-old girl born on 9/11/2001. 14 others were wounded, including Ms. Giffords, who suffered a gunshot directly to the brain.

It is a source of comfort to learn from the lawmaker's medical team that the representative, famous for her accessible "Congress on Your Corner" events, is alert and able to breathe on her own. No one can say what the long-term brings for Giffords and her family. It is all just speculation at this point, but we can be certain that her recovery from the trauma will be extensive and arduous.

In much the same way after the terrible events of 9/11 took place, there is the temptation to panic. There is a real debate taking place regarding how much access to public officials is too much. Where is the line between serving the people and protecting oneself from them? Once again, a familiar feeling that our culture is spinning out of control has led to some reactionary, emotional responses from people who sit at all points on the political spectrum.

Allow me to say upfront and with absolute clarity that I am no fan of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. I disagree with her on everything from women's issues, to climate change, government regulation of private sector business, and yes, gun control. I think her words are often chosen for effect and shock value, designed to burnish her rising star rather than reflect a deliberate consideration of practical policy. She is a narcissist who often fails to consider the impact of her actions. Just ask former Presidential campaign staffers for Senator John McCain. In the words of the immortal Miley Cyrus, Palin just "can't be tamed."

That said, it is an awfully long leap in logic to tack any of the blame for Saturday's tragedy on Sarah Palin. The crosshairs map (above) which features gun sights over various congressional districts throughout America held by Democrats, including Rep. Giffords' constituency, is at the center of the controversy. The Sarah Palin Action Committee used the crosshairs map to target seats during the 2010 elections, elections I might add, that are long since over.

There is certainly a place for discussion about the political tone in Washington, which seems to ratchet up with ever-increasing vitriol, and may certainly provide that last push for a person hovering on the edge of mental stability. However the answer to rhetorical extremism from the right is not an equal dose from the left. I have read the words of serious writers, some of them publishing on this very forum, who have called for legal consequences for Palin. However to build a case, there must be demonstrable cause and effect. As far as I am aware, there has yet to be a solid line drawn between the crosshairs map and the gut wrenching actions of Jared Loughner. I may not like Ms. Palin but I can grant that she is no advocate for child murder.

Instead of the Left pointing its finger at the Right for irresponsible language (though it is an issue worth discussing), I find myself leaning toward the prospective of New York Times columnist Gail Collins. In an essay published yesterday and titled "A Right to Bear Glocks?" Collins highlights Arizona's permissive attitude toward the carry and concealment of semiautomatic weapons as one of the culprits in this tragedy.

She writes convincingly, "you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it."

Collins adds, "If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot...But we might not have lost a federal judge, a 76-year-old church volunteer, two elderly women, Giffords’s 30-year-old constituent services director and a 9-year-old girl who had recently been elected to the student council at her school and went to the event because she wanted to see how democracy worked."

We know what the hardcore members of the NRA will say. Guns don't kill people. It's people who do that. Fine, but there is just no reason I can think of to have a person carrying around a weapon that can spray bullets and kill numerous souls in an instant.

Politics and violence have been around since men first decided to anoint themselves into leadership positions over one another. Premature death is part of the risk of entering the political arena. But Caesar was looking out for poison and daggers, not uzis.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Somewhere Between Slim and None

This weekend, the NFL Playoff series gets underway. Although I always enjoy a competitive, well-played match no which team is on the field, there is really only one club whose run I will follow. As a lifelong Chicago resident, I was born and raised to be a citizen of Bears nation.

Da Bears, with their 11-5 record over the course of the season, are fortunate enough to enjoy the week off before they must face the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints or Seattle Seahawks at home next week. Fans of my hometown team better hope the organization's 17-week lucky streak continues, because if so, we will be rewarded with a matchup against Seattle. With a exceptionally mediocre record of 7-9, the Seahawks are the first team to win a playoff berth with a losing tally.

Go Hawks! Because I'll let you in on a little, poorly kept secret: stellar win ratio aside, the Bears are not a very good team. I have taken a lot of heat from friends and family over repeated insistence that this is so. It is the curse of the righteous to remain unpopular.

Don't believe me? Watch the tapes of Week 1, when the Bears won against DETRIOT by a hair (granted, the Lions are finally on the upswing) due to the reversal of a last-second touchdown. Otherwise, they collectively stunk up Soldier Field for a full 60 minutes.

But anyone can have a bad week right? Then let's discuss Week 3, when the Bears narrowly bested the Green Bay Packers, after the Aaron Rodgers-led team managed to set a clubhouse record of 18 penalties. Don't think the penalties played a role? Rodgers threw for 316 total yards to Jay Cutler's lackluster 37.

But there's more. Should I mention Week 14's pummeling at home by the New England Patriots in the middle of a blizzard? Or perhaps last week's disgusting season finale, once more against Green Bay, where the Bears appeared to have been replaced by members of the TFL (Tiny Football League).

If all else fails to convince, consider that Jay Cutler, Chicago's obnoxiously overpaid Quarterback, has been sacked no less than 52 times this season. And before you go feeling sorry for the oft-concussed player, laying the exclusive blame on the Bears' miserable, porous, offensive line, keep in mind that almost every other QB in the NFL knows to get rid of the ball in 10 seconds or less (an eternity in football time).

But hey, what's good for Chicago sports is always good for me, and I will be front and center next week, hoping for the best, yet fearing the worst. In fact this season reminds me an awful lot of the 2006-2007 one, when the Bears earned a mystifying trip to the SuperBowl. Once there, Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts ran all over us. Just sayin'.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Therapeutic Effects of Bar Trivia

It is no secret to anyone who checks in with my blog from time to time that I am going through a rough patch, to make a huge understatement. Long term unemployment and the psychological fuckery that goes along with the job hunt process, family troubles and insomnia have conspired to sap me mentally and physically. I paid a second visit to my doctor yesterday, in the quest to get a good night's sleep, and she asked if I thought I might be depressed. Um, yes.

I have been doing a lot of withdrawing and avoiding lately. I don't feel like explaining to people why I look so awful, and often stare off into space during conversation. However, there are still some invitations that prove too irresistible for a zombie to decline.

Along with my good friends Timbo and Di, I am the third member of a roving bar trivia team known as Three Dimes Down. Timbo borrowed the name from a song by the band Drive-By Truckers, which incidentally, would also make for a great trivia team moniker. Although three is a small number for a typical group, we are streamlined, which makes for quicker, less argumentative decision making. By contrast, check out the tables of 10 on a crowded night sometime. Drunkenly shouting and shoving each other is not an effective strategy. The members of Three Dimes Down all have their own unique category specialties, which is another recipe for our usual success. Di is the subject matter expert on music, art and philosophy. Timbo takes on sports, geography and a good chunk of the history questions. And I of course bring up the intellectual rear with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things pop culture.

My teammates and I played quite a few times this past Fall, but as I am certainly not at my sharpest these days, I have been loathe to suggest a rematch. But when Timbo sounded the call last night, I found myself experiencing an excitement I thought dormant.

I am a VERY competitive person. One of my worst qualities is that I want to be the best at everything, and if I can't be, I sometimes don't want to engage in said activity. Vain and childish yes, but my intensity can also be a huge asset when fully in charge of my faculties.

I arrived at little after 7:00 last night to meet my friends. We usually have a drink and some eats before the trivia starts, and that allows us to get all the personal catching up done away with so we can fully focus.

I won't bore you with a lengthy play by play, but it was not Three Dimes Down's night. After screwing us twice when we had narrowed the options down to 50-50, my teammates and I have decided that we now hate Brazil (ah Carnivale, I barely knew thee!). The round involving state nicknames was likewise a total bloodbath. On our worst days, Tim, Di and I typically finish in the top four. Last night we didn't even crack tenth place. I need to study an atlas, like yesterday.

Anyway, the poor performance, which would normally cause a solid day's worth of second guessing and rumination, is beside the point. It's the strangest thing, but for the first time in an entire month, I slept like a lamb. I conked out around midnight and woke up just short of 11:00 AM. I almost forget how wonderful it is to be rested, so long has the experience been removed from me.

And I think I know why. I have been unemployed for some time, and though I have been interviewing a lot, I have yet to close a deal. My confidence has taken a huge hit. I used to be the girl who knew that once the face to face round arrived, I was unstoppable.

But now? Just this week, I had what I thought was a great conversation with an HR Manager at a travel outfit. She was so enthusiastic about my background, and assured me that I'd hear from her no later than the following morning about returning to meet the VP. Well the morning arrived and instead I received an email informing me that they had "decided to pursue other candidates." A part-time media writer position I interviewed for two weeks ago? The CEO emailed me from Florida, where he was vacationing for the holidays, to say he enjoyed me and my samples, and would definitely be in touch when he returned to Chicago. Of course I found that same job re-posted on Craig's List yesterday.

All this bullshit, the lack of integrity, especially when putting forth all one's effort and very self, can be tremendously debilitating. It's an employer's market. They know it and we can suck it. All the rejection can lead you to question every strength and talent you once believed you had.

It may seem silly, but last night's camaraderie with my teammates demonstrated that my competitive spirit has not been broken, just badly wounded. And just as soon as I can find a venue for my skills with Sex and the City trivia, 80s television and music, and the filmography of Jennifer Jason Leigh, I'll be all set.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hope in 2011 for the Unemployed?

As a long-suffering member of the long-term unemployed community, I look for any sign that career fortunes are about to change, and grab on with the tenacity of a starving rat. So when I encountered articles late last week, like this one from Daily Finance that claims "Signs on Wall Street Point to Job Growth Ahead," I couldn't help but get a little excited.

Yes, I realize there are risks in attenuating to the predictions of a group of money changers who wrecked our economy in 2008 while running off unscathed with the gold, but dammit, I need to believe!

The article states that "Internet job listings surged to 4.7 million as of Dec. 1, compared to 2.7 million from the same period a year ago, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Many of the new jobs are in the retailing, accounting, consulting health care, telecommunications and defense-related industries"

Well I don't work retail, am not an accountant or doctor and want nothing to do with defense, but bully for those sectors! And I am just chipper enough today to assume that a 50% increase in available jobs over a year must necessarily be good for almost all of us on the government cheese. More accountants will need up-to-date tax pamphlets, which will require more writers. I can buy into trickle down economics in this case. Why not?

So what we've got is quite a few more job openings, but are companies actually hiring? This is where the situation grows a bit murky. I have been on no fewer than seven face to face job interviews in 12 weeks, including one this afternoon for a travel outfit, and one on Thursday for a major player in the banking industry. In almost all of these cases, I am confident that I looked professional, spoke eloquently (for me anyway), and performed well on the myriad pre-employment assessments and writing tests that have become a de rigueur part of the process in the 21st Century.

But for all that work, I have little to show for it. In other words, I remain jobless. In some cases, I didn't speak enough Spanish, in others my rate (twice minimum wage without benefits) was way too lofty for managers who knew they could take advantage of less experienced, cheaper labor. In a few cases, I am outright confused as to why I was not hired, but try getting answers from an HR department once they have written you off.

I have numerous friends and colleagues facing similar dilemmas. My question is then: are employers really ready to hire, to fork over a reason to get out of bed in the morning to the jobless and depressed, or is this just an illusion designed to create enthusiasm in the stock market? I said I was ready to believe again if presented with the right evidence, but that doesn't mean I was born yesterday.

Consider this quote from the lead paragraph of Daily Finance's article, "Still, with corporate profits booming and the stock market rallying, signs are piling up that employment may finally be poised for a comeback, too." Oh, so after a full 12 months of hoarding stock piles of cash and the meteoric rise of the Dow, companies "may" finally feel benevolent enough to create some jobs for those who helped build these same companies, only to show them the door.

It's a testament to the continued emasculation of the middle and class (male and female members alike) that we are forced to wait, and wait with smiles on our faces, for these dangled carrots to materialize.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dance It Out

Due to the toll insomnia has taken, I had more makeup on my face than RuPaul, and had to steer (mostly) away from the alcohol, to avoid the risk of falling asleep at the buffet table, but I made it. I rang in 2011, with my obviously very handsome and well-dressed date (see husband Eddie above).

After pulling down three hours of sleep on Thursday, and watching my forehead break out into a panicked case of acne, the last thing my lethargic body, and morally defeated psyche felt like doing was letting loose and dancing.

But it's funny what a little champagne, some bright lights and familiar camaraderie can do for the spirit. I even tapped an undiscovered well of energy that allowed me to indulge my inner snark. Ladies: when you are invited to a "black tie" affair, this does not mean locating a stack of latex straps, strategically placing them over your naughty bits and calling it a formal dress. Some of these women were conversation pieces for certain, and probably enjoyed the lavish attention they received from rich, drunken men.

After weeks of self-flagellation about topics ranging from my wrinkles, my abilities as a wife, writer, daughter-in-law and functional human being, I was gratified to see that my fashion sense is a topic about which I needn't worry. I am no Giselle Bundchen, but I know how to pull myself together if the occasion warrants.

Because of the way 2010 concluded for me - full of uncertainty, confusion and exhaustion, I don't know what I want out of 2011 more than some resolution and a little peace and quiet. These seem like humble asks and I know I am going to have to do a better job of letting it happen, of getting out of my own neurotic way. It starts today.

Happy New Year everyone!