I’m a Machine

8 December 2005

Not Even Close:
One mid-November morning at work, there’s a note in my box. (I have a new theory: any job where you have a box is not a job of which you had dreamed as a child.) Apparently, I’ve been nominated for a California League of Workers Region Seven Worker of the Year Award. The letter says that there are ten nominees in Region Seven, and that there’ll be a dinner on the 8th of December and that I’ll have to give a little speech. I’ll tell you the first thing that went through my head at the news of my nomination: Great, there goes an evening of work.

Over the last few years, I’ve become semi-obsessed about maximizing the value of every single waking minute, which is a way of saying that I want to spend as much time as I can reading and thinking and writing, and certainly not sitting around a banquet hall eating what I can assume will be pretty lame food and listening to boring speeches and then having to out-bore those speeches with one of my own. The efficiency thing, though, has probably gotten a little out of hand because I’ll sometimes find myself counting the seconds that I’m stuck at a red light and I’ll think to myself, There goes a minute that I’ll never get back.

So I’m already down one evening when I get a call at work that I need to come in to get my official portrait taken for the awards ceremony. I want to be clear that I don’t give a goddamn about this particular award one way or the other; being nominated doesn’t make me a better worker, and losing wouldn’t make me a worse worker, so the fact that I have to drive over an hour in order to get my picture taken is just sort of absurd. My first instinct is to tell them that, no, I’m not going to have my picture taken for the awards ceremony, but by then I’ve learned that my boss is the one who nominated me, and it would look uncool and bad and ungrateful if I were the only nominee without a picture.

I tell the lady from the photography studio to call back with directions and a time to show up, but days go by and it never happens. Finally, I get a message on a Friday to call the photography studio. I call and it turns out that that very day is the last day to get the picture taken. Those of you who are regular readers of my website (all none of you) know that I play poker every Friday, but you don’t know that I still try to put in anywhere from two to three hours in front of my rig before the game starts. Those hours are gone, so now this nomination has cost me two evenings of work.

I hustle to my car make the long drive into Fresno and get off of the 180 near the airport. I call the photography studio for directions for the last part of the trip. The woman who answers says that I’m close, but all it takes for close to become far, far away is for a person to say, “Turn right” when what she should have said was “Turn left.”

You need to know that I’m no good at following directions, so I think that it’s me who’s totally screwed up. You also need to know that I’ve never been any good at asking for help (I’m not joking; I could be wheeled into an emergency room with, like, twenty gunshot wounds and, if asked if I was okay, I would probably say, “Me? Oh, I’m good.”), so I don’t want to call back, but it quickly becomes clear to me that I’m obviously headed toward Saskatchewan, so call back I do.

We get the directions straightened out, and, finally, I’m at the studio. It takes me almost ninety minutes to get there, and the picture takes all of a minute. The picture, by the way, turned out okay, though I will say that I need to start working out again.

Flash forward to two weeks later, the day of the awards ceremony, and I’m sitting at work, trying to write a speech in which I thank my nominator, thank my fellow nominees, and talk about my workerological (I just made that word up) philosophy, but who the hell wants to write a speech, especially a speech for a job that you’d never ever thought would be the job that you would have half-assedly fallen into without being able to see a way to get out of it? Okay, there is one way: lottery tickets.

Writing this speech is gonna be a lose-lose for me. I could boilerplate it and hack something out in a few minutes because the speech has a life expectancy of as long as it takes me to read it; it dies the second that I’m finished reading it. The problem with that approach, though, is that I need everything that I write to be as good as it is possible for me to make it. Letters, e-mails, grocery lists, ransom notes, fake prescriptions, whatever; I need them to be pretty. I am, after all, a professional writer (if a poet can be said to be a professional writer; the guy holding up the cardboard sign in front of the grocery store makes more in one afternoon than I ever have in the poetry biz).

The problem, again, is that I’m always trying to save minutes, so attempting to write a good speech will cost me time, and I’d trade just about anything for more time. Yeah, it’s lose-lose, so I decide to try to write a decent speech, but with a time limit. I’ll give it half an hour (yeah, I’m always overestimating my ability to get something done quickly), but that became an hour, which ended up becoming two hours.

I finish the speech and at the end of work I haul ass to the ceremony, which is taking place at a hotel across the street from where I went to college as an undergrad and for my M.A. in creative writing. That’s like going to an awards ceremony for the porn films (The Pornys? If that isn’t the name of one of their awards, is should be.) in which you reluctantly star, and it’s being held right across from the college where you studied acting with the hope that one day you’d end up on Broadway. A tragic reminder of all the ways in which you train-wrecked your life.

Sorry; didn’t mean to get so bleak. I walk into the banquet hall looking for my big bro, who had let me know a few days previous that he’d be there. Up until my big bro had told me that he was coming, I had thought that I wasn’t going to have anybody with whom to sit, and that I’d be both bored and lonely and that I’d end up feeling sorry for myself, at which I'm a genius. There was my big bro, and a bunch of my poker homies: Jesse, Oscar, and Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and oxidation. Also there was my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, CeeDee, who actually works with my big bro now. How mind-blowing is that? She was my favorite teacher in grade school, and now I’m supposed to call her by her first name.

Not only are my people there, but they’ve bought along a poker chip set that my big bro keeps in his car (no, that’s not strange; I’ve got a set in the trunk of my car because you just never know when a game's going to break out), and there are poker chips on the table, which is just so goddamned cool and does much to calm me the hell down. I joke that if the awards banquet is a drag that we can start up a game.

One of the programs for the event is on the table and when I start leafing through the pages, I see that I’m the only Chicano who’s been nominated. What did I think then? That’s easy: Give it to the Chicano.

We sit down for the dinner part of the event, but I can’t enjoy my food because I’m too busy making final edits to my little speech. Soon enough, it’s my turn to step up to the podium and bring the hot, hot fire, which I manage not to do, and in one breath. It’s amazing, really, how often I forget to breathe when I’m nervous. It’s a miracle that I didn’t pass out from oxygen deprivation.

The best line in my speech: Every minute that can be made useful has to be made useful. See, I wasn’t kidding about being time-obsessed.

After all of us are done with the speechification and they’re about to present the award to the winner, I turn to my homies and say, “If I don’t win, I’m walking out,” but I knew that I wouldn’t win when I saw the names of some of my fellow nominees (heavy-hitters in the biz) and how long some of them had been in the game. It’s pretty safe to say that, I didn’t come close to winning, but that’s okay because I still got a bitchin’ gift basket, though, what is this non-drinker going to do with two bottles of wine? If I ever start drinking, though, I’m all set.

My Fog Buddy:
When I exit the venue, at around ten in the evening, I see that it’s gotten crazy-foggy and that it’s going to be a bitch of a drive back to where I live. As soon as I come off of the 41 and get on the 180, though, I lock in behind a van, thinking that I can follow him as far as he can take me toward home. We get to Kerman, about halfway to where I live and the van pulls over at a light and won’t go when the light turns green. I know what he wants: for me to lead.

I don’t mind leading, but this is a very foggy night, I’m on a stretch of rural freeway that I’ve hardly ever taken, it’s a heavy and solemn responsibility to lead in the fog, and I don’t want to get anybody killed. Seriously, one wrong move on such a foggy night could turn out to be fatal.

I turn my stereo down low, man up, and take the lead. I’m a humorless and cold-blooded machine, and I’m going to get this guy to where he has to go. I’m solid on the wheel and steady on the accelerator, scanning efficiently, looking for any vehicles that may try to knock us into nothingness.

Finally, we make it to Mendota, a small town with a well-lit central district. The van pulls up alongside me at a light, and the driver gives me a thumbs-up. I respond with a smile and a thumbs-up of my own. He turns off onto a side street, and I drive the last few miles to my apartment.

Madera Fog

I remember the fog on Sassafras from when I was a kid. I'd never seen anything like it. Thickest ever.

Damn I love your posts.


The Bridge Over the River

Yeah, homie, that Madera fog is no joke. I remember once riding in an old-school VW Bug after wrestling practice and those of us inside not realizing that we were on a bridge (the one on Gateway that crosses over the Madera River) and in the wrong lane until headlights appeared directly in front of us. Luckily, we were too young to realize how close we'd come to eating it, so we just laughed it off. God, it's great to be ignorant.

bent over a million ninth grade homeworks

i don't really understand why i can't just send you a regular email (this blog isn't letting me and besides it says "contact US" and i only need to contact you, not you and your possibly hundreds of loyal minions), but all i want to do is extend to you a very enthusiastic invitation to lunch. i'm a high school teacher in the bronx and i've been teaching "bent to earth" all day long to my ninth and tenth graders, and let me tell you, i was nervous about giving them a poem i really cared about because when kids act irreverent about poems i like i kind of just want to throw them against the wall, but after i'd read it aloud for the first time, there was a moment of abosulte silence where i just looked at them looking at the poem and letting the words sink in. they liked it, all of them, pretty much unanimously, which is the biggest compliment of all since some of them are low-level learners and don't even like words much less school or poetry. besides, they all have this weird obsession with mexicans--especially mexican immigrants. some of them think immigrants are funny. or they laugh whenever i say mexican, which is both weird and insensitive because they are virtually ALL first generation americans and some of them are mexican immigrants themselves. but after the poem, in one of my classes, the three mexican students started sharing their families' stories of escape and then other kids followed suit and it was a real bonding moment and all of a sudden they finally just saw mexicans as people just trying to survive in this world, doing what they have to do, suffering how they have to suffer, just like anyone else. it's the beginning of a new semester for us, so i wanted them to catch on to the theme that no matter what tragedy befalls them outside of the classroom, they still have to come to class each day and prepare to work because education is their key to survival. i think, overall, they got it. so thanks. and if you want a copy of the lesson plan (as i noticed you teach high school in california) then i can send it to you, haha.

anyhow, we've also been learning to write letters and although this is a horrible example of my mastery of the english language (with errors in capitalization,run-ons, illogically organized paragraphs--it's my way of being subversive outside of the classroom, flinging grammar rules aside with wild abandon), i told them that i was going to write to you and see what happened. so if you come to nyc, i know a decent place for lunch. or even better, a good weekend brunch spot--my friend and i once spotted ben franklin there.

here's my generic email, just in case: karamk AT juno.com

peace, k.