Saturday, May 23, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 6

Public opinion is starting to sway toward reopening. That's not to say we're ready by any means; the United States is collectively fatigued after 10 weeks at home. The threat of COVID-19 hasn't gone away --I'm going to keep repeating that-- and states that have reopened have all seen spikes in cases and deaths. People are fighting on social media and in real life over wearing masks. These bold and brazen folks are calling us fraidy-cats. We're only thinking about ourselves, not others, and especially not the immuno-compromised. Illinois still has stay in place, but the governor is buckling.

Admittedly, I'm getting rather bold myself. At first, I was limiting driving for Lyft and Postmates to two, maybe three nights a week. With my unemployment benefits lapsing in two weeks, I'm hesitant to keep dipping into rainy day money. I'm waking up a little earlier, trying to get more stuff done around the apartment in daylight, then go out driving just in time for rush hour. Unless businesses completely reopen (that is to say, are safe to reopen) this is pretty much my life for the next three months.

My latest concern is whether I can afford to stay in my apartment. I'm 6 1/2 months into a one-year lease. Unemployment benefits from the state would help somewhat, but I don't want to face that ordeal again. My roommate is a furloughed cook; he leaves the apartment maybe once a week, and he's practically paying rent as a loan shark. (More on that later.) My sister's best friend and tenant is mostly back at her parents' house; her father died suddenly in early May, and her mother is immuno-compromised. Whether she stays at my sister's house remains to be seen. I still drive out once a week to pick up mail, see the dogs, and soldier on with our never-ending cleaning project. I feel guilty, as if making the 40-minute drive is a wasteful luxury.

Next Week: my annual mindset list.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 5

I had a particularly strange Lyft ride last Friday night. I picked up this passenger less than half a mile from my apartment; he wasn't wearing a mask, and almost immediately after he got into the car, he asked about "Plandemic." For the unfamiliar, "Plandemic" was a documentary uploaded to YouTube that reinforced several unfounded conspiracy theories about COVID-19. It's been removed and uploaded back to YouTube multiple times in the last week, citing misinformation rules. I saw the video, I know it's nonsense, but he thought it "made you think." I asked politely if he could change the subject, but he persisted. I hate that I had to snap at him, but I did what I could to avoid a more heated argument.

People are getting restless, but there's little we can do. That notorious curve isn't flattening. The death totals aren't tapering off, either.  The health experts aren't giving any indicators that the US as a whole is making progress in the COVID-19 fight. Misinformation is spreading as fast as the virus. The federal government's response has been (to put it mildly) slow, feckless, and unhelpful. Other countries have recovered while the U.S. population bickers over haircuts. Theaters of any kind likely won't open until late in 2020, which puts my weekend job on the kibosh.  Wisconsin reopened, probably too soon. There's no timetable for anything else.

There's a sliver of hope, though: baseball will be back. Two-plus months without this sort of diversion has been rough. I'm acclimated to going to a bunch of games during the spring and summer, but I can handle only watching baseball on TV. (I've haven't bothered to stay up to watch Korean ball, an ESPN "exclusive.") Otherwise, it looks like the rest of our summer has been cancelled. Fatigue has undoubtedly kicked in, but there's little we can do. We just have to persist.

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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Promotion Commotion, Ten Years Later

I'm taking a breather from essaying about life in quarantine to discuss something personal:

I don't normally broadcast this out of fear of jinxing myself, but I had a job interview in Schaumburg on Thursday. I thought it was going to be a phone interview, but I was asked to drive out for a socially distanced sitdown. (Yes, it's essential work, and I can't elaborate further.) It occurred to me while driving out of the city that not only was my interview one town over from my old office, it was on the 10th anniversary of when I was replaced.

Four months ago on Facebook, I wrote a lengthy post comparing and contrasting where I was in 2010 as we approached the new decade. I discussed my last radio gig, but not what led up to losing my job. To sum up another long post, I had my EOE-obligated job interview on February 8th, then spent the next 11 weeks waiting for a decision that was supposed to take 14 days. I discovered by accident that at least two rounds of interviews were held without my knowledge. During my last week in the office, I noticed people were strangely avoiding me, and Administrative Professionals Day came and went without a mention. I was the receptionist, for chrissakes.

On April 30th, I was summoned to the business manager's office. It was about 90 minutes before the office closed for the weekend. The manager informed me that after some deliberation, it had come down to me and another candidate... and they went with the other candidate. This business manager, someone who made absolutely no effort to get to know me in the time we shared an office space, watched disdainfully as I clean out my desk. The traffic/billing manager --my actual boss-- escorted me out to the parking garage while fighting back tears.

The timing was awkward, to say the least. I had my Level E (graduation) show at Second City the next day, and I had mentioned that to people in the office. None of my now-former co-workers showed up, and even though the show went okay, I felt numb. The next day, after my last training center class, some of us went out for drinks across the street. I had a train to catch, so I only stuck around for a half-hour. Before I left, I said thank you and farewell to my classmates before noticing that my voice was quivering. I noticed then and there that I was waking up the next morning to nothing. As I walked from Corcoran's Bar to Sedgwick Brown Line, it was my turn to fight back the tears.

That was what was on my mind after my job interview on Thursday. Inexplicably, one decade and another ratings quarter on the outside looking in, the management at my old station hasn't changed. A number of other people, including my old direct superior were forced out for myriad reasons. Almost everyone I've been in touch with had comtempt for the general manager, but especially that business manager. The corporate office in Camarillo, CA couldn't care less who's in charge as long as the Chicago branch is turning a profit. Maybe its more symptomatic of commercial radio in general, but the cutting of corners to stay in the black is absurd. Six different people have come and gone in my former position, no one lasting more than 2 1/2 years.

As time has marched on, I've only grown more embarrassed to have ever worked for Salem Media Group. It's just another outlet for right-wing misinformation, something I barely tolerated in the late 2000s that I can't bring myself to listen to now. The same people that are encouraging armed protests against stay-at-home orders, that insinuate Jewish elected officials are somehow Nazis, are stirring outrage over temporary inconveniences, that gloss over President Trump's failures. They are (albeit indirectly) enablers of unnecessary chaos, gaslighters of the highest order.



So, while I was in the neighborhood, I took a selfie of myself flipping the bird at my former office. I figured it was the least I could do.

Clearly, I'm not ready to forgive. I don't know if I ever will be. I'm a bit more pragmatic than I was 10 years ago. I did everything I could to not burn bridges, but things have grown too dire and too polarized. My work situation is imperfect (for now) but I've made peace with the fact that I'll probably never work in radio again. I'm too out of the loop. Someday, I hope to write a book about my time in radio, with a plot structure not unlike "Gulliver's Travels." My two years at Salem were going to be the last chapter of the book. Unlike Swift, I'm grasping to find any kind of happy ending.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 4

The quarantine was supposed to last a couple of weeks. Two weeks became three, then a month, then seven weeks, and now likely about three months. Each one of my optimistic predictions has come and gone, and my most recent prognostication --my aforementioned loosening of stay in place around May 22nd-- is likely to be for naught. Whatever plans I had for May, including the now postponed Omaha Comedy Festival, have been scuttled.

The rest of the 2019-20 school year in Illinois has been officially left to E-learning, which leaves me out of steady work until the third week in August. I've applied for temp jobs but haven't heard back. I had been depending on Lyft and Postmates, but the hacking of Instacart, an apparent Google Maps glitch, and an ensuing domino effect has thwarted any real source of income for the moment.

Also during week six, I accidentally stumbled into an argument with a conservative college acquaintance and a friend of his on Facebook. (Rest assured, on the rare occasion I get into a Facebook argument, you will hear about it here.) I believed that the extended stay in place order was hardly desired but necessary; we can't ease ourselves into anything remotely normal until COVID-19 is eradicated. My friend of a friend lived in a rural area in central Illinois, and was frustrated that she and her family can't go fishing. Both made a valid point about how this is destroying small businesses, though that has been a problem everywhere.  I kind of wanted to know more about she was getting by in a less densely populated part of the state, but her condescending attitude about Chicago turned me off. I failed to articulate that everyone is struggling right now. At least neither of them spit out any Trump rhetoric.

Besides unexpected petty squabbles on social media, how am I entertaining myself? I'm catching up on magazines and the Sunday papers. I downloaded a Sudoku app on my phone, something I haven't done in maybe four years. I've struck up conversations on OkCupid and participated in an online (Zoom) dating event. My barprov show is doing one hour remote (again, Zoom) shows twice a week. It may seem like a lot, but it's barely enough. I treated the first round of the NFL Draft like appointment television; otherwise, I feel too distracted to binge on any TV shows. Obviously, I'm still writing.

In the meantime, I will continue to update this blog as things progress and regress. We've all seen a lot of crazy together, and like a certain curve that has barely flattened, it's probably going to get worse. I've never had much interaction through my blog --well, not since the TV.com days-- but if you're reading this, don't be afraid to comment or drop a line. I want to make sure you're okay, too.

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 3

Warren G. Harding is largely considered one of our worst presidents. His legacy, beyond being corrupt and a philanderer, was the word he unintentionally invented while campaigning in 1920. In the wake of the Great War and popular support for American isolationism, he promised a "return to normalcy."

Normalcy, whether or not you think its a real word, has lingered all over the news and on social media as the quarantine ends week five. Even when businesses and public places re-open, things won't go to normal immediately. There's no timetable yet, and the most educated guesses aren't optimistic. (Incidentally, I told a friend that I was hoping for May 22nd, and she winced. So much for hoping against hope.) As optimistic as some people are, you can't force the machine to run normally in a matter of seconds.

The executive branch knew about a potential pandemic in January, then swept it under the rug. I'm just as furious and frustrated as anyone else, but luckily the late night talk shows are still around to make articulate, witty commentaries about the Trump administration's epic blunder. COVID-19 news may be exhausting for some, but I find satire to be a welcome distraction.

When (and if) everything reopens, everything will have to be eased in. Events of no more than two people will give way to groups of five, then ten, perhaps fifty. Social distancing will be "normalcy" for a while yet. Rushing ourselves out into the open (like what President Trump implied in his "LIBERATE" tweets) will only make things worse.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Dispatches from Arm's Length, Part 2

Since Saturday, March 21st Chicago has been under a "shelter in place" order. Not enough Chicagoans were taking this seriously, so on the 26th, Mayor Lightfoot ordered all the beaches and parks closed. The weather was gorgeous on the 25th, but necessity took priority over everything else. There's a pandemic, and this mayor is not here for populist pandering.

The most optimistic projections are getting crushed. President Trump ignored advisers and medical experts alike, and projected everything reopening by April 12th. In spite of the Christian conservatives that Trump pandered to in 2015-16 (and still does) businesses aren't resuming normal operations by Easter. The new projection, if all goes well, is closer to April 30th.

As I mentioned before, I am predominantly a substitute teacher. When the four districts I work for all shuttered their schools on March 13th, I had to accept the reality that I would be mostly out of work until their projected date, April 6th. It was a domino effect, each local district one by one making an announcement, until Governor Pritzker more or less forced an extended shutdown, all in a matter of hours. I added the Postmates app on top of driving for Lyft, my summer job. Alas, ride-sharing and food delivery have both gone bone dry, and I wonder if sitting on my car waiting for nothing is worth risking my health.

I see people on social media lose track of the day of the week, as whatever signifies their routine (school, church, etc.) goes on the wayside. I have no problem distinguishing Tuesday from Wednesday, but time is different matter. I'm having a hard time getting out of bed; I've been up until 2 most nights and walking up between 11 and noon. My normal idea of "sleeping in" is more like 9:45, maybe 10 o'clock. There's always things to do. Now I can't find the motivation...

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