Why Do Drag Queens Hate Me?

News Flash: they don’t.

Well, not any more or less than the usual person.

For some, I’m an acquired taste.

But as we flit into Pride weekend in Portland, I figured drag was as good a topic to reflect on as any. And I’ve had kind of a funny history with drag queens. Or DQs as I’ve referred to them in the past, since saying two words is so damned hard.

Actually, in thinking about this, I realized that maybe DQs should hate me. Maybe just a little.

You see, I realized that in my early gay days, I was kind of embarrassed by people who did drag. Reflexively, I want to give myself a pass for this early discomfort, since it is something that I know was happening when I was first working to overcome my own gay shame and internal homophobia.

This was the late 80s and early 90s. My knee jerk (or just flat out jerk) reaction when seeing a drag queen in a Pride parade – about the only place I ever encountered them – was “Welp, that’s what will lead the news story about Pride”. My thinking – or frustration – with that obvious reality was that Pride parades were supposed to help normalize our culture for the flyover states. Showing the most flamboyant elements of our culture was doing more harm than good in that battle.

Then I realized a few things:

First, unless we’re naked, we’re all in drag. This is some Grade A DQ wisdom. And it’s dead-bang spot on, especially once we start dressing ourselves. We dress how we want to be perceived in the world.

Second, and piling onto and expanding that sense of expression, drag is a frigging art. If you’ve never watched one get into face- as it’s called – find a YouTube video and be prepared to be amazed. Drag Queens are equal parts self expression and performance art. Regardless of whether they are on a stage or socializing, when a DQ is in face, they are performing. That’s not just Jeff in a Dress you’re seeing. Jeff has a different name and persona once he slips those stilettos on.

Third, our community’s most extravagant fringes should be our ambassadors to the Normie Culture. Accepting anything less than our wildest representations is acceptance with conditions, like that friend who accepts that you’re gay as long as you don’t do gay stuff around him.

Bitch, when I’m being your friend…that’s me doing my gay stuff.

So, flash forward to me overcoming my own homophobia. It only took me leaving the LBC for Florida, living in Texas, moving back to Long Beach and landing back in my hometown of Portland.

Easy-peasy.

Except…not so fast.

When I move back to Portland in ’96, I lived on the Willamette River. This was back when Stark Street was commonly and crassly referred to as Vaseline Alley because most of the gay bars were clustered along a three-ish block stretch. Not the closest gay bars to my home, of course. That was Embers.

Half dance bar, half drag performance venue…I would bypass it for Stark Street unless I was out with a group of friends that wanted to shake their booties.

Interestingly enough, I credit this balance between my “safety in numbers” approach to Embers and my early onset grumpiness with helping me develop a comfort and then appreciation of the drag community. You see, I would go dance at Embers with my friends, but being an evolving grouch, I could only take so much crowding and being stepped on before I had to give myself some alone time on the drag side of the bar.

Not that it was empty or even less crowded. But it was quieter…if only by comparison to the dance side. I’d stand in the back and watch the show for a bit or throw a $20 into the video lottery or grab a beer and enjoy it solo.

Ok, I usually did that last thing with either of the first two while the walls buffered the thumpa-thumpa of the music next door and I decompressed.

It was here that I first saw Linda Lee, Raven, Poison Waters and many other performers that showed me the breadth of our drag personalities.

Linda Lee simply refused to tuck as part of her prep. Usually you could count on at least one flash of a pantyhose encased crotch during her performance. She also didn’t really bother to learn the words to the songs she was lip syncing. When she got to the end of the words she knew, rumor – or legend now – had it that she’d either start mouthing “fuck you” over and over until she found another chorus or treat us to an incredibly obscene tongue display.

I remember seeing Linda out in public one day. Well, part of her, at any rate. It was a summer day and I was driving around doing errands and had one stop downtown before heading home. I was looking for parking and realized that I’d just missed an opportunity in the shape of a car door being carelessly flung open in front of me. I’d just rounded a corner and stopped versus trying to change lanes to avoid taking the door off. The door started to close again just as the driver’s leg was coming out. It was a thick, varicose veiny old man’s leg and it caught the door to stop it from amputating the leg as he tried to exit the car.

That was when I realized the leg was attached to a subtle pump, maybe a tasteful 2″ heel. It was midday after all. Gradually and awkwardly, Linda pulled the rest of herself out of the old car, her skirt riding up as she scooched of the driver’s seat, turning to hold the door open with her half exposed ass as she gathered her stuff off of the passenger seat.

Another signature Linda Lee show.

Raven was another story. For a crass as Linda was, Raven was to opposite to the point of genteel. The first few (hundred) times I encountered her, I was sure she was hitting on me. She’s Native American, so right up my alley. She’s also about 20 gay years older than me, so that alley ends at the end of a pier. Gradually, I got comfortable with her overtly flirty style and would just enjoy our occasional chats from her perch at the bar for what they were: low key social interaction. Those “I’m talking to a man in a dress” conversations were what really helped me embrace drag as both an art form and lifestyle that was an integral part of our gay community.

Still, neither of my experiences with these DQs prepared me for the time a performer ended her number by jumping off stage and making her way directly toward where I stood at the back of the bar. She was smiling like a crazy person and barely broke eye contact as she navigated the tables between us, prompting me to basically do one of those look-to-both-sides-then-mouth-“me?” things like the cool guy I am.

It was me she was headed for.

Apparently, I was distracting her throughout her number and I was to be chastised, thanked and asked out on a date.

In my stunned and flabbergasted state, I agreed, forgetting my Groucho Marx motto about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. That carried over to finding fault with someone who was attracted to me…I wasted so much time hating my beautiful younger self.

This was somewhere between hereand here

in my 20s.

<sigh>

Anyway, we went out. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember our date started with me picking him up at his place and ended at my place the next day.

Being a good American conspicuous consumer, I appreciated that I was picking him up at his place in an old two story 20s-era apartment that I’d probably just about kill to live in. Tile roof, stucco exterior, arched doorways and fantastic landscaping. I was jealous and impressed…drag obviously paid better than I’d thought. Turns out, his day job – and family, black sheep that he was – set him up pretty well. Drag was just an expensive hobby, as his second bedroom turned sequin gown filled dressing room attested.

He was a beautiful boy outside of that fancy dress, but it was that second bedroom – and the later realization of that thought about the dress – that made us a bad match at the time. Both my faults. I’ve often wondered where he ended up…he was a really nice, fun guy. Too bad FaceBook was still a decade away.

After my decade long Seattle exile, I moved back to Portland and re-settled myself near the remnants of the now scattered gay bars. Stark Street has been rendered unrecognizable from the enclave of gay bars I’d left, only one remaining. Gentrification touches everyone…but I’d positioned myself close to my primary gay watering holes: Embers and CCs, which had the added bonus of being close to Hobo’s and Fox & Hounds for when I wanted to eat with my people and/or be left alone, respectively.

Embers and CCs has a steady stream of Drag Queens because they both had a drag component to their bar environment, CCs even has a Drag Queen Bartender

which is truly a rarity, I believe she’s one of only three in the US. Every shift is a completely different incarnation, each a very elaborate artistic creation.

Major drag bars aside, my favorite interactions with DQs occurred in settings that reminded me of my barside chats with Raven all those years ago. The Fox & Hounds is around the corner from CCs and on the opposite side of the block from Darcelle’s, Portland’s own world famous and Guinness Book of World Records holding female impersonator. This provided a steady stream – trickle, really – of drop in drag queens who, like me, wanted a drink in relative peace.

Even though I’m pretty sure all three bars are semi connected by Portland’s underground network of Shanghai Tunnels, most DQs would work the sidewalk around the block, chatting and taking in a casual smoke on their way to Fox & Hounds for their “break”.

I’d casually chat with these performers about where they were performing or whether they were just out and about for the night as well as what was going on. Sometimes, we’d just sit quietly, sipping in the camaraderie, others we’d play some video lottery and urge each other toward victory or commiserate our losses. Still others, we’d talk about our town and the community and the subculture that is drag.

At the end of the day, our struggles were what united us more than our sexuality. After one evening of winding down at Fox & Hound, I’d decided to wander around the corner to CCs to see what was going on. It was the first day that weed was legal for recreational use in the great state that is Oregon and there was a palpable – if not subdued, for some reason – energy in Old Town. There was a group of people from all walks of life planning a sort of smoke in on the Burnside Bridge beneath the ubiquitous Old Town sign

I learned this as I was passing CCs’ hostess in residence. Our relationship had run the gamut from enthusiastic, gushing fan when I saw her at my first Pride after moving to Seattle – a welcome bit of my hometown – to our current low key drive by greetings as she worked the crowd at CCs. This particular night, she acknowledged me by offering me a hit off her joint. I passed, but thanked her. She reminded me to go to the bridge later to celebrate. End of story.

My absolute most favorite DQ story happened shortly after this. I was meeting a friend at the Mock Crest tavern for a drink after work. I was working a few blocks away in North Portland at the time and got off work around 11. Oftentimes I’d chill with a beer or two before catching – or missing – the last bus home. We were sitting in this little shotgun of a hole in the wall bar, enjoying a beer and listening to the three piece band that they’d managed to somehow cram into this tiny space as we talked.

It was very pleasant, which I know is a surprise coming from me.

As we’re sitting there chatting, in walk a couple of Drag Queens and I’m wondering how the hell they got so lost as to end up in a dive bar in NoPo…only to realize one of the two was friggin’ Raven!

It’d been nearly 20 actual years since I’d seen her and my presumption was that she’d died, like her counterpart Linda Lee had. I bought her and her friend a beer and learned that she wasn’t dead, “just in my 60s!” as she’d put it. We chatted for about a half hour before she and her friend took off for town. They had stopped in to mentally prepare themselves for the evening out on the town seeing friends while navigating the crowd of “bitchy kids” as she put it.

I apologized for having been one of those bitchy kids when we first met and she gave me a big kiss, hugged me and told me I was always a delightful companion at Embers.

Not bad for a future grumpy old man.

As if that wasn’t enough to put a smile on my face, I’d also missed the last bus of the night. Naturally, I stayed and closed the place before grabbing an Uber home, reflecting on how life really is just such a rich and delightfully strange and unpredictable journey.

Back to my titular (hehe) question. Drag Queens certainly don’t hate me. If anything, some might say the opposite. In the best possible way, their collective acceptance of pretty much anyone they come across helped me to become a better human. Certainly, the acceptance I have felt from the drag community over the years has helped me accept – and stop hating – myself.

The things we learn in unexpected ways…

Why Do Drag Queens Hate Me?

Fat Shamed By My Phone

I’ve been a little lazy lately. Kind of living the life of a shut in or hermit.

Lots of factors.

However, the two that led to this initially and then hooked me, eventually were:

A) The first of the season sunburn that I exposed myself to during my spur of the moment half century ride has kept me inside versus making it worse. I could simply buy some sun screen, but for now I’m living a literal version of “once burned, twice shy”…at least until I stop peeling!

And,

B) I hurt myself. Yes, again. Yes, while I’ve allegedly been inactive.

But there’s a story behind that Point B.

Naturally.

The Silver Fox was laid up a few days back and I offered to take his pooch out for his pre-bedtime walk. His dog is a good boy. Certainly a better pet than my Mistress Myrtle, who is currently in the midst of an Otter Identity Crisis.

George is 110 pounds of heart. Definitely more heart than brain, but as soon as I open the door he’s doing his “happy to see you” dance. It’s the same dance I get when I’m visiting and use the bathroom in The Fox’s Lair. Anyway, having been a slug for the past several days and wanting to make sure The Fox gets every opportunity to rest up by sleeping through the night, I decide to give the dog a good pre-bedtime run. We zip around the North Park Blocks in the darkness in between sniff and pee breaks so that he can get all the pup-dates the neighborhood dogs leave…the NPB really are like Canine Facebook.

Still, we ran up and down four of the five blocks of park in between Chez Galby and The Fox’s Lair, occasionally doubling back on ourselves as we ran and played. It was only 3/4 of a mile, but I knew it was more than George usually gets at that late hour and I could tell he was ready to settle in for the night when we were done.

I went to bed thinking, “You know, you could shuffle out a mile jog around the park blocks a couple times a week” and motivated to give that a try to see how my knees and lower legs tolerated it.

Of course, I woke up on Monday scarcely able to put my ever increasing body weight on my left foot.

Gotdammit.

So I’ve been relegated to the sofa most of this week…naturally, it’s also a week where my normal Monday morning acupuncture was cancelled because of the holiday.

First World Problem.

You’d have thought being laid up would give me plenty of writing time.

You’d have been mistaken.

I’ve been trapped in a daily Netflix Spiral.

But, ending the week on a high note, I am determined to tell the story of that time my phone fat-shamed me. It was also my last outdoor activity, a hike with Little Buddy in Forest Park. There might even be some pics, it was so long ago that I’ve forgotten if I snapped pics during that hike or not.

One of the reasons that I enjoy hiking is the natural setting, of course. That’s the same reason I enjoy cycling. The difference is that while hiking, I can enjoy the scenery a bit more than when it’s buzzing by at a whopping 15 MPH. Hence the potential for pictures.

My usual Forest Park hike is a ten mile affair, about 50/50 split betwixt sidewalk on the to and from and actual trail in the park itself. It’s usually a 3-4 hour endeavor, depending on how long I stay at Pittock Mansion once I reach this little urban summit. Little Buddy had told me she had a few hours between work and family dinner duties, so I stopped her from paying to park by my place when she rolls up, figuring we can park adjacent to one of the many entry points and start there.

I’m not just respecting her pending familial obligations, I’m also ensuring our post ambulation recreation at The Big Legrowlski: beer!

Here’s the rub, though: I’ve never driven to the trail, so I have zero clue where to direct Little Buddy. Being the slave to technology that I am, I google Forest Park and get directions.

This takes us in the complete opposite direction than I normally head off in when on foot, so I’m completely lost. I usually head NW through the Alphabet District – encompassing the Pearl District, Slabtown and The Conway neighborhoods – and then into Northwest and ultimately the forest on Thurman Street.

These google directions set us off toward Burnside, the primary East-West thoroughfare through town and really the first street in the Alphabet District, and the opposite end of the alphabet from my normal entry point. Mind you, Google Maps is – allegedly – going to provide the quickest route, so off we go.

Intrepid, no?

Here’s the payoff for struggling through those Portland neighborhood specific details…patience really can pay off.

We’re heading up Burnside, chattering comfortably away about her and 2.0’s new home escrow, an upcoming kitchen remodel in their current home and my parents’ kitchen remodel – it appears I literally have nothing to add to this conversation myself, so I’m ripping off my parents. But, being an okay son, when she mentions having a potential Quartz Guy, I tell her that my parents had wanted quartz but opted for marble because they couldn’t find a decent deal on quartz.

Sidebar: She literally just texted me this as I’m writing

Hehe…Wong’s.

This is my life, I cannot make it up any better.

End sidebar.

So, we’re driving up Burnside and our conversation is interrupted by directions, as is often the case when GPS is your friend. Or in this case, frenemy.

“In 600 feet, continue on past Taco Bell”…

As far as landmarks go, if you’re going to base them on businesses, Portland has a few iconic offerings along Burnside. For example,

Jim Fisher Volvo has been on Burnside since 1957 and its sign 60 feet over Burnside is nearly as famous as this guy sitting at the head of NW Burnside.

But, no, my phone had inherited my snarky and completely unveiled bitchy personality. Allow me to translate its directions for you.

“Hey, fatty, since you don’t drive and based on your drunken Uber history, the park you’re looking for is past Taco Bell…do not stop at Taco Bell!”

Little Buddy and I were so stunned by this out of character type of direction that it took us a moment to begin laughing our asses off. LB nearly drove into a truck. We were laughing so hard that we nearly missed the second warning at 400 feet. We’d regained our composure enough to enjoy the fact that google kept on shaming me until the “200 feet” marker.

As funny as that was – shituationally – I felt a little cheated that there was no congratulatory message once I’d successfully made it past my drunken dietary siren.

Somehow – after that amazing ab workout slash dose of the best medicine – we made it to our urban trailhead destination. I recognized it, as I’d crossed this road a few times on other adventures. After parking, we head out into the trail as I try to mentally adjust my map so I don’t get us lost.

We both quickly realize that we aren’t entering at the easiest point on the path…as we pretty much are silenced 300 feet into a maybe 12 degree (I’m guessing, not really sure how grades are measured…just assume it’s steep) climb when LB says something along the lines of, “Geez, how long is this hill?!?”

Basically, what I was desperately trying to remember. Wiping the streams of sweat from my face before turning to answer, I tell her that “I can’t actually remember” and that it’s “longer than I recall, I’m trying to remember which way to go at the top so I don’t get lost again”.

Now, this Little Buddy of mine, she’s pretty sharp.

Again?!?”, she asks.

This totally takes the pressure off the early phone fat shaming since I answer her honestly by telling her that I’ve only gotten lost in Forest Park twice.

This year.

This just happens to be one of the two paths I’ve been lost on.

What could possibly go wrong?

I’d guess that the initial climb was about 1000 feet and my treacherous phone told me we climbed 13 stories. One of my math-y friends can figure the grade out and tell the rest of us in the comments.

After that initial near death humility inducing beginning, the path leveled off into a more comfortable elevation gain and we were back to our normally chatty and much less wheezy selves. It was last Wednesday and we both enjoyed the relatively people-free trail as we absorbed the natural settings and caught up.

It’s one of those normally awesome experiences that is even better for the company. I’m glad she and I have had a couple of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company, being outdoors, some beer, a lil wine, great weather and surprisingly few other people. As a matter of fact, once we reached the mansion, I mentioned that this was the smallest crowd I’d seen up there in the three years I’ve been hiking these trails.

Less than a dozen counting us. Excluding us, maybe not even a half dozen.

Heavenly.

Naturally, two of the only other visitors were feeling chatty. And commemorative, asking me to get a pic of them in front of the overlook. LB took off for a shady spot in the corner while the tourists from Salt Lake chatted me up. I mentally praised her reclusiveness, even though I knew that I was projecting my early onset grumpiness onto her mom check in moment.

I can’t blame the tourist for wanting to capture the beautiful view, even if the mountain wasn’t out that day.

I swear, there is a mountain in that haze…somewhere. Maybe next time. I have that luxury, even though it’ll probably be so crowded up there when the mountain is actually out that I won’t be able to get a decent shot of it.

Oh well, first <ahem> step is to get my foot cooperating again!

Fat Shamed By My Phone

The Great Job Hunt 3.0

Maybe I should just give in and write that book people keep swearing is in me.

I actually put some notes together recently…y’know, after I quit my job. Then, in a karmic sign of – I dunno…something, my computer up ‘n died.

Well, the universe sure knows me! There’s blogging on my phone and then there’s writing on my phone. I can tap out 2,000 words on the old iPhone and WordPress app but 50-75k or more words is a bit more than I can really get my mind around, even using my now defunct laptop.

So, for now?

It’s looking like I better find a happy median between blogging and finding myself a new job. FYI, applying for jobs on my phone sucks. However, unlike whether or not I attempt a novel on my phone, finding a job is not optional, so the phone has to do.

Crapped out laptop aside, how did I end up here, you might be wondering.

Well, settle in and let me tell you a story.

I know that I’ve written somewhere in these past 300-ish entries about the lil kerfluffle I had with my now former peer at work, Capt Can’t. Short recap: he ended up standing over me yelling his suggestion that I should “do my fucking job”. The Boss walked in, Capt Can’t screamed a little more about me at him and stormed out.

The Boss, poor confused guy…couldn’t tell who was to blame.

Right before he started screaming expletives at me, Capt Can’t told me that he’d been spoken to about his work schedule and was being pushed to work more than his normal 8-4, Monday through Friday. I knew that conversation was a direct result of the staffing conversation I’d had with The Boss a couple of days prior, when I’d flat out told him that Capt Can’t wasn’t putting in the hours he needed to and certainly wasn’t working a schedule that supported the needs of our 4 am to midnight retail business.

I wasn’t at all surprised to find myself being the object of Capt Can’t’s ire. I was a little surprised The Boss was confused about who was at fault here, though.

I’d absolutely like to call this situation retaliatory.

Since The Boss couldn’t find his way to successfully enforcing either the minimum expectations of a salaried schedule or the company’s anti-harassment and zero tolerance policies, I went over his head.

Interestingly, his boss agreed with me after stating that The Boss had told him that I push him to enforce company policies with our staff and that he also told him my perspective was usually right. So, there’s that. Of course, then he did nothing about it.

It took me a while to get my mind around my new work environment. It wasn’t until two months later – so, August of last year – that I pulled my focus off of my peer’s ongoing hostility toward me and reminded myself that I was only responsible for my own performance, not his. His performance was The Boss’…problem. One his actions indicated he was either unwilling or unable to manage.

I committed to myself that I was just going to keep my head down and not make matters any worse.

Fake it until I make it, was my new work motto.

And it worked. I stopped caring – outwardly – that Capt Can’t barely put in a 40 hour week…and only then if you counted his lunches as worked time. Oh, and if you ignored the fact that he picked on people who didn’t “fit in” with the gang of bros that worked under Capt Can’t in the warehouse or meet their job expectations. Heaven forbid that someone who has been in the same job for ten years should learn how to performance manage his staff.

I mean, look at the example his own boss was setting for him! Avoiding conflict and accepting whatever performance his staff is willing to deliver.

So, I should say that it worked situationally. I did try and guide my peer in getting the desired results from his team. I had to tread lightly, though, and sometimes do a little back channel management for him.

Of course.

And that’s how it went until Capt Can’t went rogue in February and decided to have a coaching conversation with one of his direct reports that wasn’t living up to his performance expectations. Interestingly enough, one of those expectations seemed to be, bitch louder about your co-workers than they do about you, otherwise you’re obviously to blame.

I knew where he’d learned that lil pearl of performance management wisdom.

So how do you suppose publicly coaching an employee while physically blocking them into a corner and aggressively waving his arms around went?

It went great, obviously. Just ask Capt Can’t. Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong and should mind their own business…like the gang of bros did while this was going on.

Sadly, this employee’s girlfriend didn’t get that memo. She worked for us, too, in a lateral position, reporting to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there when this was happening, so she went to The Boss to report what she’d witnessed.

“This isn’t management, it’s harassment“, was her quote, according to The Boss. Unfortunately, instead of soothing the situation until he could investigate, he tried to shut it down by telling her that it was none of her business.

That didn’t sit well with her, as you might imagine. From where she was sitting, something that was none of her business probably shouldn’t take place in public or basically right in her work area.

From where I was sitting – I was actually standing in my shower, getting ready for work – at the time…she had a pretty good point.

From where The Boss was sitting, her raising the harassment flag translated into her calling him a shitty manager. Y’know…gotta say, he may be a bad people manager – but The Boss can paraphrase like a fricking champ! Sadly, not taking her seriously when she stayed she had witnessed harassment was a big mistake on his part.

Which is why I had two missed phone calls and a very emotional voicemail waiting for me when I got out of the shower.

This all culminated in me getting statements from the two employees and attempting to get one from The Boss – who said he’d already written his notes out – and Capt Can’t and forwarding them on to The Boss’ boss as well as the HR manager for the western half of the US. For context, I also sent her the email thread between me and The Boss’ boss from last June, since the physical intimidation described was eerily similar to what I had experienced. This also included the still unresolved time theft by Capt Can’t, so she was getting a difficult to prove harassment complaint with a side order of easy to prove time theft.

Seriously, someone just pull his parking pass activity. Boom. Case closed.

Y’know, I keep forgetting…no one above my pay grade wants to close this case.

At the end of the day, the HR Manager and The Boss’ boss come to town…a week later and spend a day interviewing witnesses and co-workers.

The gang of bros has collective amnesia about that day and sure can’t recall Capt Can’t ever bullying anyone, which is surprising not one bit since if Capt Can’t gets in trouble for it they’ll probably have to stop picking on people they don’t like, too. Seriously, the way these bros talk about each other behind their backs…it’s like a bunch of miserable old biddies bitching about whoever isn’t there to defend themselves just for sport. I’m not going to say that they never bitched about a valid point or frustration…they did, just not as often as they seemed to bitch just for the sake of bitching.

Interestingly enough, on occasion I would ask them if they’d brought their complaint to their co-worker’s attention…just to see. The reply? Some variant of “That’s not my job, man!” I managed to disagree with them in the hopes of fostering a work place where co-workers hold each other accountable without pointing out that bitching to their co-workers wasn’t their job either…

Usually, I was the member of the senior team that would say something constructive to correct the behavior. Any of those conversations usually came with limited and short lived success. Regardless, outside of this one member of the team, performance shortcomings were always overlooked as long as you turned the attention to sports. Sadly, this one employee with the harassment complaint just didn’t follow sports.

Oh, bros…you so basic.

I didn’t give up on performance managing the issues on Capt Can’t’s warehouse team. However, while my performance management may have had limited success, I had an ace to play: the time and attendance policy.

Of the warehouse guys with performance issues, I was not surprised to observe that many of them – seriously, many meaning all but two in my 18 months on the job – had actionable black and White time and attendance issues, too. I made a lot of changes with that policy in my back pocket. Actually, every one of the perceived poor performers, save two, fell to the time and attendance policy. Directly via termination or indirectly by quitting prior to being terminated.

In that same timeframe, I ended up terminating three associates for violating our zero tolerance policy for – wait for it – bullying and/or cursing at co-workers.

Can you imagine how not fun my job was on days where I had to have termination conversations with The Boss while Capt Can’t was in the room because of time and attendance or zero tolerance violations?

Fun!

Not.

Even when Capt Can’t wasn’t around, it was still unpleasant because we’re having this conversation while both ignoring the fact that my complaint about my co-worker on these same issues had gone absolutely under-addressed and unsurprisingly unresolved.

So, after a hard day of interviewing, what do you suppose the HR Manager and The Boss’ boss came up with?

Well, aside from letting me know that they dropped everything else they needed to be doing in order to address this urgent complaint – a week later – they determined that none of this would have been an issue if we three seniors had been a more cohesive team.

Surrealiously?!?

Ok, so everything will stay the same always. Got it. Glad you both dropped what you were doing to come out here and make a show of taking this so damn seriously.

The two complainants gave a soft two week notice and left at the end of May after finding new jobs. Well, one did, the other has since cinched his new job.

Interestingly enough, about three weeks after nothing happened, The Boss asked to see me outside the office. I figured it was to administer my review.

I.

Was.

Wrong.

It was to administer a counseling document.

Me: You got the wrong guy, pal.

The Boss: We all got one.

Me: That doesn’t make me feel any better since you two earned yours. I just passed along witness statements and pertinent information.

The gist of it was that whole thing about not being a cohesive team. Three of the company’s core values were quoted: integrity, respect and trust.

Me: This feels retaliatory.

The Boss: We all need to learn to get along.

No. It wasn’t.

So, for the last nine months, my peer has basically stolen $5000 in shaved hours and now gotten away with bullying behaviors at least twice and I’m somehow at fault because I don’t respect or trust him?

Got it.

The next week I “got” my review, only to find out my rating had been knocked down from a Highly Effective to an Effective. I learned this because raises went into effect before my effective boss had administered the review document.

Me: My raise was 2.5%?

The Boss: Yeah. That’s what we all got.

Me: You gotta learn to stop saying things like that. This feels like further retaliation. 2.5% isn’t enough to keep me here, you’re basically telling me that I’m barely an Effective performer with that rate.

The Boss: Well, why do you say that? It’s what we all got! It’s the most I’ve ever gotten.

Me: The merit increase guideline for an Effective rating is 2.5-3.5%, giving me a 2.5% increase makes it pretty obvious. I’ll have my two week notice to you before the end of the day.

The next week, after I sent The Boss the promised resignation email and copied his boss on it, his boss shows up in town. Ostensibly to catch up on the stuff he didn’t get done when he had to come to town to investigate the harassment complaint. He offers to buy me a donut, promising he’s not trying to talk me out of my resignation.

Him: So, you’re quitting because you weren’t happy with your raise?

Me: No. As I said in my letter, I feel like my review and the counseling I received were retaliatory.

Him: I see. Well, let me give you a little history on merit increases, so you understand. And – I’m probably telling you more than I should, but my merit increase was only 2%.

Then he goes on this 20 minute meandering whatever about how for several years starting five years ago no one got raises, a few years before that people were having their pay cut by ten percent and yada-yada-yada.

Y’know, completely ignoring the word retaliatory. When he finished, I said, “Look, I’d give you back my 2.5% increase and gladly take whatever your 2% increase amounts to. Heck, you can keep my raise and I’ll take the $6-7k Capt Can’t has stolen by working less than the expected minimum 45 hours a week over the last year. That’s not the issue.”

The issue is that nothing changed. Even though Capt Can’t, The Boss and I all sat in a room with our senior field managers at the end of their investigation and heard that 45 hours a week was the minimum for salaried managers each week, nothing changed. When I asked what the measurement was for success moving forward, I was given no specifics.

Knowing that, after that meeting I went back to work, did my job and just tried to not notice my peer’s arrival and departure times. I succeeded at that. One certainly couldn’t say that I wasn’t getting along…until my corrective action.

In the two weeks between that conversation and the donut conversation, yeah…I’d noticed that 40 was still an aspirational work week for my counterpart. The Boss’ boss didn’t bat an eye when I told him that.

So I followed it up with the advice that he just pull the parking record for Capt Can’t.

“If you’re at all curious. Because I guarantee you that I’m not special, so I’m definitely not the only one who knows this. People who start work at 2:00 pm – heck, even as early as 12:30 in the afternoon! – don’t even know what he looks like. That’s a problem.”

He wasn’t curious.

At all.

Interestingly enough, I expected that my former employer fighting my unemployment claim was a toss up. I know that the environment that I was working in was incredibly unfair to the individual, actually, I’ll offer that it was fair exclusively to an individual. I think my immediate supervisors knew that, too. I really didn’t expect them to put up more than a perfunctory fight against my unemployment benefit, if any.

What surprised me was the state outright denying my claim.

Then again, it’s a complex situation. The guy I spoke with didn’t understand how administering a counseling document and downgrading a review for a whistleblower was retaliatory behavior. The reason listed under Reason for Resignation was simply listed as “No Good Cause”, so now I have a hearing before I can get unemployment pay.

Tomorrow.

I submitted several supporting documents to prove I had raised the policy violations and to support my belief that I was – at best, carelessly – retaliated against.

Whether it was careless or intentional, it wasn’t an environment that I cared to remain in once I realized that either I had to accept my peer violating company policy without recourse or I was the one who was at fault.

It made no sense to me, so I hope the documentation I’ve provided demonstrates that to the judge.

Let’s just hope the judge is better than that lemon of a state employee from the Unemployment Office that interviewed me, because based on what I’ve experienced thus far in my first six weeks of job hunting…the current job market is no place for (situationally) grumpy old men. I’m gonna need that unemployment to supplement the cash I’d saved up over the last year in order to avoid complete financial disaster.

Who wants to save for a down payment on a condo anyway?

Wish me luck!

The Great Job Hunt 3.0

TIL #2: Gross Out

Sacha’s mom used to call it The Rotten Food Store.

When I worked briefly in grocery, I heard one of my co-workers refer to it as The Gross Out. This one stuck with me.

It’s actually the Grocery Outlet, and when The Fox mentioned that Sallory shopped there I almost fell over.

The optics didn’t work for me: I’d always attributed shopping at The Gross Out as a poor person’s prerogative, I consider Sallory anything but.

I think I actually said, “What is she, suddenly poor?!?” while mentally picking myself up. Maybe it’s that she lives in a small town and there aren’t a lot of other options. Certainly no New Seasons or Whole Foods.

It was one of these “small town” options that she’d first found Stok at, and that was a good find so it wasn’t hard to find my rationale to trust this statement at face value.

But, still…The Gross Out?!?

I admit it, I struggled a little.

This was tough to get my mind around.

I mentioned it to her personally while we were having wine on one of her trips to the city.

Looking at me straight on, with all earnestness, she says to me, “You’ve got to go check out the wine selection. It’s unbelievable!”

My liver clicked into place.

She went on to tell me that her preferred Gross Out is on the coast in Lincoln City – if I’m recalling this right, because: wine – and that their wine manager was all about great tips on what was drinking well. Oh, and it’s all so cheap! She swore that Trader Joe’s had nothing on them.

I was intrigued and The Fox and I giddily planned a trip to our local.

“Go up and down every aisle, there’s some great buys”, Sallory insists.

Our closest outlet is in the Hollywood District and we walked in past racks of outdoor plants. That was unexpected.

Equally unexpected was the entire front quarter of the store being taken up by the wine department.

I’m barely exaggerating.

There’s were case stacks everywhere. It was an oenophilliacacious – yeah, that’s a made up word – sprawl. Signs everywhere pointed to what Manny was recommending or drinking.

Hopefully, this Manny fella was the wine manager and not some bum with cardstock and a nice marker.

The Fox and I scooped up bottles and bottles. In reality, I think I only nabbed a half case…testing the waters. But, hey…old vine Zins and Paso Robles Sauvignon for $5-15? I didn’t really feel like I could make a mistake here.

It was hard to resist.

TJ’s would always be there for cheap table wines if this failed to live up to the hype.

It, um…didn’t.

I left there – after walking up and down every aisle, as advised – with bags of pasta, frozen pizzas and veggies, some frozen meals that I thought would make a good lazy lunch, bags of food to stick my freezer and pantry. Oh, and wine!

All for $127…

I’m not going to lie, suddenly, I couldn’t wait to try some of these other whackadoodle stores that I’d written off years ago. If Gross Out could surprise me, what else was out there to blow my mind?

The next week, The Fox took me along to the Costco. There’s always a few things I need there, so I was glad to tag along. On the way out, he asked me if I would mind hitting the WinCo across the way.

Initially, I balked…then I remembered.

Let’s GO!

Oh, my hell.

La Croix was a buck less than anywhere near me.

Myrtle’s wet food was $.57/can and my normal market sells it for $.95/can.

I got to the checkout with a half cart of bounty thinking, “Welp, here goes another $100”. But it was all stuff that had a shelf life, either in the pantry or freezer.

I left feeling like I’d been living life wrong all these years.

When I was bragging to a co-worker a few days later, she immediately jumped in with her own news: she and her husband had just gone to Cash & Carry, the Costco and WinCo and stocked up for less than $300 for their family of three for the next three months.

Shut the front door.

Trader Joe’s will always be on my shopping rotation, there’s just too many tasty things that you can only get there. Including delicious Spanish wines on the cheap.

But I learned to root out a good value during this little adventure and can’t believe it took me so long to come to the damn table. Come to think of it, Mistress Myrtle is nearly out of food, so I’ll have to plan a trip in the next week-ish to see what’s new at The Gross Out and WinCo.

Listen to your elders…find a Gross Out and go!

TIL #2: Gross Out

Happy Anniversary ME

Today in Music History: Melissa Etheridge released her first album 30 years ago.

I am not this old.

I remember hearing about her from my Hair Guy in SoCal. Well, my aunt’s Hair Guy. He was one of those people that visually made you stand back, shared stories that made you worry about his judgment and was probably stoned whenever and wherever you saw him.

He kinda looked like Gregg Allman.

But once you got to talking to him, he was one of those guys that ended up being insanely charismatic. Punctuating his stories with “dude” and “man” in a way that drew you in and then pulled you along for the ride.

Somehow, this generated a credibility, too. So when he told me about this singer after I complimented his choice in music, I knew I had to hear the whole album. He’d effused about the weight of her music, inadvertently bringing to mind The Band and Robbie Robertson for me. Stopping himself midcut to repeat the song Bring Me Some Water and then again during the song to feel the music.

Yeah, he was that type of guy. But it worked for him because he was so genuine with his expressions.

I picked up the disc and proceeded to annoy my roommate playing it on repeat for just about ever.

Somewhere along the line, I learned she was “from” Leavenworth, Kansas. Having spent some of my formative years in Atchison, which is just an hour-ish northward, my connection to her deepened.

What’s that fauxnomenon (Chrisism) called?

Never mind.

Each new release after that disc was an event for me. Seeing her in concert was an equally rewarding experience. I’ve seen her at least a half dozen times, and that seems like a low estimate.

She’s a story teller.

If you listen to her music, the lyrics will bare that out. Still, listening to her chat up the audience between songs as she casually strums her guitar is an added layer of intimacy to the feelings she evokes with her natural raspy voice.

I saw her post-cancer tour when it hit Portland and the connection to the audience was palpable. My desire to perform is nil, but in this situation I wondered what it must be like to stand alone at the front of the stage in Portland’s Schnitzer Auditorium and feel the love and gratitude rolling in from the crowd like a damn emotional tsunami.

She gave us plenty back that night.

Just like she had in every show and album. So, happy anniversary, Melissa Etheridge. Many happy residuals…er, returns!

Happy Anniversary ME

Dating Into Oblivion, ep 4

I was reminded yesterday that sometimes dating is good.

We have all heard – and probably lived- the nightmare stories of dates that go awry.  The types where you walk away from the shituation thinking, “At least I’m not that person” or even, “I’m too good for them”.

This is not one of those stories.

This is one of those dating stories that reinforces ones worth.

I know, right?  Not the blog you thought you’d find words with that kind of pep, eh?

First, an admission: DIO episode 3 is conspicuously MIA.  It happened.  Also, it happened in the usual way, a one hit wonder that ended up more along the lines of Mating Into Oblivion, so I wasn’t in any big hurry to blog another notch into my bedpost.

Look at me, all humble.

Second, episode 4 is largely the same except I walked away from the encounter appreciative instead of further embittered.

Disclaimer:  That was not an admission of my specific bitterness, I still maintain that my grumpiness is just a reasonable response to the realness of our world and that I’m secretly happy…just judicious about where I expend my happy capital.

So…Felipe.

Aaah, Felipe.

We first met a few years ago – maybe just two – when I was looking at a potential business to buy down by Portland State University.  I was wandering around the South Park Blocks, contemplating.  

We literally bumped into one another.

One thing led to another and, well…that was the first time I’d had sex in student housing in a while.  I might have been MIA myself for most of the rest of the afternoon.   I felt a little like Shirley Valentine without ever having left my own town.

Naturally, nothing happened. Me, being my charming self, said “We’re never going to see each other again after today, are we?” as we lay they chatting away the golden hours.

Not showers, Diezel.

It was a good chuckle and reminded us to make the most of our fleeting opportunity.

Of course, this being my life, my snarkiness ended up just being foreshadowing in disguise.

Flash forward to the following summer.  I spot an attractive young man while walking home through my Park Blocks – the North end version – from work.  He’s wandering without purpose, distractedly sipping one of those fancy iced teas from his reusable Starbucks cup.

I’m appreciating the guy candy and simultaneously judging his coffee shop choices.  He turns and catches me and we both recognize each other.

“Well, that was awkward”, he smiles.

“Aren’t you in the wrong Park Blocks, little boy?”, I tease in return.

“We don’t like to be called ‘boy’”, he says.

“Ouch!”

“But I wouldn’t mind being your sex slave again”, he says, locking his arm in mine.

“You never got to see my apartment, did you?  How rude of me.”

We go upstairs and I put his Starbucks cup in the fridge and open a bottle of wine.  We drink a little, shower and productively waste the rest of the day.  

This isn’t a bad ritual.

The next morning, as I’m putting off showering as long as possible, I find his Starbucks cup in my fridge, rinse it out and put it away in case he ever uses my phone number.

He hadn’t given me his.

Yesterday, he did.

Getting out of the elevator, he moved to go into my old unit.

“A few things have changed, I told him”, guiding him toward my new unit.

“Anything else change that I should know about?”

“Only the obvious”, I say, patting my belly.

“More to hold onto”, he laughs.

As we’re heading into my new bedroom, he fingers the bracelet on the doorknob that the star of DIO episode 3 left behind and comments that it doesn’t seem to be my style.

“I can’t just wait around for you to text”, I tell him.  “It’s called a leave behind, and it used to be a thing”, I tell him as I shut the door.

Later, as we’re dressing – no time to waste today, I have dinner plans – he tells me that he’s kind of surprised that I managed to show him something new again.

“Experience has to happen with age, this isn’t The Matrix”, I joke.

I’m just watching him dress and can’t help but express my awe at how well he’s maintained his physique as a student.

He shows some obvious pride and brushes it off with a quick, “I really don’t even exercise, this is just from swimming.”

Our eyes lock in a dare-stare as he awaits my comment.  Channeling my inner Lucille Bluth, I withhold.

“Well, it works.”

He tells me that I really shouldn’t be self conscious and I assure him that I’m still grieving over my retirement from running.

“It’s just been one injury after another since I turned…46?  No, it was the year before.”

“You are not that old!”

“It was 46”, I decide, “And that was several years ago.  My doctor told me ‘No more running for you.  Do something else, like swimming!’”, I tell him.

“Except I never learned how”, I admit.

He laughs and then goes there.

“I thought all you people knew how to swim!”, he laughs at me.

“Oh, did you want to take your Starbucks cup from last time with you?”

“Ouch.”

I grab the cup as he retrieves his jacket and he gives me a little kiss goodbye, “I cannot believe how old you are.  I oughta card you to make sure you aren’t telling me lies!”

As I’m heading to the shower, I smile and think, “Same time next year, Felipe.”

And I can’t help but feel improved by my casual familiarity with this young man.  His playful yet naive judgments remind me that sometimes what we perceive as our own faults aren’t even visible to others…and sometimes those judgments are just acceptance wrapped up in their own disguise.

Dating Into Oblivion, ep 4

TIL 8: Dad Crying

Did you know there’s such a thing as Dad Crying?

No?

Me, either!

And I’m not even a parent.

It’s so humiliating.

Definitely not cool.

Or grumpy.

But it’s a thing, and I think I fucking have it.

This isn’t what I planned on writing about today.  You’re just going to have to wait to hear Myrtle’s latest attempts on my life.

Soon, though.

Because right now, I gotta get this out of me.  I think it’s been a thing I was aware of for quite some time, dating back to Rib’s accomplishments in Culinary School.  It was a slow trickle then, these feelings.

But it’s getting worse.

Mostly, this phenomenon occurs in darkened theaters, thank gawd.  The last three movies I’ve seen have opened the tap.

Speaking of taps, no…I wasn’t drinking during these shows.  Well, soda.

It started with Love, Simon.  This gay teen coming of age slash love story made a reasonable case for my tearing up.  

I wrote about it, and that link above will take you there.  But one of the comments I got on that entry made me think – which I like.

The point made was that Love, Simon Glee-coated thisbperson’s coming out story and wasn’t representative of the traumatic experience coming out can be for many gays…check that, many LBGQTI peeps.

It’s a valid point.

Totally.

But I think why I liked it was exactly that.  Sure, he struggled with coming out to himself and then his friends and family…and then it wasn’t that bad.  He’d – or the writers – had built his fears up to something larger than they were and the process was resolved in tidy fashion.

I know the feeling.  Luckily.

But I know that’s not always the case.

Given the political climate in America, even the world, where equal rights for LBGTQI people aren’t the default, the stories of bravery and struggle need to be told.

At the same time, I think part of what got me emotional about this flick – besides that I’m a total sucker for a good chick flick…key word, good – was that it was Glee/washable.

Acceptance isn’t the default, not by a long shot, but the work of previous generations has gotten us to the point that at least this type of movie can be made without being relegated to the LOGO network or an art house only release.

But then Ready Player One got ahold of those same heart strings and played me.  It had to be a fluke of nostalgia, right?

Testing that theory, I went and saw it again when I couldn’t get it off my mind.

Nope.

Played those same strings.

Harder.

Fighting those same urges to go see it again, I went today to a matinee of Blockers.

John Cena was brilliantly funny in his role as a stay at home Dad with hair trigger water works…and I left the theater with a name for my affliction: Dad Crying.

I also left the theater with a salty residue on my cheeks that wasn’t  from the popcorn I shame ate.  Don’t make that dirty, Diezel.

Thank gawd I was in the theater alone!

I have prepared for and accepted two truths about the back 9 of my life:

First, I’m going alone; and,

Second, I’m going to get grumpier as I go along.

EOG paradigm: shattered.

And this after being reminded that my “only” nephew graduates from high school this June.  I hope that takes place in a dark room, too.  Just in case, I better go sunglass shopping.

TIL 8: Dad Crying