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Transition: excerpt 5


December 2011

A few weeks of being at my new job helped me realize something very important.

I had been fortunate enough to spend most of my adult life doing something that I loved. The continued crappiness of 2011 had caused me to lose sight of this. But it became clearer the longer I stayed at my rather menial position.

When I was a reporter, I always enjoyed answering the basic question of, “How was your day?” It was an invitation to share some of the inside information I had picked up during the day’s research and interviews. I now responded to the same question with little more than a grunt, as there wasn’t really anything interesting to share.

What was also obvious to me was that this was not what I’d had in mind when upending my whole life to move to Portland. This was the job I had to settle for to make some desperately needed money to get caught up on bills. It was certainly nowhere near the happy ending I had longed for.

It was nice having a little bit of money to my name. I spoiled myself slightly by finishing the long-delayed process of replacing the last of the music I had on cassette tape with its digital equivalent. This consisted of the albums Anthrax put out in the early and mid-90s, Sounds of White Noise and Stomp 442. I was especially glad to have re-obtained a copy of their song “American Pompeii.” Although it was already 15 years old, it came across as utter prophecy.

My in-laws had suggested to me that we download a free audio recording program so we could make a demo. Ian rearranged his computer configuration and borrowed a recording mic from a friend, which enabled us to start recording our practices.

I used my audio editing experience from my broadcasting career to produce individual tracks. I was then able to put those songs on my iPod and listen to them whenever I felt like it.

The best part was that Not Sure came directly between Nirvana and the Offspring on my iPod. Our songs began to replace everything else I used to listen to, which also allowed me to make mental notes of what needed to be improved in them.

Meanwhile, interesting things continued to take place in our old stomping grounds of Josephine County. Although he had been on the job for just over a year, Simon became chairman of the board of county commissioners. A replacement had been selected for another commissioner who had resigned. But the third commissioner was recalled by a large margin, and Simon took over as chairman the next day.

Life muddled along throughout the rest of November, and I felt decently enough about the state of my existence. But all of that was in danger of being quickly unraveled by mid-December.

I got laid off from my job, which actually turned out to be a partial blessing. I had worked there just long enough to be able to collect unemployment benefits. One day, I received a letter from the employment department informing me that I may be eligible to return to school. I concluded that in two terms, I could finish getting the MBA I had already started, if that’s all I had to do.

This would be my chance to allow 2011 the chance to redeem itself in some way. The realization had hit me months before that this was shaping up to be one of the worst years I’d ever had.

I headed off to Washington State University’s Vancouver campus to inquire about returning to school. Perhaps this was one of the open doors I had so desperately sought for so long. It turned out not to be the case, as a counselor informed me that none of my credits would transfer. None. But I was more than welcome to take out student loans to pay for classes I had already passed with A’s.

Further souring my mood that morning was a message I had received from Chad on Facebook. He had sent it very late the previous evening, and all indications were that he was completely done with the band.

The rest of us took stock of that situation. Fortunately, Justin and Ian were both determined to stick with the original mission. Justin knew a couple of other drummers, and one of them was a guy that he and Ian both worked with. Luckily, Jam was having a company party that night. I impressed upon Justin and Ian the importance of recruiting their co-worker, Matt, into the band as quickly as possible, and was even willing to do it myself if I had to.

As I drove to Jam that night, I thought about how everyone I knew in Portland was either unemployed or working at Jam. Josh had even started working there. If Jam were to go under, I thought, then absolutely everyone I knew in the city would be unemployed.

I took up the task of getting Matt into the band. Minutes after arriving at Jam, I asked Justin and Ian to point Matt out to me so I could discuss this pressing matter with him.

Before Chad quit the band, we were able to record nearly every single one of our songs. I played those recordings for Matt, who was immediately enthusiastic about the prospect of playing with us. My mission of recruiting a new drummer mere hours after Chad quit was successfully completed.

Christmas was rapidly approaching. We already had a hotel room reserved for Grants Pass, so I started making arrangements to meet up with friends and family.
We left for Grants Pass on Friday morning and got there in the mid-afternoon. I dropped Maddie off to stay the night at a friend’s house, and we all went to dinner.

It wasn’t too long before I saw someone I knew. One of my old high school teachers was there, and I wished her well. This pattern continued when immediately afterwards we went to do some last-minute shopping. Robert was at the store, which enabled us to finalize some of our plans for later that evening. I also ran into Jill, one of my former co-workers at the radio station.

It was nice to once again recognize people when I went out in public. That feeling had completely escaped me ever since I left Grants Pass, even though I had been in Portland for over a year.

Much of the same cast and crew was present that night as had been for my 30th birthday party, but most were doing better than they had been back then. The glaring exception, I suppose, would have been me. We had a good time, though, and Robert even did a good karaoke version of Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

I went the next morning to meet with Wally at the Powderhorn Café. Although politics had dominated most of my adult life, I had long since stopped caring much about it. The year that I spent in Portland looking for any job at all had caused me to lose interest in public policy. I was more worried about basic survival.

Wally was more determined than ever to be part of the process. He said that if good people weren’t willing to do so, then the same things would continue to happen.
By the time we were done talking, I was more encouraged than I had been in a very long time.

Good news of any kind was hard to find around that time. The national unemployment rate was 8.5 percent that month, and the same in Portland. It was at 8.9 percent statewide in Oregon.

Maddie had received a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I took her there. I picked up a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Better Than Sex-Confessions of a Political Junkie. I read it one morning while Jimmy played with other kids at the mall, where the play area was now re-opened.

Something strange started happening as I flipped through the pages. Reading about Thompson’s status as a political junkie caused a stirring from within me. All indications were that my inner journalist was maybe not dead, but perhaps on life support.

I suppose that on some level, we can’t hide who we really are. Maybe I had spent 2011 trying to do so, and suffered tremendously as a result. The year couldn’t be over soon enough, as far as I was concerned. For all it mattered, I might as well have spent that whole 12 months in a coma.

Annaka and I were able to go out on New Year’s Eve, and went over to Brad’s. Justin and his girlfriend Christy were already there by the time we arrived. I was overjoyed to be surrounded by those closest to me.

After going to The Nest, we walked up the street to The Hilt, then back to The Nest. That’s where we were when the countdown to 2012 started.

9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….Happy New Year!

And just like that, 2011 was finished.

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