This is Houston native Arceneaux’s second book. His first, I Can’t Date Jesus, explored growing up gay in the south among other topics.
This book deals a great deal with student debt. While the exact number is never mentioned, the author hints that it includes six digits and describes in great detail the never ending grind of the payments ($800-1000 a month) and the phone calls from debt collectors at all hours of the day.
He is also forced to constantly justify his career choices. While a talented writer, many, perhaps well-meaning, friends ask him to consider a more lucrative career as a means out of the situation.
Arceneaux stresses in the book and again in the discussion at Midtown that this is a larger issue than one person. Minority and working class students increasingly turn to college as a means of climbing the social ladder only to see themselves saddled with debt that may never cease. The author’s mother also cosigned some of his loans, so the phone calls she receives from debt collectors weigh especially heavy on him. “I worry that ultimately, this experience has been just another way of me disappointing you,” he notes in what I think was the most moving chapter, Mama’s Boy.
This is actually the lightest of the three books I’m reading now in this heavy time. It was interesting to walk in entirely different set of shoes for a weekend.
Do you remember when smoking was allowed in bars, and you didn’t smoke? You’d start your “going out” planning by deciding what jeans were about ready to wash. What sweater you could part with for a week at the cleaners, and perhaps, what jacket you might be able to tumble in the dryer with a handful of dryer sheets at the end of the night. You knew everything would smell like an ash tray, so you planned accordingly. I feel like that’s what it’s like going out now. You feel when you come back that things might be dirty somehow. I can’t wipe my clothes with Clorox wipes, but I can plan accordingly. I wore this sweatshirt all week and slept in it last night. I wore it to the doctor’s office today. I can now wash it and cleanse any “dirt” real or imagined. At least it doesn’t stink. No harm. No foul.
Last night was the first night I slept straight through without waking at 3 a.m. to stare at the ceiling and then flip through Twitter. (This activity is called “Doomsurfing” if you’re interested.) The last thing I remember before I woke up was washing baby leaches off my ankles with a power washer and telling someone about the last time I had a leach on my skin. This was in the ’80s when my brother and I spent the summer at my grandmother’s resort in Sioux Narrows, Ontario, Canada. The town has 720 permanent residents now. “Resort” is a fancy word for the work-a-day cabins spread around the lake and a now-closed restaurant and bar. The latter closed when my grandmother’s second husband, Frank, succumbed to lung cancer. They ran it as a team, and she could only keep up the hotel portion on her own. A friend of hers gave my brother and I a canoe, and, both being athletic, we quickly figured out how to use it to explore the inlet. There were slider turtles and leaches as I found out when I tried to test the brackish water near the shore. When I hopped up on the dock, an adult-sized one had already attached itself to me. My brother picked it off while I screamed in agony when in truth it didn’t hurt a bit. Picture is me on the dock with a slider turtle. The “A’s” were the t-ball team my brother and I played on, but that’s a story for another day.
My great grandmother, Elizabeth, lived above Lengacher’s Cheese House in Kinzers when I was a kid. It’s a vet’s office now, but the steep gable front roof is still a tell as to its origins.
She had no washer and dryer, and the hot water service in the two bedroom apartment was blazing hot owing to the cheese making going on below. My mom and I would travel there weekly to pick up her laundry and chat.
Everything smelled like swiss.
She grew up in Singen, in Southern Germany near the border with Switzerland and France. Her father owned an inn. Her mother died when she was a child, and an uneasy relationship with his wife number two led her to France and eventually to Chicago with her sister, Julie.
Several of her siblings would emigrate in all.
In Chicago, she met my great grandfather Paul “Pup Pup”. He was an engineer and frugal woodworker. They moved with his job and eventually settled in Gap.
Pup Pup died when I was two, so I don’t remember him. My parents lived in Gap when I was first born, and my mom said he would wash the diapers and then deliver them. I guess laundry service was something we shared.
He always wanted to see me, and I was always sleeping.
I still love to sleep.
When my mom was growing up, Pup Pup would talk her into going to a scrap yard near Trojan Boat, where he’d dump salvaged pieces of wood in the back of her MG. He didn’t want to pay for lumber. He made grandfather clocks and roll top desks, all of which are still in my family.
My grandfather always called his mom, Lizzie, and she had a lovely laid back demeanor. Nothing ruffled her feathers. She was even and calm, smart, and funny. She’d burn cookies and still offer them to you without thinking there was anything wrong with them.
Growing up, her middle son complained that the parents of a friend bought him a car. “What did you give me?,” he wanted to know. She replied, “I gave you a big mouth. Now go out and use it.”
Like all her sons, he became a successful business owner and sales person.
Lizzie outlived her husband by another 16 years. She lived alone for that entire time but always attended our gatherings, made trips to Idaho to see her three sons, and entertained German-speaking friends – the conversation altering between English and the language of her Heimat.
She had a stroke in late October 1992. When my mom took her to the hospital, she talked about all the people she would see in heaven – Paul, Julias, and Billy, the son she lost as a toddler. We’d find a locket of his hair when we cleaned out her house.
She lived for about two weeks and died on election day. I only saw her alive once in that time. She wiped tears off my cheek with her good arm as I looked at her limp wrist with the hospital band and the last two digits of her birthdate, ‘99, 1899.
She was the one person I lost outside my dogs that really left a hole. Cleaning out her belongings was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in life to date, but I suspect more hard times ahead. You have to decide what to do with every piece of furniture, every trinket, and you riffle through drawers of scarves and underclothes. Everything you touch feels like a loss.
It took days, and I only kept a few things – a rosary, a red area rug, an ashtray and a calendar from her hometown, and a scarf dotted with coffee stains. The latter probably still smells like swiss.
Like many office workers, I’m working from home these days.
It’s a great space. See?
The windows face west and south, so it gets light for a nice portion of the day. All the original wooden windows have now been replaced, but the south facing one to the left in this photo was originally broken when we purchased this house 15 years go. It had a small crack in the right corner of the bottom sash.
At some point, I got a bee in my bonnet and took the sashes out. I stripped both of 80 years of paint, had the glass fixed, and then reglazed and painted the entire thing. I bought new rope, fished the window weights out of the frame, and re-weighted them. They never moved as effortlessly as I would have liked, but it was a good first effort.
My dad is a contractor and can fix virtually anything. He’s an artist. When he was staying at my house a few years ago, he re-weighted all the living room windows while my mom and I went grocery shopping.
He got bored and needed to do, do do.
I share this trait.
I make lists every weekend, and the lines gnaw at me until I finish every last one.
I’ve built and maintain four corporate websites for my employer, and since the change to Gutenberg, the premium theme I chose, Divi by Elegant Themes, has been slow and cumbersome to use. Some features don’t work at all requiring a workaround.
One such feature was adding _blank to a button. I checked the box to “open in new tab” but couldn’t get the feature to work.
I used the inspector tools in Firefox to find the exact div and then added this text below in the head section. You get to the <head> by going into the theme options. This was someone else’s workaround that I adapted to my needs. I’m including it here hoping it helps someone else.
This is a shot of my neighbor’s porch pumpkin in early March. As one might expect, it’s been there since before Halloween. I find it amusing as this is entirely something I would do. I’d put it out there and totally forget about it.
The second assignment in week two of Creative Writing was to write a story based on a prompt from The Artist’s Way. The prompt is below in bold.
I feel guilty that I am not more put together. Professional. I can’t say I feel this all the time but sometimes. Ok – weekly. Usually at work.
I can’t have long nails. They bother me. I can’t do Cher things like work with my hands, type, hold a tennis racquet. How do you do anything with nails? Fish change out of your pocket, position a fitted sheet, serve a tennis ball, apply makeup?
That’s another thing I don’t like. Can’t do well. I envy my best friend’s 18 year old daughter. She could be Kevin Aucoin or whoever does makeup really well these days.
I’m that old.
Makeup makes me feel like a poser, an amateur. I hate the feel of it on my face, and I’m worried it will soil the collar of a favorite shirt when I take it off.
It’s just makeup though. It washes, right?
Hair. I do love my hair, but I rarely “do” it. It’s more of a functional thing. Which is why I like it long. There are many options for not doing long hair.
Pants. I really only like jeans and yoga pants. Dress pants? Khakis? Ugh. The horror. I feel bloated and unattractive all day long in them. I found one pair of J Crew cropped pants that I love. Think Audrey Helpburn. No pockets. Black. Fitted, and cropped to above the ankle. I bought them in every color. I took a pair apart hoping to make more in other colors.
Plaid. Argyle. The list is endless. They’re perfect. I just need more options.
Sweatshirts. Let me tell you. I have a mountain of them. If I could wear them every day for a month. I wouldn’t run out. If I had a job where they were appropriate attire, I’d feel most at home.
T-shirts. OMG. They’re folded on shelves with a folding board. They’re organized by color and theme. They’re ironed. I’m that person. I have enough for an entire year without duplicates.
Sneakers. I can’t stop buying them. New Balance. Reebok. Nike. Puma. Adidas. Piles of Adidas shoes. A Vintage Campus pair I found in a thrift shop and mountains of Barricades and Adizero Feathers that have retired from tennis and line my basement stairs waiting for their next life as house project shoes or mowing the lawn footwear.
None of this strikes me as feminine though, and sometimes that needles me. Am I a professional person with these traits? Do I belong in a corporation if I dress like this? I look around. I see manicured nails. Slacks. Heels.
The thought of my feet in heels makes me scream in agony. I need my feet. Why would I torture them? Besides, I tore a calf playing tennis, and now a knot forms in my right calf when I wear anything a few inches in height, reminding me of the injury. “Don’t test me, bitch! You need me for life!”
Week two of Creative Writing commenced with a request to write a story with Kevin Mitnick as an inspiration. Below is my story.
He pulled up to the old storefront in South LA and took the first parking spot on the street. His late model Lincoln Towncar shook as he shut off the massive big block engine. It was a retired New York City car service car that his dad bought him as a joke, and it never stopped being funny. An “I heart NY” and a “Free Kevin” bumper sticker adorned the back and made it his own.
He shuffled up to the front door in his dark wash jeans, a black t-shirt, and a backpack covered with pins and patches ready for another day fighting Russian trolls behind the screen of a MacBook Pro. It was late afternoon in California or early morning in Vladivostok, just as the first shift was punching in ready to flood the social network with garbage hashtags and working overtime to hack a campaign staffer’s email.
Even though he was just 16, the Bloomberg campaign had hired him full time after reading a story in the local paper about his exploits hacking the school lunch credit cards after a close friend couldn’t pay for food. “This is just the kind of out of the box thinking we need,” Bloomberg mentioned to his senior aid. “Get that kid on staff.”
A staffer showed up the next day at his parents house with a generous monetary offer and a “Mike Can Do It” hoodie. He was in.
He’d been working the afternoon shift for several months now and holding weekly meetings with paid staff and volunteers explaining how phishing worked and how to never click a link in your email. “I mean never,” he’d bellow. Even though the message came from a kid, the staff respected his knowledge and his integrity.
No one questioned he had a strong sense of right and wrong.
He was also very successful on the hacking front having accessed the internal network of one particularly relentless troll network. How did he do it? A link in an email. One click and he was in.
He was able to see what the network had on Bloomberg.
Verdict. Very little.
He did his job.
He dug a little further and found the bank accounts of the group. Where was the money coming from? When he found out, the campaign made a press appearance touting the finding and the expertise that made it happen – a skinny teenager that could be easily overlooked but now no longer ignored.
Looking to do more personal work and side projects in 2020, I enrolled in a creative writing class at PCAD. For this exercise, we took a prompt from this website, https://writingexercises.co.uk/index.php, and took 20 minutes to write a story around it. The prompt is in bold below.
As he took in the view from the twentieth floor, the lights went out all over the city. He was reminded that it was the 30th anniversary of 9-11. Even after three decades, the memory was fresh, but the thought of something actually happening on this date was behind his comprehension.
Could it be a terrorist attack or something more mundane like a failing circuit in the country’s aging infrastructure.
Probably the latter.
Occam’s Razor and all.
He shuffled toward the stairs and silently cursed himself for making it “leg day” at the gym yesterday. His 45-year-old hamstrings strained as he headed down the winding flights of stairs.
Once he got to the bottom, the air was warm befitting a late summer day. New Yorkers seemed unbothered with the sudden darkness; although, the bodega across 23rd street was rapidly closing up shop – the owner slamming the steel garage door down with authority lest anyone think to quickly loot a Smart Water or some lottery tickets.
He headed east toward Eately thinking maybe, just maybe, a giant chain like that would have a generator? Maybe? But where would they put it? Was there room for a generator in Chelsea?
He could really use a cup of decaf, it was evening after all, and a chocolate croissant. Eately’s bakery couldn’t be beat. How long would the darkness last?
Why had he forgotten dinner? He was thinking about it all through the meeting when the view from the conference room just caught his eye on the way out. He stopped to enjoy it. Take in the view. Live in the moment.
The meeting went well albeit late. He thought he nailed this last round of interviews. His dream job. A project management gig for AWS. A job with one of “The Big Four.”
The pinnacle of a career in tech, he thought.
He was in a fantastic mood. He left like a master of the universe, and then bam, no power. Back to reality.
Eately was, in fact, closing. No power meant no registers. Everyone paid with their smart phones or watches. No one carried cash. Everything ran on electricity. Without it, the world stopped. “When had he last charged his phone?”, he thought as he headed east. He couldn’t remember.
Good thing he lived on 12th and Broadway. It would be just a short jaunt home as the subway was surely closed as well. The moon was out, and Union Square was alive with people escaping their apartments to play in the moon glow. The latch on the dog park gate snapped as he passed. A woman brought her two Golden Retrievers out to play with the bossy Frenchies that ruled the space.
I’m glad my Air Pods are dead, or I would be missing this joyful noise, he thought. Just a few more blocks to go.
Should I really go home or linger a while?
After all, my window unit has hummed to a halt and the place is probably stuffy by now. There will be nothing to do in the darkness anyway.
He stopped and turned back settling in on a bench to watch the action in the dog park. By now, the pack had been joined by a few more hounds who perked up in unison as an ambulance rolled past with sirens blaring.