Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Haus Maus

Life is divided before and after. Before the lottery, and after the lottery.

Before the lottery, there was no way in hell we were every going to be able to finish this house, unless we did one tiny project at a time, badly and on a shoestring budget. (To recap, bought in 2010, 1880 Queen Anne Victorian gutted to the studs, redoing it on a budget and with a contractor who turned out to be a Class A sleazeball who since had his license revoked. It's a miracle we're not all dead.)

After he lottery, we are on the verge of finishing the house. Floors, actual finished floors, upstairs and down. Door and window trim on all the doors and windows. Tile backsplash in the kitchen, a parking area poured behind the house, a finished garage where no feral cats or angry possums live because they can't get in because there are no holes in the walls. And baseboards. We have baseboards, the true hallmark of an adult. Chuck has his deck, from which he can survey his kingdom (a kingdom that includes the rear entrance to a pawn shop, the dumpsters of the restaurant behind the house and our crazy neighbor doing crazy neighbor things, like knocking down fences at 4am.) But still, its his kingdom.

Daniel and Roberto, his guy, have been working steadily for months and all that's left is some paint downstairs for the living room and dining room. An icy grey, same as in the hall, that makes the baseboards pop. We got so used to having Daniel here I'm not sure what we'll do without him. Find more things for him to do, maybe.

The garden that grew pretty well this summer is now dying, and I want different, stronger and taller boxes for the spring. I need to spend a weekend tearing things out and reconditioning the soil and think about what to grow in the spring. I don't think I'll do a winter garden because it's already so cold  here. I just don't know what would grow.

I'm trying to make a major decision at work as it regards my future. The owner and publisher are making it difficult to leave, but in a mostly good way. I have to figure out if what they're offering makes sense for me and my family or not. If not, my last day is Dec. 30 and I will become a part-time haus maus, puttering and cooking and rearranging and gardening, and I'll write only what I want to write.

I'll post pictures of all that's been done in a few days.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

New York State of Mind

When you grow up in Chicago, you don't go to New York. It's a competitive thing, the second city mentality. New York might be bigger and all, but we have plenty of stuff to do and see and our pizza is better and so are our hot dogs. There's no need to go to New York.

So it is that I've never been to New York.

But in a few short weeks, we are heading east for the Boston wedding of our friends Scott and Jedidiah. Before we head to Boston, we're going to New York for four days and I get to finally meet Blackbird, one of my all-time favorite bloggers who has become an online friend and who I think will become a real friend. (Assuming we're not both batshit -- she's worried because she's met batshit online before.) There will be lunch or dinner and browsing and maybe The High Line and ... too many things to list. I'm so looking forward to it though.

I'll also get to see Aaron Jaffe, my college friend who is a city editor at the Wall Street Journal; he lives in Greenwich Village and will take us on a tour. And maybe I'll get to see Matt Murray, the second in command at the WSJ and my former colleague from years ago at a Gannett paper in Virginia. And maybe Tom Carpenter, another college friend who's now the general counsel of Actors Equity. And Smadar, my old backgammon pal. And and and ...

Will four days be enough? Is it a million degrees now? Where shall we eat?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Quiet Nervous Breakdown

I can't sleep. I have to be up in six hours to go finish off this week's paper, then help finish a special section (i.e., advertorial) and get next week's issue moving. But I can't sleep and so I've decided to stay awake and have a tiny nervous breakdown.

I have to decide what I'm doing.

Through random dumb luck, a statistical bit of insanity, my husband won a few million dollars in the lottery. It was exactly four weeks ago yesterday. I was at the Salinas City Council meeting, where I didn't have to be because I was actually on vacation starting that evening, but I just can't stand to miss a good council meeting. I was tweeting away about dumb things—the mayor "confessing" to have eaten at McDonalds—when a friend text messaged me: Stop tweeting about the stupid mayor and McDonald's. Someone won the lotto off a ticket at Star Market. $2.7 million.

"Ha ha," I responded. "Hope it's my husband."

About 15 minutes later, I walked through the door of the house and Chuck met me in the hallway with a strange look on his face. "Good news or bad news?" he asked. Bad news, I said; I'm a glass is half-empty, dirty and cracked kind of girl. "The bad news is we didn't win $227 million off the lottery. The good news is we did win $2.7 million and you never have to go back to that place again."

That place is my job as a newspaper editor at arguably the best newspaper in Monterey County. I run it. I'm the top dog and I'm probably the highest paid print journalist in the county, although that no longer counts for much in this dying industry. That place has defined who I am, every waking moment and many sleeping ones, for the past five years. I remember when I first started, I would come home almost every night and mutter about that place. That place. People who behave badly in that place. A reporter who, upon hearing her story pitch criticized (and it was beyond fucking lame), said to me in the edit meeting, "Are we done here, because I don't care." Horrible human being. Horrible writer too. I was glad to see her go when she quit a few weeks later. "That place," I would say, as my husband made me a drink. "Who behaves that way?"

This place, and the job, has brought me moments of bliss, of pure adrenalin rush. When a union organizer told my publisher he found me "unusually aggressive," I told my publisher, "You didn't hire me because of my shy demeanor. You're paying me all this money because I'm a killer." And I am. Standing between me and a story I want is a bad place to be standing.

But what if it's time to do something else? Because being a killer means 50-60 hour weeks. It means managing a group of people, most of whom I adore, who all bring different skill sets and abilities and motivations and issues with them. It means getting up and finishing the special advertorial sections. It means being irate when deadlines are missed.

I made a promise to myself, when the money happened, that I would never write another word about something I don't care about. The list of what I don't care about is long: the political problems of Carmel by the Sea. The Pacific Grove sewer tax. Cal Am's desalination plant. The list of what I care about is longer: Monterey's unconstitutional sit-lie law. The dozens of homeless people who are living in their own society in Laguna Grande Park. The state of the police state we're living in. Failing schools, overwhelmed parents. Third-world poverty in East Salinas. The winners of the lucky-sperm lottery, the children and grandchildren of the landed gentry, who control everything and have consolidated their power.

I'm trying to imagine a different life, one where there aren't 50 hour work weeks and people who miss deadlines. I'm trying to imagine a slower pace, where I write stories that I care about and I don't have to care about getting paid. I'm trying to hold on for six months, because promises were made and a wise man told me I shouldn't make any big decisions for six months.

It's going to be my youngest son's last year of high school. I've missed vast portions of his past five years because I'm a killer. I spent little time with my dying mother, even though she desperately wanted me there, because I'm a killer. And now we take care of my differently abled elderly sister, and I think she's sad because she's often alone because I'm a killer. My health has suffered for it; I was supposed to have surgery to repair my esophagus three weeks ago and they couldn't operate because I was too anemic to undergo surgery. I thought the level of exhaustion I'd been operating at was normal. Now that I know it's not, it's opened up all of these exciting possibilities. I can live and be healthy and, thanks to a statistical fluke, the literal luck of the draw, I can stop worrying about money.

I have decisions to make. And thinking to do.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The List

5 Things About 2015 So Far

5. Spent Friday night of my birthday with our friend the prison psychologist and his partner, hitting bars and then eating diner food. I like to remind our friend that he's not a real doctor since he can't write prescriptions. He, in turn, likes to remind me I don't know how to walk in high heels. I think that makes us even. Spent Saturday of my birthday weekend eating fabulous food (Out the Door at the Ferry Building, then Ad Hoc in Yountville) and luxuriating at a swank hotel that had its own pillow menu. (Hello room service, will you bring me more down pillows? You will? That's great news.)
4. Nine days until Oscar night. Oscars are a holy day of obligation for me. I have two more films left to see to complete all the major categories: Selma (Best Picture) and Whiplash (Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons). I've seen two of the five documentary nominees and none of the foreign language, and I think it may be too late to do anything about that. Must hunt around and see what, if anything, is rentable.
3. There's a great deal of stress and upheaval in my worklife right now. Do we do it all or do we target more precisely what we want to do? Where do we all fit in the mission? Is the mission clear enough to even me? I wish I had better answers. Strangely, reading stories about David Carr, who died Thursday night--at the office--is giving me hope. He saw things with enviable clarity. I will miss seeing his column every Monday, the first thing I went to in the New York TImes.
2. A three-day weekend should help alleviate just a little of the stress. There's puttering to do, and books and the full series of Bosch streaming on Amazon. I need time with my people. The people in my house are my people. My other people live just a few miles or a few hundred miles away.
1. Tomorrow may be a beach day. Moss Landing Beach, specifically.