Golden: Part 1

The money in my bank account was starting to trickle down into numbers I was not comfortable with. I had left my job at the hospital for greener pastures, of which there were many, and was living off my savings while continuing my career as a writer. In three months, I released three books that had been shelved indefinitely while my editor/ girlfriend ignored me, and started to see other people for the last six months we were together. She thought of herself as an actress while her talents rested in the B to C categories, a few steps behind ________ (insert crappy soap opera here).
July had started and while I had been gone from the work place for three months I was still sleeping on my old work schedule. I had a set routine of things to do during the day trying to make a living from self-publishing but I would not see the fruits of my labor for another three months. I needed to get out of the house. I applied for a job with the County and I was told at the interview that I was over qualified. The last time I heard this it was a bad thing and I was never offered the job at Stryker. This time around the county was excited to hire me with little training needed to get me started.
I was checking my E-mail and shorting through messages on Facebook when I discovered a hidden file of messages that I didn’t know existed. There was the usual spam and junk mail, women claiming to find me sexy and guys saying I somehow inherited a million dollars from relatives I never heard of. There was one piece of mail that stood out, it came from a man I’ll call Nick Golden.

Hey Matthew, Have just last week discovered your writing skills through your ‘After the Day’ novels. Also, I’ve enjoyed your blog & FB page. I’ve assembled and am adding to my writing team on a TV Web Series. I took my writing training at Writers’ Workshop at Iowa U. in the mid-sixties; my filmmaking experience was mainly in Scandinavia. This series, is a near-future (2029 start date in pilot) account of an American Dynasty family, with five generations still alive and living on the post-collapse America. The politics and base assumptions seem to be aligned with yours. An economic collapse based on dollar collapse and aquifer death are principle inciting incidences. Then China comes in to collect on their collateral for their defaulted loans. If you have an interest in a ‘work for hire’ project which is right down your alley, pls be in touch. I think your character development, ear for dialogue and plot savvy, can work well within our Saga long-arc story-line. (Whereas your novels treat the domestic scene, we couple domestic with Commune-building. competition to rescue the Dynasty’s legacy, and rescue America, with international intrigue.) I’m at my S. CA home right now. I alternate between here and “Walden Lodge,” a log hunting lodge on five acres near Bellevue, WA.

I called Nick and he answered on the second ring. It was the first phone call I had in months that wasn’t a telemarketer. Nick started talking and that was the end of my side of the conversation.
“You are a hard man to find. I couldn’t find anything about you online. I was about to send a private dick out to search for you.”
I didn’t know what he was referring to, my email and Facebook page were public, there was also the comment section of my blog that could have been used.
“If you are interested in working on the television show I can email you the contract right away. This is going to be big. I’m looking at selling it to Netflix. Everyone is going to want a piece of this. I used to run a production studio in Norway. No one is going to want to pass this up.”
“Ya send me the contract and I will have my guy look it over.” My guy was my friend Judd who had just started his own company from home and worked as a freelance writer for a short period of time.
While I was trying to figure out how I was going to start balancing a second shift job, writing, and working on a TV show, my “girlfriend” sent me a text. I had not heard from her in 10 days. The last time we spoke she was asking me for money. Did I mention she worked as a nurse and made $40+ an hour. She had made several financial mistakes during the three and a half years we were together and now debt collectors were calling and she wanted to be bailed out.
“How much do you owe?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well the first thing I would do is sit down and figure that out.”
“It’s more than I have.”
“How do you know if you haven’t added everything up?”
“I just know. Don’t you trust me?”
“It’s not about trust, it’s about numbers. If you want me to sit down with you and make a plan I will do that but I’m not just going to give you money when you won’t even figure out what is going wrong.”
“My mom gave me $400 dollars without asking any questions. Why can’t you do that?”
“How much do you want?”
“$800”
“How are you that far behind? You make four times what I did at the hospital. What are you doing with your money?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Then you’re definitely not getting any money from me. Figure out what you’re doing wrong then call me.” I hung up the phone.
This time around she wanted to have lunch. This was something we would do several times a week and these days I barely saw her, never received text, and when I did try to contact her she would say everything was fine and that she was really busy. She never had the balls to break up with anyone.
I sat down across the table from her in the hospital cafeteria. It was a safe space, one that people wouldn’t start a conflict in, normally. She was in her scrubs and already had her food, French fries with ketchup.
“You’re mad at me,” she said eating her food.
I shook my head like I didn’t know what she was talking about. “It’s been ten days.”
“I’ve been busy,” she said. Then went ahead telling me about putting her house on the market, the bathroom remodeling job that had been taking forever (because she was fucking the handyman), putting the house on the market, the kids, the other guys kids, refinancing the van… eventually I droned her out. I didn’t care. She had no interest in me anymore and I just wanted her to say it was over so that I could move on, but that wasn’t how she worked. “So, what have you been up to?” she had a look on her face like she was expecting me to say that leaving the hospital was the worst choice I ever made, I was miserable, and that there weren’t any jobs out there. Everything I told her was the opposite.
“I have a job with the County now, Union, and full benefits. Same pay as here but no fingers or blood to clean up from the floor. I was contacted by a Hollywood producer to start writing for a showing being produced for Netflix. He wants to fly me out to Seattle to work with his group. I’m trying to schedule an interview with a Kurdish Sniper who fought ISIS in Syria for a spy thriller based on the War. A girl from Twitter is helping put it together.”
“Who is this girl? Do you like her? Why are you talking to her?”
I sat back in the chair, this was what she had been waiting for, something to use to turn on me. I had never cheated on her, always did as I was asked and now was her moment to make me the bad guy, regardless of how ridiculous it was.
“She works as a journalist on the side in Norway,” I said.
“So, you like this girl,” she said working herself up. “That’s nice. That’s really nice. So you’re leaving me?”
I tried really hard not to laugh. This was becoming absurd.
“I haven’t seen you in ten days. You appear out of nowhere asking for money because you can’t get your shit together and this is what you can come up with? Ya I’m leaving. It’s obvious you don’t want me around.”
“After three years your leaving me?”
“Take care, Kelly.”
There were messages after that. Mind games to act like she was the victim. She wanted to ultrasound for the child she had aborted early on in our relationship. I told her she could have it but of course she never showed up. She would send questions about other stupid things, excuses to write me. I told her if she wanted to talk she needed to call, I was done with this texting bullshit. She never called and I never heard from her again. A week later she posted pictures on Facebook having dinner with the Handyman who looked like Sloth from the Goonies. It was finally over.
The contract had been printed out and Judd went over it explaining that there wasn’t anything to worry about.
“Don’t talk about your books while working for them. Anything you bring up becomes property of the company. Also, whatever you create for them they own. You can’t talk about the project outside of the group for three years. It’s standard stuff.”
I signed on the dotted line and faxed it to Nick. It looked like I was going to Hollywood.

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Adventures in Cooking: part 13

Towards the end of my time at Olga’s I was invited to go out to Karaoke night at Brann’s Steakhouse located next door to the Mall. This was the first and last time that I would hang out with many of the servers and cooks who I had worked with. The manager that had come out had a reputation for belting out late 80’s pop songs. Many of the people tried to perform 90’s rap/ hip hop and a few tried to get me to sing “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-lot. I declined and eventually, through the aid of much alcohol, picked Ænima by Tool. Nate Dawg made some comment about me of all people picking a 6-minute song and I didn’t care. I had to listen to him rapping some track by Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
When I finished singing one of the only songs, I had memorized the bar was silent. “and that was Matt, the only guy I have seen able to sing Tool. Very nice.” The DJ said before announcing the next up to the stage. This night I learned about putting myself into horrible situations. I was too drunk to drive, knowing this is a good tool to stay out of trouble. The bad part about know this was being taken to Karen’s apartment across the street to sober up. We didn’t have Uber back then and I didn’t want to pay for a cab. I argued to sleep in my car, but it was below freezing outside. I caved in and fell asleep on Karen’s couch, coat still on and my large case of CDs wrapped in my arms. Back then people would steal CDs from cars which is unthinkable today. After Karen checked on her kids, she came back into the living room. I pretended to be asleep and I was in a state of panic as she stood over the couch. After a long moment there was a deep sigh and she disappeared.
Early that morning I woke up and found the apartment dead silent. Karen was still asleep, and I wanted to be out of there as soon as possible. I grabbed my CDs and went out, walking across the street, finding my car in the Brann’s parking lot and driving home. I needed something different. I needed to get out of Olga’s before I ended up as a trophy on somebody’s wall.
There are places in Kalamazoo that appear impossible to get into. Pizer, Stryker, Bronson, Borgess, the list goes on but the institutions that offer a living wage had their doors closed unless you knew somebody on the inside. My mom snuck her way into the hospital through a loop whole in their hiring system. She was working at a daycare center operated by the hospital however it was a separate entity and the employees were not regarded as hospital employees. One of the other women she worked with bid on a job that was only inhouse and she got the job. Others started to do it and soon HR learned about these women who shouldn’t be bidding on these jobs but not before my mom was in.
One of the floors in the hospital was short staffed for cleaning people and I was given a paper application. That paper was handed to the manager who gave it to HR and before I knew it, I had an interview. The job was 12 hours a day, three days a week and I took it. This was the first time I had health insurance, I didn’t have to worry how many hours I had to pay rent, I wasn’t standing over a hot stove and I didn’t have anyone yelling at me ever twenty minutes. This was a complete change from where I had been working.
I still had some credit card debt from college and wanted to save up for a new car. I continued working at Olga’s and after working 60-70 hours a week for 6 months I left. I still remember the moment I was standing in the kitchen and my mind shut off, looking into nothingness and snapping out of it half awake and dragging myself through my task. I had money saved up, the credit card was paid off. It was time to relax and start living like a normal human being.
I went up to the manager’s office and found Meagan sitting at the desk. I think she had just finished putting together the next schedule and I told her “I can’t do this anymore.”
“You’re quitting?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied with the intend of giving her a two-week notice.
“Today?” she asked. I had not considered this. I fully intended on giving them two weeks and find someone to cover for me, but after all the short shifts, all the double shifts, the times I worked by myself what difference would it have made. Knowing I didn’t ever have to come back was a blessing in disguise. She never should have asked that question.
I can do that? I thought to myself. “Uh, Ya. Today.” Meagan started to cry, and I said “sorry” before turning around, hanging up my apron and going downstairs.
“Motherfucker, where are you going?” Nate Dawg asked as I walked past him in the kitchen without an apron.
“My shift is over,” I said.
“We’re short staffed. Want some more time?”
“I just quit,” I said.
“Oh, you get a job at the hospital and you think you’re better than us now?”
I thought for a second, after all the insults, long nights of Nate tearing me down to make himself feel better, the constant ridicule for not liking the same things as him, I had had enough.
“Ya, I am better than you.”
“Get the fuck out of here motherfucker. Piece of shit. Fucking asshole. I can do this whole fucking thing myself. I don’t need your help uppity asshole.”
“Nate, go fuck yourself.” I walked out and never saw Nate again.
There was a weight off my shoulders. A burden had been lifted and, in the end, I had to wonder if it was ever worth it. What is the purpose of running a business that treated people like cattle pushing them into the butcher shop every day? Who thought of these business models and at what point did they ever seem like fun or a useful profession? I understand making hot food, serving those who need to eat, helping keep the rest of us going, but this was something else. Olga’s never figured out if it was fast food, or a bistro for lunch, or (heaven forbid) fine dining. It wanted to be everything to everyone and in the end, it failed its customers and the employees the most. I was now free from the grips of Olga’s and I only went back there once in the last 20 years. Some of the same servers still worked there. I spotted Junior working in the kitchen with his hair now white and his frame thinner than I remembered. I wasn’t curious about some of the other people I worked with and therefore didn’t ask. That time was gone, and I was grateful to be out of there. My membership card to the brotherhood of the spatula had been revoked.

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