Roses, Thorns: In which Zach won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but he will whine a bit.

Okay, so I really shouldn’t complain.

After all, I’ve got a J-O-B, and it pays in actual M-O-N-E-Y that I can spend on lovely wonderful T-H-I-N-G-S. And also it allows me to swagger around a weight room all day, bumping fists and uttering such bro-tastic phrases as ‘what’s up, bud?’ or ‘hey brah, how’d that new tri workout go?’ to sweaty, muscley guys in revealingly clingy basketball shorts and tight tank tops.

And it’s gratifying having a title again, really. ‘I’m a promotional director and membership counselor for LA Fitness’ sounds an awful lot more impressive than ‘I’m a couch-surfing jobless slacker.’ I’ll take people thinking I’m a soulless high-pressure dick of a salesman and over-testosteroned gym monkey over an unemployed bum any day, thanks.

And you know, some parts of the job are fun. I get to go around local businesses chatting with all sorts of nice folks. Yesterday the nice lady at a flower shop I was trying to arrange cross-promotional opportunities with gave me a rose, and a cute guy at a mattress store jokingly suggested he’d try out my gym if I tried out his bed. I’m a people-person, so these little interactions make my day bright and sparkly.

There are downsides to the job, of course. There always are (well, except when I worked for Scott and Savona and the world knew bliss). I work for over-amped early-twenty-somethings who got to their management positions not by any management ability but by sales success, and I periodically have to make sweeps through the locker room, sauna, and steam room, where the only naked men are the ones who really shouldn’t be, ever. Seriously? If I run into Fred and his me-sized thighs in the nude again I might go straight. And then there’s the whole ‘you will close this deal, period’ mentality that’s drilled into us ad nauseum. Yeah, I’d love to take that guy’s money, but I’d much rather keep him on good terms with me so he comes back to me to sign a contract after checking out and finding other gyms substandard, rather than, you know, signing with the nice membership counselor down the street out of sheer spite (like we know anybody who’d do that…).

I can deal with all that, though. The thing I’m having a hard time stomaching is the whole friggin’ twenty-three hours I have to see boyfriend between Friday at 1pm, when he gets off work, and Saturday at 11am, when I go back. Our schedules are exactly opposed to each other. He works 6am to 1pm Mondays through Fridays, and I work 2pm to 10pm Mondays through Thursdays. I have Fridays off and he has weekends free, but I work enough hours both Saturday and Sunday to make the logistics of getting across town and spending any time together practically impossible.

It’s like the job was designed for people who are and always will be single. My general manager is 26, has no girlfriend, no boyfriend, and no dog or goldfish, and occasionally spends time with his parents here in town.

One of our head training coordinators, a totally ripped-up, model-faced 18-year-old grade-A capital-H hottie, occasionally makes vague references to a girlfriend, but…well, remember how Xander spent the first two episodes of Drawn Together telling anybody and everybody that he was on a neverending quest to save his girlfriend?? And then a couple episodes later he was getting Biblical with Elmer Fudd? Yeah….it’s like that.

Then there’s my weekend manager. He’s 22 and a recent college grad. He’s a guy with a dorky face and sticky-outy eary but a good enough body to totally land a babe but is nevertheless also perpetually single. Yesterday evening, he suggested my fellow new membership counselor, Andre, and I were welcome to come in early anytime we wanted. You know, since we could therefore earn more commissions and boost his bottom line. Andre – who is married, fifty, and has four kids – and I just mentally rolled our eyes. I have a feeling there might be a lot of that in the coming months (or weeks – please please please weeks?? Rio Salado Community College, are you listening????).

Stay tuned, folks…this ride might get bumpy. At this rate, I’d better hit up the lady at the flower shop more often…I have a feeling I’m gonna need to be bringing lots of flowers home to boyfriend.

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Dear S. Chisholm (A Reprise): Or, What Goes Around Comes Around

This morning, something most unusual happened. Something big. Something monumental. Something earth-shattering. Something so awesome and surreal that it was at terrible and wonderful, all at once.

Today, I woke up before the sun.

Yes, you read correctly. Do not adjust your laptop screen.

Bright and early (well…kinda) this morning, I woke up and rolled out of bed to…my alarm.

These past few months, morning has been a time for deep slumber for me, and that slumber only ends when (a) the stubborn sun finally works its way through my blinds, (b) Dino, my monstrous little parrot, gets tired of hibernating and rattles the latch on her cage so I’ll let her out to play, (c) Boyfriend gets tired of waiting for me to wake up and rattles the latch on his cage so I’ll let him out to pee (okay, really he texts me from work to see if my lazy ass is out of bed yet, but that’s much less fun to say), or (d) Sierra bounces across my face in a last-ditch effort to alert me to the dangerously low kibble level in her food dish.

Today, though, I woke up before the sun woke up, before the bird got restless, before the boyfriend got off work, and before kitten got hungry. It was a red-letter day.

And the shock and amazement don’t end there, folks. Instead of throwing a sandal at the bird cage, shooing the cat away, and pulling a pillow over my face, I…got up. Then I showered, brushed my teeth, and dried, ironed, and styled my hair and got dressed. All before noon. And instead of the standard sweatpants and tee-shirt, I pulled on…(insert collective gasp here)…dress pants, shiny shoes, and a shirt that didn’t have “A&F” or “Obey” or last night’s dinner crumbs plastered all over it.

Yes, world, I returned to work.

As of today (well, as of last Friday, when I did a whirlwind of interviews that will surely be other blog stories for another time…), I’m a ‘membership counselor’ for LA Fitness (and ironically, the very same LA Fitness that was once run by S. Chisholm of pro(zach)nation Wall of Shame, for those of you regular readers. No, I never sent the letter, and no, he’s no longer there). No, it’s not the fast-track to the upper echelons of university student administration, and no, it’s not likely to get me tap-dancing on Ellen’s stage (really, Oprah and her couch are so 2006). It’s still a stop-gap until such time the fair world of higher education and Ellen come knocking. But…still, it’s something. And though I’ve traded my trendy David Kremieux ties and Banana Republic and Express wardrobe for UnderArmour polos and black (ugh) slacks, it also means I spend even more time in the gym surrounded by ripped young men with firm jaws and firmer abs.

Now, it’s somebody else’s turn to post irate blog letters to the jackass exercise nazi who tried to strong-arm him into a gym membership. I’m fully aware of the irony of this, folks. Don’t Fate have a funny sense of humor?

And on a side-note, this means I can return to blogging with abandon, now that, you know, I’ll have stuff other than the endless ennui and angst of unemployment to whine about.

As Britney would drawl, “Merry Christmas, y’all!”

Bitter, Hold the Sweet: In Which Zach Maybe, Hopefully Finds A Job (But Still Wants to Die A Little Bit)

If you’re a regular reader of pro(zach)nation, you’ve probably noticed I’ve been a little lackadaisical about my posting of late. That’s not because I hate y’all – I don’t – but is because…well…frankly, I’ve finally fallen into a bit of a slump lately. Which, you know, is an inevitable and perfectly natural reaction when one is suddenly and prolongedly unemployed while the inept upper-level administrator who couldn’t make a hard decision if it killed him and went with the easier solution of just getting rid of the last guy hired (and is it just me, or do I always go into run-on sentence mode when talking about my last boss??) still has a cushy office and a new car (and no, I’m not bitter, not ever).

More and more often, my morning gym session and writing time have been supplanted with lying in bed until noon, then watching re-runs of Drawn Together (best show ever, by the way, and yes, I totally am dressing as Xander next Halloween) until ennui is supplanted by panic and a fleeting bit of motivation to apply for a job or two. Then I nap, eat cookies and cake icing (cookies plus cake icing equals delicious yumminess, but yucky midsection gooeyness!), apply for another few jobs, take a couple sleeping pills, and drift back into happy oblivion for a preciously short amount of time before repeating the process. If everyone around me is lucky, there’s a shower and a change of clothes somewhere in there.

Give me a blonde wig, a couple more pills, and better cleavage and I’m practically Anna Nicole Smith. Only, you know, alive.

As much as I love a little angst and an opportunity to be a broody, martyred drama queen and channel my inner Evita (as played by Madonna, not Patti Lupone, cuz that would just be gross), luckily a sea change has come: I’ve got a job interview Monday.

This is big. This is exiting. It’s bigger than Toots’ ass and more exciting than Xandir’s (note to self: stop watching old Comedy Central shows before urge to sodomize cartoon characters sets in). It’s my first interview since the folks at ASU’s admissions office somehow forgot to call me back last month.

And not only do I have an interview, it’s one that I’m pretty sure I really, really can’t fuck up. At the risk of bringing karma down on my ass, I’m fairly confident I’ll have this job.

Why so sure? Because it’s something so beautifully simple I know I can do it. If I don’t get it, I might as well just crawl under a rock somewhere, because it means I pretty much universally fail and suck at life.

Yep…after five months of unemployment, it’s come to desperate measures and something I swore I’d never do: I’m interviewing for a position at the McDonalds down the block. Not only is it friggin’ McDonalds, it’s part-time. And it’s night shift. Nobody in the history of the universe – except maybe George and Babs Bush when they realized they’d given birth to a chromosomally-challenged troglodyte – has ever had more right to be utterly conflicted.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled at the prospect of work. The savings account is about tapped out and the stocks and bonds are long since liquidated. This ass is b-r-o-k-e. If I were still a little skinnier I’d be stripping on the bar at the local gay watering hole by now (which I’m pretty sure would bother boyfriend even more than me slinging fries and smelling like mystery meat). If I were a little more ethically challenged, I’d be considering the plus-side to having a pimp. Yes, money might be nice right about now.

But still…it’s McDonalds. Given the tanking George and Babs’ shoulda-been-coat-hangered-in-utero son gave the economy, I figured a plum job right in my career field might not just fall into my lap overnight. I was totally okay with that. I figured I’d use the downtime to totally do something cool, like be a scruffy-hipster-hot barista or a sexy-nerd bookstore clerk, or possibly be one of trendy pretty fags that work at trendy-pretty-fag Meccas like the upscale fashion mall in Scottsdale or the organic grocery store. Or maybe I’d lose my clothes and play go-go boy at a bar downtown, where I’d win the hearts and wallets of legions of men before going off to become a runner-up on American Idol and get hired by Paula Abdul to be her personal pool boy and pill counter.

Alas, that’s not to be. The trendy fun places aren’t hiring right now, even though any employer in their right mind would totally bend over (er, backwards) to employ someone who embodies sheer awesomeness as much as me. Also, it turns out a diet of cookies and cake icing do not lend themselves to abs anybody wants to see dancing on a bar. And also, I can’t sing, and Paula’s off the show. So…McDonalds it is, for now.

Le sigh. If ever scoring an interview felt like a hollow, Phyrric victory (which, as much as it sounds like a phallic victory, is significantly less fun), this is it. I was okay with being destitute, so long as I could be hip, sexy, or cool doing it.

Wish me luck, folks, and if anyone can think of a hip, sexy, cool way of saying ‘welcome to McDonalds’, please pull up to the second window and let me know.

Deck the Halls: In which a stressed and not-good-at-blogging Zach gets a little Scrooge-y

It’s hard to believe, given the sun shining cheerfully outside my window and the absolute lack of anything remotely resembling snow, but it’s now December. Thanksgiving has come and passed, the malls are all decked out in fake snow and giant ornaments, and the cheerful but ultimately irritating ring of Good Sam bell-ringers can be heard from every grocery store entrance. Yes, it’s the holiday season.

And honestly? I kinda hate it.

The winter holidays and I have a complex relationship. As a kid, I loved everything about them. There was the trek into the snow to find the perfect tree, the bonding time for my dad and I as we imagined how excited my mom and sister would be with the tree we brought back. Then came covering said tree with shiny, pretty ornaments, twinkly little lights and glittery tinsel (and my parents thought I was straight how, again?) until nary a needle showed, then furiously making garish little paper chains of construction paper and draping them over any surface in the house I deemed appropriate. There was the annual visit from Grandma, and of course food, food, food, and presents. And food. Thumbprint cookies, Russian tea-cakes, hams, turkeys, mashed potatoes, pumpkin-praline pies and apple crisps and every other sort of culinary and gastronomic goodness.

Then again, there were cold and snow, which, as I outgrew snowsuits and forts and snowball fights and moved far away from good ski slopes, were less and less fun. They grew more fun again when student loan money bought swanky peacoats and merino mock turtlenecks and cashmere sweaters and trendy faux-Burberry scarves (and wool caps, which I loved but didn’t so much love wearing all day long to hide the accompanying hat-hair), but less fun again when I got a real job, and therefore had no student loan money, was broke, and had not more fun trendy winter clothing.

The cold and snow became really not fun and became astronomically more infuriating after I traded my four-wheel-drive for a little front-drive thing with about as much traction as the cheap single-ply toilet paper you find in the restroom stalls of low-end movie theaters and started slipping, sliding, and swearing my way through winter (though I have to admit to being pretty damn impressed that I can now rotate a four-door sedan around 180 degrees while sliding backwards down a hill without breaking a sweat).

And those chilly, starry nights that seemed so peaceful, so perfect for curling up with a cup of hot chocolate and Christmas cookies as a kid? Not so effing peaceful when you are crawling around under your house looking for a frozen water line (as I was this past winter), or madly trying to shut off a valve to a busted pipe (as I was this past spring). Or when having a warm, cozy night curled up reading on the couch while watching snow gently fall outside comes at the expense of a lubeless-ass-rapingly-painful heating bill.

As a kid, the holidays meant family time and a valiant effort at model behavior between my sister and I and visits from grandparents – or, occasionally – with aunts and uncles and cousins. As a grown-up there has been but one family holiday, and it was catastrophic. Since then, they’ve been spent working (I infamously got Scrooge-y and worked completely through one holiday break, including Christmas and New Years, just to get some projects done in uninterrupted peace and quiet at the office, and there was another I worked 70 hours a week between retail jobs in the mall right through the hectic holiday buying season), spending awkward meet-the-family time with the boy(s) du jour, or visiting with longtime dear friends.

It’s the latter that makes the holidays special to me these days. I tend to be a very in-the-now person, which means occasionally I forget to spend enough time with old friends. The slowdown of life during the sleepy winter holidays in a college town – with all the fratboys gone home and therefore me out of trouble for a few weeks – were the perfect time to reconnect and spend a quiet Thanksgiving out of town with one dear friend or a cozy Christmas evening with others, watching the excitement of their kids ripping open new presents. Some of my all-time most cherished holiday moments, in fact, have been the past few Thanksgivings and Christmases with my oldest grad school friends. At the same time, those holidays were also a little sad, as they reminded me that I was a little too busy the rest of the year being Mr. Fun-in-the-sack to really be Mr. Fun-with-the-friends.

It looks like my complex love-loathe relationship with the holidays is going to continue this season. On the one hand, I’m grateful for fantastic people – Thanksgiving was spent with my oldest, best friend, my still-crazy-about-him-after-nearly-two-years boyfriend, and our favorite two people in Phoenix, and it couldn’t have been a more awesome day or a better group of people. More importantly, though, there was great food (despite my best efforts ‘helping’ make dessert), and nary a slick road or frozen pipe in sight.

At the same time, it’s a slightly bittersweet and blue season this year.

Aside from family and friends, the sweetest, most amazing part of the holidays to me is the holiday shopping. Yes, I said it. As awful as it is, I love the hectic rush of holiday shopping, the incessant and irritating din of Christmas music, the excitement of finding just the perfect gift for the little sister or the friends’ kids. I love the fake snow and cheesy Christmas villages, the artificial trees and oversized decorations of the malls, the smell of cinnamon and cheery holiday potpourris. I love getting irritated at the massive crowds and annoying donation-soliciting Santas, and I love wanting to punch the asshats who try to cut in front of stupidly long, slow-moving holiday lines (and yes, I’m fully aware that enjoying getting angry at asshats makes me an asshat. I embrace this). And yes, I love love LOVE stopping into Starbucks, armloads of bags hanging off me, for a holiday mocha. J’adore ma a venti triple-shot peppermint mocha or gingerbread latte. I love browsing the current crop of trendy wool coats, cashmere sweaters and scarves, spritzing myself with Burberry’s warm, wintery London cologne and dreamily imagining cozy nights around New England fireplaces with the half-naked models in the Abercrombie shops. I love browsing bookstores, ostensibly for other people, and leaving with heaps of holiday reading. And finally, I love the thrill of keeping little secrets, of tormenting Lee with the knowledge that I got him something and he’s never gonna guess in a million years what it is.

And, thanks to a stupid stupid economy and the five full months of unemployment and a resulting perilously-close-to-empty bank account, conventional wisdom says I will not be partaking in all that, and will continue drifting off to sleep to the blurry haze of sleeping pills at the end of stressful days of job-hunting rather than drifting off to sleep in peaceful exhaustion after a long days of shopping and holiday-planning excitement.

Lee and Willow and I had already decided we didn’t want to do the big gift-exchange thing with each other – past experience has shown holiday gift-giving to be akin to Cold War-era nuclear proliferation – so that worked out fine, but having to tell my family that Christmas might be coming next July or August? Not so fine. Not being able to stock up on holiday ciders and nogs and make great extravagant holiday feasts? Even more not so fine. No stunning new outfits to make me the center of attention at holiday parties? Beyond tragic. It sucks worse than a hungry whore.

And so…yeah. Even though I’m psyched to be around some of my closest friends for this holiday season, and will be thinking fondly of the rest, and even though I won’t have to slip on ice and splash in icy-cold puddles or even get really cold once this winter, and even though I’m excited to string lights up all over my little room at Casa Willow…I’m kinda apathetic at best about this holiday season.

Bah, I say. Maybe I’ll feel a little more festive if I go kick a mall Santa or two.