Houston Metro, How May We Disgust You?

I’ve ridden on the Metro systems of the world; New York City, Washington D.C., Paris and Mexico City.  One day I hope to ride on the most beautiful Metro system in the world, the Moscow Metro, but I digress.  Houston Metro has to be, by far, the worst Metro system in what is rated as a World-Class city.  Sure, we have highways that are 20 lanes wide…and constantly choked by traffic, but what good is a city that cannot move it’s citizens around in a expedient and efficient manner?  What’s the matter with the Houston Metro, you ask?  Oh well, let me tell you!

Let’s just ignore the fact that the entire system is perpetually late, that trains have to stop for cars and that it is considered normal operating practice for buses to run as much as 30 minutes late, let’s forget all about that…instead, what follows is a one day account of riding Houston Metro…

I’m waiting at the corner bus-stop, as I do every morning to get to work.  I’ve gotten used to the fact that the bus never arrives at its 7:14 scheduled time, and instead always shows up at 7:20.  Granted six-minutes isn’t a big deal, but when that means you’re six minutes late for your train that means the difference of showing up 15 minutes early, just on time or 15 minutes late…do you begin to see the problem already?

The bus shows up with our usual driver, a kind fellow – unlike most drivers.  I go to take my normal seat across from the back door, but I notice that it’s wet.  Wet actually doesn’t beging to describe it.  To be perfectly blunt, there’s a puddle square in the middle of it.  Uppon closer inspection, it is urine…yes someone peed on the bus…I look down at my feet, sure enough, there’s pee on the floor too.  Luckily I don’t eat breakfast before I leave the house, so there’s nothing to vomit when I start to heave.  I take a seat across the isle from a very well dressed black woman on her phone.  I notice her because the other day she had on a dated, but classic outfit.

We start bumping along the way and stop to pick up the next passenger.  She’s clearly unwell.  She’s talking to herself, arguing with herself, confused by her surroundings, but she’s not disturbing anyone or any real danger.  I thought that, like me, everyone else would allow her to do her thing and let her be in peace – I felt sorry for her.  Then the well dressed black woman laughs…and it all goes downhill from there.

To clarify, she wasn’t laughing at the sick woman, she was laughing at something someone said to her on her phone.  The schizophrenic woman jerks around and says, quietly, “don’t be laughin’.”  I glance up from my book for a moment, then get back to reading.  I figured that everyone else on the bus was a rational individual and noticed this woman was clearly troubled, but I was wrong.  The black woman starts:

“Ex-Cuse-Me?  Whachu say bitch?”

Oh Christ, I certainly didn’t peg her for being like that.

“I…I said don’t be laughin’.”

Ugh, just let it go, why would you antagonize someone who’s ill?  But no, she can’t let it go, she has to look tough, stupid, stupid, stupid.

“I be on my phone!  I be laughin’ when I wanna laugh, don’t be tellin’ me what to do.  Dis bitch up in here frontin’ with the wrong bitch to-day!”

Wow, I’ve never seen someone go so ghetto so quick…other than Tyra Banks.  So needless to say if one person escalates, what’s the other person going to do?  That’s right!  The sick woman gets up and starts screaming at the supposedly non-sick one, they get face to face, just next to me.  I’ve given up reading about the collapse of the Soviet Union and start to pull out my cell phone to call the Metro Police, since the bus driver isn’t doing a damn thing but watching and saying “yall need to stop, yall need to calm down.”

Finally the bus stops, we’re only about 10 blocks from my house.  I’m freaking out, I’m waiting for someone to pull a knife or a gun or something, and briefly I wish I had a damned gun.  I can’t make my exit through the back door because the two women are directly in my path, I can’t even get up.

“Ima whoop yo sorry ass, biiiitch, don’t FUCK with me!”  This is the non-sick one.

“Don’t you talk to me like that!  Let’s go!  Let’s role!  I’ll take you down!  C’MON!  LET”S GO!”

I call the cops, give them our location…then finally the bus driver chimes in “One of you needs to get off the bus, now!”

One?  Just one?  Hell, let ’em both off!

“I ain’t leavin’ this mother fuckin’ bus, tell dat bitch to get off.”  Can you guess which one this is?

Finally the ill woman gets off, screaming about how she wants her buck-fifty back and how the bus driver is gonna pay…I’m kinda let down someone didn’t get stabbed, but also glad that I didn’t.  I talk to some of my coworkers about the drama when I get to work, aparently this isn’t an unheard of event on Houston Metro…

Billions of dollars, and billions more approved for more metro.  How about Houston spends those billions on making the Metro they have at least run right and run safe?

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More Good News

Just a heads up everyone, I am now a small time columnist for a small paper that caters to the Houston/Galveston market!  My first article was published this weekend – it’s biweekly – and let’s hope this is just the beginning of more to come!

Rule 520

 My current temporary position is itching to hire me full time; I’ve never seen an employer so eager. There’s a snag – isn’t there always – my agency wants at least $5,500 for the privilege of hiring me. By their calculations that’s 15% of what my salary would be. $5,500! That’s NUTS! I’m my biggest fan and even I wouldn’t want the University to pay that! Another issue is the fact that nobody is sure who would pay it. Human Resources say they don’t, our Administrative Office says they don’t and the office I’m in – says they can’t because they’re funded entirely by grants. I start to prepare for a lawsuit. I may have signed contracts and they may have too, but this has at least got to constitute unfair labor practices, these people are practically holding a non-profit -department hostage and practically forcing me to stay with them as a temp forever.

 

“Trevor,” Eva, our compliance and regulations officer starts, “Dr. Moro really wants to hire you, we hope you like it here, we all love having you here, but this five-thousand dollars, it’s just impossible for us to do.”

 

“Have you tried negotiating with them? The number it arbitrary, they’re hoping you won’t argue and just pay it.”

 

 “We haven’t. Isn’t there some way around this?”

 

“Let me make some calls, see what I can find out.”

 

“Please do, send them to me if you have to, but if you can find a way to save us that money, you’re in.”

 

Suddenly I’m tasked with having to fight for my job. I call down to our Administrative Office and let my supervisor know that she has to fight the %15 the agency is demanding. She says she’ll do it, that she wants to keep me here. She makes her calls and is thwarted by the agency; they refuse to budge from their $5,500.

 

Luckily I’ve made a few good contacts in the temporary agency industry and none of them with my current agency, which I often remind people are the rudest and most unprofessional people I’ve ever dealt with. I call up some other agencies, speak to my contacts and they’re all very helpful and very kind…too bad my current contract isn’t with them. I’m on the phone with one woman.

 

“So what’s going on here, Michelle, is that my current contract wants to drop XYZ and sign up with another company – they’re unhappy with the service.”

 

“Well we can definitely do that, thanks for calling me about that. Does your current contract have any concerns?”

 

“Yes, well, they’re concerned about what happens when they want to hire a temp on full time.”

 

“Well we abide by the industry standard Rule 520.”

 

Rule 520? I’ve heard of 420, 24/7 and the B-52’s, but what the hell….

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Oh, Rule 520? Its industry standard practice, after 520 hours – three months – you can be hired without any cost to the employer.”

 

“Really?”

 

HA! Got ya now!

 

She goes on for a few minutes, I give her all the info she needs and I bring this news to Eva and our Administrative Office. I mention that a lot of different things could be happening here. 1.) The agency could be playing dumb about 520, 2.) They’ve excluded it from our contract or 3.) They don’t practice it at all. Either way, I’ve done my part; it’s in our Administrative Offices hands now.

 

Eva and I sit back and talk about why I want to work in the HIV/AIDS Research Department, and why I would, ostensibly, take a sizable pay cut and technically a demotion to be here. It’s pretty easy to explain because it’s all truth and comes from my heart; if I have enough money to live, then I don’t care about titles or income, what I care about is being able to be part of a team that’s actually creating difference and change in this world. In short, I’d rather be part of something bigger that branding the newest, latest way to part customers from their money. Eva’s phone rings, and I leave her office to give her privacy.

 

I hear her shouting.

 

“THOSE BASTARD! I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT!”

 

I try not to listen; it’s none of my business…until….

“They were just going to steal a job from him like THAT!”

 

My ears perk.

 

“Well that’s amazing news, just fantastic!” I run over to her office and she’s practically jumping out of her chair.

 

“What? What is it!” I ask.

 

“They don’t do 520; they do 360…that’s only 7 more weeks and they weren’t gonna tell us! Those bastards!”

 

“THE JOB IS MINE?!”

 

“IT’S YOUR’S!”

 

We shout and jump up and down and high-five. I stop and ask Eva,

 

“So they were just gonna charge you $5,500 and not tell you that after 360 hours you could have me for free?”

 

“Yup.”

 

 “You know, that’s pretty foolish. Because they piss someone off when they find out, like you, and then someone, like you, goes to Human Resources and informs them of how this company we have a contract with is technically screwing them out of a lot of money or great employees.”

 

 “And you bet I’m going to speak to Human Resources about it too.”

 

I chuckle. I feel like standing on a desk and letting out a roar…I beat the bastards at their own friggen contract game. Have you ever had people fight for you to be hired and then cheer for you when it happens? IT FEELS GOOD!

 

I remind Eva that that $5,500 is more than accounted for in the fees that they’re paying the agency weekly for my time here – I’ve seen the invoices; the agency takes nearly double what I get weekly. She says she knows, but the contract is paid through a central office, whereas the $5,500 flat fee would have been charged directly to our office. As much as the entire Medical School is a team, it’s also a series of fiefdoms that has it’s time-value-of-money seriously backwards. But no matter, by March 30th I’ll be the newest member of our Team and it feels good!

 

Endnote

Anybody who works for a temp agency or knows someone who does, make sure you ask the agency if they follow the industry standard 520 Rule or what derivation of it they do. They may say it goes contract by contract, so make sure you ask for each assignment…the agency isn’t your friend. You do most of the work, they get most of the pay…the more you know about how they operate the less chance you have of being stuck in the temporary employment trap for long.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

In the span of one-weeks time I’ve been accused by two different men of hating gay people and having a real issue with being gay, so you know what- here we go:

I have no issue with gay people or being gay.  What I take issue with is the fact that because I’m gay I should do, like and be certain ways and things, totally ignoring the fact that there’s 100% human being in here.  My being gay is about as relevant as my having brown eyes – it’s a trait I have, but it doesn’t define me.  I am not your damned stylist, or your fucking comic relief like some modern age man in black face tap dancing for all the nice folk.  These seemingly harmless stereotypes are just as poisonous as the ones of sex and race marginalization.  Why don’t you go and ask your black friend the best place to get fried chicken, see how that goes over.  Or how about you ask your Latino friend what it’s like to be a day laborer.  No, I don’t hate being gay, what I hate is the notion that it defines me.

The gay communities #1 enemy?  The gay community.  You must conform!  You must be this way, or you’re completely devalued, debased and dehumanized.  Weren’t we supposed to be fighting for everyone to have a voice?  For everyone to be created equal?  Nope, sorry, go play into the mold that NBC, Bravo! and every other damned media outlet has created for you, go ahead.  Show the world that you’re nothing but sheep.  The community whines, and moans that they’re not getting equal treatment…well how about you start at home.  Here’s a clue, AB MUSCLES ARE NOT NORMAL!  It’s not rights for the pretty ones and the rest can go to hell, it’s rights for EVERYONE!

OK, sure, so I do like some pretty typical things that gay people like, example one, Judy Garland.  But you know what, talent is talent.  Unlike Britney Spears and whatever the next wreck-de jour is, there is a difference between blindly following the tune of a marketing directors drum, and identifying true talent.

Can I tell you what designer labels are in?  Nope, can you tell me?  Can I tell you what color looks good on you?  Sure, but you told me that first and I’m only honest when I tell you you look fat…gays aren’t honest, friends are.  Can I dance?  Not on your life, can you?  I don’t know what puce is, beer and wings are my idea of heaven, I like to sit around in jeans and a hoodie, I don’t have to have to newest, prettiest, shiniest whatever it is that’s in vogue this minute and for this I’m marginalized by the supposed gay community.

Well you know what, I’m here to tell you something.  This community sucks.  Get your shit in order, figure out what you want from your country and your government, until then, I’ll just sit aside and watch you all destroy yourselves.  I’ll be over here drinking my beer, wearing my ratty old jeans, watching A Star Is Born.

_____________________

What brought this on?

A phone call last night from a fellow columnist at the Montrose GEM called to tell me that a lesbian is running for mayor.

“Um, ok, yay?”

“Why do you hate being gay?”

“Woah, what? Excuse me?”

“You seem to have a real issue with being gay.”

“No, John, I have a real issue with the fact that because I’m gay I’m supposed to be a certain way.  I don’t give a damn if the person running for mayor people’s her bed with sheep.  All I care about is her platform.”

“Oh….well I came at this wrong…..there’s this awesome person running for mayor, with an amazing platform, oh and she happens to be a lesbian.”

“Wow, that’s awesome, I gotta see what her platform is.”

Warning! Do NOT Lick The Blood!

So I got a new job.  Instead of working in the Advancement Department of a major University down here, I’ll be working in the Medical School as Support for the doctors on the HIV/AIDS research team.  I had to take time last week during the day to go and spend a few moments with the individual who was vacating the position so I could get an idea of what would be required of me.  I left my beautiful and well manicured office and arrived at what can only be called a bunker-like, monolith of a building that could only be more confusing if the halls were lined with mirrors.  I held out hope for the office I’d be in. 

 

Hope failed.  The office was a disaster; I had to turn sideways to go from one side of the office to the other, there were papers piled up all over this lady’s desk…soon to be my desk.  I kept trying to remind myself that I was helping to support some great individuals who were doing fantastic work trying to solve one of our generations great problems.  Well, better get on with this.

 

“Can I grab a chair as you explain this stuff?”  I ask the lame duck employee. 

 

“Well we don’t have an extra.”

 

“Can I just grab one from one of the doctors offices?”

 

“You’d have to lift it over their desk to get at it.”

 

“Ok, I’ll stand.”

 

She spends an hour explaining things, that if they were done properly, wouldn’t need explanation.  It wouldn’t be until later that I and the department would realize that for two-years this woman didn’t do anything:  no filing, no organizing, no reports, no databases, nothing!  But that’s a later post.  

 

Someone mentions that she should show me the lab since I will have to help in there too.  As we walk in there’s blood everywhere.  My fingernails dig into my palms, which are quickly coated in sweat…I think I’m going to be sick.  It wasn’t all over the walls or anything, it was in tubes being rocked back and forth on machines, spun around in centrifuges, locked away in refrigerators, or in doctors hands.  I noticed that the woman I was following was standing next to a massive metal tube that was as tall as me and as wide as a truckers ass.  

 

“This is the nitrogen tank that feeds this freezer here.”  She taps a relatively small machine next to her with a metal tube running into it.  She goes on.

“This freezer holds hundreds of viles of ten year old HIV positive blood….and it’s locked.”

 

I open my mouth to ask a question, but she goes on.

 

“The freezer will beep if it’s low on nitrogen, but that’s not good, so watch this thing here and when it gets to that yellow point, order another one, they’ll deliver it in two days.”

 

“Who does the connecting and disconnecting?”

 

“That’d be you.”

 

“Yeah, but isn’t nitrogen gas that stuff they put stuff into then pull it out and shatter it with a hammer?”

 

“Well you see, the reason this freezer her is locked isn’t because we’re afraid of someone stealing 10 year old HIV positive blood, it’s because if you opened it, the blast of air would give you 3rd degree burns.”

 

“Oh my God!  So, wait, what’s to prevent that from happening when I change out the tank?” 

 

She opens a drawer.

 

“These asbestos gloves.”

 

“Oh, ok…wait?  Excuse me?”

 

“Yeah, asbestos is good for this.”

 

“Yall have any lead cups I can drink out of too?”

 

“That’d be radiology down the hall.”  She says in all seriousness, “You’ll be fine, it’s not hard.”

 

We begin to leave, I’m grateful that I can get away from all the blood, it’s like The Shining in there I swear!

 

“Oh!”  She says, “One last thing.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Don’t lick anything.”

No Liquor, But Would You Like A Handgun?

It’s been a rough week; I’ve been working all weekend on things that were neglected while I was gone for ten-days. I’m not tired, but I’m stiff and stressed out, I need a damned drink. Not wine, that makes me sleepy. I crack open the wine fridge to see what else we have.

There’s two shelves of soda – soda? Why do we have that, neither of us drinks soda. Hrm…there’s a mystery bottle of wine I found two days ago, I’m still not sure where that came from or who’s it is, ok next. Blech, cheap cooking wine. Cheap brandy and some rum. Oy. We need vodka; I need vodka, time to go to the store.

Down here you don’t find the typical liquor store. Oh sure, we have them, but our supermarkets and big stores like Target also carry wine and beer. I make my way through our half revitalized, half decrepit Downtown to a local large chain whose tag line is “If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist.”


I’ve pretty much found that to be true.


I pull in, the parking lot is oddly lacking many cars, and usually this place is a madhouse. Whatever, I find easy parking. I walk inside, past the massive neon rabbit sign – yes a giant neon rabbit.

I make my way through the isles – “Bourbon Street,” “Whiskey Way,” “Rum Road…” yes I know it’s corny, but hey, it seriously helps you find exactly what you’re looking for. Ah HA! Vodka! Sweet, sweet Russian candy.

I grab some weird Irish vodka that Julius always buys, and I happen to enjoy and begin to make my way towards the front of the store, not noticing that half the lights in the store are out and there’s only one register open.

I make my way to register 9, manned by a rather rotund, pale, blond woman with the rattiest hair I’ve ever seen. I smile at her and hand her the bottle.

“No liquor.” She says with a heavy southern accent.

“Huh?” I ask, not sure what she means.

“Can’t buy hard liquor on Sundays, darling, only wine or beer.”

“But you’re a liquor store.”

“Cain’t do it.”

“But why?”

“Do you think the Good Lord Jesus, on the 7th day, when he was restin’, went and had hisself a drink? No sir! No liquor on Sundays.”

I look to my left and see a box with tins of mints in them, they’re called TestaMints, they have scripture on every mint. I look around, half expecting to see a large black woman burst out into “Listen To The Rain,” as I get a scripture lesson.

I notice a TV on over the back of the check-out counter.

 

“Today on Houston’s death row, an inmate pulled out his own eye, and then proceeded to eat it, more on that when we come back.”

 

Did I just enter some kinda crazy-town?

 

I’m half distracted, hand the bottle of vodka to the sacker and walk out.

There’s some flashing lights for a store across the street.  “HANDGUNS!  QUICK APPROVAL!  OPEN! OPEN! OPEN!” it flashes.  Huh….so I can’t get some vodka, some guy eats his own eye, but I can get a handgun…welcome to Texas.

The White Moth; Part III

Her house was dark, deep and dramatically colored with black, purples, reds and blues, Jackson’s heart pounded in his chest.  His head spun and his mind was afloat. The last time he felt like this he had been tripping. The only difference was that this time he didn’t think that the lights were alive and trying to eat him.

Regina led him into a dark living room. The floors were a deep, dark wood and they moaned loudly as they stepped across them to a deep, plum purple couch.  As he fell slowly down onto the couch, he felt like he was sinking into warm water. Regina slithered next to him as the down in the pillows shifted and gave.

The boxes around the room were a sign that she hadn’t been living in the house very long, but Jackson couldn’t remember his parents telling him that it was for sale.  Ruby walked into the room, announcing her presence with the “click, clack” of her nails on the floor, and sat at attention next to Regina, almost in a protective stance.  The only light in the room came from a lone, dark amber lamp and a few lit candles.

He could feel the heat from her breath on his neck; his head floated high above his body as if he were drugged.

“Wha….”  He couldn’t finish.

“Sh,” Regina said as she put her finger against his lips.

Soon her lips took the place of her finger on top of his. They were smooth like silk and warm like liquid heat.  Jackson’s heart pounded with the strength of a machine.

“Just breathe.”  She whispered into his ear, the humidity of her breath lingering on his face.

Slowly she kissed his neck and pulled back, as if to see if Jackson were still in his stupor.  He couldn’t move. His body was frozen and limp, but his mind and heart raced.  Regina’s eyes seemed to grow more intense and almost like a fiery green that blazed within her head.  Then quickly she descended upon his neck and sank her teeth into the soft, supple flesh, deep onto the pulsating vein that lie beneath.

The dark, crimson blood flowed into her mouth and between her lips, a few drops escaping onto his neck.  Jackson tried to get up and push her off of him, but Regina’s strength was much greater than he had anticipated, and she held him back with her thin arms and dug her sharply filed nails into his body.  His head spun and his stomach turned in the pit of his body. The room spun and his vision became blurry. Then slowly, Jackson’s eyes slipped shut.

*                             *                               *                             *                              *

Her tongue lapped against his face like a warm, wet sponge.  Jackson’s eyes slowly opened, but they were still blurry. It was hard to see.  He rubbed his eyes and looked around when her tongue lapped against him again.

“Ophelia!  What are you doing?”  He asked.

He felt as stiff as if he had just gone through an intense workout and his stomach ached as if he had a hangover.  Jackson patted Ophelia on the head and scratched her ears, and then her saw it.  A white moth fluttered by his head and over towards the kitchen lamp. He clomped over the hardwood floors, making them creak and moan, as well as causing shelves to shudder, making his way to the kitchen-table lamp.  Slowly and with precision he raised his hands around the lamp, keeping a distance just far enough from the moth so as not to scare it off.

“Thank God.  You’ve been annoying me forever.”  Then, dimwittedly, Jackson moved in a way that landed the back of his right hand directly against two light bulbs.

“Ow damn it!”  He screamed, stomping his foot, causing the glasses concealed in the cabinets to shudder and shake together, sounding a song of high-pitched tones.  As rapidly as it arose, his brief outburst disappeared, and he made his way over to the sliding doors opposite the kitchen table.  Lithely, Jackson slipped through the door to the back porch and threw the moth up into the air, unable to see its line of flight, but sure that it had gotten as far away from him as possible.

Jackson scratched his neck. His body always got itchy after he had been sweating.  As he pulled his hand away, he noticed that there was blood on it.  Back inside the house, Jackson went into the bathroom and looked at his neck in the mirror. There were two “pin points” on his neck.

“What the hell?  Where did that come from?”

He grabbed some tissues and held them to his neck until the bleeding stopped and made his way to the kitchen again.  On the kitchen table there was something silver that Jackson didn’t recognize.  He picked it up and opened it. It was a cigarette case that contained cigarettes so long and thin that they looked like white matchsticks.  Jackson didn’t know why, but he had a sense of foreboding.

“Hamlet!  C’mon boy, time for a walk.”

The End