Now in week 13 of unemployment during the Not-So-Great Recession, I can say with assurance that the idea of hiring this 60-year-old former reporter does not spark enthusiasm among the Houstonian elite doing the hiring.
As of last week, I decided to cast my net further afield. On Friday, I ventured as far as Jacksonville, Texas, in the heart of East Texas to see about the reporter opening at the town’s newspaper. I stopped for a great hamburger and milk shake in Madisonville on the way up. On the over-three-hour return trip, I moseyed into a tumbling-down joint known to have some of the best open-pit BBQ in the state.
In between, I re-discovered that small town newspapers must, by necessity, also think small when it comes to pay. I learned that the job paid about the same salary as my first reporting job as a Journalist for the U.S. Navy. In 1974.
My face must have registered my thoughts when I heard the figure; the editor didn’t bother making it an offer.
The rest of the town looked like it was either being boarded up or falling down, which made me sad, since my aunt, uncle and a few cousins still live there. My dad, grandparents, great-grandparents and at least one great-great are all buried a stone’s throw down the road in Neches, an even smaller, blink-you-miss-it spot.
Their graves all face the East so they’ll be facing the right direction on the Resurrection.. The morning my dad died, I remember that a cousin was pestering me about which way my mom had placed the grave marker stakes, in case my dad would rise on that Great Gettin’ Up Mornin’ facing the wrong way. I told her that I didn’t know.
“But I do know that if my dad gets up and is facing away from all the beaming clouds and angels with trumpets, he had enough snap to damn well turn around,” I told her.
Half of my East Texas family– the Valley Baptists, not the Church of Christers — don’t speak to me to this day.
I decided to pay my graveside respects and drove past the old turn-of-the-century ghost town that “commercial” Neches once encompassed — about five narrow false-front storefronts that look like they came out of a TV Western, only without a saloon, of course. This is Bible country.
The town only has maybe 20 farmers who live off either of the former town’s two roads. But although I’d been to my dad’s resting spot several times with my mom, I never did find the graveyard. Being the direction-challenged woman that I am, I managed to get lost in Neches.
Which brings me to Option 2 under the heading of My Future. If I continue to generate the excitement from prospective employers that my four to nine e-mails and snail-mail applications per week have elicited so far — read little to none — I’ve calculated that I will not be able to remain in my hometown of Houston. In a few months, according to my math skills, I’ll have to pack it in and go somewhere where the livin’ is cheaper, fish are jumpin’ and they’ve never seen cotton.
If I sell my condo and pay off the mortgage, I should have enough to buy a house and last a year and a half before early retirement kicks in at age 62 if I simply move to the Balkans. I’ve gotten really red-eyed from staying up nights, looking at Bulgarian property on the Internet. If you’re ever in Bulgaria, give a big Texas howdy to real estate agent Stanley Ivanov. I’m not kidding.
Yep. I have located some beautiful homes in Bulgaria for $18,000 or less. Some look like mini-mansions, two stories amid orchards looking outward to majestic mountains or rolling hills.
I was wondering why my daddy ever raised his family in Texas and not a domicille on the Danube until I started considering some drawbacks: 1) I don’t speak a drop of Bulgarian, and 2) houses in that price range have no real indoor plumbing. Bulgarians seem to favor the outhouse approach, which my grandparents and other small dirt farmers did in Neches 30 years ago.
I remember waking up in the night and getting my mom or dad, whoever would first acknowledge my pleas, to take me out along a moonless, country path past the barn to a small wooden shed with a crecent moon cut in the door and Sears & Roebuck catalog pages inside, just in case anyone should run out of toilet paper from the Jacksonville or Palestine Piggly-Wiggly stores.
Still, if labor is also inexpensive in Bulgaria, I might be able to have a toilet installed with enough money left over.
But drawback No. 3, I think, is the kicker: If I fail to build that bathroom before winter, I will waking up, all sleepy in the black of Bulgarian Nights out in the country, trying to naviage my direction-challenged self in the general direction of the outhouse — this time, in the snow.
I’ve recently started visiting sites listing distressed and tax-delinquent properties in Houston.
And I don’t feel a shred of guilt.