Friday, November 27, 2009

Yeah, right

I started smoking again as the rain and unemployment levels were on the rise in Northern California. One I could handle, but not both at the same time. I saw it coming. Cubicles around me in the exchange division resembled a ghost town, unplugged computer screens everywhere.

Suddenly after 15 years of employment, I got the word and I tried to beat a pink slip home. I figured there was enough time to buy a pack of cigarettes. You'd think that after 20 years of quitting smoking, I would've known better.

Couldn't light up in the house. Didn't want to let Cathy know that I'd started again. But after the first dozen times of going downstairs because I'd left something inside my car, I knew she was getting suspicious.

One night she came into bed. "What's that smell, Rick?"

"Don't smell anything." I rolled over and played dumb.

"I know that smell," she said, and flopped her arm over my chest.

Good thing I had a cover. The rice had burned on the stove that evening. "Maybe it's the exhaust fan from the oven," I said. I didn't even think the stove had a fan. "I'll check it in the morning."

She sniffed the side of my neck and didn't say anything. We both knew she knew. But that didn't stop me from going to the parking lot of the condo wondering about how I was going to pay the bills.

Sure, I talked to her about how I waited for a half day at a job fair and never got to first base. She'd told me something would come up.

Yeah, right. I sat on the curb in the condo parking lot with my computer in my lap. I was smoking and it started to rain.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How I Landed My New Job, #3

I watched a man with striped blue and red socks pedal by on a bicycle. A girl in a black hoodie and tennis shoes walked by holding a cell phone to her ear. There was a strong scent of something like Lysol. I noticed large stains on the linoleum floor, possibly from water damage. The room was furnished with two folding metal chairs and buffeted along its perimeter with wooden shelves; in the back, the aforementioned hot plate, and several packets of powdered milk and sugar substitutes. A calendar hung on the wall with a layout of pumpkins. I also noticed a bathroom that I wasn’t ready to investigate, but hoped anyway for toilet paper.

I decided to release a single cup from its Styrofoam tower and waited for an aluminum pan to heat up with water. I searched for a plastic spoon and found one. Stirred the water in the powder and went back outside to begin sorting through boxes.

I loved junk, part of a childhood preoccupation with going through my aunt’s attic while everyone downstairs talked and drank. Just the fact that something was boxed away and wrapped in tissue paper made it special. Photograph albums with black pages and blurry faces. An assortment of silver spoons, each with a different pattern. Moldy dolls in serious need of plastic surgeons. Dresses and fur coats that retained a smell of perfume. I could lose myself in my aunt’s attic until my mother called me to come downstairs to say good-bye, which happened a long time ago before every year marked the death of someone whom I loved and black became my favorite color.

Now I loved all kinds of color and began digging around inside the cartons to see what I could find. A milk pitcher in the shape of a white cow. More pottery, glass, cutlery, a few electrical appliances. This was the perfect job. I began to arrange stuff along different shelves. One place for each kind of thing huddled next to each other for warmth. It was getting cold. I had a thin jacket pulled over a t-shirt. A half-finished cup of cold coffee sat on the ledge. No help there. I looked outside and realized it was dark and whateverhernamewas hadn’t returned from her storage unit.

For sure I’d gotten myself involved in another stupid mess. I was a floater with a knack for landing in ridiculous situations, a dandelion seed in the brambles. But I also reminded myself that I had managed to find a semi-decent new apartment and had left behind a boyfriend who only knew how to extend his grubby hands. An energy vampire. But what a body! Beautifully shaped muscles, a strong neck, an abdomen shaped by the hands of Greek Gods.

Right then the door was propped open by a large carton.

“Hey, can you come outside and help me?”

She was sorry she’d been away so long. Oh, her name was Vivette. She’d just sent in her check for this month’s rent to the storage people, and had to hassle with them for at least a half an hour before they were able to find her check in a stack of mail. Not one of those losers had logged it into their computer. She hated computers. Of course, the things were useful in their own way, looking up addresses and recipes. She’d gotten a great recipe for scotch scones. She’d bake me a bunch sometime. I seriously looked like I could use some fattening up. When’s the last time I ate?

Anyhow, by the time she’d finally squared things away with the people at the front desk, then she had to begin loading the stuff into her flatbed, up and down the elevator. Up and down. She really should’ve gotten a unit on the ground floor, but they were too expensive. Still were. Those people charge an arm and a leg but they were the cheapest around. Do you think they cared that she was starting up a new business and striking out for herself after years of running a daycare? She loved kids, but she couldn’t do it anymore, didn’t have the energy to keep up with three-year olds. Did I like children? A friend had showed her this place and it had been bingo! She always spent her weekends at flea markets. The place was a decent square footage and she could buy stuff cheap and sell it at a slight mark-up. All the Moms and Pops she knew were looking for a bargain. These days it was rough on families. Anyhow, she’d made it back and she was sorry again she was late. The phone was going to be installed next week. Everything was about red tape, red time.

She took a breath and looked around. “You did a great job,” she said and smiled at me. I helped her to unload the rest of the cartons from her white Toyota and we stacked them on the side of the room. After we had unloaded the last one, she placed two crisp twenties in my hand. “Ten dollars an hour, okay?” I nodded. “Come back Monday,” she said and disappeared toward the bathroom. “Ten o’clock.”

"Is this a job?" I asked.

"What do I know?" she said.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Green Brick Road to Renewable Jobs

There’s a man who sits in front of his computer developing reports about renewable resources, charting a green brick-road leading to jobs and a possibly new relationship to our futures in this cash-strapped state of California. He shuttles between offices at the City College of San Francisco and his home in the Laurel District of California, rarely deflected from his goal, a man who has dedicated his career to workforce development and dislocated worker training and counseling.

Fortunately for me, sometimes this slender bearded man takes a break to lunch on garlic potato soup and toasted baguettes at a café near 16th Street in San Francisco where I met John Carrese, Center Director of Centers of Excellence.

The Centers of Excellence, delivers regional workforce research for community college decision-making and resource development.

Reports and their statistics help the community colleges to justify new course offerings. But they can help you too.

The Centers are funded through Economic and Workforce Development, and like many other offices these days, has recently experienced budget cuts. Fortunately, Carrese continues at the helm.

Here’s where to find the reports. If you’re wondering how to restructure your careers, you may find these a valuable information resource.

To look at reports for specific green industries go to and enter a backslash with entries of green, solar, energy or wind after the initial url. For example:

Also take a look at for a summary of upcoming conferences and professional development opportunities at community colleges throughout the state.

EDD (Employment Development Department) has been busy also researching where the green venture capital is going and on what industries people are betting. Check out and also

“The intersection of new jobs and technology applied to real problems makes this work compelling to me,” Carrese said.

Go John. We need more programs and people like you.

Lenore Weiss

Posted via email from techtabletalk's posterous

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How I Landed My New Job, #2

Let me guess what you’re thinking, how this is about Johnny giving me a job. You can bet that I was thinking the same thing. A girl has to take care of herself because who else will?

I had money for next month’s rent, a dozen packages of Top Ramen noodles and enough quarters to do two loads of wash. Getting a job had suddenly escalated to the top of my list.

In order to land the apartment, a friend had vouched for me as a freelance artist. My new landlord had been desperate to rent the place. It had been vacant for three months. Taking my first month’s rent and security deposit, he said, “Rent is due the first of the month, every month. No exceptions.” I may be a lot of things, but I’m not dumb.

Anyway, my new apartment wasn’t bad, small but with working appliances and hot water. I looked up at the cracked plaster of the ceiling and mumbled something along these lines:

“Thank you, Big Bopper, for teaching me to never give parts of myself away, including loans of money to asshole boyfriends, and thanks for keeping me and my cat Mr. Purrfect, safe,” which reminded me that I also had to figure cat food into my overall budget. But then I cheered myself with thoughts of how people all over the world are getting blown up for no good reason so my situation didn't seem so bad by comparison, and managed to wash a few dishes before gathering up my backpack and leaving the house, thinking I’d walk around the neighborhood to see if there were any “Help Wanted” signs. I saw “Closed” and “Out of Business,” and one “Lost Our Lease,” but as far as I could tell, nobody needed help. Even the Holiday Motel, a place whose beige exterior had faded into dirt a long time ago, wasn’t hiring housekeepers.I was told that people were not piling into the Holiday Motel; they were staying put. But at that moment, all explanations wrapped around my body in tight a sinewy knot and spun me on the street like a lopsided top.

Really, what was I going to do? I passed a storefront window and asked my reflection that same question, a short kid with a ponytail wearing jeans and a ribbed t-shirt. Maybe I should’ve listened to my parents before they’d died and gotten myself a teaching credential. “You’ll get the summer’s off to spend with your husband and kids,” had been their mantra. Instead, I wanted to drive across the United States with a canvas and a box of acrylic paints, and did.

The girl looked back at me with her puffy eyes. Geez, no help there. She shrugged her shoulders and pointed back at me, across the street where I saw an orange “Help Wanted” sign posted in the lower left-hand corner of a window. Thinking the sign was a mirage conjured up by my stressed-out mind, I blinked. Sure enough, it was still there.

I spit slightly into my palm and smoothed down the top of my hair with saliva, pulled my t-shirt straight over my jeans. There wasn’t much else to do except go inside the storefront on a street that was pretending to be a commercial thoroughfare in a run-down neighborhood. There were several “Sale!!!” signs posted in the window on orange poster-board. It was getting close to Halloween. A nice touch, I thought, although the graphics were lousy.

“I came in to find out about the job,” I asked a woman with long grey greasy stringy hair who stood behind a counter smoking a cigarette. Her fingers bulged at the joints, slightly arthritic with the yellow stain of a habitual smoker. I pointed to the sign in the window.

“You mean that,” she laughed like it was a big joke. I’d had enough of looking for a job, turned around and started to leave. “No wait,” she said, balancing her smokes on the edge of a counter. The place was empty except for shelves on every wall filled with bric-a-brac, something like a Goodwill Store stacked with orphaned appliances, glasses and half dinner sets. “I just put that sign, I mean just, in the window and here you are. That’s funny. Don’t you think that’s funny?”

“More good timing than funny,” I said, and twisted my hand around the handle of my backpack, ready to leave at any moment. I was afraid that I should’ve broken out in some maniac laughter and agreed with her.

“You don’t look like a bad kid. You doing drugs?”

“No m’am,” I said in my best swear to God voice.

“Okay. I need someone to stay here while more boxes arrive. You unpack them and put them on the shelves. Here’s a dust cloth. Make ‘em look nice. I’m going to my storage unit to get more.” She picked up her purse and a sweater from the back of her chair, and then circled around to get the burning cigarette. “I better put this out,” she said to herself. “You think you can do that? I’ll be back,” she said, looking at her watch. “In a few hours. There’s a hot plate in the back if you want to heat up water for coffee,” and then she ran off and disappeared.

I kicked myself for not asking her how much she was paying an hour and if this was just for one day. I also wished that I had taken a package of Top Ramen with me because I was really hungry. But for now, I had a job and the knot inside my stomach relaxed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How I Landed My New Job

Johnny’s stretched city blocks, not your usual storefront filled with washing machines sitting on cement platforms, but a coffee shop, lending library and an art gallery, plus a few outside plastic tables where people drank coffee in warm weather. Once I moved into the neighborhood, I washed my clothes there every Saturday morning.

Here was a different kind of Laundromat. I swept bad breakups and shit jobs behind me with a desire to move on to something new only I didn’t know what.

I had accumulated several large duffel bags of wash between finding a new place and actually moving, with a month to make everything happen thanks to my landlord, Geoff, who had insisted on relocating his new boyfriend into my apartment.

Members of the recently converted to anything are the most difficult to deal with, at least that’s been my experience. I tried to negotiate with him for two extra weeks, but he refused. I pleaded on the basis of my stellar record as a renter who had always paid up on the first of the month, but it was useless. I told him that he could have half of my security deposit, but that was met with an immediate “No.”

I didn’t have a lease. So I sucked it up and spent the next two days driving around in my Suburu across the Bay, far from the renter downstairs who groaned with false orgasms (a pile-up of Oh, Oh, Ohs 10 seconds apart was the real give-away), and the other renter upstairs who practiced skateboarding in his living-room between 6 and 7 every night.

I wanted a quiet place in a safe neighborhood, but it seemed that all of those places were taken. Instead, I settled for a one-bedroom at a price I could afford and moved in with a month’s worth of dirty clothes.

Johnny’s was located two blocks from my new apartment. With a bank of 64 machines, 12 on each wall spinning around in cloud of white soap, my laundry problems were no more.

“You just watch. The shit’s gonna hit the fan but it’s not gonna get evenly distributed,” a man said looking at his watch. This was a guy with a grey ponytail wearing an earring and a pair of lime-green flip flops who was stacking new cartons of soap inside the metal slats of an empty dispenser

Another guy sat in front of him on a wooden bench that was painted blue biting into a pastry and holding a coffee in his other hand. He nodded. I sat on the same bench. “That sucks, man.”

“You’d think they’d show up. But no, just a shitter,” said Johnny.

“What’s happening?” I was trying to befriend my neighbors. They looked at me like I was a piece of lint. At this exact moment, an SUV pulled in front of the store pulling the largest port-a-potty I’ve ever seen.

“Big shits,” said the ponytail guy who by this time I’d learned was the actual Johnny of Johnny’s after several customers had passed by to exchange good mornings. “I don’t see why I need a giant port-a-potty. D’you? It’s not like they’re building the Taj Mahal.”

The guy eating his pastry took the last bite and brushed his mustache for low-hanging crumbs. “Doesn’t figure.”

The driver banged the front doors open and stuck in his head. “Where do I put ‘em?”

Johnny waved wearily, “In the back. When are those jerk-offs going to show up?”

The driver shrugged. “In the back?” He quickly disappeared to open up his vehicle.

“I don’t know why I listened to my nephew and hired these losers.”

“Really sucks, man.”

“What a way to start. Ha, ha. Not with a bowl of Cheerios but with a big bowl. If you don’t have a lock on those things the homeless guys from around the street are going start listening to the call of nature, if you know what I mean.”

Johnny stared at me like I was from another planet. Or maybe for the first time he realized that I was there. “Who the fuck are you anyway?”

“Leticia,” I said offering my hand. “I’m new to the neighborhood.”

He put down a box of suds and shook my hand. “Johnny, owner and manager of this place. And this is my buddy, George,” who acknowledged me with a tap of his fingers to his head. “You’re an itty-bitty thing, but you sure do have a big mouth.”

“She sure does,” George smiled.

From there I learned that Johnny’s was expanding. The coffee shop was being outfitted with a new kitchen so they could offer sandwiches with an area behind it so little kids could play with blocks and color pictures and he was also thinking of putting in a video machine, maybe a few, but that was the future. Or maybe he wouldn’t do that because the machines would attract a whole different clientele, wild kids from the neighborhood who did graffiti, but videos were profitable. Didn’t really matter because Johnny was expanding the coffee shop. I told him his place was like the Winchester Mystery House with new parts stuck on everywhere with bubblegum. He said he’d thought about opening other Johnny’s Wash Emporiums, start a chain, an empire of washeries, but he really didn’t want the responsibility. He needed to rely on people, and look these contractors fucking case in point who had said they’d be at the storefront hours ago, and just then a group of construction workers walked through the door, waved at Johnny, said a few things, and then exited to start dragging several large pieces of equipment around the back.

“At fucking last,” said Johnny. He began to water some large philodendrons from a galvanized can.

“They made it,” said George, who tipped his imaginary hat again, and walked out the door. “See you later, man.”

(to be continued)

Monday, November 9, 2009

When Bacteria Give Waste Their Best Shot

Today’s new green jobs are taking a tip from nature with its accumulated 3.85 billion years of research and development experience. In nature nothing is wasted.

Anaerobic Phased Solids (APS) are being faithful mimics taking a waste stream and converting it to biogas and soil fertilizer amendments. San Joaquin valley, the nation’s garden, is giving a series look at APS technologies as a way to recycle their own waste stream and to produce energy sources right in the fields.

Let me break this down.

University of California at Davis developed and pioneered an APS technology that is being tested commercially. The process is based on the work of Dr. Ruihong Zang, Professor at the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and director for the UC Davis Biogas Energy Project. While other APS processors can convert waste material, Dr. Zang’s process is more efficient and received an award from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007.

Basically, the process uses bacteria to break down waste, much as we humans do in our digestive systems. But instead of feeding materials into one digestion tank, the process happens in two staged environments, which allows for different bacteria types to give solid and liquid waste with their best shot.

A first group of ordinary bacteria breaks down waste in about 10 to 12 days to produce water and organic acids. This includes food processing waste, municipal green waste like grass, agricultural crop residues, animal rendering and animal manure. The resulting liquid is then pumped into holding tanks that are maintained at 130 Fahrenheit degrees with a neutral pH to encourage a second bacterial group to reduce the soup to 65 to 70 percent methane gas, in addition to biohydrogen. Both can be used to produce biofuels.

The process takes potentially harmful methane gas that is produced at land fill sites and recycles it as biofuel.

The benefit of this two-staged process is that it can process up to 30 percent of waste. Previous APS technologies typically could only handle a 5 percent solid waste stream.

The APS process pioneered at UC Davis and has been licensed by different partners including Onsite Power Systems to bring the technology to commercial uses.

Warren Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Clean World Partners, LLC, was instrumental in securing the land for Raley Field in West Sacramento, which is now home of the Sacramento River Cats. He understands how to build private and public partnerships. For a short time, Smith served as president of Onsite Power Systems before his involvement with Clean World that develops, designs, builds, and manages turnkey anaerobic digestion systems.

“In the past we thought about getting ride of waste, putting it in a hole and covering it up. The approach has become a major problem,” he said at Clean Partner’s offices in Sacramento.

Smith cited AB 939, California’s Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 that created the California Integrated Waste Management Board, and required local governments to meet tougher solid waste diversion goals of 50 percent by 2000. Sacramento further expanded government mandates with the passage of AB 32 in 2006 making the Air Resources Board responsible for aggressively reducing green house gas emissions by 2020.

Increasing the number of landfill sites is no longer an option, said Smith. “APS is the only technology written into the scoping plan of AB 32 as waste conversion,” he said.

Clean World Partners has proposed a Sacramento BioRefinery #1 at Folsom Prison which produces, he said, “a pound and ½ of waste per person per day.” The proposed facility will produce 400.000 cubic feet of renewable gas per day. The proposal needs to make it through an EIR (Environment Impact Report) scheduled for next year.

“Supply plus demand equals the truth,” said Smith. He understands that truth to reside in renewable energy sources.

You can email Warren Smith for questions.

Lenore Weiss