Good morning and welcome to “Meanwhile, Back In Peoria...”, my brand-spanking new blog based out of my new home base of Peoria, Illinois. If you’re wondering what this blog is all about, just click here and you’ll find out. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Here’s a Joan Jett video we can watch while we wait for the slow readers:
Okay, now that you know what the blog is all about, I thought I’d write a story about what brought me back to Peoria, Illinois. And so without any further adieu, because I’ve just never been a big fan of the whole adieu thing, here’s the story, morning glory!
19th Nervous Breakdown (Saying Goodbye To New York City)
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb wrote a song entitled, “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress,” and that’s kind of what New York City was to me. It was a city that I fell head over heels in love with and had a wild, twisted, roller coaster love affair with for 18 years. But in the 19th year, the love of my life was telling me to get the fuck out of Dodge and after ten miserable, nerve-rattling months, I decided to do what I was being told to do and move myself back to my hometown of Peoria, Illinois. Here’s how it all went down.
I more or less worked for the same company in New York for close to 19 years. In 1994 I started at a small pre-press service bureau (if you don’t know what a pre-press service bureau is, consider yourself a fortunate soul, basically it’s a raging tornado of deadlines, insane art directors, delusional sales people and stress striking you from every corner imaginable) and it got bought and we all moved to a different building. Then it got bought again and we moved again. We stayed in that building until last February. That month the company moved to Carlstadt, New Jersey and I didn’t go. I had had enough.
The move was announced shortly before Christmas last year at our monthly company meeting. I really hated those company meetings and this one was the worst one of all. There had been rumors swirling that the company was moving out of New York City and into New Jersey and this unfortunate fact was confirmed at the meeting. The company was moving to Carlstadt, New Jersey. I had no idea where that was, but from the moment I heard the news, my stomach went into a nerve-wracked knot that wouldn’t untwist for ten very long months. The commute would’ve been a mess for me and I was getting sick of doing pre-press work, so I decided not to go and signed up for unemployment for the first time in my life at the beginning of Feburary, 2012. It was the start of a slow, sinking period in my life. Things went kind of dark for a while.
The first thing I did after my job moved away was to start a new blog. I called it “Tripping With Marty” and the second post was about my history of work in New York City, you can read that here.
My idea was to try and do a live daily blog with mulitiple postings. I thought I’d get an audience and then after about a month, ask people to donate five bucks a month. Which is what I did and while I got some generous donations from friends and from people I had never met, it wasn’t enough to live on. After I asked for donations, the numbers dropped and I realized people don’t like being asked to donate money to a blog, which I can understand. I also found out that people preferred one daily post as opposed to multiple live ones, so I changed the format, dropped asking for donations and settled in to the realization that I was going to have to look for another job since blogging wouldn’t pay the bills. I hadn’t had to look for a job in close to 19 years and the thought of it kind of made me want to vomit in my left boot. So before I started that process, I had quite a few beers. Okay, I went on a mind-boggling bender for about a week. Then, after the hangover wore off, I started hunting for a job.
I began looking at various job-related websites on the internet. Monster.com, indeed.com, snagajob.com, Craigslist, pritnworkers.com and on and on and on and on. Pretty soon I felt like the subject of a Stephen Bishop song and that’s never a good thing. I quickly found out that jobs in the one field that I had worked in since 1980 were rapidly shrinking due to technology. And they were moving out of the city because the rents are just too damn high. Pre-press work was the one field that paid enough money for me to be able to afford to live in the city. I didn’t go to college and outside of writing, I had no other skills to offer to an employer. I started to worry that I wouldn’t find a job. So I decided to spend at least eight hours a day looking for work. I’d call people, send out emails, fill out job applications for anything that sounded like it would pay my rent. I got on Linkedin and started racking up contacts.
After five desperate months I had heard nothing from my online applications. And I had applied for all kinds of jobs ranging from a overnight front desk manager at a Marriott hotel to an overnight Rite Aid store manager to a Sleep Technician at some sort of psychiatric hospital. I had no idea what a “Sleep Technician” was, but I was hoping if they called, I could somehow bullshit my way into the job. I have had plenty of experience in the sleep field, paricurlarly after twelve beers or so. I didn’t get to baffle them with my bullshit however, because they never called. No one did. Phone calls to people I knew and used to work with started getting unreturned, emails went unanswered, nobody from Linkedin responded back and I came to the shocking realization that there just wasn’t any kind of a job for me to have in New York City. I’m a nervous person and every day I would obsess over what was going to happen to me.
I was getting unemployment, but that just covered my rent and my Cobra insurance. My savings was dwindling faster than a freshly doped up Lance Armstrong on a twelve speed bike. I realized if nothing came along I’d be broke in less than a year. In July I started thinking about something I never thought I’d be thinking about: Moving back to my hometown of Peoria, Illinois.
I decided to take a trip back to Peoria for a long weekend, visit my family and take a look around. I didn’t tell anyone I was thinking about moving back, I thought I’d scope the town out and think about what it would be like to live there again. One thing was for sure though, the cost of living is a lot less in Peoria and I could hopefully find some sort of “unskilled” type of job. I like to work nights and maybe I could get a night job and do a blog in Peoria.The more I thought about it, the better it started sounding. So I booked a flight and came back at the end of July.
My parents met me at the airport and we drove to their house. I remember looking at the sights along the way and wondering if I’d be happy living there again. I didn’t wonder too long.
Ten minutes after walking in to my folks house and telling them about my trip, I checked my phone which had been turned off for the flight and saw that I had a voice mail. I walked in to the front bedroom to listen to it. When I listened to it, I felt like I had won the lottery. I had applied for a job and gotten an interview at a pre-press service bureau in the city about a month earlier. The interview went well, I thought. The manager I interviewed with said he’d definitely be in touch with me. And then I heard nothing from him. I emailed him a week later, thanking him for the interview and didn’t get an email back from him. So I emailed him a week after that, saying I was just checking in and when I didn’t hear from him that time, I gave up. I figured I had hit another dead end and had a beer or nine and forgot about it.
When I listened to the message that had been left on my phone, my head felt like it had been injected with helium and my feet felt like they had left the ground, it was the manager form the pre-press place I had interviewed with who never had gotten back to me. He told me he had been on vacation and wanted me to call him! I ran into the TV room where my parents were and told them I had a real important phone call to make and I’d be out in a minute. Quizzical looks colored their faces as they both said, “Okay.”
I ran back into the bedroom, took a couple deep breaths, touched the lucky coins in the top pocket of my jeans and dialed the phone. A nasal-voiced receptionist with a Bronx accent answered and I asked for the manager and took some more deep breaths as I was put on hold. Within about thirty seconds he was on the line, apologized for not getting back to me because he was on vacation and offered me a job. For two bucks more an hour than I was making at my previous job!
I excitedly told him I’d take it, but explained I was in Peoria and he said that was okay. The guy who I was replacing wasn’t leaving till mid August, so I had a few weeks before I started. He asked if I could start on Wednesday, August 15th and of course I told him I could. He told me to show up at noon and we’d go from there. I thanked him, told him I’d see him on the 15th, put my cell phone in my pocket and sprinted into the TV room where my parents were curiously waiting to see what was going on.
“I got a job!” I spat out as excited as a five-year-old who’s just been told he’s going to have 67 Christmases that year.
I explained what happened and that night we went out for a celebratory dinner and plenty of drinks. I forgot all about my plans to move back to Peoria and realized that for the first time in months I was actually happy. I had a job with more money in my front pocket! I was back, baby!
I had fun in Peoria with my family and saw a few old friends and told everybody about my new job. I was high as a kite that had been dipped in mescaline!
I went back to New York and felt a lot better about myself and about the city itself. The last few months I had been pretty depressed and while it’s not fun to be depressed anywhere, it’s really bad in New York. New York can be a real up and down town, at least for me. When things are going good and you have a lucky break or two come your way, it can feel like you’re riding the highest wave on a magical ocean three feet from paradise. But when things go bad and you’re down and out, it can feel like a big, dark hole that you’ve fallen into and can’t climb out of to save your life, so you just sit in the dark hole and let misery wrap itself around you like a wet blanket on a chilly evening.
I was glad to be feeling good again and had several celebrations with friends about the new job when I got back to the city. The day before I started my new job I went to Coney Island and spent the day on the boardwalk drinking beers and eating fried clams at Ruby’s Bar, telling anyone who would listen that after seven months of being unemployed, I had finally snagged a job that would allow me to stay in New York. I drank many toasts at Ruby’s, had a nightcap at the Freak Show Bar and then headed home on the Q train to Manhattan.
The next day I had the new job jitters as I walked to work, I forgot to mention that another perk of the job was that it was located about ten blocks from where I worked. I went to my new manager’s office and filled out paper work and then he took me to the production area. He took me around and introduced me to everyone in that production area and while they all seemed nice, they also seemed like they didn’t have much time to say hello and there was tension in the air. I looked down at a job ticket and saw the words, “SUPER RUSH!” on it and wondered if this job was going to be a good fit. Let’s just cut to the chase and say it fit about as good as a micro bikini on Oprah Winfrey. I hated it there and realized I didn’t want to to work in the pre-press world anymore. After four days of being back in that pressure-cooker world, I quit before my unemployment would’ve gotten fucked up. The manager who hired me was kind of shocked when I told him I decided I didn’t want the job and he asked me what I was going to do.
The answer was simple.
“I think I’m going to move back to my hometown of Peoria,” I told him. “It’s an easier life there.”
Then I shook his hand and went around and shook hands with people I had worked with and probably would never see again and walked out of that building. I hit the sidewalk and I walked around my neighborhood for a little bit.
I ended up at the Waverly Diner and sat at the counter. I ordered a Waverly Melt and a beer and did some thinking. I didn’t want to work in the pre-press world anymore, I was sure of that. I just wanted to get some sort of job that you could go to, do the work without a ton of pressure and than leave and forget about it. The only trouble is jobs like that don’t pay enough to live in Manhattan. But, jobs like that do pay enough to live in Peoria. Especially for me, my overhead is low, it’s just me, Gumby and two plastic alligators. And after living in Manhattan for 19 years, I’ve learned to live somewhat frugally in a small space. I realized the worst thing that would happen is that I would be miserable and unhappy in Peoria, but that’s how I was feeling in New York anyway. And my rent would probably half of what it is in Manhattan and everything else would be twice as cheap. Also my unemployment would go a lot farther in Peoria.
After a while and a few more beers, I realized that the best chance to get my life back on track was to move to Peoria and make the best of things when I got there. Sometimes when life beats you up, you just have to get up, dust off your jeans and try something completely different. After dinner at the Waverly Diner I went back to my apartment, called my folks and tell them I was moving back to Peoria.
I phoned them, told them my plans and they were beyond thrilled with the news. It really made me feel good and all of a sudden I was kind of excited about the whole thing. Maybe it was time to leave and get back to where I once belonged, to quite the Fabulous Four.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of lining up movers, selling books and CD’s, calling people and packing my stuff up and saying goodbye to all my wonderful friends in New York. I felt nervous and excited all at the same time. It kind of reminded me of when I moved to New York in 1993 and I had no idea what was going to happen to me.
Probably the hardest thing of the whole move was walking out of my apartment building and knowing I wasn’t coming back. It took me four years to get in that building and I scored a rent stabilized apartment when I finally got in. Something people would kill for in New York (Thanks, Wendy!) I lived in that building for over 15 years. It’s the longest place I’ve ever lived in my entire life. After I walked out of the building, I stood on the sidewalk and looked at 18 W. 16th St. A lot of shit happened to me while I lived in that building. Everything from four neighbors dying to September 11th to the blackout of 2003 to drunkenly falling down two flights of stairs and spilling chicken wings all over the place (I’ll have to write that story up sometime.) Staring at the building made my memory banks overload and my emotions were riding high. It sure was tough walking away from that building, but I did before I started blubbering like Jimmy Swaggart confessing about boning a hooker.
My landlord/NYC stepmom, Sheryl calls the building, “The Ship of Fools.” Well, 18 W. 16th St., you’re one Fool lighter. You were a great home for 15 years, but it was my time to exit, stage midwest. Thanks for the memories.
I feel like the luckiest son of a bitch in the world. I moved back here on October 18th and within a week I got an apartment, a driver’s license, a car and, most importantly, a job. And the job is as far away from the pre-press world as you can imagine. I never blog about where I work, but it’s a great local, family-owned company and I’m really happy for the opportunity. The hours are perfect to do a blog, I’m working with cool and nice people and I’m really loving being back in Peoria. And speaking of being back in Peoria, I couldn’t start out my new Peoria blog without some shots of one of the best taverns in the city, Mike’s Tavern, so here’s some shots from last night!
Mike's Tavern, definitely an institution in Peoria and I had to take some photos and have a few beers here for the debut of the blog, let's go inside!
And here it is, Mike's Tavern, it always feels like home in here.
You gotta love the school desks opposite the bar!
One of my favorite things in here is The Little Nut Hut.
Of course the ceiling in the joint is tin, always the sign of a classic tavern!
Give me Gipps or give me death!
A longshot of the bar, if it could only talk!
And here the lovely and friendly bartender Jessica holds up the first word of this blog.
Moon does the honors with the second word.
The aforementioned Roy holds up the third word in this blog title.
And Whale does the honors by completing the title. Welcome to, "Meanwhile Back In Peoria," everybody!
A great time was had by all last night as always, expect many posts in the future from Mike’s Tavern.
Okay, this blog is going to be updated daily, usually around noon, so I hope you can check back every day. And if you don’t feel like leaving a comment, there’s a handy little “Like” button at the bottom of the post that you can hit if you like what's going on here.. Thanks for all the support and help everyone gave to me the last ten months. It wasn’t an easy time for me, but it sure helped having a great family and wonderful friends. I’m happy to be back playing in Peoria and I’m anxious to see where this blog will take us. I hope to see everyone tomorrow! Cheers and thanks to you all!