Rats. I couldn’t take the picture fast enough. A guy on the bus right now just got off and he was tugging with him one of those huge comforter bags you get at the bedroom department of Macy’s. I swear the brand name was “Patti LaBelle Home.” I can’t stop grinning and holding in laughter. The thought that Patti LaBelle has entered Martha Stewart retail territory amuses me for no reason I can understand at the moment…
AZUCAR! I had no idea these two had ever shared the stage together! This was the 1998 broadcast of the ALMA Awards. At that time, I was in high school. I did not discover Celia Cruz until college, shortly after her passing, when one of my roommates at the time started playing one of her albums. And then I discovered that Clara liked her a lot, too. And then we were hanging out at Amoeba and I walked out with my first Celia Cruz album.
“So many people at college were jacked up on ambition, possessors of steroidal egos, clever but cutthroat, diligent but insensitive, shiny but dull, that everyone felt compelled to be upbeat, down with the program, all system firing, when everyone knew, in his or her heart, that this wasn’t how they really felt.”
—Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot
Not only do I enjoy a Jeffrey Eugenides passage being paired with a screencapture from A Different World, but I am also re-blogging this because the passage sadly does not apply just to college. The sentiment certainly starts there — and is then introduced into the world, where it proliferates and infects. I am almost thirty and have witnessed more than my fair share of folks professing to be “down with the program”, and not in the awesome “get with the program, get with Oprah" way of the nineties. I know you liked my tangent just now.
What a day. I didn’t even check the ballgame score until now. That’s too bad you guys didn’t do better in DC. As a Maryland transplant to San Francisco — albeit a transplant who has already been here for 11 years — I would have liked to see you guys do some damage over there. But then again, who am I to tell you guys how to do your job? I’m a baseball fan, and am slowly becoming a sports fan (although football is still a mystery to me, even though I have to admit that it sure is damned exciting to watch… when they’re not on lockout or the players are getting embroiled in scandals), but I still recognize that, just like the rest of us, you have a job. You just, you know, happen to have a really famous job. That earns millions of dollars. Yeah.
I had the worst phone conversation this morning with a hiring manager. This person was being stupidly brusque. I really hate when you talk to someone and there is clearly a certain tone that the other party is trying to suppress. I especially hate when that person is blatantly cloaking that tone behind a thin veil of professionalism. You may as well not act professional at all. But the worst part is that I, as the unemployed party, am obligated to put up with it. I cannot very well call out this person or any other people on their bad behavior. I cannot simply make commentary on the inhumane tendencies of employers in this so-called New Economy without risking the loss of opportunities for myself.
I’m not feeling very social these days. It’s not even just Mary or my other friends who are concerned. Last week, I had a routine session with one of my career counselors that turned into a kind of free therapy session. It wasn’t like she asked one question that made me break down and monopolize the entire meeting with my emotional turmoil. She genuinely wanted to know. Every time I gave her an answer, she’d wrinkle her face and ask a follow-up question that slowly led me to give answers that were more and more confessional. I was surprised and grateful — surprised because I went to that meeting with the same professional decorum that I have utilized for all job interviews and all of my appointments with this career counselor, and grateful just because it was such a relief to talk about everything that’s been frustrating me and making me sad. It’s not like I can’t talk about these things with Mary or my other friends, because I do. I don’t know how to explain the relief brought about by opening up to a complete stranger, especially when that complete stranger has genuinely invested their time, choosing to for that moment shoulder your burdens. I guess this is a basic human need, and it’s times like this that I start to see the basic source material for belief in a savior, a Christ figure who singularly forgives and saves the entire human race because we can neither forgive ourselves nor save one another.
I may not be very social these days, but one social event that I might drag myself to is an author talk at a local bookstore. Tomorrow night, The Green Arcade is hosting Ross Perlin, the author of a book called Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. Here’s what the description says in the newsletter e-mail:
The first no-holds-barred exposé of the exploitative and divisive world of internships.
”Cloaked in the innocent idea of the intern, aggressive employers are using young people trying to get a foothold to weaken the leverage of existing workers, especially professionals. Ross Perlin gives us an account of another subterranean strategy to undermine working people in the US.” —Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY
I think my recent employment experiences fall somewhere within this troubling realm. On one interview, the manager literally told me, to my face, right there in the office: “You don’t have much experience and I need cheap help.”
Then there was that strange experience with the rich old entrepreneur who told me I was the “perfect hire”, only to later later tell me that I needed “a lot more preparation before you start the position”. I had already spent about a week coming into work to get “trained”, but none of those orientation hours were paid, and they looked less and less like they would ever lead to any kind of formal hiring. Why was I even brought on board if I wasn’t, in fact, the perfect hire? What was the point of the song and dance of my entire “orientation” period? How long was I supposed to let myself be strung along unpaid for a position that I applied for that I — stupidly, apparently — assumed would be, yanno, paid?
Mary and I went to Trader Joe’s today, and when we came home to put the groceries away, we had a philosophical discussion about all of this. It was the kind of philosophical discussion where the answers seem so obvious and why hasn’t anyone else thought of these things and put them into practice? I was taking a loaf of bread and a carton of eggs out of a shopping bag — always put all the delicate stuff together — when Mary pinpointed it all to greed: wanting squeeze the most money out of the least labor and then, in the process, eradicating respect for the average worker and human beings in general.
I still don’t know if I want to go to that author talk, though. I have nothing major listed in my calendar for tomorrow, so I might just stay here and read or, like what I spent the majority of today doing, cleaning. Once I’m settled in the house, I rarely ever want to leave.
I had really let my room go. If there were ever a blatant example of how my life had spiraled out of control, it would be the pig sty of my room. A few days ago, I said to myself: “I’ve got to gain some control of my life.” You know what, Linc? I haven’t balanced my checkbook in weeks. I used to balance my checkbook all the time, but once my money started getting tight, I got really afraid about confronting the numbers. Fear has led me to make decisions that are not necessarily smart but rooted entirely in self-preservation. Why bother with the added stress?
Not only did I spend today patching together some semblance of a budget (and digging up my ledger), but my room is finally starting to look clean again. I still have a lot of work to do, but that whole get-back-in-control thing is slowly starting to take shape. I’m not holding my breath for any miraculous transformations, though. All I can do is take things one step at a time and hope for the best although, I must admit, I still do secretly yearn for a blinding breakthrough like St. Paul’s conversion experience: a bag of money falling from the sky, or a prince strolling up to my front door and casually proclaiming, “Hello, Joe. We were meant to be. Sorry I took so long.”
As I was putting away some vegetables, I fondly regarded Mary as she was getting some pots and pans ready to make dinner. She’d already set aside the ingredients for spaghetti, and I took into account how domestic our entire living situation has been since she moved in. Our friends questioned the wisdom of us moving in together. Aren’t friendships, even deep ones, ruined after the friends in question move in with each other? I certainly know from experience that deep friendships have expired after a roommate element entered the picture. I lost a really great friend after we moved in with each other for no less than six months, and the hilariously sad thing about it is that we spent nearly our entire college careers looking forward to the day that we finally became roommates.
So far, things between Mary and I have been great. Sure, there are moments, but maybe a combination of aging and the long history between us has all but authored one of the few guarantees in this world. Still, while clearing away those groceries, I couldn’t help but think that sometimes a good friendship just isn’t enough. A sibling is a sibling and will always be there for you, but a husband is an entirely different relationship altogether. I folded the grocery bags (we like to reuse them for the recycling and compost bins) and thought about how I’m still young and yet not as young as I used to be. There are certain things I should have done by now, certain stages I should have passed, rites of passage that should be crossed off from the scroll of life. Strangely, the flip side is that I have grown comfortable with my unstable path as a writer and, dare I say it, an “artist”. (All right, I still can’t bring myself to employ that label for myself without using the quote marks, and probably will never be that comfortable or certain.) Still, I want to start a family someday. I just wish I didn’t have such trouble finding a husband first. I’m tired of making enormous life choices on my own — of solitarily paying bills, making phone calls, scheduling appointments. I’m tired of half an empty bed and half an empty heart. A husband fulfills so many duties that stretch beyond the natural boundaries of family and friendship. I went to check the fridge, this time to admire the fact that I’m so lucky to even have a full fridge (Mary spots me for a lot of groceries), but the gaze I cast upon that plentiful food was lonely and heartbroken.