Monday, September 11, 2006

fudge figures out where it's at

aaron sorkin.

no, seriously. i was reading his interview in the times today. aaron sorkin, that 'celebrated writer of the most widely-acclaimed television series in film history,' whose new sitcom - the premise of which sounds rehashed to me - 'is highly anticipated not because of its premise or even its cast, but solely because it is the work of mr. sorkin.'

stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

i feel like that micky mouse cartoon. you know the one. waaaaaaay back in the twenties, when mickey mouse was just a leggy little steamboat pilot (can you be a steamboat pilot? maybe he was a steamboat captain?) actually, i think he was dreaming of becoming a steamboat pilot. well, that is me. i'm telling you, there were little stars in my eyes as i read this article.

'of course, life is rather busy for mr. sorkin these days,' ran the general gist of it, 'as he is being flown out on location for the movie he is currently adapting. also he must oversee the production of his new play, which is already a smashing success, if only because he wrote it.'

'gee!' went a little voice in my head, sounding not unlike mickey mouse himself. 'i'll bet it sure would be nice to have his job. yes-sir-ree, having the whole country breathlessly waiting while you write up whatever story you want and getting flown out to watch people film it and being interviewed by sycophantic reporters, that's the life for me!'

unpleasant drug problems aside, sorkin does seem to have it made in the shade. what could be more fun than just sitting around writing up snippy bits of dialogue? and as the new york times solemnly reminds us, 'mr. sorkin does not work cheap.'

yet i know very, very well that there may be millions of others out there doing exactly what he does and barely making a living.

i realize this is what you need day jobs for, of course, but increasing exposure to the actual responsibilities of a journalist have brought me to an unsettling conclusion: i'm really not cut out to be one. news journalists, like political commentators, must possess a keen sense of curiousity, at once comprehending the structure of the world around them and instinctively detecting its weaknesses and loopholes. i myself am so clueless that i actually tend to fall through them. i could not detect my way out of a paper bag. anyone who has had to listen to me plan the defense of my traffic ticket will be able to tell you this.

more importantly, perhaps, i have no desire for those kinds of abilities. i've always been happy living in my head, and i don't want to come out. i tend to attribute more importance to little, day-to-day things, like the type of hat my professor wears or the way a friend structures her conversations, than Big Ideas like Reflections on the September 11th Anniversary and How To Get Out of Iraq and Will The Democrats Regain the Senate.

in those arenas, i fall short, because while i agree that they are important, they're too big for me to comprehend, too big to make sense of.

yet here i am, bumbling along in my journalism degree anyway, urging people to write articles about topics with which i am only passingly acquainted, because Everybody Needs A Day Job.

i wonder if this is how people rise to their level of incompetency. does everyone spend their lives working jobs they are mediocre at, because there seems to be no market for the skills that mean the most to them?

or can't we grab one of aaron sorkin's dreamy opportunities?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

astrophysics, or maybe cat-breeding

as the open-minded individual one likes to consider oneself, the modern reader has a tendency to reject stereotypes. for example, few people these days agree with the statement that "only creepy high-school misfits work in bookstores." don't be ridiculous, they scoff, rolling their eyes at you. life is not the movie Empire Records. bookstore employees are just your everyday working-class young adults, displaying the same amount of ecentricity as a duane reade cashier or mta bus driver (more on this later).

well, i hate to burst your modern, liberated, cliche-free bubble, but the modern reader is entirely wrong. life is, in fact, Empire Records. bookstore employment, doubly so. qed. no, seriously. i have worked in a regular office environment, and a regular store environment, and currently i am working a job at a well-known bookstore in manhattan.

i firmly believe that my coworkers hail from two foreign planets, these being neptune and mtv.

oh, i too was once open-minded. i remember showing up for my interview and being shown to the reception center, which was behind a closed door with the sign 'fire exit' hung on it, three flights of stairs up, in a two-walled cubicle. there i was, in my business sweater and skirt and heels and makeup, all set to beam professionally at anyone who looked like they might want to hire me. however, i was unsure where, exactly, the reception area was. i mean, i was standing under a sign that said 'reception area', and there were two chairs, but there appeared to be little else. just one desk sitting haphazardly in the middle of the room, behind which sat a man who looked and spoke exactly like charleton heston, only black. he appeared to have a thick five o'clock shadow and a hangover, and he eyed his coffee warily as he addressed the customer on the phone, in his slow, grim voice: 'so you have an isbn number, do you? G-d bless you; you're a gentleman.'

huh? i thought.

he cupped the phone in the crook of his elbow, looked up at me, and said: 'i suppose you're the fresh recruit.'

'yes, i suppose so,' i said.

he stared at me for awhile. then he said, 'by G-d, they are getting younger.'

i nodded. he stared for awhile longer.

'so young...' he said. 'i must be old now.'

he pulled a cookie out of his pocket and munched it absent-mindedly, talked to the customer on the phone, hung up and said: 'well, best you sit down. heaven knows when any of the administative officials will show up.'

'oh,' i said.

'i suppose i'd better share my cookies,' he said.

'nah, i'm good,' i assured him.

he looked at me a little bit longer, rubbing his temples.

'my G-d,' he said, 'don't get killed in there.'

this is not an encouraging thing to say to someone waiting for a job interview. of course, at that point, i would have been afraid anyway.

the people who actually inteviewed me and hired me were so corporate that i don't think there's much reason to describe them. my next encounter with the bookstore employee genus came from my first day on the job, when i was introduced to my supervisor, a cute gay guy in the process of adopting a kitten. his wardrobe consisted of different shades of pinks and bleached jeans, and he had a tendency to comment extensively on - of all things- kittens.

'they've got their litte noses,' he would tell me, 'and their whisky little whiskers, and their furry little paws and...ooooh look, it's shaniqwa! shani baby, welcome home!'

and there went my supervisor.

'he's like that,' a girl behind me said. 'you'd better just follow me.'

you all know this girl. she is probably someone who sat behind you in ninth grade history. she wears baggy jeans and a black sweatshirt; she has one nose piercing and two, but only two, ear piercings; she wears blue nailpolish and black eyeliner; she snorts when she laughs; and she approaches everything with the dry, biting enthusiasm of marvin, your plastic pal who's fun to be with.

'here comes another customer,' she said. 'G-d, spare me.' then she looked at me and said: 'ok, look, i'll tour you the popsicle stand, but don't get lost cause i'm not slowing down.'

'ok,' i said.

'ok,' she said, starting to walk, 'so first of all, know that nothing in the store is where it's supposed to be and nobody has any idea where it is supposed to be anyway. the computers lie to you so don't believe them. ok, second thing you need to know is, the employee bathroom is in the overstock room behind the medical bookcase on the third floor. NEVER use the public one. EVER.'

'are we not allowed?'

'no,' she said, 'but there are living things in that bathroom. it's not a sight for fresh eyes. ok, next thing you need to know about the third floor: greg is on the third floor.'

'who's greg?' i said.

'he's cool,' she said in a matter-of-fact tone. 'and he never has any idea what's going on. so if you ever get stuck with anyone you don't like, you can dump them on greg. he'll never catch on.'

'are you sure?' i said doubtfully.

'oooooooh yeah. when you meet greg, you'll be sure, too. now what else do you need to know? oh yeah, so see that girl in the corner over there?'

'is she another new hire?'

'yeah, but she's also psycho. i think she's on painkillers or something. if she starts saying things that don't make sense to you, just ignore her.'

'what kind of stuff is she likely to say?' i said, starting to become alarmed.

'she never really starts or finishes sentences,' my tour guide explained. 'she kind of wanders around in the middle of one long, never-ending sentence. it's disorienting. trust me.'

'ok then.'

'also, look out for the cats.'

'the cats,' i said.

'yes. they're supposed to kill the mice. we let them out after the customers leave. but i see you like wearing long skirts and they like to sneak under there. just warning you, you know, so you don't start shrieking your head off when it happens.'

'thank you,' i said, heart sinking.

the work in the bookstore is pretty fast-paced, so you generally don't have time to notice when, for example, the coworker who never finishes her sentences (i have privately nicknamed her 'dory') darts past you mumbling to herself, or when your cute supervisor starts flipping through people magazine, etc. but due to Corporate Policy, we all take our breaks in the same room, and i have never felt so acutely as though i were sitting at the Unpopular table in the cafeteria.

the girl with the blue nailpolish and black lipstick was sitting with greg the space cadet, talking, when i pulled out my bagel and lox.

'so wait a minute,' the girl said, 'explain to me again what happened after she started getting paranoid.'

'i told her not to smoke english cigarettes,' space cadet said. 'i said, don't do it, phyllis, you don't know what they put in there...but no one ever listens to she got very paranoid...'

'yeah i heard that part already. i want to hear about the part after she got paranoid.'

'oh...nothing happened. she was just paranoid.'

'that's really boring, greg.'

'i'm really bored today, tiffy.'

'you can't be bored, man. you got the sweetest job in the whole store. you just sit with the art books all day. nobody bothers you.'

'but i don't know what i'm doing.'

'dude, you NEVER know what you're doing.'

'well...yeah...i'm lonely without the cats, though.'

'G-D! if i hear one more word about CATS i'm moving back to brooklyn! come on, greg. let's head out.'

at this point she noticed me.

'dude, you're still wearing the shirt.'

'is that not done?' i said.

she looked at greg. greg looked at her.

'the shirt,' he said heavily, 'is a curse.'

he couldn't pronounce his r's.

'and you,' the girl said, 'are a newbie. don't worry, you'll grow to loathe its embodiment of corporate malevolence as surely as greggie and i do. all it takes is time. see you during clean-up.'

'tiffy,' said greg, following her, 'i don't think all those words mean what you think they mean exactly.'

i actually came to regard the cats as the embodiment of evil. to say that they liked my long skirt doesn't do it justice. i started to talk like yonina as i was shelving the books: 'ummmm well, could somebody come and make the cats go away? cause ummmm...i don't really like cats...i mean, in my skirt....errrrr, why don't you just....go away, mr. cat....since i don't like you....'

'you're a cat person,' tiffy proclaimed. 'they have annointed you a cat person.'

'here, kitty kitty kitty,' said my supervisor.

'i hate cats,' i asserted. 'i hate all living things which are small and scurry.'

'maybe that's why they like you,' greg suggested.

tiffy hit him with an economics book.

'don't talk anymore,' she said. 'your logic gives me headaches.'

'i'm very good with cats, you know,' greg told me. 'i can make the cats go away. i might even breed them when i finish school.'

'oh,' i said. 'are you in school to be a veternarian?'

'no,' he said. 'i'm an astrophysics major, but i used to live in peru.'

i looked at him carefully. he was perhaps the whitest, blondest, most american person i had ever seen, and he talked exactly like homestar runner.

'peru?' i said.

'yeah,' he said, 'and st. louis.'

'oh,' i said.

'i'm a good sheep farmer.'

'i believe you.'

'where are you from?'

'milwaukee,' i said.

'oh....i've heard they have good cows there.'

at this point never-ending sentence girl wandered by: 'the books are all put away and i'm going to look in my locker but i don't think we have anything about cows but maybe check the agriculture section oh no i don't remember where i put my keys....'

she stopped and looked at me. 'oh it's the new girl,' she said to herself. 'hi, new girl.'

'hi,' i said, overwhelmed.

she turned around and kept walking, mumbling, 'it's nice to meet all the new people in the store and...'

i shook my head, blinked the confusion out of my eyes, and said to greg: 'so you're an astrophysics major?'

he said: 'i was, but i'm thinking about going into cat-breeding.'

the only thing missing is the soundtrack.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My First Court Appearance

to preface: i realize i am blogging with an unusual frequency. this is because i find myself constantly stressed out about something and am trying to wean myself off the habit of calling my mother and up whining at her about it. aren't you lucky!

anyway, for those of you unaware of my current status as Renegade of the Law, i'll recap a little: in march, i attempted to take the a train uptown for an arts festival meeting scheduled on a friday, when there are no shuttles, because:
a) who needs to go uptown during the day? ever?
b) what members of the arts festival don't already live uptown?

at the time, i had been warned away from the a train with increasing intensity. 'it's not safe!' they told me. 'don't go!'

well. as i believe bob hope once put it, you think salman rushdie got into trouble.

i had no fears for my safety, as many bored police officers were lounging about penn station with guns that could easily take out a helicopter. however, this proved to be my undoing. at one point i accidentally took a few steps outside of a gate. i immediately turned around and went back in, thus granting some relieved officer his ticket quotient of the day. he charged me 60 dollars for illegal entry. i promptly cried. he saw this as unnecessary. after all, he was just making his ticket quotient; there was no need to get personal.

i called my mom.

'what should i do?' i said.

she said: 'don't pay it.'

this made me uneasy, if only because i have plenty of experience with unpaid fines, mostly from libraries, and they generally employed SWAT teams. and that was in milwaukee. i am a generally law-abiding citizen. still, i fear my mother more than the law, and i didn't pay the ticket.

i called the transit authority, who told me they would print me out metro card reports, and that i should wait for them. they neglected to tell me that
a) i would never receive these reports, even on repeated requests
b) they would charge me late fees for not paying the original ticket all the merry while.

and so it finally culminated in this, judgement day: My Hearing.

first of all, it involved me going to brooklyn, a place which i had hoped to avoid for as long as possible. second, i had to be there by eight in the morning - again, unfun. i am blessed with a very sweet and extremely chabad roommate who offered to escort me and then get breakfast in crown heights. this was very nice.

after i located the building (right next to conway's!) and went up, i was surprised by how much it resembled the milwaukee dmv. you stand in line for a long time, then you sit for even longer. i found myself, horrifically, engaging in ethnic studies: those people are japanese. THOSE people look more taiwanese. THOSE people look like they're from queens. etc.

eventually i got my hearing, with a very nice, extremely fast-talking lady. clearly this woman has been repeating the same words for entire decades. she talked into a tape-recorder; maybe the transcriptionists listen to them on half-speed.

anyway, at first she just offered me a plea bargain: pay the original sixty, and you can go. otherwise you have to come BACK when you get your metro reports.

i pointed out that by that time we would all probably be living on mars. of course, mars is still slightly closer than wisconsin, which was the magic word.

'you're from WISCONSIN?' she gaped. 'and you're SEVENTEEN? and you FLEW OUT here just for THIS?'

this is the point at which i became a true renegade of the law. i just smiled blankly at her.

she looked at the ticket again, then looked at me.

'that seems rather stupid,' she said.

i told her what happened, she rolled her eyes, looked at the ticket again, and then said: 'oh look, they forgot to fill out the location box. case dismissed.'

it was almost too easy.

of course, we would never want life to be too easy, but i was exhausted all the same. i'm a free woman! i thought on the train back to stern, where i had class in ten minutes. they may have revoked my warrant for arrest!

the commie roast, part 2

i had heard at the last observer meeting that i needn't bother writing the attack on 'the Absence of Israel' editorial in the commie i was all fired up to write, because apparently, an actual yu guy had gotten incensed enough to write one himself and submit it to us. (let the offensive begin.) fortunately, however, the writer of the article - titled 'on the absence of intellectual honesty'- made exactly the same points as me, in the exact same language. he pointed out the irrelevance of my superman article AND highlighted the commentator's official nickname 'the Commie' as a grim accuracy.

and i thought i was being so original with that nickname line.

i wish i could provide a link to it, but unfortunately this week's observer's not up yet (and i have doubts, really, that it ever will be.) of course, you already read everything he has to say once anyway.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

the Wall, the Mascot, the Attack of the Pigeons- in Color!

alright folkies, i have finally learned how to use my digital camera. i bring you photo proof that i have indeed made it a week plus in new york: the sequel.

but first things first. let me introduce my mascot, hangneck sally.

this is a doll some no doubt well-intentioned friend purchased for me a couple years ago. the general idea was that she was supposed to look like me (curly hair, get it?) and i was supposed to hang her from my window. i'm still not really sure what this was supposed to accomplish. perhaps it was to make up for the fact that i never, not once, owned a cabbage patch doll.

anyway, the unfortunate truth about my little look-alike is that when you tie her little string around your window, her neck unfortunately tilts at a ninety degree angle, which gives her an atmosphere of what i can only call "cheerful voodoism." 'hello!' she beams at you as you wake up in the morning. 'don't even think about hanging yourself today!'

this is my wall. you will note hangneck sally at the top left corner. anyway, i have finally finished hanging everything up, i think. some of the highlights:

-29 levels of compatability. this is the poster closest to my pillow. it is actually a product of my sadly misguided art attempts. one night during high school i couldn't sleep at night, so i stayed up very late watching sappy 80s movies ('the breakfast club'). all of the commercials went something like: 'tired of dating? had all you can take from well-meaning friends? why not try meeting your one true love over the internet? we have online surveys designed to match you to your mate on 29 levels of compatability!' i couldn't think of anything else to paint, so i painted the advertisement. another reason for me to stick to writing.

-purple piece of construction paper with stick figure on it. this is a picture yonina drew of me last year. i know because she wrote her name in big block letters on the back. the exchange went something like this: 'perel, i made you a picture of you for your wall.' 'thank you, yonina! it looks just like me!' 'yeah, whatever. make sure you show all your friends. i wrote my name on the back so they'll know who drew it.'

-the Mona Lisa. i cut it out of my art book. figured i might as well get my money's worth.

-'abba, you're my only friend!' newspaper clipping. true story. found it in an advertisement in an old magazine.

-'perel, morphein just dosn't cut it. you need cocaine.' actual signed statement composed for me by a friend of mine who had jaw surgery a few weeks ago and now communicates solely through the written word.

i would show you the pigeon picture as well, but it's not loading correctly. oh well. i guess for now you are all spared my supper being torn apart by menacing crowds of shameless birds.