Wednesday, October 24, 2007

can i be excused from class?

this city is making me tired.

today i had one of those days that i think you can only have in midtown manhattan. not that individual components of them couldn't occur elsewhere, but to experience them all within the same few hours is a testament to new york's special brand of insanity - one that runs deep and broad.

for example, you've got your subway paranoiacs.

everyone's got their subway story, and i imagine more than one, but today was the first time i experience the hostile variety. usually the crazy people i meet in the subway, while admittedly deranged, are either strangely benificent - 'all our problems are because of the rich. there were no rich people in the time of the isrealites; that's why the israelites were the people of G-d' - or promoting some cause, their own, rwanda's, the devil's, whatever.

but today, as i was on the train from work to school at about 4:45, completely wiped, crammed into the car with 47 other people getting out of work like so much playdoh in a jar, a man leaning against the door across from me took one look at me and pronounced loudly: "WELL, aren't YOU nosy?"

it took me awhile to figure out he was talking to me, because ironically enough, i had not really been paying attention. like most people on the subway, i was trying to figure out how i was going to get where i needed to be on time. and i was also sort of exhausted and starting to daze. i guess i must have been staring at the package this man was holding in his arms, with the name 'JEDI PRINTING COMPANY' emblazoned boldly across the front, in what he interpreted as an offensive manner; i don't think i realized at the time that i was looking at it.

so the man specified. "Yeah, that's right, YOU. i'm talking to YOU, nosy girl. glasses girl. YOU."

at this point other people began to stare at me, shifting to glance over their shoulders or, depending on how they were packed, beneath other people's armpits. the man did not look crazy. he was an african american in a relatively clean and well-pressed suit, some dark sneakers. and he spent the rest of our five minute ride enumerating my sins.

"you think you're smart, don't you? you think you're better than other people. who do you think you are?"

i never said anything in response, but man, it was a looooong ride.

fortunately, my class that night guest-starred a firefighter who had worked at the scene of 9-11. we were supposed to interview him about his story. he didn't need much help; he is a natural storyteller, the kind of spell-binding recreationist who makes you jump in fear when he describes an explosion or the thick black debris coating his eyelids. yet this was not enough for my teacher.

'tell them grisly things,' my teacher said. 'tell them about the bodies. tell them how you found the bodies.'

and he dutifully told us, in gratifying detail. perhaps i do not have what it takes to be a professional writer. he teared up. we were supposed to be asking him questions, and my professor kept pushing me, 'fudge, what aspect of this would you like to focus on? what do you think his narrative should include?' as though the fireman's story was just another example in a textbook to be dissected and analyzed.

but a long day culminating in several very well-told anecdotes about finding a woman's hand with a diamond ring on a curb or yanking a man out of a hole in the wall by his small intestines did not, in my case, make for clear-thinking. the longer he talked, the lower i sank into my desk. halfway through, i became very cold and put on my coat; when he had been speaking and mercilessly interrupted and cross-examined by my classmates for no less than forty minutes, i was something like a puddle on the floor. 'you're probably already thinking about what kind of profile you can write about this,' my professor said, 'and this is your only chance to ask this firefighter about the details, so ask him something!' but i did not want to ask him anything. my brain refused to process the material he had presented to me. it just sat there in my head, grey and useless, whimpering a little. i wanted to take a week's vacation. i wanted to go sailing on a nice white boat in a bright blue harbor on a beautiful summer day. i did not want to write any story about being a firefighter picking up body parts, and apparently, i did not really want to think about one, either.

i experienced a similar feeling of dread earlier this week after stumbling early out of ripley's believe it or not, a museum here which features, among other things, a life-size wax figure of a 1400 lb. man and a woman who, due to a birth defect, had a sort of bill instead of a mouth. the plaque in front of the woman read 'Ugliest Woman in the World'? the people around me were laughing, and their laughter and the expression in that woman's eyes gave me one of the worst bouts of nauseau i've had since i was eight. i felt like i never wanted to do or see anything ever again.

i was feeling a little bit like this too as i walked home tonight, bits of the firefighter's story (and even the man in the subway's rhetoric) floating around and sticking in my skull like things that wouldn't go down right. i didn't want to live in a city where so many people experienced such excruciating sadness. i didn't want to think about the sadness this firefighter woke up in the morning to confront every day, as part of his job. i didn't like a world where people were mean and cruel and dead. the feeling i was left with was a vague, not-feeling-well-at-school kind of sentiment. 'i want to go home,' i thought.

but for me, for now, home just happens to be in one of manhattan's posher neighborhoods, and as everyone knows, you can't walk two blocks on halloween weekend without accidentally ruining an elaborate and expensive costume party. squirrel-haired and completely wiped, i propelled myself vaguely over a red carpet, several men in Victorian suits and top hats and gold-knobbed canes, and a few women wearing glittery ice-skating dresses with feathered tiaras and precipice heels. i plowed through them like so many bags of garbage along the curb before thinking, hey! that was actually sort of cool! and glancing back over my shoulder once or twice at their bright blur of color on the dark, drizzly new york street.

which, at last, brings me to my reason for writing this post: tonight, i had my first encounter with an actual falling-down drunk man.

i don't know why this surprised me as much as it did, but i guess that while i've seen people drunk, they've either been people you would expect to be drunk (ie, on purim, in shul) or they haven't been as drunk as all that. this guy was a model. he was long, thin, and tall. he was wearing what i conservatively estimated to be a six-thousand-dollar suit, and he had the long, glowing golden hair of someone who cares for it fastidiously.

he was also rolling along the gate of my dorm like a shipwreck at sea.

at first i couldn't tell he was drunk and thought that possibly he was ill, or dead. he stood with his back to the gate and his head up toward the sky, unmoving. i almost plowed into him too, but then smartly jumped back; i figured he must have escaped from the costume party down the block. he lunged forward along the gate, one arm grabbing wildly, but he didn't quite make it and swung face-first into it instead, sliding down onto his knees. he stayed there in a mess of angular limbs on the loor for awhile, then, just as suddenly, lurched up again and propelled himself toward the street, only to fall face-flat on the sidewalk.

i winced as his priceless, immaculate suit hit the mud.

whereupon he proceeded to crawl past my security guard. inch by inch. it was kind of a half-hearted crawl. he just sort of laid there after awhile. girls stepped around him and over him, some minding, some, i guess, not. the security guard took notice of him, apparently decided he was not a threat, and left him there.

and so did i, although i thought about him in the elevator, and i wondered whether he belonged to the glamorous, happy side of new york, or the underbelly.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

put ze candle beck

it always amazes me how my postings change when i'm at home versus when i'm at school. when i'm home i post about things like fallen cakes, with pictures, almost daily. i sound completely self-contained. you can almost hear the security in my gruesome canterbury-tales-rip-off prose. i don't think that's the kind of thing i could write here.

what i write here in new york is confused and it rambles. it hesitates. i always feel like i'm on the verge of something i just can't put my finger on. and i think in earlier years i did write about the joyful frivolities of college life more often, and i still have a few of them; but now it seems that whatever words cross my screen at college are heavier in tone.

i've thought about this, and i think i have ('has', if you will) the solution:

there are two of me.

there is the monday-wednesday version and the tuesday-thursday version (the weekend variety is always a surprise). but i don't call them that; i call them The Black Skirt and The Jean Skirt.

Black Skirt me wears makeup and jewelry and pays forty dollars in metro card bills. Black Skirt me sits in banks for hours trying to negotiate with smug executives to whom she represents less threat than a flea. Black Skirt me calls authors' publicists, struggling to keep her voice even while her hands shake under the desk; she huddles over her keyboard at work desperately pretending not to overhear intimate details of her coworkers' lives and fretting over how much banter is not enough and how much is too much. Black Skirt me is awkward, uncultured, naive, and painfully, painfully aware of all of it. she weighs every word she says with crippling hesitation and finds nothing safe to voice. this makes her boss sound old, this makes her sound too eager, like she's trying to show someone up. Black Skirt me is, in a nut shell, exhausting. every minute lasts an hour, and every hour is a mental warzone where it must be a cakewalk for everyone who already knows the rules.

then there is Jean Skirt me. Jean Skirt me could not be less concerned about anything. she wanders into class and wanders out, eating her meals in the hallways and staircases between. she is not afraid to say anything class and does not mind doing all the talking when no one else raises their voice, and when other students worry about homework projects and the severity of tests, she laughs and laughs. Jean Skirt me will laugh at nearly anything and bumbles about in such a way that her floormates think she has a disorder, but not an emotional one. nothing seems serious or crucial to her. everything can be dealt with. everything can be taken care of.

i can feel the transformation as soon as i put on the other skirt. i can feel myself changing. i guess that's how everyone is, or maybe it's just the way they are when they first start out in a real work environment, but i honestly believe that if people from work met the person i am at school, they wouldn't recognize me. and vice versa. which is why the disparity of my own posts catch me off guard sometimes. it makes me wonder which one i really am.

but anyway, along that vein, i have discovered something important: there is no good way to force yourself to have fun.

it must have been Black Skirt me who spent the summer fretting that all this work and class and one-person dorm room would leave me no time to Socialize. socialize. because that's the kind of thing i do. define the term 'socialize' in a sentence, i dare you.

anyway i had only a hazy idea in my head at the time, and to be honest, i think a lot of it stems from a popular syndrome at stern and yu - it's called the 'OMG I'm In My Junior/Senior Year And Show No Signs Of Being Engaged' syndrome (OMG for short). you will of course tell me that i am foolish because i am deceptively young, and i'll opt for that, but it's a catchy disease. students here who i have always admired for their brash spirit and level-headedness seem to have succumbed overnight; suddenly they're crashing all the unspokenly-freshmen-only events, hoping to meet someone. it would be grim if there weren't a few guys who resorted to this as well. who's to say? maybe it works sometimes. as one of my floormates put it, 'i have no problem with desperation. how else are you supposed to meet people?'

i really have no idea, and i was definitely caught off-guard when a kindly member of my shul sidled up to me at simchas Torah and asked me what my list was ('well, i could use some more mouthwash, and i really need eggs...'). i was left speechless, and those who know me will realize that this is no mean feat. my reaction to this (horror) convinced me that i am not ready to Go To A Shadchan or whatever it is everyone else who knows what they're doing does. but nonetheless i made up my mind to do my part, and apparently, at the time, this struck me as signing up for the very awkward mixers that i studiously avoided in my freshman and sophomore year.

you know the kinds of events i mean. they sound like they should be meaningful or at least fun, like a great place to find a wide variety of people, like great conversation starters, and if nothing else, a night off for you. participate in a treasure hunt around the midtown campus! saturday night trip to ripley's believe-it-or-not! volunteer in six different places and get free dinner and show at the knitting factory!

i say these are freshmen-only because in my experience the juniors and seniors rarely have time to go to these things. it's the freshmen who are still excited and intrigued by new york, by the yu scene, even. consequently it's the freshmen who are most inspired and entertaining. but it is undoubtably awkward. you go to meet new people and then, when you get there, immediately search the crowd for someone you know, even remotely, to attach yourself to, so you won't look like an idiot with nothing better to do than stand by the desert table alone sneaking cookies. i've never been to a bar but i can only imagine how much worse they must be. when you do catch sight of the occasional older student, you know why they're there, and a momentary feeling of doom passes over you. you see yourself coming to events like this for years to come, absurdly pretending you are there for the place and not the people and then eventually realizing you don't really like the people either. bleh.

i think after a certain point this year i began to realize that i truly did not have time for these kinds of events nor was i getting half as much out of them as i needed to put in. ultimately, running around new york for two hours and seeing all the landmarks could have been a beautiful thing, but the superimposed structure of the event - treasure hunting - brought me right back to eighth grade on my trip to washington, where all my teammates were so focused on finding strangers in red-white-and-blue scarves that they couldn't be bothered to look at the capital. and i end up lagging behind, looking at these things myself, waiting for the activity to end.

but so far i've been going anyway. it's almost an addiction. who knows, you think. maybe this time i'll go and everything will magically work out, and if i don't go i'll be alone forever. (although seeing what more and more of these guys are like, i wonder if that is such a bad thing.) and you race and you cram to make it fit into your tight schedule because you are convinced it is important somehow. like i said - it's a Black Skirt thing. all this uncertainty about the future.

well, tonight was one of those nights. the truth was that i already had a commitment - my radio show - and i felt particularly skeptical of the night's planned event; i couldn't imagine it attracting a good crowd. a crowd, just not a good one. but my friend wheedled and whined. 'c'mon honey, you can do your show later, you can do your show next week, your show's always the same old thing and which would you rather, sit and talk to yourself all the way uptown or run around and have fun with a bunch of people here? i don't want to go alone...c'mon...'

i couldn't cancel my show, i'm too well-trained, but i shrugged and figured i could do both. she was probably right. i would be all by myself that late on a thursday night, and it might be kind of lonely, and times square did sound like fun even if the sketchiness factor, for such we name it at stern, veered high. so i threw my playlist-toting jukebox in my purse and i went with her.

and lemme tell ya, from the first minute to the last of the whole wretched exercise, it was AWFUL. the school brought in professionals who clearly had no clue what audience they were speaking to, as evidenced by their suggestion that we play 'huggy bears' to pick team mates. also these people were even more convinced than i was that the sole purpose of the event was to Meet Your Match; we could win a prize, they informed us, which would no doubt be a romantic getaway for two at some upscale restaruant. i saw several girls who perhaps thought they were in for the thrill of the scavenger hunt alone change colors, and some of the guys looked longingly over their shoulders for their long-since-gone bus.

the game itself had fair-to-good challenges ('get everyone underwater', 'take a picture with the worst-dressed person you can find') which had the potential to be hysterical in new york. but my team was composed mainly of obscene, embarrassing guys who harassed ordinary citizens and made lewd suggestions to us, other smart-alecks who spent the entire trip whining bitterly about the lack of leadership in our group, and a few frustrated girls who had actually made room on their schedules for this. aside from the obscenity, it reminded me quite vividly of all those silly yet crucial spats my elementary school class used to argue about. i enjoyed the nostalgia and dutifully drifted towards the back to enjoy my own tour of times square. but it wasn't what i had imagined it to be.

eventually i lost everyone altogether, bought myself some pumpkin pie ice cream from a tast-i-delight (egads) and settled comfortably on a park bench, and it didn't feel half bad to be alone.

the shuttle was late. it is always late on nights when i do my show and while it was harrying it was also strangely reassuring. i ran the entire way to the station to end up three minutes late. recently i have been doing some organizing and bureaucratic things for the station which have been at times frustrating, hard to keep up with, and that vibe of glumness and work partly contributed to my decision to go to the event and jeapordize my show. but when i barreled through the door and jumbled my jukebox only to plug it into the wrong cable, with the shift manager (no, not weed, not like the old days, nor mayerhoff, but still someone i knew for awhile) chiding me and snorting through my routine ('at this point we will eulogize my dead playstation by burning it in metaphorical effigy'), and my dad imming in ('i'm going to bed, your mike's not on') and everyone cracking up while the songs were was like i had never left. back again. home.

it was a lot of fun. and i don't think it occurred to me for a moment that there was anything significant or profound at stake.

i guess that's a Jean Skirt thing.

but you know, i kind of like being Jean Skirt me. and i think now i'm pretty confident that i can still get my fun without having to e-mail my request for it to a school-sponsored event.