Monthly Archives: April 2003

Ornery

I’ve effectively fallen off the face of Diaryland.
It occurred to me that I never wrote about the Spoon show.
I’ve been keeping things to myself this week. I went to see Andrew Bird and had my heart broken by his ethereal, haunting beauty. I had my eardrums blown out and danced, grinning ear to ear, at the Postal Service show, just feet from my beloved Ben Gibbard. I have eaten amazing falafel, held three temp jobs, singlehandedly killed an entire tank of fish with one sponge, began a new writing group, witnessed the death of my sleek and sexy Vaio laptop, and finally coded my parent-friendly Web site.
But I don’t feel like writing about any of it.
Actually, I’ve been writing about it. I’m just not in a sharing mood I guess. Does not play well with others: Check.
Perhaps I’ll return soon. Perhaps I’ll continue solo work on my 52 Short Stories in 52 Weeks project. Or maybe I’ll go buy tickets in preparation for the following shows: Pedro the Lion (5/5 at the MidE), the Frames (6/5 at Paradise), and Jay Clifford (6/11 at House of Blues).
My friend Michael is moving to New York on Saturday. I’ve got a bone to pick with that fucking city.

Universal Resource Lament

It’s kind of sad the way the dot com thing panned out.
A while back I saw Startup.com – the movie. Now I didn’t sympathize with the spotlight company of this documentary. Regardless of how many angel investors you have, you don’t drop $800,000 on your office furniture before building your own Web site. But it captured the feeling of “anything is possible” — the atmosphere of 20-year-olds suddenly making 4 times what their parents earned last year, all because of lines of code they learned to string together while drinking too much coffee and listening to Underworld all night.
Everyone started reading Wired. Even laymen knew what a URL was. I started working at a dot com in 1999, just when things hit fever pitch and a few months before the whole bottom fell out. It was an exciting drop, like jumping in on the crest of the wave of pink slips and riding it all the way down to crash on the beach with a mouthful of sand and four employees’ worth of work added to your board.
I don’t know how everyone thought that the Internet economy would keep growing and growing. Eventually it would have to hit critical mass. But there were so many kids made millionaires over night. And everyone was an ostrich in the sand with their skater-pant clad asses in the air.
I was just thinking about this because the company I’m temping at today must have gone through a nose dive a while back. The office feels like a party when that handful of guests that always stay too long just won’t leave and let you go to bed. It’s almost embarrassing. The echoes of days past ring off the walls whose Anime posters, dartboards, and Cold Fusion ads are curling at the corners and growing dust. The former beer fridge, recovering from previous days of all-nighters and Friday celebrations, now houses single-serving non-dairy creamers for the stream of visitors surveying the building for possible purchase.
This is the kind of company where the phone list is in alphabetical order by first name. The bulletin board features photographs of the mascot in a dozen different foreign lands, but the employees proudly wielding the camera and the stuffed dog now collect unemployment. There is a sea of silent cubicles – fifty or more. The mailroom where I was sorting envelopes had only a fraction of the former names – the rest had been peeled off sloppily as employee after employee received their layoff notices from within and exited the building for the last time.
It does make me sad. An era is over. I’m glad I got to experience it though. Our kids and grandkids will ask us to retell stories of how when we were in grade school, the Web didn’t exist. It will be in history text books for years to come, like the 20’s, the Great Depression, the Industrial Revolution, Woodstock.
Woodstock? God. How did that get in there?

Green Shakes & Boredom

You know, this is how I always wanted my job to be. Pay me to sit here, listen to the radio, and write drivel to myself, friends, and online journal sites. It’s pretty much what I was doing at my previous job except that I’m actually fulfilling my duties here. I have no work ethic. I’m not afraid to admit that.
I haven’t surfed the Web in weeks, and I don’t think I’m missing much to be honest. I was pleased to discover a completely dorky picture of me on the KEXP Web site from our trip to NYC. Good god. Other than that? What do people do online? I’m kind of lost. I’ve never been good at killing time online. I go to Wired, get bored in a minute. Read all my favorite diaries in like an hour. Check all my band sites and calendar listings. That’s it. I mean, what the hell else if the Internet good for?
I guess I could follow the news or politics for once in my life. But I’ve already got a myriad of reasons handy to slit my wrists. The weather, for instance. Oh, wait. Nevermind. I’m over the whole seratonin thing.
Yesterday I spent the whole day wandering around the city with no place to be but the racquetball court at 6:00. I haven’t taken a day off in a while, and I spent it luxuriously, hitting my usual round of cafes and book stores. It was 80 degrees and ridiculously sunny. I was calm and centered and happy.
Which is probably why I have absolutely nothing to write about today.
How about them Red Sox?
Monday is the Boston Marathon. “You run, we’ll drink beer!” It’s traditionally been a day of wanton chaos and massive, concentrated mayhem, but this year I’m going to be good. Maybe just a bite at the Joshua Tree and a Shamrock Shake.
My favorite new album is the Trembling Blue Stars, “Broken by Whispers.” You’ll listen to it if you know what’s good for you.
Before I bore you all to death, I’m going back to whatever people do online. Or offline. I’ve been reading a lot of magazines. I especially enjoy my guilty indulgence of Reader’s Digest that I buy each week for the kitchen table. It makes me feel validated as a writer.
Carry on.

But It’s So Fleeting…

Temporary employment definitely has its charms.

It’s all copy.

I didn’t have Internet access for over a week. The day I got back from New York, my wireless network went down and divorced my laptop. Since I’ve been temping, I can’t surf the Web. I’ve been doing a bunch of chores like mailroom work — stuffing envelopes and printing address labels and the like. Today, however, I am working at the reception desk of a psych ward.

At least they have Internet. It’s the first time I’ve checked my email since Tuesday.

I’ve had four interviews in five days and I’m on my third temp job. My first day they sent me in — spent from a night out on the town — in my pearls and respectable shoes, and sat me at a reception desk with 60 telephone lines, with nearly half of the callers barely speaking English. Good morning.

Then Friday I was sorting mail at the children’s book publishing company, which is comforting in a familiar fashion because I worked in the bulk mailroom at BU stuffing envelopes every morning. I have a fiery imagination and can entertain myself for hours. For nostalgia sake, I made myself a steaming cup of coffee with the delectable powdered non-dairy creamer. Mmmm. Tastes like Monday morning hangovers and the Cure on my walkman.

In preparation for being put through the corporate wringer, I dragged my ass all over the malls of New Jersey two weeks ago in search of a suit jacket. But apparently it’s against the law to interview in the spring and I returned empty handed with my tail between my legs. Last week I was more stressed about the lack of jacket than the 60 line switchboard. My infinitely wise mother says, “Stand up straight, smile, and wear pearls; you can get away with anything.” Apparently it worked.

The temp agency I went to on Wednesday was uncomfortably hip. They were blaring the trendy “alternative” radio station over the PA and the agents’ skirts from Urban Outfitters barely covered their asses. Every once in a while, one of the account reps would ring a cowbell and the whole Ikea-furnished office would cheer. There were suspicious marketing questions on the application. Just for demographics, they assured me. “What newpapers do you read?” I swallowed, gripped my shiny logo pen and scribbled, “Boston Phoenix, Village Voice.” Radio stations? Um. They’re not going to hire me.

I felt like a total whore by Wednesday, when I was on my third day straight of three-hour interviews and temp agency ninth degree. I have a hard time selling myself. How do I begin to list these jobs? My stint as a bank fraud analyst? The graveyard shift at the meat packing plant? The summer I screwed nuts on bolts 14 hours a day? The legal executive I took dictation for at One Federal? Does anyone care that I know short hand? I’m well-versed in medical terminology? I can train unruly canines? Help?

My last experience with a temp agency was years ago. They were so excited I could speak English and type that they sent me on my merry way, office to office, no questions asked. My first job out of college, the agent called me: “You know PowerPoint, right?” I vaguely remembered putting that down on my application because it sounded required. “Sure.” I reported to the job Monday morning in a panic, but was elated to find a “Learn Powerpoint in 10 Days” book on the desk I would be seated at for the next month. I stuffed it into the back of my neatly pressed wool skirt and excused myself for the ladies room where I exercised my speedreading skills.

The agency on Wednesday didn’t trust me. It’s as simple as that. I rattled off my list of computer software expertise. I had used Quark X-Press once, maybe five years ago. I put that down. MS Access? Sure. Same interface as Word, right? Why not. Check. Check. Check. After I handed in my application, the truth came out. There were tests involved.

I gulped and sat down at this simulation terminal. The most absolutely infuriating part was that I could not use keyboard shortcuts, and every time I tried, I got the answer wrong. I had no one to argue with. Control+V. Who the hell uses mouses and menus? Fortunately, I was able to learn MS Access while taking the test.

They pulled out my typing results and my agency rep glanced at my scores and tried not to look impressed. I’m like, it’s okay. I know I type 110 words a minute. Maybe it will make up for my inability to properly forward an incoming phone call. On all 60 lines.

Strangely enough, the ultra-hip temp agency that put the fear of god in my soul has placed me consistently since I walked out the door. They’re all over me.

So my first job — the 60-line switchboard. To be fair, I only screwed up royally twice. Unfortunately it was 2 of the 3 times the Director of the company called.

But one of the benefits of being a temp is that everyone thinks you’re stupid. They talk about you through half-closed doors, with one hand over the phone receiver, like a disease. “Oh. You’ve got the temp.” It’s expected you’ll do something stupid. By the same token, if you are remotely competent, they’re impressed. It’s essential to maintain a balance between the two or you end up doing way too much work.

So today is the psych ward. I’ve been screamed at twice already this morning. And I’m not talking about, “You forgot the paper clip, you moron!” I’m talking full on railed at in incomprehensible word salad. I don’t know what she’s calling me, but she certainly means it. There are no supervisors here. The only assistant I’ve managed to drum up is the maintenance guy emptying the trash who can’t read. Since they left me outside in the freezing rain for the hour that was supposed to be my initiation session, I got – literally – five minutes of training on the whole shebang before the girl beat it out of here. At least there’s a door between the residents and me — and I don’t have to buzz them in if they look threatening. But they know I’m a temp and they’re trying to manipulate me. They are, in fact, out to get me.

They’re trying to get money out of me to use the payphone. I almost fell for it. Good thing I didn’t have any quarters.

Though there is another bonus involved that makes this strange chaos okay: an unmolested commute. They keep placing me in Somerville and Cambridge jobs with off-street parking. It’s such a novelty to drive to work and I much prefer to sit in my car drinking good coffee and listening to music. Even on a bad day, being stuck in traffic beats being touched aggressively and repeatedly on all sides by sweaty strangers on the subway.

I have three days off now and not a single small business network security article in sight.

I could get used to this.

Luxx

It’s been raining for FOUR FUCKING WEEKS. This has got to stop. I need to file a complaint, please. I haven’t bitched about the weather yet this year, but here you have it. I’m ready to slit my wrists. And I was thinking of moving to Seattle? Note to self.
Ruby and I play racquetball. On a good week, we hit the court two or three times. We’ve noticed this phenomenon, especially Court C in particular, where the lights are the brightest. A racquetball court is essentially a giant white box – I don’t know the official dimensions but it’s about 20’x30’ and painted shocking white. The fluorescent lights are a million lux so the place is blinding.
When you step into the court, you feel the surge of brightness. Then at the twenty minute point, you enter what we’ve dubbed, “The Adjustment Period.” This is the time during which the perma-grin begins, induced by ultraviolet light and endorphins. We become totally and completely useless.
I have to say, Ruby is one of the funniest people I know. She can make me laugh like no one else. But when we are playing racquetball and I hit The Adjustment Period, I lose control of my limbs and giggle so uncontrollably that I almost lose control of my bladder. We forget whose serve it is. Two seconds after the point is scored, we forget whose point it was. Not that we keep score, but you have to keep track of who just missed the ball in order to continue the game. We can’t do it.
Inspired by the giddiness that comes on in the afterglow of a hearty round of racquetball, I bought one of those Happy Lites®. If you’re unfamiliar, they’re a big board of ultraviolet bulbs that you sit in front of during the wrist-slitting Northern winter months when it’s dark all day and they stimulate your serotonin levels in your brain so you don’t get depressed. You’re supposed to use it at least 20 minutes, twice a day. Which is fine. I could set it up on my desk and write or use my computer. The problem was, after two weeks, my serotonin levels had increased to fever pitch and I couldn’t sit still for 20 minutes.
I might need to pull it out of the closet if these April showers keep up.
Anyway. Back to work.
More to follow if I don’t jump off the BU bridge.

New York Cares

days living out of my backpack: 6
states visited: 4

miles traveled: 1,278
cigarettes smoked: 1,278

shows attended: 4
wedding receptions attended: 1
job interviews attended: 1

river otters sighted: 3
conversations had with random psychos: 2

blocks walked in one day: 56
times I got lost: 0

Every time I go to New York City, I wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s a cool city, I always have a good time, but really. I think the only truly remarkable thing about it is its size.

Just for the record, I don’t think size matters. But holy beejezus my feet hurt.

Immediately following the termination of my employement on Monday and Life As I Know It, I hopped a train to bright lights big city to forget myself and dig into some long-awaited concerts.

We stayed in Greenwich Village, in this groovy little spot Hotel 17. This place is supercool and wicked cheap. It’s one of the old school establishments with narrow hallways and shared bathrooms on each floor. They even had music in the elevator, with a door you have to close yourself. And it was some 70’s station, which fit perfectly. The room had a little fire escape where I sat and smoked a cigarette in the morning light, gazing at the skyline. I felt like I was in a Kerouac novel.

Tuesday night was a total trip. I ventured to NYC mainly for the
KEXP Radio Seattle broadcast from the Museum of Television and Radio, but I found the Damnwells were playing not only during that broadcast but the night before in Brooklyn. The show was scheduled for North Sixth, which is apparently your average rock venue — but I wouldn’t know because the show was moved. There has understandably been a bunch of hubbub in clubs recently due to the pyrotechnics disaster, so the venues are cracking down on fire codes and the like. Something happened at North Sixth, and with only a few days to the show, they apparently had nowhere to stick the bands they booked. It only made sense to move The Damnwells and southern rock darling Bobby Bare, Jr. to a Polish disco. For real.

The people who worked at the club, the patrons, the whole neighborhood — everyone — looked like my friend Ula from high school. Ula from Poland, stick-straight blonde hair, tall and gorgeous. Everyone within a five mile radius had enormous blue eyes and radiant smiles. It was surreal. The bartenders were the Polish version of Coyote Ugly, white leather baseball hats and fuzzy sweaters. The club was dimly lit, red lights; the walls were painted faux-castle and there was a smoke machine.

Speaking of smoke… News flash! You can’t smoke in New York anymore!

And The Damnwells fucking rocked. I love that band. I’ll post some of the pics when I develop them since I remembered my camera this time. After the show I talked to Ted, the bass player, who got me all worked up about not having a job in the “Right on girl, fuck the man” fashion, because underneath all of the mayhem and bliss of travel and rock shows, I feel the surly current of unease, the aftershock of oh-shit-what-have-I-done? I felt justified for a moment and was able to sink into Bobby Bare, Jr. with big smiles for the world.

My favorite part about Bobby Bare, Jr. is that the band subscribes to no scene. While they were setting up, I was trying to figure out which of the three remaining bands they were because I didn’t know what they looked like. Judging by the hipstercool boys setting up their instruments, it was not time for a southern dirty barefoot rock band. The drummer was total rockabilly — black jeans, wingtips, serious face, and even while sound checking he was incredible. Fast and sharp. Bobby came out and wrapped a string of plastic flowers around his mic stand while the drummer was wrapping white lights around the drum kit he borrowed from the Barnyard Playboys. They opened with the apropos “Monk at the Disco.”

Halfway through the set, Bobby told the story of how just a few days prior, they were playing in Kentucky when the drummer, who “shuns all labels like a good artist,” was busted for walking down the train tracks with a gee-tar in one hand and a 40 in the other. And Bobby told him, “I’m sorry, but that’s the most alt-country thing that can happened to a man.”

Wednesday I crowded into the tiny radio booth to shake hands reverently with the D.J. who has coached me through innumerable days behind the desk of my former job, when things were looking bleak and pointless. A round of applause, please, for the one and only John in the Morning. The man is a legend. I swear. I fully worship him. I told him this and he laughed and let me take pictures of him half-wearing his headphones and digging enthusiastically through his personal CD collection dragged cross-country from Seattle. Alex from the Damnwells performed in the little listening room, and it was amazing. There were no amps or anything because it was a live broadcast, so all we got was his voice and his acoustic guitar. I knew he had a beautiful voice, but I really appreciated it even more listening to him without the crunchy guitar and wall of sound that the band has when they’re playing together. The media person from the radio station approached me after his performance and asked me about my photography and said the station could compensate me for photos if I wanted to send some along. That would be pretty exciting to have some of the live shots of the performance on the KEXP Web site. I’ll keep you posted. If you want to hear Alex’s performance, you can stream the broadcast from that day online. God bless technology.

After getting my “I Worship John Richards” t-shirt, I vacated the premises and took to the streets of Manhattan alone since I wasn’t meeting up with Ruby until later in the afternoon in Hoboken. I walked a million blocks, breathing in the city — eye candy, all of it. My camera threw a temper tantrum, so I was left with my disposable black and white that I was using for my April picture-a-day project. I violated the whole one a day rule and used up the rest of the remaining shots on inappropriate storefronts and poorly translated signage. My favorite, I think, was “unnecessary loud noise prohibited.” In New York City. Riiiight.

Despite my previously stated disenchantment, there is something urgent and romantic about New York, and I felt it while I was walking. I was also buzzing from the music, my head all on fire and in love with life, full of possibility. Seized by an immediate and reckless passion, I found myself outside the apartment building of The One Who Got Away. My prince, my dreambrother, my cookie cutter heart, my angel, my siamese twin severed at the wrist. In a moment of useless romantica and cloying sentimentality, I entertained fantasies of standing there under his window on the Upper East side, holding a boombox over my head John Cusack style, blaring Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One” over the squeal of city traffic. But then I was torn about what I would do when he came to the window — if I would fall to my knees and wail my undying devotion or wish him eternal life in hell for breaking my heart.

In the end, confusion won out and I instead went to the Central Park Zoo to watch the little Tamarin monkeys with plucky white mohawks hurl raisins at one another. Even the primates don’t know how to behave toward the opposite sex.

While daydreaming with the lucky harbor seals, I received a phone call in response to a resumé I submitted for a serendipitous dream job. A three-hour interview was arranged for Friday morning at 8:00.

There were two problems with this set up. One, I was still in Manhattan. Two, the Jump, Little Children show was Thursday night. But I love mixing pleasure and pain so I stumbled into the interview Friday morning on three hours of sleep, after an evening of making love to my favorite band and a slumber party at Kinko’s printing out my portfolio. (My printer lived a life of tempted fate beneath the potted plant that was watered weekly.)

The job interview deserves its own entry and it will get one soon enough.

The Jump, Little Children show blew my mind, as usual. The band was in a chill mood, which was strange. I had never seen them so relaxed before. There’s normally a frenetic insane energy about them. They played four new songs, which made me excited for a new album because Jay Clifford just gets more beautiful with each passing chord.

An hour after my interview I was back on the road to New York for the second leg of the JLC tour.

Halfway between Boston and NYC, my friend Shea, who was to be my travel companion for the weekend, informed me he was trapped in Leominster after witnessing a plane crash and he wasn’t going to make the show. I was exhausted anyway, so I pulled off the highway and spent the weekend in Connecticut trying to figure out what to do with myself after all the excitement and frantic travel. I spent a great deal of time playing my antiquated piano and chainsmoking. Shea arrived on Saturday. I had a nervous breakdown about being unemployed and single, starving to death alone on the streets of Somerville. He listened to me rant for 12 hours, and then I went to sleep and dreamed about river otters, street vendor hot dogs, New Jersey diner coffee cups, and a resumé that just wouldn’t print.

And back to Boston.

I’m tired. I missed you all terribly. I’m going to sleep now.