Thursday, September 27, 2007

This Cubicle Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us. So I'll Leave.

OK, I've been in the corporate world for a grand total of . . . . carry the 9 . . . two days. And already there's a major brouhaha a'brewin', and I'm just to the left of the thick of it.

Actually, it has nothing whatsoever to do with me, except that I was sitting at the "temp's desk" (the one with cigarette burns and the drawer that only fits on its runners upside down) waiting to be given an order by someone 2/3rds my age and desperately trying to keep the "I have a Master's Degree so fuck off with your photocopies, thank you" off my face.

I've been in the office for about 11 minutes when in storms a man who embodies every single gay male stereotype we all love to hate, right down to the be-tassled loafers and the lisp. He liberally doused the office with indigation-fueled spittle, literally put his foot down (I've never actually seen anyone do that before, it's an oddly precise gesture), made several squealing noises and hit someone with his purse before storming back out again.

I work in shoes.

Not literally in shoes, although I am wearing a pair at work, but I mean I'm working in the shoe department. I had to sheepishly admit today that I have no idea what "espadrilles" are and whether or not a Croc (sp?) qualifies as a "loafer" or a "slide." When I was 10, I knew what a slide was. Now I come to find out I was mistaken. My world fails to crumble.

But back to the drama. There was some hissing of the sort that tells you that somewhere nearby there's a Japanese person who's very very angry. Office drama is kind of funny, though, because the normal weapons of conflict are missing or inappropriate. You can't slam a door when you're exiting a cubicle, or you're liable to bring the entire rabbit warren down in a sort of cheap, tweedy domino effect, cubicle walls bouncing off the shiny, sweaty heads of middle management. You can't shout because then other people will know the actual terms of the debate rather than the hastily whispered, hugely apocryphal water-cooler version. You can't throw things because, hey, we're all professionals here; I'll just bad-mouth you to Suzy during recess instead.

I've been in academia a long time. I don't want anyone to get the idea that there are no dramas there; there are plenty of dramas. It's just that teachers, particularly part-time college teachers, rarely see each other except when our breaks happen to coincide or at once-a-quarter staff meetings where we all ignore the boss and pass notes about each other. Our dramas always happened, therefore, in super slo-mo, and by the time we got around to the next opportunity to snipe at each other, we'd all forgotten what the incident was about and whose turn it was.

So what will I do for drama if I actually manage to get this freelance writer career thing going? I suppose I could tell one cat lies about the other, but that has limited traction. They usually gang up on me, playing turd football in the living room while I'm trying to concentrate. I suck at turd football, and they know it. They always pick me last.

In case you're wondering how the story of the livid shoe fairy turned out, well, it's not over yet. Like a daytime soap opera, story lines at the office rarely come to a conclusion, they just morph into new story lines. By tomorrow he'll likely be falsely accused of murder shortly before discovering that he's really a prince of some tiny island nation which is actually filmed on a back lot somewhere in Hollywood, and his despotic twin brother will come to the office to kill him but he'll accidentally kill some nameless, innocent bystander who's incidental to the soap opera and therefore disposable. Someone like. . . .

Shit. The temp.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sugar and Spice and Sensible Shoes

So some very good friends of mine lent me the DVDs of The L Word. Toasty and I curled up on the couch this weekend and watched the pilot episode (1 & 2) and episode 3. So far I like it, although there are so many women in it that we're going through that whole "getting to know you phase" of having to ask each other, "now, is that the one who's trying to get pregnant?" and "hang on, I thought the curly haired one was the sister of the dark-haired one?" And it's a bit like coming in on a conversation in progress. There are already dramas and histories in play here, and I have to figure out why the sisters are mad at each other and the tennis player is such a flaming neurotic. Obviously, I don't have their names mastered yet (except Shane, whose name comes up about every eleven seconds), but it's refreshing not to be able to designate any particular woman just by saying that "she's the lesbian."

So in episode 3 (and watch out -- spoiler coming) the neurotic tennis player finds herself attracted to the sous chef at her club. The sous chef is a woman, naturally, and so begins the mystery: is she or isn't she?

(A little side note here on generational differences: I can't imagine my mom asking herself, now, before I get into all this, is George straight or gay?)

Friends of the tennis player agree to help and secretly put the suspect sous chef through a whole range of tests, checking her fingernails, her shoes, her walk. Said sous chef comes down pretty firmly . . . on the fence. She's not androgynous or secretive or anything like that, she's simply not giving anything away. It was pretty funny hearing them run through the list of things I would assume were sort of offensive stereotypes: short hair, trimmed fingernails, the ever-popular sensible shoes. So I couldn't help but wonder where I'd fall on the Straight <----->Lesbian spectrum of social clues.

I realize that Toasty is a bit of a give-away, but without him in the picture, how good would I be at deflecting gaydar?

I have short, often ragged fingernails (I'm a rock climber, and I wear contacts and don't enjoy poking my own stupid eye out). I rarely wear skirts or dresses, mostly because my lifestyle and my job don't require them. I have long hair (one for the "straight" column). On the show, they "tested" the sous chef by kissing in front of her. She didn't flinch, but neither did she stare. Now, this one I kind of object to. I find all excessive PDA uncomfortable, straight or gay. I don't flinch (usually), but neither do I stare. It seems unfair to me to assume that anyone who flinches is doing so from homophobia rather than just from being -- like so many of us -- awkward around tongue-wrestling couples of any description. Anyway, I am not polished or fashionable or particularly concerned about my hair or my makeup. Sorry, Toasty. If we're speaking in stereotypes here, I'm looking a little lezzy.

But I'm really interested in what this says about straight women and lesbian women. We're very quick to categorize, mainly, I think, because we're too lazy or scared to find out the truth through, oh, I don't know, actual human interaction. If you're really so desperate to find out information about a person -- straight or gay, liberal or fatheaded, rich, poor, smart or stupid -- it is possible to do this novel thing called "getting to know someone." If I'm that curious about a person, then I should ask. It's time to stop being so sensitive about labels. It's not an insult to call someone a lesbian, so why should it be awkward to ask them if they are?

And yet it is. Asking a stranger outright about their sexual orientation (I love that -- it makes it sound like we're all running around in the woods looking for flags that say "straight" or "gay") would brand me instantly suspicious. What are my motives for asking? Do I want to eliminate them as a friend, employee, partner, living human being?

I liked the way the show dealt with the question. The sous chef knew she was under scrutiny, so she put all doubts to rest by shoving the tennis player against the lockers and giving her a kiss that ended the debate. (Of course she was a lesbian -- in this section of LA, they're all lesbians, and the straight women are a little thin on the ground.) While I prefer my own "getting to know you" activities to involve a little more conversation prior to the locker-shoving, lip-chapping tongue-lock (and FYI, folks, not all my getting-to-know-you conversations lead to that), it was cute and funny and sweet in a rather aggressive sort of way.

So, there you go. When it comes right down to it, we're all still using the same old set of tired social cues to determine whether or not someone's worth getting to know. But at least we're now aware of our tired social cues and looking to expand the lists a little.

And speaking of gaydar, I knew she was a lesbian back when she was still excited about her yogurt.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Don't Care What Color My *&#%ing Parachute Is

As long as the damn thing opens.

So, last week I did one of those half-brave, half-stupid things about which epic ballads are never written. I quit my jobs. All of them.

On the strength of several people telling me I have a modicum of writing talent (not all of them related to me or friends with me or owing me money), I gave up both my day jobs and my night job. It's Wednesday of the first week of being gainfully unemployed, and I'm starting to panic.

While being without a steady source of income is something of a family tradition, I'm not terribly comfortable with it. I make fun of my wee little cave, but that doesn't mean I want to lose it. I'd suck as a homeless person. Remember the toilet incident and the subsequent I-can't-believe-I-have-to-pee-in-the-park meltdown? Now try to imagine me carrying around all my earthly belongings, my two fat cats, and trying to find a place to plug in my electric toothbrush that also has WiFi. It just wouldn't work. And what would Chase Manhattan do with my cave, anyway? Open up a very tiny, very dark, very cramped Beacon Hill branch?

So I'm feeling a bit stressed. Stress is a funny thing. It's a bit like having an annoying roommate of the kind that sneaks up behind you and jabs you in the ribs when you were having an otherwise very nice afternoon. It lurks around dark corners and hides in the "balance" column of my checking account keeping-track thingy. It makes me hungry, then totally puts me off my food, and it turns me into a snapping turtle every time poor Toasty fails to be appropriately sympathetic.

Tonight stress made me go for a run. Actually, I made me go for a run, because I like to think of myself as the kind of person who, when stressed, does something like jogging. This fantasy version of myself is at constant war with my real self who wants to put on her jim jams and fold up on the couch, weeping into a mutantly oversized bowl of popcorn.

But, if I tally up the pros and cons, the yays and the boos, in the end I'm still coming out ahead. I won't be commuting this fall, which means I can put my rabid, mouth-frothing, screaming, cursing but still admirably articulate driver-self on hold for the time being. I won't be teaching, which means I'll probably like people generally a whole lot better. I'll be able to spend more time with the people I care about, maybe even go jogging from time to time.

And who knows? I might just end up with the job that was worth getting all stressed out for.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Putting the Tic in Domestic

My cousin and his girlfriend are coming up for a weekend visit. You can tell that I like these people because I'm cleaning my apartment.

I don't clean. Occasionally I get these mad fits of tidying where I scurry around tucking the debris of my life into convenient holes, but mostly I live in a fairly generous mess. I don't mind it too much; it's the nature of living a rather over-sized life in an under-sized space. (By "over-sized" I mean that I have enough gear to outfit the 2010 Olympics, if they don't mind sharing.) But sometimes the mess gets to me.

When I have to move my ski boots and the huge Tupperware container that holds my scuba gear in order to clean out the cat box (oh yeah, and roll the bike over to the other side of the room), I start to get annoyed. As puffs of cat hair waft up around me, leaving me the center of a swirl of tiny, black, furry clouds, I contemplate getting the girls laminated. I do not understand the mute attraction of toothpaste and reflective surfaces and how my bathroom mirror can be clean one moment and look like the ground at Madison Square Garden after New Year's the next. Why do furballs congregate under the table legs? Why are cats only sick on absorbent surfaces?

Every time I have to shove several somethings out of the way to get to the something I was going for, I contemplate moving. I have to fight my way to the shoe section of my closet each morning, not because I have so many clothes, but because it is very nearly the only storage space I have. It becomes easier to just leave the shoes out of the closet: running shoes in the bathtub (they're dirty, it make sense), bike shoes to the right of the couch; boots to the left. My flip flops near the back door for easy access when feeding the guest cat. Slippers wherever I last left them. My living room is a shoe slalom.

The worst is the paperwork. I bloody hate paper. Piles of the stuff are heaped up everywhere. I never know when it's OK to throw something away. I've had this light bill since 1997; I've moved four times since then. Am I allowed to throw it away? Must I shred it, since it has my name and my address-four-times-removed on it? I have a shredder, but it's "home style," which means it can just about hack its way through a receipt from Safeway, but ask it to shred actual paper and it chokes and whines and coughs through it before spitting out a paper that's not so much shredded as neatly creased along vertical lines.

And don't get me started on "environmentally friendly" cleaning products. Now, I'm a dedicated greenie with the bike scabs to prove it, but seriously, people, this stuff is crap. It's "environmentally safe" because it's water. Yes, it is "safe:" grit, goo, sticky patches, unidentifiable bits of crunchy matter have nothing to fear from this stuff. I spray it on, liberally dousing whatever alien substance has landed on my countertop, give it a second or two, then pass a rag right over the top of it. The cleaner doesn't even penetrate the top layer. I douse it again, thinking, generously, that perhaps I missed. Perhaps I was unable to spray accurately from a three-inch distance. The goo is not only undaunted, it is downright smug. It's a barnacle that I'm trying to loosen with Silly Putty. I keep the green products around only to maintain my environmentalist credentials, but when no one's looking, I bring out the stuff with the skulls and crossbones, the stuff that smokes a little when you open the lid, the stuff that requires gloves and a mask, if not a full-on hazmat suit, the stuff that says "use only in an adequately ventilated space." It cuts a wide, vicious swath through the dirt (and possibly the top layer of the surface I'm cleaning). It is the scorched-earth policy in the domestic War on Counter Nubbins.

My cousin just called and is on his way. This is unfortunate. When I clean, I take breaks. I have to. The label on the cleaning fluid says so. My last break was about 30 minutes, meaning I'm 30 minutes behind in my cleaning. So please excuse me while I find some empty places to shove shit into.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Cultural Traditions" We Can All Do Without

1. harpooning whales
2. infanticide of females
3. ritual circumcision of either gender
4. suttee
5. burkhas
6. hazing

Why do we have this idea that because something has been done for hundreds or thousands of years, that that automatically makes it acceptable? There are so many bad behaviors that hide under the title of "tradition," safe from scrutiny and utterly immune to change.

This is by no means a complete list, it's just what I can think of right now, a few minutes after an NPR report on five testosterone-poisoned sons of bitches who went out and tortured and killed a gray whale, calling it their "cultural tradition," as if that somehow made it worthy of our respect or at least our tolerance.

Fat chance, fuckers. There are lots of evil behaviors in every culture that must be wiped out. Cultural blindspots happen, but when they are finally nudged into our line of vision, it's time to look closely and see what it is we're thoughtlessly preserving. Is it worthy of our efforts to hold onto it? If not, it's time to let it go.

To contact the responsible tribe and make your anger known, here's the contact information.

Makah Tribal Council
PO Box 115
Neah Bay, Wa
(360) 645-2201

Monday, September 10, 2007

Even My Mother Thinks I Should Sell Myself

Ok, so I've been job-hunting, pretty seriously, since about mid-January. I've written dozens of cover letters, each intended to be the definitive statement on Me and Why I'm Wonderful, each more an apologetic "sorry to make you read this, but I'm looking for a job would you mind reading it, so sorry, thank you." Obviously, I have yet to master the fine art of Selling Myself.

If these were the old, pre-tech days, I'd have a trash can full and overflowing with wadded-up rejects. I tried the humorous approach ("I am an editor who can ferret out mistakes like a pet up a pantleg"); I tried the ultra-professional angle ("I am highly intolerant of errors and vigilant in maintaining voice and message"). I went with conversational and friendly ("I'd love to join the staff of your nature magazine and be a writer of environmental wrongs!") And I briefly considered employing guilt ("I went to school for six years and all I got was this lousy temp job.") I am now bordering on the desperate ("My mother thinks I'm smart.") The whole thing has me so stressed out, I'm actually dreaming about zombies. Zombies. Who dreams about zombies, for crying out loud? It's not like anyone actually wants my brain, for eating or otherwise.

It's not that I truly think I'm pathetic and have nothing to offer. On the contrary, I probably have a little too much faith in myself (blame my most excellent friends who give me so much praise I'm lucky I can lever my bloated head through the front door of the Pub). Perhaps I am aiming a bit high, jobwise. But I also witness sub-standard writing a million times a day: poor grammar, terrible spelling, a complete inability to put a cohesive sentence together. And that's from the president!

So it's back to the drawing board for me. Back to lists of "power words!" (developed rather than did; facilitated over helped; consolidated in place of put together in a big pile; allocated instead of stuck an underling with because I'm too lazy to do myself). Back to deciding between the assertive "Thank you for your time; I'll call next week to arrange an interview" and the modest, "Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon" when in fact what I really mean is, "I can do the effing writing job, note the accurate use of semi-colons; call me as soon as you get this, and let's talk compensation" (rather than money).

Wish me luck. Or advocate an expedited, successful resolution. Whatever.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Silent Knight Wholly Crappy Night

My fire alarm is trying to kill me. Or at least it's trying to get me fired.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the fire alarm supposed to help people? I mean, at the very least, isn't it supposed to sit there quietly, minding its own business, until there's something to get worked up about, like, say, a fire? Either the fire alarm system in this building has been planted by nefarious Republican sympathizers who don't like me blog-sniping at Bush et al, or it really thinks firemen are cute.

Three times last week my fire alarm system got lonely and bored and called the fire department to entertain itself. It did this Victorian romance-heroine swooning thing, all helpless and save-me, save-me. If it had eyelashes, it would be batting them; if it had a bosom, it would be heaving. My fire alarm has a thing for men in uniform, and it knows how to bring them around in numbers.

So, as the firemen got crabbier and crabbier about being dragged over in full battle-regalia just to push the "reset" button, we called in the alarm people, and they fixed it. . . . .

Or did they?

This morning, 3.30 a.m., the beast awakens again. And this is where it's really clever: it doesn't do the full-on klaxons blaring, lights flashing, we're-all-going-to-die floor show, it just starts beeping. Shrilly. Just beyond my bedroom door.

I am a bad sleeper. I've never been good at it. It's fortunate I didn't go to kindergarten because I would have flunked Napping for sure. I wake up easily and frequently and can count on one hand the number of times in my adult life that I've slept clear through the night. I fall asleep easily, but staying there is the hard part.

So when the fire alarm starts bitching, I leap from bed and race to my front door. (Beebee, the dumber of my cats, does her usual self-preservation thing of diving under the bed and heading for the center.) The fire alarm box is in the front hallway, just beyond my bedroom wall. There's no smoke, no heat, no flames, no nothing, just a screeching alarm box. The words flashing across its screen are "failure . . . . information lost." Well, hell, I forget things too, but that doesn't mean I call in the cavalry.

I stand at the front door, waiting for the firemen to arrive. They don't. No one is disturbed by the alarm but me -- no heads poke out of doors, no one comes out, rubbing sleep from their eyes, ready to leap into action and help me shut the bloody thing up. I am alone with this shrill, beeping, Alzheimer'd horror of an alarm system.

After half an hour of wrapping a pillow around my head (right up there with writing a protest letter to the government and sending out my resume for favorite acts of futility), I get fed up and go back out to get a phone number so I can call the alarm people. There are no phone numbers. There are no names. Nothing. But, in a great burst of unintended irony, I discover that the brand name of the system is . . . wait for it . . . "Silent Knight." This makes me laugh out loud, though my upper lip is so curled with disgust I nearly sprain something.

Back inside, I look up Silent Knight in the phonebook. There's a number, so I call it. It takes a couple of tries for the call to go through, but finally I reach this poor guy who was obviously asleep. I feel bad, but it passes. He patches me through to the monitoring service who put me on hold for about fifteen minutes and then hang up on me. I feel much safer: I have an alarm that goes off for no apparent reason and a monitoring service that can't be bothered to monitor. This happens twice. I give up and wrap the pillow around my head again.

Finally, at 4.45 a.m., the fire department shows up. It's the whole dog-and-pony show again as they pull up with two (2) trucks, trudge in with all their gear and oxygen tanks, and almost immediately trudge back out again. This alarm malfunction, they say, is beyond their control. Even pressing the almighty, all-powerful Reset Button is not going to work. Not this time. To bring back the peace and restore sanity to the land of Condominiuma, we must seek to find . . . the Code. Seven digits which, when typed in in proper order, will save us all. The tromping of pissed-off firefighters has finally alerted the rest of the building to the fact that Something Is Going On (though it's really Nothing At All), and the guy from the top floor arrives.

He is the Keeper of the Code.

But -- he doesn't know where It is.

In a move similar to ducking under a desk during a nuclear attack, I wrap my pillow around my head again and try to survive. Ok, that's really nothing at all like desk + holocaust, but at 5 a.m., it kinda feels like it. I now have a gonzo whopper of a headache, and I'm supposed to be at a new job in Bellevue by 8.15 (don't get excited, it was just a temp. job). The top floor guy apparently undertakes a Quest for the Code, because about 45 minutes later, the beeping mercifully stops. I manage to drop off to sleep a full and restful 45 minutes before my alarm is due to go off. The alarm I set. The one that goes off when it's told to. I'm considering taking my bedside alarm out into the hallway and having it give the fire alarm a good talking-to.

I made it to the temp. job on time and managed to ingest enough liquid sleep in the form of coffee to survive the day. But the next time the firemen show up for no other reason than because my fire alarm is bored, I'm gonna have to borrow the ax.