Thursday, September 30, 2004

They Thought The Beach Was Something To Eat

It was a client day at work, which means an abrupt change in the dress code. I passed a few dozen people clad in their mutually understood version of “smart business casual” before figuring out that my jeans and rumpled dress shirt were way below par.

My jeans are daringly snug on the best of days. I was hungry for a new look when I tried them on, and felt so Stones in the 70’s in them that I wore them home from the store. But when you’re dressed like “Exile on Main Street” and everyone else is dressed for “Success on Wall Street,” all that sassy confidence just deflates like a hot air balloon with a gunshot wound.

I went into the bathroom to gather my thoughts, took a deep breath and leaned up against the counter close to look myself in the eyes for a pep talk. That’s when I found the puddle. Some clown left a small lake of water around the sink. It all soaked directly into the crotch of my jeans the instant I leaned against the bathroom counter.

The aforementioned story might be true. An alternate truth might be that I take Prozac for mild chronic depression, otherwise known as “being in my twenties.” Prozac is second only to caffeine in the neurological makeup of today’s post-Gen-Xers, so I’m hardly alone here. Those of you that take it know (and do not discuss) this particular drug’s most common side effect: a certain insensitivity in the urethra. This can cause impotence, but in less extreme cases it just makes you dribble like an 80 year old man with a wooden prostate. It basically just exchanges one set of depressing circumstances for another.

The point is that on it my second day of work I was totally underdressed, standing in the bathroom at ten am with a large wet spot on my pants that might or might not have been my urine.

I untucked my shirt. The flaps of the shirtfront covered the spot enough to get me back to my desk. I just spent the whole morning scooted in tight.

I rode home to change over my lunch break, grabbing the first pair of dress pants I could find. The ankles were still rolled up and sandy from that time I wore them to the beach last week. Chain mail leggings would have been fine by me. Then as soon as I relaxed back into my desk, the fire alarm went off. The whole office trouped outdoors, blinking in the sunlight and chattering about nothing. Fire trucks came and went, and we all trouped back in…then the weirdness really started.

A workman on the floor above mine had tripped an alarm by accident, triggering the sprinkler system and flooding the eighth floor offices. All the water had slowly drained through our light fixtures and flooded my seventh-floor cubicle farm. I had to sneak past the building maintenance guys to get my stuff. They were desperately trying to keep everyone away. I thought it was because of the electric hazard, but no…

While we were all smoking and chitchatting out in the afternoon sun, an entire wetland ecosystem sprouted in my flooded office. Clear water, sepia-toned from decades worth of decaying leaves and papers trickled around cypress knees. Water striders flicked around lily pads in the aisles like they had been there forever. People had to get to their desks by way of stepping-stones and abandoned office chairs. I was almost to mine, reaching from a chair to an oval-shaped piece of shale when I splashed into the water.

Remember the weirdness I was talking about? This is where it starts.

The water back by the copy machines rippled ominously towards me. I could make out a squadron of about twenty brownish-black spheres roughly the size of croquet balls moving through the water in tight formation, aiming straight at me.

They moved like a school of fish trained by fighter pilots, veering around obstacles like a single organism, some turning lazy barrel rolls through the water. As they rolled, I could just make out an oval-shaped orifice in the spheres. As they approached, they all flipped orifice-side up and paused. Rippling muscular tongues about a foot long unfurled from each hole. Once the tongues unfurled, antennae probed out of the tips. These animate croquet balls were actually giant snails swimming in tight formation like a school of barracuda, sighting on my ankles and moving in for the kill.

Everything moved so fast, but in slow motion like sprinting in a bad dream. I remember looking down at my ankles in the rich, swampy water in the office, seeing minnows picking at my toes and small clouds of sand emanate from my pants cuffs, offloading deposits of sand form the beach.

The swarm of giant snails divided to surround my ankles. I could feel their twenty mucoid heads jabbing at my feet, the slippery fingers of their antennae caressing my ankles. I was too scared to move, and just stood there astonished. And then it hit me: these weren’t vicious attack snails at all—they were curious and hungry.

The clouds of sand had disappeared from my ankles and most of the snails wandered off. A few smaller ones remained, hungrily licking grains of sand off the pebbles nearby. It dawned on me: this giant school of snails had grown up in an office-swamp environment. The sand from my pants was totally foreign to them, and probably smelled delicious. They thought the beach was something to eat.


Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
I made this poster last night for the Carlsonics...enjoy.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Bapp Bapp Bapp

The soundtrack to the working life in D.C. goes bapp bapp bapp bappa bapp bapp bapp, a beat thumped out by the sound of young feet in heels and stylish office shoes. The beat starts at 5:30 out in the 'burbs, hammering onto subways, off the concrete and into long marble corridors lined with elevators. By eight a.m. the beat is omnipresent and deafening, rattling the keys in your pocket, waking up winos and sending them packing. The beat whirls pigeons up in great greasy clouds through D.C.'s concrete canyons and shifts off subway rats in an orderly fashion.

I use my fingers to drum the beat on the table in the training room my first week of work, trying to adapt. It’s not just a matter of physically learning how to imitate the beat, but training my core being not to reject it like my body would a chimp’s heart.

If the heels of classy office shoes are the kick drum on the corporate drumbeat, rustling grey wool provides a quiet ride cymbal sound with the tinkling of keys and beeping of Outlook inboxes working as a polyrhythm. Serious young people talk about Bethesda, Ballston and Arlington, lunchtime Pilates classes and after-work happy hours. A real dominant theme in the meet—and-greet in my first training session of my very first day is the decision all these bright motivated 24 year olds made to “enter the private sector.”

I haven’t introduced myself this much since college. Apart from a slight change in verb tense, the introductions are exactly the same: “Where you from, what did you major in, what did you do before you got here?”

Some of these bright young champions worked for other financial institutions, but most just graduated from college this spring. When I say that I was a pizza cook at a bar until two weeks ago, there are smiles and snickers. The laughter is not condescending, but I do wonder what’s so funny.

Men in the training room are all wearing white shirts and a tie, or a sharply pressed navy blue dress shirt. Women wear skirts unless they wear slacks. All shoes are stylish and sensible; all clothes are pressed.

My first-day-of work pants only have a small hole on one leg, right at the seam. I found my sport jacket in a dumpster in Perth. It covers the cooling sweat pooling in my pits from the bike ride to work very nicely. I “ironed” my shirt last night by hanging it in the shower and steaming the hell out of it, re-steaming it this morning with shorter shower.

The beat is deceptively simple—very easy on paper, but hard as all hell to learn. Maybe the corporate beat is like Japanese where subtle fluctuations in tone mean altogether different things and unless you’ve been practicing since birth you’re fucked.

For the entire prolonged adolescence that’s substituted for my adult life, I’ve been able to wrap my pop-coolness around me like a defensive cloak. Now I can’t hide behind a vintage t-shirt and an attitude any more than I can rebuild my cubicle into a fortress made out of my amazing cd collection. I’m just like everyone else and I’ve actually got to achieve to get ahead. I’ve got to practice that beat till it comes naturally. I just hope I don’t forget how to play my way in the process.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite Has An Uncle In Virginia

As I mentioned before, I run in the field behind my childhood elementary school. I saw this last week--it took like thirty seconds, but just blew my mind.

A turquoise Iroc with the t-top popped ripped into the teachers' parking lot at like a hundred miles an hour. Wheels squealed as that hypercolor discount muscle car etched a horseshoe on the pavement and shuddered to a hard stop up against the curb. The driver had the highest, tightest crewcut in the world, and his bare torso glistened with sweat. His red face bobbed, kinda headbanging to the radio, which was absolutely CRANKING Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls" through treble-heavy factory speakers.

He looked me in the eye for too too long, drained a Red Bull and sprinted across the street into an apartment. Notice that I did not mention that he put on a shirt.

Take a little picture of THAT.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Emu Damage

Emu Damage
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
We were burning up the outback in a tiny compact Daewoo, Tash and me tearing down the highway between Carnarvon and Denham at over 140 km/hour. The sky was blue, sun screaming, and the highway a hot black stripe laid between two endless plains of red dust dotted with spinefex. I was imagining the highway as a massive treadmill when Natasha said, "Not fair, sleeping in the shotgun seat when I've driven the entire trip (she had, too.) You have to tell me a story about something fucked in America to keep us both awake."

I warmed up with a description of Norfolk public schools and was really bearing down on the time Ray Heard punched Eric Browne right in the face and stole his grape soda. Then we crested the hill.

An emu stood right in the middle of the fucking road just the other side of that hill. It scrabbled on the asphalt like an indecisive squirrel with a glandular problem, running right and then left and then right again.

I do the same thing myself when I'm faced with an important decision--run all over the damn place, not sure which direction is the right one to run. Most times it doesn't matter what direction, just get off the road.

Something wet flew out of the bird's face when its body connected with the hood. Natasha swears that it looked her in the eye as its head dragged across the windshield. It flew across the road like a misshaped, feather-covered bola.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Natasha exclaimed, surveying the damage. I sympathetically snapped photos, like any sensitive boyfriend would. Note the clot of feathers jammed in there above the headlight.

The emu lay dying in the dirt, its beak clacking arrythmically. See the tiny feet on the right side of the inset, attached to the shadow? Those are Natasha's feet. She was steeling herself to wring the dying beast's neck. Just then a truck pulled up and a guy jumped out.

He asked me something totally unintelligible. The stranger had massive hearing aids attached to each ear--must have been deaf since birth. Between his related speech impediment and thick Ocka accent, I couldn't make out a damn thing. He asked me again, twice.

Still nothing. Frustrated, the guy rummaged in the back of his truck. He pulled out a hammer and looked me in the eye. Then he stepped past Natasha and smashed the emu's brains out. Then he looked me in the eye again and shook the hammer.

We quickly thanked him and drove off. As we were gathering speed, we passed a feral cat that had burrowed into some fresh kangaroo roadkill. It looked up from its find and hissed, blood and meat dripping from its teeth.

Natasha and I checked in the nearest (and only) motel and spent the night in the pub.

Roadkill Walking

Roadkill Walking
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
For those of you that aren't sure what an emu is, here you go. These are three smallish emu moseying down the street, most likely to sneak into someone's yard and drink water out of their leaky faucets.

This is the bird equivalent of a couple of adolescent hoods going to hang around 7-11 and shoplift.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Emus and 'Roos Got Nothin On This

Moose 2
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
This blog is small enough that I personally know everyone that reads it. So you all already know about the time me and Natasha plowed into the emu at 140km per hour.

We rocked that busted up car around Perth for months...

It sucked, but it didn't suck like hitting a moose. I think this and other pics were taken in Ontario, and I am told the driver only needed treatment for a broken wrist and a big long shower.

You can see the other pictures by clicking this one and following the links to my page on Flickr.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I Am Straight

I headed to the walk-in for a refill of Italian sausage, as is my custom when the dinner crowd fades. I opened the door on The Former Jock and The Skinny Dude Who Has Facial Hair standing among the kegs, in the middle of a laugh about some shared secret.

The Former Jock pointed up to the cans of tomatoes on the top shelf and said "Yeah, I think we might uh, need some more of this stuff here huuhhhahahahuh.." just a second too late. I could see the lighter curled tightly in his beefy fist. The Skinny Dude Who Has Facial Hair snickered, then dropped a poker face real quick, saying "Right, I'll get on that shit then."

Laughter about canned tomatoes? Hanging out in the walk-in with red eyes, clenching a lighter? You figure this one out, inspector.

"Hey guys, it looks pretty slow out there," I said. "There's no tickets up or anything, but could I get one of you to fill this sausage pan for me? And, just in case you were wondering, you're not fooling anyone."

I re-stocked the line, cramming fistfuls of shredded mozzarella into the trays. Drunks come in for slices after about eleven o'clock, and I wasn't about to get caught off-guard.

I'd fully stocked the line and it was too early to mop. There was only pre-season football on both of the bar TV sets. Time for a smoke break. I don't actually smoke at all, but that's what I call going outside for a little fresh air and a cup of water. I stared through the sky deep orange cloud that passes for Norfolk's night sky, trying to see a star or a planet at least.

The Former Jock was working out a Greek with extra cheese when I got back. He looked up and asked in a hesitant, halting voice, "Uhh, hey man, are you straight?"

This wasn't what I was expecting at all.

"Apart from a brief secret crush in college, I'm pretty sure that I definitely dig chicks," I responded.

"No, I mean...are you straight, like..."

I feigned misunderstanding, just to watch him squirm a bit. Six years older than this clown, and he's sure I'm a vice cop.

He stammered it out. "NnnNuhNno, like, are you, uh, gonna like, are yyyou..."

"Nah. You're off the hook. You can't take a job in a late-night pizza joint if you've got a problem with people smoking the weed. That what pizza this late is for."

"Cool. Thanks, man." He gave me a big old sideways high-five that sort of turned into an approximation of a jive handshake. Neither of us knew what we were doing flipping our fingers around like that, so we dropped the pretense altogether. The Former Jock went back to filling his orders.

For some reason, the whole experience infuriates me. I'm still kind of mad as I write this. But I meant my sideways half-assed jive shake to reassure The Former Jock. Everything was okay. I'm cool. I was straight, wasn't I?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Rationalizing the Great Sellout

By now my suit was seriously wrinkled after riding around D.C jammed into a messenger bag. The ring of yellow-beige sweat around the collar of my shirt looked almost intentional, dyed there by forward-thinking designers targeting the man who is both ambitious and sweaty. My socks were a black cotton-based paste. Had I thrown them at the wall they would have stuck there and slowly climbed down like a pair of office-themed Wacky Wallwalkers.

HR had rescheduled my interview for the following morning at eleven a.m., kindly agreeing not to mention to the hiring managers that I had flown up a full week early in a frenzy of disorganization.

This was a bona-fide second chance, an extra life and health extension gleaming in front of me before I fought the most nefarious of all pit bosses: the flubbed interview for the job I really wanted.

It’s still sort of a mystery to me why I got so excited about this job in the first place. If I got it, I’d be doing business-to-business research for Fortune 500 companies, writing reports about market trends and dividends, world without end amen amen. The reason I’m going after it with such fervor is for the same reason I pursue anything: it is the most ridiculous thing I can think of.

I’ve spent the last god knows how many years craving steady income, some sort of investment in me as a person and faith in my skills. After shifting from temp job to temp job in a career speckled with spotty startup work, earning a little but never enough from my writing, I want something REAL.

I’ve spent years looking at people on their way to work every morning with the loathing that comes from deep, deep jealousy. For longer than I can remember, the world of the employed has felt like the circle of cool kids in high school, all privy to the secrets of life with me on the outside begging for a crumb. I’m 28 and all the friends I look up to have finished their master’s, gotten good jobs, have some savings and a car their parents didn’t pay for…and I want the same thing.

I don’t want to lose my massive, wandering creativity, and I pray to myself every night that getting a job that pays me well and frequently won’t chip it away. Getting what you want can be the perverse punishment for desire. Once dreams turn real, you have to figure out how to handle them.

When I hear Jimi Hendrix crack out the “black panthers’ national anthem,” BKA “Voodoo Child,” and I think to myself, go brother, go! I feel a tiny kinship with that guy doing his thing onstage at Fillmore in ’69—him up there at the top of his game doing exactly what the fuck he does best, and me sitting here in my mother’s hot kitchen way past midnight sharpening my best as well.

One day I am going to be the Jimi Hendrix of the printed word, the Hunter S. of the Internet. I have seen visions of my future and after some long hot work in the Outback, I can tell you now that I am destined for true weirdness on a high scale, I am spending all of my spare energy to go for it. I may never see another dime for what it is I do, but I’ve conducted a careful study of all my more successful friends and idols and here’s what they all do: never, ever stop. When they get tired and just want to curl up under a blanket at midday and watch some Jerry Springer, they sprint that extra mile. I felt it in the bush under the Milky Way at 3 am, covered in guts. I looked up at that shining black sky with a dripping machete in my hand and thought, “once I get back to the States, shit is going to be real, real different.”

It is with that renewed vigor that I rolled up off Jenny Luu’s hardwood floor and prepared for that brand-new second chance, the second-round crack at an air-conditioned direct-deposit kind of life. I slipped into my slimy suit with a nervous confidence, empty-stomached and brain humming with answers and sharp questions. I spit-polished my shoes right at 9:58 and checked my email for one last time before grabbing some breakfast.

And it was right then that I saw the message: the interview, that gleaming second chance was at ten a.m., not eleven. I had two fucking minutes to make it across that snarling city to my precious last chance.

I sprinted down the street like a mad preacher who has seen the secret of the alien holocaust and jumped into the first cab I could find, panting out an address as I helped myself to the driver’s cell phone.

My sweat sodden suit soaked me dry like it was made of Brawny brand Towels. I jittered my way in the door twenty minutes late and started the interview. It took forever for my inner voice to calm those lateness-jangled nerves, but I must have suppressed it okay.

You know how I know I suppressed it okay?

I got the job. Starting September 20th, I am going to be a research associate specializing in business banking. I’m moving to the terrorism target of the planet Earth...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Oh For Dumb

I got the email this Monday, and it thrilled me sick: the company wanted to fly me up for an interview on Wednesday. I'd be interviewing to be a researcher, investigating best practices reports and presenting them. It's a foot in the door at a real job that at least peripherally would use my writing skills. I got rejected for a different job with them before, but to be asked back and flown up: that's huge.

No non-relatives have ever flown me anywhere before.

I spent all day yesterday laboring over my writing test, writing down good questions to ask, picking up my newly dry-cleaned suit. I printed out reams of pages from their website, sifting through business jargon like "leverage," "tasked with the important," and all sorts of words that dumb people use to sound smart.

Got up at six-thirty this morning, pulling my shirt from the dryer and attacking the ironing board--the shirt required cuff links. No cuff links in the house. The next shirt I ironed was made out of a glorified wax paper--cheap, worn transparent and shiny by me and my dad going back to the Carter administration. Finally I reached into the heap of clothing on my parents' bedroom floor and found my lucky shirt, the one I have worn on all prior job interviews. So maybe it's not that lucky after all. I briskly ironed around all the dirty bits on the shirt, giving the pits a wide berth and sprinted around the house looking for my dress shoes.

Clad only in dress shirt and underwear, I managed to sweat right through my lucky shirt in my fruitless search for shoes. I found an old pair of my dad's wingtips (see Carter administration crack, above) and crammed my feet in.

After a coffee and a shoeshine at the airport, I checked myself in the bathroom mirror--once you looked past the gums like raw meat from too vigorous a brush, I looked cool. I looked around the commuter flight at all the other suits, jabbering into their phones about tasking, and thought "Me and him, we're the same. I am in the club of important people now. Golf lessons, here I come."

I strode confidently out of the cab and into my interview fifteen minutes early, at the top of my game...signed in and waited. By 2:30, I could tell something was wrong. The woman that was supposed to interview me came in, asked for someone else, and took her off into another room.

I checked my confirmation email. I was a week early for my job interview.

The sweat came back, reactivating the older sweat in my shirt. The woman at HR was really kind, rescheduling me for tomorrow...but man, do I feel dumb.

I am not like the guys in the suits on the plane. I wore their disguise briefly, but underneath, I'm still me.