Friday, July 30, 2010

On Being Pale and Hyphenated

Between my sophomore and junior year of college I did a literature study abroad program at the University of Greenwich in London, England. I kept a meticulous travel journal about mostly factual or mundane things, but one day I reflected on what it actually meant to go to England as someone with ancestors who emigrated from there. What follows is an adaptation of what I wrote. I did not date the entry, though it would have fallen between July 22 and July 28, 2007 - just over three years ago.

I arrived in London not knowing the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. I knew nothing about Greenwich except that the Prime Meridian made it the “center of the world,” and that I had relatives from somewhere in this country. I sought my “roots,” finding them scattered. I searched for exoticism in every blade of grass and summer breeze. I found McDonald’s.

I did not have to seek the relevance this or any other place, for my country seemed to insist on its import even outside of its own borders; while exploring my European origins I found America vomiting all over the world. America felt too young for me to claim her as my own, and to escape the guilt over her ugliness I clung to Europe, desirous of finding her real truth.

Saying I was American wasn’t enough when I filled out the application for the school. Saying I was white wasn’t enough. I had to own what had come before that, and that meant checking ‘other’ and using many nationalities separated by hyphens and finishing with -American. I have never been othered.

I wonder why the Essex family, who only account for a quarter of my heritage, left this place. I think about the Irish O’Neals and the great famine and the shame of their Irishness that quietly annihilated the ‘O’; I wonder who the German Hammonds were or why my Norwegian great-grandmother, Mina, journeyed across an ocean to live her adult life in an Iowa farm town. Finally, I want to know the stories that were never recorded, or simply rendered historically insignificant because they were not godly or rich or heroic enough to be told.

The documentation of marriages, deaths, and legitimate children born don’t matter. Percentages - 40% of this nationality, 8.27% of this tribe - miss the point. So does allowing my Americanness to define me: worrying my loud voice and rolls of fat fulfill a stereotype, defensively explaining to a store clerk that I can in fact locate Europe on a map, being too terrified to order at a French restaurant. It is also pointless to try to feel the past via osmosis from the bones of those who are, by varying degrees, my ancestors.

A clairvoyant told me to go to London, for according to him I had had past lives there - as a writer, a painter, and a missionary, among other things. I would feel “at home there,” he said. But as I stood on English soil and tried to feel things that I could claim, I realized that the lives of those people before me - whether technically lived by my actual soul and reincarnated into the present or experienced by predecessors - were mine.

These things, in some small way, live inside of me. All the gardens and graves - and the shame and heavy choices - have been paved over whether or not I claim the new land. But I will, and indeed must, for there is no singular “homeland” entity anymore - not for me, and nor for today’s other hyphenated Americans.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rock Bottom, or Rock Climbing?

I drove to the gas station from work today, my low fuel light on below the gauge, and spent just under $14 putting gas in the car. Doing the math on the way home, I calculated that that would leave about $1.22 for the next two weeks after rent.

At 7:30 p.m. I rode my bike down to the cosmetology school near where I work. They were doing free haircuts for a charity event, and had been able to squeeze me in for a 7:45 appointment. Just yesterday I had been looking at my hair in the mirror, contemplating the need for a new cut, then scolding myself for even imagining being able to afford such frivolity before, say, November. Then, early this morning, a woman from the salon came to my job and handed me one of the first glossy fliers I didn't immediately trash.

The student was distracted and dying to get out of there, constantly slapping me in the eye with the handfuls of wet hair gliding through her fingers as she looked around and zoned out, but the cut looked great and she made a real effort to show interest. I had been blessed with a near-graduate rather than a newbie with a shaky hand.

I left the salon. I went to my work to get a drink, thankful the managers are generous with the employee food and drink policy and don't make a stink if we come in off-duty and get a fountain drink. Walking with my bike, I sipped caffeine-free Diet Pepsi and felt my shiny hair blow in the wind behind me. Then there was a feeling: happy.

I have spent the better part of the last few days feeling sorry for myself. Having a tight budget is okay; living paycheck-to-paycheck makes the expense of existing seem impossibly demanding.

But as I sipped that drink I remembered that it was free, as was the haircut. I thought of the bagel and cream cheese I had for breakfast followed by the salad and sandwich for lunch, both of which were free because I am a full-time opener. I thought of the caramel latte I made for myself and the bottled water I guzzled this morning during my shift, which managers don't fuss over either even though we're *technically* supposed to pay for bottled and espresso drinks.

If I had paid for all those things today I would have spent $39.53, but because of the decisions I have made and because I am in this time and this place and under these circumstances, I did not have to spend a dime on any of it. I felt okay and provided for, and I realized life really is not that bad.

Also, I found $7 in the back pocket of the dirty jeans I had put on that I had forgotten about. So now I have $8.22, plus the change in my wallet (wow, that's like...SO close to double digits!).

And, when I got home and ascended the stairs, the air-conditioning was on full-blast and a handsome Italian guy was waiting to give me a hug and kiss hello and tell me he had been thinking about me today.

I'm a closet optimist and don't like to talk about it often. I prefer cynicism and bitter, sardonic skepticism. But still, knowing that one's situation will improve - even without knowing with certainty when or by what means - is the difference between utter despair and cathartic melancholy.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Parents Just Don't Understand...Anything

A mom and her high-school-aged son came to the register at lunch. The mom ordered her food, I confirmed it, and then the son started to order his. He looked at the ingredients to see what he didn't want on his sandwich. He had started to tell me he didn't want tomatoes, but the mom interjected, "No onions," which don't even come on that sandwich. She repeated the "no tomato" part in case I couldn't translate the native tongue of the exotic High School Boy, and then informed me her son would want "just lettuce," as if I couldn't figure out that taking away the only other vegetable on the sandwich would be equivalent to lettuce only. I repeated his order, choosing as I always do only to acknowledge the person to whom the food will belong. I said the "no tomato" part and she barked, "No onions!" a second time. Now I did make eye contact, gently reminding her that the sandwich already comes without onions. She just said, "Oh," as if she had been indifferent the whole time.

Contrast that with an order I took at breakfast. A mom came in with her daughter, who looked about five or six. They decided what they wanted and talked it over together, but to my surprise the mom ordered her bagel and coffee and then the girl ordered her own food, asking me politely,

"May I please have a cinnamon bagel and an apple juice?"

Then, when I rang up the total, the girl handed me her mom's credit card. I thought the whole thing was cute - an exercise in grownup-dom. Then, even more adorably, the girl came back after they had sat down and bought a newspaper. She may even be able to read some of it. I want the mom from the lunch order to meet the mom from the breakfast order.

It never ceases to amaze me how many parents with teenage or grown children still feel their precious offspring shouldn't have to do simple things like place a lunch order by themselves. Then, those same parents wonder why their children hate them, are reviled at school, and cannot advance in life due to their lack of social skills. The poor kid even TRIED to order his own food, and his mom just had to try to take control somehow.

I've seen worse than this, like the time a woman ordered a whole grain bagel on behalf of her son and, when I turned to him to ask if he wanted cream cheese and he said yes, she had to add,

"Reduced fat, please."

Good God, people. It's time to let the kiddies grow up.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rock Bottom

"This song is dedicated to all the happy people
All the happy people who have real nice lives
And who have no idea what it's like to be broke as fuck."


I am utterly, ridiculously, frighteningly broke. I have been before; I can count at least half a dozen times during my college career that my checking account hovered somewhere between $0 and $1 between paydays. I was in school and financial aid was taking care of tuition, but I still had to pay living expenses, and working 15-20 hours a week (and sometimes fewer than that) was not conducive to paying bills and still having extra spending money. While this was certainly never a fun predicament, at least I was never in debt.

Then I graduated. Student loan repayments hovered in the near future, but I was able to get full-time hours at my job and hoped I could find a new one that would pay me even more. Then, when I had no place to live at the end of August, I moved in with my mom and stepdad. With no rent or extra bills to pay, I was able to live happily with an account balance that always stayed in the four-figure range. I was even able to afford a trip to visit my friend, who was then living in Greece, that fall and have plenty to spare.

I had all these crazy ideas. I could start a mini-market account, take another trip abroad, or even buy a new car. I was proud of myself; I had never been able to hang onto money like this. I had never felt so free.

Taken at a coffee shop in Greece, the kind of place where worrying about anything was nearly impossible

Around Christmas (it really is a cruel joke that lenders give you a six-month grace period, which usually makes the first payments fall during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year), I got my first bill. Actually, it was my first two bills - I had taken out both private and government loans. I paid them with no problem. Each month thereafter I continued to pay them on time, and even though I knew they were eating up half my income I still had money left over, and for this I was proud and felt accomplished and responsible.

I decided to move out and live in my own place again. I did the math - everything worked out okay, and though money would be tight for a while, I was still hopeful I would get another job. Allow me another badly-rendered visual aide to give you an idea of where I was by this point:

We paid my landlord the deposit, then the pro-rated rent (we moved in the middle of June), and the July rent in less than a month’s time. We also bought a new wireless router, groceries, and other items for the apartment. Before long, I had reached the due date for my next private loan payment and did not have even half the money to pay it.

I have been called a lot of different things in my life, but “delinquent” is perhaps one of the most shameful.

Have you ever watched Judge Judy at two in the afternoon? All the commercials are aimed at unemployed losers.

Are you tens of thousands of dollars in debt because you bought a bunch of shit you couldn’t afford? IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT AT ALL!!!!!!! Let us lower your monthly payments so that you think your problems are over while we fuck you in the ass with our interest rates that you’ll still be trying to pay off when you’re 82.

I used to look down on the people those commercials target. Then I found myself home at two in the afternoon watching Judge Judy - because I have no cable and there’s nothing else on - shitting a brick over whether or not I would ever be able to pay all this back. I feel like That Guy - or, in other words, a total piece of shit.

Delinquent is scary enough, but the other D word which shan’t be mentioned here looms around the corner if I can‘t get caught up in the next couple of months.

As with many situations, friends and family are happy to contribute advice, encouragement, and similar “look, I can relate” tales of money woes. Sometimes I’m happy to hear them because I don’t feel so alone, and other times I drive myself crazy comparing my situation to others’. Well, so-and-so does have more debt, as they pointed out, but they chose to go to a private school and I didn‘t. And they also make more money than I do. But they were smarter about putting money in savings than I was. But I never had any extra money to save…and so forth.

I’m trying to remember that my circumstances could be (and, really, they are for many) so much worse. I’m trying not to dwell on it or feel too sorry for myself; it’s just hard feeling this stuck. It’s hard to watch all of my wages melt away the second I acquire them, and to be left questioning whether or not my education was really much of an investment. It’s hard not to resent the fact that many of my friends and former classmates didn’t have to pay for their own education and now get to either gallivant around the world or buy cars and nice apartments with the money they get from their jobs.

In spite of the gloomy situation, I have hope that I will figure this out. My original plan was to get a new full-time job that paid better, but that’s just not in the cards for me (see this post for that story). Hopefully I can get a second part-time job instead, though I don’t relish the prospect of working two service jobs, since that is likely what I will end up doing. At least in that case I would have more bitching material!

I’m not asking for help, advice, or even for the reader to feel bad for me, as it is no one‘s doing but mine that I am in the situation in which I find myself. I just needed to vent and wallow in self-pity for a little bit. Thank you for reading.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Crack babies and porn art models, Craigslist is here to help YOU!

I have applied for dozens of jobs since I graduated college over a year ago, scouring every resource from companies' websites to word-of-mouth to Craigslist.

Yes, Craigslist. That is how desperate I am. I can't knock it too much because I did find an apartment and a boyfriend there on different occasions, and even though the relationship is now over and I'm living with my new boyfriend in the apartment owned by the cheapest landlord EVER, I am not dead and have not had my identity stolen so I would say I have had relative success with the site.

Still, I know that over half of these employment "opportunities" will end up being pyramid schemes or credit scams. But I remain hopeful and always faithful in my ability to avoid obviously shady and too-good-to-be-true deals.

Some, posters, however, insult my intelligence. I received the following e-mail today:

Thankyou for your resume.

I am forming a small team of dedicated professionals who will assist our foundation to become established and functional.

The foundation is for abandoned and very sick babies.(alcohol syndrome and crack)

Unfortunately I have lost my funding and would need volunteer services until funding is re-established.

After that all the team would be paid in the six figures on a long term basis.

Call me on 614 *** **** if you would like to be part of this team



A few things:

1.) This is for a supposed "grant writing" job, and the guy can't even write. To be fair, that might explain why he NEEDS the writer, but still.

2.) As if it is not fucked up enough that he refused to name the organization in the ad, he is equally as vague in the e-mail responding to my "I am interested to hear more about your organization blah blah blah ass kiss" e-mail. And to make up for the lack of information he simply tells me that the org. helps infants with fetal alcohol syndrome and drug addiction, hoping that I will assume he is legit based on that fact alone.

3.) He says he has no money to pay me right now but will suddenly be able to pay me a six-figure salary when...well, I guess he did not say when and how the funds will materialize. But they totally will, I'm sure, because non-profit organizations are just doing fantastically in this economy right now. It sure is a good thing that the few wealthy people left are also generous and sympathetic toward the impoverished, as rich people are known to be. So if I take this job I'm sure I'll be making bank. Some day.

Another promising prospect:

painting/drawing model (near east side)

I am a young, professional artist looking for a model for 3 hour drawing sessions. You do not need prior experience. I am looking for someone who really likes art, but you need not know anything about it. I am looking for someone who is willing to work with me on projects, but I am not looking for someone with a repertoire of poses.

The ideal candidate would be pretty, young (18-25), athletic or skinny. I would like someone who is willing to listen and cooperate. I am, more than anything, interested in someone who will evoke interest. I am in desperate need of a muse.

I can pay 40/3hr. We would begin with a seated, clothed pose, but long term I want someone comfortable with their nudity.

If you are interested:
Please email me your name, a picture, and a short bit about why this interests you. don't be shy or anything. It's okay if you just want $40. Whatever. I am only in people who tell me what they think, even if it's a lot of mysterious crap I don't understand. Really, just be upfront. I will respond with images of my work, but I will say I am skillful with a pencil and have done many life size figure sculptures, etc.

This could be a long term appointment.

Or this one:

wanted: nude female models (harrisburg pike, columbus)

i am a local photographer looking to add some erotic photo's to my portfolio. i currently do not have any and would like to expand my portfolio versatility. so if your looking for some erotic photo's for your lover or are looking to start a portfolio or add to some pics to an existing one, contact me to set up a day and time to do a shoot. the shoot is a time for cd shoot. i have a private make shift studio and it will take app. 3 to 4 hrs to do shoot.

I could also go for these, but seeing as I have neither the petite frame the first guy seeks nor the need for "erotic photo's for my lover" I will have to pass. I sure wish I could help out these "skillful with a pencil" struggling artists who are looking to build their portfolios - after all, they need their practice photographing young, hot women because that is what art is about. Hopefully someone steps up.

In the meantime, here is what I have to offer.

Twenty-three-year-old college graduate seeks a job that involves the following: sitting in a dark room. Two hour lunch breaks, paid vacations, a six-figure salary, and benefits are to be included.

This job will involve none of the following: greeting customers, answering phones, or generally talking to anyone. There are also to be no checklists, standing up, or shifts that begin before 10 a.m.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Bagel Fairy