Friday, April 30, 2010

the relay

I'm running in a relay this weekend, 199 miles from Calistoga to Santa Cruz with 11 other people over 36 hours as part of Google's B group. We'll post updates as we go along here.

The relay benefits Organs 'R' Us, which promotes organ donation. Perhaps the organization's eyeball and heart on a stick will make cameos at the relay.

third job

My third job was a couple of jobs I got through temp agencies the summer after my freshman year of college. I recall looking through the Yellow Pages, the real, genuine, heavy yellow bible, for agencies in the area.

I knew no better and wore a black skirt with black Chuck Taylors to my appointment with the first agency; at the end of the twenty-minute appointment, which I hadn't realized was an evaluation, a woman with palimpsestic forehead skin leaned toward me, exhaled latte breath, and said, "Here's just a little tip. Don't wear sneakers to an interview." I was genuinely befuddled, since sneakers to me meant foam padding, whereas there was nothing but rubber and canvas separating my feet from the pavement.

The second agency assigned me to a two-day job stuffing 1000 invitations into 1000 envelopes at the offices of some sort of corporation in Palo Alto. I was given a cubicle and a computer and an envelope moistener and told to get to work. In order to make the work last 16 hours, I calculated that I had to stuff at a rate of 62.5 envelopes/hour, or about one per minute, so I stuffed one, set it aside, and read sonnets and short stories so as not to let my mind soften until it was time to stuff another, approximately one minute later. At the end of the first day, I discovered an extremely well-stocked refrigerator, and slipped two local beers into my bag before driving home. An hour later, I got a call from the temp agency. "Somebody saw you take two beers from the fridge," a woman said. "That's very unprofessional. Those beers are for clients." As an afterthought, she said, "And by the way, that's illegal." I never got a chance to ask her whether it was illegal because I was stealing or because I was not of drinking age, because that temp agency never called me again. Funny thing, I was straight edge then, and I had only taken the beers because my dad had expressed an interest in microbrews earlier in the week. The two beers remained undrunk in the fridge for two years, next to a box of Wheaties, until I threw them away.

A third agency required me to take an office proficiency test before sending me into the field. I want to say that this test involved a high-heeled administratrix upending a box of jumbo clips on a hard-coil carpet and timing how long it took me to pick them all up using pencils of different lengths like chopsticks, but the reality was less spectacular, and I merely typed nonsense paragraphs as quickly as I could to demonstrate my literacy, my toolbar navigating, my WPM. This led to a job scooping lemonade slushees at the Shoreline Amphitheater stop of the 1999 Vans Warped Tour. I started at 9 a.m. and worked until 8 p.m., at which time potential patrons were too sunburnt to move from the sloping grass hill to the lemonade stand, lest they snap their cracklins and disintegrate in the wind. The slurry we scooped was cold and sticky and impossible to control, and sales volume was the bottom line, so when the occasional penny or dollar bill dropped into the vat, one could only fish it out with one's fingers and deliver the change and the slushee to the dehydrated, sun-drugged, drug-drugged, fourteen year-old customer, who sucked his treat to Less Than Jake, Pennywise, Eminem. At 8 p.m., I was given a $5 coupon to redeem for dinner at the concession line.

Richard was also temping that summer, and he left a job at a software company a few weeks before the end of the summer. He recommended that I replace him, and because the software company loved him, I was chosen. Apparently he had been something of a superstar with the ladies of HR, cute and social and young and excellent at copy-making, even distributing sweets before he left ("And he wants to be a dentist!" the ladies cooed, "Is he trying to make us future clients?", guffaws), so everyone seemed disappointed that his broad-shouldered replacement preferred to hide in a cubicle, communicating with nobody besides her beloved acrylic tea cup, until the end of the work day. I got up earlier and earlier, arriving by bicycle at work around 7 a.m. some days so that I could leave by early afternoon. My job there was to transfer 3000 files from glossy red to matte red folders. As far as I could tell, the reason for the switch was purely cosmetic - Silicon Valley in the go-go '90s! Only a mix from J. (featuring, inter alia, Neil Young, Tim Buckley, and Soul Coughing) kept me from licking forks and sticking them into sockets. When I left the job, HR gave me an acrylic tea cup to take home with me, for a job well done.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

recent conversations in the new age

A and I go for asam laksa at a Malaysian place in Chinatown. Before we eat, she says, "Can we hold hands?" I'm startled. Why? She takes both my hands in hers, which are thin but strong. She closes her eyes and says I need not do the same, but I do, and I think about how nice it is to be sitting outside with a friend, hungry with a bowl of noodles in front of me.

C says, "Is it ridiculous to pay $75 for a 1/2 hour psychic reading?" Then she says the money might be better spend on "rolf and craniosacral stuff, " to "balance [her] body out." She talks about "sacred knots." It is a question of the relative weight of L.A. spiritual esotericism versus immigrant thrift. "I might need more psychic therapy. I want some guidance...but that's a little ridic, right? $75 for a psychic reading."

R, who hardly knows me, says, "You're a funny person, but you look heavy today." She says, "You want to be an artist, don't you?" Later in the conversation, she says she needs to dangle a pendant over my heart chakra to see which direction it spins. She is from San Francisco and speaks the local language: "Girl, I'm pinay...I can bring it on the dance floor," for example, and "I used to be hella straight."

second job

My second job was cleaning bathrooms in dormitories. I only worked at this job for a week, after finals and before intercession of the winter semester of my freshman year of college.

A few friends and I had bought tickets to go to Paris, or rather, K's mom had bought tickets for all of us at a group discount, and we sent her checks for the amount. We were going to stay in K's parents' apartment in the first arrondissement, so all I had to cover was the price of airfare, entertainment and food. I discovered that working the maximum permitted hours as "dorm crew" would get me close to my cash goal.

The work was tiresome but not horrid. At least I knew exactly what was asked of me. The day I started, a student captain led me in an orientation by way of test-clean. He showed me the supply closets in the dorm to which I was assigned. Each crew member got a mop, a broom, a dustpan, a caddy of chemicals, and rubber gloves. "Don't stick your arm in the toilet past the end of the glove," my guide advised. He said I should clean the toilet first, and then, because we weren't given buckets, I should mix floor soap into the toilet bowl and use the toilet water to clean the floor. The other tasks were applying chemical spray to the mirror, the sink, and the tub, and wiping it off a few seconds later.

I was then handed a skeleton key to the dorm. I would knock on doors first, but most of the time the students weren't in their rooms, so I walked through their dimly lit bedrooms to their filthy, corroded bathrooms. It was finals, and their rooms stunk. Some boys and girls lived in squalor, different kinds, often differentiated by gender. The boys were just neglectful, letting their pubic hair affix in yellow puddles on their toilets. In contrast, the girls expressed their dirtiness through accretion, through gummy rings underneath each of dozens of tubes, bottles, tubs, and cannisters of scented unguent, each of which would have to be pushed aside before the sink could be cleaned, and replaced after. I didn't have a music player so I cleaned in silence. It was January in Boston, and my walks to and from the dorm were made under cold gray skies.

By the end of the week, I had made what I needed. We went to Paris and had a grand old time. We walked down the Champs-Elysees and through Versailles and ate fresh baguettes every morning and deep-fried mashed potato balls every evening. We drank nine franc wine and sprawled on the beds in the apartment, and I developed a quasi-platonic ache for the person who would become my third girlfriend. Except for K, we interacted very rarely with real live French people, my first such attempt resulting in having a fruit vendor slap my hand - literally slap my hand - away from her peaches. "Touche pas!" she said. K said I had been tutoyered.

I didn't think to check my bank account until much later in the spring. It was only then that I learned that K's mom had never cashed the check I sent her for the price of the ticket. I never brought it up with her but wish I had, to thank her for the wonderful week of experiences she made possible.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

first job

It was nearly summer, and I needed something to do. Jobs were apparently posted on a cork board in front of the guidance counselor's office in the administrative building, which I entered occasionally to hand forged excuse notes to the unhappy mistress who processed the rolls, and once to attend a twenty minute college counseling session in which a fossil in an unlit room advised that a person like me would do best in a small liberal arts college situated in a 0-10,000 person, no-cinema locustville. I found the job board and copied all three job listings offered to 16+ year-olds onto the back my hand. $5.75/hr moving assistance. $6.15/hr office. $6/hr afterschool tutoring. I called the numbers; only $6.15/hr office answered; I dropped off a list of my grades at the office at the same time that another girl dropped off hers; more of my grades rhymed with "low pay" than hers; the job was mine.

The job was filing papers for an attorney who made a living as a court-appointed representative for kids whose parents were too busy tearing gold fillings out of each others' teeth to act in the best interests of their children. I remember little about my employer except that his clothes were stereotypically crumpled, and that, on the rare occasions that he was not in court or at his desk with one hand holding a phone up to his face and the other hand thrust through his hair, he smiled generously at me from behind a long, gray mustache. But I discovered Frank Zappa that summer, so I may be jumbling him up with a mother of invention.

It's not likely that Peter knew my name. Five years later, I was thumbing through the back pages of an alumni magazine when I saw a notice that his wife, also an alumus of my college, had committed suicide. I couldn't imagine why somebody would want this announcement to be made in the back of an alumni magazine, alongside ads for lecture-cruises along the Baltic corridor and personals websites with awful, self-congratulating addresses like GoodGenes, or All-IvyFamily, so on.

That summer, I spent two hours each morning in an economics class with a kind young teacher named Robin who in July gave me a copy of The Economic Consequences of Peace to read while the other students did worksheets. I failed to read a single page, preferring instead to doodle "Robin" on the far side of the pink line on my binder paper. Then I would go home and reheat leftovers, and then ride my creaking ladies' bicycle to work. My employer shared with several other solo practitioners an office space across the street from the county court in the third largest commercial strip of my suburb. That summer, as every summer that came before, the California sun was high and hot and I would arrive at work dizzied by glare, fatigued by exertion, and sweating like a peasant. After work, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would pick up my girlfriend, drive to a community college for our ceramics class, ruin my clothes with slip, and drive home at 11 p.m.

Peter employed a paralegal named Marilyn. Marilyn's last name was that of a gentle baby barn animal, also that of the ragtime composer whose songs I listened to that summer at hysterical volumes when home alone. She was kind to me, even as I repeatedly flubbed a very simple job. My main task was to direct home the guests that had overstayed a party of papers on the attorney's desk. It was simple, but it nonetheless exhausted the systems-processing part of my sixteen year-old brain. Court papers went into the left fastener of the manila file, all other papers went into the right fastener, but no matter how many times I had been told that words on an attorney's letterhead were not court papers, I could not file them on the right. Once a month or so, I was handed a supplement to a code of regulations and would spend two hours replacing pages 12:34A-26:77A with pages 12:22B-28:83AB or pasting new but equally inscrutable laws against the back covers of three-pound books. In the time I worked there, I didn't see a single person crack any of the hundreds of identically-bound books on the shelves around the office.

After incompetently filing the loose papers into manila folders, I was to return the folders to filing cabinets in alphabetical order. This I could handle just fine. The filing cabinets were stored in a walk-in closet. I was paid $6.15/hr and on most days even performed at the slowest speed my tasks would take no more than a few hours, but I wanted more time and more money, so I would walk into the closet with folders, close the door, file the folders, and lie on the ground and sleep. Sometimes I did squats followed by frog jumps. Sometimes I opened and closed drawers to understand how the automatic locking mechanism worked. Sometimes I brought in a legal pad and drew faces with distended features or fists from different angles. Sometimes I read the files. Who abandoned, abused, neglected who. Who sought sole custody of who. Who was so unfit as guardian for who.

Once in a while, I would be handed a key tied to a stick and asked to retrieve an old file from the archive. The archive was a damp, dark, oddly-shaped closet under the stairway in the parking garage where unsound file boxes were stacked five-high. Let me remind readers that the arachnids of northern California include tarantulas, black widows, brown recluses, wolf spiders, and jumping spiders, most of which inhabit damp, dark, oddly-shaped spaces and prefer the chlorinated flavor of tanned California teens.

Even with all of my dragging on I could only collect a few hours a day and a few days per week of work. My paychecks were often for $35 or less. It was just enough to cover my expenses, which were (1) gas for a car with which I once in a while drove my girlfriend over the hills to a grocery store in a beachside agricultural town that sold artichoke bread made from artichokes lopped off their stems five hundred feet away from the store, and (2) seven dollars once every two weeks for bags of porcelain clay to throw on the potter's wheel.

I did just fine at the wheel -- it was just a matter of believing that your arms, braced against your body, were stronger than the clay -- and I threw pottery of majestic height, but I couldn't be bothered to finish anything I started. The pleasure of overpowering spinning mounds of wet porcelain was more interesting to me than shaving pretty feet or dabbing chromium oxide in floral patterns onto a pot. My hundred and twenty hours at the studio that summer produced twenty-two pots, of which only seven were fired into bisque, four were glazed and completed, and two were loaded into my car and brought home. Neither survived to the following summer, when I quit my job and left for college.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


S falls for my jokes, no matter how hackneyed or sophomoric. Today, I convinced her to (1) look down her shirt and spell ATTIC and (2) say "nispy" over and over again. Her end of the call went something like this: "A-T-T-I-C...ohhhh. Nispy, nispy, nispy, nispy...ohhhh."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

a correction

S called to say that T congratulated her on the purchase of a sofa named Eugene. "[Bananarchist], you're giving people the wrong impression of me!" The impatient stamp of a hind paw was audible over the phone.

So, a correction: in the end, Couchzilla brought home a modest Nordic workhorse named Ektorp, not a fussy, pricey layabout named Eugene. I'm SORRY. MY BAD.

Friday, April 02, 2010

love of books

R: but please give me a recommendation. i will say that i've had plenty of time for reading lately.

B: i've been reading crap
entertaining nonfiction, nothing lasting

R: why is it so hard to be knocked out by stuff? there are so many books.

B: they're like people!

R: i guess. most are mediocre.

B: most are just hunky dory but you don't want to spend time
and then once in a while you get an awesome one and you want to lay it open and lick the pages

R: wait, west cost lens: sometimes your energy just doesn't connect. it's no one's fault.
mm lick people's pages

B: it's so true, my communications chakra just doesn't align
yeah i know it turned me on to write that
i'm going to go finger some legal texts now

R: sick

B: oh patent law essentials, you little slut

R: oh, but ms. [Bananarchist], i'm under 18....hundred pages long!


My dear Dad, saving money with a saw: