Everyone but Me

Everyone is graduating. Except those people who already graduated. Oh, and me: still slogging through school.

My mind knows that there are other people still in school, I just find it hard to believe. There must be toddlers just starting on their academic career, high schoolers eager for college and even more for their senior year, and people I pass in my school’s hallways who have years to go before they earn their degree.

But I’m in my senior seminar. In the fall, every other person in that room will head out to work in the morning and home at night. They will not stop at school on their back. Instead, they’ll leave the office, go straight home, put on pjs, and fall asleep. Or maybe they’ll cook themselves a hot dinner. Or – possibly only the craziest among us – will leave their offices, drop their worries, and go out on the town. They’ll see a show! Get dinner with friends! Run through a sprinkler!

Meanwhile, come fall, I’ll go to work and will leave only to head back to school. I’ll have another semester of cold dinners – the kind that I cook on Sunday and hope aren’t rotten by Thursday. I’ll do all my errands on the way too, from, or at, work. Weekends, and any free nights, will be dedicated to homework and projects, and on those few precious weeks when I don’t have something due, grocery shopping.

One day, with god’s help, I’ll have those things again. Till then, run through a sprinkler for me.*

 

*I’m not actually a sprinkler-runner, but I’m happy to encourage fancy-free behavior if that’s your thing.

 

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Keep Ya Head Up: Choices

My first performance evaluation came as a surprise. I’d been gainfully employed for years before I had one, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be the most positive version of a conversation I’ve had many times since.

“You come off as somewhat…” my boss paused before completing his thought. The rest of my performance review had exceeded my expectations, but he had said that there were some additional notes he wanted to share as well. “…somewhat aggressive.”

I blinked. He gave examples. I nodded.

“Ok,” I said, digesting this news. “How do we solve it?”

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good. I know that I can give you an assignment and trust that you’ll get it done. You won’t drop it just because other people aren’t interested in working on it.”

I waited.

“But I want to make sure you’re aware. It can be helpful, but it isn’t always necessary. So you should decide when to be, and when not to be, quite so forceful.”

The Battle for the WPA is Won

Technically, my browbeating USPS workers started with the Great Depression. To battle the Great Depression, the government flooded the economy by any means necessary. That included paying artists to make everything from cookbooks to vacation posters. What a legacy.

When I found out that USPS was releasing a set of WPA stamps, I had to have them. I saw the sign before the release, and demanded, politely, the release date from my postal worker. I went to the post officer a week later to make sure they hadn’t been released early. They hadn’t.

Between one thing and another, it took me two months to get back. When I did, my cashier claimed that he didn’t have any WPA stamps. I calmly suggested he check, and watched while he hunted down his supervisor. He returned to inform me that his office didn’t have any. In a small and sad I voice, I asked if he could check every cashier’s window, just in case. He did.* Then he had to tell me that there was not a single WPA stamp in his post office. I thanked him, accepting that I’d lost the battle. But I did not believe I had lost the war.

I held my head high and went to another post office. The same sad, sad scene repeated itself. The cashier suggested I just accept that there were no more WPA stamps, but I could buy the nice new flower bouquets or slap-happy cinco del mayo ones. Thanks, but no thanks. She thought I walked away in defeat. But I had one more trick up my sleeve.

“Excuse me?” I inquired back at her window a moment later.

She raised her eyebrows at me.

“There’s a set in the display case. Of WPA stamps. I’ll take them,” I said sincerely, as though she’d suggested it herself.

She raised her eyebrows again, and told me I’d need to get an employee to open the case for me. The employee I dragooned into helping me asked for a ruler, since the small opening in the display case was as far from the stamps as could be. I gave him a newspaper. He gave me a look, and with some considerable effort, got out the stamps. Pretty pleased, he stood with me as I made my purchase, telling me about the WPA murals on the walls surrounding us. We agreed they were good, and I told him it was probably because the artist was from Pittsburgh. I pointed him to the plaque which explained the art’s history, which he appreciated. Sadly though, I couldn’t tell him if the artists’s family was still in the Steel City.

Thus, with perseverance and persuasion, did the WPA thrive. Also, that’s how I got my stamps.

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*USPS workers fall over themselves for pleasant customers. Their days are hell, so if you don’t yell at them – and give something resembling a smile – they’ll spend the entire day helping you.

Brownie Fail, or: Cake

Objectively speaking, I cannot make brownies. It doesn’t matter which recipe I use or steps I take, they all come out somewhat awful. Until now, I thought I was alone – but I am not. A friend has fallen into the same problem. Her solution though, isn’t to stay away from brownies. It’s to remake them in her own image.

Here is the original and for those who can’t make brownies:

double the water

double the baking soda

and, from the ashes of failed brownies, you have a cake that was waiting to be born.

…That’s how we make an appeal to what is right and decent, and without anger. I did it for the framers of the Constitution, who intended that we would treat each other in a civil way. We call each other gentlemen to avoid being cantankerous. And no one person, Democrat or Republican, should ever call law enforcement on a colleague.

– Rep. Charlie Rangel from And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Hall of Congress

NYC Error 404: Not Found

There are exceptions to every rule. The rule of New York City – that you can get anything, at any time, anywhere – is no exception. You can get a shark on the subway, a watch at the shoe repair, or a diamond in the rough. But you can’t get a decent bank, doctor, or hair dresser for love or money. That’s why city slickers have an ingenuity all their own.

You can get free checking – but only at banks with fewer than a dozen ATMs in a 10-mile radius. You can get free ATMs – but your savings account interest rate is approaching zero. You can use online checking – unless your employer refuses to use them for direct deposit. Solution: open accounts with multiple banks.

You can get wonderful medical specialists – but your PCP won’t return your calls. Your doctor might return your calls, but they won’t see you for a second longer than five minutes. Your doctor might be willing to see you for more than five minutes, but their tremors are so bad that a nurse has to write out their medical instructions for them. Solution: switch doctors every year.

You can get a haircut, but it’ll cost you $35 – before tip. You can get a cheap haircut but the hair dresser will give you a style all their own. You can get a moderately-priced haircut, but the hairdresser will laugh at you. You can get an expensive haircut, but you may not be able to eat that week. Solution: cut your own hair.

Every city has its limits, but the inventiveness of its people knows no bounds.

Candy Jar: Running on Empty

The candy jar at work remains a mystery. It is filled up sporadically with varied options. The rhyme and reason for who fills it with what is a mystery. Mars bars? Someone loves me. Strawberry-cordial filled dark chocolates?  Who did John* screw over this time? Unfortunately, much of the time there’s nothing to wonder at; the jar sits empty, its cheery orange lid covered in a layer of dust.

On a recent day a coworker walked purposefully toward the candy jar, and stopped abruptly in front of it. He held it up to the light and shook it, as though the clear plastic sides, which showed no candy within, were playing tricks on his eyes.

“Why is there no candy?” he called out, tossing it up forlornly. It was empty because he’d eaten the last of the candy two weeks early, and no one had refilled it since.

“I have m&ms,” I called back. “Do you want some?”

“YES!” he replied, in a tone far different from his usual funereal inflection.

He took a handful, and munching happily, asked, accusatorily, “Why are you hoarding candy?”

“I don’t think it’s called hoarding when I buy candy and eat it,” I suggested.

“It is if you don’t put it in the candy jar,” was the reply.

“Ooh! Can I have some?” pipped in a third coworker, ending our standoff.

I suspect that it’s my coworker’s love of candy, rather than the unpredictable nature of the jar’s filling, that leads to it sitting empty. The candy jar, and now my candy stash as well.

*I don’t work with anyone named John. Even though the security guard told me this week that his brother’s buddy John – handsome and tall – works in the same office. I’ll take his word for it.

They May Not Taste Like It, But They’re Pesachdik

My sister is many things.

She’s a clear communicator. See below if you don’t believe me:

We need to make these next year, they don’t taste pesadik.

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
3/4 bag of chocolate chips
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 250 F for 30-35 minutes
Makes 30 cookies
She is also a truth-telller.
Chag samach!

Fiction for the 19th Century

I had books thrust upon me at a young age. When my grandparents moved from what had been my dad’s childhood home to an apartment, he picked out a dozens of books he thought we would grow into. Thanks to that, I never ran out of books. Rather, that is the reason I’ve always had unread books lying around. The reason I never ran out of books I’d willingly read is thanks to the public library.

While I loved the set of 1971 encyclopedias my dad brought home from my grandparents, I was never inclined to pick up any of the novels he’d brought along with them. I tried reading the Mayor of Casterbridge once, but didn’t get as far as the mayor before I put it back down. Those books remained untouched until a few years ago. Puzzling at the selection, I questioned dad’s choice of reading material. He pointed out that guessing what a girl of the 90s would want to read from the library frozen in the early 70s, isn’t the easiest feat. I conceded.

He admitted that he hadn’t really loved those books either. But if I wanted a great story, I should read Last of the Mohicans. I borrowed his copy as a consolation prize. I read it. I am still recovering from the horror.

The best I can say of it is that the book is ideal for young boys. It has uncharted territory, bloodshed, people in need of rescue, forests full of known enemies, and unexpected allies. And, as dad never fails to point out, it’s treatment of Native Americans is advanced for its time. The books treats all men, regardless of race, as having the wisdom to choose between good and evil. It may be that more of the Native Americans are cast as sly and black-hearted, but at least they’ve got a white man or two for company. Women don’t fare as well, since they’re all pretty idiots. But still – advanced for its time!

As literature, the book is wanting. Few characters were blessed by Fenimore Cooper with actual personality. Bit parts are many and stereotypes are rife. The dialogue is stilted, and frequently offensive to modern sensibilities. There is no moral ambiguity, though there’s plenty of ambiguity regarding where the plot is headed. And, perhaps most devastating to me, the books describes the cruel death of the last of the Mohicans, the tribe around whom the book centers.

As my dad pointed out, once his laughter had subsided and he could catch his breathe without crying from the hilarity, the fact that the Mohicans are no more is in the title. He can’t quite believe I found their murder a surprise ending. But my 21st century literary training lead me to believe that the title was an allusion to the end of an era. Turns out that literature was much more straightforward in 1826.

Last of the Mohicans

by James Fenimore Cooper 

Title is also

the ending. Between: damsels,

adventure, and war.

Ivan found his customers’ refusal to take leftovers home offensive to his frugal Eastern Bloc upbringing. Kate would cringe with embarrassment as she heard him arguing with patrons about the wasted food.

“Are you sure you don’ vant to take home? Dat is at least breakvast. Maybe breavast and lunch. You have a neighbor might vant? Dog? Do you haf dog? That vould be a lucky dog. No? Okay.”

Kate didn’t mention to her grandfather that many people don’t like soggy hamburgers the next morning. Instead, she offered to take the food.

“I can give it to a homeless person, if you like,” Kate said.

Her deda nodded his approval and wrapped up the leftovers. As he left them on Kate’s table he said, “Give them to a real homeless person. Not vun of those hippie kids, ok?”

from How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz