Friday, February 3, 2012

Back in Action

Well, it's been almost two years since I posted here, but I've decided that I'm going to try this wacky blogging thing again. There's been a lot that's happened (obviously) since I was last posting regularly. Here's a real brief re-cap which I may or may not elaborate on at some point:

- Worked for the food distribution company, Basis, till June 2010.
- Left Basis to go back to the housing non-profit I had worked at before
- Worked there for the last year and a half running a Weatherization Assistance Program funded by the stimulus bill, which ended in the middle of January.
- Now I'm working as a part-time consultant at the non-profit and plotting my next moves.
- There's also been personal stuff like I've been dating a great lady for over a year (new record!), but this is called Odd Job not Odd Personal Life so I won't get into all of that.

And bam, that's where I'm at. For a while my plan was to work as much as possible from now until June then have a summer of traveling in Europe by bicycle. However it seems that I've decided to take a new path: I'm planning on starting my own business providing logistic services for companies connecting area farmers and buyers in NYC. Basically, I think that there are a lot of farmers in this area producing a really great product, and there are a lot of restaurants, cafes, markets, etc. that seem to really want to be able to source locally. There are also a lot of really smart, dedicated, and creative people working to make the connections between the the farmers and the buyers. But what I discovered while working at Basis, and what I think a lot of people who are trying to make this type of thing happen are learning, is that making that connection isn't enough. You still need to get the product from Point A to Point B, and that's a lot harder than it sounds.

My goal is to provide all the people who really want to see local products become commonplace in our markets and restaurants a way of physically moving that product between the farms and the city. I'm going to be starting small, but I'm excited and think that this really may have some legs. I've never really considered myself the entrepreneurial type, and I don't know if I'm the most business savvy person in the world, but I'm ready to put my all into making this happen (and now that I've declared it on the internet, I really have to do it!) Over the next few months I'll be figuring out how to raise money for start-up costs and short-term general operating, trying to construct a more long-range business plan and figure out some long-term funding options, and hopefully I'll get my act together enough to continue to document it all here. Oh, and if anyone who reads this knows someone who has a lot of money and is super-excited about investing in new businesses that will be supporting local food networks, hook it up.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Your Party's Next!

So apparently the things that I care about most in the world are ongoing dilemmas about what to do with my life and old music videos involving off-kilter choreographed dance. I'm okay with this. And maybe I wouldn't have so many life dilemmas if my mom had listened to me let the Fat Boys play my sweet sixteen:


ps. Is Chubby Checker wearing a feather earring or does he have one really long hair extension? Either way, his hair is incredible.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Was (sorta) Born a Ramblin' Man

I thought I was going to be get myself on an at-least-once-a-week posting basis, but that seems to be a little ambitious for me. I never claimed to be a prolific man.

Anyway, things in the past month have settled into what could almost be considered a reasonable situation. No more venturing up to New Paltz every week and driving on one-hour's sleep for me. I'm moving on to coordinating logistics for deliveries and spending more time in the office and making deliveries on the truck twice a week. Right now it's a really nice balance between on the road craziness and office-work. I worry though about moving into a more full-on office role. While it's technically probably "moving up" or what have you, I know from experience that too much office time makes me want to stab a pencil myself in the eye.

As I'm transitioning out of the driver/deliverer role and being more office-bound, I've been thinking a lot about the blue-collar/young professional dynamic that's come up for me in this job. As crazy as it drove me I definitely miss the driving aspect of my job. There's a part of me that could easily see myself getting my Class A CDL (license for tractor-trailers) and just doing that. Cause I fucking love that lifestyle. I love being on the road and having that sense of freedom even if it sometimes means I'm bleary eyed screaming at the top of my lungs at 5 AM on the NYS Thruway trying to keep myself awake. And I've always felt that I work best in situations that require sustained bursts of energy followed by sustained bursts of crashing the fuck out.

But then there's always been something that's kept me from really going for it. I've taken off and lived on a farm in the middle of Maine for six months, I've hitchhiked down the west coast, I've rode my bike from Maine to Vermont, and I've driven across the country five times, but I think that when comes down to it, I'm just not really a ramblin' man. Or at least I wasn't born to be one, and that's where the conflict lies because as much as the thought of being sucked back into the office world feels terrible to me, I also want to hear how much my boss values me and how they feel like they're underutilizing me when I'm out making deliveries. And as much as I perversely love and feel pride in getting up at 4:30 in the morning to go make deliveries and feel a sense of solidarity with the other souls waiting for the train before dawn and can adopt the attitude of, "fuck yeah I'm a delivery guy," there's also the voice in my head saying, "fuck, i'm a delivery guy?"

The fact of the matter is that I come from a long-line of white-collar types. Definitely hard working people who have earned what they have, but I think you'd have to go back at least a few generations if not more to find someone who really made their living off of physical labor. When I was working on the farm I made a joke to my uncle that I was probably the first person in the family to work on a farm since the old country, and his response was something along the lines of, "yeah, the real old country." I guess I feel that living the life of a rover is very much in my soul, but not so much in my blood.

At least I definitely feel like I'm coming ever closer to reconciling these directions that I'm being pulled in. I'm still holding out hope that ultimately I'll be able to find something that allows me to fulfill my desire to ramble and rove and make a living from some amount of physical work but also use my brain and indulge the side of me that wants the recognition (not to mention the pay and benefits) that comes from "doing something" with oneself. Whatever the fuck that means.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

I think that my favorite coping mechanism for terrible/ridiculous/terrifying situations is the "at least this'll make a great story" technique. For example, when you are driving a 22 foot truck down the NYS Thruway at 5 AM, it's completely dark out, it's snowing pretty hard, and there's already an inch or two on the ground, it helps to say to yourself, "It's okay, just focus, drive slowly, and if I don't die, this'll make a great story." This falls under the terrifying option as noted above and was the situation I found myself in in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. I knew it was supposed to snow, but it hadn't started yet when I went to bed around 11:30, and using another great coping mechanism, denial, I said to myself, "well if it hasn't started snowing by now, there surely can't be much snow five hours from now." Incorrect.

I think the highlight of the drive down was being in the left lane oing about 40-45 MPH, which was still faster than most of the other traffic, and seeing in the side view mirror a truck come barreling past me on my right only to realize as it cut in front of me that it was one our other drivers, clearly showing no fear of the gauntlet thrown down that morning by mother nature.

As 6 AM rolled around and I got into Jersey the snow had changed to rain making the road much more bearable and speeding things up a little bit. Unfortunately this did not make making deliveries very fun (nor did the fact that we didn't have a hand truck loaded onto our truck, thank god Home Depot opens at 7 AM.) As my co-worker who was helping me out said as we carted crates containing 5 gallon bags of milk to Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea as the rain came pouring down, "Mark, I think this is the most insane thing I've ever done in my life," which led me to think, in order, "come on, this can't be the most insane thing you've done in your life," followed by, "this shit is pretty ridiculous if you think about it for a second."

As the day wore on I realized that there were two mistakes I had made in regards to my wardrobe. The previous morning as I was preparing for my trip upstate I thought to myself that I ought to bring along my winter coat because it is supposed to be very cold. What I did not think about was that snow often turns to rain and it might be more pleasant to make deliveries in the rain wearing a rain coat than a non-waterproof coat. The second mistake was that for my trip upstate I wore my union suit, which was great for being upstate, but I should have thought to take it off before driving into the city and making deliveries. I will tell you that the combination of physical work, two layers of wet clothes, and a long-john onesie that doesn't breathe at all is a recipe for feeling disgusting.

So there we are, a day alternately terrifying, crappy, and downright ridiculous made much more managable by banking on the story it would turn into, as relayed to you in this very space.

However. There's also a side to being in this frame of mind that has often made me feel self-conscious and a little down on myself. I sometimes think that a lot of the things I've done in the past have been strictly for the sake of the story and that I should do things out of pure enjoyment and wonder and adventure without any care towards telling people about it. There's something about feeling the need to document everything that I'm really strongly drawn towards and definitely runs deep in my blood, but I also feel repelled by it. This is in part why I've stopped taking pictures very often (that and laziness). For most of high school and into early college I was always the guy with the camera and was really into photography. Then at some point I started realizing that I was never in any pictures and felt like I wasn't actually participating in anything. This was also around the time that I was taking a documentary making class and felt upset about playing the role of observer rather than actor. I think it's also closely connected to why I left my non-profit job, feeling like I was in a role of helping people do things and take action, but not being part of that action myself.

But that urge to document and report and present my experiences to an audience in some way definitely runs in my blood. A few years ago, my dad typed up an old journal his father wrote on a trip he took to Europe sometime in the mid-twenties I believe. Aside from the painfully obvious fact that the men in my family do not have the physical capability to avoid a pun, it also became clear that we all feel the need to tell a story. His entire journal was written as if for an audience, complete with jokes and asides, although he had no reason, I'm guessing, to think that anyone beside himself would ever read it.

The time I felt saddest about this seemingly genetic trait was when I was helping my parents move out of our house in NJ in the summer of '05 (?). I lived almost my entire life in that house from 2 or so till 18, and my dad grew up there as well, from the time he was 7 or so till he was 18, moving back with the family when his mother died some 34 or 35 years later. My sister and I were both in town helping them pack up, and she asked him if he felt sad that the family was leaving the house after almost 60 years of occupancy. I don't remember his response exactly, but it was something along the lines of, "The way I look at things is just so objective, I think it's a really interesting story, but I can't say I feel sad about it." This, other than the time this past Thanksgiving when we said the same pun at the exact same time leading to a gasp of horror from my mom, was one of the biggest, "good lord I'm exactly like my dad," moments I've had.

And I think it's a blessing and a curse, this unending objectivity. On one hand, it allows me to take an even-headed approach to things. It's why I don't get freaked out when problems come up (like snow storms), why I've always gotten along with people I've worked with, and why I can't hold a grudge (even though I want to sometimes.) But it also makes me feel like I'm missing out on something, some type of pure enjoyment of the world. As I think I've joked to someone before, I'm still learning to have feelings.

Anyway, it's been a while since I posted, so I apologize and I thought I'd hit you with something nice and lengthy and soul-searching. Happy Hannukah!


Friday, November 13, 2009

A New Day Dawns

I'm not sure if I've written about this before, and I'm feeling too lazy to check back-posts to make sure, but despite the heinousity (new word!) of having to wake up sometime between 4 AM and 5 AM on days when I'm making deliveries in the city, there is something very special to me about being up and about this early, before the city wakes up. I feel like I'm getting to see something that not everyone gets to see, that I'm in on a secret that I share only with the other weary souls trudging off to work before the sun comes up. I can feel the city breathing deeply, its pulse slow and steady as it holds on to the precious few moments of slumber it has left until it has to wake up and face the new day. And while you're never all alone anywhere in New York (it's called the city that never sleeps for a reason) it's these times that I get the closest to a sense of solitude that I think one can find here, as well as a true sense of the immensity of this place. You see the trucks getting started on their routes, the doormen and porters cleaning up the front of their apartment buildings, and you know that there is a giant laying in wait that will soon awaken and the streets will be teeming with people getting to work and cabs honking their way down the street. Plus there's the beauty of driving over the GW Bridge as the sun's rising behind Manhattan. Fucking hell, that shit's amazing.

As unpleasant as it may initially seem, I think everyone should have the experience of taking in a place pre-dawn and really paying attention to what's going on around them as their neighborhood wakes up. This is something I've always been really into. In high school I would on occasion stay up all night or just get up really early and go for a long walk. I liked to go by the bagel place by my high school and get a raisin bagel fresh out of the oven or stop by the five-star diner, home to the cheapest breakfast special you're likely to find that close to NYC (one time on the way to the bathroom in the back of the shop I noticed a crate of eggs labelled "Grade D" hence the cheapness.) It just gave me a sense of calm that I really can't compare to anything else.

One of my favorite New York moments when I really felt a great love for the city, and for Brooklyn specifically, came last year sometime. I had been out late with a bunch of friends, and we somehow ended up eating at this huge all-night African-food buffet on Fulton St. and Bedford Ave. (and I know it's fucked up to just say "African-food" but I honestly have no clue what area it was from. It was definitely sub-saharan though, if that helps. And not Ethiopian either.) All the folks I was with lived in Crown Heights (I live in Greenpoint), so we parted ways and I decided that it would do me good to walk home. My friends thought it was a little sketchy, but I felt that I knew the terrain well enough, and it was just a straight shot down Bedford. It was 3 AM or so at this point, and it was incredible to go north on Bedford and really see block-by-block how the negihborhoods change, from Crown Heights to Bed-Stuy to South Williamsburg to North Williamsburg to Greenpoint. I had ridden my bike that way countless times, but you get a whole new feel for the streets and your surroundings on foot.

I think I'll wrap up with the thought that there are a million different ways to get to know a place, especially one as vast and multi-faceted as New York. In fact, this would be a good project. It could be called "Getting to Know You," and it would be a collection of stories from people about a specific way they've gotten to know where they live. I like it.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Building of an Immaculate Resume, Pt. 2

While I was looking for a job I started writing a little about the jobs I've had in my past which run the gamut from mundane to kind of insane. Last time went from 16 to 18, basically my junior year in high school to the summer after my freshman year of college.

Upward Bound: During my sophomore year of college, I worked for Upward Bound, a federally funded education program for "at-risk" youths. I was a tutor working with a couple students in Tacoma. Once or twice a week I would go up to Tacoma to meet my students after school and go over their homework in specific subjects. As someone only a year and a half removed from hardly ever doing their homework for the majority of the second half of high school, it was difficult for me to put much feeling behind convincing my students that it was indeed important for them to take care of their homework. Looking back on it, this was probably the first time I was really prompted to think about how having an ambivalent attitude towards achievement and success means something completely different to someone of whom those things are expected and the groundwork is laid for versus someone who is not particularly expected to do anything special (by themselves, their family, society, etc.) While I didn't do a particularly great job of following up with my students towards the end of the school year, I did have a couple of moments of success and feeling like I was making some sort of impact. At one point I was explaining to one of my students something very basic about how the economy works, and at one point he stopped and said, "damn, that's the first time that's ever made sense to me." That was pretty sweet.

Next was a very short-lived but quite memorable experience. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and I moved off campus with a couple of friends to live in Olympia proper. As per my (quite reasonable) agreement with my parents, while I was not in school and not living at home, rent would now be completely my responsibility. I went to an employment agency in town, took some test, and was called in a couple of days to start work as an assistant maintenance worker on the 4 PM-Midnight shift at the Dart Styrofoam Factory. Did I have any type of maintenance experience? Absolutely not. Luckily the job didn't take too much technical know-how.

While I had clear moral issues with working for a styrofoam producer, it was actually pretty fascinating. If you've never actually been in a real factory before, it is like an elaborate game of Mouse Trap. In a styrofoam factory there is a huge vat of little particles which are basically like a fine dusting of powdery snow. The particles are then sucked up through a tube and sent to the various stations, each of which make a different product. Some combination of the particles and very hot water are pressed onto a mold for a couple of seconds forming the particular product. A poof of air then shoots the cup (or bowl or what have you) off the mold and onto a conveyor belt where they stack themselves as they are packaged in the bag then get shot into a plastic bag which is cut off, and voila! you've got a styrofoam product ready to be shipped.

I worked at the factory for an epic 6 days, cleaning out the moldings, vaccuuming styrofoam particles, mowing the grounds on a riding mower (!), taking naps in the warehouse, and fanticising about starting the worker revolution. The my roommate hooked me up with a job at the bakery half a block from our house, and I said to myself, "two minute walk to work? unlimited bagels and baked goods? Sorry worker revolution, but I'm a sucker for a chocolate macaroon."

Next Time: Bakeries and selling my body to science


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dip Dip Dippin'

The other day I took some pictures on my blackberry hoping to share some of the non-suckiness of my work-life. However I have been in a fight with my computer and the blackberry all day trying to get the proper software onto my computer, and so far I am losing. I would have taken pictures with my camera but that was in my bag which got stolen out of the truck a few weeks ago. So no pictures for now.

Instead, I will provide you with this, which has been in my head for days:

I've always been fascinated by the crowd/performer dynamic in these types of performances from the early days of tv when it seems like both the crowd and the performer are still learning about how they're supposed to act. I'm sure there's been some analysis of this that is far more articulate than anything I'm going to come up with here. I will just describe it as a captivating mix of awkward and amazing. Also, I love this type of very simple choreographed dance, although this is a bit of a lackluster example. I would be very excited to amass a collection of the best examples of vocal-band choreographed dance steps. If you've got any ideas, please do share.


ps, there is nothing lackluster about this: