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:

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Strict Policy of Isolationism

Things went well today, which I'll get to some other time, but I just wanted to post a quick response to Jeffrey Beaumont's comment from a couple posts ago:

my heart was seizing with anxiety just reading this. a few blog posts on your job is working harder than anything to dispel all my romantic notions of the isolationist glories of being a truck driver.

The potential for isolationist glories is definitely there. When I am actually on the road, have gotten enough sleep, and there are no imminent crises on the horizon, this stuff can be pretty great for a person with isolationist tendencies like myself. Getting to drive upstate and see the intense changing of the landscape from week to week is pretty awe-inspiring when you're a city kid. A couple weeks ago I thought I somehow got lost going to one of the farms that I know my way to inside and out, but then I realized that the leaves had just changed so dramatically over the last week that it looked like a completely different place. Also, thanks to the tape deck in one of the rentals I've been driving, I've gotten to rediscover some of my old mix tapes which make for stellar singing your lungs out opportunities (as well as some feelings of embarrassment.) The unfortunate part of this particular situation has been that the times when I'm well-rested and belting out pop-punk hits of yore have often been outweighed by the time spent worrying about everything going wrong and yelling not out of pleasure but out of the need to keep myself awake. But the glory is there.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

One Good Thing About My Job Is Getting To Say 'Keep on Truckin' Literally and Figuratively

So after starting the drive up to Goshen on Friday, I got a call from my boss again saying that he had found someone else to drive the truck down. This was great news, except that I was already in the Bronx at this point, so I turned around and went back home and took a 45 minute nap, which felt great. The day actually ended up not going too terribly once we finally got going. Mystery driver #3 ended up being a guy named Drew who actually possesses a CDL (commercial driver's license) and was totally down for doing whatever he needed to do to help out. Thank you Drew. You have redeemed my view of the work ethic of the entire workforce of Orange County, NY. Seriously, who says they will show up for a new job and then just decides to not do it? Especially in a situation when it is very clear that you are being depended on. I guess the problem is that we've put ourselves in a position where we need to rely on completely new hires just to get the job done in the most basic way.

But despite all of this, I'm actually feeling good about things. I'm having a meeting with my boss tomorrow morning in which I plan to get a clear picture from him of what I can expect in terms of making this job worth my while. I think he's got this wacky idea that despite all the madness, low pay, etc., I'm in it for the long haul no matter what. And while I do feel a certain amount of commitment to the company and our mission, I think it's time that I am showed an equal amount of commitment.

After much frustration the past months (year?) over knowing that I need to make a plan out of my life but not feeling any pull in any certain direction, I'm starting to see a path laid out in front of me that seems to make sense. In a lot of things, and particularly when it comes to work, I have a tendancy to feel that I need to get out cold turkey right away as soon as I conclude that the situation is not right for the future. This tactic has its pros and cons. When I quit UHAB (my non-profit housing job) I felt that I couldn't have the space while at the job to plan out a next step so I just quit without a plan and spent the next three months or so frittering away my savings and doing only vague planning. While I refuse to regret that decision based on the positive effects it had on my soul, it sure put me in a hell of a financial whole that I'm working on digging myself out of. For the last month or so I've been feeling that I need need need to have an out from this job, and maybe NYC as a whole, right now, but I also knew that I couldn't do it with the financial position I had put myself in. More importantly though, I've known deep down that just picking up shop and leaving isn't what I want to do anymore. If I really wanted to I could quit my job tomorrow, decide I'm moving to Arizona, and feel confident that I was going to land on my feet. But the reality is that I'm 27 years old, and while I don't want to abandon any of my carefree outlook on life, I do want to enter a shred of thinking about the future into my frame of reference. That's been a hard pill for me to swallow, but I finally feel comfortable thinking about things that way. I think.

So then it comes down to what do I want to do. And I'm still not sure about that yet, but I'm feeling a little clearer in my process. I've been thinking about grad school a lot, but I'm leaning away from that. There isn't a subject that I specifically want to pursue, or a specific job that I want that I need to go to grad school for. I was thinking that I should just study something I'm interested in and hope that it would lead me somewhere good, but I think I have to admit to myself that I'm just not a school person, at least not just for the sake of being in school. I love learning, but the idea of going to school for two or three years and racking up tons of debt (on top of the debt I already have) without an end goal in mind sounds terrible.

Then I was kicking around the idea of just trying to get some seasonal work in the southwest somewhere so I could save some money and have some time to reflect or find a farm/ranch-type place to work or volunteer for a while. But I've already done the farming thing, and while it was a great experience I know that it would just be a time filler. And as for the seasonal work, would I really be happy in the middle of nowhere (even if it is beautiful) waiting on people at a guest ranch? Not bloody likely.

There was also the option of picking up and moving back to Olympia where I know and love people and would certainly be welcome back with open arms and could probably even crash on a couch or two for a month while I find work. I have to admit, this is an amazingly attractive option, but I think ultimately it would feel like a defeat, like I was giving up and moving backwards.

So what now? Phase I is to talk to my boss and figure out if in the very near future I will be able to get more money (read: enough money to live), better hours, and insurance. If not, I begin looking for a job that will provide me with some combination if not all of the above necessities, and I don't worry too much about whether or not it is a job that I care passionately about. That's taking care of the short term. Phase II is to continue to look into long-range plans. What I'm feeling excited about right now is enrolling in a Maritime Industry training program, probably next fall. The idea of working aboard boats has always been intensely appealing to me, and the time I've spent on boats (mostly sail boats) has made me felt great. There is a Maritime Technology program at Kingsborough Community College that actually looks pretty perfect. Phase III: Success!! For an illustration, see below:

Will I actually pursue this without getting discouraged? Who knows? But either way I'm feeling like I've got my head screwed on straight about this shit for the first time in a while, and it's an exciting feeling.

Okay. I think I've gotten my processing out of my system for a while, so next time I write I'll try to continue to compile the last of past jobs, from tutoring high school students to combing the beaches for incredibly fallic clams to fighting the good fight for low-income housing in NYC. Huzzah!


Friday, October 9, 2009

This shit is bananas

What am I doing writing a blog post at 5:30 AM, especially when just a mere 4 hours ago I wrote that I had to be on the upper east side at 6:00 AM, you may ask? Well let me tell you a story. It is a story of a man I have never met and now appear likely to never meet. This man's name I believe is Brandon. Brandon was supposed to make his debut for our company driving a truck full of food from Goshen, NY to the city, where he would be meeting me at the aforementioned time of 6 AM to deliver said food. Brandon apparently decided that he did not want to do any of this, triggering a chain of events that involved me getting a phone call from my boss at 4:45 informing me that our new driver never showed up, me calling my coworker up in Goshen who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and me again talking to my boss and concluding that the only reasonable solution to this mess would be for me to drive the hour and a half up to Goshen to get the abandoned truck, drive the hour and a half plus morning traffic getting into the city back, deliver the food about 4 hours late and then drive the hour and a half plus evening traffic getting out of the city back to Goshen to drop off the truck and pick up the car then drive the hour and a half back into the city. Luckily, I don't have to do this. The thought of this made me want to poke my eyes out. Actually, where I'm currently at is wanting to poke my eyes out, the thought of the previous situation made me want to poke my eyes out, stick them back in my head, squeeze lemon juice directly into my eyes, then poke them out again. So here I am, now at 5:43, waiting to hear from mysterious driver #2 of the day to call me in about two hours to say that he is getting into the city. To borrow from the lovely jeffrey beaumont (who was in turn borrowing from me) this shit is deprarious. Fucktactically so.

It's pretty amazing. I have now been at this job for around 6 months, and the amount of hellish scenarios that have popped up has been constant. I have managed to put myself in a situation where I combine the physical stress and exertion of a blue-collar job with the getting-by-by-the-skin-of-our-teeth-plus-low-pay-ness of the most dysfunctional non-profit. I'm sure there is something here about myself that I am supposed to be learning in relation to the amount of crazy I invite into my life and put up with, but I'm not quite sure what the lesson is other than I need to stop being an idiot with a martye complex and pursue some semblance of normalcy that will provide me with the perks of life like not being called at quarter to 5 in the morning with terrible crises or not having to be up and driving a large vehicle for 24-36 hours straight. I guess that is probably the lesson.

***Update: Just received a call from my boss that mystery driver #2 lives an hour away from Goshen, not the 20 minutes he had been told by the driver. Fucking great.***

The good news is that I now probably will not have to be in the city until 9 AM at the earliest. The bad news is that I will now be driving through midtown in the middle of the morning, delivering to angry customers, and not getting done until well into the early evening.

A list of some of the other deprarious situations this job has presented to me:
- The time a different new driver was supposed to pick up our rental truck in New Jersey and pick up goods from a farm in PA. He arrived at the rental spot, deemed the rental spot unsafe for his really nice car, and promptly left, causing me to have to take the truck out to PA four hours behind schedule.

***Update #2: Just got a call from the boss. Mystery driver #2 is a no-go. Driving up to Goshen. Fuck. My. Life.***

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back In the Driver's Seat

So. I've taken a long break from this thing. Lately I've been in a general state of bummed out-ness, and the part of my brain that is very conscious of the things that are good for me and pull me out of a funk would say to me, "Mark, you like writing and it makes you feel better, you should really start writing on your blog again." But then the part of my brain that is very conscious of the futility of things such as throwing your words out into the wide open world and tends to feel defeated before getting started would respond, "But Mark, what's really the point? Is anything your writing really going to be that valuable?" would speak up, and of course I would listen to it. And then today I got an e-mail from my friend and nerd basketball teammate Katie telling me that she had just read my old blog posts and inquiring if I would be taking it up again, and while I pride myself on being a self-motivator and not needing outside influence to do anything, having someone say to me that I should keep doing this provided the impetus I needed to get back on the blogging train. Because I like doing it, and if other people read it and enjoy it or get something from it, total bonus. So, thanks Katie.

Looking back on my last couple of posts, it seems like I'm in much the same place as I was in March, which is a little depressing, but also revealing in a way that I'm sure I can make good for me if I take the time to process it enough. But there have certainly been changes. For starters, I'm now a truck driver. If only I still owned any hipster trucker hats, I could wear them with occupation-appropriate sincerity. I work for a company delivering farm goods from farms in the area (spanning from eastern Pennsylvania to Upstate New York) to restaurants and markets in the city. It's an interesting social experiment to pay attention to the different reactions you get when you respond to the What Do You Do (hereafter known as WDYD) with "I bring local farm-fresh food to the city," vs. "I drive a truck." The responses are often, "Oh, that's awesome" or just, "oh..." respectively. The type of person I'm looking to hang out with is the one who gives me a high five either way.

I was about to keep writing a bunch more, but got hit by a wave of sleepiness and I have to be on the upper east side at 6 AM, so I think it's quitting time, but I'm ready to re-enter the world of writing shit about my life that at the least will prove therapeutic for me and at the most will provide some amount of interest and entertainment to the world of the interweb.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In this world, it's hard to get a leg up

There seems to be an epidemic of bird parts strewn about Greenpoint. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had found a perfectly intact bird's head sitting on the ground. Well, perfectly intact except for the fact that it wasn't attached to the rest of the bird anymore. Then yesterday, I come across the little gem seen at left. If it was just dead birds, I wouldn't feel surprised, but bird parts? Curious. But I have a theory! Two theories! The first theory is that there's a Mr. Potato-bird on the loose, and it's little storage compartment is loose, letting appendages fall hither and thither while he unwittingly flies through the air. My other theory, which may be a little more "plausible" if you're into that sort of thing, is that the hawk that I mentioned in my last post has been discarding his trash on our fair streets. It makes sense right? What use would the hawk have for the leg or the head? I do believe I'm onto something.

As for the census, it's going ok. I don't remember if I've already explained the address canvassing operation, but basically all we're doing right now is going structure by structure, block by block, and making sure that all the addresses we see on the ground are in the system, so that every household can receive a census form next year. For example, if I come to 123 Main St., and see that it is multi-family building with apartments 1R, 1L, 2R, 2L, etc., I have to make sure that I have each seperate apartment listed in my computer. This week has been spent largely scouting my area, which means walking street by street, taking note of anything that may give my listers trouble. I've been making note of where this is new construction, demolished buildings, blocks with no residential structures, etc. It's actually been more interesting and helpful than I thought it would be. I feel like I've covered a lot of ground in Greenpoint before, but it's a whole other thing to literally walk up and down every single street. It takes longer than one might expect. And it makes my footsies hurt.

I recently, by accident, came upon the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. I had heard about it a while ago on New York Shitty, (whose picture I'm using to the left,) but completely forgot about it. Then I stumbled upon it and decided to take a short jaunt. It's a pretty surreal experience. The entrance is right next to the Time Warner building in Greenpoint, and it runs along the huge Sewer Treatment Plant as well as what appears to be a gravel company of some sort, judging by the large piles of gravel. The actual path goes along Newtown Creek with views of industrial Long Island City on the other side. To be fair, there are also views of Manhattan, and it's neat to be able to walk along the creek, but I feel like Nature Walk is kind of a misnomer. The path is mostly cement, and lots of the structures are very modern. I think something along the lines of the Newtown Creek Experience would be more appropriate.

This is turning into a nice long post, but I would like to share one thought of struggle that's been coming up for me lately. My stint at the census supposedly lasts for period of eight weeks, maybe even into June or July, but it is definitely temporary. I've got the potential of putting together a couple of part-time jobs come mid-May that would almost certainly be more personally rewarding and lower-paying than the census job. I'm worrying about what I'll do if I find myself at a point where I have lower-paying part-time jobs on the table and staying on at the census. I guess this kind of an eternal problem anywhere, but especially in New York, that the jobs that make us happier often leave us without the means to enjoy our lives in the way that we want to. I think I'm just realizing that my whole life and lifestyle so far in New York has been based around the fact that I've had a decent paying salaried job, from where I live to what I eat to the activities I partake in. But I can't have my cake and eat it too, if I'm going to change my workstyle, I'm going to have to change my lifestyle. (That last sentence reminds me of my favorite line from the Metallica movie: "Some Kind of Monster." There having a group lyric writing session, and Kirk Hammett says, "I got it guys: My lifestyle determines my deathstyle!")

And what I'm struggling with is the realization that New York may just be the wrong place for me to have both the workstyle and lifestyle (hopefully no deathstyle) that will make me happy. It's not a question of not wanting to work or not liking to work, but I refuse to give up the faith that I can both feel satisfied by what I'm doing for employment live my life in the way that I want.

But then I have my moments of remembering that I like living in New York, there are people that I love here, and I can make anything work anywhere if I really try at it. Or I am just setting myself up for failure. Step 1 for me is just sitting down and writing out what I want out of life, work, etc. This is something that I've been meaning to do since I quit my job, and I keep managing to avoid. I think that I subconsciously know that it's a lot easier to talk about what I don't want than to define what I do want, but it's time for me to quit futzing around and get to it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

I've definitely been slacking on this, but I'm trying to at least keep it going a little bit, if for no other reason than to keep myself processing and reviewing. The working for the census has been vaguely interesting, but also a lot of tediousness. The "address canvassing" operation, of which I am a part, doesn't actually start for another two weeks. I had my training the week before last, then the crew leader assistants have their training this week, and the listers have their training the following week, meaning there's a nice long gap in between my training and when I actually start working. I'm learning that a large part of working for the federal government involves a lot of waiting around and trying to fill hours with what amounts to busy work while things are getting rearranged all over the place and no one really knows what's going on. It's especially accentuated with something like the census which only happens once every ten years, so it's not like anyone's in a good rhythm for doing this. I've been trying to keep myself in the mindset that I'm getting paid,. even if I'm not really doing anything some of the time, but I can't help but feel that if I'm doing nothing, I'd rather be doing nothing in the comfort of my own home. It's ok though, because in a couple of weeks, everything will begin going bananas.

Today as I was walking around my district I saw a hawk by McGlorick Park in greenpoint. I was walking by the park and saw a group of pigeons flee from where they were all gathered in the park, almost hitting an old man in the head. I then looked up and saw a hawk sitting in the tree. Here's an article from the Brooklyn Paper about a hawk moving into McCarren Park a couple of years ago: Also here's a Youtube clip of a hawk in McGlorick Park around the same time the article was written. It's not really all that interesting, but you do get to see the hawk playing with something it recently killed if you're into that sorta thing:

It could be the same hawk, but would a hawk stray that far from its nest to go hunting? I'm sure there are plenty of pigeons and what not at McCarren. Maybe he just wanted to sample the McGlorick pigeons for a change of scenery, or maybe he's been forced further into Greenpoint due to Williamsburg gentrification spill-over. Perhaps it could be a relative who's moved into the neighborhood or even a child, moving out on its own, trying to stake out a park of its own. The possibilites are endless!

I think my favorite part of the article is: "like some humans, they are serially monogamous and form longstanding mating pairs." I'm not sure what the author is getting at by having the "some" in there. Does he think that we wouldn't get the connection he was making if he hadn't explained that some humans were also monogamous? Is he hinting that he wishes humans were more (or less) like hawks in their commitment to monogamy? Or is he just acknowledging that the decisions one makes in regards to monogamy vs. polyamory are vast and wide-rangning for all species of animal? Again, endless possiblities!

Another interesting thing I noticed today was a block where every house has an American flag on its front gate. I imagine it must be some coordinated effort by a homeowner's association or something, but it creates kind of an eerie sensation. I didn't even realize that something was off until I was halfway along the block and it hit me that I felt like I was on my own private parade rout marching down a red, white, and blue-lined corridor. Maybe they were honoring the census.

I'm hungry for dinner now, but soon I'll write more about how I'm feeling about job stuff and what I want to with my life, as well as more past jobs, because I think that's fun.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Fancy Computers and Bird Heads Have Entered My Life

I almost gave up on doing this, once I started training for my census job, but a park-bench conversation led me to get back to the blog. My thought had been that now that I'm working, I don't need this to fill my time/needing-something-to-do gap. But this weekend I was drinking my coffee in the park, watching the volleyball game, and talking with Sloane about how I respect/envy people who are able to commit to projects for the sake of committing to projects. I talked about how we live in a society where if what we're doing isn't "productive" in a very specific sense, it's not considered valuable. While I think this is true, I'm pretty sure I've used this as an excuse for not being productive in various stages of my life. Sloane made the point that all a project needs is to make time to do it every day. You just tell yourself that you're going to do it for ten minutes, and then bam, you're making good progress. I can blame society's lack of emphasis on non-"productive" projects, but really it's just about me getting off my ass and doing something that will make me feel good about myself, so here I go again!

Last week, I officially started working for the census. Here are the tools of my trade:
I get a fancy hand-held computer, or HHC, in census speak. I have to scan my fingerprint to log-in, and it allows me to check on the progress of my crew as they do their work, going around the neighborhood making sure that addresses that were there 10 years ago still are there, and entering those that are new. My technology-is-ruining-the-world inclinations thing it's a little bit creepy, but I do have to admit that there's something fun about it. The same thing goes for my census bag and my census badge. I definitely have a little bit of shame and misgivings about working for the federal government, but I have to say that I kind of get a kick out of being official and carrying out a task that is, at least in theory, something that is very embedded in this country's tradition (again, in theory) of doing what it can to represent the populace. The census has been taken every ten years since 1790, as mandated by federal law. The data collected (in theory X3) is used to determine where funding for schools, roads, etc. are directed. Maybe I'll do a bit of a census history report some time.

I'm hungry, and I need to make myself some dinner. I was going to leave you with a photo I took on my phone while checking out my assigned census district this morning, but I can't seem to figure out how to put it onto my computer, so I'll just share it with you. I came across a decapitated bird head on the sidewalk as I was walking along. It was just resting there, looking as though it was carefully placed. Is it an omen? What does it portend?


Friday, March 6, 2009

Don't take your razorblades to town

If you've never been to 625 Fulton St in downtown Brooklyn, I really recommend a visit as it's a pretty amazing monument to bureaucratic madness. It houses the Brooklyn offices of the Social Security Administration, the IRS, a branch of the Department of Labor, and the census to name a few. I had actually been there a few months ago to order a new social security card for the dual purposes of getting a NYS driver's license and getting my merchant mariner documentation (guess which one I've followed up on.) At the time I felt the potential for madness, but it hadn't yet become the kinetic force I encountered on Thursday.

When I arrived, there were two signs outside directing you to one door for the IRS and one door for Social Security. The SSA line wasn't quite out the door yet, so I decided to try my luck over there first. I asked the security guard where to go for the census, and he told me to go talk to the security guard next door. I talked to the security guard next door, and she grouped me with a bunch of people also waiting to go up to the census office. She said that someone was on their way down for us. I waited for about twenty minutes as people going to various other offices were shuttled through the metal detectors and into the elevators. When someone finally came down, she seemed to have absolutely no idea why so many people were waiting for her. She eventually figured out that there were three of us (including myself) who were waiting for our appointments to get our paperwork filled out, and we were brought upstairs. Sadly, my box of razor blades which I happened to have in my backpack was confiscated.

As you may expect, filling out the paperwork wasn't too exciting, except for the beginning where we were each handed folders with our names on them and the information for each of our training sites. It felt like I was receiving my dossier for my next secret agent mission, of which I have many. After everything was filled out, we had to get fingerprinted. One of the ladies who was there with me mentioned that she didn't have to get fingerprinted when she did the census ten years ago, and the fingerprinter said that it's new homeland security regulations. This brought up two things: 1)creepy feelings that now that I'm employed (albeit temporarily) by the federal government and homeland security has my fingerprints, I'm forever traceable. Even though I almost certainly already was, this pretty much cements it. And 2)what does the lady who worked for the census ten years ago do in the intervening decades between censuses? While I'm sure that similarly to myself, she just needed work both times and the census pays really well, I like to think that maybe she is fabulously wealthy with no need to work, but feels so passionately about the census that she signs up to do it every ten years. That would be fun, right?

The fingerprinting was a little trickier than one might have thought. I had to get two sets taken, and my second set kept smudging and I was scolded by the woman doing it for not relaxing my arm and wrist so she could apply the proper amount of pressure. She was nice enough about it, but I couldn't help flashing back to my little league coach yelling at me from the dugout to just relax while I was standing in the batter's box. If anyone reading this does or ever plans to coach little league, here's a tip: yelling at a ten year old to loosen up in front of a crowd of parents and other kids doesn't produce the desired effect. I think at one point I actually turned to him and yelled something along the lines of, "I am relaxed, this is just how my shoulders are!" I wasn't planning on writing about that at all, but it just came out. I guess that must have been more traumatic than I realized. Dang.

Training starts on Monday, so I will soon know exactly what I'm going to be doing, and I will certainly share that information, don't you worry. Also, my most recent career epiphany was that I should be a doctor. Too bad I haven't taken a science class since I was 16, and that was marine biology.


ps Did you hear about the new biopic coming out about the world's foremost criminal fingerptiner?
It's called Robin Hood: Prints of Thieves

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The building of an immaculate resume, Pt. 1

I've worked quite a few jobs, and in this time of transition, I thought I might reflect on what I've done, just for fun. Here's the first few that span from age 16-18. These are nothing really out of the ordinary, with no profound realizations really coming from them, but I figure I might as well start at the beginning. This may be real boring to read, but it's fun for me to write, so there.

My first job was at a CVS. I only worked there for a few months, and I don't have too many clear memories of it. I remember when kids from my high school started to realize that I would sell them cigarettes, and I remember that when I quit, the manager said something along the lines of, "where are you gonna find a better job than this? McDonald's?"

My next job was at a kosher pizza place called Pizza Cave. I worked there my senior year of high school, and I had dreads most of the time I worked there. I used to sneak into the walk-in fridge and grab handfuls of shredded mozzarella from the tubs it was stored in. And there was this one family I delivered to at least four times, and each time they sent out a different child to answer the door and pay me in exact change and shut the door right away. Jerks!

My next couple of jobs were at summer camps. The first one was called Deerkill, and it was in Suffern, NY. I was assistant counselor for a group of 8-year-olds. The kids seemed to all be from pretty rich families, and this was the first times I was ever really introduced to the crazy prevalence of behavioral drugs. At my orientation, we were being told that after lunch we would take all the campers that needed medication to the nurse. The vast majority of the medication was Ritalin. "Trust me," someone said, "Ritalin is a counselor's best friend."

At the end of the summer, there was a night-time party for the counselors. There was a keg, and I'm pretty sure this was the first time I ever puked from drinking. The weird thing is that I was puking all over the place, right in the middle of conversations, and no-one really seemed to pay me much mind. I think I even vomited next to the pool, and someone stepped in it.

The next year I worked at Teaneck Sports and Arts, the last time I would ever live in my hometown. This job basically consisted of sitting around doing very little and every once in a while getting up to play basketball or dodgeball with the campers. That's really all I remember from it. That and beating Ezra in basketball while the rest of the staff watched. Sorry, ez.

That's all for now.


"So what do you do?" "Who me? I write blog posts about how I don't like being asked what I do."

I had a conversation last night about what I wrote about in my previous post. We talked about the struggle I have with the "what do you do?" question, and in the context of the discussion I was having, it came across as some combination of arrogant, privileged, and idealistic. This was coming from someone who grew up without many resources and has been career-driven from an early age in order to make a better life for herself. From her point of view, I totally see why what I was saying could come across negatively. It's easy (in a way) for a person like myself who grew up in a financially stable environment to say, "well, a career just isn't for me." I can also see it being offensive for me to say that I don't like it when people automatically give or expect an explanation of their job when people ask them what they do when your career is something you are proud of and have worked very hard to achieve.

This conversation was kind of a slap in the face for me, but I also appreciated it. I appreciate being called out when I say something ignorant or not fully thought through. I think that through this conversation, I was able to refine a little bit how I express what I'm feeling. First of all, none of what I'm saying has to do with anyone else other than me. Maybe you relate, maybe you don't, but what I'm writing about are the things that I'm struggling with and navigating. I'm trying to figure out what's right for me, and I'm not trying to judge the path anyone else chooses to take.

Second, what I have qualms with is not strictly being identified by your job or profession. As was pointed out to me last night, people's last names used to be given to them based on their profession. This has been going on for a long time. What I'm questioning is the belief that by eschewing the traditional career trajectory, you're writing yourself a one-way ticket to shitsville. I know it's easy to question that when you've never lived in shitsville, but I guess I've never been that good at taking other people's word for things. If tomorrow morning I wake up with the revelation that I want to go to med school, then I'll go to med school and begin my career as a doctor, but whatever I want to do, I want to do because it's what I want, not because it's what's expected of me. Having this choice is a crazy privilegd choice to have, but I don't know if I can do it any other way.

Third, a lot of this is my shit. I want my family and freinds to respect what I do, and I want to get cool-kid ponts for what I do, but when it comes down to it, I'm not going to be happy with anything I do if I don't feel confident in my decision to do it. Also, no job, or life for that matter, is all sunshine and roses, and sometimes you just have to pick something and stick with it and make that work for you until a better opportunity presents itself. I think that I have a fear of commitment stemming from the worry that once committed to something, I'm in it forever, and I blind myself to the potential opportunities for growth. And I worry that I'm just mediocre in general and if I act like I'm "searching for my path," I'll be able to avoid coming face to face with my own mediocrity. But that's a topic for another post. (sorry to end on a bummer-note)


Monday, March 2, 2009

Maybe I thought it was opposite day?

This past December, fully aware that we were in a massive recession, I quit the non-profit job I had been at for a little over two years. I don't really feel like getting into the details of the job or the reasons I quit, but I basically just felt continuously uninspired and disinterested, and I felt that I wasn't providing the best attention I could to my clients. So, I quit.

At the time it felt a little scary, but ultimately liberating. Now, about two and a half months later, I'll be starting a new job in a week working for the 2010 census. (at left, a census-taker in 1930)

While I started to get real worried as my savings dwindled, I didn't regret quitting my job. I felt like an idiot for doing it, but I didn't regret it. I was half-heartedly searching for jobs in my "field," but honestly, if I wanted to stay in my field I wouldn't have quit my job.

The jobs that I feel most qualified for, at least the professional ones, are jobs in the non-profit sector at organizations with some aspect of social justice in their mission. But something feels off to me about making a career out of working in an industry that, on a certain level, is based on there always being problems. The auto industry is based on the premise that people will continue to buy cars, the clothing industry is based on the premise that people will always by clothes, and the non-profit industry is based on the premise that there will always be these issues that need to be dealt with. Of course, there always will be issues that need to be dealt with, but to make a career out of it feels wrong to me in some way. This isn't to discount the amazing work that a lot people do, but I don't know if it's for me.

And then there's the larger issue that I chafe at the idea of having a career or a field at all, but I also feel like I should and want to commit myself to something. I never want to stop acquiring new skills and having new experiences, but I also want to be rooted in a place and develop an expertise in something.

I want to impress people when they ask me what I do, but I don't want my employment to be inextricably tied to my work, to what I do with my life. Until I moved to New York, I would always try to answer that ever-present question with something other than what I do to make money. Until then, I never considered what I did to be synonymous with my job. In fact, I made damn sure that it wasn't. Then I moved to New York, and for two years I was able to answer the what-do-you-do's with a respectable profession that often elicited responses of "that's great, it must be really rewarding," or at the very least, "that sounds really interesting." And while it was rewarding and interesting, it didn't feel any more rewarding or interesting than when I was living in Olympia, working odd jobs, volunteering with different groups all around town, and still having plenty of free time to experience life. I felt like a fraud, like I was lying to myself and to the people around me. There were a lot of positives that I took from that job, but by the end I wanted to yell, "this isn't me! I'm sick of pretending to be a goddamn young professional!"

I know the grass is always greener, and I fully remember that a big part of why I moved to New York in the first place was because my life felt so scattered in Olympia, and I wanted something to focus on. Also, worrying about making rent sucks. alot. But after my two-plus year experiment of respectable employment, I've come to the conclusion that that shit ain't me. At least not for now. I don't want to work random meaningless jobs for the rest of my life, and I don't want to always be just scraping by, but I'd rather get my hands a little dirty and have to hustle a bit more and feel alive than be comfortable while feeling my soul get sucked out of me.

I know that these sentiments aren't ground-breaking by any means. I know that it's a privilege to have the choice to choose your profession, let alone whether or not you even want to have one. But this is where I'm coming from right now, and it's what colors the way I'm thinking about work and my future. Who knows? Maybe I'll fall in love with the census, and become a statistician or a career-man at the Department of Commerce. Or maybe I'll go crazy and spend the rest of my days wandering the streets, counting everyone I pass.

Next Time: A review of jobs I've had: the good, the bad, and the geo (pronounced gooey)


Post #1!

So. This is my first ever attempt at blogging. The idea of having a blog has vaguely interested me in the past, but I've never really felt that compelled to do it. One of the goals of my recent (and soon to be ended) unemployment was to do some writing, which I have not really gotten around to doing much of. I thought it might be a good idea to start a blog, to give myself a forum to write and maybe make me stick to something. Of course, I didn't really do anything with this thought. But I was talking to my sister the other day telling her about my immanent employment working for the 2010 census, and she (maybe jokingly?) suggested that I do a photo-journalism project about it, and I thought that it might be fun to start a blog about it.

From there, I started thinking that I have quite a bit of thoughts around work, and that, especially in this time of rampant unemployment/under-employment, it might be something worth writing about. Topics to cover include: Jobs I've had, jobs I currently have, jobs I might have in the future, my/society's relationship to work and employment, and the difference between work and employment. I might branch out from these themes or I might quit after one post.

Also, I feel far from committed to this title. If anyone has any ideas, please tell me them.