Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Skill Set

This afternoon, as I maneuvered my car out of a parking lot that looked like a badly played game of Tetris, I reflected on the fact that the one good thing to come out of a miserable summer working for my Dad at a car dealership is that I can get a car out of almost any tight spot. At work we have a tiny parking lot with only about half the number of spaces we need for all of our staff, and street parking is by residential parking permit only. Since the people in the neighborhood will call parking enforcement on your ass, people pack into the lot like sardines, which makes getting out of your space difficult. Somehow I can almost always do it, which is hilarious because I’m notoriously bad at backing up. My parents have actually on occasion come outside when I’m leaving their house, for the express purpose of laughing at me as I back up their (not very long) driveway and almost take out the mailbox. But somehow it works when I’m trying to get out of a tight spot.

That made me think about all the other jobs I’ve had in my life, and the extremely random skills I’ve learned from them.

Radio Shack
I worked at Radio Shack for one year in college, and I wasn’t great at it. I could sell you a TV, but if you were coming in looking for a tiny little part to fix something, you were SOL if you got me as your salesperson.


I can hook up an AV system like nobody’s business.

It all goes back to something my manager told me. He said that when he was trying to connect something, he would pretend he was the TV signal. Stay with me here.

“So I’m the signal, and I’m hanging out in the wire in the wall,” he said. “But that’s pretty boring, so I go out through the coaxial cable…”

It’s crazy, but it makes me think about it linearly so it works. So when I’m hooking up a DVD player, what I’m really doing is thinking, “So I’m a TV signal…”

Waiting Tables

Until this year of teaching, I waited tables longer than I’d ever done anything else in my life. As a job, it had its up and downs, but I definitely learned a lot. I learned to deal with complete f&$@ing idiots on a regular basis. I learned that people are happiest when they can feel superior to someone else. I learned that you really never know who can overhear you, which is a lesson the mayor of Laurel could have used as he sat at a table talking about someone I know very well.

And I learned how to carry three or more glasses at a time without a tray. This is incredibly useful when you’re out at a bar with friends. I can also carry three or four full plates at a time, which is less useful but still comes in handy sometimes.

I can calculate a tip in about four seconds.

I can mix pretty damn good drinks, even though I have to look up the more complicated ones.

Public Relations

I did PR for a bunch of different organizations, in a bunch of different venues. While I didn’t much care for the work, the lessons are invaluable.

I can put a positive spin on anything.

I can translate tech-speak into something an average person can understand.

I can write 3000 words on a concept I don’t really understand myself.

I can speak at length on just about any topic, with no preparation, whether I know anything about the subject at hand or not.

I can be diplomatic even if what I really want to do is hit a person with a shovel.

Plus, it’s uncanny how many skills translate directly from working with high-level executives to working with kindergarteners.

I feel like all I do is learn, honestly. But if there’s one thing this job has taught me, it’s that I could actually do the whole parenting thing.

Frightening, huh?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Excuse me, your sign is dumb.

DC instituted early voting this year, and I voted today for the first time as a District of Columbia resident. I'm not going to launch a political discussion here, and anyone who I've talked to for thirty seconds about the DC mayoral race probably knows who I voted for anyway, but let me tell you who I did NOT vote for.

Carlos Allen.

I submit that being best known for being that other White House party crasher probably isn't going to help your campaign, but that's not why I'm bringing him up. One of his signs is on the corner near my condo, and every time I walk past it, it irks the hell out of me, because one of his slogans is "The First Afro-Latino in history." For one thing, what the hell does THAT have to do with anything? And for another, it doesn't even make sense. He may be the first Afro-Latino candidate for mayor, but that's not what it says. And I think the many citizens of the Dominican Republic, among others, may take issue with the idea that he is the first person in all of recorded human history to be both of African and Latino descent.

On the one hand, I can take solace in the fact that his crazy ass got bounced off of the Democratic ballot. On the other hand, he's apparently now planning to run as an Independent in November, and while he still doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell it means that I'm going to have to look at his stupid signs for another two months.

In other DC politics news, the most annoying person I've ever encountered on the Internet was caught on tape stealing campaign signs, and I rejoiced. I have never met this woman in person, nor do I care to, but every time one of her emails comes over a community listserv, I gag a little. And because I am a bitchy, vindictive person, I thoroughly enjoy seeing hypocrites exposed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, or How waiting tables saved my sanity

The Ruby Tuesday in Laurel closed last Monday, very suddenly. My understanding is that they called the staff together Sunday night and told them, and that was it. (That's fairly typical of chain restaurants, I understand.) While I never intended to work there again, I have to admit I was a little sad. I spent three and a half years of my life working in that restaurant. That's longer than I've ever worked ANYWHERE else. And if I have to point to the part of my life that changed me the most--and the part for which I have the most dynamic memories--that would be it.

I was always the good girl. I always did exactly what I was supposed to do. I graduated from high school and went right to college. I did college in four years with a fairly minimal amount of partying, and I went right out and got a "good job." And I was miserable.

Partly, it was a poor career choice. Partly it was just a general desire to rid myself of responsibilities. When I was laid off in January of 2004, I said a great big fuck you to all of that. I'd already been working at Ruby Tuesday for a year and a half, part-time. I looked half-heartedly for a new job for a month or two, and then I just stopped trying. I waited tables and bartended exclusively for two years, and in the beginning it made me happy.

It's hard to describe to someone who's never worked in a restaurant, but the atmosphere there is completely different from any other workplace I've ever had. Go rent Waiting. The writers of that movie clearly worked in a chain restaurant for awhile, because that movie is the most true-to-life depiction I've ever seen of those three years of my life. (The one exception: Messing with the food. I never saw that, really. But you'd probably be disgusted by the number of people who touch your food before it gets to you.) I was totally Naomi, the angry girl who would be as sweet as pie to her tables and then turn around and bitch about them at the top of her lungs. It was an atmosphere in which I could be completely irresponsible, and there were very few consequences.

It was exactly what I needed.

Going to work was like going to hang out with all of my friends for awhile. We'd slog through the shift, leave at around 11:30 at night, and go to the bar. We'd close the bar down at 2 a.m., and then often as not we'd go back to someone's house and sit around drinking and playing games until 4 or 5 in the morning.

I have tons of stories from this time in my life, but the best of them are a little too good to put out there onto the Interwebs. Some of the tamer ones include...

...the time I opened the storage room door to get the vacuum cleaner and immediately did the girlie dance of screaming as roaches scattered everywhere. I thought the cook was going to pee himself, he was laughing so hard.

...the look on D.'s face every time I went into the office around that time. She'd look at me, sigh "Another one?" and then go out to buy my table's check because they'd just seen a roach.

...the karaoke parties at C.'s apartment every week. The cops broke up just about every single one...I can't imagine why. I mean, a group of 15 drunk people singing karaoke at midnight on a weeknight in an apartment couldn't possibly be a problem...

...the time we definitively did NOT graffiti the wall behind the beer cooler during a late-night bar clean. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I wouldn't go back to this point in my life if I could; two things I'm really not cut out for include dealing with stupid people (customers) all day and living in poverty, and I definitely did both of those things during that period of my life. But I am so, so glad that I did have these experiences, because they changed me for the better.

At least until the end. Then I was really, really bitter. But I've gotten over that now, I swear.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Family Ties

A few weekends ago, I spent Saturday night hanging out with my aunts M & K and my cousins A & E. E was in town checking out grad schools, and since I usually see her once a year or less, I ran up to Baltimore for dinner. I'm glad I did, because the evening led me to a couple of conclusions.

First, A has got be the most laid back person I've ever met. He left to go hang out with some friends, and M (his mom) wanted to show us some old family movies. We couldn't get the DVD player to work, so we called A, who tried (unsuccessfully) to talk me through it over the phone. Highlight:

A: Look, is the DVD player turned on?
Me: ...no.

That was not, thankfully, the only problem. So the following sequence of events occurred.

1. A left his friends to come back and fix the problem.
2. He fiddled (unsuccessfully) with the DVD player.
3. He brought his Playstation up from his bedroom and hooked that up to the TV. No luck.
4. He brought his TV upstairs (not a small TV, and not a flat panel) and hooked the Playstation up to it.
5. Sat with us while we watched home movies of the variety that are adorable if they're not of you and embarrassing if they ARE of you (they were of him) and only protested once.
6. Did not kill anyone when M said "Maybe it was on VHS?"
7. Brought in a THIRD TV so that we could watch VHS tapes.

When I was 19, I would have gotten no further than step 2 before I shrugged, said "Fix it yourself" and slammed the door on the way out. More likely, I wouldn't have even gotten to step 2, because I would have hung up the phone in frustration. (When I talked to my Mom about this, she said "Yeah, no kidding.")

My second conclusion was not a new one: My family is completely nuts, in a completely endearing way. As proof, I offer the following anecdotes:

For a large portion of my young life, I thought it was totally normal to hunt for liquor on Easter. Each Easter, the kids would do the traditional Easter egg hunt, searching for plastic eggs containing chocolate, $1 bills and the like. Then the kids would hide miniature liquor bottles for the adults. Seriously, I thought that all families did this.

Rope the Dogie
This involved us kids, my uncle P and a lasso. Enough said. For what it's worth, I think that we'd all vote P the most normal member of the family by a fairly wide margin.

Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve is always spent with my Dad's side of the family. This tradition goes back to when they were kids, and opened all of their presents on Christmas Eve so they could go to early Mass on Christmas morning. It made scheduling easy, because we'd always spend Christmas Eve at my Dad's parents' house, go home to our house for Christmas morning, then go to my Mom's parents' house for breakfast.

I have a lot of great memories of Christmas Eve, but two stand out in particular. Grandma had a tradition of always buying the seven girl cousins matching nightgowns. It made for a lot of really cute pictures when we were little, but the tradition kind of went off the rails by the time I was sixteen and K was six. I had a collection of absolutely hideous nightgowns that Grandma picked (I assume) based on her ability to find such a wide selection of sizes.

And then there was Santa Claus. I stopped believing in Santa at a pretty early age, which was probably for the best because every year, my uncle D would tell us that he had a trap on his roof to catch Santa, and we could all come over the next morning to play with his new toys. Somewhere in there was (I think) the implication that Santa wouldn't live through the experience. He did the same thing with the Easter Bunny.

My cousin J was going to see Santa at the mall, and at this particular mall they had an animatronic reindeer. Kids could talk to the reindeer, and some teenager hidden out of sight would talk back. I wasn't there, but I'm told that J went rushing up to the reindeer and spilled the whole plot. I guarantee you that wherever that kid on the other end of the mic is today, he's still telling that story.

The S. Sisters
Remember this dress?

Now picture your grandmother's head up there instead of J.Lo. I don't have to picture it. Thanks to some really evil Photoshopping, I can picture not only my grandmother but also my aunts M, S and K. About the time that she wore that dress down the red carpet, my cousin M got married. The joke was that he could save money on the entertainment and hire my aunts (The S. Sisters) to sing at the wedding. The reason it's such a joke is that we can't sing. None of us. I have one cousin who's a musician, and he clearly got every ounce of musical talent from our family. Happy Birthday is painful. So, before cousin M's wedding, aunt M mocked up a concert poster using the infamous green dress. This joke, by the way? Will. Not. Die.

Cousin's Sleepovers
Before M had A, she would have the oldest girls over once a year for a cousin's sleepover. We did stereotypical sleepover activities: we watched the Miss America pageant, we gorged ourselves on pizza, M made us all look like we should have been working the corner on Baltimore Street... Somewhere around here, I have pictures of our "makeovers" and I briefly considered looking for them, but between the five of us we have three teachers, a lawyer and a dietician and I don't think any of us want those pictures coming up the next time a boss Googles us.

Seriously, though, M put a ton of work into making sure that we all had a blast. And that's what I love about my family. We're odd, there's no doubt, but put all of us into a room together and we have a lot of fun. I have this huge network of people who I know I could call out of the blue and could depend on. We talk, periodically, about trying to write down all of these crazy family stories, but inevitably whoever tries realizes that it's not that simple. The beauty in these stories comes from all of us sitting around a table, and someone starts the story, and someone else jumps in and adds details, and a third person says, no, what really happened was this... Putting it down on paper makes it flat.

We're nuts, but we're not flat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The obligatory snow post

I've avoided it as long as I could, but it needs to be said.

Holy FUCK, we've got a lot of snow. Even the President has stopped mocking us for our snow response. At Christmas, right after Snowpocolypse*, I asked my cousin A, who lives in Colorado, whether she thought we were being wimps. She said "No, this is a lot of snow for anybody."

And then we did it again.

And as I write this it is snowing again, for the 10-20 inches that we're expecting overnight.

DC does not get weather like this. We just don't.

So, even though I assume that most of my readers are dealing with the same crap that I am, I offer photographic evidence:

My backyard.

The view from the front.

A street in my neighborhood, which three days after the last storm ended still had not been touched by a plow.

A street in my neighborhood.

*We here in the DC region have named the storms. The one in December was Snowpocolypse. The one earlier this week was Snowmageddon. The one starting today? Snoverkill.

Monday, February 1, 2010


A couple of weekends ago, I went up to Baltimore to see my cousin’s show at the Hegaxon. I’ve been brooding off and on about it ever since, because spending time in Baltimore always has an odd effect on me.

I have a complicated relationship with the city of my birth. I have alternately loved it and hated it throughout my life, and now as I get ready to buy a condo in DC—a city that truly feels like home to me—I find myself feeling nostalgic for Baltimore. Again.

Unless you count my four years of college, I have never lived more than about 50 miles from Baltimore. I moved to Pennsylvania right before my freshman year of high school, under extreme protest. (In retrospect, high school might have been a little easier on me if I’d been a little less angry all of the time.)

After college, I was determined to move back to Baltimore. But PR jobs were few and far between there, so after an extremely frustrating summer of applying for jobs, living with my parents and selling shoes at a department store, I broadened my search. I found a job in DC, a city I had absolutely no interest in. I moved to Laurel, which was as far away from DC as I could possibly live and still have a reasonably decent commute.

It took me about three months to fall in love with DC. I can even pinpoint the exact moment: I was sitting at a table in the window of the Capitol City Brewing Company on New York Avenue, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was sitting in the middle of the most powerful city in the world. As I watched the people walking past me on the street, I realized that I was in the center of everything, and I loved it.

And that was the end of my love affair with Baltimore. I still went back, occasionally—my friends and I went clubbing there semi-often for a couple of years, and most of my family was still in the area—but I was a DC girl at heart.

Just recently, though, I’ve found that I feel an intense nostalgia for Baltimore—but only when I’ve recently spent time there. As I drove through the streets on the way home from the Hexagon, I felt like I was home, even though I never lived anywhere near the neighborhood we were in. And as I toured a condo in DC today with my realtor—a condo I really think I want to buy—I had a nagging voice in the back of my head saying “This isn’t where you belong.”

It will pass. It always does. At least, until the next time.