Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I am an anthropologist sometimes

Last night I bought my membership to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. Largely, it's because I can't afford to go as much as I want, and now it's free, and I want to be able to call myself a "patroness of the arts."

I lucked out too, since that night in the cafe they were having a concert of this sound artist who did a lot of really smart things with synth and visuals projected onto he ceiling to match. It was like a hallucination scene from Star ItalicTrek had run into an interactive screen saver.

I had just took another run through the Italian exhibit, Italics, (which I sono el migliore) and I sat with a mocha listening and being the only one, in a room full of cool artists, in business casual. It was really cool though to get deep inside my own head with that kind of music.

Then as I was leaving I ran into a huge crowd of people in tight jeans, leather jackets, and hair in pompadours, like in the 1950s!! Turns out there was a book signing there from an author who wrote the book on rockabilly culture. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, google "rockabilly". They had cigarette packs tucked into their sleeves, and the women wore short bangs, red lipstick, and saucy clothes. It was so strange, especially since I was still in that meditative place that kind of music engenders. They were loud and excited, and I was...still in business casual from work, and then wandered in the design students who come in on Tuesdays to find inspiration, and the whole foyer looked like a fight scene from a Mel Brooks film, but minus the fighting.

I have to say, this is a great city, and if you just open yourself up to adventures, they are there, and they aren't hidden too far beneath the surface.

PS. you'll have to forgive any change in tone of this piece...I'm writing it at coffee before work, and it is very early indeed. Thanks to Corner Bakery though, for letting me take their wifi!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An eL Story

The other morning I was running to get the eL, and I barely made the second car.

Usually it is filled with boring business-casual like myself, and on Fridays the occasional creature who has been partying until 6AM and realizes that they need to get home. This morning was slightly different. In the car stood a hooded figure in a long, dirty jacket with its back to us.

It was clearly a deranged person, and then there was a complimentary giant figure in the back seat, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully despite the harsh light, cold, and constant bumping and noise. I'm a city girl, and I can handle this without complaint.

We, the innocent, sweet-smelling riders of car #2 couldn't do much before the next few stops, since the train only stopped for a few seconds, and slowly but surely we became aware that we were going to be stuck with the stench.

It was
homeless + old clothes + no hygiene + urine
and it was terrible. These mystery figures just stood/sat there crazily. The stinker kept rubbing its face maniacally, and those of us who were not crazy but not wanting to catch the next train 10 minutes later were looking out the window. No one was going to say anything for fear of being impolite. No one was going to call the police to get rid of this crazy person, because it was 6AM, and even police had better things to do at that time, so we sat and prayed for our stops to come quickly, or a panicked skunk to run on board.

Finally, 4 painful stops (really, "pause" describes their duration better), the conductor broke in
"you in car #2, you don't want to be in there.
We'll be stopped longer for you to get out."

We dove out of car #2, just as the rather crowded platform was emptying into the train, holding our noses and pointing to the cars in front of or behind us, to warn off potential riders. I ran full-tilt into the car directly to the south of me, #1, and let me tell you that Car #1, though still the el, smelled like roses.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our Reactions to NU's Outback FAIL

So the NU Wildcats were playing the Auburn War Eagles in the Outback Bowl. I'll say right now, we haven't won a bowl game since 1949, so I wasn't expecting too much, and we played like I expected for the first half, at which point I sent this message:

BUT THEN we started catching up, but Demos, our kicker, kept missing field goals and extra points just when we needed them, so I sent out this one, referring to our team:

Demos then had a chance to win us the game with a field goal at the end of regulation time, BUT HE MISSED, and then we went into overtime where we handed them the game. 35-38 Auburn:

One of my fellow Northwestern fans had this to say about the "Cardiac Cats"

My friends and family were a little more surprised by our "performance"...

...but the Cats who went down to Florida for the actual game were pretty united in their sentiment

So I am a bit torn, to be honest. On the one hand: we made it to a good bowl game (this was NOT the Motor City Bowl), and we scared the pants off Auburn (who rushed the field TWICE prematurely and generally acted like jerks), and we took it into overtime, which is more than I expected. On the other hand, we lost for stupid reasons (DEMOS, interceptions, DEMOS), and the game managed to bring my hopes up very high and then dash them VERY low. So...thanks for that, 'Cats. See you next year.

December in Chicago

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the meaning of "Nerd"

The meaning of the word "nerd" appears to have two very disparate definitions across generations.

Take for example the following example from work, an exchange between myself and an older manager of another department. I had my backpack, holding my books for my commute, my coffee thermos, and my work shoes (as we Chicago girls are wont to have). I can't come up with a better way to carry all that stuff. Anyway, she came walking up to me:

Manager: I saw you this morning with a backpack!
Me: yeah, needed somewhere to drop my shoes. Haha.
Manager: looks very...collegiate.
Me: er, yeah. That's me. Total nerd! Haha
Manager (serious): you shouldn't stereotype yourself that way.

So I take away from this that she wanted to ask something to the effect of why I had a backpack--was I going somewhere? When the response didn't compute, she felt the need to justify her question, thus the collegiate comment.

Now her definition of the word "nerd" is informed by a different era...a very different which the "well rounded" student was the ideal. In this time, a nerd was someone who wasn't well-rounded, and this singled them out for the ridicule of their peers. Therefore, when I labelled myself a nerd, I was indicating to her that I was abnormal, a-social in some 1950s sense of the term, and she did not want me labelling myself as an outsider, a true retro-tabboo.

When I used the word, it was informed by a completely different generation. I was raised in an era of football camps, academic decathlon, and club activities that go all year long. It has been encouraged from day one for people of my generation to find a passion and run with it, often at the expense of other interests. For example: Sarah Palin describes herself (try to wrap your brains around this, folks) as a nerd, because of her passion for sports at the expense of being girly. Sarah Palin!!! It is cooler to be a nerd now, because it indicates enthusiasm, and you can be a "sports nerd," band nerd, computer nerd or math nerd arguably (and boy is it argued). Pop singers will pretend-blush in an interview and explain that they were total nerds in high school, because it is encouraged to be abnormal now. Hipsters like nerd cardigans, and athletes spend their summers studying pland improvin their technique.

I just want to put forth to all my readers the hypothesis that at least the connotative meaning of "being a nerd" has changed...but do I sound nerdy explaining it!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I've learned in the last months

Things I learned from my month long dalliance with real estate and accompanying anonymous examples:

"garden unit" means basement...but the property owners will go to pains to stress how great the lighting and maximum 4 windows are.
When I started off there was a very quick and rather defensive introduction into how business was done there. This included getting me used to apartment euphemisms. The first one was describing the dingy basement we were embedded in. "this is a garden unit". Where's the garden? "that's not the point. It has windows. See? You get light". Wait, people live in apartments like this? "yeah. Didn't I mention the windows?!?"

Saying that you will let your landlord charge you $10 to change the filters on your radiator is ridiculous. Do it yourself; it's not hard.
People, I can't tell you how many times we got calls from people wanting us to change their light bulbs or furnace filters. Y'all, your landlords will charge you whenEVER they can, and you are told this. You are big boys and girls (no matter how deep in the Southport Corridor you live) and you can change your own stuff. Go to the store, stand on a chair, get it done.

You will never get the full deposit back--ever.
Sorry. They'll find any reason to keep it. I have come to think that the cleaner it is at departure, the more scrutiny it will come under. Take heart though, my friends, this means you can be all kinds of lazy when you move out! If it's immaculate, you'll be slapped with a charge for those hooks you put up to hang your plants--even if you took them down and left the tiniest of holes. And, no, the girl on the phone can't help you with that.

That neighbor you suspect is saying terrible things about you behind your back--she is, but don't worry, your landlords generally know she's crazy.

One person decided that I was the person to call about their East African neighbors, who may or may not (but probably may..."I watch the news. I know what's going on") be using voodoo. They said they noticed the demographic change recently and was fine with it, but would we recommend they use Holy Water? S/he kept talking about their drumming, so I said we would "get on the problem" and I called the apartment about which s/he was complaining with the purpose in mind of telling them to keep the drums quiet, but no one answered, so I left it there. Perhaps I wasn't being a very good employee, but I considered it a mitzvah to help teach them a lesson about cultural understanding...that's it!

Calling the city won't get your personal problems with the building fixed any faster. In fact, it will result in a lot of extraneous work being done on the facade of your building that will just get in your way.

I get that everyone thinks their problems are the biggest you could ever imagine, and we have to drop all we're doing and help, and when that doesn't happen for whatever reason, I know it's frustrating, but here's what happens when you tattle to the city of Chicago: someone will come by when you're not home, so they probably won't see the problem. The city of Chicago, however, can't come away empty handed, so they'll find exterior problems you neither noticed nor cared about, and they'll write citations for that, so you'll get crews to your apartment, but not for any reason you want, and they won't be very eager to fix whatever interior problem you're having. So unless the complaint is clearly visible from the exterior, just don't bother.

Don't ask too many questions about the mystery smell that we "took care of" for you. It is probably nastier than you think.
It's a city, and rats are just smart enough to get behind your stove or in your drains. That's all I'll say on that.

4 drops of water is not "gushing" and a caved in roof is not "a slight problem."
I only once dealt with a whole roof cave in, and it was pretty funny, because the young lady in question didn't really raise flags. She described a large leak and about 30 seconds later she admitted she could see the sky through her roof. This is a BIG problem, and you shouldn't be timid to explain it. I was pretty close to panic, but I am pretty proud of how I handled it. I was suddenly a front line dispatcher, calling people to tarp the roof, then getting contractors lined up to patch it up, and though it looked like a scene from the Muppets for about 10 minutes, but I took care of it.
Conversely, I know plenty of folks who lost their minds over a few drops of water. I'd ask them the accumulation, and they would say a cup a day. That ain't no cave in, so just breathe for a second, folks.

If you don't treat your employees well, don't be shocked when they leave.
It is shady as sin to have them working 7 hour shifts so you're getting around the obligations for full time employees. Don't get me wrong, I was glad for the work, but when I heard the other office girl complain that after some years of working there they wouldn't fork out for a better headset or a trip to the doctors for her neck pain, I thought "yup, not stayin here". Also, if you like to brag about how a later season is so much more traumatic and crazy, don't be shocked when said employee doesn't want to stick around to see when the stuff hits the fan.

There aren't many good places to bring a little kid with swine flu, but taking Junior to work....bad choice by and large.
My religious use of hand sanitizer (actually, my pastors use it right before communion, so it kind of is religious) and a general fear of small humans is the only thing that saved me. My colleagues were not as lucky, and for about a week I was working in the office of the living dead, and when that happened, and I was the only living person around, I had to deal with really cranky people who would snap from time to time, and I had to pick up the slack, as it were. It amazed me that a creature as small as that kid could cause that much damage.

When the landlord tells you the work that's been done on your place, it's a lot more complicated than that.
The favorite phrase of my boss, when he would ape a Jersey accent, was "dey gotta know wha dey gotta know," so rather than telling people that the wax ring on their toilets had to be replaced, or that we blew the lines on their sinks, or even explaining in simple terms the step by step on what had happened, I found myself saying "we made some adjustments" or worse yet, "some work was done". Sometimes even that was an overshare, and I'd get hollered at. If you want to know exactly the work that was done, know then that you will have to ask specifically. If your land lord is any good, even if your super did the work, s/he will know.

Your uggs are not worth $150, and we sure as heck won't reimburse you if they are soaked because you fell asleep with the sink on.
They are a silly pair of shoes, not practical for anything whatsoever, and they are not chic. Your stoner neighbor accidentally did you a favor by leaving his sink running while he had a sleep, so update your wardrobe and move on, because "that girl on the phone" sure as all heck doesn't want to hear you whine about something she has no power to do anything about.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Encounters with People I Met at the Illinois (State-wide, not the College) Alumni Job Fair

NOTE: some of these conversations have been had at other career fairs from senior year in college, the recruiting fair at my college, and some are flat-out imagined (those are noted with a *). I will go the way of James Frey and say "I stuck to the spirit of the events."

With the Girl Looking for the "Pavilion,"
Where all my Uni's Grads were told, the Fair Was

Hey, do you know where we're supposed to be? No, I thought somewhere else. Do they know where we're supposed to go? This building on the other side of campus. Oh. Wanna split a cab? I don't have any cash. Me neither. Let's walk in the cold mist. Ok. I'm lost. So, are you working? Yeah, I'm a secretary at a gym. How's that? Awful. It's so boring. I don't even think in my day-to-day. I spend more time on Facebook that directing sweaty people to the right machine. I am familiar with this feeling. Yeah. Being underemployed isn't a lot of fun. I'm really glad someone else feels that way! I feel like we should be like grateful or something for the chances that we have, and that we are like supposed to be this way after college, but dang it! Totally. I went to college, studied hard, and now, I mean, I can't find anything. What field are you in? Journalism. Oh--oh--ummmmm...
Some people are in worse positions than I, but I'm glad to have an encounter with someone who is in the same position, just so I can confirm what everyone is telling me, that this is a totally normal way to feel.

*With the (not unattractive) Representative of the Marines Right at the Entrance of the Fair
Hey, how's it going? Oh, you know. It's freezing outside. Do you have any interest in a job in the legal field? Actually, yeah. I want to go to law school. Oh? What if I told you that we could pay for you to go to law school? Really...I'd think there was a catch. No catch. We sponsor people through law schools all the time, and we are a great resume boost, and it's really just a great opportunity. You do have a degree, right? Yeah. Totally. I graduated with two majors. That's great, we're always looking for smart people. Ok, but--you know--I have a general aversion to...getting shot at. Well, you wouldn't really be doing that! We are more than just war makers! Really? Because I thought that was exactly what you were. All you'd have to do is go through basic training and then your rising through the ranks should be pretty quick, since-- Umm, errrrr, hang on. What? First of all, can you back up a bit. You're kind of in my personal bubble, and that combined with your excessive eye contact is kind of freaking me out. Oh, you'll get over that real quick once you're in basic tr-- Thanks! Bye!
Inevitably, you just try to avoid eye contact with the military booths, which are always set up in just the same way everywhere, the same booth design, same handouts, same two guys. There's one in his uniform (usually the less attractive) and then one in a smart, businessy looking number. Once in conversation, they're much more eager than you'd expect from someone recruiting you to be part of "this man's army." There's never mention of war, of deployments, but the existence of these things, coupled with them being there, amongst throngs of unemployed, is really unnerving. I can't really articulate why except that the realization comes to me that "oh, yeah, people DO join the military more in times of recession, putting their lives on the line because they don't see many other choices." I have nothing against the military, but this tacit understanding that happens, coupled with what we read in the makes things awkward.

With Every Single Consulting Company There
Hi there, Kate _________. Hi. I'm Tom Smith. What interests you about Dynamic Consulting? Well, I did some research on the website, and I want to see if there is a place for someone with my talents, and [insert my normal pitch here]. That's great! This is a great firm. We're leaders in innovation and dynamic solutions. Oh? What exactly do you do? We come up with strategic decisions for fast moving, modern businesses. Right, but--like--what do YOU do specifically? I'm a planner. I work with my team. It's such a great experience! Ok. And what do you think makes your firm different from Consulting Dynamics over there? We're a firm that is dedicated to delivering a dynamic product to our clients. We really value diversity of workload and innovation. Ok. So what then is your understanding of what they do? They deliver less workable products. See, we focus on real world solutions for innovative markets!
I come out of these conversations usually with almost no understanding of what exactly these guys do (aside from specializing in innovation). You're actually better off using wikipedia to get it explained for you, but the face time is more important than information-finding. At this point, I actually do know what they do, and who does what, but that's not really the point of this conversation, since it ends with, "Great! Can I have your resume?"

With a Field I'm Clearly Not Qualified For
So what did you study? German and PoliSci, but-- Oooh. This job is really mostly for med school grads. Oh. [AWKWARD MOMENT] So, I'll just keep an eye on the website. Yeah, completely. Things are always opening up on there, and you can see what would best suit your qualifications. Great. Thanks.
And you walk away a little embarrassed that the name "InnovatiCorp" didn't tip you off that they weren't hiring your type. But you can't just run away, since that would be...I don't know actually why I don't just run away making that "woop woop woop" noise that Curly from 3 Stooges makes.

With a Booth That Looked Half Decent
So, what do you do? Oh, I have a great job with Diverse Solutions LLP! I get to X, Y, Z. Oh, that's really interesting. Wow, that sounds like just what I want to do with my career! Great! So, what positions are open? Well, we're actually not hiring at this time. Oh. But we'd be more than happy to take your resume and keep it on file! Ok, cool. Thanks.
If you don't have anything open, DON'T COME TO THE FREAKIN CAREER FAIR! The point of the whole thing is to GET A JOB, and if you don't have any jobs, then--GAH! I do not feel bad AT ALL taking more of their swag than absolutely polite (I have so many corporate frisbees and pens and stress balls from stands like these).

With the Rep of a Rather Famous Children's Toy Company
Wow, Company X. What are you hiring for? Ummm...we have some positions open. Like what? Tester? Haha. Hehe. No. Oh. Here's our flyer. Great, thanks. Are you interested in any of these? Well, they're all in engineering, so I'm not really--I didn't really study... Ok. You want a candy bar? Sure! Thanks!
Ok, so she didn't really know what she was doing there. I was there only out of curiosity, and it didn't really look like people were waiting in line to talk to her,'s Company X! Makers of such great and well known products as the Rolling Doo-Dad and the Thing-a-ma-Gig! Still, kind of a weird feeling, but their stuff was definitely the best (maybe if the Marines gave out candy and respected personal space...I'm just saying).

With a Kindred Spirit in the Line to Talk to a Booth
(the lines were UNG-DLY long!)
So, this is what an economic recovery looks like? Man, look at all these older people. Yeah, some of them are over 60. I feel like we've failed them somehow. Yeah, they won't end up getting a job here. But at the same time, I don't have any experience, so it's awkward. Haha. Yeah. Describe this fair in one word. Depressing. I know, right! I thought I was the only one! Yeah, I haven't been jobless this long in a while. How long? Since June. Don't you just hate it? I can't stand it when people tell me to "enjoy the free time." No, that New York Times article where you can be FUNemployed! Arg. I'm not funemployed. I'm funderemployed. Awesome. No, it's really not. Well, it's my turn to talk to them. Remember, big smiles, eye contact, and good luck. I hate it when people say that too. Haha!
It sounds like we're having a bitter conversation, but it's really not. It's like Barbara Ehrenreich writes. Everyone is so positive all the time, but it's ok to be negative. Sometimes it can even be a help to air out those negative feelings, especially when it's with someone who knows where you're coming from, and you can laugh about it and realize that it's ok that it's not totally ok. There's no "at leasts" or "keep on truckin" because we do that anyway. We truck! You just sometimes need to acknowledge that it's not all yoga and low budget flowers, so big shout-out to my recession buddy!

With an Older Lady in Line at a Publishing Booth
So, you're looking at Books and Associates? Yeah, since I got laid off. I'm sorry. I was employed with them for 1o years, in the field for 30, and my husband wants to retire, but I told him that he can't. Well, you're established in the field, so that's going to help your chances. And then after this I have to go to a wake. Oh, jeez. I'm sorry. Yeah, it's for my cousin Mayble's friend, nice lady. Her son, he's such a mess. It's those drugs, you know...
This was the single most depressing conversation ever. I almost hopped right out of line, but I didn't want to be rude and run into the nearest Snuggie store for SOMETHING comforting. And then I realized we were in competition in a way for the jobs, and that added another dynamic to the whole thing. Like "I feel bad for you, but I'm goign to get up there and try to explain how I am a better choice than hard feelings." This is why I don't like big job fairs, because you have several moments like these, and they are just as bad as they look.

With the Publishing Booth
So, you were in Germany. Tell me about it. Sure, like my research? Yeah, I was a sociology major. Great! [insert research description here]. [Then this random lady in a suit comes up to us] --Hey! Kate ________? Can I steal you away for a second? Ok. I was actually looking at your resume on line yesterday, and I had been wanting to call you. Really? Yes. And I'll just give you my phone number here [writes phone number]. I'm putting together a team, and I was really impressed with your resume. So, I'll call you tomorrow morning--no--I'll call you in like an hour, just so you have my number on your cell, ok? I can't wait to talk to you! Ok!
So...THAT happened...and very quickly at that. I'm going to go to an interview in person, after acing the phone interview, and maybe I won't get the job. That's a real possibility, but at least something crazy and positive happened, so yay for that!