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!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No Longer a Prime Number

So some of you might have noticed that I recently had a birthday. You probably didn't, since I barely did. 24 is not exactly a birthday to write home about. True, you're not a prime number anymore, but you're not the square result of anything, and you aren't a multiple of a cool number like 7 or 5.

This was also the first birthday I really didn't feel ready for. For some reason, I didn't quite feel ready finished with 23, and I felt weird to see it go, but--what would every single older person I know say?--that's the way it goes.

It wasn't all mid-twenties apathy though. My good buddy, Andi, came to Chicago! I met her, you might recall, at an Amnesty march in the chilly Berlin fall, and she and I have been friends ever since, even when she took an internship in Madison, Wisconsin for the summer (something akin to the sketch about that state in Love Actually). She had extended her stay to include some traveling time, and just after my birthday she was going back to Germany, but she proved to be an excellent birthday companion!

During the days she was here we'd go out to dinner or drinks or an evening of improv comedy. One night we were bar-hopping in Wriggleyville (oh, the Affliction!) and we ended up having drinks at the Goose Island Brewery. We had been chatting with the bar tender about this and that, and just as we were getting done with our last round, she opened a bottle of some expensive Belgian beer (like Chimay but not) for the wrong table. Since no one had ordered it, and it was already opened, she gave it to us for FREE, saying "You ladies look like you know beer." Happy birthday to ME!

Though hanging with Andi was rad, the real celebration of my birthday was at the pregame for the Northwestern-Miami(Ohio) game, in which I met some friends at the beer tent before the game for FREE BEER (yeah, they do that, with Goose Island beer...I had no idea) and muffins. That perked up my school spirit, and we wandered off to the less-than-packed stadium in a fighting mood.

I gotta say, I do like college football quite a lot. The songs, the shouting, the people painting themselves purple for a school that isn't exactly known for athletic prowess. There are some drawbacks to NU football, and I'd say some of it is related to us being a Big 10 school:

The football is REALLY defensive and low-scoring We can't fill a stadium unless it's with Michigan or OSU fans We know zilch about Miami Ohio, so it's hard to get real animosity going there It can be cold at times, no lie

And at a certain point, we were ahead, but our defense was just barely keeping up with Miami (Ohio), and we hadn't seen any big plays for a while, and we all pretty much ready for the game to be over, when something amazing happened:

Our team spontaneously decided to play rugby.

There was a fumbled snap on a field goal that turned into a fumble-fumble, recovery, and then a BACKWARDS PASS, which was of course intercepted and then a tackle from a player who had been up till then run off the sidelines. So...THAT happened. I swear, the Benny Hill theme (THIS) was running through my head the whole time, and it FIT.

We did snatch victory out of the jaws of Miami, and that was great, and as a nice bonus, my posse and I got to spend a few hours at NU's local beloved coffee spot, chatting. It's moments like these in which I think "so THIS is what my 20s are supposed to be like!" I hope my next year falls nicely in line with what I experienced that day, but if it doesn't, we'll always have our Big 10 football.

PS. Just for the record, I want to get this out there, I am REALLY GLAD no one cares enough about our team to make up a sappy human-interest story like that Colt McCoy one. We're just nerds who play football and sometimes QUIDDICH (yeah, all your stereotypes are true)


My apologies to readers who have been on pins and needles expecting something of late. Again, I have dropped the ball, but I hope to make it up to you.

I'll start with the triumphant story of my 24 hour comic fiasco. I've always admired comic artists, not the people who draw Superman and whatnot, but people like Satape and Clowes, who draw everyday life in all its interest and banality, so when I saw an ad at the local comic store to "write till you hand goes numb!" I thought "Heck, I could do that!"

THE IDEA: most artists can only produce about 3 pages per day in their everyday lives, and the average comic book size is 24 pages. If, however, one were isolated, away from distractions, one could produce much more and more quickly, so people should go to this comic book store and stay there for 24 hours in which the goal was to write 24 pages.

I had up till then written...2 pages of comics at one time and never a real story arc, so I knew I had to do some training, like for a marathon. I started developing characters, getting used to my utensils, mapping out what kind of stories I wanted to tell, so at 10AM on October 3, I was reasonably mentally prepared.

I started off planning the requisite 2 story arcs and then went to work. I was actually going pretty slowly until the comic store filled with the late-arriving participants. In no particular order we had:
some crazies who drew comics in pencil and couldn't be bothered to chat with us
2 art school students
a high school English teacher and one of his students
a genuine super-hero super-fan
and Blue Beard.

Blue Beard was a nickname, but he's now probably the coolest person I know of. He brought his kids and they constructed an epic about a NINJA COBRA fighting a CYBORG NUTCRACKER on the high seas! The event was sponsored by an energy drink, which BB drank out of a stein like one would grogg or something. What a cool guy!

The event had real sponsors too, so we were supplied with pizza and sodas (like a marathon...but unhealthy!), and we had music playing the whole time. The owner had the idea of playing the soundtracks from super hero movies, which was pretty cool for the first--eh--15 minutes or so, but you can only handle shouting choirs and exploding brass for so long before the rest of us were figuring out ways to connect the speaker systems to our ipods, out of which came an odd mix of pirate music, pop, rap, Black Sabbath (I got SO SICK of Sabbath after an hour) and whatever else we could find.

Around 10PM my reinforcements came bearing coffee and sugar, which was insanely sweet. I am proud to say that I was the only participant who had cheerleaders stopping by, so I want to thank you (you know who you are) for the ventis and moral support.

At about 4:00AM something happened to me that I had previously only experienced once, during reading week my sophomore year in college: my brain stopped working. It just wouldn't cooperate anymore. My hands were moving, my body was jittery from caffeine, but my mind just shut off, and all of a sudden "THERE" was a REALLY HARD word to write properly. I was grateful that I had planned out my comic so well, but it was still really difficult as I looked at the objective for each page and tried to envision how I would realize it. We were all dragging though, even the store owner who had volunteered to be there overnight (thanks, Luke!). At this point Blue Beard took his kids and his comic home, since they were showing the exhaustion like mini-zombies, and he didn't need us around to be an amazing illustrator (he was writing his comic in free hand with a sharpie!).

The manager showed up around 8 with donuts, laughing at our bedraggled looks, and by 10 we were all very happy to call it a full day. In the end I was one of the only ones who finished all 24 pages, and I'm not totally proud of them, but I am proud that I could accomplish something. Having been rejected by the State Department and pretty clueless as to what comes next, I knew I would have to look for a sense of accomplishment outside of "job," and I really felt amazing for getting it all out on paper, even if parts of it were a bit toned up or down, and the characters looked rough. Blue Beard had come over to my table during a pizza break to check it out, and he said that "It's a fun style, like an cool internet comic." I've found my niche? Maybe not.

Now, before you all go clicking the link I've provided to check out my work, I have to say that I wrote the comic itself on really large paper (like a real comic artist), and they scanned it into their system, but the scanner wasn't big enough, so it's knitted together, sometimes in rather awkward ways. That having been said, I present to y'all my work:

1. Click HERE
2. Scroll down the page till you see my picture next to a bunch of miniaturized comic panels
3. Click the picture of me for page 1
4. Use the arrows at the top of each page to either navigate to the next or close out completely.

Let me know what you think. I really do hope that this personal challenge can become a sustainable and productive hobby in my life.

Friday, October 2, 2009

24 Kate Blackout

I am endeavoring something (do you endeavor something or to do something...whatever...that) either brave, dangerous or stupid, but I am almost 24 years old, and age has made me Reckless--RECKLESS I TELL YOU!

No, it's not that thrilling. I'm participating in a 24-24 comic challenge. I will go to a comic book store in Chicago that has been shut down, and me and some other folks will have 24 hours to make a 24 page comic book (usually people do about 3 pages per day)...starting from scratch.

Why am I doing this?

1. I like comics. They entertain me, and I have learned a lot of my current French from them.

2. I want to hone my creativity. I've always wanted in some capacity to write, to express the stories I have stored up in my brain, and this is a way to do this in which I'll have other people around to keep me honest

3. I spend a lot of my days looking for stuff to do, and this is certainly "stuff"

4. Being locked in a comic book store with a bunch of folks will either yield new friends or new stories

5. Because 24-24 is not as much of a competition as it is a personal challenge...I WILL TOTALLY WIN!

6. Anything that I come up with in terms of an actual comic will be posted here (though I can't be sure when)

So I will be "OUT" on Sunday afternoon and groggy in the evening, but I hope that this challenge will serve the purpose of any challenge: to push me to lengths that I have yet to push myself.

So wish me luck, and if you're lucky, you, loyal reader, might make it into the pages of HISTORY (but more likely, just into the pages of my comic)

I did NOT do this illustration--Adrian Tomine, one of my heroes, did

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Redefining "Cute" as opposed to "Sad"

As the chilly weather falls upon us, I would like to present to you, my readers, a short meditation on the ultra-fine line between that which is "Cute" and that which is "Sad" to keep you going until I have a bit more time to write about the last few weeks. Click on the pictures to make them larger/sharper if you need to.

Just something I was thinking about as I was sitting at my friendly local bakery, looking out the window on a late September day...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Something to Make you Smile on a Rainy Monday

You know, sometimes, when it's rainy and sort of nasty outside, you just have to get your sillies out. I choose to sort of dance/spazz out* in my room, or put on some especially corny music.

This woman, who (for reasons related to the circumstances of this recording) shall remain nameless, felt the urge to do that on stage at a certain very large and well known Chicago event with some large and well known Chicago personalities. I will present to you a cringe-worthy moment in jazz, and I will follow it up with perhaps why it was so cringe-worthy:

Wasn't that awesome?

Ok, so what's happening here?

Basically you have a tribute to a certain well-known songwriter in which the band and the vocalist (the guy who is throwing down on some Ginsberg-style poetry but slamming it) are INTERPRETING his work. The band is playing some really free-form jazz and the vocals are pretty political, BUT (and isn't there always at least one?), this woman, a blues singer, did not get the memo that they were reinterpreting the work. She set out to sing some covers, just re-singing the songs, and her improv skills were actually pretty rotten (I won't give her name, but I'll provide her myspace page to anyone who asks), so she was just singing covers over everything else, which didn't please anyone on stage one bit.

So the vocalist shouted her down in front of a massive crowd of Chicagoans, and she stood there for a few seconds. You could see the gears turning in her mind, trying to figure out what to do next, and she decided that this was probably the best move: To spazz out on the stage--nay--TAKING UP THE ENTIRE STAGE before not-so-gracefully exiting.

Moral of the story: There's always something more stupid that you could do when caught in a difficult position; this was it.

to spazz out- (v) (1) A reaction to something crazy or weird. (2) Another word for "freak out"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Snatching Hostility from the Jaws of Victory?

So I finally got an interview! It's for some kind of clerical position (I won't say the place in order to keep my chances), and it is in THE LOOP, so HUGE DEAL! Finally! Something going my way!

I woke up super early, printed the resume on nice paper, got directions, bought breakfast (scandal, I know! but INTERVIEW), and I got on the train with all the commuters, giggling like I was part of a big club! I was walking down State Street, snapping at ladies in suits going "Hey there! Going to work? Me too!" Well...not really...but in my head I was!

The office is in a big building some of you might actually know, and I took the elevator up to the DOUBLE DIGIT FLOOR (that's right) where a tattooed secretary set me up with some paperwork. After a spelling and some kind of cognition test an overly-made up lady I later was told was on painkillers that day took me into her office for the interview portion of the show. I was prepared for the questions and felt good, but there were a LOT of silences, and then came this:

"Frankly, I don't know WHY I picked up your resume"

Direct quote. She was trying to throw me off my game. So, what do you do with a hostile interviewer? I had an idea...

But, alas, I answered politely, just as I had planned out the afternoon before, and for my part, I handled it well, and the interview crawled to an end. We'll see...she wanted me to meet my would-be boss, which I take as an encouraging sign.

I loped out of the office, back into the city, and I took refuge for a few minutes at my favorite art supply store, where I bought some materials for an upcoming event (I'll write about it soon, I promise) and kicked around THE LOOP for a few more hours before going home, confused and maybe a little rattled. My southern graces might have saved me from that interview becoming even more awkward, so was it a FAIL? Not really...more a SECRET WIN.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Snark Level is Almost too High in This Entry

So no matter how crappy my job search was going, how many times I was rejected (too many, and that's all I'll say) I had that hope that the Foreign Service would pick me up. It kind of was my Plan B, and I KNEW it wasn't likely, but that hope was important, though tiny. It was like "well, I'm getting rejected for these bad jobs, but I might end up with something EVEN BETTER!" And today I present to you my translation of my rejection from the Foreign Service into dating language. I figure, I feel like I'm being dumped, so yeah, here's the blow-by-blow of a personally impersonal rejection of yours truly (their writing is written like this, and my interpretation like this):

Hey, chick
The QEP has completed its review of the files for the Foreign Service Officer candidates who passed the FSOT in June 2009.
I was totally going through my facebook last night to see what chats I'd missed.
A comprehensive review of your file does not allow us to continue your candidacy to the next step of the FS selection process, the Oral Assessment.
And after checking you out, I gotta say, I can't even imagine going out with you...seriously, dude.
Passing the FSOT and having your file reviewed by the QEP is already an achievement, however. Thousands take the test annually, but the number of candidates advanced to the QEP review is much smaller.

At least you got on my friends list...more than I can say for some broads. Applicants may reapply to take the FSOT only after approximately a year has elapsed since they last took the test.
If we run into each other a while, that might be cool, whatever...
The selection process is very competitive and many candidates apply more than once.
...but don't get your hopes up or nothin.

We thank you for your interest in foreign affairs and wish you success in the future.
Nice try though!

Seriously, though, Board of Whatever You Call It, and I'll say it in German so it's slightly less offensive (you'll remember, I listed on my application that I spoke FLUENT GERMAN, but I mean, that didn't seem too important to you)


Y'all acted like a pack of D-bags...

^^^This is y'all^^^

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Guten Tag North Side!

Oh, Chicago, when are you NOT up for a random ethnic holiday parade?

This time on the front burner was...

von Stuben Day!!!!

Who or what was General von Stuben?
Well, if you look at the figure of him in the parade, you'd surmise that he was a brunette 30-something who stood next to some ficus plants on the back of a truck and rolled through Chicago, ushering in the new Drinking Season.

Wikipedia, however, might not agree with me, saying:
Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben
November 15, 1730November 28, 1794) was a Prussian army officer who served as inspector general and Major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He is credited with teaching the Continental Army the essentials of military drill and discipline, helping to guide it to victory. He wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual, the book that became the standard United States drill manual until the War of 1812, and served as General George Washington's chief of staff in the final years of the war

What a shock, I know.

New York has a big to-do for it, but I consider the Chicago one more famous, having been featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (though they have it about 6 months wrong), and this year I was here during it, so I went. I took copious notes, and here's the Kate Kinda-Live Blog blow-by-blow of the 44th annual von Stuben Day Parade:

-ok, so there's a lot of Bavaria represented in this parade, which makes little sense to me, since the majority of Germans in Chicago would be from sort-of the opposite part of the world; I mean, the biggest organizer of this is the Niedersachsen Club (Lower Saxony)

-apropo the Club, I am sitting next to it, and there are a lot of older people, and they're the only ones I've heard so far speaking German...and it's High German, which also puzzles me, since Lower Saxony has quite the accent.

-There's a lot of public drinking going on even outside of the Schlager music-playing beer tent...I can dig this!

-Parade starts off with the Chicago Police's Emerald Society Bagpipers...I remember them from the Taiwanese parade Philippe and I went to, so I guess you can't do anything without these guys randomly showing up, even if they clash rather intensely with the whole theme

-Lots of choirs of various combination of German men, women, and Kinders. They're all folk-costumed out, and it's actually pretty cute.

-There is a Miss Niedersachsen float...I can't even start to list why that puzzles me. I chatted with her car afterward, and she doesn't even speak High German let alone the regional dialect...and I don't know if her crown is honored over in Niedersachsen itself, and if it were, is there an international governing body for "Miss __________" titles? So many questions.

-Ah, high school marching bands! What would a parade be without you guys and your awesome hats?

-There's a Miss Maifest! I think you guys might remember my Maifest entry as a bit violent and traumatic, involving lots of projectiles and fires in the streets. This girl does NOT represent that particular side of Maifest. She represents the site that no one who really celebrates Maifest gets to see, the one where everyone wears prom dresses and waves mechanically...and speaks English. I wish that's how it looked in Berlin!

-Speaking of Berlin! They have a presence in Chicago, the Berlin Bears, which I choose to see as an adorable tie-in with the Chicago Bears, and please don't tell me any different!

I think the Berlin group best got a folks costume that represented them as a state. See, everyone else just dressed like refugees from Munich, but these guys chose to reflect a town that was basically Petticoat Junction before they got in trouble for violating the Clean Water Act.

these are without a doubt, sophisticated "City Women" from a time when they would be seeing the "Crown Heads of Europe" and whatnot. Major points for creativity, Berlin!

-These guys represent a sort of punk-polka band called the PolkaHolics, not as great as Brave Combo, but they were all elecrtic guitars and battling nobley the "musik" coming from the float of the AM German "Musik" radio station. Hats off to the PolkaHolics!

-One of the two major German language schools in the area did this RAD float.

See, it looks deceptively like a standard school float of the cuter, maybe more involved kids, but then, on the back, right next to the name of the school, is a guy with a sign that says
and he's singing "Danke Schoen," to which I can only clap heartily and say, "No, sir, thank YOU!"

-This is a puzzling cultural display that I assume had something to do with Catholic Germany and the rite of Confirmation, but if anyone can explain why the girls are wearing ornamental head thingies and look mortified, I would LOVE to hear that Erklaerung!

This, like many of the floats, reflects nothing I've seen in all my time in Germany

-it seems like almost every West German state was represented, but there were definitely some gaps...I'm thinking...all of East Germany (Sorry Ossies) and Saarland of course (oops, forgot them!), but into this void in our hearts stepped two rather unlikely "heros" (I use the term loosely) EFFECT!

and, of course, whenever they're not invited...

oh, look, Austrians singing
yeah...that totally happened

-The south of Germany was really stepping up its game. I am not speaking of Bavaria (that's like saying Texas is part of The's just not, and I don't like to speak of Bavaria as a rule), but of BaWoot (BaWu, but said cooler). There was first the Swabian Club, which was just cute in a general sense.

You can't hate them; they're small in number at the parade and have awesome accents

and then there was this, which just made me so full of Tuebingen spirit!

These guys are on the Swabian Youth Soccer Team, which is cosponsored by IHOP, so all around! Lots of little kids who know generally what "Schwaben" is, and IHOP realizing that it's totally schweet!

-Obviously, there were a lot of bar floats, most of which took the form of a normal looking pickup with a sign draped over the sides and red-cheeked ladies in the back chucking candy at the kids while yelling "WOOOO! WE HAVE CHEAP SANGRIA!" which is I'm sure, one of General von Stuben's favorite drinks, so it only makes sense! There were also three inflatable beer bottles on trucks, which were pretty great too.

-Speaking of "places in Germany where I have spent more than a week," we now come to the Rheinland Mardi Gras (aka 11.11) group, which was covered in sequins (shiny!) and feathers (oooo!)

and something that was a little like Drum and Bugel Corps but with flag girls trailing them...sort of a meta-commentary on parading (like for Carnival) within a parade...whoa

when I first saw them I thought they were trying to do a
costume tie-in with the Revolutionary War which made
von Stuben famous. Maybe that's still true?

We totally have a coat of arms in Chicago! Check THAT out!

-The parade ended with the Water Commission's VERY shiny float, steered by someone who was clearly selected for her ability to get people hyped up for water.
a very interesting display from a rather random city organization, but then again, this was a very interesting (and large!) display from a rather random ethnic group in Chicago, it was rather fitting.

-The crowd reaction to the parade was pretty positive with a lot of people commenting on how much bigger it was than last years' or how the weather was better. They also managed to avoid a common mistake Germans make in large public celebrations (see: the 2006 World Cup) of being awkward rather than wacky and fun. These guys navigated some tough waters, but I gotta hand it to the Niedersachsen Club and the organizers of the parade, they did a great job, even though no one around me could tell me who General von Stuben was.

It's apparently a very old tradition that when these sort of giant flags go by,
you're supposed to throw money onto them, but I don't know if anyone,
including the people carrying it, got that memo.
It's just what an old German lady next to me said

maybe not entirely SHOCKING ADDENDUM!
The historical consensus on General von Stuben is that he was gay! Wikipedia says that evidence is inconclusive, but Human Rights Watch cites
Randy Shilts when he says that von Stuben was a Freund von Dorothy! I think I have heard of him before then...maybe...does anyone else remember that lesson in AP US History? I don't think the parade goers got the memo on that one

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Sporty Edition for my super awesome grandma

This entry is dedicated to my super-awesome Grandma who recently got her hip replaced and is making recovery from this hella-gross, hella-invasive surgery look easy.

One thing she's really into is college sports...of any kind really, but at this time of year is there really any other sport than

I thought not.

My dad had been up visiting for a weekend, and on Saturday we woke up early to have breakfast and see him off. I had known this was the first day of football season, but I wasn't planning on going to the game. I mean, I'm not organized enough to have a bunch of folks to go with, the tickets cost quite a bit, and Evanston is a jog away, but mom sent me an SMS saying something to the effect of:

I order you and Philippe to GO?TO?THAT?GAME

for some reason her question mark and spaces got messed up, but the spirit of it came across VERY clearly, and one learns quickly not to mess with the women of my family, regardless of age, so an hour and a half later, boyfriendo and I were on the eL to NU to see them kick Towson's rear end.

Question--Do you know what Towson is?
Answer--No, but I already dislike them!

Introducing foreigners to football is a lot of fun if you're into it, and I had a great time taking Phil around the stadium before the game started. First we got him outfitted in purple:

I LOVE guys who wear purple!

and then we hit the tailgates, which I explained to him were "chances for the older alumns to drink good alcohol and throw a football around before and after the games" but that didn't really convey the spirit correctly, so we walked into the VERY friendly territory, where I found this:


I asked the woman behind the flags what the deal was, how one family could be cool enough to sport German AND Norwegian flags, and the answer was sort of a letdown, "we have German and Norwegian heritage, and we want people to find our car." one's perfect.

From the tailgates it was on to Wildcat Alley to check out the beer tent and the games various NU sports teams throw for the kids (lacrosse was out in FORCE), and we were in our sideline seats by kickoff.

I won't go too into explaining the rules of the game, but I will say that it's a game with a lot of rules, but by the second quarter, Philippe understood pretty much everything except the penalties and was yelling along as we handed Towson their kiesters. I guess he's a professor for a reason! At halftime the peewee leagues took over the field for the least organized group scrimmage ever, and Philippe got to experience cheerleaders in training.

Actually, to him, cheerleaders were the big surprise of the game:

Them making pyramids and throwing each other aloft impressed him, I suppose because they think in Europe that cheerleaders just sit around and yell. In the video he's commenting on how our cheerleaders, after a touchdown, do as many push-ups as we have points, so when it was
21-3, they did 21 push-ups. At
28-14, they did 28. At
36-14, they did 36
Well, the game ended with NU winning 47-14,so they were quite tired, having done
7 + 9 + 12 + 19 + 26 + 33 + 40 + 47 push-ups!
They were hardcore! and, just in case you're counting, that's a total of 193 push-ups

So the game ended in gridiron glory, and we stuck around to sing the fight song with the student section (which is significantly more rowdy than the crowd, and that says something at an NU game), and then we walked through a very cheerful crowd to the eL. Interestingly, we got to see the Towson Tiger mascot:

He looks rather...funky if you ask me

walking back to the office where thye had his costume stowed, and he was lookin' quite close to extinction if you ask moi.

On the eL some UIC fan got a little mouthy when he asked "Did NU lose, like I hope they did?" but I guess some schools just sip on the ole' hater-ade more than others! Can't rain on the Purple Parade just yet, Illini!

More pictures will be up when boyfriendo gives me his, so for now, I hope that all of you, and grandma especially, enjoyed this almost uncharacteristically sporty entry.

Go U! Aren't we cUte?