Sunday, May 11, 2008

Within the Reach of My Arm

Bouncing is the second easiest job I ever had. The hardest decision I ever have to make is to sit or stand, everything else is pretty straight forward. Tonight was no exception.
The train home, however, was a mild pain in my ass.
The bar is 10 stops away from my home, which equals a ride of roughly 30 minutes, give or take. We closed up early tonight, so I was on the platform by 2:30, reading about Michael Corbitt and listening to a combination of my ipod's random selection and a Cubs fan arguing with a Sox fan over which was the better franchise.
A series of announcements told us that the train was delayed for two reasons. First, a fire had broken out on the tracks somewhere downtown. After we heard the trains were up and running again, we got a message that power was cut because two women had jumped (fallen?) onto the track at an earlier station. Thirty minutes later, a train came by and actually stopped in spite of its "Out of Service" banner. At least I had brought some entertainment to pass the time.
I turned the music down because I wanted to hear the baseball argument without getting involved. The rivalry between the Cubs and the Sox is one I find interesting as an outside observer. I'm happy when the Cubs win because it's good for business, but I have to agree with what I've heard—Cubs fans hate the Sox, but Sox fans just hate the Cubs fans. I'm not a fan of the Cubs fans myself, but only when they're drunk and out of control and it's my job to kick 'em out.
In this case, both men were rather drunk. Sox Fan was, of course, trashing the Cubs while praising the loyalty of their fans, all the while throwing insults preceded and followed by the phrase "No offense." It all seemed relatively rational until he called Cubs Fan a cocksucker.
CF was a big guy, about an inch taller than me and about as wide. SF was a little guy who knew he'd pushed too hard. He tried to apologize and offered his hand, but to no avail. CF eventually lifted SF up by his shirt and slammed him into the wall next to me. I felt it was time to intervene.
I inserted myself between them, trying to talk CF down, but nothing worked. SF kept apologizing, but that only made big fella angrier. We were attracting a crowd.
I said everything I could think of to make the guy back off: SF had apologized & was being stupid anyway; someone could call the police and he'd be arrested, and he'd have to wake up in a jail cell instead of a warm bed; none of it mattered to CF. He acted calmly enough, but kept pushing into me, trying to get past me, and wouldn't be sated until he had SF's blood drying on his knuckles.
I told SF to get out of there, and he did—left the platform entirely. Big guy kept pushing me, and now that there wasn't a target behind me, he'd chosen me instead. Rationalizing didn't work, so I tried a show of force and pushed back hard enough to let him know fighting me would be more trouble than it was worth. Caught off guard, off balance, and incredibly drunk, he fell backward into the wall that provides a (paltry) wind block in the middle of the platform.
Great. Now he's mad.
Finally another train showed up. I tried to tell him my argument with him was done and we could all just go home, but he wasn't having any. SF had wounded his pride with words, but I hurt him worse—knocking him into a wall hurt his pride and his body, and there was no way in Hell he was gonna let me go.
He never hit me, nor tried to. I suspect he's one of those "I don't start fights, I just finish 'em" kind of guys. That kind (I've noticed) does whatever possible to provoke the other guy into hitting him first, but if no one hits anyone, it turns into a standoff I witnessed in middle school a dozen times.
He did everything he could to block me from getting on to the train. When he stood in the doorway of one car, I moved into another, but he followed and stood over me as I sat down and ignored him. The conductor had seen us already, called CTA security up, and had us thrown off the train.
DAMN it.
Seeing the other man was the aggressor, the security made CF leave the platform with a threat of calling the police. By the time the next train came along, I had waited more than an hour. Instead of being home by 3:00, it was around 4:00 by the time I was nestled on my couch with the undying affection of my cat.
This whole experience leads me down two trains of thought. First, if the Cubs finally win, it'll be an amazing time to live in Chicago. It'll shake this town to its core. There will be celebrations, there may be riots, and I'll be in the middle of it all, honored to bear witness to the end of 100 years of dissatisfied die-hard fans. But it'll only sharpen the North/South Chicago rivalry that I tried, in my own small way, to quell earlier tonight.
They say no good deed goes unpunished. I could have stood back and failed to intervene, but I'm glad I acted as I did. I was bullied as a kid and never stood up for myself, because I was always bulled by a crowd of no less than four. Even worse was having the power to stop bullies from picking on smaller kids and me doing nothing to stop it. That Sox fan, though rude, was smaller by far than the man he was insulting, and didn't deserve the beating he was sure to get. That Cubs fan turned into nothing more than a bully, driven to fury by words alone and unwilling to listen to reason or honor an apology.
Had things gotten uglier I could have been hurt, arrested and charged, spending a night in a cage instead of a bed. As it happened, both men left the same platform, and reason dictates they may have run into each other again and the mess started over without me, my intervention meaningless. But the thought of being there and witnessing a bully take advantage of someone is something I will never abide. Sometimes the world will be this way and I won't be able to stop it.
But the world will not be this way within the reach of my arm.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Apartment Blog

I was two months in my new place before I could finally start unpacking. I didn't even get the chance until a few weeks ago, but by then I couldn't unpack because I had been promised a new apartment to make up for the maintenance issues I've had here.
Then I had the opportunity to actually see the place I was supposed to move into next—and I didn't like it. It's on the 10th floor instead of the first, so there's a remarkable view of the lake, but the walls were so thin I could hear normal-voiced conversations through them. Hardwood floors meant I had to walk gingerly not to echo to my below neighbors, and I couldn't risk setting my speakers on the floor. It's a little bigger than my place, but the addition of a dining area breaks up the space more than I'd like (senseless since I have no dining table).
And perhaps the biggest turn off? Once my lease is up, I know for a fact that the new place isn't worth an extra $300 a month. The lake just ain't that pretty.
Where I am now, I don't share a wall with anyone—my closet and bathroom are along the laundry/storage room, my living and bedroom share with the lobby/mail room, and the other two walls go directly outside. I've never heard a neighbor, and no matter how loud I've had my stereo or how late at night, I've never been heard (or complained on, anyway). I never have to wait for an elevator; I have lots of air flow and sunlight opportunity since I'm in a corner apartment. And I bought a couple of bad ass barstools to go against my kitchen counter/table thingy. Pictures are coming once I find the cord that connects my camera to my computer. And maybe when I finish cleaning up.
My hole in the wall is finally, blessedly, starting to turn into a home. One of the pitfalls of a vintage building, however, is the lack of plaster walls—they're all concrete after about 1/8 of an inch, so I can't even hang a picture without a drill. Luckily I know someone willing to spot me one. Once my things are hung and I find a spot for all the crap that just doesn't seem to go anywhere else, I'll be settled somewhere I can be glad to come to every night.
All I need is time.

The Job Blog

Back in February I decided to bite the bullet and apply for a permanent position with the media company for which I'm currently temping. It was a little soul-crushing. I've come to enjoy working in an office environment, and found I can even excel in a way I didn't think I could. Being given a project to work on (or manage, as the case may occasionally be) and making sure it's done efficiently and accurately is something I came to appreciate. I went to bed every night with a satisfied sense of pride and accomplishment.
Nonetheless, working for media advertising is a machine I have no interest in perpetuating. I'm given a job to do and I do it very well, thank you, but I have no interest in the field. Indeed, it churns my stomach a little, the thought of trying to make people believe they need to spend money on things they neither need nor want. Yet with other job prospects falling through, I knew I needed a safety.
So a month ago, smiling, I put on my best suit, slicked my hair, and gave to four people one example after another why I'd be a tremendous asset to their company. And I would, too. Several folks I've worked with wrote letters of recommendation to the human resources department singing my praises (one of these was shown to me. I showed it to my parents, who hung it on their refrigerator. I was honored). Though the company never stated it during the process, I had been warned that a requirement for the position was a GPA of at least 2.75. I knew I was shy of that, having been a poor (though not unintelligent) student, but I believed the months I've spent working for this company would overshadow my work ethic of ten years ago. I was wrong.
A form letter of rejection came to my email a week ago (three weeks after the interviews, mind you). Speaking on the condition of anonymity, I was told that it was my GPA of 2.651 that eliminated any hope. I graduated college seven years ago, and have now spent seven months working closely with (and from time to time, saving the asses of) peoples within this company using my intelligence, work ethic and creativity on a daily basis. The man I am shares only a face with the boy I was (that and my taste in music), yet my troubled past follows me even today. Choices I once thought inconsequential have returned to haunt me long, long after I left my college days behind.
I'm not so upset at failing to get this particular job. I'm upset because I have repeatedly proved my worth. I have sacrificed more of myself and the things I hold most dear than I ever have before, all in the hopes of perpetuating my life in a new direction. An adult direction. I went through much pain and loss making certain I was a most worthy asset, and to them I work with directly, this has been witnessed and appreciated. I have been trusted above others to be efficient and accurate. But no matter the sacrifice, no matter the quality, speed, or professionalism I have embodied, a simple litmus test eliminated me with no regard to who I am today.
It is insulting.
I'm over it, though. I didn't want this job to begin with, and now that I've been guaranteed not to get it, I can say so out loud. What I need is a job at all, one that isn't likely to end in the foreseeable future, one that provides me with stability enough to pursue my career goals as an artist. What scares me is that I won't be able to find one, and it'll be because of who I used to be—not who I am.
So for now, I'm still a temp. It has its benefits—overtime pay, my own office with a 28th floor view of downtown Chicago, the ability to watch TV or listen to music while I work. I'm also still bouncing in Wrigleyville whenever the Cubs are in town, so I have a solid fifty to seventy hours of work each week. My cat gets upset, but at least we have food on our table and a roof over our heads.
I guess the necessities are in place. Now it's time for the spice.

The Turning 30 Blog

"I came up with a new game-show idea recently. It's called The Old Game. You got three old guys with loaded guns onstage. They look back at their lives, see who they were, what they accomplished, how close they came to realizing their dreams. The winner is the one who doesn't blow his brains out. He gets a refrigerator."
--Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Working at Magic Time Machine I saw thousands of people—no kidding—celebrating their birthdays. Sometimes they were happy to be celebrating; sometimes they seemed to have been dragged by an earlobe and forced to get a little love from friends and family. Of the people who didn't feel like celebrating, sometimes it was because they didn't want the attention (which I can support), and sometimes it was because they were feeling old.

A trend I noticed is that nobody feels more upset about their age than someone in their early 30s. Ten years younger someone may say "I'm getting so OLD!" but without the heart of someone who feels the desperation associated with failed life goals. Ten years older people tend to understand the progress and pitfalls that accompany age, and they're more capable of accepting where they came from and where they're headed.

Many people have an idea where they're headed by their early twenties. They have some idea of what they want to achieve in a career, in a relationship, and many of them seem to think that by the age of 30 these plans will have at least begun to take shape. It is, after all, 50% of their lives away. Why can't they do that much in that amount of time? And if they should happen to fail what they once thought they could do, their view of the world can distort beyond their ability to accept and adapt.

Eventually I came to realize that people in their early 30s are, for the first time, able to see the sheer scope of their time on Earth. For the first time they can clearly remember things that happened 20 years ago. Perhaps they thought themselves adults at age 20, and now 20 year-olds seem like children with no idea of what the "real world" is like.

And now I find myself on the precipice of my 30th birthday. I always felt rushed in life, like things needed to come to me NOW. 30 is just around the corner, which isn't far from 40, which is really close to 50, the age things should start slowing down, the age you have more days behind you than ahead of you, and if I don't have it by then I never will. But a few years ago someone said something to me that calmed me down immensely. One of my TKD instructors, in the middle of a conversation, randomly asked me my age. I was 26. "That's amazing," he said, "you're exactly one half my age."

I saw the scope of things to come in a new light. Looking forward things had always been just around the corner; but looking back seemed like an eternity. I had time to live my entire life over again—including the first few years I don't even remember, and the years after that spent growing up—before I reached this man's age. And he was by no means at the end of his life, nor was he slowing down. He was vital, he was excited, and he was always trying new things in new ways. I had a new perspective, full of hope.

And my parents reminded me recently that when they were my age, married with three kids and grad school in the past, they still had to work as security guards to make ends meet. Better things are on the way, they said, things I cannot currently imagine. Worse things, too—put simply, my life is going to be much more dynamic than it has ever been, with greater rewards and pitfalls than I've ever experienced. Such is true for us all.

My only regret during my first thirty years is that I learned nothing of how to be an adult before I became one. There are things I want in life so desperately that it wears me down and I weep, secure in the knowledge that I am intelligent and creative enough to have made amazing strides compared with what I actually did. But in my despair, the words and experiences of my parents echo through my mind and calm me. Better things are coming. Just wait.

And to keep me moving ever forward toward what I want, I remain motivated by the simple words of a song.

"You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older.

You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older.
And now you're older still."

--They Might Be Giants