Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pros, Cons, and I still hate roller coasters.

Growing up, people tell us to make a list of the qualities we want in a relationship. When you’re a kid, it’s for a best friend. I wrote things like “thinks beanie babies are awesome” and “is hilarious.” It’s a lesson in positive reinforcement, think only of things you want, and then look for those things in other people. I am very good at this; it shows in the quality of my close friends. Individually, they exemplify the very epitome of a “pros only” list, littering my social circle with positive, affable characteristics. When you are eight, the only thing that matters is finding the good things about others around you. There is plenty of time to figure out what is bad about them.

But as we got older, the balance of our list was fulfilled as experience and mistakes taught difficult lessons about the uniqueness of the human race. Friends fight over unforgettable wrongs; girls and boys fall in and out of love, irreparably. Suddenly, my list of positive attributes was stunted parallel to the qualities I had learned I did not appreciate in my close relationships. Suddenly, “thinks beanie babies are awesome” runs correspondingly to “but has a job;” and “is hilarious” is countered quickly with “but is not cruel.”

Some people write these lists down, locked away for decades only to be unearthed when a new, vicious trait rears its unforgivable head. Others, like myself, only keep a mental running tally of the qualities that seem only to offend my own neurotic personality. I don’t tend to mesh well with competitive boys, because I am overly competitive. Girls that lose themselves in romantic relationships have no staying power in my life, as I put as much importance and weight on each of my relationships, no matter the slant. It is only through trial-and-error that these facts become screamingly obvious; it is only after many, many errors do I realize the trial needs to change. Still, the lists remain abstract, describing no one in particular, only the ideology of a perfect human being.

So my problem as of late seems to be stomaching the notion of a physical list with my name in bright lights. Without going in to the over-intrusive details, it seems I have been confronted with a list of pros and cons. Scrawling down the entire page, scratches on both sides of the wall, the pros sang of my greatness, and the cons gnawed at a much less gracious side of me.

This begs the question: when someone in you life has written down a list of things that are good , and a list of things that are not so good about you, what response, if any, is suitable? 

First and foremost, being a girl has its pitfalls. Night after night, I keep myself awake bouncing back and forth between acceptance and anger. There are moments when I think, how could anyone ever think such unfair thoughts about me and still claim to love me? Then there are moments when I remember that every criticism can be constructive if you make it so. 

To be entirely honest, there were bullet points in the list that were echoes of previous claims. My hyper-organized state of mind often leads me down a road of bossiness and overbearing standards of control. The high standard of logic and rationality instilled in me from an early age often distorts in to sharp cynicism and critical judgment. I have been informed by numerous people, some still very much present in my life, that my teasing nature turns soon sour when I get so swept up in the joke, I forget the human being behind it. These are qualities I should work to amend; these are choices I make based on learned behaviors. They are not engrained irrevocably in my DNA.

Still, there were items on the list I felt were better suited for a different column. A column labeled “things that I wish you were.” These are the things that cause the flashes of momentary resentment. A point on my fear of roller coasters, which is directly linked to my irrational fear of heights and uncontrollable speed.  Often when I was younger, my father would try to rationalize with me, explaining that a rollercoaster would not go any faster than 50-60 MPH, and that when I was in the car, he and my mother drove much faster than that. He said, “you aren’t afraid then, right? So you don’t need to be afraid now.” I tried Space Mountain. It was dark, so I could get through it, no tears. I did not have fun.  I tried the Big Thunder Mountain ride. It was daylight and I began sobbing after the first “minor” drop. I absolutely did not have fun.

So I accept what it is that frightens me. I faced the fears when I did not understand them, but at some point, being an adult means you don’t HAVE to do everything that isn’t fun for you. Just because I don’t want to ride the roller coasters doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to theme parks. It means I get to hold your stuff while you ride the roller coasters. It means I get to have the kind of fun that is fun for me, and you get to have the kind of fun that is fun for you. It means you accept that I am the girl who doesn’t like roller coasters, but will always be willing to try a new sandwich shop. Or will never make you feel guilty for taking a nap in the middle of the day if you’re tired. Or will always proof-read anything you email to her as soon as she gets the email. It means that I don’t like to go camping, but I will talk you through your computer problems.

I think the real issue at hand is that upon seeing a pros and cons list all about Eleanor, my eyes merely skimmed the list of pros. The first few were superficial, nothing that had ever mattered to me in this life or the one before. Compliments on hygiene and fashion sense register at a 0 on a scale of what qualifies a person to be worth her salt. They were countered with cons about my interests, almost to say that I had the wrong interests. Almost to say, you’re pretty, but you don’t like anything good.  So maybe the real problem is that I didn’t give the list the balance it worked so hard to maintain. Like a weighted scale, I hit the ground when my eyes saw the column of negatives. No amount of compliments could undo what was done; it was as if I was looking at a graded paper, skipping over all the questions I got right, my eyes only set for the red ink of what I got wrong. Everyday I wake up and tell myself to be better than the day before. If someone could come up with that many cons about me, was I even succeeding at all?

Maybe it’s just me, but if I had to do it again, I don’t think I’d look at the list. Curiosity killed the cat, and if the cat died of getting his heart broken just a little, then by all accounts I should be dead. I know there are things about me that are bad; selfish tendencies and I am a little bit spoiled. But for better or worse, it is all part of who I am at this very moment in time. It has taken me decades to accept that person, for all the pretty, and all the ugly, but I have. Maybe I owe anyone else the same amount of time to accept me for me. But the argument still stands, would decades of time hoping someone will love you for you be considered a foolish waste of time?

At the end of the day, a girl can only accept a list of pros and cons for exactly what it is: a piece of paper cluttered with someone else’s opinion. The columns remain balanced: the bad opinions weigh just as much as the good ones. If you take one seriously, you must take the other just as seriously.

It is possible that this was the universe’s way of getting me to realize that lists can be used for evil - that my compulsive organized vigilance comes at a price. It could even be that if I decided not to hate birds, I would be a better person. At this moment in time, I don’t think it makes any difference. For now I will try every day to be better, fix what I can, accept what I can’t, and always go to bed knowing that every choice I made was because I wanted to make it.

And I think tomorrow, I’m going to paint my nails orange. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

transcribing snapshots

 It is winter where I am and the wind can knock you off those too expensive stiletto heels that you saw Jennifer Aniston wearing and just had to have. It was crazy to buy them, standing flat footed you are already almost five feet eight inches tall, but everyone keeps whispering about how beautiful tall women are, so you pretend you don’t notice the way you tower over everyone like a professional basketball player in Chinatown. The heels make your legs look longer, anyhow.

It’s frightfully cold out, and while everyone is decorating Christmas trees and making plans to be with family, you are stuck inside a poorly insulated studio apartment staring at a wall of post-it notes. The ability to remain so organized is enviable, but after re-reading the same chapter five times in a row, it becomes more difficult to believe that any of what you have written so far could be considered “good.” Yet, you remind yourself that if Stephanie Meyer could churn out the crap that was the Twilight Saga and people praised her, it stands to reason you could do something decent. Then again, Stephanie Meyer has a degree in English, and you work at a bookstore for a wink above minimum wage.

It cannot be easy, one would venture to guess, to watch your close friends fall in love and get married without thinking you could do it better. So it stands to reason that no matter how much you like those friends, somewhere inside, you like yourself more. Maybe that’s why it feels like you are always drawing the short straw. Maybe your straw isn’t really the short one at all; it’s just not as pretty or smart as the straws you really wanted. Maybe you drew a bendy straw and you have to straighten it out and stretch the crinkled part out a bit to feel like a winner. Maybe this game of drawing straws takes effort. Then again, you are the one that decided to be an artist. It could be you cut your own straw before the game even started.

Its winter where I am and you have no idea what you’re doing. There is no plan; you cannot even decipher which angle to play. You are wide-eyed, confused with not a single definite thought in that pretty little head. You drink coffee in the morning, you carry a laptop with you everywhere. You eat dinner at night, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. You drink too much wine sometimes and say things that are very true. You talk about how none of you know what to do next. Yet somehow, when it’s a “we”, and it’s not “you” and it’s not “them,” it feels okay to not have a clue. Being unmarried doesn’t mean being alone. Being single doesn’t have to be lonely.

It’s frightfully cold out, and the temperature is dropping. Your worries and concerns will never keep you warm. The next move is to simply keep moving. And maybe spend your money on scarves, not stilettos. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rotation Revolution takes on The Economy!

It goes terribly.

For two weeks every year until I graduated college, I was the first one at the mailbox. Why? Birthday mail. Typically my birthday mail started to roll in around my older brother’s birthday, much to his dismay. Fingers crossed for the brightly colored envelopes, filled with the green stuff, crisp ten or twenty dollar bills flattened between a cute “you’re older and we care” birthday card (or between tin foil if you’re my grandfather, who apparently doesn't trust anyone, especially the United States Parcel Service.) And if it wasn’t cash money, it was a check, though to my small "totes-understands-the-true-value-of-money" brain, all a check meant was a longer wait to something useful. Something I could exchange for stuff. Maybe I should have started this out by saying how much I love stuff.

So moving out to California right after my 18thbirthday was scary on many different levels, but mostly I was afraid of losing birthday mail. What if no one gave my relatives my new address and all my birthday mail got lost and someone else ended up with the money I deservedfor surviving another year in this world? I kept myself from dying for 365 days; I earned this! The loss of birthday money was depressing. But the metaphorical kick that came when I was already down was the type of mail that began to arrive on a monthly basis. It was the antithesis of birthday money. It was bills.

These things I had never considered, paying for electricity, for television or the Internet. Paying someone to let me live in an apartment every month – it was shocking. I had to get a job, but that was okay, because I had gotten jobs before. I worked for the theater, and I worked at the pet store. I was good with the concept of jobs. What was unsettling was the idea that money I earned from said jobs would have to pay for these things that were boring. I worked eight hours, just so I could have electricity for one month? Gross.  Eight hours of shelving CD’s should be new shoe money, not the ability to microwave stuff. Not to mention that it took three days of 9 hour shifts to even make enough money to pay for the food I was trying to microwave. Growing up went from exciting to a hassle in 4.8 seconds, flat. Bills were my Aston Martin race to bummer-ville.

The craziest thing about money is just when you think you get it, you don’t. I got the hang of half-assed budgeting. Sure, I held my breath at the end of every month, and maybe that last week before pay day and after I paid my rent was a little lean, but hey, if the checks didn’t bounce, I was good. My father tried to teach me spreadsheets, the advantages to online banking, and I tried to get it, but it was like being 10 years old again with birthday money. Except now birthday money was living on this tiny blue card that was accepted practically everywhere. The problem with card money is that you don’t feel your wallet getting thinner until it’s empty. Suddenly, I had fifteen pairs of converse, and top ramen for dinner.

Essentially, I was making all the wrong compromises.

Throughout college, I was still getting financial support from my parents. They wanted me to focus on my education, which was awesome because working full time and going to school full time was leading me down a very dark road lined with mobsters in pin-striped suits with portable gambling briefcases and illegal booze they snuck out of the speakeasies.  And sure, they sing and say things like, “what’s a pretty dame like you doing in this part of town,” but in dark alleys that sounds less charming than one who watched a lot of flapper musicals would expect. No, I was one of the lucky few in this country whose parents could afford to help, and while I am forever grateful for the advantages I have, I think that’s part of my problem. I didn’t grow up knowing what it was like to just NOT have money. It was cash in my mom’s wallet, my parents cards always being accepted. It was my father always picking up the tab and scolding me for trying to look at the dinner bill. Don’t be rude and give me that, he would say. It turns out, not everyone thinks that’s rude. Unless you look at it, say something like “oh shit, that’s expensive. Glad I’m not paying,” and then hand it to them. That is still considered rude, apparently.

Overall, money was just there, and if I needed something, I got it. New school supplies, new clothes. Dresses for dances, lunch money. “Mom I need twenty bucks,” and after a lot of eye rolling, if I could come up with a good enough reason, I got it. I didn’t have diamond shoes or a pony in my backyard, but I didn’t struggle.

But now it’s almost like I live in a constant state of denial. I go out with friends and try to pick up the tab as much as possible. I live outside my means because I don’t understand the borders OF my means. I’ve been out of college for almost three years now and I’m still holding my breath at the end of the month. Sure, I’m making more money, and not asking for help, but I’m definitely not considering my financial state a successful one.

So you take a girl waiting for birthday money in a state of fiscal denial, and then you throw her into a failing economy, and the universe implodes. I took ONE semester of economics in high school. Translation: I do not actually get the economy. A hypothetical successful economy went right over my head, so needless to say how much I don’t understand the one we have right now. People are losing money, banks are poor. There’s a guy in a suit on Fox that’s always really upset with President Obama, and Jon Stewart is hilarious, but in a way that I know is supposed to be sad.

When it comes to the economy, I’m the girl sitting quietly in the corner of the room, head down, eyes averted, trying to not to call attention to how much she has NO CLUE what everyone is talking about. I’m the kid in class that didn’t do her homework and is praying to all the Gods she’s ever heard of that she doesn’t get called out on it.  I finally stepped out from underneath the protective shield of my father’s intellect, and it turns out the sun is really bright out here in the real world and my sunglasses aren’t polarized.

Last week, Wells Fargo sent out an email that everyone with my particular type of account will now be charged $15 a month just to keep his/her account open. Previous to this email, I was paying zero a month because an automatic transfer of $75 was waiving the fee. Apparently that wasn’t applicable anymore. Apparently something in the economy is different this month, and no one is telling me what. The email went on to inform me that if I had a mortgage with the bank, or a constant balance of $7500 in my checking account, the fee would still be waived.

Translation: If you are poor, you shall be punished.

Remember that Aston Martin that could get me from zero to miserable in 4.8 seconds? It turns out, it can also take a girl from zero to “freaking pissed” in approximately the same amount of time. Bills became “the bank” and then “the man” and I was on a tear. No one could run, no one could hide. Eleanor Angry.

“You mean to tell me,” I said, breath held for as long as my temper was tamed, “that I am supposed to pay you $175 a year, just to keep my money there? That’s <insert non-classy, colorful language here.>”

Then I received a notice that a fee had been taken from my saving account for “Excessive Activity.”

So I asked the age-old trouble-inducing question: Why? Why did the bank deem it fair and necessary to take that money from me? I discovered that apparently, there is a federal law that limits the number of times you can take money from your saving account in a month. Regardless of what you put in it, if you have more than six transactions in a month, they charge you $10.00 as an “excessive use fee.” So the government has decided that there is a limit to the number of times I can move my money from my account to my other account. And if I do it too much, they’re going to take $10 from me.

Thirty dollars was removed from my account before anyone said a damned thing to me.

And that’s what gets me about the bank. They can just TAKE money from you. Like, it’s there, and then it’s gone, and they don’t even ask. I work a job that makes me cry because I hate it so much, but I show up because I understand to an extent that I have to because it’s part of being an adult. Sometimes life makes you cry but you keep going and you push through it because those are the rules. I follow the rules. And the bank takes thirty bucks from me.

And what’s this law even for? What is the purpose for “Regulation D?” Apparently, this law was put in place as part of an anti-terrorism, anti-money laundering counter measure.

Pardon my language but, are you fucking kidding me?

Isn’t there some way to assess the account in question before just taking money from it? Like, hmmm, this client has under $7500 dollars in her account (way under) and seems to just really like coffee. Maybe she isn’t a sleeper cell. Oh look at that, she’s an audio engineer who also gets direct deposit from a well known book store. If she’s laundering money, she’s really bad at it. Maybe we don’t assume she’s in violation of horrendous federal crime and we LEAVE HER THE HELL ALONE.

But no, they needed that thirty bucks to pay off the mortgage on that fourth summer home in Panama he got stuck with in the divorce.

Dear Wells Fargo slash The Man slash The Government,
Thanks for the consideration. I did, at one point, think to launder millions of dollars to off-shore accounts like I saw in that episode of The Mentalist last Thursday, but after you fined me ten dollars for excessive activity, I decided against it. You just saved America, again. I have been successful thwarted, and will no longer be living the life of crime I had once envisioned.
Account #xxxxxxxx288

p.s. I know you didn’t get it, but that was sarcasm. I hate you. You owe me $30. And a keychain.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

This is not a work of fiction. This is how the little vein in my head popped.

I am standing in an aisle. I am stone-faced serious to the populace and I am standing in the middle of the aisle, just waiting. I am waiting for the moment to pass, so I may continue on in this conversation; but see, I have just been asked who the author of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is, and I am not permitted to laugh. I am being paid a breath above minimum wage to not make a snarky comment, roll my eyes and walk away, so I am standing in an aisle, silent, staring at the rows of books in front of me. Forget alphabetizing or shelving, or putting away magazines. I have not made a single noise of mockery; I am earning my wage.

And this is my life. Day in and day out, I see faces, and they tell me they are looking for a book. And minute after minute, hour after hour, I don’t make fun of their plainly obvious statement, for as we all know, they have entered a bookstore. I don’t gesture around the room and respond, “well look away, we have several.” No, I smile, and I ask which book he or she is looking for. I am asked for the book with the green cover. I am asked for the book by that one guy who wrote that other book about travelling to Africa. I am asked if I have read that book. I am asked why we don’t have every single book they’re looking for in the store. And still, I smile.

Okay. Sometimes, I don’t smile.

People are funny. The way we walk around, genuinely assuming that the planet, and all of her minute, little players, revolves solely around our happiness.  And heaven forbid anyone stand in the way of anyone else’s happiness. This is America. We are a “want” society. Therefore, if Average Joe wants an obscure Christian Inspiration book published last in 1984, then Average Joe had better have it in his hot little hands before his parking validation wears off. And if Average Joe doesn’t want to buy anything other than that book we don’t have, then who are we to say that he isn’t allowed to have free parking? This is America. We pay for parking now? We have to actually purchase things to get the “parking validation with purchase” type deal? Bullshit.

I can’t say the variety of the customers that ebb and flow through the doors of our humble bookstore don’t keep things interesting. The parentless children that think the escalator is some sort of carnival ride that they are permitted to climb all over. Because of these rascals inability to learn from other’s mistakes, I have perfected my teacher voice. “Please do not play on the escalator,” she raises her voice, cocks one eyebrow as the children double back to make sure she’s still watching. ‘That’s right,’ she thinks. ‘You’re still visible. I can still see you.’ And yet, where would I be without them? Surely the presence of unsupervised underlings is nothing but job security. If my job were to be a bookselling Mary Poppins. But it turns out, I don’t know CPR, and I hate kids. And if they run out of the store while Mom and Dad are enjoying coffees and reading 17 different magazines in the CafĂ© section, I will not be tried by a jury of my peers. But that’s just another way the world revolves around Average Joe. If he doesn’t want to watch his kids, well, it takes a village, right? I live in the village of Oakland, Joe. That’s like 4 villages over. Find a new babysitter.

But nothing holds a candle to the first-time bookstore visitor. Wide-eyed, awkwardly thumbing through display table items, unsure of what bookstore employees actually look like. But then, she snags one of us, after a few failed attempts with some of the bookstore veterans mulling around. And she asks where the dictionaries are. So I stroll with her, metaphorically handholding, as is our policy, over to the dictionary and reference section, and point them out. And then she looks at me, takes in my appearance and estimated knowledge on the subject of reference guides and asks, “what’s the difference?”

“The difference? With what?”

She picks up a copy of an Oxford dictionary, turning it over and back again, inspecting the outside cover and responds, “between this, and this Webster one?”

I stare at her. And suddenly, it dawns on me, I don’t really know. A dictionary is a dictionary to me. So I ask her to clarify the question. I simply must have missed the point.

“Well, which one has the best words?”

I bite down on my lower lip. Hard. Because now my mind is blank, aside from the fire of a thousand snarky retorts, all of which I am unable to allow escape from my mouth. Which one has better words? It’s a freaking dictionary. It has all the words a regular, average American human is going to need to know to make it in this dog-eat-dog world. But this puppy dog-eyed lady is looking to me, the wise bookseller, to give her life some direction.

“Well, I guess I’d go with Oxford, because it has the word, “muggle” in it.”

Yep. That’s my answer. And the kicker is, she nods along, like I’ve just said something profound. I haven’t. I’ve just made a joke of an answer because there isn’t REALLY an answer to that question.

She stares at the bay of dictionaries, in what I can only assume is thoughtful silence. Running her hands over the volumes, I'm tempted to just silently slip away, despite the fact that her body is still positioned openly towards me, indicating a presumed continuation of our little chat.

"What about this one? Is this one better?" She has now picked up the Collegiate Oxford dictionary. Words are failing me. What about it? Yeah, lady, that's still a dictionary. It's a dictionary with a fancy word in front of it, designed to encourage college students to use it, as to insinuate that it was created specifically for them. Up until now, I didn't understand the purpose of putting the word "collegiate" on there. I do now. It's to confuse people like you. Oxford is trying to be funny. Oxford is trying to break me.

"It's got a better cover."

Time is moving slower now, as I have found myself unwittingly trapped in the reference section with no rescue in sight. It’s like a smoke signal has gone up above my head that says, “dumb conversation happening, steer clear.” So when I think she’s distracted with something else, I start to act upon my emergency exit strategy; Then she calls me over to the thesaurus section.

“What are these?” she plucks out a fifth edition Thesaurus from the top shelf.

“Those are thesauruses,” I respond. Thesauruses? Thesaurusi? Hmm, not sure. I probably should have just made it singular. 'That's a thesaurus.' Oh well. Really don’t think she’ll notice.

“Well, is this better than this?” She is gesturing to the Oxford Dictionary, clutched tightly against her chest.

“Better?" My words are coming out too slowly now. "No. They’re different things.”

“What’s the difference?” Silence. Stone-faced expression. I am not going to laugh. I am not going to cry. I am going to count the books on this shelf until I don't want to punch her. I will be counting for a long time.

“Between a dictionary and a thesaurus? A dictionary has the definition of words, and a thesaurus has synonyms and antonyms,” and let’s rephrase that, “like meaning, and opposite meaning words.”

“Well which one should I get? I need it for college.”

HOLD THE PHONE. I have spent the past fifteen minutes explaining to you which dictionary is best, the apparently subtle differences between a dictionary and thesaurus, and you’re telling me you need to use this for college? Now, back in my day, you had to graduate high school before you got the thumbs up for college. And I know I can’t tell you all that crap about compounds and solutions and I never quite got the hang of that “two trains are headed towards each other at different speeds” question, but by God, I could tell you the difference between these two ENTIRELY SEPARATE reference materials.

But I am a professional. And I am getting paid to not say all these things. I am earning my money, painfully, self-loathingly, minute by minute. So I take the thesaurus from her hand, I smile reassuringly, and push the Oxford dictionary towards her.

“This is what you need. Trust me.”

And now, before my brain explodes and blood starts to leak out of my ears, I walk away.

This is my life.

And if anything cuts it short, this is how I will die.

Counting dictionaries.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Days in the Tower

Years ago, my hair was blue-black.

Don’t believe me? Look.

Let's move on now.

I’m not quite sure what happened. It was a period in my life that is a befuddled blur upon hindsight, like I'd been dosed with Rohypnol steadily and then hypnotized for 12 months. It was societal anaphylactic shock. Growing up in suburban Spring, Texas, where the most "culture" our town got was the grand opening of the new P. F. Changs in the fancy strip mall, the move from suburbia to the urban sprawl of the California Bay Area was distressing. Keep in mind, this was the same period of time when I felt it was necessary to have both a Facebook AND a MySpace.  It seems there were a lot of things working against the coherent thought process.

So I rebelled against everything and went desperately searching for the exact way to express my frustrations. I dyed my hair black. I pierced my eyebrow and then my lip, and I dressed in grungy black clothes. I plastered my college apartment walls with Anti-Flag, Bad Religion and Green Day posters and allowed my musical preferences to explain what exactly my deal was. And then I did the only other thing I could possibly do to solidify my new identity: I got a job at a record store.

Somewhere deep down inside, each of us has built an image of him or herself based on that first job. Everyone has that job, the one we get for any number of reasons, but it somehow defines who we are in that pivotal time of our lives. Everything revolved around that job. Not just my schedule and the way I dressed, the people I hung out with or the stuff I knew; no, more significantly than any of that, my job at Tower Records gave me the identity I was longing for after being uprooted from everything I believed to have understood. I was air dropped in the middle of a foreign environment, engulfed entirely in the “my work is my self” mindset so loved by these California city folk and so I did the only thing I could think to do: I dyed my hair. I dyed my hair, swallowed my anxiety, learned everything I needed to know about Bay Area rap music, and dived right in. Because when it’s sink or swim, I guess I figured if you look like a piranha, and talked like a piranha, then maybe the other piranha wouldn't pick your scales off one-by-one and then gut you. Maybe you'd just get to swim along with them. Maybe somehow you'd BECOME a piranha, too.

Before we get too far into this, let me be clear: I loved my job. I would still be gainfully employed by Tower, were it not for the failing music industry and short-sighted business strategy of its forefathers. I could wear whatever, I could say whatever, and at the end of the night, I would spent hours just hanging out with my co-workers voluntarily. We harassed each other over the loudspeaker, and I had perfected my countout sheet signature to a T. Everyone knew who’s indecipherable scribbled initials were who’s, and if you messed up, you’d hear about it right away. None of this corporate HR paperwork crap. If you didn’t do your job, Cristian would wake you up at 8 AM the next morning, scolding you in broken English and a smattering of Romanian swear words. That’s just how it was.

So I became the girl at the record store with the black hair and the sullen attitude. I learned how to make annoyed faces while sounding perfectly polite over the phone with customer’s asking for the new song “that they heard on the radio.” I learned how to play the “guess what song I just heard on the radio” game, and I even won a surprising number of times. I figured out a way to openly resent people to their faces without making them mad, and I finally understood just what it feels like when a complete stranger calls you a bitch in the middle of a crowded store. It feels a lot like losing the“have you heard that new song they’re playing on the radio?” game.

Life at Tower brought a lot of firsts. The first time I ever got asked out at work, therefore allowing me to mark “meet a boy at a record store” off from my bucketlist. I don’t remember his name, but he drove a white Acura Integra. And he was really tall. And something about San Diego. He either lived there, or knew a lot about it or something. Whatever. It didn’t last long. Story of my life, anyone? 

Tower Records was my first key holding job. Four or five months after I started, I got promoted to a supervisor position, and they gave me keys to the whole store.

Fun Fact: It takes approximately 2.5 seconds after receiving keys to a business for that kind of power to go right to a 19 year-old’s head.

Finally, I had power. I had authority. I could authorize returns and I could be left alone in the store. I mean, I was on my way to the top; I had keys for crying out loud! But with a moderate amount of power, comes some form of responsibility, and suddenly I was being held accountable for stuff I didn’t care about. My sweet job at the record store where I could talk about music and flirt with my blue-haired coworker, who’s name shall be withheld due to the intense embarrassment I feel for my inexplicable adoration of his punk ass, had turned into a real job.

And let’s not forget that while I was living the "High Fidelity" lifestyle at Tower as a full time shift supervisor, I was also a full time student down the street at Ex’pression College. I would get up at seven in the morning to be at school by nine, and then leave school by noon to work from noon to eight; then I would rush out to get back to school for a lab that lasted until midnight. And I would do this three times a week. In retrospect, I can see where people get off calling me a work-a-holic, but I still have no idea how I survived. Though if anyone is looking for a jumping off point to my addiction to redbull, I’d say that’s a safe bet. Redbull and cigarettes became a meal. It was an exhausting time. It was an unhealthy time. It was a regular Charles Dickens spinoff.

And the whole time I thought I was living the California dream.

And yet, this fairytale I convinced myself I was living has a tragic ending. Tower Records announced it was filing for bankruptcy in November of 2006, and my store was closed by Christmas. I remember the last night, standing in the empty aisles, staring down the rows and rows of vacant CD bays, and it was all so heartbreaking. The chapter of my life that was entirely mine, full of careless mistakes and personal triumphs was being ended before I was ready. It was a family, granted it was one brought together by a crooked manager to had been arrested in the middle of the store some time in April for grand theft totaling over $25,000, but whatever. Details, details. It was with the most sincere sorrow that we all parted ways. No more Ticketmaster calls. No more new release Tuesdays. No more “supervisor meetings” in the art room, which really just turned into a game of “hide from the clerks and do as little work as possible.” You know, I might know another reason the company failed.

So without a record store, it became increasingly difficult to be the record store girl. The piercings came out. It took four years, but my hair is no longer black. My Anti-Flag hoodie that I coveted so much during that time got one too many holes in it and finally hit the trash can. I turned 22 and realized that who I was as a person did not have to be inextricably tied to what I did for a living. I graduated college; I fell in love. I fell out of love and I left California. I finally accepted my deep-seated love for musicals and cheesy pop music, and I figured out that I could listen to both Katy Perry and Rancid without the universe imploding.

But even now, so many years later, after moving away and moving back, I still drive by the old Tower Records building in Emeryville and see those red-framed double doors and all of it rushes right back. The feeling of sweeping in through the glass doors, sunglasses on and stone expression. Punching in the code to the back room and the faces that would greet me. And then without fail, Rob would ask, "Oh Eleanor, what's upsetting you today?" 

And I was home. 

So now I have red hair.


Got it? Okay.

And honestly, I have no idea if these two girls would get along. Blue hair might find Red hair obnoxious for having too much product in her hair and too much Lady GaGa on her iPod. Red hair would absolutely recognize the sheer desperation that blue hair was hiding just behind all that black eye shadow, desperation to fit in while simultaneously standing out. Blue hair wouldn't be caught dead in a dress, and red hair hasn't worn a t-shirt in almost a year. But at least they could see eye to eye on one thing: 

On-sale mornings for Ticketmaster really suck. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eleanor V. Physical Fitness, Part [a billion].

I’ve always had issues with exercise. Back when I was a kid, I played too many sports to really worry about it. My borderline obsessive-compulsive addiction to competition heavily outweighed my inclination towards sitting around eating double stuffed Oreos. And by heavily outweighed, I mean, I still did it, I just had to wait until after volleyball camp.

However, and I think I’m entirely entitled to do so, I’m inclined to place blame on the seductive lure of theatrical arts as it pertains to my physical fitness downfall. What 15-year-old kid wouldn’t choose the life of a drama kid over the 4:30 AM wake up call for JV basketball practice? As romantic and enticing as it sounds, the act of choking down a complete, balanced meal at 5 AM under the direction of a sadistic coach 30 minutes prior to being forced to run lines until you vomit said meal back up, it’s really not awesome.  And yet, even with all the perks of a theatrical life, my physical condition dwindled. And yes, “dwindled” is just a nice way of saying, “I got fat.”

And it’s at some point around the age of 17, this girl wakes up to realize, holy smokes. I’m fat, and my depression is a direct result of being fat. If I had only been a little more masochistic, I could have avoided this unpleasantness. But hindsight is 20/20, the grass is greener on the other side, second mouse gets the cheese, whatever. The point was I needed to get back into a shape that was a little less round. And that has been a daily battle ever since.

First I tried the gym. Let’s speak only a moment of the hell that is “the gym.” There are two types of people that go to the gym. There is the ridiculously fit woman, with her Britney Spears “Baby One More Time” abs and non-moving massive chesticles, who is running for probably close to 4 hours on the treadmill with a speed that far out-rolls my 5.5 average speed. And she’s always smiling.  SMILING. She’s happy to be only kind of sweating and running, with her boobies sticking so far out in front of her that somehow, defying any kind of physical explanation, they keep bumping into the Stairmaster in the row in front of her. And I just want to punch her perfectly made up smiling face for beating me to the perfect ab condition, and being so happy in place that makes me so miserable. And then I want to shove hamburgers and snickerdoodles in her face until she cries. So she can know suffering as I have.

Then there’s the horribly sweaty, disgusting large man on the recumbent bike in front of me. I don’t care where I am, what machine I’m on, I could be in the free weight zone and he’d move that stupid bike to right in front of my eye line and make me see him, and smell him and his 1.5 speed with zero resistance fake bike ride. Flashes of high school basketball practice start to resurface. That moment you’re on your eleventh set of lines, and something for just a brief second starts to smell a little bit like eggs and BAM, I’m looking at a trashcan and wanting to die. People have two smells at the gym: vomit-inducing or the popular ‘I just bathed in cologne’ smell, which can also be vomit-inducing. I don’t know about anyone else, but my entire goal is to smell like NOTHING. I go to the gym, I wear the deodorizing kind of deodorant, and that’s it. You know why? Because when I’m at the gym, I don’t really want anyone to see me. I don’t want to be seen or smelled or touched. I want to get my two hours of self-loathing physical abuse out of the way and I want to go home and shower. That’s it. And I think the gym would be a better, happier place if everyone else would adopt this goal. An entire room full of people minding their own business, smelling like nothing, and averting their eyes? That’s the dream.

I’ve tried other means of exercise. Let’s be honest, I’m broke and can’t really afford the gym as it is. So I thought I’d give “running the lake” a shot. I thought, that looks like it’s fulfilling. All those people, jogging in adorable track suits with their iPods and designer running shoes. I have an iPod! I can buy shoes! I can totally do that.

And then I tried.

And about four minutes after I started, I realized one true thing: I am not a “run at the lake” kind of girl.

That shit is HARD. All those people you see running the lake? Forget those people. I don’t know where this energy comes from, and how they are thinking ANYTHING that’s not, “oh God this sucks. How much longer? How has it only been half of a glee song? Why did I think I could do this? I’m a failure at everything, ever. I’m getting a cramp. Gotta walk it off. Can’t stop. Shouldn’t stop. I’m a survivor. No I’m not. Fuck it, I’m gonna walk the next three miles. Then I want a beer.”

Needless to say, that didn’t last.

So I thought about getting a bike. That looks like an appropriate amount of work. But every time I look at bikes for sale, I think, man, everyone that I hate rides a stupid bike. Can I really bring myself to be one of those people? I would be a bike rider. And you know buying a bike for exercise is just a gateway to becoming a full on cyclist. Because you think, man, it’s such a nice day, I think I’ll bike to the post office today. And then it’s the bank. And then it’s the grocery store and you’re buying cargo-carrying accessories for your exercise bike. And suddenly you’ve got one pant leg rolled up on your way to work, yelling at cars who cut into the bike lane too early without looking and suddenly, you’re THAT person.

No, it seems that if I were to purchase a bike for any reason, it would ultimately result in an entire psychiatric break that involved a public denouncement of said bicycle, abandoning it in a gutter and throwing my helmet at some other oncoming cyclist, with a false accusation of his involvement in the deterioration of my dignity. And that just sounds like a mess.

So if the gym is out, and I’m not a runner, and I can’t get a bike for personal integrity reasons, what’s left? I thought about rollerblades, but those really only make sense if you live in the suburbs of Spring, Texas, where roads are actually paved, and there’s a roller-rink right around the corner from the local Jewish Community Center that your best friend has to attend every Saturday, which is weird cause in school they said being Jewish was a religious thing and everyone knows religious stuff is for Sunday, on account of that’s what the Pope said. And I keep seeing ads for “creative exercise” which is like those acrobat and trapeze classes you can take at gymnastic places, but my irreversible fear of heights, falling and dying seem to put a damper on that possibility.

So I’ve got three hundred dollars worth of track suits and overpriced running shoes and no where to go, aside from a ‘no-costume-necessary’ walk on role as Sue Sylvester’s college intern on a rather odd episode of Glee. I could vow to eat better, but the minute disaster strikes it’s me, some yoga pants, a Law & Order marathon and a bag of kettle korn as my only confidant. Counting calories only works if you count ALL the calories, and not the ones that “don’t count,” like morning coffee, or any food that’s free. If I didn’t pay for it fiscally, I shouldn’t have to pay for it calorically either.

So I’ll just take up residence between this rock, and that hard place, and hope that my California lifestyle warrants enough accidental exercise to keep me from getting stuck in between the two.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Retail Wars [COMPACTED]

There is a rumor going around that people can change. I don’t buy into this. I think habits can be altered, I believe that people grow up, but the innate characteristics that define an individual have always been, and will always be imbedded deeply in each decision they make, invariably.

My older brother will always try to fix things rather than buy new ones. He will also always take something entirely apart, regardless of whether or not he is confident he knows how to put it back together. My mother will always strike up personal conversations with strangers, even if we’re in a hurry. She can’t help it. Consequentially, falling under the category of a learned behavior, now I can’t either.  

And I, no matter what the device or circumstance in which I have been put into contact with it, will never be able to successfully operate heavy machinery.

In eighth grade, everyone in my year was required to take an aptitude test. When we got our results back, mine was heavily in favor of a creative career path. Music and arts, maybe technology. So if ‘successful’ can be defined by how on par I am with that write up, then my hours logged on the internet should deem me the most successful 23 year old to ever have lived. However, the most interesting part of my test results was in bold print, down at the very bottom of the page.

Due to remarkably low scores in the spatial relations portion, this candidate should not pursue the operation of heavy machinery.

Now, I was inclined to roll my eyes and remark the ridiculousness behind the notion of unfolding hole-punched pieces of paper in my mind as an end-all answer to my ability to judge relative distance. And yet, I am who I am. Constantly slamming my hands into tables and counters, racking my knee on the edge of the footboard and taking turns around corners too sharply, resulting in a collision of shoulder and doorframe.

Then there was the time I crashed my uncle’s motorcycle into my other uncle’s house.

What I’m trying to say is, the signs are there. The test put it in bold print. If a girl can’t imagine where the stupid holes are in the folded square of paper when you unfold it, she should not be your go-to with something that could crush an Excursion into a tiny little Wall-E sized square.

So when the receiving manager sends me out with a trash bin full of cardboard to the trash compactor, maybe I should have reminded myself about that blurb at the bottom of my aptitude results. But I didn’t.

Maybe I should have prefaced the assignment with, “I’ve never used a trash compactor before.” But I didn’t.

And maybe I should have considered my uncanny ability to break large objects by simply being exactly who I am. But I didn’t.

Rather, I wanted to be the confident, capable employee I worked so hard to pretend to be during the interview process. And in my defense, I never actually lied. He never asked if I was comfortable with this task, nor did he inquire about my previous experience with compacting things. To this day, I don’t think he would have cared. No, assigning a trash run to the new girl simply meant that he wasn’t going to have to go outside in the cold and do it.

It took me about 10 minutes to navigate my way through the service halls of the shopping complex. Being an “authorized personnel,” which doesn’t mean much more than ‘walks with disgruntled intent’, doesn’t automatically give you a sense of direction. And the halls look the same. Really long, cold, and a perfect place to get murdered. Had it not been 10 in the morning, I probably would have assumed homicide to be inevitable.

But after I ran the trash bin into a parked UPS truck for the second time in the loading zone, because on top of my stellar sense of direction, I’m a great full trash can driver, I finally found a really big machine with a door that said “COMPACTOR.” Now, I might not have scored off the charts on the logic part of the aptitude test either, but I could deduce this much. Chalk to up to a life skill. Stuff that says “compactor” probably compacts stuff. It’s like “toaster.Or mircrowave…er. Okay, that one doesn’t work.

So here I am. And I’m a girl, so I read the instructions on the door. The door that was broken and wouldn’t stay shut, which made following number 7, the rule that textually yelled, MAKE SURE DOOR IS COMPLETELY CLOSED TO PREVENT BODILY HARM, very difficult.

The device had four buttons. A green one that said “forward.” A red one that said “reverse.” A bigger red one that said “Emergency Stop” and a black one that had its label rubbed off. I made a mental note that if the machine started to smoke, I’d just throw caution to the wind and hit the black one. Maybe what it used to say was “anti catch-fire setting.” However, the implied usage of this feature was just one more thing to make me very uncomfortable.

So I open the door and start throwing cardboard in. Fifty plus boxes later, the free space in the compactor is full, and it’s button-pushing time. I go with green.  It starts up, I take several steps back, my arms glued to my sides, and a little bit I’m holding my breath. Everything is going okay, until the machine starts making this vibrating, grinding sound. And then the boxes that had been progressing forward, began to move in the opposite direction.

Holy crap.

My heart is currently residing in my throat, as I look around to see if anyone else is around to notice this sound. I figured if they were, but didn’t think anything of it, then I was all good. It doesn’t sound like a good sound, and then again, I’m instantly reminded that I have no freaking clue what it sounds like when trash is being compacted correctly. The boxes are moving in the wrong direction, this I’m sure. So I panic and hit the bigger red button, all the while saying, “EMERGENCY STOP!” to myself. The machine stops. Thank God at least that one was labeled.

At this point I am just staring at the machine. I still have half a trash can of boxes left, and I can’t just go back with them and be like, “Eh, changed my mind!” But now visions of a broken trash compactor are dancing through my brain, and I’m weighing my options.

I could ditch the remaining cardboard in the big dumpster and walk away. I could pretend I was never there. I could let the next low-level employee think she or he broke it. There’s no way I’d get caught.

Except that all the boxes on top of the freshly broken shopping complex trash compactor are all labeled with my company’s name.


That idea is out. So okay, now I just have to fix it. I’m handy. I fixed the squeak in my office chair the other day. I fixed my friends computer. I can fix…a trash compactor. Oh wait. No. No I can’t. I don’t even know what the black button really does.

Maybe the black button is the “fix trash compactor” button.

All this time I’m just standing in front of the door to the compactor, staring at the traitorous boxes. “Why can’t you just work? Why me? Why do you have to break on me?” Yes, I’m trying to evoke sympathy from the machine. And I’m getting nothing.

At this point, I have to just make a decision. Do I go back, admit defeat and get fired? Do I call mall maintenance and try to get it fixed without my boss knowing? Does my big brother know how to fix a trash compactor? Cause I could call him. Finally I just hit the green button again. Because what are the chances that I’ve really broken this machine? Honestly. Like 50-50. So I am really holding my breath this time, and the machine is still making the grinding sound and the boxes are still moving in reverse, but maybe that’s just how trash compacts? I have no idea either way. It looks wrong, but then again, anything outside of a computer screen looks weird to me.

And then, all the boxes fall to the bottom of the compactor and there’s room. And the machine shuts itself off. No black button necessary. So I take a few hesitant steps up and peek over the edge of the door. It seems there’s a big blocky thing that pushes forward all the boxes, and the ones that don’t fit accordion upwards as the blocky thing retreats. And then you put more boxes in, and it does the whole thing again. Forward, then reverse. Blocky thing. I now understand the trash compactor. It’s a Christmas miracle.

So I throw the rest of the boxes in there, and since they didn’t fill up the open space, I just left them. Because I know better than to push my luck. And I know better than to push any more buttons.

And now I just do my best to never be around when it’s time for a trash run.

And also, it smells really bad over there. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life Lessons (One Hundred.)

The beloved coming-of-age teen dramas of my youth have led me horribly, horribly astray.

I never thought I’d be such an optimistically confused 20-something, and yet, here I am. According to the aforementioned films, the hardest part about growing up is supposed to be finding a passion; after that, everything else is to simply fall into place. And I believed this until recently, because recently, gaping cracks and considerable holes have been steadily appearing in this hypothesis. Spreading cracks, like maybe the thing I love to do isn’t the only thing I can be doing. Cavernous holes, like maybe the direction I’ve been heading wasn’t meant to be the only direction I traveled. It seems the more I unwillingly stare at these cracks and holes in the foundation of my life, the bigger they get, allowing equal parts of opportunity and chaos to seep in to my state of mind.

As a junior in high school, working as the lead sound technician for our theater, I had an epiphany about what I wanted my future to look like. Sitting at the top of the theater, in the sound booth, working as a sound engineer, I was sure I could love what I was doing for the rest of my life. It seems silly now, but at 16 years old, every decision presented itself as not only cut and dry, but finite. The plan was to be a recording engineer, to sit in major label studios with big name musicians, helping to take their raw material and creative vision, and turn it into award-winning, revolutionary albums. From my earliest memory, I have always known what I wanted. I made the plan, outlined it thoroughly with the bullet point hierarchy down to the lowercased roman numerals, and then executed it with fanatical precision.
Diving in with blind enthusiasm, I raced across the country to college to start an entirely new life, with nothing to fall back on but my own firm resolve. After three years of full-time jobs and full-time course schedules, resulting in part-time sleep and freelance concerns for my health, I strode across a stage in ceremonial attire and triumphantly moved my 2008 tassel from left to right. This was part of the plan. However unfortunate, the failing economy and dwindling job market was not. In my ambitious, optimistic eight-step road map, I never considered that I would enter the industry at a time when those major studios were being served eviction notices, nor did I consider that I would enter the industry as those big name musicians were beginning to record in home studios on computers. Most certainly, my magic eight ball neglected to tell me that I would enter the industry just as the top engineers and producers were freelancing anything and everything just to keep their own careers afloat.

Regardless, I had a plan, a plan on which I was determined to follow through. With two completed internships, both resulting in glowing recommendations, as well as a smattering of freelance and independent contracting jobs, I was making progress. However, the more I sat in front of a computer, editing dialog for commercials or restructuring file management systems for studios, mastering the quick keys for “find” and “new folder” on both Macintosh and Windows systems, an invaluable skill, I might add, the less creatively satisfied I felt.

I refused to accept defeat. I refused to admit that I might have been wrong, that the career I had been so sure of for so long might not be the perfect one for me. I powered through, knowing the minute I showed any signs of dissatisfaction with my professional life, I was allowing the words “Eleanor” and “failure” to become disturbingly synonymous. But the mounting artistic frustration inside of me leaked out in various ways, the most prevalent being an online blog. This blog became a lifeline, a haven for my floundering ambition, and with each new post, it became apparent that I was optimistically confused.

I never thought I’d be the girl that had to start over. The daunting task of figuring out what makes me happy, finding my path and pursuing it was supposed to be done and over with as soon as I got to my freshman orientation. But here I am in my early twenties, still making discoveries and coming to the realization that my fullest potential might be down a road I had previously overlooked. My whole life up to this point had structure; it had direction. Graduate high school, go to college, pick a major, and then get a job in that field. That was my father’s life; that is my older brother’s life. I was surrounded by a system, a working, logical system, so of course I had to get it all backwards. Chalk it up to middle-child syndrome; I guess I just had to be different.

So being different landed me on a bench in front of a Barnes and Noble, filling out a standard, faceless corporate job application, head in my hands crying, because I was twenty-three with absolutely zero applicable skills. Overqualified to work in retail, under-qualified for any kind of management position, however most certainly qualified to shop in the self-help and psychology section. I was crying because reality continued to e-mail me, obnoxiously reminding me that he’s not going anywhere, no matter what identity crisis comes calling. In spite of it all, I was still going to owe Pacific Gas & Electric $29.85.

Now I’ve reached a crossroad I didn’t expect to encounter so quickly. It’s a frightening notion, to consider throwing away three years of rigorous training and experience, but even more so to think of spending another two, or three, or even ten years chasing down an entirely different career. Sitting in that sound booth some eight years ago, I never dreamed I’d be shopping around fill-in-the-blank job applications in retail outlets, attempting to tailor my coveted information-based skills and qualifications simply to justify a lackluster desire to sell hardback books and half-priced calendars to American consumers.

The line between being a responsible, logical adult and following a passion seems to grow, simultaneously, blurrier and more distinct the closer I get to it; as if it’s only something I can see best out of the corner of my eye. When one path leads to a place you’re not particularly excited about, and the other leads to a place you aren’t even sure exists, and there’s a “no loitering” sign right in the middle of the two, what is the mature decision? At what point does pursuing a practical course of action become ridiculous? And conversely, at what point does pursuing one’s passion become the practical course of action? It appears there are steps, invisible steps, to which, even while I plotted my course, I was not privy.

What I want to do, and the person I want to be, have always been inextricably linked in my mind. Learning to look at myself as a complete person, rather than the partial image my resume presents, has been a challenge, to say the least, and one I take on daily. As far as what I’ve learned, well, that’s just life. Sometimes, it follows the bullet points, and then sometimes, it makes you cry in public. I never thought I’d be a person who changed her mind, but then again, I also never thought I’d be a redhead again. Apparently, things can change.