Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Worst/Best Job Ever

For one sparkling, muggy, Northern Virginia summer I had a cushy summer job. The summer did not start out this way. I began by working at my local Target where my starting pay was 50 cents less than my younger sister (with no job experience) at CVS. Managers, that had the mental capacities of chimpanzees, told me to “straighten up my lane” or other such bullshit things that made it appear like I was doing work. One day when the store opened I brought along a book to read during down time. There was a ton of down time in Target at 9am on a Tuesday. But, alas I was scolded for reading when there was no one in the store and that I “should get back to work.” This was pretty much the last straw.
The following week, still working at Target, I had gotten another job working for the homeowners’ association in my town. This association picks up trash from dumpsters at public pool, does minor construction on pathways, cleans tennis courts, and cuts grass along medians and streets. Before starting at this new job full time I needed to muster up the courage to quit Target. This courage came in the form of a phone call from my best friend Dan. Dan called asking me to go with him to see the third installment of the American Pie trilogy. Now, I loved American Pie as much as the next sexually awkward teenager, but quitting my job to go see the third seemed to be asking a bit much.
On the other hand, Dan is very persuasive. All he had to do to convince me of going was to offer me a free ticket and some candy. Yes, I will quit any job for a movie so long as you pay for me and buy me Sour Patch Kids at the theatre.
My job at Reston Association (RA) started out consisting of me being at work by 7:30am (which I despised) and taking “orders” from a crack-pot middle-aged gentleman that didn’t like hearing he was wrong and doing minor/light construction around town. Most of what we did on a day-to-day basis was “backfilling.” This basically meant shoveling dirt from a dump truck next to a pre-existing path so that grass could grow closer to the path and there would be less chances of sprained ankles from possibly falling of the paths. This job sucked. I became very well adept at shoveling, mixing cement, driving large trucks with larger blind spots, and digging holes for posts. Work could only get easier. Thankfully it did when one of my best friends (working in a different “department”) had a run-in with a large yellow cement post at the drive-thru of Taco Bell. He left a large dent in the driver’s side rear quarter panel and was not allowed to drive the rest of the summer. He and I switched jobs, which he had been raving about the whole summer.
This new job was the zenith of any summer job I will or ever had. I was responsible for cleaning and sweeping our two sets of pseudo-clay tennis courts in town. I got to ride these cool tractors with brooms attached to their backs and blow leaves. The catch came in the fact that my new boss was very trusting and good-natured. I would get to work around the same time, tell him what I planned to do and went on my merry way. I cleaned both sets of courts, that took about 90 minutes, and I then proceeded to go back to my house. At my house I lied down on my couch and watched some early morning news and eventually fell asleep from around 9:30 till about lunchtime. My mom would come home from her part-time job and ask if I was supposed to be working, and I explained that I was “working.” I’d eat lunch with my mom, and then hop back into the company truck and drive around for the remainder of the day listening to the radio. All this while getting paid a hefty $9/hr. for doing not a whole lot.

Super Bowl XL

This past Sunday Super Bowl XL took place in Detroit between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Overall, the game sucked. There was one great play by the Steelers that led to the final score of 21-10 and the Steelers’ victory. I should have been able to predict this outcome more readily. My high school mascot was the Seahawk too, and we never won any important game. Our guys’ basketball team made it to the Virginia State Finals two of my four years in school, and lost both times in overtime. The mascot of a Seahawk was doomed from the beginning.
In my apartment there was a loud Super Bowl party happening without me. My roommate invited over numerous people to partake in mountains of pizza, buffalo wings, chips, dip, and brownies. Again, I should not have been surprised by the overwhelming amount of food. My roommate has no clue about how much food is sufficient for a human being to eat in one sitting, or one week for that matter. This is the same roommate that had never been grocery shopping for actual sustaining food prior to his senior year in college. So, I guess it was only natural that one would think that eight people could consume eight pizzas. The company was not the offensive line of a football team. On the contrary, the company was made up of a few skinny guys and some girls that would have rather had granola than pizza.
It is a shame that I could not fully enjoy the game in the same gluttonous manner. Unfortunately, I had to complete massive amounts of schoolwork. I was left to sit in front of a non-HDTV with my laptop blocking half of the screen writing an essay. I kept thinking I might miss something great in the game or a hysterical commercial, but alas the entire experience was lackluster. The commercials were not that funny, nor worth millions of dollars. The game was sloppy with turnover after turnover. And the Rolling Stones looked like they would disintegrate if push came to shove.
The halftime show featuring the Rolling Stones was such a joke. It was like watching the Rolling Stones do really bad karaoke of their own songs. I am usually a proponent of musicians changing their songs during a live show to demonstrate they actually have talent, but in the case of the Rolling Stones they sounded old (because they are), tired (because they probably were), and incredibly flat. In any case, I would have much preferred to see a terrible American Idol winner lip-sync a shitty pop song than one of the greatest rock ‘n roll bands butcher their own.
I was not even sad this year that I missed the seemingly endless pre-game analysis. Over the past few years these pre-game shows have become more and more absurd. They feel the need to beat a subject to a pulp, grind the pulp in a blender, pour it into a destroyed paper cup and then talk about how they have beaten said subject into such a mutilated pulp. This stuff gets old pretty quick. The NFL made this gerrymandering process even worse a few years ago when they decided that there should be two weeks before the Super Bowl instead of the usual single week. The playoffs are going along at a nice steady pace and then right before the climax they say, “nope, sorry, one more week” and drag it out.

Out of Class

At home in my family’s not-so vast VHS collection rests proof that I sang before President Bush. The first “shrub,” not the current weed. This came about when I was in first grade minding my own arithmetic exercises. The headmaster of my private Jewish Day School requested my presence in the hallway. Everyone in the class “oooohed” and “aaaaahed” as they thought I was in some “deep trouble.” I rose from my desk and entered the hallway with trepidation. Once in the hallway, Rabbi Taff and I walked to his office. If I remember correctly there were a couple other kids waiting there already. Most of these other kids were older and not at all familiar except for a couple boys that were better than me at dodge ball. By the 6th grade I was generally considered the best dodgeballer in the school. I also was the clean-up kicker for any kickball game. My prepubescent athletic career aside, Rabbi Taff would go on to explain that our small Northern Virginia school had been asked to sing in the building adjacent to the White House for Chanukah. I had been chosen for this makeshift choir that turned out to be quite an honor.
This opportunity did not really have an impact on me in first grade. I thought it was cooler that I was selected and not any other kids from my class, than the whole concept of being a few feet from the President. Performing for the President was much lower on my list. I do not recall if my parents were there to see it happen. My mom probably was, but since my dad was still in the Navy, and working at the Pentagon, he was probably not around.
Our little choir was driven into Washington, D.C. by parents and were escorted to where we would perform. The whole performance did not last much longer than 5-10 minutes. We sang typical Chanukah songs that have since been made fun of by the likes of SNL and others. When the songs were over the President came over to us and congratulated the group. He seemed genuinely impressed.
The VHS tape sits in a plain black box adorned with a label printed on a dot-matrix. These details alone tell the age of this childhood experience. I once took the tape out to re-live my first grade glory only to find that it was just weird to see myself at a single digit age without a care in the world. It’s funny to think that at my tender age there was greater glory in being a kick-ass dodgeball player than being called out of class to sing for, and meet the President. Looking back, it was one of the cooler things that I got to experience during my formative years. I do not think I could have possibly grasped the uniqueness at such a young age. Today, I would not like to meet our current President for fear of bringing a red rubber ball and pegging it at “W” and yelling, “You’re OUT!”

Monday, February 06, 2006

Secure? Sure, I guess. Cordial? Not so much.

This is an editorial for the F&M College Reporter Newspaper.

During my four years here I think I have met two nice security guards. The first one was a girl that helped me jumpstart my car. She told me she was new to the force, and perhaps the novelty of the job still outweighed the inevitable cynicism that eventually consumes the majority of F&M security guards ergo her still congenial attitude. And the second was a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. So, the routine male pleasantries were exchanged: “Hey, how’s it going,” “yo, pretty good.” Those have been my nice encounters. The rest of my meetings have been quite lackluster.
There are the numerous safety seminars attended while living on campus. All of which are delivered by someone with little sense of humor and condescended to F&M students as if they were a bunch of 11 year olds. Telling us not to play with fire, guns or alcohol with a firm finger wag and empty threats. There are the times I’ve been locked out of somewhere and talk to the dispatcher who sounds totally unconcerned during any instance and does not bother to tell you how long you may be waiting in the cold outside. The officer that is the Key Master shows up 25 minutes later and makes some quip like, “been waiting here long?” and then immediately asks to see your ID. The same ID that is of course either locked inside where you’re trying to get to, or back in your dorm because you didn’t think it would help to study. But obviously you should have it tattooed to your forehead because you should never be without it.
Next time when they finally get there with the Master Key Ring of Life tell them there is a test to see how quickly they can find the correct key. There are so many keys that it’s a wonder any building is secure or open when you need it to be. Every lock should have a fob. Then they could just have a master fob. DINK. Boom, you’re in no matter what. If not, jimmy a window, prop a door, or get a ladder.
There are the other times where you are simply trying to figure out where the hell B12 is and courteously ask a near by security guard, and still the condescension is overwhelming. WTF Mate? I just don’t get it. For some reason the cliché “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” comes to mind. My run-ins shouldn’t be “run-ins” they should be “cordial meetings” or “friendly encounters.” These allegations may be harsh, but I have heard worse. Mind you there are times where bad kids are treated in ways that they deserve. Drunks that run their mouths or do something else dumb are just asking for more problems.
The new “squad cars” are also a riot. The Non-police cars are much better for Lancaster than the mini SUVs. The rationale behind these must have been “we can fit more drunk college kids in the back seat and in the trunk with these bad boys.” The intimidation factor is also a plus. At night, the only difference is the fact that nothing on the car is reflective lettering and cannot (I don’t think) pull you over for going 33 in a 25.
I recently had to do something as simple as check out a key at the security office. I went in and politely asked to check out the needed key. The officer asked me to repeat where the key was for, and I said it more clearly. It seemed like he took some offense to my enunciation, and I handed him my ID. As I was looking down at the huge binder sign-out book I asked what was the number to the key. He replied with hubris, “it’s written on the key, isn’t it?” I didn’t think I warranted such tone. Had I been looking up and seen the key of course I could have figured it out. But, it was a simple question with a patronizing answer. Am I being nitpicky? Maybe a little bit. But, everyone has had innumerable experiences where you feel like you ask something that may be obvious to the opposing person and in return get a non-answer answer in return.
Many new safety measures have been put in place over the few years that have made the College safer. I question however, the recruiting and interview process that goes into selecting who have been protecting our precious 170 acres if the overwhelming student consensus, from what I can tell, is a negative perception of security. Maybe, just maybe, something is amiss.
Could our sheltered little school actually be a microcosm of the “real world?” There are some places where police are seen as just another denizen of the county, but I would say in metropolises they are seen as only available in crisis. When you get pulled over on the highway are police very cordial and rush the paperwork so you can be on your way? Of course not. You were speeding so they can take their sweet time. In any case, there are innumerable instances where police are seen as the “bad guys” and should just be avoided at all costs. The same could be said for our little community. When you need to be escorted somewhere or feel that you may be in danger are you calling security or your best friends?
Security obviously is an integral part of our college community and they often serve and protect us in ways that afford thanks and appreciation. Obviously, there is a reason public opinion of security is not as high as it should be. “Well, what would you have us do better, in your opinion?” I would hire younger eager people that have better personal skills. I know nothing about what goes into recruiting our security officers. But I would much rather have overly nice people protecting us than being condescended on in a possible time of need. Maybe this is unrealistic, or maybe people skills training should be mandatory. It’s not enough to have a rule that says, “be nice.” Be safe and cordial F&M.