Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Have You Checked Our Shitters, Honey?"

When I rose to herald the dawn with my usual lark-like trills and delicate, tip-toeing dance to the window to part the curtains and drink in the first golden rays of sunlight, gossamer nightgown swirling about me (read: rolled onto the floor with a growl, picked myself up by my sweatpants, stumbled to the closet to stare at my clothes until a not-altogether-tragic combination of shirt and pants fell onto the floor, and opened the mini-blinds), I saw that it was snowing quite a lot, and the streets had not yet been plowed. The only difference this makes in my life is that I can't run to the train if I'm late because the sidewalks will be too slick, and tonight Laura will come home in a bad mood because she commutes to the suburbs each day and hates driving in snow. Despite my best efforts, I once again lost the battle with Linear Time (but not the war!) and missed the two trains that would have gotten me to work promptly. I nearly slipped and fell on my ass on the walk to said trains, but thanks to my herculean abdominal strength managed to right myself, Matrix style, at the last second. As I trudged the rest of the way up the street, I squinted through the falling flakes at the cute little snow-covered houses and thought of this...

...Which made me chortle. A little Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, and Bill Withers later (What? It helps me wake up!) I rushed into the office to open the reception area, ate the two hard-boiled eggs I brought from home (I'm a protein addict) and made a cup of green tea with the automatic drink machine where you insert a little plastic cup and in thirty seconds your drink comes out. (I think there's a sexual innuendo in there somewhere, but I'm still too groggy to pinpoint it.)

I'm writing this only to stay awake. If I sit and stare at the computer screen, waiting for friends to sign on at their own meaningless jobs and intermittently chat the day away, I will fall back asleep. I feel like I spent the night working instead of resting. I know I dreamed a lot but I only remember the last little bit. I was a social worker talking to two brothers, one was a young teenager and the other a baby. The older boy had these cool Spiderman snow globes, only instead of snow falling when you shook them, black spiders would fall. I shook them, saw the black spiders, and then started seeing the spiders falling all around the room, as though I had taken a hallucinogen and fallen down the wrong rabbit hole. He hadn't warned me that would happen, and by the time the spider visuals went away, I was putting the little baby brother down for a nap, lying beside him in a regular bed because there weren't any cribs and singing him a lullaby. Then I woke up to an old western song about a gunfight I had forgotten I had on my ipod. Weird, huh?

I think it's high time I write about the Þorrablót, but I left my camera with all my pictures on it at home, so I'll wait until tonight. Until then, watch and enjoy this hilarious video from The Onion website.

Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads Directed By Lars Von Trier

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the hatchery...

This morning my body walked on autopilot from the train to work while I used the dramatic ending of Sigur Rós' song Hjartað Hamast to attempt to teleport far, far away from that awful place. I found myself mentally running through a vast expanse of field under the piercing blue dome of the Arctic sky, tiny as an insect by comparison and breathless, attempting to transform and become a feature of that place so I could stay forever. The violin at the end of that song slays me every time. 

But once I was through those revolving doors of that giant building on Michigan Avenue, there was no escape. I'm back at the Hatchery this week. For those of you who aren't familiar with my pet name for the data entry temp job I have, please refer back to my "Brazilians, Buffalo, and Christmas" post from a couple of months ago. I had a nice break from it when I took a two-week-long assignment elsewhere, but the down side of that is that since I've been gone I have almost completely lost the tolerance I had built up for seven hellish hours of nothing but copying and pasting text. So I shall console myself by ranting just a little bit about my day here on my trusty blog. Reader, this is your out. Take it now or join me...

Ah, the uncomfortably warm room of computers. A girl I've spoken to a few times before exclaimed my name when I walked in, apparently surprised that I hadn't been fired. Why would I be fired? Never mind that I haven't been to work on time in two months, doesn't she know I've got some of the fastest data hands in the Midwest? She's the girl who references glitter a lot in conversation and had by far the worst fake British accent of the whole "talking group" (as friend Ali and I call them) when they decided to participate in "Talk Like A Brit Day," a fake holiday which they had discovered on the internet one week prior. And there is the extremely tall guy who steadily eats breakfast cereal at his computer throughout his entire shift (he even keeps a gallon of milk in the office fridge). And over there, the redheaded girl from Wisconsin whose other job is as a guide on chocolate tours of the city, lucky thing. Ah! Here is the young man who sits next to me! He talks and dresses like a wannabe gangster who grew up in the suburbs and always reeks of smoke after his breaks. He once spent about twenty minutes explaining in an unnecessarily loud voice to an equally "eloquent" girl sitting next to him that, "in da old days da Vikings had dis religion where da only way you could get into heaven was to die in battle, and so dey would organize suicide battles," which she resoundly refused to believe. I seethed silently in my seat for as long as I could stand it, occasionally making eye contact with Ali, whose reassuring gaze seemed to say, "Try to remain calm, but if you do decide to burn this place to the ground once and for all, at least give me time to grab my purse and get a head start for the elevators," before interrupting them both on their fifteenth round of, "No way is that true!" and "I'm dead serious!" and telling them that I'm Icelandic and part of what he was saying was, in fact true, so just drop it. Drop it he did not, and seemed to be trying to patch things up by saying that he was Catholic and to him that religion might seem crazy, but to a Viking his religion might seem just as crazy. Then it was I who was giving Ali the calming eye from over top the monitors, good friend that she is.  And here, at last, is the seat I've claimed for myself, all the way on the end of the row, next to a north-facing window with a view of a clock tower and a fraction of the Chicago River. Normally, Ali sits diagonally across from me, but she doesn't work Wednesdays this month so I was on my own.

I settled in and decided to ease the pain of work by returning to my favorite amusing podcasts, I'd missed them so! I started with this News Quiz taken from "Friday Night Comedy" on BBC Radio 4. I got the best abdominal workout I've had in a while from a near-epic battle with the raucous laughter that kept trying erupt from deep within my belly, but which I would only let out as an occasional quaking wheeze, wiping away tears of mirth and occasionally allowing myself a gasp of breath while keeping my face turned toward the window and away from my fellow computer drones. Afterward, I decided that as a cool-down I'd take a little stroll to the ladies' room for a private moment to compose myself. Holy Krishna, was that a funny episode, and where can I get a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine?

Public Restrooms.

Why is it that at this and every other workplace I've ever had, whenever I decide I'd like to use the restroom, every single female in the entire office decides to join me? Just when I'm relaxing and enjoying my privacy, there go both sets doors, squeaking open as woman after high-heel-clicking woman files in to take her morning/afternoon/random time pee. Why? Could it be that they detect my scent on the artificial wind and mistake my bathroom needs for their own? Following me like a herd of wildebeest to whatever fate lays beyond my footsteps? I've always liked to think that my pheromones were, at the very least, strong contenders for the charismatic leader position among other females, but this is ridiculous.

And yes, the women's restroom of any establishment is often an inner sanctum of female secrets. Girls console their weeping friend who caught her idiot boyfriend locking braces with the class slut at the middle school dance. Strangers in nasty bar bathrooms exchange advice on how to handle dates gone awry. A future high-powered executive looks in the mirror and gives herself one last pep talk before interviewing for the job that will get her foot in the door. I also know that we are considered the more social gender, and so shouldn't I enjoy a chance to close the door on the patriarchy and commune with my sisters in our porcelain tiled realm? Honestly, no! Every once in a while a girl needs her own Fortress of Solitude, and darnit, I want the work bathroom to myself! Maybe if I took my cue from unskilled hunters and camouflaged my powerful pheromones with deer piss the others wouldn't follow me and I could get a second alone. Or maybe there was just a meeting that let out at that exact moment, who knows.

For lunch I had a microwaveable bargain basement pasta meal, followed by a stroll around the lobby of the building, where I purchased a birthday card for my fairy goddaughter/non-blood-related niece, the gorgeous baby Magdalene, who turns one tomorrow. Then, I settled back in for the final stretch, the taste of irradiated preservatives lingering coyly on my palate.

The usually taciturn supervisor actually made not just one, but a few attempts at initiating normal conversation with me, which was so unexpected and out of character that I was actually quite startled, and didn't know how to react. So I just gave the bare minimum responses in an attempt to encourage him back to the comfortable status quo of not treating me or anyone else like an equal. However, these tactics did not seem to work, au contraire, I have now been offered a chance to go back to working full-time hours, instead of continuing to live in an admittedly intoxicating state of fear that I will, at any moment, be completely broke and turned out into the street to freeze and/or starve to death. I reluctantly accepted.

All right, that was my day today, and now it's off to another wonderful girls' night. The always delightful Abbie is making jambalaya at her house, and I need to stop by the store to pick up something for dessert on my way. Adieu!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Things I Did Today At the Reception Desk

  1. Learned how to operate the mail stamping machine, which was kind of exciting (sad, I know).
  2. Found out that the scary guy I caught staring at me over the top of a cubicle partition the other day (and who I assumed to be a psychopathic axe murderer disguised as a tax accountant) is actually just very shy and probably quite normal.
  3. Felt guilty for thinking that guy was an axe murderer this whole time.
  4. Realized I'm going to have to give up my beloved nighttime showers in exchange for morning ones for the sake of my hair styling this winter.
  5. Felt really shallow for even making a conscious decision about my daily hair care needs to that degree.
  6. Engaged in a getting-songs-stuck-in-each-other's-heads battle via instant message with my work buddy, the IT guy.
  7. Looked up some sagas and read about valkyries, daydreamed about being one. Wondered how one gets into the "choosing of the slain" game these days.
  8. Got the mail downstairs.
  9. Called to have my replacement cell phone replaced because it doesn't work.
  10. Was given a bag of m&m's and the other free potted flowering plant, which would have otherwise been discarded, "for Valentine's Day" by my IT work buddy. Did not eat the blue m&m's.
  11. Dispensed more moving advice to the girl who's going to New York.
  12. Played checkers and pool on yahoo with IT work buddy while trading friendly competitive insults and waxing philosophical about life, he dished out some wisdom.
  13. Surfed the net idly and looked up prices on humidifiers.
  14. Tried, unsuccessfully, to muster the enthusiasm for going out tonight, but resigned myself to going anyway.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To Thursday, With Love

I just wanted to follow up after my whiny post from earlier... Tonight, I got my routine back, and I feel so delicious. How embarrassing to be a creature of habit, and what a surprise! I'm still relatively young, shouldn't I be splashing around drunkenly in a fountain or skydiving or something on a Thursday night? No, in fact, I got just what I needed. A chat with my mom on the phone as I walked to the dollar store for drain cleaner and toilet paper. A delivery order of chicken phở and crab rangoon, which arrived while I was in the shower and one of my roommate's "annoying" dancer friends signed for. Our out-of-town guest, due to finally return to DC tomorrow afternoon, has been whimpering around for the last three days, in and out of a fever, crying on the phone to someone about her boyfriend who works in Germany, occasionally breaking out in hives, and complaining that no matter what she does (or how high we turn up the heat, much to my hot-blooded chagrin) she can't get warm, is lying wanly on roomie's bed with her eyes closed. I cheerily offered to make her some tea along with my evening cup of herbal sleepytime something-or-other from the natural foods store, now that I've gotten to watch two movies (Office Space and Paris, Je T'aime, roommate has a very wide selection that I'm working my way through) on the couch in my pajamas wrapped in my giant velour and faux sheepskin blanket. So selfish of me and yet, at the moment, I just don't care. Ahhhh, sweet, boring Thursday night at home. If I could somehow make you tangible and kiss you, I would!

Another Day, Another Dollar

My mind wanders day in and day out this week, I'm having trouble staying focused. I should force myself to concentrate on what I'm doing, especially at work because it makes the time go by faster that way. Then all this week every time I come home from work ready to unwind and get my relaxation on, there's been a house full of my roommate's friends. One got stranded here because her flight back to DC was cancelled multiple days in a row, and the other times it's roomie's dance company friends hanging out before rehearsal. They're nice and all, but they play the same playlist of mediocre-at-best hip hop songs over and over again and dance around the kitchen, which she makes messy by cooking them all pasta and failing to wipe the grease and sauce splatters off the stove. All I want to do when I get home is put on some Barry White or something similar, change into some leisure clothes, and maybe watch something on tv or talk on the phone and just gradually unwind until shower/bed time.... So my little routine has been thrown off all week because my usual cozy relaxation hour is frought with tap dancers practicing hip hop moves all over the apartment, which is as annoying as it sounds.

However, some good things came about this week. I'm getting an extra week of work from this company the last week of February, and the financial boost that will bring is a welcome one. I also got two plants to take home from the office. One is a regular green leafy plant and the other has clusters of bright pink little blossoms. I'm going to put them in my room because I haven't put anything up on the walls yet, and just have a few candles and two picture frames on my windowsill, so they'll look nice and cheery.

Today a girl from the office approached me and asked me how long it took me to find work as a temp when I first got here. She wants to pack up and move to New York, and in a hurry, to do her work as an accountant and also pursue a career in music management. She doesn't even want to wait to save up money. I'm all for spontaneity, but New York is expensive and will swallow you whole if you're not prepared. I talked to her about my experience moving here and also about the time I moved to California. I can understand her itch to go somewhere new. I used to want to move to New York, but not anymore.

I wish I had more interesting things I could talk about on here. Hmmm... Nine more days until the Þorrablót. My favorite number!

I also have friends coming to visit soon! My good friend Kasey who lives in Minneapolis will be here the last weekend of February, then in March my friends Karin and (perhaps) Rob will be coming from Maryland for the St. Patrick's Day parade and festivities. My sister is also thinking of coming and seeing what all the Chicago fuss is about for her Spring break the following week in March. Definitely looking forward to the visitors.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Talk Nerdy To Me

My Day So Far...

State of my Hair: Excellent! (After a long stretch of "Just So-So" and "Chicago Winter Air is Trying to Destroy Me.")
Paper Cuts: 3
Cups of Coffee: 1
Tom Jones Songs Heard: 1

My day started off with me feeling inspired to finally download the Anchorman soundtrack from iTunes, and ho-ly explitive was it worth every penny! My ride/walk to work has never been so much fun! He introduces each song and it's hilarious. I kept having to bury my face down into the collar of my coat to hide my poorly suppressed, sputtering giggles. Anyone who knows me knows (or should know) that I love sexy old songs, and this album is chock full of them. If you haven't purchased it yet, run, do not walk, to your nearest music store or online mp3 source and get it NOW. Or I can burn you a copy and send it to you, I would consider it a karmic boost and totally worth the shipping costs. Oops, I didn't just write that out loud. No, I will not illegally reproduce music for you! Anyway, now I feel like eating steak and drinking scotch in a bath tub. Alas, I'm at this office instead, and they have neither steak nor bath tubs here. I checked.

So after calming down and settling in at work, I was idly filling out an endless spreadsheet I work on between tasks, when the IT guy showed up and asked if he could borrow the cart I've been using to haul boxes of paper around. I said sure, and then he also borrowed me to help him go around and collect left over pieces of computer equipment. It seemed more fun than sitting there copying and pasting lawyers' contact information into boxes, so I was happy to join him.

He's friendly and has a shaved head that's growing out, and is super nerdy yet outgoing and it was nice to have someone to talk to. He's married and I can tell he's probably a dad by the way he talks to me. He showed me the server room, offered me my choice of "really crappy" laptops, (which I declined since if they're crappy what's the point?), asked me about my life, and offered to help me snag a thesaurus I saw lying around. I have a soft spot in my heart for nerds, probably because beneath my red-blooded, womanly exterior beats the heart of a hopeless dork who drools over History Channel specials and dreams of one day owning the complete and unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.

After that I dumped about ten boxes of papers into three giant shred bins. (I didn't get to actually do the shredding myself, the bins get picked up by a company that does that.) Anyway, that's when I got the three paper cuts, and now my hands are about as dry as the underside of a galapagos tortoise's foot.

Then I ate lunch, now I'm at the receptionist's desk again. Later, I'm going to be packing up an office and binding things. A short-ish Latino custodian pushing a large cart filled with individually wrapped toilet paper rolls just walked by and said hello. He looks familiar, like a movie actor whose name I can't place. Definitely not John Leguizamo, thank goodness. His eyes light up a lot when he smiles.

I finally figured out what the hell this business does. They're consultants and I think mostly accountants, and I think they audit companies. There are a lot of mind-numbingly boring looking documents around that say the word "audit" on them, so I imagine that's what they do. The IT guy (can't remember his name!) says that he always gets bored because nobody ever really chats around here. I'm apparently allowed to install yahoo messenger and then I can chat with people around the office. Another person just said hi to me! Maybe now that they see that I'm going to be here for a few days they'll start coming around. I guess I could always introduce myself first, but this isn't a bar, it's an office where I'm still feeling out the "culture." And anyway, almost all of the girls look at me weird whenever I smile and say hi as I walk past. So I'll just let them come to me.

There are a couple of other friendly people, however. My supervisor, for one. She is a middle-aged woman who is overweight and extremely nice. Her eyes are a gorgeous green and she wears this really bright purple eye liner to bring out their color. Green and purple are two of my favorite colors, but I wish I could do her eye makeup for her some time. It would be lots of fun trying different shades against eyes like those! She calls me "honey" and "sweetie" from time to time. And she listens to country music really softly on these little speakers connected to her computer, and when I'm sitting in my cubicle sometimes I can hear her singing along! It's so sweet. She sings in this really high voice and every time I hear it I smile and type a little quieter to listen.

Anyhoo... The receptionist is also friendly to me. She printed --I just took a call and transferred it properly without any mistakes for the first time! Huzzah!-- out an article for a friend of hers here at work entitled "How to Tell If He's Only Interested In You for Sex," and had me read it too. It's always good to be prepared, so I did read it and now know all ten warning signs against those awful players. You would think they'd at least have the maturity to say up-front, "This is only a sex thing," so we at least have the choice to go into it with our eyes open. But anyway, that's a post for another day. Or not, I hope! ; )

All right, I've rambled on enough. It's foggy downtown but actually relatively warm at 30°F (plus wind chill) and a fresh layer of snow that's mostly melted off by now. I have to race home from work to deposit a paycheck at the bank and then I have to go to the library to pick up my reserved copy of Gone With the Wind. Yes, I've finally decided to read it. All 1,000+ pages of Old South, Civil War, Scarlett + Rhett 4 Ever glory. I'm going through a southern writers phase (I blame the cold weather) and am supposed to be reading As I Lay Dying at the moment, but find it rather depressing, as the title would suggest. However, it's supposed to be good so I'll stick with it. What was it Mark Twain once said? “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

Two random things I saw/overheard yesterday but forgot to write down:
1. A man dressed all in black feeding a black pigeon in an alley.
2. Two girls talking to each other walked by me and I heard one say to the other, "You know that smell when you blow out a match?" It was funny at the time but I fear it may have lost its charm in written form.

OK enough torturing the internet. I think I can get a couple more good spins out of this office chair before this lady comes back from lunch.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

English versus English

Dear French Roast Coffee served black with Sugar,

Thanks for this morning.

x Inga

*   *   *   *

I'm currently addicted to podcasts as an alternative to music for background noise while working, commuting, etc. They're free on iTunes and I regularly download them to replenish my supply on my iPod. Since Open University's "Ethics Bites" is no longer making any new episodes, I've branched out and found new ones to try. Some I've found on my own, others through recommendations. My current favorite is BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour," featuring a variety of topics (a true variety, not just how to lose weight, keep your man happy in bed, and put on your makeup in five minutes) to do with women. We've all heard the old adage that England and America are "separated by a common language," and what I am about to relate is no exception.

Today I was listening to an interview on "Woman's Hour" with a woman who claimed to be in love with stationery. After several minutes of wondering what on earth condoms had to do with stationery, and how anyone would have found occasion to become obsessed with them starting in childhood, and especially why someone would smell them, hold them in their hand, sort them and allow their young daughter to play with them, I realized that "rubber" is the English term for "eraser."


Today the light was filtered through clouds and the weather wasn't too cold, so the color palette was perfect for wistful sounding Celtic-inspired music. I started my two week long temp gig today, which is mostly dull but easy, and I do get to fill in for the receptionist during her lunch, which means I get to play on the computer for an hour.

After work I rode the train home, obediently listening to sad folk music, thinking to myself that if this were a movie this part would be the montage of daily comings and goings of the second act of whatever the plot was. Then I thought, who else would be in my montage? Where does my story intersect with those of others? And if one got an omniscient view of things for a moment, could one see all of the different moments in our lives and how they weave in and out of each other? For example, during a moment when I'm laughing around a dinner table with friends, would that scene be shown in contrast to a friend who's broken-hearted across the country? Or when I'm walking to work with the other commuters, looking out the window or shrugging off a chilly blast of wind, how many other people I know are doing something similar but in a completely different setting somewhere else? Did I bump into a future friend whom I will meet for the first time at a bar watching the hockey game a week from now?

I was turning that over in my mind as I got off the train at my stop with the rest of the home-from-work crowd. As I walked down the stairs from the platform, I saw an older man ahead of me a little ways. He appeared to be homeless and was obviously drunk, or high, or maybe even mentally ill, holding on to the bannister and stopped in mid-step about five steps from the bottom, looking off into space and swaying slightly. A man coming down the stairs behind him, maybe in his mid- to late-thirties, stopped, put his hand on the old man's back, and asked him if he was going to be able to make it down the stairs all right. The man blinked and said something to the effect of, "I'll make it all right," but it was apparent that he couldn't. I slowed down and turned my head as I passed to see the kind stranger put his arm around him, take on his weight as the old man leaned on his shoulder for support, and helped him make his way, slowly, down the stairs. I didn't hold back the smile that spread across my lips. What a beautiful sight.