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April 2004

Ladies First

If you haven't dragged yourself to P.S. 122 for one of the WYSIWYG Talent Shows, then you have totally been missing out a great thing. Lucky for you, there's another sass-tastic installment coming up soon:

Ladies First

Cold Comfort

I talked to the admissions office at Yale and it sounds like at least they got a correct transcript. The woman on the phone was starting to explain that transcripts aren't nearly as important to them as portfolios, and they wouldn't fuss unless my transcript said I was an ax murderer or something. She pulled my file to check, though, and when she looked at it she immediately began to "ooh" and "aah" over my solid academic record, going on and on about how "that’s not too shabby, is it, Mr. Magna Cum Laude?"

Which wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, all things considered. That pretty much indicated to me that something wasn't so impressive about my portfolio or my writing or something, which is useful to know, but still something of a blow to my confidence.

I guess I should look at the good side: at least I managed to glean some information about where to focus my efforts if I reapply next year. that’s a pretty useful tidbit to get, I suppose.

Adminstrative Snafu

Like a lot of big universities, Boston University has a nightmarish bureaucracy that digs its terrifying tendrils into just about every imaginable facet of life. When I went to school there, I was glad that the art program was tightly structured enough that I was usually shielded from the horrors more regularly faced by people in larger programs.

It wasn't much better when I was an employee there, but at least I got my paycheck every week.

Today, years after I left B.U. in my wake, its bureaucracy reaches out one last time to smite me. Remember how I got all those unexpected, unwelcome rejection letters from grad schools this Spring? Suddenly I wonder if my alma mater screwed me over. Check this out:

A computer systems problem experienced by our office this semester prevented some awarded degrees from printing on transcripts. It is possible that your degree(s) did not appear on the official transcript(s) you requested. Enclosed are official Boston University transcripts equal to the number you originally requested, as well as an unofficial copy of your transcript for your reference. Please substitute these for the copies you previously received.

Please accept our apologies for this error and inconvenience.

So it's possible that those admissions committees never got proof that I graduated with honors after four years on the dean's list back in the day. Lovely.

Homo Superiors Rule

If this was done by some comics nerd, than I love it. If it was done as the first part of a viral marketing campaign for the next X-men movie, then I feel so dirty that I need to take a shower immediately.

(Found by faithful correspondent Dave, on the side of a newspaper box in Central Square, Cambridge.)

QuentinUpdate: Duh. I completely forgot about the t-shirts that Quentin and the Omega Gang wore back in New X-Men last year ("Riot at Xavier's"). So I guess it's not a loathesome marketing trick after all. Maybe.

In My Simple, Humble Neighborhoods

It's a hurry-and-wait, hurry-and-wait sorta day in my cubicle today, and list-making is an easy way to offer content without having to go off and actually have adventures to write about.

Places I’ve Lived

  1. North Railroad Avenue (1970–1990): The house in Staten Island where I grew up with my folks, my three brothers, two sisters, and eventually an assortment of their spouses and children. It was originally a 2-story, 2-family home bult by my contractor uncle who built it sold it to my parents after their landlord suggested that a two-bedroom apartment might not be the best place for them and their four kids, not to mention the one gestating in my mother's womb. Seeing as I had a pretty bucolic childhood (for New York City) and spent all of it here, I’ve always been very attached to this house, and was pretty weirded out when my parents sold it a few years ago and moved to Florida. I still have the key to the front door.

  2. Sleeper Hall, West Campus (1988–1989): West Campus is three identical cinderblock boxes arranged around B.U.'s football field. If you've ever taken the Massachusetts Turnpike into downtown Boston, you've seen it. John Fox (another art-scholarship student) and I lived on the thirteenth floor, at the end of a hallway filled with jocks who practiced their pitching by throwing apples at the storage-closet door next to our room.

  3. Boyd Hall (1989–1990): Zubby pulled me in to share his fantastically huge room in a turn-of-the-century brownstone reserved for people in our scholarship program. (Peter Paige lived there the year before I did.) Since we were a neurotic, over-achieving lot, Boyd Hall was High Drama at all times. Still, I had bay windows, a mantle, and 11-foot ceilings in my dorm room, which was nice.

  4. Kegremont (1990–1991): My first off-campus apartment was closer to B.C. than B.U., so we were far from any of our friends but close to dozens of hard-drinking frat boys. Our street was Egremont Road, but we could see that the boys upstairs (who had a party every other weekend, and a wet bar instead of a kitchen table) had hung the street sign above their mantle and put a "K" at the start of the name. Perfection. My bedroom was in an enclosed porch over the parking lot, so most Friday nights I was lulled to sleep by the sound of guys pissing against a wall below me.

  5. Brighton Ave. (1991–1992): Apartment in a neighborhood near B.U. that was effectively the off-campus dorms, where kids moved so they could escape any supervision but still walk to class. A student slum, but much easier to get back to if you ever stayed out after the T stopped running.

  6. Wenham Street (1992–1995): After graduation, Zubby, Matt, Dani, and I discovered Jamaica Plain, a fantastic Boston neighborhood that had been totally off our radar until that point. We scored an incredible 2-story, 9-room apartment for $950 bucks a month. The landlord a mellow tree surgeon who lived across the street agreed to pay for a lot of badly needed renovation as long as we did the actual work. So we painted every wall, redid most of the kitchen, and had our first adult-type apartment. Miki and Brin did the same thing a few blocks away, so we had an instant neighborhood vibe. Over the course of our few years there we had lots of people come and go, and to the best of my knowledge the same lease kept changing hands for at least another four years after the original four of us had left.

  7. Tremont Street (1995–1996): While shopping around for a place to live with my boyfriend at the time who had moved into Wenham St. with us for a while I had an epiphany about how ill-suited we actually were for one another. Since I was in better financial shape, I moved out and found a sweet little garret studio in the gay, gay, gay South End. This was the smallest place I’ve ever had, but it had a great view and a teeny little balcony outside the drafty bay windows. I also had a hot architect move in next door, who provided distraction after my next horrendous break-up.

  8. Palmetto Street (1996–1997): When I moved back to New York, Mark and I scored an incredible 4,000-square-foot loft in Bushwick for a mere $1,500 a month. It was the place everyone fantasizes about when they imagine living in New York, before they realize that regular people can only afford to live like that if they go as far away as Bushwick. We had enough space to play whiffleball or ride bikes inside, which we did from time to time. There were many ridiculously dramatic aspects to the whole deal that made it all too ghetto for us to handle for more than a year or so, but it kind of rocked, too.

  9. Clermont Ave. #1 (1997–1998): After Mark and I beat a hasty retreat from our crooked overtenant in Bushwick we found an apartment for each of us in a little old building on the sketchy side of Fort Greene. It was nice to be alone for a change while having a good friend live just upstairs. The owner/super lived next door, and he was a terrible repairman, so we lived in fear of things deteriorating worse than they already had. I often called the building "The Slanty Shanty."

  10. Clermont Ave. #2 (1998–1999): My second year in Fort Greene, I turned my apartment over to Mark and moved upstairs to an apartment that was the same size, but set up as a 2-bedroom instead of a 1-bedroom, because I wanted to make a little love nest for what would prove to be an ill-conceived reunion with the guy from the horrendous break-up of the Tremont Street apartment in Boston. He still owes me a few months rent that I don't expect to ever see again.

  11. The Swanktuary (1999–2003): after a couple of years in Fort Greene, I was jonesing to get back to loft living. I scored a cool (literally) basement loft in scenic East Williamsburg (which ain't Bushwick, it's only next to Bushwick), which became the de facto NYC B&B for scores or visiting and wayward bloggers over the years. There's a lot to read about the Swanktuary in this site's archives, but now it's in the custody of Glenn, Charlie, and Michael.

  12. Dutch Kills (2003–now): My tiny little Astoria love nest, where the Rooster has lived for the past six years or so. It's tiny and there's barely enough room for me, never mind those damned cats, but I mostly like it.


All Chin, All the Time

I just noticed that my passport is due for its first renewal next year, which got me thinking about the dents I’ve put in it over the years:

  1. England: I had to go for a last-minute work trip, so I took off for my first week out of the country. I spent that first trip in a snazzy little hotel in Knightsbridge, going to work in the day and zipping around at night on the back of my friend Tim's motorcycle (proving to myself that I wasn't as terrified of motorcycles as I always thought I was). I’ve been back to London twice, and consider it one of the few cities besides New York I could see myself living. The last time I was there I finally managed to get up North to Lancaster, Blackpool, and Carlisle, much to the snickering of the Londoners I saw the rest of the time. I loved it all, though.

  2. Japan: This was just a layover, but I still count it because I spent the night in a Japanese hotel on the way to and from...

  3. China: Two-and-a-half weeks helping my friend Miki take care of a tour group. While rain poured for most of the trip (ruining about half of the 32 rolls of film that I shot), we herded our group on and off buses, planes, trains, boats, and the Great Wall as we visited Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Guilin, Guangzhou, and pre-Handover Hong Kong. A-freaking-mazing, all of it.

  4. Jamaica: The launching pad for another tour-group trip with Miki, but this time we didn't have to do much more than get the group onto a cruise ship. The trip was more fun than I would have guessed, in part because of (rather than in spite of) it being so cheesy in so many ways. Still, it was a great way to score a free trip to...

  5. Colombia: We spent a day wandering around the old part of Cartegena. I discovered that I retained much more high-school Spanish than I thought.

  6. Costa Rica: We spent an incredible day hiking through a rain forest. I’m still very eager to go back and see more of the country.

  7. Panama: After a totally cool trip into the Panama Canal and back out, we went swimming at a very Gilligan's Island-esque archipelago off the coast. No screwball hijinks prevented us from getting off the island and back to the ship.

  8. Iceland: I’ve been through Reykjavik on two different trips now, but I’ve still never left the airport, which has always reminded me of Moonbase Alpha. I’m still eager to see parts of Iceland that don't look like the Moon.

  9. Brazil: I spent almost a month in Rio with my friend Ayla, visiting her friends and family for Christmas and New Year's. It is a sexy, sexy place, and to date the only place where I have appeared in public in a Speedo without thinking twice about it. This is also where I met my beloved João, when he and I picked each other up in a bar my last night in town and remained fast friends afterward.

  10. Italy: My first trip to Italy was yet another trip with Miki and a tour group, this time to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. I was smitten with the place. And after going back for another two weeks with the Rooster, I find that it's hard to think of any other place I’d like better.

  11. Belgium: A rainy cold, grey afternoon on the way back from Sorrento, trudging around to look at the Atomium and that kid taking a piss. I have no desire to go back for more.

  12. France: The only time I led a tour group without Miki's help, so I was lucky that this was a trip where the group was left to wander on their own for a week, rather than be led anywhere by a local guide. It's a magnificent city but my love for it is mitigated by my hatred of the sound of French.

  13. Canada: I’ve been to both Montreal and Vancouver so far, but I’m pretty convinced that Canada is just as polite and pretty and liberal as I’d hoped. The Rooster disagrees with me, but I think I could very happily live in Canada if I were forced to flee there to escape our own government.

The Real Résumé

I was so relieved the first time I had enough relevant experience in the career of my choice that I was able to strike from my résumé all the menial retail jobs I’d slaved at over the years. At this point, I’m even able to gloss over the less glamorous professional work I’ve done. Such, I suppose, is one of the benefits of age.

But what would the whole record look like at this point? See for yourself:

  1. Babysitter (1985–1988): I picked up the overflow of my friend Lynn's lucrative babysitting career. When I watched Lynn's brother and sister I would get a handsome bonus if I did basic household chores for her mother.

  2. Receptionist (1987–1988): On Saturday afternoons I would answer phones and occasionally run the gift shop at a Catholic retreat house in Staten Island. I mostly did it for some pocket money and a certain feeling of obligation to my mother, who was involved in a lot of stuff there. Boring as hell I hated it.

  3. Camp Counselor (1987): Lynn and I scored cushy jobs one summer runnning the day camp at a private compound of beach bungalows on Staten Island. The kids were fine, we got a two-hour lunch during which we watched The Young and the Restless obsessively, and it was less gross to swim off the shore of Staten Island than you might think.

  4. Prospector (1987): Worst job I ever had. For three weeks I worked for a huge financial company three nights a week after school. I would get a stack of index cards with telephone numbers on them, and I would have to call those people at home (at around dinner time) and try to get them to stay on the line long enough for me to transfer them to someone who'd try to sell them stock. I’d get yelled at by some 25-year-old dickhead broker if the person on the line realized he was getting a cold call and hung up while I transferred the call. I developed a loathing for the stock business that I’ve never shaken.

  5. Salesperson (1988): I worked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's satellite gift shop down in the Mid-Manhattan Library during the summer after graduation, and the Christmas break of my freshman year of college. Totally fun job that came with great perks: free, 24-hour access to the Museum itself (I would only visit it with friends at night all summer long) and all the free damaged merchandise not claimed by co-workers with more seniority. I scored at least a thousand dollars worth of posters, and about 500 bucks worth of art books. Plus, it's where I met Björk and her infant son, shortly after the first Sugarcubes album was released.

  6. Saleperson (1989): Tower Records in the Village during the summer after my freshman year of college, and then up in Boston my first semester of sophomore year. Boston was part-time and dull, but working in the Village that summer was great. Great people watching, and lots of celebrity run-ins. The security overview we got during training effectively taught every employee the best ways to shoplift from the store.

  7. Usher/Concessionist (1989–1990, 1991–1992): Worked in a movie theater in Boston for two of my four years of college. A totally zany cast of characters working in the days before a big company-wide crackdown on quirkiness. Enough fun stories to fill a book.

  8. Salesperson (1990): Pearl Paint, summer after sophomore year. Totally fun, but physically arduous. I once explained to John Linnel how to make casts of his own face. I also had what I would later realize to be a HUGE crush on the assistant manager of my department.

  9. Designer (1991): Summer after junior year I got a job as a paste-up assistant at a magazine, and as the sole designer for B.U.'s yearbook. A completely great experience in doing things the old-fashioned way before that way became old-fashioned. Last-minute type corrections for both the magazine and the book were made with surplus type galleys, rubber cement, and an X-acto knife. The yearbook contained 280 pages, all of which I laid out by hand on paste-up boards with typeset galleys, rubber cement, a proportion wheel, and a mechanical ruling pen.

  10. Designer (1992): A part-time freelance gig at the studio where a professor worked turned into a full-time freelance gig as soon I graduated. The designer I assisted became my first boyfriend. I was let go, unfortunately, for a mishap involving a poor paper choice for a brochure. I never made a fuss about the fact that it was the paper my boyfriend/supervisor told me to use before he left for vacation.

  11. Typesetter (1992–1995): This is where I really developed the pedantry my peers have come to know and love. For almost three years I learned the ins and outs of setting type properly, paying attention to detail, copyediting, and printing. Sadly, this also set the stage for the conflict between design work and technical work that has dogged me ever since.

  12. Party Clown (1995?): At some point during the Boston years, I dressed as the genie from Aladdin one afternoon for a kid's party thrown by one of Zubby's bosses. It was summer, I had a fever, and kids like to punch cartoon mascots in the nuts. It was still better than the financial job I had in high school.

  13. Bookseller (1995? 1996?): I worked part-time for a couple of years at a huge, swanky bookstore in Boston. Zubby and I got the job at the same time through a friend who was assistant manager, and it was even better than working at the movie theater together. The staff was a great big (mostly) happy family, and we were even treated with respect and allowed to curate our own sections of the store. After a few years of having professional duties, it was also nice to have someplace to go at night where I had no actual responsibilities. The friend who hired me was the one who started calling me Sparky, and so that’s how he introduced me to everyone there. As you might have guessed, it stuck. The store burned down at one point, and it never really got back on its feet afterward because the owners got nervous about this aggressive expansion that Barnes & Noble was starting to make, which prompted them to stamp out all the individual character that made out store so lovely in the first place.

  14. Studio Technician (1995): After the typesetting gig, I set out in search of fortune and glamour at this job working for a publisher of respectable children's books. I got to design a few book covers, ran the computers, and politely fought with the evil-grandmotherly office manager. I even got a chance to go to the head office in England for a week, where I made one of my dearest friends and discovered that I like being abroad almost as much as I like being in New York. Homesickness for New York caught up with me soon afterward, and I quit the job and left Boston for good.

  15. Freelance Designer (1995 onward): I financed my move back to New York by doing some freelance work at the place where I used to set type. When they asked how much it would cost for me to do one last project after I got to New York, I jokingly suggested they double what they were paying me. When they agreed, I realized exactly how much I had been underpaid all those years. I’ve been doing freelance work of some kind or another ever since, even though I have almost no ability to deal with the financial complexities of doing so.

  16. Designer (1996 onward): On my first interview with a temp agency in New York, I was placed at Channel Thirteen, New York's PBS station. A six-week gig turned into a year-and-a-half gig, and after a rest period I worked for them directly as a quasi-freelancer. By far the best place I’ve worked, where I made some of my dearest friends, had a lot of fun, and got paid squat.

  17. Publishing Technologies Analyst (1997 onward): I got a call from a woman who heard there was someone in New York who was already trained on this little-used, totally robust typesetting system that I had used in Boston. I went to do some typesetting for some engineering books while Thirteen waited for my contract with the temp agency to expire. Working for the engineers was lucrative, intellectually challenging, frustrating, and often dull. I’ve been straining against the golden handcuffs of my work for them ever since I’ve been part-time, full-time, freelance, part-time, full-time, and I’m stil trying to decide what to do.

  18. Designer/Principal (1999?): At some point, I got really sick of trying to deal with freelancing all by myself, so two friends in DC and I started putting together our own company. Our only real client decided halfway through her project that she was dissolving her company and getting a steady job again. The three of us had to scramble for other work to pay our bills, and the comany never really came back together again. Which is a shame, because we worked well together, and I'v always wanted to run a small business with some other people who compliment my skills properly. (Hint, hint.)

  19. College Instructor (1999–2000): I taught a bunch of evening classes at Pratt, before and while I was a grad student there. Most of the time I taught a class that showed people who had barely touched a computer before how to do basic graphics stuff on a Mac. It was a startling way to learn how much general computer knowledge I take for granted.

  20. Support Specialist (1999–2000): During one of those breaks from the engineers, I spent six months working for the company that made the typesetting system that I’m so good with. They were going to need me to go out to client sites eventually, which is why I started learning how to drive once and for all. After two failed road tests and six months of commuting from Brooklyn to Darien, CT, every day, I gave up on the whole thing and went back to splitting time between Thirteen and the engineers.

(All dates are approximate, because I’ve been trying to suppress them for so long now. I should alos mention that I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but someone else beat me to the punch, and I figured it was time to get crackin'.)

Rocket Science Explained

I was in Orlando last week, but work has been too relentlessly overwhelming to get a chance to relate the tale. (There was off-duty time since I got back, yes, but that was usually spent sleeping like the dead or sitting slack-jawed in a haze of mental fatigue.)

My personal hell the eternal prison of endless torment to which I may one day be condemned if the religious Right has its way will not be so unlike Orlando, I’m sure. My god, if this is what people seek out for vacation and pleasure, our society is in more trouble than I thought. (And I was already worrying, trust me.) That place feels like the entire universe got gobbled up by a theme restaurant. The landscape is just a bleak, seemingly endless branded sprawl broken up by carefully planted shrubbery. In its way it's no more or less artificial than the landscape in New York, but I think that what bothered me the most is that New York is made and then left to evolve, and Orlando is carefully decorated and managed. New York is a built city, and Orlando is contrived.

(Before the e-mails come, I freely acknowledge that I didn't see any of the regular city, just the tourist sprawl between there and Disney World. In fact, I don't think I saw a single place where actual people live. I hear the city's nice, if you like Florida. )

But I survived. The highlights:


Nice weather this time of year: not too hot, not too cold.

Heated swimming pool at the hotel.

There for work, but blessedly out of the work-a-day office grind.

Got to see Mom and Dad for a while, which was swell.

Finally got to see Celebration, which was pretty but a bit creepy in the details. Compared to the area around it, though, it was an earthly paradise.

Very cool trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Fascinating, but that would be another post altogether. (Which I probably won't get around to writing. Sorry.)

Um, uh...that’s about it.


Each meal was worse than the last. Seriously, after the most horrible lunch in the world eaten beneath a Saturn V rocket I didn't eat again until I left the state.

Logos, endless logos! Bigger than life! 3-D! Lit up! I swear, every last brick there is pushing some nationwide chain or another.

There was no real architecture, only pastiche and oversized set dressing.

I’m such a goddamn weakling I wrenched my shoulder from swimming too much.

Endless small talk with other nerds I barely know.

A terrifying earful of white-trash sob stories.

Too much unnecessary air conditioning. When it's not hot outside, all that fake air just feels clammy.

Southern accents, and not the rare charming kind.

The most synthetic hotel bedspread ever.

Got home to discover the third and final rejection letter about grad school. Oh joy, oh rapture.

April 1, 2004 10:17 PM | Comments
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