April 2008


Things to remember the next time I decide I am bored with my hair and want to cut it short:

At best it will look like Jennifer Anniston’s hair from the early Friends years, and at worst it will look like a brown version of Carrot Top.

That is all.

I’m back from Boston- the trip itself was kind of disappointing, actually, since apparently no one wants to talk to a young lawyer from a little fellowship in Chicago when representatives from the biggest fellowships in the country are sitting at the tables surrounding her- but it was a nice change of scenery at least.

The weather in Boston was beautiful while I was there, and I arrived about 2 hours before I had to go to my event. I was STARVING, so I wandered over to Newbury Street and got a table at a little outdoor patio to eat something. As I was waiting, three other groups entered the restaurant, got seated, received bread from the waitress, and received drinks, (one group even received their order) before anyone came over to my table.

Is this a phenomenon of dining alone? Do solo diners always get ignored because waiters assume they will have small check totals and thus small tips?

I have always admired people, women in particular, who are comfortable in their own skin and can sit, fabulous and confident, at a bar, nursing a martini, not a care in the world. (Admittedly, I mostly see these women in movies and on television, so maybe this is a fantasy?) I’ve been trying to become more comfortable with being alone in places where most people go with friends, and I have to say, it kind of sucks. If the friend I am meeting is running late, I want to feel comfortable walking into the bar, sitting down, ordering a drink, and waiting. But I don’t. The urge to avoid eye contact at all costs leads me to futz with my Blackberry or studiously read the specials list or stare at my hands. Is sitting alone at a bar or restaurant a lost art? In Boston, the combination of being outside, on display in my one-ness, and the waitress who insisted on virtually ignoring me was too much, and I found myself scarfing my salad in 5 minutes flat and beelining it out of there. Does anyone have suggestions for making this less awkward?

I am leaving today for (another) business trip to Boston. To make the trip affordable to the company, I am flying home late late Wednesday, even though my business will be done in early afternoon on Wednesday.  This leaves me with roughly 6 hours to kill in Boston.

It also appears, finally, to be almost spring, and my feet are totally unprepared.

This leads me to an ethical question. Pedicure on company time: wildly unprofessional or totally reasonable under the circumstances?

Help.

Going to an art opening tonight.  With an old old friend and his new girlfriend who is an expert about art.

I know nothing about art.

“Ooh, pretty” doesn’t seem like it’s going to cut it, does it?  “What is THAT?” sounds even less promising.

Quick, give me something to say about art that will make me sound curious and open and interested without making me sound like a total novice idiot or a total know-it-all blowhard.

OMG you guys my neighborhood is SO DANGEROUS. I don’t mean gunshots, or carjackings, or the sale of tiny-yet-still-felonious amounts of marijuana, or even teenagers with saggy pants in menacing groups of as many as two or three walking down the street…

I mean jungle cats.

John and I were running in our neighborhood yesterday before work (I KNOW! I don’t know how it happened either! We have never run before work before, and will likely never again. But let the record reflect that for one brief day in April, we were healthy and fit.) Running by the elementary school, we saw five news vans, the kind with the portable satellites on top so they can report “live from the field.” There were heavily made-up field reporters standing in front of cameramen wielding bright lights, filing reports for the 7am newscast.

My first thought was that something horrible had happened at the school, and I worried that a student had been killed, or some suspicious stranger had broken in and acted shady around the kids or something. We didn’t stop, though. We made a mental note to look at the local news when we got home, then promptly forgot all about it.

Until I got this text from John:

I figured out why all the news vans were by the school. Last night the police shot a wild cougar who was roaming around the neighborhood. (Cougar as in big cat, not middle-aged woman with fake boobs and short dress.)

Amazing, right? Mountain lion, in my decidedly non-mountainous neighborhood! My neighborhood was in the New York Times! Putting aside the (surprisingly heated) discussions of “did the police do the right thing,” and “did the majestic cat have to die?” I just have to say: we clearly risked our lives when we took that run through our ‘hood. The only logical conclusion here is that running is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

I think I’ve mentioned before my issues with eavesdropping. If I’m in a public place (restaurant, subway, random street corner) and I hear someone having a loud conversation it’s hard for me not to listen. (This results in John and I having a lot of fairly quiet dinners when we are in crowded restaurants because I am impossibly distracted by all the conversations going on around me.  He finds this habit of mine charming.)

As a result, I tend to be super-aware of my voice level in public, trying to avoid carrying on loud conversations, particularly about potentially sensitive or embarrassing topics, because I tend to assume that there’s probably someone like me nearby who will be listening.

A woman I work closely with falls dramatically on the other side of this spectrum- she is totally oblivious to those around her when she is in the middle of a conversation. This is usually fine when we’re, say, in her office, or in a café having lunch. It is less awesome when we are, for example, in the bathroom at work (5 stalls! Other people around! My squeamishness about bathroom convos has been documented before!) or riding together in an elevator. Elevators are particularly bad. When we are waiting for one, I’ll cross my toes inside my shoes, silently willing it to be empty when it arrives at our floor. Even if it is not, Loud Coworker will continue to have full-on conversation with me, often talking over the heads of other passengers in the elevator, while I try to limit myself to one word grunt answers and staring at my shoes in mortification.

Today, for example, we were leaving a meeting in a government building. We got on the elevator and Loud Coworker, totally oblivious to the 4 other people already in it, says “well, I think we really have to keep an eye on Margaret, because I’m not sure she has any idea what she’s talking about with this proposal. I think she’s just trying to make a dramatic suggestion to get in good with her boss.”

DUDE. Loud Coworker, do you see these other people in here? Isn’t it possible that one of the other people knows Margaret? Or knows her boss? Or IS her boss? A little discretion, please!

I recognize, though, that it’s possible (though TERRIFICALLY UNLIKELY since I am always right,) that I am being unreasonable. I spent ages 8 through 17 in a pretty constant state of blushing because of something or another that someone had done that was, like, so embarrassing, so it’s possible I’m a teensy bit oversensitive to these things.

So tell me, am I the weird one here? If you were riding on an elevator and a duo got on and continued to chatter away at full volume, would you try your best to tune them out, or would you listen just in case it got interesting?

True story:

Interviewing a gentleman yesterday as part of the work I’m doing at this high school, my eye is drawn to something sparkly. It is a pinky ring, the kind I have read about in stories about Italian gangsters but have never seen in real life- gold, thick, with a sizable diamond in the middle of it. It looks, in fact, a lot like an engagement ring, except it is on the pinky of the hand of a 70-something year-old gentleman.

As I start to look away from the pinky ring and back at the person I am interviewing, I notice something else. His nails are shiny. Really shiny. Unnaturally shiny. Like “coated in clear nail polish” shiny. Come to think of it, his hands look surprisingly well-kept in general: shiny nails, no visible cuticles, well-moisturized….when it hits me. Oh my god, this guy gets manicures. This 70-something year old man with his denim button down tucked into his high-waisted denim jeans, who is wearing cowboy boots, whose ruddy face looks much like that of a man who has spent a lot of time on a stool at his local pub, gets manicures. “Don’t judge, pseudo,” I say to myself. “There is nothing wrong with taking care of one’s hands. Try to stop staring. Stop. Look back at his face. Focus, pseudo!” Except- so *shiny*. I am transfixed. Do all men who get manicures opt for the clear nail polish? Is this like a normal thing? I am fascinated, and cannot look away from his shiny, well-moisturized hands as they gesture while he talks.

Suddenly, I notice he has stopped talking. He looks at me, tilts his head. “What are you looking at, young lady?”

“Um,” I say, panicking a little. “Your ring, sir. It’s lovely.”

“Thank you!” he says, beaming. He continues his story.

Add to the list of things I never thought I would say: thank god for pinky rings.

Dear Chicago (the city, not the Ryan Adams song),

Saturday was this:

Wasn’t that fun?  60 degrees and clear, watching the Cubs win?  So what the heck is up with this?

Right Now for
Chicago, IL

Rain

39°F
Feels Like
33°F
It does not help that I’ve been getting up at 5am to get to this school site visit I’m doing by 630 am. Grump city around here.
Although it is kind of fun to be back in a high school again. Favorite student exchange from yesterday:
Misbehaving student who has just been punished for using the f word in class: “It’s a free country, man.  Don’t try to control me.  You don’t even KNOW me.  I’m, like, one of a kind.  Unique and deep and shit.”
Student next to him:  “Hell yeah, one of a kind.  Deep and shit.  Me too. What he said.”‘
That pretty much sums up high school, doesn’t it?  My friend is doing something cool/risky/funny/interesting- I want to do it too!  Don’t want to miss anything!  Me too! Wait for me!
Also, high school students are no better at approximating age than my elementary students were.  Did I ever tell you that story?  I started teaching elementary school when I was 23, and I didn’t really want to advertise that I was one of the youngest teachers in the school, so I would always demur when they asked me.  They finally decided to take a vote to determine how old they thought I was.  The students divided into two distinct camps: those who thought I was 19 (apparently I was a child prodigy and started college when I was 14) and those who were absolutely convinced I was 41 (um, geez, best look into some wrinkle cream, I guess.)  Yesterday a high school senior asked me how old I was, and I said “how old do you think I am?” and she said “um, 21?”  “No way,” said her friend, “she’s hella older than that- she’s like 45 or something.”  Sigh. Guess I still have a ways to go in the makeup department. Anyone know a good undereye concealer?

I had my first teaching dream in a long time last night.  I was visiting a school to teach a sample lesson because I was applying for a job there, and the classroom teacher told me “you’ll find we keep things a little more casual here than at a lot of other schools,” and then, as if on cue, all of the students slumped way down in their chairs so they were sitting like this (except with less of a 50’s greaser look and more of a 00’s street style look):

And I can’t precisely remember the rest of the dream, except there was a metal detector at the door of the classroom (instead of the door of the school, where they’re more typically located,) and the kids at one point were all ragging on me, saying I couldn’t handle it in their school because I was too dorky, not aware enough of the way things really work (combining teaching anxiety AND regular old garden variety high school “I’m not the cool kid” anxiety into one dream!  Bonus!) And I remember feeling profoundly sad, because for some reason in the dream I knew that one of the kids in the class I was teaching was not going to make it, was going to die tragically in a shooting that afternoon, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

This dream was not totally random.  There’s been a lot of violence involving teenagers in Chicago recently, a sad number of kids dying on the street, and those stories always hit me hard.  My friend MasonNYC (the artist formerly known in this space as Mason’s Sister) has been looking into teaching jobs in the Chicago area, and has been teaching sample lessons, and we’ve talked a couple times about the various schools she’s applying to.  And next week, I’ll be out of the office all week, working in a high school as part of a school site visit, writing a report that we hope will help the school improve the quality of teaching and learning there.  So clearly I have school on the brain. 

I miss working with kids, whether it’s being in schools on a regular basis or representing teenage clients.  I don’t like the part of my job where I feel like I’m looking at these issues from a view 15 stories up- I hated those 15-stories-up-view people when I was teaching, and now I am one of them.  It’s frustrating.  It makes me think hard about what I should look for in a job going forward.  I like the job I’m in now very much, but it has always been a short-term fellowship.  My career so far has been jobs and/or grad programs lasting:  1 year, 2 years, 3 years, and 2 years.  I figure I should eventually get a job that I plan to stay at for longer than a year or two.  My thirties seems like as good a time as any to give that a try. 

Because of the weird way law hiring works, within the next couple of months I’m going to have to start making some decisions about where I want to go next, and if I want to apply for certain categories of jobs when my fellowship is up.  You know, in September 2009.  OVER A YEAR FROM NOW.  Law hiring is so weird.  If I want to pursue a clerkship, for example, I should start looking, oh, yesterday.  If I want to pursue another kind of fellowship, I’ll need to get organized over the summer.  If I want to go into certain kinds of government work, I should probably get my application in about 9 months before I actually want to start, because that’s about how long it takes to go through the entire hiring process in some of these offices.  But if I want to go into a more traditional legal service job with a non-government entity, I shoud wait to apply for those jobs until summer 2009.  In summary:  If I play my cards right, I could be constantly in the process of applying for jobs, with the accompanying updating of resumes, accumulating of letters of recommendation, asking for references, suffering through interviews and rejections, and sitting on pins and needles waiting for answers, for the next year and a half.  Hold me. 

Today is the last day in the office for a girl I work with, and because (1) I like her very much and wish her well and (2) I like baking, I decided to bake her cupcakes for her last day.

I whipped up a batch of my favorite cake batter (Cooks Illustrated fluffy yellow cake), baked the cupcakes, and set about to make my most favoritest caramel frosting to put on top. (Okay, fine, there was probably also a reason (3) for this baking expedition, and that reason was probably hormonal. Sometimes, only a caramel-frosted yellow cupcake will do.)

I finished putting together the frosting and swiped my finger along the side of the bowl to taste the insane deliciousness and got….

Onions. The frosting tasted like onions. Just a hint, really, and the flavor was of caramelized onions, which are pretty good, but still. ONIONS.

Some investigatory sniffing of various pots, pans, and utensils revealed the culprit: the wooden spoon I’d used to stir the caramel was used a few days ago to make a tomato sauce and appears, (despite thorough washing) to have stubbornly held on to eau des oignions, transferring the flavor to the finished frosting.

In short, I had to start over. Not ideal. But at least I figured it out before I frosted the cupcakes. End of story, right?

Except, um, the onion frosting was sort of good, though, in its own onion-y way, and I am sort of embarrassed to admit this, but it is still sitting in my fridge because I couldn’t bear to throw it away. (I have to throw it away, right? There is no use for vaguely onion-scented frosting? None at all? Anyone?)

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