“It’s just another day, for you and me, in paradise…”
When I think back to how I used to refer to San Diego as “the epicenter of hell,” usually to the shock and/or genuine confusion of anyone who listened, the phrase now seems more of a loving epithet than anything else. Sure it felt like hell to live there, but now that I have relocated myself to the district, my special nickname for San Diego seems, well, a tad bit hyperbolic.
I think this because I have lately discovered a whole new version of hell right here in our nation’s capital. Now, anyone who knows me personally will attest to my occasional fondness for extravagant exaggeration, but there are some things that are difficult to exaggerate. The seething hostility and frustration of Washington’s residents is one of them.
More generally, I have found one thing to be true of most people living in a Western culture; that is, about 3.28 percent of the general population is actively engaged in living a meaningful life while the other 96.72 percent are just “floaters.” Floaters are similar to amoebas in the sense that they are non-thinking bits of biological mass that evolve on the basis of the passage of time only.
Floaters in San Diego are usually characterized by a simple ambivalence; “You may or may not exist but who cares? I’m shopping.” DC floaters have the added quality of being openly hostile. They are more likely to say, “Get out of my way or I will shoot you.”
Given this new information, I have decided to adopt a system of classification that will help convey the relative hellishness of each new place I experience. For example, if San Diego corresponds roughly to, say, the fourth circle of hell (reserved for those who are greedy and/or indulgent), then Washington might be closer to the eighth circle of hell.
Specifically, Washington residents might be sent to the second ditch of the eighth circle of hell, where flatterers are steeped in human excrement. Or maybe ditch five, where corrupt politicians are trapped in a lake of burning pitch. The permutations are unlimited and can be fun to imagine. The point is if San Diego is the fourth circle of hell, then DC is at least the eighth.
Today easily earns the designation “The Hottest Most Miserable Walk to Work So Far This Year.” Only ten minutes into my 40-minute commute, I was already breaking a full sweat and it was clear that others around me were also suffering. By the time I turned the corner to Mass Ave, I might as well have been picking cotton in the Deep South, only without all the benefits.
Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits
- Name: Lola Bites Back
- Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany
Laughing all the way...
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
“It’s just another day, for you and me, in paradise…”
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
The Dubious Life and Uncertain Times of a DC Peon
Made my first foray outside the beltway this past Saturday to Baltimore, Maryland. Home of, well I don’t know, the Domino sugar sign that is the size of a basketball court? Anyway, Baltimore was a nice town, and I suspect Vince and I both were wishing we lived there instead (everything looks like paradise compared to DC). Vince said Baltimore was the smellier stepsister to DC but I think he was smoking crack at the time. The only downside I saw was the relative lack of public transportation, but the friends we visited said they didn’t like the people, which I completely understand because the people in DC are just as ambivalent if not more…
Office Shenanigans 101: A Tale of Rage
As usual, I arrived at work this morning at 9:02 am ready for the fun to begin.
The phone rang so I picked it up. It was a high-level Korean finance official asking for Big K, so I let her know he was holding. Big K was skeptical that I had gotten the correct information so instead of taking the call, she scolded me in her thick Greek accent…"are you sure it’s him? I am certain you are wrong…" By the time she decided to answer the phone, Mr. Very Important was gone…
Big K was ready to explode, but as I had not actually done anything wrong, she had to find an alternate victim. She immediately called the reception desk lady and demanded to know why the call had been sent to me (answer: because that’s what the reception lady does). She shouted in a condescending manner for almost 10 minutes while we (office peons) pretended this was normal. Later on, a frazzled reception desk lady called me to find out what the dilly yo. I apologized and told her she was only the latest recipient of Big K’s rage…
So this is the stuff of (my) life, eh?
On the upside of things, I’m Taxman Wally’s newest devotee! Even though he charged me $200, he made it so I don’t owe anything (except $200)!! It feels so good to get screwed less than you thought you would be, doesn’t it? Thank you, Taxman Wally, for taking my money away from the gum’mint.
“Cause I’m the taxman, yeaaaaahhhhhhh the taaaaax maaaaaaannnnnnnnn”
Friday, July 22, 2005
When the Blahg goes blah...
Can’t write anything today, there’s just no blah left in me for my blahg. This week was a long one and now that it’s Friday I’m feeling beat down. For lunch I ate a chocolate croissant and two bags of M&Ms. Yup, it’s going that well.
The only reason I had TWO bags of M&Ms is because the vending machine didn’t deliver the first time, and I really had to have M&Ms, so I was forced to put another sixty cents in the damned thing. Then both bags fell out, of course, so as you can see, events conspired against me.
Also I’m feeling inhibited by the fact that someone I know might read my blahg, so now I can’t really write what I think so’s not to offend any of the related parties.
For an interesting glimpse into what went wrong in The Epicenter of Hell (aka Southern California) courtesy the Swiss Contingent;
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Wisely chalking this whole DC thing up to the “I’ll do anything once” philosophy…
This morning I tested out the commuting thing. Vince and I hopped a crowded bus to the tres yuppie Cleveland Park where we spent a few moments enjoying coffee and juice before we made a quick detour to see the taxman and then hopped on the metro (subway, tube, bart). This was my first commute using actual transportation and I must say, it’s the kind of thing everyone should do once. No sooner did we step into the train than a large-faced woman reading the Washington Post Express complained in a pointedly nasty voice, “you’re bumping me with your backpack!”
“Why, I’m terribly sorry ma’am, but as you can see, I am but a lowly bumpkin, and when the train left I momentarily lost my bumpkin balance. Can you ever forgive me please?” I groveled. She scowled but said nothing. Perhaps she was considering whether the backpack and red muu muu were indications of disability.
While Vince and Lola narrowly escape the perils of district metro rage, the Swiss Contingent is busy threatening inebriated California-loving European scientists with bloody noses. Let’s hear it for improved transatlantic relations!
Reason #364 Why California is a Great Place to Leave
Taxman: “That’ll be a minimum of 150 duckets. We gotta charge yew extra for the special California software.”
Me: “But Mr. Taxman, I only grossed $21,000 dollars last year!”
Taxman: “That’s mighty sad.”
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
...Breaking News…Breaking News…Breaking News…Breaking News...
In a startling turn of events, The Swiss Contingent has decided to join the ranks of Internet provocateurs everywhere in a new online submission called Another Day in Scientific Paradise.
The delegates of the SC have announced their interest in joining the scientific study of fungi to the popular recreational pleasure of blowing things up; two previously unrelated disciplines whose association is sure to rile even the most relative of global scientific thinkers. This unprecedented (and controversial) proposal promises to break new ground on the previously unexplored fungi/explosives front. Stay tuned for regular updates on this fascinating new development….!
Hoping For The Best in the DC Bull Ring
On my way to work this morning, I met an old man. Let me just say that chance meetings are not easy to come by in a place where people rarely look you in the eyes or make any other gestures of acknowledgement, but I noticed this man and it looked like he might speak to me, so I stopped.
He was dark-skinned with a stubbly face and had that gentle, old-man quality. I wondered if he was from East Africa (there is a substantial East African population in the neighborhood, especially Ethiopians). He kept repeating something over and over, but I struggled to understand everything he said. I eventually surmised that he worked in a kitchen nearby and after some effort, he produced his driver’s license; Reyes Hernandez. He was Cuban and had simply been repeating his name…but without any “s” or “z” sounds.
I told him I learned Spanish in Veracruz and he became animated, “Ahhhh Mexico!” We chatted for a few minutes in Spanish and I told him I was late for work but that I would come to his restaurant to eat (con mi marido, bien soeur!!) and chat sometime.
Anyway, I thought I’d share a bright moment in an otherwise lonely city. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that it’s impossible to meet people here. In fact, I think it’s even harder to meet people in San Diego, where I lived for five years and never met a soul (minor exaggeration). Here I’ve met a few people already, and could probably meet more if I were more open to it. Problem is, I don’t want to know most of these people. I look at all these “young professionals,” in their meticulously coordinated outfits (men and women mind you), carrying their Starbucks ™ and chatting on their cell phone headsets while browsing at Benetton on their lunch breaks, and I think to myself “I never want to be like that.”
That’s why I respond with an inner glow of self-satisfaction when someone (usually from my office) suddenly notices that my legs are *gasp* hairy! No one would actually say anything, but the resulting facial contortions are grade A entertainment..
Anyway, there appears to be some larger purpose to all this self-inflicted discomfort aka life. Recently I discovered an old notebook wherein I recorded extended sufferings due to another instance of self-inflicted discomfort and it dawned on me that my modus operandi is just that; self-inflicted discomfort. If I simply won’t take the bull by the horns, then I will just throw myself into the ring and see what happens.
“Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life”
Friday, July 15, 2005
This morning as we rushed to get ready for work, my significant other suddenly lost it. Somebody had been honking a car horn in the street and he just couldn’t take it anymore. He went to the front door and screamed, “What the hell is wrong with you people?!!”
I can relate to this; it is a symptom of living in this purgatorial city. The kind of people who thrive here are organized to the brink of dementia. They obsess about details. They are intense and determined to please. And sometimes, they’re a little frustrated too. Like too many rats in the cage of life.
“In spite of my rage I’m still just a rat in a cage” would be the district’s theme song if it weren’t already one continuous police siren.
Surrounded with insidious stress and frustration, it is especially important to focus on what is truly important in life. One thing I appreciate, especially in this exceedingly humid environment, is going to work without panties. That’s right, working without panties not only feels more comfortable, but has the added benefit of being a small but satisfying act of civil disobedience. A clear case of everybody wins!
Victor the lifeguard: “I’m here for the income.”
Sure, it seems ludicrous that I moved myself across the country to live in an intensely uncomfortable city that symbolizes many things I want to reject about American and western culture, but I believe there is a very good reason for it that will someday make itself apparent. The difficult transition to stressful city life has certainly taken a toll, but in spite of that I believe there are important things I can and will accomplish here. This next year is a chance to regroup and prepare; I can save a significant amount of money, address my health concerns, get some experience teaching English and earn a teaching certification. When I accomplish all these things, I will have the means to do something I have always talked about doing; go abroad to teach English, starting in Veracruz.
In other words I’m starting to think my time here will serve a number of essential functions, even if it is low in the kind of quality of life I desire, and therefore am bracing myself to optimize the time I am here. For now, I will resist the urge to quantify this optimization using Lagrange Multipliers.
Today’s Fun Facts!
$2762.32: the astonishing amount of money I have spent since July 8!
14: The number of times I have peed since 9:15 this morning!
Thursday, July 14, 2005
The Age of Unlimited Optimism
Today I am testing out a new diet; it’s called the “All Cookies, All The Time, Weight Loss Stratagem.” So far I am having minimal success, but I will be sure to update everyone on my progress. I think by early next week I should start seeing some results.
When all else is lost, at least I’m not puffing on cancer sticks (no offense to my Swiss Contingent, of course). I figure I’m saving at least $10 duckets a week, which comes to $520 big ones by D-Day (as in Dee-parture Day). My ambitious savings goal means that every ducket counts!
In other news, I am slowly getting my living quarters in order. The big benefit of living in a tiny (by American standards) space is the built-in incentive to downsize. Not only do I not want one single extra thing, but I find myself wondering if I can live without some things (“But how often are we really using the couch?”)
Last night I tried to enlist my San Diego Contingent as a potential consumer of my blahg. The official response was “I don’t get it. Please explain.” That’s why I’ve decided to include more exclamation points and interactive topics, starting with Fun Science Facts!
Fun Science Facts!
For those of you who have been waiting with baited breath, Avogadro’s Number is the calculated value of the number of atoms, molecules, etc. in a gram mole of any chemical substance, but that’s not all. The real shocker is that the number of molecules in a mole is 6.022 * 10 to the 23rd power. That is, 602,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 or about the same number of cookies I consumed last month. Another offender in the Useless Information Taking Up Space In My Head category is the quadratic equation;
-b +/- sq root (b squared-4(a)(c))/2a
Can anyone tell me what the quadratic equation is for??
Join us next time for the answer and a new philosophical treatise on Lagrange Multipliers and the Essence of Optimization.
Present Functionality (on a scale of 1-10): 4
Most Annoying Person Today: Huge guy next to me on the bus obsessively re-arranging his task icons in Outlook on his laptop computer with his huge elbows violating the arms length rule.
Where I Most Want To Be Right Now: Havelock Island
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Hot Damn! Summer in the City!
Actually, there is no sun today, which made my walk to work a bit more tolerable. The thing about the humidity here is that it hangs in the air like sticky smog. It’s actually rather nice, in a third-world kind of way.
Enough about the weather; I should muse on the fine city of DC for the benefit of my foreign contingent in Switzerland. DC is a remarkably segregated town, with plenty of crime and incompetent governance. “We” (as in district residents) are represented in congress by a delegate who does not have voting privileges (http://www.dcfordemocracy.org/index.pl/dc-voting-rights). Our local government passes legislation (most recently a ban on guns) which is then overturned by congress. Some people put signs in their car windows reading “no stereo, no ashtray, no nothing” while little piles of car window glass appear regularly along the curb in our gentrified neighborhood. Less than a month ago, DC Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey had his Crown Victoria stolen (police responded by handing out flyers to try and locate it http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/20/AR2005062001003_pf.html). The district theme song is one continuous police siren.
Although a substantial Latino population lives only a few blocks away, our neighbors in Mt. Pleasant are pure white. If we want white people groceries (tofu, fresh salads, organic anything…), we go one mile West to where the rich white people live. If we want brown people groceries (chorizo, queso fresco, chile…), we go one mile East. Both directions are uphill.
Now let me just say that if DC people aren't exactly bubbling over with personality, they do have a very specific look about them. The majority seems to have just stepped out of a J. Crew magazine, complete with pastel sweater worn around the shoulders. Most are meticulously dressed, with coordinated shoes, belts, handbags, and pooper-scoopers. Tourists are easy to spot: they carry cameras, wear polo shirts, shorts and tennis shoes, are overweight and ask you for directions. Others, like the woman I passed up on my way to work the other morning, belong squarely in the “diplomat” category. She was most likely Latin in origin as the scent of her cologne lingered for an entire block behind her. She wore zapatίas with her elegant white suit and carried shopping bags from the Diplomatic Duty Free Shop.
DC is all about impressions. To be taken seriously here, you have to look and act the part. This is where I erred in deciding to come here (“Lola! You look so….comfortable!”). When I look at the mangled, band-aid covered feet of women all around, I smile inside knowing I’m wearing The European Comfort Shoe. That’s right, the only time I turned heads in this town was the day I walked home with a towel around my waist.
Just this morning, two young, well-dressed female interns discussed the pros and cons of using the word “partner” to describe one’s significant other. Both had noticed their co-workers using the term and agreed it was awkward, as if those people were trying to avoid acknowledging the “real” nature of their relationships (which is…?).
But I digress.
In other news, Karl Rove is a sad loser. And in other news, Karl Rove is going down. And in other news, Karl Rove is the subject of a grand jury investigation and I am suffering from news junkie-itis.
Defect from the United States.
Learn at least three more languages.
Do humanitarian work in the third world.
Become a teacher (English, then yoga).
Write something that gets published.
Live on a farm with a goat named Chuck.
Learn to dance.
Spend three months camping on an island with my Swiss Contingent.
Travel across Northern Africa.
Enough! This city is melting my brain! Only 11.5 months left on my lease!
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I am in the process of being hired on permanently at this hideously monotonous job I do. That means I’m staying for a while. O happy day.
The good news is that I have a plan to get out of the country. All I have to do is *choke* wait six months, let the boss foot the bill for my three-month TEFL course, wait another three-six months, then fly my ass to Veracruz, Mexico. Home of the tamal de frijol! Home of los tiburones! Home of dana la vaca! What could be more fantastic than sipping delicious, home-grown coffee from La Gran Café de la Parroquia as huge ships come and go from the most famous port in all of Mexico? Waterfalls and Mayan ruins and 2.7 Catholic churches per capita? That’s right! DC ain’t got NOTHING on VC!
Seems like the only thing that will keep me sane for the next fifteen months is dreaming about where I’m going next…In the meantime, I got plans to offer my ESL services to wacked out DC immigrants.
"Don't Call Me Shirley" -G. Sanchez, Jr. 1998
Thursday, July 07, 2005
May the world learn to forgive ignorance.
What can be said about the 37 people killed this morning in four separate bombings of the London underground?
Those who claim responsibility, a (surprise!) devoted derivative of al-Qaeda, claimed they did it “in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Italy and Denmark are mentioned as possible future targets, too, if they don’t get their troops out of Iraq.
The father of terrorism himself, GW Bush, knows what it all means and was eager to explain it for us. He says the attacks are proof that the war on terror must continue.
Forgive me for trying to inject some secular reasoning into a mentality with GOD on its side, but if we can drop bombs in the name of GOD then why can’t al-Qaeda? Which one is terrorism and which one isn’t?
Thank you, President Bush, for facilitating the worldwide spread of hatred in the name of GOD and in the name of Americans everywhere. Your example will inspire hatred and murder for generations to come.
"Just give up." -S. Guimil 2004
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Should we have Sushi or Italian?
For some people, It’s hard to ignore the fact that every day our country slides a little bit more and a little bit faster into a powerful vortex of fear and shame.
It was the dead of night and I was alone in my car driving south on San Diego’s Interstate 15 when I learned that GWB had been “appointed” President by the Supreme Court. That’s when I first felt disconnected from my body. That’s when my parallel universe began.
Then, in the days following 9/11, that feeling of disconnectedness reached a new level as American flags began popping up on front lawns and SUVs. I was horrified that people were responding to the attack on the World Trade Center with renewed American pride. No period of reflection, no thoughtful questions, no lessons learned…only the chain link fence of a highway overpass with the words “God Bless America” painstakingly spelled out in hundreds of painted Styrofoam cups.
Back then I waited for somebody somewhere to call a spade a spade, but it never happened. I was repelled and insulted by the sesame street mentality of news reports covering the Iraq War as if it weren’t a sham. Only now, more than four years later, is one thing abundantly clear: things will get much worse before they get any better.
I want to pretend that it doesn’t affect me and continue living my life in a cloud of forced ignorance like everyone else. But that was a whole lot easier when I lived in podunk. Now information overload has given me something new to be guilty about—how can I sit here and watch my country crumble without lifting a finger?
Luckily, it does seem that even with their senses dulled by pop tarts and FOX, some Americans are finally starting to think they might give a shit about their country. Representative John Conyers of Michigan’s 14th Congressional District is organizing a large scale anti-war protest on September 24th and I for one plan to be there. He's also leading the effort to impeach George Bush.. now there's something I can feel good about!
As it happens, DC is a good place to watch the cauldron simmer. That's right kiddies, the fun don’t stop with the July 4th fireworks.
“I’m bleeding like a gangster out of Compton.” —S. Guimil, 2005
Friday, July 01, 2005
IT’S A JU-LY HIGH
Well the end of the week is arrived; today is Friday and it promises to be, well, much like the four days leading up to it. I’ll start my morning off easy, you know, check my email, blahg a little, go get some water…then back at my desk I’ll shuffle some papers (to indicate that work is happening) before I settle into the “news.” Lucky for me, we maintain a strict policy of “don’t ask don’t tell.” You don’t ask me what I’m doing and I won’t tell you there’s nothing to do.
Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little. Since I came here four months ago there have been at least four different days that were extremely busy. But right now everyone’s on vacation. That leaves just me and my expressionless co-worker. That’s right, not only do I work in a place that could be a mausoleum (silent, cold, proper, silent), my only co-worker does not speak or make expressions with her face. Feels a lot like the twilight zone.
…when the boss is in, we be busy translating his chicken scratch. When he be out, we be enduring time. Yes, this type of environment will, over time, corrode the psyche. That’s why I plan to follow the universal wisdom eloquently expressed by The Steve Miller Band: Take the money and run. I’ve got 11 months to experience this unique if not exactly pleasant city called Washington DC. Then I’m taking my money an runnin.’
To counter the effects of Wednesday’s diatribe, I’m going to tell you what I like about my life. With America hitting full spin in the toilet, it’s harder and harder to feel good about being here. But instead of worrying about depressing things I can’t control, I’m going to highlight the positives. For me, one big positive is the community swimming pool I walk past on my way home everyday.
A free community swimming pool with dedicated hours for lap swimmers every workday. What else could a girl ask for? In my view, this pool is the godsend that is going to help me get through my “DC experience” with a smile still on my face.
I meet people at the community swimming pool. For example Kin, the very enthusiastic Asian man I’ve met a few times now. Kin is very excited about lap swimming, and whenever I see him he launches into an energetic, “I feel great! How many laps did you do? That’s great! Keep it up!” sometimes accompanied by a strong, friendly slap on the arm. Admittedly, the arm thing is not easy to appreciate. First of all, it’s always a bit of a shock when you’re simply not used to being touched by people you meet. Secondly, the force literally throws me off balance. Third, I become suddenly and acutely aware that my upper arm is reverberating like Jell-O. This is something no woman ever wants to be aware of. But Kin doesn’t mind; he has only one thing on his mind. “I love swimming! I did 90 laps today! I feel amazing!”
I like Kin because there are few people in DC with his kind of energy. The lifeguard at my community swimming pool said he’s been in DC for a year “and they’s a lot of angry people.” He says he’s here for the income and has just decided to make the best of it. I agree with him. I’m going to try to make the best of it. I’m not going to let these miserable people suck me under. How’s that for inspiration?!