porcelainandporcupines

Archive for the ‘blast from the past’ Category

First, a bit of news: I recently discovered an NPR station that stays tuned in on my car radio the entire length of my commute, rather than switches over to country music 1/3 of the way to work. Which, as far as novelties go, was exceptionally short-lived. But, the point is, now that I can spend an entire car ride pretending I have people to talk with, I may have less to say on the subject of whatever good or terrible song I have just heard for the first time. I know you’re sad, but at least I leave you with this discussion of Shut Up and Dance, by the band Walk the Moon, which holds the distinction of there being no other song that makes me change the radio station faster. 

Which,  honestly, makes it hard to know how to start talking about this song and my deep feelings on it, since I’m really only familiar with about 17 seconds of it. But those 17 seconds stick with me, because the song raises a conundrum which I then spend several minutes considering, and that conundrum is whether the song is incredibly cynical, or am the cynical one for thinking this is the most cynical song I’ve every heard?

It seems like the easy answer is me, that I’m the cynic, since, on the face of it, Shut Up and Dance is nothing but an upbeat bit of fluff exhorting the audience to dance, albeit quite impolitely. It is instantly sing-along-able and has a retro vibe beyond the sample of Where the Streets Have No Name that opens the song.

But then that sample starts to trouble me. Not because of anything I have against sampling, but I think that to count as sampling, you have to alter the original in some way, use it in a different context or in some other way be unexpected. Like when Naughty By Nature sampled the Jackson Five for O.P.P, taking the hook from a schoolboy’s crush and reapplying it to the homies who betray both their bros and their hos by indulging in the titular,uh, property, that belongs to other people. Shut Up and Dance, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything with U2’s guitar chords other than just, you know, play them as they lay.

This is what makes me believe it’s the song that’s cynical, rather than me. Because I’ve never in my live heard a song more clearly designed to be a big hit song than this one. And I say “designed” because I don’t believe this was written by actual human beings, but instead is the result of an advanced algorithm designed by an away team  of undercover aliens this close to mastering our human ways.

As a very lazy person, I do respect that strategy. It’s hard to write a big hit song; U2 did it in 1987, so why reinvent the wheel? We all know that U2 approves of recycling, so if they’re cool with it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be, too. On the other hand, if Walk the Moon isn’t going to bring any of itself to this endeavour, there’s no reason I shouldn’t just listen to the U2 song.

 

Of course, the U2 chords fade, to be replaced by generic ’80s guitar and synth, uh, things (you guys: I don’t know about music), as the focus shifts to the songs lyrics. Which isn’t an improvement, because I don’t understand at all what is the story this song is telling. 

The first verse goes as such:

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me

When did these two meet? I’m given the impression that they’re relationship starts with the song does- and, indeed, Google reports that in a subsequent verse the gentleman describes their relationship as “chemical physical kryptonite,” which is illusively evocative and entirely nonsensical but also gives a degree of urgency usually associated with the beginnings of things- which makes his “You’re holding back,” to be more than a little presumptuous. Yes, of course she’s holding back; that’s what people do with strangers, until they get to know them better. It’s probably supposed to be romantic, and maybe if I listened to the whole song I might end up rooting for this couple, but being familiar with only this one verse, I have to say it comes across as a little bit rapey.

Also, for a song so reliant on ’80s tropes, they missed a major opportunity in not having that woman be his density; that’s a song I probably could have gotten behind.

Finally, let’s talk about the band name for a second: Walk the Moon. I understand there are no official rules to naming a band, and thus no requirement that the name make sense. But I think we can all agree that, if a band name is going to nothing more than  string of random words, it shouldn’t include any verbs. Neutral Milk Hotel? Sure – sounds like a strange place to stay, but I’m along for the ride. Walk the Moon? No – fuck off and don’t tell me what to do.

That’s a lot of words to spill on a song that seems destined for the dust bins of history. I’d probably have more to say if I could listen to the whole song, but instead, let’s end with a nice list of 5 one-hit wonders I’d rather listen to than this hear this nonsense ever again:

  1. Mmmbop, by Hanson – I legitimately like this song. It seems peppy, but it’s actually a surprisingly dark discussion of aging. It’s not Death in Venice, certainly, but for a pop song by a bunch of teens, it’s unusual.
  2. Tubthumper, by Chumbawumba – now here is a song clearly written to achieve massive popularity, and nothing more. But, the almost angelic voice of the woman singing “Pissing the night away,” is a clever note. I’d hang out and chat with these guys for a little while.
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something – I feel bad for Deep Blue Something, because I am sure some record executive somewhere promised them they’d be the next Hootie and the Blowfish, but apparently none of them had the charisma of Darius Rucker even if I really like a redhead. As for their name, well, the ’90s was an experimental time in overt apathy, so I grade them on a curve. But, all that said, I’m okay with this song. I wouldn’t buy an album, but I’m pretty sure I have a perfectly legal download of the single.
  4. Inside Out, by Eve 6- Most likely the only reason this song is on the list is because I just found out the band’s name was inspired by the X-Files episode “Eve”, and I like the X-Files enough not to watch the reboot. This is a perfectly serviceable if unmemorable song. Oh, and look at that – another redhead!
  5. Come on Eileen, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners – This is maybe the granddaddy of one-hit wonders from the ’80s, and overall I have to say that after three decades I’m actually quite tired of it. But I feel like DMR is a great example of being born in the wrong time, and that with the current popularity of bluegrass and folk music, they might have had a shot at sustained popularity if they were coming up now. So I feel a little bad for them. I also feel like they’re ripe for a comic book adaptation about Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a courier service that handles the most urgent overnight deliveries, and the interesting and/or sinister characters they meet on the job. As long as it didn’t get too, like, super-hero-y, I would read that.

 

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In one corner: She’s So High, by Tal Bachman

In the other: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something

Each of these songs is more than 15 years old. Each of these songs is terrible. There is no reason in the world why anyone should be talking about either of these songs in this, the latter half of 2014. But both of them got stuck in my head over the weekend, so why not see if we can determine which of these one-hit wonders is less likely to clear the dance floor on ’90s night?

Artist name: Tal Bachman vs. Deep Blue Something

If an infinite amount of monkeys were given an infinite number of typewriters, they would write Hamlet. It would take significantly fewer monkeys, working on maybe 3 typewriters, to come up with Deep Blue Something. And even then, rather than being impressed that any number of monkeys managed to type out a series of actual words, random though it might be, you’d probably think “Wow, those monkeys are not as clever as they think they are.”

Tal Bachman, on the other hand, is just the name of some guy.

Verdict: While the simplicity of a given name should, in most circumstances, win out over the creative output of, like, 5 really smug monkeys, the unfortunate fact remains that that I had to look up the singer of She’s So High, while Deep Blue Something I just knew. Instant recognition means there’s no intermediate step before I can move on to forgetting about them again, so the point goes to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Subject Matter

The somewhat confusingly-titled She’s So High is not expressing concern about the stoner girl in your high school and/or college class, but instead is about a very pretty girl that Taj thinks is out of his league. Spoiler alert : she talks to him anyway.

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the singer makes a last-ditch effort to save his troubled romantic relationship by reminding his significant other that they both “kind of liked” the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Could also be titled “Grasping at Straws”.

Verdict: Neither song is breaking new ground in terms of subject matter, nor where they back in their pre-millenial heyday. There is no upending of convention in the miracle of a pretty woman speaking to a less-attractive man without being tricked into it, nor in trying to stall the end of a failing relationship. However, that the effort to stall the end is an impassioned plea that rests entirely on a film that they remember as “kind of” liking makes it clear that the relationship in BaT is absolutely doomed.

The relationship in SSH hasn’t happened yet, so it does still have the potential to do something out of the ordinary, even though it will probably be just as predictable as every other iteration. Thus, the point goes to She’s So High.

Baffling Choruses (Chori?)

She’s So High makes this case for itself:

‘Cause she’s so high,

high above me, she’s so lovely

She’s so high,

Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite

She’s so high, high above me.

This does very little to clarify that the song is not about some tripping and probably filthy hippie, and in fact adds greater confusion, with the “high above me” conjuring images of a girl who is literally hovering above the ground.

But the most truly confusing aspect of the chorus is the inclusion of Joan of Arc in the list of historical beauties. I understand the limitations of a rhyme scheme, and that a song is not a history lesson, but really? Not to say that Joan of Arc was not attractive, and I’m sure that in the crowd surrounding the stake upon which she was burned to death, there was at least one mopey loser realizing that maybe her divine visions would have shown her that he was a good guy and he only didn’t follow her into the successful battle that she lead because he was so nervous and tongue-tied around her, and now, now that the wind-swept ashes that had been her lovely hair were catching on his eyelashes, he sees that she, like him, was human after all and he should have spoken to her and he’ll always carry that regret with him, but really?

Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes out swinging with this:

And I said what about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

She said I think I remember the film,

and, as I recall, we both kind of liked it.

And I said, well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.

Should the fact that two people are lukewarm on Audrey Hepburn be enough to save a relationship? Does the fact that you’re not totally sure you’ve forgotten one particular activity the two of you engaged in mean that there’s something worth fighting for? Remember how discomfited we were by the SUPER racist Japanese character played by Mickey Rooney? Don’t throw that away.

Verdict: The couple at the center of BaT is clearly filled with apathy, whereas SSH is reducing not just one woman but women throughout history to helium-filled Real Girls, floating above the city like a perpetual pornographic Thanksgiving Day parade. And weren’t the ’90s apathy’s last stand, before the Millenials came along and ruined everything? Point, and, because I have to go to a meeting, match to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The Smithsonian reported earlier this week that we’re approaching “Peak Beard”. Which is to say that we’ve reached a cultural saturation point with regards to  facial hair; beards, their infinite varieties and configurations, are indeed everywhere. And while there will always be a need for the beard in our society – how else a  silver fox make himself even more distinguished? or a sports team win the playoffs? –  right now, that necessity has become commonplace. Through their very numbers, any individual beard has dissolved into the vast sea of beard that has washed over us all. The beard, in short, has sold out.

That being said, the dawn of Peak Beard reminds me of the one and only beard story I have. At least, it’s the only one I remember in its entirety; I do have a vague recollection of an apartment search that  involved a bearded lady, but I couldn’t tell you how. That story may not have had a punchline, or not one beyond “bearded lady”; that makes things harder to remember.

But, I digress. Anyway  – several years ago, I was having  lunch with some friends; our table was crowded, but the only two people I remember specifically as being present were Debbie and Scott, though not because that was unusual. We were deeply involved in your standard lunchtime conversation, filling what would otherwise be silent in an unremarkable manner, when by our table passed a guy with a beard.

“Hey,” I interjected. “Who’s that guy with the beard?”
“Which one?” Debbie asked.

The table paused, as everyone stopped to focus on Debbie. Debbie had a habit for malaprop, most famously declaring her tendency to “eat several guys under a table” in a discussion of how much she enjoyed food. The  beard question did not, on its face, have quite that level of humor inherent; it was the context in which the question was posed that elevated it into the annals of Stories We’d Tell, and the context was this : we were in high school at the time.

Specifically, we were Sophomores. And, while puberty comes to different people at different times, facial hair is scarce enough as a whole, and then patchy enough in its initial expression on the faces of youth, that anything robust enough to be fully and properly referred to as “beard” on the face of anyone other than a teacher, is noticeable. This was not like the time Heath had burst out in frustration “Petunia Pig, dammit!” in his effort to call  attention to a particularly unattractive floral top; this being the ’80s, particularly unattractive was the norm, floral or otherwise. In high school – which, in many ways, is the opposite of peak beard – “the guy with the beard” should have been description enough.

And so we paused, briefly, until it became clear that the only possible response to Debbie’s question was for all of us to raise our voices in unison to reiterate “THE ONE. WITH. THE BEARD.”*

It turns out Debbie didn’t know who that guy was; no one did. He remains a mystery to this day. Possibly, he was a narc of some kind. But, more than anyone, I hope for his sake that the transition back to post peak beard is swift. Because if he couldn’t reliably be recognized for having a beard in high school, then the past few years must have truly been torture.

 

*And this, even though we did not yet have sarcastic punctuation in the Eighties.

While it makes sense to me that people might start a relationship with a co-worker, I’ve always been somewhat amazed by couples who work together. I’m at least partially aware that working together would not entail literally spending the entire work day together, yet the idea of spending that much time with any one person is, frankly, exhausting. One of the very few things I still enjoy about working on Saturdays is that it’s an entire day that I have to myself; if I had to share that day with someone, and then had to go and spend even more time with them later? They’d already know how amazing my Saturday was, which would really limit my conversational options.

Of course, in addition to bringing your relationship into the workplace, you’re also bringing the workplace into your relationship. By which I mean coworkers; and, though it is undoubtedly wonderful to be able to bask in the reflected glow of admiration in the eyes of your coworkers because of the purity of your love, nothing travels through a workplace like word of romantic woes that are none of anyone’s business. This was something I learned many years ago, when Vanessa sleeping with Sharon’s boyfriend rocked the call center where we all worked.

I should clarify that Vanessa and Sharon’s boyfriend did not actually sleep together. But this is a family blog, and to accurately describe the activities in which they engaged might pose a risk to my PG-13 rating.  Euphemistically, it could be said that they engaged in some adult conversation, wherein Sharon’s boyfriend was on the receiving end of quite a lecture.

How all of this came about, I can’t exactly say. The talk itself happened at a function that was work-adjacent. I myself wasn’t present for the event, in either the macro or micro sense, but instead found out about through my roommate, who was also a coworker, and was both at said function and was somehow present enough to overhear the conversation between Jordan and Vanessa. Although I am, unfortunately, unable to forget how impressed he was with Jordan’s capacity for listening (Jordan being Sharon’s boyfriend,) even at the time of the telling, I did not quite understand how it all happened to come about, and so cannot share that with you now.

What I do remember is how carefully eager everyone at work was to share what they knew. I very clearly recollect smoking with Tracey in the parking lot behind the building, me sitting on the fire escape and her standing not quite beside it, each of us trying to delicately figure out what the other person knew, each fairly certain that what we knew was worse, and, realizing that we both knew, finally unburdening ourselves of the secret we had kept for less than 24 hours.

What I also remember is that, despite this being an oft-mentioned secret in the call center, we never actually shared that we knew what we knew with the people we knew it about. This was a decision I was not entirely comfortable with: on the one hand, it seemed like Sharon might benefit from knowing that, not only was her boyfriend a titanic sack of crap, he also did not have the basic good sense of even the dumbest animal who knows not to shit where it eats; on the other hand, as the supervisor, it seemed inappropriate to involve myself in any kind of personal shenanigan that happened outside the workplace, adulterous or otherwise. No matter how often it might come up in conversation.

(I was going to include a link to a description of “subtweet” in that last sentence, but it turns out I didn’t actually know what a subtweet is. Man, the lingo today; it is so fetch.)

And it only grew more difficult not to blurt out what I knew as time went on. Although Jordan was not someone with whom I’d generally ever socialized; and Vanessa had been widely shunned even prior to her talk with Jordan, what with her seemingly below-average intelligence, her weird walk like she always breaking in a new pair of shoes, and the fact that she never, ever, ever pushed in her chair when she got up from her desk; Sharon had a sociability that her perfidious paramour lacked, and quickly became a regular part of the workplace social scene.

Which was awkward. Because a lot of Sharon’s conversation was devoted to things that Jordan did and things that Jordan said. And under the barrage of her evidently boundless admiration for Jordan and the way he lived his life, it grew increasingly difficult not to point out that, in addition to his manly feats of strength, or whatever it was that she was going on about, he had also slept with Vanessa.

After one particularly lengthy conversation with Sharon, in which I’d heroically bitten my tongue for no less than 45 minutes, I confided to the closest thing our group had to an adult – DS – the trouble I was having. DS understood; he cared about Sharon too, and it was getting harder for him not to tell her as well. I nodded quietly; DS was wise.

Except, secretly, DS did not understand. Although he was wise – let there be no confusion about that. It’s just that, through talking to him, what I realized was is that, secretly, deep down, I’m a terrible person. I didn’t want to tell Sharon because I cared about her; what I wanted was for her to shut up. Because it was annoying, how wrong she was about Jordan, and it was annoying to have to take part in an endless conversation that was a lie, and it seemed like the most effective way to put a stop to it was to tell her about the time Vanessa blew Jordan’s trumpet, and then stand back as the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

Even considering that I didn’t actually do it, I’m still not terribly proud of that impulse. Fortunately for me, Sharon and Jordan eventually moved to California, and I did not have to unleash any WMDs just to change the subject. Of course, on the down side, I never did find out what is the limit of annoyance I can take; there’s still a chance that, someday, I might crack.

(And I apologize for that trumpet comment; I just couldn’t find a good video for “talked his ear off.”)

We had a tiny television on the table in the kitchen in my house in Pennsylvania. There was a special shelf we built into the wall, close enough to the ceiling that you had to stand on a chair to reach it, where the tv was placed when everyone was home for dinner, or if you wanted to see it more easily while you were at the sink, washing the dishes. But mostly the tv, which was actually a combination tv/am/fm radio, lived on the table; it was in front of this tv that I would sit and watch G.I. Joe and The Transformers while doing my homework, and it was on this tv, several years later (although fewer than I would want to detail), that my mother and I watched the 2nd to last episode ever of Twin Peaks, featuring the long-mentioned Miss Twin Peaks pageant (winner gets a free trip to the Black Lodge!), for which the contestants had been rehearsing for weeks, and which, once it finally arrived, moved my mother to proclaim boy, that David Lynch must really hate women.

I doubt there was any follow-up to this comment. In part because, as a senior in high school who had already been accepted to college, this fell squarely into the time frame where everything your parents say is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened. Particularly in a situation like this, where there exists the horrifying possibility that the ensuing conversation might be tangentially related to sex. But also all the time, and particularly in a situation like this, because it’s just so awful how they’re always wrong.

The error in this case was not that there might have been anything hateful about the Miss Twin Peaks pageant; obviously, a show that used the murder of the prom queen as the jumping off point to explore the secrets kept in a small town – including that said prom queen was a prostitute, and, in the immortal words of the lovely Audrey Horne, “had a sweet tooth for nose candy” – is not going to have a problem with women. The error was in thinking that, in that day and age – 1991, Saturdays, 9pm, suburban Pennsylvania – anyone might hate women.

Because that sort of thing didn’t happen; not anymore. Certainly, it had been a problem in the past, but so had polio. Feminism & Women’s Lib had been a powerful vaccine, spreading equality and understanding throughout society. My mother was a doctor, for pete’s sake; if, when she went to buy a new car accompanied by her husband, the salesman referred to the lighted mirror on the passenger-side visor as a “standard feature for the lady of the house,” well, that one salesman was an antiquated buffoon,  a decomposing carp buried in silt, occasionally giving off gas that would bubble up to momentarily disturb the still pond of sisters are doin’ it for themselves, and nothing more; certainly, it was no indication of a continuing societal norm to belittle and condescend to women. No.

And it didn’t change the fact that, over on the #1 show on television (which Twin Peaks, sadly, was not), charming as Cliff was, it was still Claire Huxtable who wore the pants in that relationship. And if I occasionally found her to be a bit strident, it wasn’t because she was overreacting to things or overly emotional, but because there was no need to yell; you’re a woman, Claire Huxtable : you have a right to be heard. It wasn’t until later that I discovered how much my right to be heard depended on who was doing the listening.

Recently, I received an email from a male coworker in which he stated that I was definitely “the superstar” of a group assigned to work on a particular project. This group – which consisted of myself and two other people, both male – had, even before that email, sparked unpleasant flashbacks to group projects in library school : meetings were difficult to schedule and constantly postponed; people didn’t have ideas, and most of the meetings that were held were spent silently marveling and how people were not using any of their time to work on this project. It was amazingly frustrating to see a fairly straightforward project, which, generously, should have taken no more than 3.5 hours, stretch over 5 months.

However, eventually, as it had to, work on the project concluded. And, even though I was not the lead, I can tell you confidently and completely without boasting that 98% of our conclusions had been entirely my idea. The proposal that we submitted was written entirely by me, even though at one point another of the other group members, stating that he felt like he wasn’t doing anything (which, I refrained from pointing out, might have been because he wasn’t), offered to take a pass at it; but, after a week it remained unchanged, so I finished it up. To be fair, he did create the images for the document, although he wasn’t able to go so far as to insert them into the document, so I took care of that. And the presentation that we did was a word-for-word recitation of the document I had written detailing my ideas.

I understand that being part of a group means that credit goes to the whole, regardless of how much might have been done by each individual person. And, I don’t even necessarily mind being the only person in the group doing any work; I do love to get my own way, after all, so if no one else is doing anything, then there’s a pretty good chance I’ll get what I want.

But the ‘superstar’ email made me angry. Because my first thought on reading it was boy, I bet he never would have said that to me if I were a man. I mean, yes, it’s unlikely that one man would call another a superstar in most professional settings. But even apart from that, had I been a man, the sender would probably not have felt the need to obscure the fact that he hadn’t done shit on the project behind a feeble compliment, or to charmingly suggest that I might not have noticed that I was the only one doing anything.

It made me angry too because, after all these years, I know there’s no way to respond to a comment meant to appease the little lady. If I point out that the bar for superstardom is exceedingly low, then I’m ungrateful and kind of a bitch. Or, worse, I’m reacting emotionally rather than rationally. If I suggest that other members of the group might contribute a little more, I get either excuses for why they’re busy, or some Eddie Haskell-grade faux-feminist nonsense about how I was doing such a good job they didn’t think I needed their help. Yet, if I accept the compliment, I reinforce the idea that, as long as you tell a woman she’s pretty, you can get away with anything.

But mostly it made me angry because it reminded me of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. Because if I go back and watch Twin Peaks and discover that David Lynch hates women after all? I am going to be pissed.

I.

Now that I have the training and (some of) the experience of a librarian, I recognize that the decision to become a librarian was one that should have been researched quite a bit more thoroughly before committing. Certainly, it should not have taken becoming an information professional to realize that a program devoted to churning out librarians would present the prospects of the prospective librarian in the most positive light, but I suppose that it did only serves to underscore a point made many times over the course of my library school curriculum, which is that without libraries and properly trained librarians no one will ever learn how to do research.

Regrets aside, the bright side of this terribly deep hole that I seem to have dug for myself is that it provides a focus and scope for any future job search I might conduct; in library speak, the topic has been selected, leaving the only the task of identifying resources that might point me to a valuable conclusion. My last non-library job search had no such focus, and, consequently, I had to review just about every ad on Craigslist. Or, at least, all the job-related ads.

There’s a certain repetition that comes from reading ads on Craigslist, partly due to the fact that, in order to stay on the first page, some companies will place the same, or slightly edited, ads over and over again; another part of that is probably that some of those companies are just terrible places to work, and so are in a constant process of replacing departed employees.

I don’t know into which of these categories Circles falls, and, despite having read their company information at least once a week for several months, I don’t have any idea at all what it is that they do. I thought, vaguely, yet unshakeably, that they probably were some kind of cult.  Like an H.P. Lovecraft story, the language in these cryptic ads was entirely straightforward, yet something was being plainly obscured by their very everday-ness; no matter how many times I read them, the key to understanding that sense behind them remained elusive.

I really liked the idea of getting a job at Circles. That it might possibly have been a cult was part of the appeal, but what I mostly I wanted to find out what it was; I would plumb the depths of Circles and surface rich with knowledge, and if the secrets of Circles into which I would be initiated were worth keeping then I would keep them, and if not, then I would probably complain about them for a little while. My sister liked the idea, too, because if I got involved in a cult, then she could lead the effort to deprogram me. And vice versa. It was fun to think about, as long as you studiously ignored the fact that we both were somewhat seriously considering a cult as a viable alternative to our respective  employment situations.

II.

Every day when I left that respective employment situation, I would walk past the old Sears, Roebuck building on my way to the bus stop. The size of the building made clear, or possibly I read it on a plaque, that the building had been a major warehouse and distribution center for the Sears, Roebuck catalog, and that countless modern, time-saving marvels had been shipped out from that building to homes all over the country. Walking past that building in the early days of the internet, when the primary purpose of this new technology seemed, as I understood it, to be to allow people to shop for things without ever leaving their home, it was hard not to consider how little innovation this actually represented, and how much of progress is really just people moving in slightly widening circles, with families making things on their own being replaced by trading and purchasing from their neighbors, which is enhanced by being able to purchase things via catalog, which becomes mostly obsolete by department stores expanding into smaller neighborhoods so everyone can buy things immediately, which then gives way to the convenience of  staying home and avoiding crowds by using the internet, which is now home to an ever growing DIY community of people trading and selling handmade goods and homemade things, which walks hand-in-hand with the urban homesteading and localvore movements, which is undoubtedly already in process of pupating into something else that I likely won’t hear of until US Weekly reports that Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it.

Twitter strikes me, too, as a point on a large circle, as free verse and the beats exploded the rigid forms of writing and poetry, and in the face of such limitless freedom of expression, people rush to confine themselves to 140 characters or less. Only now, instead of the format forcing people to think carefully about what they want to say, now we can use it to say everything we think, without putting any thought into it at all. But Twitter didn’t exist back then, so I rarely thought about it while walking to the bus stop.

III.

The next job that I managed to get was not in a cult, but in Watertown, and to get there meant taking the 70 bus. I have hated that particular bus route since the ’90s, when it was one of the very few ways a car-less student could make her way from Waltham into the actual city. Rarity did not unfortunately make it a very good way to get into the city – the 70 is a really long bus route, that makes a lot of stops, many of which are very close together and could easily be eliminated. Riding that bus end to end is a good way to meet some interesting characters, one of whom told me how the Lotus Flower blooms and seeds at the same time. But it is also a powerful way to feel your life passing; the three stops at the mall are enough to make you abandon hope altogether. And while most people use “going places”  when speaking career-wise metaphorically, it seemed a particularly bad omen to me that, despite my new job, I was not, in fact, going any place I had not already gone before.

I may not have found the bus route to be particularly ominous had I not known from the outset that I wasn’t going to like that job. Yet I had similar trepidations, perhaps unwisely overlooked, when I made my (rash?) decision to attend library school and discovered that the school itself was in the very same neighborhood as the job I had just left, and, while I would no longer be walking past the Sears, Roebuck building, I would be riding that same bus, just a few stops farther than the one to which I had walked for so many years.

My very first library job, at The Smaller Institution of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, too, was in that same neighborhood, just two blocks or so away from the Library School. Which was in a sense convenient, particularly on Saturdays, when I had class in the morning and then worked in the afternoon. But, as much as I liked it there, it did more and more seem strange to me that, with all of the city before me, I just seemed to be caught in a circuit between two points.

IV.

The Illustrious Institute changed that. Of the many reasons I was excited to work there – I could walk to work! It was a full-time job! I have a Memento-like inability to remember problems that are not my own and so had completely forgotten how utterly unhappy Derbs had been there for almost all of the years that I’d known her! – one of the most important was that it was in a brand-new neighborhood, one I had never worked in before.

However.

While I will grant that the outdoor stations on the Blue Line are more picturesque, I firmly believe that the Red Line is the best of all of the MBTA lines. Yet, I have nothing but scorn for the people who ride the Red Line only one stop. I tell myself that I don’t know them, or their lives, they may have had a really long day, or walked really far to get to the station. And no one can argue that the train will get you from Porter to Harvard faster than any of the buses that go that way. And it’s not particularly crowded. And it’s going to stop at the station anyway, so why not?

Because I would never take the Red Line only 1 stop, not within Cambridge, anyway. So no one should. The distances for which it is acceptable to take public transportation have been very clearly defined, by me, making everything else within walking distance. Which is the reason I walk to work; it’s not because I enjoy walking, although I do. And it’s  not because there is no public transportation option conveniently available, because there is – it’s the bus that, eventually, goes to The Library School, The Smaller Institute of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, and to the stop just by the Sears, Roebuck building.

V.

It was inevitable, I think, that excitement would wane over the course of years, but it was an enormous surprise, to no one more than myself, how suddenly, and violently, mine was crushed a few months ago. Certainly, there will be good days every now and again, but then I’ll remember how my new and internally promoted boss would refer to one of the library users as  Dirty ShitPig, and, when I stop wondering how I ever thought this job mattered, I realize that I have that same desperate urge to flee that I had 10 years ago, when I actually spent time pondering the merits and relative drawbacks of brainwashing and deprogramming. And now that I’m back where I started, I’m anxious to find something that holds the same intrigue that Circles did, the mystery, the promise of discovery, the secrets. Because I think that, what I’ve learned, is that the only way to beat the circles is to join a cult.

One of the stories I plan to include in the memoirs I will realistically probably not get around to writing is the tale of the time I saw a rooster on the way to yoga. I don’t want to give to say too much now for fear of spoiling the story for you when it eventually doesn’t come out, but I think there are a couple of salient points we can safely discuss now without affecting your experience for when you never get to read the whole thing.

Without giving everything away, I’ll just tell you that one time, I saw a rooster on the way to yoga. Which is to say that it was me who was on the way to yoga, and that I happened upon a rooster while en route, and not that I saw a rooster that was itself headed to yoga. However, even without any avian theatrics or mysticism, the unexpected appearance of a rooster in one’s path can lead a person to certain realizations that that person may not be prepared to face. To wit:

  • There is no previous experience in your life that you can call upon for guidance on how to behave in this particular situation – not even having seen a seal several months prior;
  • That number for the Marine Animal Rescue League you’ve been carrying around in your wallet for the past several months will not help you now;
  • Your life has gone astray if calling on the assistance of a someone who still lives at home with his parents reveals you to be the weaker party;
  • Although you have no association with the rooster outside of this one interaction, people will think you’re weird because of it.

Obviously, not everyone will think you’re weird for having seen a rooster on the way to yoga; not at first, anyway. Your friends will probably have some questions, the most harrowing of which, you suddenly understand, will be “What did you do?” Because the true measure of a human being is not the number of unusual situations they face, but how they behave in the face of those situations. Having seen the rooster is not a defining characteristic of who you are any more than the color of your clothing is a defining characteristic of who you are, unless you’re wearing textiles that borrow from mood ring technologies and/or you’re the sort of sullen high-school student who can only fully express the futility of algebra by composing poetry on your arm.  In the long run, though, while your friends will probably remember that you saw a rooster, that’s not a way that they would describe you to a third party – as “saw a rooster one time,” – although they might describe you as having a weird obsession with poultry.

But the people you will immediately encounter after the rooster encounter, the ones at yoga with whom you will likely be most eager to share the story in response to their perfunctory how-are-you’s :  these are the ones who will think you’re weird, because they have little to no other frame of reference for you in which to store that information. “Saw a rooster one time” is all they’ll be able to say about you, until their memory of the actual event starts to degrade and the information changes in their brain, metamorphosing from “There’s that girl who saw the rooster; weird,” through “There’s that weird girl who saw the rooster,” and then pausing briefly at “Every time I see that girl, I get this weird craving for chicken,” before finally arriving at “That girl is just weird.” And that seems unfair to me : just because you sometimes find yourself in a place where weirdness is happening, that shouldn’t necessarily mean that you’re weird.

One of the major drawbacks, though, of constantly planning a story that you’ll never get around to writing, is that you still do a whole lot of revising, which can lead to drastic changes in the resolution. In the early drafts, I was just the poor, unlucky girl who happened upon a rooster, a victim of people’s poor memories and misunderstanding, doomed forever onward to be uncomfortable in the presence of the sharply kitten-faced gentleman who was staffing the check-in desk at yoga that day, thwarted from ever responding to his usual “Can I get your name?” with the grandpa-esque “Will I get it back?”

Now, however, older & wiser (although I should like to point out that I was at least wise enough at the time not actually to tell anyone at yoga about the rooster, nor ever to zing Kitten Face with my quippy comeback), I understand that being repeatedly exposed to weird things does in fact make you weird. Not in the same way that exposure to radiation will alter you at a cellular level, but in the way that, if the only common factor in every situation is you, there must be something particular about you that is contributing to these situations. Which is very easy to understand in terms of other people : people who are constantly complaining about work, their neighbors, drivers, people in the library or in the grocery store; whatever they are bringing to these interactions is somehow contributing to whatever it is they’re complaining about, even if (or especially if) what they’re bringing is a simply a lack of understanding how to resolve the situation amicably.

When it’s you, though, it can be difficult to see what makes up your negative contribution. But, with maturity, I have come to understand that, if you don’t want people to think you’re weird, a simple thing you can do is simply stop telling them how fucking weird you are all the time. And this, finally, is one of the major reasons that the memoirs will probably never get written : it’s difficult to write a story about yourself in which you’re not the hero, you’re not the victim, you don’t transition from one to the other even once, never mind back again. You’re just a person who saw a rooster one time, and watched it walk away.


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