Sunday, December 11, 2011

When the doors are shut


The other day, I got stuck in an elevator.

I’m gonna make this relate to my last post, I swear.  Just bear with me.

I had been in a basement conference room of my think-tank, participating in an evening event.  I had left my bag and coat at my desk upstairs, on the 6th floor, but had forgotten that the building closed at 7. Which means the elevators don’t work normally after 7. It was nearing 7:30.

Not a problem, I thought, I’ll just check in with the security guard in the lobby and he can help me out.

My friends clustered in the lobby, promising to wait while I retrieved my things. The security guard accompanied me back to the elevators and swiped an electronic passcode thingie (I’m sure that’s the technical term) to open the doors.

“Which floor?” he asked, as I stepped inside.

“The sixth.” He pressed the appropriate button and moved away. “Wait, don’t you have to come wi– ??” I started, concerned that my think-tank would let some random girl – who, after all, could be anybody – wander through the building after hours. What if there were state secrets just “lying around”?

Whatever, I shrugged to myself as the elevator started up.  Bing! First floor.

Then, the elevator shuddered to a halt. No happy little Bing – be happy, you reached the second floor! No doors sliding open. No nothing. Not even flickering lights – the elevator just stopped.

Ah, that awkward moment when you realize you are stuck in an elevator.

(Aside: Ok, SRSLY elevator? If you’re gonna trap me, at least make the lights flicker!)

Um, ok, I’m stuck in an elevator, I thought to myself, trying to keep calm. All right, none of the buttons are working…and mashing them over and over again doesn’t seem to change that. I looked for a handy red “EMERGENCY PULL” button. You know, something like this:

"Push to talk." Brilliant.

Did my elevator have one?

Nope.

Did my elevator have any red buttons at all?

Nope.

The closest thing my elevator had was a small yellow button that said “bell.”

(Aside: Um, yellow? Like my emergency doesn’t merit the color red?)
(Further aside: Um, “bell”?! How ‘bout “alarm” – anything that implies a bit more alacrity!)

Breathing heavily (read: angrily), I pressed the bell button. Let’s just say it didn’t have quite the “this is an emergency” tone I was looking for. It sounded like the bells in my high school that were used to signal the end of a class period.

I held that button down for at least several minutes. Did anyone come to my aid? Nope. They must have been too busy getting to third period calculus.

Okay, okay, I thought, pacing the small space (thank God I’m not claustrophobic).  What’s the Morse for SOS…is it long-short-long repeated three times, or short-long-short repeated three times? Dang it, where are all the Military Fellows when you need them!!

I tried both my Morse theories. They didn’t summon anyone.

I was ready to cry at this point, and probably not the most rational creature. Great, I’m gonna have to sleep here ALL NIGHT. Ugh, the floor is so gross! Why won’t this bloody box let me OUT!!

Then I grew calmer. Well, I’ll just pull an Arnold and pry the doors open. They do it on Star Trek all the time.

 I wedged my fingers into the door and heaved.

Fortunately, they sprang open as soon as I got them the first few inches apart. Turns out, the elevator had made it to the second floor and then just had a brain shut-down. Or something. I took the stairs back to the lobby.

The guard, and my friends, turned towards me. Thoroughly disgruntled, I explained what just happened. “Oh,” my friends said, “was that you making the bell sound?”

Yes, you idiots. Didn’t you hear the SOS? Does a bell going off in patterns at 7:30 at night sound AT ALL normal to you?

I still needed my bag, so the guard took me back to the elevator and re-swiped his card. Wait, I have to go back in there? I panicked. Then I mentally slapped myself and reminded myself I’m an adult.

This time the elevators operated without a hitch. I retrieved my bag and re-joined my friends.

As I lay in bed falling asleep that night, I remember thinking, Huh, I should turn this experience into a blog post. It could be a really cool metaphor for feeling stuck in life and not knowing how or where to move next…all the doors seem shut…you can either pry them open, or…or…

Or you can accept that some doors will remain shut.

I was recently turned down for an internship (a paid one! Huzzah!) that I really wanted.  Obviously, I’m disappointed – the experience would have really advanced my career and given me incredible opportunities.  But when God closes one door, he opens a window. Or, he opens another door. Or, he traps you in an elevator to teach you the value of sometimes clawing at closed doors until they open.

Does this mean I’m going to claw at that internship until I get it? Naw, probably not. Will I continue to claw at the job market until I find something? You betcha.

Because sleeping on the dirty floor of an elevator – aka, interning forever/remaining static/giving up and waitressing full-time – is simply not an option. And I know that someday, that door WILL spring open for me.  (Even if it takes a scary ride and an SOS to get there.)

For now, I’ve decided to remain at my current internship. For a variety of reasons, all carefully and prayerfully considered, I believe its benefits outweigh its cons.  And I believe it offers the most opportunity for an eventual job.

So where does that put me within my elevator analogy?

Psh, heck if I know. Sometimes an elevator is just an elevator.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hanging in Suspense

You may have noticed another long hiatus in my writing. This is becoming a habit, so I guess I’ll quit apologizing or making excuses. Seriously, though, I’ve been too busy to write! <<<  Excuse.

The end of the fall marks a serious transition point for us interns. Our commitments slowly come to an end, and we face once again an uncertain future and a viciously competitive job market. (And the scary realization that despite the 3 months we’ve put into our internships, we still don’t have sufficient “experience” to satisfy potential employers. Really makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?)

My point is, I’ve spent the last several weeks floundering over what to do with my life. Okay, to be honest, I’ve spent the last 12 months floundering over what to do with my life – but transition times condense all that stress into one long, terrible, grey-hair-producing, frozen-pizza-and-beer-eating, somewhat-hysterical-phone-calls-home experience.  You should try it sometime. I’m sure it’s good for the heart.

My head swirled with questions, and each day saw me resolved upon a new path.

I will be a JOURNALIST! Excuse me now, I’m gonna go cover the war in Afghanistan, brb….hmmm, no, I will actually study those TOP SECRET intel reports, because I’m a policy analyst and that’s what we do…scratch that, I’m pretty much a spy, and I’m gonna private.dance it.outta here…fine, screw the job market, I’m joining the military! 

All this uncertainty really made me a productive member of society.

I had a choice. Move on to another internship (possibly on the Hill? Possibly in a different field? Possibly with a different company?) or stay where I’m at. My company offered me a continued internship into the spring, and my boss offered to help me out a bit with the job search.

What to do…what to do…

(I eventually did make a decision, but if you think I’m gonna tell you right now then you clearly don’t understand the phrase “hanging in suspense”…nor have you read any trilogies.)

(Not that this is a trilogy…given my posting regularity, do we honestly think I’m capable of that?)

(The answer is no. I’m not.)


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Apparently DC doesn't "DO" winter


I have a problem.

I’m a country girl. I love my quiet town and my mountains and my long, cold winters.  I love bundling up in big, poofy layers and throwing myself down upon the snow in the pasture to just stare up at the frosty stars. I love weather that is so cold you have to wear a scarf beneath your ski goggles or your face will fall off.

Me and the Madre, properly outfitted for a REAL winter.


Back in Montana, winter crawls in to stay somewhere around Nov. 1. For example, it was 30 degrees back home today. And that was the high. Yes, our falls are both spectacular and spectacularly short. This has conditioned me to be ready and eager for winter at an early date.

Unavoidable fact: I live in the city.  No frosty stars or heaps of snow here (excluding Snowpocalypse 2010). And, hmm, it's kind-of still really warm.

Actually, today – the middle of freaking November, might I point outthe temperature reached a high of 70 degrees. 

What is this, Florida?

I realize that most of my friends are ecstatic with this weather, but I’m still in shock. It reminds me of the time I spent studying abroad in Jordan – no snow.  No real cold. (May I remind you, DC, Jordan is a DESERT. I should not be making this comparison right now.) No blatant commercialism to tempt your credit cards as the holidays approached.  I lived in a mostly Muslim country, meaning the run-up to Christmas didn’t exist, because the majority of the country didn’t celebrate Christmas.  Returning to the States on the 19th was like getting physically assaulted by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Why this analogy matters:
DON’T YOU PEOPLE CELEBRATE WINTER???!?!?

Seriously, I’ve been wearing my jean jacket to work lately. My unlined, thinly-layered, should-not-be-a-winter-coat jean jacket.  Sometimes, I don’t even zip it. I took my scarf off yesterday because it was too hot. Not cool! Literally!

Last week the DC weather gods sent me a teaser – we received a schizophrenic snow/slush/rain mix that was sufficiently white and sticky. Sufficiently white and sticky, that is, to send Aftan skipping up and down the street clapping her hands and crowing about how much she loves winter. It wasn’t obnoxious at all.

But since that promising start, nada. No snow. No frost. No clouds. Again I ask, only with way more incredulity, what is this, Florida?! 

When I fly back to Montana for the holidays, I don’t want to feel like I’ve been physically assaulted by Frosty the Snowman. Work with me here, DC. Send me some real snowflakes. Holla atcha homegirl.  [I was going to spell that “gurl”, but then I just…couldn’t.]

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Part II, or "How pumpkins, whiskey, and fire combine to make a fabulous night out"

So, I meant to write this post a lot earlier -- as The Sis offhandedly reminded me a few minutes ago -- but a few things intervened to bump this down the priority list a few notches. Namely, two of my BEST college buddies came to town and I had much better things to do than sit in my room with my computer. 

When last we met, dear readers, I was on my way to the nearest bar with my friend in sore need of libation -- standing on a street corner mentally envisioning angry hot flames lick their way through my apartment (My computer! My Aberdeen sweater! My Jordan boots!* Aaargh!) will kind-of do that to you.  

Luckily, "the nearest bar" was barely a block away. It's a dark, fun, mostly purple little hole-in-the-wall place crammed full of character. "Seriously," my friend (who is, coincidently, one of the afore-mentioned college buddies. I'll call her Laynsy) later asked, "how did you find this place?" Word of mouth. They do have a website though, which I won't share because I'd prefer NOT to give you blatant clues as to my living whereabouts.

Totally important digression: A few weeks ago, as I was browsing through the bar's website, I noticed that this bar served New Holland Brewery's Dragon's Milk stout. I went to college 2 blocks away from NHB and was raised on their fine beer -- meaning it is TOTALLY THEIR FAULT I am the beer snob that I am -- and while I wasn't the biggest fan of Dragon's Milk, I was encouraged that NHB beer had made it down to DC. Maybe, just maybe, that meant some of their Ichabod pumpkin ale had penetrated the DC market? 

Something you should know: The Ichabod pumpkin ale is my.favorite.beer.of.all.time. It beats out Newcastle brown ale and even Guinness. It's that good. I'm sure part of this is nostalgia talking....but seriously, I had scoured the city and not been able to find it. 

Back to the story. Laynsy and I are on our way to the bar. We're in mild states of shock. We need a drink. Or more. These circumstances combine to put me in a particularly bold and uncaring mood -- I'm evacuated and my poor little apt is stuck next to an ex-wild blaze. Hahahaha!!! Cue hysteria!!  

Keep in mind, this is a Thursday night. The bar scene is pretty tame in my neighborhood on Thursdays. Thus, when we walk in we are (once again, in my case) the only females there. Two groups of guys turn and stare at us. 

I walk boldly forward and slide onto a bar stool. Laynsy joins. (Guys are still staring a bit.) Awesome Bar-Tender Lady greets us -- "What can I get you fine ladies?" -- and drops a huge binder of beer options on the counter in front of us. We open the binder, and there it is on the very first page: the Ichabod pumpkin ale.  ULTIMATE WIN. 

"We'll have that one!!!" Laynsy and I exclaim, slamming our palms emphatically on the counter. "And," I add loudly, "we'll also have some shots of tequila." To aid in our recovery from shock. 

The guys next to us have perked up their ears. Immediately, the group on my left starts talking to me, and the same happens for the group on Laynsy's right. Turns out, Laynsy's friends end up being waaaay cooler, as my friends (or singular "friend" -- his buddy didn't talk much. Just stared at me creepily the whole time) decided to go with the "neg" game. Seriously, it is NOT fun to chat with you if you contradict everything I say. And by the way, if you're at least 27 and male and still sporting a blonde faux-hawk, stop it. Just stop it.

I eventually turned my back on these guys to engage with Laynsy's friends. (My friends left shortly afterward, but only after Creeper Starer touched my elbow and said that it was really nice to meet me.) Laynsy's friends were awesome! They didn't try to hit on us, they weren't whackadoodles, and we had completely normal conversation.

One of them, Jason, said to me at one point, "Hey I noticed Blonde Faux-Hawk Guy try to use the "neg-er" approach with you. He wasn't getting very far!" I expressed my complete bewilderment that that approach would ever work on anyone, but Jason assured me that it actually works a lot. "Girls have surprisingly low self-esteem, and if someone subtly insults them, then they subconsciously want to please him. Trust me. It works."

Guys: that approach will not work on this girl. If you're trying to hit on me by subtly insulting me, I will mentally swear at you and then exit stage left as soon as possible.

Aaaaaanywaaaays. The bar was a cash only place -- bollocks -- so I ventured back to my apartment to collect a few bills and get an update on the fire situation. Laynsy held down our tab at the bar. The firefighters were finishing up for the night, and a huge cluster of them stood outside my place. We chatted for a moment as a few others threw useless burned crap out the windows of the now-burned neighbor's apartment.

They told me I couldn't go back inside, due to the throwing-crap-out-windows situation. "Is it really urgent?" they asked. "Do you have to take some medication?" Haha, no not at all...why, do I look deranged?? "Do you have a pet?" No, actually I need to get some cash to settle up my bar tab.

Instant scoring of points with the firefighters. 

"Yeeeaaaahh!!! Boy, wish WE could have some beer right now! Go drink another for us!" Oh, I will.

They paused the other guys in their trash throwing activities, and I nipped inside to grab the cash. On my way out I stopped to chat further with the group. 

"Um, were you friends with any of those guys?" one firefighter asked. All the others appeared really interested in my answer, and peered at me. 

"No, not really," I responded, feeling a bit awkward. "I mean, they gave me my mail when the postman mis-delivered it, but other than that...."

"Well, GOOD," a particularly handsome firefighter said. (Read: SMOKIN HOT firefighter. Pun intended.) "Trust me, you did not want to be friends with those guys."

....Why????

"Oh, it's nothing I can repeat in front of a lady."

......Cute, but yes you can I have to know tell me tell me!

I wheedled a few other details out of him, and yes. He was right. I didn't need to know more. End of story. 

Eventually I reluctantly went back to the bar, where we chatted further with Jason and his buddy. We swapped stories and advice and generally had a good time, and Jason bought us a round of Buffalo Trace whiskey before they took off.

All in all, the evening ended fabulously. Something in the universe decided to reward our earlier stress by treating us to Ichabod ale, free whiskey, new friends, and at least 15 minutes where I had a group of 5 to 7 firefighters all to myself. 

Oh, also, the bar had an Airedale puppy wandering around. Further win.

Editor's note: Laynsy received several kisses that night...from the Airedale. She said it was "THE HIGHLIGHT OF HER NIGHT." (She owns an Airedale -- shout out to Sophie-Soph!)

*Purchased while abroad for the equivalent of $12. When I bought them, I found a receipt inside that said they were originally from Europe and priced at something crazy ridiculous like 90 euros. Don't know if that receipt was real or not, but these boots are AWESOME and I always garner more than a few compliments when I wear them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I came home, and MY HOUSE WAS ON FIRE

Just so you know, when I say "fire," I mean it literally. This was not a "this party is so awesome, lets raise the roof [do people still say that?] and set this place on fire" type fire. Literal fire. The hot kind.

Okay, to be fair, my house wasn't exactly on fire -- that was a bit of a hook to reel you in, dear reader -- but I thought my house was on fire.

Story: After eating a scrumptious meal with out with friends (read: stuffing my face with mostly waffle fries), I was riding the bus back home. One of my best college buddies, who's in town for the week, accompanied me. As we pulled into my stop, we passed a cluster of firetrucks and policemen. Not unusual in the city -- there's always some yayhoo doin' somethin' stupid that requires firetrucks and police.

Like any good rubbernecker, I wanted the chance to shamelessly gawk without making it look like I was shamelessly gawking.  Fortunately for me the path home took me right up to the edge of the scene, so I could check things out while still being mostly out of the way.

Well, as I moved closer I discovered that my path home wasn't exactly "at the edge of the scene."


Oh, wow, these firetrucks are closer to my block than I realized, I thought, gradually transforming from trying-not-to-be-shameless gawker into concerned individual. Hmmm, they actually wrap around the corner and go onto my block...I wonder how far down the block -- OH SHIT THEY'RE ALL IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE. 


I went from concerned individual to slightly hysterical in about .3 seconds flat.

"SHIT!" I yelped, bounding forward, friend in tow. A policeman stopped us.

"Sorry, miss, but you can't go down this block."

"But that's my house!" I cried, peering around his shoulder to look at the knot of firemen on my stoop.

"I'm sorry," the officer repeated, "we can't let you go down this block. It's not safe." You must stand and watch as your life goes up in smoke.

I think I said something closely resembling "aaaarghsdnvolsnjkdhbvla!!!!" and then my friend and I moved to the other side of the street, where we had a better angle. There I finally realized -- THANK GOD -- my was house was not, in fact, on fire.

But my immediate neighbor's house was.

Or, at least, it had been. Black smoke was still flowing from the windows, which had all been smashed out by the firemen. Long ladders leaned against the brick face. The whine of a saw cutting through brick floated above the building. I could see shadows and flashlights moving around as the firemen worked inside. A bunch of them stood on my roof, another bunch on my stoop -- clearly using my place as an access point. Thus my initial and completely understandable confusion.

A little background: to be brutally honest, my neighbor's place has always been a little...janky.  (Read: sketchy. Apparently janky is a term DC-ers use.) Or as my roomie put it when I called her, "Oh, I'm not surprised it's that one." The people there have always been nice, and return my mail when the postman mis-delivers it. But...eh. The place still kinda says, There may or may not be hard drugs here. Wink. That's all I'll say for now.

So I was standing on a corner watching the place smolder, silently thinking, Oh, it *would be* that one.


"Do you know what's going on?" multiple gawkers asked us, of whom I was a little resentful at this point. Yes, I actually DO know what's going on -- see that house on fire? Yeah, I live right next door. 


Their responses, while very kind and truly concerned, usually boiled down to, OMG really?? Wow...sucks for you. Good luck with that.

(My proud moment of the evening: while I was explaining the situation to one person, another person leaned in and asked my friend, "Is she a journalist?" "An aspiring one," Friend responded. WIN.)

Seriously, though, some of these gawkers had missed the "try not to be shameless" directive -- when you pull out your Nikon camera and a digital recorder, it's time for you to leave.  Let the men do their job. Eventually a policeman found some POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape and cordoned off the block.

I called my landlord and my roommate (all of whom were safe), and then I called my parents and The Sis. And then we chatted with a fireman, were told the block would likely be inaccessible for a few more hours, and walked a block to the local bar. Aftan needed something to calm her nerves.

But our adventurous evening didn't end there. Oh no.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Economy: 1, Me: 0

Stop 1:
The call went through the store like an assembly line: “Where’s Mike? There’s a…young lady here to see him.” “He’s in the back – Joe! Tell Mike there’s a young woman here who needs him!” “Mike, there’s a young woman here who wants you!”


Hmm, maybe some background info? I was out scouring my neighborhood for part-time jobs (or full-time jobs, I’m in no position to be picky) that could fill the hours – and my pocketbook – outside of my internship. Last week I made buds with a liquor store employee, and he hinted that the management might be looking to hire as the holidays approach. At his urging, I was following up with the store’s general manager.


 Which is why this long train of men carrying crates of alcohol were calling through the store for Mike about a “woman who wanted him.”


 Thank you for the awkward set-up, liquor store employees. You’ve managed to make me simultaneously feel like a nine-year-old (Dad only whipped out the “young lady” terms when I was in *deep* trouble) and some floozy propositioning her wares (“Mike, this woman wants you”). Mind if I partake of this here rum?


 Not holding my breath for a call-back on that one.


Stop 2:


Fun-looking pub that I’ve passed several times before. Had a nice chat with the general manager, where I endured some good-natured ribbing about being from Montana.


“Yeah, actually the Montana Senator comes in here a lot,” the GM said.  “He’s a BIG guy…and he can really PUT THEM AWAY. Wow. Actually, yeah, all the guys from that office are pretty big guys, and they can all drink A LOT.” He sounded impressed, not judgmental.


 “Yeah, that’s how we roll in Montana.”


 Yes, I actually said that. I think it actually helped my chances.


 Stop 3:


Uneventful. Other than suffering through yet another rolling of eyes when I mention I have a day-time internship. You and every other moron in this city.


Stops 4 and 5:


Two Irish pubs. Me like Guinness.


 At the first one, the sorority-girl-seating-hostess half-heartedly flipped through a shuffle of papers on her little hostess stand before calling out to the bartender.


 “Sorry,” he told me, “check back later.”


Similar story at the second, sans Sorority Girl. Actually, sans females of any kind – I sidled up to the bar and a whole gaggle of football-watching ex-footballer-esque men turned to stare at me. (This seems to happen to me a lot…)


“What kind of position you lookin for?” asked the barkeep.


“Anything that pays.”


Barkeep smirked. You and every other moron in this city. I clutched my dignity and thanked him anyway, lingering for a moment to get an update on the Michigan game. The screen was across the room, so I squinted to catch the score. Unfortunately this prompted a return from Barkeep, who apparently thought my squinting and lingering signaled some kind of disorder. “You okay…you need something else?” he asked condescendingly, like one of those playground bullies who’s trying to impress the other playground bullies.


“Uhhh no, I just wanted an update on the game.” Like I had told him earlier. Learn to pay attention.  Whatever – my team was losing, and so was I the longer I stood there, so I left.


Call back? Probs not.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Submitting Timesheets, OR "When I realized I desperately needed another job"

Actual email that I receive faithfully every two weeks:

All,
This email serves as a friendly reminder that timesheets are due by noon tomorrow.

Please keep in mind that if you are an intern, you must enter your hours using the drop down box selecting “intern" not "regular.”   

Also, Monday October 10th was a holiday.  Please adjust timesheets to reflect.

Log into [this site] to complete your time worked.

If you have already submitted a timesheet, please excuse this email.
Regards,
[Management of Aftan’s company]

I have an uncanny ability to cut through the diplomacy (living in DC is teaching me how to translate politically correct language) and this is what the email really says: 

Hey, you!
This email serves as a sharp and hopefully painful reminder that you are an unpaid intern. Tomorrow at noon – when everyone else is submitting their time sheets ON TIME – you will most likely be slumped in your desk chair, chin in hand (drool possibly running onto your fingers), eyes glazed over as you endlessly “conduct research.” 

Please remember, you are a valued member of our team.  However, you did not receive one of our coveted and rare-as-a-diamond-found-in-that-gross-alley paid internships. If you had, you would enter your hours using the drop down box labeled “scum”, “one step above scum” ,“intern.”

Also, Monday was a holiday. Everyone else enjoyed the day with the full realization that they were simultaneously playing touch football on the Mall and getting paid to play it. You were not getting paid, and you were probably not playing touch football because unpaid interns don’t have friends.

We will not let you log into [this site] to catalogue your hours until we’ve eked every last drop of free labor out of your thin, brittle fingers.

Remember, you are a valued member of our team. And you will continue to receive these emails reminding you of that. Until you die.

Never excuse these emails.

Regards,
[The People To Whom Aftan Sold Her Soul]


Dammit, I need a paying job.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Habitat for Humanity. DO IT.

Sometimes, I fall into a rut. I'm bored, I'm depressed, I feel unfulfilled in my job, I have no friends...lots of happy thoughts. Screw it, I'll think. I'm moving back to Montana to live with my parents. 

Because that will make me feel much more accomplished. Right.

Point is, sometimes I turn into a whiner. This happens to all of us at one point or another - life just gets us down. It could be because of one particular event, or several, or perhaps none at all. (Doncha just love when its the latter?)

Since we all know how fun it is to hang out with depressed, mopey whiners, I'm gonna share with you a secret cure that will boost your spirits and transform you back into a productive member of society: go volunteer.


Seriously, people. Give back to your community. When you're stuck inside your own head and can't see past your own problems (and if they're like my problems, they probably don't matter much in the grand scheme o' things), go help someone else out with their problems. Help hand food out at a homeless shelter. Donate an afternoon at a nursing home. Volunteer to baby-sit for a small-group (but only if you click with kids...that rules me out).

For me, I prefer to volunteer with manual labor. Enter Habitat for Humanity -- they help build homes all over the world, as well as right here in DC. Also turns out they have a handful of building sites only a short distance from where I live, which led to me donating my Saturday yesterday so I could climb on ladders with a caulking gun.

I would do it again in a heartbeat. And I will likely do it again at least one Saturday a month from now on.

I don't know about your families growing up, but in my family the weekends were work days. Mowing the lawn, landscaping, seeding/fertilizing/spraying for weeds in the pastures, building fences (you haven't lived until you've dug in fenceposts by hand...every summer), fixing the sailboat, repairing the barn, the list goes on and on...

My point is, manual labor is comforting to me. It reminds me of home, and reminds me that there's more I can do with this body of mine than ride the Metro to work and sit in front of a computer screen all day. (Did I mention how corporate work was slowly killing me? No? Another post then.)

So, go volunteer. Check out Habitat for Humanity. Or check out another organization that's more up your alley. But get out of your own head, and get out of your own problems -- go help someone else. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another day, another dol -- protest.

Heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement? If you haven't, then please: slap yourself. Feel ashamed. Go open a newspaper. Or watch TV. Or jump online (I recommend the New York Times).

Occupy Wall Street (or OWS) refers to a gaggle (a very large gaggle) of people who have gathered in New York to protest...corporatism? Greed? Lobbyists? Trash in the streets? Juice boxes with chemicals in them that we serve to our kids? The movement seems to encompass a lot, and means something slightly different to each protestor. One op-ed I read criticized this very aspect of the movement, calling it "happily incoherent."

Well, this happily incoherent protest hit my city this week. Today a rally gathered in Freedom Plaza (echoes of Tahrir Square anyone? [Tahrir means freedom in Arabic...]) to protest militarism and corporatism. From the research I've done, it sounds like this protest has been on the books since April, and the simultaneous movement in New York was a happy coincidence. So the movement here used the momentum of Occupy Wall Street to become OccupyDC.

I was at work most of the day, but I Livestreamed the events so I could watch real-time from my desk. I also logged into my dusty and mostly inactive Twitter account to keep track of people's Tweets and pictures.


It seemed like quite a few turned out for OccupyDC. Twitter (that oh-so-accurate little bird) used figures anywhere from 500 to 3000 people. Not so sure about that last one...

The DC movement is quite a bit more organized than OWS. They have a website and a list of goals, which is more than OWS has. But don't worry; this doesn't prevent these protestors from being angry and frothing.






Unfortunately, from what I heard and saw from the Livestream, OccupyDC seemed to be run by vehement anti-war protestors (by "vehement" I mean fist-shaking, spittle-flying, cursing and fire-and-brimstone-raining men in whiskers) and hippies with drums.  A major slogan for both the NY and DC movements has been, "We are the other 99 percent" -- a direct jab at the wealthiest top 1 percent of America, who are perceived to be receiving all the benefits of society. Well, from what I saw, their "99 percent" didn't include me.

I read another interesting article that talks about how the OWS movement needs to match the faces to their message. If OWS says it represents middle America, then it needs to actually be composed of middle Americans. Hippies and anarchists won't cut it. The article went on to explain how OWS could learn from the Tea Party. Now, I have my problems with the Tea Party too, but you can't deny they've been effective in getting their message out.

OccupyDC eventually marched from Freedom Plaza to MacPherson Square on K Street, in order to protest lobbyists and corporatism more directly. The K St. corridor is a major business and lobbyist district of DC. Actually, my office is on K St, and I walked past a group of protestors when I left work early today.

Part of me, the part of me that sympathizes with the notion that there are a few things wrong in America, wanted to go over and say hi, maybe talk about the different negative circumstances of our lives and why we were upset about it.

But then I kept on walking. I was late for a job interview.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Workplace stories

To be honest, I'm not feeling particularly creative right now. Probably has something to do with the fact that I've spent literally the whole day in my pajamas, and now I'm gonna make dinner (read: heat up soup from a can, with grilled cheese if I feel industrious) and watch a movie with my roomie.

I was hoping to have some great material for a blog post after salsa dancing last night (especially considering what happened the last time I went salsa dancing), but unfortunately nothing interesting occurred, other than a mild flirtation with some bartenders. So this blog post will be short and sweet, and largely re-produced from multi-colored sticky notes from my desk at work. Note to self: when blog topics come to me, take the time to write down more than a few garbled sentences on a sticky note.

Background: Part of my job entails answering the phone for my department. Since my department consists of exactly three people, each of whom have their own line, the phone doesn't ring all that often. (Therefore when it does ring, it scares the beejeesus outta me...I think you see where this is going.)

More background: I also do a lot of research. Luckily, I'm allowed to listen to music while conducting said research, otherwise I might fall asleep/shoot myself/run away screaming that I'll never look at another computer screen again. I also tend to eat my lunch at my desk -- a lunch hour skipped is another hour I can leave early.

Situation: I'm listening and/or rocking out to Jason Aldean (one of my country faves, listen to his song Fly Over States...or My Kinda Party, or anything by him really, the guy can't make a bad song). I'm also eating lunch and/or stuffing my face with a delicious lunch of corn chowder and cornbread.

The phone rings.

I jump. I glance at the phone (still ringing). I stare at the cup of soup in one hand, piece of cornbread in the other, and wonder What the heck do I do with this? Hastily I put the food down in front of my keyboard and reach over to the phone. Belatedly I realize I still have my earbuds in and -- tug -- hurriedly pull one side out, swallowing a huge lump of cornbread.

"Hello, this is [Aftan's awesome company], how may I help you?"

Don't worry, I still managed to sound professional. I just got caught off guard. Won't happen again.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beer is a social lubricant.

Today my fancy think-tank company hosted an internal meet-'n-greet event for our new Military Fellows. For those of you not working (read: not completing indentured servitude, aka interning) at a think tank, a Fellow is like a guest scholar, someone who lends their skills and expertise at a particular subject for a particular period of time. Most of our Military Fellows work with our national security and defense programs.

Anyways, I got the email inviting everyone to the event. It happened to include that magical phrase, "interns invited," and I thought to myself, Why the heck not? I'm helping my boss out with some of his personal research projects, and they happen to focus on global security, so this meet-'n-greet might actually be pertinent. That, and I am always in slight awe of anyone in uniform -- one of our Fellows used to be the second-highest ranking military officer in all of the United States, so I thought it would be pretty cool to meet him. (I also at one point almost joined the military myself, and though I haven't gone far down that path I continue to hold enormous respect for those who serve.)

So at 4:30 I meandered down to the conference room. I stepped in, and this is what I saw: two small clusters of men, all older and very distinguished, all enmeshed in intelligent conversations about the military. Or rather, they were enmeshed in intelligent conversation, because when I walked in they all turned to stare at me. Still standing in the doorway. Very young. Very female. Very intern. 

I swallowed my embarrassment and tried to smoothly sweep in -- "Is this the meet-'n-greet for the new Military Fellows?"

"Yep!" someone answered and I awkwardly-trying-not-to-be-awkward moved toward that voice and joined that cluster. Ohmigosh, I panicked, what do I say? What does someone fresh out of college and fresh to the company talk about with someone who is a total military BOSS?! I was counting on a few buffer-people to gradually introduce me, I was not counting on jumping boldly into a "military memories moment"! I don't think the cluster quite knew what to do with me, either. There were a few awkward silences. I guess that's what happens when you break up the boys' club.

One of them finally moved to the table of hors d'oeuvres and beverages.  "I think it's time for a beer," he said, pulling a cold one from an ice bucket that I had definitely not noticed before.

My company is serving alcohol? Yes. I think it IS time for a beer.

As I made my beeline for the booze, the military guys joked (I think they were joking), "You are over 21, right?"

Yes. I am over 21. Dangit. And watch how fast I drink this.

Turns out, after we cracked the beer it wasn't so hard to chit-chat. (I hear that alcohol does that sometimes...) Turns out, the Military Fellows are new to my company too, so we're all just learnin the ropes and figuring things out. Turns out, after the beer was cracked a bunch more people showed up. (Still mostly guys, but at least they were interns too). And, turns out, I think I made some cool new friends. (A second beer helped. Is it wrong that I contemplated slipping a few spares into my bag?)

Thank you, beer. I knew I loved you.

Oh, PS: The event had a few bottles of wine too, but those remained untouched. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Something Strange Afoot

I recently went through one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. Let me give you a hint.  Watch this video at time-stamp 6:04:


"I like feet. I do not know why."

Okay, so I was coming home late one night from salsa dancing.  A guy stopped me to ask for directions to the metro. I pointed him in the right direction, but as I turned to go, he stopped me again.

"This might sound weird," he said, "but would you mind if I took a picture of your feet?"

What?  

"Ummmm," I said, looking down at my toes, thinking he must be charmed by my lime green nail polish. (You see, I had been complimented on this polish numerous times by random strangers, one gentleman on a bus even appreciating how they matched my lime green raincoat – this gentleman then asked if I was Italian, and when I said no told me I was pretty anyways.)

The problem here, though, was that my nail polish was cracked and chipped, and I had dirt scuffs on the sides and tops of my feet from salsa dancing barefoot for several hours. I definitely lacked that "fresh shower" glow, shall we say. "Ummm, sure, I guess," I acquiesced, thinking he would take a quick snap of my toes and be on his merry way.

Not so. "Okay, now would you mind if I took a shot from the side?" he asked, crouching down to the sidewalk. "And would you actually mind picking up your foot? So I could get a picture of the bottom?"

I felt my eyebrows contract. "Like, you want a picture of the sole?"  Jeez, it sounds like a bad joke...Can I get a picture of your sole? (Get it? Sole, soul? Haha....I love stupid jokes. Sorry Sis, I know you hate them, but I threw that in just for you.)  Anyways. I was a bit flabbergasted at this point, but this guy didn't seem to notice.

"What we really need is a bench for you to sit on," he said, looking around. "Then I could get all the angles I need." In his search for a bench, he failed to notice the expression on my face. I'm sure it said something like, You went from nice stranger to random crazy-pants, so I think I need to leave now.

"Yeah no benches around here," I told him flatly, turning to leave. Unfortunately, the metro directions I gave him happened to be the same direction I was going, so we had to walk in tandem for a block or so. During that time frame, he spotted a concrete stoop. 

"Oh, look! Would you mind just sitting here for a sec so I can get a really good side shot?"

"...Fine."

I took my sandals off and stretched out my feet. He asked for permission to move my toes into a more pleasing arrangement – "Some people get freaked out when I touch their feet, so I always ask first." So thoughtful, Crazy-Pants, I wonder why? 

(Honestly though, this guy was really nice. I didn't feel threatened in any way and we were in a really well-lit area with a few other people walking around. I did not feel in danger at any time.)

"Wow," he said, "your feet are really beautiful. I mean, REALLY beautiful. And they're so soft!! What do you do for them?"

"Um, nothing."  Truthfully. I have never had a manicure/pedicure in my life, and had been picking at my calluses only a few nights before. So I truly have no idea what he was talking about. But this guy was in raptures. I also couldn't help noticing that the photos he was taking were actually pretty poor shots, and as an avid photography lover and total know-it-all I was itching to give him some pointers, but there was no way under God's magnificent heavens that I was prolonging this strange event any further.

"Sorry, is this weird for you?" the guy asked as he moved to a different angle. No, I get accosted by strangers and put into impromptu foot photo shoots on random concrete steps all the time. Why would you ask such a silly question. Yes, I told him bluntly, this was VERY weird.

"Oh I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable!" I really wonder why he said that, because then he asked: "Would you mind if I stroked your feet for a moment?"

Yes I mind. 

"Well then could I kiss them really quick?"

Hell no. And I'll be leaving now. 

"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable!" he repeated as I firmly pointed him in the opposite direction. Luckily, he didn't follow me home, and so I didn't have to ram my REALLY beautiful, super soft feminine dirty calloused feet-with-chipped-toenail-polish into his face.

Why do I attract the crazies? 

My feet. In all their beautiful glory. Except I'm wearing
canary yellow polish instead of lime green.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pardon the hiatus. Vacation.

I went home to Montana for a few weeks. And I gleefully did not even THINK about this blog. Well, that's not exactly true, I thought about in the sense of how much I loved not having to think about it. Does that make sense? Whatever.

Anywhooos...home was filled with family, water skiing, eating, hiking, horses, sailing, eating, basically all the things that make life wonderful. Allow me to make you jealous with the following pictures:
A view from within my favorite National park...Glacier

Saw this bear walking across and then along the road. So,
naturally, I snatched the camera out of my dad's hand
and leaned out the car window to get as close as possible.  

The Sis and I hiking a mountain near our house.
Not bragging here, it literally is a mtn. One of the
Rockies. Sadly dogs had to be leashed. It's a
National Parks thing.

Dad and I canoeing with the pooch. She hates cameras,
seems to think they're gonna suck out her soul or something,
but she was still for this shot.
Doesn't my home rock? I can't believe I'm out here living in this cramped metropolis when I could be back there. (And that, my friends, is the short version of the life-crisis I had upon returning to the city...trust me, you don't want details.)

Also, let me share a quick list of the things I saw in the middle of the road on my drive to the Montana airport at 3 am: One skunk (alive), two flirting deer (the buck was at least a 5x5 [that means his antlers had 5 points on each side, which made me hanker for a gun]), a coyote, a herd of at least 6 buck, ranging from spikes (look it up) to another 10 point (aka 5x5), a skunk (dead), and someone on a horse herding another horse in front of him with a dog trotting alongside.

Yeah. I love Montana.

Apparently, DC suffered through a hurricane and an earthquake while I was away. Darn. Missed 'em.