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. 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?? 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:

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.
[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.

[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.