Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I want to be a part of it: New York, New York!

I could go into great detail about my job and my Big Apple experiences so far, but as hundreds of things have occurred which have left their imprints on my mind without being of great significance to most people who might read this, I won’t. I have, however, included here below a few little snippets.

Bundled and clutching my borrowed umbrella, I walked from the bus stop to the crosswalk, where my light was red, and as I waited, I considered the many amusements of my day. It was dark, cold, and wet, but I was in a good humor and close to home. A car drove by and splashed a bit of water close to my feet. Cautiously, I stepped back. A bus approached, and as the front wheels rumbled by, I stepped back even further. Sure enough, the splash was bigger, and as I congratulated myself on having narrowly avoided a minor soaking, the back wheels rolled into that very same puddle, and a tidal wave of water rose viciously into the air, smacking me first clear in the face, then pummeling every part of me from my neck to my feet. I was wet. Immediately, I erupted in a rather giddy solo of high-pitched giggles, and I looked around to make sure I had no audience. I also spit. I mean, I didn’t want any street water festering in my mouth.

I have decided that interesting things happen when I am late to work. Don’t assume this means that I make it a habit of being late to work – it’s happened only twice thus far, but both of those times I couldn’t help but think that perhaps it was worth it. My first late-for-work experience happened one Saturday when it seemed that someone had decided it would sure as heck be super fun to play around with the subway trains instead of letting them stop at their normal stops and come as regularly as they normally come. No, really, the subway construction folks were just doing their jobs and repairing some tracks or something, so I can’t complain. Coming back to the story line, I had waited about half an hour for the number 5 train, only to find that I had to transfer to the number 2 almost immediately, and then eventually transfer back to the 5 if I ever wanted to arrive at my destination. It was on the number 2, which I do not normally take, that the Interesting Thing happened: I heard a woman speaking Romanian on her cell phone. Having just spent three years in Romania, I had been open of ear and eager of mind to find Romanian speakers in New York City, but to no avail until this very moment. As I usually am not inclined to initiate dialogue with absolute strangers, I stood there, nervously, as well as impertinently, eavesdropping on her conversation (because I could), and frantically working up the courage to talk with her when she finished. Finally, my opportunity arrived when, after a couple more phone calls, she closed her cell and dropped it into her purse. “Sunteti din Romania sau Moldova?” (“Are you from Romania or Moldova?”) I asked. Smiling and clearly surprised, she said that she was from Romania and asked about my own country of origin. When I responded with “Sunt americanca” (“I’m American”), she again adopted the look of surprise at finding an American who had somehow or other learned the Romanian language. She was actually from Bucharest, which is where I lived, and after chatting a bit on the 2 train, we then got off to switch to the 5, chatted some more, realized that the 5 was not coming to that station, got back on another 2 train, chatted some more, got off again, and parted ways. I was 20 minutes late to work.
That was Saturday. Sunday I was off, and then Monday I ran into the exact same problem. I went through most of the same rigmarole, and when I finally got back onto the 5 train for the last leg of my commute, two loud hip-hop-looking guys with a stereo jumped on the train and started shouting for us to pay attention, as we were, according to them, about to see a pretty darn great show. Turning on the music, they then started dancing. Alright, I thought, they’re going to dance around a bit. That’s nice. I watched with modest curiosity. And then the Interesting Thing took place: they began flipping and jumping like a couple of kernels of popping corn up and down the aisle of the train car! No one was standing in that part of the car, but there were plenty of people sitting, and I was certain that one of the entertainers would kick someone in the face by accident, or land flat on someone’s lap, and all of us wide-eyed passengers pulled in our feet to be on the safe side, but no one was so much as grazed. Towards the end of their show, just to be sure we were truly impressed, they each grabbed each other’s legs, forming a circle, and rolled down the aisle till they were just about to hit one of the poles… and then they rolled around it. Again, I was 20 minutes late to work.

“Caroline Kennedy is here doing a book signing,” I found myself explaining to quite a few customers who wondered why we had closed off a section of the store to their perusals. This explanation was met with various reactions:
“Oh, really? No wonder there are so many people here!”
“*%@#! Every time I come to this store there’s a *#$@ book signing!”
“Who’s Caroline Kennedy?”
Despite the more negative comments, I decidedly enjoyed the event and got something of a kick out of one particular suggestion, offered by a little middle-aged woman with some kind of accent that made it just hard enough to immediately comprehend what she wanted:
“I tell you my name, an’ you tell Mrs. Kennedy. She know me. Maybe she be surprise to know I here. But I know her. An’ then I can go to front of the line.”
Nice try.

Were I a cartoon character, my eyes would probably have been bulging out of their sockets. On this quest to catch a glimpse of the legendary Saks Christmas windows, my brother and I had gotten sucked into a teeming, sardine-can mass of humanity, positively violent with Christmas Spirit, demonstrated by such joyful remarks as “Quit pushing!!” and “Why don’t you #$@* move already??” Jostled and squeezed and feeling closer to complete strangers than ever before, we edged our way through the crowd, laughing and endeavoring to come up with a parody to the song “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” (substituting “Chaos” for “Christmas”), at which we partially succeeded. Finally at the end of the window display, we rounded the block to get back to my sister-in-law. Miraculously, her pregnant cousin had taken her little daughter and my little niece through the same crowd and had come out unscathed.
Ah! Christmastime in the city!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The news is still spreadin'...

The next day, Tuesday, started out with another trip into the city to fill out paperwork at my new place of employment. It was more or less pouring, so my sister-in-law loaned me her umbrella. I had planned to go shopping after the paperwork-filling-out was done, and thus I was still clad in my open-toed slides and my one nice pair of pants. To spur me on in this endeavor was the new-found knowledge, conferred upon me by one of the bookstore managers, that open-toed shoes are a safety hazard on the job, as heavy stacks of books are known to fall directly and purposefully on bare toes.
I had been under the impression that if a clothing store was located on 5th Avenue, it was necessarily pricey, and thus I was mildly shocked to be referred to H&M on that same avenue for good finds in nice pants.
I was still, keep in mind, wearing my open-toed slides as I entered the store, and I felt on the silly side anyway, being surrounded by so much trendiness. Head as high as it could go without actually staring up at the ceiling, I glided as trendily as possible from clothing rack to clothing rack, looking for the perfect pair of inexpensive pants. Balancing purse, newly attained Bookseller’s Handbook, and several articles of leg-wear complete with hangers, I made my way to the busy changing rooms.
A certain word or comment, said in the right way, can either give you a happy lift or plant a little seed of grumpiness in your mind, and I found that the fellow to whom I handed the three rejected pairs of pants accomplished the former, to his credit. I honestly have no recollection of what exactly he said, but I remember that it was something rather nice and cheerful, and I left changing room number one and headed to the second floor with, if not an actual smile on my face, at least the attitude of a smile on my face.
My shopping goal was to purchase two pairs of pants and, of course, a new pair of non-sneaker-but-equally-comfortable shoes. By this time I had found a pair of “probably” pants, and searching around on the second floor gave me nothing more certain, except the thought that the employee at changing room number two was not so happy-lift-giving-inclined as the employee at the previous changing room, so I bought the first pair of pants, left, and wandered off in the vague direction of the Manhattan Mall.
Suddenly, I was struck by the feeling that I had forgotten something. I studied my burdens with scrutiny:
-Bookseller’s handbook;
-H&M bag with newly purchased pants….
No umbrella. Of course I had left the umbrella somewhere – those rainy day accessories are not known to stick with me for long. I’ve left them in classrooms, on public transportation, probably just about anywhere that you might rest an umbrella for a moment or two. But where had I left it this time? Considering that the umbrella was not mine, I was most anxious to retrieve it, so I mentally traced back my steps and zeroed in on the little office in the basement of the bookstore where I had been filling out paperwork. Thankfully, I got it back with little hassle, and I continued my walk towards the Mall.
On the way, after buying some drug store trail mix to stave off whatever hunger headache might rise up to blight my shopping extravaganza, I stopped into a couple of small shoe stores and found, while not appropriate shoes, at least some jovial sales people, thank goodness, as were most of the sales people I encountered through the course of the day.
I never made it to the Mall, but I certainly walked far enough, having mistakenly remembered that it was about 5 avenues in the opposite direction from where it really is located. But I did eventually find another pair of pants at Old Navy, and a pair of shoes at K-Mart, of all places. I go into the middle of New York CityFifth Avenue, Broadway, Times Square – and I wind up buying shoes at K-Mart and eating trail mix from a drug store.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Start spreadin' the news....

Do you ever feel a bit silly when you’re improperly dressed? I don’t mean when you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt at a business meeting or a ball gown at the beach; I mean when you’re, for example, wearing open-toed shoes on a chilly day in a highly fashion conscious city. Well, I was wearing open-toed shoes on a chilly day in a highly fashion conscious city, and I felt a little bit silly. There was not much to be done at that moment to prevent this minor fashion faux-pas, as I had suddenly been called into the city for an interview, and my only shoes were:
-tall, black winter boots; and
-open-toed black slides.
I might have worn the boots, but, due to their height and furriness, they looked awful with the particular pants I had on. The pants were another issue. When you’ve spent most of your life as a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl, and when you’ve spent the past 3 years in the kind of work that would tame even the strictest of formal dressers into a casual denim loving fiend, you don’t have a whole lot of pairs of nice pants. Perhaps you have only one pair. And perhaps that one pair looks ridiculous with your tall, black winter boots. And thus I came to the conclusion that the open-toed black slides were the lesser of the two fashion evils.
Dressed and shod and bundled in my heavy winter coat (The coat, at least, I could be confident in. Probably the most fashion-conscious of all the girls with whom I had worked in Romania had told me on several occasions that “it makes me with the eye,” which, when translated a little less literally into English, means “I wouldn’t mind if I had one of those myself,” and so, if she had liked my coat, I could rest assured that it would do.), I made my way from the house in the Bronx to the subway, and then from the subway to 5th Avenue.
I was nervous. I’m usually nervous when I do new things, and job interviews fall under that category, but my nervousness was directed more towards the prospect of actually getting this job, rather than making a good impression at the interview. If I didn’t make a good impression, so be it. I may never see these people again, and I’d get another job somewhere. But if I did make a good impression, and if I did get this job, who only knows what sort of stupid things I may do while training? Might they regret hiring me?
All too quickly I forget the lesson that worrying will not add a single moment to my life.
As I sat with my potential supervisor while she went over my application, we considered how remarkable it was that:
-I had spent three years in Romania, and her best friend is Romanian;
-my former employer’s address is in Ramona, CA, and she, having lived in California, knows exactly where that is;
-we both live quite near each other in the Bronx; and
-she’s been to, and loves, Maine, my former residence.
By the end of my interview, I was hired as a bookseller in the middle of Manhattan.
Time to go shopping.