Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Open Letter to the Girl who Works at Toastie's and Yelled at Me Monday Morning at 8:45 AM

Dear Married Polish Girl (the tall one),

I’ve worked next door to your place of employment for almost a year now, and I thought, until recently, that you and I had established a nice, mutually cynical repartee about our frequent business interactions. You know I like my coffee iced. It’s nearly 100 degrees now in this lovely city of ours, and while there are some freaks out there that still drink hot coffee in this weather, you must know by now that I am not one of them.

I suppose what I’m really upset about is the fact that obviously my faith in our friendship is stronger than yours. Based on the words we exchanged this past Monday, I see now that you perceive me as just another one of the spoiled, yuppie zombies that frequents your cash register simply because Toastie’s is the closest place where one can get an iced coffee for under three dollars. God forbid, you may even think I attend New York University and live in the dorms next door. I’m terrified, that somehow, through my behavior, I’ve misinformed you in this way, and I have to say, the last three nights have been sleepless ones.

I ordered an iced coffee and you handed me a hot one. I apologized profusely and restated my order. Icy knives sliced through the very depths of my heart when you dramatically rolled your eyes, only to return with the iced coffee, saying that next time, you would charge me for a cup of ice and have me make the beverage myself. When I restated that I had indeed ordered an iced coffee, you replied “You said nothing of the sort.”

Your words were like a turn of the century Frenchman’s glove striking me across the face.

Polish girl, well, Polish lady I should say since you’ve obviously married and who knows, you may even be a mother, I apologize. I apologize that Monday mornings exist and I apologize that I take it upon myself to buy an iced coffee every morning. Without the caffeine, I most certainly would have committed homicide several times over by now, and would most likely be in jail. Most of all, I’m sorry that both of us seem to be living lives and working jobs that make us sick. Believe me, there have been times when I have wanted to tell my boss, “You said nothing of the sort” when I messed up something or other. In fact, I admire you for taking a stand against all the bullshit in this world when you laid the smack-down on to my demure little iced coffee loving shoulders this Monday morning.

The problem is, I wish you’d do it to someone who deserved it. Someone who lives in the East Village on Mommy and Daddy’s dime, who shops at the Barney’s Co-Op and goes to NYU, and doesn’t have a job. If one of those bitches mistakenly orders a hot coffee when she really wants an iced coffee, as far as I’m concerned you’re immune from prosecution when the Feds come to carry you away as you’re standing over her mangled corpse. I will watch, from behind the caution tape, and secretly smile to myself as the sirens go flashing by.

Until then, I’ve decided to give us some space. I think we both need time to re-evaluate our relationship and take a breather. I’ve been going to Tisserie instead. Honestly, their iced coffee is better. Granted, it’s more expensive, and the store is probably owned by Republicans, but this is what you’ve forced me to do. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to return to Toastie’s with the same confidence in what I thought was my progressive understanding of the proletariat, but thank you, for the wake up call. God knows I need it.

In love and admiration,

Comrade Jessica

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Not Study for the GRE

1. Date assholes who tell you from the start that they are assholes. Don’t listen. Continue to hang out with them, convinced that there is inherent good in everyone. Waste time inviting said assholes to readings, going to movies, hanging out with said assholes asshole friends. Feel generally bad about oneself; write horrible poetry.

2. Curl hair with finger while staring at pores in the mirror. Do endless searches online for dermatologist.

3. Call home, cry to mother about lack of purpose in life.

4. Perfect Bob Dylan impersonation.

5. Have a full time job that seeps into every fiber of your being. Fiber with an –er, American style, not fibre with an –re, Virginia Woolf style. That would be the good kind of fibre, like, every fibre of your being that isn’t studying for the GRE.

6. Congratulate friends that have just been accepted into Ph.D. programs straight after graduating college; weep inconsolably.

7. Party on the Lower East Side. Wake up next morning, realize you aren’t even sure what GRE really stands for, realize you don’t care, watch Star Wars, wonder how Carrie Fisher got her hair so shiny.

8. Look at GRE testing locations in the city. Sigh. Eat a cookie.

9. Go to gym. Convince self that health is more important than higher education.

10. Buy incredibly expensive GRE Preparation book, complete with CD. Let said book age on your desk for several weeks. Read Nietzsche, throw GRE book out window.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The New York School of Elitism

Regional quirks have always interested me, being from the south. I’m accustomed to people asking, “You grew up in the South. Now what was that like?”

I have lived in New York now for over a year; it was my childhood dream to come here, live, star on Broadway, and frolic in Central Park. Looking back on those pipe dreams, I realize I wanted to live here because New York is anything but the real world. In fact, it is so much the real world that it has become a drag version of itself, a campy side-show freak of a city, where life is fast, fake, and the people are clichés upon clichés upon clichés.

One of my last afternoons at my internship that brought me to this city was spent discussing an article in The New Yorker, or, more generally, the politics of the magazine. I think it had something to do with Meghan O’Rourke marrying James Surowecki. A specific article was mentioned, that everyone in the room had read, except for me. One of the editors asked, “Do you read The New Yorker?” “Yes, sometimes,” I replied. “I had a subscription once. But I don’t, not regularly.” “Well, you should read it,” another responded, “simply to keep abreast of things if for no other reason.”

I should read it.

There it was. New York superiority. Well, you live in New York so you must read The New Yorker; you are part of the literary establishment now so you must read The New Yorker. You must.

A few days ago, my friend C. simply said, “I hate The New Yorker. Can I say that? Is that allowed? I hate The New Yorker.” Someone responded with, “I hate their poetry. They have the worst poetry. Wasn’t Sylvia Plath a New Yorker poet?” “Yes,” I was quick to respond, “but it took her seventeen submissions to be accepted.” As we spoke, we all looked up to the sky, as if expecting acid rain or imminent doom of some kind to befall us.

This little conversation coupled with the fact that I managed to mispronounce both the name of the artist Paul Klee, and the word “scythe” in less than one week in the company of Columbia graduates, got me thinking—who am I and where do I come from? I’m expected to be able to pronounce names that I’ve never heard spoken. Moreover, I’ve realized that I come from a place where Paul Klee is a name you just do not hear. I was reminded of the first time I ever saw the word “nausea” when I was young. I’d never heard of it, and I had no idea how to approach it. The worst, though, was my pronunciation of the word “nuclear.” Not until George W. Bush had so infamously mispronounced that word the way all Southerners pronounce it, had I felt ashamed that I wasn’t more fastidious in my mother tongue.

“Listen,” my friend J. said, “We’re educated here to impress people at cocktail parties. That’s what all those fancy words are for. If you think someone’s vocabulary is a reflection of his or her intelligence, you’re mistaken.” Is she right? I’d like to think so. I know I went to state school and public high school but I’m no slouch. I can quote Woolf from memory, of course, and I’m fairly well-schooled in the modernists, but this isn’t the place to brag. Quite the contrary, I started this post with no aim other than self-depreciation in mind.

My ex once said to me, “You’re too smart for me. I could never make you happy because I can’t talk about books and Virginia Woolf.” At the time, I thought, “how silly, how elitist he must think me—intelligence is all relative!” But is it? I find I turn my nose up at certain things—if someone’s never read Mrs. Dalloway, never seen Vertigo, if they mispronounce Yeats, well that really gets me going. But I tend to believe I value these superficial rules, these expectations of what people should know, because they are things that I hold dear to my heart. When I see VW’s last name misspelled it pains me; I literally wince at the page when someone confuses her for an ancestor of Thomas Wolfe. So perhaps it is all relative, all personal.

I’m going to continue my plight to become a human sponge and soak up as much information as I can whilst still breathing. Please don’t think that it shames me when people correct my grammar, my pronunciation, or my general understanding of les beaux arts—I simply blush a little blush, and move on. I appreciate those who’ve had that private, expensive education because they are furthering mine, whether they realize it, or not.

Until then, I'm off to mispronounce me some words and wrassl up some sweet iced tea.