Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Little Trouble in BigTown #9: A Day in the Life

My typical day in BigTown begins at 6:30 in them morning, when I jolt awake and feel a spike of adrenaline coursing through my body, from my scalp to my toes, like a bolt of lightning. Then I realize that I can sleep for another hour, and roll over to catch some more z's.

At 7:15 my first alarm goes off on my phone, whose screen displays one of two options: SNOOZE and DISABLE. Thankfully, the first (default) option is SNOOZE, as otherwise I would just hit DISABLE. This puts my phone into a coma for five minutes, after which it goes off again, prompting me to hit SNOOZE again. In this way, my world becomes a series of five-minute naps dotted with brief flashes of consciousness, like a strobe light occasionally sputtering in a Discotheque in the Soviet Union during a brownout. In my dreams, I engage in vigorous debate with a vodka-chugging Chekhov from Star Trek about the efficiency of state-controlled utilities.

At 7:42 my second alarm goes off on my phone, which also prompts a SNOOZE. This, however, is different because Alarm #2 also goes off every five minutes, albeit starting at a different interval. This shortens the period in which I can sleep, as now Alarm #1 will go off at 7:45, Alarm #2 will go off at 7:47, and so on and so forth. My world goes from the aforementioned Discotheque to an episode of Pokemon.

Usually around eight I can drag myself out of bed and into the shower, where I engage in ruminations that often last me as long as fifteen minutes, especially if I forget to bring my watch and end up thinking about Weighty Matters instead of lathering. Afterwards, dressing takes me a while because I don't have any sort of bathmat and am completely paranoid about letting my wet feet touch the icky carpet. So I lay out my clothes on the bed, sit down on it, and lean back, holding my legs out and feeling my shower slippers slide off, then dangle my feet a few inches above the floor while moving only my upper torso to put on an undershirt and collared golf shirt. Then I lean over to the dresser (still sitting on the bed with my feet out) and grab some short-neck cotton socks. I can use my sock drawer as a sort of carbon-dating system to figure out how long it's been since I've done my laundry, although it regresses linearly rather than logarithmically. The warning point is when I run out of cotton socks and am forced to use my stash Emergency Backup Socks (EBS), the heavy wool monstrosities that are meant for Day After Tomorrow-style crisis and clubbing at Soviet Discotheques.

Finally, by this point my feet are no longer wet but merely damp, and I am able to slide them through a pair of khaki slacks and into the socks. With a brown belt and some sneakers, I am dressed for work, or for a typical day at $t. X, depending on if the dress code has changed or not. My backpack gobbles up the computer and all the snaking peripherals that accompany it, and I'm out the door.

The walk to the Metro station is pleasant, usually just warm and humid enough to remind me it's summer, but not enough that my pants start to develop their own tropical ecosystem inside. The entrance to the underground metro station is basically a big hole in the ground with what seems like an endless escalator plumbing the depths. There's also a series of gritty, unshaven men in orange construction-worker vests selling newspapers and copies of Street Vibes (The Official Daily Newspaper of the Homeless), and of course a token homeless person or two wagging a styrofoam cup from 7-11 (or occasionally Five Guys and Fries).

Once you get into the Metro station proper, you find yourself in a tunnel with a curved roof of tiles that look like Pez blocks. On one side you'll see a bank of 80s-era vending machines to spit out tickets and train passes (seriously, all that's missing is a couple of reels of tape and Matthew Broderick trying to play Global Thermonuclear War with them), and on the other various billboard-type advertisements, many of which have a distinctly political/lobbying flavor to them, such as the one with a picture of a pig that said "Who's HOGGING Our Antibiotics?"

There's also a dot-matrix LED display that alternates between helpfully telling you the train you want isn't coming for another 20 minutes and helpfully telling you that you should have added an additional 30 minutes to your travel time. Thanks, buddy. Occasionally, if you're very lucky, you'll see a third announcement that says that "Routine Track Maintenance" is being performed.

Finally, the actual train platform is filled with scattered knots of people zoned out on iPods or Crackberries. Most are respectably-dressed businesspeople who look like they could be lawyers or polticians; a few are clusters of students wearing identical bright t-shirts and lanyards. The lanyards, of course, are the dead giveaway, even for older high school and college groups. These older groups all have names that include words like "National", "Presidential", and "Congressional", designed to make them sound huffy and official. But the students still get lanyards.

Once the train arrives, the doors slide open and we all rush forward like o-linemen trying to get a push on a goal-line stand. While it's nothing like the ridiculousness of Japanese trains and certainly less saturated with f-words than a NYC metro, BigTown still manages to pack 'em in pretty tight. The train doors beep and try to close, and then stop as they've been jammed by someone's arm, or purse, or child. There's some quiet grumbling and then the doors finally slide shut and we begin moving, only to stop about 15 feet later with the announcement "This train will be delayed for 90 seconds".

A little while (and during weekdays a long while) later we arrive at my stop and I get off the train. There are two different exits to the metro station, and between 5 and 10 turnstiles at any given exit. Like grocery lines, I always pick the one that is letting people through the slowest. For most normal people, they get in line, watch the person in front of them slip in their ticket or wave their pass over the card reader, and then they get to go. Inevitably, though, I will be caught behind someone whose RFID smart-card has jammed, or been passed through a giant magnet, or is actually a library card.

After that annoyance, it's up the escalator...and up the escalator...and up the escalator...and finally I emerge and realize I picked the wrong exit as well, and now have an additional two or three blocks to get to my workplace. But no matter. The sky is clear and blue, and the people are teeming and energetic, and the humidity has been ratcheted up a notch, and my legs are sprouting emergent, canopy, and understory layers.

Some interminable hours (it may have been minutes) later, I arrive at the proper building, which is bordered on one side by a Johnny Rocket's family-style restaurant and on the other by a sex shop. Inside is the elevator to the office, which is slow (some might say "ponderous") and leaves lots of time for peaceful contemplation. I usually use the metal door to check and see if there's anything stuck in my teeth, and admire the glowing circles above the door that indicate the floor we're on (the numbers have been Sharpie'd on). The actual office is generic and nondescript, although quite EPIC, I must say myself.

I greet Gerald, the administrative assistant/website master/temp worker/social organizer for the office. Gerald's current profession fits the description the Navy has ("It's not a job, it's an Adventure"). My typical first glance of Gerald involves me going to the kitchen to get some water and seeing everyone stand around as Gerald tries to do an EPIC job like "catch a mouse that's been sneaking in through the ceiling tile" or worse, get the server to work properly.

On any given day, there's a 50-50 chance that I'll see Melissa, the other intern at my organization, who is from Cleveland (O-H!). Unfortunately, she did go to Miami of Florida (of her own volition), and that requires shunning. She does crazy law-school-type stuff which is so far above my head it resembles the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Then I reach my own office, which, according to the sticker on the phone, apparently once belonged to someone whose name started with "Guilerme". It is currently being used to store unwanted books and interns. I sit down, pull out my computer, and lock it to the desk, then go straight to work.

Work, in this case, refers to the unpleasant daily task I have of making breakfast (Poptarts done at 25 seconds per pastry), checking my email, and carefully analyzing the latest postings from my favorite sports blogs. At some indeterminate point later in the day, I begin my (unpaid) volunteer service of doing research.

About five minutes after that, it's time for lunch. The first week or so I ate lunch out, but being a part of Obama's stimulus package for local restaurants really got to me politically, so now I eat in my office, preparing gourmet Nutella sandwiches with the following recipe I created:

Nutella Sandwich
Makes 4 sandwiches. Prep time: 3 minutes.

1 Jar Nutella
8 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread*

1) Take two slices of whole wheat bread and place on napkin.

2) Open jar of Nutella and observe the topographical contours of the Nutella within. A brand-new jar will have no contours, just a smooth surface. A used jar should have Nutella scooped out along the walls of the jar, leaving behind streaks from the teeth of the knife that was used to scoop it out, with a central peak formed of Nutella. The central peak should also have the straight-line streaks.

3) Scoop out Nutella. Be careful not to make the peak in the center of the jar too thin, or it will collapse. To prevent this, lop off the top of the peak at regular intervals and reshape the peak.

4) Spread Nutella on one (not both) of the slices of bread. Even-coating and thickness of the spread are more important (for now) than distributing the Nutella over the entire slice. There's plenty more where that came from.

5) Repeat steps 2-4 until one of the slices is *completely* covered with Nutella.

6) Wipe knife off on the other slice of bread.

7) Take the other slice of bread and gently place it on top of the Nutella-bearing piece, being careful to align the "handles" of the bread.

8) Repeat for the other three sandwiches.

9) Realize you forgot to buy milk and run across the street to Rite-Aid to get it.

*White bread is not an acceptable substitute.

Then it's time for more work while I eat, then after lunch I go back to volunteering. Throughout this time, I am sure to check my email every hour or so to make sure I'm not missing anything from my boss, who has a tendency to A) not come into the office and B) send uncapitalized (though fully-punctuated) emails that start with phrases like "So I'm in brussels this week".

Finally, the magical hour of 5 pm rolls around, and I pack up and head out. Depending on the day, I have different engagements: dinner, meetings, performances, improv classes, wandering aimlessly around like a tourist, and watching Arrested Development.

When I finally arrive back at my dorm for the evening, I spend about five minutes trying to convince myself to blog, then decide instead to read Facebook or those same sports blogs, before getting ready for bed, reading a chapter of the Bible and a chapter of whatever novel I'm reading at the time (Eifelheim now, Cyrptonomicon earlier).

And that's where my fingers' been!

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