Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Strugglorial Day!

I'll be the first to admit that some things just pass me by. Take, for example, Justin Bieber. I have no idea who this person is. Seriously. No concept. Is he a type of toaster? One of Madoff's co-conspirators? A character in the popular comic strip Get Fuzzy? Is he the secret revealed in the final episode of Lost? More importantly, is he the secret to why people actually watch Lost? I really couldn't tell you. And, moreover, I'm perfectly comfortable not knowing. I like a mystery in my life. Though of course, there are instances when your ignorance can screw you...

Take, for example, major holidays. I sort of always forget that they, well, exist. Now, as a follower of the protocols of Zion, I think I can be forgiven for being occasionally caught off guard by infant birthdaysresurrection parties and hunger fasts.  But the fact that I can't keep national holidays together means that at best I'm a space cadet and, at worst, I'm letting the terrorists win.

So, while other people are, I'm assuming,  running around at backyard barbecues or auditioning for this season of The Jersey Shore, I myself had a fairly typical Monday, showing apartments, attending my pilates class, returning some emails, watch three guys try to steal a car...Oh, is that last one not typical where you live? The things you miss out on if you aren't existing in this beautiful city. You see, this morning when I went to show a property I was greeted by the most interesting sight. Three men were peering into the windows of a large car, leaning up against it like a sailor in a brothel, and generally putting the sketch in sketchtacular. As I locked up my bike and sat on the front steps of the building, one of the men approached me.

"Excuse me, Miss, do you have a hanger?", he said.
" A what?" quoth I, completely perturbed.
"A wire hanger. We need one", he said.

Resisting the urge to make the obvious Joan Crawford reference, I politely informed him that I don't typically bike around the city of Struggledelphia with hangers in my bag, but that I would start doing so in the future, just to be better prepared. To give to strange men. To help them steal cars. As one does.

It was just around this moment when the fact that today is a holiday crept back into my head.  I sighed as I watched the three co-conspirators attempt to break open the car door as I waited for my prospective tenants to come see the place. I have to start keeping better track of time, I thought. That, or learn how to bike with a hanger handy. As I biked away, I couldn't help but wish those three men luck. After all, it is a holiday. Maybe they just wanted something to celebrate. As for me, now that I've finally remembered this day is special, I may just have to reward myself with a nice, strong, way-to-resist-the-urge-to-commit-a-felony drink. At the very least, it's a celebration of the fact that they didn't give up on the car and go for my bike. Celebrate the victories, right? Isn't that what this holiday is all about?

Happy Memorial day, my little struggles! And remember, if you want a car stolen, don't forget to bring all the appropriate tools. If my story proves anything, it's that you really can't depend on the kindness of strangers, at least when it comes to hangers. Consider that your free life lesson for the day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Struggle Has It Covered

If you can introduce me to someone who actually enjoys the act of writing a cover letter, I will in turn point out that that person is a serial killer waiting to happen.Seriously, there are probably people out there who get a perverse glow out of describing themselves on paper in a manner that is both arrogant and humble, but I personally hate writing cover letters for the same reason I hate Pretty Woman, because it's unrealistic, at the end of the day you still feel like a product to be sold, and I don't get the appeal of Julia Roberts. Okay, that last one may only apply to Pretty Woman. Still, I'm fairly certain you understand me.

However, it does seem scarily appropriate on this, the first anniversary of my graduation from not-Yale (which, my research says, is the paper anniversary, but one wonders if it mightn't have been better just to let this one go rather then giving it the lamest gift idea ever), that my current hateful obsession is the dreaded job application.  After all, it was my tragic graduation from that institution that thrust me into the job market, and despite a year of ex-patriot existence, it seems that here I am all over again, seated in from of my computer, desperately trying to seem both interested and interesting on paper. Come to think of it, I take it back, in this situation it's perfectly acceptable that this is the paper anniversary, after all, I'm using so very much of lately.

The thing is that the more I search and apply for positions and internships and any opportunity to leave the world of Real Estate, the more farcical it all appears. I've seen the term "self starter", "highly motivated" and "attention to detail" so many times in print that they've actually lost all meaning for me. And while while some ad copy reads like the kind of thing that would make Peggy Olsen weep, some of it seems deliberately mysterious and opaque. For example, my friend Andrew, (hi Andrew!) was recently applying for a job whose advertisement asked applicants to name their salary price. I mean, what does that even mean? I want ALL the money, how about that? That's my salary price. All the money.  I mean, let's be reasonable here, I'm a recent college graduate in an economy so in trouble that I find myself re-reading Grapes of Wrath for life tips, and there are, like, hundreds of thousands of other people out there who are just like me (though obviously lacking my sparkling personality and rapier-like wit, duh), I'm just thrilled you don't want me to pay you!

However, in the spirit of our great nation, I will persevere, and while I won't be fulfilling the promise of my forefathers by slaughtering indigenous peoples or eating my weight in fast food, I will indeed continue my struggle to find gainful employment in something at least a little closer to my chosen field. Though to be fair,  getting through the day without smacking a prospective tenant directly in the face but instead pretending their questions are meaningful is in and of itself kind of a performance...

And for all of you struggling alone with me in this painful job application process, I present a few helpful hints to aid you in your construction of your cover letters. After all, if you are going to whore around, you might as well have a pimp to help you through it!

1. Remember, it's a job application, not a dive bar. Desperate is not in fact an asset in this case, and ending a letter with "please please pretty pretty please" is not as persuasive as you think it's going to be. A good rule of thumb is that if it worked in pre-school it's probably not going to work now. It's a shame, really, because that was my move...

2. While talking up your talents is acceptable and encouraged, straight up lying seems to be frowned upon for some silly reason. Something about hospital liability or some nonsense like that.

3. Do try to avoid mentioning how many followers you have on Twitter. It's not impressive, it's awkward. Unless you are actually applying to Twitter, in which case have at it, but believe me on this one, whoever is reading your letter? They've got more.

Good luck with your applications, gentle readers. And for anyone who themselves graduated this past weekend, or any weekend in May, congratulations, and welcome to the Dark Side.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ice Ice Struggle

There are many possible alternatives to an ice pick. A thin sharp knife will work, or a wooden spoon or spatula. Anything plastic is less then efficient, it's something about the material when it meets ice, please don't tell me the chemical-physical reaction, I don't want to know. Metal tends to be the key, in my experience.

And what exactly is my experience, you might ask? Well, it's recent, but rich, and it pretty much involves me attacking an ice floe inside a freezer for at least 25 minutes and contemplating how this moment became a part of my reality.You know when you have those moments in  your life when you can't help but think, wait, stop, how did I get here, how did this happen, how did this all go so wrong so quickly? I've been having a few of those lately.

Here's a funny thing about me: I spend a lot of my time in the apartments of strangers. Am I a stalker or a serial killer? No, not yet at least. No, I'm a Real Estate Agent, more specifically a Rentals Agent, and as a result I spend my days fielding questions from idiots and explaining away the messes of people I've never met.  I run, or rather, bike furiously, from apartment to house to apartment, wandering through other people's spaces like I'm trying on the contents of their closets (which I've also seen, by the way), and I observe their kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms (their dirty laundry, their dishes, their family photos, their jewelry boxes, their shoes) like the most detail oriented voyeur possible. And in my wanderings across the city of Struggledelphia this past week I found myself confronted with an adorable studio apartment, hardwood floors, tiled bathroom, separate kitchen, miniature polar ice cap. That last one? Was from the freezer. Noticing the freezer door slightly ajar, I tried my best to close it. No dice. Not only had the freezer created an ice storm of epic proportions around the ice cream and fat-free frozen dinners, but it had extended beyond the bounds of the freezer, reaching out, creating a Mr. Freeze style ice bridge which in another context might be a real challenge for Batman, but for me was just another Thursday afternoon.

Shooing the possible new tenants out with an awkward clenched teeth smile, I found myself, knife in hand, using a freezer full of ice like a session of aggressive physical therapy. Just another day in the life, I thought to myself. Nothing to worry about. I'm just doing my job.

After days like this, I need the meal I cook to be as simple as possible. My caramelized cauliflower with onions is a recipe so deceptively simple most people think it took me hours. Little do they know, after a day wrestling with an aggressive freezer, I've earned the cheap and easy calories.

Caramelized Cauliflower with Onions:
1 Head of Cauliflower
1 Red Onion
Cooking spray

Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the cauliflower up into small florets. Slice the onion, and mix the onion in a large bowl the cauliflower, cooking spray (or olive oil), salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and cook until the mixture turns golden to deep brown and appears crispy. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Struggle Gets Old School

The thing about homecomings is that they almost never go smoothly. Something about the culture clash, the mixture of people, the gap in time, it's a recipe for disaster. But while movies and books and Harold Pinter would have us think of homecomings as dramatic and traumatic affairs, in my own vast and varied experience, i.e., my experience this past weekend at my high school reunion, I can honestly say that homecomings aren't disturbing or destructive as much as they are awkward. Deeply, deeply awkward. Though of course, 90% of that might have been me.

However, to be fair, 10% of it at least was the fact that this was my five year high school reunion. Now here is the thing about a five year period, I really don't know how much you are able to get done in one, especially considering that four out of those five years you were probably spending your time at another academic institution and, if movies teach us anything,  trying to forget high school as much as possible. (Maybe that fifth year too? Maybe even right now? Those of you reading who have made it past the five year mark, please don't tell me you still think about your time in high school, it will only depress me.) But five years is really the most pathetic of reunions, and the reason's why are threefold:

1. You probably still see and are in contact with at least half your graduating class. With the advent of facebook and the interweb and new carrier pigeon technology moving forward with leaps and bounds, keeping in touch with people is as easy as pressing a button or releasing a bird. In fact, I feel like I have seen more of my classmates since I left high school, and by this I mean, they have some slutty facebook photos. Put that away, people, my MOM is on there!

2. Unless you are an evil genius (i.e., myself) or have already found the time to inherit in a major way, you probably are doing one of three things, working at an entry level position which you grit your teeth through and tell everyone it's "a great networking experience", interning at an entry level position which you grit your teeth through and tell everyone it's "a great learning experience", or attending graduate school, which you can talk about all you want, but no one really wants to listen. If you've reunited with at least one person from each of these camps, you can leave your five year reunion happy, because you've pretty much fully caught up.

3. All of your residual high school drama and issues are still close enough to the surface that once you get a few drinks in you at the reunion bar these aren't going to be fun little antidotes of a bygone era but real, unfortunate, socially awkward (in my case) struggles that are either going to find you sobbing in a bathroom somewhere or waking up in an all too familiar person's bed. Of course the third option (and my personal favorite) is that you go home alone and fend off the attentions of your middle-aged Russian cab driver. Anyway you slice it, it's a flashback to a dark place.

With the acknowledgment of all these things, however, I actually had a pretty good time at my reunion, and I can now offer some fun and simple tips, to ensure that others do the same:

1. Anyone can be interesting for ten minutes, even the people you had declared your arch-nemesis and spent countless lunch hours and Friday nights plotting against. For ten minutes you can find yourself satisfying whatever mild curiosity you had about even the most vague acquaintance and pretending to care about their life. After ten minutes, well, if that's a risk you are willing to take, be my guest.

2. You can all legally drink together. Finally. And take it from me on this one, you're going to want to do so.

3. Remember that thing you always wanted to say to that person? Well, trust me on this one, you still don't have the chutzpah to say it, so don't even try. Besides, it's not like you can just say it, blame it on the henny,  and get the hell out of there, after all, they can always post their response on your facebook wall. Wait at least until you ten year reunion, I know I am.

Thinking back over the weekend's events, I was thrilled to realize that the struggle was at least 50% the five year reunion and 50% myself. It's always nice to know it's not entirely my fault when everything get's awkward. Though of course, given that it's high school we are discussing, I really shouldn't have been so surprised.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Struggle Gets Oriented

I recently spent ten minutes explaining to a café waitress in the Shanghai Pudong airport the concept of an iced coffee. Really? REALLY? Has NO one ever made that request before in this entire NATION? Is that possible that in a country that includes all four seasons, no one, craving both a  refreshing cooling experience and life’s best and most legal drug, has asked politely to combine coffee and ice in order to create a more perfect union? Or is it, as I suspect, that people have asked, oh, how they’ve asked, begged, cried even, in all the languages of ever spoken from Babel and beyond, and the People’s Republic just doesn’t care. I bet you a dollar (that’s 6.8 RNB, by the way) that Mateo Ricci  and Marco Polo were both like, Por Favore, café con ghiaccio, por el amore de dio! The British probably pleaded, the Dutch demanded, the French sneered, the Spaniards gesticulated, but China has stood firm. Coffee with ice in it? That’s just crazy talk. White devil juice. None of that for desendents of Khan.

So if you ever find yourself in the Shanghai Pudong Airport I would advise you to get some coffee beforehand. Not only will doing so aid you in avoiding an awkward interpretive dance enacting the term "ice", but you will have something to console you as you wait in the inumberable lines that seperate you, the traveler, from your gate. Or, like me, you will find yourself with a 10 dollar paper cup filled with hot coffee and rapidly melting ice while laughing Chinese people eagerly watch you to make sure you are (finally) happy. In such a case, it's best to just fake it, reguardless of how disgusting the drink is. Trust me on that one.

And so, horrible cup of coffee like substance in my hand, I departed from Shanghai and, 14 hours later, arrived in a much stranger and more strugglesome place (is such a thing possible? Oh, wait for it, folks!). That's right, people. I went to Los Angeles.

Now, I firmly believe there are people out there who love and delight in Los Angeles. I believe there are people who enjoy equestrian paintings and crocs and t-shirt's that say "Your Boyfriend Bought Me This Shirt" and the music of Justin Bieber. I believe these things are real and out there and that there are people who treasure them, and are grateful for their existence. I even believe that there are people who when told: Death is not an option and are placed in front of the Twilight Saga DON'T immediately scream "Death is ALWAYS an option!" and jump out the nearest window. I am just not among them.

I think I've made my feelings about Los Angeles pretty clear in the past, but just for all those who have joined us late in the game, I point you to the nearest Woody Allen film. Well, that's not quite fair. After all, Los Angeles has truely excellent food, and the weather is really nice. And if there is any other good quality... I personally have yet to find it. But Strugglemano lives there, and as I wasn't wild about extending my trip across the Pacific ocean to include a cross-country flight, I dragged my bags, still dusty from the sand blowing off the Gobi desert, into my brother's car and, scowling in the sunshine like the East Coaster I am, observed the most common Los Angeles view there is, that is, the one framed by a car window.

The thing about flying from China to the West Coast is that you gain 15 hours of time, so in many cases you find yourself arriving about an hour before you left the day before. For some people this might have seemed like a perfect opportunty to hit the sights and check out the museums. but having spent the last 5 months of my life doing exactly that, I was honestly eager for some downtime, and if you can't count on the United States to find places to stuff your face, where the hell can you? So, in deferance to my wishes, Strugglemano set out to find me the best of the best of the worst possible foods for you. And here is something I noticed on our gastronomic journy, and I have to say, maybe it's our arrogance, or our ignorance, but when it comes to dining we in the US sometimes act like we are inventing the wheel. We are always "discovering" things like cupcakes or couscous or chicken and then carrying on like no one has ever heard of this item before. This year seems to be the year of bacon and whiskey, despite the fact that the Chinese consider it to be the year of the tiger. Sorry, China, tiger meat is just too expensive these days, though apparently whale is just fine...

So in keeping with these exciting new food discoveries, Strugglemano and I made it our mission in my first 24 hours back on US soil to consume them both in large quantities. Starting with the bacon-maple donut from the Nickel Diner in downtown LA ( I know it sounds disgusting, but I have to tell you, it was glorious, every articlogging bite of it) and moving on to murkey but delicious burbon Derbies at the speak-easy style Edison (has to be one of the coolest bars I've seen in a while, it's not every day you get to sip bootleg gin surrounded by silent movies and turn-of-the-century machinery). We ended the day stuffing our faces at Animal, a resturant specializing in little plates of delectably prepared meats. I guess America has found meat this year as well. Thank goodness, too, it coincides with our recent discovery of fire.

I will say this much for Los Angeles, when I walked into a coffee shop, be it the painfully hip Intellegetnsia or the bubble tea house in a mall complex in the San Gabriel valley, they knew what I wanted when I asked for iced coffee. It's almost a shame, really, I was getting really good at miming.