mint jelly

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Time

I’ve never been very good at summer. At a time of year when most people are planning vacations or packing picnics, I tend to be home. I tend not to leave the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the summer even when the break is only imaginary. I imagine that I’ll have more time to finish projects, that I’ll have more time to read.

A number years ago, when I was far enough into adulthood to realize I wasn’t acting like other adults who made at least some plans to mark the summer, I realized this was a very old pattern with me. Summer was the part where I went off for visitation, and my friends got used to life without me. It was the part where I’d go away for a long time, and come home to things that had changed.

As an adult, I don’t want to go anywhere because I like to be home. I have traveled enough. I step outside and the air feels like the north-east without air conditioning, or the Caribbean in hurricane season. I don’t have wanderlust. Moving 35 times in 34 years has removed all that.

Until about second grade I simply got up and went to the pool every morning. I played all day, every day, in the water, the sandbox, the playground, the grass, and returning to adult supervision when I got hungry or tired or bored. The pool was pretty fabulous, and it was easy to pretend I was a princess, or a dolphin.

After this age began the traveling visitation. I’d be put on a plane in a special “young child traveling alone” category, and I’d find myself in a house on a street in say, Massachusetts, with a dog and a yard and big playground nearby — everything I fantasized about having that I didn’t have growing up in the condo. I didn’t know how to ride a bike.

For a month in the summer I’d be dropped back into my father’s care and into a different world. My oldest brother was just joining the Marines, and the next in line was in his teens, preoccupied with punk rock and skateboarding. His attention usually involved punching me in the stomach until I’d willingly perform a back-spin or helicopter on the bare hardwood floor of his bedroom, which he had waxed especially for that purpose. We were our own Chinese Opera Breakdancing Company. I would have performed the stunts without physical coercion, but probably with too much hesitancy to actually pull them off. This was how he’d been taught everything, so this was how he taught me.

The truth was I’d always been dying for my brothers’ attention and approval, and they were better than boredom, than loneliness. I couldn’t ride a bike, but I could breakdance. Back home, I owned a pair of parachute pants. I was already listening to The Art of Noise.

My stepmother was usually nice, and once or twice would take me to the beach or to the toy store. She bought Kool-Aid and Captain Crunch, and every form of real sugar unthinkable at my mom’s place back home.

I’d get in trouble if I used the word “home” to refer to the other place I lived.

More than anything, I just remember trying to fill hours and hours of empty time to stave off my homesickness. My mom sent me sticker books and tiny, packable trinkets, and I blurred time by sending away for cereal box toys that wouldn’t arrive before I was gone. Anything that glowed in the dark, shrank, oozed, or spun, I had to have.

The one mercy, the one bit of childish fun that didn’t involve as many sucker punches and charlie-horses was, ironically, playing with my brothers’ G.I. JOEs.

My unhappy punk brother still loved his G.I. JOEs, and he swore me to secrecy on this, on the off-chance of his friends finding out. In a very military family, playing war was something we just constantly did. I played dress-up in my father’s flight gear and helmet, and my brother’s camouflage pants.

The pear tree in the backyard didn’t grow pears — it made grenades. Pull the stem, throw the fruit, cover your ears and open your mouth while dipping gracefully into a crouch. Boom! Good times.

On the exciting occasion of a new G.I. JOE being brought into the house, my brother and I took a long time to savor the packaging. This could be worth something one day, we said to each other.

I liked the toys regardless of which side they were on. Cobra operatives usually had cooler outfits, and I was precociously hip to the romance between Scarlett and Snake-Eyes. It was impossible to tell from name or outfit whether a character was good or bad — which appealed to my sense of fairness. Behind every profile and every tough front, postulated so firmly on the package, I wondered about their private lives, their pasts. Weren’t they tired of fighting and wearing those clothes? Didn’t they want to go home?

Major Bludd looked sad. He was my favorite, and his handlebar mustache made him look like he was frowning. I was sad for Major Bludd.

Even the package he came in made fun of Major Bludd. He looked so tough, but they said he wrote poetry in his spare time — “badly.” I felt like I could tell that about him. He wrote bad poetry. So did I.

The original 1983 packaging featured a poem I still have committed to memory. Even G.I. JOE fans think I’m crazy, but it comforted me. I was grasping, I could empathize with linoleum. Major Bludd’s eyes, his pout — he was mine. He was my favorite. 

Later packaging changed the poem to something less fun, more Go Joe! but I liked the sad, bitter humor of the original:

When you’re feeling low and woozy
slap a fresh clip into your uzi.
Assume the proper firing stance
and make the suckers jump and dance.

I love that my husband and his friend made a pie-chart joke out of our G.I. JOE memories. I love that the t-shirt they’re selling is “fully wearable” just as the characters used to be “fully poseable.” Check out his great artwork, and buy that special someone in your life a present, especially if they’re feeling low and woozy. 

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Workers Are Going Home

Hey bunnies, sorry it’s been forever since I’ve updated this site. So much has happened.

I moved into a new apartment, turned in my thesis, finished my MFA in nonfiction from The New School, became prose editor for LIT magazine, got engaged to the love of my life, and we eloped to the court house less than two weeks later.

I turned in my thesis on a Monday, then hopped onto a consulting gig that Tuesday. For the first time in almost two years, I was commuting to an office — but now as an editor. From my desk I could overhear programmers dealing with database transfers and content managing systems. I understood everything that was going on, but it wasn’t my problem. That alone was surreal and tremendous. In the new economy, it felt like a miracle.

It had been a long time since I had to think about things like shoes and alarm clocks, and I was very, very tired. That first week I overlapped, leaving early to race up to 12th Street to attend our thesis readings and graduation ceremonies. I was sad two years of grad school were coming to a close, feeling terribly tender about the friends I’d made and people I’d met, but so relieved to have finished.

I didn’t get my old life back, which was basically the whole point.

I loved the act of going to work again. When I was given the address, they told me 250 Greenwich, and I’d worked on Greenwich Street before, but the building hadn’t existed then. I realized 250 Greenwich is World Trade 7, which opened in May 2006. 

photo taken by Julie

At first I tried to walk towards the building from the side, but soon discovered that by design, it was impossible to walk straight up to this building no matter how I approached it. Out in front is a giant piece of artwork titled Balloon Flower (Red) by Jeff Koons, famous for his giant metal work. Surrounding Flower is a courtyard with a fountain, which is then encompassed by curbed and sloping marble benches that resist being walked or stepped by any but the most the sure-footed. In a wider radius, there are wooden benches, flowering trees, walkways, the entrance to the PATH, the Federal Building, construction blocks and construction workers.

It took me a while to get past my impatience and realize that I was being routed and diverted — my movements had been accounted for — a consideration which prevented the possibility of anyone or anything simply storming the glass front of the lobby (the sides are paneled with metal — probably mithril).

Between the giant flower and the lobby are a curbed band of mysterious metal pillars that remind me of the sonar fence on Lost. The metal pillars have little holes in them, which I liked to imagine could shoot out machine-gun fire like the pointy bras of Dr. Evil’s Fembots. There were often soldiers or police standing around, which was the case even when I worked further up Greenwich a handful of years ago.

My tenure wouldn’t last long enough to qualify for a permanent ID badge, so every morning I had to linger in the lobby while checking in with the security guards. The walls are a sheer, pale stone, which fits well with an installation of glass by Richard Jolley. The front station is a long, low wall of greenish marble that feels nice on hot days, like cool pond water, but happens to also be blast- and bullet- proof, which is nice all the time. Over this wall, and visible from the outside, scrolls my favorite piece, an animated text installation by the renowned Jenny Holzer, that features prose and poetry from several authors, all of which evoke the spirit of New York City (by which I mean its bodegas and grime and first person narratives).

The badges became a bit of a joke. I had assumed that I was simply confirming information they had in front of them, and didn’t realize for a long time that the guards had to manually type my name and destination onto the badge. This could be an oversight in efficiency, or perhaps it gives the guards something to do which forces them to think about what they’re doing. Anyhoo, the vowels stringing my first and last name together are troublesome: Mia Eaton — that “eee aah eee.” No matter how clearly I enunciate, my name is like an aural smear.  And my last name — Eaton — is too much like Easton. The head guard began to call me Sheena.

Almost every day my badges bore a different name, which I found hilarious and charming.

My favorite part of the building was the elevators. They’re organized into banks, which is typical for very tall buildings, but you indicate your floor as you call the elevator — instead of pressing ^ you press 29, which will then only stop on 29, unless someone comes along and presses say, 34, then it will go to both. At this point there are several layers of glass, mithril, and something not exactly like marble between you and the front of the building. The outer doors of the elevators are reflective so you can straighten up while you wait.

No rushing for closing elevator doors, and no holding the doors just because you hear footsteps makes for a more civilized and calm experience. The antisocial part of myself that has no patience for people’s tomfoolery loves this. I grew up in a high-rise and have wasted enough of my life on bouncing elevator doors. Once inside the elevator, the only buttons are |< and |> and the movement is fast and still. There is nothing to touch and nothing to lean on. The interior metal is etched and non-reflective, so you are spared accidental close-proximity eye contact. Your ears pop. I like that.

On the 29th floor, every time I got up for a fresh cup of water I was distracted by the view. I could see tiny sailboats in the Hudson River, and white puffy clouds dancing around the Woolworth building, transforming its turrets and verdigris into something like a fairy tale — or the future. When storms rolled in, the building felt utterly enclosed as we’d look uptown and watch the rest of Manhattan disappear.

On my third day, an all-hands email let us know that some F-14s would be doing a fly-by in honor of fleet week, which was a nice consideration given the collective heart attack that happens when they don’t warn New Yorkers what’s coming.

We were brought to the top floor for a photo shoot of the editors (results? TBD!) and it felt very fancy, but also very much like the first Die Hard movie, because the 45th floor is unfinished, showing pink insulation and still-dusty drywall. I am, and I am not, afraid of heights. I wanted to test paper airplanes and camp there at night.

To look down is to see a massive construction site. To stand directly in front of this building, next to the giant shiny poodle flower does not give you the same feeling as standing 40 feet stage right, closer to the covered fence and stream of tourists, PATH commuters, and working people. The walk from the office to the subway took exactly the amount of time as listening to Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas.”

Every girl loves a waltz, and I liked how the lyrics are about workers and trains and construction, and felt very much glad to be back out in the world.

[And today, I’m very glad to begin working from home again.]

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