Thursday, July 26, 2007

Media Recommendations

I've seen some great movies and read some great books recently. Just thought I'd report here. Movies first:

Transformers: surprisingly good! I expected a lot of rubbish with some familiar old characters, and I was hardly prepared for this delightful adventure. The writing was incredible! Of special note was the main character's mother, whom I found to be hilarious. Evan and I went to see this one twice.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: This movie was much better than the bloated, depressing book from which its script was adapted. I don't know why, but I got very excited at the end with the battle between the forces of light and dark, and also by the editing in the final battle between Harry and Voldemort that takes place in Harry's mind.

Hairspray: The music in this movie was inspiring. The entire cast displayed an enormous talent, the message was timely and important, and it avoided slipping into the dubious Hollywood morality. It has a fluffy exterior, but underneath it is an important movie that everyone should see.

Ok, I know all three of those movies aren't supposed to be very deep, and they won't win a Best Picture Oscar, but they all were very well done. Much better than your average summer blockbuster fare. I wouldn't be mentioning them here had I not been so favorably impressed. Books next:

The Poisonwood Bible: Sadly, I don't have many people left to whom I can recommend this book, since I seem to be the last one to discover it. I was very impressed with Kingsolver's daring experimentation with voice. The book was shocking, heart wrenching, and didactic. It tells the story of a preacher and his wife and four daughters who travel to the Congo in the 50's as missionaries, and each chapter is told by either the wife or one of the four daughters. Each has a very distinct perspective and voice. Eldest daughter Rachel is skeptical and aloof, and inadvertently uses humorous malapropisms, all the while providing a metaphor for the average American's refusal to see what the United States was doing to the Congo. The twins are next, with Rachel speaking in lofty and idealistic tones, and we follow her down a path of disillusionment that ends in a harsh but crucial place. The other twin, Adah, has suffered brain damage and is literal and belligerent, writing in palindromes and wordplays and making deep, resounding metaphorical connections between the family and the African nation. Youngest daughter Ruth May is optimistic and naive, her imaginative and uneducated voice being used to illustrate otherwise hidden dangers in a tone heavy with dramatic irony. The mother speaks from many years later, with a deep melancholy and richly wise hindsight, all proffered in a dizzyingly poetic style. It's an absolute joy to read this novel, which begins as a story about the one family, but by the end has drawn all of the Congo under its scope.

Cloud Atlas: I don't know what inspired me to pick this up, but I was looking for something that was as much fun and experimentation as The Poisonwood Bible, and I found that in Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas opens with a man named Adam Ewing presenting us with his 1849 journal, using an old-fashioned English where words are spelled however they sound. Right in the middle of one of his adventures, indeed, in the middle of one of his sentences, his story comes to an abrupt end and we are introduced to Robert Frobisher, a gifted musician with an uninhibited sex life and a knack for getting himself into and talking his way out of trouble, all told through a series of letters to a former lover, which employ shorthand, often leaving out the subjects of sentences and abbreviating important words and names. Before reaching any resolution there, we begin "Half-lives: The First Luisa Rey Novel," which is a story corporate intrigue set in the 1970's. In the middle of that story, we begin to read a hilarious memoir of a publisher named Timothy Cavendish, whose misadventures are told in Cockney slang. Then we're on to the science-fiction story of Onmi 451 clone designed to feed people in a restaurant in Korea in the near future. This is presented in interview form, and the language of the future has been truncated and streamlined, so we end up with words like "xpect" and "fritened." This character's confused perspective matches ours, and as the world becomes clearer to her, so the story does to us. Finally, we begin the story of a post-apocalyptic people whose language is only in spoken form, and who long for relics of the once-civilized world. The language in this section is the most bizarre of all, representing an English corrupted by hundreds of years of benighted thinking. At this point in the novel, the story turns around, and goes back through all of the stories we've already read, finishing them off and answering our questions. What is strange is that each main character seems to be in possession of the previous sections of the book (an idea I've long considered for a book idea I've been working on), and each main character seems to be the same soul, reincarnated over and over throughout time. It builds to a neat climax several times, and astonishingly, only when you reach the end of the book do you realize the overarching themes that were surely present the whole time. Full of self-allusion and tricky, sparkling wordplay, this novel also punches out an important moral about power and greed and living as a part of a society, and how an individual's downfall will be the same as a civilization’s downfall if the citizens don't keep their pride in check. It's really astonishing, and I recommend this enjoyable read to anyone who loves language.

Finally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Yes, this is the end of the Harry Potter series, and J.K. Rowling did it exactly right. I don't want to post any spoilers here, and I don't feel I need to explain what the book is about (who doesn't know at this point, right?), but I do want to say that this was very much the most moral and important book in the series, with lessons about sacrifice and loss and friendship and forgiveness. It was also more honest than the other books, with well-established "good" characters coming under new scrutiny (Dumbledore, Sirius, Lupin, etc.) and "bad characters finally getting a chance to bask in a more positive light (Snape, the Dursleys, the Malfoys, Wormtail, etc.). The characters all became much more detailed and richer. The questions were all answered in a very appropriate and sometimes unexpected way. And I felt the action sequences were more enjoyable than ever, primarily because so much happens, and secondarily because more is at stake. No fewer than seven good characters from previous books die in this one, which is hard to take, but makes Harry's struggle all the more important. If you haven't read the Harry Potter books, I strongly recommend them. They are very life-affirming and humorous and warm, and above all, remarkably well plotted. I know everybody has probably already told you, but they are not just kids' books. They are human books

Well, kids, that's it for today. I just learned about Google Feed Reader, which might change the way I do things on the Internet, and I recommend you check it out. Especially because I update this blog so unreliably, and this will automatically inform you whenever I do. Okay bye.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The First Thing I'm Going to Do When Evan and I Get Back!

Go tubing down the Provo River!

Go to Zupa’s with Kaylene!

Go stargazing!

Finish watching Heroes with Ben!

Go to outdoor movie night at Sundance!

Go camping all around Utah!

Go to IHOP in the middle of the night!

Go to a baseball game and watch fireworks with Caitie and Janeen and co.!

Edit our movies!

Get a car, a job, and pay my debts to the Po-lice.

Eat at Bombay House!

Watch the season finale of Lost!

Go swimming whenever I want!

Other craziness!

Everyone's welcome!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Rude Awakening and a Golden Moment

Despite the causticity of my previous post, the days of drudgery have been interspersed with life-affirming moments. One of those I feel acutely this morning (afternoon? There is no “time of day” here). This post will probably erode instantly into abstraction, which might effect a fine juxtaposition when coupled with the minutiae of the last post. This one’s more about my feelings, a topic about which I have much less writing experience. Deep breath.

I’ve never really liked myself. I can see all the things that other people like about me, sure, but I can see all the other things as well. Now don’t worry, folks, this isn’t some sort of suicide note. I’ve actually never had suicidal thoughts. I don’t hate or pity myself; I just find that I usually prefer other people. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who’s amusing but insubstantial to have around. If life were a TV show, I’d be the wacky neighbor, popping in and out randomly, leaving people shaking their heads affectionately. “That Robbie!” they’d all intone upon my departure, turning to clean up whatever mess I’ve made and return to their normal lives.

Now, for all of my preaching about not basing one’s sense of self on the opinions of others, that’s exactly what I do. One of my greatest strengths is my adaptability. I feel very natural taking on the characteristics of those in my vicinity. Many people would see this as “fake.” But it’s something else with me. I simply admire the people I choose to have around me, and genuinely want to be more like them. This is especially true of my closest friends. People like Caitie, Evan , and Glade are so amazing to me, that I start to try to emulate them and soon forget who I am besides a patchwork of them. This would probably be fine if a) it weren’t a bit unsettling to the people I’m Single-White Female-ing, and b) I hadn’t realized that I’m doing this when I woke up this aftermorn.

At this current crossroads in my life, I have many forks in the not-too-distant future. Do I buy a car? Do I go back to school in September? What job should I get? This sort of thing normally stresses me out, and I find myself wishing for some sort of Life Consultant who could look at my monetary situation, my dreams and aspirations, my whole life, and tell me what to do next. And sure, it’s obvious to YOU, the reader, that that person should be God, especially when I go and capitalize “life Consultant” like that. But when you’re IN that life, it’s a little more difficult to constantly remember that. And so I find myself trying to weasel my friends’ opinions out of them, since these issues overwhelm me. I really do operate with a whole support system made up of people whose opinions I value more than my own. But if I take a couple of steps back, I see that I’m an adult, just like my friends, and I DO have a relationship with God, and while I love my friends and would do anything for them, and trust they would do anything for me, I need to be functional enough that if those friends were to suddenly go away, I’d be sure to remain stable. I’m not far off from that already, and I’m not talking about severing my attachments to my friends, but I’m talking about giving them breathing room. Letting them love me for who I am instead of how well I can emulate them. I still want to cultivate the best things I see in these people. Caitie’s ability to make everyone around her feel loved. Glade’s scrutinizing and analytical mind. Evan’s solidarity in doing only those things in which he believes. Ben’s refusal to back down from a deep-felt conviction. Kaylene’s expression of gratitude and excitement about life. Wiggle’s unflagging loyalty toward her friends. Rachel’s graceful compassion for those in need. Brett’s ability to find humor in any situation. Jon and Sara’s utter faith in the people they love. And this list goes on, with more people and more traits from the folks I’ve mentioned. What I don’t need is to adopt, say, Caitie’s taste in music, Evan’s choice in schools, Glade’s political stances, etc. Not that I disagree with any of these things. This is the fine point above which I’m hovering: I can love these people without desiring to be just like them or have them be just like me. The things that are right for me are not necessarily right for them too, and I can love that Ben loves computers without having to love computers, too.

An example, in the form of an initially seemingly unrelated story, which I hope you find funnier than offensive:

A Rude Awakening

One day I was mistakenly quarantined on the train. I’d vomited, you see, which is pretty normal for me, but scary in the tourism industry because of something called the Norwalk Virus, which they had to be sure I hadn’t contracted before letting me continue to serve food to the crustomers. Normally there are no witnesses when I puke at work, and I just go about my day as usual afterward. This instance was different, though. As I felt the glands under my jow throbbing, and knew my lunch of pasta primavera was about to force itself back out of my digestive system, I ran for the bathroom and threw the door open. There was Kate, the car manager, wearing gloves and a smile on her face. “I JUST finished cleaning the bathroom!“ she exclaimed proudly.”

“Oh!” I tried to make my panic look like enthusiasm.

“I cleaned out the toilets, took out the trash, wiped up the whole floor--”

That’s when I puked (mostly) into the trashcan. I swear it was exactly like that. In one ghastly second, her pride at having accomplished something unpleasant was squashed. Poor lady; she’s very nice.

So they put me on a car that had no passengers on it, and I promptly fell asleep. I was awakened to a bizarrely surreal experience.

A portly bald black man in his late thirties was shouting. “Boy, it is NICE up in here!” He took a seat across the aisle from me as I sat up, stunned and a bit unnerved. And then he started to tell me his story. He was the manager of the cars for Royal Celebrity Cruises, and he’d had a girl disobey him after he told her to do something mildly illegal to save himself some paperwork. And he’d been so angry, he’d come to our car to cool off. The thing is, his language was the foulest of any human being I’ve ever encountered. He described explicitly his wish to inflict oral sex upon the girl in order to teach her a lesson, his possible future sexual encounter with another of his female employees in the restroom of our empty car, and the problems posed by the stains the bodily fluids would leave on his uniform. He even began to act out a sexual encounter with an imaginary woman who was under the table where he was sitting. I just sat there, still in a daze from having just awakened. Eventually he stopped talking and jauntily tromped back down the stairs and out of my life. The end.

Now, I know that story doesn’t quite fit in yet, but I’m getting there.

My plan had always been to be a teacher when I grow up. I really love working with people, and explaining things, and having my summers free to go do whatever I want. So teaching sounds like the perfect job. In fact, one huge lesson I’ve learned from this Alaskan summer is that I need to be doing something I actually love. I’m considering trying to get a job as a substitute teacher or at a school for troubled youth when I get back to Provo. Now, I know the latter is what Evan does, which is actually why I haven’t done it in the past; I didn’t want to end up copying him. But the more I consider it, the more I realize that my favorite job I’ve ever had was as a youth counselor at efy. I loved teaching the kids and being an example and friend and moderator for them.

But I also really love to be creative, to write, to make films, to be funny. And with Evan’s express interest in going to film school and Rachel‘s suggestion I become a writer for television, it has been easy for me to stoke my enthusiasm for that creative outlet. I’m not copying Evan, but I’m finding in myself the things that I see in him. And we work very well together. In just about a month I expect to have finished editing parts two and three of our film project, which I believe is a hilarious success and is due in large part to the successful creative synergy that exists between us. And it’s reassuring for me to link the next few years of my future to another person, to think, I’ll just go to school where Evan goes. These sorts of decisions make perfect sense when you remember that I’ve been esteeming Evan’s opinions and judgments as having more value than my own.

A man named Christopher came to see me one evening before I could get off the train. He works for Royal Celebrity and wanted me to visit his office the next morning. I had told my own manager in very brief terms about my encounter with that crazy black man, and I suppose the word had gotten over to RCT’s office, and they had fired the fellow and were building a legal case against him, and wanted my testimony for the record. So the next morning I went down there, and told them ALL the disgusting things the man had said to me, and they thanked me very much for my time and candor and promised appropriate actions would be taken I was mostly indifferent about the man’s fate, but wanted to help the company if I could. Christopher offered to drive me home. He asked me what I was studying and I told him I’d been studying English and was considering switching to film. He was a film enthusiast himself, he told me, and had recently been working on short films with the scout troop he leads. Which of course begs the question is he LDS?, which it turns out he is. And he told me he took classes in film at BYU, and has enjoyed film as a hobby ever since, on top of his career working on the railroad, which he enjoys immensely. This information was really important to me. I can’t say why, but I felt an unnamed impact from these words, and pondered them for a while afterward. And what I’ve realized is that I don’t have to give my life to film just to feel fulfillment from it. I don’t need to earn money from a movie I’ve made to be able to enjoy the effort.

So the new plan is this: I’ll try to hurry and finish school (I earned enough money to be able to get back into that now), meanwhile working in some sort of teaching capacity. I’ll get my English Language degree, as previously planned, and if I find I’m enjoying teaching, I will go in that direction, and if I find it lacks the creative outlet I need after all, I can use that degree and the few films we’ve made to pursue the job as a TV writer after all. Maybe I can do both. And if Evan and I can continue to work on video projects in the future, I’ll be ecstatic, but if our paths eventually diverge, I’ll be ok, and I’ll still love the kid just like I still love Brett, though I get to see him too infrequently.

What cracks me up is that this recent self-discovery, the whole new plan for my future, would not have lighted in my mind had that perverted old man not awakened me from my slumber, had I not been puking on the train that evening, had I not been in Alaska in the first place. So at least one good thing has come from all of this. And I use this story about film school and Evan as an example of the new mindset I’m going to try to employ. There’s one more story that helps to explain why this has all come to a head this morning, why I awoke today with a feeling that I need to be more myself.

A Golden Moment

The day after my surreal experience with Nasty McNasterson, I had to get back to Anchorage, but I was still quarantined. So they put me back on the empty train car and didn’t let me out. Luckily, the kindly, overworked lady who arranges our housing arrangements in Fairbanks provided me with snacks for the long ride. Among these treats was a carton of something I’ve never tried. Cherries. I don’t know why I’ve never eaten cherries before, but I never have. And here was a whole carton of sweet black cherries.

Anyway, I admit I slept for most of the trip. In the “evening” I woke up, stretched, and dug my book out of my backpack. Thus began one of the most serene and beautiful experiences of my life.

The sunlight came in relaxed and lazy, lounging sideways, as the sunlight is prone to do in Alaska. The birch and alder and spruce whirred by in a strobe-like blur of white and green and brown. The cottonwood trees had released a flurry of white cotton pixies, swarming and whizzing silently and gleefully past the windows in millions, lending a snow-globe effect to the afternoon. Crystal clear ponds reflected the blue of the sky and the white of the cumulus clouds stacked up above the horizon in all directions. My eyes could scarcely take in all of the beauty, and a peace settled over me. My attention turned to the interior of the train car, to the bowl of ripe cherries, and I ate one. Delicious! The juices burst into my mouth, ripe and sweet and unexpected, like a show of affection from a child. I realized that the blackest cherries were the most delicious, and I soon had a cup full of their pits. Amid the sensual beauty, I turned back to my book. The sunlight cut a sharp angle across the pages, the fibers of the paper casting shadows, tiny and definite, on each other.

Then I looked at my hand, which was holding the book open. My skin is a honey beige, more golden than most people’s, and in the yellow sunlight it looked healthy and warm. I turned to look at my reflection in a nearby mirrored panel on the wall, and the sun again cast a favorable light on me, entering my eyes at a slant and seeming to illuminate my irises from inside; they glowed like electrified amber. And for the first time I can ever remember, I thought, “I am beautiful.” Such an astonishing thought! I have never seen beauty in myself like this. I’ve grown up wishing for lighter skin like my friends, blue or green eyes like the kind I personally find more attractive, a different body altogether. But in that moment of peace and beauty and spirit, I was able to see myself through different, more fiery and perceptive eyes. I was able to see myself as an essential part of a whole wide beautiful world, inhabited by astoundingly good human beings and remarkably brilliant ideas and preposterously delightful nature. There is beauty in places I’d never thought to look. In cherries, in trees, in myself.

And this is the big thing I’m bringing home from Alaska: a recognition of my own worth and beauty. A new-found respect for my own desires and dreams and abilities. A love as deep as ever for the friends who have helped me to become who I am so far. And a determination to forge a path forward to that unique person that I, and no one else, is meant to become. I love you all.


another picture i took....

Monday, July 16, 2007

Alaskan Adventure! Hooray!

yeah, I took this picture

So Evan and Glade and I (I've decided to stop using pseudonyms on here because they're just plain old confusing) decided to get jobs in Alaska for the summer. We got hired by Holland America to work on the train as waiters! Such a crazy idea!

So, I normally try to remain pretty positive on here. But Alaska is Hell and i don't even have the energy or the emotional wherewithal to spin this one. Caitie thinks the reason I felt inspired to come here was to help me gain an appreciation for the Utah things in life. Like, you know, sober people, stars, friendly neighbors, happiness, etc. Stuff you can't find here in Alaska.

The pay at our job was pretty excellent. But the hours were crazy, and above (or below?) all else, the management was corrupt, inefficient, and unreasonable. And mean.

And ugly and old. Let me paint a picture for you of how life (if you can call it that) is on the train. At five thirty in the morning you wake up (I just realized I've become Mr. Jeffries, the Saturday School teacher/babysitter who used to sit around and tell his depressing life story in the second person so you would really feel his pain) and you get ready and bike down to the railyard. At this point you try your hardest to avoid any kind of interaction with Lorelle, who is, as Evan points out, that one secretary monster from Monsters Inc. Further description for those who haven't seen that movie, or who have successfully blocked it out: picture a reptile, only pink, with wispy whitish hair and strange glandular growths on her eyelids and bulldog jowls. Then picture that it's attached to an oxygen tank with a canula in its nose and it's really mean. No need to further describe its voice, as that should have been in place when I said "reptile." Also it swears a lot. As you arrive at the railyard, this monstrosity is stomping about the grounds, snorting fire and venom from its pustulated nostrils. Should you successfully evade the beast and jump onto your train car, you run into a Catch-22. Your job at this point is to take an inventory and ensure that your car is amply stocked for your two-day journey. The problem is this: If your car is missing anything (e.g. dessert, silverware, tablecloths, crackers, etc.), you will be in trouble if you don't restock it from the storage units at the rail yard before the train takes off. In theory, everything should be stocked the night before by the Russian night crew anyway, but there is a lack of language understanding or work ethic or something in that department, so you end up needing all sorts of stuff the next morning. Now what you're supposed to do is get one of the lingering Russians to run to the sheds and hand you the stuff, because the train could move at any second and you can't be getting on and off. But if Lorelle sees you, she will yell at you, because she is horrible. Her entire job description must say, "get in people's way and go to any lengths to impede their work." So really your efforts will almost surely be in vain, and since you're going to get yelled at anyway, you might as well cut your losses and just ride without crackers for the day, and only get yelled at the one time when it's discovered you're out of them, instead of once when you try to get more and then again when you‘re out later because Lorelle didn‘t let you have them.

Now, there's another succubus stomping about the trainyard in the mornings named Kim. She looks like, hmmm. Okay, you know "Arthur?" The children's books and TV show? She looks like one of the monkeys on that show, with dyed red hair and orange, wrinkly chimpanzee skin. And she has smoked too much, so her voice is raspy and her teeth yellow and flat, like an herbivore. Kim and Lorelle. I hate each of them more than the other. In one morning I have been yelled at by one for "hiding out on my car when there are no customers on it and I should be helping someone else" and by the other minutes later for "not staying on my car so I can be found when they need me." I've been yelled at three times by Kim in one morning for being late. I've been yelled at for getting off the train to grab supplies, and then minutes later for sending someone else to do my work for me. I have to be good for the rest of my life so when I die I don't go to hell and have to see these ladies again.

So let's just assume you got out of the yard and over to the depot, where you pick up the guests. Your job is to either a) load their luggage onto the train (and I swear some of these people packed their grandchildren in their "carry-ons"), or b) stand at the entrance to the car and tell people to "watch your step" as they board, due to a 4-inch drop back down after they've already come up the steps to get on the car. The guests will be annoyed with you for stating the obvious, and will often say so, cantankerously: "I can see that!" Either that or they will ignore you and fall anyway. One of the highlights of my trip was the woman who did both. "Watch your step ma'am!" "Don't you people think I know how to--" and then she fell. Hahaha.

The customers. They are old and rich and picky. Also, I think most of them are not really rich, and are spending beyond reason already, which is why they're so unhappy. Many grouchy people seem to think they will be happy if they can only go on an expensive vacation. But my experience has proven that grouchy old people are every bit as grouchy and old regardless of their settings. And nice or young people ride Princess. Now don't get me wrong--there are nice people and young people mixed in with all the liver-spotted bags of piss and vinegar who comprise the majority of our passengers, but they're not the ones who really influence the outcome of your day, or demand comment cards at the end of meal service.

So once you've got all the undead onto the train, you immediately serve breakfast. If someone on the train is going to die or just have a heart attack or stroke, this is generally when it's going to happen, even before the train gets moving. Yeah, yeah, it's sad. Partly because somebody just died and partly because now you have to wait for the paramedics and you'll be an hour behind schedule, but mostly because you have to listen to the rest of the gargoyles upstairs saying things like, "Well, is this going to affect breakfast?" and "It's almost ten o'clock! We should be eating lunch by now!" Seriously, they say that crap when someone has just died. I have no idea if they have an exaggeratory streak or if they actually eat lunch at ten o'clock because they are old. I also don't know if you turn like this when you're old or if this is just how everybody used to be during, like, the depression. "Here's your tip! Seven dimes! Oh, wait one second, I'm going to take one of those dimes back because you were out of crackers. There! Why don't you buy yourself some nice moon pies and go see a picture show!"

As far as I know, only two people have actually DIED on our train so far this year, and I didn't personally see either of them. I was the first one there when a man inexplicably fell and stopped breathing and turned blue, but we had a nurse close at hand, who revived him, thank goodness. He had gross teeth and I think I might be afraid of CPR.

So you serve breakfast to the old people, you and your partner for the run, forty consumers at a time. This part is hellacious, but not more so than most other restaurant jobs, except for two factors. All your tables come in at the exact same time. And you're in a congested box that shakes both continuously and sporadically. When the first forty slobbering zombies have finished consuming their scrambled eggs and reindeer sausage and human brains, you have to politely make them take their "coffee and conversation" back upstairs to the "dome" and set up for the next forty. This will probably take a while, since you are still out of silverware and have to wash the whole set between seatings, thanks to Lorelle's diligence.

After breakfast you start setting up for lunch. And you serve two rounds of lunch, and then you set up for dinner. Then two rounds of dinner, and then you're there. I didn't skip your break; you don't get one. This is, of course, simplified. The main challenge lies in convincing people that they do not get to choose when they eat on the train. "Hello, sir, we're ready for you to come down to eat dinner now." "Hell we just ate lunch not four hours ago! We'll come down in about an hour." But you just have to make him come now. You can't be serving someone an hour after everyone else, because you have to be setting up the dining room for the next meal at this point. But the old badger will be so upset, cussin' and cryin' and making his wife fan him off and tell him he's making a right scene and they can go to dinner now if they absolutely must (with a scornful eye shot in your direction at that point). And what you CAN'T do is yell, "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't realize this was the midnight BUFFET train, and everybody eats whatever they WANT! You know what, Let me just go get my good friend Conductor Bob and tell him that couple in seats 7C&D would like him to delay the train for a couple of hours so they can eat whenever the fancy catches them!" Instead you must say something far more obsequious and self-demeaning, like, "I know, folks, I'm sure you've had a rough-and-tumble schedule these past few days! I wish there were something I could do (to you [you think, don't say that part]), but I promise we have a very delicious tender pork loin drizzled with a bourbon glaze and served with sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables, and you will love them right up and forget all your cares and woes and such!" And then you realize how one turns into an insane, murderous clown or a Carebears villain, and you begin to slowly hate yourself.

And then when you bring out their hot tea with lemon and sugar and cream ("What! No honey! What kind of a place has TEA but no HONEY!"), they actually have the presumption to say, "This must be a great job! You must love this! Getting to ride the train all day!" And you are required to lie and tell them that it isn't hell.

Now what is it that really makes it hell? We haven't even gotten to that part yet. It's that on any given day at least one of the following will not be working: air conditioning, fridges, stove, handicapped elevator, bathrooms, order-taking computers, printers, the other server. The bathrooms are most likely to be out of order, which means the people have to go up and down three flights of stairs, which I admit is no easy feat when you have one foot in the grave and the other on a shaking staircase. The air-conditioning is the next-most-likely thing to go, which means all of your leathery old people will be moaning, sweaty, leathery old people. If either the bathrooms or the air conditioning is not working , it's probably your fault and will be deducted accordingly from your tip. You should have known better. The final irony on all of that is yet to come, and you will see exactly why these broken things make the train ride hell.

So now you're in Fairbanks, and all of your co-workers go get drunk and/or stoned and you eat some ice cream that is not very good but is very close-at-hand, and then you go to bed in the hotel or stay up until one or two wishing Jose would turn off "King of Queens" so you could sleep. And if you've ever wondered why there are handrails in motel showers, it's for people who work on the train. When you work on the train, you see, the ground never stops moving. I had heard this, and expected a vibrating, or a swaying, or maybe a gentle shaking at worst, but I was not prepared for the ground's random lurching beneath my feet. It’s especially bad when you close your eyes, and handrails or no, at least one employee gashed his forehead open when his shower unexpectedly moved about five inches to the left. I have no idea what it is in the brain or inner ear that makes it do this, but you will still feel this effect the next morning at five thirty when you're up again and headed back to the train to do it all over, only headed south back to Anchorage.

When you get there, you fill out a little report on what's not working. An example:

"Two of the four automatic sliding doors between the kitchen and the dining room come slamming shut unexpectedly and knock the food out of my hands. The toilets didn't work at all in this car and the customers were quite loathe to go to the next one. The computers didn't work and we had to do all of our orders by hand, which took an extra half an hour per seating and resulted in several mistaken orders."

This report is fun to fill out the same way Madlibs are, because you know nobody will ever read it again and you can say anything at all and it won't mean anything to anyone! "Two of the ninety-seven automatic hungry doors between the weasel and the singing room come swallowing shut sexually and knock the carburetor out of my elves."

For, you see, they don't actually fix any of that crap. So the next time you're on the train, you still won't have air-conditioning or toilets or computers, and the decrepit old people will whine once again, "well, if you knew it was broken, why didn't you get it fixed?"

And while broken toilets and air conditioning mean stingier, angrier consumers, they first and foremost mean that you have to work in a congested, 90-degree box that is shaking your full bladder. Maybe the old people are too hot, but they're not running around in and out of the kitchen, and maybe they have to wait in a ten-minute line to use the restroom, but you don't HAVE ten minutes to wait in line, so you have to hold it. Which just makes you grouchier, which affects your tips, and it makes you sweatier, which drips on the customers and their food, which affects your tips.

And here's the final insult: The Blind Drop. This is unethical and immoral on the company's part, and I'm pretty sure it's also illegal. In a normal serving job, the waiter collects all his cash and credit card slips throughout the shift, an at the end he can total up all of his sales for the night, turn that in, and whatever remains is his tips. In The Blind Drop, the waiter is expected to keep track of his sales. The company could (if they wanted to) print out a little slip saying how much you're supposed to turn in, but they don't, ostensibly because it cuts down on theft, though they can't describe how when pressed. This is especially hard when your tables all try to pay at the exact same time and need different amounts of train (as I’m proofreading this I see that I inadvertently inserted the word “train” instead of “change,” but I think I’ll leave it as evidence of the brain damage [stroke?] inflicted on me by the change), and all of that is compounded by the idea that servers on the train serve six meals, two times each, over the course of two days before it comes time to turn in their money. There is no good system of doing this, and one doesn't have time to run and make change every time a crustomer (I just invented that word) says "keep the change" just to separate the money into different bags. The bottom line is, you get to the end of the second day and you have money sitting around, and you don't know whether it was tip money or money for someone's order and if it is whether it still has the tip in it or what. And so the company tells you to just stick it in with your deposit if you're not sure. "That's too bad," Kim says, "You lost it." If you accidentally mix up the two piles (which I did on my FIRST DAY), they tell you just to turn in all the money, and then you just never hear about it again. If you forget to take out all your credit card tips, and realize the next day and go tell them you accidentally deposited an extra $160, they tell you that they didn't notice any discrepancy in your deposit. One of two things is going on here. Either they are stealing all of the extra money themselves, or they actually don't check the money bags against any sort of a list that says how much everyone should be turning in. In which case, we the servers could actually be taking a lot more money out than we were owed, which is a hypothesis upon which I've been sorely tempted to experiment, at least until I had reclaimed all the hundreds of dollars I know (and those I suspect?) I've lost to the company or its minions.

Anyway, it's hard for me to do anything where money is the only end goal. I wasn't raised with a lot of money, and I don't really even like the concept, and I actually feel a lot of disdain for people who flaunt theirs. So it's hard for me to put myself through that kind of hell only for monetary gain. I'd much rather be poor and happy, any day.

And once I realized that, I realized that I couldn't work there anymore. In fact, right in the middle of typing this up, I got a phone call:

"Robbie?" [Yeah, that's my name, by the way, gentle reader, as though anyone who reads this doesn't already know that these days]

"yep." I said it all lower-case, just like that, because there's only one reptile who has this number and I knew her voice immediately.

"This is Lorelle. Weren't you supposed to have a meeting with me this morning at ten o'clock." Not a question, you'll notice.


"Yes you were. This isn't a really good way to keep your job, Robbie [ironically, this is the first time she's gotten my name right. I've been "Bobby" for two months]. I suggest you get down here right away if you want to keep your job."

"Well I don't. I guess I quit."

"Oh. Well, okay."


"Oh. Well, okay."

And then one of us hung up, I don't remember and it doesn't matter which. And the reason I only "guessed" I was quitting was because Evan and I had been hoping to go to Denali National Park on the train to go rafting and stuff before anyone noticed we weren't working for the company any more. Oh, well.

So, Evan and I are coming home. A week from today. July, 23, that is. So everybody get Provo ready for us, because we're coming back, and this time we're going to LIKE it, dammit.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Unexpected News

First, you can see my Alaska pictures here.

Next, guess who got married after all....