May 18, 2009

New Zealand, You Wily Minx!

Hello everyone!

I'm writing my first and only group email on the last day of my trip, from a very suspect Internet Cafe where the owners are currently embroiled in a verbal battle over the "legitimacy" of money transfer schemes stemming from African nations. Apparently one of the staff here has divulged her bank details to someone I deduce she encountered in her SPAM inbox.

So, today is the last day of my whirlwind trip to New Zealand, land of sheep, meat pies, and Asian foreign exchange students in equal measure. Many of you may not know that I'm in NZ, as I myself didn't know I would be here until a few weeks ago when Travelzoo tempted me with the best rates I've ever seen to this part of the world. Brian (boyfriend) and Matt (Brian's friend) had already planned their trip to NZ and Brian invited me along last minute, and who am I to say no when Travelzoo and Brian beckon? So, here I am, and the boys have just left to continue on with the rest of their much longer trip. Turns out the rates to NZ at this time of year are largely owing to the fact that nobody in their right mind would travel here in May. The weather is, how shall I say, brutal. It's been pouring every day - not a light mist, not a disappearing shower that you tend to see in Ireland - but straight-up downpours day and night for a week. The only upside to this is that there are a lot of rainbows, which would make for nice pictures behind all the sheep if you could in fact take a picture without ruining your camera from water damage. How you tease me New Zealand, you wily minx!

In preparation for this trip I put together some swine flu prevention kits, namely face masks, Airborne, and Purell. I was fully prepared to relocate to vacant seats on the plane if anyone in my vicinity so much as cleared their throat. Turns out that the only one suspect on my flight was me - I had a hacking cough on and off for hours, and I'm not gonna lie, I would have been VERY uncomfortable sitting near myself. I thought sporting my own protective face mask may have alarmed my neighbors, so I didn't take that measure, but I did pop cough drops at a rate that high school students trying to get high off of over the counter meds would envy. When I arrived at the airport in NZ there were nurses everywhere waiting to screen people for swine flu, and I briefly considered checking myself into the quarantine but thought better of it. I think I'm in the clear now - still a minor cough but otherwise alive and well.

Anyway. My trip started out in Nelson (South Island) in great form. I was befriened by a lovely older gentleman on the plane, Ron, who offered to share a cab with me from the airport to my hostel, as he was staying right down the street. Perfect! This may sound sketchy but I felt good about Ron, largely because he is a big fan of Wooden Boat magazine, which hails from Wooden Boat School in Maine, which is where Lew and James are getting married in a few weeks. At least I think I have those facts straight, right Lew? Anyway, this one detail, accompanied by the prospect of finding a sugar daddy, were enough for me. Ron and a very chatty cabdriver escorted me to my hostel, deposited me at the Sugarbread Cottage without incident, and Ron expensed the whole thing to his work account. There is a lesson here: when an older gentleman in a foreign land asks you if you'd like a lift the answer is yes!

Before Bri and Matt arrived to meet me, I had lunch on my own in Nelson at a pub. The lunch was tasty and fine and when I got my bill I couldn't help but notice that the waitress had written on the top of the bill a descriptor of me, presumably so she wouldn't mix me up with the group of three middle-aged business men also dining that afternoon. She wrote "Girl on Own" right there on the bill, which didn't offend me but which I found odd. I can only imagine what sort of little notes people find after enjoying a nice dinner, only to be slapped in the face with: "man with potbelly" or "woman with goiter". You really just don't want descriptions of yourself on your bills, it's that simple.

Some highlights from the trip: Milford Sound, a beautiful area you tour on boat. You're surrounded by cliffs on all sides, as well as what the Kiwis state are "waterfalls taller than Niagra falls" but which looks more like the run-off from very large porto-potties. Apparently the falls are technically taller, as the source of the fall begins very high up indeed, albeit in trickling form rather than the impressive downpouring of water our Canadian neighbors boast. Still, Milford Sound = lovely boat trip (buffet included, which always sweetens the pot).

Another highlight: Nevis Arc! It's a giant rope swing!

It's similar to a bungee jump, and is the world's highest swing. You're basically strapped into a harness and dropped over a canyon, hurled across a 300 meter arc, 160 meters high, on a 120 meter long rope. I'll tell you this: when you're standing on a rickety bridge over a canyon basic human instinct tells you not to jump into that canyon. It tells you to return to you van. The one saving grace of the Nevis Arc over the bungee jump is that, where the bungee jump forces you to hurl yourself off a cliff, at the Nevis Arc you are released by the staff. That helps. But, as the quote on the brochure says, "Even my sh*t was scared!" And that sounds about right.

Also cool: on the day that we were hoping to hike the Franz Josef glacier but clearly couldn't as the weather combined with the glacier itself would have lead to our imminent deaths, we spent an entire day in a local pub/restaurant (had all three meals there in fact) that was hosting a wedding reception of sorts that night. The wedding party didn't deem it necessary to rent out the bar, only to come on in and mix it up with the many non-wedding related patrons. Good stuff! There were blue and white balloons everywhere, arranged much like the balloon arch at senior proms, and everyone clapped when the bride made her entrance. I liked that.

Ok, I'll wrap this up, largely because a burly teenager next to me is playing mortal combat very loudly. This is not the first time I've been trapped in internet cafes with loud man-boys playing mortal combat. Romania provided me with plenty of exposure to that.

I hope everyone is doing well!

p.s. I have a sunburn, which might surprise some of you given the weather conditions in New Zealand. I managed to get a sunburn during my layover in LA, and I didn't even leave the airport! Just went outside to read for a bit. The LA sun is no joke.

p.p.s. When I get home I'll try to add some photos to this post - I don't have it in me to sort that out now, I have lunch plans to think about...

April 10, 2008

Volunteer Firefighters

That day has come my friends, that day has come. The day that the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel
shines right before my eyes. It may just be the dull glow from my computer screen, or maybe a sleep
deprived hallucination. There's just no telling. But there is a light. After three months of hard work and expanding my mind (translation: slave labor and wanting a lobotomy), my time at John's studio has drawn to a close. I celebrated this achievement by stealing a roll of toilet paper from the studio's bathroom. That maybe sounded like a joke but it's not.
My apartment was out of toilet paper.

The past few weeks have been calmer than most, because John has been "on assignment." I am not entirely sure what this means in his case, although I'm pretty sure it involves lap dances in developing nations. My partner in hell, Ben, pointed out the irony of the fact that we are constantly hoping NOT to see John, although the only possible reason for taking an unpaid position like this in the first place is to WORK WITH JOHN. Without John, we are basically just voluntarily emptying our bank accounts to hang out with randoms who can in no way help our careers. Ben used the example of paying good money to see a concert, and then hoping upon hope that the headliner doesn't show up. Then again, Ben mumbles, so who knows if this is actually what he said. There's just no telling.

A little more about Ben. Ben's belt has been undone a lot lately. Like, fully undone and just hanging there, to such an extent that I feel it's impossible that he doesn't know it's undone. Which made me confused as to whether or not I should point out something so patently obvious. There's just no way, no way at all, that he didn't notice the undone state of his belt on multiple occasions. So, assuming Ben had good reason to expose himself in public, I just let it go. Really, what can you do?

My lack of action when dealing with Ben's belt stands in stark contrast to the two strangers who, last week as I was walking down the street, both stopped to pick through my hair when one of them spotted a scrap of paper tangled in it. They just approached me as if it was the most natural thing in the world to pick through my hair, like some sort of primate friendship ritual. Not that I didn't appreciate the grooming support.

Now I have found myself off track. What I wanted to do was to reflect briefly on my days with John. I think James summed it up nicely with this: "We are like volunteer firefighters." And by this he means we spend lots of time sitting around and staring, and then, out of nowhere, a three alarm blaze strikes the studio. John returns from Asia: FIRE!!!! ALL HANDS ON DECK!!! Panic, confusion, chaos, tears. And then, the next morning, we're back to watching You Tube or, alternatively, watching Bill set his shoes on fire in abject boredom. And, of course, we don't get paid. Volunteer Firefighters indeed.

One such emergency hit the studio a few weeks back, when John examined a receipt Sanja mis-filed when she was high. According to Joan, John started yelling and storming around and repeating the words: "I work for National Geographic!!!" (as that, apparently, justified his tantrum). In the calm following the storm, John said "I think I had a little meltdown." Joan confirmed that, yes, he did have a little meltdown. To which John began to laugh maniacally and said "Yeah! A Tuna Melt!!!!" You can't make this stuff up (note: John really likes tuna).

In our last few weeks together John tortured me to new levels, which I won't fully get into because I have PTSD. After one such incident, he called me from the airport before boarding his flight to the land of Cica Cica boom. He never calls me without a list of inane tasks for me to do, so this call was unprecedented in that its aim was not to make me crazy. I take it to be his way of apologizing for berating me senselessly.

John: "Ah, hi Liz."
Me: "Hi John."
(long pause)
John: "Sooo, are you still at work?
(I am not at work. It is 9:30 at night and John left hours ago. Why would I be at work?)
Me: "No, I'm at my friend's house."
John: "Ahhh. (another long, awkward pause). So, things got kind of crazy in there tonight, huh?"
Me: "Yeah" (Um, if by "crazy" you mean that you were a dictatorial maniac who yelled at
me in front of everyone, then yeah, things got crazy.)
John: "I mean, things were pretty intense, huh?"
Me: "Yeah, intense..." (what is the point of this call?? Are you trying to apologize??)
John: "Yeah, intense....."

It sounded like we were both stoned. Maybe John was with Sanja, who knows. The thing is, I do think John was trying to apologize, but couldn't bring himself to say the words. Which made me want to say "John, I can see that you're truly sorry and I accept this heartfelt apology." Instead I settled for "Ok, um, bye?"

As last week marked the end of the road for both Bill and myself, we celebrated by going out for drinks with employees and interns past and present, many of whom had been fired for a variety of minor transgressions. It was really special to share a few (ok, many) drinks with the only other people who have seen John in all his tyrannical glory.

Now, a few memories - reflections if you will - I would like to share with you:

-John sending me 30 texts in one day, all of which needed to be responded to IMMEDIATELY, even if it was not important in any way (i.e. "Are you holding down the fort?" YES SIR, ROGER THAT!) John DOES NOT like it when Ben takes over 5 minutes to respond to a text, because, as he forcefully stated, "Texts are instantaneous!!! There should be no delay!!" God forbid a text comes in while you're in the bathroom!

-John having me buzz Sanja into the building when he already had the phone with him and I had no phone anywhere near me, and was drowning in receipts. (note: buzzing someone in requires you to push the number "9" on the phone, which unlocks the door). John, celebrity that he is, would not perform this task as it was presumably below him.

-James, while helping John during "the move" coming across an old polariod suspiciously turned upside down in a photo album. What is the picture of? John, lying in a state of undress, sprawled across a couch posed a la George Costanza in the famous shot from Seinfeld. What I wouldn't pay to have hold of that bad boy.

-Joan and Emma (previous intern) being forced to organizing John's khaki pants BY COLOR on a weekend. Did I mention the pants were all khaki?? This was followed up with Joan having to wash the OUTSIDE of the windows of John's personal apartment on a Saturday. Is that even legal?

-Bill receiving a text containing only the bizarre message: "Organic Pitted Dates" first thing on a Saturday morning. Bill thought maybe this was a joke. But no, John wanted Bill to spend his morning searching for organic pitted dates. This task nearly gave Bill a stroke, as the store only had non-organic pitted dates or organic, non-pitted dates. The stress! The dilemma! What to do?!! Should he pit them by hand? Or falsely claim they're organic? (these were actually the courses of action Bill was considering). After contending with this mental anguish, Bill was ultimately told that John wanted nothing at all (only to be told hours later that the non-organic pitted dates would suffice). Somebody had to work late that night!

- In flipping though one of John's most famous books I came across this gem of a quote about his time covering flooding in Asia: "I began to learn the art of patience." Um, having me call his accountant THREE TIMES in the course of 45 seconds because said accountant hadn't emailed him the information he wanted at the speed of light hardly qualifies as patience.

Really, the memories go on and on. But, as I have to wrap this up, I will leave you with two tales from the bathroom, as I sometimes like to do.

Bill and Ben (my co-interns) had to make a trip to Dan and Annie's compound in Maryland. Dan and Annie are the sweet, elderly, and completely incompetent duo that run John's facilities down south. Ben needed to use the toilet during the visit, only to find that Dan keeps absolutely nothing in the bathroom BUT Preparation H. Nothing else. Just Preparation H proudly displayed for guests. Lovely!

And finally, what may be the best thing I've heard about John (source: Margaret, previous office manager who came out with us for drinks). According to legend (a legend that was confirmed by many) John and staff were holding a workshop in our tiny studio for 15 people. Our studio is VERY small even for just staff, so 15 people would have this place to the brink of overflow (note: use of the word "overflow" is foreshadowing)....During this workshop John ran a slideshow that was to last but a few minutes. And during the course of the show, he disappears. After a few minutes the staff is getting anxious - where did John go? Why isn't he back? We have a room full of paying workshop attendees and no John! And then this: Margaret gets a text from John saying only: "Meet me in the bathroom IMMEDIATELY". Well then. If that doesn't scare you, nothing will. So Margaret scurries off to the bathroom, only to find John soaking wet, in a room overflowing with toilet water, with a wild, panicked look in his eyes. John apparently tried to handle this situation himself by DUMPING LAUNDRY DETERGENT all over the room, presumably to absord the liquid. Ha! It reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross tries to get off his tight leather pants by dumping baby powder and lotion all over his legs, only to find that it had congealed into a thick paste. So John is frantic, wet, and insane. Margaret is disgusted. And 15 workshop participants are wondering where their leader is. John in all his glory runs out of the studio to go home to change, leaving Margaret to soothe the troops and to clean up what I can only assume was quite a disgusting soup.

And that, my friends, brings me to the end of my time at "John" studios. It has been a roller coaster of emotion, except that it was lacking in the good part of roller coaster emotion where you are excited and happy. It was actually just a straight- up free fall into hell. Cheers!

On my last day at the studio, John called me on my cell phone from Asia to thank me for my "service". A rare nice gesture. But did I hear his call? No. I was sound asleep at my desk, dreaming of freedom.

April 3, 2008

Breaking News

For those of you who followed the Paris Hilton/John merger scare, this is for you. Paris
DID end up on Harvard Lampoon's mock cover of National Geographic, but John was not involved.
It pains me that our studio couldn't be a part of this magic - but, sometimes, Paris and John make
decisions without my input. Sometimes. Normally I have full creative control over the studio.
Oh wait, that's not me I'm thinking of.

April 1, 2008

The Best of Match

Before I provide you with my final installment on my time at John's studio - and I will, shortly, since
Friday is my last day - I want to pause to write about something else. I know it pains you, but it is
inevitable - the John saga is about to end. I actually got a call from my friend this week expressing
disappointment that my personal hell was drawing to a close (even though that means I get to come
back to Boston and actually see people), because how then would I entertain him with tales of my torture?
Thanks, Josh.

Anyway, I thought I would branch out for today and talk about something else to ween myself off of
John/Sanja tales of ludicrous behavior and prepare myself for re-entry into the world of the
sane. Before I proceed, it should also be noted that I have no pride. So sometimes, I admit things
that others wouldn't publicize (i.e. taking my pants off during a facial). So I am going to proceed along
these lines to reveal that I have spent some time on in my life. Yes, it's true. I know that may
seem unbelievable (I mean, I HAVE noted my selling points previously:
live in common room of college dorm, am unpaid intern, have twin bed, etc.) But alas, it's true.
I tell you about Match because I want to share some tidbits with you. Some tidbits I really think you'll enjoy,
cut and pasted directly from the fertile pages of, from the days when I was a subscriber.
(note: the guy in the photo is NOT on, so don't bother looking)

Here are the bachelors!
"Out of all my accomplishments, graduating from college was the toughest. Nothing ever
comes easy. That is one of the main reasons why today, I consider myself independent, self driven, and
motivated to climb even the highest mountain. At first, I’ll probably fail, but I’ll get up, brush the dirt off
my shoulders, and try again. Eventually, I’ll reach the top and look back upon memories."

Wow. I mean, if that's not an inspiration, I don't know what is.
"I am someone who can sit at home Friday night, get up early Saturday, work out, enjoy Saturday,
then Saturday night go out to a nice restaurant for dinner, enjoy a few drinks after with friends, get up Sunday,
go to breakfast..."

So basically the selling point here is that this guy can get up every day, especially on weekends, and eat.
(Actually, come to think of it, that kind of IS a selling point for me. I hope I bookmarked that profile).

And this here, this here I think you'll enjoy, largely because of the multiple inappropriately used
quotation marks:
"Hi, as of a week or so ago I had a full head of brown hair "but" while sitting and waiting
for my turn at the barber shop I decided "out of the blue" to get a wiffle for some reason....I’m never looking
for trouble but I'm the type of guy that will stick up and defend for my “soon to be girlfriend" family, friends
when it‘s absolutely necessary... "I love using the winter season as my excuse and not those double cheese burgers”
You have to admit they are pretty dam good.” ...I Have a couple of tattoos that are hidden.( I was an athletic, athlete
“ I really have no Idea what that means.)"... Been single for a while by choice. I made that choice for my future
girlfriend, It may be you who knows, I’ll explain later just remind me. I don't know why it is but my soul is now
aching/itching for a woman.... Can't stand people that suck their teeth after eating, "something about that noise"
I hate people that are cruel to animals. ..."ALSO" out of the goodness of my heart I will put you on my
Block Buster account."

I did not make any part of that up. I think my favorite part is that this man makes a point of noting that he
doesn't like people who are cruel to animals. I mean, I would hope that would go without saying.

And finally, this:
"I want a girl who will not make me wait for long time to meet, I want a girl who will not
cheat on there boyfriends and I will not cheat on girlfriends, Plus I don't want head games i just want a girl who
will love me so and i the same with if you want to meet i will not make you wait to long plus other like cheating
and head games and I will love a girl too."

With all of this to choose from, how is it even possible to be single?
(note: Remember the woman who recently made headlines for sitting on her toilet for 2 years straight?
That lady, she had a boyfriend.) What can ya do?

March 24, 2008

The Move

Although there have been many lucky things about landing this internship (I can't think of any right at
this moment, but I am sure (SURE!) that there are some), the luckiest of all is that I got to be here
during "The Move." John is vacating one of his three (yes THREE) Greenwich Village apartments, and relocating
the contents to a facility in Maryland. A facility run by two of the sweetest and least
competent people on this planet, Dan and Annie. The move has provided the entire staff with a lot of
excitement, as well as opportunities for close interactions with John. Interactions that the
average person just does not get to have.

For example:

John, noticing that dirt is coating his file cabinets, asks me to grab a rag from the "rag bag" in
the kitchen. No problem. Except that there was a problem. And the problem was this: The "rag" that
was available to me was none other than an old pair of John's underwear. Not even underwear that was cut
into pieces - just a fully intact pair of men's briefs. And although there are many things I will do,
cleaning cabinets with John's used underwear is not one of them. John became impatient because I was
taking so long retrieving the rag, and I really wanted to say, "John, I would take a normal amount of time
if you provided me with a normal rag."

Once the file cabinets were cleaned with John's briefs, they were to be relocated. As the only female
member of the moving team, I was doing my best to "carry my weight" (and the accompanying weight of a
very full file cabinet). At one point John tilted a cabinet so that its weight bore down completely on me;
I could barely hold it up and - I kid you not, this is the way it happened - just as I was struggling to
maintain my balance and not be crushed by metal, John gets an email on his BlackBerry and proceeds to
respond to it while the full weight of the file cabinet bore down on me. In case I wasn't clear,
John was the person responsible for easing the cabinet off of me and onto the floor.

The whole moving process has been painfully slow. John has been relegating a minimum of four people to
tasks that require one person, tops. If he wants a poster moved he will undoubtedly call in all the
troops so that each of us can hold one corner of the poster. This, as opposed to what a normal person would
do, which is carry the damn thing themselves. To make matters worse, in a sea of hundreds of boxes, papers,
cabinets, etc., all of which need to be packaged up and moved, John has us inspecting (as a group) and
then moving ever so slightly one tiny item at a time. And when I say "ever so slightly" I mean that I am
literally asked to pick up a box, at which point John will point to an open spot on the floor mere inches
away, and asked to lay down the box again. The distance I'm moving things is imperceptible to the
untrained eye. I am also routinely asked to move papers from one box into other identical boxes for
reasons I cannot begin to discern. There is no re-organization going on, per se, just a lot of slight
movements aimed at accomplishing nothing whatsoever with the exception of annoying the interns.

And on the topic of movement aimed at nothing, routinely over the past two weeks I've received text
messages from John instructing me to meet him in Greenwich Village (as opposed to our main studio) first thing
in the morning. This requires me to get up earlier than usual, walk twice as far to a train, and head
downtown, as the Village is a much longer haul from my apartment. Of course, when I arrive in Greenwich Village I am,
more often than not, immediately told that I will not be needed there, and to head back to our studio. Well
ok. Once I got a phone call from John just as I was arriving in the Village saying that he was at the studio,
and, "Oh, did I say you should go to Greenwich Village? No, I don't need you there." Another time I was asked to
move ONE (not exaggerating) box 6 inches or so and THEN told my services were no longer needed, and that
I should head back to our main studio. Mind you, all of this came on the heels of a tirade by John about how offices
can't function without good communication and efficiency, precipitated by James going to the wrong studio (I can
only assume because he received a text from John instructing him to do so, which John promptly forgot

There have been other problems, too. James "the foreman" was the driver of our rented moving van for
two days, and in each of his at bats behind the wheel he hit something. And in this case "something"
happened to be a biker (day one) and a parked car (day two). The rental company did not like this, nor, I
assume, did the biker. The parked car, from what I can tell, didn't care much. Now there is paperwork to
be filed, claims to make, all of which will fall to Dan and Annie in Maryland, meaning it will
never, ever get done.

One thing that has been a pleasant surprise to me in this moving process is that I'm a hit in freight
elevators. Seriously, a hit. I can walk down the streets of New York attracting no attention whatsoever
all week, but hop into a freight elevator to move a few boxes in Greenwich Village and I'm Jessica Alba. I've yet
to step into one of those bad boys and not be met by a flattering remark. Some people are scared of
elevators but I'm going to make a point of being in them more often.

One place I'm going to make a point NOT to be: in Subway with John (that's Subway the sandwich shop as
opposed to "the Subway"). A few weeks back (when Sanja was still with us...I know you all miss Sanja) John
threw a tantrum because they put pickles on his sandwich (and I can only assume he didn't want
pickles, based on his tantrum). He actually went back into Subway to scream at the "sandwich artist" (that's
what they're called at Subway, no joke). And when he came back from his fit he said to me: "I hate to be a
prick, but..." On a later occasion, after some bad behavior, John informed me that "I hate to be a
prick" is actually his mantra. And I would like to recommend a substitute mantra, which is "I WON'T be a
prick!" Now isn't that nicer?

Lately John has been tipping me. Like a doorman, or a busboy. After working all day on a Saturday, at 7:00
pm, just as I think I'm about to leave, John dismisses Bill but says "I'm going to need Liz a
bit longer." Oh good! So he proceeds to send me out to pick him up some chilled, dry Pinot Grigio, which
I'm sure he needed after such a long day of bossing us around senselessly. When I returned with the wine, I
was told to "keep the change". Then the next morning when he had me fetch him a coffee, he made a point to
give me an actual tip. Huh. This is new to me, as an intern. I am not so much learning things, or being
paid an actual salary, but at least I'm making tips.

Before I wrap this up, I have to mention two stories featuring the bathroom. There is a bathroom in the
laundry room in the basement of the Greenwich Village apartment, which is what we all have to use when we are working
there, because the actual bathrooms in John's apartments are filled to the brim with junk. So last
week John told me my services were no longer needed, and I said my goodbyes. Unbeknownst to John I headed
to the basement to use the facilities. Unfortunately for me, John headed to the basement for some unknown
reason as well, coinciding with my entry into a freight elevator that was to take me from the basement
back to the lobby. Now, mind you, I should have left the entire building some time ago, and it was awkward
to be lurking in the basement, darting into freight elevators. John saw me and called out my name, and
instead of just stopping to say hi and tell him that I was only using the bathroom, I panicked, pretended not
to hear him, shut the elevator door as quickly as possible, and fled the scene.

And finally, this gem: Last week John and I wrapped up the nightmare of "the receipts" back at the main
studio (side note: for those that were curious, John never screened out the Cica Cica Boom receipts, so
they were sent off to the accountant. Oops!) Anyway, John wanted to check over my work (again) and at one
point determined that he did not have enough light in the studio to properly examine my handiwork. So,
naturally, he decided that we would finish up this task IN THE BATHROOM, where, presumably, there is
nicer lighting. I am not making this up. And in between checking my math and telling me how I messed
up the receipts, John would get distracted and re-fill the toilet paper roll.

Hope everyone is making tips!



There was an ad on the subway today for Cottonelle toilet paper, and the slogan was "Too much bran?" Huh.
A little more graphic than I'm used to from my toilet paper vendors.

And finally, while the nation focuses on Spitzer's sex life and Obama's speech on race, a headline that
caught MY attention: "Gilligan's Mary Ann Caught with Dope." How can you not love that?

A Pigeon Flew into My Head

March 2, 2008

Breaking news: Sanja is a pothead.

Yes, from the same source that broke the news of the impending and ill- fated John/Paris Hilton
merger, I now bring you the news that Sanja is on the ganja. I didn't see this coming. Last week
Sanja got a group together to go see her friends perform live music on the Lower East Side, and she was
after pot the whole time (Side note: the first performer was an elderly man singing a lively song titled
"Can't Get It Up Blues." This is not a joke. The song included the line: "It's a beautiful day but it won't come
out to play.") As you can imagine this was a classy joint.

Sanja came with her husband. Yes, husband. Many of you offered up that Sanja may be trying to
seduce me, but Sanja is off the market. I'm sure this is upsetting news for many of you, but try not to take
it too hard. Incidentally, her husband Ben is a Jack Black/Seth Rogen hybrid. This I did not expect. Ben
had a jolly disposition, probably from all the pot.

Now, a respite for Sanja. Let me pause, instead, to reflect on the state of my own life. This reflection
was precipitated by the fact that a pigeon flew straight into my head the other day. We didn't run
into each, the bird took flight but a few feet from me and missed his mark (which was presumably
the sky) and hurled his dirty pigeon body right into my hair. Which got me to thinking about my life.

I am 28 and I live in the common room of a college dorm. I sleep in a twin bed. I was pirating Internet
from an unknown neighbor but they just password protected the connection, so now I have no Internet at
home. My DVD player only plays movies in black and white (an odd phenomenon that I can't make heads or
tails of). Oh, and I have bunny ears on my TV instead of cable. Yes, it's all true. Try to contain your
envy. Actually, you might not be able to contain your envy when you hear the rest. I live in my parents'
basement when I'm not living in student housing (on "frat row" nonetheless). I was so stressed at work
the other day that I was happy, thrilled actually, when I got a splinter, as this diversion was far
preferable to my work tasks. When splinters are seen as a blessing, things have gone terribly astray. And
to top it all off, I am unpaid and living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. So the pigeon
flying into my head seemed fitting, giving the other conditions of my life as they currently stand.

I am not the only one who is miserable. Bill, the teenager and one of my favorite co-workers, was so
bored the other day that he started lighting his shoes on fire in the studio. This is not a lie. I don't
think that John would approve of this, since John does not approve of even benign behaviors which do not
involve flames. I like that Bill.

But back to Sanja. Last week brought a further supply of strangely cryptic comments directed toward me which
I could not decipher. Cryptic comments and winks. I casually mentioned to Sanja that I think James "the
foreman" is nice, to which Sanja winked and said "things are not as they appear." To which I looked at
her blankly. Sanja seems to think that she and I are in on some information that I, at the least, am
decidedly not.

I did learn that during her first week Sanja was told by John's right-hand man Chris the following pearl of
wisdom: "While you're here, don't think." This was apparently in response to Sanja doing some thinking in
the studio that led her astray. I will be sure not to make that mistake! Sanja does make some mistakes
though. And by some I mean tons of them. A week ago Sunday (when I had the pleasure of working from 9-4
with a very hostile John) John pulls me aside and tells me that he's going to need me to check all of
Sanja's accounting on his receipts. He says: "She's good, but she makes a lot of mistakes." Which I
assumed was just John being rude. Turns out that in this case the man has a point. You may recall that
Sanja and I have been assigned to the ongoing task of receipts for weeks on end, and have been dividing this
task up fairly evenly. Problematically, I am coming to find, Sanja has not tallied ANY of the pages
correctly. Ok, a few here and there, but in the sea of hundreds of pages of numbers there is scarcely a
page that has been done properly. Hence my job to "check" the work. Which, in this case, means re-do
every single page. I don't really understand how things went so astray. I am not good at math at all,
but we are not doing advanced calculations here. We are tallying receipts. Now, I will say that this task
has proved much harder than one would think, factoring in exchange rates, handwritten notes, etc. But
seriously, I think Sanja was high the entire time she had hold of the books. They are a disaster, and since
Friday was Sanja's last day (sad but true) the ax is going to come down on me. (Side note: Sanja and I have
come across some receipts from what appears to be a lap dance establishment in Asia, called "Cica Cica
Boom." We're not sure where exactly those should be filed).

Sanja has been on thin ice for awhile. Apparently, before I began working Sanja told John that she was
going to India for three weeks and would be missing work. So it was unfortunate for Sanja when a good
friend of Joan's saw Sanja making a presentation at a photo event in NYC later that week.
(Note to Sanja: do not be blatantly visible in the NYC photography community when you are supposed to
be in your homeland). Anyway, Joan mentioned this off-hand to another employee, who (unexpectedly) ran
directly to John with the news. John did not like this. In fact, he disliked it so much that he
demanded that Joan give him the phone number of the friend who had the Sanja sighting. Joan
absolutely did not want to give up the information, but was basically forced into it at gunpoint. Well
there was no gun but you get the point. The long and short of it was that, because our studio is insane,
this girl was called, the Sanja sighting confirmed, and Sanja was told by John that she comes from a bad
family, presumably on account of her lies. Only people from bad families tell lies, clearly. Since
that time things have been precarious between Sanja and John.

And then there's Derek. Derek is an intern we acquired and lost during the course of one splendid week.
Derek had a fully developed mustache, which is always becoming on a man of 24. Derek looked something like
Kevin Kline, and also a little like Mary-Kate Olsen (he looked NOTHING like Ashley).
And although you did not get to learn anything about Derek due to his short time
at the studio, I think you will like his parting words, conveyed via text message (rather than the
standard letter of resignation): "There's only so long you can take it up the *ss!"
And that's true Derek, there only is just so long.


p.s. As you may have noticed, sometimes I like to leave you with headlines that I find entertaining.
Here is one such headline:
"Teenager uses truck to save granddad from bull."
You might be on the verge of forgetting about the time when you saved your granddad from cattle, and
then you see a headline like this and it all comes flooding back to you.

And finally, this attention grabber: "Jill Scott talks about bra problems."
Talk to me, Jill.

March 23, 2008

A Sad State of Affairs

February 14, 2008

Let me start with this: John did not do the Paris Hilton shoot. Thank you for your showing of support
and concern in this matter, it was touching, really. I'm not gonna lie, even though I know it would have
been very bad for John's career to take the assignment, there is a small part of me (and by small
I mean big) that kind of wishes he did for comic value, and also because, well, the man makes my life
miserable on a daily basis.

It's a sad state of affairs when you're happy to come home from work at 10:00 to find that your car has been
broken into. But that is what it has come to my friends. Rather than being upset at the inconvenience
of the crime, I was pleased, because it meant that I would be able to go into work late, "forced" to spend
the morning in the waiting room of an auto repair shop getting my window replaced. It was fantastic. I
actually felt joy seeing my smashed window (side note: this is the 5th time that my '99 Toyota Corolla has
been broken into. Apparently dented Corollas are in demand. Out of the five instances, only once was
anything stolen, and that was a large silver disco ball. That's another story. Typically my thousands
of Mapquests get strewn about and the thief calls it a day).

The reason I would rather be in a cold auto repair shop than at work? Because I work in a sweatshop,
that's why. It is 100 degrees and I have to wear nothing but a tank top lest I collapse. Well, I also
wear pants, because, let's be real, there is no chance of me getting a facial in the studio (for those of you
who didn't read my last entry, ignore that last part). My job is, on all fronts, miserable. As for me being hot at
work, I can't be sure what that's about. You see, I appear to be existing on an entirely different
temperature plane than everyone around me, so it's hard to tell. On the subway I routinely find myself
in a t-shirt feeling hot as can be while people around me are wearing snowsuits and shivering. Ok, not
snowsuits, but sweatshirts, scarves, winter coats, you get the picture.

Speaking of subways. Above ground may be rough, but it's the subways of New York that offer unlimited
surprises. Like last week, a seemingly normal (they all look normal) man lunges with a bike in his hands
toward the subway doors to stop them from closing...he actually throws his bike in between the shutting
doors, risking damage to his bike and his extremities, all the while yelling in a panic, just to catch this
train. And what does he proceed to do once aboard the train? He proceeds to lay out across an entire row of
seats on his back and contort himself into a variety of yoga poses, that's what. Right there on the subway. No
mat or anything. It was quite a show. A few days ago I felt so lucky because I got a seat on a very packed subway
car between two women. And I couldn't believe my luck because everyone was pressed together so crowded and
looking so uncomfortable. And then I took my seat and realized why it had remained open. I found myself
wedged between two very ample women, one of whom was using nose drops liberally while the other smelled
strongly of patchouli. A person should be wary of a suspiciously open seat on an otherwise packed subway car.

But here is the best of it: nothing can compare to the businesswoman I once saw who did something that I
am sure, absolutely sure, I will never again see in my life. A rat was scurrying across the platform (not
the tracks, the platform) scaring away passengers who were not happy to be traveling with a rodent, when
this woman lets out a primal yelp and charges directly towards the rat and punts it with all her might off
the platform and onto the tracks. The rat flew through the air, and although I could not see his face
I am sure he was just as surprised at this as the rest of us. Nowadays the subway is plastered with signs
advertising that the area is treated with "Rodenticide", which, I must say, makes me feel good.

People are generally amusing both above and below ground in this city, to be fair. Yesterday a woman at
the deli was singing and dancing to Shakira, in a loud and very animated way, which I have to admit I liked.
As we all know, Shakira is nothing if not a wordsmith (favorite line from a Shakira song: "My breasts are
small and humble, so you don't confuse them with mountains"). Move over, Bob Dylan.

As implied earlier, life at the studio continues to be stressful, although it is peppered with happenings
that amuse me. Last week the entire building had to switch keys (something to do with a disgruntled
ex-superintendent). Joan, the office manager, tried to get replacement keys for the staff and, since she is
not John, was threatened by management and told that security was going to come deal with her if
she didn't abort mission. A little much, perhaps? The following morning, as we're all sitting outside
our locked studio, wondering how we'll get in (and hoping against hope that we won't be able to get in at
all), a random man walks by with an abundance of keys and asks us if we'd like some. Mind you, he has not
checked to see who we are or if this is our apartment (the studio is actually located in an apartment
complex), but he proceeds to just toss 4 sets of keys to us, no questions asked! Apparently the heavy
security measures of the previous day were forgotten. Later, as I was leaving for lunch, another man asks me
if I would like more keys still. He did have a few questions for me, focused on whether or not Joan and
Bill were my roommates, to which I of course replied yes. I mean, why wouldn't I be living with a teenage boy?

Moving on. John is exasperating on multiple levels. Just last week as I'm leaving after 12 hours of
unpaid labor, John chases me out the door and says: "I'd like to spend some time with you this weekend."
Uh, "spend some time with me this weekend?" Does he want to take me to dinner? Or is that his way of
telling me I have to work on Sunday. Clearly, the latter. But who asks like that? Tell it like it is, John!

Even more exasperating is what follows. (In fact, the following incident was so utterly ridiculous that I
doubt I will be able to convey the level of ridiculousness in an email). Here's the scene: I am
sitting in my 100 degree, pitch black enclave. John creeps up behind me (he does that A LOT) and asks me
to use a program I am unfamiliar with to show him a selection of photos. I am able to do this, but the
program is running rather slowly, and John has the patience of approximately a two- year old. So he is
getting ancy and making me tense, hovering over me and demanding to know why the photos aren't displayed.
Now, it is clear they are not yet displayed because the computer is processing my request, which takes a
few moments, but that's besides the point. John wants me to "star" photos that he selects (mind you,
this is a one person job - having two of us do it made it much harder, but I have never seen John physically
touch one of the computers, so everything is a two person job.) As soon as this process starts, John
dislikes the way I am scrolling through his photos. Ok. So, he tells me not to touch the mouse, and to
just hit the key that will "star" the photos as he decides which ones he likes. Again, clearly this is a
one person job. So now that I am relegated to hitting one key and one key only, John begins to make his selections by
pointing his finger at the screen. And I cannot make a selection, because the cursor is not
hovering over the photo he wants selected, and as you may recall I have been banned from touching the mouse.
So I sit there and wait for him to move the mouse. Nothing. After several awkward seconds John says
(clearly irritated) "are you going to select the photo?" At which point I tentatively move my hand
toward the mouse. "What are you doing!? I told you not to touch that!!" Indeed. So I withdraw my hand
and we sit there in silence again, awkwardly, with John still pointing to the screen and not
manipulating either the arrow keys or the mouse to actually make a selection. Moments pass...."Are you
going to pick the photo or not??!" he barks. So now I am getting really confused, because how am I supposed
to pick the photo when I can't use the keys or mouse? So timidly I move my hand again, only to be met with
the same barking rebuke. This happens, I kid you not, THREE TIMES before John asks why nothing is
happening. Uh, John, at least one of us needs to be touching the arrows or mouse if we want to accomplish
this task. I mean, is he kidding? Does he think touching the computer screen will do it? A computer
screen is not an ATM John! I felt like I was watching myself on a particularly cringy episode of
The Office, and it wasn't pretty. Finally John agreed that, yes, at least one of us needed to
actually touch the arrows or mouse. Thank God we figured that one out.

John seems out of it in other arenas as well. I have been trying to get him to answer a very simple
question for weeks now (is he, or is he not, willing to write a forward for some guy named Ethan's photo
book). I have brought this up to John in a variety of forms - written and verbal - for weeks, and each
and every time I mention it he looks at me with a complete and utter lack of recognition. "Who?"
ETHAN! We have talked about this! Why are you looking at me like we have never, ever discussed this
before? It's uncanny really.

Because John is so ridiculous I enjoy it when things go awry. Like, for example, when the University of
Missouri booked John as a speaker and then cancelled his speaking engagement
once he was already boarded onto his flight. He got the call, but couldn't get off the
plane, and was thus forced to fly to the Midwest and then straight back. Which pleased me immensely, until
I learned that John would be arriving at La Guardia at 5:00 and would, of course, make his way back into
the studio to torture us all night.

I also enjoyed it when Alec, our printer, told me in hushed tones that he only taught himself Photoshop
from a book he got at Borders a week before starting his job at the studio. Ha! And now he's the photo
editor/printer for one of the world's leading photography icons (who also happens to be the bane of
my existence).

Just to make our days even worse, James "the foreman" has just implemented a system in which we need to
input into a database every single image we work on, and exactly how long we work on it, so that we can all
be timed, tracked, and inefficiency can be weeded out. Fun! Did everybody forget that practically the whole
staff is unpaid?

Yesterday I was in a panic because I had stayed until 9:00 the previous night logging images, and when I came
in in the morning, my log had been erased off the database, somehow replaced by entries from Ted, who
now works nights. So I called Ted to try to figure this out, and proceeded to have a lengthy conversation
with a man who most definitely was a different Ted (turns out the Ted I had on the line was from Staten
Island, while our Ted is from New Zealand...for some reason this blatant accent discrepancy didn't tip me
off). Nonetheless, Staten Island Ted and I carried on at least a five minute conversation as to why my logs
were deleted, and, as would be expected, we were met with many conversational obstacles. He kept
indicating he was following me, and then saying things like "I can't seem to put two and two together.
Logs?" To which I would become exasperated. "Ted! It's me, Liz, I sit right next to you and work on the
log!!!" "Ahh, yes....(long pause) where do we sit near each other?" "At the studio!!" "Oh, sure...what
studio?" And so on. It really went on much longer than it should have, which, I suppose, is both our faults.

I hope all of you are well, and if not, misery loves
company, so feel free to write.


This is extraneous, but I wanted to share with you excerpts (cut and pasted) from a resume of a man
hoping to collaborate with John on a project. Great stuff.....

Himendu Jusham Resume:

Generate love & concern for land & people, nature, environment & all living beings?+ Sow seeds - into
young minds - of the spirit to fight for justice,
stand for truth and propagate joyous co-existence of all races and communities
CURRICULUM VITAE: The inner urge:
WORK EXPERIENCE?? have had the fortune of exposing around 15,000 people to the wonders of nature,
in a span of about 20 years, through camps, trails, lectures, audio-visuals, street-plays, live animal shows, etc.

I mean, really, does it get any better? (It might. Today's Yahoo! headline:
Jane Fonda uses vulgar slang on the "Today" show.)

It's all gold, really.

Jumping the Shark

February 3, 2008

Jumping the Shark: The precise moment when you know a public figure has taken a turn for the worse, gone
downhill, become irreversibly bad, is irredeemable, etc.; the moment you realize decay has set in.

(i.e. Tom Cruise jumped the shark the moment he jumped Oprah's couch.)

John is about to jump the shark. You heard it here first. On Friday, the Harvard Lampoon called
the studio to ask if John would be willing to shoot Paris Hilton dressed as a refugee child for a spoof they're
doing on National Geographic. Now, this could be a funny lampoon of National Geographic, but as far
as everyone in the studio can tell there is nothing but bad things that can come out of this for John's
career, particularly given his reputation as a humanist "concerned" photographer. The problem is, we're
all pretty sure John has no idea who Paris Hilton is, or what this spoof is even about.
The message was relayed to him in Thailand, with long delays and static lines, and John kept asking over and
over again who the model was and what the Harvard Lampoon is....and then he told Sanja to try to schedule it,
but seriously, he doesn't seem to understand what it is at all, much less the ramifications it could have career-wise.
So, naturally, I can't wait to see if he's going to actually do this on Tuesday. If he does, I would like to be his assistant.
I love celebrities, and it would be the closest I can imagine getting to such a clearly bad decision.

So, John is returning from Thailand, and Monday he will be back in the office. The amount of panic and
tension that this has created is completely and utterly disproportionate to the event. We actually
had a staff meeting aimed at nothing but damage control. It was basically a crash course on how to
avoid disapproval and/or angry outbursts hurled in our direction. I mean, we work for John. He is not a
visiting dignitary. He is not Bono. Or William Hung. He is our boss, and people
seem to have completely lost sight of this fact in preparation for his return. Bill (intern) has
been forced to scrub the floors, clean the counter tops, file every single loose scrap of paper lest John returns to
deem the office "messy." Towels have been folded in neat little rows in the bathroom
and the sticky paste-like substance next to the sink that we have all grown accustomed to has been scraped
off, lest John sees it. The filthy dish towel (which James inexplicably uses to dry his face) has been
replaced with a crisp new linen (note to James: dish towels should under no circumstance be used on your
face). People are crippled in fear. Ok, that is an exaggeration, but not by much. Apparently it is in my
best interest not to incur the displeasure of my boss. I am sure I will though, given my complete and utter
lack of competency when he's around.

The office has been a very different place with John away. For starters, we have had several visits over
the past few weeks from Bob, our Mac tech guy. I can't imagine for a moment Bob and John being in the
office at the same time. It's about as good a combo as Rosie O'Donnell and Barbara Walters were on
The View. Where John is quiet and commands, well, fear, Bob is loud and, well, LOUD. Bob is
like an over-caffeinated, ADD-riddled 8 year old on Christmas Eve. Bob spends the day throwing balls of paper
at us, laughing riotously and sporadically and weaving tales of Sting and Paula Abdul (he serves as
sound tech for lots of celebrities. Note: Paula Abdul is not as crazy as she appears on TV). Bob is
paid $700 a day (more than I make in two months working days, nights, and weekends). And for this
$700 Bob basically disrupts the whole studio to the point where absolutely no work is done, and then tries
to explain technology to us in that way that tech people do - which is to say, we don't understand a
single thing he is saying.

What else. Sanja has been talking to herself. A lot. I never know if she is talking to me, if she is on the
phone, or if she is having a conversation in her own head that for some reason ends up being spoken aloud.
But as our co-worker Ted was explaining to me how to use one of our programs last week I seriously couldn't
follow a thing he was saying because of Sanja's running, incomprehensible commentary. Ted, for his
part, has been on the receiving end of a sh*t-storm lately, because, get this.......he took a day off.
Can you believe it?!? The nerve! Ted just finished up his three months of unpaid labor, and apparently
discussed with one of the higher-ups a schedule to work part time at night. So the day after his
internship ended Ted took the day off, and was waiting to hear what his new schedule would be. This break in
service might as well have constituted a national disaster for all the tension and stress it caused.
James spent 40 minutes on the phone with John (who, mind you, is in Asia) discussing what happened.

James: "John, I just don't know what happened. I mean, where IS he??"
John: "We need to get to the bottom of this!!"
James: "Yes John, we do! Immediately! I mean, why isn't he here??"
John: "I don't know, I'm in Thailand. I can't deal with this! But we need to get to the bottom of it!!"
James: "Yes John, we do!! I just don't know what happened."
John: "We need to straighten this out IMMEDIATELY!!"
(and so on)

Get to the bottom of this? Huh? Mind you, Ted had been "missing" for exactly one day, and we all knew he
was taking the day off. I am brand new and was already 'to the bottom of this'....uh, Ted took a day
off. One day after three months of round the clock service, before he started up on the night shift.
This conversation should have taken 40 seconds and included the seemingly obvious solution, which was to
call Ted and see what day he would like to start nights. Ironically, sometime during this pressure
cooker of a conversation, Ted called the studio on the other line, but the fact that he called was never
relayed to James or John, because nobody wanted to get involved in the sh*t-storm. Ted came in at 4:30 that
same day. Not really cause for such extreme alarm.

Actually, the studio seems to fall into full-blown panic mode over little to nothing routinely, so I
shouldn't be surprised. For example, everyone is in a full-blown panic over scanning. John has 30 years of
film scans that need to be edited, and apparently although they have been sitting untouched for, well,
the duration of my life and then some, if they are not attended to IMMEDIATELY there is going to be big
trouble. People are frantic. James is putting us on a schedule of hundreds of scans a week, which my own
pace can't even begin to accommodate. I actually thought James was going to make me stay all weekend to
do more scanning, which is crazy since there is no reason that this is any more pressing today than in,
say, 1982. Or 1994. Or 2006 for that matter. John actually got me on the phone from Burma and told me to
drop what I was doing immediately and get to the scanner. And since what I was doing was receipt
ordering/falafal delivery, I was happy to oblige.

The problem is this: New Yorkers, as a whole, are insane.

I have come to decide that there is no way around reaching this conclusion. Let me paint you a picture:

My friend Arty, a typical fellow, is heading to work. Which means he is heading to the subway. He might
even be listening to an iPod. In no version of this scenario is he harassing anyone. Yet what happens to
Arty as he tries to make his way to work? He gets punched in the back by a random man. Yes, punched in
the back. This does not stop or even particularly distress Arty. It surprises him, yes, but nothing
more. This is New York, after all.

I myself encountered a likely crazy woman last week whose ears were stuffed with cotton. Which, for those
of you who followed my adventures in Peru, might bring back memories of Lyle, the cotton-eared grandfather
who pulled out a knife when our bus got trapped in a mob of protesting Peruvian villagers. I miss Lyle.
My more recent cotton-eared friend simply wanted to talk to me about jackets – what I thought of her
jacket (was it too ‘young’ for her?), what she thought of mine (nice fabric, but did it require dry
cleaning?) and so on. Of course my answers to her inquiries probably didn’t mean much. She did have
cotton in her ears. Which I might want to consider myself, to screen out Sanja.

My friend Bill (and in this case by “friend” I mean random 19 year old who is also an indentured
servant) was recently harassed on the street by a man who took extreme issue with his shoes. Bill was
wearing unlaced, silver sneakers, clearly meant to be fashionable. And as he was walking along, probably
feeling good (or at least neutral) about his footwear, out of nowhere a completely normal looking businessman
starts yelling to him: “Hey, tie your shoes!” (note: It is clear that Bill has intentionally left his
shoes untied). “Huh?” says Bill. “They’re supposed to be like this.” To which the man becomes
infuriated. “You actually LIKE your shoes like that? Your SILVER shoes!? What are you, TEN!??” The man
was VERY angry with Bill’s choice of footwear, but what exactly offended him is hard to pinpoint.

This reminds me. (Ok, nothing reminded me of this story, I just want to tell it). A few weeks ago I was
getting a facial back in Boston, and I was led into what was clearly meant to be a relaxing atmosphere:
dimmed lights, low music, etc. And since I was in a relaxing atmosphere I myself wanted to be relaxed. So
as my facial-ist (is that a word?) hands me a small robe and tells me to take off my top and lie down
under the covers, I ask her "should I take off my pants?" I mean, I wanted to take off my pants. It
would be more comfortable under all those covers to have no pants on. "Uh, no, no, just your shirt."
Damn. Why did I even ask? Of course she would tell me no - as you recall, this was a facial, meaning she
would be dealing exclusively with my face. Under no circumstances would it be necessary to have my pants
off. So as she leaves the room I ponder my choices. Do as I am told (perhaps the wisest choice), or take
off my pants anyway, get comfortable, and hope she doesn't notice. Clearly I choose the latter. I
figured I would be able to take off my pants, hide them under my purse, and hurry under the covers before
she saw a thing. She would never know and never care that I had taken off my pants and disregarded her
explicit instructions not to do so. Well, I wish I had pondered my choices a bit faster, because by the
time I decided upon a course of action and got my pants off, the facial-ist re-appears to find me
inappropriately clad in the middle of the room. "Oh, ah, hi!" I say. "I just decided to, ah, well, take
my pants off...." Obviously. She looked none too pleased and a bit perplexed, but what can you do? I
don't believe this was ever an episode of Seinfeld, but it really should have been. George and Elaine
both would have taken their pants off in my situation.


p.s. Bob Barker is backing an "LA Pet Spay" law. I thought all (and by all I mean "none") of you might be
interested in that.

March 21, 2008

Will The Fun Never End?

January 25, 2008

My second week as an indentured servant has come to a close, and I am writing this email from the peace and
quiet of my parents’ house, which means that at no point in the next hour will Sanja come up behind me and
caress me in any way.

So my second week at the studio began in fine form, as on Friday we had been informed that we
would be working on Martin Luther King Day, despite its standing as a national holiday. And despite the
fact that John was in Vietnam. I have already realized that John being in underdeveloped Asian nations has
no bearing on whether or not he can keep full tabs on us – he can, always. He calls at all hours of the day
and night, and I am pretty sure that it is in our best interest to be in the office when this happens. The
subway ride on Monday morning was peaceful because, ahh yes, nobody else in Manhattan was working. They
had the day off. No matter, I arrived at the studio to discover that ONLY the interns were on duty. All
of the actual employees stayed home, while all of us unpaid suckers were required to be there. I’m sure
somewhere MLK was smiling.

One thing I’m really enjoying about my new job is the access I have to John’s emails. Don’t worry, I’m not
being sketchy. Everyone in the studio has full access to the emails, which strikes me as very odd. I’m
fairly sure that the people writing to him don’t understand that star-struck interns such as myself are
reading them. John’s address book reads like a “Who’s Who” of celebrity photographers, and I can’t
help but be irrationally impressed. I realize I shouldn’t be surprised, since John himself is a
celebrity. It would be like working as Tom Cruise’s assistant and being overcome with awe and excitement
to find that he in fact had Nicole Kidman’s number on file. “WHAT?! Tom knows NICOLE KIDMAN??!! And
wait, he has OPRAH’s number too??!!” Of course he does, he’s Tom Cruise.

Anyway, I love looking at these emails. I love it more, if you can imagine this, than I love going
through each and every one of John’s receipts from the past year of his life. Even more than I love
trying to determine what, exactly, a receipt written in the scrawling hand a Thai street vendor is for, or
what month it’s from…or wait, is it even a receipt? Or just a random, greasy scrap of paper that was
shoved into John’s pocket at one point and has now become mine to decipher? I wanted to be an arm-chair
detective when I was little, and now I’m finally getting my chance.

Sanja and I had a little upset over receipts last week when I expressed to her that I didn’t believe it to be
possible that John was staying in hotels in both Singapore AND India on the same night, as one stray handwritten
note would have us believe. Sanja was adamant that if the receipt stated it was so, it was so. “But Sanja,” I implored, “It’s
not physically possible that John was sleeping in BOTH Singapore AND India on the same night.” Sanja was not
having it, and the result was a lot of huffing mixed with a stray “I’ve been here longer than you!” Indeed
you have Sanja, but the laws of the universe and my disbelief in John’s ability to straddle two countries
at once still apply.

There was a briefly enjoyable moment with Sanja when she asked me out of the blue if I liked English
Muffins. And I do like English Muffins, so I told her as much. To which she gleefully replied, “Well, it’s
time for some muffin lovin’!!” It was almost too good to be true.

Sanja seems to become gleeful over strange things in general. Like the other day when everyone was
discussing the new Leopard system on Macs. “Next time it will be Peacock!!! Haaaaa!” Sanja shouts, before
dissolving into a fit of laughter. And so it goes.

I don’t mean to single out Sanja. There are others. I haven’t introduced you yet to James, who may or may not
be my boss. I can’t tell. James let his wife cut his hair the other day, and now he looks like the Little
Dutch Boy. But, as you may know, I’m not one to talk. I let a drunk Canadian cut me a mullet, so I can’t
really judge. James also flosses in front of the rest of us, which I think I can safely judge.

There is also Joan, who is only 22 or so but who pretty much runs the office. Joan only has one phrase
that she likes to repeat, from what I can tell, and it’s “Oh! What a little snappy-doodle!!” That phrase is
applied judiciously and indiscriminately, all day. I have never heard it pre-Joan, but now I hear it in my
sleep. Last week Joan wouldn’t let me eat my lunch until I counted how many of each type of John’s
posters we had in a drawer (this was treated like a full-blown emergency, an emergency that couldn’t wait
until I’d eaten my falafel). So I count the posters (approximately 20-30 of each)….come to find that we
have literally thousands upon thousands of these posters in boxes, which Joan knows about. But she just
wanted me to count the ones in her drawer. Why Joan, why?

Anyway, after all of this receipt torture (a full-time job best left to an accountant really), John casually
says to me “Ok, so can you get these in order for tonight?” Um, yeah. Mind you this is ALL Sanja and I
have been working on for 14 hours a day, and there is no end in sight. The receipts are literally piled up
around us and at this point we have been relegated to working on the stove (you didn’t misread that) because
the table was being used as a space to handle fine art prints. John mentioned “getting them in order for
tonight” as if it was a casual, 5- minute task, somewhere on the scale of changing the toilet paper
and turning off the printers.

Speaking of prints, there are absolutely beautiful (not to mention valuable) fine art prints made up at
the studio and then promptly destroyed every day. Destroyed for imperfections my eye cannot even begin
to see. I’ll look at a print and think how amazing it is, while Alec, the retoucher/printer, will look at it in
disgust and rip it up right in front of me. Last week I timidly asked if I might keep the misprints? You
know, for my bathroom or something? The answer was a swift and appalled “NO!” Under no circumstances may
I keep any misprints, lest I end up selling the rejects from a cart in Chinatown after work.

My New Life as an Unwilling Workaholic

January 18, 2008

I usually only send stories to large groups when I'm in foreign lands, like Romania, land of many churches.
But funny things are happening to me right here in the land of many Applebees, so here I go:

I am temporarily a New Yorker. Again. I find myself in the place where dreams are made or crushed. The
place where a Jennifer can become a J-Lo. The place where entire blocks are covered in a thin coating of
urine. Ahhh, New York. I haven't seen much of the Big Apple this time around, because I haven't left my
new office for more than 4 minutes. For those of you who don't know, I just started a 3 month internship
with a famous photographer (herein he will be referred to as "John"). John is a celebrity of sorts, and so I am
appropriately scared of him. This is my first week on the job, and I have some stories to share:

My first morning: I am gathering my things, placing them anxiously into my backpack. And then I realized
that already I look like a huge loser, as the backpack has a large yellow "National Geographic" patch on it,
indicating (falsely) that I work for National Geographic. Everyone I encountered in Romania assumed
as much. And then it occurred to me that John, photographer at National Geographic since I was a
toddler, would probably realize that I do not work with him, and wonder why I was posing as his co-worker.
So my nice new bag was promptly replaced by my roommates' worn out (no offense Andrea) high school track bag.
Much safer, albeit not the professional look I was going for.

Any relief I felt at avoiding this initial embarrassment quickly dissipated, as, per usual, I
found multiple other ways to promptly and efficiently embarrass myself anyway.

I'll start with my first two non-verbal interactions with John. John, while talking on the phone,
reaches to shake my hand, but with the wrong hand, putting us in an awkward, bent-arm, twisted grip. Then
he walks past me not 15 minutes later, still on the phone, and offers another shake. I don't know why I
got another shake. And he does this AGAIN WITH THE WRONG HAND. Why John, why? This echoes back to my
trouble with the double-cheeked kiss in Europe. Apparently greetings are not my forte, although the
blame in this scenario has to be placed firmly with John.

Moving on. I am making my first phone call to confirm that a FedEx package arrived (at the studio, an online
tracking confirmation that a package arrived is insufficient. A phone call and handwritten note
further confirming this are also required. Less paperwork is required to adopt a child than to receive
a print.) Anyway...I make my call and ask for Martin.

"I think you have the wrong number" says the man. "Oh," I say, "is this such and such gallery?" I am
sensing an awkward pause on the phone, and the next time the man speaks I recognize the voice. "Who is
this?" he asks me. And then it hits me. This is the voice of John. I have called John. I have
inadvertently called my new boss, who is standing not two feet from me, instead of the client. And this is
my first verbal interaction with the living legend that is John. Off to a good start. (also of
note: the second time I made a package tracking call, I successfully confirmed receipt, only to be informed
by the remarkably patient man on the line that I was calling Hawaii, and, "it is 4 am in Hawaii." Ah, so it
is. And the package apparently arrived at Christmas, thus not making my follow-up call timely or remotely
urgent. Come to find this man is a "very close personal friend of John's" and also a legendary travel writer.
So I'm really feeling good about myself at this point.

Also increasing my confidence was when I was sent to deliver a print to a nearby gallery, a task which
should have taken mere minutes, as it was a very close subway ride away. And what do I do, but board an
express train to Brooklyn, which takes me 30 minutes in the wrong direction -as soon as I saw the Statue of
Liberty in the distance it tipped me off that I had gone astray. This would be comparable to having your
boss send you from Davis Square to Harvard Square (for those of you from Boston), and then having to
call the office to tell your boss that you accidentally boarded a train to Worcester, and would be
missing several hours of work.

Anyway, at this point in the game I'm trying to figure out the way the office works - what's expected, the
tone of things, etc. Enter Sanja.

Sanja (a girl my age from India) is also an intern, but appears to believe she is my boss. She actually sent
me out to pick up her lunch yesterday, before it occurred to me that interns don't get to tell other
interns to pick up their lunch. Luckily it was a nice falafal that I was sent to retrieve, and I liked the
falafal vendor. But I digress. Sanja should not be sending me for falafal, delicious as it
might be.

I've had several strange interactions with Sanja, in fact. After bringing her falafal yesterday, she
corners me in the kitchen, and in a low, conspiratorial tone, says "You know how emotions
quickly shift" (her eyes are darting nervously around as she says this). Huh? What am I missing? I just
deliver falafal.

A few days ago Sanja and I were in the process of organizing thousands of receipts for John (I KNEW I
went to grad school for something!) and I'm trying to listen to the other employees explain some computer
applications that I'm hoping to learn. Strain as I might to hear them, I can't, because Sanja is right
next to me singing "That's Amore!" at full volume.

And today, out of nowhere, Sanja began massaging my back. "Don't worry, there'll be more where that came
from. I have good moves" she says. Huh? Is this appropriate on my 4th day of work? I take that back.
Is this ever appropriate? But I (completely lacking any shame) accept this inappropriate touching because,
hey, who doesn't like a back rub?

Another thing that confuses me about this office is the schedule. On my first day I began to pack up to
head home for the night at 5... as I was under the impression that I would be working from 9-5. Before I
left, I asked Sanja if there was anything she needed me to do (meaning any last thing I could do before
leaving)..."No" she says, "you can just hang out for now." So this confuses me, because why would I "hang
out" at 5? And then it becomes apparent to me that NOBODY is making any motion whatsoever to move. It is
clear that we are not dismissed. So I keep doing random little tasks, and it keeps getting later and
later. By 7 I am getting ancy, wondering when, if ever, the day ends. So finally Alec, a photo
retoucher, stands up and announces that he's heading home. Finally! And then, just as I breathe a sigh of
relief, everyone else in the office bursts out laughing. Clearly, Alec was making a joke. "Ha!
Leave at 7!? That's a good one!" was what the laughter said to me. Nobody actually moved a muscle
to leave until 9 that day, 10 the next. What I have gathered is that nobody leaves the office until John
leaves, and this could be any time of the night. Weekends are fair game also, so apparently I have to
be prepared to work for free around the clock for the next three months. Giddyup!


I almost forgot: all over our studio there are prints, signed by John. His photos are considered to be some of the
most famous pictures in the entire world. And I'm thinking to myself, "I think before I leave I'll ask John for
a signed copy! Why not? They are right here! And it's easy for him to sign it!" And I'm happy about
this. Come to find that these are limited edition collector's items and sell for tens of thousands of dollars a piece. Yeah.
I don't think I'll be getting one of those bad boys (although asking would have been funny).

Addendum (or "Troup 54")

December 19, 2007

I am still at the airport. In the time since I sent my last email (which half of you may just now be
getting anyway) I have sat in the same "comfort chair" for 7 hours and now I am ready to move on. It has
been a long night in which the only action to speak of was when I decided that my chair could and should be
more comfortable, leading me to contort myself into an ungodly position, further leading me to throw out my
back. My body thinks I'm 60 although I assure it I'm 28.

I had some vague notion that spending the night in the airport could be fun - a sleepover of sorts, like when
your Girl Scout troup spends the night at the Museum of Science. But it was not like that, not at all.
Nobody brought me snacks, nobody sang to me, nobody packed me a sleeping bag. And also, I'm not a Girl

*to be honest, I never was a Girl Scout. I only made it as far as Brownies before dropping out. It was my
Brownie troup, Troup 54, that spent the night in the Museum of Science. I remember it was Troup 54 because
we would all sing "Troup 54 where AAAARE you?!" (like the Car 54 TV theme song). Ahh, a simpler time...

Parting Thoughts

December 19, 2007

I can't believe I'm saying this.....but I enjoyed my trip. Despite the fact that it was cold and miserable,
grey and in a month of fasting, unsanitary and isolated. Despite all that, looking back on the past
three weeks I have to admit that I enjoyed my trip. That being said, I cannot in good conscience recommend
Romania to anyone, ever. Unless you typically vacation somewhere along the Jersey turnpike I can assure you
it will be a step down.

Still, it has its charms. For one, I have never seen so many waiters, ever. Each time I have entered a
restaurant (and I use the term 'restaurant' lightly - I will get to this in a minute) I am surrounded by an
entire team of servers, at least 7 to 10 of them, ready and waiting to bring me things. Now, this does
not necessarily mean that the service is going to be good, but just the sheer volume alone impresses me. I
feel about waiters here like the Irish feel about quantity of photos taken at any given event. Quantity
over quality. Also charming: I spent an afternoon in my host Alexandra's office when I first arrived in
Bucharest. What is the first thing I see? Five women and one man all dressed as Santa, giving each other
gifts. No children in sight, yet full costumes for everyone. I asked Alexandra about this: "Oh yes!" she
exclaimed excitedly. "Santa has been visiting us!!"

Romanians seem to be excited by small things, which I like. I have had a handful of people, for example,
grab my luggage tag, read my name and address aloud, and then laugh and laugh with glee. "Wow!" they say.
I am not sure what pleases them about this, but I am happy that they are happy.

Now, onto restaurants. Romania is conspiring to drive me insane with false leads regarding their
restaurants. Signs left and right promise me food but lead me to nothing. And by nothing I mean I enter the
establishment, follow signs promising sustenance, and am led down dark stairwells to basements and
back alleys. To stray cats. It's like the country is playing a joke on me. Yesterday I finally ate lunch
in what cannot properly be called a restaurant at all. It was more like a cross between a cafe,
library, nightclub, and finally, furniture showroom. This last part really confused me: a whole section of
this place was a kitchen display, like what you would see at Jordan's furniture. Nobody was eating or
working there - it was simply there to be admired, I suppose. The bathroom smelled of citrus though, so
that I liked. I took full advantage of the food at this place, ordering first a whole quiche and Coke,
and then moving on, in very unorthodox fashion, to penne arrabiata and tea. Just to keep things fresh.
For dinner on this same day I found myself at a restaurant featuring the following house specialities:
Hungarian goulash, Transylvanian Pork Stew with Polenta, and, get this, "Pig Killing Feast." Yes,
that was the name of the dish. I was heartily encouraged to try it but declined. Even I have my limits.

Mihail (one of my hosts) met me for dinner, and before Alexandra (his girlfriend) arrived the two of us had an
hour to chat. And by "chat" I mean I had an hour to listen to Mihail give an extremely involved oral history on
Eastern Europe. I have never seen such a thing outside a lecture hall. Mihail provided me, for
45 minutes straight, with historical dates, names of kings, names of battles, names of traditions, dating
back to ancient times. It was completely and utterly ridiculous, albeit impressive. Mihail is apparently not familiar
with small talk. The other 15 minutes of our time together was spent with Mihail detailing the
new Romanian slaughterhouse regulations. As you might recall, I was already given a very thorough
introduction to this by Christy, the chanting villager from a few weeks back. Mihail confirmed that
Romanians are not at all happy with these changes (forget the fact that the changes are meant to improve
sanitation and limit animal cruelty), but that it makes no difference because nobody is going to follow
them anyway. And then he made a noise typically reserved for school girls - it was a little squeal of
delight in which he confided just how much he loves the current practice of slitting a pigs' throat. He
was like a child who just got a new bike, eyes glowing, telling me about this.

As it turns out, Romanians are regular Chatty Kathys. I had gotten this impression before, but Mihail has
confirmed it for me. They REALLY like to talk to you, about anything and everything, in language you may or
may not understand - no matter, the joy is in the telling.

The Romanians also seem to be a very generous group. Mihail and Alexandra not only housed me for two days, but
would not allow me to pay for one thing while I was there. No meals, no cabs, nothing. It didn't matter
how hard I tried, they just kept telling me to pay them "when I come back"...which should be in
about....well, when pigs fly (which will be never, what with all the slaughtering). And this morning
when I left their apartment they had a Christmas present all wrapped for me to open on the plane! How
nice is that! I need to send them some bacon, or my first born, from America.

A few more things: I met a girl in Bucharest who had tickets to a "rock concert" this week featuring
"Shakin' Stevens", who I was informed by my Romanian friends is a major star in the US. Like Elvis, they
said. To which I said, "I don't believe that's true, but we'll look it up." And now I encourage you all to
look up Shakin' Stevens. Turns out he is a Welsh singer/David Hasselhoff look-a-like. His music videos
are almost too good to be true. I have no idea how they came to think he was a hugely famous American
rock and roll star, in the league of Elvis nonetheless.

I am writing this last email from an airport in Amsterdam. Tomorrow morning I will be back in Boston.
As I depart, the one piece of advice I would like to share with Romania is this: invest in shower curtains.
They are cheap, they are practical, and they make life much, much nicer for everyone. Most of you
(Romanians) seem to have the shower curtain clips already in really, just go the extra mile
and fasten the curtain. And one piece of advice to share with Westerners who may wish to travel to this
region: When a burly Romanian man driving a beat up car through a river tells you to "RUN!" from a Gypsy
village, you should do it.

See you all back in the land of plenty,

The Emerald Isle (and London, too)

December 18, 2007

Since my last email I have moved on to greener pastures. Literally, much greener, but figuratively
as well. My time in London and Cork has come and gone, and now I find myself back in the frozen
tundra that is modern Romania. This email will re-cap some of the highlights from my time with the most
cheerful people on earth (after New Yorkers and Romanian orphans, of course):

Upon arriving in London I notice immediately that the voice of the Tube has changed. The voice that tells
you to kindly "Mind the Gap" and forewarns you when you are approaching delightful sounding places like
"Earl's Court" and "Picadilly". The voice of the tube is England's version of the voice of the man that
narrates all of our movie previews for us. It is a voice you come to expect and enjoy. And then I
remembered something I read recently: that the woman who is the voice of the tube was fired for making
inappropriate remarks in her own special tone on the Internet. Things like: "Ladies, sit especially close
to the lonely looking man next to you. He probably hasn't been laid in months." And: "To our dear
American friends, you are most likely talking a wee bit too loud." All in her lovely rolling accent. So
she was fired, where to my taste she should have been promoted for having a sense of humor (although to be
fair, I don't know what promotions are available if you are the voice of the tube...maybe they pipe in
your vocals with backup music?)

Anyway, enough about that. The first great thing to happen to me in London: McDonald's. I broke the
Orthodox village fast in fine form, ordering a cheeseburger, chicken "holiday" wrap with cranberry
sauce, and cheesy filled treats that we don't have at home. Unless they invented them while I was away,
which is possible. I was proud of myself for keeping the fast, but McDonald's is really what I'm meant for.

The British are the friendliest people on earth. Or maybe they're not, but with those accents they sure
seem to be. I called for a cab while in London only to be answered with: "You'd like a taxi?! Well OF
COURSE you can have a car love!! We'll be over in a jiffy! Safe journeys!" When I call for a cab in
Boston I am greeted with: "You wanna ca? yeah, what? yeah, we're busy...45 minutes. (phone slams)" No
pleasantries at all. And when the taxi arrived in London, a pleasant looking fellow came right up to the
door, rang the bell, and asked me if he could carry all my bags. In Boston you can sure as hell bet that
won't happen. A very long and agitated honk is the most one can hope for.

I spent the night in London with my good friend Nicola's brother Dave (it was Nicola's wedding I was
headed to in Cork). Dave is great and made me fish pie (nicer than it's like a chicken pot
pie really) and wine. Dave lives with a pair of roommates who are apparently a couple, but who I took
to be a grandfather/granddaughter team. An unlikely romance if you will. I only ultimately concluded that
they were a couple by counting the number of bedrooms and deducing that if they were not a couple then there
were some even stranger family sleeping arrangement at play. The romance was later confirmed by Nic.
Anyway, also at the home was Dave's girlfriend, who is an Olympic medalist in rowing. She could have snapped
me in half with only her pinky. But she didn't because really, why would she? I was a little
embarrassed at Dave's because I had to do all the laundry I've been neglecting for weeks, and since
Brits don't seem to have drying machines to accompany their washing machines I had to hang all of my
dainties all over the house, right in front of my new acquaintances. I'm sure they enjoyed that.

Ireland was great, the way Ireland is always great. I stayed in Cork which is exactly as you imagine Ireland
to be in the greatest ways the place can be stereotyped. Cheerful, colorful buildings, pubs on
every corner, lots of Guinness, lots of green. Perfect. It was, of course, a grey day, as it is
prone to be in Ireland. But the Irish, with characteristic good cheer, were all exclaiming on
wedding day "what a lovely day for a wedding!!!" Only in Ireland would a grey, cold day which threatened
rain be deemed a lovely day for a wedding. This is why I like the place.

My only problem in Ireland (and also in all of Europe for the matter) is my complete inability to accurately
predict where and when the two-cheeked kiss will come my way. I get ready to greet someone with a
handshake, they come at me with a kiss. I lean in for a kiss, they bump into my own face awkwardly, always
going in for the opposite side than what I had predicted. This was at its worst meeting the best man
at the wedding, where the greeting was a complete fiasco resulting in me hitting his face straight-on.
No wonder people think Americans are easy.

A few final notes on Ireland: The Irish are impressed with quantity, not quality, when it comes to taking
pictures. I was Nic's wedding photographer, and at least 40 people told me what a fantastic photographer
I was based on seeing a total of zero of my pictures. And I would say, "Yes, but you haven't SEEN the
pictures yet." To which the reply was always "Yes, but you took SO MANY!!! Brilliant!!" This is my kind
of crowd. The wedding ended with everyone kicking their legs in a big drunk circle at the pub while
the bride and groom danced to Fairytale of NY in the middle. Now THAT'S Ireland.

A few final notes on England: The English say things like "I thought you were coming at tea time!?" Imagine hearing
that in NY.

And this, this I like:
English children have been polled and the results are in. They believe that the 3 worst things a person can be
are: a terrorist, fat, drunk. This strikes me as an odd list, and perhaps the latter two categories could
be replaced with some more egregious crimes, but I am not British nor a child so I don't get to vote. I
heard this announcement in a small town called Ifield that features a monthly magazine with a lead article titled
"Is YOUR Neighbor a Curtain Twitcher?" The article states that "when it comes to feeling outdone by a neighbor, most of
those surveyed cited the garden as the prime area where their neighbors excelled." So what these children say
should be taken with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I am back in Romania now. I knew I was on my way back when, at the airport, I saw a very sketchy
looking man with a full roll of duct tape in his pocket boarding the plane to Bucharest. I pointed
this out to the airline attendant to which she cheerfully replied "No worries!" Ok then. The man
was wearing an old school Boston Red Sox jacket, the likes of which I have never seen in Boston, so at
least if he's a terrorist he has his sports loyalties in tact.