Dearest of all Stephanies,

Can I tell you something? My sandals have arrived! So, I was really surprised because Bergdorf’s website informed me that they wouldn’t ship my sandals to me until April. Yet here they are, on my dining room table. It’s uncomfortably close to immediate gratification.

This may be why I have decided to return them. A host of other possible reasons for my change of heart exist. Most notably:

Just who the hell do I think I am, ordering a pair of sandals that could pay for a month of Kim’s rent or a year’s worth of coffee prepared by, in some cases, attractive men in aprons? Do I think I’m a Hilton or something? I mean, really!

Who precisely do I think I am, ordering a pair of almost 5” leopard wedges? Pamela Anderson? Gypsy Rose Lee? Honestly, it’s virtually impossible to not look like a stripper, and while I admire their joie de vivre and their uninhibitedness, it’s not the fashion statement I’m going for at this juncture. Further, without proper training, it’s really quite difficult to walk in stilts.

Um, they cost a fortune, and I don’t have a job. Do I really need to explain this? In the intervening period between ordering them, which I’ll admit was an awesome rush, and receiving them, which as I’ve said was all too quick, I fucking came to my senses. (No, I am not on drugs.)

As soon as I slipped my feet into them and took my first wobbly step, it just felt wrong. So, so wrong. It’s perhaps not unlike when you see a guy/girl, and from a distance, prior to any actual interaction, you think, Yummy. I think I just met my soul mate. Then maybe you get to know this person—grab a drink one night, maybe some lunch one afternoon, maybe you even make out with him/her a little—and it suddenly dawns on you: S/he is an idiot. What the hell was I thinking?

It’s like that with my sandals. Sometimes love at first sight is the beginning of something beautiful and profound, and other times, it’s just one big mind fuck.

Love,

Stella

May I take your order?

March 27, 2009

My dearest Stephanie,

 

Ah, the ole food and beverage industry job. I had one of those myself. I don’t know why I wasn’t in charge of cleaning the bathroom. Just lucky, I guess. Though I did once have to fish a cockroach out of a large vat of marinara sauce with a slotted spoon. I can’t recall if we cleaned the spoon after.

 

It was an Italian restaurant, family-owned (no uniform required). It was called either Bella’s, Mama’s, or Mama Bella’s. I can’t remember which. Tucked improbably in a residential neighborhood, take-out was big, though we did have a small dining room with about ten tables.

 

I took the phone orders, prepared the pizza boxes, and rang the register. Because I closed five nights a week, I had to count and organize the money. Did I mention I was in high school? Did I mention I’ve always taken the dumb/disinterested math classes? It’s amazing how my aptitude for numbers demonstrably improved when my paycheck (and, concurrently, my SAT scores) was at stake. In the educational world, I suppose we might call this applied knowledge, or we might make an argument about the importance of learning in context.

 

Anyway, I loved this job. I really liked being around people (no surprise here) and also the camaraderie among the staff. After the restaurant closed, we’d all hang out in the dining room eating pizza while I did my thing with the money.

 

Now that last sentence may have given you pause, given that I earlier mentioned a cockroach in a vat of sauce. Don’t be alarmed! We had white pizza that night.

 

I could say that I learned four things from this experience:

 

1. Don’t eat out! God only knows what’s happening back there. As you know, this is not a lesson I have heeded, as I eat out virtually every day, sometimes for more than one meal a day. It’s some kind of weird compulsion! So the lesson I actually learned was something more like: It’s super nice having someone else cook for and serve you, especially if it’s a man, and he’s wearing an apron.

 

2. I love a man in an apron!

 

3. Money must always be organized! My house may be a mess, my car may be a mobile garbage dump, but my wallet is always impeccably tidy—first the Georges, then the Lincolns, then the Hamiltons, then the Jacksons, all facing the same direction (I do not carry Benjamins on a regular basis, or any basis, really).

 

4. I prefer interacting with people over entering data. At the same time as I was doing this job in the evenings, I was also doing data entry as an office temp during the day (it was summer). That job sucked. It was boring as hell, and I once got trapped in the building’s elevator between floors. After half an hour, I finally had to scream for help, which was embarrassing.

 

Love,

Stella

Dearest Stella,

Let me take you back, way back.

The place: Wendy’s. Johnston, Rhode Island.

The year: 1989. My senior year of high school—the year, as we all know, when it is least important to be cool.

At Wendy’s, the burger smell permeated my hair and clothes. I still remember the giant trash bag, nearly the size of my whole body, filled with “fresh” salad. It was one of my jobs to dump it in the salad bar bins. I would watch the burger-flippers flip burgers on the floor (purposely), then scoop them up and back on the buns and laugh as they added lettuce, tomato, and their own version of “special sauce.” I would stand at the register, watch the people stare at the menu.

“Can I help you?” I’d ask politely.

“Ummmm…” They would stare and stare and stare and stare, “Ummmm….”

I became, during this time, intimately acquainted with the inside of people’s noses. For some reason, maybe I was shorter than them or the menu was the perfect height to angle their faces just so, I had a perfect view of this most private orifice. Some people contemplated the menu with fingers pinching lips together; others pulled absent-mindedly on earlobes; other fingers—I swear— came very close to picking the noses themselves. People travel to some strange inner worlds when they’re trying to decide between the cow and the chicken. I imagined the cow as the devil on one shoulder, the chicken as the angel.

“I’d do the large fry if I were you,” the devil cow says.

“Don’t do it,” says the angel chicken,” You’ll regret it in the morning.”

“Pick it,” says the cow, “Your nose. Just pick it quickly, no one will see.”

“Don’t do it,” says the chicken, “the girl behind the counter is watching.”

One day, I was on duty “out on the floor.” I was on my hands and knees, scraping the crud off the bottom of the table legs (while people were sitting and eating—not right, I know, but what’s a working girl to do?) The man at the table I was “cleaning” looked down at me and said,

“You’ll make someone a fine housewife someday.”

Really. He said this.

(And somehow, I still love people.)

Clearly he was not prophetic.

But the real place of learning was the men’s bathroom. (And here I can attest to the fact that cleaning toilets is, indeed, a “skill” position). My best friend Shayna knew the ropes at Wendy’s. She taught me how to clean the urinals by madly shooting the spray bottle, much in the manner of these fine women:

femme2

pam-grier2

demimooreangels2

Except, the Wendy’s uniform was a bit more confining (Did I mention this was 1989?).
wendys-uniform23

They say such jobs are “character-building.”

Thank you, Wendy’s, for making me:

1. A vegetarian
2. A terrible “housewife” (yes, that’s right, I blame you)
3. A mean sharp shooter
4. A speedy food orderer
5. A lover of clean toilets, low-waisted pants (I mean really, look at the height of those Dickies), and salad from a bag.

love,
Stephanie

Can you cover that?

March 19, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

 

Imagine, if you will, retching.  The stomach acids begin to churn.  Slightly, slightly.  A hint of things to come.  Slowly, the feeling of wretcheness travels up from the stomach, towards the brain—the source of our problems to begin with.  Next, the throat constricts.  The tongue protrudes slightly from the mouth. The eyes cannot help but bulge just a little.  They are, after all, the windows to the soul—the source of our problems to begin with. As the soul suffers, as the body enacts the suffering, the eyes reflect the inner torment. 

 

Yes, that’s right. I too have been “working on” a non-academic jobs cover letter. (Read: considered the possibility that I may have to produce a document, at some point in the very near future, that describes my past and potential future contributions as an employee, if I can’t get away with just a few sentences that say very little about anything of import.)  

 

As it turns out, writing cover letters is the surest way to elicit the most horrifyingly awful and mindless and sickening prose I’ve ever written (I have returned to this sentence repeatedly to add more descriptors in an effort to capture the profoundly horrible prose this process inevitably results in). 

 

I wonder why this is so? 

 

I’m thinking of giving up on the whole stinking, odious, disgusting enterprise because I cannot imagine writing a letter that would inspire anyone on the planet to hire me for anything, including cleaning toilets, which, while very admirable (I’m very grateful to those responsible for keeping public toilets clean), is not what one would commonly refer to as a “skill” position, suggesting that I could, in fact, do it. 

 

… I am writing to inquire about a position cleaning toilets. My experience using toilets makes me uniquely qualified for such a position.  I have been using toilets since I was 2–a rather early age, I’m sure you’ll agree, and one that, again, makes me particularly qualified to clean toilets of all kinds, including bidets …

 

And to think one of my dissertation committee members once called my writing “smooth, mature, and polished.”

 

At the commencement of this auspicious, cover letter-writing task, I briefly contemplated doing bodily harm to myself—purely of the maiming variety, you understand, because I don’t actually have a death wish.  A host of existential questions ensued, which led to my brief contemplation of aforementioned … well, you know.  So anyway, some of these existential questions include, but are not limited to, the following: 

 

  • Why do I live if I cannot write a cover letter? 
  • Why do I think I can turn my dissertation research into a book if I cannot write a simple, 500-word cover letter? 
  • Why, if I cannot write a cover letter, do I think I can coach others to write compositions of greater length, substance, and import than a cover letter? 
  • How can I be a good mother if I cannot write a cover letter? 
  • What’s up with the damn cover letter? 

 

Then, I considered that perhaps I should lower my expectations and not make writing a cover letter a “litmus 
test,” as someone close to me once said, “of [my] right to exist as a human being.”

 

At the same time, I will confess that when I stumble across job ads that invite me to “apply online,” I become paralyzed by the request to “paste cover letter in the box below.” Invariably, I instead find myself clicking on the red circle in the top left corner of the window, sending the job application back into cyber-oblivion. Bye-bye, potential job.

 

Then I pledge to live another day in order that I may attempt, once again, to write a cover letter of such startling and profound beauty that my future employers will, after spending a full 10 minutes weeping (as a necessary emotional release), immediately call to hire me. 

 

Love,

Stella

 

Dear Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh:

I am writing to apply for any position in one of your museums. Well, not “any” position, but any position for which I might be the least bit qualified, though I realize I may not appear to be qualified for any of them because I have taught writing, not art, and I am fully aware that the world in which we live is a specialized, compartmentalized one, and that Writing is Writing and Art is Art. (Here I can’t help but giggle, hearing “Art” as my father would say it in his Rhode Island accent, “Aht’), but alas, this brings me no further towards working at one of your museums, which, let’s face it, I want to work at not because I truly care about the “youth of today” and their access to art and culture—don’t get me wrong, I do care about them but I care about a lot of things, and if I were to prioritize, I’d put the animals first; there are enough other people who care about youth and art to make me feel little or no guilt about not making it my priority—but because I am bored out of my skull here in Pittsburgh and hope that somehow, spending time at one of your museums—preferably the Warhol because my friends will think it’s cool—“working,” as it were, will increase my chances of being in the right place at the right time when something remotely “interesting” or even “less boring” might occur.

Which leads me back to my application, and my clarification of what “work” might mean in this case. I must admit, this is a frustrating application to write, though albeit an amusing one, because I must post one (and only one) cover letter and resumé on your website, though I am allowed to apply to as many jobs as I find suited to my particular experience and interest, or, in my case, as many jobs as I would like to pretend are suited to my interest and experience. But see, that’s just the thing. Everyone knows that cover letters and resumés are pretend, at least partially; we have all looked over our friend’s shoulder and stolen a few key action verbs from their resumé; perhaps we have stolen more, because we know the golden rule: act as if the job you are applying for is the “only” job you have eyes for because it is THE perfect job for you; the ole’ job monogamy scam. Your website, kind people, makes this impossible. What am I to do? Tell you the truth, that I will take anything that you think might be good for me? That I can sing, dance, squat, crouch, whatever you need, I’m your man? When in reality, I might arrive on that first day with a cup of tea and some high heeled black boots (unless, of course, I procur the “Gallery Attendant” job, in which case I will be wearing those granny shoes with the clear gummy soles to insure optimal comfort while standing for eight hours, during which time I will keep my senses on guard in case I “hear, smell, or see anything funny” (as your job description so intriguingly requests)—which, while I’m at it, makes me wonder: what smells might I smell while guarding Warhol’s shellacked dog that would require a “call for help” or an occasion to lift the “50 pound fire extinguisher,” and wouldn’t there be more assurance that a fire might be put out if the extinguisher weren’t so big and anyone could lift it?) and my fancy suit, and while I probably will be unable to eat breakfast due to first-day-at-the-job nerves, I will also most likely come with an attitude that I am, though most definitely not quite qualified for the job, better than the job, no less.

Which brings me back, once again, to the jobs. Which jobs? I don’t know—can’t you just look at my materials and you figure out which job I would be best suited for, since you know the jobs and I don’t? No, I suppose that would be asking too much, so I’ll try to pick, in the order in which they have been listed.

Part time program presenter: I like to present things. I like to be in front of people talking or gesturing or generally clowning around, trying to get attention and some laughs. I especially like the laughs. If I can act like an animal that’s fun too. The job description says I need to have a sense of humor, which clearly I have, except when I am the butt of a joke, or on a depressed day, which, undoubtedly, if I come work for you, will fall on one of the days (I’m being modest here, most likely it will be many of the days) I will be working for you. The description tells me I also shouldn’t be afraid of heights, which I sometimes am. You don’t specify what kind of heights – are we talking bungee jumping off a bridge? Or climbing up a climbing wall? These are different. Why won’t you tell me? You also say I have to have a “Willingness to demonstrate cooking, chemicals and hot metal a must,” and the fact that I am already feeling indignant that I might have to touch such things (never mind smell them, which will make me confused and then I will become the laughing stock of the audience, which I will definitely not have a “sense of humor” about) tells me I am not your man.

Education program specialist: Children’s studio instructor(s): I am indeed, on my good days, “creative and energetic,” and I was an artist educator for the Whitney Museum of American Art, where I “taught” high school students in the Bronx who had been kicked out of their regular high schools for behavioral issues or pregnancy. When I say “taught” what I really mean is I screamed at the top of my little baby voice to a room overfull of yelling hopping whooping students while their regular teacher, burned out and cynical, “took a break.” I took these kids to an exhibit at the Whitney and came up with a fantastic curriculum that got them looking at art, connecting it to their own experiences, and writing about it, or was supposed to, but really, they didn’t give a shit about me or my “white-ass” agenda. I waited for one of those movie moments where together we cross boundaries of race, class, and gender, and sing side-by-side in a choir led by Whoopi Goldberg herself in the finals of a competition only the best of the best can enter, but alas, it did not come, and I decided, instead, to teach only privileged students after that.

In theory, I love it when you talk about the museum’s “student-centered, inquiry-based philosophy” that builds on “collaboration, problem solving, and listening skills,” but really, when I read this, I hear “collaboration” as “everyone must work together to make sacrifices for our country and our company in these tough times,” and I hear “problem solving and listening skills,” as “just keep quiet and don’t say a thing” when we tell you there will be no raises due to “impending economic hardship.”

Speaking of “impending economic hardship,” I need a job! Thanks so much for your time and consideration, and by “consideration,” I mean “pity.”

Sincerely,
Dr. Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,

I want to post. Really, really I do. I think my problem is that I’m hampered by 1) my own perfectionism and 2) by an unhealthy reliance on the inspiration model of writing. Oh, and also by 3) my laziness. These are all related, by the way.

So let me start by saying, speaking of shoes, yesterday, I purchased an exorbitantly expensive pair of wedge sandals from Bergdorf Goodman’s website. They are exquisite. Some sort of leopard style, 4 7/10-inch wedge heels. Yum. I will be almost 5’7” in them—that’s like losing 10 pounds! Here they are:

BGS09_X0BGX

How ridiculously fabulous are these sandals?! So ridiculously fabulous that I had to preorder them. They won’t ship until approximately April 13, which is fine, really, because I won’t be able to wear them until then anyway. And now I have something to look forward to. Immediate gratification is overrated.

Some of the things I could have purchased in lieu of these sandals:

  1. A sub-par quality desktop computer (I already have a computer)
  2. One month’s rent of my friend Kim’s apartment (almost…anyway, she has a job and can pay her own rent)
  3. Two months worth of groceries (I can skip food until my sandals arrive—I’ll be extra svelte and that much sexier!)
  4. Four plane tickets to come visit you (don’t worry—I’ll still come visit you: I have a substantial credit limit…for now)
  5. A weekend in Florida (plane ticket plus two nights at a three-star hotel)
  6. 89 packs of American Sprits Lights (I know you’re smiling now, imagining me too poor to afford cigarettes)
  7. 239 iced, venti coffees, with sugar-free vanilla, at Starbucks
  8. 149 trips to Dunkin Donuts for a large coconut iced-coffee (black) and a chocolate frosted donut, with sprinkles
  9. The services of a publicist (I had one, though, and he was lame)

This is why the internet, and indeed all technology, is evil—because when I get depressed (I mean, rendered ineffectual) trying to find a job, I can blow my credit on expensive footwear I can’t afford … because I don’t have a job. Because, you see, the computer made me do it.

So what happened is that I was doing internet research for my article, and then a voice whispered, “search ‘wedge sandals’” into my ear. I think it was google. I still don’t understand why google sent me to Bergdorf’s. Does google assume we can afford Bergdorf’s? I think that’s a little elitist, actually. Perhaps I should sue google. I would like a search engine that’s a little more sensitive to the recession, please.

But it was love at first sight. It could not be denied. You get this with people sometimes, too, but people are complicated, with “emotional issues” and “relationship baggage” and other annoying shit. Shoes, because they are inanimate objects, do not pose such problems. They love unconditionally. It’s so satisfying.

So. I will do my best not to look at my credit card balance, just the little box that holds the minimum payment amount. And I will otherwise be a very good little girl. I will eat all my vegetables (when I can afford them again). I will send my minimum payment on time. I will get lots of sleep (because I can’t afford to go out anyway). I will whip up three-course gourmet meals out of whatever I can find in my cabinets instead of eating out/ordering in every last meal (I’ve got a 10-pack of microwave popcorn mini bags sitting around, so that solves dinner). Um, what else?

Oh, right—of course: I will continue my job search.

Love,

Stella

notforsale3

Dear Stella,

Since I arrived here in Vieques, the thought bubble above my head has looked something like this:

Mmmm. Sun—good. Water—Good.

It’s true, I’ve gone all caveman in a matter of two days.

Shortly after we arrived, D and I were walking down the balmy streets of Isabel II (a delightful little town near the ferry dock) amidst trotting near-wild horses and their shockingly young bare-back riders (we have joked that if we were in Park Slope they would still be in strollers, their long pre-pubescent legs and feet scraping the ground as their mommas push them along 7th Avenue) and stray friendly dogs, laughter spilling out from the Mar Azul, the local bar (and fabulous sunset spot). Mar Azule

As we walked I heard a voice. Not one of those voices that comes from inside a tooth and warns of CIA activity; not the voice of an angel, nor the devil. This was one of those voices others have described as an “inner voice,” or one’s “heart speaking.” It certainly wasn’t my head, which talks fast and a lot and loves to reason through things, contradict itself, point out its own contradictions, find all the holes in its own theories and arguments. No. This voice was succinct and clear. It said:

I want to live an unconventional life!

Now, you might say to me, Stephanie, I, um, don’t mean to interrupt, but don’t you already live an unconventional life? You are shacked up with a beautiful woman; you don’t work; you write all day (or whatever it is you do); you don’t answer to anybody—what more could you want?

Perhaps I am greedy. Or perpetually dissatisfied. Good, solid arguments might be made for both of these diagnoses, and I’d be inclined to listen. I have, after all, feared many a time that I am both greedy and perpetually dissatisfied. But I am also capable of supreme pleasure. And though being still is not my strong point, I have experienced a kind of contentment in my life, a being in the moment maybe—or rather, a being in my body, as my previous thought bubble indicates.

What I really feel is this: my dissatisfaction is always trying to tell me something. It is something to be listened to. It is what urges and inspires me to change my situation, to keep moving and growing. I am lazy. I need to be uncomfortable to do things. Dissatisfaction is the lazy woman’s alarm clock.

What does it mean to live an unconventional life? True, I do live one already. I have, as they said in the 1960s, chosen to “drop out” of the conventional American work/relationship model. But dropping out is not enough (more evidence of me being greedy?) I am resisting—indeed refusing—to participate in what doesn’t feel right to me, but I have not yet created something in its place. This is what I feel I must do.

I don’t know what this looks like yet.

I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert, and she inspires me to travel, to learn languages, to gorge myself on succulent foods, and to write. I think—Yes! I need to travel, especially because I have grown afraid (of the unknown, and more importantly, of bugs), and I have grown sensitive (my poor tummy shudders even at the mention of traveling, but dear tummy, we must go on…) I think—Yes! I want to try on lives like they are shoes. Yes! I want to expand my world. I don’t want to be The Tourist (1); I want to be The Interloper. The Trespasser. I want access. I want to see the different me’s I might become.

I think about the benefits of not getting call-backs from the jobs I apply to. I may be offended (who do they think they are, anyway?), but I am also secretly relieved. I think about what I might have access to while being outside the conventional working world (I used to like the word “maverick” but can no longer look at it the same way). What becomes open to me, or what opens itself to me, when I am not allowed to “settle down?” (Now that my bank account is closed, what opens in its place?)

I have the chance to ask myself: what do I want?

And I have the chance to make mistakes as I try to find it, try to find out what it is.

I wanted to be funny tonight. But I feel too alive, too urgent to be so. I have tapped into something here, on this island that is, as the concrete fence by the ferry dock so aptly says, “not for sale.” (2)

I hear you, little island! I, too, am not for sale. I have to give things up because of this. (3) I have to live with uncertainty, stress, longing. (4) But this feels right, at least for now. (5)

Mmmmm. Unconventional—good.

(1). Irony that I am, indeed, a tourist here duly noted.
(2). Irony that I am contributing to the sale of Vieques while vacationing here duly noted.
(3). Irony that I would, indeed, (and may have to) sell myself to pay off the debt of this vacation duly noted.
(4). Irony that I am even on what I have just called a “vacation” even though I am currently not working duly noted.
(5). All other ironies, past, present, future or imagined, duly noted.

forsale11
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