There’s that old saying about which is thicker, and therefore deserves the ultimate loyalty. (One is decidedly more drinkable; please don’t test it.)
But I learned from a Cracked article [where I learn most of my baller/ meaningless trivia] that the proverb’s been twisted. It doesn’t refer to your biological family like we think these days– it means the one you picked. Blood, as in blood-oaths and war; water, as in of-the-womb relatives. In short: your buddies are better than genetics, because you actually CHOSE them. You love family because you have to; you love your friends because you want to. And life is a fucking battle, so choose wisely who has your back.
I’ve always said something similar: one of the greatest things about growing up is this ability to choose your family. Because that’s who your friends become. The further away from the biological you move and grow, the more you turn to the surrogates in your life. The girlfriends who build a new sisterhood. The guy who steps in as an older brother, to roughhouse and/or protect you. A boss with those mystical parental powers of approval and judgement. On a very basic level, the majority of us will always have some makeshift family dynamic in our day-to-day lives. Whether you find them in the workplace or social circles (or both), the family dynamic is inescapable and omnipotent. It shapes your life.
As kids, friendships are forged mostly by default. You’re the same age, in the same class, seated next to each other alphabetically, or managed to have the same Ninja Turtles backpack. In high school, you shared the same athletic/academic/artistic talent (or mutual lackthereof), and were in the same clique. And college isn’t much different. Majors stick together, and dorm-mates bond. But out here in the real world? It can be harder as adults to find your family.
Freshly pushed from the collegiate nest, we wander like hatchlings [read: idiots] around our new adult lives for a while crying “Are you my mother?” Think about it. For those of you who moved to DC without a support system– and knowing this city, it’s a large majority of us– there was a deep part of you starving for that close-as-blood connection. Some of us turn to classes or clubs to find it within similar interests (fuck bocce ball; but hashing is a “Jules Approved Activity”). Others simply go to a bar to meet people (arguably a similar interest, to those of us alcoholically-minded). Nearly everyone throws themselves into work until life figures itself out.
I don’t know what it’s like to move here without a single friend. Two of my best, Otoño and Sally, were already here. And that was hard enough! But between work and play, I found a few family trees to graft on to. My Restaurant the first year adopted me into a polyglot family spanning over a dozen global cultures. I had a fierce bunch of aunts and uncles, big brothers and sisters, all making sure I ate enough food and had the hugs needed to keep spirits up. Team United Nations pulled me into the wild world of clubs, DJs, and partying the sun to rise. Josef and the Roomies fill in as older brothers keeping me in touch with the art world.
And now, My Bar serves as home base. With a majority of the staff fighting in the DC job market, yet taking pride in Industry life, we understand each other on a very real level. In addition to our “Sunday is Coming” tradition, which kicked off to an awesome start on Easter, we typically meet on Mondays. The Pinch, our friendly neighborhood dive, has made Mondays their Industry Night– meaning certain astronomical specials for those in the know. The rest of the week, we knock off work and set up camp at the corner table at Wonderland Ballroom, where similar benefits are ensured. We take full advantage of industry connections, and have established strong familial ties between our bars.
With that said, sometimes there’s nothing like your literal family. Junior visited with Abigail only once since Inauguration, and it almost felt like a tease because I had to work all weekend. Last week was Fabala’s spring break from high school, and it nearly broke my heart that a visit fell through. On top of it all, my dad was in the hospital for a fair bit (he’ll be alright, but a reoccurring worry). I had to work so much that I still haven’t gotten to pop home and see him. I’m currently the only veteran server at My Bar, and responsibility lays heavy.
The one thing keeping me going: I did get to visit Big Bro up in Philly a month ago; it was ridiculously awesome. He toured me around his favorite bars and restaurants, hopping from one bangin brewery to another craft cocktail bar. He works at one of Starr’s places, the Dandelion, where even their TOAST will make your mouth orgasm. I now have both a new favorite beer and drink– Triumph Brewery‘s Scotch Ale and Continental Midtown‘s ‘Blood and Sand’, a blood orange and scotch drink. I love DC and everything in it, but Philly’s mind-blowing food and drink culture reminded me why I almost moved there or NYC. [No worries, I don’t regret my decision.] One of the greatest things I left my visit with, though, was a strong calm with being an industry worker. Philly is such a great blue-collar-creative environment, and seeing everyone’s pride in their restaurants gave me a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in DC. So thanks to Big Bro, his lady, and all those goobers for the heaps of Brotherly Love.
Which I soon have the chance to return. Junior and Abigail are talking about visiting next weekend. The week after is Big Bro’s and my group of friends’ huge family reunion concert in Philly with our boys, The Heavy Pets (definitely check them out). A month later, the Phillies come down to play the Nats, which ensures a whole bundle of crazy along with it. Then Jules Junior, my pride and joy, graduates from university and officially begins the permanent move back to Our Nation’s Capital! In between all the Clan Jules activities, you can be sure there will be a pile of trouble with my District Family. Because life is best when you have a bunch of love from all corners. Stay tuned.
And because I can’t let the opportunity go to introduce you, this is from last year’s show:
You know how Star Wars started off brilliantly, sucked for a bit in the Empire Strikes Back, and then nailed it again in the final film? Because that’s been my past few months.
Wait– you’re not a 40 year old nerd-virgin [nerdgin?] reading this at 4 a.m. in your parent’s basement between Halo games? My bad; I’ll explain.
So Star Wars is hands down one of the greatest stories of all time. [Just accept this as fact and continue.] I’m not talking about those new-fangled crap ones with Hayden Christiansen and CGI with speech impediments, which are not recognized in my world. I mean the original three. I grew up fighting with my siblings over whether to watch the one where the guys have to slice open and climb inside an unlucky animal in order to survive arctic weather, or to watch the one with those fucking adorable ewoks.
Y’know which one typically won out? The one with fucking adorable ewoks. Because Return of the Jedi is the best of the trilogy, and Empire Strikes back is just a heap of daddy issues and really weird incestuous undertones. Can’t beat ewoks.
So my past year’s been stellar. It had it’s ups and downs, sure, but it’s overall been pretty on par with A New Hope [the lesser-known but actual title of the first Star Wars film]:
1: I moved away from my childhood home [which was considerably cooler than Luke’s, despite our lack of robots].
2: I’ve met a bunch of charismatic, attractive new friends who are equal parts totally awesome and complete trouble: check.
3: I’ve even hung out in bars with aliens to drink questionable cocktails and listen to funky jazz. Done and done.
Conclusion: I am Luke Skywalker.
Which brings me to the Empire Strikes Back– the second movie, and my past few months.
I switched restaurants to one in my actual neighborhood, with the added bonus of live music three nights a week. The food is great, drinks even better, and staff rocks my socks. My coworkers are a great [yes, and dysfunctional] family. I’ve mostly worked five or six shifts a week, have added ‘Bartender’ to my growing list of titles, and remembered just how much I genuinely enjoy serving. [Much better than hosting.] It’s been a lot of hard work, harder hours, and working to properly balance the ‘party hard’ end of that equation. I struggled with my identity as a college graduate working in underemployment. Never thought I would identify with something as dorky as Luke Skywalker, but I was definitely feeling his level of angst at my current state.
After two months of that, I received a call from my former Middle East policy internship. They needed a new, part-time coordinator during the week, and wanted me. Oh, happy day! So now I’m working at the office during the day, fending off pushy calls from diplomats and journalists, and nights and the bar, indulging my smartass social side. It’s a fair balance. There are even ewoks. [In the form of cute, nerdy hipsters; working our Trivia Night every week has been fun.] I’m still mid-movie and have yet to do final battle with Darth Job-Market to triumph for a full-time, stable, field-appropriate job…. But I’m definitely enjoying the plot for right now.
And, folks… there are even some dating shenanigans afoot. I happen to be a bit sweet on a certain cute nerd from one of my bar’s regular trivia teams, and just might do something about it. He’s no Han Solo, but his dimples and stellar trivia scores make up for it. And to throw family back into the mix, Jules Junior is coming to visit this weekend… I’m sure THAT will stir up enough trouble for our next chapter….
Signing off to return to top secret Dating-Jedi business [until I tell you about it next time],
p.s. I would like to conclude that this has, without a doubt, been the dweebiest thing I’ve ever written– but hey, since I wrote it, it’s now geek chic. And if you’ve read this far, it looks like I’m in good company.
One day, I received a text from my sister saying, “My friend’s pet rabbit ran away!!!”
Naturally, I empathetically responded, “Oh no! They need help looking for it?”
“Nope. Now it’s just some bunny that I used to know.”
So in case you were wondering, these are the types of shenanigans White House Interns get up to during the day– texting siblings ridiculous jokes and emailing each other songs on their closed network. Yes, folks. Now that she’s finished her program, I can out Jules Junior and her bestie Abigail as having been overworked and unpaid grunts down at the President’s house. [They of course loved it and can’t wait to come back.]
Between starting at a new restaurant [anyone like low country BBQ?], knuckling down with the real-job search, miraculously scraping together rent, and sending my sister back to the motherland after the end of her Capital Tour…. it’s been a long two months. I tried writing several times, honest! But, I apologize; either I passed out from sheer exhaustion or simply haven’t had it in me to update. Much has changed, so it’s been a contemplative time.
August is a great time of Exodus in DC. Mini-Me and her fellow W.H.interns returned to their universities, more clueless munchkins replace them, and Congress reconvened [after each side finished their respective Convention circuses]. My teacher-friends are now cracking the whip on a new batch of deviants, and those still learning things went back to classes.
On a more personal note, one of my best friends here left to join her husband in a far-away South American land. Otoño has been my rock since moving to DC, helping me to carve out a solid home out of this transient place, and always my natural go-to comfort for professional and romantic woes. I have been utterly desolate without her– consolation via brownies would be welcome.
September was about getting my shit together. I’ve no problem admitting I was hurting a bit. My sister’s gone, my best friend moved, and I was coming off a romantic roller-coaster that jerked me around a bit too much [hereafter known as the Mistake]. It was a hectic time, and I threw myself into overtime at the restaurant. [Added bonus: more-than-rent income!] In my book, the best way to re-motivate socially is to focus in on awesome friends and fun activities. So I explored several major DC-centric events [details to come].
But my greatest revelation: I am no longer interested in transition. No more of this “just for now” nonsense. Gone are the times of only seeing friends in some speaker-blasting club or over-crowded bar. I’m tired of never seeing guys for more than a month. Window shoppers can keep it moving, and the pro temps can apply for interim work elsewhere. I am looking to take root. Find a job to settle into and individuals to share in the experience.
So, with that in mind, I would like to say goodbye to all those bunnies that I used to know… and hello to the future that matters. It’s time to arrive.
Naturally, a mama mallard is shadowed by her babies. And our Officer Bobby is used to being trailed by adoring children [seriously, it’s the cutest, all-American thing ever]– but combine the two forces of nature? As my sister so aptly put in her response to my text about it, “OH JESUS DOCUMENT THAT SHIT FOR ALL THAT IS HOLY”.
So for those of you not included among Twitter-addicts (twits? twats?), we witnessed the cutest thing at work yesterday: Officer Bobby, our friendly neighborhood cop, was seen escorting a mama mallard and her dozen ducklings down Connecticut Avenue.
Office Bobby [Officer Robert Fennell of the DC Metro PD] fulfilled his duty to protect and serve Washington DC residents in what he says is the second time herding ducklings to safety. Lucky us, this time was caught on camera! He came across them wandering the streets, and clearly lost. As he does with most bewildered tourists, he tried giving them directions. When that failed, he personally escorted them to safety [i.e. the park five blocks away].
In light of a very similar instance with the White House Secret Service and likely related trouble-making mallards, I’m now convinced the DC Police/duck relationship is Washington’s version of the classic firefighter/kitten-in-a-tree scenario. As Rachel Maddow says, it’s just gotta melt your heart!
They did try to stop in for lunch at the Italian place a few doors down, but the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy kicked them to the curb.
My video of the precious moment:
And the Secret Service clip from awhile back, just because it’s amazing:
It has been a full year since I moved here to the day, and this is now officially the longest relationship I’ve been in– way to break my record! Honestly, if anyone could do it, it would be Washington. This city has stamina.
And it seems like, for anniversary presents, DC is sending a bunch of changes and exciting things my way. Hooray! I love surprises!
First and foremost, my sister has come to stay for the summer! The lucky little genius is interning at one of those extra-important buildings downtown, which security measures prevent me from naming at this time [though I’m told I’ll be allowed to divulge this after her program is over]. So this means we’re time-travelling back to the good ol’ days when we shared a room way back in the 90’s. [She will hereafter be known as Jules Jr., Junior, JJ, or any other inanity that strikes my fancy. Especially Ducky, her character from Land Before Time when we were kids.] Yessirree, it’s going to be a summer-long slumber party, backyard potluck, and city life sisterhood– with the added big-kid-bonus of [mostly-] legally-obtained adult beverages.
Everyone’s response to the news seems to be a cautiously probing, “So… is this a good thing?” And my answer is always an ecstatic “YES!” Junior and I are perfectly alike and wonderfully different in all those fun, symbiotic ways that make sisters awesome. I’d say it’s worth giving up some privacy [and yes, certain adult uses of the bedroom] to share an epic summer with my Second in Command. Call it the honeymoon phase, but it’s been a week, and we’re having a blast. We will be hosting our first shared soiree this Saturday, and it’s sure to be full of memorable, wodkamelon-induced shenanigans.
That’s right, there have been some moves on the job-front. Last week, I found a wonderfully enthusiastic staffing agency that’s excited to help, and within 24 hours, secured me an interview. I ran over to the development firm interested in meeting me and had a fantastic interview; unfortunately, they went with someone more qualified.
In an effort for full honesty, I was a bit broken-hearted after the news yesterday. I called my mom, reached out to some friends, had a therapeutic cry, then went to the restaurant for work. At work, everyone seemed to pick up on the mood and were extra-adorable in playing around with me. It turned into a pretty zen night, despite the chaos of a surprisingly hectic turnout for a Monday night. I think I find my inner balance way easier when surrounded by chaos– my place in hospitality and politics should be no surprise.
C’est la vie, right? At least they wanted to meet me in the first place! Now waiting for the next interview to be lined up, so fingers crossed that big changes come my way.
Heatin’ Up for the Summer
And I’m not just talking about the weather… That’s right, I’m rather taken with a guy. Next post will cough up the dirt, I promise, but I’ll just say this: the Classicist is absolutely fascinating. It was out of nowhere, and is still surprising me, but I’m loving it. No, I’m still stuck in my monoga-me lifestyle, so no domestication is in sight. But now I can explore the new concept of ‘affair’ I’ve been toying with. More to come [pun intended?].
I’m recommitting to writing here. After recent advice [of both the maternal and friendly varieties], I’ve accepted that I can only keep truckin’ to fight the job market. But until then… I should try to figure out what it is I genuinely enjoy doing, and maybe find a way to make a living with it. I know I deeply love growing this site and expanding its possibilities, so that’s my mission for the summer. Take Dating the District to a new level, and see where it in turn takes me– are you ready, DC?
And the ultimate summer feel-good tunes:
I have some sassy remarks for a one Mr. Paul Simms of The New Yorker for his piece this week called “Restaurant Mental-Health-Code Violations“. It understandably caught my eye this morning, being a current and long-time member of the hospitality industry, and I looked forward to reading its quippy prose today on my bus to work [again: at a restaurant].
I was sorely disappointed.
Being the naive thing I am capable of being on occasion, I comically thought it was written for those of us in service, and as a pointed reminder to the served population that they should brush up on their manners. Clearly, I’ve put on airs and have risen far above my station with the thought of correcting my betters– so I’m going to run with it and mutiny in style. Ah, I love the fresh taste of insubordination in the morning!
The Article, with Suggested Revisions
Mr. Simms: Hostess at virtually empty restaurant asks customers if they have a reservation, then types on computer, then seats them at table right next to the only other customers in the restaurant.
Jules: Party of fifteen walks into a hectic restaurant on a Friday night, asks for a “quiet table” “away from children”. When hostess asks if they have a table reserved for them, party responds over the loud din of a crowded restaurant “oh, did we need one?” Five minutes later, they begin to teach the hostess how to do her own job by pointing at an empty table, asking if they can sit there, and making a fuss when they’re told it’s reserved. We don’t bust into your office and show you how to make a tax spreadsheet just because our refunds aren’t arriving quickly enough; I know it takes time and I haven’t a clue on the details of the system. Try that concept on for size.
Customer over the age of thirty-five is told by server that chocolate dessert is “tight,” “off the hook,” and also “the bomb.”
Customer requests a “regular” sized drink, at the “normally hot” temperature, with the “usual amount of cream/sugar/etc”, despite the fact that they used entirely subjective terms. Customer returns five minutes later with the drink upset that it is too small, too hot, and not sweet enough. [Also: haven’t heard “the bomb” since middle school.]
Open kitchen layout allows customers a clear view of line cook wearing regulation hairnet but no covering on his gigantic, filthy lumberjack beard.
Customer harasses hostess into rapidly cleaning and re-seating them at a table, then complains about the surface being wet. Yes… that’s because it was cleaned literally five seconds ago, and someone was impatient. They later go into the bathroom and leave piles of used paper towels, puddles of water, and soap dripping everywhere. It’s ok, the staff will clean it.
Server repeatedly and aggressively uses the words “mootz-arell ” and “pruh-zhoot ” with a straight face, almost as if taunting.
Customer repeatedly and aggressively uses the words “mootz-arell” and “pruh-zhoot” with a straight face, almost as if taunting. Scratch that, exactly as if taunting– especially since customer not minutes before informed other guests they studied for a week in Italy one summer, and immediately asked the server [in broken Italian] where their family is from.
Party of seven all wearing flip-flops in plain sight.
Agreed. But I will add, to counter against the entitled rich, with a bejeweled woman protesting that her lapdog must be allowed in to dine as her emotional companion, pointing to another service dog already in the restaurant. That dog helps a man live without sight; yappy chihuahuas seem hellbent on me living without hearing.
Server lies in wait to ask for orders until customer is at the climax of a long anecdote. Once orders are taken and customer has recapped anecdote up to the interruption point and is about to deliver the punch line, server returns to double-check on orders.
Customer never shuts up long enough for server to politely take orders, thus necessitating interruption. Later, the comment card reads both “overly attentive server” and “took awhile to take our order”, as if customer has absolutely no sense of irony. Even worse: cell phones. I refuse to acknowledge a person in front of me until they decide to acknowledge that I am a person.
Chocolate mousse with a single candle in it is served to easily embarrassed customer who agreed to have dinner with friends only on the condition that they not make a big deal out of his birthday. Birthday boy’s friends are the type who get the whole restaurant to join in singing “Happy Birthday” and convince themselves that this is actually what he wants, even though he wants to crawl under table and die.
Try being the idiot delivering that candled mousse when all the other servers pulled a duck-and-cover and you had to go it alone, hoping the birthday kid’s friends aren’t too cheap to tip for your humiliation.
While dining at Chinese restaurant whose tables are full of Asian families, non-Asian customer refuses to admit to companion that the food was not good; claims companion must have “ordered wrong.”
Working in an ethnic restaurant with tables full of enlightened diners, while new customers send back clearly described dishes for being “too flavorful” after eating majority of the plate, and insisting on a comp’ed meal or reimbursement of some kind.
Solo diner blows out table candle to avoid accidentally setting his newspaper on fire, only to have it relit repeatedly by busboy.
Solo diner refused ample space to eat at the bar, orders from anyone that walks by, even if clearly a hostess and not server, and then reads the same newspaper article over and over. For three hours. On a Saturday night. Leaves a five dollar tip, half in change.
Earnest foodie is despondent owing to an inability to conceal his revulsion at much ballyhooed stew of braised organ meats and raw root vegetables.
Earnest foodie should revel in the fact they found a place that served something as distinctive as a stew of braised organ meats and raw root vegetables, and go home to ballyhoo some more about it on his blog. They later tell server, after the order is sent, that two of them need everything gluten-free and a third is deathly allergic to table salt.
Server takes drink, appetizer, salad, and entrée orders from party of seven but writes nothing on order pad, despite complexity of order and multiple substitutions. Customer is forced to make halfhearted joke about server’s apparently prodigious memory. Server takes joke as a compliment rather than a caution. Server gets all orders wrong.
Customers order variety of ethnic dishes at authentic restaurant, then send half of them back for “not being what they ordered” and “not like they had when they visited the country”, when in fact customers don’t have as firm a grasp of Italian/ Thai/ Arabic/ Chinese/ etc language and culture as they thought and simply ordered the wrong thing without reading the description.
Counter personnel at fast-food establishment being just ridiculous about one-napkin-per-order policy.
Customers clearly trying to restock their car’s stash of napkins and making a fuss when told that no, they’re not allowed an unlimited supply just because it’s a fast-food establishment.
Irate customer at nearby table repeatedly uses phrase “dry-cleaning bill” when arguing with server over accidental spill, even though it was a glass of water and customer is wearing tank top and cargo shorts.
No argument; succinctly put, my friend.
Server rapidly rattles off long list of beers on tap. One member of dining party asks server to repeat list. Server repeats list just as rapidly. Same member of dining party asks server to repeat list one more time. Everyone else in party wants to murder both server and customer, who ends up ordering a bottle of Stella.
Customer repeatedly asks server to recite long list of beers on tap, despite the fact that it is in print both on the table and the menus. Everyone else in the party should speak up and tell their friend to stop being a douche and just order Miller like he always does, since the server would like to but would get fired.
Member of all-white waitstaff barks at member of all-Hispanic busboy staff in way that makes customers feel like those who just stood by and watched in Vichy France.
Member of all-it-doesn’t-matter-what-ethnicity party barks at all-ANYONE in the service industry in way that makes any humane person feel like those who just stood by and watched in Syria…. well, today.
So here’s the deal, people. We understand that it is our job to cater to paying customers– a lot of us are even good at dealing with your sometimes-inane requests. Like walking into a Middle Eastern restaurant and asking for a quiet tableor requesting your Thai to only be a little spicy [you need to learn how peppers are made]. Some requests are even along the lines of “I want a martini, but tell the bartender to not make this one so strong.”
Are you kidding me, ma’am? You do understand that a martini is straight liquor– how can we make it weaker? Would you rather have a gin’n’tonic? Or Screwdriver? No? You just want it in the fancy glass, don’t you. We might as well put juice in a martini glass, charge you $10, and pocket the change.
So here’s the deal, Mr. Simms. I understand that it can sometimes be hard to find a restaurant with a staff competent enough to make your lactose-intolerant Cobb salad, hold-the-avocado, bacon-offends-you, chives-give-bad-breath, eggs-are-bad-for-cholesterol, but extra-grill the chicken with dressing-on-the-side [which, for you non-Cobb eaters, is just burnt chicken on a bed of lettuce]. Sincerely, New York must truly be the edge of civilization if it’s difficult to eat without flip-flops and birthday candles flying all over the place.
Simple guidelines: ALWAYS make a reservation for a party of five or more on a weekend night, and at any time for one larger than six. Think about logistics, people. Hexagonal pegs cannot fit into square holes. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how important or educated you think you are– servers are people just trying to earn their pay. They are NOT servants there to be abused at your beck-and-call, and their profession does not give you leave to be condescending shits. So be nice.
They might be your leader one day. I know I will.
NYC restaurants are staffed by budding actors and LA is crawling with wannabe models, all starving for both carbs and attention. It’s a classic story: a waitress carries headshots in her apron, just waiting for her chance to lay it on a producer’s table, right next to his filet mignon. She’ll say “I’m not a waitress, I’m actually an actress—this is just my day job until I get my big break.”
[I wrote this a week ago, and haven’t had the heart to post something that’s so down. But, in an effort for full disclosure and to accurately represent what a 20-something’s life deals with in DC, I’ve decided it’s something that needs covering. Read through to the epilogue: there is a light at the end of the tunnel.]
It might surprise you, but DC is much the same way. I don’t think it’s possible to throw a rock without hitting some aspiring politico or journalist barely eking out an existence on an internship stipend or restaurant tips. We have countless accounts on Idealist, Devex, Indeed, Monster, and, of course, LinkedIn. Our MacBooks are filled with multiple resumes catered to different job descriptions, which we incessantly update and occasionally completely trash to start from the beginning. Maybe it just needs a new look? I bet that’s why I haven’t gotten any calls—I should have put my personal information in the top right-hand corner instead of centered in the middle! DUH.
We all talk the big talk about our areas of expertise and future professional brilliance, but each day laughs at us as we tie on our Starbucks apron strings or hostess nametags.
It wasn’t so bad, right at the beginning. When I moved here nearly a year ago (my god… a year??), I had just graduated and had no problem hosting while I job hunted and acclimated to my new city. It gave me the time to decompress and evaluate this new post-college world. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted a job in non-profits, or did I want to pursue my West Wing dream and break into political life? When the eventual “so, what do you do?” question arose, I’d laugh and say “I eat free hummus and boss my servers around in Arabic”. The world was my oyster, and all that. I’d graduated high school early at sixteen and was already ahead of schedule, no need to rush! Then I would talk on about one unpaid internship after another, increasingly clinging to the shred of intellectual legitimacy my free labor offered me among actual young professionals.
Because that’s all I am: an aspiring young professional. As if the term isn’t condescending enough, I have to add that I’m not even at the bottom of Washington’s food chain yet. I’m lower than that—my existence is subterranean.
I feel like a cliché—I am that actress/waitress. [Or is it waitress/actress?] I could have volunteered abroad. I could have pushed myself to find a job somewhere else, like Lebanon or Jordan. I should have taken the Foreign Service Exam last year, so that I could re-take it and actually pass this year. I could have been studying for the GRE’s this whole time, or knuckling down and focusing on working towards Arabic fluency. It’s stupid to say ‘I should have done this’ or ‘why didn’t I do that?’ It’s a waste of times and I don’t like regrets. But I can’t help it. When I talk about my job difficulty, people always have something to say.
“Have you tried USAJOBS.com?”
“The Senate and House post openings on their websites!”
“You’ve graduated into the worst job climate since the Great Depression, you know.”
Gee thanks, asshat. I have a degree from a well-respected university, but needed your condescension to clear that up for me! I hadn’t the foggiest before now.
So I bite my tongue. I know everyone’s simply trying to help; they feel like they have to say something. And just as there is no good way to break up, there’s also no good way to respond to someone’s job woes unless you can offer them one. Going off the handle on well-meaning people is no way to behave; it’s ungrateful. So I swallow my frustration and grind my teeth into a smile.
“Yes, thank you—I’m well aware of all that. It just isn’t that simple. In DC, you have to know people. You need to be practically related to half of the staff to even receive a phone call, let alone gain an interview. And before you suggest it, no, you cannot walk into an office on the Hill and hand-deliver a resume or inquire for a job. That severely pisses them off. Yes, same goes for phone calls. No, I haven’t been interviewed anywhere yet. Yes, I mean anywhere. I haven’t had a single interview since moving to this seemingly godforsaken city. No, I have no idea why—I’m obviously awesome.”
Without college to guide me or an internship to structure my life, it feels like I’m left with nothing. Some weeks, I’m borderline nocturnal. I fight it to retain some sense of normalcy, but my late restaurant hours mix with sleepless predispositions, and next thing I know it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m just getting ready for bed. I’ve always been a night owl, and definitely struggled with insomnia in college, but this is ridiculous. Sometimes I swear those red numbers glare at me tauntingly in the dark, ticking my life by painfully. I try to get my ass back on a normal, healthy schedule, but it’s a daily struggle. I’m going through the motions, but not getting to live the actual life. And all those bottled-up retorts to job advice have been building my internal pressure for months. I’ve officially reached my breaking point.
I think today is the first day I have actually hated it here. It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose, but I didn’t expect it to hit me quite like this. Suddenly, I feel like the city around me is cold and patronizing. I hate being sad. I hate worrying about making rent. Most of all, though, I hate hating DC….because I love DC. This is where I’m meant to be, I know it. I belong here, even if Washington disdains to recognize it yet. I think one of the best things about dating so much here is the distraction of it all. Romantic rejection is so superficial that sure, it stings, but deep down I don’t really give a shit. There are always other guys, and they’re likely cuter, smarter, and funnier. But my employment abandonment hurts far deeper. This radio silence on the job front is just breaking my heart.
Some days, all a girl can do is sit on a park bench, call her mom, and cry. So I did.
Epilogue: Like I said, that was a week ago. I actually did cry to my mom over the phone, and definitely got some glances from the few people walking their dogs in the mostly-abandoned park near my restaurant. I didn’t really care—it felt good to finally let it out. I’m not the kind of girl that cries, well… ever, really [except when I watch the movie Up; you don’t have a soul if you manage that opening montage dry-eyed]. But I also have no shame in admitting the times I do cry, and it’s definitely a part of coping with the job-hunt struggle.
Since then, my mom came for a day visit. She brought my family’s new puppy and ordered in from my favorite pho restaurant. We spent the entire rainy afternoon reworking my resume and cover letter, and I began to feel much more confident. [Cuddle time with a three-month old puppy definitely helps.] As I explained the confusing way the House and Senate job bulletins are constructed [most of the time, you don’t even know which state you’re applying for—only their partisan orientation], she asked me to pull an example up.
I brought up the Senate Employment Bulletin, and right at the top were two openings for one of my own Senators. I’ve wanted to work for my home state here in DC since I was in middle school, and email their offices every few months. They ‘have my resume on file’, but I don’t trust that. Needless to say, we both freaked out for a hot minute at the kismet of it all before knuckling down to write a stellar cover letter. Then I pulled up the emails with one of his staff from the fall, and replied to her again in addition to the general Senate email listed. Both shot back the generic ‘only applicants selected for interview will be contacted’ automated response.
The next day, I also received an email from a girl I went to grade school with and ran into months ago– she works for his office, too, and asked for my resume if interested. The fact that she remembered me and put in the effort to reach out genuinely made my week infinitely brighter. Now I have hope that I might at least be called, if not become an actual candidate for the job. Now all I can do it wait and pray with all my fingers and toes crossed.
My darling DC has all sorts of people; it’s something I love most about my new home. At work, I’m constantly approached with ‘I have a question? Explain this for me please, yes?’ It makes time fly by with frequently hysterical cultural-bridging convo’s. This week’s big-ticket topic was trans-gender issues.
A lot has been going on this week, and most of our conversations have been on equality and how to treat people anyway, so it was great timing. A women’s health charity hypocritically tried to pull funding from the number one organization actually helping real women. Hundreds of people that managed to survive a revolution were injured or killed at a football game in Cairo. And Mr. Soul Train, Don Cornelius, passed away after a lifetime crusading for equality and understanding.
I’ve talked about my Middle Eastern restaurant before– it’s a damn fun place to work, and I adore it. I’m also the only white girl there, and have become a sort of Urban Librarian for everyone. I’m called upon to explain everything from whatever the hell the Republican debates are talking about to the meaning of the term ‘rain date’. [I’ll have to explain that one later, it was an adorable conversation.] Our customers are always the best source of topics, though. We serve people from all kinds of backgrounds: political, social, national, linguistic, sexual. The staff are all generally accepting, but sometimes they still manage to surprise me.
The other day, I went to find a server to tell them he had two women at a table of his. Three of them were discussing something when I walked up, and they turned, looking thoroughly confused.
“Is that woman a man?”
I knew it was coming, obviously. When I first seated her, I could feel it building. She was an older woman, in a skirt-suit and sweater any other 50-something woman in DC would wear, and possibly still in the transition process. The only reason I noticed it so clearly was to start forming how to explain it to a few of the guys. It didn’t take long for the conversation to come.
I smiled at the guys and shook my head, “No, she’s a woman. She’s trans-gendered, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t female.”
The server that had brought them drinks and was the one to ask in the first place shook his head. “No, I know that, I just meant… was it alright that I called her ‘ma’am’? Because when I asked ‘would you like anything else to drink, ma’am?’, she gave me a weird look.”
That took the wind out of my sails– here, I’d assumed I would have to explain what ‘trans-gender’ means, and then work through some cultural barriers and stigmas. They had no issues with it, and just wanted to know which pronoun to use before approaching the table. As one of the managers likes to say, ‘Sorry, Charlie! No bananas!’
So I told them that maybe she’s still new to post-transition life, and was just reacting to being treated the way she always should have been: as a woman. She still had a very deep voice, which definitely threw the servers for a loop, but I was sure of the correct pronoun. When the other woman had arrived, she said “I’m meeting a friend– oh, she’s already here!” So I admit, I was cheating a little bit. But from what I’ve learned, the general rule of thumb is go with your gut reaction– the first perception is probably who they really are.
What made me smile the most, though, was how chill the guys were with it all. I have plenty of good-hearted friends that believe in LGBT rights and fight for civil rights in general. They’re American, and I’m sure they’d be just as confused as my Moroccans with how to interact with some transpeople. So this high comfort level among my co-workers just gave me all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings inside. I call them my DC family often, and it’s times like this that make me proud of the association.
I’d like to link everyone to a fellow blogger I tripped over and follow religiously now, The Adventures of Transman, “Just another middle-aged guy raising a family… except I gave birth to mine.” His perspective as an in-transition transman and parent is breathtakingly profound, and without a doubt will have you crying with laughter. Since I found him on here, I thought it was perfect timing that I had such a conversation at work and felt compelled to make it my post today. Happy reading!
In honor of Don Cornelius, Transman, and my wonderful LT family, let’s boogie:
I’ll admit, the “shit people say” trend is cracking me up. I’ve ignored most of them, but a few snuck by and stole a few giggles. What I’d love to see one for, though? Pick-up lines. They’ve been on my mind lately.
Who am I kidding? That’s always on my mind. I’m what you’d call a pick-up line connoisseur. I blame Night at the Roxbury; those SNL goobers instilled a love of the ridiculous in me at a very young age, and I’ve never recovered.
For me, the more absurd the line, the better is works. My theory is that a guy with the guts to walk up to a girl he thinks is pretty and knowingly make a fool out of himself deserves at least a drink. (Note: key word being ‘knowingly’; guys that pull those lines thinking they’re smooth are just gross. It’s a fine line to walk, so please know you can pull it off before opening your mouth.)
Last Saturday, my group was out in Dupont Circle. We like to start the night at a sushi-place-turned-nightclub because some friends work there and great cocktails should be enjoyed while still sober. We ended up befriending two men that had been at the end of the bar and looking our way awhile. The attractive Lebanese one seems to take to one of my friends pretty well, and joined us for our night of club-hopping. [This eventually led, once the other guys went home, to me spending the later part of the night with two couples.]
At one point, though, the new guy told me that I looked like ‘someone he used to know’. I could tell by his look that he was genuinely being appreciative, but I still replied with a raised eyebrow and “I’m not really sure how to take that. Who?”
“Don’t worry about it. But it’s a good thing.”
Look, guys, if a girl looks like an ex- and you want to compliment her appearance, just tell her she looks pretty and leave it at that. Don’t try to be clever– because ‘someone I used to know’ makes me feel like I look like I’m your high school girlfriend. No woman wants to be a walking reminder of teenagehood– it was all pimples, hormones, and angsty confusion. At least I don’t; but maybe because it’s still in my semi-recent past? Weigh in on this, ladies.
A friend at work says that his approach is simple: if he’s out and thinks a woman is beautiful, he walks right up to say hello and ask if he can buy her a drink. (Full disclosure: working at a Middle Eastern restaurant means that my ‘friends from work’ are foreign, charismatic, and possessing those great accents that trip over the English language in an adorable way. This man is no exception.)
I’ll also say that if this man walked up to me at a bar and asked to buy me a drink like that, I’d find myself in a deep conversation about the beauties of Morocco before I could blink twice. He’s confident, naturally charming, and very comfortable in his own skin. Chalk it up to age, but he’s grown out of the younger-man’s conviction that having game involves complex approaches. You don’t need battle tactics, boys, we aren’t a football game. It’s tennis: volley an opening our way and wait for a response. Simplicity! And this is the advice of an anything-but-simple girl.
Don’t get me wrong, ingenuity has its rewards, too. If you have a unique way to make contact, then go for it. After migrating to our favorite DJ-established vinyl-and-bands lounge and then spending enough time with the two couples, I grew tired of 5th wheeling it and went to the dance floor to listen to the jazz band.
I could tell that a guy nearby was looking, but wanted to see what he’d do. What can I say? I’m a curious girl. To his credit, it wasn’t a long wait. A guy in front of us was blatantly taking up too much room, flailing about like an idiot, and kept knocking into me. I was happy enough listening to a great band, so it was more amusing than anything. In this guy’s favor, it made me back up several times, and the last one that almost knocked my Manhattan from my hand was the last straw. Cute boy went from a smile to busting out laughing and leaned closer to my ear to suggest I fight back.
Sure, such romantic comedy opportunities are rare enough outside of Hollywood, but it’s extra-special when a guy is clever enough to take advantage of it. We went on to have a great conversation over jazz, music, and eventually the fact that he claimed to know how to dance. Naturally, I asked him to prove it. I was far from disappointed.
So sure, sometimes things that would otherwise seem trite actually do work– if you can back them up. And the absurd might pan out, if you’ve the humor to play to the right audience. But the best way to go really is the easiest.
Because in the end, the most charming guys aren’t the ones with the most interesting pick-up lines, which take a deal of contrived forethought and are likely recycled. No, you want to know the shit charming guys say?
They say, “Hello.”
Big D and the Kids Table got it right in their stroll song, A Kiss A Week: