Monday, August 29, 2011

Beware of Misanthrope

My lease doesn't end for another month, but the rental company that manages my building has already started showing my apartment to prospective tenants almost every day, all day. This means that random strangers have been coming in and out of my apartment, making me paranoid that they're going to run off with my laptop, or worse, my stash of M&Ms.

I know that it's important for the rental company to show the apartment to other people. After all, I don't own the apartment; I just pay rent on it. They need to make sure that every apartment is being rented, and the best way to do that is to let people see what the place looks like.

If I had a normal 9-5 job, it wouldn't matter. I wouldn't even be at home when the people stop by. But because I am a broke grad student, I spend a lot of time at home. And I am fiercely protective of my privacy, mainly because I don't want people to see me weeping over my laptop or tearing my hair out over a stack of textbooks. I also don't want people to see all the Coke bottles and empty coffee cups scattered on the floor and on my desk.

I also like to take naps in the afternoon, but now I feel like I can't sleep until six-thirty P.M. when the tenants stop showing up (and by then it's too late to take a nap). I was able to get the building engineer to call me beforehand if anyone is planning to stop by. That's a good thing, because I can be very cranky when someone wakes me up in the middle of a nap. Then all hell breaks loose and people start screaming, "Oh no, they've woken up the beast! RUN!"

For the most part the prospective tenants usually just stop by with the realtors for a few minutes. But occasionally I find myself watching them warily while I pretend to work at my laptop.

Prospective tenant: So is this a quiet building?
Me: Usually. Most of the people who live here are young professionals. Everyone's pretty nice. Except when they're coming home drunk at two A.M., stealing other people's packages, and throwing their cigarette butts all over the front yard.

I decided to hire a moving company, because I don't have a truck to transport all of my furniture. I could have rented a U-haul, but I don't really trust myself to drive it. I actually don't even know how to parallel park, because I grew up in a small town where it wasn't really necessary to know how to do it. I also think it's because I accidentally ran over a can of disinfectant that had been left on the curb during one of my driving lessons; the can flew up and exploded all over the window. I think my driver's ed teacher figured that teaching me how to do anything else after that was a lost cause.

I'm moving to a building that's only a couple blocks away, but the moving company has all these fees. There's the base fee, the even though this may only take one hour we're going to charge you for three hours because that's how we roll fee, and the we're carrying all this heavy stuff for you so be THANKFUL fee. (There's also the tip to consider.)

My current rental company also manages the building that I'll be moving into, but they are still charging me fees. I had to pay the first month's rent, along with a nonrefundable $300 move-in fee. I can't help wondering what the move-in fee is for, seeing as how they're not actually helping me move in. Maybe it's to protect the building against any possible damage that might result from the moving process. One year two new tenants at my current building were in the process of moving in when they crashed their furniture into the front door (which is made of glass), causing it to shatter into a bunch of tiny pieces. One of the tenants scratched his head and said, "I think I broke it." They didn't bother to apologize, clean up, or even tell the building engineer what they'd done. Maybe they thought no one would notice.

All this hassle of moving (and I haven't even started packing yet) has made me remember why I chose to stay in an apartment I disliked for so long. But I can't think about it for too long, because I have to hide the Coke bottles and coffee cups. And also my M&Ms.

Monday, August 22, 2011

If I Hadn't Gone to Grad School...

1. I wouldn't feel embarrassed about going out in public because I can't afford to replace most of my clothes and shoes that have holes in them. Then I wouldn't have to tell people, "Didn't you hear? The ripped jeans look is back. The mohawk is coming back too. You should totally get one."

2. I'd be able to write fiction without feeling guilty about using up time that could have been spent on my graduate work instead.

3. Maybe my hair wouldn't have started turning white when I was still in my twenties. And then maybe I wouldn't have learned that dyeing one's hair should probably be left to the professionals, especially when one is too impatient to read all the instructions beforehand.

4. People wouldn't make comments like, "When are you going to grow up and get a job?" and "You've been in school forever! You're a professional student!" and "I know all these people who earned their graduate degrees in just one or two years. You should work harder so that you can finish sooner."

5. I'd have more money for the essentials, like rent, groceries, and Britney Spears' albums.

6. I wouldn't feel so lost and scared sometimes, because graduate school is extremely difficult. I've never felt like I belonged there.

7. I could have gone into politics instead and made it illegal for people to talk on their cell phones at the movies, in church, and on long train rides. The penalty would be to make their cell phones malfunction every time they entered a public space, so that they would lose the will to annoy people.

8. I could have accepted one of the job offers outside of academia that I had when I graduated from college. I could have started earning a real salary with health insurance and benefits, and I could have had just one job instead of two or three. Maybe I could have had a job that actually ended when I left the office each day, rather than have to face a stack of papers to grade and several books to read every night after a long day of teaching and office hours.

9. I wouldn't have wasted all that time poring over the dictionary before I finally realized that many scholars make up multi-syllable words to make themselves sound, to explain their ideas and theories.

10. I would never have taught any of the undergraduates and high school students who taught me more about life, myself, and what I'm capable of than I ever could have learned anywhere else.

Being in graduate school means making a lot of sacrifices, many of which I never expected to make when I was younger. I didn't think that I'd still be a student at age thirty. I didn't think I'd have to stay at home most nights while my friends went out, because I didn't have enough money to join them and I had too much studying to do anyway. I didn't think I'd have to work two or three jobs and still earn thousands of dollars less than most people my age. I didn't think that there'd be way too many Ph.D.'s I'll have to compete against when I start looking for a full-time teaching job. I didn't think that there's always the possibility that I might not get what I've spent years working for.

I've wanted to drop out of graduate school a thousand and one times. But I haven't given up yet, because I feel like I'd be giving up a lot more than just my degree if I did. Teaching is the one job I've ever had that I actually liked and was good at. I feel more at home in a college classroom than I would have felt in an office, a hospital, a bank, a law firm, the stage, etc., etc.

What about you? When you think of a choice you've made, whether it was a career that you decided to pursue, a place that you chose to live in, or a person that you chose to spend your life with, did you ever think of what would have happened if you hadn't made that choice?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

City Dweller Seeks Annoyance-Free Apartment

I've spent the past several years living in a one-bedroom apartment that I never really liked very much, just because it would be such a hassle to move to a new place. Several of my neighbors love TV so much that they want to share their love of TV with everyone else by cranking the volume up to the highest level. Other neighbors smoke inside and outside the building. Their favorite spot to hang out is directly below my window (I live on the second floor), so that whenever I open my window I am forced to inhale their smoke. I often find myself gasping for air and saying bitterly, "Someday I WILL get my revenge!!"

I also don't like the fact that pretty much every single thing that could have broken down in my place has broken down. If I could live without running water and a refrigerator, I would, but I just don't want to.

So I've been looking for a new apartment to rent, because I've finally faced the fact that I can't afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment anymore. If I lived in the suburbs, it'd be easier to find a less expensive, bigger place to rent. But I'd have to have a car if I lived in the suburbs, and I'm a very nervous driver. I'd probably spend the whole time shrieking, "INCOMING! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" every time I passed another car or drove too close to the curb.

I went to one of those places that helps city dwellers like me find apartments. I didn't have to pay the realtor, because apparently he gets a commission every time a new renter signs a lease. Last week he took me around to look at several different apartments. As we were looking around, there were several things that I probably should have said out loud, but I kept them to myself because I didn't want the nice realtor to think that I was weird. (I do that a lot.)

Realtor: And as you can see, the laundry room is right on the same floor as your apartment, which would be very convenient.
Me: Uh-huh. Why does it smell like someone peed in the hallway? DID someone pee out here?

Realtor: Now, this is the typical size of a studio apartment.
Me: It's kind of small. It's also the typical size of a walk-in closet.
Realtor: Well, you could probably fit all your things in here if you rearranged some stuff.
Me: Or if I sold all my furniture.

Realtor: This building has a lot of great amenities for the tenants, including an exercise room, rooftop access, and an on-site maintenance crew.
Me: I'll just be happy if I don't find any spiders on my dinner plate, laundry left in the machines for four hours at a time, and drunk people lying prone in front of my apartment. (These are three reasons why I want to leave my current building.)

Realtor: The carpet's kind of dirty, but they'll definitely clean that before you move in.
Me: Does that look like the outline of someone's body on the carpet to you? Does the current tenant lie on the floor a lot, or was this part of a crime scene?

The realtor did help me find a studio that wasn't too small, but there's definitely a lot less space than my one-bedroom. I'm sure there'll be an adjustment period, because I've lived in a one-bedroom apartment for several years. But at the same time, I'll be saving hundreds of dollars in rent each month by moving to a studio.

One thing I don't like about my new apartment is that it is directly facing two other apartments. Their windows are so close to mine that  whoever is living in there could climb into my apartment and steal everything I own. (Other than my laptop and TV, I don't really have much of anything that would be worth stealing, unless you count my old Ricky Martin CDs.)

Since I will have this up close and way too personal view of my neighbors' apartments, I just hope that none of them walk around naked. I also hope that they don't stare into my apartment because they mistakenly think that I'm going to walk around naked. (NEVER going to happen!) I'm such a prude that if I could take a shower with my clothes on, I would. (And at least then I'd save money on laundry.)

I kind of wish I was able to just live a simpler lifestyle, like the one Kate Earl does in her music video. Her song "Melody" is on my writing playlist. I like the way her little "home" is set up in the video, especially the paper cranes hanging from the tree. But I don't think I could live in a tent like that, mainly because there wouldn't be enough room for all my books.

When you move (or when you did move in the past) to a new place, what kinds of things do you look for? What kinds of things would be deal breakers for you?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stop and Sniff the Fire Hydrant

For a few weeks this summer I was dog-sitting for my parents. They own two dogs, a Bolognese that I refer to in this blog as Neurotic Jr. and a Shetland Sheepdog (a sheltie) that I refer to as Jane Dog. My parents live in a different state, but they let me keep the dogs for a while and I managed to work out a deal with the landlord so that the dogs could stay with me. A close relative kept the dogs company when I had to work.

I thought that taking care of the dogs might give me some new writing material, like those inspirational dog vs. owner stories, where the dog is difficult to live with at first but ends up inspiring the owner to write inspirational stories about dogs. I thought that it might give me a new perspective on writing, because dogs like to stop, sniff, and examine everything; I thought that maybe people should try doing that too (except for the sniffing other dogs' butts part). But it didn't quite work out that way.

I took them to a small dog park on a regular basis. Even though several dog owners in Chicago live in apartment buildings, the people who own/manage those buildings freak out if the dogs venture near the small patches of grass in front of the buildings. The people will put up small fences around the grass. Or they'll put up signs that say stuff like "Keep dogs off grass" or "No Dogs allowed" (along with a picture of a dog with a big X over it) or "Please curb your dog" or "Don't even THINK about letting your dog defile the grass because otherwise I WILL come after you...and your little dog too!"

Neurotic Jr. is incredibly spoiled, because my parents treat her like a small child and refuse to discipline her. That may be why she insisted on being carried for most of the time during our "walks."

Me: Come on, Neurotic Jr.! Carrying you would defeat the purpose of the walk!
Neurotic Jr: (blinks at me and refuses to move)
Me: Oh, for Pete's sake!  Fine, I'll carry you!
Woman passing by: Oh, she's so cute! But why are you carrying her?
Me: I think she likes the view from up here. Or maybe I'm just a chump.

Jane Dog loves to bark at everything, which is the nature of shelties. Whenever a garbage truck, motorcycle, or bird passed by, her reaction was: "ArfarfarfarfarfARF!"

She also had this embarrassing habit of sniffing other people who passed by, so that sometimes a person would say, "Hey!" And I'd laugh sheepishly and say, "Oh, sorry! My dog didn't mean to stick her nose up your skirt (or shorts if it was a guy, because Jane Dog likes to sniff everyone). I guess she just likes you."

Of course, Neurotic Jr. would always throw one of her tantrums and Jane Dog would always go off into a barking fit in front of a person with the Perfect Dog, as in the kind of canine that is so well-behaved that it views barking as something that only "common" dogs do. The owner would wow the other owners with all sorts of tricks that Perfect Dog could do, like fetching a ball, rolling over and playing dead, and other things to show off its intelligence, like break dancing.

If you think I'm exaggerating about the break dancing, here's a video of a dog doing the merengue. Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog would never consent to letting me put either of them in a skirt. Jane Dog would find some way to pull it off and then bark at it to make it go away. Neurotic Jr. would become hysterical and run all over the place, being sure to leave paw prints everywhere, if I came near her with one of those little doggie outfits.

When Neurotic Jr. refused to move and looked up at me as if to say, "You didn't really think I'd walk this time, did you? Have I taught you nothing?" and Jane Dog nearly broke free from her leash because she was barking her head off at a bench, Perfect Dog's owner would look at me and say, "That's quite the pair you have there!"

"Um, yeah," I'd say.

Perfect Dog would come running up at that moment and drop the ball in front of his owner's feet, panting, and he always looked like he was laughing at my dogs, as if to say, "Hahahahaha, you WISH you were as obedient as me, LOSERS!"

Neurotic Jr. would growl at him as if to say, "You want a piece of me? Why don't you come over here and I'll play fetch with your tail."

"I trained mine when he was still a puppy," Perfect Dog's owner would say. "Maybe you should look into obedience school."

"Uh-huh," I'd respond, even though what I was really thinking was, "WhatEVER, dude. Maybe you should look into getting a new personality. And get one for your dog, too."

But even though Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog have their quirks, I love them anyway because really, who can resist adorable, huggable dogs who are always happy to see you? I wish I could keep them all the time, but my apartment is too small for two dogs. Plus my arms would get really tired from carrying Neurotic Jr. all the time.

What about you? Do you have pets? If you are a pet owner, do you ever find yourself incorporating animals into your stories? What do you think of those inspirational pet memoirs?

Side note: I would have included pictures of Neurotic Jr. and Jane Dog on the blog, but like me, they prefer to remain anonymous. But I think they'd be more willing to sit still for pictures and let me post the photos on my blog if they got more doggie treats and tummy rubs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

It's Not Me, It's You

I finally gave notice at my retail job, and I no longer have to work there anymore.

When I gave my two weeks' notice, I simply wrote a note indicating that I was leaving and when my last day would be. There was so much more that I could have said about why I was quitting sooner rather than later, but I didn't because I might need my retail employers for a job reference later on. And it's not like I could have said, "This job SUCKED and sometimes I hated it so much that I thought you SUCKED, but can I still list you as a reference?"

Giving notice to your employer is a little like breaking up with a significant other. You can't be brutally honest about why you're leaving, because you don't want to come off sounding like a jerk. (Side note: But there has been more than one occasion where I've wanted to say to a guy, "I never want to see you again because you're always bragging about the fancy electronic gadgets that you buy, but you expect me to pay for dinner or drinks every time we go out," or "I don't want to go out with you because your hair kind of makes me think of Dennis the Menace.")

But if I could have been honest about why I was leaving that job, here's what I would have said:

1. You make me sick. My retail job this summer stressed me out so much that I kept scratching at my arms because it felt like bugs were crawling up and down my skin. I ended up with small scabs all over my arms, which still haven't completely healed. Because it's T-shirt weather, I feel self-conscious exposing my arms in public, because I feel like people are going to take one look at my skin and gasp, "What happened to YOU?"

2. My life doesn't revolve around you. Even though this was supposedly a part-time job, it took up a lot more time than I thought it would. At my other retail jobs, I usually only worked three or four days a week. At this one, I worked five days a week, sometimes more.

It took almost an hour to commute to the Tourist Trap and an hour to get home, not to mention taking public transportation every day with a bunch of sweaty people who apparently don't believe that deodorant is necessary didn't do anything to help my nerves. Even though we were scheduled to leave at a certain time, if we were working the closing shift we were made to stay until the store looked perfect. That meant that I had to work late, anywhere from a half hour to more than an hour past my shift every time. The managers would keep coming up with more stuff for us to do, and even after we completed our tasks, they'd walk around the store and point out places that we missed.

      I'd get home from work too tired to do anything but fall asleep watching TV. I hardly got any work done on my dissertation, and I missed more than one deadline on my website job. I didn't get to blog as much, and I was only able to write fiction sporadically. I didn't get to spend much time with my friends, because what I was earning was barely enough to pay for groceries, let alone a night out. I always promised myself that I would never become one of those girlfriends whose entire life revolves around her boyfriend, but it had gotten to the point where it felt like my whole summer revolved around this job.

3. Being with you makes me miserable. As I've mentioned before, I've spent years working in retail, first as a bookseller, then as a clothing store employee. I never really liked it very much, because the work is boring and repetitive; it's tiring to stand for several hours a day, and the pay is extremely low. But I didn't hate working at the bookstore or the clothing store nearly as much as I hated working at the Tourist Trap.

     The tourists weren't really the problem. I mean, it wasn't fun navigating crowds of tourists every day, but for the most part they were actually nicer than a lot of the customers I'd encountered at the bookstore and Expensive Clothing Store. Even though the high Chicago sales tax (9.75%) often shocked them, they were a lot less likely to throw tantrums over the prices of the products we sold. When I worked at Expensive Clothing Store, customers would often blame me for the high prices of the clothes, and I'd be all, "Don't blame me! I just work here." (I didn't actually say that, though.) They'd get back at me by making me run all over the store to find clothes in different sizes or colors; then they'd try all of them on, leave the fitting rooms in a mess for me to clean up, and they wouldn't buy anything.

When I worked at the bookstore, one customer literally started stamping his feet like a caveman and bellowing insults at all the sellers because we wouldn't give him cash for his gift card. Other customers would get mad at me because I wasn't ringing up their orders fast enough; they'd say, "I have really important things to do today. Can you speed this up? Or do I need to talk to a manager?" I always felt tempted to say, Exactly what important things are you planning to do? Are you talking about all the money you're going to burn through, which you think makes you entitled to treat underpaid cashiers and salespeople like crap? That sounds REALLY important.

But at the Tourist Trap, the customers were usually just happy to be in Chicago and would chat about all the places they'd been to or the interesting things that they'd seen. So it wasn't them that bothered me.

What bothered me was having to work late every night. It was one manager telling me to do one thing, and then another manager telling me to do something else at the same time; then both managers would get mad at me because I didn't get all the work done fast enough. It was certain (though not all) coworkers who would stand around and do nothing, leaving other coworkers like me to pick up the slack. It was knowing that with all the money the store raked in every day, my employers could more than afford to pay us even just a little bit more (which would have made a big difference), but they chose not to while pressuring us to sell as many "add-ons" and make as much money for the store as possible. It was the fact that even though I was working two jobs (plus a couple hours a week tutoring the daughter of one of my parents' friends), I still couldn't afford to pay for all of my expenses without the help of a credit card.

Being at that job made me extremely unhappy, more unhappy than I've ever been at any other job. I've decided that I never want to be that miserable at a job again, because it can (and did) have negative effects on other parts of my life. All that misery just wasn't worth the paycheck, even though I did need that paycheck. Next summer, I hope to find something better, though preferably not in retail. I usually take a break from teaching during the summer, but I'm more than willing to teach next year. And hopefully, once I complete my degree and find a full-time teaching job, I'll never have to work part-time jobs that make me think, So this is what hell must be like, ever again.

But it wasn't necessary for me to tell my employers at the Tourist Trap why I was really leaving. Tourist season in Chicago is mainly during the summer, because it gets so cold in the winter that even locals will usually break down at one point and cry, "I've become a human popsicle! AAAHHHHH!!!!"

So the Tourist Trap doesn't need as many workers once summer ends, and I probably would have gotten laid off anyway. School will be starting soon, so I am going to take the time that I have left to enjoy a well-deserved and much-needed vacation. Although by "vacation" I mean clean out my apartment, work on my dissertation, revise my syllabi for the classes that I'll be teaching, pick up extra hours at my website job, exercise at the gym, find an apartment with cheaper rent, etc., etc. If I were to take the kind of vacation where I just laid around all day, I'd probably start imagining bugs on my skin and start scratching at my arms again. I am a workaholic, after all.

What about you? Have you ever quit a job that you didn't like? If you could say something to an employer or a significant other that you left behind, what would it be?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tag! I'm It

Fellow blogger Anna Saikin is playing blog tag with some other bloggers, and she tagged me. Apparently I have to answer six questions about myself and then tag other bloggers. So here goes:

1. Are you hot?
YES! It is WAY TOO HOT in the Tourist Trap, and the A/C still hasn't been fixed (though it seems to be working fine in the managers' office). It doesn't help that the temperature has been in the nineties lately. I feel like wrestling the water bottles away from the tourists just so I can splash some water on my face. But I suppose that would be bad customer service.

2. Upload a picture or wallpaper you are using at the moment.
I haven't uploaded any pictures of myself that show my face on this blog because I am not photogenic at all (and also because I'm more or less anonymous on this blog). In most of the pictures that have been taken of me, I think I look like Medusa, the woman whose hair was made of snakes. Or maybe that's just because I don't brush my hair every day.

3. When was the last time you ate chicken?
I ate Chicken McNuggets at McDonald's a few days ago, even though I don't like McDonald's. I have this slightly irrational fear that if I eat too much chicken I'll turn into one.

4. The song you listened to recently:
Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night". When I was a kid, I looked a little like "Kathy Beth Terry" (pre-makeover) in the video. Except I was more nerdy.

5. What were you thinking while doing this?
I was thinking that the fourth season of Jersey Shore is starting soon. If I was trapped in an elevator with Snooki and The Situation, I would literally pry open the doors with my hands (I think that the sheer terror would give me the adrenaline I need) and climb out of the elevator, leaving them to fend for themselves. And yet when the first episode airs, I'm going to watch it. Somehow watching the stupid things that they do (and say) makes me feel smarter, even though I accidentally put my pants on backwards the other day.

6. Do you have nicknames? What are they?
None that I know of. But I suppose that if I did tell people in my "real life" about my blog, they'd agree that "Neurotic Workaholic" is an appropriate nickname.

7. Tag eight blogger friends, even though I only tagged six, because I'm a rule-breaker like that. And to the people I've tagged, feel free to answer the questions and tag others. Or not. (It's not like I'll OBSESS about it if you don't.)

E.R. King at Get Busy Writing!
Geophrie at The Far Too Important Blog
Teddi at She Was Write
Lalalalauren at lauren vs. reality
Shannon at Shannon McMahon

Now I'm off to do some homework. And by "homework," I mean watch Jersey Shore reruns.