Monday, July 28, 2014

Advice I Wish I Received Before Entering the Professional Workforce

This summer, many kids have started their first full-time jobs. They look so cute and optimistic on the subway and carrying those Panera or Chipotle bags back to their desks during their lunch hours. They still, with great earnestness, use the term “lunch hour.”

When I began my first 9-to-5 office job, my parents and other mentors gave me stellar tips on how to navigate the new terrain. Here’s some of what they didn’t convey:

*If you microwave popcorn in the floor kitchen, it’ll stink up most of the floor for at least 20 minutes. People will follow the scent to your work station and expect you to share.

*Be very afraid when someone asks whether you’re a team player.

*Street smarts beat book smarts.

*Ignore any list of how much $$ the rest of your “team” makes, even if it’s perched atop a fax machine you’re about to use. It will only infuriate you. 

*Nepotism is alive and well, beating out street smarts and book smarts. 

*Every time you stay at a five-star hotel on an all-expenses-paid business trip, leave a cash tip for the housekeepers.   

*When a team member has massively pissed you off, don’t take deep breaths – take a walk. A brisk one. Around the block. A few times, if necessary. Swing those arms. It does wonders.  

*Many high-functioning alcoholics and cokeheads are lit during the workday. When that manic colleague with perpetually dilated pupils claims all the shallow sniffing (in the middle of January) is due to a pollen allergy, let skepticism get the better of you. 

*Use up all of your paid vacation and personal days.

*Aside from the beach, when it’s above 90 degrees and humid on a weekday, there are few spots more comfortable than an over-air-conditioned office. Savor it, and just smile and nod when You-Know-Who blames the latest round of sniffing on that frosty air. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Testimony Re: Why the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex Needs Complete Overhaul

While doing research on Angela Davis for a former professor’s book years ago, I came across documents detailing daily menus from Davis’s inmate days at San Quentin. Baked salmon loaves and coconut pudding. Eggs prepared a number of different ways. Meals sounding so tantalizing and balanced they came as a shock to someone who had been under the impression that prisoners, especially in the ‘70s, were on the bread-and-water plan. Is this for real? I thought. Prisoners eat better than me? Since then, I’ve longed to meet an ex-con who could back this up. One equipped to answer queries about texture, portion sizes, and whether this “coffee” includes unlimited refills.

The other day, I walked past a guy on a bench. He smiled, I smiled. Smiling turned into waving (music, either Tupac or the Dixie Chicks, blasted in my ears at the time), and I eventually pulled out an earbud to hear what he was saying. He was mostly saying that he got out of prison hours earlier, after serving a 10-year sentence, and was in the early stages of enjoying his freedom in the balmy Central Park air, despite having no family or friends. Now, is that for real? The prison system is allowed to just release people out into the open, without confirming they have a place to go? (He said his guards looked the other way during prisoner-on-prisoner rape. A recent New York Times article exposed local correction officers’ brutality against inmates.)

Pulling out the other earbud, I asked what I’ve wanted inside, in-person information on for years: “How was the food? Tell me everything, let’s start with salmon.” Among other descriptions, he said other inmates prepared the food - they spat into it and worms crawled out.

Prisoners eat worse than any recipe I’ve ever ruined.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Malala Day!

Earlier this year I read I Am Malala, a memoir that hugely affected me. Westerners who aren’t intimately familiar with the developing world take lots for granted, such as clean water and not having to worry about getting beheaded on the way out the door in the morning.

Malala Yousafzai is the teenage girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who not only continued going to school after the Taliban forbid girls from doing so, but (along with her feminist father) became known as a girls’ education activist, when it would have been safer and easier to put up and shut up. Like many others (from East to West), the Taliban finds strong women deeply threatening, so one day in 2012 they shot Malala in the head (where the mind is located) while she rode the bus home from school. She survived, now lives in England with her parents and younger brothers, and still speaks out. She turned 17 the day before yesterday, spending her birthday weekend in Nigeria, comforting schoolgirls who escaped from their April 15th kidnappers and the parents of schoolgirls who remain missing.

Today is the second annual Malala Day. How can you celebrate? How about by showing more consideration toward people who don’t live like you; developing more self-awareness; supporting universal preschool and an increased minimum wage; contributing something useful to the society that exists beyond your own insular group; thinking of passivity as your worst enemy but thinking carefully before you act.

Malala Day, Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day, National Ice Cream Month. The true believers uphold the spirit year-round.  

                            Photo source:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Send Me Up the (Hudson) River Anytime

After this weekend, I see why so many creative New Yorkers move upstate to the small town of Hudson once they marry, start having kids, find more mobile means of employment, or simply want to invest in a multi-level piece of property without tempting bankruptcy. It’s roomier, quieter, friendlier, cheaper, only 2 hours from the city, less than 2 hours from the mountains. 
You can walk down the main drag to the sound of Jerry Garcia’s voice drifting out a front door, a few buildings down from some Jamaican patties. Although Hudson’s main drag is (blessedly) named something other than Main Street, it does include a hair salon that could not resist. 
This time of year, the main drag is a flag-happy strip. 
Those low-flying flags look charming until the wind gets gusting and, one by one, they start furling and unfurling, slapping you upside the head as you stroll.

I had the most delicious burger of my life at a farm-to-table diner called Grazin’, the first animal welfare-approved restaurant in the world, not long after standing centimeters away from a man with an intricately tattooed neck, shaved head, throat, and face. Eat your heart out Michelangelo, this icon and the artist(s) who inked him have got you beat.

Hudson, New York: