Archive for November, 2001

30 November 2001

Euro watch: I haven’t been watching the news since the invasion of Afghanistan. It’s just too horrifying, and probably inaccurate as well. I keep an eye on metafilter, I keep an eye on adnan, and that’s all I need to know, thanks. But shortly before moving, I caved in and watched the short Euronews broadcast that YLE 1 plays just before going off the air, and in the segment on living conditions in Afghanistan, price equivalents were given in Euros.
This week Helsinki bus shelters are coated with an ad for cheap Finnair flights in which the Euro symbols are so big that they look like an ad for the Euro, not for Finnair. And I just got my first bill in Euros only, from bol.com, the Bertelsmann book company. The annoying thing is that the price in Euros is quite a bit more than it was in Finnmarks when I ordered the book, but I need it for work, so I went to the Merita bank site, which would only let me pay in Euros, and paid up promptly

28 November 2001

New York Memories: The Ladies Who Lunch, Part Four of Four
During the entire time I worked at The Magazine, I cannot remember having lunch with anyone. There were multiple reasons for this. One was that the office was in Soho, and none of my friends worked anywhere nearby. Another was that in publishing, lunch is a caste-laden meal: editors have lunch with writers and other editors, on expense account. It would have seemed presumptuous for me, the researcher, to have lunch appointments. Another was that because the editors would be out having lunch with writers, it was my responsibility to spend the prime lunch hours in the office, ready to answer the door to the UPS man who brought review books five times a day, to unwind manuscripts from the fax machine (it was unclear who was being more retro, us or the writers [1] but e-mail submissions were still rare), and, eternally, to answer the phone.
Not that I minded. As I had already learned in my other jobs, it is easier to answer the phone for people who are not there than to screen calls when they are listening. Some people have a talent for call screening, but I never did:
Me: Egghead Enterprises, good morning!
Caller: Can I speak to Miranda? This is Josh Jones.
Me: One Moment Please! (hold) Miranda, it’s Josh Jones.
Boss Lady: Oh, hell. Tell him I’m in Japan.
Me: (/hold) I’m sorry, she’s in Japan. I could let her know you called, when she, uh, calls in for her messages.
Caller: When will she be back?
Me: One Moment Please! I’ll check. (hold) Miranda, when will you be back?
Boss Lady: Oh, hell. (/hold) Josh! Bay-bee! No, just the silly mumble mumble mumble
Could have been worse. One of my other bosses told his secretary once, “Tell ’em I died.”
But all this is not to say that I didn’t often take my hour, in mid-afternoon, once everyone was back and all the little crises were covered, to go to the post office, to wander up Broadway, to run over to Spring Street Books – though this last was more easily combined with my frequent fact-checking missions, for in the days before Amazon.com and online university library catalogs, I often did have to physically leave the office to verify a publisher, date, or spelling. And then I would grab something from the Korean deli on the way back.
Weather permitting. That winter was the worst winter I’ve ever seen, with snowstorms every week, howling winds, heat-sucking temperatures that turned your face into a gelid mask and kept it that way for a long time after you went back indoors. Even the Korean deli was painfully far. So on many winter days I would run out and get food from Dean and Deluca, a yuppie caterers that was just across the street. The things (brownies, cheese puffs, sandwiches) were unhealthy, absurdly expensive and not actually very good, but it was right across the street and under certain weather conditions, that is almost the only thing worth considering. [2]
Clever people would ask why I didn’t just make my own lunch and bring it, but I was boarding with the manic-depressive soprano, who couldn’t stand to have any of us use the kitchen, and sprinkled bleach everywhere if she detected the slightest alien pollution. Besides, there was always the hope that the snow would stop and allow me to have an actual lunch hour, even if I couldn’t manage an actual lunch with chairs and company.
[1] You know the guy who goes nuts for an antique typewriter in You’ve Got Mail? I am convinced that that character was based on one particular writer for The Magazine.
[2] Let me qualify “almost”: What the editors often did on these days was order in sushi, which was obviously out of the question for someone working for $7.50 an hour.
Postscript: While writing this entry, I remembered that I did have lunch with people a few times: once with the business staff after we joined them in the new offices in the Button District; once with Charmaine, who was writing for a fashion magazine and having a baby; and once with Lisa R, whose wedding I had just attended and would describe as a crossover event: her family dancing to Lester Lanin’s band while the geeks from Senior House, equipped with sailor hats and champagne, sat poring over the just-released Andrew Wiles proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, downloaded from … what’re we supposed to be calling ARPAnet now? The Internet. Right. Right.
Lisa brought her wedding photo proofs from Bachrach, one of which contained the best picture ever taken of me, which I wanted desperately but had no idea how to request, since any nonprogrammed behavior connected with weddings always seems like a faux pas; thus I can reconstruct the conversation at that lunch as consisting mostly of “Oh, how lovely! … That’s a nice one … Lovely!”

27 November 2001

Moved! Well, 97% moved. 48 hours ago it seemed there weren’t enough cardboard boxes in the world to support this move, and now I’m looking at a recycling problem. Anyone want 30 slightly used Xerox boxes?
I don’t live in a dorm anymore. I live in a decent apartment of my own, for the first time in ten years. I feel so … middle class. As a brake to the creeping bourgeois feeling, and a reaction to the lack of closets, my subconscious will probably force me to leave some of the stuff in boxes for the next six months. That’s a minor point, though. The sense of relief at no longer having to share a kitchen with a passive-aggressive slob of a teenager is not to be believed. And I am so pleased to have a place where I can leave the laptop set up, since my workspace is no longer limited to my lap while I sit on the bed.

20 November 2001

New York Memories: The Ladies Who Lunch, Part Three of Four
I worked with quite a few WASPy matriarchs in my New York jobs. They tended to be divorced from high-flyers (often referred to as “that bastard” and addressed through lawyers), left with expensively half-reared children and devastating mortgage and maintenance bills. They were generous with life advice:
“Diana, don’t cry, twenty-seven isn’t old. You have your thirties to look forward to. Thirties are great. Early thirties are fabulous. You’re still young, you’ve got your head on straight, it all works. By the forties you’ve got a high pressure job, or you’ve got kids and you’re sweating the school fees, or both.”
“Diana, when I married Wick I didn’t know a thing about relationships. I thought it was enough that his family knew my family and we belonged to the same clubs and liked the same sports. I didn’t realize you also had to like each other, to get along.”
“Diana, my mother took up tennis because it was my father’s game and she wanted to get his attention. Once the wedding had taken place, she put away her tennis racket. Now that was a smart woman.”
The relevance of these pieces of advice to my own social situation, which consisted of hanging out in Chinese restaurants with my geeky friends from high school, college, and Trade Media Publishing, was unclear, but I appreciated their concern, and tried to keep in touch as long as I could. And I hope that today all of these women are still going to benefits for aged cabaret singers and volunteering in the soup kitchens at St. James’s and St. John the Divine and enjoying their high powered jobs, now that they no longer have to sweat the school fees.
Shortly before I came to Finland, I arranged to have lunch with one of them. I was freelancing for The Dictionary Makers in the East 50s, and I chose a chain croissanterie near the Lipstick Building as the meeting point. I arrived at La Croissanterie or Au Bon Pain or whatever it was to find my lunch date, N., standing at the entrance to the sidewalk terrace in a silk wrap dress and Jackie O sunglasses, tapping her foot with impatience.
N: So now do we find the maitre d’, or what?
Me: There is no maitre d’.
N: So how does it work?
Me: First we go inside and get our food.
N: Ourselves. We get the food ourselves.
Me: Right, that’s the idea … and we pay for it and then we find our table. Ourselves.
It was like explaining fast food to a character from The Secret History. N. was skeptical about the whole model, but set her jaw and coped admirably, and afterwards allowed that the Le Bon Croissant experience had not been bad at all. Next: Food chain.

19 November 2001

”Ex-patriots are such an unhealthy lot,” I said. ”They hang out in incestuous little groups and drink too much, complaining about the country they live in, having untidy affairs with each other and regretting it.” (from How To Learn Swedish In 1000 Difficult Lessons, permalink)
True, but there are moments of transcendence, such as the annual Rector’s Reception for Foreign Students and Researchers tonight.

18 November 2001

New York Memories: The Ladies Who Lunch, Part Two of Four

Fourteen years ago this month, I resigned to the senior editors at Trade Media Publishing and went to work at The Consulting Firm. On my first day, I was taken to lunch by one of the vice presidents, a WASPy grey-haired matron who was in charge of Personnel, Protocol, Discipline, Keeping Up Standards, and revealing company secrets at the right time. I’ll call her M, after Judi Dench’s character in the Bond films.

I do not remember where we had lunch. It wasn’t the Italian shellfish place, because that was the president’s turf; it wasn’t Sign of the Dove, because that was his wife’s; it wasn’t the pub at the end of the street, because nobody ever went there except the Irish guy who worked there for a year as the accountant; it wasn’t a diner because nobody ate in diners except me. I soon learned I could go to any diner in the city without fear of running into people from work.

So I guess we went to some girly lunchy place probably decorated in yellow with white tablecloths, and M. had a chicken salad and I had some penne or a sandwich or something else that I was sure I could eat without getting it on my black velvet jacket and plaid skirt, and M. conducted a light interrogation about my background, my schools (local, public), my living situation, my prospects in life. I must have passed, because she rewarded me by revealing some of the firm’s secrets, namely the celebrity connections in the neighborhood. The office had once belonged to Milton Glaser (the graphic designer best known for the “o” in Mobil, the “9” in 9 West 57th Street, and the heart in I ❤ NY). Next door was an interior decorator named Melanie someone, who had been responsible for the introduction of avocado and gold appliances into American kitchens after the war. Bill Cosby lived around the corner. Tom Wolfe was up the block. Sting had been sighted. And one of the townhouses belonged to Ashford and Simpson – did I know who they were?

Me: Err … management consultants?
M: Singer-songwriters. Rhythm ‘n’ blues. “Love Don’t Make It Right.”

At The Consulting Firm, magazines circulated with routing slips attached and there were two paths. Research staff got the serious magazines: Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review. Office staff and female researchers got M’s old copies of People and later Entertainment Weekly. I was on both lists. With this support my celebrity spot rate improved dramatically (as did my database on eligible bachelors in the computer business), and I was already au courant when Bruce Springsteen established his love nest with Patti Scialfa on the next street, when Jesse Jackson came to call on Bill Cosby, and when Gorbachev zoomed down Park Avenue in a flotilla of twenty mirrorglassed limousines. Next: Prêt-à-porter.

17 November 2001

I admit that I’m barely able to keep up with Tinka lately; but one thing that struck me in passing as definitely worth revisiting was her post about fan cuts of films. If you’ve ever thought, “I could edit that better,” maybe soon you’ll be able to. Personally, I look forward to producing my own edits of the classics of social science: Harold Garfinkel, now in readable form!

Elsewhere in the virtual student ‘burb: I fixed the link to Susan. Definitely dig down for the one about freshman composition classes and the guy who rebelled by turning in papers that went, “This is the opening sentence of my personal essay. In this introductory paragraph, I will introduce my themes.” And there’s a new addition to the ‘burb: The Absent Student, who writes about the various pathologies of postgraduate life much more candidly than I could do, with this page being chain-linked from the department’s pages.

16 November 2001

New York Memories: The Ladies Who Lunch, Part One of Four
Where: The canteen at Trade Media Publishing on Long Island.
When: Spring 1986.
Who: Me (newly arrived from Boston), and the other two reporters, Charmaine and Michelle.
The food: Baked ziti, veal parmiagian’, citrus flavored Perrier that is going to make me burp all afternoon, but looks chic in its green bottle.
The conversation: How aloof we find some of the senior editors.
Me: I thought it was because they were New Yorkers.
Michelle: I thought it was because they were goyim.
Charmaine: I thought it was because they were white.
That was the second or third greatest Charmaine Moment ever, the greatest being when she told the senior editors she was quitting to go to McGraw-Hill with a 60 percent pay raise. Next installment: Celebrity watch!

 

14 November 2001

A couple of my projects are out of control, such as the course that was supposed to be over but now has several levels of grading bureaucracy attached to it, and the group for the Chamber Music Cavalcade that I thought would be about eight people and is now 73. I feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Back soon.

7 November 2001

Linguists’ example sentences #4: Helena Halmari (1998)
There is a snake in the garage.
The cat is easy to wash.
It is easy to wash the cat.
The cat appears to be stupid.
The cat happens to be stupid.
The cat stopped being stupid.
It appears that the cat is stupid.
It happens that the cat is stupid.
? It stopped that the cat is stupid.
Linguistics is boring to study.
It is boring to study linguistics.

7 November 2001

Lunch conversation during my offsite teaching day:
Person 1: Helsinki people tell jokes about Turku and Turku people tell jokes about Tampere.
Me: Oh really? What do they say?
Person 1: Helsinki people say Turku people are so closed-up you need a passport to go there.
Person 2: Turku people say Tampere people are so backward they don’t know anything and you can’t possibly live in a place like Tampere.
Person 1: Pori and Rauma have a big rivalry too. Mostly about ice hockey.
Me: What’re the teams there again?
Person 1: Ässät and Lukko.
Me: So let’s see, that would be the Pori Aces and the Rauma Lock.
Person 1: That’s right.
Me: Lock, like door lock.
Person 1: Yes.
Me: (to myself) So there are sillier team names in the world than Diamondbacks.

Lots of them in the earlier American baseball leagues actually: the Buffalo Buffed, the Brooklyn Superbas, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, the Houston Colt .45s, the Chicago Whales, the Elizabeth Resolutes. I have always been especially fond of the Cleveland Infants, who lasted, fittingly, only one season.

 

6 November 2001

Has anyone else noticed the VT100 nostalgia meme in graphic design this month? Suddenly it’s 1982 again (the last via David Gagne).
Moby Lives! has more on the demise of Lingua Franca.