Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Road to Coney Island

As I walked the road to Coney Island welfare office (I walk to avoid paying the metrocard fare), I thought about a recent debacle involving a job offer. It was with an "alternative," private employment agency that was looking for youngsters with strong social sciences backgrounds. The interview went about as smoothly as a jalopy car on a pebble beach, but my interviewer liked me enough and I was offered a clerical position the following week. I accepted. Then, and only then, I decided to research the company and, with horror, I discovered that it was founded and run by an anti-welfare right-winger hell-bent on using state money to undermine our country's meager asssistance programs. I sent them an embarrassed, frustrated e-mail rescinding my acceptance.

The experience reified the major personal dilemma which will inevitably haunt my twentysomethings: are there any jobs out there for which I am qualified that both pay a living wage and mesh with my ethical principles? Unfortunately, “business ethics” is an oxymoron, and most jobs in the private sector will involve undermining or hurting someone else: the end result of competition is one winner and a sinkhole-full of losers. Not slipping on a tie and acquiescing to this state of affairs ensures starvation, and yet, my attitude to joining "Corporate America," at least for now, remains similar to that of many anti-fur activists:

And so, with my savings slumping inward like a dead man’s eyeballs, I panicked and began looking up food pantries and homeless shelters. This is, for the most part, an overreaction but there is something to be said about the Alphaville lyric: “preparing for the best but expecting the worst: are you gonna drop the bomb or not?”

Although budgeting is always on my mind, I am keen on “keeping up appearances,” as in meeting friends at bars, buying rounds and tipping appropriately. Such admittedly-irresponsible behavior probably relates to my Jewish upbringing, as the stereotype of the “cheap Jew” persists, and my parents always emphasized tipping heartily, probably as a direct result of this stereotype.

Little luxuries are also essential. These include the occasional $1.89 can of seitan. In truth, I could probably survive on four or five $0.75 cans of beans per day, but such a miserable, gaseous fate would appeal only to the rare Le PĂ©tomane among us.

Coffee, whether instant, tinned or in the form of an airtight brick, is another one of those necessary luxuries. Along my aforementioned walk, a jovial, mustachioed gent smiled at me and said, in the type of more-Italian-than-American Brooklynese accent reminiscent of those found in (forgive me) the Super Mario Bros. franchise:

“The diner. Over there. For you! For the coffee!”

“Uh, thanks!” He walked by quickly. I did not have my morning coffee – how on earth did he know? Clearly, this encounter was kismet, downright magical: the heavens themselves wanted me to get a cup of delicious, home-style coffee. I peeked through the diner window and saw somewhere warm, old-fashioned and wood-grain: the kind of place where all the customers order waffles, and where all are served by a smiling, red-lipped waitress who always carries an expensive-looking pen. I perused at the menu. A coffee would cost me $1.30: not much more than in any given bodega. I hesitated, thinking that, if I had the money in change, I would buy the coffee. I had only a few dimes and a quarter, but fate wanted me to buy that coffee, and so I broke my own set of conditions. 

I told the young waitress about the happy customer and handed her a five dollar note.

“Yes, we know him. He sat over there,” said the waitress, gesturing over the partition where she poured the coffee.

It was good coffee: slightly burnt, but certainly worth one-thirty. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kale Tries Zumba

I was six years old when I first expressed an interest in dance. Knowing it was deviant – but not quite knowing why – I told my parents that I wanted to try ballet. Ma, likely bothered by the thought of wee Kelsey in a tutu, forbade this, which could explain why I am about as limber as firewood today. Who knows what would have happened if I enjoyed ballet and became a dancer? Maybe I would have become a world-class ballerino, in that stunning physical shape which always accompanies dance talent. Damned heterosexism.

Throughout High School, I assumed it was cool to dance like Ian Curtis:

And throughout College, I thought Thom Yorke had all the right moves:

In truth, I probably resembled Mark Corrigan:


Very recently, when given the option to either try dance or exercise at a local studio, I chose both, in the form of Zumba. I looked-up some clips on YouTube before going. The various dances looked complicated, but I believed that the instructor would teach us the basic moves as we went along. This was not the case. As our instructor explained, she would bellow out the occasional instruction, grunt or sound effect while dancing, but we were mostly advised simply to copy her moves. After assuring my fellow tyros that any movement at all was valid, she cranked-up the volume on her yellow boombox and suddenly started dancing. Everyone joined in. I gave it my best shot.

There were wall-length mirrors directly in front of me, reflecting the moving Zumba instructor; behind her danced the class, slightly delayed, like a string of incompetent back-up performers. I was the worst. While the instructor’s arms appeared to be wooing a potential lover with martial arts, violently declaring amorĂ©, my own flailing arm gesticulations must have resembled one of my old, Israeli uncles trying to haggle-down the price of a used car. My lower body, attempting to imitate the instructor's sexual, feminine struts, instead jerkily frolicked about, a bit like a bunny winning the lettuce lottery, or a young child who really, really needs the bathroom. Hence my attempt at Zumba'ing.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

12 Classic Youth (Un)Employment Songs

I like to think of the following as coming-of-age music. They all highlight that pivotal point in our lives when we confront the impracticality of our greatest aspirations: an inevitable, albeit difficult part of growing-up. If you're in that proverbial boat, may these songs - angry yet empathetic - lend you some comfort.

“Career Opportunities,” by The Clash
Emphasizing the whole youth thing, here's the version on Sandinista!, sung by Mickey Gallagher's (the keyboardist from Ian Dury and the Blockheads) two boys.

“Ghost Town,” by The Specials
Reckless driving through deserted streets... written after a visit to Glasgow.

“Living with Unemployment,” by The Oppressed
I was first introduced to the Newtown Neurotics version of this song, but The Oppressed, an anti-fascist skinhead band, wrote it first. Both versions are excellent.

“When You’re Young,” by The Jam
"Swallow your youthful pride!" belted The Jam to a bunch of teens, live on Something Else. And then the end credits start rolling.

“The Government Administrator,” by Eggs

Indie rock song about deciding whether or not to apply for a job you don't really want, while waiting among a sea of other nervous applicants, with that demon on your shoulder reminding you that time is running out.

“To Have and Have Not,” by Billy Bragg
Leave it to Billy Bragg to powerfully-link youth unemployment with the structural defects inherent in capitalism:
"At twenty one you're on top of the scrapheap
At sixteen you were top of the class
All they taught you at school
Was how to be a good worker
The system has failed you, don't fail yourself"

“What’s Happening Brother?” by Marvin Gaye
Coming home from the Vietnam War to a country in socio-economic mailaise.

“Young, Gifted and Skint,” by New Model Army
There's probably a Nina Simone/Lorraine Hansberry reference in that title... About being fresh out of university and heavily in debt: how relatable!

“Bastards of Young,” by The Replacements
A rallying cry for anyone experiencing the various quarter-life crises, (un)employment included.

“1 in 10,” by UB40
As in, one out of ten people unemployed in the United Kingdom during the time the song was written. A testimony to the apathy with which society regards the unemployed poor. The band itself is named after a claim form for "the dole."

“Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?),” by Wham!
George Michael sings something vaguely political, but not politically-correct (I have full confidence that you’ll detect the lyric to which I am referring…)

“Hand in Pocket,” by Alanis Morissette
We'll end this entry on a note of cautious optimism: "I'm young and I'm underpaid, I'm tired but I'm workin', yeah!"

Indeed, as Alanis consoles:
"No one's really got it figured out just yet"