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 P├ętomane 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. 

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