Captain Inertia
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

for loaning me your copy of this game. Last night, in lieu of packing for my trip home on Wednesday, cleaning my apartment, doing dishes, making my bed, etc., etc., I sat on my couch and played Civlization III for TWO AND A HALF HOURS. I literally had to wrestle myself away from the goddamn thing at 11:15 PM so I could go to bed. Oh, trouble, trouble...

Bagel (preferably from here) + cream cheese + strong coffee (preferably from here or here) = proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm standing, with Maggie and Darryl, in Staples, on Broadway. We're here to pick up 18 copies of a proposal. Then we have to put them in floppy see-through plastic binders, and then put them in big 11x15 envelopes. Then we have to walk to 33 Beaver Street and drop it off, a journey of several blocks. It's about 3.30 now; the proposals are due at 5 PM. No worries. We have plenty of time.

Actually, though, it's not 18 copies--it's 6 copies each of 3 proposals, which are very similar but distinct. They're all proposals for supportive housing sites my company wants to take over from the city--one in the Bronx, one in Manhattan, and one in Brooklyn. So the bulk of the proposals are the same ("We want to do this, and then this, and then this...") but the addresses, zip codes, and community boards are all different ("...for the fine people of Morrisania/Harlem/Bushwick"). Right? Right.

Except that when Darryl needed to drop the proposals off at Staples, 45 minutes ago, our CEO wasn't in the building, so he couldn't sign the original copies of the proposal. His signature is required for the proposals to be complete. So, what we've done is had him sign three different letters, one for each proposal, and brought those letters with us. We're then going to make five copies of each of those three original letters, and and we're going to go through all 18 copies and subsitute the NEW letter (WITH signature) for the OLD letter (WITHOUT signature). Right? In theory.

So Maggie, Darryl, and I spread out over the copy counter at Staples. We separate out the proposals by site--Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn. The proposals are substantive--about 60 pages each--and take up a lot of room. I take off my jacket and throw it on top of an advertising display filled with PDAs and cell phones. We go through them, one by one, and substitute signed pages for unsigned. The Staples muzak system is playing "Golden Years" by David Bowie. It's 4:00.

And we're almost done. One original and five copies of the proposal for Manhattan go into a big envelope; one original and five copies of the proposal for the Bronx go into a big envelope. We're almost done.

But then something happens: we both realize that we've put the wrong signed letter copies into the proposals. The Manhattan one, mercifully, is fine, but the Brooklyn and Bronx ones are both screwy. (Page one: proposal to operate site at xxxx street in Brooklyn. page ten: we're really psyched to operate site at xxxxx in Manhattan. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR GRANTWRITING TEAM! hyuk hyuk hyuk!) It's 4:15.

We're scrambling now. We need to go through 12 proposals (one for Brooklyn, and one for the Bronx), and remove the signed letter page indicating the wrong sites, and replace them. And it is then we realize we don't have a signed copy of the letter for the other two sites. I mean, we did--we certainly walked into Staples with one. But now they're gone.

So our choices are: submit a letter to operate a site which is not signed by our CEO, bad form, or submit a letter which is signed by our CEO with a line through the site name and another one scrawled in in pencil. Worse form. We opt for the blank letter, and ol' Davey spends 75 cents to make photocopies right there in the shop. It's 4:30.

Muzak is now playing an instrumental version of "Deck the Halls." A woman comes up to me and asks me if I work for Staples; I tell her no.

We make copies. Now we have to go back and make sure each proposal--each of the 3 proposals, with 1 original and 5 copies for each proposal--is bound, has a signed letter, if available, or an unsigned letter that at least refers to the correct site, and that each of those 18 proposals gets put into the right envelope. And that those envelopes get labelled properly. It's 4:40. I keep saying "Well, never a dull minute, never a dull minute," like I'm an idiot savant of grantwriting.

At 4:45 Maggie and I notice that another letter in the proposals, from our Executive Director of Housing, also incorrectly refers to housing sites. We decide not to tell Darryl. Maggie does, however, promptly volunteer me to accompany Darryl as he sprints headlong down Broadway to get the proposals in to 33 Beaver on time.

At 4:46 Darryl and I head out; he's carrying two proposals, I'm carrying one. At 4:47, after a minute of running, we turn around. Darryl forgot Appendix A: Receipt of Proposal, which the city needs to sign when we turn the proposals in. We run back to Staples. Maggie, of course, has diligently cleaned up every last scrap of paper we left there at Staples and taken it back to the office, including Appendix A. Darryl grabs some blank paper and says, "Well, I can always get them to sign blank paper, if all else fails." At 4.48 we head out the door again.

We don't run all the way, thank God. After the first couple blocks, we power-walk, and frankly, we're not walking any faster than most of the other ludicrously busy people hustling around lower Manhattan at 4.48 on a Monday. We get to 33 Beaver; we take the elevator up; we're in the office, dropping off the proposal. It's 4:53. I feel two beads of sweat run down the small of my back.

On the way back to the office, Darryl and I walk slow. He looks at me and says, "Well, David, you just learned about everything that you should not do when you're working on a proposal."
Friday, November 21, 2003

I wish I was a) more attractive and b) wealthier. Though not necessarily in that order.

So yesterday I was visiting the website of this fine organization, and I stumbled upon a policy section devoted mostly to Callahan v. Carey, the landmark 1979 decision guaranteeing the homeless a right to housing in New York City. And I thought to myself: hmmm...

And then I read the Coalition's facts-vs.-fiction document regarding the Bloomberg administration's recent effort to amend the law. And I thought to myself: ...mmm…this law seems, uh, like a bad idea.

It's not that I oppose housing homeless people. Far from it; I think we can all agree, homelessness = bad. It's just that from what I've read about the decision, it seems like it attacks the problem in a dumb way.

I mean, if you read the Coalition's document above, it indicates that some of the 'controversial' changes Bloomberg is trying to make in the act are things like: freedom to evict people who won't complete an initial intake assessment; freedom to evict people who won't actively seek permanent housing; freedom to evict people who violate shelter rules 'regarding health and safety.' And I thought to myself, "They can't evict people for doing this already?" Guh?

I’m in the social services field right now, and let me tell you, people who won't cooperate with us get dropped from our program pretty quickly. Fail to cooperate in developing a service plan? Fail to follow house rules? Use disrespectful language towards a case worker, or try to physically intimidate them? Get dropped. And frankly, I think it’s great that we have the discretion to drop clients who won’t cooperate with our program. The ground rule is, you cannot help people who won’t take responsibility to help themselves. (It's trite, but it's true.) Unfortunately, that means you can’t help people at all sometimes, but that’s the way it is.

Now, I’ve never read this court decision, so it may be that the law is a lot more nuanced than ‘all people have a right to housing, no matter what.’ But that’s not the impression I’ve got based on what I’ve heard.

Obviously, some homeless men and women might be mentally ill or otherwise have difficulty giving full cooperation to the city shelter system, and people ought to be trained to deal with that possibility. I’m not in favor of having a hair-trigger—putting someone out on the street for a minimum of 30 days is a pretty bad-assed step and shouldn’t be done lightly. But I feel like if someone absolutely will not cooperate with a system, incidentally, that is ultimately geared towards their benefit, you’ve got to be able to show them the gate. Otherwise the whole system loses its integrity--people start to take advantage.

I'm really, really not trying to be a heartless bastard here. I'm not Marie Antoinette. Does anybody have another side of this issue or know more about this than I?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"Linkage" is the word of the hour at work. Everybody's saying it.

My boss, the grants manager? Saying it. As in, "Our supportive housing site is going to be in the East Village, so it's crucial that we be able to show some linkage with the community." The executive director of housing? Saying it (in his South Bronx Puerto Rican accent): "David, you have to get us the linkage," or "this proposal needs to have great linkage." The CEO? Saying it: "David's working up the linkage for this proposal, right?"

Does this ever happen to anybody else?...where one word of professional jargon suddenly gets hot, and wham! all of a sudden, everyone is jargoning in unison? I'd say my grasp of what they're talking about has recently been upgraded from tenuous to merely workable, but I certainly am aware that whatever it is, linkage is important.

It's not a tremendously funny word, but it makes me giggle. Sometimes I catch myself doing an impression of the Director of Housing or CEO...I just go "linkage linkage linkage linkage" over and over again.
Monday, November 17, 2003

Does it pose a theological dilemma for me to like this album this much? I feel a little weird listening to it on the way to church.

Not at all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Many happy returns. Not that you read my blog, but hey.

Many happy returns.

OK. So, my bathroom has a vent in it, and sometimes this vent turns on for no apparent reason late at night, producing an irritating buzzing noise. It seems to do this mostly when I am trying to go to bed; perhaps it's on the same schedule as the guys who stand directly below my window and argue about the Nets. I dunno.

So last night, the buzz starts, I get up, close the door into my bathroom firmly. That quiets the buzz considerably. No worries. I go back to bed.

Cut to this morning: I get up, I'm groggy, in boxers and a t-shirt. I go to the bathroom to start the usual morning routine--only I have locked myself out of my own bathroom. As I discovered to my chagrin, there's a lock on my bathroom door, and I had at some point in the past armed this lock, so that when I shut the door with more than the usual firmness last night, I, uh, locked myself out of my bathroom. There aren't any windows or anything into my bathroom, so there was pretty much no way I could get in that didn't involve my bashing down the door.

Thought process at that time goes like this:

Thought One: I have locked myself out of my bathroom.
Thought Two: Oh. Hmm.
Thought Three: I really have locked myself out of my bathroom. Don't panic.
Thought Four: God, I really have to pee.

I was already starting to think of how I could invent an excuse to get the Mexican restaurant across the street to let me use their bathroom when inspiration struck me. I would simply take the lock apart! I grabbed the knife from my kitchen counter and used it to remove two screws from the doorknob. (Why a knife, you ask? Because I didn't have a screwdriver.) That made the knob fly off on my side, revealing the inner guts of the offending lock mechanism. At this point, I wasn't sure if I had a) come much closer to being able to open the door, or b) really, truly screwed myself. (hypothetical comment from locksmith: "What the HELL did you do?!?") But from there--and I say this in astounded awe at my own genius--I was able to actually push off the doorknob mechanism on the other side. That left a big hole in the door, where the doorknob used to be, and a plastic, dead-bolt-y kind of object, which seemed to be anchoring the lock in place. Using only the power of intuition, I surmised that if I were able to fiddle with the dead bolt-thing, I might trip the lock. And by means of a long-handled wooden spoon, I was actually able to reach inside the dead bolt-thing and unlock it. And open the door! And get back into my bathroom!
Friday, November 07, 2003

So, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that on any given train ride, I'm a pretty likely candidate for "that guy." (As in, "what's up with *that guy*?") First, I'm usually carrying too many bags--normally one backpack plus a carrier for my laptop, if I took it home with me. As a result I'm constantly turning around and jostling people, hitting them in the face with my backpack, etc. The only thing I've found that alleviates this problem even a little is wearing my backpack in the front and my computer bag on the side, which makes me less likely to hit someone, but makes me a look like a paratrooper. I look like I'm about to parachute into occupied France and set up an internet cafe.

Lately, though, I've developed an even more disturbing habit: air-guitar and air-drum playing on the train. I think it's safe to say that just about everyone on the 3 train this morning thought I was absolutely bonkers as I sat there attempting to drum along with "Sneaky Feelings." (And when I say "air drum," I don't mean small, subtle movements. There are full-on air cymbal crashes involved here, big, sweeping arm movements. Sometimes when playing air guitar I do little Townshend mini-windmills. It's exciting.)

It's all part of the sinister influence New York exerts on one's personality. First you encounter the crazy people on the train, and you think, "Whoa. Crazy." And then, a mere year later, you are that crazy person, trying to get the high-hat part down on "Welcome to the Working Week" as you're walking to the train.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Conversation with Joy last night sparked an interesting idea. I want your favorite Simpsons quote of all time. (Or two favorite quotes if you can't narrow it down to just one.) I'm betting Joy's fav is the one above. Mine is probably: "You don't SNUGGLE with Max Power! You just strap yourself in and FEEL THE Gs! (accompanied by pelvic thrusts)"

Monday, November 03, 2003

I am now twenty-four years old. I don’t know how this happened.

Seriously. It crept up on me. I think when I was younger, I had this operating assumption that there would be kind of an aging plateau—y’know, that I would grow up, hit 22 or 23 and just stop. Like I could be 23 for five years or so, and then move on to 24, 25, and so forth. 23 seems like a great age—why move past it in just a year? Linger on it a little bit.

This, of course, is not the case. 24 has come. 24 is not old, but it is legitimately grown-up. Friends of mine will be graduating from med and law school soon; they are already starting to get married, have babies, get graduate degrees, and obtain a large measure of professional success.

I am now 24 years old. This means that next year I’m presumably going to turn 25, which will be just intolerable. I mean, I am going to flip my shit when I turn 25. 25 is halfway to 30, and we all know that when you turn 30 you’re legitimately adult and are staring down the barrel of old-hood. You have to have your shit together. My friend Grant, who’s one year older than me, is married, owns a house, and is in the process of getting an MD/PhD. He’s got it together. Theo Epstein, the GM of the Boston Red Sox, just turned 29; Elvis Costello released My Aim is True when he was 22. I cannot be trying to ‘figure out my life’ when 30 comes around. I have to have it together.

But I don’t. I’m 24, and I’m clueless—still searching for a career path, a girlfriend, emotional stability, a closer walk with God—and I have only a few vague ideas about how to become more clueful. And I’m starting to get a little scared. Scared that things might not get any clearer the way things are going, that I won’t figure anything out. Scared that I’ll turn into a mumbly, vague, confused 30-year old instead of same at age 24.

But here’s the other thing: as distressing as it is to be clueless, I think the process of making those kinds of decisions is so intimidating to me that I put it off, ignore it, say that I’m not ready. And that bites me in the ass sometimes, too.

Joy lent me High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby, when I was up in Boston a few weeks ago. (It was actually a High Fidelity-centric weekend, since I watched the movie for the first time on Friday with Ann, and then read most of it on the bus ride home, courtesy of Joy.) I really liked it. One reason I liked it is that the main character, while in his thirties and technically quite grown-up, feels pretty alienated from the idea of adulthood—as in, “I may be in my 30s, but I don’t feel like a grown-up; I feel like I’m faking it.” That rang true for me. The other reason I liked it is that he, like me, is a chronic decision-avoider, a decision-putter-offer.

My mom, she says, loves going clothes shopping with me. Because I am decisive. (If you are now chuckling derisively, either at the prospect of me going clothes shopping with my mom or at my mom saying I am decisive, please keep it to yourself.) If my mom is in fact correct, it is virtually the only area of my life in which I am decisive. In other areas of my life, when there are tough decisions, I frequently, though not always, struggle. Take as much time as is humanly possible to make the decision. I agonize. I pray. I consult friends. I think. I journal about it. And usually I put off making the decision until the absolute last minute. And the bigger the decision, the bigger the temptation to postpone making it—precisely because it’s important and it deserves to be made carefully. (My trying to decide whether I should go to div school is a perfect example—definitely an important decision, one that deserves time and attention. But I’ve been working with this question for two years, and I’m starting to realize that I need to re-examine what it means to come to a conclusion about something big like this.)

So what does this have to do with my being 24 and anxious about aging? Uh, maybe this: aging is scary because it shows I can’t put off making important decisions forever. Or that I can, but if I do so, it means I’ll wind up old without having made any of the big commitments that make life meaningful. Eventually, I have to commit, I must choose and be bound by the limits of my choosing. And that’s very hard for me.

When I was offered my current job, it came after a period of unemployment lasting several months. And I was at a place where I really needed a job—any job—badly, and it was kind of a no-brainer to take it—plus, the job offer I got was a pretty good fit for me, all things considered. I got a good vibe and had a good feeling of ‘fit.’ But still, I hesitated—for a few days. And I think now what worried me was commiting to the job. If it turned out to be crappy, well, I’d be stuck there for a while, or if something better came along two days after I started, I might not be able to go after that. It was weird.

Recently, during a time of prayer and meditation, I was thinking about a specific time in my life where I’d been confronted with a choice and had had a very difficult time making it. And it occurred to me, looking back on it, that part of what was holding me back was not that I didn’t understand the situation, or that I had been “having a hard time making up my mind” per se; rather, it was that I was having a hard time accepting the imperfect nature of all the choices before me. I could do A, which would suck, because of B,C, and D, or I could do E, which would suck, because of F, G, and H. And both courses of action would mean disappointment, frustration, anxiety, and worst of all, disappointing people I cared about. And at the time, I literally agonized about this decision for months—which in a way was its own decision, which I also didn’t understand at the time.

I don't know what I would do now if I were in that same situation again. But I hope I'm growing.

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