Archive for the The Real World Category

Call the Roller of Big Cigars

Posted in The Real World on July 25, 2008 by rkunzig

On May 17 2008 they handed me a diploma and returned me to the World, blinking and kind of stunned.  Four years of my life had passed like a fold in paper, and the last four months especially felt like no time at all.  I remember waking up in Columbus, Ohio on the 18th to a formation of sprinklers tick-tick-ticking spurts of water across a beautiful backyard.  In my half-sleep delirium, I though the Real World must be some kind of eden, some strange fresh-smelling new life without papers, without exams, without petty, unmerited stress.  It was charming.

For about five minutes.

For those who didn’t catch the last season of The Wire, here’s the moral of the story: print media is taking a swan dive, from the national dailies to the community weeklies.  Sam Zell’s takeover of the Tribune has so far been marked by retreats, causing columnists to openly wonder whether or not the media conglomerate can remain financially solvent.  What isn’t failing is consolidating: Rupert Murdoch marches on, gobbling up The Wall Street Journal without shame (but thankfully, not without protest).

On a practical level, this means a glut of experienced reporters on the job market.  For every job posting on JournalismJobs.com, count on at least forty responses, most of which are embarrassingly overqualified.  For the aspiring reporter–one year’s experience as an intern, a solid GPA and an array of bright, shiny references–spunk and ambition don’t cut the mustard.

You can guess what the past few months have been like for me.  For those who can’t, a visual aid.

Thank god–or chance, luck, whatever–I finally landed a job at a local quarterly.  The diploma was a start, but adulthood can only truly commence with a desk, corkboard, filing cabinet and telephone extension.  In the months to come, the diligent reader can expect plenty of  smirking anecdotes from my professional life, each sodden with irony and choking on self-satisfaction.  Regular content will proceed as if, after January 3 2008, I didn’t drop off the face of the earth.

Oh, dry those eyes.  I missed you too.

Where I’m Calling From

Posted in The Real World on December 20, 2007 by rkunzig

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For the past week I’ve been crawling around California, living off the generosity of others.  The purpose is ostensibly academic, so I can’t sound like I’m having too much fun, but updates are pending: anything from what I’ve seen here, to Raymond Carver, to the new issue of The Kenyon Review.

In the meantime, here’s Slate.com, saucy as ever, with their campaign correspondent blogging live from the road. 

Where Fiction Dares, a New Novel of Modern Americana

Posted in Books, The Real World on December 6, 2007 by rkunzig

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I’m a seafood snob. I don’t order fish unless I’m close enough to the sea to smell the salt, or unless I’m near a reliable freshwater source. I go to school in Ohio.  Suffice to say, I skip the “Cajun-spiced Scrod” at the dining hall.

My holidays, however, are filled with Ahi tuna, seared, sesame-encrusted and settled on a bed of oriental noodles; little neck clams in a white wine sauce; blue crabs, fresh from the Chesapeake; Oysters on the half shell. Going to a Red Lobster on the Delaware shore would be like going to an Olive Garden in Italy.

And yet I’m intrigued by Stewart O’Nan’s latest novel, Last Night at the Lobster. According to a NYTBR article, O’Nan was inspired to write the novel by a newspaper article about a couple who went for some deep-frozen seafood at a Red Lobster in Connecticut and found the branch restaurant closed.

“That little article made me think it was this loss of a little world and I just started daydreaming about it,” said O’Nan in the NYTBR article.

The novel follows General Manager Manny DeLeon, as he sees his branch through its last day, from the mid-morning food prep to the emptying of the register. DeLeon tries to maintain some sense of dignity, even though a new Red Lobster is doubtlessly being built in a new strip mall in a new suburb somewhere, anywhere he isn’t. There are, according to NYTBR, “nuanced portraits” of tensions between workers, and a lament on DeLeon’s part for a spent affair with a waitress.

True Americana is something that authors constantly grasp at, and some, like Updike and Ford, achieve it spectacularly. I’m shocked that it took someone this long to recognize the loamy, fertile literary peat in places like Red Lobster, or Applebee’s, or any similar fast-food-plus restaurant. I worked at an Applebee’s in Ocean, New Jersey for a summer, and everything about the restaurant, from its customers to its employees, was beyond ridiculous. One of the servers had inch-long fake nails, purple weave and a shrill voice that summoned us hosts across the restaurant to report on any number of things: why we double-sat her, why we didn’t bus her table, if Alonzo’s (her boyfriend’s) baby’s momma had called. On her twenty-first birthday she got drunk off a single Long Island Iced Tea, fell of her bar stool and walked out the door to pick up her daughter from the babysitter’s.

One of the managers was a stalwart drunk and an indiscriminate leerer. He sulked around the dining room, asking how-is-your-meal-tonight with all the enthusiasm of a U.S. Census taker.

The “smoke area” in the back actually functioned as a make-out den for two of our guy servers.

Places like Applebee’s have eluded literature because they’re caricatures of themselves, completely devoid of sincerity or meaning. Even the most creative Post-Modernism couldn’t ennoble the Ocean branch.

In any event, I’m looking forward to seeing how O’Nan’s DeLeon handles his last day as general manager, seeing his ship to the bottom of Red Lobster’s hypothetical ocean, as the corporate goons offer cheery waves and a middling termination bonus. Meanwhile, all the servers chuck their aprons over their shoulders and walk next door to the Olive Garden.

At least they won’t have to fold napkins for the next day.

Crackberry Speak

Posted in Robots Scare Me, The Real World on November 21, 2007 by rkunzig

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Since my family really got “wired,” I’ve owned second-string cell phones, the ones that come free with the plan. After a long string of dependable, if not sometimes idiosyncratic, Kyocera models, Mom took pity and urged me to pick out “whatever cell phone I wanted.”

Like that certain cheerleader–a little melancholy to the smile, a little thickness to the build, a little sarcasm in the swish of the pom-pom–the LG Chocolate wasn’t the best, per say, but the most appealing. It slid open. It was white. It was smooth, and when I touched it, it responded with a spry, eager click. It took pictures. And in less than a year, I’d owned two, both dying from ailments so catastrophic and terminal that they could only be replaced.

After the latest aneurysm, I spoke the word “BlackBerry.” It was a dependable technology. It had earned its stripes in the DC-Metro area, and with a few generations’ distance from whatever hiccups plagued the first, I felt comfortable calling it a safe bet. Who knows? In a years I could have a middling job as a pup reporter with some middle-rung paper. It might come in handy.

Happy Birthday: The BlackBerry Pearl 8130, the newest, sharpest and sleekest of the Pearl “Smartphone” series. On paper, it shines: It can juggle up to 15 email accounts, access the internet, execute SMS, MMS and BlackBerry messages, take two-megapixel pictures, provide directions; along with the other standard amenities. Navigation is handled by a trackball.

In practice, it lives up to its pedigree. The idea behind the “Smartphone,” I think, is to combine the versatility and power of a PDA with the compactness and access ability of a cell phone. Example: yesterday, while waiting for a friend to squeeze through a battery of red halter-tops, I read Nicolai Ouroussoff’s architectural review of the new New York Times building. On my phone. Am I embarrassing myself, or is this still cool?

The BlackBerry is another issue entirely. Debuting humbly in 1999 as a pager, the device evolved along with the modern cell phone, always staying a few integers ahead of the curve–and ahead of most wallets. When the familiar color-screen QWERTY 7200 series hit the market at a relatively affordable price, young Potomacians and the Bridge-and-Tunnel crowd pounced. By 2004, the number of BlackBerry users had reached two million, having doubled within ten months.

Enter CrackBerry. A unique form of Stimulus Addiciton emerged as the cheery Smartphone vibrated every time an email, text message or call was recieved. Users started feeling phantom vibrations, reaching for emails where there were none. Inane, wandering letters from friends, timestamped somewhere between 8 and 9 a.m.–the commuter surge–came post scripted with “Sent from my Verizon Wireless Blackberry.”

Gaurenteed, you’ll never find a more vanilla, inoffensive spread of language than in a BlackBerry message. While AutoText allows lightning-fast dispatches, predicting words based on context and probability, it also discourages words it doesn’t know. Typing your way to most compound words is like hacking through half a mile of Vietnamese jungle with a dull machete. God forbid you want to spell something so exotic as “fuckhead,” or “shitbird.” Most proper names, too–though, oddly enough, most Jewish surnames slide out easily, as if they were invited. Thus, even the most spirited complaint is sanitized. Example:

“Some birdbrain burned the coffee this morning. Fucking retard.”

Turns into:

“Some idiot burned the coffee this morning. What a retard.”

Suitable for the dinnertable, but I didn’t mean idiot; I meant birdbrain. Styrofoam speech is the price of convenience, and when it’s a labor of frantic backspacing to shape le mot juste, most will choose the supermarket-brand word. Welcome to the commuter’s lexicon, the lazy locution. Smile like you don’t mean it–unless you’re ready to spell it out.

Pinecone Races

Posted in The Real World on October 23, 2007 by rkunzig

pine-cone.jpgSomething I did with my mum as a three-year-old: we collected cones from the pines bordering our Catskill, New York property, put them in a brown paper Shop Rite bag and took the Oldsmobile to the old railroad bridge leading into town. Standing on one side of the bridge, we’d drop the cones into the water; on the other side, we’d see whose slipped first from the shadows, spinning a little in the current.

It was a trick we learned from Winnie the Pooh. Who knew what happened under the bridge? Something emerged on the other side.

Coming from a college senior, I think the metaphor is obvious.

In my case, the metaphor is applicable. Somewhat. For the semester, let’s say. The resume needs some sexing-up, and it needs to, well, go somewhere. Grad School feels like a distant tingle, and my bones are saying: next year. Or maybe the year after. But with my Honors project, the rest of my year has already fallen into place.

Not true for most. The hand-wringing and hear-tearing among the Senior class is considerable, comparable only to the entranced navel-gazing an panicked draining of pint glasses. For all the highfalutin blahblah it seems to engender, the Scare comes down to a single word: Now?

Yeah, now. No “next year.” No second chance.

Little pinecone in a graduation gown, spinning down the steps with a diploma, smiling up and down the creek.