Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Let Me Entertain You.

Sunday night my family and I encountered a group of carolers, an event that would have seemed less remarkable had we been at home in the suburbs or out in a public square. As it happened, we were out to dinner at Clyde's Tower Oaks, a large restaurant in suburban Maryland that is a reasonable facsimile of a hunting lodge. The carolers progressed not from door to door, but table to table.

We eyed them apprehensively as each rendition of "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bells" brought them closer to us. "What should we do?" we asked each other. We amused ourselves by coming up with possible deterrents: burying our noses in our menus, claiming to be Jewish, claiming to celebrate Kwanzaa, staging a big argument.

I watched as the carolers -- who were talented, if unwelcome at our table -- visited each set of diners. People were smiling, seeming to really enjoy the music. "It would be much better if they were stationed in one place, so you don't have to... deal," one of us said, as we all nodded in agreement.

Their arrival was anticlimactic. They politely asked if we had a request for a carol; we declined with excessive cheer.

I was glad then to enjoy our dinner in peace, but part of me wondered whether we weren't too scroogeulous. Why couldn't we have been like the other families, and smilingly welcomed a tableside performance of "Deck the Halls"? Why was I relieved, yet a little sad, that we are not such a family?

The next night, at the Bethesda, Md., branch of the tapas restaurant Jaleo, dinner with friends was twice overcome by the brief but formidable entrance of flamenco dancers. The dancers did not demand eye contact and full attention, as the carolers did, but were much more effective at impeding conversation.

Two successive nights of kamikaze public entertainment? I began to feel less bad about the night before.

These kinds of interruptions never appear when they are desperately needed. On how many dates in my life would I have been thrilled to have a clown come out and start juggling my utensils, just to provide a diversion from the person across the table? How many meals would have been greatly improved by the sudden appearance of an accordion player, or a ballet troupe?

Yesterday someone in a coffee shop observed to me, "The Christmas commercials used to be for children. Now they try to get to the adults, too." That concept may or may not be new, but it did speak to an increasing sense that it is no longer acceptable for people -- child or adult -- to be left undiverted. We cannot be left to entertain ourselves, or assumed to be content with a lack of external stimulus, a lack of novelty.

I feel this way now, and yet I'm only 35. What kind of an old lady will I be, when restaurant chairs have their own TV screens and everyone in the park is on a WiFi connection?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Actual Lines from Job Ads.

These are direct quotations from employment advertisements that I have encountered in the last month or so.
  • We are an international company with offices in Menlo Park, California and Kyiv, Ukraine.
  • Want to be a part of the digital video revolution?
  • What you bring to the game: An attitude that says, "Never settle for the ordinary."
  • The Managing Editor should have a brain whose synaptic firing could power a favela slum.
  • Are you up on the hottest job market trends? Do you enjoy discussing the latest career news with your friends and family?
  • We don't have any intention of letting go of the reigns [sic] of this Blogging Battlestar Galactica completely, but we figured it's best to start looking for new talent now and empowering them with a venue "all their own!"
Who's getting their resumes ready?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Post-Rockwellian Warmth.

At the small market where I go to pick up my daily office rations, the staff members are used to seeing my puffy, pre-caffeinated countenance. I sleepwalk into the store almost every weekday morning, creating my own blend of granola from the bulk bins (call it OCD Mix), shuffling over to the dairy case for yogurt, and haphazardly picking up whatever else might serve as lunch.

Outside at that hour, the owner and other workers are usually supervising deliveries. The stockpeople are wheeling hand trucks around, and the co-owner spouse is at the register. Everyone says hello to me; we know each other by sight now, if not yet by name. It's a family-run store where people poke fun at each other a lot, and vendors or regular customers sometimes hang around to chat. I don't have to go there every morning; I just like to.

Being recognized as a regular is a bedrock pleasure in life, one that always takes me by surprise. I'm so reticent, and so inured to spells of urban loneliness, that when a connection does materialize, it earns an inviolable place in my heart.

In London, where I spent a desperately homesick and depressed college year, the man who ran the fruit stand near my dorm in Tooting Bec became so precious to me that I sent him a postcard during winter break. For awhile, I kept in touch by e-mail with the former owner of the frozen yogurt store I frequented in New York. And the chatty man who ran the liquor store across the street from my apartment in D.C. happened to be the only one who said anything remotely comforting after I carelessly put a gash across my car in a parking garage. ("Happens all the time," he said, waving his hand. "Go get it fixed: Pretend you're in college and it's your parents' car, they'll give you a better deal. Go home and relax." I don't know why that calmed me more than the words of my sympathizer-in-chief -- my mom -- but it did.)

On my current street of residence in San Francisco, every fifth person you meet is going to have a circuit short, so part of me wanted a little extra credit for just bringing something to the cash register besides insanity. I hoped that, amid the headshops and bars, this market might become a small haven of residential normalcy. Reassuringly, after six months or so of steady attendance, it did.

One holdout had me puzzled and kind of intimidated: a young guy, who I think is the owners' son, never acknowledged my presence, even in clear one-on-one encounters. Nearly everyone at the store would give me a sign of recognition, except for him. He wasn't rude about it, and it wasn't personal. He just wasn't interested.

When it comes to perceived rejection, my response has always been to fold, early and often. I'd greet everyone else, and quietly maneuver around him -- out of deference, not petulance.

Last week, the barrier inexplicably dissolved. "Cold enough for ya?" he said as he rang me up. I almost turned around to see if he was talking to someone else; eye-contact is not his forte. We proceeded to have a whole exchange about the weather and our home regions -- the most mundane bit of dialogue two people can have, but a fundamental one. Maybe it's because I have almost no friends here, or maybe it's because I'm just this pathetic, but it felt like a tiny triumph.

Anyone picking up what I'm putting down?