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2012: Doomsday. Rise of the Baby

9 Oct

WHO: Princess’ 1st Birthday Party
WHAT: Decorations, Childcare, Lei-bearer
WHERE: Oakland, CA
HOW MUCH: Less than Expected
WHY: Money

At the height of my odd job stardom, I took a gig that was vague enough that I couldn’t explain exactly what I’d be doing, and far enough from BART that I had to get a ride from my older brother. The job was for some gathering involving children. Briteney was my contact, a woman who spelled her name at least three different ways during our communication.


After a phone call, she very professionally insisted I sleep on it and let her know if I wanted the job the next day. How to explain I would eat ice cream out of a compost bin for a few dollars. …  So, I called her back the next day with a resounding Yes! I’ll take it! And was given the following party instructions. I have often struggled with this idea of a dress code because, really, what’s appropriate? And who in the world has Luau gear lying around?

As always, I improvised. I whipped off the covering to my desk chair and used it as a sarong, threw on a tank top, and topped it off with a Hawai’ian Kukui nut necklace I’m sure I got for free at someone’s wedding.

My brother drove me to Bryteni’s house in East Oakland, a burgundy one-story, neighbored by similarly modest homes, all rimmed with hazardously tall grass.

“Christeeen. Are you sure about this?” my brother asks.

“Oh yeah, don’t worry, I’ll be fine, it’s safe!” I mumble while hopping out of the car.

A young man answers the door, and introduces himself as Bryteni’s husband. A few minutes later, Bryteni and her daughter emerge from the bedroom, dressed in spot-on identical outfits.

Ma-Mini-Me

Turns out, it’s the kid’s first birthday, and the theme of the party is a Hawai’ian Luau. My job was to be Mommy’s helper: setting the picnic table, putting up decorations, and Lei-ing everyone who came in. Bryteni was not a micro-manager. In fact, she left it to me to do what I thought looked best.

This might have worked out if I was one of those people who was adept at decorating, but as it was, I might as well have been some hairy street man from the dumpster.

I do my best impersonation of a girl, and line the tables with sheets, hang up decorative palm trees, and litter the picnic tables with candles and crafts. Not bad, not bad.

A cupcake tower for her majesty!

Soon, kids of various ages, from 1 to teens, populate the backyard, and it’s my job to not only entertain them, but also ensure their safety.

The kids naturally group into those who like to gather, those who like to hunt, and those who like to sit and stare at the sky. I split my time blowing bubbles with the shy kids, collecting lemons with a group of entrepreneuring girls, and most importantly, controlling the hyperactive 9-year-old on the playground.

I knew immediately that this wild child was something to be channeled, not controlled, with his spastic fist throws and kicks and the way he triumphantly pulled out anything rooted in the ground. Not a bad kid, but an energetic 9-year-old is among the most dangerous creatures on earth. They’re at the stage where they’re strong enough to physically hurt you, but thoughtful enough that one can appeal to their reason and empathy.

Balancing the two deities of his unpredictable behavior was crucial: I had him ride the power wheels, assist with the lemon-collecting gals and even sacrificed my own safety by playing human basketball hoop.

Can I just eat mac n cheese forever, please?

After 3 hours pass, things began to settle down, and I take a break with the bubble-blowing sideliners, two girls and one boy, who had been pensively covering themselves with the goopy substance all afternoon. With each dip, at least one child spills some of the soapy liquid on themselves or on me, but at least it’s not a life-threatening offense. They are very quiet, but they take to me because I let them bubble in peace. Around the corner, the lemon girls pull up with an overflowing cart of lemons.

“Lemons for sale! Lemons for sale!” they shout enthusiastically.

“Ooh! How much?” I ask.

“Five dollars.”

“Five dollars! Okay, I’ll take two.”

I pull out invisible money and hand it to them, as they happily take it and move on to the next customer.

Rufio, stoically bearing his Luau gear

Unfortunately, one of the  many tiki torches lining the yard falls down just then. This, of course, immediately triggers wild child, who grabs the firey object and runs around with it like a forest child on the hunt. Along the way, he begins knocking the other torches down, until all tikis are on the ground. The other boys, seeing something new they can do, also pick up the sharply shaven spears and run around with them.

“No no no! Don’t do that!” I holler.

I intercept wild child, and for a second, he looks at me and stops in his tracks. Then proceeds to swing the torch at me, like this is human T-ball. I expertly grab the stick out of his hand, and he instantly drops it and stomps away. On to the next destructive adventure!

After the leader drops his weapon, it’s easier to get the other boys to stop. Sheesh. Boys.

Easily the most dangerous children’s game ever invented

I painstakingly stick all the tikis back in the ground, and return to my peaceful bubble-blowers. As I watch the carefully balanced chaos circling the backyard, parents seated at the table, kids swirling around them, I think about the prospect of having a child. Biologically, I’m at the ideal age for having children. But I have wrestled with the thought of bringing a life into this world, particularly at this point in time. Aside from all the practical terms of why it’d be a bad idea for me (i.e. no money, no home, no husband, absolutely no cooking ability), I considered what  it meant to usher a life into this world; this planet so mercilessly drained of its resources, its communities systematically broken down, the destruction of beauty and the indoctrination of beastly individualism, and all of this wrapped gaudily in the world’s favorite pastime: hyper consumerism — made me think what kind of world I would bring life into.

Should you manage to raise a child to be a balanced, thoughtful, and empathetic human, it was still terrifying to think of how pain would mar their life: the suffering of disease, poverty, the knowledge that some things were simply never going to exist again. To face the perpetual death of culture.

Could you create life simply to rear a soldier for the forces of good, knowing full well the battle you’d be sending them to? Having a child wasn’t simply about the need to breed, or care for something, or to create a miniature version of myself to carry on my blood and my name. It meant bringing a new existence into this world, somebody who might end up being a lot like me; and did I think it was worth it?

It’s all fun and games until the donkey’s gut bursts with snickers

The arrival of a pinata instantly galvanized kids from all corners of the yard into an anxious frenzy. Hung precariously on thin rope, the pinata suffered glorious blows from gleefully desperate children, until it exploded, and candy rained down. Everyone hit the deck and scooped up piles of treats like crazy.

After the pinata, Bryteni excused me and her husband gave me an envelope with cash, unfortunately for me $10 short of what was promised. The two bubble girls, seeing me leave, took my hand and tried to bring me back to bubble-blowing corner. I explained I had to go home now. They looked at me silently, then let go of my hand and returned alone.

Outside, I waited for my ride, and focused on a strong glass of scotch. The cries of children were still vibrantly ringing from the backyard, and I was relieved, if not a bit sad, to escape from the chaos. I had to admit it was fun playing with the kids, but I could walk away from them any time I wanted. I can only imagine the pain and pride of having a princess of your own was something remarkable I had to experience to understand.

Life Styles of the Rich and Awkward

23 Jan

WHO: Mr and Mrs Dallas
WHAT: Server
WHERE: San Francisco
HOW MUCH: $10/hour + “tips”
WHY: Money

I am ... uncomfortable.

The woman’s name was Dallas, and the post asked for a server to help with her holiday party. After a few email exchanges in which I extolled my holiday-party skills, Dallas gave me a ring. As expected, Dallas had a healthy southern accent and in a pinot-induced slur asked, “So you’ll definitely be here, right? I’m so scared you’ll get a hot date at the last minute and cancel!” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I just said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”

Dallas’ home was in Noe Valley, a good 30 minute walk from 24th Street BART Station. Missing the bus by a fraction of a second, I decided to trek it by foot. The walk began nicely, with the sun setting and people bustling about Mission Street with baby strollers and fruit carts. As I continued westward, the streets became less populated and the dusk turned dusty; soon, I was walking in a gray darkness and up hill after hill after hill. I wavered between allowing myself to look at the block numbers and telling myself that was stupid and to keep walking. About half way there, I was beginning to sweat, so I stopped for a breather and checked my phone. A text message from a close friend read, “Be careful, there’s a serial killer loose in San Francisco.” Whatever.

At last I arrived at the house and before entering, whipped open my backpack to find my bottle of Jameson (I was going to a party after). I took several small sips, straightened my button-up, and climbed the stairs to the front door. DING-DONG! Heavy footsteps followed, and the door swung open. A thick, defiantly blond woman appeared, haloed by an abundance of indoor Christmas lights. “Halllllooo!” Of course, this was Dallas.

Like a tipsy drill sargeant, Dallas marched me through her home, which was a mix of colonial-inspired armchairs, pointy Christmas objects, and colorful paintings—some purchased, many created by Dallas’ husband. I should mention that throughout this, I was terribly uncomfortable because the rigorous walk had given me sweaty shirt back (I know that’s gross, I know.) But I felt better when I met Dallas’ husband, who was one of those men that are constantly sweating in any and all conditions. Upon seeing me, he put down his half-opened bottle of wine and exclaimed, “Oh perfect!” I don’t know why, but I can only assume it’s because we were both sweaters.

Janet vs. Tri-Tip

In the kitchen, I met Janet, long, lean, maitre-d fighting machine. Janet was the antithesis of Dallas—she spoke swiftly and never above a whisper, and as head of the back end apron-wearers, looked perfectly Gosford Park. As I later found out, Janet used to work at the Berkeley Women’s Faculty Club, and eased me into my role for the night: operating the wine bar (equipped with an oxidizer), serving guests drinks, and searching the grounds for crumpled napkins and soiled plates. Luckily, a housekeeper would be joining us later, so I was not in charge of washing dishes. Yay.

After orientation, Dallas was shifting nervously from one hip to another and swinging a green goblet of wine, so I took the liberty of asking her more about herself. She was an exec at an accounting firm who currently “had no boss,” and had remarried and moved into her husband’s home a few years prior. The Christmas Party was for her underlings because she was, for all effective purposes, the woman with no boss. This shed light on why her emails ended with the quote: “If you are not losing a game every once in a while, you are playing in the wrong league.”

Said underlings began to arrive, and Dallas gave each group a tour of the home. It always began with the household blueprints (bathrooms here, coats there, tv upstairs), followed by drink service by yours truly, and then a heavy-footed romp throughout the house. An uncanny sensation moved through me as I watched her use the same phrases, the same affectation, and the same self-deprecating jokes—over and over. The guests consisted of gray-haired farts, voluptuous South Asians, and an older Iranian man who’d accompanied his Filipino wife to the party. There was also a fortune teller who, by the end of the night, successfully rendered several of the women to tears. (They were also really drunk by that time.)

Mommy, there's a naked lady in the background! And I think her legs are broken...

At the center of the party was the lavish food spread: Homemade crab dip, tri-tip sandwiches, and platters of chocolates and caramels. After pouring some wine and laughing at old white man jokes, I went back to the kitchen where Janet was checking on the tri-tip. A party of 20 could barely finish one and Dallas’ husband had made 15! I peered into the oven as Janet lifted the foil and poked at them—juicy, simmering, delicious. So she cut me a slice. And that’s when it started.

Janet continued to slip me morsels of cheese, chocolate, and other samplings from table of food glory. And then she gave me a slice of bread topped with caviar, and I fell instantly in love. If ever I desired to be rich, it was at that moment. I wanted to eat caviar on a scone, I wanted to take a cavier bath, I wanted to make cavier sandwiches and give them to the poor and needy. I wanted caviar in my life. Me and caviar, together forever.

Having had a taste, I became a fiend for the little black eggs, and soon it became all I could think about. I watched the guests move in and out of rooms, and at every opportune moment grabbed a spoonful of it and ran back to the kitchen where I would scarf it down guiltily in front of Maria, the housekeeper.

Maria, Caviar-hater

“MMMM, you have to try this!” Maria took a bite and shook her head. “Not that good,” she said with a sour expression. Oh well, more for me! As my caviar capers continued, I spent more time in the kitchen with Maria, putting away dishes and stuffing my face with the salty rich man’s food. I found out that Maria was a regular employee of the household and was basically paid to clean and listen to Dallas talk. (“She’s my best friend!” Dallas exclaimed.) We chit chatted about the food, the price of gas, and I told her how I walked 10 giant hills to get to the house. “You don’t have a car?” Nah, I don’t need one. Maria had a car because she had kids to bring to school, and the houses she cleaned were scattered throughout the city. Soon after, her sister showed up to help, and the three of us patted down wine glasses while picking at a plate of chocolate-dipped cookies. Much later, after the guests  would leave, Maria and her sister would do a deep clean of the whole house. But my chariot was arriving much earlier, so when they began the white elephant, I bid farewell to my fellow apron-wearers, changed into tights and a pair of boots, and grabbed my cash from Dallas, Princess Warrior.

Outside, I walked down the frosty street to a corner where my friends whisked me away to another land, this one filled with short skirts and plaid shirts. On the dance floor, it was hard to tell who would be the future Dallases, and who would be eating nobbie leftovers and listening to real-life All My Children. But I guess you could just watch who was buying drinks, and who was packing Jameson in their bag.

SCRAPIN’ THE BARREL

22 Dec

I'll order a glass of water and free saltines, please.

I’m at that very special age where all of my friends and colleagues are having some form of a nervous breakdown, psychological or otherwise. Not one to be left out, I decided I also wanted to have a crisis, and that came in the form of being absolutely, and totally broke. What we all know as NO JOKE BROKE.

And so, one day, when the existence of NO JOKE BROKE became unbearable, I turned to my old friend Craigslist for help, only to make the discovery of a lifetime. The Craigslist “Gigs” section. Filled with short-term work, often one-time events, this “Gigs” section was perfect for someone with few bankable or technical skills (moi), and required predominantly the ability to work on your feet and learn fast (I could do that).

Thus began my escapade into the gig world, where you could show up at a place and really have no idea what to expect. (See penguin float above). While I’m tremendously grateful to find any work that pays, so many odd and surreal things happen and I feel I should share them with you through this blog.

 

 

 

This blog is also a way for me to cope with the fact that I am holding a giant penguin float (see above). Enjoy.

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