The Starbucks Experiment

Friday, February 24, 2006

Some News is Bad News

This week as been a bit ho hum, after the wild excitement of having Dani and Karin come visit this past weekend. people got drunk and got laid, people danced and made out in bars, people had nervous breakdowns and had to call the paramedics. fabulous people cooked fabulous dinners for us, important activities like shopping and watching TV were accomplished, and an "America's Top Walker" contest was staged outside the local potomac video. i got to take a walk of my own all over Roof, with its sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. we walked around with the curator and the conservator, talking about the sculpture's condition and the upcoming book. it was a fantastic, fantastic experience, in that it gave me very physical evidence of not only how strong the domes are, but also how individual each one is. Goldsworthy was charming, as i had heard he would be, and it was nice to see how much he and my boss joke around.

but the rest of the week proved the adage that only no news is good news. first i had two wonderful days at Starbucks, wonderful in that Tom happened to be absent and out of every one's hair. my shifts have never gone so smoothly, so lack of strife was definitely great news.

yesterday the corollary proved true when i found out i got rejected from Yale. there is not much to say about that, except of course that i am disappointed. but i suppose this won't be a tragedy until i get rejected from everywhere else i applied, which of course, is now the only scenario i can imagine.

so, that's all folks! (cue looney toones music . . .)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Doubting Thomases

I promised to write about Starbucks, but the only thing to say about it is that Tom is pissing me off. Tom is the former assistant manager who came to power as the new manager during the reorganization two months ago (when i became a shift supervisor). unfortunately, no assistant manager was assigned to our store to replace tom, so he has to do everything. and oh yeah, he received no actual training besides his experience as an assistant manager. this created certain problems, such as the fact that for weeks we had no accurate schedule and people had to call the day before or day of to find out if they were working. in fact, people still need to do this. Tom is a great guy, v. good natured, v. good people skills. he's great with customers and not at all antagonistic with the other staff, but although he's pretty good at managing others he's not at all adept at managing himself. he becomes easily distracted by his myriad responsibilities, so that instead of sitting down and doing the week's schedule, or the next Seattle order, he'll restock this one thing and then clean off this other thing and then redo this one sign and then, look at that, it's time to go home. he routinely comes in early to get stuff done and winds up staying until closing. he's driving himself crazy and everyone else along with him.

i think i do pretty well as a supervisor, but i know i do a hell of a lot better when Tom isn't around. the unfortunate thing is that Tom is almost always around, getting distracted from his own work to give you an order that masquerades as a helpful hint, and makes it look like he thinks you are incompetent. example: this past wednesday i was supervising and Tom was around (which was especially annoying because this is usually my one day sans Tom). he wasn't scheduled to work until 12:30 but nevertheless he had come in at 5am. at 11 or so he left to get lunch and run some errands, but before that he ran to the back room to get something, and on his way to the back, he asks me if "we" could sweep the floor because it's looking gross. i was about to start my lunch break, but dutifully put this off for ten minutes to sweep the floor, necessarily avoiding those areas under customers toes. when Tom strolls back from the storeroom he sees me sitting down with my food and asks me if we couldn't put a priority on the floor instead and do a sweep. so i tell him that actually i just swept the floor, and he sort of walks off. so annoying! in the first place, my standards of cleanliness are pretty high and i would never get through a morning without sweeping the floor unless things were insanely busy. in the second place, my job as a supervisor is to set the priorities for my shift. and while eating my own lunch may not seem like a justifiable thing to prioritize, it actually helps enormously because by getting my lunch out of the way, i can send other people to lunch later when they prefer to eat. whenever i work with Tom i'm terrified that i'm going to lose it and start yelling at him, the most mild-mannered guy you can imagine, because his soft-spoken requests drive me crazy. how ridiculous is it to want to scream at someone that I AM COMPETENT when all they ask you to do is your job? maybe that's the problem, his requests are so run of the mill that i bristle at the idea that they should be made at all.

maybe all of this frustration is just with the fact that the Starbucks job is getting old fast, while the Gallery job is becoming ever more stimulating. it's amazing how different it feels now than it did in august! i wrote then about how boring it was to sit in an office all day, and how exciting sbux seemed in comparison. but the mental drudgery of sbux is dragging me down; the petty concerns of the customers and staff, the general lack of change or, god forbid, improvement, add to the physical stress of the manual work and the mental stress of juggling so many personalities. whereas it is a particularly exciting time at the Gallery just now. Cezanne opened with much fanfare, our department's own dada show opens to the public on sunday. this past week was active because the collectors committee was in town. on monday i will finally meet Andy Goldsworthy. i'm doing preliminary edits on other material for the Goldsworthy book. our department might be doing a small exhibition this spring that i may take a part in. and the odd request for a 180 degree latte ("because if you don't make it that hot, it's cold by the time you get to the car" yeah, whatever) just can't compete with that.

i will close with yet another cartoon, this time from toothpaste for dinner. oh toothpaste for dinner, it's funny because it's true.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Illustrations for LAX Feelings

Just when i thought no one would ever be able to understand the misgivings i not too ably tried to air in my last post, PhD comics comes along and saves the day. why do i want to go to grad school again?

p.s. i promise to write about Starbucks next time, probably about the weirdo cheapskates we get . . .

Monday, February 06, 2006

Feeling LAX

Since people have been pestering me nonstop for news of the USC visit (in other words, i got emails from two people asking how it went), i will oblige the masses with a brief account (which, of course, i would have done anyway).

i had to get up ass early on friday to catch the train to BWI to get the plane to LAX. i took a cab to the USC campus and sat in the sun, marvelling at how bright yet hazy it was, and watched a special effects team put this sort of tepee made out of tall logs on fire (except it was a special effect, so the fire was v. controlled). all the special effects guys were pleased as punch, resembling 10-year-old boys with a new christmas present, while undergrads in skimpy clothing chatting on cell phones tried to walk across the lawn and got yelled at by disgruntled security guards. then i went up to the art history office and hung out in the grad school lounge, which is tiny, waiting for other people to show up, which they did shortly, and then after a while we went on a tour of the campus, which was given by a first year who didn't know what half the stuff was. and actually, that was incredibly charming, it was nice to see how you might as a first year settle into a place, what you would figure out first, etc. the campus is really nice. i had heard horror stories about barbed wire fences but it's just like Columbia, in that it's a collection of sort of non-descript modern buildings interspersed with a few architectural gems and green space, and plenty of it. i was impressed by how shady it was. the surrounding area is supposedly unsafe at night, but it never seemed scary to me. aparently they get frequent reports about kids getting held up at 3 in the morning, but no one ever gets hurt, and you have to figure that those are drunk frat boys who could get held up in des moines. then i checked into my hotel, which was v. hotely. i mean big and impersonal, but my room was huge, and had a nice view of the campus. at six i returned to campus for my interview: six members of the faculty (including the famous Nancy Troy) and at one end of the conference table and me at the other, rather intimidating. how did it go? we asked every prospective this as they came out and they all said "it was fine." and that's really all you can say. because i think i was interesting, certainly they seemed interested and responsive to what i was saying. but i also made an error (said one art historian's name when i meant another, oops), and i was pretty tired so who knows how i seemed. actually, it may have been better that i was tired because it makes a good excuse for not being on point. after that there was a short period of chaos with all the prospectives and lots of grad students and faculty in that tiny lounge, and then the students and prospectives went off to dinner. that was nice. i sat next to one of Nancy's students so i got to hear all about her as an advisor, and of course i got a better impression of what it's like to live in LA, but i'll talk about that later.

the next day i actually managed to sleep in (and read a lot of Phineas Redux, the exciting sequel to Phineas Finn), before we all went to the Getty. they showed us stuff from the special collections and then we tooled around on our own. if i had any doubts about the value of an education at USC, that special collections viewing sold me. they have scores and scores of incredibly important unpublished material that would make for hundreds of original dissertations. USC faculty teach classes at the Getty, so the grad students wind up spending half their time there. and it's really beautiful, all up on the cliff overlooking Santa Monica. actually it seemed to me like something straight out of star wars, like this futuristic very planned ideal city, with all those plazas and gardens. i half expected space ships to sort of swoop in and land and princess lea to come striding out. and i thought, "i could spend half my week here."

i suspected before arriving in LA that it was a city of a totally different type than i was used to, a much more futuristic city, wtih none of that quaint condensed neighborhoody, built on a river, traditional town grown into a city-ness. and i was absolutely right. it's not just a city out of star wars, it's like one of those planets from star wars that was entirely city (isn't it weird how planets in star wars are like all desert, or all forest, or all city?). i mean to get anywhere, literally anywhere, people have to get into their own personal bubble (their car), and change over to a mode of transportation of a totally different scale (the freeway), which is generally faster than normal travel (a v. slow light speed, if you will). but nevertheless it takes 30 minutes to get anywhere (does anyone else remember that line from clueless, anywhere in LA takes 20 minutes?). anyway, all this makes me feel like you're hopping from one part of a planet to another. except each hop is painfully long and slow.

so, after the Getty we went to Richard Meyer's house. he's one of the more famous faculty members, and he gave this party for all the faculty and prospectives, which was really nice. it gave me a chance to talk further with the people who interviewed me, but i'm not sure if i made myself sound more or less interesting. Nancy Troy, it seemed to me, was more interested in talking with other people, and all this makes me wonder if i'm actually going to get in. there were a lot of prospectives there, at least 25, whereas each class is only 7 or 8. they acknowledged that this year they had more high quality applications than normal, and therefore they invited more people than normal to interview, but they never said they would therefore admit more people, and I'm guessing they can't afford to.

but maybe it wouldn't be so bad if i didn't get in to USC (provided i get in somewhere else of course). i am now absolutely certain that USC would be the best place for furthering my career, but the sad truth is that i'm not entirely sure how much a career means to me. as my friends know, i would be a supremely excellent lady of leisure. and as much as i want to go to grad school, i don't want the next six years of my life to be entirely about art history. i know it's hard to have a life in grad school, and i got the feeling it would be even harder to do so in LA. everyone is so goddamn spread out that you can't be spontaneous, you have to block out an extra hour to get to where your going and back, people have to meet up from all different parts of the city, and evenings consist of going to one movie/opening/restaurant and then going home, rather than moving from one thing right to another (although perhaps that wandering nightlife only occurs in New York). and then living in LA would clearly entail extra expenses. I would absolutely need a car. and i would have to spend a comparatively huge amount to visit friends and family, since every place of interest is a plane ride away. on the other hand, if i do get in, it would seem irresponsible to chuck away my best chance at making something of myself. i mean, i may never fall in love or have kids, but a career is something you can more or less control. you can work hard at being a successful art historian, but you can't work hard at being a successful human being. people either are happy or they are not, and no matter how hard i try i just can't know what will make me happy.

i crashed as soon as i got back home. and despite hours of sleep, i've been exhausted ever since. as stressful as it was to apply to grad school, i think it may be far more stressful to actually accept one.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

and Higher!

As if my last post wasn't cheerful enough, i now have some VERY good news to report. first of all, on monday night i got a call from the chair at Northwestern saying i had made it past the first round and she had some follow-up questions. so we had a little interview type thing over the phone, and i think it went v. well, although interviews are always nerve-racking and phone interviews always more so.

two days later i'm vegetating at home after a morning shift at Starbucks when i get a call from Nancy Troy, the Nancy Troy, the fashion/modern art historian i want to work with at USC. she said that she was v. sorry to have to tell me that i had been invited to a prospective student's weekend but had never replied, so she assumed i hadn't gotten the email, which of course i hadn't. and this big event that i was invited to was . . . this weekend. oops. prof. troy was v. apologetic about their mistake and lack of follow-up and said she assumed, and very much regretted, that i wouldn't be able to go out there on such short notice. and i said i couldn't (after all, i was v. excited about my upcoming trip to new york this weekend, and i'm just not the sort of person who jets off to the west coast at the drop of the hat). so she proposed some alternatives. we could do a phone interview with several faculty members via conference call, which to me sounds only slightly less terrifying than being robbed at gunpoint, or maybe i could make the big CAA (college art association) gathering in Boston later in the month, since several faculty members would be there. this sounded better but still not ideal, since the CAA annual meeting is basically a meet market/job fair for anxious grad students. even prof. Troy said it might be overwhelming. but the upcoming weekend at USC did sound ideal. i could finally see LA and the campus, and meet all the faculty, and current grad students, and the other prospectives, and get a tour of the special collections at the Getty from Troy herself, and go to Richard Meier's house, and, oh yeah, get flown out there and put up at a hotel at their expense.

so maybe i wouldn't jet off to the west coast at the drop of a hat, but apparently i will at a phone call from Nancy Troy. USC, here i come!