Monday, February 27, 2006

a comedy of errors

my sister got married saturday. and not without a little bit of drama.

i woke up that morning feeling sentimental. my sister was asleep on the bed next to me, and i thought, this is the last time that i'm going to share this room with her. my reverie was quickly broken when she sat up on the bed, wide awake and began pacing the house. i sleepily followed her.

within fifteen minutes she was on the phone with the florist and having me help her haul boxes of wedding favors into her car. and then, once at the country club, up the stairs, into the reception area.

she bullies the reception site manager into re-arranging the tables, turns to me, and tells me to sketch the table layout.

my drawing skills are less than desirable, so she ends up doing it herself.

we go home, and she is trying to finalize the seating chart. she looks up at me in frustration and says, "sister, will you do this for me?"

"yeah. go." she had hair and makeup appointments after all.

trying to seat two hundred people in tables of eight, keeping in mind families, friends, and familiarities, is not as easy as it seems. but i managed. and hoped that i wouldn't alienate anyone. my dad and brother helped me alphabetize the place cards (all two hundred of which i had written by hand the night before), and then my dad took the seating arrangements to the reception site while i jumped into the shower.

the bride came back home in a frenzy, just moments before her other bridesmaids started to arrive.

i helped her into her enormous dress, and she emerged, through the layers of tule and sparkle, absolutely stunning. as if she had just stepped out of a bridal magazine.

the other bridesmaids oooh and ahhh minutes before the limo driver is scheduled to arrive. he doesn't. my sister grows increasingly agitated as we make frantic phone calls to the limo company.

the limo is supposed to pick us up, drop us off at the church, then go retrieve the groom and groomsmen, who are to serve as ushers. so if we are late, the ushers will also be late.

the limo driver finally calls. he is lost. my sister gives him directions and hangs up. we see a long white gleaming car driving slowly up the street, and try to flag him down, but he turns down the wrong street. there are four bridesmaids in the middle of the street waving, a bride on the sidewalk on the verge, and a lost limo driver.

he calls again and makes it to the house. drops us off at the church and then asks how to get to the hotel where the groom is staying. (we had given him all the pickup information prior to the wedding day, by the way). i think my sister is going to kill him, and so i tell him to call the hotel for directions.

the photographers, dressed head to toe in black suits, meet us at the church, snap some shots, and then ask us about the flowers.

there are no flowers in the church. and bouquets? do you have bouquets?

we call my mom and ask her to call the florist!!!

my sister turns to me and says, "i should be freaking out now, right? the limo driver is probably lost. there are no flowers, so the photographer doesn't want to take any pictures."

"it's ok. you're still getting married."

this seems to cheer her a bit.

the florist, our cousin, mercifully arrives bearing bouquets and boutonnieres. the photographer snaps a few pictures, and then it is time for the ceremony.

my sister, my dad, and i wait at the back of the church as the other bridesmaids walk down the aisle arm in arm with their groomsmen. soon it is my turn to walk down the aisle. she tells me to walk slowly.

when i turn around at the altar, i see the flower girl--our cousin's three-year old daughter--SPRINTING up the aisle behind me. she'd been fine at the rehearsal, but was now apparently thrown off by the hundred or so people standing in the pews. i take her hand and hold it while my sister and father walk down the aisle, arm in arm.

when my sister arrives at the aisle, she has tears in her eyes, and i think about how she was determined not to ruin her makeup. my dad puts her hand in jerry's and goes to sit by my mom. we all turn and face the priest.

the mass goes smoothly until the reading from the new testament. the priest announces, "the new testament will be read by the bride's aunt."

one moment passes. then another. then, all of a sudden, i hear my dad call my name in a loud whisper, "jennifer! jennifer!"

i turn back toward the congregation.

"she not here!" he whispers loudly.

without missing a beat, i walk up to the lectern and read from the saint paul's letter to the ephesians. in english it was fine. but then i had to read it in spanish. and biblical spanish, well... not so easy. i stumbled through all the "vosotros vais" and "os," and returned to stand next to my sister at the altar.

i thought that would be the last bit of drama until i realized that the arras that i was supposed to present to the groom (so that he could present them to my sister). right before the presentation of the lazo, i turn around in my pew to ask my mom about the arras. but she asks me about the lazo.

"you have it!" i tell her.

she is rummaging through her purse. it is moments before the two families are to present their respective lazos. she pulls a small bag out of her purse and then pulls the lazo out. she has tied it together at various points so that it would not tangle. now she is nudging my dad to help her untie the lazo! i glance back and see that the arras have fallen onto the floor, so i retrieve them when she and my dad go to the altar to place their newly-unbound lazo around my sister's and jerry's shoulders.

the rest of the mass is perfect. the groom kisses the bride. the bridal party walks down the aisle all smiles. a million pictures are snapped.

mariachis entertain guests at the reception before the bridal party makes its entrance. the reception ballroom is beautiful with its plush chairs and tables clad in white linens. white roses and white orchids and candles adorn the tables. waiters and waitresses in white shirts and black bowties round the room with wine and food.

our aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends all smiling and talking, my sister, the bride, and her new husband make their rounds around the room, meeting and greeting and thanking everyone for being there. the sun sets in brilliant swirls of pink outside the large windows on the west side of the ballroom. as the evening wears on, guests meander on to the patio to catch a glance of the city lights below.

inside there are toasts and cake, ice cream, a photo montage, first dances with father and daughter, mother and son. and then dancing. dancing until shoes come off and the guests have worn themselves out.

at the end of the evening, my parents and i along with my brother and my sister's best friend await the limousine that will whisk away the bride and groom.

we are tired. the day has been long. and it has not been perfect. but it's been happy, and, according to my sister, happily ever after.

Friday, February 24, 2006

sense of place

the following is an excerpt from luis alberto urrea's in search of snow:

Bobo was as happy as Mike had ever seen him... He envied Bobo his eager stare, the way he looked in every direction, obviously loving each rock, tree, glint of broken glass on the tracks. Mike didn't know what to call it. If Lily had been there, he'd have asked her, and she'd have said, Sense of place. Something fancy like that. Mike had it: it was Home.

i read that passage en route from houston to bakersfield. a couple of hours later, i found myself looking down at the glow of lights of a night-time bakersfield as my plane prepared to touch down at meadow's field.

my mom and sister were waiting to meet me, and in no time at all we were on our way home. even in the dark i know my part of town by heart. from the airport, we drive toward silhouettes of palm trees dotting the panorama bluffs. minutes later, our view from above is orange lights of oil refineries that never sleep. bakersfield junior college to our right. the gentle wind of panorama drive through a residential area leading to our house.

and i found myself feeling like bobo, loving the palm trees and the oil refineries. the houses on panorama drive i know so well (though i don't know who lives in them!). the college i never attended. i let my gaze drink it all in because it gives me that "sense of place" during this very uncertain/unstable time of life. i am strangely soothed by these ordinary sights because bakersfield is my touchstone. and no matter where i've been or where i'll go, it will always be. home.


Monday, February 20, 2006

the surreal life, cont.

interview day. university in california.

it began with a pleasant breakfast with the chair of the department.
an hour later, another professor.
then shuttled to meet with students, who i love.

everyone i meet very polite. i am on show. they are on show.

at 11AM the day begins to speed downhill. and fast.
a meeting with senior professors. one question i am unable to answer. another. and then another.
i try to speak about issues about which i am only peripherally knowledgeable.

half hour later, i am defeated. jarred at my lack of preparation. feeling like more of an idiot than i've felt in a very long time.

lunch with more professors reveals tensions in the department.
i feel caught in the cross fire.
still jarred from my interview, feeling overwhelmed by what i am learning about departmental politics, i am taken to a room to prepare for my talk.

during the half hour prep before my talk, my friend, the women's studies professor, peeks her head into the room to ask how i am doing.

i have been averaging four hours of sleep a night. i am stressed. i am unsettled. utterly overwhelmed.
it is 12:40, twenty minutes before my job talk.
her face, kind and expectant.

i start to CRY.
but i can't indulge my tears. i have SEVEN more hours of interviews and meetings.

i grab napkins to clean my running mascara and do my best to pull it together.

my talk goes relatively well, but i don't feel that it matters.
more meetings.
a ride back to my hotel and a beer with a professor.
dinner with two more professors.

8PM and i thank the last two professors for accompanying me to dinner. taking the hint, they ask for the check.
i ride up the elevator to my hotel room, strip off the suit, and fall onto the bed.
exhausted, disappointed.

that was my one shot. and i tanked.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

the surreal life

at the vegas airport on valentine's day. en route to california.

the stewardess has made us applaud a couple with matching "bride" and "groom" t-shirts who are heading to some elvis chapel to live happily ever after, beginning today.

i am grumpy and nervous and stressed. and i hate to fly.

i am greeted by the smell of cinnamon and butter emanating from cinabon and the sounds of clanging music and bells rising from the slot machines clustered around the airport waiting areas.

no sooner have i begun to walk toward my gate than do i cross paths with a porn star.

for the record, i do not watch porn. (i'm a good catholic girl!). but i recognize him from the vh1 show, the surreal life. he appears just as he does on screen. short, pudgy, and unkempt with his long-ish black hair, green eyes and faded PETA t-shirt. nevertheless, i am a little bit thrilled to be crossing paths with celebrity. i think to ask him for his autograph, but then think better of it. will i really want to show off my porn star autograph? probably not.

instead, i opt to call my roommate to share my star sighting. i leave a rambling message on her voicemail. "you know who i'm talking about. that guy! i think his name is jeremy something. jeremy irons?" five minutes afterward, it hits me, and i text message her--ron jeremy!

my layover will last nearly two hours, so i decide to play the slot machines. after winning two dollars, i decide to quit while i'm ahead and head to starbucks to spend my winnings on a cup of coffee.

valentine's day in southern california

it is a perfect california day. sun shining through a sky, pristinely blue. a brisk wind blowing through the fronds of thin palm trees. i am waiting curbside at the airport when a black luxury car approaches with the name of my hotel stenciled on the side. i am embarrassed to hand my suitcase with its busted zipper to the driver.

i talk nervously to the driver as we weave through the afternoon traffic. we talk about everything from austin, to my job interview, to his family, my family, music, his girlfriend, our careers. i am overwhelmed when we arrive at the hotel, an enormous spanish style complex, its old stones illuminated by soft lights as the sun sets, its palm trees strung with white lights. my driver unloads my bags and wishes me luck.

the driver has told me that the hotel complex--the rooms and the three restaurants it houses inside--is nearly booked tonight because of valentine's day. as i wheel my suitcase into the lobby, i see that he is right. there are couples dressed to the nines in the hotel lobby and in restaurant waiting areas. women carrying long-stemmed roses. i check in and traverse long hallways to my room. i notice "privacy please" signs hanging from nearly all of the doorknobs along the way.

a friend, who is a professor of women's studies at the university where i will be interviewing, picks me up and takes me to her house to have dinner with her family. i marvel at how her ten-year old daughter has grown tall and cut her hair short. they introduce me to the newest addition to their family, a baby girl who is hardly a baby any more! (my friend was just a month pregnant the last time we saw each other). we enjoy a dinner that my friend's mother has prepared, white rice with a kind of japanese beef curry.

back at the hotel, i make last minute preparations for my interview. review the history of the department, faculty profiles, rewrite the introduction to my job talk.

the chair of the department calls to make sure i've arrived safely, to inform me that he'll be picking me up for breakfast the next morning at 8AM. he will try not to be late.

to be continued...


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

happy valentine's day

i discovered this poem during this past year and thought it beautiful. i hope that you all enjoy it, too.

i carry your heart with me
by e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

for all of you poetry aficionados, my roommate posted another great love poem on her blog a few days ago. click here for a take on love by sandra cisneros.


random thoughts before my big day

rewriting this post. when i wrote it last night, i was too bleary-eyed and distracted to be very coherent.

in preparation for the job talk, i have:

* taken my suit to the cleaners. only one suit, but many tops and accessories.
* cancelled my class on wednesday. (my students were very sad.)
* researched the history of the department where i'll be interviewing.
* printed out the faculty profiles of everyone with whom i'll be meeting tomorrow.
* made sure that all of the overheads for my job talk were in order. (i know; i'm old school. i need to learn how to use powerpoint. i just feel like there is so much that can go wrong with something as high-tech as power point. the overheads are v. simple).
* done laundry. well, actually, i'm at the laundromat right now. :)

before i leave for the airport (in three hours), i have to:

* pack!

sometime between the plane ride and my first meeting tomorrow at 8AM, i have to:

* write a new introduction to my talk.
* write in my journal. i need to get my thoughts straightened out before all the madness ensues.
* sleep. this is important. i was sick for my first job talk last year, couldn't sleep at all. woke up feeling horrible, which i could hide. what i couldn't hide were my bloodshot eyes. maybe the reason i didn't get that job was because they thought i was a druggie? now i make sure to pack visene among my toiletries.

today is a day of preparation.

because tomorrow i will be en friega. every moment of my day, from eight in the morning to approximately eight at night is accounted for. breakfast, mid-morning meetings, lunch, job talk, mid-afternoon meetings, dinner. i'm scheduled to meet with about ten people wednesday.

i wonder how charming i'll manage to be with person #10...

usually, some members of the search committee take the candidate to dinner the evening before the big day, but i have no dinner scheduled. i thought that odd until i realized what today is.

i guess none of the members of the search committee want to have dinner with the job candidate on valentine's day.

go figure. ;)


Thursday, February 09, 2006

las vivas de vivo's

thursday afternoon of the rejection email, my roommate, olga, comes in to find me on the phone, crying to my dad. when i get off the phone, i start my sobbing to her.

earlier in the afternoon, before the email, we agreed that we would spend the late afternoon working at a coffeeshop with another one of our girlfriends.
i'm clearly in no shape to be writing my article this afternoon.

"do you want to go get a drink?" she asks me.

"but it's only four in the afternoon."

"it's after noon!" she says.

"ok." (she was twisting my arm after all.)

olga calls for reinforcements. she rounds up two of our girlfriends and we agree to meet for drinks at vivo's, a bright restaurant/bar near our house.

"first drink's on me," olga says.

i am still puffy-eyed and sniffling when we get to vivo's. cristina and laura are already at the bar, looking sympathetic as i sit and start to whine. how hard i'd worked on that application. how much i wanted this postdoc. how upset i'd be if i knew anyone else had gotten it. i am sad and selfish and angry.

three shots of tequila and one shared plate of appetizers later, i'm feeling significantly better. we are sharing gossip, poking fun of professors, commiserating about grad school workloads, job possibilities, attempting to uncover the mysteries of the male mind.

olga suggests clementine's for a sobering cup of coffee. we sit on red couches in front of large rectangular windows, and watch the last light of the day fade. olga and laura talk about knitting projects; cristina and i talk about boys. actually, i talk; cristina gives me advice.

i look at these girls, and i love them so much for dropping everything to help nurse me back to happiness. they all have work; they are all stressed; but they are all here with me.

it's true. i have still been rejected by my postdoc. i still have no idea where i'll be or how i'll be paying my bills come july. but i realize that the afternoon has somehow become sweet.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006


yesterday, i was talking to a couple of my friends about the problem of wanting something too much.

you never get that one thing you really want.

there was the dream job i blogged about a few weeks ago. there's not a job i wanted more in the world than that one. and i did not get called for an interview.

there are a few boys with whom i've had flirtacious exchanges over the fast few weeks. the one i'm not that excited about, very consistent about calling. the one that i like best, the one that i want, hasn't called in a week. of course.

and now this. i have applied for this particular postdoctoral fellowship THREE TIMES. it is my dream postdoc. a two year stint at a university of california school. if you get this postdoc, you are practically guaranteed a job in one of the UC schools afterward. i just got my THIRD rejection from them today. the same, we-had-many-qualified-applicants-but-have-limited-funding variety of letter. it's like someone breaking up with you: it's not you; you're great. it's us; we can't afford you!

i worked so hard on the application. revised and re-revised the essays. had secured the mentorship of an anthropologist at one of the UC schools whom i really respect and like. but it was all for nothing.

i have to admit that i'm a little bit devastated. i really wanted this fellowship. and i thought i had a chance. i hoped.

i don't know if it's the universe trying to teach me to be more zen-like in my attitude toward professional achievement. that it's not about getting what i want, but learning to want what i get (yes, i'm stealing that from a sheryl crow song).

so here is my pessimistic lesson of the day: want not, be disappointed not.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

friday afternoon faux pas

i call my dad friday afternoon to touch base. he answers, but says that he can't hear me. bad connection in the office. he'll go outside and call me right back.

within thirty seconds, my phone rings and i answer, "hey."



more silence.

thinking our connection still bad, i continue, "dad? can you hear me?" then louder, "DAD? DAD!"

all of a sudden, a male voice.

"may i please speak with jennifer ________?"

"this is she," i say, slowly, hoping that it is a telemarketer, but knowing that it is not.

"this is dr. ____________ from the department of chicano studies at (a university in california)."

i feel my stomach sink.

"oh. i'm sorry. i was talking to my dad and we got. cut off. i thought you were. him. calling back."

"that's ok," dr. X says, generously, though i feel extremely foolish.

he then asks me if i am still interested in the assistant professor position at his school, wants to know if i've already accepted a position somewhere else.

"no, i'm definitely still interested."

he tells me that i am not guaranteed the job, but that he will be in touch soon about an interview.

"thank you," i tell him.

"thank you, dear," he says.

little wonder that he didn't say, "thank you, m'ija."

i'm so mortified. here i am trying to pass myself off as a PROFESSOR and he catches me yelling for my dad.



Wednesday, February 01, 2006

mexico meanderings

my roommate, olga , and i made a break for it last weekend, headed down to south texas. spent saturday morning at the beach, the afternoon in matamoros.

we thought we would be brave and drive instead of walk over the border. i had never driven in mexico before and was, admittedly a little nervous. but it was fine. we paid our toll at the bridge and cruised right into town. followed the signs that pointed toward el centro and found un estacionamiento. once downtown, we wanted to spend our time walking through the grid of one way streets.

we were immediately drawn to the plaza in the middle of town, where people were setting up rows of white plastic chairs and a stage with with balloon figures, bending in the wind. wandered around park benches, tried not to stare at the couples who were were spending their mid-afternoon cuddling, and marveled over the tiles that adorned the quiosco in the middle of the park.

though our stomachs were grumbling, i asked olga if we could take a detour into the church, a pink stoned building, with a simple facade. we walked inside the dimly-lit sanctuary and blessed ourselves in front of a white statue depicting the virgin mary cradling jesus in her arms after his death. walked along the aisles, noting the gold plated decor around the altar, and took our seats in a pew facing a statue of juan diego.

neither of us had ever seen a statue of juan diego before. he was brown-skinned, with an image of la virgen de guadalupe on his tilma and a cascade of bright roses tumbling down from the image. olga thought his features more spanish than indigenous.

emerging from the dark church everything too bright outside, despite the overcast sky.

having foregone lunch, we were on a mission to find tacos. i am a taco snob. i have yet to find a place in the US where they make good tacos. they seem simple, and yet there are endless ways to not cook them well.

well. olga and i stumbled upon riko taquito in el centro and each ordered one taco de carne asada and one taco al pastor. washed them down with toronja soda in long-necked green bottles. and let me tell you, it was like happiness on a plate.

with our bellies full, we wandered among the throngs of saturday afternoon shoppers. at one point olga turns to me and says, "do you know what i love about mexico?" a million little things, i think. being able to blend in with people--not too short, not too brown. the rhythm of the afternoon. the tacos! the balloon vendors. the melody of language.

"what?" i ask her.

"the shoe stores!" she declares.

i laugh aloud and agree. there are rows and rows of adorable and affordable shoes at any given zapateria.

we ended our afternoon at a cafe, where we sat outside on a lovely patio. we treated ourselves to two cafe americanos and one shared flan while listening to american music humming through the speakers. "globalization," olga tells me, and i want to cover my ears (to avoid her comment, not the music).

we head back in the late afternoon, and miraculously find our way back to the border. no maps. just instinct. i was feeling very cavalier on the way back to the US, thinking that the border patrol would simply wave us back into the states. our border patrol agent, however, had other ideas. he asks the usual questions about our nativity and why we were in matamoros. "just for fun!" i say, flippantly.

then asks to see our IDs and runs them through the system. i'm dying to know what comes up on the screen when he runs my ID (crazy marxist academic?). he asks for us to open the trunk. i'm certain that he is impressed by my yoga mat and hand weights before he closes it and lets us pass. olga theorizes that we were victims of racial profiling (would they have stopped two blond women crossing back over?). i say it's because we're so cute! he clearly wanted us to hang out with him for a while. ;)

border troubles aside, there's nothing like an adventure with a good friend.

for another perspective on this trip (and some cute pics), check out olga's blog.