Too Long for a Facebook Status

Bad karma is when you buy a dress you’ll never wear at H&M that is accidentally on sale for $7, mere petty cash, the cost of lunch, and then later, purposefully crumble the receipt into a ball and return it for $49.90 in store credit. You get nervous at the cash register, hesitate writing your information on the form needed to file your return, awkwardly stare at the security guard by the door as you leave. You tell your mom, your boyfriend, your best friend. You feel guilty, even though H&M uses child laborers to make their clothing and all the dress seams fall apart after awhile. You are damning the man, you are damning the trend, you now have $50 to spend. You slide the merchandise credit into your wallet and pretend it was given to you as a gift card to use on a rainy day.

Bad karma is when you wait two months to use that credit, despite your casual walks around the stores after work. Nothing really catches your eye. H&M on Walnut is geared toward the young professional, H&M on Chestnut is aimed toward the Philly high schooler. Friday afternoons the place is packed, miniskirts and graphic tees strewn across the store. Today, a Wednesday, you find a badly needed cardigan, free of pulls and pills, and a soft gray long-sleeved tee. You don’t think twice about pulling the merch card out of your wallet. You leave the store wanting more.

Bad karma comes to get you when you swing by the Walnut store, just to see what’s there. You put down your purse and your bag of new purchases to try on more cardigans. You need more cardigans- your business casual wardrobe is waning as the weather is warming, and you’re going to stick it to sundresses as long as you can. Ten minutes later in line at the register, purse across your body and cardigans in hand, you realize your other hand is empty.

You run around the store, looking for the pink plastic bag. “Has anyone seen an H&M bag?” is a really dumb question to ask, and the security guard you once feared is now your friend. He shakes his head. You leave your name and number at the register after using the last of your credit on a 2 for $20 deal. You’ll never see that sweater or that tee again.

As you walk out of the store, pissed but accepting because you knew this was coming, you really did, you believe in karma, the doctor calls to tell you that they can’t help you, they can’t fix what they’re supposed to fix. You stay on the phone, crying, sucking back snot behind your giant sunglasses, walking through Rittenhouse Square. I’ll return the cardigans, you think to yourself. I’ll give the store credit to a homeless person, I’ll do anything. You don’t deserve this. You may have swindled $42 out of a sleazy corporation but enough is enough. You’re a good person. You offer “god bless yous” from across the street, you ask the elderly if they need help carrying bags or getting out of their cars. You compliment young mothers on cuteness of their children. You hold open the door for strangers, you smile at people you don’t know.

You are almost home now, on 21st and Spruce. You are profusely sweating and the tears that have run down your neck are not helping your damp situation. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot an upside down debit card on the ground. Good karma, you say out loud. You pick it up, read the name, immediately call Wachovia. This is good karma. You are saving this card from being placed in the wrong hands, you are saving it from being abused. You are helping this woman, this Lucy McDonald, and you feel great. You can’t reach personnel at Wachovia, but slip the card into your pocket to be dealt with later.

When you get home, you wonder how you could find owner of the card.  Craigslist? Facebook? In college you returned many an ID card via the Internet, but in a major city it could be more difficult. There is one Lucy McDonald in the Philadelphia Facebook network. You click her name see her info, only to discover that she’s an Account Executive at the public relations firm you’ve been trying to get a full-time job with for months, and have been on the phone with this week regarding a possible internship. You send her a message, offering to cut the card in half or return it to her sometime tomorrow. You also let her know you’ve been interviewing, testing, calling.

Good karma, good karma, good karma,  you repeat to yourself like a prayer. Good karma.

Advertisements

My American Life

Ira Glass’ 90-minute program + Q&A sesh at Jones Hall this past weekend ended on this pop-cultured note:

“Ira, when did you know that people were really listening to This American Life?”

“I knew people were really listening when my wife and I were watching The O.C.,  because we loved The O.C. when it was on (!!!), and a fictional character mentioned something about This American Life and another fictional character said, ‘This American Life? Is that that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?’ That’s when I knew.”

Ira’s touring show, “Radio stories and other stories,” began with only his iconic voice talking calmly, if not neurotically, from a dark stage. “I have gray hair,” he warned the audience. “And I look even Jew-ier than you thought I would, I’m sure of it.” The spotlight flickered onto his desk, and he began telling us about stories. His stories and other peoples’ stories, all while effortlessly arranging  the music and clips  through a CD player.

There were a few things that he mentioned that really stuck out to me. The first was that about half of TAL’s stories are gathered just from e-mails sent to their website. It’s that easy. I started thinking about the stories I’ve written and the ideas I could come up with for show themes. I tried to imagine myself reading aloud from some old non-fiction essay I had written. Could anyone find what I write interesting aside from the people who actually know me? I don’t know.

Ira also made note of his marriage, and how he thought it was a good one, but it’s so rare that he and his wife take the time to really talk about their feelings, which I thought was a way cool statement said by a fifty-something straight man. “We never take the time to say what we really think about. People open up on the radio because there’s anonymity there. You can hide while still getting your emotions out there.”

***

On Saturday, I spent the afternoon wandering around the Bayou City Arts Festival, which is kinda like Artsfest, only in a major city, and the point isn’t only to get wasted. I brought Zack’s digital SLR with me and took some pictures. I bought a keychain because I couldn’t afford any of the real art, which was much more innovative than anything I’ve ever seen at Artsfest in State College.

The whole time I was thinking, “Why can’t I do stuff like this? I need a hobby. How do you get a hobby? I want to take a photography class. But everyone takes pictures, right? I’ll never be that good. Dude, I want to start collaging. Yeah, mixed media. How do I do that without making myself look a bored eighth grader? I haven’t taken an art class since middle school.”

Then on Sunday, Zack and I went to Austin City Limits, where we listened to a handful of really fantastic bands and got horribly sunburnt. Pity party take two.

“I want to be a band (I used to play piano, but I can’t carry a tune). I want a jaw-dropping sense of fashion (need a bigger paycheck), and a waist line to match (need more self-control). I want to make music, or videos, or music videos. I need to learn how to operate computer programs that are useful. I gotta delete my Facebook.”

As Zack and I perused the art at ACL, I told him about the necklaces I used to make when I was younger and how I sold them at Rochelle’s in Wayne, and the t-shirt surgeries I used to perform in high school and all of the stencils I made. I used to have hobbies, I swear I did.

***

We met up with Matt Fox and his brothers for the Yeasayer set. I think I could count on one hand the times Matt and I hung out in real life. We’ve known each other for probably six years, but entirely through other, older Conestoga graduates and Livejournal. One of the first things he asked me was, “Are you still writing?” That’s how I was categorized by someone who doesn’t really know me, or knew me when I was eighteen. As someone who writes.

Goddamn. No. No, I’m not really writing.

I’m 23 now, and I’m feeling this insane pressure  to figure out what I really love and what I’m really good at. I need a passion. I need a hobby. Did I say that already? I need to either start blowing people out of the water with the stuff I was pretty good at in high school and college, like writing, or move the fuck along. And in the age of the Internet, how do you even get noticed for what you really can do? It feels like everyone’s trying to be the next big thing. It’s discouraging.

A lot of my extremely talented friends are doing really cool and creative shit with their lives right now. John is writing for the Denver Post and managing their music blog. Maddie is working for a badass design firm in SoHo, much like most of my other designer friends. Lindsay is interning at Bitch magazine in Portland.

My lack of radness makes me feel entirely mediocre. I need drive, or something. I womped to Zack before we fell asleep last night, staring at the ceiling. The dark room was my anonymity, my confessional, my personal radio show.

Zack tried to console me.

“I think you saw too much art this weekend,” he said.