Written for WECB News
In the city, safety’s always going to be an issue— Emerson’s unique in that it lies in the midst of a sea of madness known as citizens of Boston, and this environment has proved to be surprisingly hostile in recent weeks. On February 15th, a man was stabbed at downtown pizza standby New York Pizza, a location many students count on to get their weekends started, causing much alarm among students and faculty alike on how, exactly, we can protect ourselves. Of course, most authorities will tell us, “Don’t walk in the Commons/outside/do anything outside of your place of residence at night”, but this warning will fall on deaf ears for the most part, and with good reason. So, for you kids that want to party but would rather not get shanked, here’s a rundown on things you can do to avoid death (thought by many as the ul…timate party foul).
Stick with a group; wanderers are always more vulnerable in both appearance and reality, especially under, ahem, certain conditions.
Despite their arguable fashion value, debilitatingly high heels for the ladies is never the best choice, especially in the dead of a winter’s night. Not only does it look extremely uncomfortable for both you and those having to watch you totter around, but it also makes it difficult to get away from any unwanted company.
Know when and how you’re getting home when you leave for the night; that way, no matter what how silly the plans end up getting, you have a surefire way of not being left out in the cold.
Make sure you’re not letting your wallet out of our purse, bag, or pocket if you’ve decided to troop the streets; anything valuable in plain sight isn’t going to do you any favors.
Always have your phone charged and ready with the right numbers pre-saved— not only 911 but the campus police and emergency contacts, the whole nine yards.
In the unfortunate event that you are confronted or mugged, the best policy is to only carry the bare essentials. Some cash, ID, keys, a phone, and some lip gloss (if you’re a makeup-waring lady or a very sassy man) will do in most cases— enough money to cover a cab or train fare is smart, but refrain from packing your life’s savings and entire DVD collection if you can help it.
If you want to get out of a party fast, have an established system with a friend that’ll get both of you out of there swiftly. My personal favorite is to have a roommate or friend feign forgetting a homework assignment, feel sick, etc. and oh dear! They seem to have forgotten their keys, and it’s your duty as number one friend in the universe to usher them to safety. Foolproof.
Have a plan B in case one venue doesn’t pan out; not only does wandering the streets looking for a party look desperate and a little skeevy, it’s also not the safest way to roll.
In case you and your group get separated and someone’s phone dies after too many Facebook page refreshes, have a default place to meet up in case things go awry. These days, that place would preferably not be New York Pizza.
Don’t walk through the Commons at night! Don’t leave your dorms after nightfall! …just kidding.
Written for WECB News
Since the beginning of the spring 2011 semester, transfer students coming into Emerson are finding it easier than ever to make the adjustment with newly available housing. In previous years, transfers are put on the back burner regardless of year in terms of on-campus housing, but the Fall 2010 addition of the Paramount Center on Washington Street has opened a bevy of opportunities for newer students to adjust without a nasty commute.
“I like that you’re required to live on campus for the first three years,” says freshman transfer Rachel Gordon, who began her second semester in college at Emerson a few short weeks ago. “It seems like a lot of people don’t like the idea of living here their junior or senior years, but the housing here is great and I like the idea of being on campus rather than commuting.” She was initially drawn to the school due to its communication disorders program, a major which is often overlooked in Emerson’s current boom of theater, journalism, and film majors, but most directly relates to the school’s communication roots.
In light of the newly implemented housing policy, which according to emerson.edu requires that students being admitted following Fall of 2009 remain in on-campus housing for six semesters unless they enter a lottery dictating otherwise, the Paramount has made a big effect on who gets to remain closer to downtown, as well as the amount of say they have in it. Gordon goes on to say that she was not given a choice in where she’d be living as a freshman, making it a requirement to live on-campus as a freshman transfer. Katie Marchese, a junior transfer, surprisingly was put in the same position. Since her arrival this January, Katie has already used her status as an on-campus student to her advantage, joining film groups such as Women in Motion and the National Broadcasting Society.
The Paramount, which houses 260 students in addition to the Little Building, Colonial, and Piano Row residencies, is making some big changes and its reach is felt not only by our freshmen and sophomores. Due to additional space available, the housing department isn’t about to lose revenue, even if it means changing the rules.
The pro of the matter is that a transfer is more readily available to meet other students and interact on-campus through classes and organizations, but the financial requirement of remaining on-campus is no small feat. Collegeboard.com states the current estimation for living on-campus in currently $12,881 a semester and has been rising year by year, a burden that can make or break a prospective student’s decision to attend here. Transferring to a different college is no small undertaking in social, academic, or financial terms, and time will only tell if the idea of keeping transfer student on-campus preferentially will work to the strength of detriment of our school.
Written for WECB News Editorials, Feburary 2011
The Cupcake Criterion
It is a simple, bold, and fat-saturated premise: who has the best cupcakes in Boston? There are more places vying for the title than you’d think; from the Back Bay to Cambridge, a crop of new bakeries devoted specifically to this artistry, offering the more established bakeries some healthy competition. I decided to tackle this pressing issue with the following criterion:
My study didn’t yield any clear winner, but it did show that there’s an incredible amount of choices to get your sugary fix. Enjoy!
Sweet: A Luxury Cupcake Shop with Newbury St. and Harvard Square locations
Taste: Admittedly heavenly. The frosting’s always my favorite, but it would have been sheer waste to forsake the cake here, as well. Delicious from beginning to end.
Price: As far as expensive desserts go, prices are generally around three to four dollars, which isn’t too terrible. Granted, it would buy you a dozen at Shaw’s, but you’re getting what you pay for here. If you’re in the mood for a quick sugar fix, I highly recommend their frosting shot for a fraction of the price!
Location: Both shops are appropriately located in swanky locations (both on Newbury Street and in Harvard Square), and blend in perfectly with their high-class surroundings. These are the cupcakes of the elite, people.
Atmosphere: Admittedly cramped in both locations, but it’s a nice place to eat if you can manage to snag a table. All the staff is extremely friendly and more excited about cupcakes than anyone should be, but that’s definitely a good thing here.
Kickass Cupcakes in Somerville
Taste: Very different from the swanky Sweet style, but Kickass offers such a variety in flavor and, in some cases, entirely gluten and trans-fat free cupcakes that one can’t deny the draw. Cupcakes are named after coffee drinks, alcoholic beverages, and more (by the way, the Mojito cupcake comes highly recommended).
Price: Solid, as far as an upscale dessert shop goes. Regular cupcakes vend at three dollars, and if you’re in the mood for more, an XL cupcake will only set you back an additional dollar.
Location: For Emerson students it’s a little out of the way, being closest to the Porter Square stop on the Red line, but it’s worth the trek.
Atmosphere: Kickass. The store itself looks amazing, the cupcakes themselves are almost as aesthetically pleasing as they are to eat, and the whole place is full to the brim with friendliness— no stiff, businesslike attitudes here.
South End Buttery in the South End
Taste: These cupcakes even taste fancy. South End Buttery has won a Boston’s best award for their cupcakes specifically (not to mention their coffee); the styles and selections the cupcakes come in aren’t too wild, not straying beyond red velvet, but the taste is perfection.
Price: The best prices we’ve found thus far! Like Kickass, a standard cupcake here runs at three dollars, with a two dollar option for a mini-cupcake, as well.
Location: Situated within walking distance of Emerson, the South End Buttery appears both in a friendly, familiar neighborhood as well as a comfortable one.
Atmosphere: A little swankier, but nothing you can’t handle. Expect to see a sophisticate or two sipping wine with a fellow sophisticate, but it’s worth it for the quality of cupcake you’re getting.
Lulu’s Sweet Shoppe in the North End
Taste: When any shop has something Nutella-flavored, you know they’re on to something. The savoring here is one hundred percent frosting and concepts, and Lulu has about twelve flavors to offer in addition to a myriad of other treats.
Price: $2.75 each, marginally less than competitiors.
Location: The North End, world of general deliciousness.
Atmosphere: Comfy and cute, much like their confections; I’d have no problem sticking around for a second cupcake, and the staff is both friendly and enthusiastic.
Isabelle’s Curly Cakes on Charles Street
Taste: The ultimate, gooey, gourmet cupcakes you’ve been waiting for. I tried the chocolate and peanut butter flavor, and was in a taste-induced stupor for a good hour afterwards.
Price: ranges from $3.95-$4.50, but any given flavor is sure to fill you right up.
Location: Only half a mile from campus, this shop if right off of Beacon Street and very accessible.
Atmosphere: Very comfortable, but not so comfortable that you forget how fancy their product is. It’s not set up like a typical mom-and-pop bakery, but with an owner like famous chef Todd English, how could it be?
Published on emerson.edu in February 2013
By Jamie Loftus ‘14
The Emerson student radio station, WERS-FM, has joined forces with a group of high school girls from a local group of Boston-area to create “GRLZ Radio,” a one-hour news and entertainment program to launch on sister station ETIN (Emerson Talk and Information Network) this April.
WERS operations manager Howard Simpson ‘94 has worked with the girls since November developing the program encouraging broadcast media responsibility and experience as well as experience in a college setting, and is thrilled to see the project so close to completion.
“They just so happened to end up on the radar of some people at the college,” Simpson said, “and we said that there could be some interesting collaboration there.”
Originally conceived as a high school internship program, Simpson instead decided to create “GRLZ Radio” as a new ETIN show developed with WERS and the Boston high school students, allowing them to comment on current events and give the girls an opportunity to learn about broadcast media. “GRLZ Radio” existed previously at the Saint Mary’s center in Dorchester with some professional broadcasting equipment, but the Emerson equipment has been a new opportunity for the girls to learn even more about technical skills.
Aside from the important broadcast skills the girls have gotten from Simpson and WERS’s ongoing mentoring, part of “GRLZ Radio” is motivating those involved to go to college, and to get an opportunity to interact with “If we elaborate, expand, figure out a way to take what they already knew about radio, about Emerson College, thoughts about going to college, then it’s a huge win-win for everyone,” Simpson said.
Though the young women already had some experience in radio personality development, Simpson is training them to be equally comfortable with basic radio consoles—from the operational board to microphone and broadcast transmitter functions.
“They had a lot of theory in radio, not so much in hands on experience,” said Simpson.
After three months of workshops with the young women, they have learned how to interact with the professional media equipment in ETIN’s studio, and are well on their way to being fluent in what it takes to run a radio program.
As the girls continue to learn how to present the news and pick up new broadcasting skills, Simpson is hopeful for a quality final product.
“I want them to be exposed to the journalism aspect of the station, and the power of that,” he said. “The final product will be a quirky, entertaining, and enlightening mix of news with a positive spin.”
“GRLZ Radio” is currently in its final stages of development, and will premiere on ETIN sometime in April.
Published on emerson.edu in April 2011
Maria Menounos is five feet and eight inches of sheer dynamic energy in a sea of obligations and plans, and has finally decided to impart her secrets on how to juggle it all in her first book, The Everygirl’s Guide to Life. In the book, the ’00 alumna and longtime host of Entertainment Tonight, as well as little-known professional filmmaker reveals everything from the best advice her parents ever gave her to what she calls ‘the most relaxing drink ever’, hot water. She stopped by the Emerson College campus last Friday to do a book signing in the school’s bookstore, and was kind enough to chat with us about life, her time at Emerson, and her mystical memory powers.
Emerson.edu: There are a lot of books out there with advice geared for females; what makes your book stand out from the norm?
Maria: Well, I haven’t seen any of the ones that are out there right now because I’ve been so busy working on this one. (laughs) I think the key to this one is that I am the Everygirl— I’ve gone through all the same struggles that everyone else goes through. I didn’t have the
foundation that you would expect or need to succeed in this business.
My parents were immigrants to this country and they taught me so much, but they didn’t know how to deal with all of these career moves and how to handle all that, and they weren’t educated so they didn’t know how to organize and deal with all of that. I was struggling along the way trying to keep it all together, and I tapped so many wonderful women and men to ask them “How do you do it? How do you keep it all straight? How do you get it done without getting sick and falling over from exhaustion?” So after all these years of kind of bumping my head along the way to get it right and somehow still surviving and thriving in the business I feel like I’m at a good point.
Now a lot of women ask me for advice— “How did you lose the weight? How do you keep it
together? How do you juggle it all?” and I think I’m at the point where I thought, you know what? I’m gonna put this all in a book and store all this information. I love sharing it, I could go to these
book signings and chat with people all day but now I can just say, “Oh! That’s in Chapter five, don’t worry, it’s all there!” Before then I’d be sitting down and saying “Okay, so you’re gonna get this foundation, these cables, organize this with this”, and now I just tell them to get the book because it’s all in there.
Emerson.edu: What would you say is the most important piece of advice you give in the book?
Maria: It changes all the time, because there’s so much advice to give that’s important. My parents didn’t just give me one piece of advice that stuck with me, but my dad always told me, “If you work hard, you’ll always have a job,” and he said that you can do anything you put your mind to. There is so much in there that has helped me and I have a whole section of the book called “Mottos” that are all there. I don’t think it’s just one thing that defines who I am or the best advice I’ve ever gotten because I’ve gotten a lot.
Emerson.edu: How has your Greek-American heritage stuck with you throughout the years?
Maria: I don’t know if I’ve ever really had to think about it other than just being really proud of my heritage and including it everywhere I can. Even when I wrestled in the WWE, I had this big Greek flag on my chest so my family back home could be proud! When the match aired, my parents had all my aunts and uncles visiting from Canada and we built them this huge screening room. So when I came on the screen my whole family saw this big Greek flag, and they were pumped. They were like, “Maria, we didn’t even know!”
Emerson.edu: We read you used to work at Dunkin’ Donuts. What did that teach you about hard work and dealing with people?
Maria: I actually used to work at the Dunkin’ Donuts right downstairs. I worked at so many. It’s funny, because growing up we were janitors in nightclubs, so when we worked it was just us as a family, and there was no one else around. It was a transition because when I was thirteen I started working at Dunkin’ Donuts, and I worked there til’ I was nineteen, and I had a million jobs going on in between.
Dunkin’s was fun because I definitely learned a lot about working with people and seeing the positives and negatives. I had a photographic memory, and the way the store was set up I would look out and see the cars pull in. So I’d memorize the license plate numbers without trying and I’d remember their orders, and when my customers would come in I would have their order ready on the counter and they would be so excited because they get to work on time or early because
of it. I made more money in tips in a week than I did in my paycheck!
I instantly learned the rewards of being prepared and going the extra mile for people and so now when I go to Dunkin’s and people are hiding in the back I actually give them lectures. I say, “When I worked here, I went the extra mile and I cared and it paid off! If you do too, things will come to you!” And they give me these looks. (laughs) A couple years after I started doing Entertainment Tonight I ran into one of my regulars and was like, “Oh my god! Cream, no sugar!” and he almost passed out! I’m not Marilu Henner, but I do have a little gift in there.
Emerson.edu: During your time at Emerson, were there any professors that really mentored you and their advice stuck with you through the years?
Maria: Absolutely. Doc Bashir was so instrumental to me in my first year in school in the fast program, and thank God for that program or I would never have been at Emerson. Pete Chvany more than anyone else, because Pete got me involved in Emerson Independent Video and was always so encouraging. I was such a nerd…well, not a nerd, just very professional. I’d go to Filene’s Basement and get one of those little suits and come in to do EIV and would play the role as a newscaster.
He’d tell me I was the only one that went the extra mile and took it seriously and said it would pay off for me someday. And then freshman year, lo and behold, I won the EVVY for best newscaster along with another person, we tied, and so I was the first freshman to ever get
it. I think the good thing that I did was always recognize the things that helped me achieve everything, so I kept sticking for those recipes for success along the way.
Emerson.edu: You’ve worked in journalism, film, and now you’re an author. Is there any kind of creative endeavor you haven’t tried out that you’d want to?
Maria: I don’t know, we’ve done so much. On my last film, I actually got to shoot a little which was amazing, so shooting and directing more would be fun. Picking up the camera was amazing.
The Everygirl’s Guide to Life is now available in bookstores everywhere.
Published on emerson.edu in March 2013
By Jamie Loftus ‘14
The Emerson College American Sign Language Club held their annual “Silent Dinner” this past Thursday night, an hour-long event encouraging those who are fluent in ASL and otherwise to communicate without using words for the duration of the meal. Attendees, some members of the ASL Club and others curious onlookers, enjoyed a delicious meal and the keynote speech given by Sara Blazik ‘09, the founder of the club prior to her graduation, deaf woman, and current instructor and blogger at Columbia in New York City.
“I’m excited to see so many people still interested in the club,” she said, looking around at the full room. “Before I graduated back in 2009 I started this club to give people a chance to learn about ASL, even if they weren’t taking a class in it.” She went on the explain the process of getting her degree at Emerson while using a translator in class, and how this is the norm for her and never a bother. Blazic’s initial motivation for starting the American Sign Language Club was to provide an outlet for those who did speak, as well as a source for Emerson students who were curious about the language.
“There was no place for students to use ASL outside the classroom,” she said, using a translator to speak with dinner attendees who did not speak American Sign Language.
After graduating from Emerson with a writing, literature, and publishing degree and beginning work on her MFA at Columbia, Blazic continues to examine deaf culture through her blog Redeafined, a place where she shares information on deaf education, media attention, rights, and her own personal experiences to form a clearer picture of what it means to be deaf in today’s world. “I think there’s a lot of wrong information out there about people that are deaf,” she said of society today, “that something is wrong or missing…Writing is a powerful thing, and if you keep writing, people will listen.”
Blazic touched on the classes she currently teaches at Columbia in undergraduate writing, joking that her students are always asking her how to sign certain words and are interested in her method of teaching via translator.
Following the talk, the room went silent again, but certainly not devoid of energy. American Sign Language speakers chatted happily throughout the meal as they enjoyed the food provided, and non-speakers were given an opportunity to learn their first several words in the language thanks to helpful signs posted around the room — “pizza”, “cheese”, “napkin”, amongst others. This year’s Silent Dinner gave attendees a peek into the past of Emerson’s American Sign Language Club, and a refreshed enthusiasm for its future.
For more information on Sara Blazic’s current work, check out her blog “Redeafined” over at http://www.redeafined.com/.
Published on emerson.edu in March 2013
By Jamie Loftus ‘14
The annual Go Green report has been released for Emerson College for the 2012 fiscal year, reflecting a good deal of positive change in the sustainability of both facilities and day-to-day student life.
The Go Green report’s purpose is to examine the amount of emissions produced by the college in comparison to past years in addition to other universities with similar populations and city settings.
Jay Phillips, the Associate Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services, had a hand in compiling the report, and said he is extremely pleased with the progress Emerson made in the 2012 fiscal year in maintaining and improving the control of emissions.
According to the report, emissions per student at Emerson are about forty percent lower than that of comparable universities in the 2012 fiscal year.
“It’s amazing because the report makes it look as if the Paramount Center never happened,” said Phillips, in reference to the student dorm and three-theater unit opened in the fall of 2010.
The Go Green report also examined carbon emissions, such as when students and faculty commute via car or train. Emerson cut down emission by twenty-five percent since 2007 through consistent use of public transit. Commuters tend to travel less than half the distance of peers to campus, and only seven percent of students and faculty drive alone to work, as opposed to fifty-three percent at other universities).
The 2012 fiscal year is well on the way to the net emissions goal Phillips has set for 2020 with about forty percent in cuts remaining, and he is very optimistic about the coming years.
“We are installing solar panels on the roof of the new Los Angeles Center because of more exposure to sunlight and more space,” he said.
Emerson’s main area of focus, in the meantime, should be cutting down on waste, making use of the school’s recycling, and being aware of lights left on or heat left turned up.
“If you’re too hot or cold in a dorm, let a facility manager know instead of opening the window,” Phillips said. “It doesn’t take long to do, and it makes all the difference.”
Published on emerson.edu in April 2013
By Jamie Loftus ‘14
Emerson alumni and working Hollywood animation editors Jason Tucker ’90 and Nate Cormier ’09 stopped back at their alma mater yesterday evening for a discussion on “The Role of the Animation Editor” with Emerson staple Kevin Bright as a part of the bi-weekly Bright Lights Visual Media Arts screening series. Both former post-production majors at the college, Tucker and Cormier worked together (Tucker as Supervising Editor, Cormier as First Assistant Editor) on the recently cancelled Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. They discussed the not often discussed differences between post-production in live action and animation, as well as their personal experience in the field following graduation.
Both joked that they thought their interviews at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch would be nothing more than a fun anecdote to tell friends, and Cormier said it was “very surreal” to be hired by one of his filmic heroes for the Star Wars series. Cormier worked primarily on the most recent season of the show after being hired by Tucker, who had been with The Clone Wars since the beginning. “I found out he was an Emerson guy,” Cormier explained about his initial interview to edit for the show, “and we just started talking about our favorite late-night places in Chinatown.” They agreed that the Emerson connection was valuable in the industry, both on the end of a prospective employee and a potential employer.
During their talk with Bright, both men were able to shed some light into exactly how involved the animation editing process is. After showing a scene from The Clone Wars in various stages of the animation process, the collaborators gave insight into the year-long process that is editing a computer animated series. Tucker reflected on the fluctuating role of a director depending on the medium he was working in—“some will read a magazine and see if you need anything, others you need to tell to back off and let you do your job,” he laughed. He also spoke on his experience in editing animation as opposed to his years working in trailers and one-hour drama editing, saying “you’re there from day one until the very end…the art comes from using these boards and layouts essentially as a blueprint.”
Cormier remembers his Advanced Film Editing coursework at Emerson as the class that got his career moving after cutting an entire live-action film together as a final project, allowing him to work with Emerson friends Kevin McManus ‘09 and Matthew McManus ’09 on Funeral Kings, an indie feature shown at South by Southwest. Tucker also remembers his time at Emerson fondly, citing his experience with the Los Angeles program as one of his first opportunities to gain industry connections and experience. Their discussion with Bright shed light for a number of questions students had about the state of the animation industry, outsourcing, and the future of Lucasfilm animation in the wake of The Clone Wars cancellation announcement.
The Bright Lights screening series is held in the Bright Family Screening Room every Tuesday and Thursday at 7PM.
Published on emerson.edu in April 2013
By Jamie Loftus ’14
Emerson College radio station WERS-FM on Sunday, April 7, will sponsor the eighth annual All A Cappella Live! collegiate a cappella competition at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. The event, produced and hosted by Emerson students involved at the radio station, is expected to draw a crowd from around Boston.
Hosted by Danielle Pointer ’14 and Maria Vivas ’15, regular hosts of the WERS Weekend program All A Cappella, the show features five collegiate groups battling for the top prize of $750. This year’s lineup includes the Chorallaries of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis VoiceMale, the Wellesley Widows, the Harvard Opportunes, and Columbia Nonsequitur, featuring special guests Emerson Achoired Taste, The Newtones, Emerson A Cappellics Anonymous, and Ball in the House. Those attending will hear competitors judged by Boston professionals Naveed Easton ’12 (former music director of Emerson Noteworthy), Dan Campagna (producer for Fermata Town), and Brendan Buckley (Boston Lyric Opera teaching artist), then cast their vote in the theater to decide who brings home the big check.
“The show is really coming on its way,” Vivas said.
Vivas’ work on the a capella programs has made her an avid fan of the genre, and she has even joined Emerson Achoired Taste herself and will perform the All A Capella Live! Pointer has been with the show for nearly two years, and has found herself constantly “fangirling” over what the collegiate a cappella scene in Boston has to offer.
“It seems like the sort of thing that appeals to a niche audience… until you see it live,” she said. “All A Cappella Live! is the kind of thing I still admire about music, and I’m blessed to be a part of something so phenomenal.”
Attendees can expect some intense competition from the best and the brightest in a cappella today, and the family-friendly fun that has become a tradition in WERS programming with shows like All A Cappella, Standing Room Only, and The Playground. Tickets are still available ataestages.org, and more details about the show can be found on wers.org.
by Jamie Loftus
I am exhausting myself with how badly I suck. It has reached a point, a crescendo (?) of me sucking that I cannot lay on a comfortable surface without falling asleep immediately after being forced to sit, stand, or text with the forty thousand anvils of how much I suck being dragged around. It’s unholy. I wake up remembering how badly I suck, and spend the next hour picking up the anvils on my floor and putting them back on my shoulders. I’m not good at it. I suck. I’m slow.
So I’m working, or I’m sitting in front of a computer. I’m not doing much, except reminding myself on occasion that I’m not doing much, and that that is bad. I have been getting away with it for years, and it is making me look old. Doing nothing makes you look very old, and moreso when you’re diligent about it. I am an expert. My boss is, too.
“You are not doing well,” he said. He’s sweating a little, but that’s not unusual. “We are relocating you.”
“Where?” Saying the word causes me pain. Quick sentences like that imply a lot of responsibility. He just shrugs, because he knows that. I had just worked on a spreadsheet for four hours but kicked the plug of the PC when I anxious tapped my toes to a Youtube video my roommate recommended. I get very anxious, but I don’t want to talk about it or get medicine or anything. Pill taking is a responsibility I am never prepared to take on, I know that much. He sits there shrugging for another minute. I forget where I am sometimes, too. Whatever he decides, I will understand.
“I need to go to the bathroom.” This, for once, is not a lie. I think I want a cigarette.
People say that at very least, you are in control of what you take in and what you shit out. I don’t know how this changed for me—probably ungratefulness, I settled on, or I’ve been making it up.
I’ve been shitting out things I need. It sounds crazy but it’s true. And I’m not making it up, because I have the things. I have Freddie Krueger’s hat, you know, pulled it out of a dream (my ass) and into the world of things that exist. I’ve given them to my mother.
It hurts a lot, and you have to be fast. I sit behind the stall door with my hand poised below the dropping off site, the front-side grazing the sulfurous water just a little bit. Better to have to wash it than have a pack of wet cigarettes. The pain hits me two and a half times worse than lightning, something I know because I got hit by lightning when I was four years old. It was popular filler in local newspapers for several weeks after.
Plop. A long tube falls into my hand, and I stand up. Pants will be there, pants will wait. It’s a cigar. I didn’t want one, but maybe that’s not true after all, since I usually end up shitting out things I end up wanting. You can adjust yourself to that reasoning, anyway.
The next day, my boss is waiting at my desk. He used to do the same thing when he would try and have sex with my for the first year I worked here. I think he operates on a fiscal year system of harassment—if the balance does not resolve by the end of June, there is a new project. After me was an intern, then up to Toula, who is in her mid-thirties. No bites, but that is what his wife is for I guess.
“We are relocating you to a government camp,” he tells me with yellowish teeth. “I think it will suit your qualifications.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. Not too many other words. This new job may come equipped with a better PC.
“It is the next logical step in your career,” he answered. I wanted to argue, but I had never learned what my job was and had waited too long to ask. Now, it seemed imprudent.
“You could be right.” My father had taught me to say that to avoid argument. It usually worked, but I never got the jobs I wanted. He waved me out, and I left the few pictures of my college roommates pinned to the corkboard.
The government camp was supposed to correct people who had done incorrect things, but not things incorrect enough to warrant a prison sentence. The prisoners, or people, or diggers were sentenced, or assigned, or compelled to create holes in the ground, which they would fill up with trash imported from very nice or very terrible areas, depending on the area you worked in. I held my breath for the stink of it, but moreso because I was anxious to see what their situation was, PC-wise.
A few people in the office shook my hand with enthusiasm, all of them freezing. It was the coldest office I had ever been in, which I was told for maximum efficiency. “Look at the guys outside,” the new boss told me. He did not operate on a fiscal year schedule, and slipped his arm around my waist. “It’s hot and they’re slow. But in here—“ He waved his arm to an expanse of cubicles. “Here, we get things done.”
My cubicle was prime real estate—right next to a window, a PC model only two behind the current fashion, and a new corkboard. I reprinted the photographs of my college roommates. One had removed me from her social networks, but I didn’t care too much. My new job was wonderful, and I brought a sweater to work every morning.
“What exactly should I be doing?” I asked the boss one morning as he drove me on a four-wheeler across the wide digging fields. We wore gas masks to filter out the smell of the rich and poor people trash, a privilege allotted to office workers. It had only taken me five business days to get up the nerve.
The boss smiled. “Clerical work.” We ran over someone’s foot on accident, but it seemed as if the diggers were fed well. The foot didn’t shatter from malnourishment and I apologized for my boss using as few words as possible.
“See?” he told me. “You are doing a good job.” He bought me a cheeseburger, and I was too polite to tell him I had shit one out this morning. Passing those weren’t too bad, you know, because food tends to squish up where bottles of liquor and their accompanying corkscrews get lodged and uncomfortable. Mine tasted better.
There was always the stray problem of diggers trying to get into the office. This wasn’t my job (or it could have been) but I took it upon myself to guide them away, back to their sites. There were wells full of water out there, and they were fed astronaut food for lunch and dinner every day. The old procedure had been a combination of yelling and small electric shocks, but I opted for a broom handle. I was not brave enough to make contact with them, but they tended to get the idea.
“Hey!” I yell-spoke with a swipe. A older woman stood in front of me. She’d shoplifted from the grocery store a couple of times and hadn’t been able to pay back, but she dug some real impressive holes. Had a mother’s attention to detail or something like that. She frowned.
“We’re out of biscuits on plot fourteen.” Plot fourteen was rich people trash, lots and lots of work. They put the recycling in there, too, no one could really be bothered and there wasn’t a proper plant for miles.
“I’m busy!” Swipe swipe. My swipes got bolder with time, then returned to peg one when a new digger approached.
Her shoulders melted a little. “Are you?”
I did not like questions. “Yes!”
She turned away and began to walk. I was doing excellent at my new job. A man approached, who the boss had told me liked to raise hell. He had missed tax deadlines several years prior and was slotted to leave “any day now”.
“We are out of biscuits on plot fourteen.”
“I know that!” A half-hearted swipe. I could do better. Was I supposed to be doing something else? I should use less words.
His face had deep pockmarks from something, not pimples, whatever it was that people his age got pockmarks from. “Well, are you going to do something?”
Swipe. I got him in the legs, and heard faint applause from the office. “Busy,” I said, avoiding his eyes. I was, I was very busy. After ninety days they reevaluate your pay and maybe I would get a better deal. I wouldn’t have to shit out energy beverages to work late. He turned on his heel and left, no more words. There were only forty days until my evaluation.
Plot fourteen ran out of astronaut food regularly, and it was because the boss gave them less. “They are high riskers,” he explained to me. He had great ties, nearly every cartoon I had watched as a child. I had had sex with him one time, but I almost always forgot unless he was looking right after me. It was boring. “We cannot give them as much as people who do the job correctly.”
Someone from the plot had been coming by every day, more and more frequently. “Is it enough?” That sentence could have been condensed. He nodded.
“Everyone has enough. Don’t know why they’re complaining, now.” I could see plot fourteen from my window, six or seven people digging and digging all day with breaks for astronaut biscuits. By this time, I just whacked them in the legs without too much hesitation. Well, always a little. I got upped one hundred dollars for the month after the first three months and decided to do a nice thing so as not to get too out of practice.
I had to be very careful, trying for more than one thing at once. I had only managed it once—I wanted a lighter and a pack of matches because of the unreliability of either on their own, and had managed okay. I was a good catcher. But this was more challenging. I didn’t want to excrete a serving dish, so I brought my own into the private restroom I used in the office—handicapped Genevieve resented me for this, and so I shitted her out a rose every Monday to make up for it.
I managed six, which wasn’t enough but I felt on fire. They were still pretty warm, too, and the half dozen buns steamed on the serving dish impressively as I managed to sneak them past the boss’s desk. He was sending an explicit message to somebody. Plot fourteen was hungry.
“Broomstick lady,” the man growled, taking a bite into some astronaut food. He was sixty. Fifty? Landfill work tended to blur lines.
“Okay,” I said, laying the tray down. There was a much younger man behind him who I may have had a chemistry class with in the tenth grade, but was too shy to ask. He was covered in dirt now, something he had never been in high school, that I knew of. Both eyed it suspiciously.
“Deborah!” he shouted into the plot fourteen hole. I looked down—deeper than any of the thirty-eight plots the office managed, the woman who had first approached me for more astronaut food at the pit with a plastic shovel.
“Broomstick lady?” her voice echoed up.
“Okay,” I mumbled to myself. “What’s everything so deep—“
The older man snatched the tray and tossed one down to Deborah, who was working with two or three others at the bottom of the hole. “We are doing as instructed,” he told me, and I did not know how to argue. I had been making some fun pictures on my PC.
“I made them,” I said in reference to the biscuit, hoping I would not need to get more specific. “You always ask.” Already my stomach was purring with a job well done, and I reminded myself to reward with a candy bar later in the evening. He took a bite.
“Not dry,” he said and nodded his head to the astronaut biscuit wrappers that littered the ground before going into plot fourteen’s hole along with everything else.
“Why so deep?” High riskers shouldn’t be given special jobs. It wasn’t fair.
He eyed me again, nearly swallowing a biscuit whole before remembering the boy standing next to him. “Sorry, Arnold.” Arnold shrugged. He had probably gotten better chemistry grades. “Where did you get these?”
“The store.” I’d seen it before, though I’d never had a need to go myself. It was near the tiny apartment I always forgot I rented, right on the digging site. The nights in the office had grown longer and longer. The man shook his head.
“No biscuits there. Promise you that.”
I tripped on my own words, something I usually did not have opportunity to do. “Yes there are.”
He shook his head again. “No there are not. I been then, I’ve looked a lot of times.”
I turned on my heel and left, just to remind him how it felt.
Long after the biscuits had disappeared and a whole pay increase (!) later, Arnold (Swanson, I now remembered) was continually sent on behalf of plot fourteen to bother me. The boss had told me to whack their legs and send them away, but we could not get rid of them—“High risks are tough to relocate,” he reminded me between boring sexing, “and we’d rather not.” Arnold always asked the same question on behalf of his leader.
“Phil wants to know how you got the biscuits.” Swipe.
“Phil wants to know how you got the biscuits.”
“Why?” This was the most satisfaction I’d ever given him, this why. His knees were raw.
“Because he wants to know how to get them himself.”
I imagined it, Phil and I squatting beside each other, shitting out biscuits. “Not his business.”
Arnold nodded. “Were we in the same chemistry class? Mrs. Norton?”
“No.” Swipe. I had work to do. No time to talk to Arnold. Unless this was my job.
“I didn’t like her,” he said, smiling beneath all the dirt. “She was pretty mean. But I guess I learned some stuff.”
I snorted before I could stop myself. Arnold shrugged because I was a little right.
“I’ll see you soon.” And he left, a little less angry than usual. I got home early that night, pretending it was someone else’s apartment and walking through each room as a stranger. It was my favorite game to play now and was easy to do—I had never hung a thing in the seven months I had lived there. I don’t think I had a roommate, but never ruled out the possibility. I shit out a TV dinner (easy to pass, squishy and compact) and went to sleep.
“How did you get the biscuits?!” asked a voice positioned too close to my face. Several hands held me down, and I could feel the rough surface of a bag—a sack? a potato sack? who had a potato sack?—slip over my head. I wasn’t happy about any of it.
“How did you get the biscuits?!” I made a few noises, knowing now that it was Phil in the room with me, that it was plot fourteen. My brain started to swim around in ways I hadn’t felt in years, since I used to lay in my bed at home and think about stuff, a lot of different stuff, before I fell asleep. That didn’t happen now. I made a few more noises.
“I’m going to take this off your head in a few seconds, and so help me—“ Phil’s voice growled. This didn’t sound like someone due out “any day now” at all. “—you will tell me how you got those goddamn biscuits.”
One, two, and I gasped for the stale air I had trapped in my windowless apartment the day I arrived. They jumped into focus, Phil, Arnold, Deborah, the nameless others. Their eyes looked right into me, and Phil pecked me in the side of my head like a prehistoric bird. “How?!”
There was no time to mince. “I shit them out!” I screamed, louder than I had ever remembered hearing it. “I shit them out!” Blood rushed to the furthest points of my body and filled up spots that were usually passed over. My insides were screaming the same. “I shit them out, okay?”
Plot fourteen was not accustomed to being silenced, I guess. “Okay, okay,” Phil said, pushing me back down to the bed. The hands reached out again, some attaching to my ankles and others to my sides, to hold me firm to the mattress. “You shit them out.” It felt nice to hear it out loud, but I didn’t feel right following up with that. “How?”
I looked at Phil’s glassy eyes. “Why do you want to know?”
He loosened his grip. “Because if you have ways of getting things we can’t,” he said, “we need you.” I wiggled my arm a little, and Deborah squeezed it harder.
“Come on, Philip, you know she’s going to call that goddamn security phone.” More pressure to my arm. I had forgotten that the security phone was right in my doorway, had never intended to use it. It went straight to the boss, whose ties had become less interesting and repeated themselves more and more.
Deborah dug her nails in. “And what are you going to do?”
“Deb, come on.” This was an old woman in the back. Ran a Ponzi scheme several decades before.
“I am going to shit out a biscuit.”
“Deb, come on.” Arnold, less dirty than usual. The hands began to loosen but the eyes did not move from my body one bit. I felt myself standing, hair greasy but the rest of me awake as anything, walking into the bathroom and pulling down pajama pants so old the fleece had gathered in little colored balls around my knees. I closed my eyes and waited.
The pain came again, searing through my stomach so that I couldn’t even dangle my hand beneath it. Sometimes the trick was in thinking. Biscuits. I could hear the residents of plot fourteen breathing outside the door.
Clank. Something hit the porcelain of the cheap toilet louder than anything I’d ever moved before. I sloshed my hand around and held my foot against the door in case someone checked. It was a gun. It looked a little broken.
“Was that it?”
“No!” My voice peaked a little, and I placed it behind the toilet paper. “I, uh, I just kicked the thing.” I sat back down. Biscuit. Biscuit. It came, and I padded out of the room thinking of the lower cabinet. Phil nodded, impressed.
“And you can do that whenever you want?”
“Yeah.” He raised the sack, which was labeled “AstroFood”, to remind me that this was not my show, it was his, his and the Plot 14 Band.
“Come with us.”
They brought me to the hole, me still in pajama pants. The boss wouldn’t come in until twenty minutes after six hours from that time. The other diggers slept peacefully beside their plots, blissfully unaware of the soft padding of the hardest working plot on the field walking past. They whispered to each other and I began to hear other names, Theresa, Amy, Wallace, and a few more I couldn’t hear. No one seemed to know my name, and I didn’t volunteer it. Phil and Deborah held my hands to steer me clear of the gaping holes in the darkness. They knew the land by heart.
“We are digging our way out.” Arnold sounded sure of it.
“Where does the trash go?” He nodded over at plot fifteen.
“They don’t notice.”
How could they have fooled the boss that long? I had never seen him outside of the office, when I thought about it. Not anywhere beyond the space from the chilly doors to the four wheeler. “Where are you going?”
Phil peeked past the hole and behind me. It was a very clinical ass appraisal. “We have a hallway carved out at the bottom, but there’s a long way before we’re on the other side of the fence.” The fence he was referring two lay nearly a mile away, near the office building. It was electrified, and the boss giggled as he nearly roasted a chicken cutlet with it a few weeks earlier. “We need dynamite.” He grabbed me around the waist and looked at Deborah. “Give me some slack.”
He held onto me as we descended into the life’s work of plot fourteen, Arnold and the nearly dead Theresa close behind on a thick expanse of rope. We touched the bottom, moist and covered in bugs. I forgot my shoes. Phil pulled a small flashlight from his back pocket and shone it to the east corner—an even longer hallway than the hole was deep, easily spanning just beneath plots fifteen through eighteen.
“You could just—“ I felt a tight squeeze around my wrists, like my body was reminding me not to use too many words. I had been slipping up. Phil had torn a strip from his digging shirt, lime green so the boss could spot each and every digger from the office windows, and bound them together.
“We need dynamite. Tonight.”
Small tears gathered at the corners of my eyes. It was exciting. I hadn’t had a reason to water up in a while. I reminded myself that I was scared. “Phil, you are getting out any day now.”
Deborah laughed from the hole’s summit, and the rest of the plot joined in. “You know how many years they’ve been telling Phil that? Fourteen,” Arnold giggled. “They told him that when we were still in chemistry class, for Christ’s sake.” Now I was afraid.
“I don’t know if I can—“ My feet fell out from under me. I was sitting on a chair, I could feel a chair. I couldn’t see anything but the faint LED light of Phil’s flashlight. The chair was made of dirt, and it seeped beneath my fingernails.
This was a nice vote of confidence. However. “You’re making me—“
Theresa’s old, spindled hand barely felt like a piece of paper when it hit me across the face, but I got the idea. Her voice was shrill. “You’re going to do it tonight!” Several plot members shushed her, finding this to be too much. I agreed. This was a hostage favor. I assumed by this time that I was a hostage, but was afraid that I had waited too long to ask. Did not want to look stupid.
“I can try.” Arnold held Theresa while she cried a little bit. “I need a minute. By myself.”
Phil looked up at the sky, already teasing little sparks of pink. “First foreman comes around at four thirty.”
I should have known that. How could I not know that? The anvils started to pile on my shoulders like they used to, but fell off again when Phil rested a hand on my shoulder.
“You have fifteen minutes. I will stay.” He looked to the others, who were nothing more than ten additional glassy eyes in the darkness. The flashlight was off. “The rest of you will hear when it is time to come. We will have to be quick.” The others began to climb. Arnold smiled at me as he scaled the rope, but I saw it too late, just as it was ending. I didn’t want to smile back. Phil and I sat for a moment, then I felt a pull at my wrists. I was to stand up.
I wanted to ask a question before I forgot that it was important. “What happens to me?” I pictured seven pairs of feet scuttle past my dead body, so tragic, they did not know she was a genius until it was too late.
Phil thought for a moment. “You can come with us. For a while. Come on, you don’t have much time.”
I was dragged to a corner, and he turned away from me in the chair. My breath released steamy and scared and a dropped my pajama pants the smallest bit. This was not ideal.
Dynamite. I had trouble picturing it, had to translate it from a cartoon to a real thing, untangling crayon strokes here and there. Had I ever seen dynamite? Oh, there was a movie once. Okay. Dynamite. Phil whistled a song I remembered from my dad’s car. Dynamite. I didn’t feel a thing.
Five minutes passed. “Hurry.”
“Hurry faster. Nine minutes.” I shut my eyes. Maybe I was picturing it wrong. Phil began asking me every minute, when, are you close, when when when will you give this thing we asked for. I ignored being hungry. I ignored the thoughts of what lay behind my toilet paper at home. Ten minutes passed, and Phil cared less about privacy.
“Now,” he said. “Now.” The plot members softly howled at the top of the ditch. “Now!” they shouted. “Now!” I felt the smallest movement, then nothing. Phil took something from his pocket, something sharp that I remember seeing on the boss’s desk one time. A memory of how the diggers used to be disciplined when he had started working there many moons ago. Before Arnold and I had taken chemistry, I bet.
Something small and jangly fell from me, but I was afraid to look. The tiny pocketknife was at my neck. I did not have high aspirations for an impressive death, but I hoped to avoid a pantsless death. I should pick it up. It hadn’t been too long. “Nownownownow—“
I ducked to picked up a keyring. One key, and a stupid rubbery dinosaur charm attached. The knife did not move, and Phil frowned.
“That is not dynamite,” he said. It was extraneous word usage like this that made my blood boil. He looked up to his plotmates. “It’s keys! Her apartment keys!” he hissed, and cries of disapproval came down.
“No—“ I started, but stopped before I sounded silly. It wasn’t my apartment key. It wasn’t a key to anything that I could tell, and I was already embarrassed at the resulting keychain. “I—I don’t know what it is.” The knife thrust closer to my throat.
“It’s four twenty six, Phil!” Deborah hissed down. Something told me Deborah and Phil had had sex before. In the ditch. While the others slept. I was good at hearing voice tones. I stopped to be impressed with myself, then remembered I was going to be killed with a pocketknife if I did not think about something else.
I was bleeding a little. It ran down my pajama t-shirt, almost definitely ruining it. Not that I’d want to wear it again. It’d be tainted, probably, with the memory, but I’d worry about it later. “It could be to the office,” I stuttered, forgetting about word count. “And you—“
“We can get into the office,” Phil hissed, brandishing the pocket knife again. “No way out of here in the office. It’s just cold in there.”
“It is very cold,” I agreed. I was getting okay at coworker interaction, but had nothing else to say. I was bleeding a lot. It hurt, but I didn’t move. A key could be used as a very tiny shovel. It could be used on locks. There were no locks here, just ditches and diggers. A key could not be dynamite. Phil had only cut me once, pretty badly on my collarbone and I think I was crying but it was too dark. He hissed up to the others, but I couldn’t hear very well. I felt left out. A key could be used as a means to give someone a nasty cut. Or a shock, if I has some flint or whatever the fire rock was. A key could be used for—
“Do you have a bandage?” Phil looked at me with glassy eyes and giggled. “I know what it’s for.”
Phil giggled more. “For your childhood house? This—“ He held the key out and I snatched it. I snatched the rope. I got dizzy from doing things too quickly. But I did know.
Deborah was ready to pull my cut open and rip me in half. Wow. That would be great in a movie. But I got to tell her one thing before she did that, and it made Arnold smile, which I liked a lot. I said fence and suddenly everyone was my friend again. Like I had just brought them biscuits.
I was dizzy but I was kissed on the mouth and used Phil’s shirt as a bandage. They carried me to the fence and we looked across the whole thing until it was there, a tiny lock anyone would have missed because no one had ever looked before. The seven of them slipped out, and the foreman was late. I did not go. I wanted to shower in my apartment, which I pretended belonged to me and not the boss or the diggers. Plot fourteen was reported missing, by me, and I got a raise. A big one. I told the boss that I had slipped in the shower and cut my collarbone. It hurt, I told him, and at least that part was true. He was more concerned with the cartoon ties and subzero temperatures.
The plots closed soon after they found the boss with a bullet on his head on the floor of the office. It was funny, because there were strict gun policies in this county because of the high prison capacity. People inspected your houses once, twice a month. No one could have gotten a gun unless they had conjured it out of thin air. But, lo and behold, a printless gun was found at the bottom of the lot fourteen hold. Very weird.
I moved back to my city office. Same pay. My pictures hung in the same place. The new fiscal year begins soon, and sometimes I forget about my old job altogether. But it is nice. I felt very “useful”. And I still wear that shirt sometimes.