Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #14: Magazine Man--Year Three

(Part II)

Maybe it was because I had already been in an accident on this particular stretch of Chicago highway, or maybe I was just relaxing during the commercial break (which, if my life is indeed a TV show, is the only way I can account for my regular lapses in mental acuity). Either way, the moment my roommate Jeff rear-ended me with his car, I found myself in a complete state of muscle laxity. Which no doubt saved me from whiplash, or possibly even death from an overwound sphincter, because we were thrown violently forward, right into the rear-end of the BMW in front of us, and he in turn no doubt contacted the person in front of him, and so on, all the way to Gary, Indiana, it seemed. The "we" in this scenario, by the way, was Her Lovely Self and me. She was sound asleep in the passenger seat, but snapped wide awake the moment Jeff rammed us.

I have to tell you, the sound of the impact was incredible. It doesn't seem possible that we could have been rear-ended by a car moving at around 40 miles an hour--and carrying a good half-ton of my assorted crap in a U-Haul behind it--without sustaining more damage. But in fact, no one was harmed. Not physically anyway. The Beemer driver proved to be a remarkably even-tempered and trusting fellow, trading addresses and insurance information with Jeff and then departing--claiming lateness for an important meeting. I seem to recall Jeff had a little more trouble with the chain of motorists after Mr. Beemer, but within an hour--and without any interference whatsoever from any state trooper--we were on our way.

I know that sounds unbelievable--I mean, for most of my life in Chicago, I couldn't drive five blocks without passing at least five or six police cars. But then again, I was firmly entrenched in the belief that my life was a TV show back then, and it certainly made sense in that context that we should be extricated from our latest dramatic dilemma in fairly short order.

To be sure, there were some humorous consequences. For example, when we finally stopped at an Indiana rest area, I was a bit startled to discover that my trunk wouldn't open. I say only "a bit" because it was pretty obvious what had happened: One of the pedals of my mountain bike--which I had attached to the back of my car by means of a rack--was hammered through my license plate, and on through the trunk, where it put one hell of a dent in my suitcase. I discovered this only because I was forced to rip out one of my back-seat cushions and crawl in to the trunk that way. The bike itself, when I finally pried it loose from the trunk lid, appeared to be a total loss: both wheels were deflated, their rims hopelessly bent out of shape; one pedal had the main crank and chain wrapped around it and the handlebars were bent at a 50-degree angle from the rest of the bike. Although I swore about it quite a bit at the time, in the end I was grateful, as it has since been pointed out to me that my bike and bike rack must have acted as a shock absorber, cushioning us from the worst of the blow. Plus, Jeff assured me his insurance would pay for the replacement cost of the bike, so I really should have counted myself lucky. And I did. But not just then.

And Her Lovely Self, who normally likes to sleep on a long road trip, found herself too traumatized to doze. She did, however, manage to nod off long enough to have a waking dream involving car accidents and so could be counted on every two hours to fly up from her seat with a shrill screech and much flailing of her arms, to my general consternation, and that of any nearby motorists.

But eventually, some 10 hours after leaving my old apartment on Eastwood, we arrived at a nondescript brick apartment building in Arlington, Virginia. There were hundreds--possibly thousands--of these brick roach traps, built right after World War II, and long since passed into the hands of a handful of money-grubbing land barons who equipped these places with the barest of creature comforts.

Take my one-bedroom apartment, for example. My $495 per month (and this was a chunk of change back then) got me a flat that had been repainted so many times that its walls were perpetually tacky, and all about the place hung the miasma of cheap paint, overcooked beans, and diapers. The threadbare carpet was a loam of ingrained dirt, food particles, and insect legs. The door off the common hallway was secured only by means of the world's most uninspiringly solid deadbolt lock. There were three electrical outlets in the entire apartment--all of them two-pronged ungrounded affairs. One of these outlets was engaged by the enormous plug of a giant window-unit air conditioner. When you turned this thing on, all the lights in the building dimmed, and I had a mental picture of a fusebox somewhere in the bowels of the place crackling in a festival of sparks. But for all the pyrotechnics, the thing barely gave off a puff of tepid air. I was in Virginia in June--my landlord surely was going to have to do better than this. A lot better, as it turned out, since my list of complaints for him grew from "fix broken air conditioner" to "fix exploding gas stove," "fix leaking fridge," "fix cracked toilet tank," and "fix sagging bedroom floor before bed falls into living room of basement apartment."

Well, as you may have gathered, it was a pretty dismal place, certainly nothing like the charming 2-flat Jeff I had rented near Lincoln Square back in Chicago. So it was with a certain lack of energy that the three of us offloaded all my worldly goods into a large stack in the living room, before collapsing in a humid pile of exhaustion.

Morning did very little to improve my outlook, although a quick stroll around the neighborhood confirmed two happy facts: one was that I was within walking distance of a Metro stop, and the other was that I was just two blocks from a bike trail that connected to the C&O Towpath, which followed the Potomac River and offered me nearly 200 miles of trails. Oh, except that I had no bike to ride on them (thanks, Jeff).

By midday, we found ourselves amidst the shopping mecca of suburban Virginia and I quickly outfitted my apartment with several essentials, such as shades (my apartment windows being conspicuously absent of them), a shower curtain, and a new deadbolt lock. Back at the apartment, Her Lovely Self seemed to have grown quiet, and I got the distinct impression that she was thinking twice about this whole getting married/following MM to Washington/finding a job trifecta. I tried to get her to talk about it: In any relationship, I tend to be the one who wants to talk about the problem right away and work through it, whereas HLS tends to want to brood for a couple of weeks before announcing that she's got a problem. Which I knew two weeks earlier, but never mind. In this case, all she would say in response to my prying was, "I sure hope this job is worth it." I assured her it was, but that night, when the lights were out and we listened to the roaches in the kitchen apparently beginning auditions for an all-insect version of "Riverdance," I had to wonder myself.

Luckily, I didn't have long to wait. By late Sunday morning, Jeff and Her Lovely Self were on their way back to Chicago, and I passed the remainder of the day unpacking and installing my new lock. By late afternoon, I was feeling antsy and nervous, my Eve-of-a-New-Job jitters kicking in with full force. So I unwound myself by reviewing my recently purchased map of Washington, D.C. and the Beltway and found my route to work.

My office was out somewhere in the suburban town of Reston, Virginia, which I knew was a famous post-war planned community. I got there via the Dulles Toll Road, an on-ramp to which was literally two miles from my apartment, and which was well-marked by a series of signs, including one that enigmatically announced the route as "HOV Only," whatever that was. I thrilled at having so many new mysteries to uncover in my new home.

Fifteen minutes and 25 cents later, I found myself in the strangely empty plaza of the Reston Town Center, where it appeared only two stores were open--the bookshop and the bicycle store. As I walked by the latter, I was stunned to discover three identical versions of my old, now destroyed mountain bike, chained to a rack beneath a sign that read "OVERSTOCK! FINAL SALE! MAKE AN OFFER!" I had the combined buying power of my last paycheck from ASS and a freelance check burning a hole in my pocket, and thus it was that $199 later I was wheeling my new bike back to my car.

For want of anything better to do, I hit the bookstore and browsed a bit before chancing upon a shelf devoted to local topics. I probably wouldn't have given the shelf a second glance, but as I walked by it, I noticed a store employee clucking with disgust and saying something like, "Some joker's always putting that book here," whereupon she snatched up a book I couldn't see and walked it to the back of the store. Curiosity got the better of me, and I followed her until she came to another shelf and shoved the book into the stacks there. I pretended to be very interested in the vegetarian cookbooks until she left, at which point I dashed over to the book--I had marked it by its distinctive red binding--and took it from the shelf, which bore the legend "Nonfiction."

The book was titled The Hot Zone.

As I would soon learn, Reston was not only the birthplace of a famous planned community, but also home to its very own strain of the Ebola virus. From what I was able to gather from hasty research within the bookstore itself, the building where the outbreak was discovered was no longer housing the monkeys in whom the virus had first been detected.

Instead--and I read this point with keen interest--the building where the outbreak occurred had since been converted to a business office.

Maybe I missed it in my frantic page-turning, but none of the books I consulted had any further details that I might have found useful. Such as an address. But I didn't really need it, did I, gentle readers? Because even at that tender age, I knew--as you all must surely know by now--that my life was lived in the grip of strange, unnatural forces, forces that determined--hell, demanded--that the building in question could have only one address.

As I drove home that evening, I noticed absently that my Eve-of-a-New-Job jitters had vanished completely, replaced by an all-too-familiar feeling of dread.

Well, that's just great, I thought. I've gone from being an ASS Man to becoming an Ebola Boy…


wow, from your description, i can almost pick out exactly where you lived in arlington...except that you are right in the fact that your building is/was one of hundreds. oh the stories i've heard from friends...i lived in a similar bldg, but in maryland. and we had a landlord that cared. even then, it still had it's post-war quirks.
WOW - how in the world do these things happen to you, MM? You're not kidding about your life being a sitcom. Move over, Jerry Seinfeld!
If I end up hearing a monkey bit you on the ass, I'm going to scream.
Arrgghh! Must have Part Three! Cannot wait through entire weekend! Arrgghh!
Two things:

1. I wept when I saw you write of a one-bedroom apartment in NoVa for $495/month. An average one-bedroom here is now 3x that amount.

2. The mere mention of Reston makes me laugh inappropriately because I always think of the visa applicant back at Embassy Moscow who proudly printed the name of the city he was visiting for a conference: Reston, Vagina.

$495 for a one-bedroom. I'm gonna cry again...
Sometimes I think you ust make all this stuff up....

Now get out of my way.....I need to read the rest....

insect legs in the carpet. Nice touch.
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