The Obvious

report to shore

Posted in israel, life, work by theobvious on February 17, 2012

Sometimes I feel as though we’re on a ship. Where it is sailing, might never become evident, but this weather especially encourages such a line of thought. We live on the top floor of one of the taller buildings in this old neighborhood; the penultimate, our neighbor says, because he’s half a floor up from us, but if this is a ship, then his level is simply the masthead. He flies the Jolly Roger on his porch and could pass for a British pirate but for his kippa. Or Admiral Boom, blast his gizzard. The wind is howling in our skylights, and it blows in premature darkness, the grey kind, even before the pre-Sabbath siren. Somewhere close by people are singing, the tune rising up and mixing in the pouring rain, and this ship resembles Noah’s Ark, because we just might be washed away by all this, man and beast, over the waves of the red tiled roofs, together with the garbage and houseplants littering these densely inhabited sidestreets.

I am reading (finally, finally), greedily devouring words and pictures, in the safety of my bed, my blanket, my hippo-eared robe. Can’t focus entirely on the book, however, the mind flooding as it is with images swarming in from the outside. This is a land of images. Everything here is a story, cinematic, charismatic, graphic, so very visual. If only I could draw properly.

My illustrated stories would feature the two Orthodox priests in floor-length black robes and rocker ponytails, chattering in excited Greek over spatulas and baking pans at Ikea. The bride and party entering the same Ikea through the checkout stands, perhaps to film an entertaining wedding video. The black-and-white-wearing Orthodox Jew holding his wife’s purse while she slides down the handrail, instead of taking the stairs down to Bezalel street, and shouts up to him delightedly. The mist devouring the city and adding an air of mystery to the already deeply mythological views of the hills; perhaps our mist up here is somebody in the valley’s clouds, we say, as we walk on our mist-surrounded, contextless path.

Would that I could draw, I could show you how the colors of this city transform themselves and gleam with a new brightness in the endless rain, and how some of the religious men turn into pathetically touching mushrooms with cellophane baggies wrapped around their precious hats against moisture; how a young soldier with an iPod, a minute ago involved in a discussion about fuckable girls in Tel Aviv with his boorish mates now sits away from them on the train and asks every woman coming in whether she wants his seat, and how widely the cafeteria girl smiles at the sight of my dashing blond colleague.

I would portray the brilliance of Jaffa St. in the morning, the damp ground and the train rails glistening underfoot, the sun blinding so that the street seems to disappear as it goes downhill; the market, always a quest, sellers swirling around like dervishes, shouting, shouting, calling for gods know what, though seemingly just for buyers; the surreal experience of working, joking, catching colds, and sipping coffee in a place where others come in flocks to be shaken by some of the deepest emotion and most devastating sadness possible; of the countless improbable meetings and fortuitous coincidences— in short, life as it is here, and it is very different from life elsewhere.

I don’t think I can draw, however. As my experiments progress, dear diary, you will be the first to know.


things i do while working

Posted in work by theobvious on December 8, 2011

– download movies
– watch them
– hold the cat
– have gallons of tea
– snack
– watch Frasier
– read Twitter
– log what I’ve eaten on my phone
– listen to audiobooks
– listen to music
– learn capoeira songs
– hum
– look at Facebook (loop)
– check and answer emails
– tick off things on my daily plan
– worry
– rearrange things
– wash dishes
– do little tasks from other assignments
– this list
– look at job listings (in various cities)
– look at apartment listings (in various cities)
– call people
– burn candles and play with the wax
– browse Goodreads
– read blogs

This list is by no means exhaustive. These are all things I do simultaneously with different parts of my job. Employee of the year prize, please.

true story

Posted in weird, work by theobvious on April 10, 2010

Our workplace is called the Retrospective Bibliography Department of the National Library. More specifically, our two small rooms are unofficially known as the Jewish division. These present a mystery to the rest of the library: text goes in the opposite direction there, the letters are all scrawls and scribbles, and time flows at quite a different speed. As the rest of the library sees it, in the time it took the rest of the world to get through two millennia, the people who wrote the books in this division managed to whizz through five and a half. Which means that whoever gets employed there is viewed as an oracle: a smidgen loony, but in possession of secret wisdom and privy to knowledge everyone else lacks. This makes for some interesting phone calls, the latest of which came today while I was oraculously and wisely peering at my books on necromancy, also known as Google Reader.

– Hello, – said the lady on the other side in a businesslike manner, – Could you do me a little favour? I have what I think is a date here, could you translate it? It’s M-D-C-C…

– Wait, what? – I asked.

– It’s this date, it says ahn-noh in front of it, which maybe is Latin? Anyway, the date is MDCCC and then a Roman six at the end, like V-I, you know? Can you tell me what year this is?

– 1806.

– Huh?

– It’s the year 1806.

She thanked me quickly and hung up. She never said who she was or where she was calling from, but in all probability the call originated in our very building. The woman was likely to be a real live employee of the Lithuanian National Library, not mopping the floors or managing the keys, but working with real live books (inasmuch as books can be live). Now answer me this: is this the kind of institution you’d like to redirect two percent of your income to, given the opportunity by the charitable IRS and asked nicely in a circulated memo? Not that I need to end every post on a rant, but I think my two percent will go towards feeding the poor or free makeovers for ugly swans this year.

look who almost blew the game on day two

Posted in nablopomo, work by theobvious on November 2, 2009

Today was my first day at work. Ever. I’ve never had a day job before. Nobody’s canceled my night job or school, but that is beside the point. It was an experience. To quote my own email (yay for unoriginal texts), they gave me some instructions to read, masterpieces in their own right. For example, there was a section entitled ‘Factors which may endanger a librarian’, featuring such horrors as ‘trauma caused by an untidy workspace’ and ‘excess dustiness’. One is also instructed to wash one’s hands with soap before eating and before leaving work. In case of a fire, one is, among other things, ‘not to be frightened’. Useful. (End quote.)

This was also my first opportunity to live out the cliché of walking to work on a freezing day carrying a paper cup full of coffee. Well, it is sure nice to have a maple syrup latte by the computer for those moments of bibliographic frustration. Yes, what you heard, I am, as of today, a bibliographer. Which is a fancy way of saying that I spent seven hours modifying my new Firefox with all the add-ons I use on the old one, and cataloging a couple of books in the spare time. At the end, there was another pleasure of the grown-up world to experience: the trolleybus ride home in rush-hour traffic, followed by some frantic cleaning.

Expect more updates as I go through rigorous biblio-training and perform miracles of catalog work with my bare hands.

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jack is soon to become a dull boy

Posted in link, work by theobvious on March 4, 2008

This is incredibly relevant. Hilarious, too, but that is beside the point. It is relevant not because I am a grad student (in fact, I’m just a baby sophomore), but because once again, I have accepted a fairly meaningless academic challenge, and am now drudging through it like a freaking Shire horse.

There’s a certain returning client whose assignments I usually take because they come just when I’m out of cash and need to Buy Things. However, the second I sit down to work I remember why the previous time I swore I’d never accept another translation from this client ever again, not for a bag of doubloons, not even for a brand new Mini Cooper (well, maybe for a Mini Cooper).

It’s lots of fun working freelance. Especially when there’s no work. Or when there’s nowhere to go in the morning. Oh, much fun has been had indeed. But goodness, these horrible texts that come in on a school night in need of urgent translation, and drone on for thirty pages, well, these can deprive the number 42 itself of meaning, not to mention life as a creative process.

Working on a larger project is a challenge in itself. Remember the feeling of a looming deadline? Now imagine, if you will, this feeling accompanying you day and night for several weeks, months even. There’s nothing you can do to relieve the pressure until the work is all done, sent, and paid for. Fortunately, these particular thirty-something pages are not like that. They are due Wednesday.

Now excuse me while I giggle maniacally and poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick. Next time when my favourite client calls, I will pat my eye-patch knowingly and say: ‘Arrr, I’m not falling fer that one again, matey!’

white lie with a green tint

Posted in life, studies, work by theobvious on February 5, 2008

Today was the first day of term, which basically means back to normal life and back to work, because I swore to myself that I will do much better this time around. No more skipping classes, no more using other people’s notes, no more being late everywhere, no more reading in class.

So, It’s 2:49 a.m. now and I’m not going to school tomorrow. I skyped a friend and asked her to tell the teacher something if he askes after me. ‘Tell me what to say so our lies match,’ she replied calmly. I told her to say I had food poisoning. The truth simply would not do any good.

Seeing as it would sound more or less like this: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a craptastic instant cappuccino, trying to translate an endless ill-written text about anti-Semitism, due yesterday. I feel like an old bald fat man in a sweat-stained shirt, though mine is clean.

Food poisoning sounds infinitely more elegant. The greenish color of my face and the giant bags under my eyes will probably support the lie. Do you love the picture I’m painting here? Add in vertical hair: when I work, I keep ruffling it until it sticks out in every direction. Classy, eh!