Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heal the World

We hear a lot about "going green" these days. I believe I've been doing my part for the last 6 years at least, just by virtue of my spartan lifestyle. I walk everywhere and never drive -- not just because I don't have a driver's license, but also because I don't want to carry a spare tire around...

I also try to stick to a vegan diet and never eat meat, meaning I don't contribute to the agricultural nightmare of factory farming at all. This choice has everything to do with my personal morals and nothing to do with the environment, but, hey, I kill two birds with one stone. Figuratively speaking.

Additionally, I live in this soviet-era throwback of a studio apartment, in which the electricity goes out every time I run the microwave and blow-dry my hair at the same time. Every time. Still, students who nagged me endlessly at my small, academically prestigious but socially limiting liberal arts college might have you believe that I'm not quite doing my share. Either that, or my sophisticated fashion sense and desire to secure a permanent job in the near future -- which prevent me from sporting giant buttons and badges proclaiming my lifestyle and political/moral views -- mark me as an unsavory yuppie in need of environmental sustainability training.

Well, as it turns out, I'm not so green when it comes to saving our Mother Earth. I have tons of ideas for arts and crafts that anyone can make simply by digging around in their garbage or under the bed. I've saved the best for last, and you can see them all under the cut.

1. Reuse Old Containers As Places To Put Stuff.

A penny saved is a lesson learned -- about environmental sustainability. As you can see, I have reused this empty applesauce jar as a holder for spare change. There isn't a lot of change in there, since I often need to use it. Also, I could have put this glass jar in the recycling bin and said "peace," feeling no guilt or sense of wastefulness. However, I used it as a place to store change instead. I used to drop change randomly on tables or wherever convenient, but I've since learned that some people have a little issue with this. So in case I ever have company, this change jar I invented will hopefully make my home marginally less gloomy.

Yes, any object with an open top, sides, and a bottom can be recycled into a place to put stuff. Try using an Altoids tin as a place to hold paperclips or less expensive mints. Use a nail and hammer to bang holes in the bottom of a can, fill it with soil, and plant a seed in it to make a little flower pot. Use an old bag-balm tin as a receptacle for loose-leaf almond black tea (above). How about serving up some ice-cold soy milk in an empty jam jar (below)? The possibilities are endless when you recycle containers as places to store things.

2. Reuse Bags as Bags, Places to Put Bags, etc.

Some days--like yesterday, when I went to the co-op to buy some inexpensive, cheaper-than-Price Slashers apples and tomatoes--I carry around a cute tote bag which can be reused for future grocery trips. But what about those days when, on the way home from work, I feel like picking up a few things from the Central Vitamin Station? I don't have a car, so unlike many others, I don't have 6 totes permanently stored there for any occasion. Also, though I am a juggler, multiple items can prove unwieldy for me to hold exposed in my bare hands/arms, or-- in the case of, for example, toilet paper--embarrassing.

So: should I carry around 6 empty tote bags wherever I go "just-in-case," and, in my busy, city CVS store, make a conspicuous dork of myself by telling the cashier, "Excuse me, I don't need a bag -- I brought my own."? I shouldn't and I don't. I accept the plastic bags that are given to me, and use them as -- trash bags!

It's true! Some things--used Kleenex, the paper towels I needed to use to absorb the orange-tinted water from my molding carpet after the washing machine next door overflowed and flooded into my apartment--need to be thrown in the trash. Guess who never wastes money on trash bags?

As for paper bags, take your pick of two uses:

Plastic bag cache, or...

Book cover. You're welcome for the elementary school memory. At university, the government doesn't issue your texts anymore (not in this country, at least), so what's the motivation for continuing to cover books like this? Well, in my case, the IST 605 text has a tacky, red-and-green design, and I don't feel so cool carrying it around. With the new book cover, I can be the toast of the town! And when my homemade, environmentally sustainable cover inevitably wears out, perhaps the original cover will be seasonally appropriate. It's a good thing.

3. What Can You Do With Old Shoes?

I have about ten million pairs of busted Converse Chuck Taylors in the above condition. They look so cool and simple and match everything, and because of this I never learn these shoes are the most raggedy, non-weather-resistant things you can buy. So, over the past ten years, I've simply purchased a new pair in the same style of said shoe every time the sides and/or soles inevitably gave out. So what could one possibly do with this broken-down footwear? Even the Salvation Army would throw this junk in the dumpster. I will wear a pair of shoes until they are completely dead, even on occasion using duct tape to patch up holes and broken seams. If there is a homeless man out there whose feet are as petite and dainty as my own, I doubt that even he would accept the used shoes I have to offer. Instead, I have a better plan.

Have a crime to commit? You'll be the bomb, or, rather, the Unibomber, if you perpetrate a crime wearing these "trick" shoes! Simply put on a pair of shoes that are in acceptable condition for walking, then tie your old shoes in the opposite direction on the bottom! This way, anyone following your tracks will think you're walking in the opposite direction. However, if I wore this device while committing a questionable act (which isn't my style; I'm completely clean cut), my trailers would still know my shoe size and the fact that I wear Chuck Taylors. Eek! And yet, if I would give this device to my favorite sociopath, who would then proceed to commit an unsavory action, detectives would identify the suspect as someone who wears size 5 (Womens) Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

Hmm, I guess you could just be a bum for Halloween. And if Halloween is still too objectionable, try being Charlie Chaplin in a school play or something.

See you later, perpetrator.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just Good Friends

The legendary painter Matisse studied the human form intensively, gaining the classical techniques of old masters before throwing it all away to create simple line drawings of the female body.

On the weekends, the rising young wordsmith Chrissy "unlearns" the linguistic mastery she took 20-some years to absorb; she switches off her internal dictionaries of puns, ten-dollar words and witty turns of phrase that inform her day-to-day communications. This is in preparation for hanging out with the Chinese guys. With a stripped-down vocabulary, her language seems dumbed down, but it is actually a fine art to find that perfect, simple synonym to replace a word that is more commonplace, and to reverse the process to search her inner thesaurus and match the appropriate term to figure out what others perceive to be nonsensical output from the East Asian international students.

Switching to the first person: Yes, my core group at the iSchool consists of myself and two iSchool students from China, Ziyang and Zhuo. I don't think people really understand this friendship... it's like there's nothing to compare it to. This combination has never occurred before. A reverse of genders is completely normal... this morning, I saw a foreign girl from Asia smoking outside with two white guys and carrying on a belabored dialogue, in which every other word was "what?" followed by giggling, but it was like totally normal because people would just assume they were dating/flirting or something, and why would anyone need to communicate when they're dating? But... I know people are just dying to know what happens when myself and these two guys hang out. What kinds of conversations do we have? Am I evil and brainwashing them (probably the most popular theory)? What activities do we participate in?

Well, last Saturday, we went to the China Buffet. You can read all about it in my latest comic, in which I stylized the three of us and experimented with some manga-esque perspectives. If only I had some zip-a-tone! It's time to get some gekiga on, under the cut.

And there you have it folks: this formula of silly conversations never gets old. There's an appeal to it that I guess is specific to my own sense of humor. As a bonus, Ziyang and Zhuo get to practice their English in an informal setting.

Oh, and that leaves one last frequently asked question: how did I start hanging out with them in the first place? The answer: we were assigned by our IST 618 professor, Raed Sharif, to work on a group video project together. In most classes, people are allowed to select their own groups. So all the Chinese students work together, all the Indians work together, and no one is forced to talk to anyone new. But Prof. Sharif randomly selected our group so that it had a different kind of homogeneity:it featured the weirdest people in the world.

Here's a thought, Bird Library: how about putting Photoshop on your PCs so that I don't have to clean up my images on this annoying Mac with it's annoying mouse?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

We Are Here to Change the World

For a brief time in my life, I was a cafe manager.

In the time since my retirement, the library opened up a little cafe called the Pages, to keep up with the Joneses.

I usually cook for myself these days, so despite its convenient location downstairs from my office, I rarely eat at this cafe anymore. But a couple days ago, I purchased a small "Freedom of Espresso" coffee from there, and the memories of last year's awkward, frequent transactions at the Pages came flooding back to me in that olfactory Proustian way. To its credit, the Pages has some nice vegan chocolate cake, but that's what's good. In all other areas, the eatery needs to shape up. And so, in the absence of a comment box in the vicinity of the Pages, I am using my blog as a forum to voice my suggestions for improvement. As the cafe is staffed largely by iSchool students who have a decent chance of coming across this, I'll give it the old college try. So here they are: complaints, comments, concerns, and suggestions about the Pages cafe.

The main problem is this: There is an interesting Syracuse University contradiction of going green, or attempting to, while at the same time installing a flat-screen TV to run in perpetuity on every interior wall of the institution. This contradiction is apparent at the Pages; in lieu of the traditional blackboard/dry erase menus from your grandmother's corner deli, there is a flat screen TV that rotates through 5 or so "slides" of the cafe's offerings, similar to a public school's TV station that plays nothing but rotating community event ads. For 20 seconds, I can look at the grab & go options -- cereal, cake, soymilk, juice. Then, the screen animates into a distinct, separate menu section: breakfast options. Bagels, bagels with cream cheese, toast, fruit. If I want some juice with my bagel and am not sure I have enough money, I'd better have planned ahead and memorized the price from the previous "slide". The rotating menu doesn't clarify the time period in which these breakfast items are available for purchase. That time period is presumably different from the cafe's hours of operation as a whole, a tidbit of information that could have spared me an awkward moment on one occasion. But we'll get to that story a little later. But to solve the problem, menu subscripts such as "Breakfast is unavailable after 12PM" (I still actually don't know when/if they stop serving it) would be a fantastic addition.

But yes, the only way to get all the menu information is to stare at this flat screen rotating display for several minutes, memorizing the info (the short term memory can only hold 7 +/- 2 items at one time), and dodging "may I help you's" as you stand there and stare like a dope. Yes, we're in the new millennium now and have new technologies such as flat screen television monitors. However, does this mean such monitors must be present in every facet of our lives? I don't think so. Why not simply use a traditional chalkboard or other non-digital signage so that I can scan the entire menu at once to quickly pick my offerings of interest? This method would be much preferred by me, and I can't imagine anyone who would choose the rotating digimenu if given a choice. Update: the Pages has taped some small sheets of paper to their deli case which list some menu offerings. However, these are inconsistent with some offerings listed on the flatscreen TV, and are also blocked from sight by customers as they line up in front of the case.

With the money saved on electricity after removing the rotating digital menu, the Pages may consider using real coffee cups and lids, as opposed to illusions of them. This cafe used to offer normal coffee cups and lids that rivaled the durability and handfeel of the ones you'd find in Dunkin' Donuts and other commercial cafes. However, in the interest of cutting costs or going green, someone has replaced these cups with flimsy ones made from the pages of withdrawn brittle library books from the 19th century. That's why it's called the Pages cafe.

If the literally paper-thin, thinner than cardstock cup doesn't squash under the strength of your closing hand or indirectly cause you to drop your coffee by failing to protect your tender palm from the scalding beverage inside, its evil henchman, the cheap, equally flimsy lid, will aggressively facilitate a coffee spill not once, but twice. Once, when you lift off the lid to add your cream and sugar, then a second time, when you tear back the coffee cup's mouthpiece in preparation for drinking. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this! The coffee lid is a magnet for coffee: Lifting it even a tiny bit, and slow as molasses, being super careful and using the sensitivity and precision of a skilled surgeon will still allow at least two tablespoons of coffee to hop out of the cup like fresh live squid at an authentic Chinese restaurant, spilling onto your clothes, hand, and tabletop. It's not so green to use handfulls of napkins and paper towels to clean up the inevitable mess. Update, 10/06/09: The limited amount of sleep I received last night due to my IST 659 paper and lab being due (see textbook in background of photo, below) essentially forced me to purchase a pages coffee today from the Pages. Their lids are back to normal; they no longer have the flimsy ones with the tabs! Could it be that someone was moved to make the change after reading this? I think someone was moved to remove my blog from the MSLIS joint feed after I was so critical of library facilities, but I hope my writings have made a positive difference, too!

"But Chrissy, why don't you just bring your own mug?" No, I already carry around a water bottle, books, snacks, moleskines, and all sorts of other lucky charms to the point that the zipper on my purse has broken long ago. Do I also need to carry around a reusable mug to leak all over my stuff and bang against my keys just in case I have an impromptu craving for coffee? No way. Uh-uh.

Last but not least, the ordering system is wack. At my fast food restaurant, sometimes there would be 100+ customers an hour. Often, I would have to knock out a line of 15 "guests" all by myself, taking orders, making food, and running the cash register while my on-break compadre watched an SU ball game. This has been the basic reality at all 5 food service establishments I've worked at. Yet the Pages, which is less busy than any of the eateries which employed me, has a very unique ordering system. Forgive me if you've heard this story before.

Once, I wanted a simple bagel. I assumed that, as was the case at the bagel shop I used to manage, customers could simply approach the cashier, state their requests, and wait/pay as their sandwich would be prepared. Another acceptable variation would be to stand in a line behind the deli case or bain marie, tell the designated "short order cook" what to make and any other special instructions, and move with the flow of the line to the cash register, where the prepared lunch would eventually end up.

Basing my bagel-ordering script on my experiences at every other cafeteria-style restaurant I have ever been to, I approached the cashier and made my request. There was not even one other customer in line waiting to be served.

"You have to fill out one of those forms over there," she pointed.

I had to fill out paperwork to get a bagel. The paper-wasting form asked me, among other things, which variety of bagel I would like. This was an open-ended rather than multiple-choice question, despite the absence of bagels within my sight range. Though I'm partial to cinnamon raison, poppy, or sesame, I used the worn out stub of a pencil provided to etch in "plain" as a safe choice; I had already embarrased myself enough.

Only the DMV is an equal hassle. I don't drive, and thanks to the problems of the Pages, I don't make a habit of purchasing food there anymore. The story I just told wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back, though. The straw that broke the camel's back was when I came in starving after my night class, filled out the silly paperwork for my bagel, and stood at the register waiting patiently for it to be prepared. After the rude cashier gave me a judgemental once-over with her eyes, she asked if she could help me.

"Oh, I just ordered a bagel..."

"We don't have bagels now,"
she snotted, doing a little attitude dance. The iSchool students and some others who work at the cafe are completely nice and polite, but whenever I've gotten anything there besides a drink or a grab and go item, employees have been awful!

Neither the menu nor the absent and/or apathetic counter worker who presumably received my written request for a bagel, crumpled it up, and threw it in the garbage can told me this bit of information. Did she mean they were out of bagels, or that it was past the time period when bagels were available for purchase? Her snotty attitude discouraged me from further probing, and I'm still not sure what the truth is.

And, as a reward for reading my piece, I was going to do my labor of love for the week in providing you with the Pages cafe menu, available all in one place and at one time for the first time in the Pages history. I sat in the cafe attempting to transcribe the menu offerings from the flatscreen TV as they whooshed past. However, this task proved to be too difficult and mind-numbing, and I grew weary of the counterpersons' stares. I create item records by day and crosshatch by night, and yet now there's proof that it's possible to bore me.