A trip to the Italian Consulate

September 4, 2007

After getting home past midnight from work, I was out the door by 6 AM this morning to catch a train to Manhattan. I volunteered to keep my girlfriend’s daughter, Emily, company while she applied for a Visa at the Italian Consulate to study at the University of Urbino for this coming fall and spring semesters. The last time she went was a complete horror show which I’ve blogged about before, and though we were pretty sure things would go okay this time, nothing was for certain.

We got on line at the consulate at 9, when it opened, and Emily went in a few minutes later with a group of people. Only those getting Visas are allowed in, so I went across the street to sit down on concrete. The consulate is right off of Park Avenue, and the sidewalks have trees planted every 25 feet or so in 5×5 beds filled with wood chips. The beds are square and contained by 6 inch wide humps of concrete rising about a foot off of the ground.

It makes the street quite lovely.

As lovely as it is though, it obviously is not meant to be too comfortable, or the fancy folk on Park Avenue would no doubt find themselves troubled by bums making an afternoon of lounging under the trees. There was nowhere else to sit though, so I made the best of it, took out a book I brought with me, and began to read.

11:30 and still no sign of Emily, I took a walk of a couple of blocks to Hunter College to use the restroom. When I came back I decided to try to grab one of the two chairs on the sidewalk right outside of the consulate. After a few minutes of waiting I managed to get one of the chairs. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with the person sitting in the other, a charming young lady from Turkey.

Eda just got to the United States two weeks ago. She’s attending the University of Connecticut as a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature. She, too, was keeping a friend company on his trip to get a Visa and like me was more or less stranded on the street corner waiting much longer than expected for her friend to come out.

At 12:20 — almost 3 1/2 hours since our friends had entered the consulate — Emily sent me the following text message: “Probably going to be here for a long time.” A second message followed: “Not allowed to use phone.” It turns out she was sending these messages on the sly from the bathroom.

Eda had no cell phone with her, but we figured the news couldn’t be any better regarding her friend.

We spent the next hour or so chatting about her studies, the curriculum she was planning for her teaching assistantship, and her favorite books. It turns out we both very much like Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of The Odyssey. At some point we grabbed coffee from a street vendor on the other end of the block.

Emily came out around 1:30. It turns out she was chatting with Eda’s friend while in the consulate. She figured Eda’s friend wouldn’t be too much longer, and so with that bit of good news Emily and I wished Eda good luck and took off for lunch.

We had lunch a few blocks away at an Italian restaurant that had tables out on the sidewalk. Both of our lunches were fantastic. I had homemade ravioli stuffed with veal in a wild mushroom sauce — “Panzotti alla ‘Casalinga.'” As we were eating, Emily made the point that it makes no sense whatsoever to eat at Applebee’s. For three bucks more per entrée, you go from a greasy concoction of corporate America to the best dish you’ve had in a while.

We took the train back shortly after lunch and arrived home around 5. She has to go back to the consulate one more time to pick up her Visa. It’ll be cutting it close — only two days before she leaves for Italy — but it seems everything is going to work out.

I may have to make another trip of it.

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Career counseling you may have missed

September 3, 2007

Today at work a guy came in and asked about working at Barnes & Noble. He wasn’t interested for himself, but for his son. I gave him an application. The guy then asked me who his son should turn the application in to when he had completed it. Here, I gave him a little “inside information.”

Applications are turned into the customer service kiosk, where I work. My job is more or less to thank all applicants and assure them that managers will be reviewing their application — and then shoo them away. I have no doubt the managers do, but so what? We get tons of applications.

I told the guy to tell his son to come in with the application hidden in a folder, come up to kiosk, and ask to speak to a manager. That way he gets to show his smiling face and display his scintillating personality, and perhaps move his application to the top of the pile.

Now, if you’re disappointed, thinking that this is the career counseling promised in the title of my post, never fear. Here comes the real career counseling.

The guy told me that my little tip was great advice, because where he makes his living it works the same way. He works for a financial firm in Manhattan in the legal department. It’s very competitive to get a job there, but, he admits, they do tend to give more respect to those who have the gumption to come on in and make their pitch for a job.

Any idea what the starting salary is at his place of employment? As he told me, the 25 year-olds fresh out of law school who manage to get their foot in the door make $170,000.

$170,000!

It’s times like this that make you wonder if you could stomach law school.

Have you heard the word of God today?

September 1, 2007

It was a beautiful day today, and on days like this it isn’t totally unexpected to find that the Jehovahs are making their rounds. A very nice gentleman named Bill, and wearing a Glen Plaid sport coat, rang the doorbell. When I answered, he introduced himself by saying he was doing “volunteer work” in the neighborhood.

A lot of people slam the door in the faces of evangelicals — Jehovahs, Mormons, what have you — but I’ll chat with them for a couple of minutes, if for no other reason than the entertainment value. I have a very strong inclination towards keeping myself entertained.

Bill asked me if I thought God was responsible for natural disasters. Being the sly non-believer that I am, I told him, “I wouldn’t say that.” I think he took my response as encouragement to continue.

I told him I really wasn’t interested in chatting, but that I would take one of his pamphlets. I got two — and a short verse from the Bible read to me.

The good news is God is just as concerned about these natural disasters as the rest of us. That’s what Bill said. And He is going to be putting an end to all of them very soon. I’m guessing that’s all going to happen after He tears the heavens asunder and consigns the wicked to perdition.

So, relax.

The other Hollywood

August 31, 2007

While at work at the bookstore, I bumped into a teacher from a middle school I work at. I hadn’t seen her since school ended, and since school is going to begin in less than a week the conversation turned to the usual question.

Did you find a job for September?

I haven’t had any luck. I had an interview at a nearby school, but they ended up hiring someone with more experience — and a wife on the faculty. I shared this with her, and she tried to encourage me with the idea that one of the social studies teachers at her school would be retiring at the end of the year.

That’s actually not all that reassuring.

There is a glut of aspiring social studies teachers. Just about every job I apply to has 100 applicants or better. Schools have their pick — there are applicants with dual certification in special education, those who coach a sport, speak a second language, or who have graduated from some chichi college. Many applicants have experience teaching in some godforsaken district. In many cases applicants have some kind of connection.

People seem to think that working as a substitute teacher for a district is a good way to get hired, but that’s not always the case. Stick around too long and the shine is off the apple.

I brought this up with the teacher, and she agreed. Schools are a lot like Hollywood, and getting a job as a teacher if your subject is very competitive is a bit like breaking into acting. You’re hot only for a short time, and then the powers that be become interested in the next shiny object — the fresh new faces that come along.

They begin to think of you as a sub. And that’s the end of it.

But the similarity to Hollywood doesn’t stop there. Many districts, when you send in an application, or interview, don’t even bother to respond with a ding letter when they’ve decided to hire someone else. Arlington — one of the largest, and arguably the most desirable district in the area to work for — is like this in my experience. But it’s hardly the only one.

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” is becoming increasingly the standard way of doing business.

The best part, as I was telling my teacher friend, is that years ago when I was a voice major and aspiring opera singer I eventually left college and gave up on a singing career because I dreaded the thought of dealing with the endless bit parts, working for exposure, schmoozing with phonies, networking, and attending any and all cattle calls — smiling all the while — while waiting for my “big break.”

Lucky for me I picked the career I did.