Unexpected

When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I participated in a program at a place called Exchange City. Basically, we were to apply for jobs, learn how to interview, and, once our positions were secured, we went on a field trip to a makeshift “city” set up where we were told to run our businesses and do our jobs and try to make a profit. I suppose this was to prepare us for the “real world,” and it was a very cool and valuable experience overall. I only wish we could have done a more advanced version later on, maybe during senior year of high school.

When we were deciding what jobs to interview for, I narrowed it down to three – the total number we were permitted to interview for – and though I don’t remember the third, the two main ones I wanted were Postal Worker and Environmental Control Agent. I desperately wanted the latter, and was eager to interview for it. I could imagine myself strolling along the carpet streets of the Exchange City facility, ensuring that everything was going well. To be honest, I don’t really remember what the job entailed, all I know is that I REALLY wanted it. I pinned all my hopes on that job.

The 6th grade teachers got teachers from other grades and parent volunteers and other school staff to act as interviewers. I don’t recall interviewing for whatever the third job was, but the Postal Worker interview was with the mother of a boy in my class, held in the instrumental practice room. I had dressed up for the day, and even wore a skirt despite the fact that my usual wardrobe at that point in my life was full-on workout gear, complete with sweatband.

I answered her questions honestly, treated it like a normal conversation, explained why I was the best for the position, and wasn’t overcome by nerves. I walked out of the room content that I had done a fair job and represented myself well, but since that wasn’t the job I dreamed of, I didn’t think too much about it afterward.

Then, it was time to interview for the Environmental Control Agent position. I was wracked with nerves, and I don’t even remember who it was with, it passed in a blur. I was so anxious to impress, I stumbled over questions and my knees shook the whole time. I left the room rattled, but still held faith that I had done enough to earn the job. I stuttered, but got my point across.

After some days of deliberation, our class received our jobs – the ones we would maintain for the duration of our time at Exchange City. I waited for my slip, fully expecting to see “Environmental Control Agent” at the top. That is, until a girl in my class proudly exclaimed from across the room that she had gotten it instead.

I was crushed. I couldn’t fathom doing the assignment as anything else. In retrospect, it was a school assignment and not a real job, so there was no reason to be upset. But I was twelve, so, everything was a big deal those days. Obviously, I hadn’t impressed during my interview, and someone else had deserved the job instead. I’d let myself down.

Eventually, I got my slip. I took a minute to open it, trying not to be upset over losing out on my dream position. And at the top of my assignment was the position: Postmaster. Not Postal Worker, which was the position I applied for. Postmaster. I had not only knocked my Postal Worker interview out of the park, I’d done so well they gave me an even better job!

Just like that, losing out on the other job didn’t seem to matter any more. I still succeeded, but in a way that was a little… unexpected. And I made the best of it, selling candy-grams and other letters when it came time to perform my duty, making sure the Postal Worker delivered them all on time. I did have to buy us out of debt at the end of the day at Exchange City, but still, I had a great time and I loved the job I was given, even though it wasn’t the one that I originally wanted.

To this day, I have no idea what an Environmental Control Agent does. But I do still look for the positives, and my successes, in places and situations that might not be expected.

 

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Worth 1000 Words #9: Snowtober 2011

Some of you, particularly those of you who reside in the northeastern United States, might remember the freak snowstorm of October 2011, which resulted in near state-wide power outages and general icy desolation in some areas.

383486_2063359704083_2085259487_nIt was Halloween weekend. My parents were visiting for a few days, and would be taking my grandmother (with whom I lived for a year and a half during college) back to PA with them for the winter. Saturday, afternoon, my father dropped me off at my second job, and all proceeded as normal… until the first fateful flakes began to fall. Within an hour or so, it was a full-on snow assault. I made it almost all the way through my shift, worriedly peeking out of the windows as white began to conquer the parking lot, until my dad appeared to pick me up and I bolted out the door.

The journey home was probably the most tense, stressful car ride of my life, but thankfully, my father is a skilled driver and we made it safely home. Had I been by myself, I never would have made it; the highway was a wasteland, the snow plummeted in droves, and cars were careening all over the place as folks tried to make it to their destination, dodging downed tree limbs and power lines.

Once back at home, the power had already gone out, so we dined on cold chicken by candlelight, dug out the spare blankets to stave off the bitter cold, lit a fire in the fireplace and played UNO to fight boredom, and mourned as our electronics slowly died. As the snow continued to fall, I fell asleep (beneath several layers) to the ominous snap-and-thud sound of breaking tree branches in the forest behind the house, praying that none would fall on the roof and crush me during the night.

The next day, New England was buried in snow/ice hell. Power was lost in a huge portion of the region (including almost all of Connecticut, if I remember correctly – I lived about ten minutes from the border) and because the weather was so wonky (it was warm right before the storm, then warm again immediately after) there was extensive damage that reached far beyond just NE. After I called out of work for the day, my parents and my grandmother left me to endure Snowtober alone, since I hadn’t heard anything about classes being cancelled for the following day or any time after. TO THIS DAY I STILL CANNOT FATHOM WHY THEY DID NOT IMMEDIATELY CANCEL CLASSES DUE TO THE DEVASTATION but regardless, I sat and waited it out. It was cold, boring, and I had no means of contact with the outside world. I did manage to get my homework done, though; we were covering Emerson and Thoreau in my American Literature class, and, in a true display of irony, our assignment was to read “Nature.” I didn’t laugh, nor did I develop a deep appreciation for transcendentalism as I paged through my literature textbook by candlelight, munching on a stale bagel.

I am proud of my alma mater, but I was NOT pleased to be going to class the following morning when over half of campus still had no power, despite the fact that the snow had already nearly melted. I am grateful, however, that the Writing Center where I worked still had power… I was able to charge all of my electronics in preparation for the long, dark night ahead. While I was there, doing homework and getting warm, the school released a statement announcing that classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and students were advised to return home if possible.

This was AFTER they had us go to Monday classes, mind you; so classes were cancelled until the following Monday. I only went to one class on Monday, too, since night classes were cancelled and one of my professors wasn’t able to make it to campus regardless. It was very difficult to tamp the lid down on my rage, since I’d missed a free ride home with my parents the day before, and I couldn’t go for the less-expensive Amtrak option due to the massive power outage. Luckily, my dad loaned me money for a last minute plane ticket (which is quite a price-gouge for a day-before splurge) so I wouldn’t need to drive 6 hours solo through two snowpocalypse-plagued states in order to make my way home.

Driving home from campus that night (after the Writing Center closed) was a total nightmare, since power was still out and none of the traffic lights were operational. It was like driving through the zombie apocalypse sans zombies – though I was pleasantly surprised to see that my across-the-street neighbors, who were lovely people, had left some chopped wood for my fireplace on the front stoop. Things were looking up… until the next morning, I awoke to the shrill, shrieking tones of my burglar alarm blaring throughout the house. There were no intruders, I think it had something to do with the power outage. The alarm company also wouldn’t shut it off, because the house and account are not in my name, so I had to leap through several hoops to get them to have mercy on me (and my neighbors).

Less than five hours later, I’d been ferried to the airport by my godmother, and was nestled safely at home in PA with functional power. While at home, I did manage to snag 36 extra hours of work and by Thursday, I heard that power had been restored to my area of New England – which meant there had been 5 straight days of no power. I returned home on Sunday evening and life resumed as normal, as all traces of the Snowpocalypse began to fade away, and autumn picked up once more. It’s difficult to imagine how much difficulty and suffering a one-night snowfall can bring, but I hope to never experience another storm of the same magnitude ever again.

Worth 1000 Words #4: The Limping Duck

Allow me to tell you a story about The Limping Duck.

It actually sounds like a name for a pub or a tavern of some sort. A cozy, if  eccentric hole in the wall known for attracting curious passersby while managing to land few regulars. I’m sensing a semi-nautical theme, perhaps antique style with a floral touch. In fact, if I ever open a bar (an unlikely scenario), that’s what I’ll call it – The Limping Duck. Alas, this is a tale about an actual limping duck.

During my study abroad trip to England in 2011, my classmates and I visited a beautiful site known as Kew Gardens; a botanical garden abundant in flowers and many other kinds of flora and fauna, which also features different kinds of glasshouses, conservatories, and other ornamental/historical buildings. In a previous blog post, I discussed my frolicking experiences in Kew Gardens. Needless to say, it is a brilliant and effective frolicking location, and it is well worth a visit. If you are a tourist, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Kew Gardens is also home to a lot of avian creatures- and if I’m remembering correctly, several kinds of waterfowl in particular. While scrolling back through my pictures, I spotted a heron or two, numerous geese, and what might have been a loon. But the most memorable of these creatures is the limping duck.

Our jaunt to Kew Gardens was a relaxed one; we were about to enter the Creative Writing portion of the course, but we were in a sort of in-between period. The study abroad trip was actually divided into two sessions, so students could either take one section of two classes (either the first session or second session, whichever they wanted) or they could take both sections for a total of four classes, and, essentially, a full semester of credit. I took both sessions, so while the students who elected to take only the first session were on their way home to the states and the second session students were arriving, we set off for Kew Gardens and a day of sight-seeing and picture-taking and, in my case, leaping across the grass with wild abandon.

A few of my friends and I encountered the limping duck on what I believe is the Sackler Crossing; a lovely bridge connecting two parts of the gardens. The bridge wasn’t super busy on this day, so it was easy to notice a tiny, feathered straggler as he hobbled his way across the planks.

The duck was easy to notice because of the slight hiccup in his step, though most of the other garden-goers didn’t seem to give it much notice. Because the plights of injured/disabled animals make me emotional, I immediately commented on it to my friends, saying something to the effect of “OMGGGGG loooooook!” After stepping a bit closer, I realized that one of the duck’s feet was turned inward; possibly the result of injury, and the likely source of the limp. It was just plucking its way across the bridge, letting out some quacks, hobbling at a slow, but persistent pace.

My first reaction was to feel bad for the little duck. I mean…. ducks have enough to deal with as it is without having to limp their way through life. Inferiority complexes about geese. Having to scrounge for food amidst lake-weed and pond scum and beg for bread crumbs from sympathetic passersby. Bad feather days. Turf wars with the local loons. You know… typical duck problems.

The duck also reminded me of a goose I came across many years before. I know that sounds weird… most people are not personally acquainted with geese. Because geese are mean. Seriously. Have you ever heard a goose hiss? As someone who has been wrongfully pursued by an angry, spitting goose, it is an unpleasant experience and I do not recommend it. I think the only waterfowl meaner than geese are swans. Swans are jerks. Beautiful, snooty jerks.

There’s a restaurant in my area that has a sort of weird creek/river/pond behind it, and a nearby shop used to sell food/pellets (or something of that nature) to feed to the ducks and geese that hung out there. It’s unfortunately not a real “sylvan” area… so, because the geese chill in the area before flying off for the winter, there are “goose crossing” signs by the side of the road. I’ve nearly been late to work a couple of times waiting for the horde to honk their merry way across the street.

One goose remained for several seasons – a goose with a broken wing. Every time I saw it shuffling around, I felt bad for it. It couldn’t fly off with the others, and I’m not sure if someone took care of it while the rest of the flock left each winter, but it was around for quite a long time, with its crooked wing jutting out perpetually to the side. It couldn’t fly, but it persisted. Pretty sure it got hit by a car at some point, but it wasn’t the broken wing that did the goose in; just a lack of being able to look both ways. It didn’t let a handicap get it down and it lived on despite its wound.

My initial reaction to the limping duck was one of pity, as well – but it quickly turned to something else. Because while the duck’s handicap bit at my heart, the duck itself chugged along like nothing was wrong and quacked at passing folks as though to greet them and welcome them to the gardens. Eventually, it made its way down to the water and swam off beside some other ducks. The limp didn’t seem to affect its swimming as badly as it impacted its waddling.

Pity became admiration, because if a little limping duck can find a place in this world and make it work despite unfortunate circumstances, when things start to get rough or bleak, what excuse do I have?

 

 

 

 

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