Monday, October 13, 2014

The Klutz in the Consulate Incident

Realtalk: I had a really bummer summer.

Back in April, I had cool plans and cool people in my life and cool savings and felt like a fabulous LA lady - I even thought about abandoning the awkward blog and starting a slick, shiny, like totally fab lifestyle blog since I was NAILING this whole quirky-artsy-LA-millenial thing.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Obviously all my plans collapsed spectacularly and dramatically within a week. And my hard-earned savings (I was only getting coffee four times a week. THE SACRIFICES I MADE, I tell you…) disappeared in that same time span, thanks to my car suddenly needing thousands on thousands of dollars thrown at it.

After healthily coping (okay, moping for months) and being incredibly productive (okay, marathoning every possible TLC show and NCIS), I decided to revisit this blog because (no parentheses needed) I've been annoying the shit out of myself and needed a reminder to laugh when things don't go my way.

So here's a story from when I thought I was TOTALLY NAILING IT but, in retrospect, probably could have gotten myself killed.

(or worse, EXPELLED.)

This Spring, I snagged an opportunity to do one of my dream jobs in one of my dream countries. I would collect the stories of long-term aid workers, refugees, and the short-term staff with whom I was traveling, for both fundraising and development planning. In normal terms: I could spend weeks talking to people and writing down their life stories!

Just like this blog, except cooler people than myself and less cringing. In theory.

One teeny tiny small side note: this dream country, a place to where I've wanted to travel for over a decade, that I've feverishly researched for years… errmmm… was also home to some Bad Eggs known for killing people like me.

American? Check.
Woman? Check. Educated woman? double-check.
Christian? I have a cross tattooed on my wrist. Check.

I was gearing up to go to a country where one can be killed for being any one of those things individually. Let alone all three at once. (Instead of saying the actual country for… reasons, we will refer to it by a place that gets a similar amount of tourists: The Moon.)

And I had never been more excited about anything in my entire life.

I love talking to people and getting their life stories and telling more stories. I had an opportunity to listen to people who don't get listened to and tell stories that don't get told. And I got to the friggin MOON - a place most people feared and misunderstood, but one that had run through my head since I was ten. I got to do my absolute favorite thing in my all-time dream place.

But you can't just book a flight to the Moon and bop over on any given Tuesday.

I had to procure some documents and fancy papers. What happens if you show up to the Moon without the fancy papers? You probably get ejected into space and die a horrible death. And that's not even a metaphor.

Luckily, the Moon has a handy-dandy consulate in LA that I could just run into and get my moon-visa and other moon-paperwork handled. At least, I thought so. The consulate website was one step above a geocities site, all it was missing was a couple dancing babies.

For reference
I rolled up to the Moon Consulate with a meticulously curated outfit to casually match the modesty standards of the Moon, lest my typical denim short-shorts and raggedy tee-shirts get me banned for being a Slutty McSluterson. I wore a dark long sleeved shirt and full length pants with a dark flowy dress on top - totally normal for a middle school goth kid. Maybe not normal for Beverly Hills when it was like, 85 degrees outside. My conservative protestant upbringing's "modest is hottest" took on a whole new meaning in the California heat.

The Moon Consulate was a surprisingly bland building - I walked past it twice before I saw the tiny plaque in Moon-writing next to the front door. I took a deep breath and turned the handle -

It was locked.

I knocked and waited, knocked and waited again. Maybe everyone was at lunch - at 3pm? Just as I was about to give up and have this be the most anticlimactic story ever, I heard shuffling and muttering. The door opened the tiniest amount, and I could just barely see an eyeball.

"Hi! / Hello! / I'm R. Grace! / I'm going to the Moon! / I need a Moon-visa! / I have all my paperwork! / I mean, I think I do. / That's why I came here instead of mailing it in. / Can I come inside?"
"No. Go around the back."

Umm, okay… what?

"The door in the back." Click. And the door was locked again.

Oh HELL no. As I peered down the alley between the buildings, I realized I hadn't told any of my friends or my parents where I was at. This seemed… unwise. But I had driven all the way across the city (no small feat in Los Angeles) and there was no turning back now. The back of the building had a small parking lot and a nondescript loading-zone type blue metal door - nowhere near as official as the front door, no cool Moon plaque. Definitely not legit. But to my ongoing bafflement, the door opened up to the lobby.

I don't know what normal consulate lobbies look like, but the Moon Consulate was BLEAK. Dim lights, plastic chairs, no magazines, old portraits of important looking Moon dudes - this room had not been touched by a decorator since the early 1970s. I shot a quick text to my parents but OF COURSE there was no cellphone reception. Two older Moon men in suits also sat in the lobby. They glanced at me with confused curiosity, but that was probably because I tripped over the chairs in trying to sit down.

Both of the men were helped quickly - one of them disappearing down the hallway that probably connected to the front door I was not allowed through. I nervously shuffled through my language flashcards - no one had spoken any English since I'd entered the building, and I was already overwhelmed and feeling very, very small and unprepared. The only phrases I knew I could say were "Hello," "Where are the doctors?," and "My heart speaks the language of love.," (the language sites I found were… weird.) so I was definitely in trouble if no one besides my mysterious door-answerer spoke English.

Thankfully, when I walked up to the reception window, the woman spoke English and was incredibly kind and helpful. She reviewed all my paperwork with me, everything seemed to be in order-

"You marked "vacation" for purpose of your trip."
"Um. Yep."
"People don't really go to the Moon for vacation."
"I um uh well I'm not going for "business" and I don't have "family" there so I guess uh..."
"Volunteer work?"
"YES. That one. That's a thing. That I am doing. Yep."

Definitely calm, cool, and collected. Not.
She told me that everything should be ready by Friday. Less than a week! Awesome!

"Have fun on your trip."
"You too! / Oh gosh / I mean, I don't know if you're going on a trip there anytime soon / I'm sure it's lovely / If you're going to visit family or something sometime soon / uh uh / I'm gonna go. Bye."

Nailed it.


And by "nailed it," I mean, my second visit was so much more painful.

I was running late on Friday, and they were closing early for a Moon holiday. If I didn't get it that afternoon, I would have to wait until Tuesday AND drive all the way across town (seriously like an hour each way, for North Carolinians who are rolling their eyes at this) again. No. No. Not happening. Getting my visa and paperwork TODAY.

I threw on a maxi dress over my denim shorts and SPRINTED through the parking deck and down the street, flailing around the side of the building and through the door - right into a roomful of very startled, and very ready to go home, business folks in suits.

"Hi hello / please don't be closed / I think there's two more minutes until it's 2pm / if that's okay / I um / I have a thing to pick up / hello / I've got my identification somewhere I'm uh / uh geez let me find it -"
"R. Grace? Here is your passport and paperwork. Have a good trip!"

A wave of relief washed over me - I did it! Immediately followed by the horrifying realization that my dress was caught up in my shorts, my hair was plastered all over my face, and I looked like a lunatic. And also, inappropriate… on the start of a holiday, no less.

But I had my passport and Moon visa and no one could take that away from me! I victoriously stepped outside - and tripped on the pavement, landing hard on my hands, with my passport and PHONE skittering across the gravel lot.


"Are you okay?"

I turned to see two Moon officials looking down at me, very concerned.

And I had just rattled off multiple profanities. And my dress was all snarled in my shorts, revealing all sorts of leg. And I was still on the ground. Oh gosh, maybe they COULD take my visa away. I stood up as fast as humanly possible and gave my most convincing, I-definitely-have-my-act-together, please-don't-ban-me-from-your-country smile.

"I'm fine / totally fine / doing great / phone's okay / PASSPORT's okay / Thank you for letting me into your country, by the way / I really appreciate it / I'm good / definitely okay / thanks so much / bye."

I darted back to the parking deck, before they could reconsider letting such a spazz into their country. I was home free. Next stop: the Moon!


Bummer Summer Epilogue: Please Stop Reading If You Don't Want Sad Feelz

I never went to the Moon.

Unfortunately, there are some Bad Eggs on the Moon. These Bad Eggs did bad things to good people, shortly after that afternoon I sprawled out on the pavement. Suddenly, the Moon was a very scary place  to be - scary even to our organizers, who cancelled the trip. I still have a hella cool stamp in my passport, and the great tale of humiliating-myself-on-so-many-levels at the consulate, which I'm sure will be helpful the next time - when I do get to go to the Moon. Bad Eggs can't take away that.

But in a happy twist, I get to do that whole story-gathering thing of people who are way cooler than me, this December - just, eight thousand miles away from where I originally planned.

Nailed it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Creepy Callers Incident

I used to love those little sneaky one-day holidays. President's day, MLK day, Memorial day, LABOR DAY, etc - holidays that the grocery stores don't go rabid about, and there's no real decorations or family gatherings, but you still get a three day weekend to drink and get into shenanigans.

Except when you don't.

Labor day is no fun when you're the only one of your friends laboring.

This past labor day, my phone illuminated all morning with texts and tweets and instagrams and other forms of communication I can barely finagle.

"Going to the pool?"
"lol sorry awesome BBQ to go to"
"Y go to the pool when you can go to THE BEACH"
"lol LA is so like whatever, NorCal bound!"
"R. Grace where are you?"

"At my desk. Working."

One friend was horrified that I had to work on a holiday, like doesn't that go against the constitution? I had to break it down that I worked technically part-time (38 hours some weeks, but still) in a customer-service position. Christmas and Thanksgiving are the only two days I for sure have off. While everyone else was riding dolphins or sparkler-jousting with celebrities (to my out-of-LA-friends, that's totally what this city is like. All the time.), someone had to make sure their baked goods arrived on time for their fabulous after parties. And that someone... was me.

Also I'd maxed out my credit card and October rent already loomed like a beacon of despair, so I kind of... needed to work. Baffling, I know.

To the Bakery's credit, work started pretty smoothly. A jovial mood permeated the few of us that were present. Most of the calls simply asked if we had regular business hours on Labor day.

I can do this, I thought. I am being responsible and conscientious about supporting my dream! I can still join the festivities after 5pm! (And then I will look better than everyone else because I won't have puffy day-drinking face! Day-drinking face instantly drops a point on the hottness scale!)

Soon it was just me and two other people. I was starting to feel self-pitying, but tried to be extra sunshine and rainbows nice on the phone. Maybe everyone else's Labor Day joy would ooze into me through osmosis. Maybe a studio exec would call for his son's birthday and say, "your voice is perfect for the lead role in Finding Nemo 3, is it okay if I give you buckets of money and also pay for your SAG-AFTRA fees?"

What? It's Hollywood; it could happen.

I got a call from a mom in the midwest... Nebraska maybe? Somewhere where people are supposed to be nice. Her daughter attended school near one of our locations and it was her birthday! So Nebraska mom needed a delivery to her daughter, like, 5 minutes ago. How did I not already know her full order and delivery address and card information, her daughter needed these pastries ASAP OR HER BIRTHDAY IS JUST RUINED, hello?!

I looked at the clock and realized the delivery cutoff happened an hour ago. And with it being a holiday (for everyone else beside me, apparently), our deliveries were jam packed all afternoon/early evening. Ugh. Okay, gentle let-down speech. I actually feel kind of bad, maybe I can check with a store and see if there's any possible way we can have something out...

"What part of I-live-in-Nebraska don't you understand? I can't be there for her so I need to get her these pastries for her birthday / because it's her birthday / I'm in Nebraska / That's far / Do you know how far?"
"I just checked with the story and it looks like deliveries are full..."
"Can't you just bend the rules? Add another one in? It's her BIRTHDAY after all."
"Ma'am, it's a holiday so we're already packed -"
"Your website doesn't say ANYTHING about it being a holiday."

Wait, what? Isn't that just like a common sense thing? I tried to come up with another solution, to be A++ awesome at customer service and save the birthday!

"Do you know any of her friends? There is still space for a pickup in a few hours; maybe you coordinate with someone to pick them up from the store so we can still get those cupcakes to her!" Perfectly logical solution, right? I am A++ the best at customer service, you're welcome world. I could already imagine her thanking me for saving Labor Day/her daughter's birthday/her woeful lack of preparedness...

"No I DON'T know her friends / why would I know her friends / are you not listening to what I'm saying / they need to be delivered / like right now / She can't pick them up either / Then it's not a surprise / she has to be surprised / so what you're saying is my daughter's birthday is ruined / because of you / you are ruining my daughter's birthday / do you even care?"

As my favorite philosopher, Ron Burgundy, once said, that escalated quickly.

Clearly nothing was going to please this woman besides me hand-delivering the pastries directly to her daughter two hours in the past. Since my time machine was on the fritz again (good plutonium is so hard to come by), this wasn't an option.

"Ma'am, I'm sure she'd be just as excited to pick the cupcakes up in person / or even a giftcard so she can select everything herself whenever it's most convenient / I can even transfer you directly to the store so you can speak to a manager -" (the classic pass-off. yell at someone else please.)

"So you're saying my daughter's birthday is ruined?" Where? Where in the last fifteen minutes had I ever inserted the word "ruined?" I have a bit of a southern accent, but usually that just adds a syllable here or there instead of throwing in completely different words.

"I'm saying that there are a couple different options we can try to get these pastries to your daughter this evening."
"But you can't deliver them to her right now?"
"... ... ... " I could not figure out any other combination of the previous sentences to make it clearer. Ummmm....

"Nevermind, I will find another bakery that cares about their customers. You are USELESS. Stupid bitch." Click.

Whoa. My head spun and I couldn't decide what to be offended by first. Obviously calling me a stupid bitch seemed out of line. What is this, Real Housewives of Nebraska? But also, I care about people A LOT. It's the whole being-from-the-south / never-met-a-stranger-just-a-new-friend that more often than not gets me in trouble for being TOO nice. (See: The Salami Suitor Incident). I'd also been in that post-grad, under-employed funk. What use was spending four years of my life studying, thousands of dollars on books and lectures and projects? Was I still, after all that, useless? Maybe Nebraska Mom moonlighted as a political commentator; she sure was good at stringing together untrue statements to destroy my self-worth.

Suddenly, everything sucked. I was useless; this job was un-fun, people were mean, my friends were probably signing acting contracts while riding on giraffes in a private zoo somewhere. Why was I even in LA? What was I even doing with my life? Oh no, existential crisis meltdown on a Monday in the office. Since a kitchen staffer and a delivery driver sat only two cubicles away, just hanging out, I sprinted to the bathroom, locked the door, and kept reactivating the motion-sensor faucet so they couldn't hear me crying. So cool and subtle.

I pulled myself together. After all, I only had an hour and a half left and then I could join my friends in all their fun and revelry. This is always the part in the ABC Family small-town-girl-in-the-big-city movies where something REALLY GOOD happens to restore the girl's hopes and spark her creativity for that one cool project that will get her noticed by her boss AND score the love of her life. I was ready! I was excited! I was...

I was all alone in the office.

Sometime in my sob-spectacular the two remaining guys had left for the day. This usually isn't too abnormal; but as it was a holiday, every one next door (management, hr, fancy not-customer-service staff) had left as well. And someone had turned out the lights in the hallway, casting an eery haze from the frosted windows at the front of the office. Creeeepy.

Adding to the creep factor is the location of this office. Awesome Bakery HQ sat in a rather... unsavory section of Los Angeles, directly across from a strip club and next to a motorcycle shop. Not a place that normal families, celebrating their fabulous Labor Day, would casually stroll past.

But the dead silence and lack of accountability meant I could screw around on the internet uninterrupted. Hello, reddit. All's well that ends well, right? I was getting paid to do nothing after being abused by some Midwestern monster-lady. I could handle this -


My first phone call in thirty minutes jolted me out of my not-doing-anything haze. Surely this person will be nicer. Surely this person won't swear at me.

In retrospect, I kind of wished they'd dropped a couple F words and just slammed the phone down.

"Thank you for calling Awesome Bakery, this is R. Grace, how may I help you?" Sooo cheery. Suuuch a good employee. The caller ID was blocked, but this is pretty common in LA. Lots of celebs who want their sugary treats without their personal information for some call center drone to gawk at.

"Oh wow. You sound really pretty. Are you at the Beverly Hills location?" AWWW. A compliment! This must be the universe sorting itself out; someone really lovely to make up for that awful lady. We get all the Bev Hills store calls directly routed to us, so we usually just say we are that location.

"Oh yes, this is Beverly Hills. What can I get started-"
"No. I mean it. You sound really, really pretty." Okay, getting a little weird. Uncomfortable pause. Uncomfortable laugh. Let's get this order back on track. LA guys are just super weird sometimes, right?
"Heh heh thanks, now may I get a name for this order?"

The voice changed from just a regular inquisitive dude to something dark and slimy.

"No. I mean it. You sound really pretty. Where are you? I'm going to find you." Breathing.

I hung up the phone immediately and it started ringing again from a blocked number. I would just call my boss on my... dead cell phone. Oh. Crap.

I was alone, in a huge dark office building, with no one nearby, no phone, and no weapons (I knew I should have tucked my crossbow in my purse that morning.) The only person on our office IM chat was the IT guy, who was working on an in-store issue about an hour away. After my frantic messages (Help / creepy stalker / phone is dead / I'm scared / I don't want to die at a bakery / I don't want to die ever / need weapons / help / all alone / gonna die) he offered to swing by the office on his way home... while I sat alone for the next hour and a half. He found my supervisor's cell-phone number and said I could call the Sup, but maybe I should just like... leave?

I was torn. Yes, I wanted to immediately get the hell out of there. But I also REALLY needed this job. Leaving without doing the necessary shut-down, security checks (basically, poking into dark corners in the office. Alone. Cool.) was grounds for a major punishment, if not dismissal. I needed confirmation from someone else, who could be held responsible instead if the higher-ups freaked out.

I called my Sup and the conversation went something like this:

"Hello? R. Grace? How's it going? I'm at this great BBQ right now so I'm gonna -"
"IM GONNA DIE / creepy stalker / creepy phone call / creepy creepy / thought I was in Beverly Hills / dead cellphone / gonna be a dead R. Grace / no weapons / shoulda brought my crossbow."
"Ohhh yeah... we get calls like that sometime. You're probably fine."


"I am ALONE / no weapons / no phone / phone kept ringing / nope nope nope"
"I mean if you don't feel safe, maybe hold on to a pair of scissors? Or... a stapler?"


"Eh, you can go home if you want. It's probably pretty slow now that all the Labor Day festivities are starting to die down."


Not only was the Sup utterly nonchalant about pervs calling, but his advice if I got attacked was... whack them with office supplies? Like have you never watched a crime show? Scissors vs. a blunt object to the head and duct tape didn't sound like the odds were in my favor. And my aim (besides with a crossbow) is laughable - had I tried to chuck a stapler at an approaching murderer's head, I probably would knock myself out in the process, making his job EASIER. Also. I could have gone home if wanted? At any time? All the BBQ and giraffee-jousting and fire-dancing I could have participated in! My heart.

I shut off my computer and the lights as the phone rang again. Nope nope incredible nope. I grabbed BOTH the scissors and a stapler, because I was not going down without a fight. Not only did I not want to die in a bakery's corporate office, but I didn't want to prove Dr. Dad right, in that LA is super dangerous and scary and full of people that want to kill you. I could picture Dr. Dad putting a little slip of paper in my coffin, with his awful doctor handwriting: "I told you so." And then I would be stuck with that for all eternity.

I propped the building door open with my foot and scanned the perimeter. Looked normal, besides the extra rowdy celebrations of the motorcycle shop next door. If I got jumped, would they even hear me over the engine-revving and loud cheers? I hastily set the building alarm.


Incorrect. In my jitteriness, my brain skittered all over the place, making a few-digit code as complex as the hieroglyphs. Was there a seven in there somewhere? Maybe after the head of Osiris? I had two more tries before I set off the alarm (which I have done before. Ear-splitting shrieks. Flashing lights. The perfect distraction to snatch up a frightened employee and carry her to your evil lair.) Just as a decided to make a run for it, bakery be damned, I landed on the correct code.

I darted outside and jerkily paced the parking lot. No one behind the fence. No one under my car. No one around the industrial freezer. The door had four locks, and after each one I scanned the background again. Nothing. All was clear. I checked under my car for those people that crawl under and slice your Achilles tendons - no one. I check the backseat for a hiding-in-plain-sight strangler. Nothing. No one. I flung myself into my car and flew out of the parking lot... all the way to Wendy's on Sunset Blvd for chili cheese fries.

What? The threat of being murdered makes a girl hungry. Also, not like I needed to look sooo hot in a bathing suit, as most everyone was done with their holiday celebrations. I started ugly-crying while eating my fries, so stressed out and icked out and prickly uncomfortable. I realized it was pretty hard to drive while eating fries with one hand and clutching a stapler in a death-grip in the other... so I put the stapler down so I could two-hand-attack the fries. Ahhh. Beautiful greasy stress relief.

I quit shortly thereafter and vowed to never eat baked goods again. That lasted maybe a week. But there is still a stapler that sits in my glove compartment... just in case.