Monday, January 19, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

 Imagine you were an expensive French cheese enthusiast. Just bear with me.  Imagine that the one thing that took you away from your worries was expensive French cheese, and each chance you had to order some, read about some, taste some, even attempt to age your own, you took it.  As an expensive French cheese enthusiast, you may have tried once or twice to share your passion with your friends, but it made you seem uppity, and maybe a little weird, which was often disappointing to you, since sharing your passion was the one thing that you wanted to do.  And then -- one day -- one bright, shiny day, it happened:  an American company stumbled on an affordable fantastic French cheese that brought your hobby to the masses in the USA, and everyone loved it, and everyone suddenly wanted to talk fromage with you, and the sun came out, and you were deliriously happy. 

This is what happened to me in the theater this weekend. Well, so to speak.  Slumdog Millionaire brought India/Bollywood to America and I sat next to people who loved it as much as I did and I could have squeezed everyone as I exited the theatre (but I did not).  I could barely contain myself from sounding like Hermione Granger.  "Do you see that interviewer?" I wanted to yell; "That's  Anil Kapoor! He's in Tashan, which is awesome, and Welcome, which is hilarious, but he's always the bad guy. And the police inspector? That's Irrfan Khan. He's amazing -- watch the Namesake! You should see Aaja Nachle! Do you hear that song? That's my favorite song from Don -- you should SEE Don! It's 3 1/2 hours long but worth every second."  Again, by some miracle, I was able to avoid such an outburst.

What was amazing about the movie was that it was not a typical Oscar-worthy film. It didn't make me want to tear my own eyes out from sorrow. It didn't make me turn away from sticky, overdone gore.  It was a suspenseful, clever, poignant, brilliant love story. It's the story of a young guy from the slums -- which makes him a Slumdog -- who, when the film opens, is winning India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  But the hero isn't interested in money; he wants to find a girl.  He and Latika were separated when they were children, and he's spent his life trying to find her again. He's hoping the sensation he creates on the show will draw her to him. 

The movie is about family, colonialism, caste, poverty, prejudice, and perseverance.  Well, WHAT are you doing still reading this blog? You should be seeing it right now, for heaven's sake. And be sure to stay for the credits. You wouldn't want to miss the dancing. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That Was Instinct

So I forgot to tell you the story of what happened when I was coming home on the plane from my campus visit. 

It was very late -- later than it should have been, in fact, because of cross winds that delayed my flight. I squeezed into a seat next to a woman who had been chattering on the cell phone, ignoring my pleas to let me sit down until I poked her in the shoulder.  Rolling her eyes and sighing, she got up to let me attempt to fold myself into a sitting position.  She continued to chew on the person on the other end of the phone until the plane was well underway.  The flight attendant practically had to make her swallow the contraption to get her to turn it off. 

Being off of the phone seemed to have a negative effect on my flying companion.  We had to idle on the runway for an hour because of the weather, and the longer we sat there, the more fidgety this woman became.  She began chewing off her fake nails, one by one by one.  She achieved this by gnawing the glue close to the quick and then prying the nail off with her front teeth, giving it a quick feral yank at the end for good measure.  Once she'd done that to all ten digits, it was time for the plane to take off. Unfortunately for me (and for her, in all fairness), this did little to ease her.

As the plane began to ascend, she rustled anxiously in her bulging bag and pulled out a white crocheted toboggan.  This she pulled down tightly over her ears, keeping hold of the sides of the hat until the plane leveled off.  Had she not been behaving this way, I would not have known she was upset. Her face was completely serene.  Only her fierce clutch on the hat suggested flying was not her favorite activity.

She finally let go of the toboggan and began ordering drinks when we reached altitude.  Since she reeked of bourbon, I assumed these were just a few in a long line of beverages she'd begun drinking way before our boarding time.  This might explain what she did two hours later when we finally descended. 

I missed whatever other odd behavior this woman exhibited while we flew because I gave over to my exhaustion and fitfully slept.  I might have had a few more minutes of rest had this strange person sitting next to me not done what she did.  Right before the plane's wheels touched asphalt -- which, to me, is the worst part of flying (next to the screaming, germs, body odor, and security searches) -- this mentally deranged person fully extended her arm and whacked me in the face with the backside of her elbow.  I snapped open my eyes to gape at her.  I guess my face demanded an explanation before I could form any words.  "Did you see that?" she asked me in her East Tennessee drawl;  "That was instinct." 

Friday, January 9, 2009

On Possibilities

It is a rare day that someone can say "today, I have stood at the threshold of the rest of my life."  But during the job process, there are days (or early mornings, or late nights) when one can actually pause a moment and think those thoughts.  The feeling is quite strange. You could very well be sitting next to the person who could be your best friend and colleague for the remainder of your life.  There is this possibility that you have walked by your own office.  It is not altogether unlikely that your town tour has taken you by your future home.  And while these thoughts might be exciting -- while these possibilities may be absolutely thrilling in a way nothing ever has been before -- in the job process, it is equally likely that everything you have seen could be offered to someone else.  What a strange, wonderful, hopeful, anxiety-ridden experience this is. 

Thursday, January 1, 2009


So, I have returned from the the MLA convention. 

I read more blogs than I should've about what to expect. Some emphasized the smell of failed deodorant; others discussed strange and unusual interviews that involved people going to sleep or attempting to conduct an interview drunk.  These were not my experiences. At least, not exactly. 

I accidentally (but fortuitously) booked us in the Fairmont, a convention hotel but not the main one.  Initially, I was confused -- where was the mania? The evidence that everyone was going through his/her worst fear? This was a golden lobby. The only people in it were shaking it to the Tonga Room or enjoying a bellini at the hotel restaurant.  Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. We met up with people we'd missed a long, long time. We shared excellent meals and watched the ice skaters on the square. 

But that was all until we were summoned to the Hilton.  The Hilton was the hub of all activity -- where most interviews were, where all sessions were being held.  I walked through the double doors and finally realized why everyone shudders when they say the word "MLA."  The first breath I took felt hot and sour; I actually breathed in everyone else's panic like it was cigarette smoke.   There must have been 200 suited, strange people in the hotel lobby. Those who weren't fidgeting or sweating were ecstatically embracing people they'd missed. What I tasted in the air was one part terror and one part impatient joy.  Everyone was scanning everyone else's nametag.  They wanted to know, "Are you somebody?"  I tucked mine away to save them the trouble.

Then I found "the phones."  In case you didn't know, MLA interviews are held in hotel rooms.  And you have to call the room where your interview will be held 5 minutes before it's scheduled to begin. There was a line of phones in the hallway with young professionals and graduate students hovering around them. Everyone was glancing at their watches, glancing at the phones, glancing at their watches, and breathing heavily.  Most looked like this was their first time in a suit. Everyone was shifty. The energy made the air hard to take in.  It was horrible. Everyone was thinking the same thing. Call now? Call NOW? 

But that wasn't as weird as the elevator ride. The elevator ride to the interview room took 1,000 years. While taking it to the designated interview room, time stopped.  I died about 10 times, came back to life, and somehow by a miracle made my way out of the elevator. This enjoyable experience was comparable only to the moment outside the door of the interview room.  For one second, I wondered if it wouldn't be a better idea to crawl down the stairs, slink out of San Francisco, and hide out in my closet the rest of my life. But I didn't do that. I felt fairly proud of myself each time I avoided this alternate plan of action.  I breathed. I avoided hyperventilating. And then I knocked. 

What happened in that room is fodder for 1,000 stories but all of them could jeopardize my chances of getting a job. So we'll skip over that part.

Perhaps we'll fast-forward to the time we saw a cat strapped to a dog walking down the street outside of where we were dining.  Or perhaps I'll just stop there.