(Previously, in part 1 of this joyous little pilgrimage, I had to deal with Construction but found something to laugh about, on the way to the bank.
In part 2, there was nothing to laugh about, except that a pilgrimage should have emotional significance. There were definitely significant emotions occurring.)
Remember that bank that was being built, right near my apartment? The one you could see right through to the other side?
In the middle of August, I decide to investigate this further. I had found several online reviews lauding this exact location for its excellent service and friendly atmosphere. These are not the sort of reviews one leaves, no matter how rapturous one is feeling, for a pile of dirt. No. I am suspicious, and set out on my trusty bicycle (read: squeaky beyond embarrassment) to see for myself.
I squeal my way over to the Construction Bank site, sounding like the PedalPub for crazed chipmunks. Pedestrians leave the sidewalk when they hear me coming. Instead of stopping and lamenting the construction site when I get there, I decide to keep going around the bend.
I round the corner, and there–there, ladies and gentlemen–there sits the bank. Tucked just behind the under-construction bank, calmly, where it has clearly been doing business for years.
I’m sure you can join me in imagining the rest–me parking my bike in a real parking lot, me walking into a real bank during real hours, me being provided excellent service in a friendly atmosphere by real people, me rending my garments in the lobby from grief, from pain, from the sheer exasperation that this institution has caused me, me being escorted forcibly by excellent friendly service people from the building, me and my chipmunk bike driving the whole 200 yards home.
For those of us who like visual things, recall that this is where I went:
And–my computer cannot even put the stars close enough together to demonstrate this to scale–this is where I needed to be:
Time spent on transaction, including bicycle ride: 10 minutes.
Distance traveled: approximately 193,280,010 yards more than necessary.
I feel like there should be something profound about all this–maybe some zen-like statement about ending where you started from, or the beauty of a pilgrimage that brings you home at last. I don’t feel profound or enlightened.
I feel like an idiot.
But now I am an idiot with a bank.
Previously, on Bank Pilgrimages…
[car radio sounds, honking, construction]
Elena: [steering] If you wanted it to be a one-way street, why didn’t you say it was a one-way street?!?
Stoplight: [RED.] Don’t Walk. Don’t Walk. Don’t Walk.
Elena: [in line at the bank, happily] It’s all so space age! [Girl behind her in line edging away, giving weird look]
Fifteen cars behind Elena at a confusing intersection: Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honnnnnnk. Honkhonkhonkhonkhonk.
Join us now for Elena Goes to the Bank: A Pilgrimage, part 2.
Once again, I decide I need to go to the bank. (Really, if we’re being honest, this was my first mistake. Who needs to go to the bank?) I have several checks to deposit. (A happy problem, for most people, but one I nevertheless could have ignored in relatively peaceful poverty.) I decide to combine it with another errand, and look it all up on Google Maps ahead of time.
So first I do my errand.
I’ve used my extensive artistic ability to demonstrate the journey for you all:
I arrive, no problem, in less time than the internet estimated for me. I even leave with free potatoes from the Salvation Army next door. Who’s complaining? Nobody, that’s who.
Next, I carefully look at the map, to go to (what I think is) the same location I went to last time. How hard can this be? I start off toward the bank.
The bank starts off, too, and moves several blocks over. At least, that’s the only thing I can figure, because I swear my navigational skills are good. Really. I carefully drive to the exact intersection specified on the map (which I can no longer zoom in on, because I don’t have internet in my car…#21st century problems…).
I arrive at the location, and nothing is there except a giant volcanic pit, several Big Bertha backhoes digging their graves, and a spindley little construction stoplight damming up cars all the way to Canada. You decide which part of that is an exaggeration, and which part of that is a bank. Drawing on my deep observational skills, I conclude that I should begin hunting elsewhere for the elusive bank, and set out again, for the banks labelled, respectively, E, J, and G. (That means there’s a lot more alphabet letters out there luring poor suckers into hunting the tribal banks…)
Watch carefully now.
The rest is pretty hazy, but there are a few things I remember.
Rumored banks in the area: 3
Actual banks found: 0
List of obstacles on the way to real bank: Big river, construction-cone driving course (professionals only), aforementioned Pit of Doom, the Capitol building, stoplights that never turn green, streets with multiple personalities that change names without warning, shiny distracting statues of famously dead people.
Actual bank found after accosting a real person on his smoke break: 1. “But I think it might be closed.”
Out of the pity of God, I finally find the bank. It was not even on the map. I scramble out of my car, weaving across the parking lot in an exhausted zigzag. A sign firmly tells me that the bank has closed 15 minutes earlier. Which would have been right between the “heading north for 10 miles before deciding I’ve gone too far” and the “pulling over next to nice house in the hopes that they’ll let me use their free WiFi from the road.” Neither of which worked very well.
At this point I am considering taking the heaviest thing out of my trunk (my sewing machine) and smashing the bank’s glass doors down. It would have been spectacular. You would have seen it on the news.
But a small pinprick of light is trickling–nay, cackling–down from above: the space-age drivethru is still open! I march back toward my car–whoops, nope, my car, sorry sir–and turn it on and back it around and pull into the drivethru and wait. The line is long. It is hot out. Google maps has deserted me. My computer has died. All I can find is a pencil. I sign my checks with what I want to be a flourish. My signature looks like I’m four.
And then this actual conversation happens between me and nice teller via the little space-age tubes:
Me: “Um, how do I use this?” (Remember, I don’t get out much.)
Teller: “Put your stuff in it and push the button.”
Me: “Okay…” (Not okay. Not. okay.)
Teller: “You’ll need to add it up on the deposit slip.”
Me: “What if I can’t do math today?”
Actual amount of time spent looking for a bank only 20 minutes from home: 1.5 hours.
Then I drove the 20 minutes home. Watched six episodes of The Nanny. And ate peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon.
[You'd think I wouldn't try again, but apparently I'm young and stupid and part 3 also happened.]
Today I went to the bank.
In the small town where I grew up, this statement would mean a simple thing, even a pleasant bike trip through blocks of houses on the main drag. I might have to wait for two or three stoplights while the rush hour traffic (ten cars) speeds through. Or I could take the trail overlooking the glittering lake and avoid traffic altogether. Ah, blissful summer of bike rides through town.
But banks, I am learning, are not simple in a city. Please, join me for: Elena Goes to the Bank: A Pilgrimage in 3 Acts. That should really be 3 months, starting with
I find I need to cash a check.
I attempt to Google search for the nearest location of my bank, since the Big City is not something you “spin through”. (If only things were labeled like toy towns: “The Hospital”–”The Library”–”The Toy Store.” Because, you know, there’s only one of each.) The little blurp on the internet map shows that there’s one right by me. Your Personal Bank! Mere minutes away! Even on foot! It even gives times they’re open.
But I am smarter than the bank. I drive to this location, carefully, and my suspicions are confirmed. This bank is new and under construction. Like, it has no walls. I can see straight through all the steel frames to the heavy machinery on the other side. The whole thing is one big drivethru. Maybe they’re hoping I’ll stop by (during open hours) and toss my money toward them. Hah.
So I drive to the next nearest location: life is not easy, sans GPS. There is Summer Construction. Suddenly one-way signs are popping up like Whac-a-Moles and I’m going all the wrong ways and then suddenly I’m on the university campus. Surprise! There are students on the crosswalks wearing shoes that are so high-heeled I’m surprised they’re still vertical. There are students biking everywhere. There are flashing signs vying for everyone’s attention, which of course no one is looking at. The the stoplight decides to take a nap. My internal GPS is calmly announcing to me: “Searching for satellite. Searching for satellite.” Your Personal Bank is not supposed to be located on the university campus.
Finally I arrive at the bank, after multiple, multiple turnarounds in rush hour. The line is out the door; they’re closing in half an hour. The woman ahead of me gets too impatient and leaves. I can see her through the bank windows using the drivethru. So now it’s just five people ahead of me. I have a conversation to pass the time:
Me: There’s something funny about people sticking their money in little tubes, and it going up all by itself into the bank. It’s so…space age.“
College-age girl behind me: Haha!
Me: [encouraged] It’s just so cool! I mean, a tube sucks up the little container–how does it do that? Does it have something attached to it? Who thinks of stuff like this?
College-age girl behind me: …[long pause]
Me: Clearly I don’t get out much.
Then she really laughs, and it’s a big beautiful laugh, and I laugh too, and we both sound like we haven’t laughed all day, which is at least true of me. And I am reminded again that she is a person, not just a crabby driver refusing to let me merge, and not just a stupid internet employee sending me to non-existent banks. She’s just a person, and we’re waiting in line like good people in a big city do.
Big cities. There’s nothing so bad about them…there’s just so much more of them.
I burn up another 45 minutes and all of my warm fuzzy just trying to get home. More of them, my foot.
Stay tuned (oh, stay tuned) for part 2.
I graduated. It’s been fun. It’s been real. No, wait, not that…that comes with joining The Real World. And along with graduation comes a host of unsettling events they don’t tell you about when you sign up to pay your entire life savings…or at least the one you would have made in the future…
Things They Don’t Tell You About The Real World:
Attack of the phantom stress. You are dozing in the early morning. It is peaceful. You are dreaming of golden afternoons, lemonade, and the birds chirping through the open window. Suddenly your dream takes a nasty turn. You are struck by a vague but very insistent feeling that Something is not right Something is not right Something is wrong. You wake up, sweating, heart pounding, wrapped in sheets, reaching desperately for an alarm clock that isn’t there, shouting, “What day is it? What’s due today? How much did I oversleep? Where are my pants?” Then, as you come to, out of your groggy sleep-induced panic, you realize several things.
1. There is no homework due today, because
2. It is Sunday, and
3. You have graduated.
You lie on your back wide awake, staring at the alarm clock you finally found, watching it blink 7:02. 7:02. 7:02. You do this for several hours while the adrenaline, which served you so well when going deep-sleep-to-shower in 4 seconds flat on a school morning, has a party in your veins.
Housing deposits. The school who has taken so much of your time, your young adulthood, your sweat, your tears, your desperate pleas for mercy and assignment extensions and better grades than you deserve, and most of all has taken your money, oho yes has it taken your money!—this same school has the gall to deliver an envelope to your high school self’s old home address. It is a check, addressed to you. It is the original housing deposit you paid four years ago when you were youthful, carefree, and starry-eyed with the future. It is worth less than 1% of the loans you took out to pay for your education. You open the envelope and laugh hysterically for five minutes, then use it to pay a quarter of the rent.
Laundry. It’s always awkward. You move out of the dorms where you have been living as an admittedly lame senior in college. Along with the bright and hopeful views in The Real World, you’ve been hoping for a new setting for washing clothes. Alas. Your apartment building, where you are living as a capable, confident, independent adult (read: staying up way too late watching Youtube videos because you can), has a laundry room. Which means you can still pay too much to be able to wave your underwear around in front of everyone!
Citing your sources: an exercise in futility. In academia, if you don’t cite your sources, you get points off. In the Real World, the bleary-eyed intern (yes, that’s you) spends hours on the internet wasteland, fact-checking obscure author claims about heart failure and stress, using websites that are somehow both free and scholarly. Like you don’t already know these answers first hand…
Some things never change, I guess. Hooray to the graduates!
photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net
I tend not to like something if everyone is in love with it. (One of the many reasons I won’t touch Twilight.) I had heard so much about the unputdownable, unbelievable, never-before-seen Hunger Games trilogy that I wasn’t gonna be reading them any time soon. Instead, I had these books ambush me—my roommate started reading the first two chapters aloud while I was cooking or something. I listened because I had no choice. Then one day she left the room and it was sitting there on the shelf and I couldn’t hold back and I read the whole thing in one sitting with no bathroom breaks. Hi, I’m Elena, and I’m addicted to books.
But I hope you’ll read it too, if you haven’t already, and you’ll see why the trilogy The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay made a serious splash. Emphasis on serious. One review described them as “Gladiator meets Project Runway” which feels oddly appropriate. (For a more in-depth review, check out this one. Not responsible for spoilers, though.) For those of you who haven’t read them, Janie B. Cheaney gives an intense summary:
“How’s this for a scenario: In the future, the USA has been divided into 13 districts, and the strongest dominates all the others. One form of domination is the annual televised exhibition in which two teens from each district compete for the prize of being allowed to live. Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old poacher from District Twelve, volunteers to replace her younger sister who was chosen by lot to be one of the district competitors. Katniss and her fellow competitor Peeta are transported to the capital city, where they will compete to be the last teen standing in a glitzy, media-frantic, widely anticipated, hotly contested, brutal and bloody fight to the death.”
Yeesh. Not my kind of book. And yet the books were so compelling that I heartily recommend them. If reading the above paragraph doesn’t make you throw up, you’ll probably be fine. And here’s why:
Author Suzanne Collins has a clear, fast, “flat” writing voice that makes dramatic events approachable and the action march steadily onward. This means that her descriptions of teens fighting to the death feels remarkably like her descriptions of teens participating in a fashion show—both are steady, intense, and pretty low on the emotional scale. Even more importantly, the books’ violence serves to tell a story and not to indulge in gratuitous brutality. Collins does a good job of showing some pretty awful events without making them either glamorous or trivialized.
Instead, our main character Katniss narrates some pretty brutal things in her flat, unemotional voice. Which leads to my second point: Katniss doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of moral backbone. You’re just watching people die? I was thinking in the first book. You’re going to kill them yourself? As the books went on, I saw some moral consciousness surfacing, but nothing very strong or universal. And yet—this is how I justify it to myself—and yet, I think Collins also tells this part very, very well: these kids have grown up with this sick system. It’s expected that if the lottery picks them, they will kill or be killed. They all know it, and it’s a brutal part of their brutal lives. It reminds me of ancient Rome and other civilizations who became so desensitized to their own cruelty that they gathered to watch lions tear people apart. The children of the Hunger Games are psychologically consistent with their world. It’s just a sad, sick world to begin with.
Which brings me to my third point: violence should not be glamorized, but neither should it be passed over. Stephen King, in his review of the first novel, said “Reading The Hunger Games is as addictive (and as violently simple) as playing one of those shoot-it-if-it-moves videogames in the lobby of the local eightplex; you know it’s not real, but you keep plugging in quarters anyway.”
Hmmm. That’s funny, because in the middle of one of the arena scenes (in which Katniss and other players try to kill each other while avoiding tricks that the “Gamemakers” have planted throughout the arena), I thought, “I feel like I’m in a video game.” And then I did a little search. Sure enough, the internet is full of people clamoring for the video game to come out. Where (I presume) players will use their character to fight and kill other characters after the model of, oh, almost every video game out there. And now the model of the Hunger Games.
[Okay, so these kids are younger, but this is how I felt while reading. Click on photos for credit.]
What am I supposed to make of this? Everyone will acknowledge the depravity of a game that forces children to kill each other while their country watches it on a screen. In these books children are being manipulated by a controlling audience’s insatiable thirst for violence. Ok, so the idea of the Hunger Games is twisted. But what about the games we play where children use their own controllable character to kill other characters on-screen? How are the books different from the video games we ourselves play, where violence is a staple commodity?
I really don’t know. And what troubles me even more? Both books and video games are designed for our “entertainment.”
What is the difference between reading about a “game” (disturbed!) and playing the game ourselves (sweet!)? How can we condemn one brutal, intense, graphic world and yet participate in a similar world where we ourselves are the controllers? Well, you might say, it’s not real. True. Neither video games nor Young Adult novels are “real”. But the thing we often love about literature (and, you could say, about video games) is that it shows us reality in a different skin. So if none of it’s real, why on earth are we wasting our time? And if it is real, who am I to say one is harmful, when I’ll happily join in the other one?
I don’t know the answer to this, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share.
Book of the…(week? month? depends on the next great book, I guess) is So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. It’s about Hunter, a seventeen-year-old who’s paid to find the latest, greatest trends for mass-marketing, and Jen, an “Innovator”–one of the kids inventing the latest, greatest before anyone else . Because, of course, once everyone is wearing it, it’s just not cool anymore. Initially I thought this story was about whether an innovator (someone who invents crazy new styles) and a trendsetter (someone who steals those inventions and sells them on the retail market) can be friends. Instead it quickly blows up into something bigger: there’s a pecking order here, from global companies to mindless consumers to late adopters to the I-would-rather-die-than-adjust-to-something-new. Everyone I know fits in somewhere. And it’s a dangerous, brand-maniacal world out there.
In my opinion, what Scott Westerfeld does really, really well is take one aspect of culture and magnify it, twisting it to see what happens when it goes just a nudge farther. In his trilogy Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, it was the idea of beauty. What would happen–these books ask–if we invented the perfect formula for beautiful people? And then did surgery on everyone? It’s a fascinating series, one that asks questions about human dignity, the growing-up process, and the role of science as authority. And they’re ridiculously engrossing sci-fi novels. Maybe more on them later.
Well, in So Yesterday, he’s done it again. This time, it’s the idea of cool. Here, in almost the same New York City we have today, cool is absolutely king. Mass marketing is moving at breakneck speed, and what was IN last week is so pathetically OLD today you shouldn’t bury your grandmother in it. The main character, Hunter, is paid by companies to advertise and collect data, but he’s not paid to talk about them them–so he doesn’t. He refuses to name any name brands whatsoever in the book, referring to them obliquely instead (phones made by “a certain company in Finland”, a quote from a certain “dysfunctional father” in a television show), because otherwise it would be advertising. He makes an exception for the ubiquitous Google. (Hmmm.)
This book only increased my desire to rail loudly at the mass-media advertising constantly streaming toward my skull. I can’t even walk into a grocery store anymore without being overwhelmed by seventeen brands of peanut butter and four hundred varieties of the snack-I-didn’t-know-I-needed-but-now-I-will-clearly-die-without. It makes me physically ill. Seriously, people! …But I digress.
It was refreshing to read a book about consumer culture with brand names so conspicuously absent. I also appreciated Westerfeld’s balanced look at the ways “cool” culture develops a life of its own. I became sadly reconciled to the fact that I will never, never be an early adopter. I can’t even figure out how to work the microwave properly. (Apparently you’re supposed to take it out before the smoke starts pouring around the edges. Who knew?)
It’s a great book; I’d recommend it. Check it out, and the trilogy, by clicking on the pictures. (There are no links to burned brownies, sorry. But I can recommend some tips if you want to make it yourself.)