JERK OF THE WEEK: The Philadelphia Writers' Conference
I've discussed my trips to Tampa and the Jersey Shore over the past two months. However, in doing so, I've neglected to mention what's been going on in my area. I wrote this Jerks entry several months ago, but I'm publishing it now that my summer series are over.
I hate waking up early and I hate going downtown. I seldom have to do either of these two things, but Friday, June 7 was not a typical day. I had to go to the Philadelphia Writers' Conference that morning to meet with literary agents to possibly represent me as I try to publish Jerks on My Floor - a collection of Jerks of the Week-type stories from my college days.
I set my alarm for 7:15 a.m. The sound blared at that ungodly hour, and it took me about 10 minutes to get out of bed. At that moment, I was extremely jealous of people in third-world countries like Africa, South America and Camden, N.J. Those lucky individuals may not have food, but they don't have jobs either, so they don't have to wake up super early to catch a train downtown. Those lucky a**holes have it so easy, and I don't think it's quite fair.
Making matters worse, I had to dress up for this event. I normally roll out of bed and work on my Web site in my pajamas or gym clothes, but I had to put on a nice, button-down shirt and pants on this day. I donned the unwashed gray shirt I wore under my suit on the May 18 wedding - I checked for beer stains, and luckily there were none - and then I tried on these pants my mom bought for me. Unfortunately, they did not fit. I then put on brown pants, but they didn't match the gray shirt. I finally settled on the pants I wore to the wedding. They didn't have beer stains either. Success!
My train was scheduled to arrive at 8:16, so my plan was to leave my house at 8. It's a 10-minute walk to the station, so I'd get there with six minutes to spare. However, I decided to drive because there was a downpour outside. Driving is obviously faster than walking, so I pulled out of my driveway at 8:03. I thought I'd be fine - and then I discovered that the parking lot was full. I went back out onto the street and parked my car on the side of the road, halfway between my house and the station. It was 8:09 at this point, but I thought I'd still be fine if I could get there in five minutes.
Sure enough, I arrived at the station at 8:14 - just as the train pulled away! I was so pissed. I shouted, "What the f***, how can Septa actually be early for the first time ever!? This is such bulls***!" An old lady sitting on the bench looked at me like I was nuts, but I didn't care. I was drenched, despite having an umbrella, and I missed my freaking train.
I looked at the electronic sign - the next train was due to arrive at 8:57. I figured this would give me enough time to walk back to my car, park it in my driveway and then wander back to the station. I decided to do this because I didn't want to just leave my car on the side of the road the entire day. And besides, I apparently had time to kill.
By the time I got home, it was 8:30. My socks were soaked, so I decided to change them. I then opened up my laptop to make absolutely sure that the next train was set to arrive at 8:57. Here's what I read:
Somerton Station: 8:13 - 8:40 - 9:17 - 10:17
What the hell... 8:13? Where'd I get 8:16 from? I looked down, and 8:16 was for Philmont Station. Both Somerton Station and Philmont Station are on Philmont Ave., so I got confused. But wait... 8:40? Oh s***! I checked my computer clock, and it was already 8:39. I missed two damn trains.
There was no way I was going 0-for-3, so I left super early and walked back in the pouring rain. I managed to get on the 9:17 train, but I didn't even know that it was worth it, since I missed the opening sign-ups for agents. I sent angry, frustrated texts to some of my friends, as I watched the train move from the nice part of Philadelphia into the dreary slums.
The walk from the downtown station to the hotel was brutal. It was so rainy and windy that parts of the umbrella slipped off the spokes. At one point, the umbrella inverted. I had to stop and push the material out to get the umbrella to work and function normally again. By the time I reached the hotel, the damage was done - everything was wet, including my new socks and my book proposal papers. The ink smeared everywhere as a result, rendering some of them unreadable. Like I said, the third-world people have it so easy.
Luckily, my trip to the Philadelphia Writers' Conference wasn't a total loss. I managed to encounter some jerks and experience some strange situations...
You can attend any workshop you wish upon registration, so I decided to kill time by attending a workshop called Novel: Character.
As soon as I walked into the room, the woman in the front of the room, yelled, "Please come in and take a seat with a handout. There are handouts in the front, so sit near the front." This woman looked like President Roslin from Battlestar Galactica. I could tell she was an imposter, however, so I sat in the back, all while managing to secure one of these handouts.
President Roslin continued to order everyone who walked in to take a seat with a handout. Even when she began her workshop at 11, she constantly interrupted herself when someone new entered the room. It went like this...
"So, today we're going to talk about character development in - sir, please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - novels. We'll be looking at - ma'am, please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - examples from famous novels and then - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - we'll have you write - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - some examples, and then we'll - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - read them aloud to see how we can - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - improve your character - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - development.
It was so incredibly annoying. I wanted to hear what President Roslin wanted to say about character development, but she kept interrupting herself. Nearly everyone who walked in the room complied with her demand, save for one black girl, who responded, "I don't want to sit up front." The entire class laughed, save for President Roslin. If she were still on the Galactica, she would have ordered Commander Adama to throw the black chick out of the airlock.
There were other distracting things about this class. For example, President Roslin had a Canadian accident, so she said "aboot" instead of "about," which I found amusing. The annoying one was "rahther" instead of "rather." I wanted to hear her say "organ-I-zation," but that never came aboot.
There was also an attractive redhead across the room. She was doing hot things, like brushing her hair. Unfortunately, some bearded guy in a blue polo shirt waltzed in - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - and sat next to her, blocking my view. I wanted to creepily stare at her, but he ruined everything!
Oh, and President Roslin read off her precious handout, word for word. She eventually got to the second page, where there was an exercise:
Exercise: Write a few sentences outlining what your character yearns for. Don't write a scene, or a dialogue. Just tell me. Begin with "My character ____________ is a young/old/middle-aged man/woman who yearns to ____________. Then tell me what sort of thing or person - like Gatsby's Daisy - you will use to symbolize and exemplify that desire.
I wrote down the following and showed my friend:
My character yearns to sit in a chair without a handout. Being forced to sit on a chair with handouts represents an authoritative society lacking any sort of freedom, and my character yearns to break from the societal shackles.
My friend laughed at this. Then, someone else came into the room - please come in and take a seat with a handout on it. There are plenty of handouts near the front - and my friend lost it.
Later, when President Roslin called on people to read their exercises, I asked my friend if I should read mine out loud. He thought about it and looked like he wanted to say yes, but finally shook his head and whispered, "Don't do it."
That was probably the right decision. Otherwise, I might have flown out of the airlock with the rude black girl.
2. Taxis and the Soda Scheme
It was still pouring out, so no one was willing to go to any of the nearby restaurants. Fortunately, there was a buffet in the hotel instead for $16.
The food was pretty solid. They had pasta with this awesome sauce and delicious pork. I started with a salad, however, and brought it back to my table. It was overflowing with Ranch dressing and peppered with countless bits of cheese. An older woman looked at my plate and sarcastically remarked, "Well that's healthy." It's a high crime to besmirch a fat man's eating habits, so I wanted to respond with something clever, but nothing came to mind because I was so damn hungry.
As I stuffed the salad into my mouth, eagerly anticipating the pasta and pork, the waiter walked over to our table and asked us what we wanted to drink. I was exhausted, so I ordered a Pepsi. It turned out to be completely flat, so I told the waiter and he brought over another. "This is better," he said, walking away. It was even flatter than the first.
I don't understand how any food establishment can have flat soda. That's just irresponsible. If the soda is flat, just open up a new bottle. Don't be selfish dicks and hoard all of the carbonated soda.
Anyway, lunch concluded. My aforementioned friend was heading off to another workshop, but none of the workshops at 1:30 p.m. interested me. Besides, my best friend Josh, who lives downtown, wanted to meet up. I called him, and we quickly learned that hanging out would be more difficult than we anticipated.
Josh: Take a cab to my office. I'm at 12th and Chestnut.
Me: A cab? I don't know how to take a cab.
Josh: What do you mean? Just take a cab.
Me: I don't understand how to do it.
Josh: Just walk outside, hail a taxi and tell him where you want to go.
Me: That's just one of the many things I don't understand about taking a cab.
Josh: What? What are the other things?
Me: OK, A) What if there are no cabs? B) How will I know what a cab looks like - are they yellow? C) What if the cab driver doesn't know how to get to 12th and Chestnut? D) What if the cab driver is a serial killer? E) How do I pay him? F) How much tip do I leave? G) Do I pay him at the beginning or at the end? And if it's at the end, do I get out of the cab and pay him, or do I pay him from the back seat? H) What if I forget something on the cab? I) What if...
Josh: You're the worst. I'll just jog over to you.
Me: Are you sure? I don't want to make things difficult for you.
Josh: It's fine. I need to jog anyway.
Josh texted me 10 minutes later, telling me he was in the lobby. I found him in the gift shop, completely soaked from the rain, talking to some older, redheaded woman. "That's Crazy Horse Girl's mom," Josh told me later.
Josh and I talked for the next hour. He told me some amusing stories about his job that I'm hoping he'll write about in this section in the future. He left around 2:30 to pick up his boss's kids from school, so I had a half hour to kill before the next group of workshops began. I went into the gift shop to buy a bottle of Pepsi that was actually carbonated, and I figured I'd introduce myself to Crazy Horse Girl's mother in the process. I've made her daughter a Jerk of the Week before, so might as well, right?
I pulled a cold Pepsi out of the freezer and brought it to the counter. Crazy Horse Mom was punching numbers into the register when I began my dialogue. She turned out to have one of the thickest Russian accents of all time.
Me: Hey, I know your daughter!
Crazy Horse Mom: How you know my sveet little girl?
Me: I met her through a mutual friend. How is she doing?
Crazy Horse Mom: She very good, so proud of my sveet little girl. Zat vould be sree-fifty, to please.
Me: Wait, what?
Crazy Horse Mom: You get soda. Iz sree-fifty, to please.
What the hell? This gift shop charged $3.50 for a regular bottle of Pepsi? I had two $1 bills out because I thought it'd be $1.50, or maybe $1.99 at the most, but I was completely taken aback by this. Why in the world did a bottle of Pepsi cost so much here? How much was a full-size bag of Doritos, $12.99?
You know, looking back on it, I should've seen it coming. Downtown Philly sucks so much that carbonated Pepsi must be a precious commodity. That would explain why the hotel buffet wasn't willing to use their quality Pepsi on us - they wanted people to go to the gift shop for the Pepsi that was actually carbonated.
It's an incredibly devious scheme - and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Some of you may think I should've known better, but I'm not from crappy downtown. I don't even know how to hail a taxi.
3. Pumpkin Girl
The time for meeting agents had finally arrived. My first appointment was at 4:30. I wandered around and saw the redhead from before talking to the agent I was supposed to meet. I instantly regretted creepily staring at her because I imagined their conversation went like this:
Hot Redhead: I know I have seven minutes to pitch my book idea to you, but I need to take the time to tell you about that guy in the beer-stained, gray, button-down shirt who is standing right there.
Agent: Why? What about him?
Hot Redhead: He was creepily staring at me in one of the classes. When you meet with him, tell him that his book idea sucks so that he loses all confidence.
I thought I was doomed, but the meeting with this agent went well, I thought. He seemed genuinely interested in the idea and was laughing about the idea of a book filled with nothing but jerks from college. He especially liked that I entitled one of the chapters, "Me."
I had a meeting with a second agent at 4:45, so I was standing around the main table. A cute brunette was there, wearing an orange dress. I apparently didn't creepily stare at her enough because she was willing to strike up a conversation with me.
Orange Dress Girl: Which agent are you meeting with?
Me: This guy Geoffrey. I don't know if I should pronounce it "Jeffrey" or "Joffrey."
Orange Dress Girl: I definitely wouldn't pronounce it Joffrey. That guy's a dick!
Me: Haha yeah, but it's better than being called Robb Stark right now.
Orange Dress Girl: That's true. Well, we all have weird names. I have no vowels in my last name [there were two Ys] and look at your last name! You're a nice Polish boy.
If she says so. If she wants me to be a nice Polish boy, I'll be a nice Polish boy.
We both went to our meetings and then talked some more afterward. I eventually told her about this Web site and suggested for her to check out the Jerks of the Week section, where I would eventually be writing about the Philadelphia Writers' Conference. She joked that she'd see her name in there as Pumpkin Girl because of her dress.
Me: So, are you staying for the dinner here tonight?
Pumpkin Girl: Oh, nah, my husband is picking me up soon...
Oh... husband. I am no longer a nice Polish boy.
Me: Oh, OK.
Pumpkin Girl: Yeah, I'd stay, but we couldn't find a sitter for the kids today.
Oh... kids. I am now a very angry boy of anything but Polish descent.
I wasn't staying around for dinner. I left the hotel and trudged home through the rain, which was coming down harder than before. It was nine blocks of this. I suppose most other people took cabs to the train station, but I didn't know how to summon one, or how to pay for one, or how much to pay for one.
The bottom line is that downtown is way too confusing for someone as stupid as me. I hope I never have to go down again. But if I do, I'm definitely bringing a cheaper bottle of Pepsi with me. It'll even be carbonated.