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Sex in the Sub-City
New York, State of Decline

Cheap shot of the month
No fun my babe no fun
No fun my babe no fun
No fun to hang around
Feeling that same old way
No fun to hang around
Freaked out for another day
- Iggy Pop

What the fuck is up with New York nowadays? It's gone from the most fun-loving, freewheeling town to the lamest, most tight-ass place in the country. There are militia men everywhere, rifles at the ready, which is fine, except they're not going to be able to do shit in case of another attack. What are bullets going to do against bombs or airplanes? And with all of this tension, all the stress we're under, the pitiful economy (more on this later), how does the mayor decide to reward us? By eliminating smoking in bars. I don't know about you, but I've gone to like one bar since the smoking ban. I cannot drink without smoking, and refuse to get up from my seat like some stupid bitch and stand outside in the cold or rain or whatever. It's just not going to happen. The one time I did it, I and half the bar stood around cursing Bloomberg, that shifty, ass-faced midget. And this description came from someone who actually works for him!

And if you have gone to bars recently, the smoking ban isn't even the worst part; the worst part is the smell. Cigarette smoke, for better or worse, draped these places with a nearly impenetrable fog, keeping all of the other smells - stale beer, vomit, shit - safely at bay. Now with the smoke gone, they've all come to the surface with a vengeance. Think about it: some of these bars have been open for ten or twenty years, with packs and packs of cigarettes being smoked each night. With no more smoke, you're talking crusty beer and puke remnants that could be decades-old, now racing straight for your nostrils.

So fuck going to bars. Not that I can even afford to anyway. I haven't had a regular job for some time now, and it's not for lack of trying. Over the past few months, I have on average applied for five to ten jobs a day, in numerous fields, and have yet to hear more than a tiny peep. In desperation, I began applying for jobs in other cities comparable to New York - San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. - but still nothing. So I expanded my search even more, eliminating a preference for location altogether (not to mention a competitive salary), applying for anything, anywhere, that I was reasonably qualified for. And then, finally, it came: a fucking peep. It was from PETA (if you don't know what that stands for, look it up), who needed a Copyeditor at their headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.

Now, I love what PETA does, and I fucking love animals. But relocating to Virginia was not something I especially wanted to do. In fact, for years I had purposely stayed away from the place, after my friends and I were once held captive there by a bunch of marines. And the base where that humiliation took place was a stone's throw from Norfolk, which itself is a huge military town. A strange place to base PETA, the leftist, controversial animal rights organization, but that was where they were, and with literally no other options, I went down there to check it out.

They had arranged for me to stay at their "Applicant House," where prospective employees lived while they sussed out PETA, and PETA sussed out them. Also at the house were two women, one from Seattle and one from Omaha, both of whom were there to take their love of animals to the next level. Talking to them for a few minutes, I soon learned that I was way out of my league.

"What's the animal rights scene like in New York?" the blonde girl asked me, after telling me about the countless boycotts and protests she'd organized throughout Washington state.

"It's, a, pretty wild," I said. Beyond spitting out my gum on the occasional fur coat, I hadn't done shit for animals. "I mean, we're not necessarily as organized as you seem to be, but what can you expect? It's New York." I didn't even know what that meant, but the girls nodded as if it made perfect sense.

I had only just arrived, having driven all day, and I was starving. I asked if the two of them had eaten anything, and they said that they had, but that there were a number of restaurants in the area that were pretty good. I was determined to make the best of the situation, and the one good thing about Virginia is that everything is super cheap (cigarettes were $3.75!). So I wanted to eat what in New York is generally out of my budget: sushi. But of course, I had stupidly forgotten that sushi is meat. So when I asked the girls if there was a good sushi place in the vicinity, their jaws dropped. Literally. The blonde girl was so upset she had to leave the room.

I tried to turn the situation around, telling the remaining girl that I didn't eat any meat except for fish - which was true - and that the only fish I did eat was sushi - which was a lie - and that even this I had only on the rarest of occasions - a partial lie. I said I couldn't help it, it was so good, and that this was the only thing preventing me from becoming a full vegetarian.

"Have you tried vegan sushi?" she asked.

I started to laugh, until I realized she was serious. When I recovered, I said: "No, I hear it's pretty good though. Almost like the real thing."

"Oh, I wouldn't know about that," she said. "I've never had it."

I realized then that there was no point in continuing our conversation. It was like talking to a virgin about sex. So I changed the subject, and asked her about Omaha. She said it wasn't all that special. Then she asked me about New York, and said she was surprised to see how tan I was, it being winter and all.

"Oh, I just got back from a trip to Thailand," I said, beaming. I was about to tell her all about it when I noticed that her jaw had dropped even further.

"Uh, you know that PETA is boycotting Thailand because of their horrible abuses against elephants, don't you?" she said, folding her arms.

You can't win with these people, you really can't. In fact I did know about the boycott, but I'm sorry, I don't think it's right to boycott an entire country because of the actions of a few individuals. It's like the current boycott against France. It's fucking stupid. But I didn't say this to the girl, and told her that I fully believed in what PETA was doing, but that I had made my plans far in advance and couldn't change them, and that I was very conscious about my own actions while I was over there. I don't know whether she bought this or not, but at this point I didn't care. I left and went to find some food.

The next morning I woke up late and made it to the PETA headquarters seconds before my interview. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the keys out of the ignition. I was driving a rental car, and I don't drive much, so I was worried there was some kind of trick one had to do to get them out. But try as I might, they wouldn't budge. Finally, after several attempts, I entered the office and told the secretary what had happened. She called the human resources coordinator, the woman I was supposed to interview with, who ended up coming outside with me. She immediately saw what was wrong - my coffee mug was blocking the gear shift, so it wasn't all the way in park - and fixed the problem in seconds, handing me the keys with a wink. She smiled and said that it was a common mistake, but the look in her eyes said: retard.

That day and the next were a blur. I met countless people, watched several heartbreaking animal cruelty videos, ate free vegan meals, but mainly worked as if I had already been hired. I copyedited numerous company documents, ranging from pro-animal product reviews, to descriptions of various demonstrations, to a review of a strange website called vegansex.com, where one could buy things like vegan condoms, whatever the hell they were. The best part was that PETA had a pet-friendly office, and employees were encouraged to bring their animals to work. I'd be busy with some document or another, when a random dog would come in and say hello. I would immediately stop what I was doing and play with the thing, until the head of the editorial department actually had to tell me to stop.

She was this aging hippie chick, with longish, grayish hair, pretty in a very natural, earthy way, but also strangely uptight. I knew from the first second that I couldn't work with her, that she was one of those passive-aggressive types who act nice but are really crazy and evil. Add to this the pay I would be receiving (I can't print it because you'll start laughing), plus the location, and it wasn't meant to be. So after a few days hanging with the PETA people, who were all sweet and kind but had the same sparkly eyes and toothy smiles that screamed CULT, I got the hell out there.

The night before I left I woke up around two in the morning, starving, so I rummaged through my bags and found a can of tuna fish I'd brought with me. I stealthily crept into the kitchen, opened it, and brazenly ate MEAT in the PETA house. Sue me, I was hungry and it tasted good. The trip home sucked because it was snowing, and I could only take my tiny rental car with no power steering to about forty without losing control. Before hitting Maryland I stopped to get gas and buy more smokes, and when I walked into the service station, a group of locals spotted me and their jaws dropped (I had seen more tonsils this trip than ever before). One guy had an actual mullet, one a rat's nest for hair and the other's was hidden beneath a greasy baseball cap. They looked like they hadn't bathed in some time, and to me represented all that was wrong with this country. I'm sure they felt the same about me. While I didn't think I was dressed too weirdly - suit jacket, sweater, jeans, sneakers - they took one look at me and started laughing.

Now, this kind of behavior freaked me out long ago, in junior high and high school, but now, well I'm a little older and a little wiser. I'm also six-three and nearly two-hundred pounds. So I grinned back at them, and as I passed them on my way to the bathroom I made eye contact with all of them, and not one of those little turds met my gaze. And when I came out they were all gone, pussies.

When I got back to New York, the first thing I did was try to find work. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I began exploring employment options that I had yet to try. I had read somewhere that if one was savvy, he or she could eek out a living by attending focus groups. So I made some calls, and registered with as many in the area as I could find. This was months ago, and even after all of this legwork, I have only managed to go to three of them. And the last one went so wrong that I may never get to go to another one again.

It was for men's cologne, and to qualify I had to say I was frequent purchaser of such, which was a lie. The last time I had bought any kind of cologne was Old Spice for my dad for Christmas when I was twelve. I wore deodorant, sure, but that was about it. But they of course didn't know this, so I said that I bought cologne all the time, and when they read me a list of various scents I said yes to about half of them. The group was made up of about twenty guys, most of whom were conservative-looking, half of them in suits. I was the only one with long hair, and only one other guy in a leather jacket looked at all hipster-ish. We were led by a smiling European woman, and the first thing she asked us was why we wore cologne. I hadn't prepared for this, so when it came to me I blurted out: "So I don't stink." I thought she'd react negatively but instead she laughed, and so did everyone else.

Next, she held up a blue and white box of some cologne or other. We were asked to express our reactions to it, ranging from the obvious: "What do you think of this box?" to the less obvious: "How does this box make you feel?" to the stupid: "If this box was a car, what kind of car would it be?" Even though I didn't like the packaging, I said it was "bold" and "tasteful." I don't remember what kind of car I said it was. Then she held up another box, which was practically identical, except the blue was a slight shade darker. Again, we had to say what we liked and disliked about it. I think I said I liked it a little less, but that it still struck me as "austere" and "pleasant." The box after this was just like the first two, except there was a faint burst of white at the bottom, like a geyser.

By this point we had been talking about these ridiculous boxes for over an hour, and I guess my patience was wearing thin, because this time my comments were a little more harsh. I said that the packaging was nice, but that the design was "overly simplistic," and even "arrogant." When I was asked to describe this further, I said it struck me as "pretentious," and that the company would have to work a lot harder if it wanted me as a customer. She asked me pointblank what was it about the box I didn't like, and I said jokingly that the label was in French, and as a patriotic American it was my duty not to purchase it. Everyone laughed, except for the woman. After this we were finally allowed a break.

I ran to the bathroom, and when I came back the secretary told me to retrieve my jacket from the conference room and wait in the lobby. I asked her why, and she said I'd find out soon enough. When I returned to the lobby, the woman in charge of the focus group was there waiting for me. She said that they had more than enough people in the group, and that my participation wasn't necessary. When I asked her why I was being singled out, she said she thought I was trying to sabotage the group by steering them in a negative direction. I told her that I was doing no such thing, and that I was simply being honest, which was what I thought focus groups were for. She didn't argue, but said that she'd still prefer if I took off.

Then I realized something: the woman was French. I immediately apologized for my comment, trying to explain that it was only a joke. She said she knew it was, and that this had nothing to do with my dismissal. Whether it did or not I have no idea, but she was determined not to let me back in the room. I was about to argue more when she said the magic words: "You're still going to get paid." After that, I shut up. The woman left, and the secretary, chuckling, handed me a check for $125.00.

"Has this ever happened before?" I asked her.

"No, you're the first," she said, still laughing.

So I don't know if focus groups will be in my future. After this I explored even more bizarre avenues for making money, including being a guinea pig at a research facility, and accompanying a wannabe woman to Thailand to obtain a sex-change operation. I have yet to pursue any of these options, but with my economic situation as it is, I may yet. Also, if you didn't already know, I don't get squat for this column. Donations, therefore, would be much appreciated. Please send them to Freewilliamsburg, the address of which can be found on this site. Nothing will be turned away. Put some fucking pennies in an envelope and I'll gladly accept them. You think I'm kidding? Have you spent any time with a group of thugs in an overnight research facility in New Jersey where you can't smoke, drink coffee or even go outside? How about with a lonely, forty-two year old man who wants more than anything in the world to get a pair of tits? It's not a picnic, I can tell you.

--Russ Josephs

E-mail: [email protected]

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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | May 2003 | Issue 38
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