Thursday, April 27, 2006

Portrait of the Cupcake as a Young Woman

By popular demand I will recount the story about the time I crashed the Chicago Public Radio offices, against my better judgement. Unfortuantely, this story is probably not as interesting as you are hoping it will be. I can either tell the short version or the long version, and I've decided to tell the long version with a lot of background information so you can experience some of the Cupcake life progression (let's say from "finished batter" to "into the oven"). Don't say I never gave you nothing.

When I started college, I entered as a declared Government major. I was certain that's where my future lay. I was used to having internships with Senators and International Non-Profits. (I just want to parenthetically note here something that occured to me recently. Can you imaginge if blogging had existed back when I was a Senate Page? Oh. My. God. Everyday, a veritable goldmine of information. If you could manage an anonymous Senate Page blog, you could make Wonkette look like just another Live Journal adolescent. Of course, if you were discovered, forget about getting dooced; you'd probably be executed for treason.) My interests turned to foreign policy and under the mentorship of my friend and HR I began pursuing a fellowship in the Foreign Service. For one whole summer I lived in the DC area while this person dragged me around, introducing me to important people with the only instruction she gave me being "just fake it". I started crashing events, making connections and getting pretty far just by acting like I belonged there and like I knew what everyone else in the room was talking about when I actually had no idea.

But then the Election of 2000 and the resulting administration change made me think that a career in the State Department was not for me. I never completed my fellowship application. I went to Vienna for my Junior Year where I had the chance to study International Organizations and then I began to consideer careers in NGOs or Humanitarian Aid Organizations. However the more I learned and the more I talked to people in these industries, I realized this wasn't for me either. So I returned for my Senior Year at Smith with no idea of what I wanted to do for the first time in my life, at the only time when it actually mattered.

That year was the first time I heard the Public Radio program This American Life . I only started listening to public radio in college, since I was never exposed to it growing up. I remember one night I was driving to go babysit, with my radio tuned to WFCR like always when I happened upon the Home Movies episode of This American Life. I instantly fell in love, and I sat listening while parked in the driveway, not wanting to get out of my car to go into the house. Thanks to the magical combination of my college ethernet connection and the TAL website I think I listened to every episode over the next months, making converts of Bizzy, Hooly, and later Garrett. And since I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I felt such a strong connection with this quirky radio show, I decided I should apply for their summer internship position.

I completed the internship application, which I thought was quite lengthy at the time, and waited. I received a letter acknowledging receipt of my application and said something like, 'we'll make a decision by such and such a date,' or 'if we require more information from you, we'll be in touch'.

Meanwhile, Spring Break was coming up. I knew wherever I went I would be traveling alone. My year abroad I spent a lot of time traveling by myself, thinking nothing of packing up and taking off for a solo trip to Ljubliana or Budapest. These trips became very formative experiences and I hadn't been anywhere since I returned to school. I was deciding between Chicago and Paris, two popular Spring Break destinations. Chicago I had never been to, and Paris I had visited on a high school trip when I was 16 so I felt like I didn't really know the city at all. This was back when the US was on the verge of invading Iraq for Operation Enduring Freedom (remember that?) and the US was trying to drum up support in the International community. But the rest of the world wasn't having any of it. In France there were big protests against the Bush Administration. So when I called my Dad and said,'hey, I'm thnking of either going to Chicago or Paris for Spring Break,' he freaked out. He told me that the French hated Americans and if I went to Paris, I would be the victim of Parisian mob violence and other crazy shit. My father is a smart guy and it is amazing to me how easily he can be brainwashed. I told him that he was being ridiculous and he didn't know what he was talking about and that he had to lay off the goddamn Fox News. I think he actually said, "I forbid you from going to France!" which made me laugh. I told him I was financing this trip myself and I would go whevere I wanted.

But Chicago was a lot cheaper and I could visit one of my ex-roommates from Vienna. And also, somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that I could go to the office of This American Life and plead my case and once they met me in person they would know I was the right person for this internship. I have nothing to say in my defense other than I was 22 and stupid. I decided to go to Chicago, which was like, a balmy 45 degrees that March and a laughable Spring Break choice. I wrote to the person in charge of the internship program and I thanked her for the letter and said that I would be in Chicago from March x - x and would be available to interveiw at that time. I never heard anything back.

So I went to Chicago and I liked the city and I was having a good time. Still, I wanted to interview at This American Life while I was in town. So I called the office and left a voicemail for the person in charge of the internship program and said, "Hi, I just wanted to remind you that I'm in town. If you have any time at all this week, I'd love to come by, blah blah blah." See, I was used to just showing up, muscling my way in and faking it; something that I have since learned is the major rule for success in journalism as well. Didn't work for me. The person never called back or emailed or anything.

So by Thursday of that week, I just decided, fuck it. I'm going down there myself. The person in charge of the internship program was also a contributor to the program and no longer works on the staff there. And maybe I should also note that like, the day before the US did invade Iraq in what they thought would be a quick and easy little warlet. I had the address for TAL from the letterhead and such. So I trekked out to Navy Pier. I entered the building and poked around, there was no one really about. I saw an office for WBEZ on the ground floor- I even saw a radio production booth but it was empty and the office was dark. There was a marquee that listed what floor the TAL office was on. I think I found an unlocked door and got into the elevator, riding up with a delivery man. Wow, I thought. This is easy.

I exited on the floor, walked into the office and introduced myself to the receptionist. "Hi," I said. "I'm here to interview for the internship program."

"One minute," she said. "I'll call Ms. X." Now when Ms. X got the call, she must have immediately realized it was the idiot from Massachusetts who had been contacting her and whom she had been ignoring. I'm sure she was incredible that I had actually shown up. In two words, Ms. X was fucking pissed. She came around the corner, I stuck out my hand to introduce mself and as soon as she came into my line of sight she started screaming at me. "What are you doing here? I told you, I don't have time for this! There is a war going on! This is unbelievable!" I think I blocked out most of what she said. She was a small woman, but still bigger than me. I just stood there like a brave cupcake and let her yell at me for a few minutes. In that moment, I knew that I was never going to get this internship.

Finally I said, "Okay. I'm very sorry. But look, I came all the way here. Can't you at least give me a tour of the place?" Her first instinct was to say no, and keep yelling, but then she softened into "There isn't really much to see," and then she very grudgingly assented. She stomped around, litterally throwing open doors and giving me a very cusory tour. I dutifully followed her around as she scowled and glowered at me. We passed an office where I could see Ira Glass working. I decided not to try to introduce myself. I could tell she had about 10 seconds of patience left before she called security. I said, "Thanks very much. You know what? I can show myself out."

I said goodbye to the receptionist who looked very sympathetic, got back into the elevator and said to myself, 'now I am leaving this office and I will probably never come back.' I wanted something to remember this experience by. I went to the Chicago Children's Museum in the same building. They had one of those machines where you put in 50 cents and a penny and it stamps the penny with a souvenir imprint. My penny came back stamped with Arthur.

I returned to school and began to shape a new career ambition. I had worked for four years as a nanny in Massachusetts and Vienna. Young children had become a major part of my life. I decided that I wanted to be a part of making quality, multicultural products for children and I set my sights on children's publishing and children's television. In my research, I became totally enamoured with the PBS show Arthur, produced at WGBH in Boston. I applied for a job there with all the passion I had put towards my This American Life application.

And you can see how well that turned out too.


Gibson said...

If it makes you feel any better, the TAL kids are getting too big for their britches and abandoning Chi for NYC. In some respects, this makes me happy, because I too am abandoning Chi for NYC, but in other respects, it just makes me sad. They are (were?) a Chi institution, like corrupt city politics and horrific weather.

Sheena said...

I spent my spring break that year getting my wisdom teeth removed in New Hampshire. Then, I went back to school to work on my thesis and watch the war on TV (when I fell in love with Peter Jennings).

Joshua said...

TAL is moving to NY? That's terrible. I mean I live here, but I am a staunch supporter of American institutions being spread throughout. It sucks when everything is in NY. First the Onion...

Cupcake said...

Much has been written about the "move" from Chicago to New York, but it's my understanding that it is not permanent, just for while they're also working on episodes of the tv show and some staff will stay in Chicago?

Read about it here.

Kari said...

I am so tired of that space shuttle quote. So much has been written about the move and it always includes the same exact information. "I'm Ira, I work hard. Don't be mad at me for moving the show, I work 80 hours, space shuttle..." Blah Blah Blah

Michael said...

Guess where I'm sitting right now.... the offices of Chicago Public Radio... Anything you'd like me to pass along to anyone here?

Joshua said...

I didn't really get the sense this move isn't for good from that article, unless the show gets canceled.
But yeah, I did like the idea of something not broadcast from NY, though plenty of Public Radio stuff still comes from Chicago, D.C., Philly, Boston and Madison, so it's not the end of the world.

Cupcake said...

Michael, I don't really need any closure here but only because when I met David Sedaris at a book signing I told him a 20 word version of this story and I said, "The next time you see Ira, tell him he picked the wrong intern and somewhere in Rhode Island there is a little girl with a broken heart." I have nothing to say in defense of this other than I was still 22 and still dumb.

Or you could say that I generally don't approve of all the hating on Ira that's happening in this comment section right now.

It's true, there's lots of other great radio programs out of Chicago and other cities. Josh, what are you thinking of out of Madison? Is the Michael Feldman show?

Gibson said...

Ahhhh! NOOOOO Michael Feldman!!! (Around the house, we love Saturday mornings UNTIL 11 am, when we are taken from the wonderful worlds of Car Talk and Wait, Wait to... What Do You Know?)

Let's hate on him instead of Ira!

Cupcake said...

Actually, I like the Michael Feldman show, although it's been a while since I heard it. Perhaps we could hate on Krista Tippett?

Gibson said...