The correspondence of Apartment 5402 in exile


November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
May 2009

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Letter from the 5402

Dear friends and stalkers,

The 5402 sends its greetings across the internets during these tumultuous times of hope and crisis (followed again by hope!!! and then again by crisis). In the new spirit of thrift that pervades our great nation and humbles even the adolescents among us, whose allowances have been trimmed from $100 to $60 a week, we are sending a joint Christmas letter, and in the spirit of eco-obsession that has inspired some of us to live off only the energy obtained from our own poop, this letter is paper-free. We hope you will understand the necessity of modifying traditions to fit these changing and challenging times.

The year began inauspiciously for Rita when she dropped an Ikea bed-in-construction on her foot. The next day, she discovered that her toe was blue, the nail was black, and it hurt such that she was unable to concentrate and made the biggest copy error of her life, allowing Ward Churchill's name to be printed instead of Ward Connerly's while she went to Urgent Care. After she had waited many hours in the pouring rain for medical attention and conveyed the grave intensity of her pain through groans and tears, she was prescribed the powerful painkiller known as ice, and sent home. The next morning, the pain was amplified by the volume of complaint email in response to the name error.

Several months later, when her toe had recovered somewhat from its trauma, Rita traveled to the wilds of the Iberian peninsula to rendezvous with Alex, who was stationed there as part of a year-long tour of duty to pacify the natives. By the time Rita located her, however, Alex was already beginning to show signs of going native herself--subsisting off Nutella, clothed in scarves and Bershka, and speaking in tongues about how 1 in 15 was the spicy pepper. Rita struggled to free Alex from the continent's chocolatey grasp, but she too soon succumbed to the pastries and barely escaped from the (powdered) jaws of death herself.

After a brief stint climbing the soaring peaks of the Appalachian foothills, Rita returned to Washington to take a seat only inches away from the election action--in the chair in front of her office computer, where, by refreshing 500 times a day, she was virtually in the middle of the fray! It's a good thing this seat was so close to the action because Rita wasn't able to leave it for the next three months. This holiday season, Rita is in the process of stepping down after a long and distinguished career of courageous public service in order to get back in touch with nature, her roots, and the things that matter most in life--like racking up socially impressive credentials and voluntarily seeking a massive pay cut during a recession in exchange for even more work than she does now.

On New Years' Eve 2007, Julia was in a beautiful restaurant, sipping Dom Pérignon and eating foie gras while wearing expensive shoes. That restaurant has since gone out of business, and Julia will be spending New Years' Eve 2008 on her couch, wearing sweatpants and drinking MGD. This change represents Julia's year in a nutshell.

Over the course of 2008, Julia’s answer to the question, "How's it going?" deteriorated steadily, from "good" to "fine" to "meh." In February, she visited Bilbao with Alex, where she became convinced that Richard Serra was trying to communicate with her (It’s only a Matter of Time! All those carbohydrates will kill you!) After this existential experience, she returned to New York, where she read too much Camus and Sartre – quel désespoir, mes amies! – and decided to dress only in black, eat brie, and smoke cloves. Shortly thereafter, Julia simultaneously discovered scrabulous, google reader, and FAILblog. The jig, as we say, was up! Consumption of PBR skyrocketed. Productivity levels fell to an all-time low. Julia's mother (and probably her boss) were not pleased.

In June, Julia decided to make some changes: she would 1) move into a new apartment, and 2) apply to grad school. She perused Craigslist, and bought a GRE study guide. When looking for apartments and re-learning the properties of triangles turned out to be demoralizing and tedious (much like the men she was meeting at parties) she changed her mind about moving, and grad school (and men). But then she got the hang of right triangles and realized she might be able to live without windows, so she changed her mind back again. She asked her mother what she should to do, and was convinced that she should move, but not to go to grad school. Then she asked her father, and was convinced to go to grad school, but not move. Her friends declined to comment. So Julia reconsidered things, and decided, quite firmly, to remain ambivalent.

At this point, Wall Street, ever attuned to Julia's moods, gave up. So Julia, ever attuned to the economic climate, did too. She felt much better afterwards. So much better, that she decided to quit her job and run off to India. The consequences of this have yet to be determined, but Julia is feeling cautiously pessimistic about the whole thing. Yay for 2009!

Alexandra greeted the start of the holiday season in a similar state of reflection. Last year, early December found her in sunny Seville, perusing ancient cathedrals and town squares lined with palm trees, and buying jam from nuns. This year, early December found her in shared cubicle, eating a frozen lean cuisine and trying to hide the lolcats on her computer screen from her boss. She fears this may not be considered progress, but, in the spirit of the holidays, is withholding judgment for the time being.

For the first six months of 2008, Alex visited at least two new European cities a month, worked 15 hours a week, and used her three day weekends to sample all the wonderful varieties of Rioja wine. She made many wonderful friends and capped off her time abroad with a Greek Isles cruise, on which she ate much baklava and switched to cocktails. Despite her avoidance of all fruits and vegetables, in July, Alex was cast out of paradise. She flew back to Miami, and sat on her sofa for a few months and waited for someone to offer her a job. When this strategy proved to be ineffective, she flew to DC and sat on Murky Coffee’s flea-infested sofa and continued to wait. For some reason, the sofa’s proximity to the job turned out to be the deciding factor.

She found a job at a large non-profit where the cafeteria was immediately abuzz with excited chatter about the new girl. After moving to DC, Alex was surprised that learn that people did not take kindly to her professed indifference to politics. After being shut out of many party* conversations, she begrudgingly learned the names of her state senators.** Now, rumor has it she will be asked to be one of Obama’s advisors! Her popularity with her peers increased as well-she has as many as three friends now, and only sometimes has to remind people to invite her to their parties. Alex remains optimistic about 2009, when all three of her friends are planning to move out of DC and on with their lives.

Becky was MIA from this letter, but not, presumably, from the year. She will report shortly.

The 5402 wishes you and yours the best for this holiday season, and hopes you were not laid off yet, or invested with Bernard Madoff.

The 5402

*Like, the social kind. Not the political kind.

**I’m lying-I don’t know their names.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

friends 4eva


It's Sunday afternoon and I just got home from the laundromat, which I suppose is a suitable place to think about loneliness, if not friendship. While loneliness might be a state of mind, as per Julia's post, I think that people seek out friends not only to combat loneliness, but also to avoid looking lonely. Because even more than people don't want to actually be alone, people don't want to appear friendless. It's why even for me, who likes to be alone, it's hard to eat out as a party of one, or admit to staying in a weekend night yet again.

It's funny, I have this vision of myself as a loner, but when I look back now, there were only a few years of my life where I actually was a loner, and they were all when I was a sad little gay in high school. Since then there was you guys in college and living with Michelle for the past two years and I guess I kind of have to abandon that descriptor now. Of course living with a significant other is kind of a cop-out. You always have a friend with you, even when you move to a new place or are abandoned by your group of catty girlfriends (about that? I'm with you Alex, I don't think I've ever seen that trope in action), the flip-side being that you can go through life never seeking out new friends because you already have one. I understand how people end up abandoning all of their friends when they get a new boy/girlfriend - when it feels for the moment like all of your social needs are being met by the one person - but for me actively seeking outside friendships has only resulted in good things for my relationship and my own mental health within the relationship.

As a result of my active decision to seek friends, my friend-making is one ability I think I've improved in myself in the last year or so (adulthood!). I totally agree with you, Alex, that making friends takes lots of effort, (so much chatting! so much doing things out when you'd rather be on your couch reading!), but funnily enough the effort is usually expended on the ones who aren't going to work out. I mean, who wants a friend who takes that much effort? It's the weeding out that ends up being difficult, because the ones you'll end up real friends with are the ones who are easy to be with. I would not have been wandering down to your room in Max to play with your cellphone first year if you hadn't been easy for me to be around. We gravitate toward the people with whom it is easy to be. I suppose some people like a combative or anxious friendship, but comfort is one of my priorities in life, and I prefer my friends to come that way.

Ease of togetherness is one of the reasons I think our third year was a really ideal friendship situation for me. That's not to say the four of us always got along, or there was never tension about one thing or another. I've glossed over a lot of that in hindsight, but even without any glossing there was a level of comfort in being together that is markedly different from the happy hours and witty gatherings Alex described. An added bonus is the network Rita was talking about. Another added bonus was Beatrice. And Buffy.

Like Alex and Julia, most of my close friends now are girls. The only time in my life when the majority of my friends were been male was in high school. This pretty much means that it is possible, at least for me, to be friends with members of the gender to which I am attracted. There's also not much of a difference between my friendships with straight and gay women. I have never had much of a romantic interest in someone who was already a friend. The one time in my life I had mostly male friends was when I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I don't really remember, but it would make sense that that was one time I would have been less comfortable in friendships with women.

Time to put away the laundry.


p.s. Is anyone else addicted to the puppy cam?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Friend Application Period Wide Open. And Now Accepting Pity Invitations!

Hi girls,

I've spent a lot of time thinking about how friendship is represented on TV and in the NY Times Style section, and less about how it actually plays out in my life, so I don't have totally coherent thoughts on the subject.

Like Julia, most of my close friends always have been, and probably always will be, girls. This has always seemed normal to me and it wasn't until the past couple of years that I encountered the "girls are always catty and mean to each other" school of thought. It seemed to be in vogue for quite some time for women not to "trust" other women, and to express a preference for male friendship as somehow more pure and less drama-ridden. (See: Scarlett O'Hara and this story.)

I mean, I don't disagree that girls are sometimes catty and mean (I can't claim innocence on this either) but I don't think it's a naturally occurring trait, or that it's better to avoid this entirely by only being friends with guys. I have thoughts about why this is, which are mostly uninteresting and related to the power dynamics between men and women and the structure of society, but that's another 10 pages that I will hopefully write in the future. Anyway, I think these values must be shifting in media representation because, for the life of me, I can't see what's appealing about the frivolous, self-absorbed women on Sex and the City other than the strong bonds of female friendship they represent.

Like you, Rita, I am a possessive friender. (Although I don't think possessiveness has anything to do with the serial friender's relationships you mentioned...those seem more based on delusion and obsessiveness.) My friends are MINE and when they go mixing off together without me, I feel left out and like I need to be there to supervise. I don't think this is healthy, and I'm learning to get over it. It's definitely a product of being an only child, and expecting the people who love you and whom you love to only be one thing to one person. As an only child, you have a unique relationship with your parents, and it's jarring when you realize that you have to be ok with multiple people having the same relationship to each other. I still can't even quite imagine what it would be like if I knew my mother loved another child in the same capacity that she loves me. This is why I totally think only children are a bad idea, and siblings are crucial to good mental and social development. That said, I have met many people with siblings are are still painfully self-centered, so it doesn't always work out. Going away to college and having roommates definitely helped me on the road to recovery from only child syndrome.

I'm surprised, Rita, that you think I'm better at making friends than most people. I don't really think that's true. I don't think I'm bad at it, but it's not a facility that I pride myself on either. If I find someone interesting, I ask A LOT of questions, and that tends to scare people off. And trust me, my charm is not working so well in DC. I only recall one other time in my life where I felt like it was hard to make friends, which was my summer internship in NYC. And that was because I decided I hated everyone before I even got there. Maybe I have subconsciously done the same thing here. Unlike you Rita, I am NOT ok with this. Post-college friend-making started out really well, with my fantastic group in Spain, but has now sputtered to a halt. Having a job, my job at least, does NOT take up more time and energy than being in classes. I need more friends! Friend application period open!

I totally agree with you, Julia: I don't understand people who shrug off their good friends. It seems like a lot of wasted time and energy. Making friends takes so much work! You have to be charming and chatty and have witty responses, and spend money going out drinking with them. AND you have to learn their life stories and tell yours...all SO MUCH WORK! Although I wonder if we put undue pressure on ourselves to be social and make new friends quickly. Most people in the world, and even in the country, don't move around every couple of years, and also tend to stay close to their families, which take up a lot of social time. It seems reasonable to me then, that the pressure to dazzle large groups of people during weekday happy hours and weekend bar hopping, is overwhelming and uncomfortable.

I'm not really sure about this whole question of men and women being friends without the intercession of desire. I haven't had that many male friends on which to test these theories, but it does seem rare for feelings to stay strictly platonic in a close friendship between a man and a woman. I'm not sure why this would necessarily have to be the case, only that it frequently is. Maybe, if you like each other enough to be such good friends, it just seems logical that you should channel romantic feelings towards each other, particularly if you are not dating anyone else? I don't know.

In other news, I just bought a really expensive ticket to go home for Christmas, because I decided I would be sad if I didn't. Eliminating friends would save money, but eliminating holidays would save even more.

Kisses and Kittens,