Marissa Explains It All #9 – Hotel Life During the Quarantine

A few weeks ago, I was preparing for the football season, nearly done with my final full semester of grad school, visiting the zoo regularly, planning on various travel, anticipating my March Madness bracket, and excited for the tundra to finally melt and give us those glorious few weeks of a Minnesota summer.

Seems like another lifetime.

My life has changed dramatically, as my partner has moved in and I, like so many others, have changed their routine. For an autistic person, this is not an easy accomplishment. But what remains the same are my hours at the hotel, though that’s about the only thing familiar there at this point.

I of course acknowledge that I’m lucky as far as hotels go in that sense. I believe the staff has been reduced to eight people including the GM at this point. Most people have been let go or furloughed, but the fact that nobody wants to work the night shift means that I’m not likely to see any alterations to the schedule.

But holy shit is it isolating right now.

I watched as the number of rooms occupied went down. 32, 25, 16… We still had breakfast going, albeit altered to help comply with food regulations. Then one day I came in and all the furniture that wasn’t built into the floor in the lobby was gone. No chairs, no stools, only the sofas. Then the carpet was stripped out. Then the breakfast people told me it was their last day.

I came in after my days off to find the grand total of occupied rooms was… 3.

Night audit shifts are usually quiet, which is why I prefer them, but this is an eerie, uncomfortable silence. For two straight shifts, I didn’t see a single person. Our front door is permanently locked to avoid non-customers even coming inside. Running the audit is practically pointless because there’s nearly nothing to add up. Only two or three cars are in the parking lot. When I stand outside, maybe one window is lit up.

The breakfast food has been completely removed. The coffee is still technically there, but there’s no one for whom to brew it anyway, and even if there was, I’d have to go in the back to brew it and bring them a cup because it minimizes a common area. My supervisor was the one whose shift I replaced, and the GM has been the one relieving me in the morning. For most of the day, only one person is working at a time. No breakfast people coming in at 5. Maybe one housekeeper to change over a room. It’s bizarre.

I’ve played a lot of pool. There’s a pool table in the lobby and it passes the time. There are several TVs, but overnight TV with limited options doesn’t often bear much fruit.

I can’t stand overhead Muzak as it is, because I still have yet to understand why literally every public space has to have the same shitty adult contemporary playlist on repeat, but keeping it on with nobody there would be haunting. It’s bad enough hearing no sound throughout the hotel without adding in the withering waves of safe music bouncing through the halls.

The other day I was so shocked to see an actual person that I had to remind myself how to use the keymaker to give them a room.

Here’s an abridged tour of what my night is like: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-GmgbLgZd3/?igshid=20zfhcvhspbg

A conversation before I left my most recent shift with my GM revealed to me that I would be considered an “essential” employee if Governor Walz added our state to the shelter-in-place list. I now have a list from the DHS should I be pulled over traveling, which is good since Governor Walz has issued the order to take place before my next shift. I also learned that even if the hotel did shut down, someone still has to be there 24/7, so my hours in a closed hotel would still remain the same, except I’d be an official babysitter instead of a glorified one. At least this way I’d know for sure I wouldn’t be seeing any people.

It’s a bizarre time, for sure. Hotels aren’t brought up in any of the essential/non-essential lists I’ve seen, but I understand that some may be commandeered for hospital space. For now, I’ll be defeating myself at 8-Ball while I occasionally check the TV guide to see if anything I can tolerate is on. Otherwise, I’ll be catching up on all my podcast subscriptions while hoping people are doing the same for the 3 I create.

But it’s weird to be more isolated and quarantined at my job than it is at home. At home, my house has three to four other people in it. At work, I see the second shift person at 11pm, and the third shift person at 7am, and most likely no one in between.

Marissa Explains It All #8 – I Voted… That’s All

I can’t honestly say I’ve never gotten involved in politics or the discussions thereof. The first words in my first book were directly confronting that notion. I’m not an outsider or an objective fencesitter or anything of the like.

But I’m also exhausted. Of four years of being constantly dehumanized. Of four years of wondering which of my community’s rights will be stripped next. Of wondering who among the citizens I encounter takes the words of hate pastors or other problematic speakers literally and thinks they should burn me alive if they see me. I’m exhausted of having to be on edge all the time, of having to constantly face the “educate me or I’ll side with your oppressor” ilk, of watching obscenely rich white men get away with literally anything they want to with little to no consequences.

Then I have to see my own communities of friends and allies and shared hopes and dreams turn into vicious factions attacking each other?

Nah.

I donated to two campaigns. One who is still in the race. One who is no longer. I voted today on Super Tuesday here in Minnesota. That’s about all I’m telling anyone but those who are closest to me, because I see what happens when names get brought up. I see the fights, the vitriol, the dehumanization. And just to be clear, I’m not shaming anyone who participates in those discussions at all, I’m simply saying I don’t have the energy or heart to participate in them right now. I’m tired.

The idea of four more years of someone who thinks of me as subhuman and can break any law he wants with no consequence terrifies me. I’m exhausted of being terrified. I never know what post on Facebook is going to scroll by where I learn that another person from my community has been murdered or has taken their own life from the constant yammering assault of trolls who get off on other people suffering. Maybe I’m too pie-in-the-sky Nice World Syndrome-ish, but I miss at least pretending that the majority of people I might run into in a day are nice and friendly.

I don’t want to face it from my friends too.

I don’t have the heart for it right now. I don’t want to be torn apart because I didn’t vote for the same person that someone I like did in a primary. I’m already exhausted of this election and it’s not even happening for another eight months. I hate that our election system is a never-ending televised spectacle. I wish I didn’t have to keep fighting every day, but I also know that the people pushing the constant bills and laws to further dehumanize us are counting on exhaustion and apathy, so I can’t let it get to me.

But that doesn’t make me want to subject myself to fights either.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those discussions. I’m not saying anyone who does is bad. I’m not saying I think badly of people who can fight and debate with the utmost intensity and passion for their preferred candidate. I’m only saying I don’t have the fucking energy to engage right now, because I’ve been engaged so much in the last few years that I can’t add something else to the load.

I just don’t want to fight with my friends right now too. I’m sensitive enough without adding that to it.

But I voted today. I did the thing. I voted with my heart for the person I wanted to vote for, not who I thought had the best chance to win. And I don’t really owe anyone anything more than that, or at all.

Marissa Explains It All #7 – Has It Already Been Nine Years?

At this past weekend’s Royal Rumble, the annual event presented by the WWE, retired wrestler Edge made his triumphant return to the ring after having to retire in 2011 due to an injury requiring an extremely dangerous surgery.

Stick with me here, this is not about that.

I spent time in independent pro wrestling in my 20s. While the business itself has its issues, that I’m not going to get into here, the memories that remain are of the people I knew, friends I made, and stories I still tell.

Of the hundreds of wrestlers I met, one of them went out of his way to be friendly with us. He spent extra time hanging out with us, getting to know us, and always went out of his way to make us feel like friends. He had this undeniable charisma; the kind where he could flip on a switch and take over a room, but not in a way that made you feel uncomfortable or stepped on.

He was deadset against me ever getting involved in the business, and wasn’t shy about telling me why. He was one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met. Beneath the show, though, was both a person who genuinely cared about those around him, and a person who was suffering. At times, the latter was written on his face in a way that a performance was unable to hide. I remember the last time I saw him. It was late at night at a rest stop in 2008, and his face looked vacant and pale. Something was off, and it gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It may have been independent wrestling. I may have been young and starstruck. He may have been like he was to me and my friends with everyone. But it never felt forced or faked. After winning a tournament one time, the camera crew brought a few of us specifically over to celebrate with him. We were associated with him enough to be given a moment like that to share with him.

Now, you may be asking what the first moment of this story has to do with the rest?

Well, in 2011 I was still a full-fledged wrestling fan, though my disillusion with participating in the business matched the scorn he held for it. That was one of the many times in my life that people gave me advice that I had to learn the hard way was correct, but that’s not the point of the story. I started seeing rumors online that he had passed away, and I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. The small community, some of whom I still associated with, was in shock. I recognize that many people knew him way better than I did and likely hit them way harder than it did me, but it still had a profound impact on me. He was only 29.

That night, Edge made his retirement speech. Someone I greatly admired but had no personal knowledge or relationship of, was stepping away from the same business unexpectedly. Instead of being emotional over it, I felt numb. It broke my heart that someone’s career was ending, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about it at all. I’d lost a friend, and so had thousands of other people.

Several of us have tattoos of his catch phrase. One person in his life that I got to know a bit posthumously got a bracelet with the soundwave of his infectious and unmistakable laugh. He had a presence in so many lives, and as a sweatshirt with his name and signature still hangs in my library, as well as his words written across my left forearm, I’ve never forgotten him.

I don’t watch wrestling anymore, but I occasionally still get an update from people who either knew me through wrestling in person or years later when I wrote about it for a major site. Yesterday I heard that Edge returned after nine long years, but after a brief moment of happiness for him, it hit me that it’s been nine long years since a friend to so many was lost. I felt compelled to write about him regardless of how the audience may or may not respond to the topic, because as long as I have any capability to speak or write, I want people to know that there was a man named Alex Whybrow who was a kind, gentle, charismatic person, and he was known to many as “Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney, and I will never forget him.

12 Large, Brother.

Marissa Explains It All #6 – Things I Learned While Working in College Football

For my junior and senior years at the University of Pennsylvania, I was a video coordinator and unofficial special teams assistant for the football team. UPenn, one of the Ancient Eights, another moniker for the Ivy League, plays a ten-game season, has no athletic scholarships, and does not participate in the postseason.

However, working with a D1 college football team taught me a lot about what most people don’t see in the game of football at this level. With the FBS National Championship tonight and the Super Bowl rapidly approaching, allow me to sort of sportsball you in a bit of a behind the scenes look at what it was like to work for a college football team.

The fans hate each other more than the players do.

While it’s true nearly every single play, someone’s getting smashed by another person in a helmet, it’s not nearly as personal or destruction-based as you might think. Typically, fans believe their favorite players are aligned with their ways of thinking, which essentially means: we hate this other team, therefore they should want to smash them into oblivion.

Not really.

There’s a lot more camaraderie than is ever shown on television. Sometimes players on opposing teams even have small signals for arrangements with each other. Andrew Hawkins on the Thomahawk podcast talked about a “tap” arrangement where as a wide receiver being matched up against a defensive back, if it was a running play in the other direction, they would go through the motions of looking like they’re blocking each other without going full or even half tilt. This unspoken understanding was created by a tap from one of the players early in the game.

Not quite the war machine that the most intense of fans would have you believe.

This isn’t to say that both teams want to win. Far from it. But sort of how the NBA seems to be made up of players who are all friends and want to hang out, football is a lot more like that than many think. Granted, with so many more players on each team, it’s certainly not universal, but this sport isn’t the hardnosed, every-coach-is-Burgess-Meredith-in-Rocky that your parents think they remember.

There is a lot more communication than you think.

Sometimes one or two players are mic’d up during a big game, or the coach’s words are caught on camera. But when we’re watching from the stands or the couch, we don’t hear just how many things are being said on every single play. This goes beyond the playcall, the “down, set, hut” if you will.

On gamedays, I was on the sideline amongst the team. I had a firsthand glimpse of what the game process is like, and one of the first things I noticed immediately was the bench participation. Players aren’t only focused on the game when they’re on the field.

The bench is fully engaged and yelling at the players on the field. Not just for encouragement, but in a helpful way. When the quarterback of the other team drops back for a pass, the entire bench yells “PASS!” Obviously not every player on the field can see what’s going on, because they’re focused on who they’re covering. When watching from afar, we don’t get the experience of seeing how the entire team participates on a play-by-play basis, and that includes giving cues to those who are on the field at any given moment.

Every moment of their day is rigidly scheduled.

Playing football is just practice and the games, right? Go to practice for a few hours, and the rest of the day is yours?

Hardly.

These players are on a schedule for their meals, their breaks, their classes, their practices, their workouts, their film studies, everything. And they do it all together. Part of the reason players fight so hard for their teammates is that they spend more time with them than anyone else over the course of their season. They eat breakfast together in the same place. They all work out at the same time. They watch the film together. They spend very little time apart.

So once the game does actually start, and they comprise so little, percentage-wise, of the time that goes into a football season, it’s not that difficult to get them to play together as a team. Because, for the most part, they’ve spent all their non-class waking hours functioning as a single unit.

I do keep in mind that this is an FCS school without athletic scholarships, so knowing that the kids on this team were held to the same academic standards as everyone else is definitely an exception to the rule. Many of the major college football programs, like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc, the kids are essentially hired mercenaries with the promise of a better shot at making the pros in exchange for their 3-4 years of making the institution money, so their schedules and team function are likely exponentially higher and more rigid than what I saw. But I have to imagine it’s at least a similar playing field.

Hundreds of people are employed for this game.

This may be a little more obvious than some of the other things I’ve shared, but I think when the discussions of hiring/firing, releasing/free agency, cutting/making the roster come up, only the players and head coach are considered.

The coaching staff alone is a lot bigger than most people realize. There is a coach for every position, below the offensive and defensive coordinator, beneath the head coach. The head coach has assistants. The coordinators have assistants. The position coaches have assistants. And they have graduate assistants.

Some of the people I got to know were the time clock operators and the person responsible for playing music during practices and game warm-ups. In one tiny scissor jack, one person was responsible for the audio, playing music that helps motivate the players and get them into their zone. A blend of genres, usually heavy metal, classic rock, rap, pop, country, and EDM were on shuffle, although it was a lot more specific for the one-hour-before-game warmup session. That list was 13 songs long and was always the same, much like the players’ daily schedules. Routine and habit are huge in college football.

There are people who hold the down markers. There are a not-insignificant number of referees for every game. There are vendors for team merchandise, food, beer, and walking in the actual stands as well. There are those responsible for the multiple cameras for television, the reporters in the booth and on the sidelines, and numerous media people taking photographs and video from the sideline as well. For a nationally-televised game, add in all of those for that particular channel as well as the ones for the conference and each individual school. Jockeying for a spot on the sideline to get the best shot is a sport in and of itself. As a video coordinator for the team, I would often try to anticipate where the play was going, so if I was right, I could get a better camera shot.

The point is, personnel decisions that are made for football, especially on the pro level, have effects that extend beyond who gets to play and who doesn’t. When a coach changes teams, the entire coaching staff is at risk for their jobs. They also have to likely move their families, change schools, and quickly find a place to live near the team facility. Making the roster is only one of many aspects that are taken into employment consideration on the pro level, and this exists for the college coaches as well as the management and front office. Think of the ticket takers, those who call alum to sell them tickets, the recruiters, the scouts, the ADs, and everyone who works for and under those people. These are colossal endeavors.

Why is there a time clock operator at practice, you may be asking? Well…

Practices don’t work like you think.

This obviously doesn’t apply if you played football, but seeing a college football practice (not a public one, those are different) isn’t at all what I imagined. Like the games themselves, they are rigidly enforced by the person in charge of the time clock. The practices are broken into segments of 7-10 minutes each, and practices could be anywhere from 15-25 segments, though usually the last ones before the game, the “walk-throughs” were less, as they don’t want to get anyone injured right before a game.

The practices would start with the whole team doing warmups, consisting of stretches, exercises, and practical movements, all together as the coaches kept them on pace and motivated. The first plays afterward usually involved special teams, so the lineups for field goals and punts would often go through several runs of different kinds. Then, everyone would split into several groups. O-Line/D-Line, who always practice together, special teams, Defensive Backs/Wide Receivers, Quarterbacks, and so on. They’d run through very specific drills and movements. For instance, during these drills, one wide receiver and one defensive back would line up and go out for a pass play. One of the quarterbacks would throw the pass play called, and it would be a one-on-one drill, essentially. Then, the next two step up, repeat.

Around the middle of practice as well would be drills called “Skelly.” Skelly, short for skeleton crew, were imitations of gameplay, except there would be a skeleton crew on the field. Instead of 11 vs 11, it would be 7 vs 7. The lineman, save for the center, were the ones not included, as they were off drilling with each other. But other than that, normal playcalling was run.

After that, there was usually a split. On one side of the field, the starting offense and the scout defense, made up of those who wouldn’t be playing on gameday most likely, but were to emulate the style of the team they’d be facing that week. So if Penn was playing Harvard, the scout team’s defense would act in whatever scheme the Harvard defense ran. And on the other side of the field, same thing in reverse. The starting defense against the scout team offense. Usually the second or third string quarterback would be standing in for the Harvard quarterback, depending on the skill set and style. If you’re scouting for a quarterback who is smaller and runs, you’re not going to put in the backup pocket passer. Utilizing the talent of the freshmen and backups specifically helps them prepare for the games. These sections of practice were usually the longest.

At the end of those drills, a specific run-through would then be done. Sometimes it was the two-minute drill, where the team plays as it would with two minutes or less left in the game, and the time clock operator would utilize the clock by gameday rules to simulate as such. When you hear the announcers on TV talk about the “two-minute offense” this is what they mean, because this is what and how they practice. Also, the rare but spectacular plays were also practiced. The kickoff return with multiple laterals, the last-minute Hail Mary, the trick plays. These were usually the most fun, as the team would joke and go over-the-top in their antics.

Finally, the coach would call everyone to the middle, give a motivational speech or a breakdown of their previous or upcoming game, then they’d all hit the showers.

I learned so much watching and filming these practices for two years. It really gave me an appreciation for college athletes and how much they have to do. Again, at Penn, they had no athletic scholarships, so the student-athletes with these rigid schedules, daily workouts, and several-hour practices, also had to keep up with their schoolwork to the same standard as everyone else. It’s really a commendable feat.

As for the major college programs, those kids are lucky if they get a chance to eat while running from practice to class or vice versa. Whenever the argument over college athletes getting paid comes up, it’s important to take this life they lead into consideration. For most, it’s gameday and nothing else, and that can be really dehumanizing for kids who have to put their bodies on the line to do something they love. It’s worthy of hearing them out. I again recommend the Thomahawk podcast for learning a lot more about the college and pro levels of football, as they have more perspective than I could ever hope to add, but this was more about experiencing it from an outsider’s point-of-view.

 

So yeah, this may not be the most “free-thought”y topic, and I can already hear the “LOLSPORTSBALL” comments, so if you have one of those, let’s just pretend I’ve never heard the joke you’re going to make and assume it’s hilarious. But when I took this blog, it was with the understanding that I could write about whatever I wanted, within reason. And I use this to try to either convey my personal experience, or write about something that maybe people don’t know about as much. The whole world is a context for everything that goes on, and I like to examine it from as many places as possible.

 

Marissa Explains It All #5 – Traveling Entitlement

One of the most well-known cliches of Americans traveling abroad is that they feel entitled to everything and treat everyone like trash.

However, from someone in the hospitality industry, I can tell you that they don’t have to be abroad to act that way.

There’s some leniency we have to consider here, for certain. American workers get less vacation and time off than most people do, unless you make enough or have a privileged enough position that you’re not guilt-tripped or threatened with termination for taking it. But there is a point of understanding that most people don’t get to go on vacation at least once a year, let alone the six weeks that countries that aren’t constructing a modern-day remake of Metropolis receive.

But does that entitle you to be an absolute shitwaffle in the process?

Through luck of the draw this year, I worked Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Most of them were fine, and abnormally slow… except New Year’s Eve. For context, my hotel does not have a bar, a restaurant, or anything like that, and isn’t really a “Destination” hotel, as it’s not near anything and it’s in the suburbs of Minneapolis. It’s an extended stay residence, which essentially means people who come into town on business or who have to be out of their homes for an extended period of time are more likely to find a place like this, as our rooms have full kitchens and other amenities that ones that are more likely to expect nightly checkouts do not have.

I arrived at 11pm on New Year’s Eve to find my normally quiet lobby overflowing with people. My afternoon person explained to me that there was a hockey team staying with us. But these were not the hockey players, which is the behavior I’d expect from teenage hockey players in Minnesota, and by that I mean it’s expensive as shit to play hockey, so it’s a privilege to say the least. These were the parents, so we’re not talking children or even young teens or early 20s people here. These were 35-55-year-olds acting in a manner that would make the boys from Animal House tell them to tone it down a bit.

I know, it’s New Year’s Eve, and for reasons I’ll never understand, it’s a date where people feel almost obligated to go out, drink, and party late. I can be somewhat forgiving of that. But these people had enough alcohol with them to celebrate a national championship. I mean it, throughout the night I took out three giant trash bags of nothing but liquor bottles and beer cans, and I didn’t get them all.

Complaints were coming in from all over the hotel from the noise level of this group. Apparently some people do like to sleep rather than get obscenely drunk. The entitlement behavior this shows is that it’s okay to act completely inappropriately because they’re not in a place that’s theirs, so therefore they don’t have to clean up or deal with any of the consequences. They’re at a hotel, so it’s okay to trash and break property and expect the person working there to clean it up.

Three fights broke out. Physical confrontations because, surprise, drunken hockey parents have some disagreements. The men started harassing female guests, either to have a drink with them or to give them their room number. They got louder as they got drunker. They jumped in the pool in their clothes at midnight, bringing a ton of their beer in there and of course leaving that trash can overflowing as well. One guy was double-fisting a beer and a bottle of champagne. Another wet himself in the lobby.

They had a game at 8am the next morning. Well, the kids did anyway.

Someone came down with a bluetooth speaker and started blaring music well after midnight, and seemed surprised that I told them to cut it off. Telling these people to keep the volume down was fruitless, as was thinking of calling the police when the fights and harassment started breaking out, because they were already out there everywhere anyway. It finally ended at 3am, with the last few of them falling over themselves to get to bed, after some of them who got in fights had to book additional rooms to split up.

I don’t understand what makes people act like that, or feel that it’s okay to act like that. I understand needing to let loose, or have a party, or have a good time, or enjoy a day traveling. I do not understand what makes people feel entitled to behave obscenely, to destroy property, to harass people, and to drink so excessively that you get into fights and can’t stand up in a hotel lobby. It was embarrassing. Or it should’ve been, anyway.

Certain industries see the worst sides of people, and most of the time, I’m not at a place where I have to see it myself. But holy shit was New Year’s Eve some embarrassing behavior on behalf of people who supposedly were there to support their kids playing a sport, but rather decided to party themselves sick and wasted while their kids slept upstairs.

Marissa Explains It All #4 – “Time to Lean, Time To Clean”

“Time to lean, time to clean.”

I remember hearing that at my very first job at fourteen-years-old. It was something the managers said whenever anyone had the nerve to not be doing something 100 percent of the time, even if things were slow. Don’t you dare rest your cranky back or anything, you should be scrubbing during a few second reprieve of bullshit.

I can’t help but notice that’s a common theme in certain kinds of jobs. It doesn’t just stem from idle time, but an overall lack of humanity and agency for the workers in jobs that society as a whole views as “lesser.” Here are some more examples.

-Restaurants that make you take off your work uniform during a lunch break. Because if the guests find out something ridiculous, like that the workers are also human you need to eat, they might not come back or something.

-Eating in a closet-sized breakroom for the same reason, because not only are you a robot that doesn’t eat, but if you’re seen doing so, it might reflect laziness upon the staff. Yes, actual excuse I’ve heard.

-Don’t show up to eat if you’re not scheduled that day. If they find out employees also have days off, the apocalypse might happen.

-If you can be making commission on the sales floor, you really should be doing it. I know we technically have to offer you a break, but we’ll look down on you if you take it, and maybe not keep you on because you might like to eat during your twelve-hour holiday shift. We’ve already established from restaurants that eating is a sign of laziness.

-Even if your sales environment is slow, don’t you dare get caught sitting down or glancing at your phone. Sure, a customer hasn’t come in in two hours due to the blizzard, but if you have to stand up to greet a customer, they might think you did something outlandish like eat a snack or acknowledge your existence outside of the business. I know you have injuries that make standing for eight straight hours difficult, but you should’ve thought of that before thinking you should eat this week.

-You want to spend part of a holiday with your family? Hah! We’re your family. So what if you have to work from 11pm Thanksgiving night to 1pm Black Friday afternoon? We black out holidays for requests off, working those days is mandatory. Anyone who calls off will be fired on the spot. Spend time with your family in March.

-I know you already have two jobs, but you don’t have literally completely open availability so we won’t even look at your application. I know we’re only offering 15 hours a week but you need to be available 24/7 so management doesn’t have to work evenings.

-If you have the nerve to actually be off on your day off and not be on-call or accepting of any extra shifts, you’re probably just a lazy bum who doesn’t really care about your work and you don’t have what it takes. People should always want to work all the time no matter what.

-You spend too much time in the bathroom. Get back to work. Nobody has to go that often, you’re probably just sitting on your phone.

 

So when I read stories about companies inventing toilets slanted 13 degrees, or workplaces with a policy of “if you’re in the bathroom longer than ten minutes, a smell check will be administered,” or that Amazon workers have to piss in bottles because their rates might slip into firing range if they dare go to the bathroom, all I hear in my head is:

“Time to lean, time to clean.”

Marissa Explains It All #3 – 3 Professors

I attended the University of Pennsylvania from 2013-17.

The Ivy League schools have particular programs for community college transfers, or “working professionals” as they like to call them. UPenn is the only one that gives the same degree to their token poor… I mean, working professionals… That the traditional students get. Let me back up a bit to explain how I got there.

I grew up in a deep red area of central Pennsylvania that was somehow both conservative and elitist. In the early 90s when I moved there at the age of six, there was testing for autism, but nothing like it is now, or I may have gotten the help I needed at the time.

I was bored within a few weeks of first grade, and because of this, the teacher put me on independent assignments that let me not participate in most of the classes. This continued through fifth grade, so I spent five formative years basically working independently and doing whatever I wanted.

This didn’t turn out so well when I hit junior high, both socially and academically. I never learned study skills, how to be a part of a class, or that I had to participate with everyone else. To make an extremely long story short, I was politely asked to leave high school after my tenth grade year when I had long since checked out of caring about anything.

I got my GED at 16 by going to Florida where my grandmother lived, because unlike in Pennsylvania, you could take it at that age instead of having to wait until your class graduated like in Pennsylvania. I aced it, which surprised people, considering my track record in school. Therefore, the idea was to try to go to community college where my mom worked. This didn’t go well. I was 17, and struggled even more with classes that seemed like they were optional to attend. I tried again at 20, and I just wasn’t fit for it at the time.

After spending eight years scraping by and working retail, I decided to give it another shot. This time, at age 26, I went back to school and started getting A’s in everything. The years of working and the age difference had given me a greater appreciation for education, and even though I had the same struggles I did the first time around (sitting still, focusing, being distracted by sounds), I excelled. After three semesters, I was offered a membership into Phi Theta Kappa, the community college equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa, and the offers for four-year transfers started rolling in.

Penn, being accessible from where I lived near Harrisburg by Turnpike and Amtrak, was the only one I applied to, and I got in almost immediately. I’ll save the story for that four-year, 100-mile daily commute for another time, this isn’t about that.

I got to be immersed in a completely different world for four years, where students with relatives like Trump and Biden had been preparing for their Ivy League admission their entire lives. Here I was, still working as an assistant manager at a retail store, and to say I felt some economic disparity would be an understatement. However, that was mostly with other students.

I had some of the most amazing professors and grad student mentors I could’ve ever wished for. I didn’t start getting treated for autism and other issues until my junior year, which made such a world of difference that I only wish I’d known about it sooner, but even before that, I was pulling honors grades.

Since I don’t really celebrate anything involving holidays, reflecting on three professors who made a difference in my life seemed appropriate. If you’re ever fortunate enough to attend Penn, the traditional method or the lucky alternate way into the school like I did, regardless of your major, I highly recommend taking a class from these three amazing women.

Professor Meta Mazaj

One of my majors was cinema and media studies. While I started off being interested in screenwriting, which I’ll get to with the next professor, what ended up drawing my greatest passion was theory. Film theory, media theory, analysis of such, and philosophical implication. Some of this had been started through the journalism major I was attending community college through, but it really stepped up here.

Professor Mazaj was the biggest reason I dove so deep into these ideas.

I took five classes from Professor Mazaj over a few years, including Film Theory, History in Film, and World Cinema. While I didn’t end up pursuing film, the practice of analyzing film from a theoretical and cultural perspective taught me so much about modern media and interpretation thereof.

Professor Mazaj was an absolute delight, never making anyone feel unwelcome or out of their league. Her lectures were always engrossing and entertaining, and the papers she assigned always brought out the best in me. I’d still be grateful for taking her classes if I never saw another movie in my life.

 

Professor Kathy Van Cleve

As I mentioned before, I initially wanted to go into screenwriting. These skills came in handy after graduation when I started writing skits for podcasts, and eventually two full-length radio plays. However, it isn’t just film that I learned from Professor Van Cleve. Story structure, being relatable, writing characters that have clear motivations, stories that make sense and appeal to more than just my own ideas, Professor Van Cleve’s workshop-style class taught me more than I’d ever learned before.

I took three classes with Professor Van Cleve, including one with her partner, Professor Emory Van Cleve which was called the Art and Business of Cinema. These classes were so unique and innovative that they broke the mold for what I thought creative classes could be in multiple aspects.

The objective of the Advanced Screenwriting class I took with Professor Van Cleve twice was probably pretty obvious: write a screenplay. While that may not sound like the most appealing idea to many, it was the method by which we learned and feedback was achieved that made this class legendary.

By certain deadlines, we needed to have at least 30 pages of a draft ready to go. Three people would be workshopped in the three hour class period. The writer of the draft would then pick all the characters in the work and assign roles to the rest of the class, who would be reading along. Professor Van Cleve would narrate all the direction and action, while the rest of the class read the pieces out loud. Given the creative types that took classes like this, I had the privilege of being in classes with people who are now working in Hollywood. I even interviewed one of them on my former podcast.

Nick Marini, a class act and a really talented actor, was the one who always got the best roles in reading, and who can blame them? When you write a piece to be performed, you want the best voices to bring your characters to life, for better or worse. Hearing people read what you’ve written gives you an idea of how your words sound outside your head, but instead of reading them out loud yourself, which has its own merit, a class full of contemporaries reading your work and then offering extensive feedback was extremely useful.

Professor Van Cleve made learning about writing and story structure not only accessible, but the class format was interactive, unique, and worth every second of attending every class. The Art and Business of Cinema class was almost like a semester-long roleplay, in which through groups, you would imitate the process of making a movie, from pitching the idea to selecting roles, and by the end, one scene would be acted out and submitted for a semester-end Oscar ceremony. There was nothing like it I’d ever seen, and I learned so much about the business aspect of cinema, which is what conversely made me not want to go into it. No regrets, however. I learned a lot, and drew the inspiration for my first novel in the process. That project showed me that I preferred to write in that form rather than screenplay.

 

Professor Marion Kant

I owe Professor Marion Kant a dinner every week for several years for how much she taught me in one critical semester of travel writing. The class just so happened to be in the midst of the 2016 election, and that made writing in context significantly higher in the stakes than it might’ve normally been.

For an autistic person, I cannot stress enough how knowing exactly what someone wants from you can make us thrive. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but I’ve never been good at navigating the language of “what shouldn’t need saying” or “this isn’t what I want, but you figure out what it is I want.” Professor Kant had no issue telling you exactly what she wanted, and what she thought of it when you gave it to her.

First, we picked a location in Philadelphia that we would be able to travel to frequently. In my case, I chose Franklin Field, the football stadium, since I was working for the football team at the time. Every week, we would read assignments that fit within some aspect of travel writing, whether it be sound, silence, history, danger, and many others, and then write a piece fitting within that idea.

Every essay would be exactly 500 words; no more, no less. Given the brevity of these pieces, all of them would be read and commented on in the class, and since there were only nine total students, this was not difficult to do. I’d never even considered creative travel writing until this class unlocked that within me, and with the therapy I’d been getting with learning how to be a human again through understanding autism, my writing powers were unleashed. I ended up writing an entire book during this class, in addition to my scheduled classwork.

Furthermore, the style and ideas implemented in this class provided a basis for my future in writing. Not only did what I learned in her class help me decide how I was going to write and what I was going to write, but the methods through which I tapped inspiration in order to write and why I needed to. Granted, the circumstances were unusual, given one of our more infamous alum at UPenn was elected President that semester, but I’d like to think Professor Kant’s class would’ve unlocked this regardless.

My master’s thesis at this point is a huge homage to this class and what it meant to me, as I now write 500-word travel essays and categorize them within some of the ideas from that class. That has been the project I’ve devoted the most amount of time to by far, and I think it’s fair to say that I may not be who I am today if it wasn’t for her and that class. She inspired me in a way that I can’t even explain to this day, but the limitations and expectations of that class made writing simple and explosive in a way that I’d never known before, and haven’t stopped using since.

 

I’m sure all of you have had teachers or professors who have affected your lives. I encourage you to reach out to them and let them know that. You never want to wait too long to tell someone you’re grateful. Two different teachers visited me at the store I was working at when I was still in Pennsylvania, and I was able to thank them for reaching me at one of the most difficult times in my life. Unfortunately, within a year, both of them had passed away. While I’m sure I’m just a blip on the radar in comparison to years of teaching and thousands of students, being able to thank someone for positively influencing your life is never time that is wasted.

Marissa Explains It All #2 – Overheard at the Zoo

There are two zoos near me, and I frequent both of them, sometimes in the same day.

It’s odd to me how many people think that you should stop going to the zoo after age six or so, unless you’re taking children aged six or under.

Complicated feelings about animals in captivity aside, so please save those, I absolutely love the zoo. Not only have I learned so much about animals, but I feel a deeper empathy with them. I care about the ones I see on a regular basis, and I’m way more inclined to step up and try to help when I can in terms of conservation and preservation.

I have no idea why this is strictly a straight-parents-with-young-kids-only space.

My partner and I are #flanneldyke gay with matching purple hair, and the stares we get are pretty indicative that we’re not supposed to be there. The amount of strollers from which these stares come from above… It’s like they’re saying “how dare you also like cute animals?” I had no idea straight cis young parents had that market cornered.

All that to be said, the animals are not the only source of entertainment at the zoo.

As much as I try to recognize societally-embedded feelings of classism and ableism, there are also times where I have to wonder out loud or to my partner, “what the hell did you just say?”

Yesterday while near the arctic fox area, I listened as three people tried to point out to a middle-aged woman where the cuddly little bug was. Pointing didn’t help, saying what it was near didn’t help, but finally, when she saw it, she followed up with “oh, I didn’t realize it was white.”

Maybe I’d have been more surprised if the same thing was said near the polar bear, or she didn’t know what it was she was looking for, but that was still one of those… ::pause:: moments. Similar to the discussion on the previous post about drunk middle-aged hockey parents in my hotel about “chicken of the sea” vs. “chicken of the woods.”

It’s hard not to categorize some of the comments I hear to reflect upon the state of education in this country, even as I recognize some of the problematic nature of those presumptions.

This is, of course, when screaming kids aren’t being set free to do whatever they want, including banging on the windows or trying to touch the animals. It was actually a shock to hear a parent tell her kid to stop yelling on the outdoor trail recently, as that is usually something wished for but never heard. That’s often why I try to go close to closing or during the weekday when it’s cold or cloudy. Given that this is Minnesota, that is a frequent occurrence this time of year.

The zoo is a great place to hear the calls of the animals. My favorite sound in nature is the call of the loon, a northern bird similar to a duck in shape or penguin in its diving. But due to the space they would require and the laws protecting them, they couldn’t be kept in a zoo unless it was a sanctuary with a lot of space, as their need for 500 feet of water to take off flying alone would require.

But if you visit some primates from the tropics, and you’re not prepared for the yelping of the gibbon, you might think that either someone left the car alarm on or Pyramidhead is about to come mess some shit up. The gibbons, arboreal New World apes that swing around the trees and have no prehensile tail, occasionally let loose with a whooping noise that is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

Now, why have my first two blog posts been mostly musings about inconsequential topics?

Fair question. In such turbulent times, it’s easy to get caught up in political malaise and passive nihilism. Or aggressive shitposting, depending on how passionate you are about hating certain kinds of people… can’t imagine why I don’t have comments on… But for those of us who don’t really get into holidays, or need a break from the beaver dam of the bureaucratic portajohn, sometimes it’s easier to take amusement in the audio equivalent of people-watching while also seeing cute animals do stuff.

That’s also why I love TikTok, even though I’m apparently twice the age needed to not yell “get off my lawn” about it. Mostly I post zoo videos there, such as the one I included for an example of the gibbon yell. At a time where hatred, trolling, and constant fighting transpire on a second-to-second basis, sometimes I’d rather just watch a snow leopard spaz out over a branch or hear this very real thing I once overheard at the zoo, word-for-word, after this closing paragraph. That, I hope, is a welcome reprieve from the cavalcade of dipshittery that is our daily existence right now. I’ll post about more important things once I get the hang of this blogging thing once again. I now leave you with my favorite #OverheardAtTheZoo quote. Enjoy your day, whether you celebrate something or not.

“That’s not a basketball, that’s a giraffe.”

You’re welcome.

Marissa Explains It All #1 – The Night’s Watch

It’s odd to have a blog again.

Not because of any societal progression or technological advancement reason, but because I feel like I never stopped writing blogs, more or less.

I’m in the tail end of graduate school, in what’s called a low-res program. In essence, I attend school for ten days during the summer, and the rest is online. With weekly journals (daily during the summer) and other writing exercises where we’re basically blogging our thoughts, I suppose the only difference is that I’ll be graded by trolls finding my existence repulsive instead of professors dealing with my thoughts on their extensive reading assignments. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless. Though, with at least with one I have to, at minimum, feign giving a shit.

I should wrap up my MFA by the end of the summer and hopefully move on to something on the other side of the post-secondary educational equation. Until then, my job keeping the night’s watch is what pays the bills.

No, this isn’t yet another Game of Thrones hot-take, but rather a fancy way of describing my day (night?) job: working third shift at a hotel. Technically it’s called the night audit, but given that the extent of my auditing is printing out reports and putting them in a folder, I prefer calling it the night’s watch. Mostly because “glorified babysitting” could be taken the wrong way.

Some night auditors have very busy shifts, especially those who:

A. Work in a hotel downtown of a city.

B. Have a bar/restaurant for which they’re also running audit.

Fortunately, I do not have either. I say fortunately because my capacity to deal with people is significantly lower than it used to be. Years of retail and the worst of humanity this time of year took care of most of that. That and the same twelve songs on repeat for hours at a time for two straight months, let’s just say I’m glad that the now-former assistant manager showed me how to shut off the ambient music.

And why shouldn’t I? For the most part, I don’t talk to anyone until 6am when people start coming down for breakfast and/or coffee, and by then, there’s only an hour left. Those other seven hours are where I get most of my homework and writing done, because it’s seldom-interrupted silence, except for the television by the breakfast area if I decide to have it on. Did you know that back-to-back reruns of Bob’s Burgers play at three different times during the night on cable? Also the music channels (MTV, MTV2, VHI, CMT, and BET) mostly play 90s sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, Living Single, etc. Except for CMT, that plays four minutes of a movie between every commercial break.

This is also where I learned that commercials from when I was a teenager are still a thing. Remember LiveLinks? Anyone who stayed up watching Comedy Central or other channels back in the early 2000s might. They still exist. LiveLinks was (totally not phone sex) voicemail dating, I think, and I’m impressed they’ve managed to stay around this long. I was expecting to see one of those Girls Gone Wild ads with the island music any time. They still run ads for 1800-PHONE-SEX or some equivalent of that too.

The TV is normally on one of the ESPN networks, so when I don’t find anything of interest (or neutral background noise), I’ll flip back to that, and those ads are pretty reflective of what demographic they’re trying to market.

“This generation of men is weak, buy this pill so you’ll get your testosterone back up to MANLY levels! It’s definitely not a boner pill, it’s a MAN pill!”

“Wear these sunglasses so you can see better. See how this guy is in fatigues? That’s because they’re MILITARY-grade sunglasses! It’s like Modern Warfare, but for real, and you’re looking for BALD EAGLES!”

“Use this camera to stop your cleaning lady from stealing. I’m a cop, it’s a cop cam, be a MAN and catch people stealing!”

“Our dads had more testosterone than we do. What are you doing right now? Drinking craft beer? Watching a movie? Caring about something? MAN UP! Take this powder and be a MAN!”

Essentially, do all this stuff so you’re horny enough to change the channel back and call LiveLinks already? Who knows. It’s amusing though. They’re Powerthirst ads without the irony.

On some occasions, there might still be one or two check-ins yet to arrive. A good bit of the time, they’ve just flown in. It’s Minnesota in the winter, so if they’ve come from anywhere to the south, a comment about the cold or snow is almost guaranteed. During a particularly hellacious storm recently, a guest complained to me about the snow, I suppose as if I was supposed to give her a discount or something for my inability to tailor the weather to her needs.

On rarer but notable nights, though, a particular kind of couple will come in. One will be a woman I recognize, because she’s been here before with someone else, and the other will be a nervous man barely speaking above a whisper while looking down, like he’s at a porn store trying to pass off something he’s buying as being for a friend, like the people working there don’t hear that excuse every day.

Apparently they think we don’t know what’s going on, but… We do. As long as they’re not hurting anyone and they’re paying the person they’ve hired, we couldn’t care less. When they leave an hour and a half later after checking in at 11:30pm, that’s also usually a pretty good sign, but once again, we don’t care. At all.

That’s also to say we know the difference between someone hiring a sex worker and someone being trafficked, so don’t come at me with that.

Maybe this was a weird introductory first blog, but the quietness of the night and the particular behavior of advertising and customers is an interesting snapshot of the mindset of certain people. Also a canvas from which most future posts will be written, so all that to say, it’s a pleasure to be here, and I look forward to getting to know some of you.