Friday, July 14, 2006

Hala!

Great news– Congratulations to me and my new job!

At last I finally get to do something with that friggin' masters degree!

Can you believe that it's been five (!) years since I left grad school? I was beginning to think that maybe waiting tables is all I'm cut out for. True, I have become a master in the memorization of daily blue plate specials and dinner orders for parties of six or more, a skill which has its positives. But, honestly, I thought I'd routinely be writing articles for some national publication by now. Salon, The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic –any of the above would have been perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately none of them found me suitable for a staff position. Either that or the Internet wiped out whatever positions might have been available. For some reason, though, whenever I received a rejection letter, I never blame technology. I just think, what a bunch of asses they must have there.

And in the meantime, I've been delivering midnight cheeseburgers to drunks with only the occasional article placement to keep me moving forward. Granted, getting blitzed on occassion myself, I know I do the wives of these men a noble service, but pardon me if I actually want to WRITE for a living.

Well, all of us want to write, so you know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I did something both brave and stupid last week: I thrust a napkin-scrawled resume on a customer, and believe it or not, it got me a job. It's not the first time I'd done that sort of thing, either, but it was the first time something positive came of it. Jason Calacanis was in Cozy about a month ago and I foisted my credentials on him, too.

But Calacanis was like:

"If you want to be a journalist, you should write a daily blog."

A daily blog? Who has time for that? Please. Some of us actually work for a living.

But then I gave my rez to an exec type sitting at the counter and talking on his mobile about 'shooting a story'. I could tell he was British right away. And it was obvious that he was in television, possibly BBC, I thought. Of course, I would like a job as a writer, in any capacity. Hence, the desperate measure on my part. Well, he actually took my resume and passed it along on. I know he did because, I GOT THE CALL!

Well, email actually.

A couple of days later I check my inbox and, lo, a person who identifies herself as a producer for Al Jazeera has sent me an a letter of introduction. Al Jazeera, I'm sure you all know, is the Arab news organization based in Qatar, but they are expanding throughout the world.

As it turns out, the man I gave my resume to, Nigel Parsons, is not only her boss, but he is also the Managing Director for Al Jazeera International. So, get this, Parson had been in New York to deliver a lecture to the communication department at NYU. Since Cozy is basically right around the corner from Washington Square, his hunger pains turned out to be my opportunity.

I also learn that Parsons had also eavesdropped on me (!), and in fact had overheard much of my conversation with Constantinos. This is potentially embarrassing because half of what we talked about was, you know, babes and porn. However, as you can imagine, I also railed a good deal about corruption in government. Naturally I itemized the sins of the Bush administration one by one, and each one in great eviscerating detail. It's become something of a shtick by now, but I always have fun watching the old man's head explode.

Constantinos is 100% pro-Bush, even more so than Jasper who I've always considered merely right of center. Is that right, Jasp? Constantinos says we can solve the world's problems by making every country into a U.S. state. I say we'll end up putting so many stars on the flag that there'll be no room for stripes.

I'm speaking metaphorically, of course, but he doesn't get it. He says a flag that's all stars will look better anyway. Afterwards, we argue about the administration, water boarding, enhanced interrogation techniques, this and that, and btw, I somehow manage every last lunch order without error or incident, all which I guess probably speaks to my ability to –literally and figuratively– think on my feet.

Granted, I'm a waiter, a fly on the wall of life, perhaps, but growing up Lebanese in America automatically makes one a politico.

For one thing, the other American kids I went to elementary school didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming an international arms dealer. I'm just saying, it's in my blood, and not for nothing did I get a masters from NYU.

Oh, and wait, did I mention that waiting tables isn't easy, either?

So, for about an hour I just stare at the email. I couldn't believe it. They want to talk to me? Finally I call her (she's in London).

OK, lady speaks in spit fire neutral, which makes me think of the word 'fembot'. I can tell her job is to connect the dots, execute tasks and that she does it very well. However, I find it kind of intimidating, too and so I miss most of what she says by way of preamble. Thankfully, my brain clears and my ears open up right at the moment when she says "we're staffing up a new English language broadcast center in Malaysia and we need someone bright and aggressive over there NOW. Are you available?".

Did you even know Al Jazeera had an English language division? I did not. Anyway, 'bright and young'? Was I even eligible? I think she meant smart and cheap. She said that Al Jazeera is not CBS News, which I took to mean that their salary budgets are significantly less than one might expect at an American network. But I'm like who cares, sign me up and fly me out.

Of course, I still had to prove to her that I can actually write, because you know, sometimes when I speak, I know I can sound like I've been breathing helium. So I sent her clip sheets for everything I'd published since kindergarten. Of course, I tried to feature the essay I wrote for GRANTA, since that just got published. But I did not send her the 21st century poetic mashups I made out of spam (and hopefully they will not google my Myspace page). Still, if I do say so myself, Number One Penis Pill is every bit as good as Rumi's Persian epic Dīwān-e Kabīr.

It's not 40,000 verses or anything close to it, but just sayin', I believe I can turn a good phrase.

But Jasper, Annika, Terry– can you guys believe that they actually offered me a job?

It still AMAZES me! I'm finally beginning to think that I am capable of fulfilling my long faded aspirations to become a full time writer.

And yet, at the same time, I also find myself suddenly full of self doubt. I mean, even I don't think I'm qualified to work for a news organization, least of all Al Jazeera. And In Malaysia? What are they thinking?

Hopefully, between the naive gumption I was born with, and the expensive education my parents paid for, I possess the superhuman research skills that Al Jazeera requires of me.

Praise God, tho, cause even if I eventually fail and get fired, I'm still thankful that out of all the under qualified applicants they must've considered, I'm the one that they selected. I can use that on my resume when I get back to the States:

Siraj Talal/Resume

July 24–July 25, 2006: Al Jazeera
Duties: Loiter. Ramble.

Accomplishments: Best rambler in department.

Awards & Honors: Recognized by immediate supervisor with a pink slip.


So, what can I do for you?

Ha!

And then some part of me wonders if I was hired because Parsons was actually impressed not by my grasp of global affairs, but with my hyperbolic babe riff. Like, is this middle aged exec thinking he can buy me off with a job and then use my youth and cool to score him some hot young tail in Malaysia?

YOU KNOW I WOULD DO IT!

Ha, oh I don't know. But back to the actual job offer. My official title is 'Background/ Research/ Non-News' Whatever that is, it sounds certainly devoid of glamor, doesn't it? Well, I'm happy to have it.

And, besides, it's a done deal. I report for work in Kuala Lumpur on the 24th, ten days from now. For the first time in my professional career, I won't have to wear a hair net. Although, you know –Asia, SARS– a hair net might still come in handy from time to time. I could put it over my mouth.

Oh, and plus I’m they're giving me my own business cards, ooh la la indeed!

Jasper! Terry! Annika! I will miss all our crazy Karaoke nights, and the workshop, too! Annika, that's been my creative lifeline for so many years now. I know I could never have gotten this job without your belief in me. So, everybody, thank you. I'm truly grateful to have had such wonderful friends share my journey.

Unfotunately, I don't think I'll have time to see any of you guys before I leave. I've got to go home to see my parents for a few days, and then I've got so much stuff to wrap up before leaving NYC. But hey, if you want to help me pack boxes, come on over. And if we don't meet up before I leave, don't think that I don't love you guys any less.

Looking ahead, I thought if we all regularly contribute to this site, maybe we could create a kind of mutual group scrap book. Think of it as an online keepsake. of course, we'll still stay in touch via email and cell, but I thought this venue would actually allow us to continue supporting our mutual interest in –and creative evolution of– the written word.

What do you think? I think I think once I'm settled in Kuala Lumpur, I can probably login like at least once a week, or something like that. It would be great if we could all do the same, but no pressure. And feel free to post anything you like: stories, articles, or even just links. A year from now, I'll print it out, give everybody a copy, and we can enjoy whatever it is that we've created here.

I think it'll be fun.

Yes, I know this first post has been a ramble, but I'm Lebanese, after all. We're known for our calligraphic minds.

And oh yeah, and get this: They have monorails in downtown Kuala Lumpur! How cool is that?

Yalla bye!!!

SIRAJ!
ps I was going to ask you guys for reading suggestions for the trip, but now I'm thinking I should brush up on the Holy Qur'an –it's been a while.

Either that, or I'll just read magazines and play video games.