A Cordial Invitation to Be Careful Out There


I received a cordial invitation to the graduation ceremony honoring the University of Pennsylvania College Class of 2014 in the mail Tuesday evening. The last time I attended an event to which I was cordially invited, I spat out a piece of lobster that happened to land with form and grace on another guest’s plate at a wedding reception. I have much faith in upping that incident in the coming sequel.

As I walked out of the mailroom and towards the exit of the Harrison College House – I was heading over to a café to read – Arlene stopped me to chat. Arlene is one of the Allied Barton security guards who work the gated entrance of the dorm. She began working at Harrison in late November last year, and we’re on a first-name basis. She’s somewhere in her sixties and sings her remixed versions of songs to pass the time. Before she called out to me, she had been humming an old R&B song that was too old for me to recognize.

“How you doin’ tonight, Hans?” I replied I was doing well and that I was going out to do some readings. “Durin’ ya Spring Break?” she asked. I replied with a sheepish grin, confirming that I was that loser. She laughed and wished me a good evening. I did the same and headed towards the doors that lead outside.

“Be careful out there!” she called out behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and thanked her, chuckling to myself. She tells that to everyone, even when the person is going out to a café two minutes away, as I was doing. It’s amusing most of the time and reassuring all the time.

I strolled across Locust Walk, along the Rodin College House, in front of the DuBois College House, and on a small pathway next to a cluster of dumpsters and reached Walnut Street. Capogiro, the café, was on the other side. I waited to jaywalk while red Toyotas and silver Fords sped by in front of me. I clutched two issues of the Economist and the invitation card in my right hand.

A black Range Rover zipped by me, a bit too close for comfort. Be careful out here, indeed.

I spent the rest of that evening at Capo, reading Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley’s Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 – study material for the Foreign Service Officers Test I’ll take in June. Not being a history buff like my Dad or my little brother, I’ve realized throughout the course of reading the book that I knew very little of the history of US foreign policy and international relations. Then again, a case could be made that I know very little of anything, a point my friends make when I jumble together my facts and ardent opinion on a daily basis.

I have only the FSOT exam planned for my post-graduation life, outside of a possible, short Euro-trip. The FSOT consists of a written exam, an evaluation panel, and an oral interview process, which, combined, lasts six months if I pass each section and move on to the next parts. Even then, passing every step doesn’t guarantee a job as a US diplomat – applicants who pass the final oral interview are put on a register, from which they are taken off and assigned to posts depending on the candidate’s aggregate performance score. If the candidate is not assigned anywhere in the eighteen months since he or she is put on the register, he or she must go through the entire process all over again. The process and the weight of succeeding seem even more daunting, as I have no cushy Wall Street job, no law school, no significant other to tie my life to upon graduation— for me, the “ring by spring” seems unlikelier by the day.

As the saying goes, I’m putting my two, tiny, sensitive eggs in a basket. Thankfully, people have come out of the woodwork to worry on my behalf.

“Aren’t you scared of, um, you know, being a real adult? Being stationed around the world, having a real job?” a friend asked.

“What are you gonna do with your life and a philosophy degree if things don’t pan out?” an acquaintance asked.

“What happens when you fuck up and fail this exam like I know you will?” one of my best friends Max asked.

The worrying hasn’t gotten to me— yet. My dad, ever supportive, told me a couple of days ago to take things a day at a time.

“Everything’ll be okay. Just keep focusing on what you’re doing, believe in what you’re doing. I know you’re workin’ hard and trudging on.”

The advice has helped, as well as the recent purchase of a Stan Getz and João Gilberto bossa nova album. Sometimes, all you need is smooth Brazilian jazz playing in your headphones and someone to tell you things will be okay.

Capogiro closed at midnight on Tuesday, and I drifted back home with a gentle, spring breeze pushing me this way and that. With no one to talk to, I tossed over the idea of my fuzzy future, that, like the warnings on side view mirrors say, was closer than it appeared.

When I got back to Harrison, Arlene was getting ready to leave; her shift ended at twelve. She asked me how my evening went. I told her I had been, as she had instructed, very careful out there.


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