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2001-10-23 | 5:02 p.m.

[I lifted this questionnaire off a radio station web site. It appears to be a variant of the Proust questionnaire that used to run in Vanity Fair.]

When and where were you happiest?

Happiness is not all it's cracked up to be, and comes to me in fleeting moments that are not particularly memorable for themselves. Certainly, I have cried out, "I am so happy!" but I couldn't tell you when. I've always been an anxious person, but these days I feel less anxiety on a daily basis than I have since I was a very young child. As a kid, I worried a lot, especially about my school obligations, homework, etc. But now that my life is much more stable, I don't worry so much. Still, it is hard for me not to think about what is bothering me, what I want, and so forth.

Having said that, I think the time I felt happiest may have been when I was 19, and on my way to France. My French friend and I drove across the country in a driveaway car, which we delivered in Florida, visited friends of mine, then flew up to Newark to get to London on People Express for $149. We were on standby for three days and we slept in the airport's observation deck along with a dozen other young people. I had a one-way ticket, my life was open-ended, and I felt enormously free. It was a fantastic feeling. Indescribable. Someday I hope to replicate it.

After I got back, my father complained because I had charged two brown-bag lunches ($13) on the plane to my American Express card, which was on his account. We didn't have any more cash on us. When I got back to the U.S., he canceled my card, which I thought was pretty reactionary considering that it was only the second time I had used it. Turns out my sister had been racking up hundreds of dollars in charges on HER card, so I think I got swept up in her wake. But my father was so high-handed about the whole thing that I didn't speak to him again for more than a year.

What was your worst job?

I worked as a typesetter for one day at a print shop here in my hometown. Though I had been trained to use the CompuGraphic typesetting machines, I was never all that good at it, and the print shop had machines that were newer than the ones I was used to, and therefore different. So I thought to myself, well, I'll just try a couple of things and see how they come out. But as soon as I sent one to the machine that developed the film, my co-worked ripped it out of the machine and blasted me with the news that in this shop, they never EVER did things twice. Everything was expected to be perfect the first time around. Where I had worked previously, we had no such rules and we went through film by the mile.

It's possible that I could have grown accustomed to the high standards, but I had two co-workers, one of whom was a hysterical freak. We worked in a basement room with two small windows way above our heads, and for eight hours this woman talked about nothing else but her fear of becoming fat. She also talked about shopping for a particular toaster oven with her husband, which should be against conversational law, but mostly it was all about fatness. She had a fat sister, I learned, and all she feared in this world was becoming fat like her sister. It seemed not to have crossed her mind that some people might think it worse to become a boorish, insipid, neurotic FREAK.

This happened to be during the 45 seconds or so of my life that I was a size 10. She couldn't have known, of course, that I was really a fat girl masquerading as a thin one; a Spy in the House of Freak. Still, even her thin co-worker must have found her intolerable, though she pretended otherwise. The other woman was a musician, which might have been interesting, but I'll never know because the other one never shut up. She literally talked for seven hours and 40 minutes (we ate our lunches there, in the basement) and then did all her work in the last 20 minutes of the day. What made this memorable is that, since she had left it so long undone, she started shrieking and screaming like a wounded vulture about how nothing was going to get done in time. It was all her fault, of course, but the way she screamed and harangued seemed to implicate me (or perhaps some other nameless, invisible person who wasn't there that day). I could tell it was only a matter of time before the blame for everything fell on my shoulders.

When I left for the day, the brittle, elderly woman who owned the company handed me the seven-inch-thick user manual that went with the CompuGraphic machine, so I could learn it overnight. I took it home and cried my eyes out. My then-partner told me to quit, but I was afraid that if I so much as walked through the door, they might talk me into staying another day. So he returned the the book for me and told them it wasn't going to work out. (Yes, I know I should have handled the problem myself, but if I can farm out that sort of dilemma, I always will.)

The whole incident is still a vivid memory. I can even remember what that woman looked like, a little. It probably doesn't even sound all that terrible to anyone else, but to me it was intolerable, like being in prison. I have had other bad jobs, of course, but nothing else has ever filled me with such utter hopelessness. I know that there are many people in the world stuck in horrible jobs and we should do everything we can to help them.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I guess superpowers, including invisibility, so I could key the luxury cars whose drivers try to run over pregnant women in the crosswalk at Harrison and Second streets, and steal from the rich to give to the poor, among other things. Within the realm of known experience, it would be nice if I could do math or learn dances or sing beautifully. I can't think of anything really pressing, outside of better self-discipline, but I'm not sure whether that's a talent. I don't think it holds much water in beauty pageant talent competitions.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I've been a little lax on the achievement scale, but the one thing that comes to mind is the pride I feel about having given birth to my son without drugs. Not only was the experience itself memorable, but it allows me to feel that I am not a wimp, despite what my dentist might think. Does that mean I think people who give birth with drugs are wimps? Not at all. It's just nice for a person like me, who is phenomenally good at self-deprecation, to have something like this to hold up in my own face and say, "See? You did that! So shut up!"

What is your most treasured possession?

Photo albums. That's what most people would grab if there were a fire in their home. So I've heard.

What is it you most dislike?

Intolerance, hatred.

What is your motto/favorite saying?

Er... I don't know if I have one. There are so many. I like the one about "first they came for the Communists..."

Which living person do you most admire?

The most worthwhile and valuable people in the world are the ones you rarely or never hear about, because they're better at helping others than at self-promotion. So my answer is some anonymous do-gooder. Somebody doing relief work; feeding the hungry with Oxfam or taking care of people in pain through Médecins Sans Frontières.

You have 2 weeks. Price is no object. Where would you go and what would you do?

If money is no object, let's go save the world, baby. There'll be time for a vacation later. Let's see, where to begin...? Two weeks isn't a lot of time, so food drops it is. I guess I don't really have to go anywhere---just donate the money that's no object.

Now, if the question really means where would I like to go, I confess there are fewer and fewer places in the world that I am raring to get to. The reasons are wimpy: I am terrified of going somewhere far away and getting killed by some bizarro disease. So even though I wouldn't mind going to Bali, I think I'll skip the dengue fever and malaria and go straight to Europe instead. I think it would be very fun to tumble around Europe for a couple of weeks. Especially if I were by myself!

What is your pet peeve?

Lack of generosity is a quality that I find hard to stomach. Like when other people's parents take you out to a fancy dinner and then stiff the waiter. (Note: If this happens to you, slide a few bucks under your plate.)

What is your secret fantasy?

I've got a million of 'em. I think a lot about being rich and what I would buy and how I would furnish my homes, also about being an elusive best-selling author, about being beautiful and desired (hey, it's a fantasy). Sometimes I fantasize about being alone for a few days. I often imagine myself in a very spare situation, a cabin in the snow or more often a tumbledown house beside a swamp, with a falling-down boat ramp (I couldn't begin to tell you why it's always a swamp, must be a Florida thing), and the walls inside are painted cafeteria green.

What book would you recommend everyone reading?

Ah, jeez. I'm not sure. I think if people would just READ it would be a huge cultural breakthrough. If you just make them read one book, there's no guarantee they'll get it.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

I like big-hearted people of any denomination. Kind, generous, and thoughtful. That's the essential quality, and then if someone happens to be loyal, clever, or witty on top of it, that's gravy. I also appreciate it when a person tends to be the same from one day the next. Unpredictability is not a personality trait I value.

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