Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I see Meredith every Thursday when I come into school. She is a petite, fragile girl with dirty blonde hair and a supremely casual wardrobe. We're in a class together that we're both very unhappy with, and moreover, we're both very vocal about our dissatisfaction.

"It would be nice if the teacher actually taught," Meredith says. "This is my second semester in this program and I've yet to attend a class in which the teacher has truly inspired me, educated me...enlightened me."

And in truth, I completely agree with Meredith. Out of the four teachers I have this semester, all four are nice, good, caring people, but none of them know how to properly teach. One particular teacher has gone a whole two-hour lecture without so much as opening her mouth. Sometimes, the classes turn into episodes of Oprah where the students spends the duration of the session expressing their frustrations with their field practice. But no new material is covered.

"This is a waste of time," says Meredith. "If the school wasn't so particular about attendance, there would be no chance I would ever come.
"And you know what?" she added. "I probably wouldn't miss anything any way.

A week later, we have a discussion in that particular class led by the instructor who allows her students to venture on wild tangents. We are having an open dialogue, instigated by the professor, trying to figure out why we haven't been covering enough new ground in the course outline. "It could be," the teacher posits, "that I spend so much time listening to the class talk. And I don't interrupt because I'm worried that I won't have enough material to fill the total time allotment of the class."

I look at Meredith and she expresses an unrestrained look of disbelief. Shouldn't a teacher always prepare her curriculum, she seems to say as she looks at me with furrowed eyebrows? And if not, just what the hell are we paying for?


Sarah is a friend of mine who also encouraged me to go to NYU's School of Social Work. She told me I would make a great social worker because I love to talk to strangers. Sarah also attended the Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, graduated with an MSW, took a job as a social worker, and has been employed ever since in a local hospital. But since a few weeks back, I have been regularly complaining to her about the program and surprisingly, she has been empathatic.

"I wake up to go to work sometimes and I can't help but think, My God, what career path did I invest in?" Sarah tells me her job is full of beaurocratic minutia and that she fills out a form for every single thing she does. "The social work industry isn't about helping people. It's about paper work."

I ask her what happened to her sunshiny idealism, why the sudden change of heart? I remind her about how I told her about my decision to enroll in social work school and how supportive she was of my altruistic path.

"If you were passionate about doing this, I wasn't going to discourage you," Sarah says. "But now that you're in the thick of it, and you understand the industry, I won't lie to you. Social workers are the bottom of the ladder.
"I read this editorial a few weeks back," she continues, "about a teacher's salary and the injustice involved. While I do feel bad for the underpaid teachers, I have yet read anything, anywhere truly advocating for a reform in the social work industry. There are fundamental problems with the system. As paranoid as that sounds, it couldn't be truer."

Sarah continues in telling me that not since graduate school has she encountered a group of people as incompetent as her co-workers. "You think your students are frustrating? Wait until the real world."


After class, a week later, I discuss the quality of the instructors and my disappointment with a member of the administration. "We take the evaluations that you fill out at the end of every semester very seriously," the administrator says.

I tell her that in my first semester I had a teacher who almost literally could not speak English. And that teacher had tenure. "She is an exception," the administrator stammers. "Truthfully, I'm not sure how that happened."

I then inform her of the general unhappiness in the school, how a large majority of my collegues are truly disgruntled with the quality of the program. I suggest that when we complain about teachers and then are told to be careful about our selection when registering the following semester, instead we should simply have a better pool to choose from. Thereafter, I express disappointment with the school’s lack of response; I have called the school on multiple occasions and have heard back from no one. Sadly, NYU’s most outstanding purported characteristic was it’s nurturing atmosphere, while, in reality, it’s cold, temperamental nature.

Great. Just under $90,000 for a piece of paper displaying a self-taught education.

“Tell me this, Arye,” the administrator asks, “do you really want to even be here?”

Before I answer, I think about the humane intentions I had before school started and the hopes I had for a seemingly rewarding career. Just as I consider the preconceived notions I had of this career choice, I think of answering “yes.” But then I hesitate and reflect on all that I’ve been through in the past few months, the exhaustion, the depressing mornings, the harsh reality of handling the parts of society swept under the carpet, and then I want to answer “no.”

And after a few brief moments of stalling, the best answer I can come up with is, “Umm…I’m not really sure.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Fare thee well, my faithful armpit buddy.

Dove Sensitive Skin Roll-On Deodorant, protector of my underarms and vigilante of body odor, died on March 28th when its parent company Unilever discontinued the product. It is survived by its wife the somewhat chalky Sensitive Skin Stick, an effective yet imperfect alternative. They met while sitting on a deodorant shelf at the 94th Street Duane Reade and were wed in 2001.

Sensitive Skin Roll-On was considered one of the Garden State's leading authorities on varieties of underarms and their skin sensitivities. It was also known for the development and introduction of the wire hanger. Its definitive kindness to my armpits became the first anti-persperant/deodorant to inspire nary a "pit scratch."

It was a 1992 graduate of the Unilever Focus Group University, majoring in horticulture, and upon receiving its doctorate in 1994 on itchy skin, it was distributed in what eventually came to be every pharmacy in America. Sensitive was tenured in 1997 and became a full professor in 1999.

But Mr. Skin, also known as "Rolly," never retired but for a time he and his wife made their home in Sanibel, Florida. But their love for gardening in New Jersey -- especially the tomatoes developed and improved by their colleagues -- lured them back to a home in Somerset, N.J., with two acres of garden plots.

Every year the roll-on traveled around the state to ensure pleasant armpits all over the world. I, along with its devoted users, cannot understand why Unilever murdered the product. When Unilever was asked to comment, their representative said, "We are not told why specific products are cancelled."
"I wish I could help you," continued Unilever, "But I just can't. My only suggestion is to go to a Odd Job and buy some of their backstock."
So true.

During its final days, the unscented one served as chief deodorant in my bathroom residing on the shelf above my sink for nearly two years, but sadly, those days are long gone. In a colloquium held in its honor at the time of retirement, it said, “The best thing about protecting your armpits was the armpits never suffered. I was the first one to make that possible." How we will miss his bald and wet (but not too wet!) circular head.

From this day forth, things will never smell the same.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Everyone knows the social work industry is unglamarous, but does the NYU School of Social Work itself have to also discourage the idealistic?

I was in the car with Debra, the thirty-something social worker who had been working for a non-profit for over three years. Debra is a single mother of three and always looks both tired and over-worked, but, nevertheless, she tries her hardest to maintain a positive attitude. Whenever I ask her how she was doing, she generally responds with a joke. But today, her warm disposition was unemployed.

"I don't know how much longer I can do this," she says to me, matter-of-factly. "This life, this job...I dunno. Sometimes it feels pretty thankless."

I am Debra's intern and right now, I'm not feeling so inspired. For the first year of every social work program, a student is arbitrarily placed in an internship without consultation in the hopes that they're get real hands-on experience in the world of non-profit. I am getting my hands-on experience but at this juncture, I would prefer the hands-off.

"I hear what you're saying." And I do seriously empathize with her.

"When I started as a social worker, I did it because I wanted to do something good," she continues, "And don't get me wrong--I still do. But I'm just not sure if it's worth it no more." Debra took a sip of coffee from the cup sitting in the cup holder. "Everybody talks about how hard teachers have it but somehow no one talks about social workers. Take me, for example. I gots three kids to feed. I gots my own wants, stuff I wanna do. But I can't hardly deal with them because I'm exhausted all the time. And I don't got much money."

As Debra speaks, I daze off and begin considering myself how I plan on supporting a family if I'm going to enter this industry. And lest you think Debra is the only one who secretly laments to me, there are others. Unbeknownst to her supervisors, Sharon also plans on quitting her job come summer so she can go to nursing school where the money is more lucrative. "I ain't crazy," she told me. "You think I can do this forever?"

The burnout rate in the social work world is astounding. And it's no wonder. In the past half-year, I have met social work school graduates who have already left the industry two or three years out of school. And all of them tell me the same: what's their incentive to stay?

From the time you enter the schooling, the world of social work is designed to break you. Take for example NYU's Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, which charges over $26,000-a-year for their tuition. Once you consider personal loans and all the costs of the two-year program, you get close to a $90,000 bill. That's three-times the amount of the average social worker's yearly salary. When I asked the dean of the program why the school was so expensive (especially considering NYU's real estate portfolio), she responded, "We have to contribute to the university just as the law school does, and the business school does."

I argued that those specific programs more than compensate for their hefty tuition charges with the promise of the eventual lucrative salaries.

"True," she told me and then responded with an unsatisfactory logic. One that I've heard so often, I wanted to make it into a T-shirt slogan. "You have to really want to do this."

In my brief time spent in the program, I searched efficiently for a silver lining. It was during this expedition that I finally understood why most of the people in the program were woman with a good portion of them either married, wealthy or both.
Every time I considered the worth of my education and where it would get me, I thought of Debra and her exhuastion. "Before I started this job," she said, "I couldn't understand why there were so many homeless people.
"Now that I'm a part of solving the problem, I understand it," she sighed. "Doing good in this world is a bitch."

[Part II coming soon]

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Okay, so I lied. Here I am and it's March 22nd.
My throat hurts, I'm exhausted, and I'm super-behind on deadlines. So, in the meantime, please check out my SXSW coverage on the Jane blog or my Big Takeover blog. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Please come back then. In the meantime, you can check my daily posts as featured on the Jane Magazine Music Blog.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

For Spin and the Village Voice, today goes down in history. Albeit, the portion of history not many people care about.

When I was fifteen-years old, I bought my first copy of Spin Magazine. The June 1991 issue featured Perry Farrell on the cover, the then-lead singer of the eccentric LA punk band Jane's Addiction. While I was completely unfamiliar with their music, nevertheless, I bought it because the issue had a news item on U2. At this point in my life, I was not the well-versed music journalist I am now. My knowledge ran the slight gamut from middle-aged rock (Billy Joel, Don Henley) to commercial alternative (the aforementioned U2, R.E.M.). Normally, I would read music reviews in my mother’s People or in the Star Ledger our local paper, so it was refreshing to find a magazine that finally helped my awkward self feel somewhat cool for 140+ pages a month. Spin would thereafter introduce me to alternative rock like New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, amongst others. The records I discovered through Spin (like Pavement’s Brighten the Corners) still resonate strongly with me. The bold magazine was the alternative rock Bible for a suburban Jersey boy with no MTV, no cooler older brother, and no record store within walking distance. Years later, when I wrote for them, it would be a thrill for me to see my byline featured in the mag. I had considered this a true accomplishment, a highlight of my life—to be a part of the publication that was integral to my musical upbringing was thrilling.

Yesterday, it was announced that Spin was sold for a measly $5 million, which, in the magazine industry, is pocket change. The withering publication was bought by the McEvoy Group and Hartle Media, both San Francisco-based companies that are merging together to form Spin Media LLC in the hopes of replicating the snarky tone of the Dennis Media enterprise (Stuff, Maxim, Blender). After clumsily searching for an identity under the helm of Sia Michel for so many years, Spin is in the process of developing into a magazine that hopes to attract an even younger audience than it has now (yes, even younger than the kids that bought both copies featuring My Chemical Romance on the cover twice in one year). To many involved in the industry, this is an end of an era. The man taking over Michel’s position is Andy Pemberton, who was an integral player in the launch of Blender. Pemberton has laid off all the valued, talented writers on the Spin masthead including pop-culture savant Chuck Klosterman, Caryn Ganz and Mark Spitz and he reportedly told the remaining staff that the magazine is headed in a very drastic direction.

In the past few years, with the popularity of the ADD-inspired magazine, outlets for thought-provoking human interest profiles are dwindling. When especially considering pop culture outlets, there remains but a few, one amongst them, the aging dinosaur Rolling Stone. Consumers are finding it less important to delve into a substantial piece and would rather devote themselves to a compendium of gossip, a compilation of lists and sound bites. And in truth, it’s hard to make a convincing argument otherwise. Why should anyone want to read a 3,000-word article on a popular band, or a renowned musician? How exactly do you make that case? Where would you start?

Today, just like every Wednesday, the current issue of the Village Voice hit the streets in the early a.m. The “independent” weekly, which was also just purchased by the large conglomerate the New Times, featured a cover story by the ascending star journalist Nick Sylvester. Sylvester, who was previously a writer for the uber-critical music website Pitchfork Media, was initially employed by the Voice as a daily blogger. The story “Do You Want To Kiss Me?” was Sylvester’s debut cover for the weekly, which would make this a huge stepping point for his career. The overall tone of the article, like much of his writing, was snarky, casual and perhaps too self-referential. But there are fans and appreciators of Sylvester’s style just as there are passionate detractors. I count myself amongst the very passionate detractors because Sylvester’s writing is antithetical to my own tenets of writing. Nevertheless, I wish Sylvester well.

A few hours after the March 1st Issue was distributed in the corner red boxes throughout New York City, the Voice took the article down from their homepage., the Manhattan media gossip website caught wind of this and reported that Sylvester fabricated some of the anecdotes written into the piece. Out of embarrassment, the weekly retracted the story online, suspended Sylvester, even forcing him to write a public apology. Ultimately, the article and the fabrications it held within will have little-to-no ramifications on the world-at-large. In fact, “Do You Want To Kiss Me?” is a piece of fluff journalism, feeling both forced, and inauthentic—after hearing the Jayson Blair-ish news, Sylvester’s inaccuracies were of no surprise to me. The story reeks of invention. Moreover, it felt like a poor topic to make a cover debut with—men acting like jerks to pick up women in bars is hardly a new trend. This alone makes me wonder why Sylvester felt so compelled to write this piece. But the specific details are irrelevant. Sylvester, only twenty-four years old and already making a splash in a small pool of talented writers essentially shot himself in the foot the first time he picked up a gun.

But even before Sylvester’s self-destructive prose and even before the sale of Spin, the art of long-form music journalism was already on shaky ground. And for shame. All music is an art (yes, you could even make that argument for the Pussycat Dolls in some regard) and requires the same analysis that all art forms require. Some compelling musicians are worthy of true focus. Of course, one could argue that we have the Internet now in place of magazine journalism. But our reliance on the web and the overwhelming inflow of information makes lying possible—rarely do we scrutinize a website as closely as a printed publication and they frequently escape responsibility and accountability for their inaccuracies. Moreover, when you venture into the world of Internet music journalism, you’ll find that it’s intimidating and constantly in flux with little filter and journalistic credibility. High and low scoring reviews are utilized as attention-grabbers (“I championed said band first!”). Pitchfork Media, a website I visit daily, for example, is good for one thing. It’s numeral rating scale. But it’s not a journalistic outlet, it’s a constantly rotating churn of obscure independent music. And it excels in that regard.

For a long time, I’ve had a dream where I start a magazine that combines a predilection for pop culture with the integrity and depth of the New Yorker. But that will never happen now. Not with the further lobotomizing of the magazine industry and not while seemingly credible scribes like Sylvester taints the fading reputation of the music journalist. So, why should anyone want to read a 3,000-word article on a popular band, or a renowned musician? Right now, I’m really not sure. Although, back in 1991, I used to be.