Cutting through the bullshit of “busy”

toobusyHow often has your temper boiled while being forced to cool your jets waiting for someone to reply to a simple question, make a deadline or serve you the sandwich you ordered 45 minutes ago? When you ask for the cause of the delay, the reply is usually some variation of “oh, I was busy.”

Busy is a loaded word. It’s loaded mainly with bullshit. Oh, it has actual definitions…which are also bullshit. Dictionary.com contains several meanings for busy:

  1. actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime.
  2. not at leisure; otherwise engaged
  3. officious; meddlesome; prying
  4. full of or characterized by activity

Let’s examine those definitions. #1 means the person is either working , or not, since you wouldn’t equate a “pastime” with work. A pastime would indicate something you’re doing for pleasure and one wouldn’t be described as “busy” doing something fun…but rather involved in an activity they were able to do because they weren’t so damned busy.

#2 is completely at odds with #1 because now busy is defined as not being at leisure, meaning you’re not involved in a pastime. So what is it? Can you be busy and not busy at the same time doing the same thing?

#3 is incomplete. The complete term is “busy BODY.” Fact is, you can be a meddlesome prick even if you’re not busy. For some, prying into others affairs is a pastime. Uh oh. Does that now make them busy or not if referring to #1 or #2?

#4 simply means you’re doing stuff. Living a life, peeling bananas, catching up on Stormy Daniels films. Does that mean you’re busy, or simply not stationary. Indeed, some folks might argue being stationary is their way of keeping busy.

When someone responds to my second or third inquiry as to why they haven’t responded sooner with “oh I was busy,” I know they’re making it up. Maybe they were, in fact, involved in a pastime…that pastime being too freakin’ lazy to follow through. Maybe they were too busy just blowing you off because they’re immature or arrogant. Perhaps they were engaged in a questionable activity that would get them fired, but use the catchall “busy” to cover up that activity with a word that actually means nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally sympathetic to those who at time can be buried under a growing number of tasks and deadlines, but that’s no excuse for being unresponsive. Grow up, prioritize your activities, perhaps send someone further down the list an acknowledgment you received the inquiry and will respond in line with any deadlines that may have been set. If none have been set, ask for a reasonable time frame for completion. But watch out. Often, those pleading they’re busy just want you to come through on your end faster than necessary just so they can get the project off their calendars…and then they can get busy…with their pastimes.

So when you tell me you’re too busy to reply, to respond I know what you’re really busy doing. It’s what a bull does when it squats in the field. I’ll bypass the stink and move on to greener and cleaner pastures.

 

 

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Bed, Bath and Beyond Reason

bbandb

Found myself in a Bed, Bath and Beyond today while my wife shopped in the place next door. I like to look around that store because it contains stuff…and people.. that make me laugh..and sigh and glad to be part of a human race that’s constantly looking for silly things to buy to make their lives easier, if only batteries lasted forever.

mypillowNo sooner did I enter and I encountered a couple engaged in a very serious discussion. The husband’s face was intense and his tone of voice similar, I imagine, to how the Secretary of Defense’s might be while explaining to Pres. Trump why we can’t build a wall around Michelle Wolf.  There simply are now POW’s..Prisoners of Wit. Anyway, the wife in the equation seemed defeated as the husband pummeled her with reason after reason why…he just needed to spend 100 bucks… on a My Pillow. I moved along before the eventual surrender.

bbbappliancesMy next stop was in my favorite department. It doesn’t really have a name. It’s just stuff you plug in. Toasters, waffle irons, coffee and espresso/cappuccino makers, toaster ovens, things that whir and spin and mix and mutilate. What gets the most square footage, it seems, are the machines that turn the substances jammed into plastic pods into alleged coffee. Keurigs, Nespressos..whatever. There are rows of these devices and rows and rows and rows and rows of a hundred so-called “flavors” of pods.  podsI

It’s here I encountered my next young couple. They were locked in an earnest discussion about which of these machines to adopt into their family. Having owned a Keurig for several years and sampled scores of different pods of the brown effluent they conjure I felt it might be helpful if I butted in to the couples convo long enough to warn them, “it doesn’t matter what machine you buy or what flavor pod you use, it all tastes like what happens when your sump pump backs up.” Indeed, I tried bold, strong, breakfast, donut shop, hazelnut, mountain top, valley floor, river bed…it all tastes the same…like shit. But I know how it is when you just gotta have something so I let them be, knowing this young couple would soon learn an expensive life lesson.

No sooner had I found my way to the back of the store eyeing the display of electronic door bells, then a nice B,B and B employee put her face three inches from mine, introduced herself and asked what I was looking for. She was very polite and obviously trying hard to do her job so I decided not to reply, “edible Oxy-Clean.” Instead, I thanked her for the offer but I didn’t actually have any money so I was looking for cheap entertainment a chance to smell the vanilla candles.

My last stop was the bathroom supply department. Hanging on the all was a contraption that came in a box with a bunch of attachments and it promised to take the work out of scrubbing my bathroom. All you had to do was keep the batteries charged and use the correct attachment. When the clerk came by I flagged him down and asked if the gizmo worked with Voom. Obviously not a “Cat in the Hat” fan the kid stood slack jawed, thoroughly baffled. I helpfully offered that maybe I’d find Voom-friendly implements in the “Beyond” part of the store.  Without a word he backed away and, I imagine, considered the wording of his resignation letter.”  voom

At that point, it was time to leave the store and meet my wife. She asked if I found anything good. I did. Another story to tell all of you.

Requiem for a hilarious genius

There aren’t many scenarios where one would not only enjoy working the graveyard shift but actually look forward to dragging in their sleep-deprived butts at an hour when most people are tucking their sleepy selves into bed for some proper slumber.

But for two, brief, fleeting, wonderful years, I was blessed with this paradox. The only reason it was so, was because of a hilarious genius named Peter Vesey.

At the time I was co-producing CNN’s morning show called “Daybreak.” The newcast aired from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. which meant we reported to work at the cruel hour of 1 a.m. to prepare it. When our executive producer moved on, Peter replaced her. His reputation as a brilliant broadcast journalist preceded his arrival and the team was excited for the chance to work with Peter and learn from him. We never anticipated he would also make working while others were sleeping so much fun.

Our pre-show meetings instantly transformed from robotically listing available stories, reporter packages and expected satellite feeds to uproarious discussions filled with Peter’s humor, logic and spot-on guidance while he constantly challenged us to try new production methods, accelerating the show’s pace, sharpening our writing and above all, creating a newscast that engaged and informed our viewers that hooked them to the screen.

We had fun critiquing the material, to the extent of Peter’s ability to create verbal caricatures of several correspondents. One, in particular, made every piece sound like an industrial film, intoning like a mechanical voice. We were sometimes a little cruel in our critiques but all in good fun while honestly assessing their strength and worthiness to make air.

In the control room, he ruled calmly and decisively while tossing in crackling bon mots to keep the crew loose and engaged.

Peter took a personal interest in all of us, always inquiring about our lives, families, health and career goals. He also didn’t take any shit. Anchors with an attitude were quickly shut down.  Officiousness was dealt with an immediate smackdown. My favorite example:

The supervising producer sat across from Peter. There was perhaps one-foot between them. This was the 80’s so there was an attractive Trimline wall phone at each work station. One-inch separated Peter and the supervisor’s wall phone. Peter’s phone rang and when he picked it up, the voice on the other end of the line was the supervisor… only inches away. Instead of saying “hello,” Peter reached over to the supervisor’s phone, yanked it off the wall and tossed in in the trash and said, “what was it you wanted?” I’ve never stopped laughing about this in 30 years.

There weren’t many food options in the middle of the night and I’m a crappy eater anyway, so I gravitated towards the emaciated Polish sausages available at the small cafeteria located in the odd atrium that separated CNN from CNN Headline News. Of course, Peter silently took note of my foolish food choice and parked it away for future use. That came to pass when I moved on from Daybreak to a reporting position. Near the end of our shift Peter announced the team had a little going away gift for me. He brought out a rectangular cake pan covered in foil. Oh…a going away cake..how cool. Oh sure, there was a nice cake with vanilla frosting…and a big, fat raw Polish sausage sticking out of  the middle. It brought tears to my eyes.

But now my eyes are tear filled again and my heart broken with the news Peter passed away after a short illness.

I hadn’t spoken to Peter in many, many years and a couple of months ago the director on our show passed along his number to me and said Peter would welcome a call. I didn’t make it. Believe it or not, I simply felt shy about it. Peter would have set me straight…and asked if I was still eating those stupid sausages. I would have welcomed that.

 

 

My four-step Starbucks sensitivity training

starbucksIt shouldn’t take four hours of training to knock some sense into employees of Starbucks or any company about how to treat people fairly.

I can name that tune in 4 quick steps.

1-Be agnostic about a person’s appearance. We’re all pretty much the same except for the shade of wrapping.

2-You are not better than anyone. In the case of a Starbucks employee, you fill cups with hot or cold drinks and serve them to people. In exchange, they give you money, a credit or debit card.  You may be serving a Nobel Prize winner, a talented artist, someone who is disabled or a single parent trying like hell to raise a kid and pay the bills alone and all they’re hoping for is a place to grab a brief respite in peace with a caffeinated drink that will help them keep from falling over from fatigue and stress. 

3-If a person isn’t making a fuss, a mess or a racket, leave them alone. They may just need a moment to catch their breath, get out of the rain or an easily found place to meet someone. If they don’t buy something this time around, your goodwill may translate into a future transaction.

4- Whatever your title or classification, be proud of your position, do a good job, earn your money and be a good representative of your place of employment. You don’t? It’s simple. You’re fired.

When Mom “Subbed” for me On Air

mom

On this Mother’s Day, 2018, I have a true story of a true heroism on the part of one mother..my mom, whom I sadly lost in 2007. This is not a sob story. It’s kind of hilarious.

Marvin, Sandy & Clive clippingGrowing up in New York City in the ’60’s I was a devoted follower of Sandy Becker. He hosted a kid’s morning show for years on then WNEW, Channel 5. Live, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Two of his most popular characters were puppets Marvin the Mouse and Sir Clyve Clyde, which were voiced and operated by Becker. A daily feature was for Sir Clyve to  place a phone call to a lucky kid whom he interview on the air.  The kid’s reward was a Marvin the Mouse puppet.

My mother, who once had aspirations of a singing and acting career, was a typical stage mother. I..at the tender age of 6, was so shy, I hid in my room when we had visitors. Nevertheless, she sent in my name and I was chosen as the next day’s lucky kid. The producer said we’d get a call about 5 minutes to air and that we should just stand by until we hear Sir Clyve/Sandy’s voice begin the short interview.

Sure enough, the next day our phone rang and the producer gave us the five minute warning. I hung onto the phone until I heard Sir Clyve say in his British accent, “Well good morning 6 year old Edward Garsten from Bellerose, Queens. How are you?” I froze. Thrusted the phone into my horrified mother’s hands. For that split second there was dead air until my mother gamely got on the phone and put on her most childish voice. She was in her mid-30’s at the time.  “HI!” she replied emphatically.” “I’m good!”  Sensing something was up, Sandy/Sir Clyve reacted with, “My, my Edward. You have a strong voice for 6!”  “Thank you,” my mother replied. “What grade are you in, Edward,” Sir Clyve asked.  Shit. My mother momentarily forgot, but the trouper she was, came up with the correct answer. “Well….,” she stalled. “I guess, first grade.”   Sure,  now Edward was a fraud and employing an understudy, Sandy/Sir Clyve wrapped up the interview. “I say! It’s been a pleasure speaking with you Edward. Thanks for watching our show!”

Before we could hang up the producer came back on the line sounding a little confused, saying, “uh, pretty good interview. Thanks a lot. We’ll send you the Marvin the Mouse puppet. Just need your address.”

After we hung  up, my mother looked at me with that, “what the hell just happened?” face. But she knew her youngest son. So shy. Such a loser. Well, she tried.  It was OK. Mom got some free air time, playing a 6-year old.

A few days later the envelope arrived. In it was the Marvin the Mouse puppet. I tore it open and stuck my hand up Marvin’s back and showed my mother. She smiled as she said, “I think that’s mine.” Then we both had a pretty good laugh.  Miss her.

Caught in the Daimler-Chrysler Divorce

Today, May 7, is the 20th anniversary of the announcement of the engagement that would lead to a wedding, and ultimately divorce in one of the worst corporate marriages in history.

At the time, I was the Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent for CNN, so this was a big story for me to cover. I had no idea that nine years later I would be caught in the middle of the stormy split as a DaimlerChrysler employee. Indeed, disastrous corporate tieups seem to follow me.

The first was the 2001 merger of CNN parent company Time Warner with AOL. The result was laying off about a thousand CNN employees and shutting down bureaus. That’s how I lost my job there after 20 years of service.

I found my way to the print world, first as national auto reporter for the Associated Press, then General Motors beat writer for the Detroit News. Three years into that stint, I got a call that the head of PR for the Chrysler half of DaimlerChrysler was looking to start a media-oriented blog and wanted an auto writer to ghost write and manage it. Sold. Cool job. That job later was broadened to heading the company’s digital communications team, which included broadcast and social media.

Fast forward to October, 2006. Plans were being made for DaimlerChrysler’s annual global news conference. This was always held at the company’s Stuttgart, Germany headquarters, but they were going to “trust” us to pull it off at Chrysler Group HQ in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  Two members of the Daimler PR staff flew over to meet with us to start the communications planning. We knew things were off to a bad start when we were told the date chosen was Feb. 14, 2007 and that all communications with the media would be by fax.  One of the announcements planned included plant closings and layoffs. We warned our German counterparts such an announcement on Feb. 14th would lead to headlines blaring, “Valentine’s Day Massacre!”  They were unmoved.  We also explained no one used fax machines anymore, but they remained steadfast insisting that’s how they did it in Germany. We suggested the use of fax machines was effective in guaranteeing no one would show up.  Tough scheiss.

Planning went along and on the appointed day I showed up at 4 a.m. to help direct the broadcast satellite and microwave trucks where to park and to help the crews set up.  The first truck had barely arrived when I got a call from a reporter who could barely contain himself as he asked, “Hey! What’s going on. German publication Handelsblatt just reported they’re gonna announce they’re selling you guys off. Comment?”  I was totally blindsided. We had heard not a word. I called my boss who at first stammered then promised some sort of statement shortly. It was not shortly. By then my phone was ringing off the hook asking about the Handlesblatt report. When I finally received the statement it was a non-committal corporate collection of words that didn’t completely spill the beans, but didn’t deny the reports. Things quickly got out of control. Now we had two disasters. An impending announcement of plant closings and layoff AND, with regard to the possible offloading of Chrysler, in the eventual words of DCX Chairman and CEO Dieter Zetsche, “all options are open.” Easily decipherable code for, “we’re ditching the Americans. Divorce is in the air.”  Yes, it was a Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Ironically, only a few weeks prior, the company decided we Americans should learn to speak German and contracted with a local outfit to hold classes in our offices. After being told the marriage was headed for splittsville we all declared, “aufwiedersehen!” to the classes. When the poor teacher showed up to find an empty room, one of us gently informed him of the news and our last German lesson was how to say “that sucks.”

Truthfully, we were relieved knowing within some period of time we’d be out from under the thumbs of the German management, but would miss many of our German colleagues who became good friends.  We had no idea our new owners, Cerberus, would be an even bigger disaster.

 

 

 

Draft Day on Wall Street

nfl-draft-2017-042717-getty-ftrjpg_1erpre7c3321j1ilnqq6rs44tb phone’s been driving me crazy all weekend. Every few minutes the damn thing’s been binging with updates from the NFL draft. They scream stuff like, “Detroit picks Louie Schmeckingford of Dreck Tech as Left Nipple!” I’m happy for Mr. Schmeckingford for landing a job but truly, I don’t care. Then…bing, bing bing, bing!  “The 49ers choose Dick Wad in the fourth round as backup waterboy!” Swell. I open the story to learn that Sir Wad distinguished himself in the Big Billion Conference by breaking all sorts of speed records for water procurement for sweaty slabs of two-legged beef.

I get it. Among fans and Fantasy Football geeks, the draft is almost as important as the the day they had their overbite corrected.

Then I got to thinking that maybe I’m the one who has it all wrong. What’s the draft anyway, but companies flush with money, choosing young people to join their ranks in hopes of furthering their success.

How ingenious! Why is this process limited to sports teams? It seems like a draft is a perfect way to bolster any team.

I see it now. CNBC pre-empts regular programming for the First Corporate Talent Pool Draft.

joe-kernen-2“Hi, this is Joe Kernan with Becky Quick.  Business services firm KPMG has the first pick, earned via a trade with Pricewatershouse Cooper for two insider trading secrets.”

“Joe, KPMG has their eye on Barlow Biteme, who graduated first in his accounting class   and won acclaim for his thesis, “Don’t Jump Off the Ledger.”   quick

“Right Becky. But to land him, they’ll have to cough up a huge signing bonus, a corner office and free tanning sessions just ahead of the ‘season’ in the Hamptons.”

“Who wouldn’t pay that, Joe, for a guy who not only crunches numbers, but absolutely chews them up and spits them out just the way the CEO imagined them.”

“So true, Becky! One story going around has Biteme cooking the books so well at his college fraternity, his brothers nicknamed him ‘The Chef!’ No doubt, KPMG can’t wait to serve the SEC what Biteme whips up.”

“Right, Joe! Let’s move on to the second pick. That’s comes from Deloitte.Touche.”

“Well, Becky, those pencil pushers are counting on landing Flo Nase from Wharton.”

“For sure, Joe. She’s was known there as “The Eraser.” In fact, Nase is so adept at making poor performance metrics go away, her Theory of Imaginary Computation won the top prize at this year’s Conference of Complicits.”

“Ha! That’s amazing Becky! One source tells me one of Nase’s favorite funnies is the way she plays dumb when someone challenges one of her audits by exclaiming, ‘audit? Oh..dat!”

“No wonder she’s a top pick, Joe!”

“Indeed, Becky! Don’t you just love this? Folks, we’ll be back with second round picks in a moment, after this word from upstart Wall Street brokers Questionable Quotes.”