Being semi-retired, my attendance in the office is only semi-regular. That means I can only stand..or sit..guard over my workspace semi-regularly. So I was only mildly surprised, but thoroughly disappointed when I showed up the other day after a few days away to find my chair in two pieces, on the floor with two screws sitting on my desk. No explanation until my boss happened by and I pointed to the wreckage while giving him a questioning look. He kinda laughed as he explained the person who sits across the aisle from me had a “chair emergency” while I was gone and grabbed my chair. That meant the carnage on the floor was actually her chair and not mine. My chair was under her butt.
After an embarrassed apology my chair was returned and the victim of the “chair emergency” got a spare chair from some other office.
It all got me thinking not only about how important our office furniture is to us but how it can also be used as just another form of bullshit one-upsmanship.
Cases in point.
At a former employer..a large corporation…office furniture was doled out according to your “band” or pay level. A vice president or above got a big office with a defined furniture formula of a walnut partner desk, meeting table with four chairs and a credenza for displaying photos, awards and free shit from media events.
The formula cascaded down quickly to a counter with 6 drawers and a meeting table all the way down to a cube with two file cabinets, a counter and a trash can. Actually, that’s about as much space as most anyone needs to do most jobs. When I was promoted to a glass office with 6 overhead bins and nine drawers I just dumped crap in them that I didn’t want to take home. I did use two drawers for files and another for my lunch.
One day things suddenly changed. A co-worker decided she needed to stand while she worked and got the office manager to order one of those Varidesks. Maybe you’ve seen them. You plop it on your real desk then raise or lower it to a comfortable level. Pretty cool. The cheapest one is about 400 bucks. After a few weeks it looked like Varidesks were growing wild. They started popping up all over the office. Short people, tall people, busy people, people who didn’t do 3 minutes of work a day all decided they would be more productive if they could just have the option to stand while they surfed Zappos for shoes, played Solitaire or screwed off on the boss’s dime in any number of ways. At one point I could hear at least one standee emulate Mr. Ed because she was sleeping standing up and snoring like an old nag.
I couldn’t help inquiring of the office manager while the company was spending all this money on stand-up desks when budgets were otherwise tight. She didn’t want to tell me at first but finally admitted that once the first person asked for one others became jealous that a co-worker got something new and they wanted one too…even if there was no physical reason for working standing up. In fact….it wasn’t long before some of the me-too standees realized they couldn’t stand standing and ordered high stools so they could sit at their standups. I don’t have to tell you once the first stool arrived, more were demanded because why shouldn’t they have what someone else has..even if it’s malaria.
As time went on, I noticed many of those who had stamped their feet for a standup desk caught wind of the “vari” part of the Varidesk and began using its various settings to gradually lower the desk until, after a week or so, the standup desk was simply sitting on top of the sit-at desk and the high stools were shunted into a corner and used as coat racks or just another surface to stack crap. This left the original Varidesk requestor feeling mighty lonely because she really needed to stand to help ameliorate a painful back condition. I had to ask her how she felt about the jealous copycats demanding, then abandoning their Varidesks. Well…she said. It was satisfying that as the one person who actually needed it.. she was the last one standing.
Now I work mainly from home. My wife and I each have our offices..and our own chairs. Invoking the crazy guy in the movie Stripes, we always joke with each other, “you touch my chair…I kill ya.”
The slight elderly woman was bent over a magazine propped up on the stand attached to the stair-stepper machine. Slowly, slowly, she depressed on the pedal, stopped, read a line or two from an article, then took another step with the opposite foot.
She was in the middle of this routine when I arrived at the storefront fitness place I joined in January to rehab my left knee, which underwent surgery in December to repair a torn cartilage I suffered playing ice hockey into my mid-60’s.
I mounted the elliptical and began my program. She was three machines to my right. I cranked up the Tom Petty concert playing in my ear buds and entered the trance one enters when doing mindless, repetitive exercise. But the spell was broken when I found myself looking over to see if the stair-stepping senior was OK. Oh, she was. Where at first glance the poor woman looked like she was in pain, a closer examination revealed a small smile. I’m not sure what made her happier. The workout or the article on Reese Witherspoon’s cupcake preferences. I know what I’d choose.
My time on the elliptical complete, I moved on to the leg press machine where a grey-haired gentleman had just finished his routine. He paused to watch me start and, I’m guessing, to see if I added any weight beyond the 10 pounds he had locked in. Well, yes, I did add another 40 pounds, and he left with a wistful look as if to say to himself, “I’ll get there too.”
From there it was on to another machine I can’t name, but it’s supposed to help you strengthen your chest and upper arm muscles. A serious-looking fellow dressed in a faded golf shirt, work pants and brown walking shoes got on an adjacent piece of apparatus, took a bit of a breath, and slowly worked on completing some leg curls.
To be surrounded by seniors, like me, just trying to fight off Father Time, attenuate whatever aches and pains might wrack our aging bodies, perhaps boost the flow of serotonin to our brains, is most inspiring and comforting.
None of us wear designer workout togs, worry about our hair or makeup or pose for the benefit of, really, no one. Sure, there are always a few of “those” at the gym, but this is a cut-rate joint in a strip mall, making it affordable for us retirees and absent the attitude at flashier and more expensive fitness centers.
I complete my workout and as I start to walk towards the door I see my stair-stepping friend still at it. Slowly, slowly, slowly on her virtual climb, head still bent over that magazine. Still smiling. Me too.
Too busy to read? Link to podcast at the end of this post
It’s like this. I’ve got a stack of matzo, wine glasses, six colored eggs and a bunny on my dining room table. Add a Hagaddah and a hymnal and the picture of our ecclesiastical schizophrenia is complete. It’s a condition my daughter aptly named EastOver–that confluence of Easter and Passover where it’s OK to eat Peeps but not bread. That’s our family. As Marisa Tomei memorably squawked in “My Cousin Vinny,” “like you blend!” We do.
Most years each holiday gets its own due. Typically Passover starts before Easter and we do the traditional seder. My Episcopalian wife makes her sublime matzoball soup..a fact that royally ticked off my late, Jewish, mother who demanded her secret. “Just follow the directions on the box,” my wife deadpanned. I always feared that once Protestants figured this out, beyond my kitchen, they would co-opt the dish, the holiday and take credit for conjuring up the potent agent of constipation.
I always enjoyed the seder, even when I was very young and Passover tradition was held at my maternal grandparent’s apartment in Flatbush. My grandmother Perlberg was calm and gracious and made these killer french fries in the oven that were joyously greasy and crunchy. My grandfather insisted on reading the Passover story in Hebrew even though he spoke not a word. Indeed, every passage came out as “zummmmmzummmzummmcha!”” Sometimes he would nod off in the middle of the story which didn’t please us because it only delayed getting to the big meal, which was generally roast turkey and those rock-hard fries. We often were told the Last Supper, noted by Christians was probably what we were served because we were convinced Jesus actually died choking on a hard, greasy fry. The cross thing was just to cover up for the cook.
Which brings us to Easter. My wife has a deft touch when decorating the house for every holiday. For the Resurrection she exhumes a host of colorful, sparkling eggs and they rise to hover over us from various light fixtures. This not only adds the bright hues of Spring and hope to the house, it provides a reminder that between Easter and Passover ….eggs suffer from a high mortality rate.
We always enjoyed creating fun Easter baskets for the kids, stuffing them with toys and candy, which invariably led to the question, “hey mommy and daddy, what’s this stuff have to do with a guy going down then coming back up and what does the word ‘Easter’ mean?” Our explanation centered on the joy of the season and happiness that a very important person got a second chance… and our awesome dental insurance. No, I do not know what the word “Easter” means although I suspect it’s a Welsh interpretation of the word “Cadbury.”
The way we handle the confluence of Easter and Passover pretty much mirrors our even-handed approach to the intersection of Christmas and Chanukah, as I explained in the 2016 post “Holiday Turf War.”
It’s nice to see how our now, adult kids respect the different celebrations and beliefs, while hedging their spiritual bets. After all, you don’t want to put all your eggs.. matzoh or Easter, in one basket.
Back in 5th grade I was cast as the Cowardly Lion in our class’s production of the Wizard of Oz. Not because I was a coward, but because I was brave enough to attempt belting out “If I Only Had the Nerve” in an auditorium packed with my judgmental peers and their parents, who secretly hoped my voice would crack or I’d fall off the stage and smash the piano. Yeah..that’s me in the photo below. First schnook on the right in the first row. Mane made of yarn..tail cobbled together by my Boy Scout brother with rope. The basic outfit was a set of pajamas in my dresser the same color as a bald lion.
Yes, it took some balls, and maybe a dash of rashness, to get up and do that, and the experience stuck with me, because I built my career on a simple willingness to try something new, never fearing failure, because you have nothing to lose by giving something a shot.
Without being too self-serving, most every job that represented some major move for me came as a result of looking for opportunities to grow and succeed. I auditioned for a weekend weather job at a Tucson TV station, never having done a weathercast in my life. Got the job. Took a job producing television newscasts having never produced a newscast, because, what the hell, I could get a six-grand raise. First show? Reagan gets shot. Trial by fire! Yes! It led to getting hired as one of the first producers to launch CNN’s second network, CNN2, now HLN. Oh…took a reporting job at a newspaper having never worked at a newspaper, and was hired to start Chrysler’s first blog, but I’d never blogged. It morphed into a senior management position over the course of almost 11 years.
You get the idea. What I’m leading to is I read all these stories and posts about how to handle job interviews..both as a candidate and as a manager. Oh, there are boilerplate questions such as greatest challenges, strengths, weaknesses, blah, blah. What I never see are questions regarding one’s courage. How willing are you to try something new, break from the mold, take risks, stand up to those who would attempt to drag you into doing the same damn thing, the same damn way.
Those who can convince me they’re fearless…not careless…are the kinds of folks I want on my team. I was blessed with a team at Fiat Chrysler that never once in the ten years we were together said “no” to at least trying a new idea. Some worked, some didn’t but we learned from every experience, sometimes using that knowledge to create something better. Yes, despite significant pushback from some, we brought then-emerging digital communications techniques to the department.
By the same token, if you’re a job candidate, when it’s your turn to ask questions, quiz the interviewer as to the company’s courage..how open it is to new ideas. You don’t want to work somewhere that still believes the best way to communicate is by fax.
How often are we hard-pressed to succeed and put forth new ideas when others attempted to thwart our efforts through their own cowardice and jealousy? Indeed, over the years at many different workplaces, one no doubt encountered co-workers and managers who haven’t had a new idea since deciding to go from white to rye for their daily tuna sandwich.
Cowards are death to any organization that thrives on moving forward, on fostering creativity and bolstering worker morale. Cowards are useless wastes of space and resources and should be swept from the payroll immediately. They will only hold you back and piss you off.
You wanna work for me? Have the skills, experience and work habits the job requires and the courage to challenge every pre-conception and past practice to take the type of chances that will make us winners…together.
Think about it. If the Cowardly Lion was too scared to join Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road to meet Oz, he might never have found the nerve he had in him all along.
No time to read? Check out link to podcast at the end of this post.
In our office today are boxes of doughy, sweet, greasy and goddamit, delicious filling-injected balls of dough called Paczkis..pronounced poonch-kees. That’s Polish, I believe, for “imminent death.” They look like jelly donuts, and many are stuffed with it, along with custard, various fruits and creams, only enhancing their effectiveness as desserts d’demise.
Indeed, inventive purveyors of comestible poison keep coming up with new ways to make paczki’s even more hazardous to one’s longevity. Note..the coney paczki, combining the nutritious elements of a chili dog with the pernicious pastry.
Why so harsh about a tasty treat? Oh, I dunno. Maybe because one of key ingredients is that renowned health food called lard. Perhaps they call it shortening because it shortens your life. The average paczek (the singular form of the word) will caulk your arteries with 11-22 grams of fat and pack 340-500 calories.
It’s all related to Fat Tuesday..the beginning of the Lenten season. The idea, I’m told, was the heavy use of lard is part of the tradition of emptying your cupboards of the stuff by frying up pastry in it.
They make a huge deal of Paczki Day around here. Polish bakeries work around the clock to serve the thousands of people who called in advance orders. Lines form while it’s still dark so folks can pick up their paczkis in time to bring them into work…in an effort to kill their inter-office rivals. It seems no one can resist eating paczkis despite their lethal legacy. I’m guessing more than one victim died with powdered sugar and jelly on his or her smiling lips.
I was brought up in NYC, and lived in Central New York State, Tucson, Arizona and Atlanta, Georgia before moving to the Detroit area in 1989 and Paczkis were available, or even heard of, in exactly none of those locations. Indeed, according to the CIA World Factbook, the average lifespan in New York State is 80.5..or 6th in the nation. Arizona ranks 18 with an average lifespan of 79.6 years. Meanwhile in Michigan, the average time on Earth per person is only 78.2 years..ranked 37th. See the correlation? Oh, Georgia? Well..you’re talking awesome Southern cooking where they fry everything from chicken to Crayolas. Down in Dixie they only live an average of 77.2 years….ranking 43rd. But I will never complain about Southern cuisine.
Since I grew up in a Jewish community, the only thing halfway equivalent was the heavy use of chicken fat. Grandma would toss it in anything “just to add a little flavor” and to elicit loud cries of “feh!” from anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the kitchen.
It’s kind of quiet in the office now and I’ve had my lunch. The fumes from the few remaining paczki have worked their way over to my desk. A nice lemon cream would make a fine complement to the sorry ham sandwich I brought from home. The doc just told me yesterday I need to lose some weight…and I will…but not today. I may not celebrate Fat Tuesday, but it would be wrong not to support my co-workers who do.
Listen to the podcast:
Note: no time to read? Link to podcast below
Here’s a riddle? How many brands does it take to screw up a light bulb? Answer: All of them! Here’s the situation. Tried to buy a light bulb lately? I did and my brain blew. Let me, er, illuminate the issue. Old days: Her: “Hey honey, the bulb in the bathroom blew. I need a 60!”
Him: “Sure. Here ya go.”
Today: Him: “Hey honey, the bulb in the bathroom blew. I need a 60!”
Her: “A 60? What kind? An incandescent, LED, squiggly? And what light temperature? 5000K? 2400K” Daylight? Oh..the squiggly doesn’t tell you the watts, but promises 60 watt ‘equivalent.’ So what’ll it be?”
Him: “Uh, never mind. Seeing is overrated.”
Yeah. Like that. We moved about 7 months ago into a house with about a million lights. Some are in the ceiling, some hanging from the ceiling, some are bulbs, some are floodlights, some are fluorescent and none are the same. Some have standard bases, some have candelabra bases, some look like a grown-up bulb, others are little bitty appliance size. I could fill up a footlocker with every permutation of illumination this house requires.
So we go to the nearest big box discount store to score some squigglies, technically known as CFLs. None. Go to another. None. Go to one leading home improvement store. None. WTF! I thought squigglies were supposed to supplant bulbous bulbs..the ones with filaments that sear your fingers..that incandescents were going to be as dead as Edison. Yet, there they were, looking smug on the shelves where squigglies once sat. An online search then revealed it’s lights out for squigglies because they contain mercury, which can kill you, so bulby-bulbs ain’t dead yet. BUT..they’re losing ground to bulby-looking LED bulbs which are supposed to last like a million years and burn cooler, making them better than incandescents, except a dozen of them cost the same as the monthly power bill for all of Akron.
We finally found some squigglies at another home improvement store and thought we were good until, wonder of wonders, all the squigglies available were 2400K and not the 5000K we required.
At this point I’m tempted to boycott bulbs completely and head to Yankee Candle where I can stock up on a couple of cases of Marshmallow Vanilla Madness tapers and pillars and go completely “Little House on the Prairie.” Maybe if enough people did that a bulb would go off in the heads of the manufacturers on how to go back to one standard. For godsakes…make it easier for us humans..to replace our lumens!
It wasn’t the lead story in any newscast, or even an item, but in case you missed it, this week marked the 50th anniversary of the first ATM. Can you imagine a time you couldn’t drive, or walk up to a financial R2-D2 to grab some cash for the weekend…when people actually used folding money?
The occasion sparks one of those memories that helps you remind yourself that you, indeed, paid your professional dues on the way. It was in 1974. I worked at WMBO-AM in Auburn, N.Y., about 25 miles west of Syracuse. Auburn was a town back then of about 35,000 people and home to a giant state prison known as the joint where inmates pounded out the Empire State’s first license plates. It was also a rough place. The prison was so close to the station that when I told a crappy joke on my morning drive time show, which I did often, you could hear the guys inside yell, “you suck!” Nice to be recognized.
One way the station made some money was by selling what they’d call a “program length” commercial…basically a remote, hawking a store or a product. I did one for three hours once at Rondina’s furniture store promoting an upright vacuum cleaner with a bag that looked like a pair of denim jeans.
One this cold day, the Marine Midland Bank coughed up a few grand to have me do my show outside next to its newfangled contraption that would allow customers to drive up and do their banking with no human interaction. The name ATM hadn’t yet come into use. They just called it an “automated teller.” For three hours I stood in the freezing cold yapping about the thing that would not yap back, accosting drivers who stopped to struggle with the new technology. When I attempted to stick my mic in their cars asking them how they enjoyed the new experience, some gave cogent answers, others believed they were being robbed of the cash they just received from what some called “that goddamned money vending machine.” Luckily, no weapons were drawn, or fired, although I had to jump out of the way several times to avoid being run over. Perhaps the most harm I suffered was breathing in carbon monoxide for three hours, which provided me some insight as to the life of a New York State Thruway toll taker. Since there was no delay, whatever the folks said was aired, thus giving the nice people at Marine Midland some rather unfiltered feedback as to their new gizmo.
Fast forward to 1987 when I was employed as a correspondent with CNN. I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina to catch up on how some folks from Vietnam were settling in to their new lives in the U.S. We followed a gentleman to the bank where a volunteer was demonstrating to him how to use an ATM to make a deposit. You could tell that between the language barrier and the unfamiliar technology this would take some time. Indeed, he filled out the deposit slip and placed it, and a check into the envelope provided. The volunteer then instructed him to slip the envelope into the slot. He gave her a very skeptical look, then did as he was advised. Sure enough he placed the envelope in the slot where it quickly disappeared from sight. The poor man’s face turned red, his lips quivered and I detected a tear from one eye as he turned to the volunteer and quietly pleaded, “where my money go?” Fifty years later, we’re all asking the same question.
After another successful trip to our nearby Ikea store, it’s occurred to me foolishness like the federal government shutdown and other such obstacles could easily be avoided by following adopting the Swedish furniture chain’s model. The main feature being, its instructions for assembling Ikea furniture use no words, and one must concede, words are what stand in the way of progress.
Imagine, by following simple wordless instructions, proper use of the (included) hex wrench and fasteners and a little patience, all sorts of legislation could be cobbled together with time left over to enjoy a plate of tasty Swedish meatballs.
Eliminating words, and by extension, conversation and testy debate, cuts right to the chase. The only goal is completing the project with a minimum of wasted time and effort, and, yes, words… whether it be legislation, treaties, or screwing the taxpayers.
The Ikea model is entirely transferrable to the business place by instructing both management and labor on the otherwise indecipherable intricacies of navigating corporate culture.
The beauty of Ikea’s simply drawn instruction sheets is they leave no room for interpretation or improvisation. Step 2 just ain’t gonna work without completing Step 1 exactly. The requirement to adhere to such a cut and dry process would surely relieve members of Congress of the need to espouse their moronic prejudices on the way to preventing sensible action.
You may notice Ikea does toss a lifeline to those who find following illustrations just too challenging…by including one last drawing advising the terminally perplexed to actually call someone for help. I would imagine the person on the other end of the line would be a Swede with a Scandinavian’s penchant for never uttering more than 1.3 words at a time.
Perplexed customer: “Ikea, I can’t figure out how to put together my bookcase. Help!”
Ikea Swede: “Surrre you can. Goodbye.”
That’s just the kind of assistance members of Congress could use..a Government Swede who refuses to allow them to kick their responsibilities down the road.
Perplexed Member of Congress: “Government Swede..I’m having trouble with Step 4 in the Preventing a Government Shutdown instructions.”
Government Swede: “Just stop talking. Goodbye.”
As one who always practices what I preach, I’ve installed the Ikea Way here at home. Indeed, when I first suggested it, my family approached it with enthusiasm..quickly drawing an Ikea-like instruction sheet, guiding me through the three steps… of pulling my head out of my butt…and not a word was spoken! Try it!
I’m a little out of sorts today. My family thinks I’ve actually descended into a deep cognitive hole. Here’s what’s going on. Early this morning I got out of bed, put on business clothes and really ugly, but comfortable shoes. In the dark I rummaged for a lanyard with some sort of badge attached that might have my name on it. I found one from 1998. Sure, why not. My name hasn’t changed although I’ve changed jobs four times since then. Who cares?
I slipped the lanyard over my head, got in my car and looked for a gathering of similarly dressed humans. I found them at a nearby Tim Hortons, although I didn’t know that’s where I was. Thinking otherwise, I held out the canvas shopping bag I toted and gamely asked the person behind the counter if they were giving out free lattes and danish, and maybe a press kit. Some sort of swag might be fun too. A tchochke I could later sell on eBay. Also…did she know where the free lunch was. I then started averting my eyes to the barista’s midsection. No, I wasn’t looking at that. I was searching for her badge because her name escaped me. Fact is, I never knew it. The bewildered young lady didn’t call the cops but the muscular manager gently led me to the door, quietly suggesting I was either lost…or deranged. Oh no…I protested. I’m at work. Right? Uh, no. The manager, being proactive, directed me to the Urgent Care Clinic across the street.
The on-duty shrink, Dr. Fucocktah, sat me down, asked pointed questions, some of which revealed I’m a long-time auto writer. I then went on to tell my story thusly.
My recent knee surgery is preventing me from covering the show for the first time since 1990 in the waning years of the last century. I begrudgingly gave up my credentials, thus breaking my 37 year string. My employer assigned them to someone else, which is like someone simply handing over your soul..or MoviePass. Some kid..by that I mean someone under 60, would use my badge to snag all the free cappuccinos, tote bags, finger sandwiches, pastries and dust-collecting swag I was totally entitled to. Cars? LOL! The stories have long been written before the show courtesy embargoed info provided by the automakers weeks in advance. The media preview days exist for grabbing an auto company bigwig for an interview in hopes of breaking a story, networking for your next job, catching up with old friends..in hopes they can help you get your next job and always, always, always, free stuff.
Without being there I would be confined to home, following coverage online and pining over the Maserati-shaped lasagna I’d be missing, along with the swell BMW backpacks stuffed with releases I’d never read. Doesn’t matter. It’s free. You just want it. But now I am bereft without my annual ordeal of attempting to find a parking space within seven miles of Cobo, breathing in the luscious propane fumes spewing from the forklifts whizzing down the aisles, playing chicken with photographers trying to get their shots.
I will miss the mind-numbing roundtables and endless scrums where, as a short guy, get a spectacular view of my competition’s asses.
But it’s what I do, and have done for so many years. Second, third week of January each year, it’s where I am. Doesn’t matter where I’ve worked, CNN, AP, Detroit News, FCA, Automotive News..I have my badge, my comfy shoes and 90 pound bag with my laptop and other reporting stuff. I’m ready to do battle…and win. It’s show time but not this time for this lame-kneed scribe.
He quickly diagnosed my malady.
“You, my pathetic patient, are suffering from a common condition we call COBO-NO-GO,” he pronounced. “It’s occurs when veteran auto writers, for one reason or another, aren’t able to cover the Detroit Auto Show but blindly go through the motions anyway. There’s no known cure.”
I know. I thanked him…and asked if he could set me up with a free espresso. He couldn’t…but handed me an attractive tote bag. It’s a first step.
Until next year.
A little fun with our favorite feudin’ world leaders on their nuclear buttons.