Monday, September 23, 2013

Hungry?

My grandmother used to hang out with the rest of us. When she was home, she usually sat with my mother, talking, drinking and smoking. She worked as a front desk clerk at my dad’s motel. Sometimes she brought home kids' magazines or books from the lobby. She let me make her drinks, holding a finger up to the glass to show me how much vodka and how much orange juice to add.

After my dad died, the hotel was sold. She never got another job and started spending more time in her room. She liked watching All in the Family and Benny Hill, or reading biographies (she didn’t care for fiction).

Eventually, she stopped joining us for meals. She drank more. She started calling a cab to take her to the liquor store when my mother wasn’t home (my grandmother did not drive). Then she’d disappear back into her room. Eventually she started paying the cab drivers to go to the liquor store for her. She stopped bothering with the orange juice.

She became very angry at us. She spent more and more time in her room until the only time we saw her was when she crept quietly down the hall to the hallway door. She would stand there in the doorway and stare at whoever had the misfortune to be in the living room at the time until she'd been noticed. Then she’d sneer, raise her chin as though rising above some great injustice, and walk back to her room. She would mumble something followed by “you,” as she made her exit. Once in a while, you could make out the word “rotter” (she was British). One time, she even hissed. 

The worst was when you were sitting with your back to the hallway door. Then, when you did eventually notice her, you would have no way of knowing how long she’d been there.

The last time I remember her trying to be part of the family, she had made me and my brothers breakfast. It was unnerving. We hardly ever saw her anymore, and when we did she sneered at us. But she was being friendly so we politely took the scrambled eggs she’d made and sat down to eat them. When I was finished, I walked past the stove to put my plate in the sink and saw the pan and utensil she had used to cook the eggs. It was the scoop from the cat’s litter box.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Conversating with Marco

“What, am I supposed to buy you something?” Marco said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “No!” Amy responded, no longer whispering. “Then what are you telling me for?” Marco continued, as he pulled out another staple. Amy let out a ragged, exasperated breath and said, “I’m conversating with you!”

Marco was as tall and dark and handsome as it was possible for a mortal to be. He had been in the military and gave off the kind of masculine energy that makes women want to put on heels and bake just to restore balance to the universe. The fun thing about Marco was that, if you did put on heels and bake he’d say, “Why are you wearing heels just to bake?” Followed by, “I’ve never seen you bake before. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

I would be very interested to see the person who eventually gets Marco’s attention, because I’ve never seen a man so completely immune to the usual tactics. Aside from Amy, there was Vivian, who only lost interest when Marco berated her after she said she didn’t intend to train her new puppy. Then there was Cassie, who was so gorgeous I wanted to take her out. Cassie managed a few friendly conversations with Marco, but then nothing. Marco’s disinterest baffled everybody, especially Cassie. Then there was Kimberly, who actually worried me when she managed to get the station next to Marco’s. I swear the girl barely breathed, so focused was she on watching Marco out of the corner of her eye. She never got much more than pleasantries. The man was particular.

Marco once asked me, point blank and out of the blue, how I knew that my husband was the guy I was going to marry. I told him about how, when my now husband came to my house for our first date, I had reacted to the sight of him when I opened the door. I had felt this wave of happy familiarity, as though he were a very old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, and hadn’t realized how much I missed until that moment. Marco listened carefully and then said, “Thank you for telling me that.”

Marco was one of the original staple people. He looked like he should have been in charge of something serious and important. He looked like that man you want to see step out of a crowd when something frightening has happened. He looked like someone you could trust and follow. What he was was a young man who had returned home from a stint in the military and taken a job pulling out staples because he honestly didn’t want to do anything more challenging than that.

When I first got to know him, it bothered me to no end that he didn’t have a better job. Every time I heard of something better I thought he could do, I mentioned it to him. After three or four “no thanks” responses, I slowly started to put together that he really just needed to pull out staples, at least for now.

There was often a lot of drama in the staple pit, but Marco wanted none of it. The only time I ever saw him get a little upset was when we had just started prepping a new set of files. There was some subset of each file that needed to be treated with particular care. A couple of complete rubes from another division were having a conversation in the staple pit about how to make sure the staple people didn’t accidentally mix the subset in with the wrong stuff. “We could have them just staple these sections as they go…” one said.

When the other rube did not say, “That’s a TERRIBLE idea. These people spend the entire day TAKING OUT STAPLES!” Marco got a bit agitated. He spun around from his station to face the rubes, leaned forward and said, “ARE YOU KIDDING?” If I haven’t already made it clear, Marco was an imposing and impressive figure. The rubes decided, wisely, to figure something else out.

In spite of his disposition, Marco wasn’t always so serious. Once, as he walked back into the staple pit after lunch, someone commented on his demeanor, “Why so serious Marco? Relax already.” 

“I just ate lunch,” Marco responded. “You don’t want me to relax.”



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Does the Dog Die?

We were only a few minutes into the movie and I already had my thumbs in my ears and the rest of my fingers pressed over my eyes. I hear my husband’s muffled voice say, “he’s ok.” I take my hands from my face. “This might not work, huh,” he said mostly to himself. “Can you ask the internet?” I offered. “I just need to know if they’re going to kill him because if they are, I’d rather watch something else.” 

We were watching the movie Mama. “He” was a little brown dachshund who appeared to have signed up to die at the hands of a messed up, feral little girl.

I’m a little funny about animals. And kids and babies, but film and TV producers seem to understand that most audiences don’t want to see children hurt. They are completely oblivious to my sensitivity about animals. To be fair, I am an extreme example. I get agitated when I see people practically strangling their dogs because they didn’t train them to walk politely on leash. Not that my dog is going to win any etiquette awards any time soon, but I have accepted defeat and walk her with a harness. 

I can’t watch Ben Stiller movies because the guy thinks it’s hilarious to throw small animals out of windows. I did not enjoy Life of Pi because right off the bat they drowned a whole goddamned zoo. Then I spent the rest of the movie worried about the tiger. I used to be able to reassure myself whenever I sensed an animal was going to be hurt by saying something like, “Wow, that dachshund is a really good actor. What a convincing death scene. If there were doggie oscars, he should totally get a nod.” But that trick stopped working a few years ago.

I wasn’t always this sensitive, and I’m not this way about lots of other things. I’m ok with tough guys beating the snot out of bad guys who’ve got it coming. I still might cover my eyes, but I won’t be upset by it. But it’s something entirely different with animals. The muscle in the middle of my shoulder blades knots up and gets cold and I feel an almost unbearable urge to run. Like if I can get out of the room fast enough and start a load of laundry or something, I can get the bad images/feelings out of my head.

It’s isolating, like sitting in the middle of a sea of Ben Stiller fans and being the only one who isn’t laughing. And it sucks for my husband, who will watch anything. I need entertainment that has been vetted for things I find potentially upsetting. It’s ridiculous.

“You are not going to believe this,” husband says, his smile lit by the glow of the laptop. “What, he lives?” I respond hopefully. “Yes, but that’s not the unbelievable part. I just googled ‘Mama’ and ‘does the dog die’ and I got this.” He turned the screen toward me. 

There is a website called “Does the Dog Die” that offers very brief summaries for movies where it looks like an animal might get hurt. They put little happy/sad/very sad cartoon dog faces next to each movie they have reviewed indicating whether any pets die, or get injured, or are all happy and fine. There was Mama, right next to a happy dog face.

I cannot explain how happy that site made me, not just because they answered my question and the answer was the best one (happy dog face) but because they made me feel less crazy. Someone (maybe even several someones) out there thinks this is important enough to make a really helpful website for me (actually, the husband) to find. I am so grateful.

I honestly don’t remember the last time I relaxed and enjoyed a movie the way I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of Mama, and I’m not even convinced it’s that great a movie.



Monday, September 16, 2013

Problems with Doris

Doris’s cube was spectacular. It was completely full of stuff except for a short, twisted path to her chair. There was work stuff, and art supplies (she made beautiful little cards), and then completely random household crap that was just inexplicably there. She had been reprimanded once by the fire marshall for stacking things in her cube so high they had become a hazard.

The project Doris spent all her time on boiled down to printing and mailing surveys, answering phone calls about them, and then entering the data from the completed surveys into our computer system. The work was perfectly suited to clerical, except Doris didn’t work in clerical. She was supposed to be doing completely different stuff. 

My task was to wrest the project from Doris’s hands, and then sort it out so that anyone in clerical could do it. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds. Doris had spent decades building the project into a Rube Goldberg masterpiece and lobbying management to hire a team whose sole purpose would be to work on it. The project was as disorganized and dysfunctional as her cube. 

One day, while I was prying another piece of the project from Doris’s fingers, I asked her about a large stack of data entry labeled “problems.” She hemmed and hawed and then quietly tried to explain to me that these were put aside by Taylor. 

Taylor was a mid-level clerk who routinely took on extra projects in addition to her own work because she absolutely could not stand to be idle. She regularly blew through huge stacks of data entry for Doris’s project. I had worked with Taylor once or twice before. The only thing that confused me about Taylor was that she was not working a few miles away in Palo Alto and daydreaming about how big a yacht to buy once her options vested.

Doris explained that she spent several hours every day addressing the stack of “problems” because Taylor didn’t know (and couldn’t be expected to know) some details relating to the project. Instead of just filling Taylor in on these great mysteries, Doris had instructed her to circle what she didn’t know and write the word “problem” at the top of the page. Doris would enter the data from these surveys herself.

“I also spot-check the rest of the data entry that Taylor does,” Doris added, “and she does a very good job.” 

In the few short years I’d been working in that office, I had met quite a few people. Taylor was easily one of the sharpest people there. I flipped through the stack of “problems.” None of it was remotely beyond Taylor, or anyone else in clerical. I figured a ten-minute conversation with Taylor would likely be all it took to make all these problems go away.

So once I had all the pieces of the project in my possession, I went about un-mousetrapping things. I spoke with Taylor about the “problem” surveys and filled her in on the great mysteries that Doris apparently believed were too complex for Taylor to grasp (or maybe this was just another way for Doris to keep control of her project - who knows). 

I didn’t even need all ten minutes for my conversation with Taylor. With the problems now deciphered, it barely took her longer to enter the data from one of the surveys than it did to stop and write the word “problem” on it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

My Avatar is Younger and Hotter than Me

I found a site I am kind of excited about (yeahwrite.me). It’s a place where bloggers can get their stuff read without spamming facebook friends, burdening spouses or other relatives, or otherwise behaving in ways that make me feel beggy. I put up a post a while back and held my breath. 

It was wonderful. Lots of people read my post, way more than ever before, and some even left kind comments. It’s a contest, and I did not win, but it was really fun. I put up another post for the weekend not-competition. Also fun. The only thing was I needed an avatar. There aren't lots of pictures on my blog. I don’t even have an about page yet.

I do have a very cool picture of one of my cats yawning that I took with a phone about five years ago. I thought it was lost (it was two phones ago), but my husband was able to find it in some dusty old computer file. Anyway, I have been using it as an avatar when an avatar is required. So I used it at yeah write. Of course, I goofed up when I submitted my first post and my cat appears to be destined to spend however long they keep that post up yawning sideways.

I did better with the second post. At least the cat is the right side up. Then I poked around the site some and read that posts with people faces for avatars tend to get read more. I decided I needed a people face. I had my husband take a bunch of pics of me and downloaded free trials of Photoshop and Illustrator. I wanted the avatar to look like me, but not exactly like me because my blog is anonymous. After much frustration, I had an avatar that looked too much like me, and another that looked completely scary.

I decided I might prefer a cartoon avatar like some of the ladies on yeah write have. I found a website where you can make an avatar using the features available on the site. The thing is, very little is exactly right. Like for hair color, they did not have brown with huge amounts of white (my grey is white) on top. Nor did they have white with splotches of residual brown underneath and at the front.

Also, you can add wrinkles to your poor little avatar’s face, but they are a little unfair. I have wrinkles, but they don’t make me as sad as the ones on my avatar. I deleted them. When I was done, I used Illustrator to draw some dark brown into all that white hair. 

I got the eye color right, and the t-shirt, but the end result was younger and hotter than I am. She doesn’t break out, or get puffy, and no one will ever accuse her of being courageous for choosing not to dye all that grey. I’m not sure I like her.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hamburger Hamlet

I decided on the bleu cheese burger and put down the menu. She was still staring at me. She was very old, wearing bright red lipstick, sitting at a table several yards away. With her was a man who might have been her son. Between them was some kind of medical equipment mounted to a trolley - maybe an oxygen tank? She had been staring at me, and then my boyfriend, and now again at me, since we had arrived. 

We were a ridiculous couple, completely obsessed with each other. If he was near me, he was holding my hand. If his hands were busy, I was touching his arm. Just the smell of him made me feel calm, relaxed and happy. On our second date, as we walked along the Venice Beach boardwalk, I couldn’t sort out how to puzzle my arm around his back while his arm searched for a comfortable place across my shoulders. “We don’t quite fit,” I mumbled after my third attempt. “Yes we do,” he answered, and that was all there was to it.

He had his back to the old woman. I whispered to him, “There’s an old lady staring at us.” He casually looked around the restaurant, spotted the woman and looked back to me. “That’s some serious lipstick,” he commented. “She might have been a movie star in the 30s,” I whispered.

This was completely possible. I saw the occasional article in the paper whenever one of these aging stars expired. It was incomprehensible to me at first, stars getting old, living in assisted living homes like mere mortals.

I glanced over at her, looking for clues as to who she might be. Had she been in a movie with Clark Gable? Danced with Fred Astaire? I returned her smile. She didn’t even blink, just continued to stare, smiling at me. She was somewhere else, long ago, on a date with someone she was completely obsessed with. Did they go out for burgers and fries? Did he drape his arm around her shoulders, as she pressed her face into his neck and breathed him in? Did he hold her hand and go home with that bright red lipstick on his collar?

But there had been a war. Perhaps he’d had to leave her to go fight. Maybe he had been a pilot. Had he had her picture painted on the side of a plane? Did women across the globe bat their eyes at him, until they caught sight of that plane and that lipstick and said, “Oh, forget it.” 

Did he come back?


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Honey Badger

I was running into storage problems. I now had a couple of large stacks of pre-printed barcode sheets and nowhere to put more. I identified some shelves in the staple pit and asked the head of the division, when he poked his head in one day, if I could relocate some things from those shelves so that I could use them for barcode sheets. He said sure. So I did. Turns out, the things I moved were not as abandoned as they looked.

The next morning, the one phone in the staple pit rang. No one ever used it, so when it rang it made me jump, which in turn startled a couple of other staple people who weren’t quite awake yet. I picked it up and held the receiver as though it were a feral cat. It was Eddie, calling from about nine feet away in his cubicle outside the staple pit. Apparently I had really pissed off a girl in clerical by moving her stuff. Not to worry, because Eddie had taken the blame for me, but I needed to move the stuff back pronto.

I told Eddie that he had better clear things up with her about who was responsible, because it was me and I wasn’t interested in giving up those shelves. If she still had a problem she needed to go see the head of the division, because that’s the guy who ok’d it. 

I am not confrontational by nature, and I’m pretty sure that chick from clerical would have kicked my ass in high school, but I can go completely honey-badger when I’ve got a project I’m excited about, and I was excited. Many of the staple people had caught up to the pre-printed barcode sheets, and there was every indication that the new system was working beautifully. 

A little while later, the head of the division came by and asked me to come with him. He showed me an empty cube outside the staple pit and told me it was all mine to fill up with barcode sheets (but I would need to give up the shelves in the staple pit). I went back to the staple pit and put back the angry girl’s stuff, then went back to my new cube to clean, because this honey badger hates dirt.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An Embarrassment of Barcodes

Erin was faced with something of a dilemma. Because she had taken the three-inch stack of pre-printed barcode sheets in such a public display of awesome, she couldn’t really give some back without admitting she hadn’t quite thought things through.

You see, the barcode sheets corresponded to actual physical files. Depending on the type of files, a three-inch stack of barcode sheets might have been three shelves full of files, or (more likely) ten. In this particular instance, it was closer to ten. It didn’t really matter. Erin was not required to go retrieve all the files immediately and keep them at her station, but the staple people had always kept any files they were working on at their stations before, so that’s what she tried to do. The problem was, Erin had claimed enough work to keep five staple people busy for a week.

Erin’s station was consumed by the files. They leaned in impressive stacks against the wall under and on her table. Others were stacked less-securely against the table’s legs or crammed into boxes on either side of her. Smaller stacks had been arranged on the table’s top so they could function as the work surface they had engulfed. A small hollow had been carved into the front of this file-mountain, and this is where Erin sat, like a spectacular still-shot from an episode of Hoarders.

Not one person suggested to Erin that maybe she’d taken on a little too much, and after several weeks, her station started to look like everyone else’s again. In the meantime, she bragged about how cool it was not having to request barcode sheets. If she didn’t occasionally have to get up to get coffee, go to the bathroom or smoke, she wouldn’t have to leave her station at all!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Not Even with a Stick!

One afternoon, Eddie came by the staple pit looking really upset about something. I asked if everything was ok. He said he’d just been through sensitivity training. Because Eddie was a supervisor, he had to go to special editions of these classes tailored for people in positions of authority.

“You wouldn’t believe all the stuff I’m not supposed to do,” he told me, looking so freaked out I was willing to bet he was guilty of at least a few things he hadn’t known were guilt-worthy. “Like, I’m not supposed to touch you,” he said. I was completely on board with that, so I said, “Yeah,” as in “What’s wrong with that? And by the way, don’t touch me.”

“No, I mean, I’m not supposed to touch you AT ALL EVER,” he said. So I say, “Oh, you mean you can’t even shake my hand?” “Right!” he answered. “I can’t even do that, but it’s worse than that,” he added, struggling to find an example to illustrate how much he was not supposed to touch me. “It’s like… it’s like…” he kept trying, “like…” and then he found the words, “I can’t touch you at all. Not even with a stick!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Must. Print. Barcodes.

I was creating kind of a spectacle with the printer. It was a smaller model designed to serve a dozen or so people who used it lightly. I was running it non-stop pretty much from the minute I got in in the morning. After a few weeks, the printer started to rebel. It would jam frequently and make terrible noises. I became very skilled at convincing it to keep printing. 

The ink was a problem too. Getting replacement cartridges was a hassle because I had to go through Eddie. With Eddie, everything was a personal favor. I had no patience for him. I would tell him I needed ink a little before I really needed it. This allowed time for him to jerk me around for a while before actually producing the ink. By the time the ink arrived, I was usually just about out. Meanwhile, when the cartridges got low, I would take them out of the printer and bang them on the floor. This usually allowed me to get another stack or two of barcode sheets out of them. 

I would repeat the process until no amount of banging would produce another barcode sheet. If I had been one of the other staple people, I would have been going crazy with all the random banging. Lucky for me, none of them seemed particularly sensitive to noise, maybe because everyone was usually wearing headphones. At any rate, they never complained, although I do remember someone commenting gently, as I beat the snot out of an ink cartridge, “Hey... I think it’s time to let that one go now.”