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.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

L.A.

I lived in L.A. for six years. When I first moved there, I worked at a doctor’s office in Westwood. On breaks, a friend and I would sometimes walk to a nearby bakery that sold day-old cookies in bags of a dozen for a dollar. One day I bought a bag in spite of the extra 10 or 15 pounds I was carrying at the time.

As I drove home that day, I looked over guiltily at the bag of cookies. Huge mistake. I knew my roommate would not eat them. They were all mine. They had to go. 

I was waiting at a light near a freeway on-ramp. I noticed a homeless guy sitting in some shade a few yards away. I rolled down my window and said, “Hi, do you want cookies?” He looked at me, nodded slightly, and then slowly got up and walked over to me. The way he moved did not suggest ill-health or infirmity. It was more of a demonstration of his complete confidence that the cookies weren’t going anywhere, and the light wouldn’t turn prematurely. Or if it did, no big deal. There would be other cookies.

He took the cookies and nodded slightly again, then walked back to the pile of stuff he’d been sitting on. 

L.A. is unique in that the place is just thick with cool. Everyone has this kind of calm, satisfied certainty that there is nothing going on anywhere as interesting or awesome as what’s happening right here, because this is L.A. Most people there, whether they are aware of it or not, carve the world up into two parts: L.A., and those other places that are a little pathetic because they aren’t L.A.

Lots of places think they’re cool, but L.A. knows it in its asphalt/concrete bones. You will never hear someone from L.A. explaining why L.A. is great because, for them, that would be like explaining that sugar is sweet. They just assume you know. 

Which isn’t to say the place is flawless. I love L.A., but I’ve never met so many people in one place that I would cross a street to avoid. 

I watched the homeless guy in my rearview mirror thoughtfully chewing a cookie as I drove onto the freeway. He looked as though, right before I drove up, he’d been thinking, “Man, I sure would like a cookie.” And then some chick drives up with a dozen. Because this is L.A. and that shit just happens. Stars fall out of the sky here and get in line behind you at the supermarket. 

The homeless guy seemed so easy and at peace. I considered getting off at the next exit and looping back with a quart of milk.


Monday, August 26, 2013

So I Can Just Take These?

I had taken over for Eddie printing the barcode sheets. The staple people would give me the first and last account numbers in the series of files they were working on, and I would print the barcode sheets for them in (at most) about 20 minutes (as opposed to the hours and sometimes days Eddie required).

Once I had printed barcode sheets for everyone who needed them, I would skip ahead in the spreadsheet and pick up where I’d left off the previous day, printing barcode sheets for files none of the staple people were working on yet. I kept these printed-ahead barcode sheets in a stack next to me.

As the printed-ahead stack of barcode sheets grew, the staple people began to take notice. I was asked repeatedly what they were for. I explained that my goal was to get ahead of them so that when they caught up to where I had started pre-printing, they could pick up the barcode sheets first. Then they could go get the corresponding files, eliminating the step of requesting and waiting for barcode sheets. They exchanged glances and said, “oh.”

I don’t think any of the staple people really got what I was up to. I’m guessing more than a few of them thought I was printing my own personal stash of barcode sheets for myself, or planned to dole them out in exchange for deference as Eddie had. One day, when the printed-ahead stack had reached an attention-getting height of about three inches, Erin flipped out.

Erin was in her late forties. She was one of the original crew of staple people, the oldest, and in many ways the unofficial leader. She had a husband and two young sons at home and drove a truck so big you could probably park a Civic on the hood. She dyed streaks of wild colors into her very-long hair that went well with her in-your-face personality. She was wildly sensitive to perceived injustices. She was tough to win over, but if you did manage to earn her confidence, she would defend you like a rabid pit-bull if anyone else tried to give you a hard time (whether you were in the right or not). 

She came over to my station and angrily demanded to know what the printed-ahead stack was for. I told her the same thing I had told everyone else who had asked.

“But WHO are they for?” she demanded loudly. “Anyone who wants them,” I answered, completely confused. I hadn’t considered how disturbing a stack of unclaimed barcode sheets might be to people who had spent the better part of a year scrounging for them. Erin looked around the room to make sure she had an audience. Everyone had stopped working to watch. “So, I can just take these?” she asked sarcastically. 

I thought about it briefly. I had envisioned stacks and stacks of barcode sheets in reserve before the new system went into effect, but there was no reason it couldn’t start immediately. The staple people hadn’t yet caught up to the account numbers on my printed-ahead sheets, but there was absolutely no reason someone couldn’t skip ahead with the pre-printed sheets because it didn’t matter what order things were scanned in.

“Absolutely, yes. Please take them. That’s what they’re for,” I said. Erin looked at me incredulously. “How many can I take?” she asked, still convinced I had an angle. “As many as you want,” I answered. 

Erin picked up the entire stack of sheets, looked at me like I was batshit crazy, and then strolled back to her desk like she’d just been awarded a very nice plant. The rest of the staple people went back to work still confused about what was going on with the barcodes, but slightly less suspicious. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gonna Need to See Those Moves

Making the rounds on Facebook: the top 35 Onion stories that were mistaken for serious news by someone on Facebook. One of them (#3 “It is disgraceful”) is about how some absurdly high percentage of Americans don’t know all the dance moves to the national anthem. 

Someone railed on Facebook about how this was indicative of the decay of our national pride, a total disgrace, blah blah blah. I get that you can fall for a joke. I totally get feeling anxious about my country. What I don’t get is the implication that this person includes himself in the 15% of Americans that does know all the dance moves. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Eddie’s Little Helper

Shortly after my meeting with Eddie and Cheryl, I was asked to help Eddie by printing barcode sheets. I was directed to a small computer station and printer wedged into a corner of the conference room that was now home to the staple pit. The process was explained to me and I went to work printing barcode sheets.

Eddie usually came in to work in the morning about an hour after I did. He would walk into the staple pit and say good morning to everyone, and then look over toward me and say in a sing-songy voice most people reserve for very young children and puppies, “And how’s my little helper today?”

I think one should be very careful about referring to anyone whose age has advanced beyond single digits as “my little helper.” I was, after all, a grown-ass girl-dog. Just who the hell did he think he was?

He was lucky I was very distracted by my new mission, or I might have scowled and pretended not to hear him. I was about to revolutionize the entire staple-pulling industry. Or maybe just my staple pit. 

My idea was to get ahead of the staple people so that eventually they could pick up the barcode sheets first and then grab the corresponding files, reversing the current process and completely eliminating the entire step of requesting the barcode sheets. It meant meeting the demand for barcode sheets that were currently being requested (not difficult) and printing sheets farther along in the sequence of account numbers when I could (simple, in theory). 

Eventually, when the staple people reached the account numbers that I had pre-printed, they could start the file-prep process by picking up the barcode sheets first. Then they could go grab the corresponding files and work without interruption. It was just crazy enough to work.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eddie’s Bar Graph

Eddie announced there would be a series of meetings to discuss our productivity, or lack thereof. We would each be meeting with him and Cheryl. Cheryl was the latest in a series of people from upper management who’d dropped in briefly to try and improve the output of the staple pit. No one stuck around long enough to actually figure out what the problem was, or they limited their research to Eddie’s take on things. 

My impression is that the staple pit was falling short of management’s goals and they were all racking their brains trying to figure out how to fix us. The latest theory seemed to be that we lacked motivation. In response, it had been announced that there would be a prize at the end of each month for the staple person with the greatest output. Oh please, oh please, I thought, let it come with a certificate. It was a plant.

The lady who won the plant was also from clerical. She took her job seriously and was (rightfully) quite proud of her plant. By this time, the staple pit had grown by about a half-dozen new staple people. As a result, conditions were becoming a little crowded. We’d had to double-up work stations. It worked out fine, but we’d never had much extra room to begin with. I mention it because, although the productivity award was a very nice plant, it did look a little odd teetering on top of a stack of boxes at its owner’s station.

I found myself almost immediately on the defensive in my meeting with Eddie and Cheryl. Eddie had presented me with a colored graph charting my output for the past month. There were no dates, or labels, or even a scale explaining the chart. Just a bunch of colored bars that apparently looked very bad for me. He might as well have written “this does not equal” under the chart, and then drawn a picture of a plant.

I peppered Eddie with questions about the incriminating bar graph. I knew I wasn’t the finest staple-puller in the pit, but he was going to have to show me some hard data to prove to me that I was the worst. He dodged my questions, preferring to point to the bar graph in response, occasionally saying, “I’m sorry, but you’re just not doing very well...”

Eventually, Cheryl intervened. “Do you have anything to add?” she asked. I said that without knowing more about the data behind the bar graph, there was no way for me to comment on it. Then she asked what, if anything, I would do to improve things in the staple pit. I thought she’d never ask.

I told her about the lack of barcode sheets and how this was the single biggest obstacle to productivity. I explained the process of what we did every day, all day. It was not complex, the work we did in the staple pit. The only thing we could not do for ourselves was produce barcode sheets. Not coincidentally, the only major thing that consistently slowed us down was waiting on barcode sheets. I was really excited to see her suddenly become animated and scribbling down everything I said as fast as I said it. And I didn’t even have a graph.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Eddie

Eddie was not ambitious, but his mother was on his behalf. She worked in another division but had managed to get her son a job in the staple pit. Eddie had gone from lowly staple person to king of the staple people in what I think was just a few months. By the time I joined the staple people, he was acting manager and had his own desk and computer completely removed from the staple pit.

Neither Eddie nor the rest of the staple people had adjusted well to his promotion. Eddie was being pulled in every direction at once. The people who promoted him expected him to effectively manage twenty-odd people when the job he had been originally hired for only required him to pull out staples. 

The woman who had originally managed the staple people had been pulled off the project for reasons that were never made clear. I only saw her a few times, then she went on leave. The first time, when I had just joined the staple pit, I was working at my station when the hair on my neck started to stand on end. I looked around and was startled to see a woman standing halfway up a nearby set of stairs watching the staple people work. She left when she realized she’d been seen. The girl next to me caught my eye and motioned over to where the lady had been. She leaned toward me and whispered the warning, “She yells.” 

The staple people existed because the office was in the process of becoming paperless. The goal was to take all the paper files and scan them so they could be accessed via computer. The physical process was fairly simple. The staple people would go take a stack of sequentially-numbered files from whatever file room we were currently working on, discard the file folders, and reduce the file’s contents to single sheets of paper stacked neatly in a box. This involved removing all staples and paper clips, taping up any tears, and taking any odd-sized things and taping them to a blank sheet of paper. The idea was to eliminate/fix anything that might get hung up in a big industrial scanner. 

The boxes of files (now prepped for scanning) would be delivered to the basement where a group of people with jobs as awesome as my own would scan them.

But before you started yanking out staples, you had to request the barcode sheets. The barcode sheets acted as dividers. Each barcode sheet had the account number of the relevant file and a category indicating the content to follow. So, if a particular file had three different types of content, there would be three different barcode sheets associated with that file (corresponding to its account number). This made it possible to differentiate the different sections of the file electronically so that the information would be user-friendly when accessed via computer. 

What you did was go pick up a stack of files, take them back to your station, and then write down the first and last account numbers in the series. You took the numbers to Eddie. Eddie would locate the series you wanted in an enormous Excel spreadsheet and then print it out for you. Now you had everything you needed to prep the files. At least that’s how it was supposed to work.

In reality, Eddie was rarely at his desk, and when he was he was often busy doing something more important than printing barcode sheets. The staple people developed little work-arounds (post-its marking where the barcode sheets needed to go), but it was far from ideal. At some point, without the barcode sheets, work came to a standstill.

The first time I went to Eddie with a list of barcode sheets I needed, I was surprised when he acted as though he was doing me a favor by giving them to me. He was clearly very busy and I did feel a little sorry for him, but twenty-odd people were frequently twiddling their thumbs because he wasn’t available, or sometimes even willing, to print the barcode sheets.

The higher-ups were making Eddie compile statistics, draw graphs and do God-knows what else in an effort to understand why his project was stalling, while Eddie, in failing to produce the barcode sheets, frequently forced the project to stall. The project lurched along in this pattern for months.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cautiously Optimistic

It has been approximately ten days since the last silverfish sighting and several weeks since we launched our second offensive. There was one minor psychological setback a week ago when our bug guy scratched his head and stared off into space too long when I asked him to repeat whatever combination of pest-control strategies he had employed the previous month.

I had hoped to see him consult a clipboard or electronic device, or even better just remember what he had done, and then say something reassuring like, “Yes ma’am, I believe we deployed the 'super-splodie bug death platform three' module. That’s a good one, alright. Will do.”

In any case, ten days is pretty impressive. I am concerned that the silverfish may have just withdrawn temporarily to regroup and form a new strategy, but I am cautiously optimistic that they are unable/unwilling to do this because they are dead or so demoralized that they have given up this house in favor of a another less hostile to their presence.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Redshirts

The staple pit moved twice during my tenure. The first time it was just from one crappy, abandoned area to another slightly-crappier abandoned area. More traumatic was when it was moved to a completely different floor. 

Many of the staple people were really agitated at the prospect of going to the new floor. Those who had actually been to this foreign place spoke of a quiet, library-like atmosphere. “Nobody talks,” one lady said with concern, “they’re going to expect us to be really quiet all the time.” “I went up there once and only saw one person, it’s like a ghost town!” another chimed in.

It was decided that this new floor must be a horrible place. Morale plummeted. In response to more than a few requests that we be allowed to stay (which would have meant daily trips to the dreaded new floor to carry boxes of files back to our workstations), management decided to send just a few of us at a time to begin working on the new floor. I guess if the first group died from the excessive quiet, the remaining staple people could quit their jobs and live to pull out staples somewhere else. 

I didn’t have any great affection for the floor where we currently resided and once I’d established we weren’t being moved to the basement, I was fine with the move. As for the new floor being too quiet, for me there is no such thing. I like quiet. Any kind of chaos or unpredictable noise usually makes me want to climb up on a tall piece of furniture and hug myself until it goes away.

A couple of other people and I were selected to go set up our stations on the new floor first. The other staple people said goodbye to us as though we were a landing party being sent to check out a new planet shortly after being issued red shirts

The new floor was very different. First of all, we were in a conference room as opposed to just wedged in somewhere on the main floor where space could be found. It was almost dignified. The room had windows, and we hadn’t had a chance to wreck the carpets yet. Even the tables that had been set up were nicer than we were used to. It was quiet. The other redshirts and I ventured out into the main floor to find coffee and were amazed to discover that the coffee was much-less bad than the stuff we’d had on the old floor. The coffee cups were even bigger on the new floor. 

We slowly began to allow ourselves to be cautiously optimistic about our new circumstances. We knew it could all go horribly wrong in some as-yet undetermined way, but it was hard not to feel a bit hopeful while enjoying a larger-than-expected cup of less-bad coffee.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Free Coffee

I was sort of fixated on the coffee. The cafe in the building's basement sold Starbucks, but it was only marginally better than the office coffee and cost roughly triple. There were no places nearby close enough to walk to, and even if there had been I wouldn’t have been keen on the idea so early in the morning due to the building’s proximity to the county jail.

Once, when I was waiting to cross the street on my way in one morning (it was still dark out), a guy hanging out the passenger window of an El Camino yelled, “I JUST GOT OUT OF JAIL!” as he and his friends drove past howling and laughing. 

If I were writing that scene into a screenplay, I would be very tempted to have the lady on the corner (wearing grey work slacks and a pink blouse), raise a fist and yell, “FUCK YEAH!” back. That’s way more entertaining than having her scurry across the street and into the building, which is what I did. 

I was usually one of the first people in the office, definitely the first of the enthusiastic coffee drinkers, so I usually got to make the first pot (and thus guarantee its freshness). Fresh is important with bad coffee. It’s pretty much the only thing you have going for you.

After the great disappointment of the office supplies, I really wanted to salvage the coffee situation. I think that’s what was behind the “free coffee” idea.

Food was a very big deal. Every so often someone would bring in something like coffee cake or donuts to leave on the counter near the coffee. Whatever it was was usually gone by 8:30 AM, but it would creep into conversations for the next few hours. You'd hear exchanges like:

"Hey, did you get any of that coffee cake this morning?" 
"No, I got in late."
"That's too bad..."
"Yeah."
"It had blueberries."

I tried to think of something to bring in, but kept coming back to the coffee. Then it occurred to me to buy everyone’s coffee. Then people could get a cup of office coffee without scrounging for change first. It would be just like the private sector, where the world made sense.

Maybe it would go over so well, management would get wind of it and decide the office coffee should be free all the time. Maybe the union could pay for it out of the thirty dollars they took out of my paycheck every pay period. I imagined a happy uprising that marked the beginning of this strange place’s transformation into a normal workplace.

I went to the lady who ran the coffee club and asked her what it would cost to buy the whole floor coffee for the entire day. She said she usually collected about $10 in change a day. The following Friday, I gave her $10 and hung a sign on the coffee machine indicating the coffee was free for the day.

It did not go at all as I imagined. There was no happy uprising. People seemed a little confused, even a little suspicious. I heard a couple of mutterings about it not being fair to people who did not drink coffee, or had pre-paid via the coffee club. 

A few people made a point to find out who was behind the free coffee and came by my desk to say thanks. Some asked how much I had spent to do it. A couple seemed to think $10 was too much to spend. I ended up feeling a little self-conscious and decided not to do it again. 

Some people got VERY excited and drank WAY TOO MUCH COFFEE. I ran into a cluster of people getting coffee when I went by to get my afternoon cup. A few were frantically scooping grounds to brew a new pot. One was a guy I was used to seeing in the afternoon. He usually came by the coffee area shortly after I brewed a fresh pot. I think he sat nearby. His eyes were bloodshot and he was covered in a light sheen of sweat. “The coffee’s free today!” he whispered loudly at me when he saw me, his eyes bulging as he stirred sugar into his coffee.

“I know,” I answered. “I’m not sure why,” he continued, looking around wildly as he walked away, “but you should get it while you can because once they figure out how expensive this is gonna be they’ll never do it again.” 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Office Supplies

Everything was a little dirty. I had just been hired. My new desk was in a shared cube with another lady. The cube had a window, which was encouraging, and a large stack of boxes (blocking half the view), which was not.

The desk and phone were gross. One of the drawers had had something spilled in it during the Carter administration that had congealed into a dark red sheet resembling a fruit-roll. I found out where the cleaning supplies were and went to work. I went through a whole package of paper towels. By the time I was done everything looked great. I was ready for office supplies.

I love office supplies. I love heavy pens that write smoothly, pencils, notebooks, calendars and little pads of paper in white or pretty colors. Paperclips, envelopes, tacks, staplers and staple-removers, Sharpies, hole-punchers and highlighters - all that stuff just makes me happy. It’s like Hello Kitty things for grown-ups.

After going to see three different ladies who were in charge of random subsets of the office supplies, I returned to my desk with, among other disappointments, a pair of old scissors with one tip broken off and a broken tape dispenser. There was a new purple pen that looked nice. I'd been advised to keep an eye on it (they were popular and often disappeared, and I would not be getting a second) but although the ink was pretty, it didn't write well at all.

I distracted myself with my first task. It was a large stack of single-sheet documents. I was supposed to put a sticker with a barcode on each sheet corresponding to the account number printed in the corner. I had to wear a rubber finger because after the first ten pages or so, your fingers would lose all tack.

The only problem was that the rubber finger was a little big for one of my fingers, and a little small for the next. They come in different sizes, but I only had the one. So it fell off a lot. It wasn’t a big deal or anything, until I made some kind of waving motion for some reason, and the little rubber finger flew right over the cube wall.

I went looking for it, but never found it. I went back to the lady who had given me the original with my ridiculous story and asked for a replacement. She didn’t say a word, just looked at me and shook her head, “no.” Obviously, I had stashed the original rubber finger and intended to sell it on the black market for a tidy profit. What did I think she was, an idiot?

That night, I told my husband about the sad state of affairs with regard to office supplies at my new job. I was despondent. I’d never worked anywhere that had managed to make office supplies not fun. 

“They have all that stuff at Staples, right?” he asked. “Yeah,” I answered. He picked up his keys and started for the door, “Well, come on,” he said. “Where?” I asked. “We’re going to Staples to buy you a tape dispenser and whatever the hell else you need,” he answered. 

We bought rubber fingers in every size they make. I could have worn one on each finger if I wanted to, including my thumbs. I still have the red stapler and black tape dispenser we bought. I brought them home with me after my last day at work, because they were mine goddammit.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kale - Best Avoided

Kale is not food. Not that I’m an expert. I think chocolate pop-tarts are food, but I expect that’s open to some debate. I really wanted to like kale. I bought what I believe was an extremely healthy pre-packed salad at Whole Foods. It looked pretty, and was full of kale. I’d been pleasantly surprised by a similar-looking pre-packed salad the previous week. That one was full of finely-chopped raw broccoli. I had expected to hate it, but the husband wanted to try it and the man almost never suggests any food that isn’t alcohol/meat/cheese/bread so I wasn’t going to turn it down. It was good.

When I produced the kale salad before dinner, the husband looked at it suspiciously and then told me about a pizza place where he’d worked during high school. They had used kale around the salad bar for decoration. “It would last the whole week,” he added. “We didn’t consider it food.”

A guy I worked with once ate a large leaf of kale from around a buffet on a dare. He turned green and went home early. 

My husband took a few bites of the kale salad to confirm that it was not food, and then picked through the salad eating all the not-kale parts. I ate a serving, kale and all, determined that I could like it. The texture tells you everything you need to know. This stuff does not want to be eaten. And it tastes bad.

I gave it one last chance to be delicious the next day at lunch, but it did not cooperate. I ate all the food parts and then dumped the kale into our organics bin. That was a few days ago and the kale in the bin looks exactly as it did when I threw it in. I think I may need to check the waste disposal company’s website for what can go in organics to see if there’s a list of asterisk items that actually belong in recycle or garbage. Kale feels like it could be one of those things, because it sure isn’t food.

Even the name doesn’t sound food-like. Kale sounds like a guy who goes to prep school with a future superhero, and then turns evil just as the superhero is embracing super-goodness. Kale is smart, psychotic, and very very dangerous. Best avoided.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Yolanda

Yolanda headed up the clerical department in the division where Riti, Lin and I worked after the staple pit was disbanded. I had transfered to this division as part of a larger strategy of getting a better job. Once, I stumbled upon Riti and Lin in the midst of a fevered discussion about how to best surprise Yolanda with flowers.

Yolanda had reached the highest promotable level of her career some years back. Someone had clearly run out of certificates because they had moved her from a cubicle in clerical to the office adjacent to the highest-level executive in the department. This was intended to reward her for her years of hard work. Physically, it was the farthest spot on the floor from the clerical department.

I think that that executive wanted a personal secretary and moving Yolanda next door was the only strategy he could come up with to get one. Being so far away from the people she managed effectively severed any sense of control Yolanda might have had over her team. Any anxiety this created in her could be relieved with presents.

When I interrupted them, Riti and Lin had just called Yolanda and summoned her to clerical. When Yolanda arrived, they would lead her around a corner, ostensibly to whatever fictitious emergency required her attention, and then present her with the bouquet of flowers they now flanked. My presence was about to ruin everything. The two of them stared daggers at me. “We’re waiting for Yolanda!” Lin hissed. “What’s the occasion?” I asked, wondering how I had missed the email.

WE bought these for Yolanda,” Riti finally managed to say. Then I clued in that there was no occasion. This was their own private thing with Yolanda, likely to produce weeks of happy approval of whatever they did or didn’t do. I had no right to siphon off any of that goodwill by inserting myself into the exchange. God forbid, Yolanda might think I was involved and inadvertently misallocate credit. I got the hell out of there.

From my cube, I heard Yolanda’s happy thank yous and Lin and Riti’s explanations about how Yolanda was such a good boss and they just loved her so much they couldn’t help themselves but be moved to buy her flowers. I’ve seen children meet Santa with more dignity. It was impressive. I decided that Lin and Riti should offer a class or seminar on career advancement. And then everyone should get a certificate. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In the Event of Cake-Failure, Yell

Roberta was way out of her depth. She had been put in charge of the entire clerical department a few days after Barbara went home with a headache that turned out to be a stroke. (Barbara recovered and came back to work a few months later.) 

Those of us in the staple pit from clerical didn’t have all that much to do with clerical anymore. We were all the way on the opposite side of the floor, so we didn’t even see anyone from clerical unless we went looking for them. Nonetheless, we were still technically working under Barbara, so now Roberta.

Roberta started showing up in the staple pit with cakes and other things she had made. None of us knew what to make of it. Those of us from clerical had resigned ourselves to our status as expendable and accepted that we were now staple people, so this attention was unexpected and a little suspicious. The rest of the staple people quickly decided that Roberta was just awesome and kind. 

The cake turned out to be Roberta’s version of leadership. She would show up with some kind of offering, and we were supposed to be stellar employees because we loved her. I assume there was a similar sugar-shower happening on the other side of the floor in clerical.

I was never a fan of Roberta. I had seen her go out of her way to exclude people from office potlucks or other office gatherings. It was mean and utterly pointless. You were either her friend, or a potential target. I was not her friend. 

Those of us in the staple pit from clerical were still required to attend the occasional meeting of the clerical staff. Roberta had taken these over in Barbara’s absence. I guess the cakes didn’t have the desired effect because some people in clerical had apparently become a bit cavalier about getting back from their breaks on time. Roberta explained that the breaks were supposed to be 15 minutes, but we had always been allowed 20 as a courtesy (to allow time for the elevator ride). 

Then the meeting took a theatrical turn. After calmly explaining that some people had been abusing the break policy, Roberta took a deep breath and then shrieked, “SO NO MORE 20-MINUTE BREAKS!” I swear Roberta looked as surprised as the rest of us at the yelling.

So the take-aways from Roberta’s School of Leadership would be: Bribe subjects with cake. In the event of cake-failure, yell.

The rest of the staple people didn’t understand why Roberta stopped bringing cake. Those of us from clerical could never figure out why she brought it in the first place.

Monday, August 5, 2013

If You Leave Anything on that Counter, I Will Cut You (or Allen's Binders, Part 2)

(Allen's Binders, Part 1)

I ended up really liking Allen. He had worked in this particular government office the better part of his adult life and seemed to live to cause management grief. I eventually decided we were kindred spirits, we just chose completely different (and often opposing) issues to overreact to.

Allen came by to get something off of the printer and saw that the binders were gone. I was prepared for him to flip out. I had my explanation ready. We needed the space for work, and no one was using, or likely to ever use, the binders. I watched him look at the empty space where the binders once were. He nodded several times to himself and finally said, “Got rid of the binders, huh?” “Yep,” I responded, bracing myself.

“Ok,” he said, nodding some more. And then he left. I didn’t move for a minute, waiting for the floor to open up and unleash the mighty binder-avenger, but he did not appear. I went about my business.

A few days later, a smiling Allen showed up again at the printer. He asked about the newly-vacated counter space next to the printer. What was it for? I was confused by the question. I like space. Clutter makes me physically and psychologically very uncomfortable, even a little panicky sometimes.

Then Allen confused me some more by floating the following idea: What if we used the newly cleared area as a kind of “cast-off” space. You know, for stuff you don’t want anymore but think someone else might want. Everyone in the office could just bring in their old stuff and leave it on the counter. Then other people could come by and take stuff if they wanted it.

He seemed really delighted with this idea. It was damn-near my definition of hell. I’d just got rid of a bunch of old crap no one wanted, and he wanted to create a whole new pile of crap no one wanted. And let’s not even acknowledge that this was in fact an office where people sometimes worked and clear counters might be conducive to this albeit-rare occurrence.

I blinked several times and finally said, “Why do we need a cast-off area?”

Allen stepped back and raised his hands in a kind of “I give up” gesture and said, “We don’t,” and walked away. I didn’t hear any more about it.

Allen’s Binders

Shortly after the staple pit was disbanded, I began working in the clerical department of a different division within the same office. My cube was next to the printer, which sat on the other side of the half-wall that made up one side of my cube. 

Next to the printer was a decent length of counter space which was unfortunately only sort-of useful because of all the old binders stacked on it. Some time ago, likely before the advent of computers, binders had played a large role in the day-to-day functioning of this particular office. We still stocked them in the office supply area, and every once in a long while someone would ask for one. No one would take one from the printer counter though, they always wanted a new one from office supplies.

The binders on the counter were so decrepit that they made horrible cracking noises when you opened them. Some were made out of materials I couldn’t even identify - some kind of wood product that was probably banned in the early 80s for causing birth defects. The rings inside them were like bear traps. The damned things were dangerous.

I was in charge of office supplies, and I have a fondness for clear counter space. I started asking around about the binders. I got the kind of responses/looks you get when you ask people about politics, religion or the union. Finally, one woman who handled the paper inventory whispered to me, after glancing around to make sure no one was listening, “Those are Allen’s binders.”

Allen had been there forever. I can totally picture his mother dropping him off when he was about six, and then him returning every day on his own forever after.

The story was, someone wanted to throw out the old binders. Allen got wind of it and saw it as tremendously wasteful and irresponsible. He was quite vocal about it and apparently no one else thought throwing out the binders was important enough to upset him any more. So for God-knows how long there had been a bunch of old binders there that no one would use, collecting dust and taking up space.

I threw them out. As I loaded them into the large trash can next to the elevators, the head of our division happened by. He said, “I hope you’re not throwing those away.” I stood up very tall and started explaining to him that that is exactly what I was doing and why I was right to do it, but he cut me off. 

“I’ve wanted to do that for years,” he said as he got on an elevator. I think he may have even given me a thumbs up. (Allen's Binders, Part 2)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Barky Dog

My dog is generally well-behaved. In fact, her only flaw is that she can be very nervous.  She’s fine most of the time, but in unfamiliar situations or with unfamiliar people she is nervous and anxious to be going. I think she’s perfectly reasonable, but then when I re-read the last sentence I realize I’ve just described myself.

Back to the dog. She doesn’t bark without a solid reason. Solid reasons include someone at the door (she unleashes holy hell for UPS), very large trucks in the neighborhood (I’m pretty sure she has connected the dots to UPS), or roughhousing (husband grabs me, I yelp, dog barks OR our two cats are messing with each other and they manage to surprise the dog).

This is the first yard we’ve had in a while that I don’t mind letting her run around in unsupervised. So she does. The funny thing is, she has begun barking at the neighbors, if they happen to be outside too, and (I’m guessing) do something that surprises the dog.

So this is what has been happening: I hear the dog bark. I go to call her inside, but instead of having to call her, I find her at the door. Her demeanor says something along the lines of, “Oh my God, oh my God, let me in quick! I just called the neighbor a stupid cat-face and now I’m afraid the stupid cat-face is going to get me!”

Friday, August 2, 2013

Grown-Ass Man-Dog

I acquired something of a reputation for being able to solve minor computer-related problems. This was entirely due to the fact that I married an engineer. Anything I couldn’t figure out on my own could be sorted out with a quick phone call to my husband.

I once dazzled a small group of women in clerical by fixing a computer mouse at a group work station. We were being trained by a woman who was trying and failing to demonstrate dragging “this” over to “that” on the screen. The mouse was the now-antiquated type that has a hard rubber ball inside. The ball doesn’t track right when the inside gets dirty. The solution, I learned from my husband, is to remove the bottom of the mouse and take out the ball. Then you can clean the ball and the internal rollers that touch it. Put it all back together and voila, good-as-new mouse.

Often when my husband is fixing something, the initial stages of the process look like complete destruction. Once when we were first dating, he ripped up the carpet in a studio I’d just rented to run wire under the edges. I had expressed a desire to separate my TV and stereo components, but realized given the layout it wouldn’t be possible because of the wires. He asked that I trust him, and then proceeded to destroy my apartment. Or so it appeared. The end result was lovely.

So when I took the mouse apart, I was not surprised to see a few very concerned/alarmed expressions. I was new, and here I was just breaking stuff. A few minutes later, we had a mouse that worked better than anyone could remember, and I was awesome.

Which is why Eddie and Dave showed up at my desk one day for help with a computer problem. Nothing was broken, they just wanted to know how to do something they’d seen me do once. So I started messing around on my computer trying to figure out how I’d done whatever it was.

Dave was peering over my shoulder saying, “Go here, no there! No, wait, go back.” He reached across me to point at the monitor, “It’s in that other folder.” Eddie joined in with, “Wait wait wait wait, we started in the ‘D’ drive. Yeah, wait no...” Dave chimed in, “I thought it was the ‘H’ drive.” They went on like that for a couple of minutes until I got exasperated and said, “Shush!”

Dave’s mouth fell open. He drew back his shoulders in complete indignation, puffed out his chest and said one of the funniest things I ever heard in my government-job career:

I’m a grown-ass MAN, dog! You can’t ‘Shush!’ me!”

I can’t imagine anyone mis-reading his audience more. Never in my life had I ever been confused with someone you might address as “dog.” I laughed until tears ran down my face. Dave started to comprehend the gravity of his mistake when I said, “No, no, no,” as I tried to catch my breath, “you’re right, you’re a grown-ass man-dog and I should not have shushed you.”

He looked over to Eddie and said, “Was that really that funny?” but Eddie just shook his head. That man-dog was on his own.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Diverse Nuns

I went to Catholic school. There was a rectory on one side of the schoolyard where several nuns (who were also teachers) lived. They were a diverse bunch. One was a “modern” nun. She wore regular people clothes and had long, hippy hair. Another wore a modified habit. It was basically a tea-length grey skirt with a white blouse, and a little nun hat. 

My favorite was a huge nun who wore the classic habit that covered every inch of her except for her face and hands. I don’t know how she survived wearing all that heavy black fabric during the summers in Bakersfield. She was very tall, towering over the kids and most of the adults. She had a deep voice, almost like a man’s. Imagine Darth Vader in a habit and you’ll be close. On top of that, she called everyone by their full first name. There was no overly familiar “Cindy” or “Bobby” crap going on in her class, you were “Cynthia” or “Robert” so get used to it.

She was my homeroom teacher in 5th grade. It was the most orderly class I’ve ever been in. Initially we were all terrified, but as time wore on, it became clear that she was not at all mean. She kept order through sheer force of personality. She didn’t smile unless you had done something truly exemplary. Or you needed her to. 

At Christmas I had given her a pocket calendar my mother had picked up for free at a Hallmark store. I had agonized over the gift. This nun really had turned away from worldly possessions. Of all the nuns and priests, she walked the walk most convincingly. Rather hard to shop for.

By this time, I was a terrible Catholic. I didn’t go to church on Sundays, hadn’t been to confession in ages and didn’t take communion anymore (because I hadn’t been to confession in ages). So I was beyond happy when I saw her reach deep into a pocket as she walked past my desk one day and pull out the little calendar. She stopped walking as she consulted its pages, then looked over at me and smiled briefly. It makes me choke up a little just remembering that.