Wednesday, April 29, 2009

That Was Weird

I was talking to someone here at work about past work experiences (hers were all positive by the way...what the hell is up with that?) and I thought that maybe it was time for another installment of Vocational Errors by Your Host Mark.

After getting laid off from my gig at back in 2002, I did some QC contract work for a software company for a bit. When it became clear that the contract was not going to evolve into a full-time job (my first clue was when my "workstation" was the corner of someone else's desk with their giant CRT monitor dumping heat in my face), I realized that it was high time to get another real job. The industry that I had been in, the dot com biz, had just gone belly up in a rather spectacular manner so my skill sets would have to be re-evaluated if I was going to move forward. I was also without insurance at this point so every time I left the house in the morning I would think to myself "is today the day I break my leg and end up buried in a giant mountain of debt?". Not a great place to be mentally when you're trying to remain positive during a job hunt. The job market wasn't looking all that great so I figured I'd have to reinvent myself (again).

So enter my friend Nat. Nat is the guy who drove the Hate Bus. He's been with CSG for a fucking long time now (17 years maybe? Something crazy like that) and he knew that
  1. I was looking for work
  2. CSG was hiring
  3. I had worked for CSG before (twice before and I had been laid off twice before. I am, however, very short sighted)
The first job I had with CSG I have documented in a prior installment of Vocational Errors. The second job I had with them was as an Energy Auditor (1995-1996 I think). What the hell is that? Well, it's a person who comes to your house at your request and tries to help you lower your energy costs. I'm a do-gooder at heart people. This is all paid for through your monthly utility bill. You are paying for this service whether you use it or not. Back then there was really very little that I could do as an auditor. I could "recommend" insulation and air sealing and new windows and crap like that but I couldn't offer any help and/or discounts to facilitate getting these improvements done. All I could do was put in a couple of CFLs and maybe a door sweep or two. It was a joke honestly and I would be laid off with about 10 other guys 7 months later.

So cut to 2002 and my 3rd time working for CSG. Third time's a charm right? Oh silly reader...have you not been paying attention? This can't possibly end well can it?

This time around they gave the position more bollocks by expanding the program to include being able to provide the customers with steep discounts on "green" home improvements. The idea was that a customer would call because they were interested in making their home more energy efficient, we'd go out and sell them some insulation (and other things) and everyone would be happy. Yea, except that the public awareness of this program was still almost non-existent and when you'd get a customer with genuine interest in making the improvements, we had so little quality control over the sub-contractors that it was a logistical nightmare. I understand that they have since resolved these issues but it was a hodge-podge at best back then (oh, and as it turns out, I'm a terrible salesman. I'm not a "closer". I'll never get those goddamn Glen Garry leads. My approach was: here's the issue that your house has, here's what I can do to fix it, here's what it costs, buy it or don't. I didn't pressure anyone into buying the services from us. I just told them all the stuff they needed to know. Not the best model for fantastic sales figures).

The story I wanted to talk about was when Nat was training me for the new job. Having had experience in most of the aspects of the position (with the exception of sales) the training was going rather smoothly. Nat and I were riding around in his company van going to his appointments so that he could show me the ropes. One beautiful sunny afternoon we pulled up to a brick house in Brighton where we had a scheduled appointment and started getting all the gear ready to go inside. Nat's giving the place a quick once-over looking for potential issues and getting an idea of what to focus on during the meeting when he says "This should be a pretty straightforward one". Oh, dooooooood. Never tempt The Furies like that.

We ring the doorbell and wait patiently on the front stoop for someone to answer. Finally the guy who owns the place comes to the door and he was a little off-putting. He had these shifty eyes and I noticed that he was wearing his sweatshirt inside out and it was covered in paint splatters. Odd, but not alarming right? Almost immediately after opening his door we were hit by a smell that I can only describe as godawful. It was so strong and so pungent (ever have the misfortune of getting a whiff of some poor dead animal? It was damn close to that smell) that Nat and I looked at each other as if to say "you smell that right?". The guy then invited us in. Sure, I'll come into your house Mister Dahmer. What alarm bells? I hear nothing.

We set up the computer in the kitchen and then start the house run-through. Nat asks to see the basement and immediately the guy's demeanor changes. He goes from creepily friendly to creepily tense. As we go down the stairs to the basement, the smell gets worse. "Ah, it's just a dead mouse or something" my brain tells me, "Don't worry about it". The guy lets us into the area where the heating systems are but won't let us into a locked storage unit (we hadn't asked for access either...he just mentioned that he wasn't going to open this up for us). When the guy wasn't watching, Nat pointed out some "disturbed" dirt near the bulkhead to me. This was the nail in the coffin (excuse the pun). Nat gave me the "let's get the frick outta here" look, and we all went back up the stairs (with the guy following waaaaaay too closely behind) to the kitchen to enter a bunch of junk numbers into the computer so that we could bail.

When we got back to the kitchen Nat gave up all pretense of trying to make this a real training session and just buried his nose in the computer. This left me with nothing to do except engage Mr. Crazypants in idle chit-chat. I'm terrible at small talk in the best of times so imagine how smoothly this scenario went. Plus, the guy had a ton of legitimate questions he wanted to ask. Look buddy, we've pretty much determined that you've got a body buried downstairs in that storage area and we just want to bounce the hell outta here before you slaughter us too, ok? Nope. He'd have none of it. He just kept asking question after question most of which luckily I could answer so that Nat could finish up with the computer junk ... how long does that program take anyway dude?

Finally he seemed to run out of things to ask and started showing me things in the kitchen that he thought were cool (admittedly the little flip-out thing in front of the sink he had for the sponges and such was pretty sweet). Nat was almost done and had started printing out the paperwork so the end was in sight. We were going to leave! And then the guy says totally out of the blue: "There's someone else who lives here too. You want to know who that is?" OH GOD NO! NO, WE DON'T! Look, we're not going to call the cops or anything like that! We'll leave now ok? No, you don't have to confess to us and then jab the giant knife into my eye. Honest. We'll just take off, no harm done. Maybe that guy deserved it or whatever. No judgements here Senior Lunatic.

But I didn't say that did I? No, no I didn't. I said "Oh? Who?" Now picture the layout of this kitchen: I was sitting at this counter/breakfast island thing with Nat seated to my right and the homeowner nutjob was standing a good 10 feet away near the sink (and the knives I noticed). He then quick as lightning was next to me with his face mere centimeters (ooh! metric system!) from my left cheek and he said "It's DONALD DUCK!!!!" in what I can only guess was what he considered to be a spot-on impersonation of the cartoon character. It wasn't, but it was quite loud and frighteningly close to my goddamn head. He was so close I could feel his hot, crazy breath on my skin. I just got goose bumps writing that. I was frozen. I didn't know what to do. He then stood up and cackled (literally cackled as in the Weird Sisters cackling). Nat slammed the laptop shut and we just bailed.

When we got outside and back into the van (I can't remember if Nat got the guy's signature or not...we got out of there pretty quick), neither one of us said anything for a bit. Nat drove us the hell out of there and parked up the street. He called the office and told them about the bizarro appointment we just had and to "put that guy on the list". We then tried to debrief just what the hell had happened. Both of us were convinced that if we had been alone, we'd be dead or we would have just not gone up the stairs in the first place (like fake an appendicitis or something to get outta there). I'm just glad that someone else was there with me so that when I tell this story I have someone who can nod along and confirm that oh yes, people is crazy out there.

And no, I didn't immediately quit. I kept that job for a full year until I eventually got tired of crawling around in people's attics. I quit a real job to do office temp work instead and luckily for me, another opportunity came along (my current job of the last 5 years).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Up Yours, Brontë

I like to read. I'm a reader. I'm not a voracious reader but I'd say I'm good for about 10-15 books a year on average. I have the precarious booky-Jenga thing teetering on my nightstand threatening to topple over and take out a cat or two, but there are books that I'll start that I just can't get through. Most recently it was a double zinger of Brett Easton Ellis books Glamorama and American Psycho.

Both books had been recommended to me by peeps. I'd heard things about the books and the movie with Batman of course (quick aside: I think we as a people should adopt the Canadian pronunciation of "about". Saying "aboot" is just waaay more fun. I often will say "aboot" in my lil' noggin when I come across "about". Just an FYI), but goddamn if I didn't loathe the writing. I stumbled through several chapters of American Psycho before realizing that I fucking hated this book. And then, since I'm not that bright, I immediately picked up my copy of Glamorama and within the first couple of chapters tossed it aside (luckily not hitting the now listing stack of books on the nightstand). This got me thinking about ("aboot" heh. admit it, you read it like that too! it's fun!) other books that I've started to read and could not for whatever reason finish.

So in no particular order, here they be:

Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca. This was an assigned book for me in high school (gee, thanks Mrs. Lyle!). I found this to be so painfully dull that I never got past the first chapter. Thank jeebus-christmas himself for Cliff Notes. Kids today with the interwebs and their wiki nonsense. They have no idea what it was like to cobble together a report on a book you had no intention of reading back then. It took mad skills dammit! Plus, I had to walk to school uphill, both ways.

Emily Brontë - Wuthering Heights. Another one assigned to me by Mrs. Lyle. Luckily I liked her as a teacher or I'd be writing some really witty personal attack on her right this very moment. I actually tried my damnest to read this convoluted shitbag of a novel. I concluded that I didn't give the faintest fuck about (hee!) Heathcliff or Catherine. Not even Kate Bush could get me to muster any sympathy.

Jane Austin - Pride and Prejudice. Holy hell. Where's the car chases and 'splosions?

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment. Dunno if this was an assigned book or if I thought it was one of those books I should read. I have this thing where I think I'm missing out on wonderful conversations discussing some piece of literature, classic film or some piece/type of music so I will seek out said thing and get all up in its business (so to speak). Such as: I think that I should like jazz so I'll go and ask people to recommend some music to listen to. I'll get the music and guess what? Yep, still don't like jazz. This book was one such example. I started it, staggered through for a bit and failed. Every time I came across a particularly difficult-to-pronounce name I would just go "Blubrrburby" or something similar. All too quickly every character in the book had new made-up gibberish names. This does not help move the narrative at all. So I left it alone and came back to it months later. I had to start over since I had forgotten where I had left off. I floundered again through some chapters and then put it down. I think it's in a box in my closet upstairs now.

Johanna Spyri - Heidi. I don't think I even read one page of this beast. I can remember looking at the back jacket of the book and thinking "Nope, not reading this one". I'm gonna lay this one at the feet of Mrs. Lyle again because I actually had her as a teacher twice. Once in the 8th grade and then again the 10th (or was it the 11th?).

I guess I'm not a "period piece" kinda guy. Although, I did manage to get through The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities and others that I'd kinda put in that same category. There have been some other more recent books that I start and then fail to finish (the Billy Connolly biography "Billy" by his wife Pamela Stephenson is a recent one. I just don't like her writing style. I'm still a big Billy Connolly fan though), but the ones listed here are the ones that stand out in my mind.

How 'bout youse? Any books that you just couldn't slog through?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quick Update About Stuff Only I Care About

As the 5 Boro Bike Ride rapidly approaches I have a couple of pics of my bike in all its glory. I bought this thing a couple of years ago and then promptly re-injured my back so I have very close to zero hours riding time on it. Originally it was a dirt trail bike (made for going uphill on difficult trails slowly) with giant knobby tires and tiny, tiny gears. But now that I'm kinda not really riding on those kinds of trails I figured it'd be better to convert it to more street use. This meant putting slick tires on it as well as adding a third chain ring and a slightly longer chain (to accommodate the new bigger chain ring). Oh my god I almost fell asleep typing that. Now I can cruise on pavement without having to pedal like a madman trying to keep up with other peeps.

Also, the aforementioned kitchen renovation has been put on hold for now. After much hemming and hawing we figured that now isn't the best time to be spending a large amount of cash. We do still have to replace our stove (which committed suicide after it overheard us complaining about it) but that's not anywhere near the giant wad of cash that we were looking at for the whole project. We still plan on fixing up the kitchen, just not this year. At the very least this got us moving on a project that we've been talking about for over a decade. We saw some real-world figures and got some ideas of what we can and cannot do (structurally and financially), so I'm looking at this as a learning experience rather than a giant bummer. I'm a glass half full kind of guy (no, I'm totally not).

So, yea, that's what's shakin'. Here's the pics
(click on 'em for giant size!):
yes, that's a Craftsman workbench in our kitchen. It's there because without it we'd have almost zero counter space. Oh, and we're tacky. Actually, the wall that it's in front of is the wall we plan to take out when we renovate. The pantry is to the left and the mudroom is on the right. Our plan is to take out that wall and make it all one room. Right now just isn't the time for such an expensive project.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Is Your Belly All Wet?

Back when we first moved in together (1993..holy poop!), The Wiff (although back then she wasn't The Wiff, she was "Amy Davis" ... by the way, her name fits perfectly into "Amadeus" by Falco. Try it! Rock me Amy Davis!) and I sort of split up the household chores without really ever discussing it. She is a much better cook than I am (that may be the biggest understatement ever) and I like to clean (yes, I like to clean) so those two were pretty easy to define. Other chores tend to spawn from those 2 basic ones and we've been ok with that arrangement for years.

Back in the apartment living days we agreed that whomever cooked the meal would be exempt from doing the dishes for said meal. That has since morphed into Amy doing I'd say 97% of the dishes in the house ("But wait," you interject rudely. "Doesn't doing the dishes fall squarely under 'cleaning' as far as chores go?" Yes it does. Shutup. I hate doing dishes. And since we currently do not have a dishwasher thing, I get Dishes Belly every time I do them. What's "Dishes Belly"? DB occurs when I lean too far forward while washing the dishes and I tend to get a portion of my belly very wet in the process. Like, soaked. It's an issue). Where was I going with this? Oh right! I was pointing out how Amy kinda got screwed on the dishes front. Heh.

Amy also does all of the grocery shopping. To me, that is a god-awful chore in and of itself what with the crowds and the overly bright stores and the rows and rows of stuff and I get overwhelmed and I need to leave immediately...pant, pant, pant. But she enjoys it. I know this for a fact because I asked her about it. When we lived in Allston and had to shop at the run-down Purity Supreme (a.k.a. "Poverty Supreme" or "Grubby-stan" do to the large number of surly Russian old ladies who roamed the isles, glaring at people), it was my job to carry all the bags home. One time I tried to "help" by taking her list and ripping it in half so that she could do one half and I could do the other to make things faster. This is efficient yes? No. Did you know that unless you specifically plan your list to be torn in half like that it doesn't make it any faster? In fact, it made her so mad at me that I haven't gone grocery shopping with her since. We're talking 15 years now (plus, we have the ol' Volvo wagon now so I'm only needed to bring in the stuff from the car to the kitchen, not blocks and blocks and then up several flights of stairs. Stupid Allston).

So what do I do? I clean. I sweep, dust, vacuum, mow, shovel, scrub, rinse, wash and a whole host of other synonyms. I do laundry (although Amy will help out on that front too .. wow, she's really getting the short end of the stick here), take the trash out, clean the wood stove thing blah dee blah. Basically we do stuff for the house and each other without much complaint. But I have reached a point with the kitty-poo-poo boxes where I can't take it anymore. We have 4 cats and 6 boxes. Why 6? Well, the idea was so that just in case I didn't scoop for a day or two, there'd be a box that was acceptable to the little fuckers. But now one of them has decided that peeing on the floor is way cooler than doing it in the box. Luckily it's in the basement on the concrete floor but's pretty frickin' gross no matter how you slice it.

I've dealt with the horrible cat box thing since we got our first lil' dude Mugsy (who, while not in the best of health is still with us 15 years later) but the problem isn't with the boxes or the piddling on the floor or the dusty nasty litter. Oh no. The problem is with this evil thing. Warning: Don't click that link unless you wanna skeeve out for at least 15 minutes straight. Gah. I'm freaking out over here. Our house (♪in the middle of our street♪) has these things running around in the basement. I don't want to give the impression that we're infested with them but I'd say in the warmer months I'll see one every third or fourth trip downstairs. They are fast and the word "creepy" does not do them justice. They are evil incarnate. They make my blood run cold. They freak me out just as much as the cockroaches did in the first shitty apartment we had (stupid Allston). I did some rerearch on them and I guess they're harmless but I disagree. Anything that moves that fast and makes me shriek cannot be harmless. Our useless cats are afraid of them too.

So this is the main reason why I don't want to scoop the litter boxes anymore. The cat waste part is bad enough but when there is the potential of a critter running across my foot making me scream like a 12-year-old girl, I think we can all agree that that's asking too much. Now how can I convince Amy that it's perfectly fine for her to go down there and scoop? Hmmm...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hey, How About Them Red Sox?

Opening day was rained out here in Boston yesterday and all over the office that seemed to be the dominant story that people wanted to talk about. People love the teams in Boston and show their support in various ways from a Patriots sweatshirt to a Red Sox license plate to setting fire to a flipped over police car. Many people I know, work with or are related to love love love the home teams and sports in general. Me on the other hand? Yea, not so much. Why is that exactly? Does it stem from the memory of my father taking me to Ferry Way Green park (which is now the site of a school and my school I went to as a kid is now a confused) as a little kid and yelling at me because I didn't know how to hit a baseball? Um, Dad? Yea, this is the very first time I've ever tried this. It stands to reason I may not be good at it. Should we maybe practice some more? Maybe give me some pointers? Oh, you'd rather just scream at me from the pitchers mound, call me an idiot and then NEVER take me back to the park to try again? Ok. That may have some impact on my opinions.

In my normal every day life not knowing sports stuff isn't a hindrance. But in social or even pseudo-social settings it can be. Like for instance, I had a guy come over to look at our kitchen for our planned refurbishment who right off the bat started talking about sports. I guess that for most guys it's a common-ground thing where friendship and/or business partnerships are typically launched but for me it just produces large gaps of awkward silence. Unless the sports figure has been around forever or maybe shot someone recently odds are I don't know who you're talking about. He mentioned some sports thing or team or whatever and I guess I was supposed to have an opinion about it but I just...don't. So rather than pretend to know all about the bullpen for the Sox this season (I had to look that up by the way..I never knew what they were referring to. It's basically a frickin' sports reference within another goddamn sport. That's just not fair), I just come right out and say I don't know anything about it. After years of trying to play along and fake interest just to move a conversation along or whatever I've found it's less stressful for me to be upfront about my sports ignorance.

Now I don't HATE sports. I just don't care about them. I literally never think about them. I've gone to games and in the 80's I was all about following the Celtics (especially 1986) but for me it was more about the story rather than the stats. I have friends who can tell you not only who was on what team and when but every mind-numbing statistic from that guy's career. My head is full of junk but I simply do not have the capacity for that stuff. It's amazing to me. And they're excited to tell you about these facts. Luckily they all know by now that I cannot participate in this little exercise so they won't talk to me about sports (however, they will on occasion talk about it with each other while I stare at the bar wishing the conversation would go back to which season of The Wire was the best [season 4]). My eldest sister Theresa is really into sports too (especially football, the Eagles specifically) and I remember when she came up from Philly to stay with the Wiff and me for Christmas she wanted to watch Sports Center. I didn't even know what channel ESPN was on my cable (I still don't). I've tried to get "into" sports before. I'd read the sports page and try to watch Sports Center but I'll be god damned if it doesn't lull me to sleep. I do like Real Sports on HBO and when I catch It's Only A Game on NPR I usually stay with the show. But those programs don't really talk about sports, they are talking about the stories behind the sports. The sport is usually secondary which is probably why I like it.

My dad (aside from the yelling thing) was not really into sports all that much either when I was growing up. I don't really remember him watching the game (any game) on TV or stuff like that. You know what he did watch every Saturday? Bowling. Yep. He never missed a match. But later on after I had moved out and I'd go visit he'd be sitting there in the kitchen under a low cloud of cigarette smoke watching sports. He got into it much later in life. I wish he was still around so that I could take him to a game and we could pretend to understand what was going on together.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oh Yeah, I'm Supposed to be Riding a Bike

I have that bike ride thing rapidly approaching and I haven't done the things I was supposed to be doing to prepare. Things like, oh I dunno, riding my bike so that when I get to the start line in a little over a month, I don't collapse 15 feet later while 30,000 other bikers use me as a speed bump. I also haven't talked to the other people I'm doing this thing with (that's 4 instances of "thing" in the span of 3 sentences. Nice vocabulary there Mark). So there are a few unanswered questions that I shall now list cuz I'm a tool.
  1. how are we getting down to NYC? (I said I'd drive but this means I have to get a bike rack so that Solh and I can actually have our bikes with us, which I'm sure you'll agree, would be quite helpful).
  2. how the hell are we getting from Dave's house to the actual start of the event? The start line is in Battery Park over in Manhattan and Dave lives out in the frickin' boonies. Are we driving all the way in? Taking the train part of the way? Teleportation?
  3. if we are intending on doing the whole ride (which I assume we are), shouldn't we skip the boat ride from Staten Island back to Manhattan?

There are other questions but I can't think of them. I am looking forward to this but my anal retentive ways are currently clashing with my procrastination streak. It isn't pretty. There are a couple of things I have to do to the bike that I'm planning on using before the ride too that I haven't started yet. Nothing radical but just to make it easier for riding in the city I'm putting slicks on the ol' mountain bike. Also, I need to replace my stupidly hard and unforgiving seat with one of these:

I'm just not into squashing the "boys" anymore thanks. The ride isn't that difficult or too long (42 miles if we don't skip the trip back to Manhattan) so it should be a fun time. I hope it doesn't rain that day.