Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Five Song Shuffle (a.k.a. "Beating a Dead Horse")

How can you tell when I don't have any ideas? Why it's when I post the next 5 songs that come up on my iPod of course! What an exciting time for you! Let's get right to it then shall we?
  1. Joe Jackson – Got the Time
  2. PJ Harvey – Water
  3. The Clash – The Magnificient Seven
  4. The Pogues – Summer in Siam
  5. The Bags – Frilly Underwear
And there it is! Post done! I'm an author now! Exclamation point!

Let's do another 'kay? 'Kay. Nothing embarrassing came up that go 'round.
  1. Danger Doom – Space Ho's
  2. Big Black – Steelworker
  3. The Germs – Shut Down
  4. Tow Waits – Big in Japan
  5. Death From Above 1979 – You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
Bored now. BYE!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Care for Some More Meat Gum?

I was IM'ing with my sister Mary and the subject of our mother's cooking came up (no pun intended). Our mom had a busy household what with four kids (all fussy eaters), my dad and her mother (good ol' Nana. My first roommate) all living in what was technically a 2-bedroom apartment. We had converted the dining room into another bedroom to give the illusion of having 3 bedrooms. In the 16 years that I lived in that apartment my bedroom was at one point or another located in every room except the bathroom and the kitchen. The bedrooms and the living room, which we called "the parlor" (although that summons an image of a pristine place that is only for "company" and off-limits to kids. This was not the case in our house), swapped locations several times during the time we rented the place. Often she would change the rooms while everyone else was at work and school. Mom would just decide that the front room was now a bedroom and the living room would now be located where the bedroom used to be.

This is ye olde homestead as it looks today. Our apartment
was on the first floor. Back then the house was green and
somewhat less dilapidated. There used to be a half-dead
tree in the little yard on the right too. Check out all the satellite dishes!

She tried her very best to make meals that were, at least in theory, edible. We were poor but, as evidenced by any pictures of us kids from back then, we didn't go hungry. The main obstacle in her way was the fact that no one had ever taught her how to cook properly so she made shit up with limited success. That sounds fairly harsh but honestly I didn't know any better until much later in life that the food I grew up on was ... let's just say "limiting". The first inkling that perhaps there was at the very least better tasting food out there was when I stayed over my Aunt Janie's place and she made lunch for me and my cousin David. She made macaroni and cheese and it was so goddamn CREAMY that I thought that there must be something terribly wrong. Mac and cheese at our house was usually clumped together and relatively dry. Y'see, my mom would take a gallon of milk (which she would send me to the corner store to buy every few days on my bike) and strrreeeeetch it out into 2.5 – 3 gallons of milk by using powdered milk. I thought that milk was supposed to be thin, semi-lumpy and sort of grayish. We had milk at every meal too. It didn't matter what the meal was, milk was going to be the beverage of choice. It seemed perfectly normal back then but now it seems bizarre to me. I haven't had a glass of milk in years. It doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.

There were other clues that maybe the culinary arts was not my mom's medium. Pork chops come to mind. In my mind to this very day pork chops are associated with sawdust-dry withered things that would wick all the moisture out of your mouth the instant you popped a piece in. Whenever The Wiff says that she is going to make pork chops she has to remind me that they will be delicious. I guess I make a face or something every single time. All vegetables were to be boiled until opaque. I remember the first time seeing what broccoli was supposed to look like and being totally shocked. Hey! This broccoli snapped when I bit it! How come it didn't just go away in my mouth like it's supposed to? And why is it so green? Fresh vegetables back then usually meant the can was opened that day. There are lots of square, canned veggies in my past. And wax beans. Jiminy Christmas the wax bean is not only a horrible name but it is the most revolting vegetable known to mankind. Or perhaps the lima bean is the most revolting? I'm guessing that it'll be a legume of some ilk.

But the worst offender in my mom's arsenal was her steak. She would pop it in the broiler (yes, the broiler) sans any seasoning and leave it in there for hours. What would come out was a gray, shoe-leathery facsimile of a steak. To call it "well done" is an understatement. It was certainly "done". So tough was this meat that no amount of chewing could break it down. It would become what I called "Meat Gum". You could chew that fucking thing until your jaw hurt but it wasn't going anywhere. I've gagged on a number of pieces of rubbery steak in my time simply because I was tired of chewing it and I knew that trying to spit it out was forbidden. It was so bad that I was convinced that I hated steak. Back when The Wiff and I were dating, she invited me to her mom's place for dinner. When I asked her what they were going to serve she said "Steak". My heart sank. Oh god, not another fucking meat gum horror show!

But imagine my surprise when what was served to me was NOT an old piece of a shredded tire found on a highway somewhere but a juicy, beautiful, succulent cut of perfectly prepared meat. It blew my mind. I literally had no idea food could be this good. Plus, there were fresh vegetables that had flavor and color. Amazing. I have to say though that I still have to re-learn that steak can be great almost every time someone brings up the idea of having one. I have to think to myself "oh right...this will not be like gnawing on a demon's scrotum" and then I can order the steak.

I do have to give Mom her props though. She was a decent baker and could whip up a batch of french toast (using the whitest of white breads of course) like no one's business. Her soda bread ruled. She baked us a cake for every birthday too. Plus, I can't cook to save my life so I really shouldn't be mocking anyone's attempts let alone the woman who raised me. But all that stuff just makes me think about how much I miss her. I would gladly eat a plateful of her horrible cooking, meat gum and all, just to have a chance to talk to her again. And maybe even get in a game or two of Boggle or Yahtzee.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Be Kind, Rewind Motherfucker

What's this? Another installment of "Vocational Errors by Your Host Mark"? Sure, why the hell not? I've got quite a few of them.

I'm trying to think of the time line on this and I think it must be the summer of 1988...just after high school graduation and going into the first semester of my tenure at Salem State College (more on that later). There was this video store that my mom would frequent since it was near church and she would talk to the owner all the time (I've just realized that my mom was instrumental in me getting 3 of my jobs. This is not a knock on her at all, she was simply trying to get me to understand that I was expected to actually support my own damn self one day and to stop being such a load. Sorry Mom, I'm a slow learner. I think it shows more of my character, or perhaps lack of character. I needed my mommy to pound the pavement for me and find my sorry ass a job).

One Sunday she came to me and told me that the video store was hiring and all I had to do is tell the guy that I was her son and the job was in the bag. So she drove me back to the video store and waited for me in the car at my request (a 1988 Hyundai Excel...whatta ride. This thing was such a frickin' heap. The interior, which was the same odd maroon color as the rest of the car, actually bleached in the sun and all the door handles, window levers, and vents turned light blue. My mom loved that car). I walked in and talked to the owner guy Tom something-or-other. I told him I was my Mommy's little boy and that he should totally hire me to be mean to his customers. He did.

The way the store worked was that the empty video boxes were out on the floor on their respective genre-themed shelves and all the actual videos themselves were on the shelves behind the counter with these stupidly narrow passages between each one. When it was busy, one person would ring in the customer while the other one went to the back and grabbed the movies. That sounds all efficient and shit but it was just this side of chaos when it got super busy. The main reason was that there was no decent filing system (and having worked at the Malden Public Library during high school I was all about filing systems), and so the person looking for the videos in the back would have a bitch of a time trying to find the goddamn tape. Plus, when the returns would come in they would be stacked in these teetering towers of plastic pandemonium until someone had a chance to put them away. So more often than not the tape you were looking for was actually being crushed at the very bottom of that Jenga pile. Good luck fishing it out (oh god, I just remembered when E.T. finally came out on video. The people were RABID for that tape. They wanted it no matter what the cost. The days leading up to its release were heralded with a flurry of "Is E.T. in yet?" questions. No, you illiterate buffoons. As the sign clearly states it will not be in until tomorrow. Now go away and let me watch The Sunshine Boys for the 100th time).

But, for the most part that job was about boredom. This was kind of the last hurrah of the neighborhood video store as the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos were muscling in on their territories. One of them opened a few blocks away after I was hired and it siphoned more and more people away as time went on. This would make for loooong stretches of time where absolutely no one would come into the store. Perfect opportunity to reorganize the store and/or develop a better filing system for the tapes right? Yea maybe, but wouldn't you rather just watch Young Frankenstein again? Of course you would.

The videos that we would watch would, of course, depend on who was working that day. There was an older guy (I'm guessing he was in his early 40's) who had worked there from day one who was REALLY into Huey Lewis and The News. He would play their concert video every single time I worked with him. If I didn't hate that band before, I certainly do now. Another woman I worked with loved Van Halen and would play their concert video every single time too. And this wasn't even Diamond Dave era either, it was all Van Hagar. Bloody fucking hell that was torture. The owner dude Tom and I would just put on old comedies (he liked the silent era stuff like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and I would put on Mel Brooks or Neil Simon movies). Tom would make me call customers who's videos were overdue though so I didn't like working with him. Nobody else really cared whether you brought "Top Gun" back on time or not.

It was kind of a perfect little job for a while there because it didn't take much if any brain power (right up my alley there!) and since the bulk of the customers had stopped coming in, there were fewer and fewer humans to deal with. The problem being of course that this is not exactly a great business model and so Tom was forced to come to grip with reality and sell the business. I figured he'd have sold it to one of the bigger conglomerates but no. He sold it to this younger go-getter Type-A kinda guy named Marc (which, annoys me by the way. Spell the name with a "k". It looks better. "Marc" makes me read it with a soft "c" sound i.e. "Marce". Just sayin'). Marce (hee!) came in and had all kinds of ideas to improve the business and customer relations and promotions and holy shit dude...you DO know that this is a crappy video store in a shit hole city (no offense Malden but...damn) staffed entirely of people who sooo don't give a shit right? No? Ok.

Right off the bat he banned the practice of munching on the candy that was on display at the counter. Damn. Gone were the employee-picked videos playing on the big ol' console T.V. (this is 1988 remember...no fancy flat panel T.V.'s then). He made us play Disney movies and ONLY Disney movies. He also put a plan into place to eliminate the porn section (this was always a creepy encounter...it was a horrible setup not only for us behind the counter but also for the poor perverts who just wanted a wank. Most video stores have that area in the back of the store where the X-rated stuff is sequestered right? Not this place. The movies were all listed alphabetically in 4 large 3-ring binders that we had behind the counter. So in order to get yerself a porno, you had to have the stones to not only ask one of us for the binder but then to stand there and flip through the binders looking for that special film. Jeebus Christmas. People did it though, we had plenty of regulars too). The pornos were more expensive to rent than a regular movie and Tom had aquired quite a collection of them. I personally think that eliminating this was the nail in the coffin for that store. But Marc wanted what Marc wanted.

Fine. No pornos. No good movies to watch when there's nothing else to do. No snacking behind the counter. Anything else Mr. Nofun? Oh right, he started adding me to the weekend schedule even when I wasn't supposed to be on. The way it worked in the good ol' days with Tom was that you'd work one weekend and then have the next one off, work two weekends and you could have two weekends off. Nice. Marc started putting me on the schedule without first checking with me to see if I was even available (I was available usually but he should have checked dammit). He did it a few times and then I just ended up deciding that I wasn't going to come in even though my name was on the schedule for that Saturday. I'm really mature y'see.

Saturday rolls around and I go about my business (which was probably sleeping until 10 and then watching cartoons while eating cereal...did I mention I was 18?). At about 11 the phone rings and it's Marc asking why I wasn't at work. "Oh, I wasn't scheduled to work because I worked last Saturday remember?", I offered. He countered with "That policy was in effect when Tom owned the business and it is now each employee's responsibility to check the work schedule (posted on the back wall of the shelves that hold video tapes)." Touche sir. Very well put. "So you are scheduled to work today so I expect you here shortly." he summed up. I countered his counter with "Yea, I think I quit. I'm not coming in today." and hung up the phone. He was livid. He called back immediately and chewed me out for about 5 minutes (he would have gone on longer but I hung up again). At the time it felt awesome. Now I just think I was a douche.

I say that it felt awesome at the time but even that feeling was fleeting. After the second phone call my mom asked me what was going on. When I told her I had just quit my job she, how do I say this? She lost her shit. Hoo-boy was she mad at me. With good reason I might add. I stood there in the kitchen and waited for her to finish pointing out how I now had no means of income and that she still wanted her $200 in room and board. Sigh. Stupid teenagers. But hey, at least I didn't have to watch any fucking Disney movies anymore!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mr. Complainy Pants

I hate urinals. I love the IDEA of urinals but in practice I cannot stand them. The reason? Most guys don't use them correctly and end up splashing all over the goddamn place, so in order to use the thing I have to stand in someone else's piss. It seems to me that this can't just be due to dudes being revolting (ok, maybe it's 90% due to that factor) but perhaps it's a design flaw with the urinal itself. The ones here at work are of a design that seems to favor piss spray. I have abandoned them altogether have and started using the toilets instead (lifting the seat with my foot of course...I'm not an animal).

I don't know what the solution to this vexing problem (that's right: VEXING) might be. Is it a complete redesign of the urinal? Fuck yea it is! Check it:

Look at this thing! Do I pee in it or ask it to marry me? I guess the idea is that if you can increase the surface area the principles of fluid dynamics will ... oh fuck it. It looks like a giant ladies, uh...area! Wheeeeeee! This is leaps and bounds beyond the urinals I am used to and light years past the dreaded piss-trough that you can still find at some of the shittier sporting venues around the country (another reason to shun sports IMHO). Look people: we need new urinals. Get on it. I'm tired of standing in your dirty dirty pee leftovers.

I don't even want to get into the whole flushing issue. Why are people not flushing? There are those waterless/flushless units (hee. units) that look good on paper but in practice just end up smelling like a subway station. They had those installed at my last office and while I understand the environmental concern of having all that water dedicated to just rinsing a load of someone's pee down the drain, but at least the pee wasn't allowed to just hang out in the thing and dry up. God, I'm gonna retch just thinking about it. The next best thing would be the motion sensor flushing ones, but until those are improved so that they don't flush while you're using the damn thing, then I'm going to have to dismiss the technology.

I dunno what the answer is but basically, guys are gross and therefore so are our bathrooms.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter This Cube

I am starting to get used to my new surroundings here at the shiny new gig and so things are better. I still get disoriented when trying to navigate my way to conference rooms (the company occupies space in several different buildings all within a few blocks of each other. This is ok for now but once the cold and/or snowy weather gets here I may be declining meeting requests left and right).

This got me thinking it might be time for another installment of "Vocational Errors by Your Host Mark". Today's story is from 1999-2000. I had been working at ZDNet, happily plugging away at making little HTML files for the website when I realized that my boss at the time (a.k.a the mini tyrant) was not going to go to bat for me and get me the raise that I thought I deserved. I decided that I'd look for another position within the company and that's when I found out about a gig in the department some of my friends worked in. Schweeeeeet. I interviewed (like a champ) with the manager guy and after much inter-departmental red tape and ass kissing I got the gig (I had to straddle both positions for a bit too..I was doing two jobs for the price of one for about a month).

The position as it had been described to me by the manager guy I had interviewed with was right up my alley. It was sort of pseudo-technical with some support work and a dash of creative influence thrown in so that I didn't lose my will to live. Everything was hunky-dory for the first few weeks and then the he called me into his office to ask me if I was interested in going to San Francisco to meet with his boss and get a better understanding of what the peeps out there need from me. Say what now? Free trip to a super-awesome city where my ex-roomie lives? Fuck yea I'll go! I thought that I had finally "arrived". I felt all fancy.

Y'know what's not fancy? Business travel and then meetings with people who clearly suspect that you might be retarded (whoops! I meant "challenged"). The first night in town was kinda exciting if tiring. I got in around 7pm local time and after dumping my stuff off at the hotel I went downstairs to meet the grand-boss guy and his local flunkies. They were going to take some clients out to dinner and had invited me along. At the restaurant we all sat at this big-ass table (there was 8 of us I think) and everyone started chatting. Well, everyone except me. It was becoming clear to me that these people had waaaay more experience in business than I and, at this point, probably assumed I was just as successful as they. Best to keep my yap shut.

The grand-boss dude ordered up this stupidly expensive bottle of wine and talked about the giant house that he was renovating. I had just the year before purchased my house and I thought that this would be a good place to "connect" with him. Yea, turns out he was spending more than double what my house had sold for just on his restoration. I think I might not be able to relate to his "not being able to find a really good banister guy". Oh, plus keep in mind that to me it was the middle of the night since I was still on east coast time.

The next day I went into the office to meet with him and his pit bull in the form of this woman who right from the word "GO!" hated my guts (I was sitting here now trying to recall her name and I can't do it. I must have purged it from my memory...oh crap, I hope I didn't purge some stuff I need too). They proceeded to explain what my job would actually entail and it was light years away from what I had signed on to do. Basically it was all about running reports and meeting with clients and generating revenue streams and... HOLY FUCK!! I didn't even comprehend what the frick they were talking about. I just wanted to crawl under the desk and hope for them to go away. They wanted to know how many people were going to the website and what they were clicking on and if they downloaded and fuck me...it was awful.

I flew back to Boston and tried desperately to be the guy they wanted me to be but I'm just NOT that guy. I don't do marketing and strategy. I can't even plan a vacation for fuck's sake. It got so bad that I would dread seeing the little red light on my phone all lit up when I got into work in the morning. My heart would just sink when I saw that light. Plus, they were calling me with all these emergencies at 5PM California time. Hi guys? Yea, that's fucking 8PM here in Cambridge...I'm not in the goddamn office. There was talk of giving me a beeper but I was able to resist that idea luckily. I can't imagine being at the Pit Bull's beck and call 24/7. Every day I would go home and tell the Wiff that I'm going to be fired. And I wasn't kidding. I really thought that at any moment they would just throw up their hands in frustration and kick me out the door. It was one of the most stressful times in my life so far.

I just did not understand what it was that they wanted me to produce for them. They needed someone who could work closely with the clients that existed and then try to get new clients and drive traffic to the site and get the revenue to show growth and bloody hell I'm an introvert over here people. I went to the guy that I had actually interviewed with and basically asked him what the fuck happened to the job that I had applied for. He was so completely unhelpful in getting anything resolved with the California office. He essentially admitted that he had misinterpreted what it was his boss wanted and yet he either wasn't willing or able to fucking fix it. He still stands out as the worst manager I have ever worked under. So I went to HR to tell them that shit was all fucked up and I had made a huge mistake in taking this job. To their credit they didn't just kick me in the balls and tell me to "buck up, fattie". They actually worked with me to resolve the problem.

Cut to 3 months of hell later and, as luck would have it, there had been a re-organization within the old group that I had worked in. Out had gone the mini-tyrant who ran my little group as well as the perpetually bored, ineffective, Jane-Austin-loving woman that she reported into. In came this woman who had run the department when I first joined the team who was/is awesome, awesome, awesome (hooray for Laura Sweet!!). I found out that the manager position previously held by the mini tyrant was now open and I jumped on that mofo. I begged and cajoled HR and got an interview with my old manager. She asked me if I could do the job without fucking up too much and I said that I'd try (I'm paraphrasing of course). She took pity on me and hired me back. I am still so very grateful for that. She saved me and my sanity.

As a little post-script to this story, after I left that other evil position, they had a really hard time filling it. They eventually hired a few people to do the work that actually needed to be done. The description of that job was so poorly conceptualized that it took a review and rewrite to realize that there was enough work there for 3 separate people. And they had tried to get one big dummy to do all of it. Oh, and we were all laid off eventually. G'night!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wow, That Sure is a Big Bite You Took

Hi. Um...yeah.

The good news is that we do in fact have proper vacuum pressure. The bad news is everything else is pretty well fucked. We're going to attempt to repair the head gasket issue and see if that stops the oil from spewing out of the engine. All other dreams, however fleeting they may have been, of one day restoring this heap have pretty much been dealt a death blow. While jacking up the car we discovered that not only is the "official" jack point on the passenger side made up of bondo and scrap sheet metal (which don't so much help to hold the car together when lifting it but do more of a very unnerving crunching and splintering thing) but that there is a very large patch near the rear of the passenger compartment of undetermined strength and/or quality. Neither one of us felt confident enough in the jack stands ability to keep the car from falling on top of us to get a better look at it. We really need a proper lift to get in there and I can tell you now that this will most likely not happen.

So it will be the dissected frog route after all. It would take quite a bit more money and time to get this thing to where it was safe enough to think about driving. Of course I have already driven it but that's just because, I will remind you, I am a moron.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Elbows Akimbo

Work stuff is still the dominant activity lately so I won't bore you fine people (all 3 of you) with the details. Let's just say I'm in the middle of week #2 and there's a lot to learn. But that's the main reason I made this change in the first place: to challenge myself and get some new experience. So far, so good.

Moving on:

I was listening to the radio on my way into work the other day and a commercial came on for a local business. I won't say what the business is or does (mainly because I wasn't paying close enough attention and I forget what it was but also 'cuz it doesn't really matter) but it was clear that the guy who runs the business was doing the speaking (read: thick Boston-area accent). This is fine and dandy if that's what you're going for but right at the last minute when it was time to wrap up the spot and give out the phone number and address the voice switched to a professional announcer. I mention this only because a) if you hired the professional to do the last bit of the commercial, why not have him do the whole spot? b) ok, so maybe the guy charges per word or something which is why you had Billy the owner do the bulk of the ad, so why not have Billy the owner do the whole commercial? c) if you think that it's REALLY important to have the professional dude as the closer, maybe you should tell him how to properly pronounce your city's name. Or, at the very least, after realizing that he pronounced it wrong you could, I dunno, maybe re-record that bit?

The city in question? Peabody. Now, depending on where you are and whether or not you have heard someone from this part of Massachusetts pronounce this city, you may have read that as "Pee-bod-ee". That's a perfectly-understandable-3-syllable-having pronunciation but it is also fucking wrong. We will correct you once and only once and from then on we will expect you to pronounce it correctly. The correct pronunciation is "Pee-biddy". Notice that I lopped off one of the syllables. This is because it is extraneous. There is no reason that we cannot consolidate the last 2 into one singular robust "biddy" syllable (I have heard others say "Pee-buddy" but I refuse to acknowledge this version. I am a purist). Also, please note that some people actually say "Peebiddy" as one very sharp, fast syllable. This is also acceptable but I prefer the more accessible "Pee-biddy" version.

Not to be confused with P-Diddy
(or whatever the frick he's calling
himself these days).

When I watch TV I tend to mute the commercials (in real time as opposed to on the DVR...I just fast forward through 'em then. I know! So rebellious, I) 'cuz they give me a headache. There is an ad campaign for a NH store that I love, love, love. And not for the reason that I believe the geniuses who dreamed up these ads thought I would (nice sentence structure jerk-o). Well, technically it IS for the reason they thought but...oh never mind. It's for the chick in the commercial. I just did a Google search for her and I have unconfirmed info about her name but I could not find a video clip of the commercials in question. What is my fascination with her? In every commercial she does this thing that I can only describe as a variation of the Chicken Dance. I call her "Elbows" because of this. I'm pretty sure she's not aware that she's doing it but whoo-boy did I notice. I think I'm supposed to think: "She's pretty. Me want to buy things at that store now." But the only message that I get is the Chicken Dance song in my head every time her commercials come on. The Wiff and I sit there in front of our TV "doing the elbows" (as I call it). I really wish I could find a clip to put up here. I'll see what I can do about that. You HAVE to see it.

I got pulled over this week by a state trooper. My inspection sticker on the Jetta had expired (July 2009) and he got me just as I was pulling through the fast lane toll booth at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel. Luckily he just gave me a warning but sitting there as the whole rest of humanity streams by and stares at you sucks. The Wiff, who had taken The Old Girl in that day was somewhere behind me and after a few minutes I saw her drive right on by me. She claims that she didn't see me but I don't see how that's possible. Whatever. The main problem with getting pulled over is not at all what I just described above, oh no. The problem is that the Wiff had just this past Saturday gone out of her way to remind me that the sticker was expired. She even pointed out that she was leaving the cash to get the inspection done right on our side table. I chose to ignore all of this and played video games and napped instead. The "I told you so" express has left the station, a non-stop ride to God-You're-A-Schmuckville. Population: me.