Monday, November 6th, 2017

Sometime last summer, My Daring B started making smoothies every morning. We took them to work with us. She drank hers almost right away; I think of smoothies as something you eat rather than drink, so I saved mine for lunch.

At some point during the summer, I started making the smoothies because B usually waited until after she’d had her shower, which didn’t give her much time. I figured I could make them while she was in the shower, a time when I usually twiddled my thumbs or picked my nose or something about as constructive.

Making a smoothie isn’t hard. At least, the way I make them isn’t. Two bananas, a cup and a half of chopped-up frozen fruit, about two cups of vanilla soy milk, then blend it all together in our Ninja smoothie-making blender for a minute or so. Takes five minutes, turns out a very tasty smoothie.

After we came home from our week-long vacation in August, I hit a little bump in the smoothie-making road. Come Monday morning, I forgot to make the smoothies. And Tuesday morning. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just clean forgot about it. For two, maybe three weeks, I didn’t make smoothies. Now I admit that, somewhere in those two or three weeks, I recalled I used to make smoothies, and I thought, Huh, I should start making smoothies again.

But you know how hard it is to get back into the habit of doing something after you fall out of it? That’s how this was. Every evening I found myself thinking, I should make smoothies tomorrow morning, and then next morning I would be on the sofa twiddling my thumbs for five or ten minutes, vaguely troubled by a thought in the back of my mind that I was forgetting something, and next thing I knew we’d be on our way out the door and it’d hit me – Oh shit! I was gonna make smoothies! And that night I’d promise myself I’d make smoothies the next morning, and then next morning there’d be the thumb-twiddling and the oh shit moment, and so on.

Finally, one morning at work, B’s boss handed me a note with a smirk on her face, turned and walked away. The note said B wasn’t able to perform her duties as well as she had when I made smoothies in the morning, and that she would really appreciate it if I’d make smoothies again so she could have her best worker up to speed again. Something like that. I’ve been making the smoothies ever since.

smoothies | 6:30 am CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, My Darling B, office work, random idiocy
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Sunday, November 5th, 2017

I needed some data for an investigation that I could get only from a computer in the Milwaukee DMV office, and that could mean only one thing: time for another road trip! This was about the worst news I got all day, because I had a ton of other shit on my desk to get done, most of it a lot more important that driving to Milwaukee to pick up a video recording. But the station supervisor was expecting to meet me at a certain time that day, so off I went.

When I got there, the supervisor showed me to the room where the computer was set up. There was the usual computer network gear, a rack next to the door that stretched from the floor to the ceiling and was filled with boxes of blinking lights, all linked together with thick bundles of light blue network cable that ran up the rack into the ceiling. Against the near wall was a typical office computer station with a keyboard, mouse and monitor set up on a pressboard desk and an overhead book case. And wedged in between them was the computer I was looking for.

The box with the processor and the rest of the guts of the computer was on a shelf screwed to the wall in the corner at about head height. The monitor was at about knee level under the shelf, perched on a box. It was not a new monitor. It had lots of dead pixels and a splotch of dead screen about the size of a half-dollar in the top center. The keyboard was mounted to the network rack and the mouse was on a narrow shelf behind the keyboard; I had to reach over the keyboard to use the mouse. It was like some comic-book version of what the writer imagined a hacker’s basement-computer setup would look like.

It was not what you’d call an ergonomically correct work station. I had to sit on a step-stool and lean in way past my knees to get close enough to the monitor to focus on it. Thank goodness I had to spend only ten minutes or so plinking around on it. Any longer and I would’ve been crippled for life.

jumble | 8:27 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

I brought a big box of CDs along on our three-day road trip last week so we would never be out of fresh songs to listen to. Turned out we reserved the only damned car in the DOT fleet that didn’t have a CD player.

But good luck was with us: Each of us had lots of our favorite songs saved on our phones, and the car was a late model with a stereo that would connect to our phones so we could play our music loud.

The most amazing thing about long road trips? How easy it is to get someone to sing along with Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ when you’ve been trapped in a car staring out the window at endless miles of concrete for hours and hours.

songs for the road | 6:30 am CST
Category: business travel, entertainment, music, work
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Sunday, October 29th, 2017

I drove more than 800 miles last week to make sure that DMV employees in offices all over the state are doing the very best job they possibly can for the Wisconsin taxpayer by auditing their procedures. I’m happy to report they are. (The best part about the trip was that the employees were so nice to me even as I was auditing them. Not that they aren’t nice to me anywhere else; they are. It’s just that it’s always such a pleasant surprise.) It worked out to about 18 hours of driving over three days. That’s a lot of windshield time.

The first leg of our trip took us from Madison to Ladysmith, a distance the Google tells me is 252 miles and takes 3 hours 45 minutes. The mileage is accurate as far as I can tell, but it took us five hours, not just under four. My best guess as to how that happened: Google doesn’t include slowdowns for construction and stops to pee in their calculations. I’m sure the first one is almost impossible to account for, but I would suggest they could ask how old you are to get a more accurate figure for the second one: Over fifty and they add fifteen minutes to each hour of travel. Bonus points if they put a star at exits where you can find a public restroom.

From Ladysmith to Ashland we went another 104 miles and took us about two hours. When I climbed out of our car in Ashland the feeling of using my legs to walk was so unfamiliar I had to slowly unbend myself from a sitting position with each step. A time-lapse photo of me would’ve looked like that drawing of the ascent of man, a crouching ape to a hunched-over Neanderthal to a fully erect modern human. I did a few deep knee bends every time I was out of eyeshot, just to keep the circulation in my legs going.

We stayed in Ashland overnight and drove from Ashland to Hurley in the morning, just 38 miles down the road. The skies were clear to the east so the sun shone through, making it a very pleasant drive. We passed through the town of Saxon on the way; one of the women who lives there and works at the Hurley DMV told us she saw some snow flying that morning. So glad I wasn’t there to see it.

Our next stop that day was the Iron River DMV, back the way we came. Skies in the west were cloud-covered and dark as cast iron, so the drive was a bit more somber. We stopped in Ashland for an early lunch at The Black Cat coffee house (I recommend their egg sandwich). Hurley to Iron River is 65 miles, most of it along the coast of Lake Superior, the first time I’ve seen the big lake since I was in college when I went hiking in the Upper Peninsula.

Our last stop that day was Superior, which is 38 miles from Iron River, making Wednesday the day we spent the shortest time at the wheel, about three hours. I spent the rest of the day looking out the window of my hotel room, which perversely faced traffic racing past on the highway, while I worked at the desk to complete the paperwork of the offices I audited.

Fun Bit O’ Trivia: The hotel where we stayed in Superior is just off the highway that feeds traffic to the bridge across the Mississippi River into Duluth. I missed the exit and we had to drive across the bridge into Minnesota to turn around. That’s the second time I’ve done that while we’ve been auditing; the first time was in Prairie du Chien, at the extreme southern end of the state.

The last day was our longest behind the wheel when we drove two-hundred thirty-some miles from Superior to Madison in an almost uninterrupted shot. We stopped about every ninety minutes to switch drivers, get some fresh air, stretch our legs, use the rest room, and we pulled off the highway in Eau Claire to enjoy lunch at a sit-down restaurant, but altogether we were driving for about seven and a half hours.
I have never been so grateful to get out of a car.

milage | 10:24 am CST
Category: business travel, work
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Saturday, October 28th, 2017

I have to travel to do my job. Not always. In fact, not more than a few months out of the year, and that’s a very good thing because if I had to do this year-round I think I’d blow my brains out with a bazooka. Driving hundreds of miles a day, waking up in hotels, and eating complimentary “breakfasts” is not my thing. I don’t know whose thing it is, but if it’s yours, you can have it all to yourself. I will stay here in my cozy little town while you drive drive drive.

Let’s talk about those complimentary “breakfasts.” First, the eggs. What is the spongy substance those eggs made of? I would venture to guess it’s the same stuff actual kitchen sponges are made of. It holds water just like a sponge and it has no taste at all. But they wouldn’t offer actual kitchen sponges for breakfast, would they? Seems to me that might leave them open for some kind of lawsuit. So if it’s not an actual sponge, what is it? Any ideas? Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be an egg-like substance at all, other than it has a vaguely egg-like color. Why can’t they just make them out of, you know, eggs? Is it so hard to find people who know how to crack an egg into a frying pan? I guess it must be.

And then there are those sausages, the kind that look like they were extruded from the end of a grease gun. They seem to be standard issue at all hotels everywhere, same as the spongy eggs. If the same corporation makes both the egg-like substance and the grease-gun sausages, we could put an end to complimentary “breakfasts” once and for all by nuking it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). Full disclosure: I kind of like grease-gun sausages. But I can’t eat more than two links at a sitting or I’ll shit my brains out. I have a theory they make those sausages super-greasy so hotel guests don’t get constipated eating eggs made of kitchen sponge. These are the things you think about when you’re on the road a lot.

The only other item on the complimentary “breakfast” menu I willingly eat is toast. I used to eat the waffles, but I can’t stomach the mucilage they call syrup, and I won’t eat them dry. I suppose I could drown them in melted margarine, but it would take forever to wait for the semifrozen tabs of margarine to melt, and I’m already grumpy enough in the morning without adding that kind of frustration to my day.

road trip FOREVER | 9:47 am CST
Category: business travel, food & drink, soylent green, work
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One of the best things about waking up at home instead of a hotel? The coffee doesn’t suck.

I don’t know how many hotels I’ve stayed in while I’ve been away on business trips these past three months — getting close to a dozen, I would think — but I can say without hesitation that the coffee they served at almost every one of them (except the Best Western in Hudson; good job, Hudson) was not coffee anybody should be proud of serving to the customers, even if it was free. And in particular, somebody ought to be hung for the coffee I tried to drink from the urn in the lobby at the Microtel in Rice Lake. I don’t know how you screw up coffee so badly it tastes like water used to rinse underwear & socks, other than actually using water you soaked socks & underwear in.

On the plus side, I’ve been to quite a few very nice little coffee shops in towns all over the state. I thought we here in Madison were spoiled for choices of cozy mom & pop coffee shops, but really they seem to be everywhere, and thank goodness for them because I don’t know how I would have survived these trips without them.

road trip FOREVER | 8:41 am CST
Category: business travel, coffee, food & drink, work
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Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Our office had an electric kettle. I used it to make myself a hot cuppa tea every morning. It was perfect for making tea because I could set it so it would shut off when the water reached 190 degrees, which is too hot to drink but if I set the cup aside for five minutes, it was just the right temperature.

Not too long ago the kettle sprung a slow leak that got a little worse with each passing day, and last week somebody finally threw it out. Without the kettle, my choices were either do without my morning cuppa (barbarous!), use the coffee maker to boil water (and end up with a tea-coffee hybrid), or fill a cup with water from the tap and boil it in the microwave (not what I’d like, but better than the other two options).

I boiled the water in the microwave & took it back to my desk, where I added the tea and set it aside to cool. Then things got a little hectic.

First thing I have to do each morning is prepare a list of names and addresses in a spread sheet that one of my coworkers will use to print up a batch of letters our office sends out every day. The list is usually just four or five names; ten would be a lot. On this particular day, there were twenty-two people on the list. Not the most we’ve ever done, but it’s unusual. I looked at the office calendar to find out who was scheduled to print the letters so I could give them a heads-up, and what do you know: I had the duty that day.

Yay, me. To celebrate my great good fortune, I picked up my cuppa, which had been sitting about five minutes, and slurped up some tea. That’s when I was reacquainted with whichever physical law it is that says a cup of water at 212 degrees takes longer to cool down to a temperature that won’t burn my mouth than a cup of water at 190 degrees.

After a bit of huffing and puffing, I cleared the decks and got ready to print up the letters. It’s a little more complicated that just printing them; we have to copy & paste unique images into each letter, we have to track who sent each letter and when on a spread sheet, we have to add notations to several reports so management will know we sent the letters that day, and a second coworker has to check each and every one of those steps to make sure we don’t miss any of them. When there are just five or six names on the list, this can take more than an hour. When there are twenty-two names, it takes all morning.

I was in the middle of copying & pasting the images when my boss asked me for some information that she needed right away. Well of course she did. When does the boss ever say, “I need this information but I don’t need it right now; take your time and get it to me whenever you feel like it.” I’m pretty sure that’s never happened to anybody.

After I gathered the information, I asked my lead worker to review it with me so I could be sure I gathered the right information before reporting it. As I was explaining what the boss wanted, I poked the computer monitor with my finger. It went blank. Then it displayed the message “power saving mode” and shut itself off. I turned it back on, but it shut itself off again. I shut off the computer, disconnected the video cable, reconnected it and powered up the computer again. Still no joy.

At this point, I had less than an hour to get my computer monitor fixed, report the information the boss asked for, then finish the letters, before I had to be at an appointment across town. To top it all off, somebody pointed out that I was scheduled to do the letters again this coming Wednesday, when I would not be in the office to print them, so I would have to ask one of my coworkers if they would cover for me. I think they call this a perfect storm?

I’m happy to say this story has a happy ending. My computer is a laptop, so I disconnected the monitor and worked on the laptop screen. My lead worker found the information my boss needed, and I got the letters done just as the clock was ticking down to the last few minutes before I had to leave to make my appointment. Crisis overcome, victory is mine, I need a drink.

perfect storm | 5:00 am CST
Category: office work
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Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

We have a great big shiny new parking ramp next to our office building, and we got to park in it for the first time yesterday. The ramp is so new that it’s literally shiny. The cement has that slick new look to it, the floors have a fresh coat of what might be a preservative dope or paint, and all the metal fittings like the stairs and the elevators have the gleam of new steel. And it’s roughly as big as the moon because a whole lot more people will work in the great big shiny new office building that goes along with it.

We have to pay a pretty penny to park in it, although that’s nothing new: we had to pay to park in the surface lot, too, but the fee to part in the ramp is quite a bit higher. We tell ourselves that at least we have the benefit of covered parking now, so maybe that’ll make it worth the added cost. Funnily enough, our assigned parking spot is so far up near the top that My Darling B thought at first we might end up parking in one of the slots that are exposed to the elements, and was working up an indignant huff to complain to the management until I found our slot, just inside the covered area.

Three guys in reflective vests were standing by the gated entry on Monday morning, presumably ready to help in case our key cards didn’t open the gate or some other malfunction kept us from getting in. I heard that others had some trouble but we didn’t, so all they had to do for us was say good morning and wave us through. Three more guys with flags were just inside the main entrance. They didn’t flag us or say good morning, so I couldn’t tell what they were there for. This morning there was just one guy. When I waved my card key at the reader and the gate went up, he said, “Amazing! It worked!” as if he thought there might still be some doubt.

ramped up | 5:44 pm CST
Category: work
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Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Here’s a random memory that popped into my head as I was taking out the trash:

I used to work with a woman I’ll call Lilly, for the purposes of respecting her privacy. We worked together while I was stationed at RAF Chicksands in central England and, coincidentally, we both went to language school in San Antonio at about the same time. I didn’t know her well, so my impression of her may have been wrong, but she seemed like a rather quiet person with a disposition on the sunny side. I never saw her angry, until one night at Chicksands.

Our jobs at Chix seemed really super-cool at the time, mostly because we weren’t allowed to tell anyone about it. I’m still not allowed to tell you about the details, but there is one aspect of the job that’s important to this story: We banged out a lot of text on teletype machines, which are a kind of electric typewriter. They printed all this text on that old computer paper with the holes along the sides that came out the back of the machine in one long ribbon of paper that never seemed to end.

The text was considered classified material, so after it was no longer needed, the paper had to be destroyed. The military preferred to destroy classified paper by shredding it, and at a station like Chix there was a lot of material to destroy, so they built some impressively huge shredders to do the job. Unfortunately, Chix didn’t have one of these monster shredders. They had a furnace at the back of the building in a dirty, stinking room called the burn room. Nobody wasted a moment’s imagination naming that room because it didn’t deserve it.

At the end of every shift, we collected all the paper in bags, labeled the bags so we knew where they came from, and piled the bags in the burn room. A couple times a week, two or three airmen were given the responsibility of firing up the furnace and burning as much paper as they could, a dirty job made even dirtier because they had to break open every bag and sort the paper from the garbage. It was strictly verboten to put garbage in the burn bags, but people did it anyway, and nothing but paper could go in the furnace, so all that garbage had to be picked out by hand.

I’m pretty sure it was a swing shift or mid shift when I found out how much Lilly hated being on the burn detail. I was sitting at the far end of the aisle I worked in — and let me back up to describe the aisle for you: We worked on what was called the operations floor, an open room filled by rows of tall gray steel cabinets. There was a gap between each cabinet big enough for one of the teletype machines to sit on a shelf. We sat in the aisles between the rows of cabinets, facing the teletypes. Our seats were in an aisle wide enough for us to sit back-to-back with room behind us for one person to walk.

The cabinets were chock-full of electronic equipment that hummed and buzzed and clicked. All that electronic equipment generated a lot of heat, so the room was kept very cold by refrigeration units blowing cold air up through vents in the floor. We wore headphones while we worked, and between the noise coming the headphones, the chatter of the teletype machines, and the rush of air blowing through the ventilation system, it was pretty easy to sneak up on us.

Enter Lilly. Did I mention she was a tall woman? At least as tall as I am, maybe even an inch taller. Dressed in green fatigues, covered in soot, dripping sweat, and face as red with rage as her hair, she seemed to appear in the blink of an eye. One moment we were all concentrating on our work, and the next minute this red-haired fury was in our midst. She held a torn-open burn bag in one hand and bellowed, so we could all hear her: “I AM SICK OF PICKING YOUR GARBAGE OUT OF THE BURN BAGS!” Then she swung the burn bag over her head, smashing it against the floor like the hammer of Thor, where it burst open, scattering paper, orange peels, apple cores, and paper cups dribbling coffee everywhere.

We were caught dead to rights. Written across both sides of the bag was our address and the date it had been sealed up. I don’t recall if that fixed the problem or not, but I will never forget the way Lilly glared at us with disgust before stalking away.

And I never saw her angry again. Maybe she got it all out that one night.

trash talk | 10:42 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

I got to move to a different desk on Friday morning. Jim retired the middle of last month, and a couple days after he announced it, I asked Susan if anyone else had called dibs on his desk. Jim worked in a smaller cubicle but it had a raised desk top that he could work at while standing. I would much rather stand than sit all day.

When Susan said nobody had asked to switch desks with Jim, I allowed as to how I would like to switch, if it was okay with her. Turned out she was just fine with that. She had to make some arrangements with the IT department to move my computer and my phone, and in the end they messed up the phone move which now won’t happen until some time next week, but Friday morning there was an IT person at my desk when I went in bright and early, and about an hour later I’d finished moving all my files, bound manuals, pen cup, stapler, tape dispener et cetera, and cleaning up after myself.

It turned out to be as good a move as I thought it would. Standing is much better than sitting all day. I’ve been sitting behind a desk for nearly all my life, but for a little more than ten years now I’ve been much less active outside work. The Air Force had ways to motivate me to stay in shape, but after I retired from the military I had to come up with my own ways, and at this I have been sorely lacking.

And I mean sorely. Every evening for the past ten years when I got up from my office chair I felt a little worse than the day before. I could almost feel myself falling apart, but it’s not as if I had nothing to do with it. Sitting all day is bad, no question about that, but after work I would feel so exhausted that when I got home, the temptation to drop into a comfortable chair and sit all night was all but irresistible. I did not resist.

B and I got a membership at a local gym last fall and promised each other that we would go at least once a week at first, working up to twice a week through the winter. We had nothing but the best intentions. We even went to an introductory lesson, in which one of the personal trainers at the gym showed us how to use the machines that concentrated on building up core muscles. I’ve never before been in the presence of any personal fitness instructor who was more disinterested in our physical fitness. Usually they’re such hoo-rah cheerleaders that you can hardly stand them, but this guy excreted lack of enthusiasm from every pore in his body. We never went back, and I think neither one of us ever sincerely intended to go back even though we didn’t cancel our memberships for several months. Guilt is a crazy thing.

About two years ago we started going to yoga classes at the local community center. Yoga is supposed to be about getting your mind, body and spirit in shape. We weren’t necessarily thinking about mind and spirit, but getting out a couple times a week to a little light physical exercise didn’t hurt us at all, and surprisingly enough it relieved a lot of stress I was suffering from. I’d just started my current job at the DMV, investigating fraud, and was having more than a little trouble getting along with my supervisor. Somehow, I don’t know how, the practice of always taking deep, regular breaths eliminates quite a lot of stress from my life.

The poses seem to do me some good, too. I always feel more limber and relaxed after an hour of yoga, but I’d hesitate to call it exercise. The people who are really good at yoga obviously spend a lot of time doing what I would consider real exercise at a gym with weights and treadmills and such, and as I noted already I have issues with motivating myself to go to the gym. But even if the poses do nothing else, they taught me that I’m getting a pot belly because I let my core muscles get flabby. There’s a thickening layer of fat there, too, no denying it, but there’s also no denying that whenever I’m on my feet, I slouch and tend to lean on things because I’m literally out of practice when it comes to standing for any length of time greater than five minutes.

So I’m grateful, and I say this without one iota of sarcasm, to have the opportunity to slave away at my desk while standing. I stood almost all day long. I tried variations by standing on one leg or the other. I stood in tree pose, which is that yoga thing where you put the sole of your foot against the side of your calf and crank your knee around so it sticks out to one side. I did deep-knee bends. I did leg lifts. And occasionally I sat, just to give my knees a rest, which are not happy with my newfound enthusiasm for standing.

There are two downsides to my new location, though: the cubicle is located at the entrance to our section, so I’m the first person anybody sees when they walk in. When Jim worked there, he was answering questions from everyone who wandered in. The other downside is that the cubicle is right across from the break room, so every time someone toasts a couple of Pop Tarts or warms up some curry in the microwave, my stomach growls.

the moves | 7:30 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, work
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Thursday, May 21st, 2015

There are a lot of fun things to do in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Staying overnight at a hotel alongside the highway is not one of them. But this is for work, not play, so I didn’t really expect to have much fun here.

There was a little bit of a problem with the room; I couldn’t get the card key to work. I put the card in the slot, pulled it out and got a red light; the door remained locked. I put the card in and pulled it out more slowly; it still remained locked. I put the card in, left it in a moment, pulled it out slowly; still locked. I put it in backwards. I put it in upside-down. I put it in again and again and again as fast as I could. No joy. Red light all the way.

Since I couldn’t think of anything else that might’ve worked, I gathered up all my bags and made my way back to the check-in desk to tell the manager my woes. She took my card from me and did some electronic jiggery-pokery with it before handing it back, assuring me that it would work now.

It didn’t. I went through all the motions again, fast, slow, upside-down and backwards. I even grabbed the door handle and shook it hard, because why not, before gathering up my bags for another trip to the front desk.

As I was coming down the stairs, I could hear the manager on the phone with somebody. Sounded like there was a problem with double-booking. When I got there, she was doing that key card magic behind the desk. She offered me a card key before I said a word. “You’re not in 204, you’re in 205,” she explained. “Sorry about that.”

205 | 7:10 am CST
Category: travel, work
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Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Being on the road again might have been good for Willie Nelson. For me, I’m pretty happy not to be looking forward to five-plus hours in a car today. Just saying.

driven | 6:16 am CST
Category: daily drivel, work
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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home again. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate, as I’m about to attempt to tell you exactly that.

I just got back from a business trip of nearly seven hundred miles to the northwest corner of our fair state, and I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to say it felt like a trip to the moon would have been easier. And then I would be able to say that I’d been to the moon instead of Park Falls, Wisconsin. Not that there’s anything wrong with Park Falls. It’s not as exotic a location as the moon, is all.

I should also point out that, while I get along well with all my co-workers, I would challenge anyone to spend ten hours in a car with their dearest friend and see how long that conversation lasts.

I’m really glad to be home again, where I can sleep in my own bed with my favorite girl, is all I’m saying.

billions and billions | 7:40 pm CST
Category: commuting, travel, work
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Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Wow! A Great Big Fish!
a great big fish in Hayward, WI
This must be the one that got away.

Just one of the things we saw on a recent business trip to Hayward, Wisconsin.

Great Big Fish | 6:38 am CST
Category: travel, work
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Saturday, April 25th, 2015

I think I may finally be all caught up on the sleep I lost this week. Actually, I didn’t lose that much sleep. I was on an overnight business trip and we stayed in a hotel that was almost literally curbside to Interstate 43 in Manitowoc. I say “almost literally” because Interstate highways don’t have curbs, but if they did, I would have been sleeping – correction, non-sleeping within spitting distance of the curb. My coworker and traveling buddy got a room on the quiet side of the hotel and wouldn’t switch with me no matter how much I begged him. The turd.

We stopped at a liquor store for a six-pack of beer on the way back to the hotel from dinner, and I think that the two bottles I drank while channel surfing helped me get a solid two hours of sleep after lights off. An eighteen-wheeler downshifting on the exit ramp right outside my window woke me at about twelve-thirty. After offloading some of the beer I drank, I laid in bed mostly wide awake for about an hour, must have dozed off at some point and slept for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes when the next truck coming off the Interstate woke me with a blast from his engine.

I cycled between semi-sleep and wakefulness like that for the rest of the night, with a break at about three o’clock when I just said fuck it and spent about an hour and a half reviewing the paperwork I would have to follow for the audit I was scheduled to perform the next day. That made me just drowsy enough that I thought I might be able to sleep the rest of the night away, but shortly after I turned the lights off, another truck came jackbraking off the Interstate. GodDAMmit!

So when I got home the next day, I was in bed by eight o’clock that evening and I didn’t so much sleep as fall into a vegetative state that I did not rouse myself from until the alarm woke me in the morning. And that was good, but I truly felt that I needed more, especially after we came home following a visit to the gym that evening.

We are not fitness fiends, not by any stretch of the imagination. I like to take walks around the neighborhood and ride my bike around town, but that’s about as physically active as I get. My Darling B gardens, and that’s a physically demanding activity, but only from about May until September or maybe October. We took up yoga last fall so we wouldn’t spend all winter blobbing out on the sofa, surfing the internet for puppy videos.

And we talked about joining a gym, but that’s about all we did until last week when B proclaimed her ardent desire to firm up her muscles, or something. I got on board with that because that’s just the supportive kind of spouse I am. So Thursday night was our first time trying out the 30-minute workout circuit they had set up in the back of the gym, ten weight machines arranged in a semicircle around three rows of boxes. A traffic light on the back wall flashed green to tell you it was time to work out, and red to tell you to switch to the next machine. You were supposed to climb on the boxes between stints at the machines as a sort of rest period.

So off we went! B went first, guided by Luis, the gym’s fitness instructor. We didn’t tell Luis that neither one of us had visited a gym in about ten years. He could look at us and easily tell that we weren’t exactly prime physical specimens, but we probably should have given him that critical bit of information.

The first three machines were leg work. I got through those and thought, Hey, this is pretty easy, probably because I have to walk around on my legs every day. The rest of the machines worked on my back, arms and chest. The only work my arms do every day is lift my hands to a computer keyboard, so by the time I got to the fifth machine I had already changed my mind to, Okay, so maybe this isn’t going to be so easy after all, and by the sixth or seventh machine I was not at all confident that I would be able to make it to the end of the circuit.

My Darling B was doing just as well as I did until she got to the sixth or seventh machine, and then her blood sugar crashed, probably because she hadn’t eaten anything besides a banana at eleven o’clock. Luis took her out of the circuit and made her drink a bottle of Gatorade while I limped toward the finish line. Slept like the dead that night, I can tell you.

Two days later, I still feel like somebody beat me around my shoulders and upper arms with a lead pipe. A yoga class last night helped stretch out my poor tired muscles and I slept the sleep of the just once again, getting out of bed around six-thirty this morning only because Boo wouldn’t stop whining about whatever it is that cats whine about at six-thirty in the morning before they go back to sleep at seven-thirty.

deficit | 4:40 pm CST
Category: travel, work
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A coworker and I stopped at a Perkins restaurant for lunch on a recent business trip. After we finished our entrees, the waitress took our plates away and asked us if we had saved any room for dessert. I wasn’t interested, but my coworker asked about the cookies he’d seen in the display case on the way in.

“We have a special on those,” the waitress told us. “If you buy three, you get three.”

We looked blankly at each other for a couple seconds, both thinking the same thing: What’s so special about that? If you pay for three, you ought to get three.

Then the nickel dropped. What she meant was that if he bought three, she would give him three more. It was a two-for-one deal.

pay for three | 8:10 am CST
Category: coworkers, food & drink, restaurants, work
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Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Yesterday, for what I’m pretty sure was the first time ever at the office where I work now, someone stepped up to the middle urinal while I was at the right urinal and someone else was at the left urinal. I’m almost one-hundred percent positive that’s never happened there before. At least, not that I’ve seen. I’ve been working there a little over fourteen months. Maybe the old-timers know different.

This particular building went up in 1964, back when urinals stood four feet tall and were sunk into the floor. More to the point, they were very often planted so close together that, when every one of them was occupied, you rubbed shoulders with the guy beside you. I had to learn early on not to mind getting nudged while peeing. That hardly ever happens in modern buildings, where urinals are spaced far enough apart to put up a steel divider between them.

There’s a gang of three urinals in the men’s room off the elevator lobby, and like the rest of the men on our floor, I’ve always used one of the end urinals. Nobody uses the middle urinal, not even when they go in and find themselves all alone, because what if somebody comes in? And if you go in and find that both end urinals are occupied, you either pass by on your way to the toilets, or you do a one-eighty and go to another floor.

I’m not sure why. My first guess was that most guys think it’s gay, but I’m not sure that figures, when you think about it even a little bit. Most guys stand way too far from the urinal while they’re using it – that’s not my opinion, that’s a fact that a quick scan of the floor will confirm – so I don’t think they’re uncomfortable about putting their junk on public display. But maybe it’s the shoulder-rubbing that they’re uncomfortable with. I’m more than a little uncomfortable with it, to be totally honest. I don’t want to be rubbing shoulders with anyone other than my wife in any situation that isn’t a dire emergency.

My second guess, and this one seems a lot more likely to me, is that the social dynamic of the public bathroom has changed a lot in fifty years. Used to be that guys would gab a lot in the men’s room. Especially so at the urinals, probably because they were packed so close together anyway. If a guy stepped into the vacant spot next to you, he’d say Hi, How Bout Them Packers? Or he’d tell you the latest one he heard about the priest, the rabbi and the pastor, and you’d be expected to tell him the best one you heard that week. Doesn’t happen now. I’m not lamenting it; things change. But you can observe it yourself: Guys don’t talk much in the men’s room any more, least of all at the urinals, where they’re silent as gargoyles. About half of them are plugged into podcasts anyway, so you couldn’t trade jokes with them if you wanted to.

Which is why I was absolutely gobsmacked, and just a little taken aback, frankly, when a guy stepped into the middle urinal yesterday. I almost said something to him. Not about the score of the last Packers game, but something like, Did you even check to see if there’s an open toilet? Because I’m pretty sure he didn’t. And because he had Transgressed the Unwritten Law. It’s not like there are a lot of rules to using the men’s room, but this one has solidified over the years to the point that it’s virtually carved into the tiles above the middle urinal: Thou Shalt Not. Back Away. Do It Now.

And yet, there he was. Guy’s obviously too much of a rebel for unwritten laws. Or he’s from another planet. Didn’t think of that until just now.

middle | 9:49 am CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, Farts & Farting, office work, random idiocy, this modern world, work, yet another rant
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…if one wanted to crush, to annihilate a man utterly, to inflict on him the most terrible of punishments so that the most ferocious murderer would shudder at it and dread it beforehand, one need only give him work of an absolutely, completely useless and irrational character.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

crush | 9:04 am CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, work
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Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I recently went to a meeting with my supervisor, who was busily working up an e-mail or a memo or something as I walked in. “Give me just a minute,” she said, banging away at the keyboard in a most determined way and I answered, “No problem,” and waited while she finished her thought.

When she hit the final full stop and turned from her keyboard, I made an offhand remark like, “Are they keeping you busy much?” She took a deep breath, let it out and said, and I wish I could quote her verbatim but it was something like, “Oh, it’s been one of those days, but I guess none of us has ever had a job that we looked forward to every day,” by which I’m sure she meant only that there are good days and there are bad days, not that she wasn’t happy in her job. But her comment made me perk right up and blurt, “That’s not true!” It was out of my mouth almost before I realized I’d said it.

That stopped her dead in her tracks. She looked puzzled, then asked, “You had a job that you looked forward to every day?” as if she didn’t quite believe it. And then she had to ask, “Well, what was it?”

So I proceeded to tell her about when I was a resource manager, programming the work schedule at a military facility just outside of Denver, Colorado. I know it sounds lethally boring and I wish I could tell you exactly what made it so enjoyable that I looked forward to it every day, but I can’t because I’ve been sworn to secrecy about it, not in the cool I’ll-have-to-kill-you-if-I-tell-you way but in a mundane, we’ll-both-go-to-jail-if-I-tell-you way. Think Edward Snowden instead of James Bond.

But I can tell you that I was part of a small, specialized team of people whose work made it possible for dozens of other people to get their work done. Without our team, everybody else would have been sitting on their hands a lot of the time and billions of dollars worth of hardware would have sat idle. The team I was on found where those idle spots were most likely to be and reassigned the hardware.

It was entirely different work from anything else I had done before that, so I had to learn it from scratch, mostly by sitting next to the inestimable Chad Burlingame for a few weeks as he explained how things worked, talked me through what he was doing, then moved aside to let me sit in his seat and nervously try to mimic what I’d seem him do. I listened carefully as he patiently correct the thousand and one mistakes I made, and eventually he let me do the job on my own, so I must have learned it well enough.

I did that job for three or four years (I forget exactly), and loved it from beginning to end. There were probably a few off days, but I don’t remember them and I never got tired of the job. I would’ve done it for as long as the Air Force let me stay there.

happy in this job | 3:25 pm CST
Category: coworkers, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Thirteen years ago today I was one of the newbies on Misawa Air Base. By this time in November I’d been there a little over ten weeks and I’d gone to more mandatory formations in that time than in the rest of my military service. In the Air Force, we called any meeting a ‘formation.’ Mass formations were held at the base theater because they could cram a lot of us in there, checking the box on a whole lot of forms at one sitting.

They briefed us on everything that happened at Misawa, but they were especially thorough about briefing us on winter. Thorough, as in they talked a lot about it, but the briefing was dumbed down to the point that it was inane. Sitting through it I would think, Do people really have to be told this?

It gets really, really cold in winter. Don’t get frostbite. And we get so much snow here that people have heart attacks shoveling it, so don’t keel over and die while you’re shoveling your sidewalks. Now, in our own special way, let us try to scare you out of doing something stupid by showing you gruesome photos of frostbitten toes and hands that got mangled in snow blowers. Thank-you for your time and don’t forget to sign the attendance roster on the way out or you’ll have to come back and do this all over again tomorrow.

I’m not kidding. They really did make us watch a slide show of hands mangled by snow blowers, projected onto a screen twenty feet high and thirty feet wide, apparently in the belief that even the dopier specimens among us would stop and think about what we were doing the next time a snow blower bogged down. And yet, every year, the clinic supplied the people doing the brief with new photos of some dummy’s hand after he stuck it into a snowblower. So, yeah, people need to be told this.

briefings | 4:20 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Friday, August 29th, 2014

One of my coworkers takes great delight in singing less-than-likeable pop songs from the 70’s. The asshole. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but I could cheerfully curb-stomp anyone who thinks it’s hilarious to resurrect pop songs that should have remained dead and buried. That’s one breach of etiquette that ought to be punishable with at least a bit of ad hoc facial reconstruction.

And by ‘etiquette,’ I’m being purely rhetorical. I certainly don’t mean that my coworker should be asking permission to drag these musical abominations from the grave. If you’re going to politely ask, “Say, do you mind if I sing the chorus to Seasons In The Sun?” you might as well just sing the fucking song, because either way it’s going to play on a loop in my head the rest of the day.

And I’m not talking about mildly annoying songs, or songs that I like in spite of themselves. The kind of songs I’m talking about are vile in their construction, repugnant in their performance, and malicious in the way they infect you. They are musical disease. I’m not kidding. Do you seriously believe Playground In My Mind was recorded for any reason other than to painfully torment you for the rest of your days?

These are the kind of songs that were so long gone that not only had I dared to believe they would never be heard again, I had reached a kind of pop-song Nirvana: I had not thought about them for decades. If only every song by Hall & Oates would vanish so completely. But now there’s this coworker who has to go and dredge them up, one by one, by singing just one or two lines of a chorus, off-key. One pass, and I spend the rest of the afternoon listening to every goddamned saccharine-sweet line, because of course my memory, which can’t be depended on to remember a grocery list with three items on it, can remember every word of every song I heard in the 70s.

dead and buried … and undead | 6:08 am CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, music, work
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Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Just outside the schoolhouse on the Air Force base where I learned how to do all sorts of technical things there was a fenced-in break area with a soda machine and maybe a couple picnic tables. I think we got one break in the morning and one in the afternoon when we would all go bunch up in the break area; those who smoked would smoke as furiously as they could in the ten minutes or so before we had to go back in. Those who didn’t smoke drank soda or just stood around gabbing.

On one particular day we went out there to find a guy loading the soda machine. He was good enough to stop what he was doing and pass out cans of soda to us so we wouldn’t have to miss out before going back to class. As he was passing out the cans he bobbled one of them, and when it hit the ground it must have caught a stone just right because as it rolled across the concrete floor of the break area it sprayed a geyser of brown caramel soda pop into the air each time it rolled over.

I had never seen panic and mayhem in a crowd setting before. Turns out that kids wearing clean blue uniforms will climb over one another to get away from a rogue soda can.

let us spray | 7:03 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career
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Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

I’ve been making myself cross-eyed staring at drivers license applications all day long. Or is it driver’s license applications? I feel there should be an apostrophe in there somewhere. Without it, “drivers license applications” is just a long string of nouns. Truly, the phrase should be “applications for the licensure of drivers” because it sounds so much more grand that way and because I’m kind of an officious boogerhead.

Staring at blank drivers license applications all day wouldn’t necessarily make me or anybody else cross-eyed, but examining hundreds of applications day in and day out, looking for mistakes, finding them and then meticulously cataloging them for analysis – that, I can tell you, would make everybody and their mothers lose their minds.

Not only have I been doing that, I’ve also been reviewing the applications that other people have already looked at, to make sure they haven’t missed anything. By actual count, the people in my office have looked at just over 3,900 applications and found mistakes on about half of them, which I have then re-reviewed. My brain hurts. I think it may be permanently damaged.

cross-eyed | 6:04 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Monday, April 28th, 2014

England memories:

When Tim heard that we were moving into a house on RAF Digby with an upper floor, he asked right away if it had stairs. His eyes lit up like Christmas when I told him it did. “Cool!” he said. I enjoyed his exuberance even though I didn’t fully understand it until the day we moved in. I was downstairs when I heard what sounded like a god’s knuckles dragged along a washboard. Looking for the source of the noise, I found Tim at the top of the stairs on his belly looking down at me. “Watch what I can do!” he commanded before launching himself downward, arms outstretched like Superman, going flup flup flup flup all the way to the bottom. Made my knees hurt just watching (he was using his as brakes).

superman | 8:29 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, T-Dawg
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Saturday, February 1st, 2014

paper towel dispenserThe management has installed new paper towel dispensers in the restrooms. These are better than the old paper towel dispensers because you don’t have to touch them with your dripping wet hands. There will always be a square of paper toweling hanging from the mouth of the dispenser. If you rip it off, another square will automatically be dispensed. The size of this square has been carefully calculated so it will be precisely the right amount to dry both your hands. Therefore, it is absolutely unnecessary for you to grab a second, third or fourth sheet of paper toweling. So just stop doing that. I mean it. Cut it out. And whoever told you to push the button that makes the dispenser spit out a sheet of toweling three feet long should learn to keep his mouth shut. You’re not supposed to touch the dispenser, remember? That’s why we took out the old dispensers and installed these high-tech dispensers! Use them the way they’re meant to be used, okay? Did you hear me? Keep your hands off them! Stop! Pushing! The! BUTTON!

drier hands through technology | 6:47 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

I’m wracking my brains trying to think of a single thing that happened to me yesterday worth writing up some drivel about, but it’s just not coming. I sat in a classroom all morning while I listened to a guy read power point slides to me, then sat in a classroom all afternoon to watch two people explain how to use the advanced features of a piece of software I’d never learned how to use. By the end of the day I was numb. That’s about all I’ve got.

Oh, and it’s real cold.

Wait! I almost forgot! When we got to the office in the morning it was oddly quiet. I even said something to B about it, like “Why aren’t the air handlers running?” When I walked into the classroom about ten minutes later, it felt like stepping into a meat locker. I stopped, turned and read the temperature on the thermostat by the door: 56 degrees. “No way,” I said out loud.

“Yeah,” the instructor said, “there’s no heat in the building.”

“There’s no heat in the building?” I asked. Because it didn’t seem possible that it could be as warm as 56 if there was no heat in the building. The temperature outside was seven below. But it was true. When I checked my e-mail there was a DMV-everybody message in my inbox explaining that a steam pipe had busted overnight and there was no heat coming in. They got it fixed by about ten o’clock, but it was mighty chilly for a while, especially near the windows where I was sitting.

steam dead | 6:15 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

When I was about seven or eight years old, my dad took me to the open house at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in upper Michigan. It’s closed now, but back then the place was buzzing with B-52s, and Dad thought a visit would be pretty cool. It was. I even got to sit in the cockpit of a really big plane, might’ve even been a B-52. It was a different world then.

This story is relevant because I’ve been sitting through an advanced class in how to process applications for driver’s licenses, something I’ve never done but the rest of the people in the class have. The last hour of the class is a practice period, where the other students get to apply the lessons they just learned by logging in to a testing database and processing applications as if they were the real thing. I tried, but after logging in, I couldn’t even figure out how to open a record. They’d showed me all the advanced pieces of the processor, but they hadn’t shown me how to start the thing up. It was exactly as if the pilot of that bomber had sat me down in the cockpit, explained how that and that and that worked, and then said, “You know what? Why don’t you take her out for a spin? I’ll be right here if you have any questions.”

b52 | 6:33 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, work
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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The gal sitting behind me in orientation this morning let out a long, low, steady belch that lasted for several seconds. It was the kind of burp that my father used to release when he was trying to get a reaction out of me, so when she was done I turned to her and, as Dad always complemented me when I ripped a good one, said, “Prosit!”

She appeared startled at first, then embarrassed. “I didn’t think anyone would hear that.”

I had to laugh at that because I’m pretty sure the people on the other side of the room heard it, and then I laughed a little more because burping has never been one of those things I’ve been embarrassed about, and I was more than a little amused that she was. When I burp, I own it. If you’re going to burp, even if you don’t think it’s going to be that loud, you should still own it, too. And that’s my great big philosophical thought for the day.

eructation | 6:55 pm CST
Category: coworkers, work
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I’ve been banished to New Employee Orientation. Not forever. It just feels like forever. Amazing, really, how you can make time freeze in its tracks by putting any random set of Power Point slide up on a screen and have somebody read them to an audience. Einstein would’ve busted a blood vessel trying to figure out how that fit into his concept of time.

Lucky for me I’m at a table of people who don’t take it too seriously. Yesterday we designed a new license plate (because every single briefing has to have an activity), so we drew a fish swimming under some wavy lines and called that our Save The Great Lakes plate. Our plate wasn’t chosen by the committee to make it to production, but by then we’d moved on to playing with the pipe cleaners, so we weren’t bothered much.

If there’s one thing they should change about New Employee Orientation, it’s the candy. There’s probably way too much candy in the bowl on the tables, and it’s all gone by the end of the day. That means we’re eating it, but I don’t remember eating it, so we’re eating it without realizing we are, which usually happens when there’s a bowl of candy on the table. They should either get rid of the candy, or replace it with nuts or something healthy. Or, if they’re not willing to get rid of the candy, they should put out full-size candy bars, because when you eat one of those little things you always think, That was just a little piece of candy, so I can have another one. And you keep doing that until your stomach tells you you never want to see another piece of candy for as long as you live.

orienting | 5:52 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Brittney: “Do you know Barb Karpowla?”

Me: “Who? I don’t think I’ve met her.”

Brittney [funny look]: “Barb, your wife. Do you carpool?”

Me: “Oh. Yeah. Uh, I thought you were asking about somebody named Barb Karpowla.”

Brittney [laughing]: “I thought you were making fun of me!”

Barb Karpowla | 8:31 pm CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, random idiocy, work
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Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Well, I’m back from another 500-mile road trip to the frozen north. Not back as in just now. Not even as in just yesterday. I left early Tuesday morning with a couple of coworkers and we were back Wednesday night, so the news is a little stale, I’ll admit, but I’m doing the best I can. What? I don’t see you writing a blog.

One of the things I do as part of my new job is audit other people’s work, meaning I make sure they’re doing everything according to their own procedures. How are you supposed to be doing that? Oh, I see. Okay, are you doing that? You are? Great. See you next year. What a great job, eh?

Right now we’re auditing the field stations, some of them in exotic, faraway places like Hayward and Florence, so we have to do a lot of driving. Actually, most of the job is driving. The part where we’re at the field station, asking questions and counting inventory, usually takes about an hour if it’s a big station, half an hour if it’s one of the small ones. The rest of the time spend on these audits is getting there and getting home.

And this time of year there’s often a snowstorm involved. We had to retreat from Hayward being chased by a storm that dumped snow and sleet all over the Northwest. This last trip to Eau Claire was a little snowy, but not too much. Mostly, it was just cold.

After completing the audit, we drove into town to look for a place to eat. There appeared to be a lot of restaurants along Water Street, so that’s where we headed. When I went to school in Eau Claire thirty years ago, the drinking age was 18 and Water Street was where the students all went to get drunk. There were so many taverns on Water Street that if you tried to pub crawl your way down to the end and then back up again, you’d never make it. Or at least I never would have. The only time I ever came close to trying was one year on Halloween when my brother came for a visit. I think we got all the way to the end, but by then we were pretty drunk and didn’t try to drink our way back.

There seem to be a lot fewer taverns these days; we ate lunch in a pub called Dooley’s. I think it used to be called Camaraderie. I didn’t ask, though, because the waitress was so young that her parents probably hadn’t even met back then. (The Google tells me Dooley’s was built on the spot where the Camaraderie stood until it burned down in 2001. Ch-ch-changes.)

I recognized just a few other landmarks: The shop where I used to buy comic books, the downtown movie theater I used to go to, the dimestore where I bought goldfish to feed to my piranha. I must’ve bought dozens that year. Funny how the lady who ran the pet department never cottoned on to why I came back so often. Hard to believe she would’ve thought I had enough room in my tank for all those goldfish.

By a weird coincidence, we stayed overnight in a hotel across the road from the strip mall where I spent a shameful amount of my time and money trying to beat Tempest, a weirdly abstract video game. To play, you assumed the role of a yellow claw that crawled its way around the rim of a tunnel, blasting away at Xs that crawled up the wall of the tunnel to get you. They moved faster the longer the game went on and their touch was instant death but they were easy to kill. The sparklies were not so easy because they hid behind long spikes that you had to blast down to a stump before you could hit the sparklie. As you got better other foes appeared like the zappers, which tried to electrocute you. If you managed to kill all the Xs, you went whooshing down the tunnel and if you weren’t ready for it, you’d get impaled on one of the spikes left behind by the sparklies. I told you it was weird and abstract. Never did beat it, by the way.

I’ll just mention here that I wasted so much time playing Tempest and pinball games my first semester at school that my GPA was something like 0.0006 and I was put on academic probation. Not that I’m proud of it, kiddies. Do NOT try this yourself. I had to take that report card home and show it to my parents, who were underwriting my first year at school and were not well chuffed by my performance. We had a Very Serious Talk that night. And I’ll just end by noting that I managed a 3.6 GPA the very next semester.

road trip | 8:22 am CST
Category: travel, work
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Friday, December 6th, 2013

Stopped at a Gas-N-Go just outside Eau Claire. While Mike filled the tank, I went in the store to use the john.

A kid in a beanie cap came out of the toilet stall while I was standing at the urinal. He left without washing his hands. After I was done washing up, I wrapped my left hand in about fifty yards of paper toweling to make a nice, thick mitten I could use to grab the door handle. Still felt kind of squicky about it.

I wanted a cup of coffee and a package of Oreos until I noticed that the kid in the beanie cap was behind the cash register. And all I had was a twenty, so there would be change. That he touched. Oh. Yuck.

employees must wash hands | 6:24 am CST
Category: daily drivel, work
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Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

I’ve been on the road for a couple days in the service of the Great State of Wisconsin, which means that I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee until just this morning. The hotels we stay in on these trips are all the kind that serve a complimentary breakfast of dried cereal or make-your-own waffles, and the coffee they set out for us comes out of a great big stainless steel urn. I was very hopeful the first time I saw that. Although coffee that’s been stewing all morning in a great big urn does not always taste the best, it’s usually strong enough to strip the paint off the sides of a battleship. Alas, chain hotels have apparently figured out how to water down urn coffee so it wouldn’t wake up a light sleeper if you poured the whole thing on his head.

I’m a light sleeper, but I’d like a strong cup of coffee in the morning, preferably two. That’s just not happening, not at the hotel and not anywhere near the hotel. The off-ramp territory where chain hotels are built seems to be the last places on earth where Starbucks fears to tread. I don’t like the coffee Starbucks makes; it all tastes burned to me, but at least it’s strong. I’d trudge a quarter-mile on foot and gratefully slug back a cup of their French Roast if I could just get my hands on one, but no joy.

There’s usually a McDonald’s nearby, but I won’t set food in a McDonald’s again until after the apocalypse.

Which reminds me: Whatever happens, even if the zombie hoards are overrunning the city, do not resort to drinking the stuff that comes out of those toy coffee makers in hotel rooms. Not only is that stuff not coffee, it’s not drinkable. It may even be injurious to human health, but I’m not saying anyone should be forced to drink it just so we can find out.

javaless | 9:40 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, random idiocy, travel, work, yet another rant
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Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

At the end of my first day at my new job the boss came around and asked, “So, what do you think? Will you be coming back tomorrow morning, I hope?”

Of course I will. But it reminded me of the guy I hired as a limited-term employee not long ago. He came to work on Monday, which anybody knows is a throwaway day because he had to go to HR to get the introductory talk, then he had to talk to payroll, then I introduced him to everybody, then he couldn’t log on to his computer, then when he could log on we found out his computer wasn’t set up correctly, etc etc etc.

He was off Tuesday for a medical appointment. When he came back on Wednesday he put in a full day of work. It was paper-pushing, mostly, but he knew that’s what it was going to be because I’d made sure to describe the job in some detail when I interviewed him.

Thursday morning he came into my office to say, “Sorry, this isn’t a good fit for me. I won’t be staying.” I got one day out of him, then good-bye. So I guess it does happen.

return trip | 6:03 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Monday, November 4th, 2013

While I was knocking out windows and cutting plywood in the basement yesterday, it reminded me of when I was helping my dad build a darkroom. When he bought the newspaper in Manawa it came with an office building, sort of. There wasn’t much to it. It was just the basic shell of a building with a wall about ten feet beyond the front door to divide the innards into an office in the front and a work room in back. Behind the front wall was what we rather grandly referred to as the bathroom, really a narrow closet with just a toilet in it, and what eventually became the darkroom, where we developed film and printed photographs.

I don’t think it was built to be a darkroom, but I’m saying that only because the walls were full of nail holes. If the previous owners tried to develop film in there, the photos must’ve turned out just awful. To fix that problem, dad covered the holes with dozens of tiny squares of red cellophane tape. You can expose photosensitive paper to red light without fogging it, and even film would tolerate the small amount of light from the constellation of tiny red stars that swam all around me in the dark as I wrapped it around spools and dropped it into developing tanks.

Aside from the old Kodak enlarger and the few other pieces of precision machinery we bought to expose and develop photographs, almost everything in that darkroom was home-made. A sheet of pegboard and an old vacuum cleaner became a rather clever easel for the enlarger. He made a shallow box with the pegboard on top, then drew outlines on the pegboard that were the standard sizes for the photographs we printed in the paper. All I had to do was center the photo in the outline, cut a piece of photographic paper to size, lay it over the outline, cover it with a transparent sheet of plastic and turn on the vacuum cleaner. The hose of the vacuum was connected to the side of the pegboard box so it sucked air through the holes, flattening the photo paper under the clear plastic. Make the exposure, turn off the vacuum, done!

Dad also made a sink out of plywood. We needed one big enough to hold the three wide plastic trays we used to develop the page-sized negatives that the newspaper pages were printed from, so he took a big sheet of inch-thick plywood, boxed it in on three sides and painted it with a couple coats of epoxy. Drilled a hole in one corner, hung a faucet from the back, and voila! A sink.

The darkroom was full of lots of impressively simple stuff like that. Dad could be pretty clever when he got an idea in his head. There was this one time, though, when he tried to ventilate the room through a hole in the wall over the door that he fitted with a squirrel cage fan. For some reason, he didn’t wire the fan to a switch. He gave it a power cord with a plug, as if it were an appliance that he might want to someday take to another room. That baffled me, but I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t an outlet close enough to plug it into, so he replaced the light switch with a combination switch/outlet, but when he hooked the wires up, he connected them to the wrong lugs. Didn’t realize what he’d done, though, until he plugged the fan in and the lights came on. I think I hurt his feelings when I laughed and laughed and laughed, but dammit, it was funny.

plugged in | 5:49 am CST
Category: Dad, O'Folks, work
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Friday, November 1st, 2013

This was my last day working at the offices of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, known as the Department of Regulation and Licensing when I was hired there a little more than three years ago. On Monday morning when My Darling B and I climb into the O-Mobile to start the commute to work, we’ll head straight for Hill Farms on the beltline instead of meandering across the isthmus through town so that B can drop me off at the corner of Dickenson and Washington, as has been our custom until now. B will be pleased that she doesn’t have to drive (I always end up getting stuck with the driving, for unspoken reasons that I don’t clearly understand beyond, “Because I’m the guy and have to do what SWAMBO says”) and her commute will be much shorter.

I am of mixed feelings.

  1. Pretty Damn Happy: It’s a new job! A new adventure with new skills to learn and people to meet. No, really. As cliche as I know this is going to sound, I’ve learned to look forward to a change in jobs because each new job has been packed with opportunities to expand my horizons. Even if I push them only a little bit, it’s still a net gain, right? Right.
  2. Relieved: Learning to do a new job every few years is normal to me. I think the longest I’ve ever been at one office or workshop or whatever has been about five years. This has been going on so long that it’s nearly impossible to imagine what it would be like to work in one office at one job all my life. How do people do that?
  3. Kinda Bummed: Well, more than just “kinda.” I’m leaving behind lot of people I sincerely enjoyed working with, quite a few of whom I came to think of as friends. Even though we worked hard to get the job done, they showed me how to have a little fun with it. I think I respect them more for the having fun part than the getting the job done part.
  4. Ambivalent: In the military incarnation of my life I got used to moving from one job to another every few years, so I’ve never become so attached to a job that I couldn’t bear leaving it.

I’m thinking it’s going to take maybe a couple weeks to sort through these mixed feelings before I finally settle on one that I’m happy with. Until then, I’ll just hang out here in limbo and deal with my transition from one office to the next.

moving on | 8:56 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, work
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Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

cakeThis Friday will be my last day at the office, so my coworkers organized a nice little pot luck dinner as a going-away for me. They booked a conference room and brought plenty of delicious goodies and we sat around the table for about an hour during the lunch break and shot the bull while we noshed.

As delicious as all the dishes they brought were, the best thing about it was the cake. Cindy, one of the women who organized the pot luck, ordered a cake from Hy Vee and when she phoned in the order, she asked them to write “Good luck and best wishes – Later, traitor!” (Because I’m going to work at another state agency.) Here’s an important lesson for you: Never phone in an order when there’s a chance the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know how to spell. Cindy said she picked up the cake with fifteen minutes to spare, but on the way to the cash register she looked down and saw that it said, “Later Trader!” Well, nothing she could do about it at that point, so she just paid and brought it to the pot luck. I’m so glad she did. I’ll get a chuckle out of that every time I think of it.

summary | 7:54 pm CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, work
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Friday, September 20th, 2013

I woke up out of a sound sleep, rolled over to see what time it was, got out of bed because it was five o’clock, the time I normally feed the cats, thinking that I’ll just put a dollop of food in their dishes, then go back to bed. I thought it was Saturday. I continued to think it was Saturday as I stumbled back to the bedroom after feeding the cats, and went drifting off to sleep thinking about all the goofing around I was going to do today. And then I remembered the things I really was going to do today – interview about a dozen people to fill a vacancy, put out a couple of fires, talk to customers who wanted to speak to a supervisor right now, etc etc etc – and my eyes snapped open again. And I got out of bed to take a shower and face the day.

Man, I hate it when that happens.

misfire | 5:47 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, sleeplessness, work
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Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I forgot to wear socks to work today. The up side is, nobody noticed.

I bike to work in shorts and a t-shirt. Wearing shoes seems a little much in an outfit like that, so I wear sandals, the kind with the little rubber strap that goes between my toes. Couldn’t wear socks with those even if I wanted to, so the only socks I have with me when I bike to work are the ones I pack in my saddlebag with my clothes, except when I don’t remember to. Today was one of those days.

At first I thought everyone would notice and most people would say something, but the reality of the situation was that nobody noticed and I had to finally point it out to get anybody to say boo about it.

Next Monday, I’m not going to wear a shirt and see what happens.

barefootin | 6:24 pm CST
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

I literally froze my ass off at work yesterday. I feel I can say this and get away with it because, like my father and his father before him, my middle-aged ass is so non-existent as to be missing, so you can’t prove I didn’t freeze my ass off.

But I really was freezing yesterday. Really. Took me until just now for my fingers to thaw out enough to feel the keys on my laptop. Before, all I could type was fdfadoi fewihonf sanvaiof ewiofnan.

I stuck it out until about ten o’clock, when I finally went to the office next door, tapped timidly on the door jamb and introduced myself. Hi. I’m your next-door neighbor and your thermostat controls the temperature in both our offices and I was wondering if you could kick it up a notch because I’m only a little warmer than Walt Disney over there. Turned out she was freezing, too, and had already tried dialing up the thermostat a couple times, but no joy. She had it cranked up to seventy-two, but it was obviously not seventy-two in there. I thanked her and went back to see if I could shiver myself warm. I couldn’t.

frozen | 1:39 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Friday, June 21st, 2013

Oh My God We're All Gonna Die, Aren't We?Not biking to work today. Woke up to thunder and was greeted by spotty rain drizzling down when I opened the front door to let the chipmunks tease the cats. And there was also a monstrous red blob coming in from the west on the satellite map when I checked the National Weather Service. I don’t mind getting rained on coming home from work, but I try to avoid getting rained on when I’m going to work. That would really torque my crank.

Monstrous red blob means probably rain all weekend. So it’s going to be a stay-inside weekend, then. Oh well. I got some more brewing equipment in the mail yesterday so it was already likely I was going to spend a big part of the weekend in the basement making a mess anyway.

monstrous red blob | 6:08 am CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, random idiocy, work
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Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Biking home from work I got stuck behind a guy who was showing off to anyone who would watch by leaning way back in his saddle and riding no-hands down the trail. We all felt so insignificant that we would never been as cool as he was.

I would’ve passed him but, just as I approached, he wagged his butt and his bike waggled back and forth across the trail with him. Not wanting to become part of his wish to crash spectacularly, I avoided passing him until I could more completely assess his intentions.

His intentions were apparently to dare gravity to grab him and dash him to the ground. Not only did he waggle his butt again, but he went on to dance a hoochy-koo in his saddle, shaking his ass so vigorously that his chain slapped a back-beat against the frame of his bike.

I watched and waited for what I thought had to be the inevitable jackknifing that would end with his chin shoveling up dirt, but no joy. He remained defiantly upright until he grabbed his handlebars to turn, something even he was not cool enough to do no-hands.

shake ya ass | 8:00 pm CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, entertainment, hobby, play, work
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Biking to work today, I slowed down at the spot where the bike trail crossed Blount because a Budweiser beer truck was coming up the road. He was moving pretty slow but I’m pretty slow sometimes too and I didn’t want to get smooshed like a bug, so I stopped.

I had to wait a lot longer than I thought I would for him to get to the crossing. Just as he got there, he hit the brakes and waved me a cross.

What I should have done then was shook my head and waved him across. Either that, or moon him. But I was in a hurry, so I went.

I’ll have to file that away in my “Just one more reason not to like Budweiser” scrapbook, I guess.

No, after you | 6:28 pm CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, random idiocy, work
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Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

It’s raining again. I don’t ride my bike to work in the rain because I bike to work in my work clothes and I want my clothes to be dry when I get there. Therefore, no bike ride today. Bummer.

drizzle drivel | 6:40 am CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, hobby, play, work
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Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Yesterday was the first time this year that I was able to ride my bicycle to work in shirt sleeves, and, it has to be said, they were short sleeves. It was about sixty degrees, a little on the cool side of comfortable for me, but the sun was out and I warmed myself up so that after the first mile I wasn’t worried at all about catching a chill.

After I came home from work, I stretched out on a chair in the back yard with a beer and finished about half the New York Times crossword puzzle. When I couldn’t get any farther I put the crossword down, rested my head on the back of the chair and passed a dreamy ten or fifteen minutes just gazing up at the sky through the bright green leaves of the maple tree that grows over the deck.

These are the days I wait all winter for.

shirt sleeves | 5:43 am CST
Category: commuting, daily drivel, work
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Friday, May 3rd, 2013

I like to ride my bike to work, but I’ve always been a little skittish about it. I’m a fair-weather cyclist. I’ll ride when it’s sunny and warm out, but when the sky’s overcast, or the weatherman’s calling for more than a thirty percent chance of rain, I opt for the dry, warm safety of the O-Mobile.

The thing I’ve noticed on the days I pick the safe option is that, nine times out of ten it ended up not raining that day. I’d feel pretty good about my choice as I was driving in, but on the way home when everyone else was walking around in their shirt sleeves enjoying what turned out to be a beautifully sunny day, I’d be kicking myself. Figuratively speaking, of course. Pretty hard to kick yourself when you’re sitting in a car.

And that’s why I chucked the safest option yesterday morning and rode my bike to work, even though the forecast was calling for rain. I believed the forecast, by the way. The sky was thickly overcast with clouds the color of iron, it was cold and I had no doubt that rain would fall at some time during the day, but I was determined to believe that it would not fall during the crucial hour that I rode to work and the hour after work when I was heading home.

I made it to work just fine. Not even a sprinkle to dampen my clothes. And that’s the most critical thing, really. Could there be a a more effective way than getting soaked through with rain to make office work more miserable than it already is? Somehow, I don’t think so.

I thought I was going to be just fine on the way home, too. I had to pick up a few things, but the bakery and the grocer’s were on the way, and I was less than five minutes in each. By the time I got to Olbrich Park, though, it had started to sprinkle, and not the sprinkle of a passing cloud. More the sprinkle of a cloud that is warning you there is much, much more to come. As indeed there was.

By the time I reached Cottage Grove Road, the clouds had finished their throat-clearing and were belting out a bitchen blues tune that made me wail right along with them. The words to the song are not suitable for mixed company and I don’t remember all of them now that I’m warm and comfortable, but I remember that it was mostly just one word repeated again and again. I stuck a pronoun in occasionally just to emphasize that it was my own situation I was very unhappy with.

There was an especially heavy downpour just after I crossed the line into Monona and started down the home stretch, because when the universe flips you off, it figures Go Big Or Go Home. This was about when the river of ice water that was running down my back and damming up behind my belt finally broke through. Some say the devil rules a land of fire, some say ice. I’ve felt the icy cold hand of the devil reach down the back of my pants and grab my man-parts, so I can confirm that he’s not about fire.

I’d been pedaling so furiously through the rain and the wind that when I finally reached the shelter of Our Humble O’Bode only forty minutes had passed, and that included the two stops I made to pick up dinner. I peeled out of my wringing-wet clothes just inside the front door and left them there in a sodden heap until after I took a hot, hot shower.

Could’ve been worse, as it turned out. B said she went through hail on the way home.

great big cosmic f u | 6:23 am CST
Category: bicycling, commuting, daily drivel, hobby, story time, work
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Saturday, March 30th, 2013

It was casual Friday and Cindy, one of my coworkers, came dressed in a baggy t-shirt with day-glo peace symbols printed all over it. When I ran into her at the copy machine I asked her, “Were you ever on Laugh-In?”

“What’s that?” she asked.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In? You’ve never seen it?”

“No, what is it? It sounds good.”

“Comedy show. Lots of funny people cracking jokes. Ruth Buzzi. Arte Johnson. Goldie Hawn.”

“Oh, I love Goldie Hawn!”

“But you never saw her on Laugh-In?”

“No, I’ve never seen that.”

Judy, another one of my co-workers and apparently a little closer to my age, was at the mail cubbies nearby and chuckled as she listened in. “I think that may be a little before her time,” she commented.

“You remember Laugh-In?” I asked her. She nodded. And then we did what old people do when they talk about their favorite TV and movie stars: We compared notes to see if we could figure out which of the cast members from the show was still alive. Cindy wandered away during this part of the conversation, proving she really isn’t old enough to remember Laugh-In.

“You know, I can still remember when I was the baby around here,” Judy remarked after Cindy left.

“It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?” I answered. “The other day, Carolann mentioned that she graduated from high school in 1997. I couldn’t help thinking: By 1997, I’d graduated high school, graduated college, finished basic training, been sent to England, Denver and Berlin, gotten married and had a seven-year-old son!”

Later, toward the end of the day, I was finishing up some paperwork at my desk when I happened to look down and saw something odd in the salt-and-pepper pattern of the carpeting. When I bent down to pick at it, a piece of plastic popped out of the pile, so I picked it up and dropped it into the palm of my hand. It was one of those little black bits of confetti you can buy at a novelty store that says “Over The Hill!” As if my conversation earlier hadn’t already made that clear, the universe had to flip me a great big cosmic F.U. to top it off.

over the hill | 7:10 am CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, story time, work
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Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I suffered the biggest culture shock of my life when the Air Force transferred me from the peace and quiet of RAF Digby in northern England to the ear-shattering jet noise and chaos of Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. The culture of the Air Force in the two places, and the culture of the host countries, were so completely different from one another I was nearly catatonic.

There were about a half-dozen Air Force goobers stationed at Digby, most of them airmen. I was a technical sergeant. But the station and the base were so quiet, dare I say even sleepy, that I didn’t have much to do in the way of supervising anybody, as tech sergeants are expected to do in other places. I supervised a staff sergeant, and he supervised the airmen. Two years of that left me fat, dumb and happy, if a six-foot-tall guy who weighs 155 can even metaphorically be described as “fat.” (Sadly, there’s no question about the “fat” part.)

I don’t know how many Air Force goobers there were at Misawa but I was immediately put in a position where I was responsible for about two dozen of them, and by “responsible” I mean that I was the person whom the mission superintendent yelled at when one of my minions screwed up. My duties, I soon learned, were to then go and find out who screwed up and yell at him or her or them. The mission supe, you see, was too high up the food chain to yell at the underlings directly. It was a game of monkey in the middle, and I got to be the monkey. Also, I got to write everybody’s performance reports. Every single goddamn one. The sergeants who were supposed to do it couldn’t write a bathroom-stall limerick to save their lives, or so they said, and backed it up by not doing it.

And that was just the change in Air Force culture. Going from England, where I could read and write and speak to the local people, to Japan, where I couldn’t do any of that, very nearly drove me crazy. I was literally walking around in a daze for I don’t know how long. I’d been stationed before in foreign lands where I couldn’t speak the language, but I’d always been able to read. Give me a dictionary and I could figure things out. Being stationed in Japan, though, was the first time I’d been plopped down in a country where I couldn’t read. It was like being an infant again.

Culture shock | 5:59 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time, travel, work | Tags: ,
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Monday, March 25th, 2013

How was my day?

Monday | 8:15 pm CST
Category: office work, work
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Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Out of bed early again after waking up thinking about work. Man, that sucks.

I don’t get why this happens. It’s my damn brain. I should be able to switch off the part of it that thinks about work. Even if that part of it is tangled up in every other part of my brain, I should be able to separate the parts and say to the stuff from the office, That’s enough now, I’ve had plenty of time to think about that and now I want to think about other stuff.

Oh, I see. You’re not at the office any longer. Forgive me. I shall cease and desist processing any thoughts that have to do with office work. Please enjoy the rest of your day thinking about rainbows and lollypops.

That’s what I should be able to do.

Instead, what happens is this:

*doint!* Oh, hey. I’m awake. Is it time to wake up already? Seems like it’s a little early. Crap! It’s four o’clock! Why am I awake at four o’clock?

Because there’s a million things to do at work and here are just a few of them: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

What? Stop that! I don’t want to think about that now! I want to sleep!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

It doesn’t even make sense for me to think about that right now! I can’t do anything about it anyway! I can’t even make notes if I somehow happened to think of something useful!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Cut it out, goddammit! I mean it!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Okay, I’m a human being, not a monkey. I have thumbs and a great big brain. I should be able to concentrate on something else. What should I concentrate on? Counting sheep always works for Bugs Bunny. One sheep. Two sheep. Three sheep. Sheep go baaah. Baaah sounds like blah … blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

What was I thinking? Counting sheep never worked for Bugs Bunny. That was the whole point of showing him counting sheep! One of them would get stuck in the fence they were jumping over, or turn into Hitler and annex the Sudetenland, or a whole flock of them would collect on the other side of the fence and they’d all start going blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Oh, for shit’s sake. Honestly, now. Okay, I’m going to think about something mundane, something that doesn’t have anything to do with work. A banana. A banana is yellow. A banana has a peel. A banana doesn’t taste like any other fruit. A banana comes with those stickers that everybody collects on around the edges of their computer screens. What’s up with that? I can’t walk past a cubicle at work that doesn’t have at least one banana sticker stuck to the frame of the monitor. The boss hates that. I had to send a memo to everyone about the banana stickers. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Kill me. Kill me now.

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Oh Come On! It isn’t even interesting! The banana was boring but it was more interesting than making a to-do list of all the work I’ve got at the office! At the very least, I should be able to get my brain stuck on something scandalous happening at the office, instead of the office equivalent of a repetitious pop song!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Sex! Nothing beats sex! I should be able to think about nothing but sex all night long!

… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah …

Fine. You win. Getting out of bed now.

blah blah blah | 5:06 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, sleeplessness, work
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