Saturday, April 25th, 2015

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 CDT
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 CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, Farts & Farting, office work, random idiocy, this modern world, work, yet another rant
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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 CDT
Category: coworkers, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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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 CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, music, 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 CDT
Category: coworkers, 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 CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, random idiocy, 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 CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, work
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Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Know where I am right now? I’m not at work! It’s the first day of the Wisconsin Film Festival, so My Darling B and I took today and the rest of the week off.

I could have gone to work. I could have spent another day working for The Man before we went to the opening of the film festival this evening. Yah. I can see how that could have been fun, just like I can see how bondage, domination and sado-masochism could be fun. Wait, no. No, I can’t see that. Totally blind to that, sorry.

But I’m not totally blind to movies. I could watch them all day long. In fact, on one or two days of the festival I will be watching movies all day long. I was remarking on this very fact when one of my coworkers asked me about it just the other day. “What do you do, just sit in the dark and watch movies?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s exactly what we do,” I said.

“What, all day? Just sit there? And watch?” Her tone of voice implied that not only couldn’t she understand the concept, she was having a lot of trouble even imagining it.

A friend of hers offered an explanation: “She’d have to sit still for more than five minutes, and you can’t talk in movies.” Another case of likes and dislikes again.

like | 9:07 am CDT
Category: coworkers, festivals, play, Wisc Film Fest, work
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Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Breakfast: A cup of coffee, and another cup of coffee. And I’m fine with that because I’ve been eating nonstop since last Friday. It’s time to stop. I’ve eaten so much food in the past three days that I’m pretty sure I won’t have to eat again until maybe next week. Oh, wait. My Darling B is cooking a duck this weekend for New Year’s, so I have until Saturday to fast. Better make another pot of coffee.

One of the women I work with was telling me the other day that she used to drink ten pots of coffee a day, and she got a little mad at me when I ran the bullshit flag up the pole. But who wouldn’t? I had to, I really did. So she counted them off on her fingers: She said she drank a pot of coffee at home while she was getting ready for work. I’ve heard a few people say they started their day by drinking a pot of coffee. That seems plausible. Not exactly healthy, but plausible. I wouldn’t do it myself, even though I brew pretty mild coffee. The way my brother brews coffee, a whole pot would kill almost anybody. But if you didn’t do that, I suppose you could drink a whole pot right after getting out of bed.

Then, she said, she started another pot of coffee as soon as she got to work. That was back in the good old days when they used to let people keep coffee makers right on their desks. Just about every desk had a great big ash tray back then, too, with at least one lit cigarette balanced on the edge. She drank the whole pot before her morning break, she said, then started another pot after she came back from her break and drank that off before lunch.

She drank another pot with her lunch. At this point in her story I pictured her with her lips wrapped around the mouth of a beer bong filled with coffee. Would that even work, or would it scald you so bad that no ordinary human being would be able to suck it down? No matter. I wasn’t imagining an ordinary human being. If she had developed a tolerance for that much caffeine, it would probably maker her numb to even the most traumatic injury.

She drank another pot of coffee between lunch and her afternoon break, and on most days she drank another pot of coffee between her afternoon break and quitting time.

“Okay, that’s not ten pots of coffee, that’s really more like seven or eight,” she said, “but I drank a lot of coffee. And then one morning I woke up and I thought about making myself a pot of coffee and I really didn’t want to. And I haven’t drunk coffee since. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t drink it any more.”

“I know why,” I said. “That was your body telling you that you were gonna die if you kept drinking seven pots of coffee a day!”

pots | 9:03 am CDT
Category: coffee, coworkers, food & drink, play, work
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Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

B in her gardenWE’RE SO CLOSE TO SPRING!

About a week ago, when winter finally showed the first signs of letting up on us just a bit, My Darling B went out to her garden to paw through the snow cover, searching for sprouting garlic but, so sad, couldn’t find any.

This week, it’s been even warmer, and today temps crept into the 50s for the first time. As soon as we got home, B slipped into her mud-caked gardening shoes and was out in the back yard again, looking for sprouts.
Still no luck. Damn. But just look at how much of the ground you can see! Two months ago the snow was hip-deep. Two weeks ago it was was knee-deep. And now …

A few of the people I work with were complaining about the rain and the gray, dirty snow. I couldn’t stand it. What, are you kidding me? I shot back. It’s raining! Let me put it another way: It’s not snowing! And the snow on the ground is melting because of the rain! I just don’t get people sometimes.

so close | 7:14 am CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, random idiocy, work
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Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I was showing Katrina, one of my coworkers, how to use the laser printer to address envelopes, which is way cool and a whole hell of a lot easier than trying to get the address on a letter to line up with the window in a window envelope, or print an address on a label and stick it on an envelope. You burn up more paper that way than Nazis at a book-burning rally.

The procedure is dead simple: Just open Microsoft Word, type the address as you would like it to appear on the envelope, click on the tab labeled “mailings” and select “envelope.” What could be easier?

It’s certainly a lot easier that typing the address, at least for me. When I got to the zip code I doubt very much that I got a single digit right without having to backspace and start over. Sometimes I had to backspace twice and transpose. When I finally got to the end after a half-dozen tries I threw my arms in the air and shouted, “GOAL!” Then collapsed in exhaustion on the desk top.

“And it’s only Tuesday,” Katrina said.

“I’m not going to make it to Friday,” I sobbed.

fat fingers | 9:01 am CDT
Category: coworkers, office work, work
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Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Stiff muscles … aching joints … swollen ligaments … this is the hand of a man who participated in the company’s annual bowling event, the same man who hasn’t bowled a single frame since 2006. Ouch.

Every year, Bill B (the guy at the office who hired me for my first job after I retired from the military, actually) organizes the company bowling event, partly because he likes bowling so much that he has one of those cybernetic strap-on arms, but mostly because he’s just such a great guy.

I signed up for it the year after I hired on, and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to do it every year.

The second year, I was in an office of not-bowlers, which are different from non-bowlers in that they absolutely will not bowl no matter how much you cajole them or what you threaten to do with their e-mail the next time they walk away from their computer without locking up the screen. I didn’t realize then that I could still bowl even if I rounded up five random people from anywhere. I didn’t have to get them from my office. I could have signed up five of the homeless people who hang out on the park benches on cap square all day.

So this year, as soon as I saw that signups were open, I walked around the office and asked who wanted to go bowling this year. I got four people to make a team in just two minutes, as long as I agreed to be the team captain. Being team captain means delivering the money to Bill B, and that’s it, so I agreed. Easy.

bowler | 8:54 am CDT
Category: coworkers, office work, play, work
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