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 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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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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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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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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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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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
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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

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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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
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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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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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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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“Home?” I asked My Darling B before I put the car in drive to pull away from the curb in front of the office last night.

“No. Alchemy. We’re eating out tonight,” she answered, naming our favorite after-work restaurant.

It was that kind of a day for her, too, then.

alchemy | 5:00 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, restaurants, work | Tags:
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Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Becky and John joined us for our weekly night-out at Alchemy. My Darling B works with Becky at the DMV and about a month ago invited her and her husband, John, to join us for dinner at Smokey’s the last time we went there. Ever since then we’ve been trying to get together again. Our calendars finally matched up on this particular Thursday.

It also happened to be a party for the folks at Furthermore Brewing to roll out their new beer, Full Thicket, an IPA that B won’t have anything to do with because hoppy beer, she says, smells like armpits. I tried it and disagreed, but I’m not the sensitive flower she is. Lucking our way into a party for a new beer was good and bad: Good, because, hey, beer. Bad, and only in a very minor way, because the place was packed with beer-drinkers who’d come from all over the map to quaff a hearty brew and talk.

Even though we were closely seated around a very small table, we could hardly hear each other over the din of hundreds of happy people drinking beer. And that’s as it should be, but we gave up and checked out shortly after we finished our dinners, promising to meet there again on a Friday for the fish fry.

Alchemy | 8:05 am CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, play, restaurants, work | Tags: ,
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Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Sorry, I got nothing. It’s been a long week already and I’ve got a lot to do still, and it’s all pretty boring stuff, nothing I’d want to blog about. And cats, but I’m sort of burned out on blogging about the cats.

mea culpa | 6:07 am CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, work | Tags:
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Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

For years, My Darling B has been She Who Trains Newbies in the DMV office she works in, but that was unofficial. She was good at it, so the powers that be assigned her the task more often than not. When the official job came open recently, she was a shoe-in for it. Even so, she fretted over her resume for weeks, and she dressed up in a skirt and suit jacket for the first time in years when she was called in for an interview. Yesterday, she learned she got the job. She starts next week. Here’s a great big good on ya from the drivelmeister to B for finally being recognized as the best in the bunch!

good on ya | 6:05 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, work
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Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I couldn’t wrangle a day off from work today so I had to spend Black Friday at the office. Oh, darn.

Black Friday is the strangest holiday ever; everybody spends all day Thursday gushing about how they’re thankful for the things they have, and then on Friday they trample each other to get more things. I don’t know how that makes sense.

By now you’ve probably worked out that, even if I had managed to take the day off from the office, it’s unlikely that I would have gone shopping. Trampling old ladies sounds crazy enough to give it a try, but I’m not about to camp out all night long in the parking lot at Shopko to do it.

I took Wednesday off instead, brewed another batch of beer, read a few more chapters of the book on my bed stand and washed some clothes. Then I had Thursday off, same as everyone else, and drug my ass back to work this morning where, in the absence of the usual never-ending stream of people knocking at my door, I managed to clean out my in basket.

And now, thank Jah, it’s Friday night and I can relax with a beer and doink around on teh intarwebs, contemplating what I’ll do with the next two days off. Yay, me.

fridayfridayfriday | 5:55 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, office work, play, work | Tags:
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Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

We both worked late last night, so we both liked the idea of quick and easy dinner, which lead us to Roman Candle for pizza. That’s it. Ate out again. Roman Candle. Pizza. That’s all I got. Not much else to tell. Oh, I was working late so I could move a bunch of files to a different office, and B was working late because she’s got a project she’s trying to finish before a looming deadline. We were both pretty damned glad to get out of our respective office buildings and into Roman Candle, quaff a cold, delicious beer and wolf down a couple slices of their amazing Supreme pizza pie (half with mushrooms) (my half). Would’ve been nicer if the waiter had remembered to bring an order of garlic bread like we asked, instead of leaving it on the warming table all night, but at least he didn’t charge us for it.

cheese farts | 5:43 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
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Friday, July 20th, 2012

image of reason to drink coffee

The elation of making it to Friday is usually somewhat tempered by the need to find the reserves of energy necessary to get to the end of the day.

Fortunately, there’s coffee.

can’t | 6:16 am CST
Category: office work, work
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Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The best thing about going to the Wisconsin Film Fest is taking a whole week off to do nothing but sit in darkened theaters watching films, then hanging out in restaurants between films to relax with a glass of wine and share what we liked most about the film, or try to figure out what it was about.

The worst thing about taking a whole week off to go to the Wisconsin Film Fest is returning to work after. *sigh*

I had about 150 e-mail messages waiting for me when I logged in to my computer that took me almost an hour to cruise through, answering the ones that were easy and flagging the ones I’d have to do some work on before I wrote an answer. I’ve still got about two-dozen flagged messages waiting for me.

There were 20 or 30 voice mail messages on my phone, but about a third of them were hangups and five or ten were repeats. I answered them all by the middle of the afternoon, but then I got 30 calls during the day, so I’m not sure whether or not I came out ahead.

And there are piles of files and other paperwork mushrooming all over the top of my desk. Can’t even see the desk, really. The paperwork looks like it’s magically floating beside my computer.

Won’t get to answer many e-mails, voice mails, or finish much of that paperwork today, either. I’m helping one of the other supervisors interview applicants to fill a vacancy in her office.

*heavy sigh*

return | 5:54 am CST
Category: festivals, office work, play, Wisc Film Fest, work
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Friday, November 19th, 2010

I stuck my head in Laurie’s cube this afternoon to ask her if she could tell me the name of the tune that was playing on her radio. It turned out to be “Only Prettier” by Miranda Lambert. You’ll have to google that your darned self if you want to hear it. I was going to link to it for your pleasure but every time I tried my computer got snowed under by a blizzard of advertisements. That woman’s got more sponsors than a Nascar driver.

Laurie asked me if I was going to look up the words, and I, being the smartass that I am, said I shouldn’t really have to by this time because they played it three times a day on the station she listened to. “You can hear that from your desk?” she said, not quite believing me until she came and stood by my chair. Yes, I can hear her radio. The angle of the walls of her cubicle are just right to focus the sound of her radio across the aisle at my desk. I can’t quite hear every word, but I can recognize every song when it comes on, and if they don’t play “Only Prettier” at least three times a day on whatever station it is Laurie listens to, I’ll eat my cowboy hat (a safe bet – I don’t have one).

To her credit, Laurie offered to turn her radio down and I had to beg her not to. I asked her only because I wanted to look up the words when I got home.

Pretty Good | 8:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, music, office work, play, radio, work
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Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I have to tell you I’m still happy to be employed, but I think I sit on this job more than I have on any other job I’ve ever held before. It sounds like a strange observation to make, but at one point this afternoon I felt as if I was literally putting down roots and quickly jumped out of my seat, swatting at my butt, the way I would if I were waking from a nightmare.

Other desk jobs I’ve had required me to get up and go do work somewhere else every once in a while, but at this job pretty much all my work is within just a foot or two of my desk. I rarely have to get up to go anywhere, and on the few occasions that I do, I travel about three feet, grab the files I need, then go another three feet and sit right back down. On a pedometer, it probably wouldn’t even register.

And my breaks are so short I barely have time to get out the door to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before I have to be pecking at my keyboard like an obediently trained chicken again. At lunch I have enough time to walk all the way around the block if I move at a fast trot and go straight back to work as soon as I can.

Seriously, my butt hurts, I sit so much. Yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, thank you.

Sit On It | 6:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, office work, work
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Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Aaron, one of my coworkers, was showing me how to approve course work for continuing education. That’s what I do now; I’m one of the two continuing education specialists in my unit at the Department of Regulation and Licensing, so I’d better know how to do this at least a little better than the guy who’s application I was reviewing. He used the wrong form. Actually, he used an old form, which I guess we let slide for now.

It was also handwritten. “Thanks for typing it, buddy,” I griped as I struggled to decipher it.

Aaron went Pffft! “Who has a typewriter any more?” he asked. I almost told him Well, I’ve got ten, as a matter of fact, but something about the way he farted with his mouth like that prevented me. Instead, I just showed him the next application, which just happened to be typewritten.

I worked my way slowly through the steps to review the application while Aaron sat watching. He’s got to teach me that stuff some time, but nothing’s more boring than watching other people do a job you can do without thinking. I wasn’t surprised when his mind started wandering.

“Can I ask you,” he asked, “were you working in an office before e-mail? Because I just can’t conceive of how that worked.” This reminded me of the time my nephew watched, fascinated, as I demonstrated a typewriter, something he’d never seen before. “It’s like a computer, but with words on paper!” he said, awe in his voice.

Aaron wasn’t jerking my chain; he really couldn’t see how people used to get work done without e-mail. “It was actually a lot easier to get work done without e-mail,” I said, and when he gave me the puzzled dog look, I explained:

“When you get an e-mail, the person who sent it to you expects you to read it right now, right? And if they don’t hear from you in five or ten minutes, they send you another e-mail asking you what’s taking so long, don’t they? You might be right in the middle of answering an email when you see a new e-mail appear in your inbox from somebody else, and you stop and read the new one because you know that guy’s going to be way more pissed if you don’t answer him right away.

“But, back in the day, you had to type up a memorandum that would go into the mail and disappear for days. Which was kind of nice on the receiving end, because you weren’t constantly interrupted by messages coming in that had to be answered right now. The guy sending them didn’t know when you got them, did he? You could open all your mail, put it in a pile with the most urgent stuff on top, and then you didn’t have to worry about any new mail until you got to the bottom of the pile. It was bliss.”

I think next week I’m going to bring in my Remington Portable for show and tell.

Show and Tell | 8:47 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, entertainment, hobby, office work, play, typewriters, work
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Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

After a full day at the Department of Administration I am well and truly oriented, I can tell you! Is it just me, or does Department of Administration sound redundant to you, too? Or maybe it just sounds backwards, like it ought to be Administration of Departments. Okay, that went nowhere, didn’t it?

I came home with a backpack stuffed full to bursting with handbooks, leaflets and maps, and a thick stack of forms that I must fill out and return or suffer torture on the rack. I swear I didn’t have to fill out that much paperwork in twenty-one years of military service.

Speaking of coming home, I realized as I walked out of the last orientation meeting that I would have to wait hours for My Darling B to come pick me up, because President Obama came to visit Madison again. Not that I don’t just love President Obama to pieces, but he drops in about once a month to say hello and stop all the traffic. B would never be able to get across town in less than two hours through streets thronged with Obama-worshippers, and after a whole day of sitting on my ass I was not in the mood to park my butt in a coffee shop or even a tavern and wait that long, so I said to hell with it and started hoofing it up Willy Street.

An hour later I’d made it as far as Schenk-Atwood and was starting to wonder if I’d make it all the way home before I saw My Darling B again. Also, my feet hurt and I needed to pee. As luck would have it, at that point I was only a block away from The Victory, a new cafe on Atwood Avenue, so I stopped in to order an espresso. “Getting ready for the rush-hour crowd?” I asked the owner as he worked the various levers of his infernal machine.

“You are the rush-hour crowd,” he answered. “This is the first day we’ve stayed open past four.” Then he opened the display case and offered me a pastry on the house. Caffeine and sugar, just what I needed.

My cell phone bleeped as I was finishing the last of the scone. B was still trying to pick her way through all the roadblocks in downtown Madison and wouldn’t be meeting me any time soon. Maybe I really would be seeing her back at home. I hit the pavement with a spring in my step, thanks to the espresso, and made it all the way to Olbrich Park before B phoned me again to tell me she’d just left the Willy Street co-op and was headed my way. Our paths finally crossed at the East Side Club and I gratefully accepted a ride home.

Hoofing it | 10:55 pm CST
Category: coffee, commuting, food & drink, office work, play, work
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Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Now that Sean has gone back to Denver, and My Darling B has gone back to work, I’ll have to go back to the fun of keeping up with the yard work and the housekeeping. Oh, and I suppose I’ll have to look for work, too.

We put Sean on a plane to Denver last night. Whenever his flight’s been delayed in the past, he’s called us to while away the time waiting to board but, since we didn’t get a call last night, I’m assuming he actually departed on time, arrived in Denver when he expected he would and was so bushed from traveling that he went straight to bed after getting home, promising himself that he would call us in the morning. Yeah, that’s what happened.

B returned to work reluctantly, as we all do if we’ve managed to snag a full week away from the office to visit beautifully lush gardens, host a big party here at Our Humble O’Bode, paddle a kayak across Mud Lake and otherwise spend lots of quality time with family. She desperately wanted to play hookie today but fully realized she’d only have to deal with the same inclination tomorrow, so she packed up her lunch bag and soldiered on. She’s such a trooper.

Cheeseburger for lunch! Same as yesterday, and again tomorrow.

Back To Unemployment | 4:49 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, Seanster, T-Dawg, work
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Monday, June 21st, 2010

Today is the first day of my last week at the bank! I’m still debating myself as to whether that’s a good thing or a very, very bad thing.

When I reminisce about the adventure we went on after I retired from the Air Force (exactly five years ago at the end of this month!) and came back to the States, the excitement of those days is still fresh in my mind. There was quite a lot of uncertainty in it, so much that I lay awake on more than a few nights wondering how we were going to get by, but I’m wired for worry. It comes naturally to me. After sun-up we were on the move, heading to the local branch of the library, where we had time reserved on their computers to submit the applications we’d prepared the day before, then used the rest of our time to search for new vacancies. I didn’t have time to be worried then, and the thrill of doing something completely new was just amazing. That’s when it seems like a good thing.

But there are still those nights … I’m wired for worry, remember? … if I spend any time thinking about what a stinkhole the economy’s still in, I get into a deeply-worn rut wondering if the excitement of this job search is going to be anywhere near as amazing, or just plain terrifying instead.

I’m hoping to secure employment somewhere outside the world of finance, by the way. I think I’ve neglected to mention that. My bad, sorry. The banking gig was enough of a challenge to be fun while it lasted, but I’m looking for something completely different this time. My goal is a career change so complete it will utterly eclipse the last one, the one where I retired from a life-long career as a non-commissioned officer in one of the most powerful military organizations on the planet to become an administrator and troubleshooter in the cubicle maze of a basement office.

I’ll let you know how that works out. Watch this space.

countdown | 9:12 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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Friday, June 11th, 2010

I cleaned out my desk yesterday, which is as archaic a way of saying packed up & moved out as it is to say I dial phones when I’m using phones that have no dials. In our office, there are no desks, only particle board slabs screwed to brackets on the walls of our cubicles. They’re shelves, really. I cleaned off my shelf. When you put that way it sounds even more sad and pathetic, doesn’t it?

Even though my job was terminated, a job much like mine was created in its place, and someone else within the company was hired to do it. She’s been working out of a tiny cubicle a few doors down (another anacronism; there are no doors to any of our cubicles), and when I say tiny, I’m talking broom-closet tiny, no exaggeration. It would, in fact, have been a challenge to stuff it with the typical janitorial supplies you would need to sweep and clean on a daily basis. Run a shelf along the wall of said tiny broom closet and you’ve got a good mental picture of her cubicle.

When I passed by it the other day, two other people were jammed in there with her. It was a conference. She’s been having a lot of them in preparation for the many huge changes she’ll have to make in the department when those of us whose jobs were eliminated vanish into thin air at the end of this month and she’s left with a much smaller crew to handle the increased work load. Compared to her cubicle, my office was the size of Texas. It seemed a little incongruous, and a poor use of the available space, that I, the outgoing guy, still had a big cube that I wasn’t using as much as she was using her tiny cube, so I shot her an e-mail: “Let’s swap desks.”

She didn’t want to. She said it made her feel like she was pushing me aside. And bless her heart for that, but I said I thought of this as practical, not personal. She needed the bigger desk (shelf, whatever) for the transition a lot more than I did. So we swapped cubes and I’ve got myself one bitchin broom closet now.

broom closet | 7:21 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, office work, work
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Monday, June 7th, 2010

Hot Tip O’ The Day: Mondays aren’t so bad when you don’t have to spend them in the office!

One of the bennies that came with the elimination of my job, if that’s not a self-destructive contradiction, was that management hired a placement agency to help those of us who were about to be newly unemployed find jobs. We got two afternoons off to attend job-hunting seminars, and two private sessions with the agency pros to help us write resumes.

Today was my appointed day to meet with one of the resume gurus, so I took the day off, dropped My Darling B at work, then returned to my basement lair to brush off the resume that’s been gathering dust in the files of my computer and polish it up a bit myself before mailing it in to the pro for further beautification.

The agency is on the other side of town but right off the beltline. I was there in about twenty minutes. Would’ve been there in ten if I hadn’t gotten lost. I don’t go over there very often so I don’t know that side of town very well and expected to get very lost, which is why I left three-quarters of an hour before my appointment and brought a book with me.

Somebody who was not my resume guru came out of her office to greet me when I came in, asked me to take a seat in the waiting room and offered to get me a coke. Nice place. My guru showed up about ten minutes later, shook my hand and asked me to come to her office even though she still had ten minutes before our appointment and could have spent it updating her Facebook status or surfing the Failblog. Nice, again.

We spent a very productive hour in her office, she asking lots of questions and taking copious notes. I have very little doubt that she’ll produce one bang-up resume for me, so it was time well spent.

rezooMAY | 7:48 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, office work, work
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Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Banging away at my office keyboard yesterday morning, I was distracted by an Outlook pop-up reminding me I had a very important meeting that afternoon. I’ve got Outlook set up to give me these things all the time. I can hardly remember to feed myself without them.

Trouble is, they’re only as good as the lead time you build into them. The one that pops up to tell me I should generate the morning reports doesn’t need any lead time. Just click on “OK” and do it. For the one that tells me I’ve got a meeting with Michael in his office, just down the hall, I give myself enough time to visit the bathroom, then grab my notebook.

As for the pop-up that reminded me to drive to the very important meeting on the other side of freaking town, I should have given myself at least twelve hours of lead time so it would have reminded me the night before. I should have, but I didn’t, so I didn’t remember to drive B to work and keep the car. Curse you, Outlook! Do what I want you to do, not what I tell you to do!

Lucky for me someone else in the department was going to the same meeting, a presentation by a job placement service, and agreed to give me a ride after I groveled shamelessly. I’m not sure the groveling was necessary, but I figure it never hurts.

I never thought much about using a job placement service before, but it’s provided free of charge by the company so why wouldn’t I? And even if they can’t find me a job, at the very least I should be able to pick up some pointers. As a bonus, it turns out they’re going to write a resume for me at the next meeting. I’ve got that one marked on my old-fashioned desk calendar in big, red letters.

pop-up | 5:55 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, commuting, office work, work
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Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I drove into town early this morning to take the state worker’s office support exam. I hear the state still has a hiring freeze, but there are an awful lot of vacancies appearing on the state’s employment web site. Assuming they’re not putting them there just to keep somebody busy, I’ve been applying for as many as I think I qualify for. Most of them require that I take the office support exam, hence my getting out of bed a lot earlier than I usually do on a Saturday.

And I wasn’t the only one. The test is given in the same lecture hall on the UW-Madison campus that it was in when My Darling B and I took it five years ago. I’d guess it holds maybe five hundred people. We had to sit in every other seat so that’s, what, two-hundred fifty people if it was filled to capacity? It was, or so close to full as to make no difference. A lot of people looking for jobs. And almost every one of them there to take the office support exam, even though they were proctoring several other tests. About fifty people were there to take the HVAC maintenance test, maybe twenty were taking the Sheriff’s sergeant exam, and just one woman was there to take the assessor’s test. “Whatever you do, don’t withdraw,” the lead proctor advised her. “Your chances are looking real good.”

We had four hours to take the test. I don’t know how thick the other tests were, but the office support exam was almost two-hundred questions, most of which were about proofreading, operating Microsoft Office software applications, calculating pay and grammar.

I’ve gotten quite a lot of practice proofreading correspondence in the past two years, updating templates used to generate correspondence and reviewing letters my coworkers wrote to mail out to customers, so I felt pretty good about that part.

I can operate just about every software application in the Microsoft Office suite but I found this part of the test slowed me down quite a bit because most of the questions weren’t accompanied by graphics, but instead ask for key combinations. For instance, to make a type face bold you use what combination of keys? I do that every day but I don’t think about it, I just do it. I found myself tapping out key combinations on the desk top, then trying to remember which keys were under which fingers.

Calculating pay was a cinch after calculating mortgage payments, so the past two years working in loan services served me well there.

Grammar might have been a problem if they’d asked me to parse sentences. I’ve never been all that good at identifying parts of speech, but that wasn’t their purpose. Questions leaned toward the obvious: “Which is correct: Please pick up you’re pencils, or, Please pick up your pencils.” All of the questions like this also had “Either is correct” as an option. I’d really, really like to know what percentage of the people taking the test answer C.

After slogging through it and turning in the test material, I was shocked when I saw that I’d finished it in two and a half hours. And a little relieved. I used to test for promotion every year and they gave us four hours to complete that test because it took four frigging hours! Not this one.

Parking at the UW is usually so limited that it’s crazy to even try to find something close to the lecture hall. There’s a parking lot not too far away and I headed straight for it. On the way, though, I was absolutely gobsmacked to find an empty curbside spot just up the road. The problem was that it was only half-empty because a woman in a Ford Explorer was parked across two spaces. She was in the car with the engine running, though, so I wasn’t going to let her get away with that.

I pulled up next to her, put my car into reverse so she could see the lights come on, signaled right, dramatically threw my arm over the back of the passenger seat as I turned to look back and successfully locked eyes with her. She smiled, but otherwise didn’t do anything. She wasn’t gabbing on her cell phone. She wasn’t singing along with the radio. She was just sitting there, smiling at me.

So I backed into the half-space behind her. There was no room to turn in properly, but that wasn’t my intention. I only wanted to get the butt-end of my car firmly planted on that spot and leave the nose of my car sticking out into the lane, where she could see it in her side-view mirror. And I waited.

After fifteen or twenty seconds she let the Ford inch forward a bit, acknowledging that she had more than enough room in front of her but not giving me enough room to turn in. I waited a bit longer. She moved up maybe another three or four inches. Still, I waited. And finally she gave me all the room I needed by pulling out and driving away. Okay, not what I was after, but at least I could finally park and quit blocking traffic.

testing testing | 5:25 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, office work, work
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Monday, April 19th, 2010

Happy Monday! My job’s been eliminated! How’s your day been?

Not sure what to add to that. Most people have been knocked around one way or another by our current economic climate change, so it’s not like you haven’t heard this one before, or that it’s much of a surprise, really. And I’m fortunate, sort of, in that there’ll be new positions created in our office as part of the restructuring going on, so I can apply for one of those jobs as an internal rehire. It’s not like I’m out on my ass tomorrow. In fact, it’s not even like I’m out the door this month; they’ve given me until June 30th to apply internally for other jobs. So not too scary. Yet.

But yeah, happy Monday.

adventures in unemployment | 6:36 am CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, office work, work
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Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Friday was the last day for one of the people in our department, so a bunch of us ordered sub sandwiches from Potbelly’s and everybody threw in a little extra to buy Sandie’s lunch.

The delivery guy from Potbelly’s came to the office about thirty seconds after I took a phone call that I couldn’t beg my way out of. I held up my index finger to give the delivery guy the universal sign for “just one minute” and he nodded and mouthed “okay.”

It was a conference call. I tried to keep my answers brief and steer the conversation toward a conclusion, like that was going to do any good. In no time at all the other two people on the call started babbling about something I had nothing to do with, so, keeping one ear on the conversation, I dug a wad of bills out of my pocket and gave it to the delivery guy.

Delivery Guy counted what I gave him, handed it back and said, “You gave me seventy-nine.”

“What’s the total?” I asked.

“Eighty-two,” he said.

I’d added up the total ahead of time, but I must have added wrong because the total I got, plus tip, came to eighty-two. Still, I heard (with the ear that wasn’t listening to a conference call) eighty-two, and the half of my brain that wasn’t trying to keep track of the babbling (in case I had to jump into the conversation) said, “Eighty-two! That’s what I got!”

I peeled off three more dollars, gave it to Delivery Guy and said thanks. He gave me an icy look and walked away. I thought, What, fifteen percent isn’t enough any more? Then I forgot about it.

Until the phone call ended and I sat down to eat my sandwich. While I was munching happily away I passed an eye over the receipt, saw the total at the bottom, eighty-two, and a troubling thought slowly took shape in my mind: Hey … did I just stiff that guy? Oh, SHIT, I did stiff that guy!

Of course I had to walk down to Potbelly’s on the other end of State Street to apologize and pay him. My whole weekend would have been nothing but guilt and worry if I hadn’t. As it turned out, Deliver Guy was behind the counter when I got there, getting ready to make another run. I offered him my hand, said I was sorry about a million times and passed him a sawbuck. “No hard feelings,” he said, and gave me a cookie.

stiffed | 9:05 am CST
Category: food & drink, office work, restaurants, work | Tags:
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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 CST
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 CST
Category: coworkers, office work, play, work
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Thursday, February 4th, 2010

image of my stocking feetNotice anything missing? I didn’t, until I got to work yesterday. It was like that dream where you’re in a big crowd of people and you suddenly realize you’re wearing nothing but underwear.

My coworkers were very understanding about it. All day long as I padded around the office I expected somebody to say something to me, but they never did. Nobody so much as smirked. Maybe it’s happened to them, too.

It’s not like I walked to work in my stocking feet, I’m quick to point out. I put on a pair of snow boots before I leave the house in the morning. Then, when I get to the office, I change into a pair of brown leather shoes that I usually keep under my desk. But, the day before yesterday, I took them home with me because I thought we’d need them for our dancing lesson. I didn’t. We danced in our stocking feet. It was sort of a foreshadowing of my day at the office yesterday.


stalking | 9:36 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, office work, random idiocy, work
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