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 CDT
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 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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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 CDT
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 CDT
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 CDT
Category: office work, work
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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

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

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

b52 | 6:33 pm CDT
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 CDT
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 CDT
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 CDT
Category: office work, work
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Friday, November 1st, 2013

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

I am of mixed feelings.

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

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

moving on | 8:56 pm CDT
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 CDT
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, office work, work
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