Thursday, September 27th, 2012

I woke up very early this morning because my head is as stuffed as a teddy bear’s. If I have to get sick, the timing couldn’t be more perfect: I have an entire week off from work, starting Monday.

With any luck at all, this is only an allergic reaction to the dust in the air at the office where I work, and I’m not coming down with a cold or the flu at all. Yeah. Yeah, that’s it. I’m not going to be knocked flat on my back by throbbing, infected sinuses, breathing through my mouth for the next week or so. I’ve just got a stuffy head because of some dust. I’m going to keep thinking that.

It’s not entirely wishful thinking. I have all the signs of an allergic reaction: My throat is scratchy as sandpaper, my eyes are puffy and itchy as hell and have been for days, and I have no fever yet. Coincidentally, there’s been a lot of heavy moving going on at the office for the past week and a half. They’ve been building cubicles, dragging furniture across the carpeting, and opening up the ceiling tiles to pull cables to the new desks that have been set up. There’s got to be a ton of dust and who knows what else stirring around in the air, right? All I have to do is take it easy for a day or two and, after I use up a Kleenex box or two by blowing the entire contents of my head out through my nose, I should be all right, right?

Right.

puffy head, itchy eyes, swollen nose – WIN! | 9:01 am CST
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Monday, September 24th, 2012

You can’t imagine how cross-eyed I am right now. I spent practically the entire day with my nose against a computer monitor, making links between web pages I’d previously copied from our agency’s current web site to the future web site. I sat down at seven-ten this morning and, except for potty breaks, mid-morning cup of tea, and a half-hour to heat up and eat the weenies I brought for lunch, I didn’t stop until around one o’clock.

Persistence paid off, though. By quitting time I had the satisfaction of knowing that all the links that were supposed to be linked were linked. Unfortunately, all that linking came at a price. It made my brain feel like a lump of wet coal that would never light a fire ever. Meanwhile, my eyes burned and scratched at the insides of my eyelids. It’s just not fair to have to suffer mixed metaphors clashing in my head like that.

linking, linking, I’ve been thinking | 9:04 pm CST
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Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Gal called me on the phone the other day, asked me to call her back, “or, if you’d rather send e-mail, my address is,” and then she spelled her name, which was part of the e-mail address. I probably can’t tell you what her name was without being clapped in irons for violating the Customer Privacy Protocol or something like that, so I’ll just make up a name and say it was Goodman, which she would have spelled this way: “G, O, O, D as in David, M as in … as in … um, mow your lawn, A, N as in Nancy.”

When I could stop chuckling to call her back, she said, “Thanks for getting back to me so soon!”

“And thank you for ‘M as in mow your lawn,'” I responded. “That’ll be the biggest smile I get all day.”

phonetics | 5:51 am CST
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Friday, June 29th, 2012

The three-day forecast on the National Weather Service’s web page had blazing orange suns for Thursday and Friday, so when I packed my saddle bags for the bike ride to work yesterday, I stuffed them with a pair of rolled-up shorts, a baggy shirt and a pair of flip-flops to change into for the ride home.

Then I stepped out the back door into the garage, which was already hot and stuffy as a microwave oven that’s just been used to heat up a dinner of broccoli and peas. Phwuah! Pushing the bike out into the driveway where there should have been cool morning air, I took a breath and was brought up short again. Double phwuah!

Leaving the bike in the driveway, I snatched the saddlebags off the back and took them with me into the house, where I stripped down to my skivvies and changed into the shorts and baggy shirt, then carefully rolled up my office clothes and stuffed them into the bags. Even in my shorts, I had a healthy glow by the time I got to work.

glow | 6:01 am CST
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Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

One of my coworkers was feeling a little uncomfortable about wearing a hoodie in her office, but she’d caught a chill and it was the only thing she had on hand to get warm again. “Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie to work every day,” I pointed out. “Who?” she responded.

who? | 9:34 pm CST
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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The greatest thing about riding my bike to work is that I don’t have to hang around until five o’clock for my ride. Four-thirty comes and I’m out of there! It’s probably not the greatest thing for my productivity, though. Around three or three-thirty, it starts getting really hard to concentrate. I catch myself glancing up and the clock every fifteen minutes or so.

four-thirty | 9:10 pm CST
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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

“How was your day at soul-crushing work today, son?” I asked Tim as he slid into the passenger seat of the car.

He took a deep breath, then let it out in the characteristic sigh I’ve heard bursting from the lungs of employees in almost every cubicle farm I’ve had the great fortune to work in for the past six years.

“You know, it used to be that when I heard people describe their work as ‘soul-crushing,’ I used to think, ‘Dude, you work in an office. How hard could it be? Stop being so melodramatic.’”

I laughed. “And now that you work in an office environment, you know …”

He sighed again. “It is. It really is.”

crushed | 8:30 pm CST
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Thursday, April 26th, 2012

I dreamed I was at work. I really hate it when that happens.

At least this time it was more than a little unusual. This time, the office looked like a mash-up of all the offices I’ve ever worked in, a standard cubicle farm, but surrounded by racks of electronic equipment. Even the people who worked there were a Who-hash of all the people I’ve worked with, and I kept asking the wrong people to do things. The last scene I remember, for instance, was asking Aaron to adjust the connections on a particular electronic component, and all he could do was give me a blank look. “You don’t know how to do that, do you?” I asked him, when I realized he was not the guy to ask for that.

I started to do it myself when my bladder woke me up. I hate it when that happens, too, because it almost always wakes me up too early. Most of the time it’s just five or ten minutes before I would normally hear the alarm clock start bleeping, but this morning it was half an hour early – just enough time to go back to bed, begin to drift off to sleep, and then wake up to the bleeping alarm clock. I said to hell with that, grabbed my bath robe and headed for the kitchen to make what turned out to be a pot of satisfyingly strong coffee.

Satisfyingly strong to me. To my brother, it would have been weak tea. A single pot of the coffee he drinks could light up the whole city of Chicago for a week. I don’t need a jolt that strong yet. Maybe someday. For now, I’ll just sit here and nurse my tea/coffee.

blank | 5:18 am CST
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Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

As we were settling into a staff meeting this afternoon, Carolann made reference to a pop tune that I didn’t recognize. Aaron caught the reference, though, and commented on it, to which Carolann replied, “Yeah, I’m guess I’m dating myself with that one.”

“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Aaron answered. “If you can’t date yourself, who can you date?”

RIMshot!

dating | 10:10 pm CST
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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Well, it was a delightful week off, but now I must return to the office, plop my ass down behind a desk and spend whole days doing what other people tell me to do. I really have to figure out how to become independently wealthy. Not outrageously wealthy, or even what most people think of as wealthy, come to that. I don’t need so much money that I could fill a room as high as my neck and backstroke across it. I only need enough so I don’t have to do other people’s work. I should be able to figure that out. I’m not totally dense. Pretty close, though, apparently. I mean, I’ve been doing other people’s work for going on thirty years now. Doesn’t say much for me, does it?

grindstone | 6:16 am CST
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Friday, August 19th, 2011

“Now that you’ve been working for the state for almost a year,” one of my coworkers asked me, “which bureaucracy do you think is more mixed-up, the military or the state?”

“The state, no question,” I said, without having to think about it at all. When he laughed and asked me why, I explained, “The military’s got bombs. When a bomb goes off, that leaves results you can point to and say, ‘I did that!’ The state doesn’t have bombs. Results are a lot harder to produce here.”

results | 9:34 pm CST
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Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Yesterday was my first day back at the office after our week-long vacation. I expected it to find a hellish amount of paperwork piled on my desk and too many e-mails to read in a single day. I’m happy to say my expectations were not met.

There were lots and lots of files, applications, and other paperwork on my desk, but I wouldn’t be able to describe the amount as hellish with a clear conscience. I’ve faced worse. I didn’t get my desk cleared off by the end of the day, but I got the most urgent requests answered, and the rest will get done today, unless the world explodes. I never take “unless the world explodes” out of the equation. That’s the universal qualifier.

I was sorely disappointed by my e-mail inbox, which had only 121 new messages. Before I left, I set up the out of office wizard to let people know I would be gone all week, but that’s never kept anybody from leaving messages before. I thought I’d come back to hundreds of new messages, most of them duplicates, and more than a few that were spam. No such thing. The ones I got were brief, necessary and almost none of them required my immediate reply. It was really weird.

Most of the piled-up work got done because there weren’t any meetings I was required to attend. I could hunker down at my desk and plow through the work without stopping. When I got my lunch hour pop-up on my computer (my brain cell has to be reminded to get up from my desk and eat lunch) I grabbed my lunch out of the fridge and munched on it while I graded papers. I don’t ordinarily skip lunch. In fact, I usually make sure to disappear myself completely from the office during my lunch so I don’t get cornered by anybody popping in to ask me a “quick” question, but I really wanted those papers off my desk.

I won’t have that kind of flexibility today. If memory serves, I have three meetings on my calendar today. Meetings are never less than a half-hour, because there’s a physical law that requires at least one person to arrive ten minutes late, and they’re usually at least an hour long because no matter what’s on the agenda, somebody has to ask “just one more question” that adds fifteen or twenty minutes of discussion to the meeting.

That’s enough talk about work, but tune in again later when I have the time to tell you all about the new printer system we’re going to have installed. Fun stuff.

return | 6:00 am CST
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Friday, June 24th, 2011

I had to ask someone in the renewal office a question but I hate to bother them because they’re always so busy. TJ’s usually pretty friendly, and she sat in the cube that was kiddycorner from mine, so I tapped meekly on the plastic edging around the opening and asked her if I could bother her. “Sure,” she said right away. I shot off my dumb question, she answered it, I went back to my cube, end of day.

The next day I had another dumb question, and since TJ was so accommodating the day before, I went straight back to her and tapped on the edge of her cube again. “Can I bother you?” I began. “Sure,” she said right away. Dumb question, answer, done.

And lo on the third day, while I sat in my cubicle tapping away at my keyboard, a tapping somewhere behind me made me turn around to find TJ standing at the opening to my cube. “Can I bother you?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered.

She stuck her thumbs in her ears and gave me a Bronx cheer, laughed, and left.

I believe I bothered her next by shooting rubber bands at her. She returned fire and that was the bothering of the fourth day.

Several days went by when I didn’t bother her, until she tapped at my door and said, with a very sad face, “You haven’t bothered me at all lately.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” I said, and I picked my nose and flicked a booger at her. No, I didn’t, I just thought of that. I’ll have to do that next Monday. But I did something then that bothered her and she went back to her desk serensified.

And so the cycle went. Today she came to my door, asked the question, rolled her eyes and went “Blooolahlooolahlooolah!” I hope you can feel assured that your tax dollars are well-spent paying the salaries of public servants to do just this day in, day out.

bother | 7:59 pm CST
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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

“When do you usually take lunch?” Judy asked me as she stopped at the printer just outside the door of my office at around noon to pick up a batch of documents. It’s been a long time since I’ve known anybody named Judy. I’m pretty sure I haven’t run into any Judies since high school. It’s good to know there are still some around.

“Oh, sometimes I go to lunch at eleven-thirty, sometimes at twelve, and sometimes –” and here I waved a hand at the half-eaten baloney sandwich on my desk, “– when I’ve got a lot to catch up on, I work through lunch.”

She frowned at me. “Nobody should have to work through lunch,” she scolded.

I smiled as she wandered away and kept pecking at my keyboard for about sixty seconds after she was gone, just long enough for her last comment to sink in, take root and make my fingers stop almost of their own volition.

What the heck do you think you’re doing? my brain asked my fingers, and my fingers answered, Didn’t you hear the lady? It’s not time to work!

I wolfed down the rest of my baloney sandwich, pushed back from my desk, grabed my jacket from the hook over my door, pulled it on and headed for the door. Came to a dead stop about ten steps from it when I saw drizzling rain coming down, soaking everything. Went back to my office to get a folding brolly out of my tote bag, then hit the street to take a long walk. A long walk in the rain, sure, but nobody should work through lunch.

drizzle | 9:31 pm CST
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Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

As one of my coworkers passed me in the hallway yesterday, she grinned a knowing grin and asked, “Are you ready for next week?” Next Monday being, of course, the day after Jan retires, leaving me on my own as the supervisor of the business credentialing division.

I’m not exactly sure what my coworkers expect will happen to me. I get the idea that they think I’m that guy you see in war movies who ends up lying in a pile of guts on the beach head screaming, “Momma!”

I don’t get it. It’s just a job.

“Don’t tell them that,” My Darling B warned me. “Go ahead and let them think it’s an impossibly hard job.” Ah, B. You could’ve been such a good supervisor.

momma | 6:23 am CST
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Friday, June 3rd, 2011

And, once again, life takes me a little further down a road I didn’t think I’d find myself on in the first place …

About a month ago, one of the supervisors in our office announced her plans to retire. They posted the announcement that her job was available on the bulletin board in the break room, and while I read it over I thought, Y’know, I could do that job. But I held back because I’d been working there only a little bit more than six months and I’ve got what is probably a stupid rule about sticking with a job for at least a year. I feel like bolting the office any sooner than that makes me some kind of an ingrate toward the person who hired me.

Then the weirdest thing happened: My supervisor took me aside and pointed out that she thought I’d be good for the job, which made the thing about feeling like an ingrate go poof. So I asked around about the job and, when I felt good about what I heard, I wrote up an application and submitted it. I was called for an interview about a week later.

The interview could’ve gone better, or so I thought. I’ve never felt comfortable being in the spotlight like that. Everything that comes out of my mouth sounds barely more sophisticated than grunts and moaning. I don’t know what to do with my hands. Every bit of my scalp itches but if I scratch, I’ll only feel more self-conscious. Have you ever been walking past a crowd of people and, when you realize they’re watching you, you suddenly feel as though you’re walking wrong and, try as you might to be nonchalant, every step you take only feels more wrong until you can turn the corner and get out of sight? It was like that.

Well, I thought, I took my shot. It was worth the experience.

Tuesday morning, they offered me the job. I was surprised. Really. They interviewed about a dozen people for it, and I figured the competition would be fierce, so my first reaction when they offered it to me was to sputter semi-intelligently, “Me? You want me?” And then lapse into stunned silence. I’m just that sophisticated.

When I got past that, and got the answers to a few questions about particulars such as wages, I accepted their offer, feeling well-chuffed. “When do you want me to start?” I asked.

“Monday,” she said.

“Oh. Well, okay. See you Monday, then.”

So, effective Monday, I will no longer be a continuing education specialist in the office of education and examinations, and will instead become a program assistant supervisor in the division of credentialing. Beer me.

chuffed | 4:19 pm CST
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Monday, May 16th, 2011

I had an urgent need to talk to a supervisor this morning, and because my supervisor wasn’t in the office I went to see Kris, the next supervisor I knew.

Just as I stepped up to her open door to knock I stopped dead in my tracks. Kris was seated at her desk with a Magic Eight Ball in her hand, and she and Domingo, the division administrator, were crouched over it, trying to make out the words in the glass.

“So!” I said, “Now I know how the big management decisions are made!”

magic | 7:13 pm CST
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Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Aaron and Ryan were having a conversation just outside my cubicle. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were saying until I heard Ryan stop Aaron with, “Let’s ask Dave, he’ll know.”

“Hey, Dave,” Ryan called over the top of my cubicle wall, “What’s the capital of Kentucky?”

“Frankfort,” I answered.

Then Aaron explained: “We were just talking about how irrelevant it is to know stuff like that, now that we have the internet,” he said. “Congratulations; you’re faster than Google.”

Faster than Google is going to be my personal motto from now on.

Faster | 6:43 am CST
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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a clipping from this month’s office newsletter:

image of me

Secretary Ross: Congratulations!

Me: Who are you? What are you doing here? What is this thing?

The cameraman took more than one photo of us while we were talking, and one more of us shaking hands and looking into the camera. And somehow this turned out to be his best shot. Damn.

Confused | 5:50 am CST
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Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

My boss, the secretary of the department, dropped by my desk today with the rest of his staff in tow to present me with a certificate of appreciation, because I’m basically just awesome and pretty much know everything. As he was presenting me with the certificate, he asked me a question I can’t recall hearing in years: “Are you any relation to Alvin O’Konski, the Wisconsin state congressman?” I couldn’t stop at telling him I was; I had to try to remember a few stories about him, too. It turns out the secretary is Alvin’s biggest fan, wrote letters to him and told me all about the time he met Alvin with the enthusiasm you would typically see only in the face of a sports fan talking about his favorite big-league baseball star. The guy was a sports fan, but for politicians. He knew all about Alvin, where he served, how long and how he eventually lost his seat after redistricting and the election to Dave Obey.

I’m pretty sure the last time anybody asked me about Alvin was more than twenty years ago. Certainly nobody’s asked me since I came back to Wisconsin, and I wasn’t sure anybody even remembered him any more, but at least I know now that one person does.

Fan | 6:15 am CST
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Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Gail rides her bike to work every day, even yesterday, a day that began at thirty-four degrees with sleet pelting down. I like to bike to work, but that’s the problem: I want to keep on liking it, and when the temperature’s less than forty degrees, or when freezing rain threatens to turn me into a glazed confection, and especially when both of those springtime disasters are happening at the same time, I give it a miss. Sort of a rule with me.

But not Gail. She loves to ride her bike to work even when the weather is freezing, the streets are ice-covered and slippery, and wimps like me are driving to work in the comfort of our well-heated Toyotas. “I just keep a change of clothes in my office,” she says, and while I give her points for foresight and perseverance, the part about bicycling through freezing rain frankly cancels out all the positives as far as I can tell.

She can even get excited about riding in the rain, something else I don’t like to do at all. She wandered into the break room while I was boiling water to make tea and gazing at the rain pouring down on the street scene outside. “Oh good, it’s raining!” she chirped. “That’ll melt all the snow and ice. I was a little worried it might be slippery on the way home.” But not worried, I guess, about being soaked through and contracting hypothermia.

I wish I had Gail’s attitude, or just her bullet-proof imperviousness to adverse conditions, but I don’t. I’ll start biking to work again when this apocalyptic weather lets up.

Bike To Work | 6:04 am CST
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Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I opened the door for one of the women who works in the office down the hall, not to be chivalrous, but because she’d forgotten her card key. For reasons that have yet to become clear to me, all the doors in our office building are locked, and the locks can be opened only by waving a card past the glaring red eye that stares out from the brown plastic pad beside the knob of each door.

It wasn’t the first time I’d opened the door for her. Just last week I found her waiting outside the same door for someone to come along and let her in. She got locked out both times when she got up from her desk to visit the bathroom, forgetting her card at her desk. I know this because as I leaned over to unlock the door I said something witty like, “Lock yourself out again?”

She was nice enough to chuckle at my inane comment, even nicer for telling me how she got locked out, then added: “I just want it implanted in my butt, like my cat.”

The image of everyone at the office waving their butts at the doors to open them stayed with me the rest of the day.

Locked Out | 8:05 pm CST
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Thursday, April 7th, 2011

It’s almost warm enough now to go out without a jacket on. I won’t say that it’s comfortable, only that we’re headed in the right direction.

The part about not being comfortable doesn’t stop anyone from running around in no more than a pair of shorts. This is Wisconsin, after all, the land where people are crazy enough to go out in shorts and a t-shirt when the snow melts and the temps finally climb up to forty degrees. After a long winter much like the one we just had, it’s necessary.

But I’m not there yet. As the years have passed I’ve grown less able to resist the cold and my fingers especially lose heat so easily that I take special precautions to keep myself insulated all through the winter season now. I used to chuckle when I told people how my mother wore long underwear from the end of September until April or May, but I’m made of the same stuff she is, after all, and because the office where I work apparently doesn’t have the money to heat the rooms one degree above sixty-eight, I’ve been wearing long-sleeve undershirts for the past four months. It’s either that or wear gloves, and I need nimble fingers to work the keyboard of my computer.

Warmth? | 9:29 pm CST
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Monday, March 7th, 2011

On my morning break I happened to look down at the palm of my hand while waiting for the microwave to boil water for a cup of tea and I noticed that there was an impressively large chunk of wood sticking out of the side of the pad at the base of my little finger. By “impressively large” I mean big enough to see without squinting, and these days I have to squint to see anything smaller than a housefly.

I take my break at ten o’clock. The last time I handled any splintery wood was in the afternoon the day before. Therefore, I’d had a pointy chunk of wood stuck in the side of my hand for almost eighteen hours, its blunt end up in the air like a cat’s butt, and hadn’t noticed it.

There. Now you know how unconscious a guy can be.

Timber! | 8:42 pm CST
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Saturday, February 19th, 2011

I locked myself out of my e-mail account at the office yesterday morning while I was suffering one of those brain cramps that won’t let me remember what my password is for nothin’! It’s a simple password; it’s not really even a word, which is in fact one of the rules you’re always told to apply when thinking up a password: Should not be a word in the dictionary. So I just stamp out a simple little pattern on the keyboard, easy to remember … except yesterday. No matter how many times I tried – and they only let me try just so many times – I couldn’t get it to accept my simple little pattern.

After I was locked out, the computer invited me to recover my password by answering the challenge questions. When the IT people set me up with a computer account five months ago, I had to select five challenge questions and provide my own personalized answers to them. One of them, for instance, was: “Who is your favorite president?” Inasmuch as I have a favorite, that would have to be Theodore Roosevelt. When I had to answer that question yesterday morning, though, I was presented with this conundrum: The window for the answer was only big enough to hold seven or eight characters, so the answer wasn’t “Theodore Roosevelt.” I must have answered “Teddy” or “TR,” or “Teedee” – his family used to call him “Teedee” when he was a wee little lad. No wonder he grew up to become such a badass.

And it turned out all the questions presented similar conundrums. I knew who my favorite teacher was, but did I answer “Mrs. Klingenhofer” or simply “Klingenhofer?” Was my first car a “Volkswagen” or a “Veedub?” That sort of thing. So no matter how many times I tried to answer the questions – and, again, it will let me answer only so many times before locking me out – I couldn’t get it right.

So I called the IT help desk and asked them to unlock it and, after it was unlocked and I could sign in again, I reset all my challenge questions and made the answer to all of them “etaoin shrdlu,” the name of the first man to successfully pick his nose on the moon. Or something like that.

etaoin shrdlu | 6:56 am CST
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Friday, February 11th, 2011

So awfully glad it’s Friday. Not for the usual reasons, though. I spent the last four days on the telephone returning calls from three-hundred customers who called in a panic when they received a letter from our office that told them how to report their continuing education courses when they renewed, only they thought it was telling them that they had to take one of the three classes given as an example in the letter. Utter pandemonium ensued. It could have been worse. More than ten thousand licensed professionals received that letter; I’m grateful that only three hundred called me.

The tsumani of calls seems to have passed. There were only a dozen or two callers yesterday, as opposed to the fifty or sixty I’ve been getting, and I expect the same or even less today. Fridays are usually slowest when it comes to phone calls. That’s one of the weirdest things about my job. I expected that Fridays would be busiest because, in my experience, that’s when everyone flakes off at their regular job. I sort of expected they’d be using their work phone and work computer to deluge me with requests, but that doesn’t happen. Maybe my impression of everyone flaking off to talk about the Packers game on Friday is mistaken.

Anyway, Happy Friday!

Do Not Phone | 6:25 am CST
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Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Dear Members of the Public: I know we in the service industry aren’t supposed to lecture you or complain about you, because the customer is always right and so on, and for the most part I can work with that, but I feel the need to vent on just one subject. I’ll only bring it up this once and I’ll never harp on you again if you’ll just STOP PEEING WHEN YOU’RE ON THE PHONE! I MEAN IT! Where’d you learn it was okay to do this? CUT IT OUT! Multitasking is a wonderful talent, but there are limits! Use some common courtesy! Do you pee while you’re talking to your mom? Wait, don’t answer that. I probably don’t want to know the answer.

princess phone p | 6:21 am CST
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Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Overheard at the office pot luck yesterday:

“How did you make these cream cheese roll-ups?”

“Well, I started by saying to my wife: ‘Honey, I need something for the pot luck at the office tomorrow.’ Then she said, ‘You should have told me that yesterday.’ Then we fought for about fifteen minutes. Then she got in the car and drove to the store, and the next morning there were cream cheese roll-ups in a Tupperware in the fridge.”

Recipe | 1:34 pm CST
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Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

I had one of those weird what-day-is-it moments while we were in the middle of a dance lesson last night. I really, really thought it was Wednesday, somehow, even though we’ve had our lesson on Tuesday night for I don’t know how long. I don’t know when or how I convinced myself that it was not Tuesday but it must have happened after I left work, because my desk is surrounded by calendars and I’m constantly referring to my Outlook schedule so I don’t forget anything. When the bubble popped I felt well and truly bummed. Like, Damn! Now I have to do Wednesday over again!

Unstuck in time | 6:26 am CST
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Friday, January 21st, 2011

I grabbed my water bottle from the bottom drawer of my desk where I keep all my snacks stashed and headed for the break room to fill it up. As I turned into the hallway I could see there was a guy standing outside the door of the break room chatting with someone on his cell phone, and when he saw me he stepped into the room, apparently to get a little privacy, because when I followed him in he turned and headed to the far corner.

Unfortunately for him, that’s where I was headed, too. I like to give my bottle a rinse before I fill it up, and the sink is in that corner of the room. When I stepped up to the sink and turned on the tap, he shot me a quick look out of the corner of his eye, then stepped away, crossing to the other side of the room and facing the wall.

Now, I like to fill my bottle with cool, filtered water from a dispenser in the break room. And where do you suppose that dispenser is? It’s on the other side of the room, right next to the spot where the guy chatting on his cell phone was standing! It was one of those situations where you didn’t want to do what you’d always intended to do because it might make you look a little creepy, but that kind of thing has happened to me so often that I don’t even flinch at it any more. I walked right on over.

As I began to fill my bottle, the guy turned away from me as if he were going to keep on standing there talking, probably because he didn’t want to look like he was walking away from me every time I followed him to the next place I was going anyway. In another moment or two, though, he began to wander back to the corner of the room where the sink was. He probably figured I wouldn’t be headed back that way any time soon. I was half-tempted to go get a paper towel from the dispenser next to the sink to wipe my bottle down, but I settled for using my hand as a squeegee.

Are You Following Me? | 7:41 pm CST
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Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

When I got to the office yesterday morning I set my bag down next to my desk, as I do every morning, hung up my hat and coat, sat down in my chair and opened the file cabinet drawer where I’ve kept my shoes ever since those first merry flakes of winter cheer forced me to start wearing my snow boots to work … but found nothing. I must have taken them home last week. I couldn’t tell you when or why.

With no shoes to change into, I had to wear my snow boots all day long. These are snow boots made for tromping through deep snow in extreme cold, so wearing them in an office, even an office as cold as mine, is like having just my feet in a sauna all day. Come quitting time they felt as if they’d been boiled in oil.

Just minutes after I opened the file drawer and utterly failed to find any shoes in it, I reached for my wallet so I could buy myself a tasty Pop-Tart for breakfast and discovered I left it in my other coat. So, no breakfast. It was shaping up to be a really fantastic morning.

And no tea, either. I used my last tea bag Friday afternoon but didn’t worry about it much, because I thought we’d be stopping at the grocer’s after work. We didn’t. I can’t remember why. And when we stopped again on Saturday I didn’t remember to ask B to pick up some tea for me until after we were home again, warm and snug. It did occur to me again Sunday night, but I thought, No problem, I’ll just walk up to the co-op on my lunch break and buy another box. Didn’t happen, of course. Can’t buy stuff without a wallet.

Last on this laundry list of minor annoyances that add up to a Great Big Cosmic F.U.: Before backing the car out of the garage I’d had to shovel a couple inches of snow off the driveway, so I was rather warm when I came inside to change into work clothes and the necessity of putting on a sweater didn’t even occur to me. But the necessity was still very much there. Whoever controls the thermostat in our office must be a bit more well-insulated than I am. Without a sweater, I froze my nipples off. Literally. They got so cold they popped right off.

That was my Monday. How was yours?

(It was my Monday because the office was closed on MLK Day.)

Happy Monday | 6:06 am CST
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Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I got a call at work yesterday from the secretary of State Representative Somebody, who wanted to know if our department licensed tax assessors. We didn’t, but I figured I could find out who did, so I went from office to office looking for somebody who’s been with the department a lot longer than I have and might know. Almost right away I found somebody who said she didn’t know, but she knew how to find out. I followed her back to her desk, thinking she had a three-ring binder packed with notes she’d kept over the years, or was going to dig a carbon copy of an old memo out of her file drawers. But no. She googled it. D’oh!

Search Me | 5:50 am CST
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Monday, December 20th, 2010

At our bi-monthly staff meeting last week, I learned two very important things: flesh-eating fish pedicures are banned in Wisconsin, and I’m not the only person who owns a Ped Egg and thinks it’s awesome.

My very own foot-care strategies have evolved quite a bit over the years, in parallel with the evolution of my feet from locomotive appendages into great big stumps of callus. I’m pretty sure this is hereditary. If memory serves, Dad had horrifically callused, claw-like feet just like the ones I have now. Probably not what he wanted to be remembered for, but sometimes those are the cards fate deals you.

I’ve read quite a few things about aboriginal people who have feet as hard as shoe leather, so I have to suppose that callus was once good for something. I’ve also read that the worst thing you can do to your feet is stick them in a pair of shoes where air can’t get to them very easily, if at all, but dammit if I don’t live in a culture where showing up barefoot at work would be one of those things that would end up in a counseling session with the HR department.

Since shoes aren’t optional, I have to put up with feet that get overgrown with microbes, fungus and other parasitic creatures, not to mention that special something weird that happens to callus. It’s transmogrified from becoming shoe leather that would allow you to walk barefoot down gravel roads into something nearly as fragile as dinner plates and just as hard to glue back together when it cracks, metaphorically speaking. Callus really does crack like a dinner plate, but I’ve never tried using glue to close up the cracks in the heels of my feet, although now that I think of it, stashing a tube of Super Glue into my first aid kit might be a good idea.

To keep callus from becoming a painful problem, I’ve spent many long hours trimming it using nothing more than my fingernails. When that didn’t cut it any more, I used the little rasp that’s built into toenail clippers, but that never was any good and for a while I resorted to using the sharp end of the clippers. Effective, but hard to control and occasionally very gory.

One year, My Darling B gave me a pumice stone and some lotion, and I gave that a try but by then the callus had become hard as bullets. The pumice stone was no match for it. The same shop she bought the pumice stone from also sold emery boards as big as soup spoons and for several years I was really very satisfied with them. I probably still would be if I hadn’t discovered the Ped Egg by accident.

A Ped Egg is a palm-sized cheese grater mounted on the inside of a plastic egg-shaped handle, hence the clunky name, and it’s way better than a pumice stone or an emery board because I can chew all the callus I want to off my feet with just a few passes, instead of grinding away at it for fifteen minutes. Swish swish swish, I’m done, and my feet are once again smooth as a baby’s bottom. Okay, not quite, but pretty close.

To judge from the look on my boss’s face, she’d not only never heard of a Ped Egg, she would never have imagined what it was used for if we hadn’t poisoned her mind with the information. Waves of utter disgust swept again and again over her as she involuntarily pictured it and alternately tried to wipe the picture from her memory. This was clearly something she did not want to know, yet the rest of us thought the Ped Egg was so awesome that we couldn’t stop talking about it, and once again she would picture it, and be shaken by revulsion, and struggle to purge it from her mind’s eye again. It was all she could do not to stick her fingers in her ears and shout “I DO NOT HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA!”

Flesh-eating fish | 6:18 am CST
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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

After finishing off my morning coffee the other day I went to the men’s room to read a magazine. Not really, but that’s the euphemism I’m going with.

There are four stalls in the men’s room and I try always to use the first one. I read that you should use the first stall because everybody skips it on the assumption that it gets the most traffic. Of course, those statistics are shot now if anybody else read that web article. I use the first stall because it’s first. Making decisions uses up my batteries. If I don’t have to make one, I won’t. Saves time on the recharge.

Opening the door of the first stall I find there’s dookie in the bowl. You can give people indoor plumbing but you can’t make them flush. I reached in there with my leg and toed the handle to flush, then moved to the second stall because, you know, dookie. I’m not uptight about public toilets. I know deep down that other people are nestling their bare butts on the same seat I have to use. I just don’t like to think about it, that’s all, but there’s no better reminder than fresh dookie, right? So I moved on.

The second hopper had dookie in it, too. What the hell? Has everyone contracted a strain of Alzheimer’s that’s corroding just the brain cell that reminds people to flush? I toed the toilet handle on that throne, too. And yes, that is because I’m uptight about public toilets. I don’t like to touch things with my hands any more than I have to. I will if I have to. I’ll use a pit toilet if I have to but, when I have the choice, I won’t. Tell me you don’t do the same. Oh, you liar.

Over at the third throne, the situation was going from lazy to ludicrous. More dookie. How is it possible that three different people coincidentally forget to flush at the same time in the same place? I don’t think it is. As crazy as it sounds, I think that had to be planned.

I looked around to see if maybe there wasn’t a camera recording me for an interwebs video, as if I’d have been able to see it if there had been one. Those things are tiny, and the hidden ones aren’t equipped with little red lights to give them away, no matter what you’ve seen in the movies. That scene where Denzel Washington spotted the camera in his bathroom was what made me give up on The Manchurian Candidate.

After flushing the third toilet I moved on to the fourth and last stall, took a big, deep breath before opening the door, and found … renewed faith in my fellow man. Either that, or the guys who sprung the hat trick on me couldn’t get a fourth to go along with them. I sat down to do a little reading and tried to forget what had just happened but, as you see, I couldn’t. So I had to share. You’re welcome.

Dookie | 11:34 am CST
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Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I took almost the whole day off from work today because I was the only one in the family who still had enough time off from work this year to drive into the country to pick up the turkey. One of the bennies in my contract for employment is that I get thirty-six hours of personal time every calendar year, regardless of whether I was hired on January 1st, or on September 27th. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that bennie go away soon.

But I had to use it up before the end of the year, because it doesn’t carry over, so I asked for lots of time off around the holidays. We’re all being furloughed the day after Thanksgiving (gosh, thanks!), so I asked to have the day before Thanksgiving off, to take advantage of the long weekend. Then, when B asked me last week to see if I could take time off on Tuesday, I asked for the whole afternoon, because why not? If it’s going to be a long weekend anyway, might as well get started as early as possible.

Although I was able to get all the days off that I wanted, I still had one hour of personal time left over after the dust settled. After I put in my request to take this afternoon off, my boss suggested I burn an hour off the end of the morning with that last personal hour. Well, okay … twist my arm!

I drove across town and out to the farm right after I left work, to make sure I wouldn’t forget. Don’t roll your eyes at me. It’s not only possible, it’s very likely. When I got there, the woman I found waiting at the back of the refrigerator truck wasn’t the farmer we ordered the turkey from. Worse than that, I’d never seen her before. “You’re here to pick up your turkey?” she asked.

“Yes?” I answered.

“What size?” she prompted me.

“I was afraid you were going to ask me that,” I told her. “I don’t know. Don’t you have them by name?” She just laughed at that. Apparently, they don’t name their turkeys. I wouldn’t, either. Makes it harder to wring their necks. Har.

But just then, Carrie showed up with a clipboard and a long list of names. She crossed mine off her list and told the gal in the truck to hand me a sixteen-pounder. Saved! I don’t have to go home looking stupid! I love these guys.

A Bird for a Bennie | 1:24 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

There are just two microwave ovens in the break room at work, and maybe two-dozen people, but unfortunately they all want to nuke their food at the same time. And we’ve only got forty-five minutes for lunch.

Just one microwave was humming when I walked in yesterday. Popping the door on the one that wasn’t humming, I found a small plastic dish filled with a goo-covered burrito that stopped bubbling minutes ago. Some people are bashful about touching other people’s food, but I’m not one of those people. I scooped the burrito out and placed it on top of the oven so I could nuke my hot dog.

While my nitrites were heating up, a burrito-eater came in to claim her lunch off the top of the microwave. “Is it hot enough?” I asked her. “I’ll let you have the microwave back if it’s not hot enough.”

“It’s definitely not hot enough,” she said, peeling the plastic cover off the top to let a cloud of steam escape. “Oh, it’s plenty warm, but it’s not nearly hot enough.” Shaking up a great big squeeze bottle of spicy sauce she grabbed from the fridge, she turned it over and splooied hot sauce all over it. “Therrrre we go,” she said, “now it’s hot enough.”

Hot sauce – for those times when nuclear radiation just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Hot Stuff | 9:09 pm CST
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Monday, October 25th, 2010

A guy I’d never met before stopped by my desk at work to ask me if I wanted to participate in a chili cook-off. I didn’t want to, so I told him that my cooking skills stopped somewhere between making toast and scrambling eggs, which wasn’t too far from the truth.

He chuckled and said, “That must be why you’re so skinny!”

I smacked myself in the forehead and answered, “Yeah! It never occurred to me, but I’ll bet that’s right!” Then I winked and, poking my index finger in his belly I said, “You appear to be one hell of a good cook, though!”

Or not. I get this a lot, but I’ve never had the nerve to return fire, dammit.

Pilsbury doughboy | 10:22 pm CST
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Thursday, October 14th, 2010

image of Nataly singing Telephone

I’ve got a telephone that hates me. I don’t believe it’s a personal thing, I think it’s just that the AI designed for it loathes everyone, equally and indiscriminately. Her voice drips with contempt as she ticks off my options, but I realize it only seems to hate me in particular because I happen to be the guy trying to listen to his voice mail on it right now. Pure coincidence.

To get my voice mail I have to dial a phone number, then enter an eight-digit PIN, which seems redundant to me. I’m already punching in a number to listen to my voice mail, then I have to punch in another number. How secure does this have to be? I’m not trying to get gold out of Fort Knox, I only want to listen to the latest batch of messages from people asking me how they can renew their barber’s license. Keeping information like that safe using 64-bit encryption seems like overkill.

It’s even less important than that: Most of the time the voice mail on my telephone isn’t actually meant for me. I haven’t figured out yet how I’m the default for all the incoming calls, but until I do I have to transfer the messages to the person in the office who can answer the question about renewing a license to barber. After the voice message ends there’s a phone robot voice that tells me what my options are, so it doesn’t take a lot of brains to press the button that transfers the message, but then there’s the little matter of adding a comment.

I don’t want to add a comment. For two weeks, though, I wasn’t able to figure out how to transfer a message without adding a stupid useless comment, usually something like, “Uh, here’s a caller who wants to renew his barbering license,” as if the person who was going to get the message wouldn’t be able to figure that out. Saying something totally unrelated seemed counterproductive, though, so I kept on saying obvious shit even though I felt stupid doing it.

One of my coworkers told me how to send without a comment, but I couldn’t get it to work until one way when I accidentally hit the send button in a fit of angst while trying to think of something to say. A nervous tic gave me the key to figuring out the secret: Punch “send” a fraction of a second too soon or too late and the phone robot cries foul, but count one-Mississippi and you’re good to go. Again, do we really need that kind of precision in day-to-day office telephony? Hardly.

Transferring live calls was almost as hard to figure out, but mostly because the button I’m supposed to use to make the transfer is labeled “Flash.” Sure, that makes sense, because labeling it “Transfer” would only confuse people. Why would you even call it “flash?” Telephones aren’t supposed to flash. Why would anybody touch that button? Oh, to make transfers. Right.

Stop calling, stop calling | 6:17 am CST
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Monday, October 11th, 2010

image of furloughed employee

It’s Furlough Monday! Time to stay at home and do something frivolous. Or not so frivolous, if you’re the guy in charge of keeping the bathroom clean and you sort of let it slide for a couple weeks. Yuk. I made a project out of it by driving down to the store to buy a couple cans of good old Ajax scouring powder, loaded with way too much chlorine bleach, so I could spend less time cleaning and more time on my butt reading or otherwise frittering away my mandatory day off. Armed with a super-sized can of Ajax and a stiff brush I was soon slaughtering the mold and mildew that had taken root in the grouting between the tiles on the floor, shouting “Die, Scum, Die!” like a conquering Mongol. Does that make me some kind of nerd? It sort of sounds that way but I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a cleaning nerd. Which is not the same thing as a cleaning fanatic (ref: the first half of this drivel where I mentioned letting my cleaning duties slip).

After going on a germ-killing rampage, and then showering in scalding water so I could feel somewhat clean myself, I drove into town with My Darling B who offered to take me to lunch at Lazy Jane’s. We haven’t been to lunch there in a coon’s age, or maybe it’s never, I can’t say for sure. B says she hasn’t been to lunch there until today but I don’t see how that’s likely. Anyway, I don’t believe I’ll ever turn down a meal at Lazy Jane’s. The food there is way too scrummy and their coffee is just the right combination of unusually strong and almost, but not quite, burned. It’s a lovely opportunity to relax and enjoy an hour or so with good food and good company.

Frivolity took up the better part of the afternoon, what with naps, dorking around on the internet, reading. I did managed to do something productive when I pulled up the soaker hoses in My Darling B’s garden, coiled them and stowed them in the rafters over the garage, but that hardly took half an hour, so I don’t want you to get the slightest idea that I was working hard at all. Just piddled the afternoon away. It was almost like being unemployed again, which, technically, I was, but technically only for eight hours. Tomorrow, back to work!

What I Did On My Day Off | 6:22 pm CST
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Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

image of sick office worker

One of the benefits of working in an office environment is receiving a steady paycheck. I think we can all agree on that.

Maybe another thing we can all agree on is one of the most glaring detriments: Having to acquire a whole new herd immunity. I have no idea if this has ever been studied scientifically, but I can offer my own anecdotal evidence from almost thirty years of moving from one office environment to another at intervals of about two years. Each time I’ve made that move I’ve had to spend several weeks during the first few months sicker than a puking dog. All the antibodies I built up while working in the previous office seemed to be absolutely worthless in the new office.

My latest office environment is no exception. At my previous office I could, and frequently did, sit at a desk surrounded by people hacking up great gobs phlegm as if they were dying of tuberculosis. I worked there five years and I think I got sick once, maybe twice. In my new office, however, I’d been there just three days before I knew I picked up their particular strain of cube farm killer death flu.

“Got any plans for the weekend?” one my coworkers asked me Friday afternoon.

“Yeah,” I answered, ”I think I’m going to spend it sick in bed, using up all the Kleenex.” And that’s what I’m going to do. Luckily, I’m only halfway through an eight-hundred page history of the discovery and development of atomic power, so this will give me a chance to knock off a couple hundred pages a day. Also, I’ve got My Darling B, who says she’ll make me some tomato soup. Atomic physics and some heartfelt pampering ought to make the next couple days bearable, even if I have to spend them half-dead.

I god a ruddy node | 8:32 am CST
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Monday, September 27th, 2010


Hoo-boy, I am beat! A whole day of regulating and licensing Cheeseheads sure does wear me out! My Darling B confirms that feeling like a well-wrung dish rag after laboring mightily all day for the Great State of Wisconsin is pretty common, and I’d better get used to it. Well, hoe-kay! If I gotta, then I gotta.

“So, what did you think?” one of my coworkers asked me as we were headed out the door. “Will you be coming back tomorrow?” I could honestly tell him that no, I wouldn’t. That made him raise his eyebrows, until I explained that I’m scheduled to spend all day tomorrow in a new employee’s orientation course at the Department of Administration downtown. “But I’ll be back on Wednesday,” I added.

I work in a pretty small unit, just four people including me, where we regulate the licensing of professionals such as aestheticians, perfusionists and prevention specialists. I didn’t make up any of those job titles. Check them out for yourself at http://drl.wi.gov/.

I only get forty-five minutes for lunch now, but I get out of work at four-thirty instead of five, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I brought my copy of The Making of the Atomic Bomb along with me to read while I was chowing down on leftover sausages and a crusty dinner roll, and the woman who sits at the front desk to answer the phone and buzz visitors through came over to ask what I was reading. I got the bright idea to answer her, “Oh, just a little how-to book,” before flipping the cover over, and when she read the title her eyes popped out, she looked up at me and said, “Oh!” as in, Oh, I think I hear my mother calling, gotta go, bye! I didn’t get a chance to say I was only kidding before she ran off. Wonder if she’ll ever talk to me again?

One immediate down side to being employed by the state is that I work the same hours that My Darling B does, so when she gets off work she has to drive at least twenty minutes across town to pick me up. That ought to give me plenty of time to catch up on my reading.

Back to the Grindstone | 8:30 pm CST
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Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I went back to the daily grind Thursday morning after a relatively relaxed day at a management seminar on Wednesday. This once-a-month series is broken up so that each day-long session covers some important aspect of managing a work place. Yesterday’s subject: Time management, something I could always use help with. Even if I learned only one thing, it would’ve been worth taking a day away from the office to find a way to make better use of just one minute. Hours would be better, but I’ll take minutes in a pinch.
And I did learn a few more good tricks, but what I’ll remember about yesterday’s seminar for a long, long time is that there are still some people out there who think Steven Covey’s da bomb.

Seriously? Steven Covey, the guy who raked in a butt-ton of money by getting every managerial wanna-be from here to Poughkeepsie to make his management guide The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People mind-bogglingly popular? Never that it’s the most irritating book I’ve been forced to read after Moby-Dick.

Seven Habits became such a runaway best-seller that even the United States Air Force adopted its management lessons, unfortunately. They did this while I was in mid-career, so for several agonizing years I sat through leadership classes listening to The Word of Steven Covey delivered by one sergeant after another with the inextinguishable enthusiasm of a newly-converted Christian.

Classes that espouse the Covey doctrine are exhaustingly dull because Covey’s pronouncements are trite and obvious to me. “First things first” was one of the seven habits, for instance. I’m pretty sure that was old, worn-out advice back when Ben Franklin left it out of Poor Richard’s Almanac. “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes” was another habit, and so was “change starts from within.” This guy plagiarized everybody from Jesus to Lao-Tsu and made a million bucks selling day planners and motivational posters emblazoned with his banal one-liners.

I can’t deny that Covey had made a long-lasting stamp on our culture. Ever been advised to be more “proactive”? That’s a Coveyism. Ever heard a manger agonize over how to best strive for “synergy”? Covey again. Do you understand what “win/win” means? Neither do I, but Covey does. Or says he does. But just because managers are still spouting Covey-coined words and phrases doesn’t make it worthwhile, much less interesting.

And a great deal of what he says just doesn’t make sense, when you think about it for more than two seconds. Just what is the difference between being “highly effective” and merely “effective”? If you’re effective, you’re getting things done. If you’re “highly effective,” you’re getting things done … how, exactly?

Boiled down, Covey’s Seven Habits are mere common sense. Here, for what it’s worth, are my Seven Habits of Effective People:

1. Get your ass out of bed every day.
Everyone who has ever gained a reputation as a mover and shaker got that way only because he got off his ass and did something. People who just laid there, wallowing in wretched self-indulgence? Not so much.

2. You can drink more coffee from a bigger mug.
Modern science has yet to devise a truly bottomless cup of coffee, so a big-shot boss drinks from a big-ass coffee cup, right up to to day that acid reflux sets in. It helps if the cup has “#1 Boss” on it.

3. A kick in the tail is a step forward.
If you’re not advancing, you’re in the way. There’s a lot to be said for motivational speaking, but it’s proven that nothing gets a slacker moving like a size twelve boot inserted rectally at high velocity. When you get one of these, don’t be mad, be grateful.

4. You do better work in a comfy chair.
After you land that office job, look around to see who’s got the newest, most comfortable office chair. Your first goal should be to get your ass in that chair. I’m not talking about the job that goes with the chair, just that chair. After you’ve been in the office a couple weeks, come in early or stay late one day. Move a bunch of the chairs around and make sure the comfy chair ends up in your cubicle. Then fart in it a lot so nobody ever wants it back even if they figure out you’ve got it.

5. Make the coffee.
Even if you’re the supervisor, make the coffee. That way, you get the first cup and you can take as much as you want. Nobody will ever grumble about it, or blame you for draining the pot or not making more.

6. Let every call go to voice mail.
It reduces interruptions. Also, get a wireless headset, wear it all the time and, when people come to the door of your office, raise a finger while staring intently at your computer screen, read something off the screen, then look at your visitor and mouth the words, “On the phone.”

7. Pet the cat.
Take a long walk on the sunny days. Stop and smell the roses. Whatever.

Seven Habits | 6:47 am CST
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Friday, April 23rd, 2010

After two days away from the office to attend a seminar that will give me the managerial toolbox I need to become a better supervisor, it’s back to the grindstone for one more day, huzzah!

The seminar really was very good, in that I not only learned about things that will help me out, but we also practiced them. The instructor kept mixing us up into different groups to have us work on projects, role-playing and writing scripts that kept the learning going, the subject interesting and the day short. This almost never happens when I attend a seminar so I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

Probably my favorite part of the seminar was yesterday afternoon when we role-played counseling employees who were giving us attitude. To help us deal with different defensive techniques, Mary Kate sat down to give Joe a chance to deal with angry employees. He said he has trouble knowing what to say to people when they act like this.

He began the counseling session, “Your ability to get your work done early is just great, but I’m concerned that when you use your extra time to socialize or make phone calls it’s keeping the rest of the staff from completing their duties.”

Mary Kate rolled her eyes. “I don’t get what the problem is. I can’t help it if they can’t do their work as well as I can.”

Joe paused, then stepped out of the role-play a moment. “See, this is where I get mad,” he said.

Me too, Joe.

role play | 5:55 pm CST
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Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

We took positions at our flip charts and prepared for the first round of participatory exercises at this morning’s leadership seminar.
“To let you know when it’s time to change positions, I will make a loud noise,” our instructor, Mary Kate, advised us.
Chuckles all around the room.
She grinned at us. “It will be a polite noise,” she added.
Laughter this time.

At the seminar I’m attending this week I ended up at a table of mostly women who were playing what I assume is a fairly common game among women called, “The last time I wore a dress was…” Although I could have won the game hands down by jumping in at any time and volunteering, “Summer of 1983,” I managed to restrain myself.

I was working for a summer in Wisconsin Dells to earn some money for college. One very sleepy weekday evening as I wandered along the main street looking for something to do, I ended up in one of those souvenir photo shops where you dress up in old-timey clothes and have your picture taken brandishing a six-gun and a bottle of Jack Daniels, or posed woodenly in front of a Model T. Two college-age girls were watching over the place, so naturally enough I poked my head in to ask them how things were going. It turned out they were bored out of their skulls. Apparently nobody had stopped in the shop until I came along.

In the course of chatting them up I said that I’d never posed for one of these photos before. They said they’d shoot my photo for free, just for something to do. I took them up on the offer because, well, they were two college girls who wanted to talk to me. The longer I could keep that going, the better.

When I couldn’t decide on a costume to wear, I asked them for suggestions. Well, they said, most guys like dressing up as gunslingers, or sheriffs, or hillbillies with a bottle of moonshine in one hand. Then one of them said, Hey, how about if we dress him up as a woman?

Excuse me? I asked. As as what?

But they were already getting out several long, full dresses and discussing the possibilities, and after they settled on a beautiful pastel blue dress they picked out a wide-brimmed hat and a parasol to go with it. A ruffled blouse finished off the ensemble.

I have to admit I can’t recall another time that I’ve had so much fun having two girls put clothes on me. They posed me in front of a backdrop that looked like a wooded park and snapped a photo that they presented to me with their compliments.

Yes, I do have a scanner. No, I won’t be posting a copy of the photo on this blog any time soon.

a tall tale | 5:59 pm CST
Category: story time | Tags: ,
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Thursday, April 8th, 2010

This would probably fall under the heading of stuff I shouldn’t write about, but the longer I thought it over the more important I believed it was to share this: Before you call up your banker to bitch him out because you suspect last month’s interest payment on your loan was calculated wrong, get out a pencil and paper and work out what you think the interest due ought to be, because I can guarantee that, whether or not you do, the first question he’s going to ask you is, What amount did you come up with?

“It doesn’t look right” doesn’t amount to much of a complaint. The interest you owe is very quantifiable. They don’t pick a number that looks right. If you think an error has been made, work it out to the last decimal place so you can say exactly what you think it should be, then bring it to someone’s attention.

If you can’t work it out, then you should say so. There’s no shame in that. You should still give them a call, but instead of saying that you think the bank calculated the interest wrong, ask them how they calculated the interest. They’ll be happy to tell you, and once you know how you can check their work.

If you just plain don’t want to figure it out then, believe me, you’re better off not mentioning it to anybody because, if you do, your banker is going to be forced to do the math right before your eyes, and won’t that make you feel like a horse stamping out the answer to the question “What’s two plus two?” He won’t necessarily mean to make you feel that way, but what else is he going to do? You backed him into a corner, pretty much accusing him of mismanaging your money, and he’s going to do everything in his power to show you that he’s not.

looks are deceiving | 8:38 am CST
Category: daily drivel | Tags: ,
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Monday, March 15th, 2010

My Darling B had the foresight several months ago to ask for today off from work, apparently knowing way back then that spring weather would have come by now, the snow would all be gone and she could begin to plant her garden. Lucky girl gets to spend the day starting seedlings (poking seeds into little cups filled with dirt) while listening to Sinatra, Martin and Fitzgerald on Pandora.

I, on the other hand, did not foresee how insanely jealous I would be when I realized she would be home today enjoying the warm temps, clear skies and fresh air of this fine spring day and so I did not ask for this day off, and instead would spend the day where I spend every other week day, in the basement of an office building downtown, plinking away at a keyboard while my caffeine high slowly fades.

Cheers.

jealousy | 3:13 pm CST
Category: daily drivel | Tags: ,
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