OOO (Out of Office)

The words

Just before I left the office today, I set an autoresponse for my email. So when someone emails me at work they get a response from me. But not from me. They get a form letter. It tells them that I am outta here until the New Year.

And, yet, I’m stymied by the idea or a new year. I get that we need edges and that we need to group things because that’s what us humans do, blah blah blah. But on the other hand, isn’t it random that we all get together and agree that we are starting a new set of counting days in about nine days–if you’re counting?

C’mon. We can’t agree that we should minimize greenhouse gasses so polar bears don’t die–and almost all of us love polar bears.

Ultimately, I think that it’s most important to remember that the “year” is a convenient marker of time. Not a harbinger of what is to be.

Work, work, work, work, work, work

a slice of the WWII we can do it poster.

Is it Friday yet?

Oh. It is. And ahead are three days without going to work.

Labor Day. A day of leisure. A day of anti-labor. Because we work. And we prefer not to.

The idea of work being something that requires relief, versus an integral part of being seems kind of bad.

I chose the word bad on purpose. As in opposite of good. Because work is what we do. And to make work separate from being seems like a recipe for unhappiness. Learning is work. Thinking is work. Walking is work.

Winning a gold medal in the 800 meter freestyle? Work. Feeding and diapering a baby–your own included–equals work. Negotiating at a parent/teacher conference? Definitely work.

Ask a professional dancer what they do, they’ll tell you they work. The cast of Hamilton, they go to work everyday. The Pope? Doing god’s work. Being the leader of the free world? I think President’s would call that work.

Teaching a class? Work. Taking a class? Work. Making dinner? Work. Paying bills? Work. Thinking big thoughts? That’s work, too. Being a spouse, child, parent, sibling? All include work.

You work at relationships. You work at finding compromise and solution. Struggle can be work, but work does not have to be struggle. Or maybe struggle isn’t work? I mean, this could be a better post if I worked on it.

Right now, though, I am finishing the work on this post. And then I am going to rest my head. Maybe I can say that I’m working on sleeping. Yeah. That’s it. Until I punch the clock in the morning.

I don’t mind work. It’s how we grow.

Secret Passage

This is a stylized view of a sunflower napkin ring on a paisley tablecloth. It is an image that makes you think of something else. I bet people treating cancer patients think of something else all the time.

The doctor walked out into the hall. He looked tired. He was tired.

The offices and treatment rooms were laid out in a way that he could escape. Escape from those he treated.

He didn’t just treat the sick. He treated the well. The well that were sometimes more terrified than his actual patients. The well who were worried that their beloved sicks would be neglected.

The doctor didn’t neglect anyone. He just couldn’t save them all. When they met him, they were already diagnosed. He was an oncologist. So their illness was cancer.

Cancer isn’t a death sentence. He explained that to those who were referred to him. That said, sometimes people with cancer die. People look to him for their stage. Staging is important. If you’re Stage 1, you feel okay. If you’re Stage 4, you think you’re dead. You might be. Or maybe not.

But the Doctor sees you no matter your stage. And does their best to keep you in the “not dead” category. But it’s their best. And as good as they may be, some will move to the dead category.

But not today. The Doctor was very tired. There was a ten-day medical education thingie that he was still feeling. He’s not a resident anymore!

But, today he saw you, with your biggest, winning smile cemented by yesterday’s tooth polishing at the dentist. Your hair was growing beyond it’s style, sticking out at the back and around your ears like a 70’s Keith Partridge.

You were bronzed from a week at the beach and the last MRI was clean. He told the fourth-year medical student how you helped develop a new treatment protocol. They talked coded doctor talk a bit. Not to be rude, but because they were excited.

But the oncologist still looked tired. You saw him before he was excited. When he left via the back entrance. The secret staff exit from the chemo bar. You were late. You sheepishly signed in and then met up with the money taker. Next:  your blood work. Then you surreptitiously snuck to the restroom–the one behind the elevators–before you got your blood pressure (117/70), temp (98.4°) and weight (none of your fcuking business) took.

When you got to the bathroom, it was occupied. So you stood, legs crossed, and waited.

You looked up when you heard a rustle at the far end of the hallway. You thought someone had found the stairwell that was invisible to you. Oncology was only a single floor up, but the corridor to the steps was like the room of requirements, only there if you knew it.

When you looked up, you saw a rumpled man with a stethoscope snaked around his neck. He was leaving from the secret staff exit. He looked up to see you doing the pee-pee dance. You gave a broad, silent wave. He gave a half wave from around his belt just before he opened the door across from the stairwell and disappeared. Into his retreat. Where he could collect himself. Away from the hope(lessness) of the chemo bar.

He’s a good doc. He needs a break. You don’t want him to break. He’s doing god’s work.

High Tailed

The cover of Depraved and Insulting English.

She was so bored but only needed to hide her acute detachment for another minute. Two minutes max.

She hated the performance art required to do staff reviews for the useless staff. He was very earnest in offering her a wider swath of his skills. She wasn’t using all he had. He could do so much more.

She had no interest in his offer. She fidgeted in her head. She had to hear his languid if not meandering narration. She imagined his words to be the babble of a brook. Great, now she had to pee.

She provided the required thanks and hearty if not heartfelt praise as she lowered the screen to her keyboard. She knew as she stood up he would too, and it’d be over. He stood. He articulated his hope for his place in the organization. Sure, she thought, if this place was a museum of old puppets or old muppets. Hah! That was worth an internal giggle. She led him out of the conference room, showering him with her waxy Madame Tussauds smile–you couldn’t hardly tell it was fake–and almost collided with a woman.

Why did she nod to me? Why is she stupidly standing at the door? The bored woman brushed past. She needed to get to the toilet before her next meeting.

The stupid woman called her name. Wait, the bored woman knew her.

The stupid woman called her name again. She reluctantly turned. More time wasted. She was on her way to see her boss. Her meetings were back to back. The woman, upon recognition, was no less stupid.

She motioned to the conferences room. “We have a meeting scheduled,” she mostly asked.

The bored woman shook her head. She styled her layered hair this morning and her mid length flip bounced its objection, too. She usually wore a ponytail. She appreciated today’s emphatic ‘do. She marked this power up feeling. She needed to use the big round brush more often.

She flicked open her laptop. She balanced the device on the heel of her left hand as she started reading the stupid woman her schedule that definitely did not include another stupid meeting with another useless staffer.

That stupid woman was so stupid she didn’t even care. She whipped out her phone and shook it in front of her face, pointing at the appointment that was marked as being initiated by the bored woman and sat plainly at the current time slot on the phone’s calendar.

The bored woman made an obligatory apology and closed her notebook. She really had to go. The stupid woman looked at her stupidly–no surprise there–and offered a taste of small talk. Maybe she was trying to get the bored woman’s attention long enough so she would acknowledge her and reschedule, but that wasn’t going to happen. The stupid woman didn’t want to reschedule anyway. She simply was inoculating against being blamed for a meeting not happening.

She looked at the bored woman’s torso and congratulated her.

The bored woman looked up at her, on the cusp of being interested. “Oh, yes! The new project launch?”

“No,” said the stupid woman. “On the baby.” She seemed genuinely happy for the bored woman who was quite pregnant.

The bored woman wanted to avoid a personal conversation with the stupid woman–and, quite frankly, with anyone at this moment. She had someplace to be and someplace to be before that place.

“Oh, this?” She matched the stupid woman’s eyes and followed them to her swollen belly. “That’s old news. The project launch? THAT’S my baby!”  She was okay connecting on work, just not on her private life.

Did that stupid woman just flinch? Or was it a cringe? No matter. Enough time was sucked out of her morning. She missed her chance to pee. Thanks stupid woman, she thought. You rank up there with that other useless staff member who’s inchoate wordstream caused this need to pee to begin with. She turned.

The stupid woman watched her walk away. Her bouncy high hair reminded her of one the kids’ favorite words from the Depraved and Insulting English dictionary. Feague is a verb that describes putting something (peeled raw ginger or a live eel) up a horse’s arse to increase the lift or the liveliness of of it’s tail.

The stupid woman grinned as the bored show horse trotted away, off to the races.

Dear Tourists, Let Me Help

weinermobile in front of the Capitol. I took this one.

Tourist season has befallen my fair city. As the hoards fill up our streets, hostels, chain restaurants and The Mall (we don’t shop there, by the way), I thought I’d offer some advice to smooth the stay.

Dear Washington, D.C. Tourists,
Welcome! I am super glad to host you in our fair city. A few things to help us get along better.

  • First, Washington D.C., is actually a real city. We vote for a mayor and a city council. We have schools where children study. People here have jobs and go to church and buy groceries and sit around dinner tables where we eat food just like YOU. Unlike you, though, we don’t have a vote in Congress. So don’t complain about your Congressman. We’d love to have one (and two Senators) to deride. But we don’t. And we’re U.S. citizens, too.
  • Second, D.C., is not Main Street, U.S.A. at Disney World. You can’t just walk into the streets and criss cross like it’s an amusement park. It’s not. There are traffic rules that you should follow.
  • Third, I know you don’t walk as a mode of transportation when you’re at home. You might walk on the treadmill at the gym or around your cul de sac with a neighbor for your New Year’s resolution. But here, we walk to get to work or to shop, and to grab a coffee or a beer.
  • Please please please, don’t start walking when you’re on the corner and you’re talking to your friends and not looking. Cars here are like your cars at home–made of metal and will hurt if they hit you.  We won’t mow you down because we’re mean but because you randomly walked in front of us without looking. Don’t jaywalk unless you learned this skill in Manhattan. Then you own it.
  • Key takeaways: Look for the traffic signals. If the light is RED do not walk. If the light is GREEN, go ahead. There are also signals that are RED with a hand that means, DON’T WALK. Really, nobody wants to run you over. Okay, to be honest, sometimes we do, but we wouldn’t. Not on purpose.
  • Fourth, I love it when you use our subway. We call it the Metro. It stops you from driving the wrong way on our one-way streets. It also stops you from running our red lights because you don’t see the traffic signals on the sides of the roads. We know you look for them hanging in the middle of the street. I don’t know why we don’t do that. But we don’t. Be careful.
  • Fifth, speaking of the Metro, if you’re not sure where you need to go, just ask anyone. People are happy to help you get to your destination. Seriously. They are. The thing we don’t like is your confusion at the turnstiles that blocks us from getting to the train. This is super-especially true during rush hour. An idea, please don’t use the subway during our rush hour. You are really screwing with us natives.
  • Also, this is weird, I know, but when you’re on an escalator in D.C. don’t stand next to your friend. Stand on the right and walk on the left. Leave the left side of the stairs open so people can walk. We are in a hurry because we have to go to work. We’re not on a vacation. We are glad that you are, though.
  • Sixth, this brings me to the costs of stuff in D.C. SHUT UP. You don’t have to pay a penny to go to the zoo and gawk at baby pandas; see the capsule that landed on the moon, the Wright Brothers’ plane and the real space shuttle up close; gape at the Hope Diamond and a stuffed woolly mamouth;  visit the East Room and watch the Secret Service watch you at the White House; and be in awe at pretty much everything–seriously look up, down and all around–at the Library of Congress. Also, there is crazy amazing art and culture–like Monet and ruby slippers and the lunch counter from the Greensboro Woolworths–at the Smithsonian. The Capitol Grounds, near the Supreme Court, have beautiful fountains, a botanical garden and lots of steps. Not to diminish the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington memorials, the homage to those who served and sacrificed in wars and the newer monuments recognizing Dr. King and FDR.
  • Back to the costs of things. Please don’t complain about prices for sandwiches or cokes. This is what we pay, too. We just live here. Also, speaking of prices, when you do eat out, please don’t be cheap. People waiting your tables and serving your drinks do this for a living. Tip. Really. You can tip.

My brain is awash with so many more things to help you with, but I know you’re already overwhelmed. Please, though, know this well. This is your city, because you are an American and this is our nation’s capital. And it is our city, because every day we drive and walk and bike past and work in and near the amazing landmarks you came to visit. We feel lucky to live here. You feel lucky to visit here.

We can do this together. We survived the Pope, we can work with you. Have fun!
Doc Think

The Works

Crazy spinning tilt-a-whirl

I got my first job through family connections.

My Sibling. She worked at the nearby–at least in midwest suburban standards–hamburger joint called Burger Chef. The manager, Ken, really liked her alot. There was a shift opening, and she got me in. I don’t think Ken thought that I’d be a hard worker, but since he liked Sib, alot, he took a chance. It wasn’t a big risk. Kids got on and off that store like an amusement park ride, and there was always another 16-year-old needing a first job.

I don’t think that I worked a shift with the Sib. She soon got a school sponsored co-op job at a graphics shop and couldn’t do the hamburger thing. Lucky.

My first day I donned my plastic uniform. It was plastic. Seriously. They made this awful double-knit fabric that was made out of melted straws and drink cup lids. You would pull it out of the washing machine and it would be mostly dry because it wasn’t actually fabric.

It was topped by a crappy brown plastic tunic and crappy brown plastic pants–I guess to hide the stains of a day’s work–with 70’s orange and yellow stripes. Like the worst that the Brady’s would wear.  And then there was the worst cap ever. These days fast food workers wear baseball caps. In those days we wore clown jester hats. Nobody looked good in it. Even Emma Watson wouldn’t be able pull it off. Judge for yourself here.

My training shift was a two hour gig between lunch and dinner rush. Since there was virtually nobody there, the boss could actually spend time telling you what to do.

It was my first day at my first job and I didn’t yet constitutionally hate my crappy brown plastic uniform. I was cheerful and bouncy–like a worker should be, right? Ken showed me how to punch in and gave me my name tag. I toured the back of the house. I had never actually seen a grill or a triple sink before. The walk-in fridge was incredibly impressive. [Ask me sometime what I did when I accidently dumped over the pickle bucket in the walk-in. Be assured I never ate pickles again at that store. Another fun fact, when we were overcome by peeling and slicing onions, we’d go into the walk-in and put our faces next to the fan. Cleared the tears in a minute.]

After the tour, it was time for some actual work. Ken gave me a towel and a bucket with some diluted cleaning solution. He showed me how to wipe down the table and the booths, being sure to sponge the back of the bench as well as the seats.

I methodically worked my way through the dining room. Leaning over to make sure that I did a really good job. I went around the perimeter washing each booth then moved to the bolted down tabletops and twisty chairs. The booths were orange and the twisty chairs were beige and yellow. [Who chose those colors? Papa Brady?]

It probably took me 25 minutes to do a thorough job. Ken was behind the counter, prepping the cash registers or identifying what needed to be stocked for the dinner rush. When I was done, I walked back behind the counter–not gonna lie, it felt cool to cross the line to the back of the house. Boss Man was leaning against the stainless steel expo area and talking to another staffer. I eagerly asked him what I should do next.

He looked at me and surveyed the empty dining room. “Clean the tables.”

I thought he must have misspoke since I had just done that and nobody had sat down in that time. “I just did that.”

“Do it again.”

“What?” I thought. And I am sure that my face was somewhere between are you kidding me and screw you. But he was serious.

He was letting me know that he was the guy in charge and I answered to him. It didn’t matter that the tables were cleaned almost contemporaneously. He was paying me. Paying at below minimum wage, I might add still bitter decades later, because Burger Chef participated in a rip-off program that hired high school students at a lousy wage so they could exploit us even more while we got work experience so we could hop off their tilt-a-whirl.

“I said, go clean the dining room.”

I furiously grabbed my rag and my bucket and with a high level of attitude began rewiping down the tables and chairs. I mouthed and maybe spoke many curse words aimed primarily at my boss. The litany included everything except the F-word, because it was not yet my go-to when spitting vulgar profanities at the injustices of the world.

I was significantly pissed. I could have quit right then and there, I was telling myself. It was so stupid and unreasonable, I complained in my head as I squeezed out my towel. Why did I have to do something that was already done, I blasphemed as I extended my reach to the back of the booth next to the window and wiped again. I hated that stupid weasel-faced Ken with his stupid white shirt with short sleeves and that lame brown tie, those hideous aviator glasses and his awful mousy hair parted neatly on the side when all the guys I knew wore their hair like Jon Bon Jovi if they had curls or Tom Petty if they did not.

Somehow I worked my way around the dining room and my shift was over. I clocked out. I came back the next day and learned the cash register. And that’s how I learned to work.

God, it was awful. I swore I would never ever ever work with food again. That was a promise I kept.

When I left, they were sorry to see me go. They told me I had a future, as a crew chief. That’s the other thing I learned. Don’t go away mad. Just go away.

Now I’m thinking about Ken for the first time as a person. He was in his early twenties–just six or seven years my elder–even though he seemed like an old man when I was sixteen. I’m the old person at work. I hope I’m not so unreasonable. I hope I either advertently or inadvertently grant some valued lessons. And I hope that Ken has had a great life.

First Word Struggle

Tearing down the green drapes to make a dress.

I did a bunch of writing at work today.

Unsatisfying writing.

It’s writing something that requires a specific straightjacket–I mean format. It’s the reworking of reworked copy.

These drafts have passed through so many, like a hand me down jacket. They’re  misshapen and stretched out around the cuffs. Some of the hands manipulating the draft may have been full of newsprint. Some of the fingertips may have just kneaded dough and are full of flour. Nobody washed before handling. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to, there just wasn’t time.

Now the scrolls have sat for a while. While we finished and published one branch, we ran out of time and deferred the rest. Anyway, it’d be better if we took some time.  The time has been taken. We lost some momentum. So now we might have taken too much time. The words are starting to funk. Or put me in a funk.

I’ve been working on trying to rebuild a rhythm. One like we had for the first round. But holding on to this pile of nouns and verbs, of bullets and hyperlinks-to-be isn’t making it better. It’s making me bitter.

It’s like that mess in the pantry that needs to be cleared out, reshuffled and restocked. Yet it  just feels recycled.

I’ve been fighting with this unsatisfying project for too long. I need to put a pen to it. An end to it.

Instead, I say in my best Katie Scarlett O’Hara, “Fiddle-dee-dee! I’ll think about it tomorrow.”


I’m a Punk

huge and very impressive escalator in Copenhagen.

I went to the Freer Gallery to see the Sōtatsu exhibit today.

Here’s my compressed 411 for you: Some 400 years ago in Japan, this guy, Sōtatsu, was an amazing artist and craftsman. He decorated papers and fans and told stories with ink and paint and foils. He did prints for poetry scrolls and made beautiful panels. He used the medium like nobody else and influenced eastern art. All the credit went to his collaborators and students. He disappeared for centuries.

My point isn’t about his struggles. He did okay for himself. My point is that he was a master. He was able to accomplish masterpieces because he worked on his craft. He was great and memorable for hundreds of years because he worked to learn. He experimented, refined and improved his art.

So here I am tonight, slogging and slurring through post number 30.  I’m writing because I am faux-working at my craft. Really, though, I’m just a punk. I’m writing without the care and effort and path to improvement of Sōtatsu and his disciples. I’m just putting a notch in the gun.  X’ing today on the calendar. Did it. Done!

I still believe that forcing myself to write every day makes me a better writer. At least it makes me faster. But to really be better, I need to focus on making my actual work better. I’ve been publishing and moving on, when I would learn more by going back, editing refining and reflecting, and maybe throwing some away.

This is a raw idea and I promise (myself) that I will return to this tomorrow. I need to get on an escalator to improvement rather than the moving walkway that drives me across the same level.

Thank you Sōtatsu for tweaking this punk.