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Friday, April 30, 2004

For Those Who Like Accents
Apologies for the Lateitude
"See you tomorrow!" That's what the head chef at our favorite sushi joint always says as we walk out the door. It's kind of funny and kind of clever. At first, we thought he was mistaking us for someone else. We may be regulars - no, we are regulars. When the waitress has your order going in before you even sit down, you are officially a regular. Anyway, even though we often visit, we didn't assume he actually recognized us as frequent appreciators of his creations. In point of fact, when he first said it to us, he didn't recognize us. It's just something he says. Now he does know us, though. It dates back from the evening I turned back as I was leaving and said his tagline to him before he said it to us. He seemed to think that was funny, so he's started to vary it - either with different intonations or different words (one time he even said, "Hasta la vista" instead). We've also had brief exchanges on neutral topics - sports, the weather, nothing intense - we really don't know him, but somehow we know that we like him.

Relationships exist on a lot of different frequencies - some are intense, some merely recognition. Some of the most smile-inducing ones can be those that have the least actual time spent. My mom once had a goofy sort of friendship with a seven-foot bicycle messenger named Elvis. They cracked each other up with the pithy one-liners they passed back and forth during package pickups and deliveries. One bright spring morning, my mother passed Elvis on the street in Boston.

"Warm weather's coming!" said Mom.

"Yeah - pretty soon I'll start wearing my thong," replied Elvis as he loped past.

The next day, Mom happened to see him again.

"Did you say 'thong'?" queried Mom.

"I wondered if you caught that," replied Elvis, who was then gone again.

I once met Elvis, who told me how much he just loved my mother. All told, they had probably exchanged 200 words, yet he seemed to know her at just the right frequency. I think our sushi chef is sort of like that. We see him about once every two weeks or so, exchange a few words, and then everyone goes on with their lives, feeling a bit warmer and fuzzier.

So - anyone know how to say, "See you tomorrow" in Japanese? I want to surprise him.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Perhaps Not So Constant.
Perhaps I'm just on a different calendar.

Whaddaya Mean, It's Thursday?
Why are human beings consistently amazed at things that are constant? Think about it: every fall, we start saying something brilliant like, "It's getting dark so early these days!" We say it as if it is the first time that has ever happened in the whole course of the universe. Our memories are otherwise unimpaired - we can probably remember all sorts of details about last fall, but somehow we forget that the Earth is a bit tilted and daylight hours are not consistent.

Perhaps it's a temporal issue. For some reason, today feels like Friday. Thursdays are often like that: I guess you want it to be Friday enough that you imagine it really is. (And yes, for those of us who are unemployed, Friday is meaningful - it means the weekend is coming and you will get to see your significant other for more than a couple of hours in the evening). And that temporal shift is somehow made worse and not better by having your week "shortened" by a holiday or vacation day as we had this week.

So, it's Thursday, and we've been going around for the last day and a half wowing about how green everything is (amazing! Happened last year too!), and I have yet another interview this morning, so am up earlier than usual and am even less coherent than usual, and having it be Thursday and thinking it is Friday is off-putting as well, and whaddaya know - a much runnnier run-on sentence than I'm usually capable of.

I also had a very, very strange dream this morning. I was on the top floor of a 20+ story building and it started to fall. There were all sorts of strange dream-physics operating (for instance, I was still standing still on the floor, even as we headed for an ornamental lake and I thought, "This is it. Huh. This is it."), and then just as impact was supposed to occur, the dream looped. I was on the twenty-somethingth floor again, but decided that since I remembered the first loop it would be a really good idea to leave. So I gathered up a bunch of people to go to lunch and hustled them out of the building. When I woke up, I had been walking speedily away from the area where the building fell in the first loop.

I blame last night's Angel.

Anyway, despite all of the temporal madness, I really must get up and get clean and dressed and ready for my interview. Because I know that I won't get a second chance on that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

More Spring
Webshots of DC spring flowers.

Home Again
We returned home from our California sojurning yesterday - a bit shaken from turbulence, but otherwise well. In our absence, our little corner of the world has turned lush and green - except for my car, which was finely dusted with yellow pollen (well, it is a blue car - I suppose if you squint at it, it is green now as well).

It seems that we have waited and waited for spring to truly become spring, and then suddenly it's just here - its magic completely performed in a single week. Wisteria are in full bloom, the purple-flowering trees that line so many of the roads around our house are showing in vibrant contrast to the new leaves of the forest, and everyone's lawns look like they need cutting. Azaleas are starting to show their scarlet, pink and white fireworks. Pollen allergies aside, I'm pretty sure John is looking forward to digging, clipping and pruning this week - now that we finally have things we can dig, clip and prune.

In the meantime, though, I have all of those catching-up errands to accomplish. The fridge is empty, laundry baskets are full, and a visit to the dry-cleaner is due.

Happy spring.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Yeah, You Probably Got These Via Some E-mail....
Profound Observations
"Oscar's green a little bit. So's Marvin the Martian."

"Jill, you're silly."

"I have four dolls. This one has a bottom."

"John, look at me!"

"We're gonna go see fish. Like Nemo."

"Pandas can't swim."

"We're making footprints."

We're visiting our friends Marie and Mark. They have a three-year-old, Amelia. She has a sometimes solemn, sometimes silly take on the world, reported from a view about three feet from the floor and conducted from morning to bedtime. For those who have children, this is probably not novel. For John and me, it's a near constant crack-up.

She is a small person with big opinions.

Which she shares.

I guess that means she fits in very well with the rest of us.

Our Heroine is returning home on the 27th and will not be posting today. See you on Wednesday.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Weekend (4/24/04)
On the weekend, blog rests.

Friday, April 23, 2004

An Example of What I Mean
It's Different on the Left Coast
Is it them, or is it me?

The issue is this: people are darned friendly here. Now, before anyone thinks I am rushing to dismiss the friendliness of those in the DC area, not so. I have had many delightful encounters with cheerful, helpful strangers in my day to day existence in the Nation's Capitol. One such encounter with a station manager for the Union Station Metro left me grinning all through an otherwise very trying day. She very cheerfully pointed out to me that I had presented my Metro card twice to the reader in a sort of "stutter," making the display read, "See station manager." "Baby girl," she asked, smiling, "Are you trying to ride the train, or are you trying to go to work?" Maybe it was being called "baby girl" by an obviously amused fellow human being, I don't know. It did put a spring in my step.

But back to the "other" coast. I have been wandering around a bit, mostly in Berkeley (which probably tells its own tale) for the last two days. Shopkeepers, waiters and one particularly memorable flower-seller named Mahmoud have been almost uniformly cheerful, helpful and kind to me. So this place feels friendly in a more-than-usual way.

But my research in this vein falls far short of scientific precision. I have my sample size of one, and the sample itself is not its usual, serious, job-hunting self. Nay, the sample is slightly pink from buzzing about with the top down, eager to see new things and eager to like what it sees. In essence, the sample is on vacation, and ready to see the good in just about anything.

So - is it them, or is it me? Are the people here simply friendlier than the average Easterner, or am I priming the pump by being more relaxed, more cheerful, more ready to be pleased?

It's an interesting problem - and one I should pursue when the sample goes home.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Just In Case You're Interested
I'm not buying one, but here are the specs.

Automotive Review
John is taking a class this week, learning more about a computer system for his work at the library. I have tagged along, because the class is in sunny California. While he works and learns, I am playing. Just now, he is the ant, working seriously away, and I am the grasshopper, buzzing up to Berkeley in a brightly-colored shell.

That "brightly colored shell" is a brand-new, bright red Thunderbird convertible. One of the few perks of having been an incredibly frequent traveler in my past career is an accumulation of "points" from various airlines and hotels. As I have noted before, most of these are "artistically scattered among so many airlines as to make most of them virtually useless," however I did accumulate enough points to comp myself a staid, demure midsize car for the week we are here.

So, how did I go from Ford Taurus to Thunderbird convertible? Twelve dollars a day, on top of handing over a bunch of points. God bless the off-season and the good people at Oakland Airport Hertz.

Let me tell you, this is a fun, totally frivolous, easy-driving, party-time, drop-the-top-and-let's-go-to-the-beach vehicle. A midlife crisis on wheels. A pick-me-up of low-slung, sleek-lined proportions. Total strangers have told me I look good in this vehicle, and when I admit that it's a rental, they shrug and say, "You should get one!" I'm convinced that a Ford employee is walking around handing out $20 bills and telling people to give me compliments.

At the very least, it's taking my mind off the fact that I'm waiting on a response from a particularly promising interview.... well, sometimes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Truly Random Wednesday
I Still Police Commas
In my third year of law school, I was required to execute a major project. This "thesis" we were required to turn in halfway through our third and last year was also known as the "Independent Writing Project" or IWP. We called it the "I-whip," a beleaguered nod to the fact that it was a killer of a project. Professor David Gregory was my advisor for this project. "Advisor" should probably be relabeled "tutor." The advisor's role is to guide, discuss and help with the project as much or as little as they deem useful or necessary. Finally, they are to grade it.

Professor David Gregory was the advisor you would choose if you had either serious chutzpah or serious masochism issues. Or, in my case, I chose him because I was already working for him and had come to know him the tiniest bit. His intellect was deep, his learning was broad, and his wit left no-one unscathed. He was especially fond of telling a story at the beginning of class, pausing for dramatic effect as he cast his light blue gaze over the class, and intoning in his rough-voiced New England drawl, "Now I ask you..." What ever he was about to ask was going to seriously rewire your world-view. He did it so often that we got used to the feeling of having the world dumped upside down and shaken like a snow globe. Some of us even got to liking it. I don't remember anyone ever getting the better of him in discussion or argument. But when he sparred verbally, you at least thought he might believe you were worthy of the effort.

The time-honored ritual of IWP process included turning in drafts as you went along. In due course, I turned in my first seven pages - the introduction - and got back seven pages of red ink.

Most of these were deleted commas.

Before I went to law school I thought I could write. My first year writing class taught me that yes, maybe I could write, but I couldn't write like a lawyer yet. I had a lot to learn about building an argument - crafting phrases that carefully built up your own position while refuting the other side's strongest points until finally there was nothing to do but agree with the writer. Legal writing is a lot like a geometric proof that way. Each step must be explained. Nothing can be left to the reader's assumption. Leave out a step and you're finished.

By my third year, I had the structure of legal writing down pat. I wasn't going to leave out an "if" on my way to the "therefore." I knew the rules and had become confident of my ability to play the game. Occasionally, I did worry that I was losing whatever flair I might have possessed for writing fun, stylish prose. I hadn't counted on losing my grip on punctuation. I remember getting that paper back, flipping through it, and feeling a terrible, sinking feeling. Professor Gregory didn't address a single premise that I had laid out in that introduction. He didn't challenge my pre-stated conclusions and he didn't approve of them. He hadn't engaged me as a lawyer or lawyer-to-be. Instead, he had come at me like an avenging angel from Strunk's bible and cut me low.

I brought the paper home and stared at it for a while, blurry eyed, not seeing. Finally, knowing I had to get stuck in and get on with it, I started to read what I had written, or to read what I could behind the thicket of red circles and deletions. And I realized something. Somewhere along the line, in a serious-minded attempt to insure that each thought received attention, I had started to carve up my prose with commas. I am a rapid reader. Perhaps I was trying to tell the reader, "Please slow down." At any rate, the Professor was right. My prose was littered with fidgeting, distracting, unnecessary punctuation.

Over the next few months I handed in other drafts to Professor Gregory. He never handed another one back. They disappeared into the shelves and piles that made his office into a labyrinth where the student picked her way through, off balance and unready for a Minotaur with twinkling blue eyes and smoker's voice. We didn't discuss the project again until I asked for an extension, which was granted. In retrospect, considering I had chosen this particular project because I was already researching the subject for the Professor, that was unusual. At long last, after a long night of paging through a near-final draft with my own red pen in hand, I handed in the completed project. I had worked on it for so long, I had no idea if it was the best work I had ever done or if it was inferior kindling.

Then commenced about two weeks' worth of evasive action. I had a class with the Professor, so I came into the room just before class began and bolted the moment it was over. I didn't walk past his office. Having cast the die, I was afraid of how it would fall. Mostly, I didn't want to disappoint the Professor. He had been kind to me in his gruff, elusive way. He seemed to think I had potential. I hated to prove him wrong.

He caught me one day. It was inevitable. I was waiting for a friend, and suddenly he was there. I am sure I froze like a frightened rabbit. I didn't hear the words as he said them and the extended hand was incomprehensible to me. Pulling what he had said from my short term memory I realized he had said, "Congratulations on an excellent paper." I took his hand dumbly, and he shook it solemnly.

It was one of the two A grades I ever got in law school.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Our Heroine is traveling today and will not be posting an essay. The Pacific Time Zone will undoubtedly cause the production schedule to start trending later and later throughout the next week. Thank you for your patience, dear Reader!

Monday, April 19, 2004

Patriot Games
Gorgeous photos of a reenactment of the battle that took place at Meriam's Corner on April 19, 1775

Patriot's Day
Today is Patriot's Day, a day devoted to patriots and patriotism.

"I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’”

— Schurz, “The Policy of Imperialism,” Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz (1913)

In Massachusetts, where we used to live, it is also a holiday. The running of The Boston Marathon is today. The streets of Boston are lining up with people ready to cheer and holler for strangers putting out a supreme effort.

"Patriot: The person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about."

— Mark Twain

For many, running the marathon today will be the biggest physical accomplishment of their lives. These athletes, who don't usually refer to themselves by that name, will run longer than they ever have, put out more effort than they thought possible. It is always a revelation to find out how much farther you can go - how much you can accomplish when you bend your mind and soul and will to it. For most of those running today, the accomplishment is not important for what it is, it is important for what it represents. It is the pure promise of achievement, the promise made to the self. A milestone you can be proud of.

"The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war."

— Sydney J. Harris

Happy Patriot's Day.

When in Doubt, Panic.
There's a lot to panic about these days, if one were so inclined.

The world situation is a biggie. Accordingly, living close to a major city (and that major city being Washington, D.C.), it seems that the world situation might end up on our doorstep (or crashing through our roof) at any time. About a year and a half ago, we weren't worried about international terrorists so much as our homegrown ones.

It's interesting to compare the speculative, international threat to the known, domestic one. The speculative threat, little spoken of but existing in the back of everyone's mind, causes clenched jaws and distant looks. The known threat caused people to talk, share plans, check up on one another. The speculative threat occasionally strips shelves bare of bottled water, plastic tarps and duct tape. The known threat provoked zigzag runs to the grocery store, the Guardian Angels pumping your self-serve gasoline, and gallows humor. We might still have felt hunted while the snipers prowled our streets and parking lots, but we felt like we could do something to keep ourselves safer.

It seems that Homeland Security's occasional proclamations, often less clear than the Oracle at Delphi, are intended to give us that something - activity to make us feel safer. But soon after a change in the "Threat Advisory," comes the inevitable question - what does it mean? Why is orange safer than red, and what can we really do about it other than suffocating ourselves in rooms sealed with plastic and duct tape? But those questions fade soon after the threat alert is dropped to yellow. Somehow, all of this Roy G. Biv posturing seems to act as a color-spectrum narcotic - it might not mean anything except longer or shorter lines at the airport, but it is evidence that "something" is being done about homeland security. Like some SUV owners, we find the illusion of safety more comforting than safety itself.

Living in fear isn't exactly the answer either. But isn't there some middle ground between denial and panic?

Friday, April 16, 2004

Randomness, Posted Late
The Electric Company archive. For those of us who watched after Sesame Street... Check out the video clips.

Apologies, Folks
I have a cold or a sinus infection or something. And suddenly another company has entered the fray and wants to talk to me yesterday.

The good news is, I'm in demand (at least as far as interviews go).

The bad news is, my voice is a demented, strangled squeak of a thing.


See you Monday.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A Threat to Google?
Guest Blogger
I am heading back to Maryland this morning. Last night, my mother was presented with the "Esprit de Coeur" award from the New England Women in Real Estate. She spoke on the subject of networking - making connections. So, this morning I present my mom, Carole Sawdon, as my first "guest blogger." Here is the text of her speech.


It is such a pleasure to see all of you here tonight—old friends and new friends. Thank you for coming.

Hard to believe that it’s been over 20 years since those early days of meetings at the Meridien Hotel (we grew too large for their ballroom). We wore business suits—with skirts—and floppy silk bow ties. People still smoked in public buildings and we had wine at lunch. Imagine!

We were new to each other and to the networking concept and unsure how to proceed.

We were EARNEST—we WORKED at it—after all the word IS net---WORK, isn’t it? Work surely implies protocol.

So, we took lessons and learned where to wear our nametags for optimum eye-contact when shaking hands (on the right). We learned to keep “our” cards and “their” cards in separate pockets for ease of exchange—and we learned to be sure we had pockets. We learned to make lists for follow-up and follow-through. It was and is good stuff. It’s important to have a framework and to be organized.

But what experience really taught us is that –you never know. Infinite possibilities exist in every encounter. Here’s one of my favorite examples: Joan, an attorney in Philadelphia went to her first CREW convention reluctantly because her practice was a local one. In convention overload, she slipped out of a session to sit in the sun for a brief respite and struck up a conversation with a project manager for a developer from the West Coast—also similarly overloaded. Nice chat—good sharing of information. Some months later the West Coast developer was buying property in Philadelphia and the project manager suggested they call Joan. It was the beginning of a great team. Who would have thought? After all, they were really playing hooky—not usually classified as “work.” Your next deal might come from the person ahead of you in line at the sign up table tonight—or the person next to you now. You never know.

I do know that the process repeats itself every time we’re in a new situation. We aren’t ever allowed to finally check the box marked “done.” We also think it’s a whole lot easier for HER to go to a meeting where she knows no one than it is for ME. Besides, SHE probably knows people anyway. She’s a leader, she’s a hero, she knows how to do it.

I like the perspective contained in something Will Rogers said, “We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” It’s actually a great spot—the curb—you meet a lot of nice people there.

Thank you again for the honor of being here. Now I’m going to leave this parade and go back to my spot on the curb. Someone I met earlier is saving my place.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Parent? Child? Difference?
Please substitute "parent" for "child" in the following.

Signs You No Longer Live at "Home"
My mother knows more about her remote control devices than I do.

This is a sure sign that I no longer live anywhere near my mother's home. I used to be the remote-control-jockey supreme. I used to be the one who knew how to wire everything, set up every stereo and negotiate every complex remote control transaction.

Once, my mother needed me.

In the flip-flop of parent-child relationships, there are the times when the child needs the parent to put together the bicycle, the Barbie Dream House, the Christmas morning matchbox race track. Then there's the era of the parent needing the child for the stereo, the VCR and the internet connection.

Then the child moves away and the parent must grow up and learn to cope on their own. I have come to that point now.

So, I worry about my mom. She lives alone in a brutal climate: snow and ice and universal remotes.

I must learn to let go.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Crop Report
From a small town? You may be able to get your hometown news here.

You Can't Go Home Again, Part II
When I was growing up in Hollis, NH, the town was sleepy and small. It probably had more acreage taken up by apple orchards, cows and hay fields than house lots. There were about 50 yards of sidewalk in the downtown area, and the first stoplight was installed (with much argument) at the "four corners" in the center of town only after several accidents.

Fast forward thirty years. The cows are gone. The apple orchards are mostly there, but many former hayfields have giant McMansions rising like an unlikely crop out of the rocky soil. Every visit now incorporates some observation of change: a new building, a beloved shop closed, old neighbors moved away. But observations of change tend to ignore the things that remained the same. There is still only one stop light. There are still few sidewalks. Last I checked, I was still an active cardholder at the Hollis Social Library. Like my mother's house, my mother's town is filled with life which begets both change and inertia.

There are plenty of Hollis "kids" who decry the changes, mourn the loss of "their" town and rail against the McMansions, the construction projects in the center of town, and the influx of new people. But many, if not most, of those who mourn are like me: we have moved away and make infrequent trips back to our hometown. We live near and far, but not in the town we refer to as "ours."

And so, it isn't ours any more. When we return and point with indignation to each new building, each changed landmark, the people who still live here smile tolerantly and change the subject. They were here when that foundation was laid. They watched as the studding went up and speculation went on about what it would look like, who would live there. We simply see the accomplished fact. They lived through the process and will continue to do so. While change hits us all at once with its emotive power, the residents have time to see what we do not: the evolution of a town that is still living. They may not want that house there any more than we do, but they also know the futility of ranting against the change, and they have had time to reach acceptance. The alternative is to live in a ghost town.

It may not be ours any more. But if we choose, we can still see home in the horseback riding ring, the town green with its war memorial and in the springtime flowering of each old apple tree. The past, our "home," is there if you look.

Monday, April 12, 2004

A House that is a Museum
You Can't Go Home Again
I was raised in New Hampshire. I now live in Maryland. I have lived in a variety of diverse places in between that upbringing and current house.

In each stop along the way, there have been a kaleidoscope of definitions of the word home. There are current homes, ancestral homes, homes that now only exist in memory because they have burned, been torn down, sold or otherwise passed beyond your use. There are temporary homes, places lived in for a few years, a few months, or even a few days. On long, exhausting business trips I even found myself stating that I was, "going home," when what I really meant is I was returning to my hotel room. Entire towns or regions can be "home."

So, home can mean everything from the place where you last dumped your suitcase to the place where you learned to crawl, speak and play Chopin.

Even now, as settled as I am, there are two definitions of the word "home." One is the little townhouse in the woods in Maryland: my current address, the threshold I was carried across by my romantic husband, the place where my thoughts turn most often. The other is the little house in the woods in New Hampshire where I cantered around pretending to be a horse, wept over the multiplication tables, and retreated to when I had an advanced degree but no career. This is also where my mother still lives. Plenty of people quote the title of Thomas Wolfe's novel and say, "You can't go home again." What they mean is: that home that you remember, the complicated picture of the place where you grew up - it isn't there any more. Walls will have been painted or moved, new memories created, sometimes new people will be living there. The place has gone on without you, and shoehorning yourself back into those rooms will not bring back the past.

So, loaded as the statement is, I have returned home to New Hampshire. The house has changed. It should change. A vital, living person lives within these walls, and it should not be a museum. I'm not sure where to find some things any more. There is new furniture and pictures have been rearranged. And yet, the multiply-great-grandchildren of birds that rejoiced at the end of winter during my youth are singing the same songs today. Daffodils are poking their green stalks above the earth in the same places they did when I was small. The bed in "my" room still has a perfect view of the moon.

It is nice to be home. Because it has changed, and because it is the same.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Holiday Special Edition
Saturday, April 10, 2004

Weekend (4/10/04)
On the weekend, blog rests.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Yet again...
Temporary Duty
Years ago, I worked for Honeywell as a very long-term temp. Honeywell had an "internship" program which worked like this: employee A goes on leave for a significant period of time (maternity, illness, etc.). A's job is then filled temporarily by someone from the lower ranks (call them B) as a sort of cross-training, employee skills improvement "intern." B's job is filled by C... and you get the picture. Within a few moves, the bottom rung is reached and they contract that job out to a temp. In the early nineties, I was that temp for someone in the Public Relations department.

I was trained by my predecessor - she initially took a shine to me. I think she was sort of proud of me in a protege-mentor sort of way. I remember her face and her long, air-brushed nails, but I don't remember her name. This is a good thing, because I don't want to. She left me with a cubicle filled with stacks of unfinished projects, explaining that she didn't have time to do them and didn't expect me to have time either. She answered nearly every request with an initial "no," a negotiating position it is hard to combat for most people. Our boss, Anne, often didn't have the stomach to fight with her. They had a distant, chilly relationship. I inherited that along with the unfinished projects.

After a while, when I got acclimated to the daily routines, I started to nibble away at those projects. I filed boxes of photographs, created archive folders for old press releases, and slowly started to be able to see more than one square foot of desk space. I also started getting along with my boss, who eventually thawed enough to see what I was doing and that I was doing it cheerfully. I am still not sure whether the efficiency or the camaraderie were more offensive to my predecessor. She started showing up at my cubicle, startling me by barking out questions that inevitably started with: "What have you done with my-" To this day, I cannot stand to have an office where my back is to the door. The cubicle was configured this way, and it made her sneak attacks all the more effective. There were also a few catty rumor-campaigns which died a swift death, and she occasionally felt it necessary to tell me off for some imagined misdeed. It wasn't fun, but in the long run it wasn't damaging either.

Finally, my year was up and my predecessor reclaimed her old job. I was re-contracted here and there, and finally went off to law school, leaving the situation behind, but not the lessons I had learned. First and foremost was that I had learned to be rather militant about what I consider to be the exploitation of temp workers. About half of the admin staff at Honeywell was temporary when I worked there. We lived hand to mouth, earned our pay week to week and had no health insurance unless we were married to someone who had it. A sick day meant you didn't get paid, and one week's vacation came only after a year's work. Meanwhile my predecessor, the one who was so fond of the word "no," spent valuable time pursuing petty harassment and who couldn't clear her backlog, got better pay and full benefits. I had inadvertently made her look bad, but she was still the one who was employed and I was not.

There is sometimes a fine line between "unfair" and "stupid." Sometimes the circles overlap. This was an overlap case which I have seen happen again and again. I have worked at places which used temps in this way - year in and year out, all in service of the bottom line. It is easier for top managers to cut regular support staff, fill their places with temps, and ignore the hidden cost of training and retraining a continuous stream of new faces and the frustration of highly-paid workers who end up expensively doing their own admin work because it's just faster and easier than asking the new person who doesn't even know where the restroom is.

Employee loyalty may be expensive, but it's worth every penny.

Calling All Bloggers
John Scalzi is looking for good postings to link to. Check out his April 8 note here.

He's also a darned funny, intelligent writer and his archives are worth a look.

A Big Day for Extras
I've been "BoingBoinged." This is both thrilling and terrifying.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Airline Talk
Think these people are responsible?

Go Ahead, Make My Day
I will be traveling up to New England this weekend. My mother is winning an award next week, and I am going to cheer her on. All this is well and good - I look forward to seeing friends, visiting the old homestead and avoiding the drinking of "hard water." But those who have read this site from its inception know it means another thing that potentially threatens my tenuous hold on reason: airline language.

It has been a couple of months since I have been on an airplane - which leads me to wonder if there are any new depredations being wreaked upon the English language by the Visigoths of the Seat Back and Tray Table. For once, I will actually be listening quite carefully to their instructions - I need some new material, and the airline industry seems to wring linguistic outrage from me in the most effortless fashion imaginable. Since I'm flying Southwest up to Manchester, it's entirely possible that I will get something truly creative - Southwest's employees are actually allowed to deviate from the script.

Oooh... scary.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

There is, in fact, a whole "World of Collectibles."

Taking up a Collection
Someone once asked me, "What do you collect?" The question threw me. It wasn't, "Do you collect anything?" or "Do you have a collection?" The query automatically assumed I collected something, some variety of tchotchke, bauble or other item designated as "collectible." My eloquent answer, "Um... I don't collect anything," elicited great surprise. Apparently, there are great swaths of the population for whom having a collection is What People Do.

I guess I have always only half-aware of the general urge to collect something - to have the whole set. I do remember being eight and thinking that getting all of the Star Wars trading cards would be a good thing - after all, everyone else in the second grade was getting them. I had a stack about an inch high when I lost interest. Then there were Breyer Horses, which I wanted because they looked like the real thing and I could play with them. Even in the seventies, I knew there was no way I would ever have a "complete set" of those - there were hundreds even then.

In my youth, I know there were various fast-food promotions I got excited about because of the toys, and there are even some I vividly remember. You can tell if someone is in my age bracket by inquiring if they ever desperately wanted a plastic pickle whistle from Burger King. Whether or not they did, if they know what you mean, they are likely to be in their mid-thirties. But if the desire to "have them all" ever possessed my waking thoughts, it was fleeting. If I were a member of the "catch 'em all" Pokemon generation, I am sure I would be hopelessly out of the loop.

BBC America has a show called "Cash in the Attic" which helps people value their antiques and collectibles, selling them at auction to raise a sum towards a given project. It's an interesting view on collectors, and I'm often amazed at the sums given for some small "whimsy" or (to my eyes) appallingly ugly Staffordshire dog. So there is a good fiscal reason to collect - at least as a form of speculation. But again, I can't imagine having a lot of china stashed away just in case it was worth something someday. I just don't have the collector's gene, I guess. If I amass a quantity of something, it's generally because I want to use it - not for its intrinsic value.

There are things that would be fun to own a complete set of - vintage Tintin or Asterix comics, for instance. But because I would really want them to read, not to inhabit a plastic sleeve, the vintage ones would actually be wasted on me.

Better to have a new set, and not offend the sensibilities of the collectoriat.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Exploratorium's Memory Exhibit.

The Opposite of Retail Therapy
There are certain stores that suck out your brains and make you stupid.

Home Depot is one.

Petsmart is another.

Any grocery store is a third.

No matter how extensive your list, no matter how long you spend at the store, no matter how many widgets or dog bones or boxes of cereal you stare at, you are going to forget something. Generally speaking, you will remember that something approximately five minutes after you return home and kick off your shoes. Chances are, that whatever-it-was-you-forgot is crucial. Home Depot is the worst offender in this category, especially if you have just moved.

When you move anywhere, you immediately need to spend approximately half of your monthly mortgage in stuff from Depot. No matter how well your new house is kitted out, you will need voluminous piles of something in order to make it habitable to your normal specifications. Shelves, hooks, fixtures, paint - you name it. Crucial elements will be missing from that new abode. And when Depot lures you in and sucks your brain, you will find yourself going home with shelves but without brackets, with paint, but without brushes. During the process of settling in to our place in Massachusetts, we started with "Depot List," neatly inked on clean, white paper. We swiftly moved on to "Son of Depot List" upon our return from being brain-sucked. Fifteen trips to Depot and two days later, "Cousin of stepdaughter of mother-in-law of Depot List" was scrawled on a grubby piece of mover's wrapping paper with a Sharpie. It looked like the literary output of a deranged monkey. The last list was longer than the first.

It has now been almost two years since we moved in to our Maryland house. In this location, we are almost equidistant from a Depot and a Lowe's, and have learned that there is not much to choose between the two of them. However, it has been some time since we did a really big project and I have hopes that normal brain function will be returning soon.

Any day now.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Fun With Book Titles
Oh, this is a good one for a Monday - two book titles, mix 'em up, see what you get. Example: "Gone with the wind in the willows" -- Thrills, romance, voles.

The Calendar Lies
The house is a riot of color these days. I have tuberous begonias, three different colors of geranium, culinary herbs and one periwinkle hydrangea. They are probably longing for their eventual home: larger pots on the deck, or cozy holes in the side yard.

Here is the problem:

It's thirty-one degrees. Wind chill brings it down to eighteen. Wind gusts 22 to 26 miles per hour. And it's April.

So the plants huddle indoors, brightly colored heaps of foliage and flowers woefully peering out the windows at a harsh and challenging landscape. Outside, the trees are waving their bare, branchy arms and generally having a party in the wind. The hostas, just poking their spiky new growth above the ground, look as if they might just want to go back under the mulch for another week or so. The rosebush out front, which has recently been enthusiastically throwing out new, red shoots is now shivering. The clematis spent last night under upturned plant pots in order to protect their tender shoots from frost.

And it's April. The plants don't believe it, and I can't say I blame them.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Weekend (4/3/04)
On the weekend, blog rests.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Truly Random for Friday
Lottery Ticket
I have a lottery ticket. I got it in a birthday card yesterday. The truck driver from Frederick County, VA who waited for so long to claim his staggering prize collected his massive check yesterday as well.

That kind of money all at once is almost too boggling to consider, and it rarely happens outside the lottery setting. But I worked for Nasdaq from 1998 to 2001 and I saw lottery-type riches pile up almost instantaneously with a mind-numbing regularity. Mostly those riches were "paper wealth" and a lot of it disappeared as quickly as it came, but there were some people who were able to cash out and keep what they had received.

Attending an IPO ceremony is something like watching professional sports. You aren't on the team, you don't get anything if they win, but you get caught up in the occasion and root for them anyway. It was exciting watching people suddenly get rich, but it was also amazing to see how fast entitlement could set in. I didn't work with many of the infamous "dot-com" companies that tend to attract comparisons to Icarus; the companies I worked with were also in an industry that was subsequently reviled (telecom), but it was an industry where you needed more than a server and a business plan in order to file an S-1. The management team had usually been on board for a respectable period of time, and they had built something tangible.

Nonetheless, it's hard to swallow when somebody is suddenly worth millions and seems to think that it's their right. You could see it in some faces: amazed wonder transitioning swiftly to smug self-satisfaction. Within half an hour of the opening of trading, if you asked them whether or not they deserved such lucre their answer would probably be, "We worked very hard to get here." Not a direct answer, but one that has "yes" hovering implicitly above it. History was forgotten - the fact that they had entered a market that sent just about everything skyward immediately was not a factor. The fact that these conditions constituted an extreme anomaly was never considered. They worked hard, ergo they deserved such enormous, instantaneous wealth.

Maybe that's why I never really felt jealous of them. I worked hard myself and had a ringside seat for the boomiest of boom years; however, those dizzying financial heights were for the companies listed, not those who worked for the market itself. There was a bright side: not being a participant in rocketing valuations meant I also didn't feel I had to lie to myself to justify a windfall. I didn't have to rationalize the fact that others worked as hard or harder and received far, far less. Would I have taken the money if I were one of them? Heck, yes. But I hope I would have had the good sense to realize my good fortune.

Because a winning lottery ticket is just luck, no matter if it comes from Wall Street or the 7-Eleven.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Two-For One Randomness on April Fool's
The MIT "Gallery of Hacks," and The Museum of Hoaxes Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes. I really want to visit San Seriffe.

April Whose?
I was thinking about bowing to the inevitability of today's date in this post, but I've never really been one for practical jokes (cruel) and I'm not feeling clever enough to come up with a fake WoT? post. Luckily, other people have obviously been planning for this day and made my job a lot easier.

One of the job listing e-mails I subscribe to came this morning and was full of terribly silly "job posts" like: Senior Public Affairs Associate, Center for Blame Management, Washington, DC or Media Relations, Marge Schott Foundation for the Advancement of Couth, Cincinnati, Ohio. The thing that's a bit scary about this is I could actually believe there is a "Center for Blame Management" here in DC. There's an Association of Associations, so why not a Center for Blame Management?

But the Marge Schott thing? That's an easy tip-off. You don't even need to check the calendar to know that one is a joke.

I wish this post were real: Communications Weenie, Office of Grammatical Supervision, Washington, DC. I could send them one of my old blog posts in lieu of a cover letter. It's posted as a GS-15, too. That would be a good gig.

This one is good too: Kommunikashunz Pirsun, Huked on Fonix, Mahfreesburah, Tinnasee. I frequently write in dialect (mostly Bahstonian to my expat New England friends), but it's pretty easy to cross that fine line between amused and puzzled. I was recently invited to a book club get-together which included the request to check "shed-wools." We recipients expressed a collective "wha?" at this, and we were instructed to say it in our heads with a teddibly, teddibly uppah-claaahs English accent. It took a while, but we figured it out. Inviso-text for those who might want it (highlight to read): "schedules."

So enjoy April Fool's if that's your thing. I have more important things to attend to: for instance, an appointment with my parole officer.

No, really. That's what I call my outplacement counselor. ;-)