Saturday, December 31, 2005

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

Too damned busy.

We went at least three different places Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas, since we had family from both sides (and from afar to boot), and then I had to make a triop down to Floriday with my Dad to return my Grandma and her friend (both 92) to their respective Gainesville homes, after which we camped in a chain hotel, then beat it the next morning for a seven hour retreat back to Charlotte, a fast trip punctuated by road food. Got back here, had to run some errands (despite my better instincts, but provisions must be got now and then), and managed to hang on to consciousness until nine, when I collapsed in aheap. (According to the Wifey, I spent eight hours straight lying on my left side without stirring.)

Blog amongst yerselves. I'll be back later.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hardly Workin'

I am now going to anger probably anyone that reads me, certainly the majority of the bloggers I read.

I do not have to work. My wife provides the household income, good for a nice little lifestyle with lottsa perks and extras. And this comes up because I have read alot-- a lot-- of fellow bloggers out there complaining about having to go to work.
Which makes sense, I get it. Especially this time of year (Christmas coming, lots to do, crappy weather, etc). I had mornings like that when I was working, too (I can feel the daggers that are about to come out of the ether). And now that I am not working, I do still have those days when I really just don't want to get out of bed. ("And you don't have to, you rotten sumbich, do ya? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.")

But let me tell you a little story about how I got here, and it might not rankle so much. About four years ago (or closing on it, I think) my wife concluded that my job was making me insane, and that I ought to quit. It turns out that she's far better at working than I am. She gets advancement and wants it, and she likes gettingh certificates and skill level assessments and stuff, where I would be too arrogant (I guess) to bother. (Which is just by of making clear where "here" is.)

I graduated back in 1990 with a BA in English and jumped into the first grad program that would have me. I was running away from a failed relationship with a syccophantic maniac who simply wouldn't take go to hell for an answer, even when I gave her directions, which I frequently did. I needed to get out of town, and I needed money, so I took it. And this was the beginning of my first career failure.

I was great at English Lit, and also great at teaching, but horribly bad at politics. I made A's and B's and a series of bonehead moves before finally ending up signing on to one of the tenured PhD's courses (at the dickhead's invite) wherein he began using me as his personal verbal punching bag. Three weeks into the course, I had had enough. I quit. I walked away and I let the son of a bitch to try and explain why he had had to give a failing grade to one of the programs' brightest candidates. (I don't know if he never had to explain, but the possibility was satisfying enough for me.) So: X career number one.

Back to Charlotte, and through a series of jobs thast lead me no where, several times being promised advancement that I knew would never come. Also during this time I met my wife-to-be, the happier part of the experience, of course. Then I got the call.

Rachelle (the wifey-in-waiting) had sent my resume off to a company called CMD, Construction Market Data, that had an opening in town for a construction reporter (I'll get to that shortly), and I got called in for an interview. I did a fine job in the IV, and was in the top 3 (so the guy said), but the job went to someone who had some "experiential" advantage over me. But, he said, there was a similar post available in Atlanta, and even though he would ratehr have had me working in Charlotte for him, he thought it was in my best interests to know about it. So, I threw a resume down to Atlanta. A couple of weeks later, the editor of the Atlanta branch of CMD was making me an offer, more money than I had ever earned in my life, and I took it. I became a construction reporter.

We moved to Atlanta, and, in retrospect, that turned out to be the hard part. I loved CMD. There was a collegial tone to the interactions between reporters. there were no real peramters you could use to judge who might be good at the job, so the basic requirement for applying for any given position was "must have college degree." Nobody ever went to college thinking "I want to be a construction reporter," so the people who ended up there were an ecclectic mix of people who got more-or-less unmarketable degrees, along with a smattering of people who got business type degrees but didn't want to put up with the kind of frat-guy bullshit the vast majority of business type atmospheres teem with. The job was basic: call the sources, get the info, write the reports. I got very good at it very fast, not only knowing what questions to ask but how to ask them. I got plaques, I got raises, I was esteemed for the most part. That lasted for about a year. Then it started to go sour.

Although the atmosphere was blessedly free of the business world jargon I so despised (these were the days of "work-stations" and "synergy"), I had a hint early on when my editor took me to lunch to ask some questions in order to get what he called a "comfort level" (DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!) and proceeded to ask some thoroughly meaningless questions. Later on it became clear that the guy did nothing but stare at his computer all day, every day. He wasn't even surfing, he was just staring at the damned thing. He did work once a year when budget time came and he had to spend two weeks doing the numbers (he could have had them together in an hour if he knew what he was doing, I later found out). And way once in a while he'd have to make calls on behalf of one of his reporters, and he did stand up for his people, I have to give him that. But the sight of the guy sitting at his desk staring at a screen saver was just . . . creepy.

The second in command, the Associate Editor, was a bully who-- to use the proper workplace parlance-- jumped my shit twice before I let him know in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to put up with his bullshit. After that he left me alone, and I just got to deal with his habit of reading the sports section and listening to abusive right-wing talk radio all day, making just enough phone calls to justify his reportorial duties (he was supposedly the Architectural Reporter for Tennessee, about which more shortly (along with the promised explanation of what a construction reporter does)), every once in a while jumping the shit of another reporter, usually for the flimsiest of reasons, until I had about had enough.

Construction reporters, broadly speaking, call on sources in the construction industry to find out what is planned to be built; the audience is contractors who want to submit bids to build things, or sub-contractors who want to submit bids to the general contractor, take-off artists who put pricing scenarios togetehr for contractors and subs, suppliers who want to contract with them, etc etc etc. Specifically, while in Atlanta, I was a Negotiated reporter. My main subject was supposed to be planned projects where the general contract had been pre-negotiated, so subs would submit their prices to a single player, which was supposedly a safer kind of bet than general bidding on an open contracts, but I saw lots and lots of projects that got priced out for years and never built. (Mainly hotels. Go figure.) It was sometimes a pretty seamy business.

Architectural Reporters, on the other hand, talked to architects. About theoretical buildings that didn't really exist. And very rarely about the dirty business of winning design contracts, although that did come up. The Architectual reporter for Atlanta was an older guy, ready for retirement, who occasionally let me call his guys (as he put it) for information on projects that were going to become negotiated. A few times I talked to Tennessee architects, since the Architectural reporter for Tennessee, it will be remembered, was a lazy prick. Once, pretty close to the last months of my emply in Atlanta, I had one of the Tennessee architects on the phone getting data on a project, and at the end of the call he said "Oh. So THAT's what you guys are supposed to do." We laughed together over it, but my Associate Editor overheard and seemed to get the gist of the laughter. He looked daggers at me and then gave me static for a week.

So: Atlanta, position going sour, bosses=bully+idiot. Then one day the Charlotte Architectural guy had decided to quit, and half a week later I was on the phone with the Charlotte editor, and we start joking around about it, then she said "You wanta come work for me?"

Charlotte. Architectural Reporter. It would be a lateral move, and I didn't really know the people there, except over the phone, but still. I took it.

And I was good. It took me a few weeks to settle into the office, but I was so good that the petty office space bullshit that usually comes with any job just didn't stick. The company had forged a program that measured the reporters' performance by tracking the number of project listings created & how well they were handled, and handing out bonuses based on that. I got an award once, Reporter of the Quarter, but I didn't need it. I made top money, all the bonuses, a grand per quarter, four grand a year. I was in the top ten percent of reporters all the time; I was among the top ten in the country every quarter, every year.

Then suddenly the company decided there were three or four reporters who had gotten so good, with little chance of advancement beyond where they were, that they stood a chance of losing us. We were people who were in love with our areas, home for most of us, and we couldn't advance unless our local editors quit or died. (And a good reporter does not have an editor he or she wants to lose, trust me.) So they announced that they were going to create the posts of Regional Reporter. The idea-- and it was one I had been on record as supporting earlier-- was that these reporters woudl be based at their current locations and call on posts across the country as needed. We would be Super Reporters, taking over and calling on any post, any territory, as needed until the position was filled or taken over by a local reporter or whatever.

Here's the funny thing: I didn't need it. I was making above-average annual bumps, five percent when everyone else was getting two or three. I was making bonus money. I was happy, for the most part. So I didn't have to take it. But I was expected to. So I threw my hat in the ring, and a few weeks later I was one of five Regional Reporters. And for the next eighteen months I found out what I should have known to begin with: The job was undoable.

When I went in to take over a territory, it had been untended for at least six weeks. That meant a mess. More often than not, it meant the reporter who vacated the territory had been lying and cheating and screwing around until they were just about to get caught, so there were lots of fake reports to sort through and clean up. Or the reporter had been canned, which meant they weren't doing the job to begin with, or had never caught on to how to do it, or flat out hadn't been trained. So: big bad demoralizing mess to clean up.

The conventional wisdom had been it took any reporter six months to completley own a territory. I was changing territories at an average of three weeks at a clip, sometimes less.

Sometimes the local editor would say the priority was bidstage, getting projects put out to bid. And that was where the rubber met the road, and we all agreed that our effective bosses would be the local editors we reported to, and so the company recognized that there was little or no time to collect new project info, so we wouldn't be treated as regular reporters.

And then we were suddenly being told that if we didn't get our numbers up, we might have to revise our job performance evaluations, that we weren't making our bonuses, and if we didn't start, we might not get raises, all kinds of little things that just didn't sound right. And the worst part of it was that this happened when I was fighting burn out, balancing long, hard bouts of reporting and writing reports and getting bid notices and turning them into coherent listings and making phone calls and on an on an on with long swaths of time when I just didn't feel like doing anything at all.

So I said to hell with it, and spent a long January ignoring pleas to get more stuff out to bid (while covering four different territories) and concentrated on getting enough new project information out to guarantee that if I kept it up for another two months I would have enough new projects to make a first quarter bonus. Then the call came: it's not working out, you have your choice of working as a Regional for another three weeks, after which we will re-evaluate you, and in all likelyhood can you, or we can shift you back to the local branch into a vacant Negotiated Reporter position. (It had been vacant for seven weeks. I had picked up some projects for the sake of rounding out the North Carolina bulletin four or five times over the course of those weeks, as a favor to the editor.) It would be a lateral move, no loss in pay grade, and I would still techically be a Senior Researcher, so technically, not a demotion.

I was almost ready to tell them that I was on track to get a bonus at the end of the quarter, but I knew better. The handwriting was on the wall. I took the Negotiated position.

I did it for about a month before I was just plain burnt out. It felt like a demotion, and I felt very ill used, and then I got my evaluation for my final year (out of 18 months) as a Regional, and it was the first mediocre evaluation I got in the six years I had been at CMD. That was it. I had had it. I quit.

Since then I have done a seasonal job reading and evaluating essays by grade school and middle school students, and I have taken on a couple of gigs, tech writing once, answering phones at a help desk once, but by and large I don't have to work. And I don't want to. Unless there were a job out there that was something I were uniquely equipped to do above anyone else, I'd gladly take it. But the odds of that job ever materializing are extremely remote. I think I had it, for about three and a half years, when I was Charlotte Architectural. But I think I would have burnt out on that eventually too.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Meet the %&*#@! Fokkers

SO I'm a little more than dissapointed. I conjured the last entry expecting I would be flamed and fragged and called a communist faggot hairdresser for maligning the great Christian USA, but the only comment I got was a rather nice one provided by someone who was probably only commenting in the return-the-favor sense, since I left a couple of comments on a couple of her posts. (And there's the whole alienation factor right there.) I figure that after I got flamed a couple of times I could back out and explain that I meant people like Bill O'Reilly and Pat Robertson, in that while I understand that they care deeply about Christmas, I am not convinced that they care about Christ, except as a hook for their cheapo rabble-rousing.

But that's not what I wanted to write about this morning. This morning the subject is: comedy. Specifically, two relatively recent examples of the form that I have been force-feeding myself over the course of the last month or so: Meet the Fokkers and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Both are films that, on theatrical release, got cringe-inducing reviews that still acknowledged the good intentions that abounded in them: Burgundy had the tone of a bachelor's party stretched out to the length of a summer vacation, while Fokkers clearly marked a chance for veteran actors to trade licks using Ben Stiller as a fulcrum. We steered clear of the flicks when they hit the theaters, and discussed only briefly the notion of renting them on DVD when they came out in that medium, but now that they are on the movie channels, and we have all the movie channels, I have been able to discover the following similarities between them:

  • Both have, at their core, the notion that these people doing these characters opposite each other will be funny, and to that end they should be given free range.
  • Bits can be strung together by narrative, so long as the bits cleave to the key attributes of the characters and/or the conflicts between them.
  • Anything that was (possibly) funny for five minutes will be funny for ten minutes, and even funnier if referenced two scenes later.

These are reasonable assumptions. They must be, otherwise we wouildn't have two of these movies, and very likely dozens of others, that adhere to them. The result, however, in these two cases are as follows:

  • Neither film can be taken head-on. (Or at least I can't do it. I can only watch in five-to-fifteen minute segements, and I usually require some kind of nearby diversion, or else I'll turn the damned things off.)
  • Neither film can be taken "seriously" (which is to say that you have to watch them as examples of comic actors acting comically, not actual actors protraying actual characters, or else you'll never make it).
  • Both films can be appreciated for their elements, but only if you can forgive a lack of coalescence (which is to say: the whole is less than the sum of its parts).

The result, for me, is that I have caught glimpses of the genius that never blossoms in both films, which have genuinely funny bits but none that actually make me laugh, except for laughing at myself for being enough of a mook to take this crap seriously. Except that I find myself compelled to examine them, in large part because of that old saw (of Twain's) about dissecting humor and frogs. In these cases, I figure what the hell; the frogs are already dead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Some things are just plain true

More people believe in Christmas than believe in Christ.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


It occurs to me, now and again, that I really don't offer up much in the way of personal information in my blog. Or I don't seem to think I do.

Not that anyone's asked for any. And not that I am upset that no one has asked for any. More along the lines of an existential dillemma: if I am a blogger, what am I blogging about? Why am I here? Whose socks are these?

These topics come up when I reflect that I am not blogging very regularly, or especially when I try to balance my blogging with my non-blogging, or when I read other people's blogs and wonder if they are really the person the blog reflects. And then there's the old argument about community-- or, I should really say, Community: can a virtual community exist? IS there not some level of interaction that is not possible, some inherent disconnect, that prevents the online community from being a real community? Is it possible that the base level of alienation we all feel when in actual community prevents us from having that intersubjective moment, the moment when we see the other as a unique self, that there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I recognition that is the very hallmark of the being human?

Nahhhhh. Besides, at least as far as the alienation issue is concerned, I can think of at least three bloggers I know of who have the ground pretty well covered.

So why am I here? What do I want you to know about me?

Well, I suppose that if you need to know anything about me, you need to know this: I love coffee.

I love coffee more than you do. I don't even know you, and I feel very comfortable saying this. Were we to meet, I believe, I could convince you, within five minutes, that I love coffee more than you do. The subject wouldn't even have to come up. Something inside you would just say "By Jove, this guy loves his coffee!"

I typically have one cup a day, but it is one helluva cup of coffee: freshly ground Eight O'Clock French roast coffee, about as much as the average person would use to make a full pot, dumped into a French press with a jot over a cup and a half of boiling water poured over it, left for five minutes to steep-- that used to be approximate, but over the last couple of years it has become something I time, mainly as a way of making the time go by while I wait for my morning coffee.

For many, many years, it was Chase & Sanborn through a drip maker. It wasn't until the Monday morning the drip maker dropped its bladder all over the countertop that I pulled out the French press-- which I had gotten as a Christmas gift-- and realized what a fool I'd been, all those years, and converted to the French press, not just as a ritual, but as a bedrock belief.

I will occasionally drop into a shop for a cup-a-joe, but there are severe ramifications and parameters to observe. Some days I can get a good deal of satisfaction out of a Starbucks; other times it just tastes burned. I prefer a Caribou, or a brew from one of the myriad local places here in Charlotte you've never heard of. I especially enjoy that moment when, while trying to decide between a Kenya AA or a Sumatra, that my sense memory takes over and I get a taste image in my mouth. Ahhhhhh. Sumatra.

I DO NOT drink office coffee. That is to say, those crappy simulated mass-produced faux coffees produced and distributed by companies that don't really give a roiling crap whether you have a good day or not. The same almost goes for the junk they present as a "courtesy" in hotel rooms, but nine times out of ten I end up taking the sucker punch. (So I guess it's safe to say: I KNOW how bad that crap really is.)

So why does all this come up? This morning I broke down the press (which I have decided, on the spur of the moment, to refer to from here on out as "Frenchi,") for it's bi-annual cleaning. The process has been to rinse the thing before each use, which gets most of the gorm off of it, and then every once in a while it requires a fully broken down scrubbing. While scrubbing, at one point, I thought I might have to replace the fine mesh screen, which was not quite coming clean and picking up fibers from the scrubby in the process, or, failing that, break down and buy a whole new press. (In this day and age, there lurks the possibility that the mesh screen might be the sort of thing that, although it is the very heart of the machine, might not be available as a replacement part.) But after a thorough scrubbing and re-assembly, Frenchi is alive and well and living in my kitchen next to the door to the garage. And this morning's coffee is back to it's rich, black, pungent, thick condition. IN coffee is truth, and in truth, coffee.

That is all ye know in this world, and all ye need know.