Category Archives: work

Raise a Glass

There have been many funny episodes in my life that involve alcohol, and a fair number of embarrassing episodes, and I’m not admitting to any pure straight up dumbass ones.  Plus, you have no proof of those — let’s hear it for coming of age before social media! Alcohol has also played a part in two of my prouder achievements.

But before we get to that, we have to go back to a job I had many years ago at the nonprofit Boston Center for Adult Education. You know, adult education, where people in their 20s pretend they’re “expanding their horizons,” with tai chi, or how to make a business plan, or making sushi, but they are really just looking to find other singles. And the joke is always on straight women, because most of the classes are filled with other straight women. Or was that just me? Anywho, this was way after the “Mad Men”/5 martini lunch era and way before start-up beer in the fridge and Foosball tables in the conference room era. Do you see how we Gen-Xers were completely left behind as far as alcohol in the workplace? Well, the BCAE, as we affectionately called it, created my noble desire to leave no alcoholic beverage behind. It used to be housed in an old mansion, so wedding reception rentals provided an income stream. Fortunately for us, our archaic old-ass Puritan Massachusetts laws prohibited the couple from taking any leftover alcohol with them. As a result, we always had a stash of wine and other spirits that were kept in the “wine closet.” That was an actual thing in my workplace. Of course my office supplies were kept in a built-in sock drawer and I worked in what had been the master’s bedroom (the house mrs. slept in the room nearby), but that’s a whole other blog.

All I’m saying is, when you are a Gen-Xer and 30 years old making essentially less than the minimum wage of today, but it’s OK because you are helping people, having wine at work was pretty damn exciting. And so every once in a while the education director would check the wine closet situation on a Friday afternoon and in no time we would have a beautiful spread of wine, cheese, and nibbles, fit for a wedding reception.

I vowed to leave no alcohol behind, so I knew what I had to do at my next job at a health newsletter publisher (remember those? So cute, those print newsletters, aren’t they?) When I got there, there was already a cruise director of sorts who organized movies at lunch and company outings. I didn’t want to step on his toes, so I waited patiently, and when he left, there was a wide open space. Apparently most people don’t like to organize fun at work. Who knew? I started off slowly with “tea time” — with tea in a real teapot and little teacups and cookies and little yummies. Once I had them enjoying that, it was a short leap to “wine time.” That was very cool until we got bought out by another company that seemed to prohibit alcohol in the workplace. Wha?

I say “seemed” because, ever the resourceful employee dedicated to the vision of drinking at work, I carefully scoured the fine print of the employee manual and discovered this fateful phrase: that alcohol was allowed at “company sponsored” events. Score! Just to be on the safe side though we referred to the “company sponsored” events as “tea time.” What can I say, our headquarters HR lady would visit once a quarter and we called her Catbert.

I eventually left the company, and that satellite office closed less than a year later, but a group of us continue the ritual in the more traditional venue of a bar after work. Now we get to call it a drinkfest, a nice name for my favorite work achievement.

My second alcohol-related achievement is that I got my mother to drink with me. Truth be told, this would be the second time her children have persuaded her. I believe my sister had the first honor when she came back from college a beer fan and got my mom on board. Having gone to an all girl high school and trying to be a nun after that before she got too sick to continue, my mom had missed out on a lot of teenage shenanigans. So it was up to us to make sure she made up for it in mid-life.

Fast forward to her recent move to assisted living. The two items in my mom’s fridge right now are beer and prune juice. And I think at age 88, that pretty much covers the bases. When she moved we tried to help her keep her rituals from home, one of which was every Saturday night she had beer and pizza. Her assisted living doesn’t have pizza that consistently, so she stopped drinking, can you imagine? When I told her to drink a beer after dinner on Saturday anyway, she said she doesn’t like to drink alone. Which is funny, because she drank by herself at home, and there weren’t even 100 assisted living neighbors within 20 feet of her, just my dad hanging out in another part of the house.

After couple of weeks of that suggestion being ignored, and she still wasn’t drinking in her apartment, I knew I had to act swiftly and hatched a plan. We FaceTime with each other every Friday night, and I always have wine on Fridays (and Mondays and Tuesdays and…but I digress), so I invited her to drink with me. Sure enough the next week she was hoisting her beer with me. This week she even finished hers before I finished mine. It was a proud moment.

 

Reentry

I’m still on vacation, but that ends tomorrow, so you can stop being jealous. After the amazing sunset beach wedding last week, I headed to the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area on the PA/NJ border for a canoe camping trip. It was really peaceful and relaxing and the river current is just enough to keep you moving, but not so much that you have to white knuckle your way through the white water, reviewing for the 50th time in your head what you should do if the canoe flips. We just did one night of camping and so had about 30 hours of the quiet, slow lane.

And then we got to the end and called the canoe rental folks to come get us.

Within minutes a large group of canoes landed after us. A different van was waiting for them. They were laughing and loud and lively music suddenly started playing. Then a dressed up Jewish couple asked us to take their picture by the river — he in a suit and she in a nice skirt and blouse. All I could think of was this is reason #528 why religion isn’t for me. No way am I wearing Sunday best on a Thursday at a river in 90-degree heat and humidity. God can say what he will — he’s not the one sweating in pantyhose.

Then our van came and the driver reminded me of the pizza delivery kid in “Toy Story.” Remember that scene? The radio is blasting and he drives like a maniac back to Pizza Planet while Woody and Buzz get tossed around back. Yeah, that was us. While Foreigner was blasting on the radio, he was probably going twice the speed limit on the twisting and hilly 2-lane road.

Did I mention I can get motion car sick just watching the roller coaster scene in “Polar Express”?

While the young driver belted out the song on the radio — I was impressed he knew the words to a song from the 80s — I just looked at my friend and we both started to laugh. Welcome back to the world — zero to 100 at racing speed.

At least it will make going back to work seem manageable.

Photo credit: The Delaware Nature Society. I didn’t have enough battery power to take my own pics!

 

 

This and That

Hello my dear friends. I had a busy weekend, which means today you get a “Sandy’s random pictures” blog. Lucky you.

Last week I was walking along the Charles River and came upon this:

The first thing that popped into my head was this:

OK, so it’s not an exact match, but the general idea is very much the same: let’s cut off all the extra bits! I had a warm fuzzy feeling, because that particular scene always fascinated me as a kid. Who knows why — kids are weird.

But then my adult brain kicked it. What the hell is this trim job all about anyway? Clearly this tree was touched by people. It is now spring and there are no sprouts to be seen anywhere on this Max Tree. With apologies to Monty Python, I believe we can safely say Max Tree is no more. It’s expired and ceased to be. It’s a stiff and off the twig. This is an ex-tree.

So why did the humans not just cut Max all the way down? Who knows. Maybe they were fascinated by that Grinch scene too.

Looking out from my deck last week, I got to see this:

Squirrel chillin’ on top of a telephone pole. You may recall earlier this spring, I posted a photo of a squirrel napping. It was on a branch right above this pole.

Pole-top squirrel stayed there for several minutes, which is like a week in frantic squirrel time. Seriously, these are some of the laziest squirrels I’ve ever seen. Or maybe they have achieved work life balance. That may be it, because pole-top squirrel then stayed in this position for another few minutes, which I think is the yoga position, Down Squirrel.

That’s good form in my book.

Now for you Lord of the Rings nerds, which I am one, I have a special treat for you. At work my computer has a little light on it. When the computer is working properly the little light blinks rapidly with happiness.

This does not happen often.

Instead it does what I first started to call the “Dead Eye,” as in “The Dead Eye is staring at me again.” The unblinking light staring me down as my computer grinds to a halt. Email freezes, Word documents laugh while I type away and nothing appears, and the PDF never opens.

The Dead Eye made me think of Sauron. I too felt the dread that Frodo felt on his difficult journey whenever the Dead Eye appeared. It was pretty frustrating until I just gave in, taped a picture over the light, and accepted it was Sauron. Maybe Mini Sauron:

And for our final entry in the Sandy’s random pictures blog, I apologize in advance, and leave you with this little gem #thatisnotadress or #youforgotyourpants

Have a great week!

Wine Whine

I’m all about doing my errands to and from work, so the other day I popped into a new wine store on my way home. That the sandwich board said something about cheap wine was merely a seal on the cork. Turned out to be more like a snake in the grass.

I walked into a sleek, white space, and it’s not just me saying it. The Google blurb calls it a “sleek liquor store.” It also says it has wine tasting machines that dispense samples, which must be well-hidden. Or maybe I was so distracted by the sleekness, I missed them. Sleekness apparently means bottles must be stored upright, 6 bottles high, with an additional 4 inches high of space per bottle. That is approximately 2-3 more bottles high than I can reach. I’m pretty sure no one under 6 feet tall could reach the top shelf. If you want to force customer interaction and make me ask to get a bottle of wine, move your business to the South. Ain’t no New Englander got time for that. Especially those after a long day at work. See, if we New Englanders want help, we’ll ask. If we want to chat, we’ll go visit a friend. Got it, Sleek?

As I was puzzling over the overwhelming display, a young one came out of left field, or actually from the left side of the store, and startled me. He of course asked if I needed help, and when I said I was just looking, he said something curt and turned away. That would have been a good time to offer the wine dispensing machine, my friend.

But personally I think it was because he knew damn well the wine rack system was incomprehensible without his guidance, and he was mad he didn’t get to explain it. Note to young hipsters: if I have to spend any time figuring out your wine storage system, you’ve probably already lost me. And maybe you didn’t want me in the first place, so perhaps the feeling is mutual. Fair enough.

Now there are occasions when I’m buying for another person, and I love nothing better than saying to a wine store person, “I need a wine to impress a Frenchman who is rather picky in his wine choices and drinks only reds, preferably grown in sandy soil.” They love that shit, believe me. And depending on the friend, I don’t mind spending money.

But today I was just buying for me, looking for a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. But the Sleek Wall of Wine didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to it. There was a sauvignon blanc over there and another up here. I wondered if it was like a bar, with the “top shelf” stuff higher up and the bargain stuff at the bottom? Or maybe it was alphabetical? Nope. Then I notice 2 big labels: 1W and 2W. They were sitting near each other, with no explanation. Was it code? A bad rhyme ? 1 wine, 2 wine, red wine, white wine? Cripes, now I need a key or decoder ring? I glanced around, but didn’t see a key posted anywhere. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to ask the hipster now. This was war.

That’s when I realized there were no price tags. What fresh retail hell is this?

winewhine1

So, you’re going to make me ask you to recommend a Sauvignon blanc and you’re either going to hand me a $30 bottle or ask me what my price range is and just like the real estate agents do, you’ll make sure to stay in my upper range. Hey, hispter, what’s in your 2/$15 bargain bin? Oh, wait, all this sleekness discourages a bargain bin, despite your “come hither” sign about cheap wine. What a scam.

At this point my head was spinning, and not in a good way from drinking too much wine, so I left. I was pretty sure there was another wine store before I was going to get on the train.

Sure enough, several blocks later, I saw a little store with wine and groceries. Ahhhh. Familiar wooden racks, wines displayed on top, and the extras directly beneath, laying horizontally snug. And hey, looky here! Three Sauvignon blancs next to each other and 2 from New Zealand. All with sticker prices. Fan-fucking-tastic.

I picked a bottle, handed the nice man my 10 bucks, and was on my way.

I do wish Sleek Wine Store all the best. I’m sure you’ll be great down South.

It’s a Cute Hamster Week

Hi all, I was away this weekend visiting Sonia, my fellow U2 fan and friend extraordinaire. We had an awesome time and wondered why we had waited so long? The visit had started with us trying to see the band again. Then we realized we didn’t have to wait for Bono to croon to us for $300 a pop to see each other. Love you, Bono, but we’ll maybe catch you next time around. So instead we talked non-stop and had a lot of fun. It was a great antidote to a couple of stressful weeks, so while I’m feeling much more balanced, I had no time to polish any of the blog drafts I have. The 5-hour train ride was filled with great hopes of writing several blogs and finishing a book.

I fell asleep for the most the ride. Ah, well. Some times you just have to sleep.

Which brings us to: all I got is the cute hamsters. These are not ours, but they made me laugh.

This one just looks like Einstein and the way his hair is sticking out, he also looks harried. with a side of frantic. That’s pretty much what I’ve been feeling.

einstein hamster

This is is just about hanging in there. Have a good week!

Cute Hamster Animal Desktop Wallpaper

Sometimes It’s Better to Keep Your Mouth Closed

I’ve been trying to write this one over a period of weeks, struggling to add masterful flourishes to impress you all with my writing prowess. Ha ha ha, I’m such a dork! The cold, hard facts are that this story is so funny, there is really nothing I can add to it. So here it goes, the uncut version of, “Pigeons, Beware.”

I was on my way to work as usual. I got off the train and climbed the 62 steps up to the surface. Yes, I’ve counted them as a way of justifying that I’m not totally out of shape, it’s just that there is a lot of them. I am always huffing and puffing at the top of those blasted stairs. I will say it has motivated me at the gym, but 62 is a lot of stairs. You try it and let me know how you do, unless you are training for the Boston Marathon or an athlete, then, suck it. Or rather, don’t.

As I made my way across Government Center plaza, I recovered fairly quickly from the heavy breathing and was down to a half-open mouth and a medium huff and puff. The plaza is a large, rather unfortunate architectural outgrowth of the unfortunate Boston City Hall, built when concrete was a thing in the 70s. It’s not ageing well, but I must cross the vast, empty brick plaza to get to work. I was staring straight ahead, thinking random thoughts when some movement of two pigeons on the ground appeared in my peripheral vision to the right. This is not unusual. They mill about all over Boston and tend to scuttle away when you come near them, or if you want to vacate them more speedily, encourage a young child to run dead on toward them. There were no young people around, so I was confident they would scuttle away.

They didn’t.

Suddenly, one of the pigeons flew up and hit me with its chest, hard in the mouth, which as you may recall was open from those 62 stairs; and then he flew off. It really hurt, like when a baby or toddler bumps you in the mouth with his head. If there were a meme/gif, of me, it would go like this: My face is first surprised, then pissed off at the impact, then my helpless hands try to brush the nasty thing off my face, even though it is long gone by then. This would be followed by a look of disgust as I work my tongue in and out of my mouth trying to rid myself of pigeon. The scene finishes with me brushing off my coat with my hands (why? What good did I think that would do?) and looking around for either confirmation of what just happened or hoping someone had “Pigeon Yuck Be Gone” spray I could use. My friends are convinced there is security video footage of this

Effin pigeons.

I was still a good 10-minute walk away from work, and I had nothing to clean off whatever the thing had left behind, so there was nothing for it but to keep walking and accept that I already swallowed whatever might have been transmitted. I also sent a fervent note of encouragement to my digestive and immune systems to get whatever that bastard might have left me.

Once at work, I washed my face, and my boss gave me some mouth wash. As I was entertaining my coworkers with the story, one of the doctors I work with walked by and heard me. Then he laughed and said, “That’s disgusting! You know they are rats with wings, right?” See, the thing about working with doctors is if there isn’t any real danger they will make jokes and make fun of you.  I retorted that he could forget about getting me to do any work for him because I’d be Googling “pigeon diseases” all morning.

“Psittacosis,” he said with a smile.

“Is it bad?” I asked.

“It’s fatal,” he responded with a huge grin.

Ha ha. I really hate doctors sometimes.

After about 3 tries to spell that darn thing, I came across this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Psittacosis is a disease caused by infection of the respiratory tract (throat, windpipe, and lungs) with a type of bacteria that can infect all types of birds. Psittacosis in people is most commonly associated with pet birds, like parrots and cockatiels, and poultry, like turkeys or ducks.

I would add errant pigeons to that list.

The symptoms are flu-like, and the CDC disagreed with my coworker’s prognosis, declaring it curable with antibiotics. although it did caution that some people need to be treated in the hospital. Great, I work in a medical academic center, so all my coworkers and people training can come laugh at me.

Not to be outdone, another doctor I work with, a neurologist, heard the story and explained, also while smiling, that since pigeons generally have a good spacial sense, there was probably something really wrong with that pigeon to have run into me. She seemed a little too delighted when she assured me she’d keep an eye on me for any symptoms. Then she said something about the infection disease specialists writing up scientific papers.

Effin doctors.

Well, I’m happy to report I disappointed the doctors I work with and did not come down with psittacosis or any other bird-borne disease.

I used to think pigeons were rats with wings, and I recently read a book read that talked about how interesting, adaptable, and cool they are. I don’t recall the author getting smacked in the face by one. I almost fell for it, but pigeons better stay out of my way. My mouth is closed and my eyes are wide open.

Photo Credit: Disaffected Scanner Jockey tells a pretty horrifyingly funny story about pigeons.

It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

I’ve been thinking lately, which frankly, tends to get me in trouble. From more than one area of my life, I keep hearing from and about people who are having to push against family or societal pressure to succeed or define their life success in the very narrow way of school, career, marriage, house, kids. There may be stuff to achieve after this, I’m not sure. Or maybe once you get all that stuff, society leaves you alone to your mid-life crisis. The whole thing leaves me scratching my head. Although does it? That’s where the thinking comes in.

If you are an English major or other humanities major or an artist/creative of any kind, your career path will most likely be rather interesting, not terribly lucrative, and it will follow the beat of its own drummer. Mine certainly has, and it’s only been in the last 5 years that I have landed in a comfortable spot, where I actually get paid decent money to write things that matter most of the time and have a personal life too. I fell into the trap of sitting back and thinking, how do all these people get caught up in that narrow definition of success?

And then the bad movie special effects kick in, the calendar pages flip back, and the ominous narrator intones, “It was the 1980s — the height of the Ronald Reagan years and Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street declared that ‘greed is good’ … ”

My honor student status in high school made it seem like I was just as good at math and science as I was at English. But that says more about the quality of the school than my academic achievement. I do remember an emphasis on the practical, which translated to studying science in college. And that’s when I was exposed as a science and math fraud. My ass got consistently and sequentially kicked in Bio 101, 102, Chem 101, 102, and Calc 101, 102. This honor student was suddenly looking at C’s and Ds and a GPA that hovered around 2.5.

Sure, I got an A in my writing class, but that had been fun and easy. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the idea that fun and easy was wrong. I thought life should involve suffering and be a hardscrabble scramble in order to “count.” This may be a stab in the dark, but I wonder if being raised Catholic and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross every week, which I was made to understand I was responsible for, had anything thing to do with that?

Nahhhh.

The idea that something being easy is not always the right way to go only makes sense if you’re trying to train for a marathon by running one fast mile and stopping. That’s too easy, and you ain’t gonna cross that finish line before dark.

So there I was at the end of freshman year, with a GPA on life support, but still invested in the idea of life being practical and hard. So I did what any dumb, sensible person would do and took up accounting. This turned out to be just as bad as the science classes and I was suffering, so I knew I must be on the right track. I did enjoy the guy I sat next to who loved accounting and was making methodical plans to work for what was then the Big 8 — although I think they are down to 4 now. I could have listened to his confident plans all day long, but I should have been paying more attention to the connection of his accounting joy and his success in the subject. Instead, I wrote poetry in class while the professor droned on about first in, last out, or last in, last out. I got another D.

As a super ironic aside, a number of years later I was the sole administrative person for a tiny nonprofit and got put in charge of the books with monthly help from an accountant. It took me a year of her visits to truly understand what happened to the numbers when I put them in the accounting software columns and they popped out on the balance sheet. I always came out of those day-long sessions with a huge headache. Once when I was really discouraged, she told me I understood the process better than most of the college accounting graduates they hired. That is a rather frightening thought, but I’m guessing these were not my joyful Big 8 guy, but people who were trying to be practical and pursue the narrow definition of success.  I wish them the best and no headaches.

At the end of sophomore year, with my GPA still in the toilet, I had no practical place left to go. I threw up my hands and gave in and became an English major. I suppose if I had gone to a small school with advisors who gave a flip, I would have clued in sooner, but what fun would that be? There’s something to be said for failing rather spectacularly to teach you something. And once I switched, for the first time school wasn’t a grim struggle, it was actually pleasant and even fun sometimes. Who knew?

And then I also learned the more valuable lesson not to care what people thought, because I knew I had tried and was confident that this was the only thing I was good at. Oh to be sure, I endured a fair amount of sneering. “English major! What are you going to do with that? Teach?” Which is actually also snubbing teachers, BTW. Journalism was also not my thing, so I concentrated on my own writing and fell into nonprofit administration as a source of income. Then I had to endure the “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?”

Did I always feel confident? Of course not, when you get that 5th, 10th, or 80th publication rejection, you kind of think, what the hell am I doing? But now I’m starting to understand that I had a couple of key advantages, which seemed like disadvantages at the time. One, early on in life, I learned I did not have strong enough skills in any area that would have put me on the society-endorsed path. Also I’m allergic to gray corporate cubes. So I had no other option than to figure out how to succeed with the writing skills I had. Two, I come from a working class background, which I tried to run from in college and after. It came with high expectations in the moment — do your chores, do well in school (or don’t bother me with teacher notes that you’re screwing up). And it also came with low expectations for a future life. And that turned out to be an extraordinary gift, that I am only now fully appreciating.

Benign neglect combined with being kid number 4 (which one are you?) allowed me to find my own path and define success in my own way. I do recall my father pressing some rather random career choices on my siblings, so here is a formal thank you to them for wearing him out first. By the time he got to me, benign neglect has set in.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what path you choose — even those who pick the society- and family-sanctioned path will struggle at some point, so you might as well put your effort towards the skills that are fun, easy, and worth your while.

To paraphrase a Catholic call at the end of the Mass, go in peace to love and serve the skills you have. It’s much better than a headache.

Photo credit: Still from the Talk Talk video, “It’s My Life.”