Saturday, December 31, 2005

New starts

I've never liked making New Year's resolutions. I am usually more inspired to make positive changes in my life in September, which has always felt more like the start of a new year to me. Or in the spring, during Lent.

But I always had a twisted relationship to Lent, also. When I was growing up, we "went to the Catholic Church"-- our family was one of those holidays-only church going ones, although I did make both my first communion and confirmation there, and in elementary school kids were excused early on Wednesday afternoons for "religious ed." We Catholics could pile into school buses and head off to the church while the Protestants and Jews stayed back in study halls. (The 60's where a strange time.) But the practice of giving something up for Lent followed me into adulthood; people who I never suspected were Catholic suddenly stopped eating chocolate or having fries with their cheeseburgers. It was probably an offshoot of turning away from the Catholic Church, but I found this somewhat ridiculous. What exactly is the point of not eating M&Ms for a month and then gorging yourself on them on Easter morning? I know it's supposed to show discipline, that you're willing to go without in the name of your faith, but... M&Ms, people. Should we talk about Ramadan again?

I had one friend who would give up something bad for him, but give it up for good. Lent was just the impetus to letting it go. I don't even think he was Catholic, but he liked the timing because it allowed him to have the company of other sufferers, even if their reasons were very different. (Don't ask me which I think were more heartfelt.) One year he gave up using extra salt, another drinking caffeine, etc. I admired that, and eventually started doing the same (not eating red meat started that way.) Eventually, though, I decided that doing something positive was just as valuable - instead of giving up chocolate, why not vow to exercise three times a week instead of two? Doing something positive seemed much more personally powerful than avoiding doing something negative. Keep it up for 40 days, and you're in a routine, and maybe don't go back.

(This is similar to how I gave up smoking - I was going away for the weekend with a guy who wanted me to not smoke while I was with him, so I didn't. On Monday when I got back, I decided not to buy another pack and just see how long I could go. It's been over 4 and a half years.)

For the past few years, my New Year's resolutions have been very similar: eat less, weigh less, write more, have more sex. Okay, those last two are just a cutesy way of saying to proactively pursue getting published, and find a good, healthy relationship. That last, one, though, shouldn't be a resolution, because you can't make it happen - it's more like a birthday wish that you would make with eyes closed, just before you puff out the candles.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


A friend just sent me this link to quotes from Mitch Hedberg's standup on Wikipedia. I'm sitting in my cubicle at work, laughing out loud. No really, LOL! Never thought I'd get a chance to use that one.

They say that the recipe for Sprite is lemon and lime, but I tried to make it at home, there's more to it than that. "Hey, you want some more homemade Sprite, man?" "Not until you figure out what the fuck else is in it!"

I opened up a container of yogurt, and under the lid it said "Please Try Again." Apparently I was in a contest I was unaware of. But I thought I might have opened the yogurt wrong or maybe Yoplait was trying to inspire me. "C'mon, Mitchell, don't give up. Please try again. A message of inspiration from your friends at Yoplait. Fruit on the bottom, hope on top."

He died in March, only 37 years old, from an apparent drug overdose.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Two Films

I've seen two movies in the past week, "Brokeback Mountain" and "Syriana." Probably couldn't find two more different films - although I suppose "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Syriana" would be polar opposites. But I mean that both movies are pretty intense, serious dramas about somewhat controversial issues, and yet are nothing alike. "Brokeback Mountain" spans twenty or more years in the lives of two men, and every scene involves one or both of them. Scenes linger and move slowly with deliberation. The plot is very simple and straightforward: two men, in love despite themselves, live their lives trying to both overcome and indulge that passion. From that one connection, other lives are affected, spinning their loved ones in different directions.

"Syriana" covers a much shorter timeframe, maybe a couple of months although it's not clear (nor necessary to be so.) There are multiple characters and multiple storylines, played out in hundreds of short scenes, some of which are one single line of dialogue. Instead of two sympathetic characters to identify with, we are offered a handful of questionable ones - is anyone in this film a good person? The lawyer you want to root for has a complicated and angry relationship with his father. (Or, rather it's not complicated at all - it's an old story, and yet it's fresh because we get it in shorthand - little bits of interaction that resonate with the unspoken, unseen moments between them. We get it, we're smart, and the filmmakers are smart enough to allow us that.) The grieving father turns his sorrow into an opportunity to get rich. (Or is it to change the world? How much of his idealism is real and how much just meant to provide a need for his firm's consulting services?) That's just two of the four or five interlocking storylines, and you can already see how complex they are. Yet it's this complexity, more so than spending a long time lingering with any of the individual characters, which makes the experience of watching this film so rich.

I'd read Annie Proulx's New Yorker story that "Brokeback Mountain" is based on, and it came swiftly back to me as I watched the movie. I remember admiring how she managed to move effortlessly through 20 years in just 6000 or so words, without leaving the reader in the dust. I even tried copying that style, with little success. It clearly works well in a movie, with the benefit of allowing the actors to stretch a bit. I think everything about the film ultimately works - and I left the theater feeling I'd spent two hours in a very good place.

As "Syriana" ended, I wasn't even sure what had just happened, but I knew that I enjoyed it. That doesn't usually happen with me - I need to have a cohesive plot, even if it's somewhat complicated and requires my brain power to unravel it. (See "Memento.") But with this film, I get the sense if I try too hard to unravel it, I'll only get more confused. What matters is not how George Clooney's character gets out on a Middle Eastern highway waving a white cloth, but that he does, and some things happen because of that moment even as others happen despite it.

Short version? See both movies.

A dream

On the way to the train station on Christmas morning, the car service driver asked me if Christmas is always on a Sunday. I explained that no, it's always on Dec. 25 so it changes, unlike Easter or Thanksgiving or Memorial Day, which are always on specific days of the week. This evolved into a conversation about holidays and religion... He asked me how people celebrate Christmas, and I explained it in my very secular way (family, food, and gifts, no mention of Jesus) and he told me about fasting during Ramadan, about how it makes him feel pure (he remarked that he can't even kiss his wife - at least, not with any intentions of it going any further.) He said it also reminds him of how the truly hungry feel, and of course theirs is a hunger without intent. It inspires him to give to the less fortunate. He told me the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, and how he prepared to sacrifice his son as God asked, but at the last minute was given a lamb to take Isaac's place. We then talked sheep - my mother raises sheep, and the driver had lived on a sheep farm in Jordan as a little boy.

It was a good conversation, and a nice way to start Christmas Day. It's the world I want to live in, a world where different people are curious about and respectful of each others' faiths and lifestyles and peacefully co-exist.

In my Brooklyn bubble, I do live in that world, to some extent. One Martin Luther King Day years ago, the former Unitarian minister reflected on MLK's "I have a dream" speech with his own similar hope, for a world in which people of all religions and cultures live side-by-side, learning and sharing and not judging. And then he paused and said that here in Brooklyn, we have gotten pretty damn close. It's one of the most diverse boroughs (or cities, taken separately) in both culture and religion. Sometimes I look around the subway car and think that my more sheltered relatives (some of whom have never left their upstate counties) would be amazed at the different types of people sitting there in one small space. If you tried to replicate it on tv, you'd likely be accused of being too overtly "politically correct," of creating something fake for dramatic impact, like a carefully balanced Bennetton ad.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Back Home

Why is being around family, esp at the holidays, so stressful? Is it the family aspect - the fact that you are thrown in close proximity to people who you no longer share every moment of your lives with, and yet, at the same time, share your whole lives with? Is it the bubbling up of a year's worth of pettiness and resentment in one concentrated two-day period? Or is it simply sheer numbers -- too many people in too small a space that struggles to find room for them?

Our family has grown in the last few years, with new nieces and nephews in addition to the sisters-in-law. We no longer fit easily into the old rooms - someone has to bring an air mattress, another has to sleep on the couch, a snoring father has to share a room with his sleep-deprived wife and kids. In the old house, mice and squirrels hold nightly Olympics in the walls, ceilings, and chimneys, and those of us deaf to city sirens and neighboring footsteps lie awake, clutching a flashlight and a struggling-to-escape cat.

Travel, too, is stressful. Babies' naptimes are turned upside down and if they cry and scream in a closed car, we all become tired and testy, and joke about the naps we wish we could take. Catching a train becomes paramount, esp when a two hour car ride comes before it, so a sudden urgency in getting slow-moving siblings packed and loaded comes across as an eagerness to leave.

And it is an eagerness to get home - where I can wash dishes and the sink won't be filled with more dirty ones in the time it takes to play a game of hide-n-seek with a nephew. Where I can sleep without a niece (who begs for a "slumber party") kicking me periously close to the edge of the mattress. Where the shower is always free, without the difficulty of trying to grab the lone shower and finally giving up and staying slightly ripe for one more day. Where there are no long train rides, sitting across the aisle from a woman with a disturbing snore and next to a man who plays "beep-beep-beep" games on his cell phone. Where I can call my mother and actually have time for a decent conversation in a way impossible in the chaos of being in the same house with so many other people.

And, then, home, it's always a little bit of sadness, because when I wake up too horribly early and can't sleep, there's nobody downstairs sitting in the kitchen, ready to commiserate about how tired we are.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Birthday!

I started this one year ago yesterday. My first post was written after I walked home from the candlelight Christmas Eve service. What a difference a year makes: the fabulous minister who drew me (and countless others) to that church as been driven out by a handful of people who didn't like his style. (He could have stayed, but chose to leave rather than continue to cause disruption in the congregation.) He has been replaced by an interim minister (two years!) who has all but driven me out by her frequent inclusion of God in the service. Yes, dear friends, I'm turned off by my new minister because she talks about God in church. We Unitarians are funny folk.

The music is still beautiful, and I still pretend that I can sing - it's better than singing in the shower because in church I am surrounded by voices much better than mine and I fantasize I am one of them.

So Happy Birthday, Wandering Medusa.

Oh, and Merry Christmas. Yes, I'm an atheist who celebrates Christmas, in the most secular sense. Family, presents, good food, smiles. Enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Over the river and through the hood...

I walked to and from work yesterday, although I could have kept working from home, but I didn't feel like I really was experiencing the strike sitting in my apartment. God, that sounds self-centered. But I wanted to be out there, to have actually done something that required an effort. I am woefully fortunate by having a high-paying and flexible job that allows me to work from home, or anywhere, almost any day of the week. I was at no risk of losing any salary this week, or of instilling large fines for not showing up at my job. I have decent benefits and an employer that embraces its people rather than treating them as an adversary. I have never had to strike or picket or fight for my perks. Nobody is going to call me a "thug."

I am lucky.

Almost the first thing I saw as I started out, bundled to the gills with a backpack and messenger bag artfully arranged for the most even distribution of weight (including, among the basic sundries, my laptop), was something new from Ellis G.

(It's not super clear in my photo, but it says "Ellis G. Transit Strike 2005. At night, on the way home, the blue chalk lines were perfectly outlining the shadows the fire hydrant and metal posts, so that they glowed with an eerie intensity. At first I thought, oh, this is the exact time that he did this last night, the shadows are perfectly in sync, but then realized they were the stationery shadows of the streetlights, not the moving ones of the sun.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More proof that Murdoch sucks.

Channel 5, the local Fox affiliate, is branding their coverage of the transit strike with a graphic shouting, "Illegal Strike." How is that objective reporting? I'm not going to debate the legality of the strike here - the point is that there is discussion about it (is it even a valid law, and when is it necessary to break a law in order to fight for what you believe is justice, etc., etc.) and plastering their program with "Illegal" they are blatantly pushing one side over the other. What would it look like if another station had a pretty logo that read, "Totally Justified Strike"? Yeah, stupid. So what's the difference?

Goodbye, Fox. Too bad, because I like your weather updates during your early morning show. But I'll find another program - one that lets me think for myself.

Struck Home

Working from home is a little boring. Never thought I'd say that, but it is. Maybe because I'm in my home environment, sitting at the desk where I do the stuff I want to do with my own laptop, but instead in front of the work laptop doing stuff that isn't as fun. I want to play Granny in Paradise, but that is on my own laptop. I could scan some photos but again, scanning software is on the machine lying quiet on my bed. I don't have room on my desk for two laptops.

Yesterday felt like a Saturday - the sidewalks were full, people were festive, restaurants offered weekend brunch menus. A one day strike would have been a mini adventure. Today it's quieter - more people must have decided to attempt to get into Manhattan and their offices.

I am thinking of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge tomorrow although I'll be one of the few in my office. Still, it will be a change of pace. And scenery.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Do the Math.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the NY Post? Yesterday's paper has a big glaring headline about the "10.5%" increase the transit workers union rejected. Because, you see, if they get 3%, 4%, 3.5% increases over 3 years, that must add up to 10.5%, right? I know their editors barely write at the fifth grade level, but did they just completely skip math class?

(For those not following, you can't just add the percentages together, since they will apply to the new increased salary each year, not the starting salary. For example, if you started out at $100K in year one, your first increase would bring you to $103K, then the 4% the following year would be 4% of $103K, not $100K, so you'd get slightly more... if you do the math it turns out to be closer to 11%.

It's similar to how people used to get confused when I worked in retail. If something is 30% off and then there is an additional 20%, that's not 50% off, no matter how long you stand at the register and scream at me.)

It's not like I expect the Post to be smart enough to get that, it's just that I get depressed when they flaunt their stupidity so brazenly. And that there are those people who think that if it's in the paper, it must be true.

I think it's all part of Rupert Murdoch's plan to dumb down America.


Yup. It's on.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Post Production

If they can spend $100,000 to digitally remove Ashton Kucher's red string Kaballah bracelet from his scenes in "Guess Who," don't you think they could have spent a few bucks on some makeup to cover up Heath Ledger's pierced ear lobe in "Brokeback Mountain"? Don't know of many ranch hands in 1963 who had pierced ears.

My thoughts on the film to follow. Too tired right now.

Brown Christmas

The last Saturday before Christmas in the UPS Store: long lines extending out the door, a thirty minute wait. Does this happen in small town America as well? It felt like a part of living in the city, where so many are transplants from other places. It's not like the rural upstate town my mother currently lives in, where entire extended families are in the same zip code.

But, no, tracking long lines in post offices is atypical morning news show staple during the holiday season. Still, I always imagine those folk are sending gifts to their young relatives who are off trying to make it in the big city, or the handful who are off in foreign countries trying to make it in the big world. Families, sending off single gifts to wayward children.

We're the opposite, in our UPS store line. Large boxes filled with multiple presents for the whole gang "back home," address forms we can fill out without referring to our PDAs because it's where we, too, used to live. Boxes we hope will arrive before we do, or else we'll feel guilty we couldn't just carry them to the airport or the train station with us. Or boxes we hope will be festive enough to make up for the fact that we're not going "home," not this year, no, sorry.

To ease the congestion at the register, they come and take our presents and return them in sealed boxes as we wait for the weigh-in and processing. A series of shopping bags handed off to brown-shirted employees, handed back in neatly taped cardboard cubes. "Are you sure this is mine?" one guy asks, shifting his box from hand to hand as if it will reveal its contents. Mine, too, is returned in a flurry of boxes given to other customers behind me. Did all three of my gifts fit so neatly into this small box, or is my niece going to have a birthday surprise to end all birthday surprises when she opens this next week? "Thank you, Aunt Medusa, for the present. Exactly what my dress up trunk was missing: a brand new Brooks Brothers dress shirt and tie! P.S., Mom took away the cologne."

Friday, December 16, 2005

I knew him when he was Number Place.

I love math games and puzzles. I used to have a subscription to Dell's "Math Puzzles & Logic Problems" magazine. My favorite were Cross Sums, which are like crossword puzzles except that instead of word phrase clues, you get a total number which is the sum of the numbers in that row. I loved Cross Sums so much that when I found a special issue that had 50 of them (most only had 4 or 8), I repeatedly photocopied the blank puzzles so that I could do them over and over. Do you know how many combinations of 4 numbers (1-9, no repeated digits) equal 12? There are two: 1 2 3 6 and 1 2 4 5.

I am a nerd.

I'd do the other puzzles in the magazines, too, including one called "Number Place" which involved putting numbers into squares on a large grid. It was mindless (no math) but strangely addictive.

I haven't done puzzles in awhile - knitting has taken over as my traditional tv-watching activity, I no longer smoke (I used to carry puzzle magazines down with me), and computer games now exercise the logic side of my brain. So I wasn't aware until recently about the huge interest in Sudoku, which is the Japanese version of "Number Place." Last time I was in Barnes & Noble I was surprised to see an entire table display of Sudoku books.

Then, yesterday, I saw someone on the subway filling in familiar-looking squares in a newspaper. The dreaded New York Post.

I said it was mindless, but not that mindless. You do need to apply some logic and thought. Although I suppose a New York Post Sudoku puzzle could be as close to a Dell Number Place as a TV Guide crossword puzzle is to the New York Times crossword. You can make these things pretty easy, if you give enough clues.

And, did I say they were addictive? Online Sudoku is now in danger of sapping my work productivity big time.

Strike the Sneakers, Please

A lasting legacy of the NYC subway strike in 1980 is the terrifying habit of women wearing sneakers with their suits and business clothes, because of all the additional walking they had to do for the 11 days it lasted.

No explanation for the thick white socks over pantyhose, or why the sneakers always have to be bright white.

Hey, I also think women who wear spindly-heeled boots in the snowy streets are idiots. I wonder how sexy they are going to feel if they are suddenly forced to walk further than two blocks - a blackout, a subway breakdown, or god forbid, another terrorist attack.

But you don't have to resort to big ugly white sneakers - there are attractive comfortable walking shoes and boots out there that look professional and not like your house burnt down with all of your real shoes while you were halfway between the gym and home and all you had left to your name were the sweaty clothes on your back and the suits you'd left at the dry cleaners.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Before I moved to NYC, I never knew that there would be homeless people who lived in my neighborhood. The whole idea is somewhat of an oxymoron - if they are homeless, do they call my neighborhood home? And yet, there are several people I see regularly, who I recognize as having been here for years.

For example, the crazy woman who sits on stoops and curbs with her many layers of clothing and her shopping bags, and croaks, "Gotta quarter?" every time you walk by. If you don't stop or give her money, she mumbles something nasty-sounding at you in her deep raspy voice. She has been here for at least 7 years that I can recall, but what exactly does tha tmean? Where does she sleep? She seems to be in the same situation now that she was 7 years ago - is there no hope for her circumstances to change? That's a long time to be living on the streets. On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong to assume she is homeless. Maybe she is mentally ill and lives in a subsidized apartment in the neighborhood. Or in a group home with very lax supervision. Or maybe she's an eccentric billionaress with a big empty brownstone in Brooklyn Heights that she retreats to at night with her cup of quarters.

Then there is the man who stands in front of the deli. He doesn't even ask for money, just stands there offering a friendly "hello" when you walk past. The deli owners don't seem to mind his being there and sometimes I even see them outside chatting with him. On cold nights, like last night, he will hold open the door for customers, always with a smile, whether you give him some of your change or not. And last night I wondered, where does he sleep? He's another one that's been around for years - are there shelters that you can keep returning for that long? Or does he have his own secret spot in an alley or abandoned building or something?

Monday, December 12, 2005


You know what I hate most about losing another computer? Not the loss of data, the amount of time wasted reconstructing everything, or the frustration of being at the mercy of complex technology. It's having one more dead CPU in my apartment.

I have three.

I can't throw them away, because the sanitation department won't take them. There are periodic collection dates, but I missed the last one. Plus, I am paranoid that somebody will rescue them and manage to get them up and running, and have access to all of my lost files - my semi-completed novel, my Microsoft Money financial information, my family photos, my emails, etc. (Don' tell me about password protection - if someone has the technical ability to rejuvenate the dead beasts which are my former computers, getting past passwords will be cake.) Probably a long shot, but it's still troubling.

I could donate them to charity, but they are broken. And even if they could get them up and running, well, see paranoia above. Do I want some techie working part time at the Salvation Army to have my checking account info?

I am tempted to take them apart and deposit them in the trash, piece by unrecognizable piece. Like disposing of the dismembered bodies of a recent murder victim.


No movies again this weekend. A lot of time spent getting my laptop fully functioning. And creating a whole new set of backup disks.

And a little Christmas shopping.

See, I almost typed holiday shopping, because I am so conditioned to calling it that, from my days of organizing office holiday parties and correcting people who wanted to call it a Christmas party. (Our Jewish colleagues, who sometimes outnumbered us, were of course invited too. In several cases they were footing the bill - this is an industry in which they are dominant.)

Bill Donohue would hate me. My holiday cards don't even mention Christmas - they simply say, "Peace."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Good and Bad.

My computer is dead. Not sure if it will ever be resuscitated, but I am treating the laptop as my permanent home. I cleaned off my desk - by monitor, CPU, keyboard, mouse. Hello, sleek little laptop.

Wait, this is nice.

Overall loss isn't as bad as I feared. I had backed up photos, back in January, so have many folders from my digital camera, plus all the old family pics I've scanned. So I just lost the photos I've taken since - could be much worse. I also discovered a way to copy songs from your iPod into iTunes (theoretically, according to Apple, impossible) from one of the forums on the Apple site. I had 650 songs on my iPod, and only 150 on my laptop hard drive - and normally you can just sync one way. It didn't work perfectly, but I managed to snag 400 of the missing songs. I might try again tomorrow and see if I can get the last 100 somehow, although I'm not sure why they were missed the first time.

You can imagine how much time that took - the research, the copying, etc. And I had to download a printer driver, set up my scanner, load digital camera software, try to figure out why my speakers don't work (?? on that one still), and restore files from the various places I've backed them up. Oh, and install Microsoft Money again. I had not backed that up in a month, which isn't so long, but it's not easy to recreate an entire month's worth of checks and withdrawals, even with online banking. It's just time consuming.

That was my day. Granted, this was all on about 4 hours sleep. (I snoozed between 7 and 9:30.) It didn't make for a very happy Saturday.

Tomorrow will be better, I promise.

Now, to bed.

Really Bad Night

I think I just fucked up my entire computer. Wait, let me rephrase that. I'm a bit dizzy from the battle of pointing fingers. I think HP and Microsoft just fucked up my entire system.

I was working on my PC when my computer just shut down. And then it started up again, but at the start up window, just restarted again. Over and over. Like it was having seizures. So I thought maybe it's overheated or something, I'm going to bed.

Three hours later, 2 am, I wake up. And of course have to check it out again. Luckily I have this notebook, so I'm not completely computer free, because where else do you go for help but the internet?

Anyway, my desktop computer did not come with a Windows XP startup CD - which HP tells me, so even though I went through all of my computer documentation (this involved moving the mattress platform from my bed and pulling out a box - did I mention it was 2 am?) there wasn't one to find. Even though all of the instructions they give you for resolving this involve booting up from the Windows XP CD. They send you to Microsoft's site, who tells you that if your computer came loaded with Windows XP, you have to go to the manufacturer's site.

Gee, wasn't I just there?

I tried downloading and creating the CD anyway, but my computer is not recognizing it - my CD Rom drive doesn't work right, but of course I can't troubleshoot it or figure out what is wrong because the damned computer won't go on.

It's 3:53 am. The only troubleshooting option that has responded is HP System Recovery, which I am now running, which I believe is wiping out all of my files.

It's not as tragic as it sounds, as I did a "My Documents" backup fairly recently, and know that all of my writing is safe. But I couldn't fit all of my photos, and had just started cleaning out the folders (i.e., deleting the pictures from each 'roll' that I didn't want to keep anymore) in preparation for a separate photo backup.

Would it surprise you to learn I hadn't done it yet?

I don't know what's going on now. I keep getting messages that there is a "Problen" in extracting some files, and I am forced to click OK to proceed. I have done that, no joke, about 1000 times in the last 10 minutes. I'm just sitting here with my finger on the enter key, stopping periodically to switch to the laptop to type this. This can't be a good sign - nor, I think, can the fact that the brilliant minds who devised this method of recovery can't spell "Problem."

I might just cry.

Friday, December 09, 2005

More Snow

Have I mentioned I love snow? Yeah, I don't have a car and live in an apartment, so I don't need to worry about shoveling or driving, so... we're in the midst of a snowstorm and I woke up insanely early and am sitting here happy as a clam.

Why are clams so happy?

I also have the option of working from home today, but I'm going to wait to decide. Since it will likely be a late-starting day for most people (the storm plus the holiday party last night) I am going to go to the gym right now (I called and confirmed they are open), get my workout done, and check out the state of the streets. Then come home and figure out what to do. I have only a 12:00 meeting, my boss is away at a conference, and the culture in my office is one of workplace flexibility - most people work from home (or alternative offices) 2-3 times a week. Right now I'm leaning that way...

Off to the gym.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Tonight is our office holiday party. I know this not just because of the colorful invite tacked to my bulletin board, but because the ladies' room is suddenly filled with women putting on makeup and doing their hair. The party starts in an hour - time to get ready to GO!!

I have a long convoluted history with holiday events, starting with my first job out of college in a major department store. We didn't have an official party because it was our busiest time of year, but there was a dinner/dance held each spring to celebrate the store's anniversary that allowed everyone to dress up in formal attire, meet each others' significant others and drink too much.

Still, there always was a party in the stock room on Christmas Eve to celebrate the fact that hell was almost over. (Until the big rush for returns on Dec. 26, followed by the inevitable after-Christmas sales. Okay, all we were celebrating was that we had the next day off.) My first year, there was really good punch in the shoe stockroom, which was dangerously close to where I was stationed at a register. I got viciously drunk. At one point, with a line full of customers, I simply excused myself to go to the bathroom and walked away. I have no idea how they reacted, as I forgot to return to the register (hitting the stockroom on the way back, of course) but the weird thing is, nobody seemed to notice, and I never got in trouble for it. Later that night, at closing, my cute-as-a-button manager gave me a (chaste) holiday kiss and I was so startled I blinked too hard and my contact lens fell out. I spent Christmas blind in one eye.

My next employer rented out a hotel ballroom for lunch and an afternoon of drinking, dancing, and carousing. Every year there was entertainment - we had karakoe once, and played "Family Feud" another time, for example. For some odd reason that year I was Vanna White - mostly because our Richard Dawson host needed a sidekick, and I looked okay in a slinky dress back then. I have it all on videotape and it's pretty sad. Not only are "Richard" and I drunk, but so is the cameraman. I have the karaoke year on tape, too, which features our CEO making a speech that included not one but two racially insensitive (read: obnoxious) comments. I am secretly hoping he runs for office or something so I can sell the tapes to the Smoking Gun.

Near the end of my time at that company, holiday parties were discontinued. Instead, they gave us a mediocre buffet in a conference room where people crowded together with soggy paper plates and cans of warm soda.

At my next job, I was in charge of planning the parties - we had a small office so it was more of a large dinner with open bar. The best part was that I got to sample a bunch of restaurants before choosing, so got a lot of excellent free lunches. I'd learned my lesson about drinking at work and was pretty well-behaved at the actual parties. Well, up until the very last year, when I somehow wound up back at the office with a male co-worker - well, let's just say we weren't going over the books (although we may have knocked some over.)

In the last job, the party was right after work, in a large conference room in the building crammed full with 500 people, with wine and beer and loud music and crappy appetizers from the employee cafeteria. I hadn't planned the event, but another person on my team did, and she asked me to help stand at the door and give people nametags. It was as boring as it sounds.

Tonight? Planning on being low-key and social. I think I've had my fill of "fun" at these things, and I forgot to set my VCR for "Survivor" and the finale of "The Apprentice."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Muzak Morning

Two things so far that aren't perfect with this job:

1) No full length mirror in the ladies' room on my floor. Sometimes, especially after trucking in wearing a long wool coat, with a skirt that often suffers from static cling, it's nice to be able to get a full view of what you're presenting to your colleagues. I'm reduced to glancing at my profile as I pass the glass windows of darkened offices...

2) Meetings don't start on time. I've discovered it's a corporate cultural thing - in some places I've worked, everyone is prompt and the expectation is if you run 10 minutes late, you miss the start of the meeting. Other places, like here, every meeting starts 5-15 minutes late, and nobody gets their panties in a bunch about it. I have to adjust to that kind of thinking - I'm always early for things and was taught to believe that keeping people waiting was rude.

I'm sitting on a conference call right now, listening to hokey Christmas hold music, watching people enter a virtual meeting space. It's not much different than being the first person in a live conference room, watching people enter, waiting and growing more and more bored. Put THAT in your Live Meeting commercials, Apprentice contestants!

Monday, December 05, 2005

The D Word.

I've started a new healthy eating plan. (I hate the D-Word.) A bit of history: I have successfully lost large amounts of weight in the past, the last being 50 lbs. over 8 months in 1997. I did it carefully and slowly, without any big fad diet plan, just cutting out excess fats and sugars and carbs. I was a really bad eater, and became a really good one.

I pretty much kept it off for about three years, gaining about 10 back by year four. Then, I quit smoking, and voila! Gained 15-20 back. It's amazing - I consciously did not substitute food or drink for cigarettes, and joined a gym to distract myself (and combat the metabolism change), and still gained the standard weight. Since then, I'm sad to say, I've gained more. Problem is, I'm not eating all those bad things I used to - just a handful of them. My biggest problem is probably quantity - if you eat too much of even the healthy foods, you're going to gain.

So, this time I think I need some guidance. I can't just do it on my own, because I'm struggling at figuring out what I need to do. I was inspired by "The Biggest Loser" finale - who wouldn't be? Those people are hot. Of course, if I had a personal trainer and dietician, and didn't have to work so I could work out all day in a fully equipped gym, I'd probably do pretty well, too. (I thought about auditioning for the show after season 1 - but they wanted people who were outgoing and had dynamic personalities. I would be hiding from the cameras the whole time. I like to watch reality tv, never want to be on one.) Anyhow... I went to their website to check out Before & After pics, and there was a link to their online weight loss program... So I subscribed. Really. I'm on the Biggest Loser Diet.

It's pretty good though - low fat, "conservative carb," low calorie diet that is easily adaptable to tastes and preferences (i.e., I eat fish but no red meat or poultry.) Suggested daily and weekly meal plans are online, and you can swap out different elements and create your own customized one - from which you can then generate a shopping list. You also get a daily exercise plan with fitness tips and exercises, record your weight as often as you want to (and get a cool chart showing your progress), have access to message boards, etc.

So far, so good. I've learned that I really don't hate celery, and that cashew butter rocks. The basis of the food plan is that you eat 5-6 small meals a day vs. 2-3 big ones. Yeah, exactly what my doctor has told me to do for my acid reflux problems. Overall, everything about it is sensible.

We'll see. I am going to the gym after work today, the first time I've been inspired to do so since I got this new job & new commute. (It is going to snow, too, but I won't let that stop me.)

I don't know if I'll keep talking about it here. I might not want to, unless I'm really successful.

Oh, and... I'm being tortured today. You see, on the show, they challenge the participants with "temptations" each episode that test their will power and commitment. Not my favorite part of the show - some just seem cruel (i.e., if you eat this bad food, you can have a personal phone call with a loved one.) I know they think they have to do that for ratings, but... the drama of trying to lose all that weight is interesting enough, I think.

ANYHOW, today for the first time in the entire two months I've been on this job, someone brought in a cake and it's sitting on a file cabinet near me, with an "Eat me" sign. No,really. It's chocolate with peanut butter mousse frosting, and as the people who have walked by carrying pieces of it have said, "delicious!"

Really, where are the cameras?

Hello, Winter

More snow in the forecast. I don't have a car, don't need to shovel a driveway or a sidewalk, take public transportation that is underground, and work with people who are far more inconvenienced than I am (so getting out early when it's snowy is likely.) I love it.

Two R's

There are actresses I always get confused because they play similar roles and have similar appearances. For example, Katie Holmes (pre-Cruise) and Natalie Portman. Quick: which starred in "Pieces of April"? Are you sure? Which was Zach Braff's girlfriend in "Garden State"? I swear, could be either.

Another pair I am increasingly mixing up is Renee Zewelleger and Reese Witherspoon. Used to be easy: Renee was the "Jerry Maguire" chick and Reese the great Tracey Flick from "Election." But then they both started doing romantic comedies, and period films, and now musicals. When someone remarked on Reese's suprising singing ability in the Johnny Cash film, I thought, gee, she got an Oscar nomination for singing in "Chicago," right? And wasn't bad in "Down with Love," either. But no, those were Renee.

Seriously, though, you try it. Who was in "Sweet Home Alabama"? "Nurse Betty"?

Maybe it's just me?

I didn't see any movies this weekend. It was cold and snowy, a perfect time to huddle in a theater, but I didn't feel like going very far and I've seen every one of the five films playing in the theater across the street. (That's unusual - there's often one cartoon or sappy drama I won't bother to see.) "The Squid & The Whale" is still playing. I saw that it had the most Independent Spirit Award nominations, which is cool, but I also still feel like I'm the only one who ever saw it. None of my co-workers or friends have heard of it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Good Howling Morning

The wind is howling in my windows. It sounds like a serious blizzard out there. I peeked through the blinds and no, it's dry. We are supposed to get snow on Monday or Tuesday, though.

Another Saturday morning waking up at 6:30. I am so regular (you know, intestinally) that I can be totally exhausted but my body will force me awake for a trip to the bathroom. Do't know about you, but I'm also a reader; no matter how half-awake I am, I can't just sit there, so I pick up a magazine and by the time I'm okay to leave and go back to bed, I'm somewhat awake. It sucks. I should try, right now, to get back into bed and fall asleep but in a half hour my upstairs neighbor will be getting up to go to the gym and I have had trouble sleeping through that. And, really, I should go to the gym myself.

So here I sit.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Why can't you correct the time/date stamp on the bottom of your posts any more? I often start a post and save it as a draft to finish later - but now the damn thing is stamped with the original time. Annoying!!!!


You know, I really love my new job. Not sure if I've really said that yet, probably because I'm trying to keep to the golden rule of not talking about work on your blog. But I just have to say that it's remarkable how working in a positive atmosphere can change your entire work experience. Not to say that everyone here is la-la-land happy, or that I'm naive enough to think everything is perfect here, but there is a genuine sense of good feeling that you can't fake. People work hard, but seem to do so because they're invested in the work itself - take pride in what they do, like the people they work with, and want to succeed. I know that there have to be some disgruntled employees and that not everything works as smoothly as it appears to a newcomer, but believe me, in other situations I knew by now (two months in) what horrors lay under the suface.

Case in point: A senior exec spoke at a meeting yesterday to about 300 employees. He wanted to stress a number of key priorities for the next couple of months. The first was about client service, typical stuff, and the second - "Don't forget to take your vacation. Holidays are coming, and we want to make sure that you are able to relax and have time with your families and get rejuvenated." Now, of course there is good business sense behind this - a happy employee is a more productive one - but how often do you really hear someone so senior say it aloud? And mean it? I was really impressed. And happy again with my decision to take this job. It's nice to get those reinforcements so often, you know?

On a related note, I read an interesting piece in the New Yorker about the difference between hourly work week schedules for workers in the U.S. and Europe. On average, Europeans work far fewer hours a week, but have longer vacation and holiday allotments. American workers have longer work weeks and less vacation. The trade off means that Europeans have more free time to spend on leisure, while Americans have more $$ for theirs. One result of this is that we tend to spend more money on leisure activities like dining in restaurants (which also saves the time of cooking a fancy meal - time we don't have.) We also spend much less time on housework - but employ more housekeeping help, and rely on other service industries (drop-off laundries, dry cleaners, etc.) to fill the gap - services we can afford because we're working the longer hours that don't give us the time to do the stuff in the first place. (Getting dizzy yet?) The result of all of this is that there are many more service jobs in the U.S. than in Europe, and lower unemployment levels among the sector (women and young adults) who tend to take those jobs. It was really interesting and made me think. What do I really value? Is it more time off or more money to do more with the limited time off I have? It's a hard question.

(I can't find the link on the New Yorker site - I'll find the article again at home and see if I have better luck.)
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