Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fun, Filth, and Fajitas (not necessarily in that order)

God help me, I'm a total yutz when it comes to housekeeping. I don't know why. I joke about it, but really I am genuinely ashamed of the way my apartment looks on a regular basis. It's so dirty, so dirty, and I can't seem to keep up with it. And while you'd think that picking things up off the floor/tables/countertops/windowsills/any other horizontal surface that collects clutter, and putting them away where they belong, and wiping away messes before they harden into a ghastly cement, and not getting cheese ground into the carpet, would not be beyond the limits of my own intellect - which I flatter myself is not too badly lacking - I can't seem to handle it.

Robbie dropped me off after the fajita cookoff last night and helped me carry stuff upstairs. While I didn't invite him in, I'm afraid he caught a glimpse of the inside of my apartment. I hope the resultant stress-related blindness is only temporary.

The cookoff was hugely fun, and I semi-retract some of my invectives regarding cheapness. We were able to leave early without taking comp time (not officially, but our boss made it fairly clear she'd be looking the other way), and I didn't spend much money on supplies. Or help out much with the cooking (oops). I was mistaken about it being a fundraiser for some other function - it was more along the lines of a company picnic where the attendees have to do the catering. As such, there should not have been so much pressure to attend; but once there I think we all had a blast. There was rather a lot of alcohol involved - provided by individuals, of course.

My boss's peach salsa won first place, and since she had to leave early, the remainder of it is in my fridge. I can't eat it - it's sort of a cilantro pesto with bits of peaches and tomatoes and peppers in it; but I'm sure it's excellent. My team's chicken fajitas, prepared by Jason, also won first and I did get to eat those. Yummy!

I should probably make it clear that there were four teams, though, and I know they didn't all compete in every category.

Of course the best part of all for me was getting to sing with my friend Bill playing the guitar. You forget how much you enjoy things like that. There's nothing else quite like tuning and timing yourself with real live people. I just wish we had more repertoire in common; but I suppose this was only the first of many state-sponsored extortions I will enjoy during the long, long years leading up to retirement - so there's plenty of time.

I learned some interesting things about senior management. The top guy in our division - boss over, I don't know, fifty or sixty employees (??) - who reports directly to the head of the agency, came up to Bill and me as we were harmonizing away. "Oh my God!" said the big guy. "Talent! There are people here with talent?!?"

Realizing that this came across somewhat badly from a man in his position, he tried to clarify, explaining that he only meant that it hadn't occurred to him that anyone working in our division might be talented in any way. This was not as satisfactory an explanation as he'd intended, so he gave up and just told us he was very drunk.

A couple of hours later, many of us were winding down and preparing to leave. I'd ridden with Robbie, so he was planning to get in the car and drive pretty shortly. But the second-in-command of the division had gathered a bunch of folks around to do tequila shots. Would he listen to Robbie's demurrals and protestations that he couldn't do shots because he had to drive? No, he would not. Robbie damn well had to do a couple of shots. We stayed a bit later than we originally intended.

Robbie had sobered up by the time we headed out, so we made it back to my place just fine. How well he was able to drive the rest of the way home with the image of unimaginable filth seared on his retinas, I don't know. Hopefully he'll turn up Monday.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Employer Is a Cheap-Ass Bastard

1. We already knew that.
2. It could always be worse.

The heightened security of the last month and a half is abruptly gone today. No more bored security guard, sitting in a chair at the intersection of two hallways, glancing halfheartedly at the passerby and contemplating the pointlessness of her existence. I'm not sure if the agency really discontinued her or if she just enjoyed her work so much that she found a state job in another area.

As far as electronic cardreaders on every entrance to our area go, the contractors mysteriously vanished as soon as they had finished installing the, um, boltholes. So that project appears to have been abandoned, although I'm sure there was a not entirely insignificant cost to the taxpayers for the useless holes in our door jambs.

So either the crazy ex-employee who was a threat is no longer a threat, or someone higher up has decided it's not worth the expense of protecting us from him.

As for this fajita extorti^H^H^H^H^H^H^H cookoff thing tomorrow - well, don't get me wrong; I plan to bring some beer and I'll be hanging out with my very fun friends and I expect to have a really good time. However, there's just no question that we "volunteers" are getting pretty royally shafted by our employer.

It's a fundraiser. The state is providing some fajita meat and fixings, "volunteers" are preparing fajitas on competing teams using our own specialty recipes (none of which, despite my most valiant efforts, is likely to involve spam), judges will declare one team a winner, and the fajitas will be sold for $2 apiece to the wondering crowd. "Volunteers" get two fajitas free for their efforts.

But the only fixings provided are meat, flour tortillas, cheese, and sour cream. Last time I checked, grilled onions and peppers were kind of a staple for fajitas; so is hot sauce, and guacamole, while I suppose you consider it optional, really ought to be served as well. You need spices and ingredients to make marinade for the meat. All these are to be provided by the "volunteers" at our own expense. Oh yeah, and charcoal and lighter fluid and grilling utensils and paper plates and aluminum foil and stuff like that.

One of my teammates, who's been a "volunteer" in the past, says that the state generally doesn't provide enough meat, either - as indeed they have not this time - so he and others have chipped in some more to make up for that shortfall.

And as icing on the cake - oh wait, no; icing would be extra - it starts right after work, so we "volunteers" need to get there at least an hour early in order to start setting up and cooking. Probably earlier. Guess who has to take comp time for it?!?

Cheap-ass bastards.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Want Some Cheese with That?

Let's become wine snobs!

I'm pretty sure the main qualification for being a wine snob is to be good with words. Being a lush is a plus, so it's right up my alley. I'm poor, so I only get to be a Franzia snob; still, as long as we can toss around terms like "bouquet" and "insouciant" and "oenology," we should be able to pull it off.

Of course, Franzia isn't particularly insouciant. The Chianti is fruity and robust, with a bulbous nose like a middle-aged Tuscan monk. The Chardonnay is peevish and irritable. The Rhine has an aroma of pear and apple, with overtones of orange kool-aid. The Burgundy is an angry wine, with a bouquet reminiscent of dead roses from a disgruntled ex, and the Cabernet Sauvignon will hold you up behind a convenience store.

My ex-husband, a student chef, is taking a class in wine snobbery, and I don't think Franzia is part of the curriculum. But one of the samples was of a California red with, he said, strong overtones of tar and hot asphalt. "It smells like a car crash," he said at the tasting, and he got an A.

So I don't see why I can't do it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Youth is wasted on the young, they say. But you never hear the reverse, which I think is equally true: Maturity is not necessarily all that useful to an adult.

Not (cough, cough) that I claim a lot of first-hand knowledge there.

I guess I just don't really understand the point of experience, and perpective, and wisdom (such as it is), if you can't use it to benefit the people who matter most to you? Because you try to impart your knowledge, to protect them from pain and sorrow and all the myriad idiotic mistakes you've made; but when you open your mouth, nothing comes out but words.

This is not my thing to write about. Everything is okay, but I just wanted to say, as to kids? Hug 'em if you got 'em.

Monday, September 25, 2006

We Got Trouble. Right Here in River City!

With a capital T, and that rhymes with - well, no, actually it doesn't rhyme with J, which stands for "Justin's replacement started today and is a strikingly attractive young woman."

I'd make a lousy lyricist.

An attractive woman working at our agency is not a problem in and of itself, of course. It's just that this particular position requires working very closely with the least progressive, most male chauvinist, horn-doggiest, most obstreperous, stickiest-eyed old perv of a reprobate that I've yet met working for the state. I call him "Dreamboat."

But Dreamboat's overt sexism is only one of many characteristics that make him difficult to work with, to the point where I wonder if his (much younger) manager was being cagey in hiring such a pretty woman. I'm not saying that as a reflection on her qualifications, but I think it's exceedingly likely that Dreamboat will behave inappropriately enough to her to get himself into some serious trouble. And you can't collect field data working from home. I'm wondering if somebody didn't feel like waiting for Dreamboat to retire.

By an astonishing coincidence, T also doesn't rhyme with F, which stands for the "Fajita Cookoff, which takes place this Friday, and for which I have been 'volunteered' to be on a team despite the fact that I really can't cook." Our manager has been hounding our lead worker to form a team ever since the cookoff was announced, so today he walked around and rounded up five of us hapless souls. Satisfied with his efforts, he emailed our manager (copying the rest of us) that he had succeeded in collecting a team: our branch will participate in the cookoff, hoorah! The day is saved!

She wrote back inquiring whether there would also be live music. There's just no pleasing some people.

Now we just need a team name. It's supposed to incorporate the initials of our branch, District Data Support. Post a comment! Go crazy! Of course, as the saying goes, you don't have to be crazy to work here - but you will be.

Crazy starts with a C and that rhymes with T and that stands for Trouble.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

For the Children

Isn't there something so mournful about the way the wind sounds, blowing through the trees at the beginning of autumn? I don't know what it is, but it always has such a sad, sighing, forlorn quality. It doesn't sound like that in springtime. It's something like 85 degrees out today, but still, the wind has that distinct sound. It's beautiful, but it sounds like goodbye.

Or I'm just crazy.

I'm sitting here decompressing (I started to type "decomposing," which is a whole different thing) from spending three hours at a 6th birthday party for one of Anna's kindergarten classmates. Strictly speaking, I could be a lot more out of my element. I could be in a biker bar, for example. But a kids' birthday party in a house full of people I don't know is fairly high up on my list of fun things not to do. In this particular case, pretty much everyone else there knew each other, as I think most of the kids were cousins. But even worse than sitting around feeling awkward and out of place is knowing that the birthday boy's mom is feeling like a bad hostess because one of her guests is sitting around feeling awkward and out of place, so you feel guilty for making her feel guilty and before you know it, you're wishing you were in a nice noisy biker bar where at least nobody would be feeling awkward for you.

Things got better with the piñata, of course, because watching a bunch of 5-to-8-year-olds try to break open a piñata is a universal human experience. The first kids in line get blindfolded and spun around, and the birthday kid's dad (or suitable adult male stand-in) raises and lowers the piñata while the kid swings. As the line gets shorter and the adults' patience wears thin, the kids are allowed to peek and the adult holding the rope lets the kids get in a few good thwacks. Finally the adults have about had it and a free-for-all ensues, and the piñata is gruesomely battered limb from limb as everyone dashes in to grab some candy. The party is a success if nobody has to go to the emergency room with a concussion.

Once the piñata has been demolished, all the adult males retire to the living room to watch football while the birthday kid's mom serves cake, ice cream, presents, and more awkwardness. Is it too early to say thank you and leave? Or are you actually overstaying your welcome? Probably both.

Today's was a Star Wars-themed party, with a Darth Vader piñata and cake, a game of Pin-the-Light-Saber-on-the-Darth-Vader, and menu items like "Naboo nachos," "Sith salsa," "Yoda sodas" (the new all-natural 7Up; I spent several amusing minutes peering at the can and trying to figure out exactly what was natural about it), and "R2D2 dogs." Anna had a lovely time (which of course is why we put ourselves through all this), and I overheard her telling one of her friends, while eating, that for her sixth birthday she's going to have a Barbie party.

So I've got about eight and a half months to convince her that it would be more fun to celebrate in a nice noisy biker bar.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hair! Delicious!

Maybe Bingo is suffering from a vitamin deficiency. I should ask the vet.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Har! In the Car Where You Are

How cool would it be to go on Pimp My Ride?

You can't go on with a car that's already awesome, because the Ride Pimpers (band name!) wouldn't have much work to do. You've already got shiny, color-coordinated paint, and nice fluffy upholstery, and presumably such less essential niceties as air conditioning, brakes, and a working clutch. If you have a car that requires little besides a flame job to turn it into the Pimped-Out-Ride-Of-The-Century, what's really the point? So they don't do those.

But my 1992 VW Golf would be an excellent candidate for the show:

1. The radiator leaks. Just carry a bottle of water with you at all times; you'll be fine! Well, probably.
2. The oil leaks, a little. You should probably carry a couple of bottles of motor oil just in case. But this is not usually an emergency.
3. There is paint everywhere! It's not all the same color. Still, much of it is fairly well coordinated.
4. There is not a headliner. Did I mention the whole car has paint?
5. There's a rearview mirror and a driver's-side mirror. The passenger-side mirror? Not so much.
6. The cloud of blue-white smoke it emits (see #2) after sitting in the parking lot for a few weeks has in fact been implicated in a few state-employee deaths (although it turned out later they were only off on an extended smoke break, as were the missing grackles).
7. The hatchback's hydraulics have gone out, so it does not stay open on its own, and may decapitate the unwary grocery shopper.
8. The air conditioning works in that it blows a substance, strongly resembling air, at the passengers. It's not actually cooler than outside-temperature air, and if the AC is turned on, the engine tends to stall out.
9. Some door locks work only from the inside, some only from the outside.
10. The radio works only if you hold it firmly into place, so that all the electrical connections make full contact. You can't get presets or saved settings, of course.
11. The clutch is going out - not badly enough to be an issue yet, except at stoplights. But how often do you have to deal with those??
12. The windows do roll up - as well as down! - but they screech loudly at you when you attempt it.
13. We'll think all that up later, but it will probably be bad luck.

So those are my reasons why I need to go on a fancy-ass MTV show and win a prize so expensive I can't afford the taxes on it. Cool, huh? What do you think? I just hope it comes out looking like a 1972 Karmann Ghia convertible. Awesome!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Technology Marches Onward

People don't sexually harass people. Computers sexually harass people.

Sexual harassment in the workplace used to be such a pervasive problem that, to this day, employers hand out brochures and hold special training sessions to convince workers not to pinch their cohorts' bottoms or shout "Hubba Hubba!" at them.

And of course there are still a few of the old guard left, especially in a workplace like mine, where many employees have been working at the same job for upwards of 20-25 years. They've been retrained as effectively as possible, bless their hearts. They are aware that it's not acceptable to grope their coworkers, and that practically nobody is actually named "honey." Some of them may still require the occasional gentle reminder from senior management that no, your cubicle is actually over on this side of the floor, and no, your daily business can't be conducted with someone who works in a completely unrelated department, and no, if you ask someone if she's busy and she says yes, you aren't supposed to come on in and make yourself comfortable.

The more subtle stuff, like Slightly Sticky Eyes Syndrome, can't really be addressed as directly - but with the very occasional exception, these old guys are completely harmless. (Sorry boys!)

As far as the newer, younger guys, I'm more likely to sexually harass them than the other way around. Hopefully they don't mind. They haven't stopped inviting me to break, anyway; and to my knowledge none of them is yet working from home.

So what's a self-respecting employer to do when it's effectively stamped out sexual harassment among its workers? Why, they have to get software to do it, of course. For the last couple of weeks I've been working on a project to digitize a few buttloads (metric) of old roadway data, using nothing but a scanner and an extremely dirty-minded optical recognition program.

It's supposed to digitize whole documents on its own, but it doesn't actually read all that well, so you have to proof everything. Still, it's faster (slightly) than just re-entering all the data by hand. It does okay with the numbers, usually, but it can get a bit creative with some of the characters. Last week it decided that one of the column headers ("*** CITY" if the original document is to believed) read "ASS CITY." I was strongly tempted to let that one go through, but I didn't want to encourage the thing.

The program is disturbingly prone to substitute naughty words for the correct ones, even where the original is fairly legible. I guess I can understand it coming up with the Department of "PUBIC" Transportation, as it's been doing from the get-go; but "PHALLIC"?! Now, come on. That's not even close!

It likes to suggest leaving the "O" out of "COUNTY," as well; and today it was insisting that the numbers I was scanning over were for "COPULATION BY DISTRICT." I do have to concede that those numbers presumably would, indeed, be higher in districts with larger populations. But I don't really want to know.

There's no question that the software fosters a hostile work environment, although that's a completely separate issue from its inappropriate suggestions. You can't save your work without retyping the file name every time; it doesn't remember. This is an extra pain because you need to save very, very frequently - the software tends to shut itself down suddenly without warning.

Hey, wait just a minute here! Inefficient, check. Ineffective, check. Makes inappropriate remarks, check. Takes frequent breaks in the middle of a task, check. Requires a human brain to micromanage it in order to get any actual work out of it, check.

Oh my God. I think IT is testing a software package to replace all the old state employees. And it won't do any good for me to complain and get to work from home, because they'll just send a copy with me.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


If you weren't at The Common Interest karaoke bar on Burnet Road near 183 last night, you missed a musical experience of such epic grandeur, such profound meaningfulness, that the rest of your life will pass in a vague, gray blur of empty days, until you eventually depart this world bitter, unfulfilled, and alone.

Nah, just kidding.

We went out for Marrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgie's 25th birthday yesterday. You'd be surprised how many people show up for karaoke on a Tuesday night, or at least I was. A couple of them were really very good, many of them sucked, and to be perfectly frank, I suspect most of them were not entirely sober.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a scholarly sociological study of drunk behavior? Margie, her friends and I were bemused by a tableau of four young women sharing two microphones to perform "I Love Rock & Roll." Two of the women politely shared one microphone at the stand, but the tallest, blondest one, clearly the queen bee of the group, held the other one so close to her own mouth, dancing around with it, that the friend she was supposed to be sharing with couldn't get near it. I don't think she even realized she was hogging it, though several times her friend would make a tentative grab for it, or try to move in closer, and the blonde would absent-mindedly pull it away. Later she and her friends got up to sing "I Touch Myself," complete with suggestive dancing, to enthusiastic hoots and whistles from their group. They were terribly cute and knew it, so Margie and I were annoyed, and not being good sports, shouted "Eeeeeeeeewwwwww!" and "TMI!!!!!" at the stage.

I don't think they heard us, but maybe if I'd behaved a little more properly, karma would have been happier with me and I wouldn't have sucked when I got up to sing. Margie and Lauren sounded good, though.

We left before our intended rousing group rendition of "Rock the Casbah" came up in the rotation, which may be just as well. Margie's friend Eric wasn't drinking and therefore was our designated driver by virtue of being flat broke, so I don't think he was really up for it. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. I remember Margie offending some guy who was trying to pick us up by speaking to him very rudely and pretending to be Italian, but even she couldn't prevent his buying us a round of tequila shots. We eventually fled, and Margie's friend dropped us off at her place, where I woke up in a chair this morning at 6:20, aching, shivering, and feeling like warmed-over ass.

Partying with 25-year-olds will keep me young, if it doesn't kill me first.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blog Like a Pirate

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Repeating History: Once More, Without Feeling

Hey, remember the 80s?

I came of age during the Reagan era, at the tail end of the Cold War. The world seemed to be teetering on the brink of nuclear annihilation. War Games came out when I was in high school, as did the TV movie The Day After; and also there was that wishful scene in Superman IV when Christopher Reeve rounded up all the world's nuclear weapons and threw them into the sun - dreadful movie, but a nice bit of insight into what was never far from the front of the pop-culture mind. I went to high school (in the Deep South, of course) with kids who freely tossed around such jingoistic phrases as "Better dead than red!" and I used to have regularly recurring, vivid nightmares about mushroom clouds. How close we actually were to going up in one horrible blinding flash, I don't know; but it seemed very real at the time, and was a terrifying possibility to grow up with.

Without belittling the tragedy that was 9/11, it wasn't on the same scale as the eradication of all life on Earth except cockroaches. So I am just not buying the Bush admin's ongoing use of the "terrorist threat" to justify the abandonment of many of the central values that define a civilized nation. If they were really concerned with preventing the loss of innocent life, they'd have given more of a shit about Hurricane Katrina (whose effects are after all far from over). I don't go as far as believing conspiracy theories that involve the Bush admin in the 9/11 attacks; but I don't doubt that they consider it in retrospect to have been, on balance, a positive event, of tremendous use to them in acquiring unprecedented amounts of power.

In the aftermath of Katrina, Kanye West famously remarked that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." I never understood why that statement was controversial, except in that he probably could have left off the racial qualifier - Bush's racism, I think, is off-handed; he probably never met a black billionaire he didn't like.

I've been disgusted by one thing after another this administration has done. Illegal wiretapping, racial profiling (sure, why don't we go ahead and just notify any prospective terrorists what they should look like in order not to be screened carefully?!), indefinite detainment without charge of thousands and thousands of people, massive human rights violations, instigating a war of aggression on a sovereign nation and destabilizing it to the point of civil war - and worst, most horrible of all, the callous, cynical insincerity behind it - the fact that people are suffering and dying on such a massive scale, not for any real cause, but as a political marketing ploy gotten insanely out of hand, while those in power are almost outright stating that a vote for change is an act of subversion.

All that said, I can't believe - absolutely cannot believe - that the Geneva Convention is now under attack. I wonder if it has the same symbolic significance to most other people? Because, to me, it comes down to what differentiates a civilized force (even one involved in wrongful action) from the Gestapo. I really had thought it was above question - even to a moderately sociopathic ruler, self-interest alone would dictate holding to the rules established by a community of civilized nations, or at least trying to appear to. But I am coming to believe that our current leadership is not just moderately sociopathic. They're greedy, grasping, completely lacking in empathy or any sense of accountability or consequences, and drifting increasingly out of touch with what most people agree to be reality. Come to think of it, they're acting startlingly like people who are coked out of their minds.

Remember the 80s...??

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Survey Says!

The worst thing about MySpace is all those stupid survey bulletins everybody posts full of information you could care less about. Case in point:
Cool survey!!

This cool new survey is from Scorpion:

OK, like, I usually don't post these survey things, but these are questions, that, like, totally no one would ever think to ask. It's sooo cool lol. Just forward your answers to Scorpion, and then, like post bulletins for all your friends 2!!

Here goes:

1. What is your full legal name?

2. Have you ever been known by another name? If so, what and when did you change it (mm/dd/yyyy)?

3. What is your date of birth (mm/dd/yyyy)?

4. What is your home address?

5. What is your business address?

6. What is your daytime telephone number?

7. What is your evening telephone number?

8. How much do you make per year?

9. What is your social security number?

10. What is your checking account routing number?

11. What is your checking account number?

12. What is your debit card account number?

13. What is the credit card account number on the credit card of yours that has the highest unused balance?

14. What are the three-digit security numbers on the back of those two cards?

15. What are the PIN numbers for those two cards?

16. What is the password to your myspace, yahoo, and aol accounts?

17. In case I've forgotten the answer to any of these questions, what is your mother's maiden name, where were you born, and what is the name of your favorite pet?

I couldn't answer this one anyway, because I don't think it's fair to play favorites among your pets.

Friday, September 15, 2006

We Survived!

We had our annual section meeting at work today. I can't begin to describe the air of dread that suffused my workplace leading up to this meeting: stories of carnage, despair, abuse and misery have been circulating about last year's event.

The prospect of the meeting was so terrifying that several of us arrived 20 minutes early to be sure there was seating available in the back of the room. We weren't the first ones there. Two members of the ready-set-retire crowd, who had arrived before we did, were amusing themselves by playing tic-tac-toe on the whiteboard. When's the last time you saw two grown adults (which it putting it charitably on both counts, by the way) playing tic-tac-toe? Bet you never have.

Later arrivals had to sit closer to the front, though some clever souls rolled their chairs behind the back row. By the time the room was full, there was a fairly clear demarcation of miscreants and riff-raff in the back, while the front half of the room held the virtuous, the oblivious, and of course management.

But the fear turned out to be largely unfounded, unless you have a particular phobia of boredom - in which case, working for the state, the meeting would be the least of your problems. The section director - who was said to have been so vicious last year - was upbeat and pleasant, if you can look past her mildly troubling hint that she's considered taking out hits with the Russian Mafia on some of her employees. She praised several individuals by name, and tossed (not to say hurled) candy and trinkets to (not to say at) the crowd.

Less fun were the presentations by the middle managers. If I were a drinking woman, I'd propose a game where you have to take a drink every time the manager of the mapping department digresses from the point at hand to tell an amusing anecdote about his children.

If I were a drinking woman at work, I mean.

The only really depressing moment came when one of the other middle managers said we should all ask ourselves if we believed our jobs were meaningful. "If you don't have passion for your job," he said, "then you need to go see your manager, because that's a problem." Then, his presentation complete, he sat down.

Robbie and I looked at each other as we applauded politely with the rest of the room. "Shit," I said.

But aside from that - on what planet is it a good idea to go to your boss and say, "Yanno, I just don't feel passionate about my job!" then gaze expectantly at him or her? No? I don't know either, but I'm pretty sure it's not Earth.

But it's over, and we can go quietly back to our desks and not bother our little heads over goals, or accomplishments, or deadlines, or any of that nonsense until this time next year. I'll just conclude with these words of sound advice from our section director: Don't blow bubbles into your computer keyboard. It gets it all sticky.

Thursday Is the New Friday

So I was told tonight. Or should that be yesterday?

Anyway, I did go to see Margie play in the Attic Ted show at Club deVille tonight. Y'all should have come! It was fun.

Just as a side note? If somebody you know starts laughing about how their friend has been kind of scared of you ever since that time you punched him out? And you say, "Oh my God, yeah, I heard about that!"? You might want to think about cutting down on the booze.

The above anecdote is not about me, incidentally. I know I had a lot more interesting stuff I wanted to write, but I need to go to bed. Thursday may be the new Friday, but Friday isn't the new Saturday; so I have to be up in under 6 hours. Goodnight all!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Not Me If I Have Anything To Say About It

As the time-honored axiom goes, a job not worth doing is not worth doing well.

Imagine you have two tall filing cabinets full of minutely detailed roadway records dating back to 1926. Periodically, the state legislature asks you for snippets of data from some of these records, which means you have to dig through mountains of paper to find the specific snippet that's been requested. Gradually it begins to dawn on you that you might like to have this data in electronic form.

But these are pages and pages of columns of numbers in tiny type. The earliest records, of course, are hand-written, then typewritten. As you get on up into the 80's and 90's the papers are clearly computer printouts, which is pretty frustrating when you consider the implication that this data did once exist electronically. Some government employee - presumably someone working for the same department that's heading up the digitization project now - apparently thought it was a better idea to make a whole bunch of printouts, put them in a file and throw the tapes (remember computer tapes?) away.

We have some optical scanning software which is supposed to read all the columns and columns of numbers, preferably with minimal human help, so they can be converted to Excel and eventually stored in an Access database. But it can't read the handwritten stuff, of course. The typewritten stuff is uneven and blotchy, and the computer printouts were Xeroxed down to 8.5x11 size from big green-and-white computer paper (remember that stuff?) I have a brain (or so I often like to tell myself) and I can't puzzle out a lot of the numbers. The optical recognition software stalls at pretty much every single digit, so yesterday I spent my entire day 10-keying in a 6-page report.

My boss was not pleased. She figures, I guess reasonably enough, that she doesn't pay us the big bucks to be 10-key operators. (She pays us the big bucks to go on extended breaks and to do the crossword and sudoku puzzles, but that's a different story.) So she called a meeting with the head of the department in charge of the digitizing project - who has borrowed one other guy from my department and me to help - and he was eager to reassure her that it would take hardly any of our time; all we need to do is look over the documents, set aside the ones the optical recognition software can't read, and skip over the errors caught in the documents that it can. All that stuff will be taken care of in Phase II, the quality control.

Um. In other words, the whole project. Who do you think they're going to tap to do "quality control"?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

You Didn't See That

Some things you just have to pretend politely not to see.

As I was leaving work, walking past the open conference table where many of us sit and read the paper and have lunch, I observed one of the long-term employees standing there. What I did not observe was that he seemed to have fallen asleep while bending over to read the paper, so that while his legs were standing on the floor, his entire upper body lay flat, face down on the table, snoring softly. The guy who sits in the cube directly adjacent to the table didn't see either, and neither did the woman who was standing in his doorway chatting with him. You just can't see something like that.

You could not see worse things, of course; and indeed many of my friends at work haven't, especially in the bathroom. You wouldn't believe the things you can not see in the bathroom.

Last week our manager objected to being able to see Robbie's performance plan/evaluation form sitting in plain sight on the corner of his desk. These forms are supposed to be highly confidential, although it's hard to say why. They just spell out the metrics on which our job performance will be evaluated, and are identical for everyone in the department. Still, our manager was troubled to see it sitting openly on Robbie's desk. "You need to put that away," she said.

He laughed it off, but she was dead serious. "You need to put that away."

So after she left his office, he tucked the form loosely into a manila envelope, wrote "EVAL" on the outside and tossed it back, unsealed, into the same spot. It worked like a charm. The next time the boss came into his office, she didn't see it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

And Here's To You, Mrs. Gordon

Went to another Noah's Arc viewing party tonight. On the way home afterwards, I got up the nerve to inquire of a very dear gay friend what some of his friends' specialized sex terminology refers to, and was both relieved and frightened to be told that he really didn't know. I thought I was a pretty worldly character, but I guess not. Well, you learn something every day... whether you actually enjoy the learning process is, I suppose, another story altogether.

The scientist in me also wanted to know: Who'd you rather do, Ernest Borgnine or me? I'm happy to report that 100% of gay friends surveyed chose me. That's right. Oh yeah. I am hotter than Ernest Borgnine ba-BAY!

Granted, and with all respect, his milkshake brings practically nobody to the yard.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Feeling Insecure

Security guards cost money, and they don't always pay attention. So now they're (that's the royal "they," not the security guards) installing badge readers on all the entrances to our work section. I'm waiting with bated breath for the next casual announcement from senior management that there's no particular reason for this.

And actually I do know what, or who, the reason is. A few months ago this poor crazy bastard got let go for harassing a fellow employee. It really wasn't entirely his fault, as he wasn't quite in touch with reality - or to put it more directly, he and reality appeared not to have been on speaking terms for several years; but whatever the cause, he behaved in a manner he really believed was perfectly acceptable, and unfortunately for him, reality strongly disagreed. So I hear (not from official channels) that he tried to get his job back, was denied, and got a little hostile and made some unspecified threats. The day after this interview was the day our first new security patrol showed up.

Yesterday a work crew spent the better part of the afternoon installing a badge reader on the door nearest my cubicle. When I say the better part of the afternoon, of course, I actually mean the more horrible part; in other words, pretty much the entire hellish day. It sounded like dental work feels, and permeated my work section with a nasty, burning metallic smell. Naturally my friends and I had no choice but to go on break for most of the day. You can't work under those conditions. Why, it took me nearly an hour and a half just to finish the Sudoku. I felt like Harrison Bergeron.

Imagine our outrage, after several hours of aural torture, to emerge into the blessed, virginal silence and discover that the workmen had succeeded in installing a bolthole. Infuriated cries of "That's it?!?" were heard througout the area.

There are also problems with the concept behind this project, in that anyone who forgets to bring their badge (as who doesn't from time to time?) will have to call someone inside to be let in, because the visitor badges issued at the security desk don't open locked doors; and we have conference rooms in our section which must frequently be accessed by visitors to the site. Bets are that the first time any higher muck-a-muck forgets his badge and has to be admitted from within, the doors will be propped open from here to eternity.

Well, or until Mr. Crazy barges in wielding an AK-47; but to be perfectly honest, my bet's on Eternity. Mr. Crazy was, after all, a state employee.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Don't M#%^*f@! Answer the M*$^f#!% Phone

Oh wait, that's a different movie.

I'm not sure how Samuel L. Jackson got my number, but he's the kind of guy that, when he calls up and tells you to go see something, you better damn well go see it. He seems to have called most of my friends, too. And Robbie's friends. Why, even the Bitching Smoker who sits in the cube across from Robbie's. I wonder how that happened?

Anyway, a good-sized subset of our Three-Martini Break Group went to see Snakes on a Plane last night at the Alamo Drafthouse South. The only thing that could have made it more fun was if they'd shown more of the Blanks on a Blank contest entries instead of previews for ordinary movies; but that's probably what we get for not going until the next-to-the-last night. We only got to see Sheep on a Surfboard, which really wasn't one of my favorites.

The feature presentation, though, left nothing whatsoever to be desired: a completely over-the-top, no-holds-barred, ass-kicking, name-taking, heavy-duty, exuberantly tongue-in-cheek formula thriller. The beer didn't hurt, either (this was actually my first Alamo experience - it was a great one!). Quick - what's the one part of your body you'd least like to have chomped on by a venomous snake?? Can't pick just one? Well, you're in luck, because you don't have to!

The filmmakers wisely won over the cat fanciers in the audience during the first snake encounter of the movie, in which a kenneled Siamese cat in the cargo bay savages an intruding serpent with such incredible viciousness that they couldn't even show the action, just the kennel bouncing violently on the floor. The snakes have better luck as the movie progresses, though. The usual horror/thriller cliches apply: Never have sex. Never get high. Never fall asleep. Never explore a dark enclosed space with an underpowered flashlight. Never be a complete dick to nice young mothers with babies and pretty girls with ornamental dogs. And for God's sake, when they tell you not to tamper with the smoke detector in the lavatory, they really aren't kidding.

It actually is safe, though, to answer the phone. Looks like somebody was sleeping on the job...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sing It

Being brought up by opera buffs is just like being raised by wolves. Well, except that it's not as furry and you have indoor plumbing. Also, you get to go to the opera sometimes.

I've been reading through this book of opera anecdotes (it's called Opera Anecdotes) and there are plenty of familiar stories. There's the one where, due to a staging error, the swan boat in Lohengrin gets sent onstage without Lohengrin aboard. The singer turns to the stagehand and inquires, "What time's the next swan?"

And there are tales of the epic squabbles between great sopranos and great tenors, who are actually enemies in the wild, so it's kind of a mistake to cast them in romantic pairings the way operas generally do. They shove each other, slap each other, attempt to outsing each other, occasionally even bite each other, etc. during productions. And there are all the myriad stories that are sure to crop up anywhere there's an intense concentration of theatrical egos: the power struggles, the put-downs, the standoffs, the temper tantrums. It's so glamorous!

But here's a great one I had never heard before - from a printed program for a Houston Opera production of Verdi's Otello. The company was allowing sponsors maybe a little too much leeway in the placement of their ads, and this one was interspersed with the lines of the plot summary:

Othello arrives and greets the people with the words:


"Rejoice! The Turk is vanquished and drowned in the sea."


Iago, jealous of Cassio, who enjoys Othello's confidence, tries to get Cassio drunk. A drinking song


is heard and Cassio, by now intoxicated, attacks Montano. Othello rushes in and calls out:


...and so on to the end of the summary:

After Othello has strangled Desdemona, he plunges his dagger into his breast and sings the touching phrase:


"Kiss me, kiss me again!" He dies. End of the opera.

You gotta love a book that makes you feel cultured and sophisticated while you pee yourself laughing.

And it has nostalgia value, too! My stepfather told a lot of these stories when I was growing up. And to this day I can't hear a Jussi Björling recording without imagining my stepfather singing along, swept away in the unbridled passion of the music, at the top of his lungs...


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Top Ten Reasons Not To Go To Work Today

10. I'm the only person in my section who hasn't taken any, let alone multiple, sick/"sick of work" days this year.

9. The rain will mess up my expensive hairdo.

8. Mama needs a new pair of shoes.

7. Nobody brought cake today.

6. The kids are all at school - no TV, no radio, no muss, no fuss!

5. The complex interchange at the intersection of I-37 and US-77 confuses and frightens me.

4. The cafeteria coffee sucks.

3. My apartment is clean.

2. I am too disoriented by the sudden sub-90-degree temperatures to be able to find my way to the office.

... and the Number One reason to stay home from work today:

1. Romeo and Peach aren't heavy enough to hold the bed down on their own.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Beth the Builder

Can I use wall anchors?

Yes I can!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bake Sale

We can't have a holiday party on the taxpayer's dime, you know, so if we want to have festivities we have to raise the funds ourselves. There was a bake sale/silent auction held today, and I figured what the hell, I'll be a team player and bake a cake. I made a yellow sour cream layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. But I didn't have anything to transport it in, so I ended up lining a box with aluminum foil, putting the cake in, and pretty much wrapping the whole box to cover the top as well.

I walked up the stairs to the second floor and opened the door. Our brand-new security guard was sitting in her chair at the intersection of the two hallways that border my section, listening to her iPod and reading. She didn't look up as the stairwell door opened. She didn't look up at the sound of my footsteps. She didn't look up as I walked past her, through the doorway into my section, carrying a large, oblong, metallic object.

Your tax dollars at work, people!

Anyway, the bake sale was held by our division and played out in an interesting fashion. One person bought up almost all of the goodies for sale - including my cake - then put all the items out on the communal table for everyone to devour. That person? The assistant director of our division.

I'm a little unclear on the reasoning behind all of this, but at least my cake got all eaten up.