Friday, July 31, 2009

Here There Be Bugs

Probably just as well it's Friday.

Our section admin has been dismayed, lately, by an influx of very small, beige flying insects whose chief purpose in life is - as far as I can tell - simply to huddle against the walls, immobile, trying to look inconspicuous. Or so she tells us. No one else has been able to see these "insects."

Ha ha! Just kidding. No, we really do have some tiny tan bugs in our area; so Norma (our section admin) called ABC Pest Control to come out and spray a few weeks ago. They did. The bugs got bigger.

Now, if I were Norma, I think, perhaps I'd call a different company this time. But she did not - probably they have a low-bid contract and she can't. So they're coming back out this evening to try again. "Make sure and mark the places where you've seen the bugs," they told Norma. Do they doubt her?!

I can vouch for the existence of these bugs, but I can't help wondering what exactly the problem is. Here in my house I get those big, flying cockroaches, easily two to three inches long; and occasionally, just for laughs, they alight on your face in the middle of the night while you're sleeping. You wake up instantly at the sensation and fling the crawling thing away from you violently, heart racing spasmodically. In fact, the cardiac effect is so traumatic, I had to double-check my life insurance policy to be sure I had not somehow inadvertently named the cockroaches as beneficiaries.

I had not.

So I'm not sure what the big deal is about miniscule, mild-mannered, apparently non-homicidal beige wall-huggers, but Norma's on a rampage and the bugs have got to go. "Do you know," I said to her before snapping the above picture with my cell phone, "this kind of looks, um. How should I put this? A little demented."

She laughed. She put up some more signs.

"We used to get these incredibly tiny little fruit flies around our plants in TPP," I told her. "You'd see someone in their cubicle, just flailing randomly at the air," and I demonstrated. Later it occurred to me that one good way to tell a transportational state employee from a (ahem) normal one is simply whether anyone else can see the bugs. But in TPP, I don't think anybody could. I didn't tell Norma how I sometimes spent whole days just sitting at my desk, waiting, with bits of Scotch tape stuck to the ends of my fingers, catching fruit flies. I wasn't sure she'd understand.

Perhaps the bugs will be gone Monday, but I'd be surprised. Why should they be? And why shouldn't they be allowed to flourish in the lovely beige 1980s-era office setting we have so thoughtfully provided for them? If I were smart, I'd bring in my cockroaches, too.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Now See What You've Done

You've pissed off a linguistics major.

"Service," I would just like to point out, is not a verb. The verb is "serve." How hard is this? What's the problem with the word "serve," anyway? Do people avoid it because it carries connotations of, well, servitude?

Our information centers, according to some literature my division publishes, serviced over (number) customers last year. Lucky for me, one of my unofficial work duties is occasionally that of editor, for certain materials anyway. I changed it to "served." Servicing customers does not sound like a proper thing to do at all, unless they're cars, maybe.

They are not.

Do you know, I've gradually come to accept such linguistic abominations as "transition" and "incentivize." I'll accept those, because they fill a void; "to transit" doesn't mean at all the same thing as "to transition," and "to undergo/cause/effect a transition" is unwieldy. "Incentivize" hurts a little worse, largely because the term was coined by sales-and-marketing bottom-feeders. But I will admit that "to incent" doesn't really work, and "to incite" means something different altogether. So, knock yourselves out, bottom-feeders! Incentivize away. I won't so much as murmur.

But "service" is a whole nother thing. "This has been bugging the crap out of me," I said to the pamphlet editor today as I stopped into her cube to make the change. "It makes it sound like we're giving people hand jobs."

The problem with saying something like that in a cubicle environment is that it makes people's heads pop up over their cube walls. There's a term for this, which I won't get into, because I have enough linguistic problems when rodents aren't involved.

This is a quick post, and I hope to make more in the future. My heart hasn't been in it. Too bad, I say: I'm bringing my netbook to my favorite coffee shop and diving back in. But now I have to go, because I'm covering lunch at the information center. Time to go service some customers.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Nose Doesn't Want to Know

Smearing expensive goo on your face on a nightly basis is, I suppose, just a natural part of growing older. What I can't understand is why the manufacturer thought this goo should have a smell of any kind. Sure, my moisturizer is only "lightly" scented. But any scent is kind of overwhelming when you apply it to your face, which, last time I checked, is where your nose is.

It's not nearly as overwhelming as my first roommate in college, about whom I was reminiscing to some coworkers today. "I scheduled it so my first class every day was at noon, downstairs, in a classroom on the first floor of my dorm," I was telling them. Wasn't that clever? So it was unfortunate that my randomly assigned roommate turned out to be a pathologically perky morning person with a major aerosol addiction.

After her 6 a.m. shower came clouds of baby-powder-scented aerosol deodorant, faux-Giorgio perfume in a spray can, and - because this was 1986 - at least two cubic liters of Aquanet. Forget about sleeping - I couldn't breathe. The windows in Jester didn't open, but it's probably just as well. After a few weeks I might have been tempted to jump. Thank God nobody ever lit a match.

But the weirdest thing - oh, my God, I said, as I remembered this detail - was that as she got dressed, she'd dump a sizable mound of baby powder into her panties. I guess she didn't quite feel fresh without it. And one of my coworkers asked, "Didn't she leave a little trail everywhere she went?"

"Or little poofs in the air behind her," suggested another, "like fairy dust!"

Do you know, I used to worry a lot about fitting in at my current job. But I think I've succeeded in bringing them down to my level at last.

I stopped by to visit another coworker this afternoon. I used to talk to her all the time when she worked in the gift shop off the lobby, and I'd drop in whenever I passed by. Since she moved to cubicle-land, I never see her. So I came by to talk and admire her new digs. After we'd been chatting for a while, her phone rang, and I busied myself in admiring the many group photos she has on her wall. One surprised me. Standing directly behind her in the shot was someone from my old work section - an old-school state employee of the first order, who, very shortly after Robbie and I started working there, confronted us in the hallway, demanded to know the date of a particular volcanic eruption, and, when we gazed in helpless bewilderment at one another, exclaimed "And you call yourselves geographers?!" and walked off.

What could he be doing in a group photo with my gift-shop-tending coworker? It seemed unlikely that they would move in the same circles. Or on the same planet. "What's this photo from?" I asked her as soon as she was off the phone.

"Oh, that's the Hispanic Activities Council," she said.

I looked again. Sure enough, everyone in the picture, besides the geography aficionado, was Hispanic. "I used to know that guy," I told her, and related the volcano story.

She laughed. "He's kind of strange," she said, "but he always comes to all the meetings. He never talks though."

"Why," I began, and paused, not knowing if this would be an indelicate question. One tries to be politically sensitive. "Why is he on the Hispanic Activities Council?" I asked.

"I have no idea," she said. "I think he just likes Mexican food."

The cubicles in my old division are less than half the size of the ones we have now, so I can testify with some degree of authority that many of my former coworkers were very fond of Mexican food indeed. The sad thing is, our work campus is being demolished in a year or two to put up condos, and the developer (as a deal to get my agency out of its 10,000-year proprietary lease on the prime real estate where it sits) is building us a new high-rise towards the rear of the property. This edifice will house all the workers who currently occupy three buildings sprawled out over a 10- or 12-acre spread, so space will be limited, cubicle size will be standardized, and we won't have the nice big offices we have now, that's for sure. "It's gonna suck," sighed my coworker, "you'll be smelling everybody's lunch, one way or another."

I just hope they don't put my work group on the same floor with my old section. Time to pick up a pallet of baby powder at the wholesale warehouse, or maybe just smear lots of moisturizer under my nose.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Juneau That?

As we were leaving the birthday barbecue at his house today, my brother-in-law mentioned having seen 30 Days of Night. "Oh, we went and saw that when it came out!" I exclaimed. "My two brothers and I! Because we're from Barrow!"

"Alaska?!" said my brother-in-law in some surprise, because that's where Barrow is. Well, and also (I suppose) because this would be the first time in the 18 years he's known me that I ever mentioned having any brothers.

"Yes!" I said. "So of course we had to see the movie!"

"You're from Alaska, really? Isn't that something? I had no idea!" cried another one of my in-laws. So I had some 'splainin' to do.

Actually, my favorite part of the backstory that Robbie, Justin and I came up with for our 2007 Corpus trip - the one that cast us as a family of tragically orphaned whale-marketers from the northernmost point in the U.S. - is our attempt at preparation for possible quizzing from strangers. "What if somebody asks us who the governor of Alaska is?" said Justin. "I don't know who it is, do you?"

"All I know is it's a woman," said Robbie. "We'll just answer that we disapprove of her politically, so much that we refuse to mention her name in our family. That way no one will catch on that we don't actually know what her name is."

Kind of funny, now, in hindsight. But not as funny as the fact that the whole movie was actually filmed in New Zealand. I don't know when I'll stop being pissed off about that.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my sister and her boyfriend took me out last night. Do you remember being young? I used to be able to go out at 10 p.m. and have a full night ahead of me. Nowadays this is more problematic. We arrived at the club where the band they knew was playing, and found that (1) the air conditioning has gone out, (2) the band was very loud and not all that good, and (3) I am old. So after an hour or two, I ended up ditching my sister and her boyfriend - who had found a good parking space, a commodity not to be sacrificed - and simply walking the 2.4 miles home, by myself, at 12:30 a.m. In flip-flops. I may not be dewy and carefree anymore, but by God, I can still get blisters in my toe cleavage.

Of course, yesterday was the Fourth of July, or the 78704th, as we call it here in my neck of the woods. There was a Michael Jackson tribute car in the 78704th of July Parade, decked out in glitter and memorabilia, someone dancing maniacally in a gigantic Afro wig in the back. No Farrah Fawcett car, no Billy Mays car, no Ed McMahon or Karl Malden (or his nose - alas, USENET! I knew him, Horatio) or Mollie Sugden cars were in evidence. I'm deeply disappointed, and I am unanimous in that.

But the Muppets are always there for you. Thanks Jen of Cakewrecks for posting this. I'm a day late, but my heart is in the right place:


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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Off the Road Again

The thing is, I'm not picky. At my last job, I was always thrilled at the prospect of field work. It's so fun to get out, drive for a while, and end up somewhere new and different - don't you think?

In my current position, a work trip entails hours of browsing museums, historic homes, beaches, parks, aquariums, art exhibits, and other attractions, not to mention meeting lots of fun new people. Isn't that wonderful? But it's all icing as far as I'm concerned. I adored traveling for work even when it just meant going to Yoakum to examine pavement.

Last night I came home from a whirlwind two-day trip to Corpus Christi, my old stomping grounds, to begin the process of planning our big 2010 conference. Naturally, our contact in Corpus is familiar with my old, evil Corpus employer. Naturally, our contact in Corpus doesn't think too highly of my old, evil Corpus employer. Naturally, Corpus being the small town it is (despite its almost 300,000 residents), our Corpus contact also knows many of my former-coworker-still-friends in the area. It made for some fairly lively conversation as we drove from attraction to attraction. It's a small world, when you work in the travel industry: everybody knows everyone. So it's a darn good thing I actually am a reasonably nice person!

The trip was tremendous fun. I can hardly wait for next year's conference! I have to say, our hospitality suite setup is a lot nicer than the one we had last April. This probably means I won't be getting quite as much sleep, next time around. What the hell, conference is only a week long, and there are much more interesting things you can be doing, at any given moment, than sleeping. Such as examining pavement!

As much fun stuff as there is to see and do in Corpus (and I'll have to put those pictures up in Photobucket and post a link tomorrow), the most surreal moment of our trip came last night, when we stopped for dinner in Kenedy. We arrived at a little hole-in-the-wall place - my favorite kind! - called Barth's, recommended by our photographer. We arrived around 8 p.m., a little past the dinner rush. "Just go ahead and sit anywhere," a hostess informed us, after we'd been standing timidly in the doorway for at least five minutes. "Smoking's up here, non-smoking's in the back."

Well, of course. We passed the salad bar, an array of iceberg lettuce and pickled beets, wilting sadly in the cigarette smoke, on our way through to the non-smoking room. There were no open tables there. Or rather, there were several tables - but most of them were in a portion of the room where the lights were off altogether. Three of them stood in the lighted room, all uncleaned. We stood and looked uncertainly around us for a few moments. Finally we moved the dirty plates and the cash tip from one table onto another dirty table and sat down. A waitress appeared and wiped our table down. "What would you folks like to drink?" she asked.

We ordered soda, but the gloom that descended after she left was impenetrable. My boss, the photographer, and I were on this trip. We all get along very well, but it had been an awfully long two days, and we were tired. The silence stretched on interminably. The waitress did not return.

"So," says the photographer, Kevin, after a while, "do y'all just want to go to Subway or something?"

We left - I stopped on the way to apologize to the harried young waitress, who was polite, but seemed frankly relieved - and filled up the gas tank, then pulled into a Dairy Queen a quarter of a mile down the street. Here we ordered burgers at the counter, but fast food was apparently not a concept with which Kenedy was prepared to grapple last night. We sat at a Formica table and made awkward, weary chit-chat with one another. After twenty minutes, I remarked, "You know, I think maybe they're inventing cattle."

Eventually the food came. We ate in silence. Kevin wanted a milkshake, and I'm not impartial to Blizzards myself. He approached the counter again. Sorry! The Dairy Queen was fresh out of ice cream. Kevin looked around the room. Several people were eating sundaes.

My boss, undaunted by the "Restrooms closed for cleaning" sign posted on the door, took a chance on the bathroom, and was successful, too. Kevin found the men's room likewise to be perfectly in order. I started wondering if we were all characters in an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

The sensation didn't dissipate after we left. Kevin drove, wending through the darkening countryside as lightning flickered restlessly in the rainless clouds. He and I talked about books and movies, or were silent. Martha dozed in the backseat. We passed three or four other small quiet towns with Dairy Queens, lit up only just enough to showcase the silhouettes of chairs perched upside-down atop Formica tables. There was no ice cream to be found anywhere in Texas last night. I gazed out the passenger window as random discharges of electricity illuminated the sky.

Today we had a division-wide birthday celebration - tres leches cake with whipped-cream icing, plus cookies, yogurt, chocolate cupcakes, and fresh fruit. Life is normal. Sweets and dairy products are readily available. And it's an honest living, too.

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