13 March 2009

Friday Music Break - 03/13/09

(Also known as the Just-In-Time Edition. Man, I have got to learn to tell time.)

What with it being Friday the 13th and all...and the second one in a row at that...here's something I thought might be kind of appropriate. Especially considering the week I've been having.

And now I go to pass out. Enjoy!

07 March 2009

Friday (slightly late) Music Break - 03/06/09

...So, yeah, sorry about the delay there. Stuff kinda got away from me.

Here's an indicator of how far off my game I am this week, in the form of an extremely tangential connection. Seems that NASA's Cassini probe in orbit of Saturn has discovered a new moon, which fits into their previous theories about an object generating the particles of the planet's G-ring. (Cassini and the Mars Spirit and Opportunity rovers constantly battle for my affections these days, and these photos put the plucky little Saturn-orbiting robot in the top spot in my heart.)

Let's celebrate!

(This is only slightly apropos, as the moonlet was discovered on a Tuesday. Like I said, I'm a bit off my game as of late. I will try to fix this ASAP.)

27 February 2009

Friday Music Break - 02/27/09

One of my unspoken missions (in as much as this blag can be said to have a "mission") is to purge some of the Awful out of the world. I usually do that by talking it to death. But on days like these, where the Awful is just so horrible it defies description, there's little that one can do but accept a tonic.

Everyone's tonic is different. I prefer music.

The music of Talking Heads, and specifically David Byrne, have helped me get through a lot of awfulness in the past (I'll explain more in a later post); I can only hope it does the same for you.

Enjoy it in peace.


Ugh...don't click on this link. Or this one.

Just...let's suffice it to say that the past day and a half have been so bad that people are setting themselves on fire, here in Chicago and in Beijing. (And in the case of the Wal-Mart employee, making really sympathetic commentary about it. Thanks a lot, guys. I'm sure the man's family really appreciates that.)

So I'd like to take a moment and extend my sympathies to the friends and family of the monk Tapey, and of the unnamed man from Carol Stream...because there's nothing else to do.

25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday!

That's right, folks...another Mardi Gras has passed us by, taking its King Cakes and zydeco marathons on WXRT with it; those of you of a Catholic or other denominational bent are likely observing Ash Wednesday today, as your conscience dictates. (Note: This is not an attempt to guilt you. I swore to only use that power for good.)

Here at the Long Wind, though, we celebrate Ash Wednesday in a different fashion.

Hail to the King, baby. Lest he swallow your soul.

(More substantive matters forthcoming, I promise)

22 February 2009

O, What Joy To Be Over-Hung

(Ugh. Forgive my brevity here; I'm a bit tired and hung over. But thanks again for the party, L.S-A.!)

First up: Who would've thought Rick Santorum would make an ass of himself?

Second: Folks who know me in person might recall how I've got the heart of a champion when it comes to mis-hearing lyrics of popular songs. And by "popular," I mean songs to which everyone has known the proper lyrics for many many years. (My classic example, from Simon & Garfunkel: "Cecelia, you're breakin' my heart / You're shakin' my cock with your steak leaf," which I am utterly powerless to explain.)

Well, someone recently crafted this video:

And I just handed my lyrics-mis-hearing crown to him.

...And now I'm off, to brew more tea, stare at the dishes in the sink, and resume shaking my fist about Friday night's Battlestar Galactica (which I missed) not being available through OnDemand yet. Damn you, Comcast!

(Hat tip to Gawker for the elf vid, and to my librarian for pointing it out.)

20 February 2009

Friday Music Break - 02/20/09

So I've been up for three days and I'm already starting with the new features (although I guess, at this point, all features are new....)

For today's musical diversion, we're featuring the performance that jammed itself into my head on the drive in to work this morning, and won't go away. But considering it is the catchiest song in the universe (except perhaps for Lily Allen's "Fuck You"), and a very rare bit of concert footage to boot, I'm willing to give it a pass. And I think we could all use some happy New Wave songs to light a few candles these days, when our throats are hoarse from cursing that ever-loving darkness.

So I'm feeling uncommonly generous to my brain's uninvited guest. XTC, you are hereby welcome to spread out on my couch, put your feet up on my coffee table, light up a stogie and drink all my good scotch.

"Respectable Street," from URGH! A Music War. The greatest concert film of all time.

(PS: And a special Happy Birthday to L.S-A., and to my sister! Let me know when you head back into the studio! ...that last bit of course being directed at my sister.)

19 February 2009

Meat...and an Earworm

I'm something of a fan of LoadingReadyRun, a collective of young British-Columbians who serve up weekly doses of home-grown sketch comedy. One of their quasi-regular features is Man Cooking, which I can only assume is a response to the proliferation of such fleshy horrors as the Bacon Explosion and the ubiquitous Turducken.

Their most recent installment of Man Cooking, which I find myself powerless to stop watching, is the fascinating, troubling Swiss Meat Roll:

Astute viewers might catch a reference to the capture of the Brain Bug in Paul Verhoeven's confusingly kick-ass film adaptation of Heinlein's Starship Troopers (featuring the awesome, awesome Neil Patrick Harris as apparently some sort of telepathic SS officer--did I just Godwin myself?).

This association has, unfortunately, managed to trigger my tendency to get the worst possible song stuck in my head. In this instance:

From meat, to space-bugs, to NPH, to virulently insane ex-wives of Andrew Lloyd Webber. My journey is complete.

...And now I'm craving bacon. Hoist by my own petard.

18 February 2009

Story Time #1: The Week from the Special Hell

Okay. By popular demand (I guess), here is perhaps my ultimate Lousy Work Story--the story of the Week From The Special Hell.

This took place at the first job I'd gotten when I moved to Chicago in 1996, and part of the problem was my absurd sense of how to look for a job in the first place. Rather than look in the city itself--which would've made sense, been closer to public transportation, etc.--I followed the (bad) advice of some friends and their roommate. Said roommate, a boisterous fellow named Jeff, lent his recommendation to help me land a job in Park Ridge, at a corporate management consulting firm, which shall remain nameless. (Bear in mind, I lived by the Ashland/Division/Milwaukee triangle at the time, so this was about an hour-and-a-half commute by train and bus; I later switched to simply driving there, which was somewhat more annoying, but became my preferred mode of transportation after my car was broken into in broad daylight while I was at work.)

The job itself, euphemistically lumped under the department heading of "Telemarketing," was an exercise in futility--cold-calling sales prospects. (It should say a lot about this place that "Telemarketing" was considered a euphemism.) This meant that we were being paid very little money to badger medium-sized businesses into letting our sales reps visit and tell them what they were doing wrong. (Supposedly we also got a tiny slice of the commission from any subsequent "sales," but if I ever did, I didn't notice it in my paycheck.) The turnover rate was mixed--very high among younger people who didn't feel like taking what the bosses dished out, but there was a sizable core of what we termed "lifers," consisting mainly of either the elderly or the mentally-ill. ...No, I'm not kidding. At least two members of the department had had lucrative careers in other areas before suffering breakdowns and ending up in what were most likely the last jobs they'd ever hold. (A mildly interesting side effect of this was getting to witness the occasional shove-fight between angry old people in the middle of the office, which was a SIGHT, let me tell you.)

It was an unhappy place to work. A diffuse sense of mingled sadness, frustration, and ennui permeated its every brick. Fully half the population of the company smoked; the building boasted two smoking lounges, whose ancient SmokEeter air circulators wheezed under the strain (one of them actually made periodic zapping sounds of some arcing circuit somewhere within; a few of us hoped that this unit would one day short out and burn the building down). Even the trees in the parking lot looked downcast.

I should point out, as it's somewhat relevant to the story, that the craziness was not limited to the dregs of Telemarketing, but rather distributed throughout the entire building in random pockets, much like the uranium and thorium that pepper the Earth's rocky crust, and about as radioactive. An example of the crazy: one of the execs, a heavy hitter in the sales department who was related by marriage to the company founders (and also an arrogant ass, though I've never been sure whether the one followed the other), was summarily dismissed not long after I'd left. That morning, he had accidentally struck and killed a deer in his pickup; but rather than call the authorities, he loaded the animal's carcass into his truckbed, drove with it the rest of his journey through the countryside to work, tied it to one of the sad parking-lot trees, and began to eviscerate and field-dress it in full view of the office windows. I don't know exactly which rule of office arcana they used to justify his firing, but I think that may have been the only sound business decision I've ever known anyone there to have made.

However, this did not happen during the Week From The Special Hell.

Here's what did:

- Monday: The Telemarketing "team" was introduced to its newest member, hired to pick up the excess workload from a couple of recent departures. I'll call her "Becky," to protect her identity (and to disguise the fact that I don't recall her actual name). Becky was a warm, friendly, gentle woman in early middle age, who had the casual air of someone who's comfortable with her life and is just working to bring some extra money in to her family. I felt sorry for her almost immediately.

Becky was assigned to a seat next to "Ted," a lanky, terrifying, glowering fellow who constantly radiated an almost combustible aura of anger. Ted had distinguished himself early on as one of the employees most apt to physically threaten the others, even one or two of the ladies; as a result, Becky received a lot more "How ya doin'?" checkup visits than any of the other new hires I'd seen. Becky was well-protected, and Ted was well-behaved that week...which led me to suspect his involvement in what happened later. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Becky's first day went smashingly well, right up until 10am and her first scheduled bathroom break. See, the bathrooms that we Telemarketers were allowed to use were located in the basement--which had started flooding early that morning after the torrential rainstorms that had lashed the area for the entire weekend. Three inches of opaque brown water now greeted the people who ventured downstairs, and there were rumors that someone had smelled a gas leak down there.

Fortunately, someone in the accounting department took pity on the ladies in Telemarketing, and snuck them a few at a time into the second-floor bathroom throughout the day. (No such luck for us guys; we had to walk to the insurance company across the street and beg to use their restrooms. This proved a bit of a strain on the guys who smoked.)

So far, the bottom tier of Maslow's Pyramid had been shattered. The damage could only creep upwards from there.

- Tuesday: The first thing I noticed when I entered the building was a look of confusion on Becky's face. She was standing in a clump of people that looked like about half the population of the building, gathered uncomfortably in the lobby and entryway...which was dark. It seemed that the flooding from Monday had knocked out the power, and the office manager was waiting for the go-ahead on what to do next, whether to send us home or usher us into the smoking lounge. I wanted to step out into the sunshine, but Ted was out by the front door, chain-smoking off-brand cigarettes and grinding them one after another into the pavement with a look on his face that could only be described as "murderous."

Finally, the office staff got hold of the execs, and a compromise was reached. ...By "compromise," of course, I mean the sort that benefited no one.

Since the phones were still working just fine, even though the power was out, It Was Decided that we would continue to make the cold-calls to sales prospects. This was not as fun as it sounded. Under normal circumstances, the sales contact lists were computerized, and would be automatically fed to us via an auto-dial system running through our desktop PC's. No electricity meant that we would have to weed through the volumes of printed sales contacts that were kept on hand, ostensibly in case of computer failure. The problem here was that these lists were nowhere near as well-maintained as the computer files; there was a lot of duplication, meaning we'd find ourselves calling the same customers over and over. And due to an inexplicable shortage of PC's, the staff would rotate two or three people every week off of the computers, and have them call exclusively from these outdated printed lists. (The use of these lists often made us look like complete idiots. More than once during my tenure there, I watched as someone was able to schedule a sales call, only to lose it later by accidentally calling the same contact multiple times. Once I watched three people at adjacent cubicles call the same contact at exactly the same time. Pathetic.)

Add to this the fact that, due to the way the cubicles were designed and laid out in Telemarketing, the light from the windows did not flow evenly throughout the office. In fact, there were areas in the department that were engulfed in pitch blackness that morning. And we had only two flashlights to go around, which meant that people had to share them and take turns on the phones.

Fortunately, the electricity was restored by noon. But at about two o'clock, the head of the department--a personable, capable, genuinely decent man named Norman, for whom my heart broke frequently--informed us that the president of the company wanted to Have A Word with our department.

All of us Telemarketers shuffled nervously into a second-floor boardroom, where the president of the company stood before us, red-faced and fairly quivering in barely-contained anger. He looked for all the world like a bespectacled toad squeezed into a blue three-piece suit. He began by issuing an apology for the "problems from the flooding" that we'd been having that week; it was perhaps the angriest, most accusatory apology I'd ever heard, issuing from a mouth attempting a sheepish grin that did not reach the man's eyes.

And then, cutting his own apology short, the president launched into the meat of his speech. It seemed that, sometime between Monday's flooding and the restoration of the electricity, "someone"--and here he reached a crescendo of anger that came close to apoplexy--"someone in this building placed a call to OSHA!" The acronym expelled itself from his mouth, a curse, the name of some hated enemy.

He paused to let his venom take effect, eyes bulging in rage at this betrayal. Fully half of the department looked at each other for some telltale sign of guilt. The others stood in confusion; I doubt they even knew what OSHA was.

After his accusation had sunk in--or in some cases not--the president continued his diatribe. The company, he informed us, was extremely generous, and he didn't know if all of us "appreciate everything that _______ Company does for its ployees." (Yes, that is how he pronounced it. To my ears, it sounded intentional. I'm still baffled as to why.) For example, the Christmas hams. Every employee was given a free, gelatinous, pencil-eraser-consistency, not-quite-Hormel-quality canned ham for the December holidays, regardless of position, status, religious affiliation or stance on animal consumption--we all got the same free ham. And we were also all eligible for the Thanksgiving turkey drawings!

When the president had run out of meat-related perquisites to use as guilt-fodder, he turned to some of the other tangible benefits. Our profit-sharing system, for example. The way they gave us a percentage on the percentage of the commission for any sales we contributed to. The, umm...insurance benefits for people who'd worked with them longer than nine months. The list of boons went on, for what seemed like minutes.

Finally, he calmed down, turned a less crimson color, and thanked us for listening. "See, I feel like I can blow off steam with you guys," he explained as we shuffled back to the exit. "Now when I talk to the other departments I don't have to get so worked up."

Indeed. Thank you, sir. Thank you for the opportunity to help you vent.

- Wednesday: I had expected something truly horrendous to greet me this morning, and was more disappointed than relieved when I saw neither ambulances, fire trucks, nor police surrounding the building when I arrived. It looked like this Wednesday was finally going to be the perfectly normal day that I'd hoped to have all week.

Oddly enough, it wasn't.

At around 10am--a time I was beginning to regard as the Magic Hour--our beleaguered boss Norman asked us to turn off our phones and gather round. ("Now what?!" I heard Becky intone. I expected some sort of angry snort in response from Ted, but then I remembered he'd called in sick.) Half of the office stood respectfully around Norman. The rest scuttled over in their chairs, pulling themselves crab-like with their feet.

Norman finished mopping his brow with his handkerchief, put it back into his pocket, and looked at us with eyes that were difficult to read. "The Park Ridge police are downstairs," he announced. "Early this morning, someone called in a bomb threat to the receptionist."

I heard only one surprised gasp. No one else reacted. Almost as if they'd expected it.

Norman continued, in a voice that seemed as much full of frustration as concern. "The fire department are on their way here now to check it out. Now, you can leave the building..." and most of us turned away to get our coats, but Norman continued: "...if you want. But it'll count against your lunch hour. So don't go too far away."

I think what surprised me the most about that was the fact that no one reacted much. There were no cries of indignation, no stamping of feet in protest...just grumbling. Most of the department resumed picking up their jackets and heading for the doors. Three people remained at their desks and resumed placing cold calls. (I did mention the incidence of mental illness?...)

I went across the street, to the insurance company's cafeteria, with about four other people, including Jeff, who had helped me get the job in the first place. And I tried to stir up at least a little discussion about the situation with them--"I mean, is that even legal?!" I asked. "Can they really do that in an emergency like this?" But the most response I got was a shrug and a sigh, and my companions' talk soon shifted to wistful discussions of career successes of days gone by.

I sat there for about an hour, nonplussed, not exactly betrayed but definitely feeling like I had no support, no one to count on. That was the moment that tipped the scales for me, that made me realize I had to leave that company as soon as I found something better. I sipped listlessly at a Coke in a waxed paper cup, and listened for an explosion that never came.

- Thursday: Nothing happened out of the ordinary. In fact, the rest of the week turned out to be free of incident. Everyone showed up for work that Thursday morning, even those of us who'd returned to a non-smoking non-crater the prior afternoon. (Ted approached Jeff at the door with an uncharacteristically jaunty "So I heard you guys had a little excitement yesterday?" The fact that Ted was still employed there when I finally left two months later spoke volumes about my co-workers' deductive reasoning skills.)

Well, I *say* everyone showed up. But I'd missed someone. By about 8:30 on Thursday, I realized that Becky was nowhere to be found. Neither I nor anyone else at _______ Company ever laid eyes on her again.

Wishing her luck, I opened my sales database and resumed listlessly dialing contacts.

Ken ye well yon Couch of Flesh

(Reprinted from my own email. If you don't like it, tough. I think warning people about this couch is a vital public service.)


This is the couch in my boss's office.

I'm sure that, at one time in its long and unpleasant life, this couch might actually have resembled something that a person with taste in furniture might own. The pinkish hue of its leathery flanks may once have been a more vibrant, rich color, before time, multiple butt-landings, and unaccountable scuff marks dimmed its lustre. Its cushions might have been of a more angular shape, not so squashed-down and shapeless, resembling something a surgeon might look at quizzically before passing off to his assistant for disposal. In short--this couch might at one time have looked a lot less like an abused liver with a throw pillow on one end.

I try to avoid sitting on the couch whenever I'm in the boss's office; but sometimes, when there are a lot of people in there for meetings, it's unavoidable. And on one or two of those occasions, I would swear I've felt the couch move.