jueves, agosto 31, 2006

If It Bleeds, It Leads

I’m not a big fan of the whole “if it bleeds, it leads” approach to “journalism” these days. News outlets shamelessly promote violence and tragedy in an attempt to get you hooked so you will watch their show or read their paper and thus be exposed to all of their advertisements. It’s sick, yet at this point ubiquitous. That being said, there are times when stories of violence do need to take center stage.

Nine different shootings happened in the Philadelphia region last night. Seven of them occurred in the city plus one in the suburbs on the Pennsy side. Camden, the nations poorest and most dangerous city, got in its 9mm worth by having a shooting of its own.

The shootings were scattered and varied – one involving cops, one involving two teenage girls, one where a man was simply found dead.

The shooting getting the most attention was the one in the Fern Rock section of the city. A couple happened across a rape in progress. They tried to stop it; the rapist shot and killed them both. His initial victim is now in stable condition at a local hospital. It’s hard to imagine what she will be going through now. The physical impact of rape is often dwarfed by psychological wounds. It’s hard enough to cope with being violated, this woman also has to cope with the fact that two people died trying to rescue her.

The police have a suspect in custody at this point. I hope enough evidence is found to properly identify the attacker, and I hope he is prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. The man who did this should never be allowed to walk free again.

So with this exceptional night of mayhem and tragedy; with all of these stories unfolding at once, what did Philly.com, the site of Philadelphia’s two major newspapers, pick as its lead story for today’s online edition?

Philanthropist’s legacy: Green space, questions

miércoles, agosto 30, 2006

You Look Nice Today

I used to think that complimenting someone was a good thing to do. Then I got a job.

OK, so not all compliments are bad. Perking up a friend or family member is good. Certainly when trying to convert a customer’s money to your money, it doesn’t hurt to remind said customer of their more amazing qualities. And in the dating scene, it can be essential. Flattery gets you underwear.

But workplace complements are apparently out.

One of my earlier jobs was in a steel shop. In that type of environment, kind words are in short supply. You show your respect for someone through jovial disrespect. While it seems counter-intuitive, trading good natured insults fosters camaraderie in some circles, especially in male-dominated groups. In such a setting, strength is an admirable attribute; weakness is, well, a weakness. When you hurl an insult, you communicate to the insultee that you know he is a strong enough person to take the jibe and to the group that you are willing to take on a challenge. By taking the insult in stride, the insultee proves that he possesses that strength. Furthermore, by returning the insult, the insultee demonstrates his willingness to match the challenge. The group may acknowledge the exchange by holding up their clubs, spears, blowtorches, or whatever manly implement is used in the setting, and grunting approvingly.

It was nice to get a “good job” from the foreman, but I took much more satisfaction when he’d say, “glad to see you didn’t f- this one up.”

Direct personal praise can reflect weakness, therefore most personal complements are avoided. For the most part, it depends on what is being praised. Acquisitions and accomplishments are one thing, appearances are another. In other words, it is perfectly fine to say “nice belch” or “nice truck;” “nice pants” is right out.

I figured that this would change when I moved into an office job. Office work is gender-neutral; hence the male-female ratio is not as skewed as it was in the steel shop. Plus there’s a lot less spitting. I figured that in a professional environment, all those manners my family tried to instill in me would finally be of use. After all, guys are guys, but women are supposed to be more like human beings.

Boy was I ever wrong. Insults are out, as I had suspected, but so are compliments. They are not good at all. I had this drilled into me the hard way by a female supervisor who didn’t take too kindly to kindness. I never knew that “you look nice today” is an insult (and not a good natured one). It infers that the person does not like nice on other days. Also, positive statements about a person’s physical appearance – especially if that person has a different X:Y chromosome ratio than your own – indicates that you do not respect that person’s personal qualities, which of course indicates objectification, which of course means sexual harassment and hostile work environments and all that other stuff. Slippery slope, I tell you.

Before I met this supervisor, I had always assumed that one sure-fire way to avoid sexism was to take gender out of the equation altogether – you know, treat everybody the same. I guess I was off in some fantasy dream world where reason applies. Silly me.

It was not at all uncommon for a male in that company to be jokingly asked by his coworkers (male and female alike) if he had an interview on a day where he wore a tie into the office. The dress code was relaxed, therefore ties and suits and such were rarities. One day a female coworker came in wearing a suit skirt. We had a positive working relationship, so it seemed awkward saying nothing. I knew I couldn’t tell her that she looked nice, though, so I decided to act the way I would to any of my male coworkers.

“Interview today?” I asked.

The supervisor overheard. I got a talking to.

Apparently, “real world” equality has nothing to do with treating people equally. I was duly informed that a male (if he is feeling particularly daring) might ask a female coworker “did you do something different with your hair?” In general, though, the only way he can show respect for his female coworkers by treating them as if they have no physical existence whatsoever.

This same woman would fawn all over the young guy that they brought in to run our department a few months later.

Alrighty, then.

Fortunately, I have had better luck with managers in the years since (with one notable exception). As for my peers, I think I have been lucky as well. I try to keep a good friendly-yet-professional rapport with all of my coworkers. I tend to remain tight-lipped until I have identified the men and women with whom I can interact in a more relaxed fashion. Even with them, it seems I am hesitant to repeat any of my prior faux pas-es.

I was waiting for the elevator this morning. The doors opened and out walked one of my coworkers. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with a design on it. Our workplace attire is relaxed, but not that relaxed. He nodded hi; I surprised myself with what I said next.

“Interview today?”

lunes, agosto 28, 2006

Well, Kiss Me Clovers

I was all set to write about what a wonderful weekend I had … then I drove into work today. There’s nothing quite like a floody Monday to remind you that your weekend is over. Ah, what the heck. The weekend was still a good one.

Friday night I was offered a free ticket to go see the Eagles-Steelers preseason game. Not that I’m a big fan of the Eagles, but I am a fan of football and I love going to games. I have been to something like 15 NFL games in 6 different stadiums and thoroughly enjoyed them all. There’s something about the crowd at a game (and there’s definitely something about the crowd at a game in Philadelphia!). Being preseason, a lot of season ticket holders sold their tickets, meaning there was a lot of black and gold in that stadium. And since the game didn’t count, the belligerence level of the native Eagles fans was toned way down. As a result, there was some good natured banter back and forth amongst the lot of us, and nobody got hauled away in shackles or on a gurney.

Saturday during the day my son and I built a fort out of the couch and dining room chairs which somehow later morphed into a boat. We had a lot of fun together. Unfortunately, he had a problem staying on his best behavior when it was time to get ready to go to the babies’ momma’s house.

Saturday evening Ms N and I headed down to Atlantic City. I’ve mentioned in a prior post that I view casino time as a form of entertainment that you pay for. I plan out ahead of time how much I am willing to pay for an evening, then hope that I don’t lose everything so quickly that I am left with nothing to do. The past few times I have been there I have managed to pretty much even out the wins and losses, so I’ve left the casino with the same amount of money in my pocket as when I’ve gone in, which has been quite nice. This time around I did even better.

At Caesar’s I put $10 into one machine and on the very last spin won $20. At Trump Marina, I popped $20 into a Leprechaun-themed video slot machine, and then played it for almost an hour. When I left, I had a $100. Throughout the whole thing, the little leprechaun, in full brogue, would spurt out kitschy little sayings like “Dublin yer win!” when I’d get the double bonus. My absolute favorite was “Well, kiss me clovers!”

All in all, I left AC with my original money, plus enough to cover dinner and gas. An evening out for free … well, kiss me clovers!

Sunday the kids came back from the ex’s and spent much of the day doing laundry and other things around the house. By the end of the day, they had been outside for some bike riding and got in some TV time, plus they also did five loads of wash (the dryer broke, so I have a lot of clothes hanging around my living room right now), got the hamster cages cleaned, and my daughter’s floor is visible again. Plus they liked the dinner that I [reheated]. (Many thanks to Ms N for preparing the meal in advance!)

So this morning was a bit different. Due to some flooding, it took me an hour to drive the three miles from my house to the babysitter’s, and then I had to loop all the way around Camden to get to Philly instead of driving straight through. But this bad Monday morning was no match for the good weekend; I bounced back into a good mood pretty quickly.

After the car ride, that is. During my drive, “kiss me clovers” quickly turned to “kiss me arse” and I had plenty of suggestions for what the people who engineered the roads could do with their shillelaghs. (Dublin yer impalements!)

viernes, agosto 25, 2006

Citizen of Procrasti-Nation

I had a minivan.

Well, technically I still have a minivan - until the guy from the auto salvage company gets here with his wrecker, that is. Since the grammar rules for future-past tense* have yet to be devised, we’ll simply pretend that it has already been hauled away.

The minivan was the first car that I ever truly drove to death. It probably could be revived, but like old Mr. Notlob**, it had no ailment that an expensive repair job could not prolong. When I got the minivan, it already had over 90,000 miles on it. Over the next fifty thousand miles, things fell off, things shorted out, things deteriorated, and, of course, things suffered the wrath that only little children can wreak upon the passenger compartment of an automobile. The engine was showing signs of breakdown and, to make matters worse, I got into a fender bender in New York City.

Duck tape (yes, I’m old-school) worked to put the damaged headlight back into place, but in order to pass my next state vehicle inspection I needed at least $1,500 in repairs to the body and engine. The van would not have been worth $1,500 in good driving condition - now it's not even in legal driving condition. Were I to sell it, I would lose money.

With many, many thanks to my family, I was able to acquire a replacement vehicle. I parked the minivan in an out-of-the-way spot in my apartment complex lot; all that was needed was to clean it out and find some schlep to take it off my hands.

That was a year ago. I just got cleaned it out today.

Citizen of Procrasti-Nation? Heck, I’d be the ambassador, if they’d ever getting around to appointing one.

Today was relatively productive, as far as minivan-related activities go. I have already turned the plates back in to the DMV (or MVS, as it’s known in Jersese), I found the title buried in a stack of papers that I have been putting off going through, I took the five bags of clothing and toy donations that have been sitting in the back of the van all this time to Goodwill, and found someone to take the van as-is. Plus, I cleaned out the miscellaneous stuff (Yes. Ms N, I mean trash – for the most part).

I never throw away any container without first going through it. As a recovering packrat, I know that things of value can be literally anywhere. Of course, that means that I have to do the whole “going through it” part. (The Procrasti-Nation anthem would be playing in the background right now, were we ever to get around to writing it.) Find me a container where I can set a bunch of stuff aside “for later” and I become Mr. Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout***. The minivan became one such container.

The minivan has sat in that one spot for an entire year – a year that included everything from freezing to 100+ degree days. The windows were closed, so it was sealed. This morning I opened the vault … if only I had a camera crew****.

And I was right – there were things of value mixed in with the debris. There were some gift cards, some papers I needed to keep, a cassette tape I have been looking for, and my old passport. One thing I thankfully did not find was a giant mutant venomous spider – or any other bug, for that matter. Either the van was sealed well enough or the bugs were just scared to venture in.

Yet there was another finding that left me befuddled. I keep my bread in the refrigerator because if I don’t it isn’t long before I have a penicillin factory. A year after setting the van aside, I came across a partially eaten hot dog – with bun – in a plastic Wawa container. The hot dog looked like bad jerky, but the bun was still its original shape (including finger indentations and bite marks) and color.

Three thoughts came to mind today. First, I need to stop procrastinating … starting next week. Second, I need to see if Wawa makes those containers in loaf-of-bread size.

And finally, what the hell is in those buns?

* Douglas Adams fans know what I mean
** Remember him, Monty Python fans?
*** For the Shel Silverstein fans out there
****Does Geraldo Rivera have any fans?

viernes, agosto 18, 2006

The More Things Change ...

I was reminded again that the lunch truck I used to frequent when I was enrolled at Drexel University is still up and running. Note my usage of the word “enrolled” … “studying” or even “going to school” would really not have been appropriate descriptions of my time at Drexel.

Back then, it was run by a nice Greek couple who would occasionally get help from their kids. Our fraternity chapter adopted the truck as our own and to this day it still remains my fourth most visited professional food preparation facility. The one son enrolled at Drexel the year after I did. He joined our fraternity, too. And, like most of the guys in our group at that time, he did not complete his studies at Drexel. Again, note the use of the word “enrolled.”

Drexel is only two blocks away from where I work, so I decided to head back to my old stomping grounds to see how they were doing.

It was almost surreal; my two block walk turned into a thirteen year trip back in time. The couple is still there – and both look exactly the same as they did back in ’93. They have spruced the truck up some and changed their location, but other than that it was all the same as it was back then. Oh, they have a new TV (you’ve got to love a lunch truck that has a TV outside). The son is now a permanent part of the business and he recognized me almost instantly. While he couldn’t remember my first name, he knew my old nickname (I had to confess I forget their names). The mother didn’t really recognize me, but the father did once I took off my glasses. I am happy to report that all are doing well.

The son and I talked a bit about the old days and the new ones. Right after we were talking about who had how many kids and where everyone was working, he mentioned how interesting it is seeing how all these people have grown up. I turned to the father and asked “is that weird to hear coming from your kid?” He nodded.

My mom talks about how it was only recently that it finally sunk in for her and her cousins that they are now part of the grandparent crowd at our annual family reunions. For so many years they were in the “parent” crowd – the middle generation that brought their kids along and then hoped they didn’t break or set fire to anything while the grown-ups talked. Now most of the children that her generation brought to the reunion are now married (and some divorced) and have kids. My mom’s elders are no longer present in their prior numbers. It’s finally set in … they’re the elders, now.

I had that same type of realization today. When a guy you know as Stay Puff’d reminds you that you’re both grown-ups now, a trip down memory lane quickly turns into a tumble down reality staircase.

Yet as much as the growing up comment stuck out, something he said several minutes prior struck me even more. It was right when I got to the truck – my first visit in over a decade. Stay Puff’d looked up and saw me at the window. You could see the flash of recollection on his face.

“Aren’t you Ogre?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Wow! It’s great to see you again,” he exclaimed. “Bacon, egg, and cheese?”