Monday, January 28, 2008

and now...sports

The american state of the union was on when I got home tonight, and being a junkie, once it was on I couldn't stop watching. Many things irked, annoyed, distressed and vexed me, 911 was sung out like hosannas and of course I was told how great the Iraq war is and that it should continue.

Sandwiched between these two upsetting ideas, was the announcement that the Summit of the Americas, that's us, the US and Mexico, will be held this year in the great city of New Orleans. It is not only the symbol that bothers me.

The words rang out after commending the people of the Gulf Coast, failing to mention the egregious and inhuman reaction of the bush administration, the private insurance companies and the Red Cross to the disaster, the president continued by simply making the announcement and going on to safer ground. (pun intended)

Can I safely point out that the last thing the people of the Gulf Coast need is the insane amount of security forces that come with international delegations? Can it be reasonably pointed out that in gearing up for this summit the local security forces will be hiring like crazy and the jails will surely be brought up to standard faster than the hospitals and schools. And where are all these people staying? In the public housing that survived the storm but is now being knocked down in order to build limited public housing on a two-tiered feudal system?

I wonder these things. I sit and I ponder that representatives of my government who have gutted my social system and broken our industries in two, representatives of the bush administration who make me want to puke in my soup, and representatives of Mexico, who have done nothing and will continue to do nothing and who stand elected on the body count of hundreds of women, will meet in a broken city. A city where those who needed help helped each other. Where those who faced madness and skin-peeling winds were ignored. They will sit in this city and marvel at the poverty, the new constructions, the resilience, the quiet judgment of its people.

The city truly unto itself, the first american city-state not by secession, but by abandonment, this island of non-recognition, of failed citizenship will host three leaders who wish to do nothing more but keep going.

I won't be there, my health does not permit it. But good news for me that night would be news from local reporters of an uncontrollable riot. And a guillotine.


A great article on a great anniversary

Sunday, January 27, 2008

come swim in my pond

The mermaid's lookin fer a roomie, here's three postings on the subject:



Hey, who wouldn't want to live in Mtl with an urban ichthyosapien?


Saturday, January 26, 2008

more from the defunct digest

Normally I don't bother socializing with people from my office. As a general rule they aren't much fun and wonder about what entertainment habits the "weird girl" might enjoy. This time though, it paid off. One of my colleagues left the company, and as he reached escape velocity, a bunch of us decided to have a 5 to 7 together. By showing up late after an appointment, I ensured that the boring one-beer, one-song people left and the former employees were boozing it up with gusto. Perfect gossip opportunity. Gossip I feel is an undervalued commodity in office life. There is no better way to share information than word of mouth, and in terms of one-sided communications, offices can't be beat. In order to survive such an environment with curiosity intact, it's important to learn about colleagues, bosses, upcoming procedures and events etc. It's not only a way of remaining sane and in small measure getting back at those with authority, it's also about keeping those neurons firing in the face of insurmountable odds. The best places for gossip include the lunchroom, a colleagues's car on the way to lunch, hallways, printers, coolers, elevators and naturally, the washroom. The richest, most central hub of office traffic, the washroom remains the unsung hero of the office communication nexus. It is where we pass each other and comment on our hair or clothes, where we bitch about a bad day, where we have at one time or another passed a phone interview on a cell in the only private space available. Where better to commiserate with people who do the same job you do? Where better to solidify ties with those on the other end of your job? Where better to waste fifteen when you can't bear to go back to your desk? Yet it was not here that I made the best discovery yet. At the bar, over a decent microbrew, I learned what is now keeping me glowing warm in the middle of this unseasonal snowstorm. The dog, the lies, the history, all pales in comparison to this: My boss is the former Miss Lebanon. She went to the Miss Universe pageant in the hopes of bringing home the values of western beauty pageants to the middle east. I honestly never thought to picture blondezilla in downtown beirut, but I will say this: It's Sunday, my work for tomorrow was completed last Wednesday and this is the only thing that will get me through the week. ...Until of course, I need to stop in the bathroom. Tell me your favourite gossip! Feel free to hide names and dates if you wish.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

losing my M-F'ing mind

For anyone out there who was hoping I'd come back from xmas with tales and a welcome ear for stories of the holidays and a year in review, I must disappoint. I'm working full-time until the end of February and skule has begun. As such, I'm freaking out, living off adrenaline and True Grit. Smoke is coming out of my ears, I cry molten lava at the slightest provocation and sleep has become but a wistful memory.

I love you all, I miss you all. I promise I'll be in touch when I get part-time hours and a recalibration of my frazzled central nervous system. I'm thinking of upgrading to the latest titanium fibre optic model as seen in Venusian2: bionics for the well-accessorized civilian.


Friday, January 11, 2008

another phone-in after the holidays...

So in my first real altercation between myself and my new boss, I learned a valuable lesson: Never assume anything. I thought I had this office diplomacy down pat after 5 years in retail construction. I have heard every ridiculous rant you can imagine, I have seen unprofessionalism at it's worst. But I should have worn a flak jacket to be in the room with this one. Both my sense of personal dignity (a nonsense idea in an office I know) and my bosses loud, carrying voice have caused mild friction from the beginning. Nevertheless my work is done well and correctly, so we deal with each other. The other day however, things took a bit of a turn.

I've been feeling lied to pretty much since I began. The job is not what it was advertised to be and the people I work for are pretty clique-y. This is fairly stressful for me and on this particular day I received an email from one of the developers that didn't look quite right. I forwarded it on to the person who normally handles changes of event dates and asked if I should be adjusting calendars. I continue my slow journey towards an early stroke brought on by flickering ancient screens attached to computer equipment that appears to have been made by Fisher-Price, when I see a mass of dyed, curly blond hair move hyena-like between cubicle walls with a voice calling low, Margaret! Is this date change confirmed? Why is Julia sending emails, what is going on? My reaction was immediately to say, no no, I sent one email, the developer in question sent many emails and cc'd me. I wanted confirmation. Given the sheer decibels and urgency in her voice, I couldn't understand why she wouldn't just come to me and ask why I sent the email or at least for more information. One of the clique girls who has an office nearby came out to look at me and say, whoa! As though I was in the midst of a hostage situation and she was the person who was going to restore order to the situation. The boss comes over and says she doesn't like that, she doesn't want to be spoken to this way etc. Immediately I apologize, it makes no sense to argue with the boss about who's right in a situation like this. She vented a little and went to deal with the urgent email situation. She came back to further expound on how inappropriate it is to defend yourself when you are being accused in front of everyone in the office. I asked to speak to her in her office alone.

I must say, I have had my fair share of uncomfortable situations. When I yelled at the VP of Finance in one of my old offices for being loudly homophobic near me, for the way he spoke to and about women, for the way I bitched out the director of product in my last office after a very stressful move, after another employee lied to the boss and our department had a meeting about it. All in all, I have learned how to diplomatically ease uncomfortable situations, take responsibility when responsibility is mine, apologize, graciously accept apologies and move forward. I figured this was a great opportunity to solidify my relationship with my new boss Gail, or as I call her, blondezilla. It sadly was not to be. In her office I apologized again and immediately did what I always do in big, corporate situations. I explained where I was coming from and what I had interpreted from her to lead up to what I said in the office. Big mistake.

Normally in offices of 200+ people, this type of approach makes sense because you have to deal with everyone all day. In this way, we respect each other, attempt to understand where they are coming from and openly communicate to avoid hostility. In teeny, tiny, sad, barely extant little offices like this, never ever ever talk about what you mean or where you are coming from. She immediately said the following, "Okay Julia. I'm going to explain what is going on with me. I don't have to explain anything to you, but I will."

I don't actually remember the rest of what she said because I was seeing vivid red in front of me and was (as usual) counting slowly in my mind. She doesn't need to explain anything to me? But I'm supposed to graciously accept this explanation that I don't deserve? Guess what lady, you do owe me an explanation. Your boss is an authority figure. This person has direct control over your salary, your hours of business, vacation days, what projects you will be working on. This directly affects your standard of living and indirectly that of your family and friends. I don't need my boss to think I'm right (though it helps) but I do need to know that someone isn't going to pull any nonsense with that authority. If I see some evidence that I am being treated inappropriately by someone with power over myself and my job, I'm going to say something. Your boss DOES in fact owe you an explanation when they don't appear to be acting in good faith. It is definitely okay to stand up for yourself and attempt to reconcile the situation as necessary.

It's been two months now, Blondezilla one, mermaid zero. But the other people like me. For now.

Friday, January 04, 2008

more bubbles from the water cooler

So I used to commiserate with my good friend when she was working in a small, exclusive photo studio. She was the manager and along with her was one employee and the owner, that was it. I was working various crazy cubes at the time, trying to figure out what it's all about (and I find myself now here...) and she would call to tell me about the owner bringing her child and/or dog into the studio with her. I never really understood this, although some parents do occasionally need to bring the little ones into the office. This was a photo studio and a small child or a huge golden retriever never made a lot of sense to me in the workplace. Would the dog attend the photo-shoots? Would it participate? Would it in fact bark through the entire day giving my friend good reason to sell it to the nearest petting zoo when the boss wasn't looking?

I complained of the unprofessionalism in various places I worked at. My favourite saying was, "if the tattooed girl who swears all the time is giving someone else a lesson in professional conduct, there's a problem." I had been used to being in shops of various kinds before I made the jump to office life and I was struck by how ambivalent, uncommunicative, unhelpful, inhospitable and downright dumb some of these people could be. It occurred to me that that must be why they worked in offices because dealing with the public (if you do it well) takes some diplomacy and courtesy whereas in an office you tend to get off by just treating everyone however you wish at any given moment. Don't get me wrong, I try to socialize, but when I tell people I have a 4' long green iguana free-roaming at home because I'm not a cat or dog person (also, iguanas kick behind!), they always ask me, "Why would you do that?"

Or I'll try to talk about sports. Inevitably if you're a habs fan, you're not enough of a habs fan and if you are enough of a habs fan, they like the Canuks. If you like Wes Anderson movies, they've never heard of him. But they can't wait to tell you how surprised they were at who the killer is in Saw3. If you're into politics at all, either their eyes glaze over trying to remember the name of the prime minister or they go on a tirade about how high our taxes are and why can't we give up on some of these more archaic social services like drug coverage?

I don't fit in generally. My habit is to ride out the first two months getting to know people while generating a reputation for getting everything done and knowing as much on any subject as possible. "hey ya, go ask that weird girl in construction, she knows everything." Fine by me! So it was no surprise whatsoever for me when I started at the new company two months ago and I didn't immediately get along with everyone. I had just come from five years in huge corporate offices with whole HR departments and IT departments, and their own form of officey bullshit that everyone has to deal with. Also, some great people. Also, some complete assholes. In this new place there is no HR, there is only my boss and IT consists of one guy, one student to assist him and the owner of the company who is a "self-taught" programmer. IE: he never uses the program per se and therefore has no idea what various employees might need in terms of programming it for their work.

It should not at all have surprised me, under these circumstances, to have been introduced to the owner's dog immediately after the owner. I started my first day with my new boss who had originally interviewed me, the owner himself and then the dog curled up on his floor. I thought it might be an every-so-often kind of thing and went about my business, but the dog was back the next day. And the day after that. They had introduced an hors d'oeuvre-sized bichon frisse to me as though it was an employee. A manager. I met the vice-president of the company (owner's wife) in the ladies room the next day. It is the type of washroom with stalls, (yes, more cubicles though these at least are honest in their function) and the dog was sitting on the threshold of the door which I wanted to close. I looked down at the dog and make shooing sounds and motioned with the door to close it and to get out of the way. The owner's wife, excuse me, vice-president of the company, told me not to move the dog. I told her in politest terms that closing the bathroom door is one of those things all dogs need to deal with in their lives. It's not always pleasant I agree, but they get used to it. Why? They're dogs. She said, "but it's Milou." Yes, the f*#!ing dog's name is Milou. I have nothing comical I can add to a white fuzzy tragedy on that scale. "Yes" I agreed, "It's Milou. I'm Julia, the human and therefore dominant species. When using a public washroom, I close the door because the doors on the cubicles do not afford me enough psychological protection to deal emotionally with my co-workers listening to me peeing. The dog is fine, I'm not, the dog moves. Dog. Me. Doooog....Me.

I find it difficult to understand how many employers of both small and large companies will make special effort to diminish the comfort of those employees with whom the company invests salary, benefits, insurance and equipment, but who will then fall over backwards inconveniencing themselves for small filthy rat-like animals who bark their way through client meetings and insist on having their own waste picked up for them in minus forty centigrade weather at lunch hour. The dog was taken out after a conversation in which I was told that I am not allowed to be allergic to the dog and I now see it daily as it walks in and around my office. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that the dog is in fact fairly well behaved and doesn't bark too much, although when it does, certain close friends of mine get emails containing only: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuggggggggggghrrrrr goddam filthy little sh*t is barking why in GODS name would anyone bring such a thing to the workplace aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ....and so on like that until the dog stops. The other managers though, you'd think they'd never seen a dog before when it whines and paws and jumps up on people. There is much oooing and ahhing on the scale of David Blaine audiences. They act as though it makes perfect sense not only to have a dog present, but to stop all work and coo at it if it happens to walk by for some reason. Am I the killjoy in my office? Very likely. I sit in my space in front of the database, a PowerPoint presentation or an email and I blast my Tom Waits like my life depended on it. I socialize with most people and I'm cynical enough in humour that everyone likes me except upper management. What else is new? There is an argument towards integrating the work and home in a more balanced fashion and respecting the personal life of the employee more. Indeed, my last office had such a thing as flex-time for those with children to pick up, a kids day every holiday season where all employees children come in for a show, a free buffet and presents. Mat leave is a year and many men take advantage of the parental leave available to them. A dog walking through the office though, that's crossing the line.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

water cooler first bubble

I used to post on a now-defunct website and in the spirit of slacking off and phoning it in right after the christmas break, I'm resurrecting the posts I put on it since you can't link to it anymore.

They will appear as bubbles in the water cooler whirlpools and I'll tag them as Cubicle Digest.

I miss it a lot and I hope cubeguy finds a publisher for his book soon.

Here it is: the first post from me on Cubicle Digest (how I miss it so)

A fond hello from the city-dwelling mermaid. I'm happy to join this group of enthusiastic people who truly understand how much a break from the monochrome of fluorescent boredom is a requirement, nay, a necessity of the workday. I have many stories of nonsense, defeat, dissent and disappointment, but since this is my first post, I will begin with a story of triumph. This is not a huge win. This is not one of those stories about changing the workplace for the better or indeed even trying to. This is one of those things I think everyone can relate to about office diplomacy in the face of extreme frustration. A day to day moment of standing up for myself. Believe me, I won a few tiny battles, but the people in this particular office won the war.

It begins at 8:15 am, a far-too-godly hour of the morning. For no reason at all my trains and the bus I took to get there had conspired to bring me to the office building earlier than usual. As such, I was enjoying an early morning cup of coffee, this was before they started charging for it. I worked in the Construction Department at that time. We had undertaken a project the night before, so I wandered into the area to see how the work was coming along. Anyone who has done such a thing will know that it doesn't matter whether a project is yours or not, whether you know about it or not, you are treated as an ambassador for your department wherever you go. I should have remembered that. I went over to one of my friends who did tech support and asked how things were, if there were enough drop-cloths to protect the screens from the drywall dust, how did he like his new car, good morning, god it's early isn't it? His supervisor came over and immediately started demanding loudly and in an oddly high-pitched voice about we weren't told about the extent of the work and how are we supposed to accommodate this and that. She was extremely irate and didn't seem to calm down at all as I sipped my coffee at her. She was getting more and more hysterical as she talked that I couldn't imagine what I could say that would make her relax enough to speak coherently. Not only that, I knew if I said anything even remotely like I'll get back to you or I'll take care of it, suddenly I would have this to manage along with my full-time job.

The net admin was sitting nearby; I had an audience. Also, it was not the designated time for me to start work. Also, I didn't recall signing on to come in early to be shouted at by panicky call centre supervisors. I picked up the nearest thing to me, a piece off a nearby stack of 8.5x11 white paper (ah the heady days of office procurement) handed it to her and said quietly, "Heather, this cares more than I do." The look on her face pretty much paid off in that moment for the inevitable trouble I was going to get into for saying something like that. Her jaw dropped open and her eyes went wide making her whole head resemble a bowling ball. I went straight back to my desk and told the manager overseeing the project what happened, including what I had said. It is to her credit that when Heather came to tell her that I had an "attitude problem" that she immediately said, "why, what did you do to provoke her?" Our friendship was forged at my interview, but solidified that day when for the first time, another human in my office recognized a cardinal rule that it is unfair to immediately pounce on the first person you see from one department and assume they are there to fix your problem. We worked together to finish that project properly and since then, according to those who know me in other offices in the city, it's become legend.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Worst Xmas Present

Give it to me guppies!

This year it was a tie between a set of broken, poorly made silver gargoyle candleholders and a set of 5 fridge magnets of naked men with oven mitts. One of the men is wearing socks, possibly because he has Lupus, possibly for some other reason.

Let's hear it, the holiday is officially over. What was the worst one this year?

covert piano rescue

This piano:

rescued piano

was in a house in Vancouver that was slated for demolition. I was there over the holiday where I met the house piano and this one. Friends of friends knew the people who had lived in the house and when they left it was more work to save than to demolish. The city was going to go in and the piano was going to go with it, so spicy K crept in the window while mom got a van and pulled it around front late one night. They hauled and rolled and now this piano lives in their house on the floor below their household piano. It needs some care, the tuning is off and it could use some cleaning. There was a bong sitting inside it and god knows what else.

It will take some time to resurrect, it will take some care and patience. But that piano is not going to dust with the mouldy house. Not today.