Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Hero But for a Word

I came THIIIISSS close to being a hero at work.  If only I had remembered one word...
It started right as I got to the office.  
"The Office Manager is looking for you.  She needs you, NOW!" 
This is what the receptionist said to me before I could even get, "Good Morning," out.  I dropped my stuff in my office and went to find out what the problem was. 
It turned out the network was down in the new office space our Order Processing unit moved into.  No internet.  No phones.  No database.  Zip.  Our IT department, based in Houston, had given the Office Manager instructions to follow.  She had waited for me to show up. 
Now, I'm no IT expert.  But I am the one they call when things like this happen.  This mainly due to three things: I'm not afraid of computers.  I remember what I'm told.  I like solving problems.  Especially "insolvable problems."  If you don't fix it, it's no big deal because you weren't expected to.  But if you do...?  Then you become A Hero.  
I like being The Hero.
After finding out what was up, the Office Manager and I went to what passes as our "Network Room."  It's actually the general storage room which holds the network tree way in the back.
Once there, the Office Manager read off the instructions she'd been given.
"Reset the port."  
Hmm?  That was it?  I looked at the tree.  There were dozens of ports with lines running into them.  Which one was I supposed to "reset"?  And by "reset," I assume they meant to unplug the bad port and plug it back into some other port where it might work.  Or...  Did they mean, "reset the switch" which had the ports everyone in the affected area was plugged into.  
The Office Manager replied, "Reset the port.  That's what they told me." 
It took a while, but I was able to get our IT department to clarify what they wanted done.  They wanted me to reboot the switch that everyone in the affected office was hooked into.  The Office Manager had written down the port numbers of some of the affected work stations to figure out which switch it was.  Easy stuff.  I'd done things like this before.
Except, the port numbers I'd been given didn't match what was coming into the tree.  
It was looking more and more like one of those "insolvable problems" was what I had on my hands.  And the stakes were high.  While the network was down, we were paying people for checking their Facebook status on their phones.  And I was being told by IT that it would take "up to five hours" to get a tech out there to fix the problem.  If I couldn't fix it right away, a day's work would be lost.   
I will admit something right here, right now.  I can be quite surly at work.  Growling and being short with people.  I try not to be that way.  A cool truncated politeness is the best you can get out of me sometimes.  This is not news to anyone that has worked with me and isn't the insight into my personality I was planning on giving.  
The insight is this: I am at my surliest when I think I should achieve something when I'm not.  If I'm THIIISS close (I'm holding my thumb and forefinger a millimeter apart in front of my computer screen) to achieving the desired end, but can't seem to get there, I get frustrated and angry.  I want to hunt down whatever, or whoever, is keeping me away from my goal and throttle them.  Then stomp on their dead body and set it on fire.  THEN scatter the ashes across the continent to ensure that the particles making up my antagonist can never, ever come together again and reanimate.  
But...   If everything stands against me, and a gulf as vast as the space between Earth and the Milky Way core, without any possibility of a working Faster Than Light drive being created under the laws of physics as we know them, I'm a really nice guy to work with.  Honest.  Because I know IF I do somehow fix what's wrong, they will sing songs of praise about me in offices throughout the capitalistic world for generations to come.  It was in this mindset that I threw myself at the problem.  I was having fun. 
But sometimes, you don't get the breaks you want.  I knew there was something up with the numbering I was given.  Nothing matched what it was supposed to match with.  One computer that still had a connection was labeled with a port number that was empty.  Another one continued to work even after I unplugged it from the port that its numbering matched.  I began to think that whomever had wired the new office space had been blindfolded when it came time to label the tree.  They couldn't haven been THAT wrong, could they?  It had to be something simple. 
And once I started thinking that, that the problem was something simple being overlooked and that I was actually close to spotting it, the surliness began to bubble up inside me.  Where was it?  What was I missing?  
"Erick?  The Tech Guy is here."  
He came in only a couple of hours, much earlier than expected.  But after it had been decided to send everyone in that department home.  I came out to meet him.  
"Hi, I'm Doug."  
"Nice to meet you.  I'm Erick.  I'll show you to our network room."  
"Are you the IT guy on-site?"  
I sighed.  "No.  But I'm the guy on-site they call when they need something done."  I started to give him the same explanation I gave above, but he stopped me with a laugh.
"I get it, I get it.  You know a lot, but you're not trained, right?  Yeah, I get it."  
I took him to the network tree.  I explained everything I had seen, tried and been told.  He nodded.  He checked my work.  He confirmed that what I had tried had been reasonable.  
Then he looked up at me, a pondering expression on his face.  
"You said that you recently moved into that space, right?  Did they install an intermediate switch?" 
My mouth dropped.  "Intermediate."  I knew that word.  And what he was asking made perfect sense.  They wouldn't run ALL those connections through the building to reach this tree.  They'd hook them into a separate switch, an "intermediate" switch and run just one line.  
And if they had done that, I knew with complete certainty where it had to be.  
"There it is."  Doug the Tech Guy nodded as I opened the cabinet that was just inside the entrance to the new office space.  It was built over the phone machinery I had seen while they were remodeling the place.  
And I could see that almost all the lights on the intermediate switch were off.  
It took a moment to reboot the intermediate switch.  A few minutes more were spent verifying that all the machines were reconnecting to the network.  I signed Doug's paperwork as he was calling his office, reporting everything as all clear.  
I went back to my office and sent IT a message to order a back-up power supply and surge protector.  The intermediate switch was plugged straight into the office power supply and had probably been knocked out by a power outage or surge.  
I've been a lifelong nerd.  It's ironic, but in the post-google world we live in, I've experienced a loss of status.  People don't come up to me and ask things they don't know.  They pull out their phones and google it.  
Computer stuff, though, things related to the boxes that sit on their desktops THAT they still call me on.  It is one area that remains where my nerdy knowledge can rise up to save the day.  
As long as I remember words like "intermediate."  I'll not forget it now.  That's for certain.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Feral Parrots Part 3

Here is the third and final part of my rough draft entitle "Feral Parrots," written in response to my friend, Ann Dulhanty's crow story.  

Here's a link to her blog where you can follow her story about loud birds: Country Life part 1.

You can find links to the first and second part of my loud bird story in the Previous Posts section to the right of this entry.

Hope it was worth the wait...
Akiko lay on the sofa.  The lights were out.  The blinds pulled shut.  She was curled into a ball, tucked as tightly as she could into the corner of the cushions.  She would have burrowed underneath the sofa and hid there if she had been able.  It was too narrow, though.  She had scratches on the back of her hand to prove it.
The front door opened.  Akiko winced.  The light from the lowering sun burned her eyes like someone pushed wasabi into them with their thumbs and rubbed them in.  
"Doa wo shimenasai!"  
Mari couldn’t hear her over the screeching of the parrots.  They had fallen quiet for a time, but were screaming at her again now that the door was open.  They were clustered so thick on the branches of the tree that faced their door Akiko thought they would crack and snap off at any moment.  
She pushed herself from the sofa.  She held her hand up to block the light.  At least she hadn’t turned into an American Vampire, Akiko thought as she pushed her daughter aside.  They would burn up if struck by light.  Japanese vampires weren’t bothered by it, though they did stupid things like counting every grain in a bowl of rice.  
Akiko slammed the door closed.  The screeching of the parrots stopped.  Akiko thought she could smell them, even through the door.  A musty, pungent order like piles of soiled newspaper pulled from the bottom of a bird’s cage.  
“Mama?  Doushite no?”
So, seeing her curled up in self-pity brought out the Japanese in her daughter?  Resentment started to boil inside her.  Why should hers be the language of weakness? 
“It ‘doushita’ no.  do-u-shi-ta.  Ta.  What happen-ed.”  
Mari crossed her arms over her chest.  Her breasts were just starting to poke out.  She hadn’t said anything, but Akiko had spotted her checking them out in the mirror after her bath.  Probably hoping she was more American in that way, too.  
“Nanika ga atta no?”  Her daughter kept her eyes firmly locked on hers, demanding an answer.  
“Okaasan to isshoni Nippon ni hikkosu.”  
“Eh?  Moving to Japan?”  
“Good to hear you understand.  Get more practice for your Japanese there.”  Akiko felt drained of energy.  Darui.  She forced herself around and labored her way back to the sofa.  
“Marichan Nippon ga suki darou ne?”  Mari was following close behind her.  She wanted to lay back down but something kept her standing.  Maybe it was to be more The Mother now.  Her head was spinning.  Her eyes felt like they were going round and round and round.  “Nippon no kazoku ga iru shi...”  
“But my friends are here.  Daddy...”  
"Is dead."  She turned to face Mari.  There, she thought.  I showed you English can be used for bad things too, ne? 
“And that just makes you so happy, doesn’t it?”  
Akiko’s breath wheezed out of her.  She was going to suffocate.  She stared at her daughter in the semi-dark.  Like a shadow puppet, she was.  The shape of something human, but...  Were her eyes turning green...?  
"You never once cried since he died.  You never said you missed him.  I never, ever heard you say you loved him."  Sobs escaped her daughter's mouth between each sentence, but the words themselves were strong, well honed and thrust between her ribs and into Akiko's heart with power and purpose.  "You always berated him.  You did nothing but point out everything he did wrong."
The spinning in Akiko’s head picked up speed.  Faster and faster, like a top slapped by a child’s hand.  Of course she pointed out her husband’s flaws.  She was his wife.  She did it BECAUSE she loved him and was close to him.  He was so close to being the perfect man.  So funny.  So kind.  So very gentle.  Treating her like she was so precious when she so often felt clumsy and unadorned.  If she had tried to say her feelings about him out loud she would have melted into a puddle of tears.  Even now, she could feel her skin turn hot at the blush that came when she thought about his touch.  A touch she ached for every day since...
“You looked down on him.  You didn’t really love him.”  
That made the spinning stop.  And it turned the shadow puppet of her daughter into one of a little demon.  
“You only married him to get out of Japan.”  
Mari’s head snapped around, pulling her body with it, from the force of Akiko’s slap.  It was harder than she intended.  She felt her fingers tingle from the sting of it.  How it must feel on Mari's cheek.  
Mari caught herself, keeping herself from falling.  She staggered back, one hand plastered to the side of her face where Akiko had struck her.  Outside the parrots screamed in rage.  She had called her daughter an idiot before hitting her, but it was her own stupidity that she could smell.  Like the stench of unwashed bodies, it clogged her nose and made her sick.  
“I hope you like Japan!”  After screaming at her, Mari ran to the door.  She flung it open.  Akiko, blinded by the light, could only hear the door slam into the wall and rebound back to the opening.  
“Send me a postcard when you get there!”  She could see her daughter’s silhouette in the doorway for a moment before the rebounding door blocked the view.  Akiko could feel the reverberation of her feet as they pounded down the walkway and then the stairs.  
And the parrots screamed.  Screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed.  There was no air around her.  No atmosphere.  It was replaced by the thick, gooey, overlapping sounds of parrot rage.  Akiko released what she thought would be her last breath and let it wash all over her.  
There.  All done.  First she had ruined any chance of compromise with Mrs. Tomlinson.  Now she had made certain her daughter would never want to return to Japan with her.  There was nothing left for her but to vanish.  Inaku naru, ne?  Disappear and be forgotten as soon as she was out of sight. 
It was only after a few dozen heartbeats, and several raspy breathes that scratched the back of her throat, that Akiko noticed that it was quiet enough for her to hear her heart thumping in her chest as well as feel it.  There was silence.  
The parrots had stopped screeching.  
Akiko's body moved on its own accord toward the door.  Her hand raised itself, pulling it open.  Her eyes squinted against the light.  
The parrots were there.  All of them.  Sitting on the branches.  Staring at her.  Hundreds of beady little eyes, glaring at her in accusation.  Judging her.
“Nani ka?  Nanimo iwanai no?”  What is it?  You have nothing to say?  “Before you want so much to say, now you say nothing?”  
The parrots fluttered their wings.  It made the branches sway as if moved by a warm breeze.  Akiko felt her skin crawl and pucker, and not from the cool evening air.  The shudder across her skin made her wonder if Mari had been wearing her sweater before running away from her, probably forever.  
The parrots started making a soft, clicking sound.  Like a bunch of gossips in the check-out line or or at the laundromat.  Akiko could imagine what they were saying about her.  What does she do all day?  Why doesn’t she get a job?  Doesn’t she have anything to do?  She just lays about all day, feeling sorry for herself, doing nothing, saying please, please, please, but NOT doing ANYTHING to CHANGE THINGS!  
Akiko closed her fists.  She prayed for a thousand cats to descend on the neighborhood.  She would toss them into the tree and laugh as they tore the parrots wing from wing, beak and claws from body.
But...  They were only parrots.  They were only repeating back to her what she had said to herself.  Said to herself while berating her poor, dear husband to keep from hearing what things she didn’t want to hear about herself.  
“That all you do, ne?  Say what you hear back.  That all you can do, ne...?”  
The parrots clicked and fluttered.  It sounded like they were talking to themselves.  Cars wooshed past on the street below and they mimicked the sound like fans at a baseball game.  
“I do what I was telled...  Told to do.”  That sounded so false now that she said it out loud.  Like the harsh voice of the parrots when they cried out.  
There was nothing inside of her.  She had tried the ways she had learned in Japan.  She didn’t know the ways of America, despite the time already spent her.  What else was there, but...?  To jump?  Leap out into the air.  Was the apartment building even high enough?  Perhaps if she timed it as a car was about to drive past?  
A parrot screamed.  Then another.  Then a third and fourth together.  One of the screams sounded like Mari’s voice, hidden amongst the voices she didn’t know.  
Would her daughter scream for her?  It didn’t matter.  She couldn’t leave without seeing her daughter first.  Apologizing for what she had done.  And...  And tried... 
To keep her.  It was still what she wanted.  It was still what she wanted to do. 
There was silence again.  Akiko looked at the parrots.  They looked back at her.  And waited.
“You make this your home, no?  You not belong here, but you make yourself belong, ne?”  She opened the screen door.  It squeaked like a small baby parrot might when first poking its head from its shell.  She stepped up to the rail.  She stared at the parrots.  They stared back.  
She had done what she had done.  Fine.  Now, she would do what she would do.  She would jump.  Not to end her life.  But start a new one.  She would be like the parrots, who weren't born here, but made their lives here whether other people liked it or not.  
Yes.  She would learn to squawk and cry and complain.  She would learn to be rude when she needed to.  She would tell her mother-in-law, Mrs. Tomlinson...  Grace.  She would tell Grace that she could keep Mari to live with her, but only for a time.  Until she could get a job and keep her daughter herself.  She would get it in writing, too.  She would use a lawyer the way Americans did if she had to.  And if Grace didn't like it, Akiko would tell her...  She would tell her...
That she could see her granddaughter whenever she wanted.  But that she would stay with her, her mother.  No matter what. 
Akiko shuddered.  It went through her arms and legs.  It went out her back and grew and billowed and caught the cold breeze like wings.  She was scared.  So very, very scared, but...  Expectant.  Waiting for the day when she would fly in a sky she had never thought to fly in.  
When she opened her eyes, she looked down and saw Neighbor-Derek on the sidewalk below.  He was looking up at her.  When he saw her looking down at him, he waived.  Akiko smiled and waved back.  Neighbor-Derek nodded at something then carried on with his walk.  
Akiko jumped when the parrots, all at once, leapt into the air.  They circled about, screeching and crying, squawking and calling to each other.  It was unintelligible noise.  But, it sounded good.  She smiled and waved at them, then turned around and went inside to find her cell phone.  There was a call she had to make.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Say It Till It Hurts

I believe in the power of persistence.  Especially if you know something is wrong.  Case in point...
The other day, towards the end of the day, I noticed a group of the employees in invoicing section of my department clustered around one of their cubicles.  As is my wont, when I see employees standing around, especially if its a group larger than two, I’ll go up and make my presence know.  
“What’s up?”
They jumped apart.  Their eyes danced around from one person to the next like the basketball in the hands of the Harlem Globetrotters.  From the way they were acting, I knew something was wrong.  
After a bit of follow-up, I found out that the delivery service that picks up our daily shipments grabbed a “MacGuffin” that they weren’t supposed to along with the packages that were supposed to go out.  I’m using the term MacGuffin in a “names have been changed to protect the innocent sort of way.”  They had already contacted the service.  They were talking about what else they could do.  
I sighed.  I recognized right away that this was one of those things that I would have to follow up on.  A "Manager-Thing."  Something that would require someone to spend a lot of time on the phone, throwing around whatever weight we had as a customer to get the MacGuffin back.  I took the piece of paper they’d used to write down the information already obtained from the delivery service, phone number, a “claim number” assigned to the incident and an address where the driver was heading.  In a similar “names have been changed” sort of way, this time to protect the guilty, I’ll say the address was 1500 Delivery Center Street.  
That’s One-Five-Zero-Zero Delivery Center street.  Very important to note that.  
I took the piece of paper into my office to find out how much weight I had to throw around.  
In turns out, in weight throwing terms, I had as much as your average feather. 
“Yeah...  The driver is pulling in now.”  This was someone at the transfer center whose address I had.  He had called me after the service’s Call Center told me they couldn’t give out his number.  “We’ve confirmed your MacGuffin is on board.”  
"Terrific.  Good to hear.  Thanks."  I took a breath.  "I need to get it back as soon as possible."  
"We can have him bring it back tomorrow morning."  
"No...  We need it back tonight.  It can't be out of the office longer than that.  Can you have someone bring it back to us?"  
The “No” was so flat that a sheet of paper would have looked mountainous beside it.  It slapped down any further attempts at weight-throwing.
"Oh-kay...  Can I come there and pick it up."  
"Sure.  We're here till nine."  
I glanced at the clock on my computer.  It was just after 7 PM.
“Ok.  And your at the address we’ve been given.  One-Five-Zero-Zero Delivery Center Street?”  
"Ok.  Thanks." 
As I was leaving, one my staff asked if I had GPS.  I replied that I had, on my iPhone and left.  I thought that I’d be back in no time. 
Until I discovered the address didn't exist.  
“You have arrived!”  Siri sounded jubilant at her announcement.  I looked around and wondered why.  
There was nothing like a large transfer center with lots of delivery trucks pulling in and out.  I saw a train station.  A shopping center.  A McDonald’s.  That was it.  
Something was definitely wrong.
I pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot and checked the map.  The location Siri had directed me to was “Delivery Center Street.”  There was no “1500” before it.  I entered it again and got the same result.  The address had to be wrong.
"That's the address we have."  
I let out an exasperated breath into my phone so the guy at the Call Center could hear my impatience. 
"Well, something is wrong, because there's no delivery center around here.”    
"I can see it here, right on the map on my screen." 
"Which doesn't help me much," I thought.  "Can you give me directions to the transfer center?"  
He tried.  I stopped him when it sounded like he was giving me directions to where I was parked.  I gave him my number and asked him to have someone at the delivery center call me to give me directions and hung up.  
It was now 8 PM.  Not wanting to sit there and wait, I started driving up and down Delivery Center Street, trying to spot the center.  I spotted skateboarders using the empty parking lots of the industrial looking buildings.  I spotted what looked like a refurbished warehouse with big windows with about three dozen people inside, hands raised, dancing and chanting in what sounded like Persian.  Maybe they were thanking God taking away any need to find the service’s delivery center. 
I didn’t find much more than that.  Delivery Center Street was a short one.  Dead-ends about a quarter mile apart.  A dark, empty street that would be real scary if one’s car broke down there.  I kept checking my panel to make sure I had enough gas. 
After way too long driving around with no call back, I pulled into another parking lot, this one for a bank.
“Listen!  I need to get a hold of someone NOW!”  It was getting hot and stuffy in my car.  I kept my windows rolled up.  I didn’t want anyone sneaking up and pulling me out of my car without warning.  "If I don't get that MacGuffin back tonight there WILL BE LAWSUITS!  You understand?"  
Yeah.  I was using the “I’ll sue you” gambit.  First time in twenty years of working in the legal industry.
"Yes, sir.  I'm sorry."  The girl at the call center I reached this time at least sounded somewhat sorry.  "If you'll hold again for a moment, please.  My supervisor is trying to reach someone at the center now."  
“Ok.  Fine.  But, first...!”  I spoke quickly before she put me on hold.  “You’re sure the address is correct?  One-Five-Zero-Zero Delivery Center Street?”  
"Yes, sir.  That's what I have.  Hold a moment."  She put me on hold.  
I tapped the steering wheel.  I turned off the car engine, which had been idling up till now.  I tapped some more.  I heard loud music.  Someone, bright-blonde hair pulled into a sort of tree at the top of their head, skin tight pants and a heavy leather jacket walked by.  Male or female, I couldn't tell.  The music seemed to be emanating from their entire body.  
I restarted my car, just in case I had to make a fast get-away.
I started imagining spending the rest of my life trying to find this place.  Driving around and around, turning down every corner, looking for service’s delivery trucks to follow one back to where it came from.  I imagined myself becoming something of an urban legend.
"Whatever happened to Erick?" 
"I saw him on the news!  He's still driving around, looking for the place.  He's got this long scraggly beard.  Lives in his car.  Still hasn't found it, though."  
"Hello, sir...?"
“Yes?”  I straightened up.  I put the car in gear.  I was ready to pull out. 
"My manager is still trying to get a hold of someone there.  If we can just put you on hold for a while longer."  
I think I might have growled.  A strangled, non-verbal sound of anger and despair mixed together.  
"Oh...  Kay..."  It hurt to agree to that.  A pointy pain thrust into my throat.  "But...  One more time...  Are you SURE that the address I have on Delivery Center Street is correct?"  
"Yes, sir.  One-Five-Zero-Zero-Zero Delivery--" 
“What?”  My body clenched.  I pointed at the phone in a gesture she couldn’t see.  “What was the number again?”
“One-Five-Zero-Zero-Zero.”  From her voice I could tell she couldn’t tell what she’d just done.  
I looked at my paper, with it's two zeros.  The same number I'd repeated at least a dozen times that night.  
"That's three zeros.  One-Five-Zero-Zero...  Zero?"  
"Yes, sir.  One-Five-Zero-Zero-Zero.  Now, if you could hold a moment longer."  
"Yeah, that's fine, that's fine.  Actually, you have my number, right?"  I talked over her helpful sounding noise.  "Just...  Call me back when you get through, OK?" 
"Certainly, sir.  As soon as--"
I hung up.  I tapped in the address.  A blue line appeared.  It lead to a point on the other side of the freeway where another fragment of Delivery Center Street existed.  I put the phone on the dash and pulled out into the street. 
Halfway there I spotted a pair of the service’s trucks turning ahead of me.  I followed them.  That got me to the employee entrance, which looks something like an airport security station from some third world country.  A driver, leaving for the day, told me I had to go up the street and around the corner.  
"The customer entrance is around the corner.  On Delivery Center.  Fifteen thousand."  
I got there just before they closed.  A manager came out after I gave them my claim number.  
"You're the guy here for the MacGuffin?"  
"Yeah.  That's me."  
"You have a business card or something to show that you're from the pick-up location?"
NOOOOOOOOO!!!  I clenched my teeth.  I would leap over the counter through the door behind her if necessary.  
"No.  I do not."  
"Oh.  What's your name?"  
"Good enough."  
She got me the MacGuffin.  I got it back to the company and locked it into my office for the night.  I skipped the gym and went straight home to bed.
The next day I talked about what happened to my staff, made plans to prevent it from happening again.  The employee that had started the follow-up rolled his eyes when I told him about the missing zero.  
"I wrote down what they told me.  I EVEN repeated it back to them.  'Fifteen hundred, right?'  That's what I said to them."  
I'm sure it was.  I had no doubt.  We just hadn’t repeated it often enough.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Strangers of Kindness

I am coming to the conclusion about myself that, frankly, worries me.  I’ve done things that, well...  I don’t really want to talk about, but think I have to face up to.  
As much as I’m afraid to admit it, I think I’m becoming a...  “Nice Guy.”
There are lots of reasons why I don’t want to be a Nice Guy.  First off, they finish last.  We’ve heard it so often that I think it must be true.  I don’t want to finish last.  I am competitive.  I want to win. 
Second, I already belong to a category of person that excludes Nice Guys.  I’m a middle-manager at a nation wide corporation.  That makes me a “Boss.”  Bosses make people do more than what they are willing to do to keep being paid less than what they think they’re worth.  You can’t do that and be a Nice Guy. 
A colleague of mine often tells me, “People work hard either because they love what they do, or they are afraid of losing their jobs.  No other reasons.”  Having been born and raised in the former Soviet Union, this colleague makes a very good Boss.  
An example of Bossness: The other day during my lunch-time walk, I passed the front steps of another office.  I saw a guy, little bit older than me, much more chubbier than me, holding the door open for a young lady who was walking out with her head bowed down.  By the time she got to the bottom of the steps, the young lady was crying.  By the time she got into the parking lot, she was bawling out loud.  
The guy stood by the door and watched her.  Being a Boss myself, I knew what he was doing.  He was making sure she didn’t key his car for having just fired her.  Or that she didn’t take anything that belonged to the company and not her.  Or that she didn’t reach into the trunk of her car, pull out a weapon and come back in to lay waste to the company that had just made her a downtick in the next unemployment report.  I know the drill.  This is what Bosses do.  
But like I’ve said, there is evidence I’m not scary enough to be a Boss.  
The other day, while working on something in my office, I overheard two of my employees talking.  This was right after I had gone out and brought a mistake I’d discovered to the attention of them that had made it.  As I sat back down at my desk, I heard...
“Erick, he tries to act scary, huh?”  
“Yeah.  He pretends he wants us to be afraid of him.”  
“Why is that?  I mean, he’s tough, but scary...?”  
What?  No, no, no...  I’m Scary.  Grrr.  Hear that scary growl?  Grrr, grrr.  Scary Boss here.  Yeah.  Get back to work and be afraid!  Grrr, grrr, grrr.
I didn’t say any of that stuff.  I was...  Busy with other Boss-things.  But I’ll show ‘em on Monday.  Yeah.  I’ll show them.  Grrr.  
Something happened on Friday night that has me worried even more.  
I stopped by a take-out pizza place on the way home.  We had a good day at work at the end of what turned out toe be a good week.  I decided to get myself some pizza and win, my reward dinner.  I placed my order then walked across the street to buy some wine at my local Trader Joe’s.  
Just as I got back, putting the wine and other things I bought in the trunk of my car, a guy on a bicycle was pulling up.  He was in a hurry.  He skidded to a stop in front of the pizza place and parked his bike.  I entered the place right behind him.  
"I'd like a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich."  He was pulled his gloves off and took out his wallet.  "How long will it take to make?"  
"About fifteen, twenty minutes." 
This made the guy pause.  I took a moment to take a look at him.  Black guy.  Little shorter than me.  Heavy wool coat with a cross-hatched pattern.  He had on a twenties style flat cap and round black horn rimmed glasses.  He might be a time-traveller just returned from a pre-Great Recession expedition.  
"Is it closer to fifteen than twenty?"  Before the clerk could go on, Bike-guy held his hands out in an appeal.  "I gotta be back before they lock the doors."  
"Well, it takes as long as it takes."  The clerk smiled, lifting his shoulders.  "I mean, we gotta make it, then put it in the oven..."
"Okay, okay..."  The bike-guy waved his hands to silence the guy.  "I'll go ahead and order one.  But I need to get it by eight fifty-three, because they lock the doors at nine..."  
This was the girl that had taken my order.  She was coming up behind the other clerk, carrying a pizza box.  I reached over the counter to grab it.  I thanked her and stood a moment to listen.  
"If I have to leave, to get back in time, can I get store credit or something?  The last time I was here I had to go 'cause they're serious when they say I have to be back before nine.  I mean, By Nine!"  He made a chopping motion with his hand.  
"We'll do our best."  The clerk was nodding.  I could hear him thinking, "If you stop telling me how fast you need this I can get started making it for you."  
I noticed the girl watching me watch the scene.  She smiled a, "Customer's, huh?" sort of smile.  I smiled back with something like a, "good luck," smile in return.  I turned, pizza in hand.  Crossed the three feet to the door.  Opened it.  Stepped outside.  
And stopped.  I was halfway out the door, listening to bike-guy talk about how he really wanted that sandwich tonight, negotiating with them to hurry or at least give him some consideration for later if they couldn't get him his sandwich in time.  I turned around and stepped back inside.  
"Excuse me?"
Bike-guy turned to face me.  He smiled.  A very polite, well-constructed and polished smile.  He said nothing and waited for me to speak.
"You have to be home at a certain time?"  
"Nine o'clock.  The residence, they lock the doors right then."  
"And you live close by?" 
"Right around the corner.  Though I have to stop someplace.  It's on the way, though.  On the other side of the street.  Then I have to get to where I'm staying..."  He started to babble then.  Giving me all the details he had.  He glanced at my hands like he expected me to pull out something and take down notes.  
I raised my hand.  He paused in his rendition.  “If you want, I can wait here until your sandwich is done and bring it to you.  You won’t have to worry about getting home in time.”  
He paused again.  He smiled again, though this time it was a bit twisted to one side and broader.  It suited his face better.  
"Oh.  Thank you.  No...  That'll be fine."  
"You sure?"  
He took a moment to think about it, then smiled again.  "No.  I'll be alright.  But, thank you."  He waved at me in an assuring sort of way.  I could go.  No problem. 
I left, wondering why I had done that.  Was it because the holidays, with its enforcement of "Good Cheer" were over and the act, now unexpected was contrary to normal behavior?  I’m all for acting contrary to how I’m expected to act.  
Or was it because, after the good day capping off a good week, I was feeling expansive and decided to share my good results and good fortune?  
Or did I just feel for the guy, because maybe his Philly Cheesesteak sandwich was the equivalent of my pizza and wine and I knew how disappointing it can be when you just Can't GET your Pizza and Wine?
Or was it... Was it because...  Deep down, I’m really a Nice...
No, no.  Not that.  It couldn’t be that.  By the time I got back to my apartment, I had gotten myself off the hook by telling myself I hadn’t actually done anything a Nice Guy would do.  Bike-Guy’s refusal had prevented me from crossing that threshold.  I had dodged a bullet. 
Because, once you start doing nice things for people you can’t stop.  You’ll find yourself greeting strangers.  Rescuing stray cats.  Helping old ladies cross the street when you really need to be hurrying to the bank at the corner before it closes to take of your business.  
While writing this entry, I overheard a couple sitting next to me at the Starbucks I was at wondering what to do about some letter they got from American Express.  As they were googling it, I offered to them that the office listed in Pasadena had actually moved to Glendale a few weeks ago.  They thanked me and left.  
I just didn’t want them coming back and bothering me with their talk about credit cards and stuff.  My time is mine.  Yeah.  Grrr, grrr.  It was for purely selfish reasons I helped them out.  

Saturday, January 03, 2015

New Year's Resolution: Do Each Day Right

The alarm was sounding.  "Craaah-craaah-craaah-craaah..."  I could hear it echoing in the old school building.  
I looked around, but no one else seemed to be noticing.  No one was sticking their heads out of their windows.  No sirens from approaching police or fire engines.  No smoke billowing out of a back window.  
I had been walking along Del Mar, past what used to be Madison HIgh School, but which was now the headquarters for the Pasadena Unified School District.  I heard the alarm sound as I pulled even with the old building.  I've walked past it more times that I can count, when heading to the gym I go to or walking to Starbucks, usually on weekends or holidays when I get up later and want to find someplace to write without the distractions of a sofa and TV.  
This was the first time I'd heard an alarm sound.  I waited a bit, expecting it to suddenly cut off.  Someone was testing it.  Or it had gone off accidently and someone back there, unseen inside the darkened building, would shut it off just as the alarm company was calling to verify whether or not there was an emergency.
"No, no...  Sorry.  I was carrying stuff out of the supply closet and, I guess I was carrying too much stuff, I do that all time..."  A nervous, embarrassed chuckle.  A quick swallow when the person on the other side sighs.  "Anyway...  My elbow hit the alarm switch when I tried to keep this box of tissues from falling..."  
"Craaah-craaah-craaah-craaah..."  The alarm just kept going on.  
I stood on my tip-toes to peek over the fence.  Their doing construction on the building.  Remodeling.  This is part of the reason why I thought the alarm was a mistake.  Something getting tripped while they were doing something electrical.  
There didn't seem anyone around there.  No hammering or sawing.  No one shouting, "Who turned that damn thing on?" or laughing at someone's mistake.  
I was thinking of going around the fence to see if anything was going on, but there was this great big sign right in front of me that read, "Keep Out - Under Construction."  You could tell the sign was serious in its efforts to inform people they shouldn't go in by the big red letters against a solid black background.  
Not wanting to piss the sign off, or discover that there was a REAL reason for the alarm that might get spilled all over my good intentions, and still figuring that it was in all likelihood a mistake, I continued on my way.  I looked back a couple of times to see if I could spot anything, but by the end of the block I was fully committed to ignoring the alarm.  
It occurred to me today that I might be like the old school building.  Giving off mixed signals. 

I mentioned in my last post that I've not been in a good mood this holiday.  The best words I can think to describe my mood would be "cranky" or "contrary."  When I watched one of the several versions of A Christmas Carol broadcast this year, I found myself rooting for Scrooge.  Telling him to "hang tough" and stick to his guns.  A Christmas Carol is actually my favorite Christmas tale, one in the past that has turned me around and gotten me into the Christmas spirit.  
Not this year though.  It took me all the way until New Year's Even to lighten up, and then only by making myself eulogize the previous year and acknowledge the good things in it that had happened to me.  By New Year's Day, I was into the spirit, hanging out with friends at the New Year's Day festival in Little Tokyo.  
Drinking over a dozen cups of sake might have had something to do with the good feeling, but it can't take all the credit.  Try drinking that much by yourself, alone, wherever you happen to live, and you'll see what I mean.  
Walking home from the train station on New Year's, the only downer was the realization that I had missed the holidays.  I was in the mood, but they were now, officially, over.  Too bad for me.  
I also noticed, as I looked back over my behavior for the previous weeks, that I was participating in what I'll call the Suicide's Dilemma.  
I don't know if it has a real name (it probably does and I don't know enough formal psychology to know what it is), but in accounts of people who've thought of or attempted suicide, I've often heard them talk about this moment when they've have given the world the opportunity to stop them.  
It'll go something like this: "I was sitting on the bus, on my way to the bridge I planned on jumping from, looking around at the other people, sitting there, laughing and talking, but not talking or saying anything to me, and I thought to myself, 'If one person, just ONE PERSON, says something to me or asks me how I feel, or even smiles and says to me to have a nice day, I won't go through with it.  I get off the bus and head back home and not jump off the bridge."  
Typically no one says anything and its something else that interferes with the person's attempt.  
When I hear accounts like this my reaction is, "That's really stupid."  Why would anyone base their decision to end their lives, or any decision of any import, on some random reaction of someone else.  Just thinking about the number of times I've been in a group of strangers, I can't recall a single moment when I thought, "Hey...  That person looks like they might be thinking of suicide.  Maybe I should ask them how they're doing and save them from themselves."  
It touches on something I've said about suicides, a somewhat facetious piece of advice: If you feel like killing yourself, stop.  Think about the person most responsible for making you feel that way.  Go kill them instead.  
I repeat for anyone reading this who might take me up on this: It is said ONLY to underscore the fact that I think killing yourself is STUPID.  The world is already working hard to take you out.  Your job is to keep that from happening for as long as you possibly can.  OK?  Got it?  Good.
I wasn't feeling suicidal this year either.  I want to make that clear, too.  But I noticed in my rather negative behavior that, quite often, I was given the people I was dealing with an opening to do...  Something.  Not say things like, "Happy Holidays," or anything like that.  They were already doing that to excess without any prompting from me.  But upon reflection I would see that I was waiting for...  Something, to happen.  Something I could use to, in some way, make myself feel better.  
The problem is that I'm still not entirely sure exactly what sort of reaction I was hoping to get.  This, I guess, makes my behavior doubly stupid (I deserve the term).  One, for basing how I wanted things to go on some random input from others.  Two, for not even being clear enough to know what reaction I wanted.  
I was like the old school building on Del Mar.  I'm going "Craaah-Craah-Craah-Craah" in the hopes someone would react, but I'm holding up a sign saying, "Keep Out - Under Construction."  If you do things like that, it's no wonder people will keep walking with maybe only a glance or two your way.  
The "Under Construction" sign analogy is quite apt, I think.  Even at my age, I still think of myself as a work in progress.  And like everyone I have sharp edges, dangerous objects laying around in my psyche that someone might step on, buttons that can be pushed on accident that will get me screaming like that alarm.  We should all take note of these things and be sure to point them out to people coming close to us.  Part of my remodeling project will be something like public service announcements to let people know when they are getting too close to these dangerous things.  In a preemptive, non-aggressive way.  
New Year's is an artificial demarcation.  There is no reason to wait until January 1st, or December 25th or September 13th (a day picked at random) to start making changes or doing things to improve one's life.  But we do it.  And if works, there is no reason to slight it. 
I have a list of things that I want to do, have done, change or do better at in 2015.  This is the very same list that helped me turn my mood around a few days ago.  With this blog entry almost over, I won't start this list now.  But, I can boil them all down to this saying: 
In 2015, I want to Do Each Day Right.  Simple.  I know what it means.  I how its application to almost every facet of my life.  I'm starting this...  Now. 
That's my New Year's Resolution in a nutshell.  What's yours?