Monday, December 20, 2004

Let it Snow, Let it Snow

Winter finally hit NYC last night. Overnight, the temperatures dropped nearly 30 degrees and we even got our first snowfall of the season. It was more of a dusting than a full blown storm, but that didn't stop the people driving in this morning from acting as if it was the second ice age. The highway departments of nearly every town seemed to ignore the week-long weather forecasts that warned of snow and were apparently surprised to awaken this morning to see that funny white stuff on the ground. Mobilizing with their usual vim and vigor, they began working at the beginning of rush hour thereby ensuring long delays and, I'm certain, more overtime pay for themselves. Of course, there were only about two inches of snow on the ground, so we should have been able to drive through it reasonably quickly. However, many of my fellow drivers seemed to be channeling their 80 year old grandparents and so they drove 3 miles per hour with their noses pressed against the windshield. I swear that I saw a kid on a tricycle pass me as I drove down the Long Island Expressway. Its times like these that I wish I owned a tank so that I could simply roll over the idiots in front of me and get to where I'm going.

I know, I know. It's wrong of me to think that way. Part of the joy of life is the journey. I should simply relax and enjoy the trip without worrying about what time I get there. You see, the problem with that kind of logic is that it's stupid. I don't mind the journey as long as I am moving, but its hard to love sitting in traffic sucking on carbon monoxide fumes while trapped between two morons. On my right, the driver was picking his nose and thoughtfully examining each nugget that he dug out. Look away, you say? I tried but I couldn't. It was like watching a train wreck. As nauseating as it is, you can't seem to tear your eyes away from the spectacle. On the other side of me, the driver seemed to be warming up for her American Idol audition, blasting her radio and singing so loudly and off key that my windows threatened to shatter.

After all of this, I finally got to the train station to begin the second leg of my journey only to watch in dismay as the train pulled off just as I pulled into the parking lot. Now the LIRR has difficulty getting the trains to run on time on beautiful days, but somehow they always get it right on the worst days of the year...or so I thought. As walked up to look at the schedule to see when the next train was coming, I noticed that the departing train had stopped just past the platform, thereby ensuring that nobody else could get on, even though they weren't able to proceed any further. I half expected to see the conductors looking out the back window and laughing at those of us left behind to freeze before giving us the finger and mooning us.

Fortunately, the train eventually moved on and the next train arrived only about 20 minutes later. The forced bonding that took place in the barely heated waiting room was more than I could stomach after my annoying drive over, and so I stood quietly as my fellow commuters shared stories about their hellish commutes, the train they normally took, and how being late was going to throw off their day. See how lucky you are? I saved my commute story for the blog. Anyway, all of this camaraderie quickly vanished as the next train arrived at the station and people began fighting to get on as if it were the last chopper out of Saigon.

So much for the holiday spirit. Hopefully Santa wasn't watching.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Ski Follies

In an effort to stay in shape during the winter, I went skiing this weekend for the first time in almost 20 years. The air was crisp and cold and the mountain was beautiful and not too crowded. In all, it was the perfect opportunity to make a fool of myself. Believe me, I took full advantage of it.

Excited by the upcoming challenge, I put on my boots, strapped on my skis, and headed for the lift. I sat next to my friend and tried not to vomit as she swung the lift chair back and forth, amused by my rising panic. At the top of the hill, I positioned my skis, slid off the chair gracefully, and promptly fell on my ass. As if this weren't bad enough, before I could rise, I was plowed into by the person behind me, a 250+ pound guy who was as inept as me. "Great," I thought, "I'm going to be crushed to death by novice skiers before I even get down the mountain." The people who worked the lift must have seen how hopeless we were, and quickly came over to untangle us and move us out of harm's way.

Standing at the top of the hill, I adjusted my gloves, pulled down my hat, and prepared to charge down the mountain. Images of me gliding gracefully filled my head. Sadly, those images are a close as I would come to doing so. I pushed off and started to gain momentum only to realize that my legs and feet were operating as if independent from my body. As I looked down (never a good idea, by the way), I watched in horror as my skis began to cross and I mentally prepared for the first of many falls.

I don't know how I did it, since I was moving at an almost imperceptible speed, but I actually tumbled. I was later told that it was like watching a slow motion replay of an Olympic racer crashing, except that I was far more uncoordinated. "Who the hell decided that it would be fun to slide down a mountain with two sticks attached to your feet?," I mumbled as I limped down the hill to retrieve my skis. I briefly pondered going back to the lift for a ride down, but I thought it would be far more comfortable to do so in the ambulance that I was certain I'd eventually need, so I kept going. Remarkably, I was able to get to the bottom in one piece thanks to my new found ability to "snow plow" when I felt that I was going to fast - which was usually any time I went above 5 miles per hour.

As the day wore on, I slowly got better. By the end, I was able to keep my skis generally pointed in the direction I wanted to go and even build up some speed. I moved on to a more challenging run, and I actually felt pretty good. I was cruising along and I got into a semblance of a tuck in an effort to keep from being pushed back by the wind whipping at my face. I imagined myself as a downhill racer and even managed a small turn or two. My confidence began to soar. Just then, a five year old child with no poles came zooming by me as if I were standing still and I knew that it was time to call it a day. This was underscored when I reached the bottom of the run, turned to glide over to where my friend was standing, and skied directly into one of the poles supporting the lift.

I can't wait to go back....

Line of the weekend:
The powder was a few feet deep in most places. However, at some points it was only about about 4-5 inches deep, which meant that there was little cushion if one were to fall there. Of course, I chose one of these places for one of my many tumbles. Seeing the lack of snow and watching me wince in pain, my friend slid up, shook her head sadly. and said "It's just like I always say, five inches isn't nearly enough."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas in NYC

It's Christmas time here in Manhattan and the tourists abound. The tree is up at Rockefeller Center up and crowds are flocking to see it. People are lined up to see the Macy's and Sak's widow displays. Cartier has it's traditional big bow around the building. The Empire State Building is lit with holiday-themed lights. No doubt about it, it's a joyous time of year. Of course, when you've seen it as many times as most New Yorkers have, you tend to become a little jaded about the tourist attractions and you find yourself more enamored of the little things that tend to slip below people's radars. Here are this year's top five, along with a bonus entry.

Starbuck's Cups
The festive red, white, and green holiday Starbuck's cups that sit atop every overflowing garbage can and line the streets.

On a side note, as you know Starbuck's is very concerned about the environment. Do you ever wonder if their definition of recycling is paying people go around to collect the cups so that they can re-use them? I'll try not to think about that the next time I order a grande no water chai latte.

Holiday Exercise
Working off the extra pounds put on by eating holiday treats by running to obstacle course of shopping bags added to the already crushing mass of bodies as you fight to get into or out of the subway car before the doors close.

Greeting Tourists
The cheery greeting of "F***ing tourists" that reverberates around Fifth Avenue as people who are desperately trying to get to work are forced to dodge tourists who insist on stopping to point out every bow, tree, wreath, light, and window display.

By the way folks, the things in the middle of the street aren't holiday decorations, they're traffic lights.

Adorable Tourists
The annual contest to see who can come up with the most annoying holiday exchange. This year's front runner, overheard in Rockefeller Center:

Dad: "Look at the giant tree!"
Mom: "Hey Timmy, do you think that would fit in our living room?"
Timmy: "I don't know Mom, but Santa would have to bring a lot of presents to fit under a tree that big." adorable. Can you please go back to Kansas now?

By the way, last year's winner, overheard at 9:30 p.m., was "Wow, this really is the city that never sleeps."

Diversity Santas
The amazing ethnic and gender diversity of the Santas that are strategically placed on benches around the city. Wait a minute....those are homeless people?

Bonus Item - Bootleg Shopping
Doing all of your shopping without ever going indoors. I sure hope Grandma likes the bootleg copies of "Blade: Trinity" and "Jay-Z / Linkin Park Mash Up" that I just picked up for her.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

HR Seminars

I recently attended a breakfast seminar on the scintillating topic of "Building the Case for Selection Systems." Who said the the world of HR management isn't glamorous and exciting? I really need a career change...

As you can imagine, males represent a significant minority of the HR workforce. Straight, single men are even more rare. Consequently, HR events are often akin to singles bars, but with the male/female ratios reversed. Having gone to quite a number of these things, I've come to recognize how the single women in the audience approach the process.

Step One: The room scan
It all begins with the basic scan of the room. Which table does she want to sit at? Where are the most attractive people grouped? If the room is relatively empty, they sometimes find it best to stand and sip coffee as they gaze thoughtfully out the window at the view of Central Park while waiting for people to arrive.

Step Two: Ring check
Before sitting down, they check the men for wedding rings.

Step Three: The greeting
Oddly enough"come to these often?" is the preferred introductory line. Trailing just behind that, in a close second, is "I really shouldn't be eating these pastries, but I'm going to the gym later so....ha, ha, ha." Thus letting you know that she worries about her figure and is dedicated to remaining in shape.

Step Four: Vaguely probing questions
These generally begin with business type questions "Where do you work?"(ummm...the company name is on my name tag, kiddo) "What kind of company is that?" (a law firm) "What do you do there?" (as little as possible...mostly blogging and IMing), before veering into personal inquiries with a subtle emphasis on uncovering sexual orientation "tip offs." (i.e. I was with my nephew this weekend. He's so adorable. Do you have any children?") Additionally, they check you out more closely. Is he a little too fashionable and well groomed? Are those Prada shoes he's wearing? The last thing she wants to do is make friends with another gay HR guy.

Step Five: Keeping the Momentum Alive
As the presentation begins, the banter continues. Sly comments are whispered and notes are written and passed back and forth.

Step Six: Good-Bye
At the end of the presentation comes the ritual business card exchange and the elevator ride down to the lobby during which the small talk becomes awkward and almost post coital in nature, most of it of the "let's keep in touch" variety.

Step Seven: Follow-Up
Within 24 hours, she sends a breezy e-mail along the lines of this "Hi! I had a lot of fun talking to you. Maybe we can get together for lunch or drinks soon to talk about the seminar, and how you are planning to address the issue discussed at your firm. Let me know!"

See? The life of an HR guy isn't always all that bad.

Addendum: A few friends have called to ask about this, so I want to stress that this is fictional. This didn't happen to me, it's just what I've seen happen with others at these events. Need more evidence? Well, I said they sit at the table with the most attractive people. Obviously, that leaves me out.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Rest in Peace, Bob

I was thinking about my friend Bob last night. It's been nearly a year since he passed away and I still find my mind wandering back to him from time to time. One day he was so young and full of life and suddenly the next day he was gone. Thinking about him always makes me realize just how fragile life is and how we should be grateful for each moment that we have.

But then I remembered how Bob struggled as we held him under the water and how it seemed to take an hour for him to stop thrashing about and I smiled and thought that maybe life isn't so fragile after all.

Good old Bob. Still teaching lessons even after he's gone.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Junk Mail

I rarely look into the bulk mail folder in my e-mailbox, but I was bored this morning so I thought I'd take a peek. Now I'm hooked. If these mailings are to believed - and who am I to doubt the honesty of the many kind people who took time out of their schedules to send them to me - the good life is just around the corner for me.

There are messages that promise to let me "wow the girls" by increasing the size of my penis. Once that's done, I can use a variety of pills and creams to enhance my ability to both obtain and maintain my new, improved erection and to make sex last longer. If I don't have someone to impress with this newfound vitality, I can meet someone using one of the many singles dating services they were nice enough to inform me about. If that doesn't work out, I can choose from a seemingly infinite number of porn sites containing - in no specific order - teens of the horny, wet, virgin and/or barely legal variety, mature moms, real babes doing unreal acts (whatever those are), group sex, animal sex, bondage...the list goes on and on. I can also watch the ongoing battle between Christy, Misty, Ebony, and Amanda, each of whom claim to be the hottest porn star on the net. Access to these sites requires a credit card, which is no problem as I am apparently qualified to receive a number of cards at "the lowest monthly rate." If I'm approved (and why wouldn't I be?), they'll even throw in a free Nokia 6016i. I don't know what that is, but suddenly I want one. In order to get in shape for all of this sexual activity, I can lose unwanted pounds by simply taking a pill or, if that's too difficult, drinking a liquid that promises to melt the pounds away.

As I will surely need a larger living space for me and my enhanced penis, I can buy a new house for mere pennies using their exclusive foreclosure listings. Should I need some money to fix up the place, I can refinance it at unbelievably low rates. I won't need the money to travel, though, as I can take free vacations to Florida, the Bahamas or Jamaica just by contacting the friendly representatives that are standing by waiting for my call. I'm not sure I'm going anywhere right away, though, so if you are one of the representatives waiting for my call, you can take the rest of the day off.

Sadly, there are no free trips to Nigeria. That's a shame as I seem to be the sole surviving heir to several wealthy businessmen that have recently passed away leaving millions of dollars unclaimed. That reminds me, give me a minute while I send them my back account and routing number so that they can wire the funds to me directly..........................

Okay, I'm back. As I sit around my new house and plan my vacation, I can entertain myself by listening the the free iPod mini that I'll receive simply for taking ten minutes to complete a marketing survey. If I want to get out of the house for a while, I can go on a shopping spree with one of the $500 gift cards that I'll receive just for completing all of the offer requirements. I don't know what they are, but I'm fairly easily bought off.

I can't believe I've been blind to the world of possibilities that spam mailers have laid at my doorstep. I've never felt so popular in my life.

Monday, December 06, 2004

99 Cent Dreams

There is a store in my old neighborhood called "99 Cent Dreams." Every time I saw it, I would think "99 cent dreams? Is that the best you can really do?" I mean, if you are going to dream, why not dream big? Then again, maybe it takes a while for people to work up to that. Eventually, they buy a Lotto ticket and look back fondly on the old days. I can see it now. Grandpa sitting on his rocking chair with his grandchildren crowded around him. He holds up the ticket and says "I used to have only 99 cent dreams, but I've worked hard and now I can dream of winning millions." The children would smile lovingly at him, wheel him out into the sun so that he would be warm, and then ask their parents if that's what they meant when they told them about grandpa's dementia.

I thought of this because I was in a 99 cent store on Friday night. Now I know what you are thinking. "Joe, you have so damn much money. Why do you waste your time in 99 cent stores?" It's just my way of keeping in touch with my roots. You see, during the Great Depression, a drought forced my family and I to abandon our claim in the dust bowl of Oklahoma. We piled our belongings into our battered automobile and headed for California where we, and the other "Okies," lived a nomadic existence and longed only to find a place to rest and settle. Oh, wait, that was The Grapes of Wrath. Sorry...

Anyway, as I started to say, I was with someone who wanted to pick up a few Christmas decorations, so we stopped into 99 cent store. After wandering the aisles for a few moments, we went to the register to pay for the merchandise. As we waited, two clerks from the store conducted a heated conversation. Apparently, both were upset that the person who had been manning the register left without informing them. The woman who took over as cashier as particularly vexed. Of course, her indignance at this lapse in customer service was somewhat undermined by the fact that she continued to ignore the customers on line while she complained. As she vented, she switched back and forth between English and Spanish. "Ah," I thought, "she's probably switching to Spanish because she doesn't want the customers to hear her complaining about her co-worker." About a second later, I realized that I was probably the only one there who didn't understand Spanish, and so I felt like an ass for even thinking that.

On an unrelated note, has anyone else noticed how much smaller Dunkin Donuts have become? At the same time, Munchkins have remained the same size. For those of you who don't know, Munchkins are the snacks they make using the dough punched out of the center of the doughnut. This means that the size of the hole has remained the same, even though the doughnuts have shrunken. I watched someone eat one in about two seconds the other day. At first, I thought the person must have been starving, but then I ate one and realized that it only took about two bites to finish it.

Okay, time to get to work.

Little Annoyances

As the law requires, we have automatic doors in our bathrooms here at work. While the door can be, and generally are, opened manually, the buttons for the automatic doors are in place so that people with disabilities can easily access the facilities. Unfortunately, they are also sometimes used by people who would rather not touch the doors after washing their hands. That was the case today. There were two women conversing outside of the men's room when I entered. I walked into the restroom and proceeded straight ahead to the urinal. As I stood there doing my business, the guy leaving the room hit the button for the first door, and then for the second, leaving both doors wide open for about five seconds and offering the women a clear view of me standing there. As I walked out, one of them said, "Thanks for the show, Joe," before both of them broke into giggles.

Coming back from Duane Reade a few minutes ago, I noticed a woman trying to hail a cab in the rain. All of the cabs were occupied, as you could easily tell by looking to see that the lights on top of the cabs were dark. As the cabs pulled up to the light, she would look in the window and smile at the driver in the apparent hope that he would be horny enough to toss out his fare and offer her a ride.

While I'm on the subject of Duane Reade, let me say this. I recognize that space is at a premium here in Manhattan and that you have to make the most of what you have, but there is a limit to how much merchandise you should have in the store. It's the holiday season and an effort to sell stuffed animals, they have stuffed them into any available space in the store. They are hanging from the ceiling, tied to railing, stuffed in corners...they're everywhere I tell you. It looks like they are holding teddy bear nation hostage.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Employee Relations

I had to deal with an employee relations issue this morning. For those of you who don't work in HR, employee relations issues are the worst. These can range from a simple disciplinary action issue, such as lateness, to the more time consuming sexual harassment cases. Most of the time, however, they are annoying little "he said, she said" squabbles that just bore the shit out of you.

Employee: "Jane was promoted over me, and I feel like I'm just as good as her. It's not fair. Can you explain?"

Me: "Why yes, I can. While you are in my office three times a week whining about every f***ing thing that comes to mind, Jane is at her desk. No doubt you are just as talented as her, but the key to her success is that she actually works!"
Most HR professionals will tell you that you can tell when someone is new to HR when they tell you that they love employee relations. No, you don't. And you aren't impressing any of us by pretending to. It would be like me telling you that I love to get my penis caught in mouse traps. Well, perhaps that's a bad example as I actually quite enjoy getting my penis caught in mousetraps, but that's an entirely different story.

Anyway, as I listened to the issue, my mind kept wandering off. A dip into my thoughts at the time would have revaled items like: What am I going to eat for lunch? Oh, look, the sun is coming out. I hope somebody IMs me soon. Is that a stain on her shirt? Wow, she has a mustache.

As a result, I must have missed about 80% of the things she said. To cover my ass, as I usually do, I asked my standard closing question. "I'm more than happy to listen to the things you've brought to my attention, but what, if any, action would you like me to take?" I've found that people prefer hearing that rather than the more honest statement which would be along the lines of "Please don't take the fact that I'm looking at you, nodding, and making occasional encouraging noises to mean that I'm interested in anything that you are saying. It's just something that I've learned to do to be polite."

In the end, all she wanted to do was talk. I felt like saying "Don't we have an entire employee assistance program designed to listen to this shit? Why are you in my office bothering me?"

And so there went another hour of my life and a billion brain cells that I'll never get back.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Fear of Heights

Ok, I admit it. I'm afraid of heights. It doesn't strike all of the time. For example, when I'm rock climbing, I rarely think about it. Now that I think about it, the burning pain in my arms and legs as I try to force my pathetically out of shape body up the side of a wall probably goes a long way towards freeing my mind.

Over the years, I've tried to conquer my fear by facing it directly. I'd volunteer to fix my parents roof, or I'd go to the Empire State Building and force myself to look down. Sometimes I was successful, and others would leave me paralyzed with fear and wondering how I was going to extract myself from my situation. What may have appeared to be my quiet contemplation of nature as I sat with my legs dangling over a cliff was really me thinking "I wonder how embarrassing would it be to ask that eighty year old woman in the walker to come over and hold my hand as I get up and walk away from the edge?"

A few years ago, I was on a business trip to Atlanta. It was one of my first trips (long before I realized just how much business trips suck) and I was excited to get out and have some fun. I had seen enough movies to know these journeys were all about anonymous sex with strangers that you meet in hotel bars and, goddamit, I was gonna get me some of that.

Anxious to begin, I dropped my suitcase on the bed and proceeded directly to the lobby bar. Sadly, the sole customers were two nearly toothless old men. Now a smart person would have seen this, cruised through the lobby and out into the street and found the closest bar where he would immediately start drinking and fraternizing with the locals. Those of you who know me realize that I'm not a smart person, so you're already ahead of the game here.

Instead, I stood in the lobby, feeling lost and desperately wanting to hold a drink in my hand and try to look cool. This was long before I realized that in order for me to look cool everyone else had to be drinking, preferably to the point where their judgment was not only impaired, but nearly obliterated. Sensing defeat five minutes into the night, I began to trudge back toward the elevators, when I came across a sign for the Sun Dial Bar, located 75 stories up and offering a panoramic view Atlanta. "Ah, that must be where they hide all of the women," I thought, as I pressed the button for the elevator that would take me to my destiny.

I clambered into the empty elevator car, and started humming to myself as it began it's ascent. I didn't realize two things at the time. First, it was an express elevator. Second, it was a glass enclosed elevator that offers magnificient views of the city. I confidently pressed the button and reacted in shock as I left the concrete cocoon in the lobby to begin the ride up. The lights dimmed and a tape of soothing music began to play. A narrators voice came over the speaker, telling my just how lucky I was to be taking this ride, and describing the beautiful sights that I'd see on the ride up - somehow assuming I that I'd remain conscious for the entire time.

Thinking to myself "I can get through this," I bravely turned towards the glass and held on to the brass railing with all of my strength. I was okay for the first twenty stories or so, but then things began to careen out of control. I swear I could hear the narrator saying "You are now 30 stories up. If the elevator were to crash, you would plummet to your death in approximately 10 seconds. From the look on your terror stricken face, I'd imagine that you'd scream like a bitch the entire way down."

Squeezing my eyes shut, I slowly turned back to face the elevator doors, stepping as close to them as possible in order to limit my peripheral vision. That's me. Always thinking in a time of crisis. Breathing a sigh of relief, I opened my eyes. Big mistake. The elevator doors were so highly polished that they clearly reflected the scene behind me. Meanwhile, the sadistic narrator kept telling me exactly how high up I was. I would have ripped out the damn speaker if I didn't worry that it would ruin the structural integrity of the elevator, or cause a massive short circuit that would bring about my demise.

After what seemed like an hour, I finally reached the 75th floor, whereupon my knees, which had been locked in fear, promptly gave out causing me to collapse onto the carpet of the Sun Dial Bar/restaurant. I climbed shakily to my feet, stumbled over to the bar and promptly ordered the biggest drink they had. The remainder of the evening was spent in a near catatonic state. I stared like a zombie at the lights twinkling far, far (far, far, far, far) below as sipped my drink and contentedly drooled on myself.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Rain Joke

It's pouring out there today. Coupled with the hurricane force gusts, it made for an interesting commute to the doctor this morning before heading to work. It also reminded me of one of my favorite stupid jokes of all time.

"It's raining cats and dogs....I just stepped in a poodle. "

The train lurched on the subway ride over this morning, causing a woman to stumble forward and bury her face in the armpit of the man standing next to her. Is there any way to gracefully disentangle yourself from something like that? She did the best she could. First, she looked around as if someone had pushed her. When that failed, she checked to see if anyone had placed something in her path that caused her to lose her balance. Eventually, she realized that she just had to suck it up and look foolish solely on her own merit.

In other news, CNN's top story is that Bush praised Canada today. Must be a very slow news day.