Monthly Archives: November 2012

Call me Mr. Emergency. Seriously, call me that. Like the next time you see me.

I’m the guy you want to be with during an emergency. I’m ready for anything. I’ve got escape routes tattooed on my body. I’ve sewn spare batteries into every pair of socks that I own. I know, that sounds a little much, but I’ve got a system. In my thick, wool winter socks, I sew in one size D battery. And then for every other pair of socks that I own, I go down in battery size with relation to how much thinner the socks get. Like regular socks might have double-As, really thin running socks triple-As, and then for my wife’s ultra thin pantyhose and leggings, I’ve hidden away little watch batteries of various sizes.

You know how some people fill up the bathtub whenever a big storm rolls into town? I keep my bathtub filled all the time. You might think it gets in the way of taking a shower and staying clean, but it doesn’t. I submerged my whole body in the tub when we moved in and I filled the whole thing up to the brim. I used a straw so I could breath. After it was filled I got out and measured how much water was left in the tub, and I labeled it with a line around the perimeter. So I just always keep it to that level, this way while I’m waiting out any potential disasters, I can still take a bath without wasting any water. I mean, yeah I’m spending a ton of money on constantly keeping the water level up that high, but whatever, it’s totally worth it.

I just bought twenty-five packs of candles. I hollowed out the bottom of each candle and snuck inside little birthday candles. If I ever need an emergency birthday party, I’m set. If not, then I assume that once the big candles gets down to the little candles, they’ll just continue to burn like a regular candle. But another trick: I didn’t use regular birthday candles, I used those prank candles, the ones that relight after you’ve blown them out. That way if it’s really windy, I’ll be the only guy on the block with a functioning celebration. Also, I figure they might come in handy in case anybody needs an emergency joke.

I’ve got a backup generator for my backup generator. I even bought a separate computer and loaded a bunch of web sites and photos and videos on it. So when the power goes out for good, I can just crank up the generator, use my regular computer to wirelessly link up to the emergency computer, and there it is, emergency Internet. Yeah, it might not be as comprehensive or up to date as the regular Internet, but it beats playing chess or reading a book or having a conversation.

I’ve got it all. Emergency power, emergency entertainment, even emergency money. If the dollar ever collapses, I’ve printed up enough personalized currency to keep me in the black for at least a decade. Nobody else is going to have any. You know why? I bought an emergency money press, and so if people get wise to my idea and try to make their own money, they’re going to look up “money presses” on the Internet, and Google will tell them, “Calculating route to nearest money press,” and they’ll take out their phones and load up the directions and it’ll lead them right to my front door. And they’ll have to go through me. And sure, I’ll do business with you. But I only accept my personalized emergency money as payment. Sorry.

Flashlights? Please. I’ve designed our guest room’s furniture entirely out of flashlights. Canned food? Come on. I filled the basement entirely with cans, floor to ceiling. You’d literally have to eat your way out, which, in the event of an emergency, that’s exactly what I’d want to do. The only thing I think I’ve forgotten is emergency clothing.

Actually, the only thing I forgot is that I actually didn’t forget about the emergency clothing. I already took care of it. I got out the sewing kit and laid out all of my clothes inside out. Then I sewed another shirt or pants on the inside of every inside out pair. One, this saves so much space, because it looks like it’s only one shirt or one pair of pants. Two, once civilization has collapsed, after a year or two, everybody will look really haggard, all post-apocalyptic torn slacks and ripped blouses. And all I’ll have to do is flip my clothes inside out again to reveal a brand new unworn garment. People will be like, “Rob, how do manage to look so good throughout all of this societal unrest?” And I won’t tell anybody, because once they figure out how prepared I am for even the smallest of details, word will spread that I’m the emergency king, and people will think, what else has he thought of? Guest rooms filled with flashlights? Basements stocked with canned goods? Emergency Internet?”

And all of the personalized currency in the world can’t buy your way out of a mob of desperate people, all driven to storm your house and take whatever they can grab. Which is why I have an emergency self-destruct button. “It’s a fake!” some people will scream, to which I’ll reply, “Go ahead! Try me!” and even though most people will see it as the fake button it really is, there will always be that doubt in the back of everyone’s mind, telling them, well, he’s been this prepared for everything else. Maybe that button really does work.

And eventually they’ll all leave. And I’ll be put in charge of rebuilding, because I’d have shown tremendous wisdom in getting through emergencies and crises. And that old saying will be replaced by a new saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going, to line up in front of Rob’s house, to pledge allegiance, to beg for supplies, and see if there isn’t anything he might not need in return.” Yeah it’s a little long, but it’s practical, and as far as sayings go, in an emergency anyway, practicality always trumps catchiness.

Working hard or hardly working? Both.

I always hear variations of the same quote, something about if you love your job, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked a day in your life. So that’s my first clue as to how I know I don’t love my job, because I totally feel like I’m going to work every single time that I’m going to work. I guess I could go through my whole work history, but as of right now I’m working as a waiter, serving food and drinks and smiling and saying things like, “Coming right out, sir,” and “Hope you had a great time, folks.”

I’m not complaining, really. I’ve had enough terrible jobs where I’m at a point that I don’t hate what I’m doing, and so that’s definitely a good thing. And regardless of what the job is, I think work isn’t a question of labor; it’s really all about time. Considering the fact that most of us have to do something considered work, I’ve found that my personal satisfaction on a day-to-day basis stems from how much time I have that I can consider my own vs. how much of my time that I have to be someplace outside of my house doing things that I really, really don’t feel like doing, which is exactly what going to work is.

Because like I said it’s a matter of time. With my current job, I have some set hours, but it’s really such a loose structure. At my restaurant we have twelve waiters working per shift. With two shifts a day, that’s twenty-four spots. On a weekly basis, I’m only scheduled to work five of those spots. Mostly every other employee at this job is some sort of an entertainer, performer, or actor, so these people are constantly looking to swap shifts and make trades.

As a wannabe writer, this always works out in my favor. Seeing as how I do my writing on my time, I really don’t have to set aside any specific hours. So every week I can basically shape and mold my schedule as I see fit. It’s great because, and I’ve been doing this a lot lately, I can work three double shifts in a row and then have off for four days. It’s like taking those thirty-five hours that I once upon a time spent sitting in an office from nine to five, Monday through Friday, and just compressing them into a pill that I can choke down in one oversized swallow.

It’s no picnic, by the end of that last shift I feel like I’ve lost just enough of my humanity, like I’m almost capable of walking outside and mugging a complete stranger, but it’s totally, totally worth it to have four days off.

And this is what I’ve been trying to get at from the beginning of this essay. That whole quote about loving your job so much that it doesn’t feel like work. I feel like it’s a great idea, and if you’re able to make that a reality for your life, then that’s amazing. Consider yourself very fortunate, because that’s the dream, right? Personal and professional fulfillment. But it’s not practical on a large scale. If everybody had that, then there wouldn’t be any garbage men or bank tellers or people who go down in the sewers to do repairs or guys who have to scoop up elephant dung at the circus or waiters and waitresses to get you another Diet Coke.

I think that, for maximized happiness, on a global scale, it would be within everybody’s best interests to find some way where your work time is never greater than your free time. I think, as a society, as a species, that’s what we should be striving for. There are enough people on this planet to make it a reality. There’s no reason that companies should set thirty-five, forty hours a week as this arbitrary holy standard of productivity. Based on my own experiences in the office world, an absurd majority of this time is spent mindlessly cruising the Internet, clicking on some bullshit spreadsheet whenever a boss walks by, but the boss probably doesn’t even care, because she’s got a Scrabble game going on in her office, and she resents the fact her bosses make her get up every now and then to walk around and make sure everyone’s being productive.

And if you think my idea is stupid, just look to the New York City Department of Sanitation. Workers have a very important, very messy job to do, but they get it done, they hustle their asses off, and they pick up all of the trash on their routes. And if they finish before it’s quitting time, then, whatever, they’ve done their jobs, there isn’t any more trash to be picked up, so they get to go home and still clock in for a full day’s work. Oh yeah, plus they get some of the best benefits in the city. Oh yeah, plus they get full retirement after twenty years. And, oh yeah, there’s something like a four-year waiting list just to get one of those jobs.

I’m not saying we should all aspire to work less. We should all be working smarter, not harder. Nothing’s worse than doing your job fast and efficient, only to have some boss turn around and go, “Oh, don’t have anything to do? I’ll give you something to do,” and then giving you some sort of a busy-work, some meaningless drudgery that’ll make you think twice about doing your original work faster ever again. It hinders productivity. Employers should be hiring people for jobs, not time. Let me do my job as fast and efficiently as possible so I can get out and go home.

Changing jobs

I changed jobs a while ago. The restaurant I had been working at for a couple of years decided, amongst other poor decisions, to ignore the advice of the Department of Health. “I’m going to come back here sometime in the next few weeks,” the health inspector said, “and if I don’t like what I see …” then the restaurant’s C grading would stand. For anybody that doesn’t know, all New York City restaurants are given an annual rating of A, B, or C. So the restaurant changed nothing, the guy came back, was like, “are you kidding me?” gave them the C, and left. As punishment, the general manager came downstairs in a cocaine-fueled rage, fired the closest busboy, screamed out something like, “and there’s more where that came from!” to the rest of the staff and then disappeared.

So I figured, yeah, you know what? As much as I adored my indentured servitude, maybe a change of scenery would do me some good. But I wasn’t sure. I needed to make a list, some pros and cons. OK, so, pro: all you can eat ice cream. Believe me, I took advantage of that one. Pro: Only tourists came in, meaning no regulars, meaning if I didn’t feel like acting nice I didn’t have to, because even if they did complain, pro: the managers didn’t do anything except hide out in the office, and wouldn’t know how to deal with a pissed off guest anyway.

But the con side of the list brought everything into sharp relief. No benefits, no regular schedule, constant yellings and screamings from the psychotic GM … whatever, I don’t feel like reliving my lousy job by complaining. I do enough of that in real life.

So I went online and checked out some job listings. One restaurant immediately caught my eye because they offered benefits, something pretty rare in the service industry. I walked in, went through the interviews, and here I am, new job. My old job didn’t take it so well. Even though I gave a five-weeks notice, the general manager looked me square in the eye and told me I’d never work in the restaurant industry ever again. Seriously, what a nut job.

The only problem I had in switching, and it sounds like a minor detail, but there is always so much time spent waiting around while you’re filling out applications. It’s almost enough of a deterrent in itself to actually finding a new job. I walked in the door of the new restaurant. I had to introduce myself to a hostess and tell her I’m responding to the open call. She gives me an application and tells me to take a seat somewhere to fill it out. There are like two hundred other people filling out applications. First of all, I don’t get this application stuff, because it’s all right there on my resume. Why don’t you just take a copy of my resume? Everybody puts so much weight on the resume, but every single time I’ve interviewed somewhere, they always make me waste twenty or thirty minutes refilling out everything by hand on some generic application form.

Whatever. I filled it out. I handed it in. “Thanks a lot, somebody will be with you in a second.” And I hate to ask, but I know from past experiences that I have to, “Where should I wait?” because if I don’t ask, I’ll just kind of wander around aimlessly and try not to look like I’m too worried that I’m waiting in the incorrect area. And then the waiting starts. People are being selected at what seems like totally random to sit down and chat with somebody in a suit. I wonder why people who came after me are being interviewed first.

I tell myself, don’t think about it Rob. Get out of your head. Just act natural. But acting natural only works if you’re not thinking about it. And if I really wanted to act really natural, I’d be at home on my couch taking it easy. That’s a little too natural. So I always engage in an anxious type of weird self-coaching. Sit up straight. OK, not too straight. Stop furrowing your brow. Stuff runs through my mind like, where do I look? I want to look engaged with the world but not scatterbrained. I want to look focused on something without staring off into space. I don’t want to seem fidgety, but I don’t want to be like a statue.

Finally I got called. The manager gave me a brief interview, looked at my then-current former job and said something like, “Wow, you must love it there. That place is really busy. Why are you leaving?” and I have to make up some crazy sounding answer about wanting more flexibility or growth opportunities or something like that. Nobody wants an interviewee to start badmouthing their current job. You have to stay positive. So the manager tells me to hang tight while he gets some more papers for me to fill out. More waiting.

Maybe fifteen minutes later he comes back with a personality test. It was one of those “1 for strongly disagree, 5 for strongly agree” type of tests. Stuff like, “I just hate being bossed around by women,” and I’d mark a number one. My thing is, even if you’re the biggest sexist on the planet, can’t you see right through that question? Don’t you realize that any job is going to want you to say, “no problem?”

I fill out that test. Then came an intelligence test. Then they set up another interview. Then another one. Then a uniform check. I get through all of them. What I can’t believe is that I made it through the waiting in between each round. Just showing up at the restaurant, I’d immediately be directed to a seat to wait. Indefinitely. Then someone would come with something for me to sign. “I’ll be right back to take that from you.” Half an hour of more waiting.

I got to thinking that all of that waiting had to be a part of the interview process. They had to be looking specifically for people that could go for long periods of time while sitting still. Anybody who knows me knows that that’s not who I am. So I just had to fake it. I had to clench my fists as tight as I could while trying not to go for my phone every ten seconds to check if that email wasn’t maybe something more important than one of the twenty-five emails Barack Obama sent me asking for some more reelection campaign money.

I got the job. All is well. I just feel like a lot of what inhibits me from going for new jobs is stuff like spending hours waiting around doing absolutely nothing. I know it’s incredibly shortsighted to not want to go out there because you’re afraid of waiting. But can imagine how awful I would have felt if, after all of that sitting around, they just left me there? They wouldn’t even tell me I couldn’t work there, they’d just ignore me, keep me waiting, the restaurant getting busier and busier until finally, a hostess or a waitress would come up to me and be like, “Can we help you?” and I’d try to explain that I’m waiting for somebody to come back with some papers, but they’d never show up. The dinner rush would end and finally someone else would come by and be like, “We’re closing up. Locking the doors for the night. Let’s go.”

And none of that happened. But it all went through my mind as I was sitting there, wondering what was taking so long, hoping I didn’t misunderstand some social cue, worrying that I’d somehow been overlooked or forgotten about.

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody

It goes without saying, but I’ll start off with it anyway: Thanksgiving is great. Besides Flag Day, it has to be the best holiday of the year. I’m not really comfortable writing these themed blog posts, because all I naturally want to do is just state the obvious, the turkey, the booze, the no work, etc. So I’ll try to attack Thanksgiving from a couple different perspectives.

One reason why I love Thanksgiving so much more than any other American holiday is because it’s the one time of the year where we get to celebrate without having to express our celebration via the giving and receiving of gifts. Christmas is too stressful, and way too commercial. I’ve never, ever had that perfect balance of giving a great gift and receiving a great gift. They’ve both happened at various Christmases in my life, but never at the same time, and never of equal quality. And the buying, buying, shopping, buying of Christmas, to me, sucks a majority of the festivity out of the holiday, out of the whole season.

But this is supposed to be about how much I love Thanksgiving, not about how much I hate Christmas. And I don’t really hate Christmas. Not really. But Thanksgiving. It definitely gets better and better as you get older. It’s nice to see everyone in the same place at the same time, something that doesn’t happen as often as we’d all like now that everyone’s out of the house, living on our own. And being an adult, even if I don’t exactly feel like an adult, it really lets me appreciate going home, not having to work, and being able to stuff my face all day.

When my wife and I were in the Peace Corps, we spent two Thanksgivings away from home. The first one was tough, because we had only been in Ecuador for about five months. Our Spanish wasn’t yet where we wanted it to be, and we were still going through the roughest parts of the culture shock. The Peace Corps office in Quito offered all the volunteers a trip to the capital to have a real Thanksgiving dinner with various embassy staff and their families. My wife and I wound up getting assigned to dine at the Ambassador’s mansion.

It was a formal Thanksgiving, like ties and dress shirts. There were waiters passing out drinks and assigned seats at the table. All of the cutlery and plates were engraved with the seal of the United States Department of State. It was a good time, but it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. That feeling intensified when we took turns calling our families back home, listening to everyone having fun in the background, Thanksgiving as usual.

The next year a group of volunteers met up at our site for Thanksgiving. In preparation, my wife and I bought a live turkey to raise a couple months before the big day. The whole process was quite the ordeal, seeing as how the two of us had absolutely no idea what we were doing. We lived in the mountains in a very rural town, and we took a ride in the back of a pickup truck to buy the turkey in slightly larger town about an hour away.

When we finally found somebody with a turkey for sale, they just kind of pointed to it, this animal, “there you go, it’s yours.” I was like, “uh, so, how do I take it? How do I get it back to our house?” And the people who sold it just held their hands up in the air. “I don’t know. Just don’t get too close, because it’ll peck your eyes out.”

After standing there, totally clueless for a little while, someone finally gave us a big sack and helped us put the turkey inside. Then it was back in the pickup truck. When we got back to site, we set up some chicken wire in the backyard and put out some dried corn for it to eat. I didn’t want to get attached to the animal, but to condense the two months that we raised this animal into somewhat of a short story, we wound up naming him Tony, building him a little turkey house in the backyard, and cooking him all sorts of different foods because we felt bad that he might not be too enthusiastic about eating dried corn everyday.

Tony became kind of a second pet for us. Our first dog Gladys had just died and Tony became an unlikely replacement to fill that void. And maybe it was all in my head, I mean, I never thought poultry would be able to reciprocate these types of feelings, but I really do think Tony felt some sort of attachment towards us. Whenever I went out to the back yard, he would come running over to me, his giant wings extended as if he wanted to give me a big turkey hug. When I went inside, he would jump up on top of his little turkey house and cry out. I’d imagine him saying, “Rob! Stay outside with me! I love you!”

But then turkey day arrived and I had to shove any sentimentalities out of my head to get ready for the big day. I invested a solid fifteen minutes of Internet research on the most humane way to go about doing the deed. Martha Stewart told me to get Tony drunk first. Different hunting web sites talked about which guns I should use, or even maybe finding a good bow and arrow. Finally I went with a neighbor’s advice: shoving Tony into a rice sack, cutting a hole in the corner of the sack so only his head would pop out, and then (warning: it’s going to get graphic) slicing his neck open and holding him upside down to bleed out into a trough.

I maintain that the plan was decent and humane, but you know how it is the first time you try anything. There’s always a learning curve. So yeah, Tony probably suffered a little more than I’d have liked. I should have used a bigger knife. I probably should have gotten him a little drunk. After the last signs of life flickered from his beady little eyes, we had to dip the carcass in boiling water to get the feathers off. And then we had to gut him. Somewhere after cutting his neck open but before cleaning out his insides my brain automatically stopped referring to him as Tony.

Hey, I told you it was graphic. But that Thanksgiving was amazing. We were the only Americans celebrating Thanksgiving in a completely foreign environment. We had great friends, great food. We bought a Chinese satellite dish that somehow broadcast a pirated stream of American football. Among my memories of Thanksgiving, 2010 definitely stands out among the rest.

But it’s a great holiday every year. That’s what I’m getting at here. It’s Thanksgiving so I had to put up a Thanksgiving blog post. I hope everybody is making great memories, eating great food, and taking it real easy, just enjoying the time off and spending it with great people. I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m really thankful for everything in my life. I think about the majority of humans who have lived or are currently living on this planet, and I feel grateful for every single second that I get to be alive, living here, part of this experience, part of people’s lives.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Election 2012: The Recap

The election is over. I spent that night watching TV, and the results came in so fast that I almost missed the announcement. I had read all of these articles the day before saying how that, under certain circumstances, we might not have had a clear victor until mid December. So when all of the networks started calling it before 11pm, it was kind of surprising.

I wonder what it must have felt like for Mitt Romney, a guy who has been campaigning for President since 2006 really. Even the day of the election, he’s out there, holding rallies, firing up supporters. So was Obama. Up until the very end, everyone said it was anybody’s game, and so I guess each side had a legitimate hope that they could win. But as Pennsylvania went for the President and then all of the other swing states followed suit, and then NBC starts calling it and eventually Fox News does the same, I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like for Romney, for his team.

To get so close, only to be denied right at the very end. I can’t see how these guys can go out in front of their crowds and make concession speeches. How do you hold your head up like that? I’d want to just crawl away somewhere and disappear. And you have to get on the phone and call up your opponent, the guy who you’ve been trading barbs with for the past year, lobbing insults across the airways.

And then what’s the next day like? To all of the sudden have a campaign go from running at full capacity to the very next day just shutting down? It’s not just like losing your job. It’s like being the head of a business that overnight just goes belly up, dead in its tracks.

I can’t stand the gloating on Facebook, which is super hypocritical, because I’m right on the frontlines of it. I’m like a lieutenant, a Facebook amateur political commentary lieutenant. But I hate it. I hate it when I see comments from the other side, the opposing political viewpoint. A part of me just says, OK Rob, just take a deep breath and let it go. Just ignore it. Don’t feel like you have to post something of your own. It’s going to be a very fleeting sense of satisfaction at best.

Sometimes I’ll listen to my own advice. Other times I can’t help myself. I’ll throw something out there, something partisan, something divisive. Whatever, I already said it was stupid. But it was all of these small little comments, these occasional back-and-forths that, over time, they built up into something that made me feel like I had a personally vested interest in who won the campaign. And this was all very outside of the issues, outside of politics. A bigger part of it came down to, I didn’t want to have to go on to Facebook and see all the gloating from the other side if Romney won. It would have eaten at me from inside.

I kind of know how it felt. During the 2004 election, the first one that I could vote for, I was positive leading up to voting day that John Kerry was going to destroy George W. Bush. But what I felt as I watched that night unfold on TV, as the results came in a way that I hadn’t anticipated, that sinking feeling, staring at the screen, hoping for some “Breaking News” update that would tell me it was all a big joke. And then afterwards I would watch these political commentators and these smug right wing guys in suits would say stuff like, “Well, it’s evident that America is a fairly conservative country.” And I just sat there, boiling with impotent rage, unable to even properly let out the frustration that was building up inside. But why? Why was I angry? Was my life going to be that fundamentally different than it was before?

During this whole election season I had the same fear that it might happen again. And when it didn’t, I experienced a very hollow but palpable sense of elation. It’s over. I didn’t have to face a reality that I had not properly thought out. But the first thing I did was log onto Facebook and write “Four! More! Years!” a big middle finger to all of my online friends who happen to have a different way of looking at things. I felt great for like ten minutes, but then I felt terrible, realizing that I’m no better than everything I hate. I tried writing something sincere afterwards, talking about moving forward, of not letting ourselves get carried away by national politics, but it was too late. I could imagine a Republican doing the exact same thing and all I would feel would be a strong bitterness for some cheesy, magnanimous sore-winning.

And it’s all going to come back someday. Democrats can’t be in charge forever. That sense of loss, of being let down, of feeling politically marginalized, it’s all waiting for me four, eight, twelve years from now. It’s important, politics, but it’s all so silly. I get so fired up over people I’ve never met, will never talk to, about a system that I’m only very marginally a part of, policies and legislation that depend very little on my opinion or point of view. And I use it all as ammunition to make people that I’m close to feel inferior, not as smart as me, why can’t you see things like I see them? So yeah, I’m glad it’s all over. And I hope the next round of elections might just be a little farther away than the ones we just had.