Monthly Archives: April 2013

About that raise

Boss, I’m going to be direct. I’m here to ask for a raise. That’s right. I feel that I’ve earned it, that I work really hard, much harder than the majority of my coworkers, definitely harder than Phil, than Maggie in accounting. And that guy who works on the third floor, always wearing the big hats … you know, it’s not important. I’m not trying to put anyone else down. Except Phil and Maggie. I definitely work much harder than those two. Like, if you could somehow combine them into one person, or just add up their hours, or, not their hours, but their productivity. I guarantee you that it doesn’t add up to my productivity, or even my hours.

Before you say no boss, I want to stop you right there. Maggie, or, let’s just say one of my coworkers, someone in accounting, they put up this Facebook post about a big raise. Yes, I know corporate policy regarding social media. I’m not friends with this person on Facebook. But my sister is. Apparently last week everyone went out for karaoke and my sister happened to be there and so, you know how it is, how some people are, they meet ten new people and start sending out ten new Facebook friend requests. And all of the sudden my sister’s like, “Oh Rob, tell Maggie congratulations about her new raise!”

Look, I’m not saying it was Maggie. I don’t remember who it was. All I’m saying is, I deserve this. What’s the corporate policy on raises? We have to wait for a performance review, right? Well, it’s just that, it’s funny, because I feel like during my last performance review I was trying too hard, too hard to be humble, something I’m not. I mean, I am humble, in a good way, you know, it’s just that performance reviews, it’s like …

Why didn’t I get a raise last performance review? I feel like, nobody even heard about that time that I fixed the copy machine, the huge one right outside of Conference Room B. Yeah, you remember, right? A while back? Like right before the performance reviews. It wasn’t loading anything from the main tray, it was like, if you wanted anything copied, you had to load from paper tray 3, and so you’d have to feed it manually every time you wanted a copy, but nobody knew about it, like whenever somebody’s secretary was out, they’d walk from the copy machine to me and just kind of be like, “Hey! You! Make ten copies and put them on my desk!” like walking away before they even finished the sentence.

So that day … please, this is huge … one day I’m like, OK, nobody’s making a real effort to fix the machine, let me see what I can do. So I stayed late, I called the manufacturer, I looked up videos on Youtube, and it was easy. I mean, it wasn’t that easy, I was here for like two hours, three extra hours, but … and you know what the funny thing was? It was a staple, just one staple, jammed right in the main feeder. But, no, that’s not the funny part, the funny part is, I never knew we had a staple function on that machine, so do you know how much time I saved everybody, the rest of the staff, putting up fliers, letting them know that, one, the copy machine was fixed, and two, that the machine could staple stuff for you?

And I didn’t get any credit. Like, I wrote about it on Facebook but, but you know corporate Facebook policy. But that was me. What? No, it definitely wasn’t Maggie, they never even use that machine, they have their own machine over by accounting. Which is another thing, why do they get their own machine? Look, that’s not important.

What’s important is this, growth, raise. I’d like a raise. And I’m prepared to not be willing to take no for an answer. Seriously? The answer’s no? Well, that’s … that’s unacceptable. I can’t accept that. Well, maybe I will. Yeah. Sure. OK, fine, I will leave your office. Well maybe this company would get along fine without you too.

No, I’ll … I’ll let you know, I mean, no … no I don’t want to leave just yet. Just, OK, yeah, I’ll look for something else. OK … seriously? OK … OK.

The professor is a computer program

This week, two articles in the newspaper caught my eye. The first one looked at new programs that would allow computers to instantly grade written essays at a collegiate level. The second one dealt with cutting edge software that would be able to track exactly how much reading students were actually doing for their classes.

It seems to me like education is heading in a terrible direction. Computers to grade tests? Computers to make sure we’re doing our reading? Let’s look at where we’re currently at in terms of higher education. Everybody is expected to go to college. Colleges cost ridiculous amounts of money. High school graduates are pressured at eighteen years old to decide where they’d like to spend the next four years, how they’d like to secure the ridiculous amounts of money necessary to finance such an education, and then the next ten or twenty years after that figuring out what they’re supposed to do to pay it all off.

It’s not worth it now, and it’s going to be worth even less if computers are doing the majority of a professor’s work. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big believer in a liberal arts education. Everything I learned in college, while it didn’t necessarily lead me to a successful career, it was instrumental in what I know, my views on the world. I learned how to write. I learned critical thinking, new ideas, differing opinions. That kind of stuff is essential.

But come on, my college bill was something like forty grand a year. What are you really spending your money on? Education. How do you get that? Classes. What are the classes like? For me, classes began as this huge rush at the end of a semester to register for classes for the next semester. Everything booked up very quickly. You were lucky if you secured half of the courses that you actually wanted to take.

And then you got in a class and it was like forty students for every professor. And that wasn’t even counting the first two years, when we were expected to take all of the core curriculum, taught not by real professors, but by grad students. To me, the whole process seems like a huge joke. The amount of time spent in class is a fraction of time spent in class during high school. I always say this, but am I the only one who thought that high school was significantly harder than college? I put in half the time and work that I did four years prior and I wound up doing great.

Which brings me back to my original point. Everybody is paying this ridiculously steep price for a college diploma, and what are we really getting? A few hours a week of class. Office hours with the professor. It’s all absurd. And now they want to make computers in charge of grading written work, of charting progress with the class texts?

By the way, none of the class textbooks are included in the cost of tuition. Oh yeah and maybe half of your classes have lab fees. Who do you think is going to be paying for the grading software? Is it going to be included in bill or will it be a little addition tacked on to the invoice?

In making the case for computerized grading, proponents claim that it will, “free up professors for other tasks.” What other tasks? You’re supposed to be grading. You’re supposed to be looking at what students write and figuring out if they’re really getting it. But teaching classes is really only a minor role for most professors. They have to do their own work, their own research and writing. Which is fine, but maybe the universities can use some of that forty thousand dollars per student to hire more professors, give them less work, smaller classes, more time to spend balancing their writing and their teaching.

I just feel like the whole system is so disorganized, so kind of cobbled together in any way to maximize the number of students able to fit on a campus. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the cost of tuition. These software advances seem to me a blatant attempt to churn out curriculums, to make grading part of an assembly line, with us graduates the finished products. Here’s your grade. Here’s your diploma. Here’s your debt. Next!

Thinking about Ecuador

I’ve never once run into someone in New York, someone that I know. It never, ever happens to me, not on the subway, not when I’m walking to the deli, never. And I’m out. I go running all the time. I ride my bike everywhere. I’m taking my dog for a walk at least twice a day. I know that I know people in New York. I know that people live by me in Astoria, Queens. My brother lives live five blocks away. My uncle, my sister-in-law, all within walking distance. A lot of my coworkers are really close. Yet I’ve never just happened upon anyone just walking around. How is this possible?

I know, there are like eight million people living in this city. Which is crazy. That’s a lot of people. It’s so many people. It’s enough people so that when I’m walking around, I’m constantly surrounded by lots and lots of people, everywhere. And it’s just insane, that really weird feeling of going about my day, walking around, seeing so many other human beings, everywhere, I can’t walk fast because the sidewalks are just jam packed with bodies, and I’m looking at everybody, at their faces, at what they’re doing, and I don’t know anyone, not even one person.

That’s a feeling that, I think, it has to be antithetical to our nature, as social animals. I walk past two people, three people, four people talking to each other, talking on their cell phones, I think, why am I not talking to anybody? Why isn’t anybody talking to me? I’m having a bad day, I’m stressing out about problems at work, problems at home, imaginary problems that I’m imagining up in my head, and I look up and I just see this wall of human activity, and I don’t have anything to do with it, with any of it. And I’m just like, is it even real? Does that even make sense?

I didn’t grow up a New Yorker; I grew up a Long Islander. But it wasn’t all that different. In fact, it was worse, because instead of walking around everywhere, everybody drives, and so instead of staring out at a world of strangers, I’d just be staring out at a world of cars, all driven by people, yeah, but everybody kind of hidden behind the reflections of their windows. Which is, again, it’s worse, because it takes a special someone to cut you off walking on the sidewalk. But in car? It’s all too common.


The only time I ever walked out of the house and ran into people that I knew was when I spent two years in the Peace Corps. I lived in a really small town called Pucayacu located in the subtropics of Ecuador. It wasn’t even a town really, but I hesitate to call it anything else, because all of the other English words available to describe societies smaller than towns evoke feelings and sentiments that aren’t really appropriate to what Pucayacu is, what it was while I was there.

In Spanish, Pucayacu isn’t a town, it’s a parroquia, which, translated to English is a parish, which is misleading, because a parroquia in Ecuador doesn’t have anything to do with religion. The parroquia itself was broken down into twelve or so recintos, a word that, until now, I’ve never felt the need to translate, but Google Translate is telling me that it means “enclosure.” So imagine smaller than a town, and then even one level smaller than that.


It was the exact opposite of what it’s like here in New York; I’d step out of my house and I’d know absolutely every single person that I ran into. And they’d all say hi to me, “Buenos días Don Roberto! Como le va? Como ha pasado?” every single person, every single time. There was only one road in and out of town, and so imagine what it was like trying to make it to the end of the road to head out for a run. Or just to buy a soda from the señora who sold groceries out of her kitchen. “Hola Roberto!” every time, everybody inviting me in for some snacks, for some coffee, for a second or third lunch, to sit with their families in front of their houses for a while, to ask me questions about the United States or, when those questions got old, to tell me at length about Ecuador, about their lives, about their families, and why don’t you spend the evening over here? Have dinner with us, come on, you can help our kids with their homework, and come out to the farm with us tomorrow, we’ll show you the animals, the plantains, we’ll go swimming in the river and drink beers in the afternoon.

Sometimes it was all too much. I’d just want to be left alone. I didn’t want to have to make up words to “Hotel California,” pretending to sing a convincing American hit every time somebody brought out a guitar. Once in a while I really did just want to walk to the end of the road and go for a really long run, without stopping every time I’d pass somebody on the side of the road waiting for a pickup truck, explaining that I’m not running from anything, that I’m exercising, that I’m working out, declining rides from every car and bus that stopped along the way, “Hey Roberto, what are you doing? Hop in, we’ll take you back!”

But here I am, back in New York, I’ve been back from Ecuador now for almost as long as I was there. And I walk out of my house, and I jockey for a spot on the sidewalk, to keep my head down and shuffle along like everybody else, no eye contact, nobody saying hi, nobody knows who I am. And I think about all of this and it’s like, the grass really was greener over there. Everything was greener over there. The butterflies were neon-bluer over there. The sunsets were alive, the stars at night exactly like you’d imagine them to be. Everything was bursting with color, exploding with life; it was a world away from where I’m from yet somehow it was more intimate, intense, familiar.

Happy Earth Day!

I’m not trying to brag or anything, but it’s common knowledge amongst my friends, my family, my coworkers, that I’m the most Earth-friendly guy around. I love the earth. I’m always walking around with my head down to the ground, one, to admire it, the earth, I just love looking at it, and two, I’m scanning my immediate surroundings for any litter. If I spot some litter, I immediately pick it up off the ground. If there’s a trashcan nearby, I’ll pitch it in there, I’ll brush my hands together in satisfaction, looking around at everybody, seeing if anybody’s looking at me, thinking to themselves, wow, that guy really cares, he really loves the earth, the planet. And maybe the litterer is still around. Maybe he or she saw me pick up the litter. And that person will be touched, like, jeez, one person really can make a difference. If there aren’t any trashcans around, I’ll put it into this biodegradable tote bag that I carry on me specifically for this reason, for finding trash but being too far away from a trashcan. The tote bag says, “I heart Earth,” you know, but it doesn’t say the word heart, it’s a picture of a heart.


And then when I do find a trashcan I’ll dump out the contents of my tote bag which, depending on how far away I’ve been from a trashcan, it might be pretty full. One time it was very full, and when I finally found a trashcan, when I finally started dumping everything out, some police officer came over and was like, “Hey buddy! You can’t dump your trash into that trashcan!” and I was like, “What are you talking about? Isn’t this what the trashcans are here for?” and he was like, “Yeah, for individual pieces of trash. You can’t dump all of your trash in there.” And so I told him, about the tote bag, I showed him the tote bag, I explained that I go around scanning the earth for litter, than I collect it and dispose of it properly.

The police officer looked at me and even though his facial expression remained quite stern, I could tell that I’d gotten through to him somehow. He took out his ticket book and started writing out a violation. And then I thought, oh man, maybe I haven’t gotten through to him. But then he showed the ticket. And this is what he wrote: “Name: Litter – Violation: Pollution – Recommended Sentence: Awareness. Compassion. Renewal.”

I looked him in the eye. I said, “Something has changed inside of you, hasn’t it?” and he said, “Yes. Yes it has,” and he opened up his hand and the wind took the ticket and carried it into the air. So I was like, “Wait a second, what are you doing?” and he said, “I just wrote up pollution, for littering,” but I was like, “But … but you just littered. That ticket. That’s going to fall somewhere. That’s litter.”

And then I looked at him again, and it was the same as before, an almost identical facial expression, but still I could tell that even more had changed inside of him. This time it was more than just awareness, more than simply an expansion of his universal consciousness. This time there was a tinge of remorse. He flipped the page in his ticket book and wrote another citation, but this one was for himself, for littering. The fine was pretty steep, five hundred bucks. And this time he ripped the ticket out of the ticket book, he handed it to me and told me to hand it back to him. I did. I nodded at him, like saying without saying, “You’ve taken a big step here officer,” and I think that he was saying without saying, “Thank you.”

Look, I’m just one man, one man who loves the Earth. I really, really love it. My favorite Planeteer was always the earth Planeteer. Whenever I have to pick out a color, for anything, I try to choose an earth tone. When I’m at a restaurant and the waiter asks me if I’d like a glass of wine, I always ask which one has the earthiest flavors. If I have a daughter someday, I plan on naming her Bertha, so that way I’ll get to say Earth every time I say her name. Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I’ve tweaked this statement somewhat. I always say, “Be the change that you wish to see in the earth.” Because I love the earth even more than Gandhi did. And whenever people say, “Wow Rob, who came up with that quote?” I reply, “Me. I did.”

Now it’s too late to go skiing

Man, this was the longest winter ever and I don’t feel like I took advantage of it at all. I only went skiing once, and it was in February. Yeah, the snow was great, perfect powder, that’s how real ski people, or the real ski people I’m imagining in my head anyway, that’s how they describe really good snow, powder, some really nice powder. But I only got to go the one time. Whenever it’s summer, fall, when it starts getting really cold but it hasn’t snowed anywhere yet, I always have these visions of me driving up to the mountains every weekend, really taking advantage of that powder, hitting the slopes, getting in some serious downhill time.

But I don’t have a car. And I work every weekend. My days off, well, it’s not the same every week, but it’s Monday, it’s Tuesday. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, those should be great days to go skiing, nobody else on the mountain, all of that powder to myself. But it’s never that easy. My days off finally arrive and then the next thing I know, it’s Saturday again, which, to you, the average reader, is like Wednesday. And I’m like, man, half the week behind me, half of it in front. Where is all of my free time? How am I ever going to find a minute to sneak away to the mountains?

And so when I did finally go this winter, I was pretty conscious that it was probably going to be my only time up there. Or, I was half conscious. The talking part of my brain was just yapping really loud and fast in my head, saying nonsense like, “Wow! This is terrific! Powder! It’s only February! There’ll still be powder in March! I can still go skiing in March! I’ll definitely go skiing in March! So what if there’s no more powder, they make pretty decent snow! It’ll be great!” all while I’m handing over my credit card to pay for the seventy dollar lift ticket, the calculating reptile number part of my brain, it’s not saying anything out loud, it doesn’t have to, that’s not how that side of the brain works. But if I had to translate the thoughts going on in there to English, it would be something like, “Ha. Powder. Please. He’s lucky I allowed him this one weekend. Work. Money. That’s all I care about!”

No car, no other weekends. It’s April already. As of writing this right now, right this second, I’m told that it’s the first day of spring. That’s what they say, anyway. I haven’t left the house yet. I already got fooled once last week with some alleged promise of spring-like weather. My days off were, yup, Monday and Tuesday. And everything for that week’s forecast said fifty, fifty-five degrees. Better break out the windbreaker. I got up that Monday and did my writing, told myself I’d take the dog for an hour long, two-hour long walk, to the park, to just bask in the springtime, finally.

And I made it outside and, yeah, it was slightly warmer, but not what I would really consider warm. I thought about skiing, how in previous winters I’ve been up at the mountains and have had actual days of skiing, dressed in wool socks and down jackets, in temperatures about the same as it was this day. Then the sky got really gray. Once the dog and I got about forty-five minutes away from the house, it started raining, a cold rain. The temperature dropped. I tried to hoof it back home, but the dog had to shake himself dry every five seconds. I was like, “Hey dog! Less shaking and more walking! Shaking isn’t going to do anything because you’re still going to be wet, it’s still raining,” but that’s when you know you’re in a bad spot, when you’re just yelling at your dog, him not understanding anything, his thought process must have been like, “Man, what did I do to be dragged out of my warm house and subjected to this water torture?”

We got home. The temperature dropped even more that night. The thermostat kicked in but I already had a chill in my body. That night I went to sleep shivering, and I dreamt of being cold, of being cold but taking advantage of that cold, getting into my imaginary dream car and heading up to that imaginary mountain, abundant with imaginary powder. And I thought to myself in my dream, “See? I knew I’d take advantage of this winter, that I’d get to go skiing at least twice,” and it was one of those really real type of dreams, one where, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about it right away when I woke up the next day, but days later, when I started thinking about skiing, when I sat down to write this whole thing up about skiing, and I’m writing about how I didn’t take advantage of the winter, that idiot part of my brain chimed in, “What are you talking about? We went skiing that second time last week,” and only for a moment I was fooled, like for a quarter of a second I thought about how much fun I had upstate that imaginary second time around.