Monthly Archives: October 2008

Black Out

We’d just finished a show and the host was giving me a ride home. She remarked that traffic was heavier than usual during this trip. At first, as we reached a rotary that signified the last stretch of road, I wrote it off as a hot night so people were restless. It didn’t take me too long to realize that, although I was partially correct, I was mostly wrong.

“You know what’s weird?” I ask.

“You mean other than all the lights are now out?”

“Well, no.”

I stand guessed as we travel down a busy, dark street. We make the turn to my house and it’s even darker. Living on a high, barely lit on the best days, cul-de-sac will do that. The host and I bid adieu as I walked into the dark house.

I could tell no one had been home since I left thirteen hours ago. I figure, due to my amazing deductive abilities, that my girlfriend is out with friends. I have no idea where the daughter was but there was really only one thing in my mind.

“I have the house to myself!”

The darkness doesn’t daunt me. As a matter of fact, there was really only one thing in my mind.

“I’m not paying for electric!”

It’s the small victories really. I gingerly move around the house so as not to trip over any cats. They were happy to see me in that ‘Excellent! The feeding human is here!’ manner. I feed the cats, open the fridge and grab a beer because I feared they would spoil if I didn’t drink them quickly.

I take the beer outside and feel the light summer breeze while sitting on the stairs  watching the skyline of Boston blink and planes come and go from Logan Airport. It was in this very peaceful state I came up with the idea that everyone should shut off their electric once a month. That way they could feel the peace of not feeling as if they had to do something or being distracted by the blips and lights that make normal life so winky. I’m allowing the light silence cover me when I hear,

“Hey! Chris.” It’s my neighbor. He’s a good guy but I know this is driving him crazy. He’s not fond of the overwhelming heat we’ve had today so I know he’s not in the same frame of mind I am as I cross the street.

He tells me he got home at 7:30 and it was dark then. That’s over two hours as we speak. We only chatted for a couple of minutes before the bugs found us. We were swarmed so bid each other farewell and ran to the bug-less safety of our homes. Standing in the middle of the living room I polish off the beer and decide to do the only thing a boy like me, alone, in the dark, in total silence can do at a time like this.

Shower!

The warm water beat down upon me as I lathered up my face and head to scrape off the stubble. It was a soothing way to shower. You realize how many distractions don’t seem too distracting in your normal day. But standing there with just the piddle of water and scratching blade over my head I realized just how much input shrouds your day.

I grab another beer and settle on the couch. Every once in a while a cat will wander in, wonder why I’m sitting there, think me quite mad, before wandering off. I hear a car pull up the street. By the way it parked it could only be the elderly woman who lives at the top of the cul-de-sac, her daughter or son-in-law. I don’t really care enough to get up and see but when I notice the tail lights settle in I had to assume it was the daughter or her husband.

I hear a male voice so it’s the son-in-law. He’s an annoying sort. The other day I was in the basement cleaning and he comes to the door where I’m sweaty, dirty, spider webby, sticks his head in the door and says,

“Doing some cleaning, eh?”

“What?” I snap. No, I love being in a place I  can’t fully stand for three or four hours at a time. Makes me feel better about evolution.

I saw him make his way over and, trust me, if I was dressed in my tux (yes, I own a tux) and in an awesome mood I’d be disinclined to speak with him. When I’m snorting up bug carcass I’m much less inclined.

During winter, when I’m shoveling (an activity, by the way, I have years of experience so need little advice about), if he’s there he always has time to wander over and tell me how he’d do it or how the neighbors two decades ago did.

I admit to standing there knowing full well that, in the fluffy cover of snow, I could silently beat him with the shovel and slide him down the embankment where he wouldn’t be uncovered until spring.

But I’ve been told it’s best for me to keep shoveling and the murderous impulses at bay. Damn part of my mind that doesn’t want to experience prison!

He must have seen my neighbor look out the window so called him out. I listen as they give each other the latest update on the blackout. One of them called the electric company four times and the latest information they got was lights will be on by ten. The son-in-law, never to be upstaged, said he called five times and they told him eleven.

Now that I know the lights will be on any time from now until they come on, I polish off the last beer (thankful at least they won’t spoil) and hunker down on the couch and just sit there. That’s all. Not think about anything. Just feel the air move quietly past.

Until I see a flash of light out the window to my left. I’m not sure it was true but the first one looked like a ball of lightning. That was followed, over the next ten or fifteen minutes, with a show of lightning that rivaled any fireworks display ever witnessed from this hilltop.

And, to the best of my knowledge, it was mine to enjoy alone.

The odd part was even the lightning paid homage to the silence of the night. Not once during the performance did a thunderclap break through. Just lightning strike after lightning strike filling the sky then going away just as quickly. All in the silence that was the due of this evening.

Once I was sure the show was over, I rolled to my side for a warm, silent, dark sleep. There’s something deep about sleeping with none of the blips and tiny lights of modern life. There’s nothing other than distant traffic or maybe the wind causing a leaf to shudder to be heard.

In that state, I fall asleep.

“BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP. BLIP.”

I’m woken by what is, this night, a sound out of place. It snaps me awake and it takes me a few seconds to place. I don’t know how long I was sleeping but it was deep. And we all know I’m not often deep.

“The lights are out!” I hear the daughter bellow into the phone. “What am I supposed to do?” I hear the daughter ask the question most people ask when in this situation.

The reality of being disconnected; the fact that input cannot be an eye blink away; the possibility that you’ll have to live in yourself for an unknown period of time is too jarring. While I realize most people won’t follow my ‘Turn Your Electric Off Once A Month’ presidential platform I hear,

“He’s on the couch sleeping like a retard.”

Wow! The things they teach you in public schools these days. I might have to take some night classes.

Then, as if the electric gawds knew my peace was broken with no chance of being salvaged, the whir of power slid up the grid. I get up and begin the arduous task (see how quickly it goes from relaxation to work in the electrified world?) of setting the clocks that don’t set themselves (old fashioned pieces of crap!). It only takes a few minutes but in that time the daughter has burst into the house and snapped on any electrical device she could find in her room.

I went back to the couch and will admit to enjoying the cool breeze of the fan that arcs the air. I sit there in mostly darkness with the dialog from some inane TV show slipping through the midnight air. I hear her footsteps before her bedroom door opens.

“Is there an extra fan anywhere?”

What’s a retard to do? Should I do the adult thing? Put on my sneakers, go to the newly organized basement, and get one of the two fans I know exactly where they are? Or should I do what a guy of my mental faculties would do and find a loophole.

“Extra fan?” I answer slipping my feet under a blanket. “Nope.”

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Stapling

Someone asked me to staple two pieces of paper together. Truly, one of the simplest chores I can think of. While I’m in the middle of pressing with less force than it takes to squeeze jelly out of a doughnut, the guys says,

“You should get one of those new staplers. You don’t even have to push. Just stick paper in and it staples it together.”

The fact I was standing there with his papers held out since he said,

“You should. . .”

Doesn’t seem to matter. I know it also doesn’t matter that what I just accomplished was the least effort I’ve put into anything at least all day and possibly all week.

Oh no, wait. I wrote this bit.

It did get me to thinking about what other useless shit is out there making simple tasks. . .I don’t know, simpler doesn’t seem like the proper word. Easy enough for my customers to accomplish, does that work?

Surviving Customer Service 6

If you’d like a copy of your very own and not wait for it to unfold slowly, wander on over to my store to get one.

DECIPHERING THE EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK
Many people have said I’ve written this book backwards. Giving you information on the employee handbook and filling out the application at the end. To those people I say, “Shut up.”

If I’ve done my job no one has read this far. They’re too busy running to the nearest deep-sea oil-rig employment center. So, taking my own earlier advice, I should dump in some dirty limericks because I’m writing at no one.

There was a man called Dave
Who kept a dead whore in a cave
He said “I admit
I’m a bit of a shit
But think of the money I save.”

But, just in case I haven’t scared everyone freighter bound, there are some nefarious bits on employee handbooks that should be covered with the nit-pickers fine tooth comb I own.

After you get the job you’ll be given a forest load of paperwork. The most important waste of tree (to them. You won’t care a bit about this. The only piece of paper you should care about is your check) is the Employee Handbook.

The employee handbook is a little piece of legerdemain that is poured over by management, lawyers, the board of directors, and a mailroom clerk or two until it is a document so devoid of information it is declared ready for your grubby little paws.

The main reason an employee handbook exists is to baffle you with sentences that may have, at one time in it’s inception, made sense. It’s a good thing for the corporate mindset, eh? Wouldn’t want you to understand anything, would we?

For your benefit and at perilous danger to my own personal well-being, I’ve spent countless hours pouring over a myriad of employee handbooks so that you can read a sentence such as this,

“The actual policies adopted will vary from company to company and will depend to a large extent on size, number of employees, benefits offered, and other factors.”

And not feel your brain slide down your spine.

What the sentence, which was sentence one in an actual employee handbook, says is,

“Nothing you read from this sentence forward will mean anything because it may or may not pertain to you or to anyone you may see in the vicinity of your current or any future location you may or may not mobilize to.”

So why, you may ask, do companies make such a big deal about their employee handbook?

Because management loves to make work.

If management had actual tasks, such as stocking shelves, dealing with irate customers, processing insurance claims before you bleed to death, they’d actually be accountable. You can get in trouble for not dealing with a customers complaint in a timely or satisfactory fashion but who’d ever get in trouble for spending eighty-seven hours in meetings debating the merit of a colon or semi-colon?

No one! That’s the beauty of such corporate pork as the employee handbook! They can, with a straight face (which, to this day, still amazes me) go on and on about how much due diligence went in to the creation of what they deem to be a perfect employee handbook.

That is until a secretary with an English degree and plenty of time on their hands takes a gander at it and clicks off seventy-three grammatical errors in the first chapter.

Oh my! The horror! How, after all our hard work and billable hours, did those never attributed to anyone specifically (no accountability) errors get in there?

No need to live in the past! They must reconvene to create an even greater document in six to eight-seven thousand work hours.

Why do they do it? Because, damnit, our employees deserve it! And a manager is in the market for a new boat.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on what the employee handbook actually stands for. After all, this chapter is called ‘Deciphering The Employee Handbook’ not ‘Holding The Employee Handbook Out For Ridicule’. You’ll have plenty of time for that once you get your own.

The employee handbooks basic function is to dangle corporate benefits in front of you while scaring you senseless so you don’t want to hang around long enough to qualify for a single one of those benefits.

They’ll scare you, right off the bat, by making you sign a form that states you something to the effect that you, ‘acknowledge, understand, accept and agree to comply with the information contained in the employee handbook.’

Yikes! Even the part about indentured servitude for the first born?

In reality, all they’re saying is,

‘See this stuff? We can fire you for anything at anytime.’

Maybe you’d see that as a good thing.

“At least I have a list of things that could get me fired,” you may be thinking.

To that I would say, go out and buy another copy of this book. This copy didn’t work for you.

To hedge their bet they’ll add something to the effect of, ‘I understand this handbook is not intended to cover every situation which may arise during my employment. . .’

What they’re really saying is, ‘We did our best to make firing you as easy and litigation free as possible but, just in case, we’re keeping a few things under wraps.’

After that they’ll cop a laid back attitude, give you a heaping, ‘Hey, how ya doin’?’ Make you feel this is the place for you. You know, the cupcakes and coffee segment of the ‘Satanists For Jesus’ orientation.

It’s here you’ll run into many words like, success, goal-oriented, vision, progressive, excellence, and rewarding. It’s also in this area you’ll be told how, out of the billions of people in the world, they chose YOU!

The fact you were walking by on the way to pick up a slush, realized you didn’t have any money, and saw the ‘help wanted’ sign never seems to come up, does it?

You haven’t even punched in yet and they’re already giving you a line of corporate double talk. Does bode well for once they start paying you, does it?

The meat of the handbook is when they mention policies. Trust me when I say they can go on. They’ll mention things like theft or inappropriate removal or possession of property; falsification of timekeeping records; working under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs; fighting or threatening violence in the workplace; negligence or improper conduct leading to damage of employer-owned or customer-owned property; insubordination or other disrespectful conduct; violation of safety or health rules; smoking in prohibited areas; sexual or other unlawful harassment; possession of dangerous or unauthorized materials in the workplace; excessive absenteeism or any absence without notice; unauthorized use of equipment; unauthorized disclosure of confidential information; violation of personnel policies; unsatisfactory performance or conduct; failure to work assigned overtime; abuse of the travel expenses policy.

Sure makes the place seem less fun to work at, doesn’t it?

As you can see you can get fired pretty easily. Don’t let it bother you. I’ve seen everything on that list, and many things not, broken. Often by the same person. Okay, often by me. Hey! I’m not here as a role model.
The reason for this chapter is to give you a little heads up on what you’re up against because I know damn well you’re never going to read the employees handbook. The first one I read was as research for this book (yes, research went into this. Not much but I’m not much of a reader).

The things is, management knows you won’t read it. Even if they sit there while you flip through the pages they know there’s no way you can read thirty odd pages in the seven seconds it took you to flip through.

That fact (98.6% of all employees never read the employees manual according to SoMUS – Society of Made-Up Statistics) allows management unfettered power to fire and harass at will. Because, when you try to fight back with information gleamed from the employee handbook, you won’t be able to find it because you threw it in the nearest trash receptacle when you left.

The best you have is this book. And that, my friend, is a sad, sad fact.

If you’d like a copy of your very own and not wait for it to unfold slowly, wander on over to my store to get one.

Box People

“Do your boxes come empty?”

“Yes.” I know you’re wondering why my reaction was so, what’s the word? Nice. Well, I’m used to it. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this question. “That’s why people buy them, to fill them themselves.”

“Good, good. That’s how I want it.”

After a few minutes (a few minutes! We carry five boxes, three of which are of any use to her) she decides on the box. I gather it, place it near the door as she says,

“It’s flat! It’s so flat! How am I going to fit anything in there?”

I open the box and show her that it grows.

I hope you don’t figure this helped matters. Good.

“It has no bottom! How am I going to use a box with no bottom! You don’t know what you’re doing! I’m going to take my business elsewhere!”

Funny how she can’t figure out a box but she knows enough to tell me she’s taking her business elsewhere.

Comedy Review

As some of you are aware, in the past, I’ve written for comedians (some you’ve even heard of!) and I also reviewed comedy for a publication. Although I still write jokes for people from time to time I haven’t reviewed much comedy lately.

But that’s going to change today.

I had the good fortune to receive a couple of DVDs from a comedian you should know. His name is Rob Little and he does what so many comedians can’t: he makes you like him. No joke, from the moment he takes the stage he makes it feel as if you’re not only in on the joke but you were probably there when it happened. I’ll tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that’s harder than it looks.

His very energetic performance is punctuated by a Chris Farley physicality and a giggling countenance you’d expect to hear from your goofy friend. You know the guy (hey, I didn’t make the rules, but 99.9% of the time it is a guy) I’m talking about. Sure, you’re often covering your face and running in the opposite direction but it wouldn’t be a party without him.

His writing is dead on in it’s conversationally. He’s self-deprecating without ever making you feel as if he’s looking for sympathy or spiraling into woe fest. As a matter of fact, if you did have a pang for him he’d mold you into the next piece of fodder. And, due to the immediacy of his act, you’d expect it. He has that rare ability to pull you in and make you feel as important to the proceedings as he is. He’ll stumble so you can pick him up. He’ll say something that only someone who has bonded with his audience can get away with. He’ll teach you how to get away with calling a woman a bitch.

That’s talent, my friends. So often a comedian will try to show you how much smarter he is than you. Rob couldn’t be further from that (it’s an art to be able to write like that). He draws you in which makes you push for his success. There’s an old comedy axiom that you should make the audience pay. I witnessed that a month or so ago when a well-known comedian, who’s on a current hit show, phoned it in.

During his set, which was punctuated by twenty-year-old jokes (I know, it’s new to most people, but damn! Twenty years? I hope he doesn’t have the same rules when it comes to underwear), he displayed a full on disdain for the audience. I was fine with that. People were having fun. But I had an uncontrollable urge to leave when he pulled out three jokes. Not ‘hey! Look at my crafty joke!’ jokes. Jokes from jokes books. He even closed with one.

Now I don’t know what Rob’s rate is, but I do know this other comedians, and I’m sure seeing Rob live would never leave you with a feeling of being fleeced. If you wanted someone who will go to severe lengths (yeah, sure, he’s sophomoric but who does like a handful of dick and tit jokes?) to entertain you I’d suggest you hop in the Little SUV and let him drive you around funnyville.

His two DVDs, ‘Born: 20 Inches Long’ and ‘Haulin’ Ass’, show an evolution (I can’t find it in myself to call it maturity) in his performance. They were recorded five years apart and, although there is some overlap in material, it helps you to see the subtly changes in timing and inflection. I’m not saying he’s more confident in the latter (I doubt lack of confidence has ever been an onstage problem) but it is interesting to watch the growth of the Little machine.

http://roblittle.com

Separated At Birth?

Surviving Customer Service 5

If you’d like a copy of your very own and not wait for it to unfold slowly, wander on over to my store to get one.

YEA TEAM!
There is no “I” in team! Yes, that turns out to be very true. But there’s also no “U” so that means you matter less to your bosses, from the bottom to the top, than a register key and more easily eradicated than a spill in aisle five.
The ‘Team Concept’ of management is the updated version of the company town where the people you worked owned your home and every store in the area which replaced the indenture servant mode of management.

The only differences between the ‘Team Concept’ and indenture servitude are:

1) better public relations

2) fewer public whippings

At least when living in a company town when you passed out in the middle of the street you’d be less likely to get run over and killed. It’s not that the people were any kinder, it’s just that they didn’t want to do their job and yours.
The creation of the ‘Team Concept’ of management began when corporations realized its employees believed the bullshit they were spewing about free thought. Trust me, when your company tells you they like their employees to ‘think out of the box,’ what they really mean is,

‘Boy, you’re sure making it easy for us to keep an eye on you!’

It also gave them an idea. A simple idea that’s been utilized for centuries to control and manipulate: Cults.
If a corporation can mold you into drinking deeply from the cup of commerce then it’s only a short time until you’ll believe working fifty-five hours a week is not only the norm but, because you’re on salary, your duty.

The problem was the word cult has such a bad connotation they had to come up with something that would not only achieve the same effect (unquestioning loyalty) but do so in clean, wholesome manner.

Then it dawned on them. They fill their corporate speak with sports metaphors anyway so why not attach the same passion people have for their sports teams and modify that for their nefarious desires.

So, in a secret lair deep behind a shelf of out-of-date whoopie pies, the heads of the top eighty seven corporations world wide met to hash out what this new mind-control experiment would be called.

Don’t think these people take meetings like this lightly. They knew the decisions made in this room would resonate through generations of customer service representatives until, through evolution, they will once again avoid public relations and get back to the public whippings their fore-managers so enjoyed.

After hours of subsisting on the aforementioned whoopie pies, one enlightened (and legend has it, light-headed) middle manager jumped from the seat with such a stirring delivery in defense of the ‘Team Concept’ that the assembled had no alternative but to fully embrace the ‘Team Concept’ of employee manipulation.

I know what you’re thinking, ‘The ‘Team Concept’ adds fun, excitement and a sense of community into our work-a-day lives.’

Do you know what I’m thinking? No? I’m thinking, ‘I hope I get to you before it’s too late!’

Give me a minute and you’ll see just so eerily similar the connection between cult and ‘Team Concept’ is.

Team Concept: Single-minded attempts to achieve a common and unattainable goal (e.g. a 10% sales growth per hour while reducing staff hours 30%).
Cult: Single-minded attempts to achieve a common and unattainable goal (e.g. gain infinite wisdom and inner peace prior to meeting the common deity).

Team Concept: Build camaraderie through use of oft-repeated phrases, draconian rules, and petty trinkets.
Cult: Build camaraderie through use of group mentality, unwavering loyalty, and totems of power.

Team Concept: If believed you’ll be publicly praised by upper management and rewarded with promotions.
Cult: If believed your kids will beatified through sex with the leader and you’ll get the magical kool-aid recipe.

As you can see, the major differences between the ‘Team Concept’ and signing up for your nearest cult (check the phonebook under ‘whacko’) is how quickly you become morally and emotionally bankrupt and the speed in which you’ll experience death.

But, no matter how good a zombie like demeanor and sudden death sounds, trust me, cults have their down sides too.

So, when a manager calls you a valued member of the team in the middle of a droning incantation, stay strong, fight the power of their shiny words and glittering trinkets. Shake their hands, if you must, look deeply into their eyes unwaveringly and utter the phrase that will allow you unfettered access into a world filled with fewer lies and more with distance between you and this cult like tremor,

“It’s time for my break.”

If you’d like a copy of your very own and not wait for it to unfold slowly, wander on over to my store to get one.