Thursday, 30 January 2014

An Office and A Gentleman...

Hello Friends.

Good news everyone! Starting Monday, I will finally have a big boy job again. I’ve been hired as a writer for an insurance company to do their web copy, press releases, white pages, case studies, and internal communications. This position looks to be a solid balance of technical and creative writing and it’s exciting to think that I’ll be taking on work that’s stimulating, challenging, and different from anything else I’ve worked on. Plus, I’ll get paid a salary, not a freelance rate or an hourly wage. I’ll get benefits and vacation days, I’ll have a commute and coworkers. Perhaps, most importantly, I’ll work in office.

Dream: Be awesome at working in an office.

Goal: Achievable. I’ve worked in an office as a writer once before, though it was a decidedly more casual environment. I was part of a group of writers for a young company that you could tell wanted to be a “ping pong tables in the lunch room, chill out in an executive hammock” sort of place, but they never raised the capital to get such extravagance off the ground, but they painted the walls bright yellow, so that’s something. Anyway, this was an office, but unlike this new position with a successful company with a proven business model, this previous job was a corporation built on a shaky premise with a dwindling client base and an ever-weakening revenue stream that dissolved completely three years after its inception. As such, standards for things like dress code and inter-office communication grew a little lax in the face of bigger issues like, “Can we say any of this, legally?” and “Didn’t we use to have a Human Resources department?” This time around, however, I anticipate an environment more typically “office-y” and I want to be ready for it.

Plan: Put into practice everything I know about working in an office as I prepare to start my new job. I will be mindful of things like:

1) Dress code. I have a leg up on this important component already. This past year and a bit working in fancy clothes has given me a sense of what is acceptable to wear in an office environment. A well-tailored button down shirt paired with a slim dress pant does wonders. Throw on a tie and a v-neck soft sweater or lightweight wool blazer and you're golden. A t-shirt that says "Bazinga!" or "Accountants Do It By the Numbers" doesn't make as strong an impression. I am actually staying on at fancy clothes one or two nights a week both because the people there are lovely and because a great employee discount guarantees I won't have to paint my sweatpants black or sew buttons onto my tanktops in a desperate scramble to procure formal wear.

2) Office politics. I have no idea who I'll be working with or under, but that doesn't concern me as much as avoiding the office know-it-all or the inevitable elevator small-talk about a recent sports play that ruined that sports competition over the weekend. Offices aren't big enough for too many disparate personalities, and I'm hoping never to be a party to dumb conflicts that arise over nothing. Sometimes, however, awkward encounters are unavoidable. I'm sure I've told this story before, but it bears repeating. My father worked an office job for decades. One afternoon, as he was leaving for the day, a coworker asked him if he was coming to the staff meeting the next morning. Dad replied, "I'll be there, unless I get hit by a truck." To which the coworker responded, "I'd probably think that was funny if my sister hadn't been hit and killed by a truck." I mean, can you even? How do you respond to that? Dad just mumbled an apology and avoided mentioning trucks or sisters to that particular colleague again.

3) Cake. Man, I'm excited for cake. If the trope isn't true, the one from tv and movies dictating that office birthdays are celebrated in a staff room with a large cake, I don't know why anyone would ever bother showing up to work at all. 

4) Working. Maybe it's dorky, but I am legitimately excited to bring my talents to bear, here. A big boy job that pays me to write for 40 hours a week is something I'll be really lucky to have. Getting the interview, researching the company, and writing a sample for them exercised muscles I keep otherwise dormant except for occasional freelance gigs. I'm excited to prove myself in this way again, and will show up on Monday morning, scrubbed up and turned out, ready to have my cake and eat it too. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Spies Like Us...

Hello Friends.

The weirdest thing happened to me today. I was walking home from the pool and a girl locked eyes with me and gave me a “significant” face. One of those faces that you know means something but you don’t know what it means—a signiface, if you will! I responded with what I hoped was a smooth, “Care to elaborate?” face, but probably looked like a, “Did someone fart over here recently?” face, and continued on my way. Then, I heard someone running behind me, and I turned and it was the same girl and she gave me signiface again and said, “Hey. Do you… have Lady Gaga tickets to sell?”

I wish I could have responded in a cool way. Said, “Who wants to know?” Or, “Yeah, but there’s a pretty big service charge” then done the Hannibal Lector “sf-sf-sf-sf-sf!” thing. Actually, that’s creepy, why would I do that? But instead I said, “Ho ho! I think you’re confusing me with someone much cooler!” Which is SO STUPID! “Ho ho?” Who am I, Santa’s son? And would someone cooler than me be selling Lady Gaga tickets? I don’t think so! Anyway, the girl just said, “Oh. Sorry” and left.

The more I thought about it, the less her question made sense. Unless she vaguely knew someone who looked like me who was a ticket scalper, why would she approach me with a question like that? I wondered if that was street slang for drugs! Maybe she thought I was a troubled teen who could hook her up for dope or chief or molly or zerts or crampers or dyce (I don’t know the names of street drugs). But when I Googled the phrase, “Do you have any Lady Gaga tickets to sell?” it didn’t yield any drug-related results (and we all know the kids dealing crampers use Google). Finally I thought, what if this was a coded message? What if “Do you have Lady Gaga tickets to sell” means, “It’s time to begin Operation Do What U Want”? How cool would that be? 

Dream: Be a spy.

Goal: Achievable. Look, unless a job I applied for recently pans out, I really don’t have much going on. The clothing store where I work could replace me with a gay monkey in a little sweater without missing a beat. Plus, I adore the Doc, but he’s pretty oblivious, so if I had to leave for long periods of time on top secret missions, I’d just throw a blanket over him and he would think it is night until I get back.

Plan: Improve the aspects of myself that are well-suited to being a spy, so when the call comes, I’ll be ready. I need to work on:
Stealth. I’m not particularly agile or fast except for when I’m on moving sidewalks in airports. If I start walking on one of those as it’s already moving, I’m excited to report that I become the fastest person in the world. I imagine people that I’m passing look on agog, thinking, “Was that a person who just passed?” So a great deal of my spy work would have to take place in airports, which is fine because the best spies are international and international means travelling everywhere.
Being nondescript. Perfect! Done! Aside from a long face and droopy, baggy eyes, I don’t think I have any memorable or distinguishing features. I often spend half of my time at a large party reintroducing myself to people who think we’ve never met. That’s a bruise to my ego, but a tremendous asset to my spy career.

Cracking difficult cases. This is going to take some real work. Despite perennial Dateline-watching and my affection for a formulaic British mystery novel, I never, ever see the twist coming or guess the killer before he’s revealed. The other day, for instance, Doc and I were watching the CNN special about Crimes of the Century and there was a piece about the Unabomber. They were going over a timeline of all of his bombings and at one point I turned to Jon and said, “Geez, did they ever catch this guy?!” And he said, “Are you asking if they ever caught the Unabomber? The guy who’s mugshot they show before and after every commercial break? The guy who they’re interviewing from prison?” Oh. Yeah.

Keeping secrets. I could definitely hold on to classified information because I already kind of do. People confide in me! I love a good piece of gossip, but if you ask me to keep a secret, I will die with that secret. I’m almost always the most sober at a party, and people have drunkenly disclosed things as varied as gay thoughts, infidelity, bad debts, recipes (the secret is to buy premade pie crust). I’d love to use my ability to gain sensitive intel beyond learning who hooked up with whom at the Christmas party.

Perhaps some compelling evidence to the contrary, suggesting I might be a poor spy, is a new Google search I did just this minute, announcing Lady Gaga’s Edmonton concert this July. Bit of a downer, this development. (This is another blog entry entirely, but do you know how much it costs to go the concert of a major pop star? A bazillion dollars! I like Katy Perry, for instance, so when I read yesterday that Edmonton was a stop on her new tour, I looked online for ticket prices and the cheapest ticket I could find was $200. For the nosebleeds! NO THANKS, KATY!) But I’d like to think that the girl who asked me about the tickets was really asking me to join her on a mission, take some exciting risks, leave my old life behind, and get ready for adventure. Ho ho, I think that sounds like fun.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Lest I Forget...

Hello Friends.

Sometimes, in the store where I work, I get to close up. I count the tills, tally the sales, put together the deposit for the day, set security alarms, lock up and go home. I was trained in the process several times before doing it solo, and have probably worked at least one closing shift every week since September. This is all to say that I ought to be comfortable with the process by now, but last night, after counting the tills, tallying the sales, and putting together the deposit, I stood at the alarm, coat on, keys in my hand, completely mystified. I couldn’t remember my alarm code. Not only couldn’t I remember it, I couldn’t even approximate it. I knew it was probably four numbers and I ended up just pawing at the keypad like a drunken child (you know how drunk kids like to paw at keypads?).
Of all the old people problems to have at a young age, why am I cursed with forgetfulness? I’d settle for elderly hearing loss, or having to clear my throat for an hour, or wearing socks up to my knees, if I could trade those maladies for a sharper mind.   

No one is allowed to close the store by him or herself, so I had two salespeople with me, shifting from foot to foot, standing with their coats and their bags, waiting to hear the familiar “alarm is activated” beep. Neither of them were ever given the code, so I had to go back to the office, route through a pile of my old notes (which I couldn’t find at first because I didn’t remember where I had put them). I finally found the code and wrote it on my hand because I didn’t trust myself to remember it in the time it took to walk from the back office to the front doors. I rode my bus home in silence, too upset at my alarm gaffe to listen to any music on the way, and also because I had forgotten my ipod in the office just moments earlier. 

Dream: Improve my recall and sharpen my memory.   

Goal: Achievable. There are dozens of programs out there aimed at helping people improve their minds by strengthening their memory. I know I’ve seen infomercials for them, but I can’t remember where or when. So all I have to do is determine my own methods and soon I’ll have nearly total recall.

Plan: Several.

First, it stands to reason that I could make room for more stuff in my brain by pushing out the other stuff. The trouble is, I don’t know how to push something out of my brain. As a sidebar that’s not really a sidebar, it really bothers me when people say, “I’ll never forget you.” How do you know what you will or won’t forget? Maybe if I stroked a piece of paper with my alarm code written on it and cooed softly, “I’ll never forget you”, then I would have remembered it. Doubtful. End of sidebar. Anyway, here’s what I’m going to actively stop thinking about in hopes of forgetting it.

·     A tomato is a fruit. Who fuckin’ cares?
·     Dr. Jon’s phone number. It’s programmed in my phone under “Dr. Jon’s phone number.”
·     1 800 588 2300 EMPIRE is the phone number for Empire Flooring in the United States.
·     Fred Flinstone’s boss was Mr. Slate, George Jetson’s boss was Mr. Spacely.
·     Michael Jackson will always be a pop-culture touchstone, but why save room for LaToya, Randy, Tito, or Jermaine? And why do I know that Jermaine Jackson’s son is named Jermajesty? Actually, I’m gonna save that one. Jermajesty has a cousin named Blanket. “Tito, why are there two ice cream bars in the fridge?” “Oh, those are for my nephews, Jermajesty and Blanket.”
·     The store number at the Rogers Video I worked at was 514, the first Shoppers I was employed at was 0415, the second was 1026.
·     To get from a job I don’t have anymore to an apartment I no longer live in, you take the 34 bus to Eglinton Station, take the Yonge Subway to St. Clair, then take streetcar 512 for 11 stops.
·     The biggest pot I ever earned in a family bingo game was awarded when O-66 won me the game. I was eight years old.
·     Destiny’s Child wants someone to pay their “automo-bills” and if you did, then maybe we could chill.

Secondly, if I want to forget all this garbage, I have to be more careful about my consumption. I watched all of The Golden Globe Awards on Sunday (well, that’s not true, I fast-forwarded through most of the acceptance speeches), but that’s three hours of information swirling around in my head. I know, for instance, that 12 Years A Slave is the movie I probably should see this year but will never see. Like The Master before it, or Les Miserables. I just can’t sit through a sweeping epic, but I can tell you actors from all of those movies and what awards they were nominated for. What if, instead of watching The Golden Globes, I read a newspaper or learned a new recipe? I could know about Syria now, or chicken pot pie.

When I really think about memories and aging, I think of my maternal grandmother, who lived close to us in her final years (as opposed to other grandparents who passed away in different parts of the country and live on in my memory as vital and healthy, rather than on the decline). Anyway, both because I think she knew she didn’t have much longer, and because she liked to drink, Grandma wasn’t especially guarded or private about her old-personhood. She complained bitterly of her weakened eyesight and dwindling hearing. She hated throwing away old dresses she’d never wear again, perhaps precisely because she knew she’d never wear them again. She would occasionally reminisce, then catch herself, and bring up something that happened recently, desperate I think, to avoid the anecdote stage that seems to befall every old person. Plus, by not dwelling too much on the past, she didn’t have to face the notion that there were things she couldn’t remember.
She was a crossword-puzzler, Sudoku master, and word-searcher. She was proud of the sharpness of her mind, as I ought to be as a much younger person. A patriotic American in spite of the fact that she lived in Canada for nearly sixty years, she’d quiz her clueless kin on American history. One of the last times I saw her, she challenged me to name the capital cities of all 50 states. I could barely name all 50 states, and struggled through capital cities as best as I could recall. Rather than be disappointed in my meagre efforts, she seemed happy to correct my misfires. Maybe you can’t train your brain to remember what you want, but if you appreciate the knowledge you do have, you get to enjoy it. “Las Vegas?” She’d laughed at me. “More than that in Nevada, James, and you’ve got 28 more to go. And if you think I’m helping you, well, you can forget it.”

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Hot Seat...

Hello Friends.

I know I haven't seen some of you in awhile but (spoiler alert!) I'm in total disrepair. At Christmastime, I threw my back out somehow and hobbled around like a moron for a week. Once that got straightened out (ha ha HA!), I came down with a bad cold that I'm just now getting over.

Besides making me a lot of fun to be around, these two misfortunes have another commonality: both make me want to sit in a hot place. I love a hot place to sit when I'm sick or ache-y, cold or tired. What do I mean by a hot place to sit? Well, I love a sauna or a steam room, especially if they're not insufferably hot and more conducive to a long stay, and I love a hot tub. Those are definitely my top three hot places to sit. My bottom three? A car seat with one of those seat warmers where it feels like you're constantly wetting yourself, a toilet that was recently on fire, and the sun.

Anyway, I don't have easy access to a steam room or hot tub. The gym I go to has a sauna that I could have visited in my sorry states, but to go to a gym sauna without working out in the gym just seems perverse. ("Don't mind me, fellas! I'm just here to get naked and sit for awhile! Did y'all have a good workout, did you flex those little muscles?") And please don't suggest taking a bath. There's something so awful, so disgusting and wrong, about a six foot something man taking a bath. Something so "Hello Mother..."about it. Unless you've got a really big bathtub, maybe it's acceptable, but otherwise baths are like flip-flop sandals or cartoon movies in that they are intended for children.

What I'd like for my less-than-perfect days is a place I could go to that's like a spa, but there'd be no massages, or places to stretch, or opportunities to exercise. I just want a hot place to sit.

Dream: Create a business based around the idea that people just want to sit in warmth for a bit.

Goal: Achievable because such a place already exists in every major city in North America and it's called a bathhouse. I'm not sure how much I need to explain here, exactly. Straight people, do you know that bathhouses still exist? At some point, gay men are educated about such places, and I don't remember how I first heard about them, but from what I've been told, everything you're thinking about bathhouses is true. I, myself, have never been to one, but have spoken to others that have been, and apparently you show up, pay a small fee, put your clothes in a locker, and you're just in this big building that has some hot tubs, a steam room, a sauna, and a bunch of bedrooms. If you took creepy anonymous sex out of the equation here, doesn't this sound like paradise? I want to be there right now!

Plan: Design my version of a hot-place-to-sit emporium where folks with aching backs, chronic pain, a stuffy nose, or just a really stressful life, can go and unwind. This place would have to have:

1) No sex. Obviously. Jokes aside, I can't believe bathhouses actually exist in 2014. How disgusting the insides of these places must be! How desperate and surely disease-ridden! If men go there with the express intention of having anonymous sex, doesn't it stand to reason that there would be a lot of sexual assault going on, too? I can't imagine one has a great deal of sexual agency once they get into a hot tub with a dozen naked strangers all with one thing on their minds. Ugh, no more talk of this. There's no sex in my hot seat place.

2) Large print books, covered in plastic. Occasionally, I'll spring for a visit to a pool across town that has a hot tub which is kept warm, but not super hot. Alongside the hot tub, they have several outdated magazines that people read as they soak. My place would have this, but instead of crappy magazines, we'd have books, but they'd be covered in plastic so it'd be okay to accidentally get them wet. Also, they'd be in large print. Have you ever read a large print book? My grandmother owned a few that I would flip through, and there's something SO satisfying about reading a large print book. Not only is it incredibly easy on the old peepers, but it has the page-flippability of a children's book. Large print means only a few sentences per page, so you can be reading the densest of classical literature, and just fly through it. What a great feeling of accomplishment to accompany your soak.

3) Easy listening music. I know not everybody's into this genre, but it seems like a happy medium for my clientele. Also, I think I define easy listening a little differently than most people. I don't just mean bland, inoffensive pop, I mean the kind where the singer has an effortless voice. I can't abide a straining Micheal Bolton or a wailing Christina Aguilera. Give me a Norah Jones or a Mark Knopfler. Those people sound like they just woke up and starting humming along to the radio. Not the most impressive voices, but they're by no means straining themselves. Alternatively...

4) Total silence. Hot tubs and steam rooms and sauna are necessarily public, but this should not be an invitation to converse. Some days, I'm really grateful for my shock of messy long hair that keeps old people from talking to me. I think it scares them or something, but I don't care. Pleasantries are fine, but otherwise, we're sitting here in towels. We don't need to get to know each other, do we?

5) Dim lighting, no mirrors. As comfortable as these environments are, they require little or no clothing, and that can make some of us decidedly uncomfortable. I don't need to feel self-conscious about how I look while I'm enjoying the blissful pleasure that is a warm place to sit. Plus, no one ever looks good both naked and sitting. Think about the hottest person you know, picture them naked, then picture them sitting. EW, right? I don't mean lounging, I mean ass-in-a-chair-facing-forward-sitting. GROSS! It's like seeing somebody with a shirt and no pants or underwear. Yeah, it's some nudity, but eeeughhh.

For now, I'll spend the remainder of my convalescence at home in my jam-jams, wrapped in a blanket. I have lemon tea and honey for my throat, and some Fisherman's Friend (by the way, how gross are those? If these are Fisherman's Friend, I'd hate to think what a fisherman's enemy has to suck on). I guess the coziest, most comfortable place will always be home. This sauna/steam room/hot tub venture sounds promising, but also like too much work in my current condition.