Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Cheap (re)Mark

When I first moved to DC, I roomed with my friend Chrissy. We both graduated Miami of Ohio in the spring of 1989. She packed her stuff and tried to make something of herself in the city known for democracy and mayors who like nose candy. I opted for the more illustrious career at the Olive Garden.

It turns out I’m not as keen on alfredo sauce as I had thought, so I too packed my bags and headed east. I joined Chrissy and two other college friends in a two-bedroom apartment in Alexandria, VA. Chrissy became the Ellis Island for most Miami grads. I was taking the place of Amy, who was still unemployed after a year and needed to move back home. Her misfortune was my luck as I inherited her 25-year old queen size bed and a collection of milk crates that would later become my dresser.

Within three months, we moved to group house that held six. We took in Horizontal Pam, a friend of Chrissy’s and inherited a current resident of the house, Brian. Rounding out the group were college friends, Greg and Mark.

Mark was one of those people who seemed normal until you lived with him. We’d all known him for the last three years of college, but you don’t fully comprehend the nuances of someone until you live with them. A recent grad that had been recruited by Arthur Andersen, he joined the DC office since his girlfriend was getting her Masters at Johns Hopkins.

Most of us worked at non-profits in DC, so our company culture was a little less strict. Mark was a company man. He had a small list of do’s and a huge list of don’ts given to him by AA. He was not allowed to bring lunch to work. He had to carry a briefcase and not a backpack or messenger bag. And he had to wear a suit coat when he was dressed for work. He took these rules very seriously.

Every day when Mark would pull up to the house, he’d get out of the car, reach over to the back seat and put on his suit coat. Then he’d walk the 20 feet from the curb to the front door and remove the coat when he entered. It was like watching some 50’s sitcom, as he’d question the group, “so how was your day?” This routine occurred whether it snowing or 100 degrees and became the focal point of our evening happy hours.

Mark was also possessive. For his birthday, his parents bought him a corduroy recliner. The day it arrived, Mark stayed home for its delivery and promptly moved it to his favorite corner of the living room. That night we came home to find a note lying on the seat of the chair.

Hi, I’m Mark’s new chair. You may use me, but you must follow my rules. You can’t eat or drink in me. If you decide to use my footrest, you must remove your shoes. Only one person is allowed to sit in me at one time. And no one can throw their legs over my arms. That is disrespectful. Thanks. Mr. Chair.”

Our roommate Brian immediately walked to the kitchen in disgust and returned with something in his hand. “I’m eating this entire can of bean dip and then will drop the biggest fart I can into Mr. Chair.” And thus set the standard of the chair.

Worst of all though, Mark was cheap. Not as in frugal… but freaking bloody cheap. Mark stole from the house. We had group fund for the common items such as dish soap or paper towels. The rumor around the house was that toilet paper was disappearing faster than normal. We took his keys one day and went to his car trunk. There lay 10 rolls of paper along with a bottle of Pam’s new shampoo. We took it all back. Mark used our food in the common fridge. Our butters and syrups would disappear in record time while his would be three years past an expiration date.

Battle lines drew in the bathroom. Greg came out one day after his shower and walked into my room. “Dude, you should really bring your soap and shampoo into your room each night. My soap was all hairy this morning and Mark’s was bone dry.” (Mark had a slight ‘natural sweater’ issue going on.)

One Friday night, we all went out to our favorite place for beers. Back in 1991, our hang out in DC was the Tyber Creek Pub, which had yard beers. After getting blitzed, the group would go down to the basement and dance.

This particular evening, they were raffling off a diamond bracelet through a game of musical chairs. Mark beamed, “Wouldn’t that be great to win? Then I wouldn’t have to get Susan (his now finance) a birthday gift.” Ah yes, true love at work.

Sure enough Mark was picked to be in the contest, along with 20 other people. Most were people in their twenties and thirties, all pretty drunk from an evening of music and dancing. The sentimental favorite however was this thin woman who clearly was in her 70’s.

The music stared and slowly people began getting eliminated. As the groups circled, Mark intently scouted and planned his next moves. On the complete other side of the spectrum was the older woman who just happily danced to the music and always found her butt in a chair.

As the first five or six were eliminated, Chrissy leaned over to the rest of us. “I have a bad feeling about this.” It was then we realized the other players were working together to let the older woman win. Well, all the players except one.

With ten contestants left, we started to get worried. “I think we’d be wise to cash out in case we need to leave in a hurry,” Greg said and went off to get the check. Pam was off in the corner with her tongue in some guy’s throat, so Chrissy went to see if she’d be coming with us or doing the walk of shame the next morning.

We were down to five. The old lady was still dancing and waving to everyone as she walked around the chairs. Mark began sweating and looked to us each round with a huge smile. We kept making “abandon ship” motions but it was too late; the dollar signs were in his eyes.

There was a thought to just leave him to the savages, but we had the pact never to leave a man behind, no matter how little he tipped. (Pam was exempt since it was always her ‘behind’ that got us in trouble.)

And then it happened; the final two. One chair, an old lady and Mark.

At this point, the entire bar was engaged in the contest. Everyone had been watching Mark and began to wonder if he was capable of being so ruthless. A woman leaned over to our table. “Your friend if going to let her win, right?

Sure, he loves old people,” I said as we put on our coats.

The music started and stopped.

I’d really love to be able to say that Mark had a change of heart, but the woman hit the floor when the he won. She hit it hard. She actually screamed as she fell.

Mark through his hands up high in victory. Even the DJ was fairly disgusted. As Mark walked toward us, we yelled that we would meet him at the car and ran. People yelled in anger as others checked on the woman.

A bigger man would have given her the bracelet. But not a cheaper one.

We rode home in silence. As we exited the car, Mark inquired why weren’t happy for him.


Finally Chrissy looked over and said, “If you ever steal another thing from us in our own house, you won’t have enough of toilet paper in your trunk to help get that bracelet out of your ass.”

Mark moved out when his lease expired. We never heard from him again. He’s now a realtor in Northern Virginia.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Electric Chide

Recently, we’ve been trying to become healthier. A while back, Larry started cooking better and I started running. The running quickly faded after my 8K, mostly because I had acquired the once coveted tee shirt.

However, we discovered a new pool that was recently built near us. It’s a DC sponsored pool so our expectations were low, but the clean locker room, the empty lap lanes and the cheap cost pleasantly surprised us. Believe it or not, the pool is free for DC Residents. That’s a first.

We swim about three times a week, right after work. When we first started, we both stopped to catch our breath after each lap, about 25 meters. Now we leave the pool after 30-40 laps feeling energized and stronger. Let me just add that it’s even more fun on ‘Swim Team Practice Nights.’

Last night, we again made our way to the pool. With summer upon us, there are more residents who come out as well as an increase in activities and classes. On one side of the lap lanes was a water rescue class and on the other side, they were beginning to set up for water aerobics.

Instead of every 25 meters, we now will take breaks every 200 meters. During one of our breaks, we commented on the benefits of water aerobics and how good it was to see so many people getting ready to partake. With that, the instructor comes out of the office with a boom box and an extension cord. I was puzzled, but decided to head back for another 8 laps.

My mind raced as I swam. What could he possibly be doing with the extension cord? I stopped for air after 75 meters and saw that the man was walking half the length of the Olympic size pool to plug in the cord. He then returned to the radio and plugged it in.

No way,” I thought. “Even with GFI outlets, they wouldn’t do that, would they?

Another 25 meters and I was up again. At this point, they were having the kids exit the pool and all of them began walking over the extension cord. The instructor was nowhere to be seen and my mind calculated how quickly I could exit a pool with a metal edge if an electric radio fell in.

When the instructor returned, I figured that he would notice the danger and move the radio back. Instead, he took the speakers off and moved both of them and the radio to the edge of the pool. As if that weren’t enough, he balanced all three items on five kickboards each to … well, I’m not sure why you’d need to do that, but I had all the motivation I needed to get out.

Larry quickly followed and both of us watched as 40 people jumped in and began moving to the music. We both lamented over a workout cut short and wondered why the instructor couldn’t have used a battery-operated radio. A mental note was made to avoid Fridays when the class takes place.

Our friend Jenni is staying with us once again. (For some reason, she provides amazing foder for the blog.) You can read about her here, here, and here.

At dinner, we regaled her with the story of our potential electric shock story. She listened intently and nodded in agreement.

Wow, that’s scary,” she said.

I was so pleased to be validated in such a way. But instead she continued… “That totally reminds me of when we brought the blender out to my friends pool.

I worried that a tragic story was about to unfold. “What happened?” I asked. “Did someone got hurt?

Omigosh, no. But I got so stinking drunk and I think someone did vomit in the water.” She took a bite of her meal. “Seriously, tragic accidents happen at pools all the time.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Naming Conventions

Have you ever wondered what executives do behind closed doors? We might think they are just higher versions of ourselves. Do they discuss what happened on last night’s episode of LOST? Do they play Boggle? Do the take turns verbally abusing a fellow employee behind their backs to keep their talons fresh?

I’m not sure how it goes at all other companies, but I’m proud to say that Imagine creates names. Seriously, they love to spend their time naming things.

We, argh, they moved to their headquarters in January 2005. Self described as a profitable company that had a bright future ahead of it. (Hey, who knew they’d be laying off 20 people June 1st of that year?) Prior to moving, they had been short on meeting space, so the new digs would have over 20 conference and meeting areas built to solve that problem. The president’s number one concern, what do we call them? Hey, let’s have a contest!

So three months of submissions and we have a winner. We’re going to name all the rooms after influential and motivational leaders. The Martin Luther King conference room. The (Mary Jane McLeod) Bethune meeting room. The Helen Keller interview room, which ironically had no windows.

Two rooms were distinctively different. The Shush room was created primarily for quiet proofing or reading since it had a door you close and lock. Ironically, it was used more for new mothers to pump breast milk or hung-over workers to sleep off a rough night. There was also the Imaginarium; a brainstorming room where new and creative ideas (like naming things) could be accomplished.

Six months to the day that we moved into these rooms, the guy who named them all was given his walking papers in the mass lay-off. Even Helen Keller couldn’t have seen that one coming.

Imagine also spent three months renaming its vacation leave. Seriously! They found that a few folks wouldn’t utilize their five weeks of vacation by the end of the year. That was a huge issue, so they determined, after many focus groups and meeting, the reason it occurred was that workers felt they could only use their leave for vacation. (Could people actually be that stupid?)

So the President created another contest. Name the Leave! There were five choices for us workers to vote on. The winner: EMI leave… which stands for Enjoying Myself Immensely. That should solve the silly problem of people only taking those days for vacation. At my staff meeting, I asked, “Is it just me or does it sound like people need to be physically gratifying themselves on those days?” I received only glares in return.

I thought my days of hearing stupid names had ended, but it seems another issue had confronted the President. The moral of workers was failing. Huh, could it be because there was no clear-cut strategy on what direction the company should go in? Nope. Could it be because middle management was turning over faster than pancakes on a hot griddle? No way! Perhaps it was that bonuses got reduced to under $1000 while it was rumored that Exec bonuses were close to $25K. Not a chance.

It seems that people were completely devastated being referred to ‘employees’ or ‘workers.’

Fear no more employees, workers, people of Imagine. From this point forth (not hence, you moron), you shall be known as…Imaginaries. As the President said in his email to the staff er Imaginaries:

"The word "visionaries" itself is so powerful. Consider that visionaries are:

  • Forward thinking
  • Optimistic
  • Idealistic
  • Dreamers
  • Action oriented
  • Creative
  • Driven
  • Value-based

All those characteristics aptly describe those that work here as well as those that we would like to work for us in the future. They also are the characteristics we teach in so many of our programs.

As Imaginaries, we are all walking down a path where we do well by doing good throughout the world. I'm thrilled that we now have a collective name that reflects our great work."

So rest now, my dear pets, that the world is safer. Relax knowing that in some part of the world, people are feeling better about their jobs because they are given purpose by a made up word. Take heart that critical issues like this are being addressed by only the best in management.

And by the way… “we do well by doing good?” Who writes this shit?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

Each of us who writes for the BlogFathers was supposed to create a post related to Father's Day. Enjoy mine as you celebrate this day with your dads, husbands and sons.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Man in Between

This weekend I will spend Father’s Day with the man who made me a son and the boy who made me a dad. Because of distance and living arrangements, it’s not often the three of us get time together.

I love to watch the interactions between my son and his grandpa. There is a side of both that doesn’t exist when I’m in the picture; a simple innocence which each shares with the other. I’m just the man in between.

I grew up not really understanding my father. We lived in the same house and yet a million miles away. I held him responsible for anything that went wrong with our relationship. At 6, 11, or 17 years old, I never fully understood the many aspects of being a father and husband.

He had to provide for a family in addition to just being a dad. I can’t even imagine being the sole financial provider for food, clothes, vacation, cars and a mortgage. My dad put two boys through private school. He lost and changed jobs. He buried parents and moved homes twice. He was a little league coach, a cub master, and full-time chauffer of two active kids.

As we grow up, it’s hard to understand the pressures of making that world balance. Trying to be great as a parent, an employee, a husband and all the many roles he filled, takes a lot skill. And frankly, a lot of mistakes. I judged him pretty harshly sometimes for the standards I created for him without really giving him the chance to know exactly how to meet those standards. Decades later, I now realize the countless emotions, fears, expectations and anxieties that he must have contended with during those years.

When I became a dad, my world changed. There was a child for whom I was now responsible and I would have those same emotions, fears, and anxieties. Even though duties are shared between four parents, I feel an enormous weight on my shoulders of being a caregiver and provider.

dadI understand what it’s like to be a man in so many proscribed roles. It’s amazing my dad balanced as many as he did because there are times it feels like I’m just treading water.

When I became a father, my dad’s role changed. He didn’t have to provide for this new life; he only had to love. He only had to be a grandpa.

As I watch my dad with my son, I see him in a different light. The man I thought lacked emotions, is filled with them. The two of them catch bugs, go for walks and giggle. My dad sits on the floor playing games him; he cuddles and rocks him; he makes funny faces and noises. He understands a world in which farm animals can talk and a spaceman and cowboy can be the best of friends. And he totally gets that a dinner can consist of goldfish crackers. Not burdened with the daily grind of providing for a family, he became the father I wanted back then. But I understand things so much differently now.

There is a saying that we always want to give our children more than we had.

My son, I give you my dad. Love and cherish this special man, as I now know I do. He’ll always be there for you, just as he’s always been there for me – and as I’ll always be there for you.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Product Placement

How much would you sell your soul for? Me? Probably about $5 and some change. Seriously.

You know that saying:
Give a man a fish; he eats for a day.
Teach a man to fish; he eats for a lifetime.

Well, give me something free and I am yours for the day. Give me many things for free, I'll be your whore for life. My buddy Metrodad was recently approached by some PR firms to review some products and then post about them on his blog. Good or bad thoughts, he got keep the products.

Any his first product, a DVD camcorder! Can you freaking (I give it four stars-can I have one?) believe it? His comment section filled with many other whores people willing to test drive some products. I, of course, was one of them. I even figured the gay" thing would work to my advantage. We are 10% of the market, you know.

As you may guess, I haven't been contact just yet. So instead, I decided to be proactive and 'advertise' the products I like best. You will now see a monthly promotion on my blog with the hopes that I get some cool stuff you learn more about some great products. Then, my pets, you can have the good fortune of shopping for the items we both know and love.

The first product is Aveda’s body & bath line. We use the shampoo, conditioner, soap and shaving cream. It is awesome and a little goes a long way. You don’t need a lot product to get the job done. What’s best is the Rosemary Mint ‘flavor’. It has a vibrant ‘wake-me-up’ scent and tingles your skin when you use it. WARNING: don’t leave it on ‘the boys’ too long because it’s like sticking your sack in a peppermint patty. And a little on the pricey side, it’s still worth every penny.

Feel free to comment (the soon-to-be-sponsors love that) and be sure to say how much you value this blogger's opinion.

And if you are a corporation or firm that promotes these products, I'd welcome anything you might send my way.

Phishing Pole out and ready.