Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crab Song

We returned home from a vacation in Ocean City, MD almost a month ago.  While we were there, my two boys pestered, begged, pleaded and pouted for every piece of plastic piece of shit toy they saw.  My wife and I have developed a limited immunity to this behavior and have also worked it into all of our travel plans.  In most cases we use this to our advantage.  For example, I will get the boys a chocolate milk if they behave in the grocery store.  I don’t consider it bribery, I call it Risk and Reward.  But all bets are off on vacation, especially when there are new “marks” in town for them to con, i.e. non-parental relatives.  And that is how we ended up taking home Hermy and Scott, the two hermit crabs.

My sons conned their grandmother into purchasing them each a hermit crab on our first excursion to the boardwalk.  I don’t object to pets, I have owned almost one of every type of domesticated animal there is at one point in time.  Dogs, cats, rabbits, a snake, an iguana, you name it, I had it.  My wife on the other hand is not very fond of non-canine animals, especially birds, but she gave in on this purchase and the boys each picked out their newest pet.

I had several hermit crabs in my younger days.  I knew that they didn’t last very long and the ones I owned tended to be escape artists.  One particular crab escaped from his enclosure and proceeded to eat the carpet in my house.  He tore up and unraveled a 5” X 2” section of carpet.  Another hermit crab (it might have been the same one, but I doubt it) escaped, traveled up a flight of ten stairs and ended up in the bedroom of the one person in the house that was afraid of him, my sister Chris.  I think he died right there on the floor scaring the shit out of my sister, his dying act a bit of gleeful vengeance on his Brobdignagian captors.

The boys were entertained by their new friends throughout the vacation and for a little while longer when we got home, but after the first few days, my wife and I seemed to be the only ones that knew they were still around.  A week after vacation, my boys headed off to stay for a week with their grandparents in Pennsylvania.  During that week, Hermy the Hermit Crab expired with a puff of sewer gas.  We decided to keep his corpse “in state” (i.e. in the garage where his stench would be a little less noticeable) until my oldest son returned to bid him farewell.

Meanwhile, back in my basement layer, Scott the Crab was still as vibrant as ever.  He works out every morning for a few hours by taking laps on the cage walls, the clicking of his little legs keeping time with my clacking on the computer keyboard.  Didda-chuck.  Didda-chum.  Dadda-chee, the lobstrosity would then go play a little late at night.  Since it seemed that Scott was going to be with us for a little while longer, my wife decided it was time to do a little research and find out what hermit crabs really needed to survive.  That brings us back to the Risk and Reward topic.  If aforementioned children behaved themselves this weekend, we would a) secure Scott a new residence with some room to really stretch his claws, b) get him a new water bowl and some sand to dig in, and c) replace Hermy with a living version.

The kids lived up to their end of the bargain, so Saturday morning we headed off to Petsmart to see what they had in the way of crustacean casas.  Petsmart was actually well stocked in habitats, food and even hermit crab toys.  We walked out with a new home, a bag of colored sand, food, a water dish (with ramp) and Kelly the Krab.  (NOTE: The name Kelly is in honor of the Kelly Bachand, the youngest competitor on the History Channel’s Top Shot.  My boys roped me into watching this show and then we were all hooked.  I had my money on Iain the entire time.)  While at the store, the saleswoman made a special note of the warranty period and mentioned that while Kelly looked active in the aquarium, she thought his shell was way to small for a crab his size and suspected that there was something wrong with him.

Well, the saleswoman was right.  Kelly I, as he shall be called, didn’t even make it home.  He was hanging limply out of his shell by the time I had the new habitat furnished and everyone moved in.  Back to Petsmart with receipt and recently deceased Kelly I in tow.  I made an agreement with my oldest boy that we were going for vitality, not looks, in the selection of the next crab.  Unfortunately, the saleswoman who sold us Kelly I was no longer on duty and we had to explain the situation to a different woman.  Unfortunatelier, this new woman tried to tell me that Kelly I was not dead.  I explained that Kelly I was no longer among the living, and that I have owned several animals, including hermit crabs, and I could tell when they are no longer living.  It was not an argument, but the saleswoman did take a few minutes to convince that the hermit crab was, in fact, deceased or as she put it, not well.  I swore that any moment she would say, “Ah yes, Norwegian Blue, beautiful plumage.  He’s not dead, he’s just resting.

At the crab tank, I asked her to provide her most educated guess of which hermit crab was the most likely to survive for more than one hour of leaving the store.  The one she picked out had to be the least attractive of all of the crabs, but he did appear to be mobile.  My son said, “Cool!  His shell looks like a rock.”  My wife and I agreed that his “shell” resembled a desiccated dog turd more than a rock, but hey, he was alive and that is what matters.

Back to the basement.  Kelly II is in his new home and most importantly still alive.  Scott has gone into overdrive.  He is like a crab possessed.  Climbing the little ladder, going for a swim, moving the toys around, flipping over shells.  He has no tail to wag, so I assuming that this is happy behavior.  He has also has a liking for his new companion.  I have caught Scott sitting on top of Kelly II’s shell several times.  I don’t know how hermit crabs “do it” and I have not worked up the courage to hit Google to find out.  I have pondered the search terms I would use, such as “crab on crab action”, “hot kinky hermit crabs”, “your shell or mine? a crab love story”, “two crabs, one shell” or, the most mundane, “hermit crab reproduction”.  I have decided that should offspring be part of their union, then so be it, but I am not going to spend any time figuring out the sex of each of the crabs in our care.

As I write this, Kelly II is eating and Scott has made at least five laps around the habitat.  Who knows, in a few weeks I may have a new title to add to my resume, Hermit Crab Husbandry and have a source of homegrown Christmas presents too.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Without Wings

There is really no excuse for my absence, so I am not going to attempt to make one.  But I am going to make a better attempt at posting more often.  The past few weeks have been busy with work and kids and relatively uneventful.  We recently had a large software release at work and my team is gearing up for two big projects, so yesterday was the perfect time to take a break and blow off some steam. 

A coworker of mine, AKA the target of my April Fool’s prank, has been trying for several weeks to organize a team outing that would make use of his jet skis and a boat.  Due to some scheduling conflicts, a lot of our team couldn’t attend, and due to a system issue, our boat captain was not going to be able to provide the boat.  Hoping to salvage the trip, our dauntless organizer tried to find anyone willing to sacrifice their Friday to spend it out on the water.  My boss, one of the guys on my team and myself were willing to make that sacrifice. 

The cruise organizer, we’ll call him Julie for now (in fact that’s what we called him all day anyway), had everything scheduled down to the minute.  The plan was to arrive at his house at 10 AM, fuel up the jet skis and be in the water by 11 AM.  Everyone arrived on schedule, and we were in the truck and ready to roll by 10:30.  We stopped to get gas, some drinks and snacks for the trip.  As we were pulling away from the gas pumps the driver’s side fender of the trailer clipped the steel bumpers they put at the corners of the gas pump island.  There appeared to be only a minor dent in the fender, so we headed off.  As we drove down the street, the fender looked like it was rubbing the tire.  So we pulled off into the next gas station and jumped out to survey the damage.  I immediately reached down and pried the metal away from the tire and got a little more than I expected.  Let me describe the scenario with a little more detail.  Rubber tire, steel fender, constant contact for about a quarter of a mile at about 35 miles per hour.  If you still don’t get the picture, the fender was goddamn HOT!  In fact, it was hot enough to give me a 2nd degree burn in the less than ten seconds that I had a hold of it.  A huge blister immediately formed on my pinky. 

No big deal, I have had worse.  We all jumped back in the truck and drove off to boat ramp.  We were in the water by 11 AM, exactly as Julie predicted.  The water was perfect, warm and flat as glass.  The weather was perfect.  We headed off to Hart-Miller Island on the Chesapeake Bay.  We beached the skis and unpacked our gear.  We had a couple of drinks and shot the shit.  Andrew had brought along a ball that he had picked up on a trip.  He said the advertisements claimed that the ball would bounce on water.  We all headed out into the water to test it out.  And it WORKED!  The ball really did bounce on water.  The flatter the trajectory of the throw the more it skips and the faster it goes.  I found them on Amazon as soon as I got back, they are called the Waboba Ball.  I am definitely picking one or two of these.

We had a good time tossing the ball around, but I wanted back on the jet skis, I wanted to get back on the water.  I tried to explain my love of the water before and being right there on the beach was amazing, but to be out on the water is something completely different.  So I left my companions on the beach and headed out for a solo run.  I had never driven a jet ski before, but I have driven a boat.  I took the first five minutes to make sure I knew what I was doing and to make sure I knew how to control it and to make sure I wouldn’t kill myself.  After that, I just opened it up.  I don’t have pretty words to describe the feeling of doing 50+ MPH over the water with nothing separating you from the water but a little fiberglass and a foam seat cushion.  I imagine that it’s a lot like flying but without wings.  If you have never done it before, do it and do it now. 

The water was still very calm and I could just skim across with the throttle wide open.  That suited me for a little, but then I started hunting down passing boats.  I had some fun cutting across their wakes.  It wasn’t until a crabbing boat came along that was pushing a lot of water that I found out how awesome it could be.  The first time the jet ski and I left the surface of the water, I knew I was in love.  I don’t know how much time I spent out there, but I figured I needed to head back in to give someone else a turn.

When I got back we all headed out to the other side of the island where the water was a little rougher.  Since there were four of us and only two jet skis, we would take turns driving.  About ten minutes into the trip we had our first plunge into the water.  I was riding passenger with Patrick, AKA Julie, on the lead ski, Andrew and Hudson were following behind.  My job was to 1) hold on, 2) keep looking back to make sure the other two were keeping up with us.  The first job was simple enough, you just lock one hand under the vinyl strap on the seat and you are good to go.  The second job also proved easy enough too, until we both noticed the other jet ski to be driverless and saw the two heads bobbing up and down in the bay.  We turned around to lend a hand in rescuing our companions from the water.  My third and newest job proved to be a little more difficult.  I was supposed to grab the riderless ski, which was right-side up which is a good thing and pull it over to the two stranded in the water. 

I learned a few things during our rescue mission.  Thing number one – there is no really good place to grab a jet ski.  Thing number two – the more I lean, the more the jet ski leans.  Thing number three (and the most important thing) – if you lean too much and you are about to roll the jet ski, let the hell go of the other jet ski or just jump in.  So I rolled Pat and I and our jet ski over.  We weren’t doing 50 MPH or jumping waves or slaloming between crab pots, we were sitting still in.  So now all four of us were in the water and one of the jet skis was upside down (usually not a bad thing, they are designed to recover from stuff like that).  BUT I managed to still hold on to both of the skis.  Everyone recovered, two pairs of sunglasses lost, but everything else was fine.

Back to the holding on thing.  Apparently if you hold onto the seat strap with your palm up and your knuckles against the seat, you can wear away a nice chunk of skin from your knuckles.  At one point I looked down at the seat and the strap I was holding was covered in blood.  I hadn’t heard of any sharks in this part of the bay, so I didn’t worry too much about it.

We drove around a little more and decided to break for lunch at a restaurant.  We sat down exactly at 2 PM, exactly as Julie, I mean Pat, scheduled.  After a big lunch we rode around some more, with only one more unintentional dive into the ocean and then spent an hour digging for clams.  I think they managed to grab about 150 nice sized clams.  We made it back to Pat’s around 6 PM and I was home and showered by 7:30. 

A big thank you to Patrick for an amazing day!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Unearned Suffering

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “unearned suffering is redemptive.”  Pain and suffering can take many forms and be caused by any number of  sources.  Sometimes others inflict pain on us, sometimes we do it to ourselves.  A good example is when I happen upon a movie that plain sucks, the plot, the acting, the story, the special effects, etc., you name it, it blows, but once I start watching it, I continue to the end in the hope that it will magically get better by the end.  This happened Saturday.  I noticed that Surrogates was now in the my Instant queue on Netflix.  The kids are away and I could actually watch something that I wanted to watch.  I am sucker for science fiction, so I thought this would be a good choice.  I have been a Bruce Willis fan ever since his days on Moonlighting (FYI- my all time favorite episode was the Taming of the Shrew one), so this was another plus.

About fifteen minutes into the movie, I began to see the error of my decision.  The premise of the movie was awful and really farfetched, the dialog was lame and the editing was atrocious.  But I am a closet optimist (don’t tell anyone) and I stuck with it.  And when it started to get worse, I just couldn’t bring myself to turn it off.  There are 72 other movies in my instant queue that I could watch, but for some OCD-driven reason, I suffered through it.  I even stayed up until 2:30 AM to finish it.

I think in all of my 36 years, I have only turned off five or six movies because they were bad.  Let me rephrase that, when I am taking about watching a movie, I mean that I choose to sit down and watch a movie from the beginning.  There are several movies or shows that may be on TV that I catch parts of but never finish, but only five or six that I have sat down with the intention of watching beginning to end that I have stopped watching.  I am the same way with books.  There are only two books that I have put down mid-way through and never finished.  I just can’t do it, I get a sick feeling in my head, like I am quitting or something.

Unlike the mental pain of watching a bad movie, there is also physical pain.  While weed-eating the other morning, I actually hit my leg with the weed-eater (don’t ask how, because I am still trying to figure out how I could do something so stupid) and left a two inch gash in my shin.  I scared some young woman walking her dog when the string hit my leg and I yelled “Dirty Whore!”  I looked up from my bleeding shin to see her wide-eyed stare and gasping mouth as she hurried her dog away.  Then later that night, I was playing with my daughter.  One of her new favorite games is to pull the hair on my head and act like she is making a pile of the pulled hairs on the floor.  While this is painful in a dull, throbbing way, it was not nearly as painful as when she was grabbing my nose and accidently shoved her thumb into my left nostril and pinched.  She didn’t let go as she pulled her hand away from my face.  Her razor-sharp baby finger nails lacerated the inside of my nose and left my already allergy-beaten nose in a bloody mess.  She smiled and went on with her business as I hurried to the bathroom to stop the flow.

And then there is that deep, soul-wrenching suffering.  That anguish that is so persistent that no matter what you do or where you are, it is always present like a tooth-ache in your mind.  Something so insidious that you often lose your concentration, become irritable and snap at those you love.  This suffering can only be caused by one thing, something so innocent yet so vile, when you get a stupid goddamned song stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of it.

You see, it all started with this:

My wife and I have a habit of being silly, sometimes downright dorky at times.  A few months ago when we harvested our first crop of lettuce from the garden, we started eating a lot more salads.  And a salad is not complete without good croutons.  After working our way through several brands, we found Mrs. Cubbison’s Seasoned Restaurant Style Croutons.  Here’s where the silly (and covertly evil) part comes in.  My loving wife, while preparing salads for the family for dinner, came up with a catchy little ditty.  It goes something like this, “And here’s to you, Mrs. Cubbison, people love your croutons more than you can know. (wo wo wo)  God bless you please, Mrs. Cubbison, restaurant style on salads they will stay (hey hey hey)…” (sung to the tune of “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel).  There are other lines and various versions of the chorus, but you get the point. 

Now any time that box comes out of the cupboard, I am singing that friggin’ song.  My wife sings it, the kids sing it, I am singing it right friggin’ now.  I catch myself humming it at my desk, in the car, in the shower.  You just want to grab a big spoon and belt it out like you are on stage.  It becomes the punctuation to every sentence, to every thought.  “Oh, it’s Shark Week, and here’s to you Mrs. Cubbison…”  “Well that was a short meeting, People love your croutons more than you can know…”  It’s like an itch that you can’t scratch, like getting a wedgie while standing in front of a lot of people, you know you can’t dig it out, you just have to keep grinning and bearing it.  Like getting a pebble in the toe of your shoe or that bug that gets in the car and flies around your head while you are driving.  When I see homeless people on the street, talking to themselves and swatting at invisible objects, I know that in their minds they are singing some stupid song that happened to get stuck there many years ago that they couldn’t get rid of.

So now you know of my pain.  And it ain’t the least bit redemptive.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Silent Lucidity

I haven’t written anything since I returned from vacation.  There has just been too many things to do, taekwondo, laundry, summer camp for the boys, and reading, categorizing and responding to the 1,495 work emails in my inbox that I received during my hiatus.  After a busy week, things are starting to slow down and return to their normal rhythm.  I spent the morning doing much needed lawn care and my wife packed up the boys for a week long visit to my in-laws.  The boys were shipped out by 1 PM today and it left the house eerily silent.  When the baby took at a nap at 3, my wife and I both passed out on different sofas for an hour.  That sort of thing is not normally possible in our house.

Today is also our eleventh wedding anniversary.  We headed down to Fells Point in Baltimore for some dinner.  We selected Meli to have dinner.  I don’t get out much, and when I do, I usually opt for a place where you order standing up and carry your food away in paper containers, but that does not mean that I don’t like fine dining.  I love the opportunity to try new foods, especially when they are prepared by professional chefs.  My wife and I had planned to arrive early before the place got too crowded, before the baby got too hungry and possibly have a peaceful meal with some fine food and light conversation.

The plan did not go as expected.  We ran into heavy traffic caused by a bad accident on the way to Baltimore.  That put us forty minutes behind schedule.  Securing parking is never easy in downtown B-more, but luckily nice restaurants like Meli offer valet parking.  We hustled out the car with only the baby and a diaper bag.  Once inside the restaurant, the impeccably dressed maître d’ informed us that they did not have highchairs.  Um, what?  Do you have booster seats?  No.  I almost expected him to say, “we don’t serve your kind here.”  The über-convenient fold up booster seat was at home and I watched the van drive away containing the stroller.  My wife and I conferred for a few seconds.  We can handle this.  We have three kids, we have been through every child rearing situation there is.  We agreed that we could just hold the baby.  Let the fine dining begin. 

We were shown to our seats and we sat pondering the menu.  The baby sat on a cushioned bench in between my wife and a wall.  She could see above the table and was sitting rather still, but every few minutes squealed or whined as babies often do to let you know they are still there and they want your attention.  Apparently the other diners in the restaurant have never seen nor heard a child before and offered us a few dirty looks.  I had my back to the rest of the dining room, so I missed most of them.  My wife, on the other hand, took the full brunt of the other patrons’ disapproving stares.  While the other diners may or may not have seen a baby before, albeit an especially well behaved baby that acted with a level of decorum well beyond her fourteen months of age sitting unassisted better than her older brothers would have, eating bread and fruit snacks, I know that they have never borne witness to one of my wife’s scowls.   

In our nineteen year relationship and eleven year marriage, I have found happiness and love.  In every relationship, especially after such a long time, you learn the mannerisms, likes and dislikes, and traits of your partner.  I love everything about my wife.  In these past nineteen years, I have learned how to tell when she is happy or sad or angry, and I have also learned to fear one thing, the Look.  There are few things on the planet that bear such malevolence and threat of violence as one of my wife’s Looks.  I have had the displeasure of being on the receiving end of the Look a few times.  I will show you the scars over drinks sometime if you are interested in such horror stories, just like Quint telling his tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.  With this one look, you immediately understand that your ass is grass and that my wife is starting the lawn mower.  You hear the rolling thunder of an approaching storm, you smell the brimstone of Hell’s fires, and you see your death, slow and painful, mirrored in her eyes.

I didn’t even have to look up from the menu to realize that the Look was ready to be unleashed.  The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I felt the heat on my shoulder as it passed over, directed at some middle-aged woman who couldn’t keep her bobble head pointed in the right direction.  There is no defusing the situation once the Look has been summoned, the trigger has been pulled, just hope you are not looking down the barrel.  Luckily for them, they quickly paid their check and vacated the restaurant before my wife tore their still beating hearts from their chests and ordered the kitchen pan-sear and serve them on a bed of lettuce.

The rest of the meal went quickly and without incident.  I think the staff realized that this was a less than optimal situation as much as my wife and I wanted to just eat and run.  Aside from the bad atmosphere caused by the other patrons and the lack of child-friendliness of the restaurant, the meal was excellent.  I order the Duo of Duck and my wife ordered the Tuna Burger with sweet potato fries.  For dessert, we opted for Pitango Gelato around the corner.  I had apricot sorbet and Bourbon vanilla gelato.

Overall, we had a good time.  Nothing is ever easy when you have a small child, but being a parent for eight years, you learn how to deal with anything that comes your way.  My wife is the expert and I just help out when she needs an extra set of hands.  What you don’t expect is when other people can’t deal with having a small human being around, especially a public place like a restaurant.

Meli’s rating:

  • Taste: 5 – The braised duck confit and the duck bread pudding were outstanding.
  • Prep Time: 4 – the food arrived very quickly, again, this could have been because they wanted us out quickly.
  • Health: 3 – not exactly sure, but seriously, who cares when it tastes that good.
  • Cost: 2 – Two entrees and no drinks were $60.
  • Kid Friendliness: 0 – If I had included negative numbers in my rating plan, this would definitely have gotten one.  Aside from not having a highchair or booster seat, they didn’t even have a kid’s menu.  If you are going here, don’t bring the kids.
  • Overall: 2.8

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Edge of the World

I’m back!  It was a relaxing vacation, as relaxing as it could be with three children under 8 years old, including a one year old.  We spent four days at the beach, soaking up the sun, swimming in the ocean and the pools, and having fun on the boardwalk.  The kids had a blast doing what they love to do, swim, stay up late, play games, and acquire junk which to them equates to treasure.  I was almost completely unplugged the entire time.  I had my Droid of course, but I used it for finding places to eat and amusements.  I have to admit I did have to spend some time on my brother-in-law’s laptop, trying to solve some issues with his iTunes.  For the record, I am not an Apple hater, I own an iPod, my son has an iPod Touch and my wife has a Mac, but I am not their biggest fan either.  And the hour I spent dealing with iTunes just heightened my distaste.  I never solved the problem, I don’t even think I got close, but I tried.

Other than seeing my wife and kids have a good time on vacation, the highlight for me is always the ocean.  I know this will sound cliché, but I am enthralled by the ocean.  I could sit for hours doing nothing but watching the waves come rolling into the shore.  I don’t need a book, an iPod, or a fishing rod, I just need to be there.  The crash, the roar and the hiss of each wave is like music to me.  The endless reach of the water out into the horizon makes me feel like I am standing at the edge of the world, and the rhythmic pulse of each wave is the world’s heartbeat.  I would stand in the surf and let each wave pound into me, feeling the pull of the current and feel so insignificant, so tiny compared to the power of the ocean, yet never felt so much alive than at that time. 

Wherever we went and whatever we did, I always tried to be in a position where I could see the water or hear the water lapping up against the side of a boat or pier.  We had a chance to get out on a boat during our trip and it was amazing how such a short time out on the water could make me feel so at peace.  The gentle roll of the deck and a southerly wind erased all stress and worry.  It’s hard to even write about it because I lack the words and the memory of it, I just “existed” there.  Even now, I think a small part of me is still there.  I hope to hold on to that feeling until I can return to the water again.

Thanks to my in-laws for providing such a great escape.  I enjoyed myself immensely, and I know my wife and kids did too.  Thank you again! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cooler But Still Complaining

The thermometer on my desk reads 76.6° and 30% humidity.  There is an eerie silence about the house.  There are no running fans or portable air conditioners.  There are no shocking temperature changes when you walk from room to room.  The fifteen days of living in Satan’s ass crack are over.  Yesterday the new A/C and furnace were installed.  It took the guys almost nine hours to get the job done but when they were finished it was bliss.  The new system is silent, inside and out, but you can feel the effects throughout the house. 

I have said before that my world is in complete balance, I cannot have the good without the bad.  While karma was tallying up all of the benefit from the new heating and cooling system, it decided to give me a wonderful sinus and ear infection.  How else would I start my first real vacation since Christmas?  So along with a bathing suit and beach chairs, I am packing a box of tissues and antibiotics for our trip to the beach.  I moped around the house today, packing up all of the portable A/C units and getting stuff together for our trip to the beach, stopping every few minutes to sneeze ten times and blow my nose another ten times.  I am considering going the Lord Valdemort route and having my entire nose and sinuses removed.  I really don’t need or want them anymore.

Yesterday, I really didn’t have much to do except sit around, blow my nose several hundred times, and wait for the guys to finish working around the house, so I caught up on some TV viewing.  I have been reading about the new SyFy series, Haven, for a few weeks now, but I haven’t watched any of the episodes.  Yesterday, I got a chance to see both episodes.  The series is based on Stephen King’s story, The Colorado Kid, and takes place in, where else, a small town in Maine named Haven.  Haven looks like the typical New England coastal town with pine trees and lobsters, but there are some weird things that are happening.  I won’t go into detail or divulge any spoilers, but overall the two shows that I have seen have been enough for me to want to see more.  The acting is pretty good, with the dialog being more on the humorous side.  The special effects are cheesy, but I can deal with that. 

I also got to catch up on some movies that have been sitting around since the A/C broke.  My wife and I watched Shutter Island the other night.  It was very good.  I had not had a chance to read the book yet so the story was very surprising.  I am finishing Inglourious Basterds tonight, so far it has been amazing.

I don’t know if I will write anything while at the beach, I think I want to be computer-free for a few days.  Talk to you when I return.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

Chatty Kathies, Gadflies, Chatterboxes, Klingons, Stalkers.  You know what they are.  They are those people that stop by your desk everyday, IM you, call you, email you, and just won’t leave you alone and have no legitimate reason for being there other than to shoot the shit.  It doesn’t matter what you are doing, what time of the day it is, all of a sudden this person appears.  They ask you innocuous questions, “How’s your day going?”, “How’s the family?”, etc.  They start telling you about their day, their kids/pets/house plants/bed sores, and you didn’t even ask.  If you don’t know one, then you might be one.  There is nothing harmful in that, there is nothing bad about chatting with a friend.  But when it happens every day and begins to occupy the time that you have reserved for something else (like work), then it becomes an issue.  What do you do?

I have run into this situation several times in my personal and professional life.  Sometimes if you ignore the person long enough, they will go away.  But if they don’t get the hint, you have to take more extreme measures.  I did a little research on the topic when I was confronted with a particularly bad situation a few years ago.  At the time, there was a person from a different development team at work who would come over and plop right down at my desk every day and strike up a 45 minute conversation.  In the first two weeks, I learned more about his personal life than anyone who was not his spouse, doctor or clergyman should know.  I didn’t want to ruin my work relationship with this person and I didn’t want to cause any issues, so at first I just smiled and listened.  But then it started to interfere with my work and I found out later that it was also effecting this person’s performance, and it had to be dealt with. 

I can’t find the websites that I originally referred to on the subject, but I have found plenty more that say the same thing.  I found one that has some “professional” tips for resolving the problem.  Many of the experts will tell you to be direct, but gentle.  I started out by telling the person they only had 10 minutes talk and then I had to get back to work.  When 10 minutes were up, I would end the conversation and resume working.  When that was established, I moved on to “scheduling” time to talk with the person, by saying things like “I can’t talk now, but if you come back at 2, I can give you 10 minutes.”  When that sunk in, I began giving the person things to do, like “Hey while you are here, I need you to do this.”  That pretty much took care of that.  The person eventually stopped by once every few days and only stayed for a few minutes.  We were still friends.  All of these suggestions are great and I can attest that they do work.  But what is the fun in that? 

In today’s digital, work-from-home age, the interruptions are a little different, but they still have the same impact.  People can’t come and waste your time by stopping at your desk unless they physically come to your house, which has happened.  But that doesn’t mean people can’t reach out to you through instant messengers, email or even the phone.  It’s now not a problem of physical presence, but one of the ever-flashing IM window, or the cluttered inbox, or, gods forbid, the ringing of the phone. 

A friend of mine at work, we will call her “Ren” to protect her identity, told me a few weeks ago about klingon that she currently has, we will refer to the klingon as “Stimpy”.  Everyday Stimpy IM’s Ren, asks about her family, her baby, etc. and the two have never even met in person!  Worse than that, they only had a few brief conversations a few years ago while working on a project.  What one person took for a work conversation, the other took a life-long bond of friendship.  Now Stimpy won’t stop talking.  And it’s not the daily contact that is the issue, it’s that the questions are personal, referring to Ren’s baby as “her little niece”, asking about her life, and such.  It sounds like Stimpy could show up at her front door one day and ask to spend a few days with her while she is in town!  What do you do?

The first attempts at ignoring the gadfly failed miserably.  Soon Ren was greeted with replies in IM of “Why is my friend not responding, is something wrong?”  Blocking her in IM causes Stimpy to send emails of “I see you are offline, is everything ok?”  My advice – have fun with it.  Here are my suggestions.

Reversal Method:  Start asking her about her family, her husband, etc. but don’t stop there, get really personal.  Ask her what her man looks like, respond with “yum he sounds delicious.”  Ask if he is a top performer - wink wink and go from there.

Flood Gate Method: Don’t just respond, attack!  Launch a denial of service campaign against her.  Stay up late, get up early, don’t stop chatting all day long.  When you can’t be around, ask someone to log into your IM account for you and have them carry on the campaign. 

Disturbing Method: “How’s my little niece?”  “What, oh the baby, yeah, haven’t seen her all day.  I wonder if her water bowl is full.”  Or “OMG that kid is driving me NUTZ! Sometimes I could just smother her with a pillow.  haha j/k ;(”  Stop short of a criminal investigation.

Gross Method: “BRB gotta go, got the runs today.”  And then follow it up 15 minutes later with “Phew!  You better be glad you are not around here!  That smell could gag a maggot!  I mean, can I get a courtesy flush?  Boo-ya!”

Even Grosser Method:  “Stimpy, this is weird, but do you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling?”  Feel free to elaborate in detail about your least fresh day.

Captain Oveur Method: “Have you ever been in a cockpit before?  Have you ever seen a grown man naked?  Stimpy…have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

Grosser still method: “Eeewww, there are short hairs all over my keyboard!  I wonder how they got here, they don’t taste like nose hairs.”

Henry's Chat Method:  Respond with only obscure movie quotes and music lyrics.  “How’s your day?” Response - “Is this to be an empathy test?  Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response?  Fluctuation of the pupil.  Involuntary dilation of the iris.” (Blade Runner)  Or for “How’s my little niece?”  Response - “She's like thirteen years old, and if you even look at her funny, I'm gonna stick an umbrella up your ass and open it.” (Last Boy Scout)  Or “What’s up?”  Response - “Now is the time, for me to rise to my feet, wipe your spit from my face, wipe these tears from my eyes!” (Hatebreed – I Will Be Heard)

Institutionalized Method: “Stimpy, do you hear them?  The voices?  Some people can’t hear them, but I can.  Sometimes they ask me to do things for them.  Sometimes they ask me to do bad things.  Very bad things.  Shush, shush, don’t say anything, don’t you hear them.  They are like butterflies in my head, so soft, like wisps of smoke.  They get angry when I don’t do what they say.  They make me hurt myself. DON’T YOU HEAR THEM?”

Old Spice Method: I won’t go there, I think they covered that one enough.