Monday, August 27, 2007

Thoughts on cruddy temp jobs

[I briefly worked in the inventory department of a large, hi-tech company. I wrote this during that time, just before I got my current job, which is much better. I have had my share of less-than-optimal jobs; I've been a waitress in several restaurants, done mindless data entry, copy-edited the text of tiny-fonted newspaper advertisements, and worked retail at the mall during the Christmas season (UGH).
This one, however, was awful. The job involved taking inventory of all remotely valuable items throughout this company's large campus -- many buildings, a lot of arcane scientific equipment, and electronic devices of all kinds, all in various states of obsolescence. It involved scanning barcodes and double-checking them against lists of what equipment should be in that room, many of which were out of date, incomplete, or just plain wrong. To add to the fun, a lot of equipment was either in the wrong room, registered to the wrong person's name, in locked rooms, or buried in obscure filing cabinets, closets, or on high shelves.]

…Is this how most people spend their lives? In this mindless, soul-crushing drudgery?

Every day is a riff on the theme of Yesterday’s Blahs; the answer to “how ya doin’?” always being a variation of “SSDD” or “still alive (I guess)”.

The body aches – but not the good, healthy ache of real, full-body labor, the satisfying deep-muscle ouch of garden or construction work; nor is it the sweet, sharp, artificial ache caused by working out at the gym. This is the ache of just one or two parts, screaming while the rest sleeps: the legs and spine, or the calves and one shoulder, or just the back and wrists. This is the dull pain of repetitive motion, of pointless activity. Carpal tunnel from typing. Tightly-wound quads from stair-climbing. Throbbing calves from walking. A stiff spine from endlessly standing around. Creaky knees from constantly crouching and squatting and rising back up.

Physical pain is only one third of the challenge posed by low-paying temporary jobs which do not require any real experience or education. The second part concerns the mind-numbing assigned tasks themselves, which are inevitably repetitive, somewhat pointless, inefficient, or ruthlessly mechanical. The work inspires no feelings of accomplishment, nor any sense of being at all useful, let alone indispensable or important.

I take pride in my work, or rather, I have in the past. I suspect part of it is that I am fond of receiving praise from appreciative bosses or coworkers. I like feeling that I have done well and helped people, and I like their recognition of that fact.

This work allows me no pride. Everything is designed to suppress it, to remind me that I am utterly replaceable and that, in fact, my work could easily be performed by a monkey, if it could be taught to understand an Excel sheet, or press the Enter key every time it heard a scanner go ‘boop’.

The third factor in the hopelessness this job inspires is coworkers. They have no options, or no ambition, or both. Their politics, concerns, leisure activities, and modes of dress and speech have little in common with mine. Their conversation doesn’t much interest me, revolving as it does around “most vomit-centric inebriated moments” anecdotes and inane cell phone conversations which begin with “where you at?” as though we inhabited some gormless TV commercial.

They’re not bad people, mind you. I mean, yes, J tends to drive drunk; M always has his panties in a twist about something, so that he is short with us to the point of rudeness; V’s grammar, spoken and written, is horrendous, and she refuses to go to any club or party in a group numbering fewer than ten; R is so moody sometimes I think he’s bipolar; and F is, I think, only so jolly and nice to everyone because he is old enough to know better (than us, I mean) – which means he’s due to retire next month. On the other hand, they’re pretty much all hard-working, well-meaning people. It’s just that the lunchtime conversations tend to run in the same patterns, over and over and over and OVER.

I am willing to take a pay cut of $4/hr plus all benefits (!!) just in order to flee this job. I wish to now be elsewhere. My brains will leak out of my ears by the third week of this nonsense; it must end.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Do girl necks smell as good?

There is something about the way the neck of the man you are in love with smells that, if it could be bottled, would make billions of dollars.

I know this is a statement that has probably been made many times before by many other people, but it's still true.

I wonder if it's just men, though. I've dated women, too, but never been in love with any of them. I've been in love with men, though, all of two and two-half times (two men, to date, with whom I was fo' reals, oh-my-gawd, stars-and-bunnies, bluebirds-and-rainbows in love. Two men with whom I think I was sorta halfway in love.)

So, while I have smelt and licked and enjoyed my fair share of ladies' necks, none of them have had the same effect on me. You know; that thing that happens when your eyes roll slightly back in your head as you breathe in as deeply as you can -- or as deeply as you dare before reaching that slightly weird "um, are you sniffing at my hair?" point -- and you get a combination of tinglies in your tummy and a Buddha-esque sense of peace and contentment.

Or mebbe that's just me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Facebook vs. the Elderly; Round One -- FIGHT!

So I was browsing Big Fat Deal, which was discussing fat hatred groups on Facebook. They referenced an article at Freydblog which was discussing hate groups aimed at the elderly. From there I found a series of articles by Paul at the Elders Tribune -- he's a 20-something who edits a blog aimed at an older audience -- on what those elder hate Facebook groups were all about.

Now, I dig Facebook. I've moved around a lot in my life, from continent to continent as well as town to town, state to state, or country to country. When I was a kid, keeping in touch meant snail mail, so of course everyone lost touch instantly as soon as someone moved away (going to an international school made this a pretty common occurrence.) Now, you surf someone up on Facebook, and voila; the years in between are just sources of anecdotes now, instead of resentment.

Mind you, I've gotten my share of pervs looking for NSA sex, or (worse?) old boyfriends or lovers finding me "by accident" or "randomly" (fancy that...) and suddenly wanting to be part of my life again. But such are the hazards of being on Teh Intarpipes. Cost of doing business.

Facebook groups tend to be no more than a source of puzzlement or amusement to me. They're online cliques without the pecking order. The vast majority of them are stupid; they're individual voices into the windstorm, desperately crying out for someone to notice them, pay attention, and validate their worth as a person. They are graffitti; they are angsty goth poetry written in a diary and left somewhere conspicuous. In other words, they're usually not worth our time.

What I found intriguing -- enough to write a probably-too-long response to Paul's articles -- was the confusion evident especially in the Freydblog article and its commenters. Why oh why, they asked, would anyone hate like this?
[I quote now from the response I wrote.]

Now, I have no deep-seated hatred of the elderly -- I get along rather well with both my surviving grandparents (each of whom lives over 3000 miles away), my parents are in their sixties, and I can socialize with their friends just fine.

But. You want to know why there is so much vitriol aimed at the elderly? Yes, I'm sure part of it is fear of the unknown, mixed up with fear of one's own mortality. (From now on I'm going to use "you" to refer to the presumably older audience of this blog, and "we/us" to refer to the generation which includes Paul and myself. This is to clarify my arguments using broad generalizations.)

For those of us without regular contact with the elderly, on the road is where most of us see you the most often. Most of you learned to drive at a time and in an environment nearly unimaginable to the average teenager or twentysomething today. Even if we exclude any mention of those elderly drivers who perhaps should no longer be on the road due to lessened faculties (I understand that in our car culture of little public transportation, driving = independence -- and that's a different issue), your priorities while behind the wheel are usually quite different from ours. In general, we value speed, you, safety. This is bound to cause resentment. Neither side can argue the other into submission, so it gets expressed via road rage.

Speaking of resentment, let's talk about finances. My generation can, all evidence to the contrary, do the math. There are a lot of you. There are not as many of us. You're all not only growing older, but staying alive past retirement at a rate unheard of in history (not blaming you, obvy; beats the alternative). But that does mean that, when we look at an older person with whom we have no personal connection, it's hard to see them as anything but a looming tax burden.

We come from a generation that has never in its adult(ish) life been able to trust or respect our government. We think the concept of privacy as an inherent right is hilarious, as we've never seen it in action. We're the ones who will be sent to war by the leaders you elect (we're well aware of who holds politicians' attention, which contributes to our voting apathy). We think about information and morality in completely different terms.

Wow, this turned into kind of a rant.

I can't solve the problem, obviously. I'd be a lot richer if I could just have the answer to societal issues.
Communication is important. Show us *why* manners and politesse are important. Remembering the violent emotions that controlled you at our age will help. Ignoring the worst of the nonsense, as you would ignore a kid's tantrum while still loving the kid, will help; eighty per cent of it is driven by a need to show off or fit in, and isn't personal.
And, er... if you're not going over 75, please don't drive in the fast lane.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The world's best ingredient.

I would like to introduce those of you who are not aware of it to my favorite ingredient in the WORLD. If you a) know about it already, b) hate garlic, or c) hate ginger, then go along your merry way, as this post is not for you.

Indian and Pakistani cuisine very commonly includes garlic-ginger paste. I cannot sing this stuff's praises enough.

It's sold at every Indian grocery ever, in jars that should be kept in the fridge once they're opened. Consistency is of a slightly hairy toothpaste (hairy cause of the ginger). I keep a jar of this stuff and a jar of pre-minced plain garlic-in-water in my fridge door at all times; I haven't had to chop garlic in months, or try that damn extract-the-awesomeness-from-ginger-using-just-the-flat-of-your-knife thing that the cookbooks pretend is straightforward but always ends up with me either coming perilously close to cutting myself, or smelling like a Thai whorehouse (not that I'd know), or shooting a small piece of ginger at high speed right across the kitchen or sometimes even out of the window and onto someone's car in the next door dentist's parking lot. Which, it goes without saying, is awesome.

But yes. Garlic-ginger paste. Sounds simple, but the beauty of it is its versatility. It can be consumed uncooked -- if you really like the strong flavor, I've even used it in small amounts as a no-cal sandwich spread -- and I often whisk it into salad dressings and other raw liquidy things (bet it'd give hummus a kick in the teeth! I wouldn't know, I'm allergic to most hummuses. Hummi? Hummusoi? Humina humina).

It is awesome when cooked in any way, to soften the flavor. If you're sauteing a dish, for example, or frying anything in just a little bit of oil, adding this to the oil first and giving it 30 seconds on medium or low heat is scrummy. Ditto adding it to sauces, even soups, and oh my goodness I can't even tell you what it does to marinades. Num. Brush it on fish before boiling or roasting. Num. Bored of plain veggies? Tell you what, you can start with the most generic of *frozen* beans or peas -- as you're steaming them (or even nuking them), fake-fry a spoonful of this paste in a tablespoon or two of low-sodium chicken broth (another fridge door requirement) with a teaspoonful of cumin seeds, and Double Num Num!

Mmmmm. Num.

Monday, August 6, 2007


I like Sting. Yes, I know. Shut up.

I can't help it. I was utterly musically illiterate until late high school or later -- and ya know what, I'm not sure that simultaneously discovering weed and the Doors in junior year really counts as a broadening of my musical horizons. My musical education had until then rested almost wholly in my father's hands.

This isn't as awful as it sounds. There were two reasons for it: one, I grew up in Europe, which -- don't get me wrong, I lurves me some E.U. -- has the musical taste of your really weird second cousin whose jeans were way too tight before tight jeans came back, all trance and dance and electronica all the time, and some really odd soft rock in the top-40 playlist of the average radio station. So what did my friends all listen to? Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, and Guns N Roses, well into the mid-90s (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we had no idea we were being retro), Texas, PowwoW (English- and French-singing vaguely Native American-inspired a cappella backed with drums, and no, I'm not kidding), and what I think of as club music -- heavy beat, electronics, repeating samples, no real melody.

The second reason was that Dad had, and has, reasonably good taste in music. His true melodic loves mostly reside in the 1960s, it's true -- but not all of them, and that's important. He keeps up with music, year by year, and buys what he likes. He introduced my sister and me not only to Elvis, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, but also to Ravi Shankar, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Madonna (back in the day!), Sinead O'Connor, Norah Jones, Boys II Men, the Fugees and Lauryn Hill, Pink Floyd's The Wall (in LP format, natch), the Pet Shop Boys, Sade, Traci Chapman ... and, yes, Sting.

The album that accompanied my late single-digit years in Paris and remained on the shelf above the stereo -- the Special Shelf full of only the Chosen Ones, the music that the family as a whole had, by dint of seemingly random rearranging and playing, deemed deserving of frequent rotation -- was 1987's "...Nothing Like the Sun." I know most of the songs on that album by heart, probably; if you asked me what was on it, however, I could only tell you a few of them.

The Lazarus Heart -- if only because I had to ask who Lazarus was, and was still confused after I'd been told. I was not brought up in a Christian household by any means.

Be Still My Beating Heart -- more <3s. style="font-style: italic;">I don't drink coffee, I take tea, my dear
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk:
I'm an Englishman in New York
If "manners maketh man," as someone said
Then he's the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say
Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than a license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run.

"It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile" ... what a lovely, grown-up sort of sentiment. I have been accused of letting people walk over me, or of putting politesse and tact before confrontation and conflict resolution. I don't know about the first; it's certainly possible that it's true. I will cop to the second accusation proudly. Sometimes, dammit, a smile and the ability to walk away and cool off elsewhere can save a friendship, an argument, or your dignity. I'm not saying no-one should ever confront an attacker, refute a stupid argument, or stand up for themselves for fear of hurting someone else's feelings, of course. That would be twerpish.

But! I do admire the inherent bravery it sometimes takes to walk away; to bite one's tongue, though it would be incredibly easy to destroy someone else's ego for your own bitter satisfaction; to smile at someone who is trying to make you angry; to be, in other words, a gentleman or a lady, in a world increasingly devoid of either.