Working in the USA defies logic sometimes

I haven’t been blogging due to work. But that’s good and bad.

It’s good because we have a new manager who doesn’t require the bandwidth of our old one. I’m no longer supporting a nice guy, but Senator-type, with ADHD. So now I can do the job I’m paid to do and not admin support prepping the manager. In return, I’ve been doing a lot more writing and creative work.

Happiness.

On the flip side, I work at the speed of light. I’m the Pizza Hut Express of creative training development right now. Churn and burn. Thus, I’m doing my part to keep unemployment in the USA high. That’s a joke on my part, but not far from the truth.

How are USA companies reporting record profits right now?

Well it’s not because they’re hiring the number of people they need to get the work done.

My least favorite management motivation pep talk: We’ve got to do more with less. The business schools need to can the class where future managers learn this motivation-killing tool.

Bring in the book that got me riled up.

Overwhelmed: work, love, and play when no one has the time, by Brigid Schulte.

It’s a great book, but I must admit it feels like it’s meant for the smarter sex.

This feels like an important book and a must-read for my daughter when she gets older.

This feels like an important book and a must-read for my daughter when she gets older.

If you’re a guy, don’t read it because you’ll probably feel guilty about how much work your wife and the mother of your children does. I gained a much better awareness of this, and I’m now picking up my socks and putting them in the laundry basket. I cleaned out a cabinet and vacuumed yesterday.

However, beyond the facts showing how great women are, which I 100% agree with, there are other facts in the book about how we work here in the USA – longer hours, but not as productive per hour as many European countries, very few worker rights, fewer rights for parents, health care challenges, limited flex time, etc.

It’s an eye-opening read about the way we work in this country, which so many like to tout as the best in the world. The numbers just don’t support that anymore. We’re not as progressive as we once were. Heaven forbid we pay someone a minimum wage they can live on. Sad.

I’m not here to criticize the USA. It’s our corporations and rich politicians pulling the strings. I just hate the illogical idea of supplementing companies that pay a low wage to workers with government funding to help these people survive. And I don’t like the manipulation of the exempt worker who is paid for 40 hours but works far more than that every week, helping to keep companies from having to hire more workers. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Work/life balance. Hmm.

Or, are we living in the Matrix? Have we become interchangeable batteries without rights?

Those are the questions that keep me up at night.

 

 

 

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An American Work Vacation for Me

I have three weeks off. It’s because I didn’t take much vacation this year and I can’t roll over the days to next year.

Here's where I want to be on my vacation. I'm pretty sure this island lacks cellular coverage

So, I’m catching up on projects around the house and working, as in “work work.”

Yes, the work I’m supposed to be off from right now.

Last week, just before we were about to launch a new video – 5 ,4, 3, 2, abort, ABORT – my manager asked for a major change  – one he and others could have caught early in the review process.

This led to a week of my time tweaking it and the programmers devoting another week to the changes. I like my manager, great guy, but the bummer of this change is that it won’t make much of a difference for the end user, and I now have to shepherd and review the project during my vacation.

Part of this is my fault. I have a hard time making a clean break from work. I have to come down slowly and wean myself off it like a junkie breaking a habit. But technology, limited resources in our department, and the economy are the pushers.

And one device stands out as the villain of my story.

Blackberry, oh Blackberry, the enemy and destroyer of vacations. Blackberry, oh Blackberry.

What a turd of a device at times and savior when I need it. I want to fling it like a rock across a glassy pond. Watch it bounce off the payment and explode into a thousand shards of plastic. But then there are days I want to marry it, be its mate. I love you, little BB.

Future generations will discover piles of these buried in landfills, plastic dinosaur bones

Blackberry, oh Blackberry, you tease. I try not to look at my email, but I can’t help it. I’m Pavlov’s dog and run when the ringer sounds or red light flashes. Email, must read now. Bark. Bark. Must read now. [Drool everywhere.] Why did I read that now? I’m such a stupid f**K. It could have waited. Where’s my bowl of food?

Now I imagine you reading this and thinking, “Why doesn’t someone else do the work while you’re gone?”

Good question, O Wise Reader. I have several answers for you.

First, no one knows the content like I do and they’re buried with their own work and planning for their own vacations. Second, we have limited resources. Over the years, we’ve been told “do more with less.” It’s all about maximizing production and working ourselves to the bone, which ties into my third answer to your question, the economy. Yes, if you don’t do more with less and work every minute of the day and beyond, there is someone unemployed who will. And if you’re thinking of getting another job, don’t.

“There ain’t none to be had, Mister,” said the imaginary hobo by the bus stop.

I guess I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself. I have a very good job and according to this Yahoo!/CNNMoney article, $34.3 billion in vacation days to go unused this year, a good percentage of Americans don’t use many of the vacation days they earn. At least I get to take my days with some work sprinkled in.

So, bring on the holidays, Xbox madness, and day trips with my daughter to places unknown, like a lake with a smooth surface, perfect for skipping stones.

Chevrolet edits “Like Father, Like Son” commercial

On October 20, 2011, I wrote the following post on Chevrolet’s commercial, “Like Father, Like Son”:

My warped decoding of the Chevrolet Commercial, “Like Father, Like Son”

Guess what? Chevrolet changed the commercial. It’s different from the first one and addresses some of the key points I raised.

The doll as big as the house is not blurry because of my photography skills. Her role is diminished in the new version.

In the new version that played during today’s Giants/Packers game, the image of the Lara Croft doll is blurred out and there is no close-up of it. Also, there is a new ending more true to the spirit of the themes innocence, family, Americana, and the commercial’s title, “Like Father, Like Son.”

Now the father comes home, gets out of his Silverado and is greeted by the young boy and a woman I presume is his wife. In the first one he isn’t greeted at all and the closest we get to a wife waiting for her husband to return home is the fantasy Lara Croft at the doll house.

Now this woman is much closer to the woman I married. My wife is brilliant and has an MBA, but doesn't find hot pants and a tank top to be very comfortable or "around the house" clothing.

The new, real wife is happier and dressed in what one might describe as clothing more in line with what the majority of women in this country wear, not the attire of a woman looking for treasure in the jungle. And his wife doesn’t have the rare physique of an Amazon. She is closer to average height and build and complements the commercial’s themes by fitting in, not standing out for the wrong reasons.

As every image counts in a commercial, this one now rings truer throughout. Before, it was a like a good song with a couple of bad notes that ruined it. Now it plays much better and doesn’t hurt one’s ears, so to speak.

Kudos to Chevrolet for this version of the commercial. A big round of applause for them. I’m guessing they read my blog post and changed the commercial. I kid. Others must have had similar reactions to the commercial and voiced their opinions, resulting in the improved version.

And best of all I get a few hours of satisfaction today with the feeling that I was right about something for once. I spend most days thinking about how I’m out of sync with most people and I see the world differently. This is a small victory, I know, but I’ll take it just the same.

Tomorrow I’ll be the same idiot I was before, but I’ll feel like there’s hope for me yet. I can dream, can’t I?

The economy + an uncertain future + daughter’s future education costs + corporate cost cutting and waiting for the return of Queen for a Day

My wife and I spent some quality time at the dining room table this weekend pouring over what it would cost to move. Over the years, we’ve resisted moving up like many of our friends have. Thank you, cystic fibrosis, for that decision, as my wife needs to be able to afford a house payment on her own and not be straddled by debt.

So, we looked over the numbers. And as much as I want to move, there’s no way around the costs associated with moving, e.g. agent commission, movers, etc.

And then there is the weight of carrying debt. It’s heavy when you’re allergic to it.

The bank offered us a boatload of cash for a loan, or at least it feels like a boatload to us. And we had to laugh because why would we want the stress of starting a 30-year loan with a big payment right now?

Damn, I can get this stove on Amazon for 28 bucks and change. Yeah, baby. I may need it for boiling nebs if we remodel.

Big payment = hello, soup kitchen line.

We factored in our daughter’s future education needs, the current economy and both of us working for large corporations. We’re convinced there’s someone at our companies fresh out of business school looking at numbers and thinking how he or she can save the company big bucks by sending more human capital to the unemployment line. Or by outsourcing our jobs to monkeys – my job at least.

Uncertain economy + uncertain employment by large companies + my uncertain future = staying put.

Now our conversation has moved to upgrading our house – security wall with razor wire first; kitchen second. But totaling up what it will cost us for a new kitchen is causing my wallet to pucker up.

Mormon dream or old TV show?

We had a contractor over and we’ve worked up a kitchen budget. The sound you hear is me gagging on 35K of kitchen debt.

Here’s my new plan: I need to go on The Price Is Right and win a new kitchen. But then I’d have to pay taxes on my winnings. Damn you, Taxman, the Beatles were right.

If only Queen for a Day was still on and my wife could tell a pathetic story and win a refrigerator because God knows a new appliance makes any woman’s hardship vanish.

Here’s the story my wife could tell on Queen for a Day: My husband won’t do dishes or cook. He made me watch every minute of the movie Melancholia. He won’t let me drive when he’s in the car. He’s called me “grumpy” during my special time of month (audience gasps). He’s missing a few bricks upstairs and roams the house saying, “I’m the McGriddler; Batman ain’t got nothing on me.” And he’s so ugly, he wears a paper bag on his head.

Damn, after writing that, I think she wins. I’m buying her a new dishwasher for Christmas. I am the McGriddler and I make the magic happen – one appliance at a time.

Odds and ends and odds

Work

I’ve been doing it. A lot lately.

My life would be so much better if I didn’t have to work and was rich. Actually, I like working. If I could just trim some of the mundane, mind-numbing tasks from my job and keep the good parts, I would be happier.

I like work that doesn’t feel like work. And sometimes I have that type of work. Just not as often as I used to.

***

Robert Frost, my man, you were wrong about fences. Wrong, so wrong.

Good fences don’t make good neighbors

I feel like I’m playing a real-life game of Risk in my neighborhood. My argumentative neighbor hasn’t said anything to me since the day we disagreed on how he should speak to my wife. And he hasn’t said anything to my wife since then, which is even better. But times are tense here in the land of palm trees, cement and brown lawns.

I do, however, feel better about loading up my house with security cameras and the soon to be built Berlin Wall II. I have East German-like clandestine meetings with my neighbors on the side of my house in the dark, where we whisper about what we’re going to do about the country so intent on causing pain and suffering to its neighbors.

We’ll see how it plays out, but it makes me wish I was a renter right now and could give my 30-days notice and move.

It’s amazing how much stuff my wife and I have accumulated over the years. I long for the days when I moved to California and all of my possessions fit in a brown Camaro with a 1-inch round hole in the driver’s door where someone shot it with a slingshot one night.

My advice to my daughter – don’t buy s**t you don’t need and live light.

***

Now we’re cooking – or not

Holy crap, kitchens are expensive. If my wife and I don’t move, we’re going to remodel our kitchen. We’ve lived with the current one for over 15 years. The grout is chipping away. One drawer won’t shut and points upward when you close it. The giant fluorescent light fixture covers the area with nasty light and fills up with dead bugs and debris. Our stove is black; our stove hood white. The face of the dishwasher falls off sometimes.

Yes, we are the most frugal people in the world. But even we don’t feel like being pigs anymore and would like something nicer – a smooth countertop, no grout. Handles on the cabinets. Ah, to dream.

***

Grind away

I’m going to the dentist every week these days. All because I chewed through my bite guard a few years ago and was too lazy and busy being sick to replace it.

I’ve eaten my own teeth – cracked and polished them like river rocks made of glass.

I blame the stress of CF and going to bed many nights not 100 percent positive I’d wake up in the morning.

So, my public service announcement tonight is . . . see a dentist and get a hard plastic bite guard if you grind your teeth. You’ll save your teeth, thousands of dollars, and more importantly, you’ll avoid annoying lectures from dental hygienists who can’t wait to tell you “would have, should have, could have.”

Yes, I am an idiot.

Why do you need an MBA to decipher medical bills in the USA?

Hospitals bills and insurance EOBs in the USA are the equivalent of going to prison, surviving unharmed while there, getting released and being mugged and stabbed by ex-cons two months later.

I am always happy to get out of the hospital, but the real pain doesn’t come until a couple of months later when my wife and I open the mailbox.

The complexity and inaccuracy of medical bills bothers me, deeply bothers me, and makes me think we don’t live in what some consider to be the greatest country in the world.

undergear.com sells these for 9.97. BTW, that's me modeling them. I'm looking cut.

Either we have citizens who flunked basic math who are programming the billing systems, or we have creative geniuses inventing evil ways to delay and screw up payments so people just pay the bills because they don’t have the skills to figure them out.

So, we are either incompetent or immoral in this country when it comes to medical billing practices.

Example: Two months ago, we received a bill for my last hospital stay. We owed over $1,500 and the EOB matched up. Then for some unknown reason the hospital went back to the insurance company for seconds. The claim was readjusted. According to the EOB, our out of pocket is around $600 now and not $1,500.But the hospital is asking us for more money above the original $1,500.

What do you think the chances are we will get the refund we’re owed?

About the same as me never having to go back to the hospital again – unless I run in front of a bus wearing a suit made of EOBs and hospital bills (Our medical files are thick. I could make two or three suits if I knew how to sew paper).

Now starts the game we play to straighten it out. Well, my wife plays it. She has an MBA and works with numbers. It started with emailing 12 documents to the hospital, each with my wife’s handwritten notes, making them look like my junior high English papers.

If we ever get accurate and ethical medical billing in this country, I may start to believe we’re as good as we think we are. Until then, I’m hiding my Stars & Stripes lounge pants in my dresser drawer.

“Sweat the Details” or “Done Is Better Than Perfect”?

The downside of performing the same job for over 10 years has been experiencing a revolving door of supervisors and managers. The range has been wide, from “great leaders” to “I’d rather swallow my iPad before I work another day for this moron.” Oh, and knowing more about the work than they do.

These are my new work pants and shoes. Trust me when I say I thank my lucky stars every day and wish all of life's good parts could last forever.

The true challenge is staying up with the various, and sometimes contradictory, team-building ideas, motivational techniques, and management styles the new managers bring with them.

Just a few years ago we lived something close to the Facebook saying: Done is better than perfect. And we churned out substandard work. Lots of it.

Yes, a large number of projects were checked off as complete, but we always felt dirty and embarrassed because our names were associated with the work, and the results lived on long after the managers had left the building.

Then a new management team would arrive and review what was done and say, “we can do better than this, people. It’s a good thing we’re here to save you.” But then they would fall victim to the “more is better” rule of the 2000s and we’d explain to the next group of managers that followed them why it was what it was.

And change was always promised, but not delivered, in the game we played to keep our jobs: Quantity is easier to measure than quality.

And then Steve Jobs up and died and now we worship his 10 commandments and the popular, Sweat the Details, which may be the most amusing of all, as volume hasn’t changed. Now we sweat the details on certain projects, with certain being the key word.

It doesn’t say “sweat some details,” which made my wife wonder if sweating all details is healthy. She thinks it should read “sweat the important details.” I agree because I always agree with my wife and I really do agree with her this time.

It’s an odd contradiction of the workplace, these “mantras du jour” that keep us on track and motivated.

I do, however, look at a another of Jobs’s rules and dream to adopt it: Kill a 1,000 Projects. Now Sweat the Details makes more sense to me. It’s easier to sweat the details on 10 projects than 1,000.

And yet, when you have a boatload of projects on your to-do list, and half the time you need to complete them, apply the Facebook mantra and you may live longer.