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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

What keeps me up at night

I believe we make our own luck, but that doesn't mean it's not fragile and fleeting.

I believe we make our own luck, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fragile and fleeting.

For a long time it was stress and the fear of not waking up. Now, it’s something else. When I finally figured it out, it surprised me – a lot.

It’s luck.

Yes, luck, and thinking how lucky I am to have everything I have. A great and caring wife, a perfectly imperfect daughter, 1,850 sq. ft of house, with equity, black and yellow labradors, good friends, a job.

Life hasn’t always been this way for me. But it has been lately.

I am grateful for having so much in a world growing hotter every year, filled with too many people living in poverty, and too many people who believe they never have enough, though I can’t exclude myself from that last category many days. I’m surrounded by daily reminders of great wealth in Los Angeles: McMansions, 100K+ cars, and an environment where my daughter counted how many kids in her class brought MacBook Pros to school, making her inexpensive ASUS seem inferior, though I will be speaking to her that it’s not the computer that matters, it’s what you do with it.

But what keeps me up nights is thinking about how lucky I am and how I could have it so much worse than I do. And wondering when I will.

The best Christmas ever (and I understand Charlie Brown much better now)

Here are my very simple criteria for what makes a Christmas, “the best Christmas”:

  1. Was I alive during it?
  2. Did I stay out of the hospital?

Check off both of those boxes this year. Thus, best Christmas ever. Check back next year and if those two boxes are checked again, you’ll see a post with the same title.

Though my present was Luna's bionic knee, I did get some stocking stuffers, like this BBQ mitt to keep me from burning the hair off my arm each time I cook the fish.

Though my present was Luna’s bionic knee, I did get some stocking stuffers, like this BBQ mitt to keep me from burning the hair off my hand and arm each time I cook fish.

You’ll notice there’s nothing on my checklist about the gifts I received during the holiday. Just living to see another Christmas and not being in the hospital are the only two gifts I care about now. When I was younger it was about the “stuff,” which would make the year I received a Sizzlers racetrack the best Christmas ever.

So, this Christmas was pretty awesome. We didn’t make any parental missteps like last year’s bicycle gift to my daughter. My wife and I gave her a bunch of eclectic gifts this year, including a messenger bag that she loved and carried around downtown Ventura two days later, which is amazing considering she’s allergic to carrying anything, especially groceries from the car to the house.

The art supplies Santa (my wife) bought her made her happy. And I went off the reservation, so to speak, this year, and ordered her several gifts without asking for my wife’s “voice of reason” opinion, which would have killed some of them. I just ordered stuff I thought my daughter would like: an origami book, a logic puzzle book, a scientific cookbook for kids, and a book on cupcakes.

Jackpot! I received zero, “Why is there a bicycle wedged in my stocking?” looks this year.

If there was one melancholy moment, it was at dinner the next night when my daughter challenged us to a logic puzzle. Both my wife and I made the big mistake of attempting it while we continued to eat, not paying attention that my daughter ignored her turkey and mashed potatoes and gave 100% of her young, healthy brain’s attention to the puzzle.

The two of us were halfway through it when she yelled out, “done.”

My favorite quote from the movie Aliens seems appropriate here: “What do you mean, THEY cut the power? How could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!”

So, my response was somewhat similar: What do you mean you finished? You did the entire thing? How did you do it that fast, you’re only 10?”

What happened to our little girl, the half-pint sponge who dressed up as Snow White and loved tea parties? Hello, computer-brained daughter whose main goal now is to have a mental throwdown with her parents, with little thought and compassion for their fragile adult self-esteem. What the heck are they teaching kids in fifth grade these days?

Round two. With fresh copies of a new puzzle in our hands and full concentration – dinner set aside – the three of us went at it again.

I also received a Kreg Jig Jr. I can go "pocket hole" crazy now.

I also received a Kreg Jig Jr. I can go “pocket hole” crazy now.

The scene: clock ticking loudly, sweat dripping off my brow, collar feeling tight, pencil slowly etching the paper, scribbled notes, stomach churning.

The result: My wife finished first, followed by my daughter two seconds later, followed by me – later.

Defeat, failure. Smashed by the two females in my house, an event that is happening way too often these days. ARGH, Charlie Brown, I know how you felt, my man. I know how you felt.

But if there is a silver lining to the beat down, I’m still the person they come to when their computers don’t work, or something in the house needs fixing. Luckily, the logic puzzles don’t extend to real life, and I still have some purpose and value left.

All hope is not lost yet, Charlie Brown.

Happy New Year to all.

Conundrum

It starts with waking up to read my work email in the morning. I don’t look forward to it. There is something about it now that makes me wonder how valuable a lot of what I do really is. I don’t think it was always this way. And I don’t think it has to do with my having less enthusiasm for work email. It’s the email that’s changed. Economy, people worrying about their jobs, tracking everything, measuring and justifying one’s existence, busy work. I don’t know. I just know the quality and quantity of it is painful at times. A distraction from work that matters.

My life will be coming to an end in an unknown amount of minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. If I could find out exactly what day I will die, it would allow me to allocate my resources. 3 months, 6 months? Hmm, perhaps I’m done wasting my time with pointless work. Hello, Las Vegas. Hello, speeding tickets. 5 years to 10 years left? Well then, work is good. Keep on trucking. Benefits, a paycheck – all good. No reason to risk anything.

I’m lucky to have a wife and daughter, two dogs, a job, a house, a car, health insurance. Knock on wood. Life’s checklist is good. I’m lucky. Good too. But what do I do with the rest of my time? It feels like I should be doing more and that I know better than to waste time and worry about trivial stuff. It could all end tomorrow. But one has to survive. Artists and musicians glamorize this situation, as if I should be driving a VW van while lip-syncing to Katy Perry’s “Firework.” I suck at making the most of life. I must have slept through that class in school.

Ah, Ms. Perry, What was Russell thinking?
Photo by Eva Rinaldi – Creative Commons

My garage is full of crap. It’s a warehouse for items I may need once in the next 5 years. It feels like a ball and chain. Stuff weighs a lot. I don’t have the courage to throw it all away. Who knows when I’ll need that spare insulation or scrap of plywood.

I surf the Internet too much. It’s a distraction, has ruined my concentration, and keeps me from doing anything that takes effort, such as writing a blog post. It is escape. I’ve mastered it.

I dislike Yahoo! and its headline stories about nothing. Yahoo! – it’s your brain on cotton candy. “Levi Johnson Poses with Baby Daughter.” At what point is that story worthy of a major headline? Have you ever noticed how many stories are about celebrities’ new hair styles?

Yapoo!

I’m tired of Apple mania. I dig the new Samsung Galaxy commercial poking fun at waiting in line for an iPhone. It’s pitch perfect. I own Apple everything, but now I’m wondering if I joined a cult and they’ll be asking me to drink iKool-Aid soon.

I fear failure, but have nothing to lose, or everything. I’m not sure.

I have ideas. Always have. But I was born without the gene to make shit happen.

This is my conundrum.

Hi, my name is Unknown. How may I help you today?

I need a new refrigerator, range, range hood, dishwasher, microwave, sink, and kitchen faucet.  I have a credit card in my wallet on standby. The contractor is waiting, tapping his foot, and ready to build our new cabinets. All systems are go for a blast off to new shiny stainless-steel goodness.

Simple process, right?

[Sound of buzzer signaling an incorrect answer.]

So sorry, that was the wrong answer and a trick question. I have learned that wanting to buy new appliances is different from actually buying new appliances. It’s a maze of frustration and disappointing retail experiences, and I’m lost in its high walls.

I’m an idiot. I wasn’t even thinking of a blog post when I went to these stores. I have a bunch of pictures of price tags, but none of the nasty stained stainless steel frig, which looked like an octopus made love to it at night. I have to remember to take pictures. Argh.

First there was Lowes on Sunday. My wife and daughter in tow, I walked around the appliance section for 15 minutes. We opened and closed doors, stuck our heads in ovens, flipped through the Consumer Reports kitchen issue, and generally did everything possible to look like customers wanting to buy new appliances, even considering filling the frig with charcoal from the BBQ grill section and putting a match to it.

There were two Lowes employees standing talking to each other, probably about how their Saturday nights were so rocking, and how helping annoying customers on a Sunday was the worst job ever. I refused to go up and ask them for help. Sorry, that’s not my job. That’s their job, which clearly they were under-qualified for.

Second up was Pacific Sales, which I must admit had the cleanest and best layout of any of the appliance stores I’ve been to this week. When the power went out in the store upon our arrival, I should have taken that as a bad sign from the shopping gods. And yet, there were hardly any customers in the store, which I noticed when the lights came back on. A perfect time to shop. Wrong. I saw a lot of employees talking to each other, which makes me think they were buying appliances from each other.

So, after about 20 minutes of confirming our Harry Potter invisibility cloaks worked, and failing to steal a range hood by hiding it in my frayed Abercrombie shorts, we left Pacific Sales, appliance-less.

Last on the list was our sorry experience at Sears. Again, very few customers and two employees standing around talking to each other. And again we left. But I did write Sears about the experience and told them they need to clean house by trimming the herd of employees who don’t help customers. And they need to clean the house because the store was filthy. Layers of grimy fingerprints coated the stainless steel refrigerators.

Several frigs were broken, like the $3K Kenmore that puked the ice-maker onto the floor when I opened the door, making a loud plastic BANG, which delighted my daughter as she was no longer the only family member to drop something in a retail store, she having a wee habit of knocking stuff over when we shop. I’m now in the “dropping noisy stuff on linoleum floors” club. Yay, I made it.

My grandfather took me to Sears when I was young. I loved it. He bought Craftsman tools. I buy Craftsman tools. My mother-in-law worked there for years. I bought a TV there, and Kenmore appliances. But this is not the same Sears. This is the Sears filled with apathetic  employees who will have poor work habits (apologies to the hard-working employees of Sears and mixing them with the ones soiling the company’s name and heritage). It’s not my grandfather’s Sears anymore.

This car is a classic.

These experiences made me think of the following: Retail stores are dead, but just don’t know it, with exceptions of course, such as women’s clothing and shoes, which my wife refuses to buy off the Internet. I can buy clothing and shoes off the Internet. In fact, I prefer it. So wait and watch as Sears and Pacific Sales go under. However, stores like Lowes will probably survive because it’s hard to FedEx 2×4’s and keep prices low.

Leaving the mall where numerous stores were papered up (bye bye Sony store), my daughter and wife had to listen to me rant the entire way home. The problem may have just been me and the fact I look scary with a paper bag over my head.

I worked in retail for over 15 years. And I did well, always a top salesman. If a customer was in the store, he or she was greeted and approached. If there was time to lean, there was time to clean. And we had managers who were crazy about these rules, not shying away from bootcamp-like tactics to make us feel lower than low if we did a poor job or goofed off. I wish we could dig up a few of these Ford Maverick-driving, divorced three times, politically incorrect, chain-smoking psychopaths, and unleash them in retail stores across the country.

The service would be a lot better and people wouldn’t depend on the Internet for product information. And best of all, true, knowledgeable sales people would make a comeback. But we’d probably still order off of the Internet to save a few bucks.

So, change is coming. What will the future of retail stores be? Will they be satellite locations for Amazon where we go to pick up our purchases? I don’t know. But if retail stores continue to provide zero service, they’re doomed. And that is kind of sad.

There won’t be stores and we’ll all be ordering solely from pictures on our computer screen, which in a way is similar to how they ordered products many years ago from catalogs, like the Sears Catalog, which makes me wonder if we’ve advanced. Internet ordering is more convenient and faster, but is it that fundamentally different from 100 years ago and a catalog?  I’ll think about this as I search appliances on the Internet tonight.

 

We are not granite people

Zion, Aurora Borealis, Orion, Cosmos, Golden Sun, Copper Canyon, Golden Crystal, Espírito Santo, Purple Dunes, Emerald Green, Kashmir Cream, and Lapidus.

This was one of the most interesting granites we found. But even we don’t have the courage to go with a style choice like this. Fear of looking outdated overruled this choice and the fact we’re going with browns, oranges, yellows, etc. But still, this is one cool-looking slab of rock.

We spent Saturday walking granite yards.

It was dirty work and in areas of Los Angeles my daughter has never seen before. Areas with large power-line transformer towers, graffiti, murals on the sides of buildings, railroad tracks, and apartment buildings with cool-sounding names leftover from the 1950s and 60s.

I tossed  in a teaching moment and reminded her how good we have it compared to others. But it was a really a reminder for me, as I’ve been feeling envy of others in Los Angeles lately – the million-dollar home owners and those who can afford exotic granites with names like some of the ones I started this post with.

I should have no complaints about what we have and our good fortune. Driving through LA yesterday reminded me of this. We are lucky to have what we have, despite life  in Los Angeles and advertising constantly screaming that we don’t.

Another thing I realized yesterday is that I don’t like granite. Or, more accurately, I don’t like granite in kitchens.

Looking at large slabs of it is like looking at nature’s artwork. Beautiful, complex, deep – I love a 6 x 10 feet piece of rock. And if we had a kitchen island the size of a slab, we’d have granite. But we don’t even have a kitchen island. And granite when it’s cut into pieces looks busy to me, which makes me an oddball here in LA where granite countertops are ubiquitous.

If you listen to our real estate agent, everyone wants granite and that’s the only thing to put in for the best resale values. But we’re not going to because both my wife and I came to the same conclusion yesterday: we’re not granite people.

We don’t live in a house fancy enough for granite countertops. It’s not us. And we want a clean white kitchen, which is going against the grain of stained cabinets. Busy granite needs a mellow or white subway tile backsplash. We’re more backsplash people. And we want one that looks mind-blowing and is as colorful as an Andy Warhol painting or English garden in spring.

We want something fun. Not something serious and maybe a bit too proper or adult.

This slab is more in line with the colors we’re thinking. Goldfinger (completely random reference to James Bond who probably wouldn’t give a sh** about granite countertops, as he lived he life on the road away from home and ate in restaurants all the time.)

So, we going with quartz,  the number one choice of Consumer Reports for countertops. A nice neutral shade and solid color. And it will be nice and smooth like granite, which we don’t have right now with a crumbling-grout tile countertop.

If I had any courage at all, the quartz countertop would be colorful – orange or red. Or we’d paint our cabinets a color. But that’s not going to happen. We’re still adult enough to realize we will have to sell the house one day, which could be tomorrow knowing how much I want to move every time I deal with some of our neighbors and their demons.  We need to create a kitchen that appeals to a wider range of buyers. Or so conventional wisdom goes.

So, white it is with quartz countertops and an eye-catching backsplash. And though I’m not enjoying the remodeling process this time, I’m doing my best not to sweat it because I know how lucky we are and how many others are not. Kitchens are, after all, just kitchen cabinets and stone. They are not life.