Monday, February 28, 2011

Cracks in the facade

Believe it or not, the ice seems to be thawing just a tiny bit in my workspace, perhaps in honor of the fact that the weather’s been in the mid-70’s the past few days (though that’s probably just a coincidence). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that everyone is suddenly buddy-buddy, but at various points today my male colleagues and I had unavoidably crossed paths with Ms. A., and she has actually spoken to us instead of pretending we don’t exist. Nothing as friendly as a greeting or anything like that, but at least saying something along the lines of “I just need something off that shelf” as she steps around us in tight quarters. On the one hand, a limited exchange like that just kind of underscores how off-kilter the whole situation feels, but on the other hand, it’s better than the oppressive silence.

At any rate, I did have a terrifying-but-then-funny moment last week, on the heels of the previous Monday/Work blog post, so it seems appropriate to revisit it here. After singing the praises of my contracting manager so effusively the day before, my manager stopped by my desk on Tuesday morning and asked if I could come to a meeting at 10 a.m. in the conference room. I said sure, no problem, and he left without explaining anything any further.

I have always been of the opinion that I don’t really need to be given lots of advance info for things like meetings. I’m not important enough to insist on a justification being made for my time; if someone says “come to this meeting” I just show up, and I’ll find out what it’s all about when I get there. I trust my superiors enough to believe that if I needed to do any prep for the meeting and come prepared with answers to questions or anything like that, they would let me know in no uncertain terms. And of course it’s easy to say all of that and generally adhere to it, but every once in a while I get a little paranoid that I’m being included in a meeting because the topic of conversation is going to be me: something I’ve screwed up or something that’s going to negatively impact me like a blindsiding round of layoffs. Such things really have no basis in reality whatsoever and are the height of out-of-control paranoid flightiness, but in light of the recent hostilities exploding in my workspace, I think a little bit of self-interested hyper-concern might be understandable.

I just need to dodge this for another 20, 25 years, tops.
At any rate the appointed time arrived and I went down to the conference room. Turned out that my manager had called the meeting not just for me but for every contractor in the office who works for our company. This brought on a wave of relief as I realized that it wasn’t going to be a one-on-one or two-on-one dressing down, which would have been ironic given how highly I had been lauding my manager the day before. And then the relief was suddenly replaced by a completely different kind of irony-driven paranoia via which I was completely convinced that my manager had called everyone together to announce that he was quitting or retiring or otherwise abandoning us in two weeks or less, which would necessitate bringing in a new manager who wouldn’t be the person who hired me and knew why I was worth keeping around and always gave me good annual reviews and so on. Which would be a total drag, and (according to certain cosmological belief systems, the allure of which I am not completely immune from) would actually be my fault because I had jinxed everything with my oblivious blog-psalms. Or something.

But of course the farewell speech did not materialize, either. My manager instead simply explained that he had been inadvertently collecting the little tokens that corporate sends out to managers to pass along to employees when they hit one or two or five years of service, as well as the certificates for divisional employee of the month, for a couple of years and he had meant to give them out at the Presidents’ Day luncheon but the venue turned out to be less then totally conducive to that kind of ceremonial ado (and he had conveniently forgotten all the tokens and certificates back at his office anyway). So he spent a few minutes in the conference room handing them out to the appropriate people in front of everyone else on the team so we could add a smattering of applause to the occasion. Which was nice and all but somewhat anticlimactic after everything that had been racing through my head up until the big reveal.

At this point I would like to look forward to a nice, calm, non-newsworthy week at work … but I don’t want to say as much because I don’t want to bring down the irony of the gods, so I’ll just quit while I’m arguably ahead.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Numbers crunched

So I suppose an altogether unsurprising post-script to the whole Daycare Drama that unfolded this week would be that last night my wife and I sat down with note and receipts and a laptop running Excel and tried to figure out a household budget for the second half of the year, because when maternity leave is up sometime in the July timeframe we are going to have two small children in daycare, which will more than double our current daycare expenses (it gets cheaper as the kids get older, so the baby will add more to the bottom line outlay than the little guy currently does). We succeeded, more or less. There was no fighting or hurt feelings, at the very least, something I am given to understand cannot always be counted on when most couples discuss money in terms other than “What if we won the lottery?”

We had actually been saying for a while that we really needed to crunch the numbers and figure everything out, and I had been counterbalancing my wife’s concerns with my trademark optimism, believing not only that we could definitely handle the additional line item of infant care but that we would probably end up finding it surprisingly easy. Turns out I was half right. We got all the numbers to add up and balance, but it took some doing. We’re not going to be suffering, by any means, as always we’re going to be just fine. It’s just the version of fine that has very little wiggle room, and in the past couple years we’ve gotten admittedly self-indulgent about wiggling.

It’s in my nature to put a positive spin on things, and credit where credit is due, my wife actually gave voice to this particular spin and I am wholeheartedly embracing it. This may very well be the year that I plow through all of the entertainments that mock me from various shelves and surfaces around my home, unwatched or unread or unlistened to. I’m not going to be able to swing by Barnes & Noble or Best Buy and drop cash on DVDs or books just because, whenever I feel the urge. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be consuming DVDs and books at my usual clip; it just means it’ll be the movie a friend of a friend thought I’d like, or the tv series all of my buddies have been waiting for me to catch up on (actually I’m pretty sure they stopped waiting for that a while ago) or the comics I picked up because I saw a full run for sale at a convention or the pulp paperbacks I bought in bulk last summer at the used bookstore so I could read whatever I was in the mood for at the beach. Honestly when I think about all the things lying around the house that I had every intention of taking in but still haven’t made time for yet, and realize what that says about how my rate of acquisition far outstrips my actual rate of intake, it’s kind of embarrassing. But there it is.

Of course once I finish watching it I'll have to remember who actually loaned it to me in the first place.
And, believe me I’ll be the first to say it, this is the most minor economic inconvenience imaginable. My family is going to be able to pay every single bill without breaking a sweat, with two kids in daycare, two mortgages, two cars, and two dogs and a cat. The downside of this will be a marked decrease in take-out meals and collectibles? Boo-freaking-hoo. If I get really desperate to pick up a new graphic novel maybe I’ll finally get off my butt and eBay away some crap I have no use for to begin with. Stranger things and all.

Plus, it’s all more or less temporary. Like I said, the daycare costs go down on a regular basis as the center concedes that children do get easier to take care of as they age. The cars are new enough that when they get paid off in a couple years we won’t immediately be replacing them. If there is so much as a hint of a glimmer of a possibility of a housing market recovery, that second mortgage will get unloaded lickety-split. I still haven’t gotten the small-but-count-it raise my recent performance review seemed to indicate was in the cards. So it’s really all just a case of dropping some luxuries to make room for a new necessity which crashes into the budget all at once, and then gradually adding the luxuries back to the mix as everything gets easier, a process which will start almost right away.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there ends up being a couple of instances in the next few weeks of really, monumentally silly splurging, while there’s still time to shrug it off, before it becomes the height of fiscal irresponsibility. If I report that my wife and I went out for Brazilian churrascaria and then bought a Blu-Ray player and several box sets for it on the way home, you’ll have a little pre-insight as to why that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Once more from the top

I might end up giving slightly short shrift to this, but I have told this story (in various forms of various lengths) many times since last Friday and I’m getting a bit over-familiar with it. Still, I do think it’s unfair to make passing reference to something hereabouts, promising to get back to it later, and then not get back to it. So here we are.


My wife got a phone call at work on Friday because the little guy had smacked his head hard. These things happen, especially with a child as high-spirited and generally rough-and-tumble as our son. The little guy’s pretty resilient, though, but better-safe-than-sorry is one of the fundamental principles of our parenting technique, so my wife called it a day and headed for the daycare center.

When she arrived the staff informed her that the head-smacking accident was the result of a breath-holding tantrum, which we all (his parents and his daycare providers) know the little guy is prone to from time to time. We also know that while these fits are distressing and ugly to bear witness to, they are not terribly dangerous in and of themselves: either he’ll get woozy and then finally inhale so he can scream some more, or he’ll pass out but then immediately start breathing normally since he’s no longer consciously freaking out. The main hazard, then, is that he might get woozy or pass out and then fall down, and hit his head on something on the way down, and that incidental injury could be a problem. So on the one hand accidents happen and neither my wife nor I expect anyone to keep our child 100% bump- and scrape-free no matter how much we’re paying them. But on the other hand, if something sets the little guy off on a tantrum, there’s at least half a minute before he’s so worked up and has held his breath for so long that he might whack into something, so why wasn’t someone able to intervene and make sure that didn’t happen? Plus the staff’s version of events included the phrase “he was holding his breath and ran into a wall”, which … no. I’ve thought about it a hundred times since Friday and that just does not freaking fly. I’ve seen enough of the breath-holding spells to know that they primarily consist of him going rigid with rage, and there’s no running anywhere, let along running into things. Again, falling down is a real concern. But not blind stumbling into obstacles.

Also upon my wife’s arrival she was informed that, in the time since she had initially been called, the little guy had thrown up. Which of course sent up a HUGE red flag to her but didn’t seem to be creating major concern for the staff, such as perhaps an immediate follow-on statement along the lines of “so we already called the ambulance!” or anything. My wife asked if she could use the office phone to call our pediatrician and see what they would recommend. The pediatrician said it would be a good idea to bring the little guy in to get checked out. The phone call took place one desk away from the director of the daycare center, who was on her own phone conducting what sounded to my wife like some non-urgent business like contacting a reference for a job applicant. At no point did the director get off the phone to speak directly to my wife, make sure everything was all right, address her concerns, or anything. And that was profoundly disappointing.

(Like I said, I’ve told this story quite a few times now and more than one person has pointed out that if the director had made a big deal out of it and gone through a whole “I’m so sorry, is everything all right?” spiel that simply acknowledging a possible problem would have opened a crack of admission-of-guilt which could be exploited if my wife and I decided to sue the center. Which I’m willing to concede as a possibility – that maybe that was what the director was thinking, not that my wife and I would sue – but which I would also point out is not terribly mollifying, to say the least.)

My wife went to the pediatrician, who pronounced the little guy healthy but advised my wife to keep an eye on him at home. Apparently one upchuck does not a concussion make, but repeated incidents would merit a trip to the ER. Of course that’s exactly what ended up happening. The little guy threw up at home a couple of hours later, my wife immediately took him to the ER, and he threw up one more time at the hospital. The nurses gave the little guy some Tylenol and anti-nausea medicine, and there was no more hurlage, he stopped complaining of head pain, and basically went from listless back to his normal ebullient self. They also did a CT scan on the little guy, for which he was astonishingly calm and brave and cooperative, and they assured us there was no visible brain damage or other signs of trauma. So just a concussion, then, which seems like an odd way of looking at it but, again, our son is a total kook of a daredevil who stands a good chance of pioneering new extreme sports like race-car-wrestling of some type, and it may not be unfair to say that a concussion was for him something of an inevitability. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t, and we were grateful for that.

We took the doctors at their word that he wouldn’t slip into a coma if we let him sleep through the night, and sure enough he didn’t. The ER pediatrician had told us to keep an eye on him for “weird behavior” but, again, see above; what qualifies as “weird” from a child who likes to pretend he’s a train engine while he bodyslams people? Not that such an assessment stopped me from watching the little guy all weekend like he was my own teeny Flowers For Algernon incarnate, but I had to admit that all of his previous mental functions seemed totally intact.

I cried when I read this when I was 13; pretty sure today it would send me into a fortnight of inconsolable weeping, at least.
What wasn’t intact was our trust in our daycare providers, and of course the incident would have to happen on a Friday afternoon, which gave us all weekend and then some to stew over it – again, not the accident in and of itself but the downplayed and underwhelming response to it. Which frankly came on the heels of (for my wife especially) not being terribly impressed by the new director of the center ever since she took over for the previous director (who had been a real selling point in selecting that center in the first place) and a growing feeling that what had once been a tight ship was getting a little too loose and chaotic. I’m a pretty laid back consumer and I am unlikely to freak out about, for example, poor service at a restaurant or buying a lemon of an electronic entertainment device or something. But if there’s one place I’m going to insist on some fairly exactingly high standards, it’s going to be wherever I entrust the care of my children. (Yes, again, the travails of the toddler dominate the conversation but let us not forget there is an infant incoming!) At any rate, my wife was determined to meet with the director on Monday morning to discuss her concerns, both stemming from Friday’s incident and in general trends.

First thing Monday morning, she called and set up a 10 a.m. appointment. 10 a.m., my wife shows up, only to be told the director had run out to the store, she must have forgotten she had an appointment. I know, I know: WHAT THE FRIGGING WHAT. My wife waited for about 20 minutes but ultimately it was just one flake-out too many, and she cleared out the little guy’s cubby (he was at home with grandma, since we wanted to keep him out of daycare a few days if only to decrease the risk of visiting injury upon injury which is of course a majorly scary concussion no-no) and bailed.

At this point of course the scramble was on, with my wife making arrangements to take an unscheduled day off Tuesday while I did the same for Wednesday and we realized we needed to find totally new daycare arrangements for the little guy (and his little sister) because he was never going back to that center. My wife started visiting some places almost immediately, and also contacted the regional director of the daycare chain (one of the upsides to going with a large corporate provider, I suppose, is that there is that kind of hierarchy up which to escalate matters) and made an appointment for Tuesday morning to discuss what went wrong.

Happily, Tuesday morning ended up being the turning point because the regional director was everything the center director was not: engaged, concerned, empathetic, apologetic, etc. Neither my wife nor I wanted to get any of the staff at the center in trouble or grind out a grudge or anything, and the regional director (to her credit, I think) did not throw her subordinates under the bus but rather expressed sincere (or at least sincere-seeming, which really is close enough) regret that there had been a serious breakdown of communication at multiple points in the process. The even better news was that the regional director’s office was contained within another location of the daycare company, which is brand new and super-sparkly nice, and which is nowhere near as crowded and chaotic as the one we had been using, and the RD offered to let us transfer the little guy there immediately with no additional costs or any hassles at all. My wife still checked out a few other places and had me do the same, as well as asking me to double-check the sparkly-new place, but long story short (ha) that ended up being the solution. So on Monday the little guy will begin attending that alternate location, which conveniently enough is just as much right along the route from our house to my wife’s work as the old location was, just a little closer to the work end. Cue gigantic sighs of relief.

So yeah, right around Saturday when there were dark, low-hanging clouds of doubt concerning whether or not the little guy was really-really going to be all right, and when we had no clue as to how far a Monday morning meeting with the daycare center director might go toward allowing us to maybe not feel like we had no choice but to pull our son out of there, things were pretty dire. But now that the whole daycare conundrum has been fortuitously resolved (not just regarding the little guy but also looking ahead to a much better infant-room set-up for the baby come July) and there’s been nary a disquieting sign of lingering intracranial trauma, things are better. And now you know!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blogger’s Paradox

The blogger’s paradox, for me, is that when everything is hunky-dory and I find myself with ample time to compose my thoughts and assemble the latest installment of PA, chances are good that I will find myself really reaching for subject matter. Conversely, when the generally happy routine is severely disrupted, chances are those disruptions are negative enough that my mood for writing is severely diminished, and my time becomes otherwise occupied and the blogging asserts is deservedly “optional” nature in the grand scheme of things.

Yesterday, on one level, should have been an easy opener for the week, since Monday is my traditional day to blog about work and it was an out-of-the-ordinary workday at that. The federal government was on holiday for Presidents’ Day and I chose to come in to the office rather than spend one of my allotted floating holidays. There were a few noteworthy upsides to this in addition to safeguarding my bank of paid time off: we contractors are allowed to dress way down (blue jeans and polos) in light of the govvies’ collective absence; the traffic was extremely light, making the commute significantly easier than the norm; and my boss arranged to take all of his contracting subordinates out to a working lunch (which means it was all expensed and we were allowed to charge the time for it, too).

And really, let me just say a few words in praise of my boss here, because he really is the kind of supervisor which I am thankful to have. I ended last week filling you all in on some more details about my paranoid, unpleasant co-worker Ms. Antisocial. One thing which I didn’t mention was that I kept my own little run-in with her to myself within the office. Part of the difficulty in dealing with the whole situation is how absurdly middle-schoolish the whole affair feels to me, with the parties involved going out of their way to handle things in the most immature ways possible. The whole reason I got even slightly dragged in at all was because Ms. A. had, apparently, been told by someone that I was saying things that she didn’t like, but when she confronted me with it things very quickly fell apart (as he-said/she-said always does) between all the interpretations and inaccuracies and implications and all in all it’s just kind of, are you kidding me? No professional conversation should include any sentences that literally begin “Well someone told me that you said …” Just, NO. Do not bring that to me at work. The flipside in believing pretty strongly in that principle is that I refused to go running to my boss with any “Ms. A. just accused me of undermining her version of events!” sob story, and it really was a no-brainer of a decision.

Sometimes it's more important to know what you don't want to be than what you want to be.
But as it happened, on Friday mid-morning (right around the time I was finishing up my epic recap for the day’s post here) my boss called me into his office and asked “How are things going back there now?” It is hard to overstate how much I appreciated him asking, because I felt like that was a legitimate opening for me to say “Well, things are honestly really, really tense. Ms. A. accused me of this and that, and really I don’t care because I know I haven’t done anything wrong and I didn’t want to bring it to you because I know you’ve got enough to deal with right now. But it was pretty weird and has made things that much more uncomfortable in our workspace.” And not only did my boss accept that quick update as a valid response to his inquiry, but he told me, “I’m really glad you told me that because she did the same thing to me! She came in my office and said I had been telling her subcontract supervisor that she wasn’t telling the truth, all kinds of stuff like that.” So all of that made me feel a lot better and, again, appreciative of my boss. He genuinely wanted to know what was going on, he was trying to stay on top of things by checking in every few days and not by micromanaging, he let me say my piece and totally validated it with his own experience, he sympathized, he appreciated when I said I was pretty sure I could ride out the discomfort level until we move to a different office at the end of next month. That’s all I really want! I know everybody has to work with crazy folk now and then, and it’s just reassuring to know that those in power up above are aware that I am not the crazy one.

So yeah, that was Friday and then on Monday my boss takes the whole team (not including Ms. A., who did choose to take the holiday off, which is really just as well) to a really nice lunch which lasted for three hours and ended with him telling us all to take the rest of the day off. You can’t beat that with a bat!

As it happened, I needed to get home as soon as possible anyway yesterday, because the little guy’s grandma was watching him for the day and he had a late afternoon pediatrician’s appointment we were trying to coordinate. But really there’s a lot to unpack in that scenario, because the little guy being out of daycare while mom and dad were at work had nothing to do with Presidents’ Day and more to do with the fact that he smacked his head at school on Friday hard enough to give himself a concussion, and we wanted to keep him in a more controlled environment for as long as possible to avoid risk of re-injury, plus while my wife and I are somewhat understanding of the fact that accidents happen and toddlers are accident-prone, we are less understanding of the very poor showing the daycare center has made of handling the fallout of the accident, which is essentially a camel’s back-breaking straw in terms of impelling us into the market for a new daycare center, all of which adds up to the other side of the coin: even if I had had time to blog yesterday, in my foreshortened morning before the long lunch and early dismissal, I wasn’t exactly in the proper headspace given various other developments over the previous weekend.

The little guy is fine, by the way. Any concussion is scary as hell, of course, all the moreso when visited upon one’s very own tiny bundle of joy, and if the most recent NFL season has taught us anything it’s that we-the-societal-collective don’t necessarily know everything there is to know about the long-term health effects of concussions, but insofar as it makes logical sense to say it, the little guy is fine now. I will probably go into the whole ordeal later this week, the medical ministrations and the aforementioned daycare ramifications, but for those of you with a rooting interest in the child’s welfare, I didn’t want to leave you on pins and needles as I gather my strength for that particular three-thousand word diatribe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Who started it?

Apologies in advance, but I’m going to spend a good chunk of today’s post talking about the work situation. Because, unbelievable as it may seem, things have managed to get a little bit worse. But I promise I will also talk a bit about television comedy, so hang in there and watch how I tie it all together!

So Wednesday morning Ms. Antisocial got in my face. Like a crazy person. (Or at the very least like an extremely socially maladapted rude person.) She wasn’t foaming at the mouth or physically menacing me or anything, but she kind of sidled into my field of vision while I was working and, when I looked up, she started speaking as if we were already mid-conversation. I mean, who does that other than people who have voices constantly yammering in their head, voices they assume other people can also hear? So yeah, no, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” or any other pleasantry, just: “So do you mean to tell me that you’ve never heard Normal Dude screaming at me?” To which I could only kind of stammer “Uh, what?” although of course in retrospect I wish I had had the wherewithal to retort, “Ms. A, I don’t mean to tell you anything – I’ve been studiously avoiding talking to you,” but alas. She caught me off guard, early in the morning when she and I were the only two in the workarea.

No, wait, actually, all those ideas are terrible.
Anyway, there ensued a brief but extremely awkward exchange which was admittedly a little hard for me to follow, because I dabble but am not fluent in crazy. The gist of it was this: Ms. A. was upset with me for telling our manager, and also her supervisor at the subcontracting firm she (and N.D.) works for, that I had never observed N.D. screaming at her. Which, according to Ms. A., was doubly not true because not only had I witnessed the Incident that set off all the recent unpleasantness, but I had also been “sitting right there” during an earlier horn-locking that occurred shortly after N.D. started here at the agency.

I did my best to unpack all of this on the fly and set a few things straight. First I had to inform her that I had never spoken directly with her subcontracting supervisor, and I had no idea where she got the notion that I did. Second, of course I did speak to our manager, because he called me into his office on the day things went down, and no, I didn’t use the word “scream” when relating my take on things. I didn’t say “N.D. screamed at Ms. A.” and I also didn’t say “N.D. has never screamed at Ms. A.”, although I did say that N.D. had said some inappropriate, unprofessional things. And third, no, I didn’t bring up any other incidents from months ago, because they didn’t come up …?

That was about the point where she literally held up one of her hands to cut me off and said something like “All right, that’s enough, I got my answer and someone’s been lying to me.” And turned her back on me and sat down and we haven’t spoken since. In fact, I’ve been avoiding even making eye contact with her when I enter the room or pass her in the halls. This feels wrong to me, because before any of this blew up I would at least nod at her, sometimes even smile; she mostly looked right through me or otherwise blew me off, but I took it in stride. Now, I just have no clue what to do with her so I’ve fallen back on pretending she doesn’t exist. Which, to be fair (or so I tell myself), is exactly what she’s been doing to me and N.D. and Mr. Voluble all along.

I think that’s what’s so galling about the whole situation. Ms. A. has apparently decided to portray herself as the blameless victim here. Maybe she really has such skewed perceptions of reality that she actually believes that at a polygraphable level; maybe she’s a calculating manipulator and realizes the only way to emerge from this without looking like an idiot is to full-on embrace an alternate narrative wherein she’s the innocent target of undue hostility and N.D. is the evil harasser. Either way the end result is the same: whether she’s e-mailing her HR department, meeting one-on-one with her supervisor, or talking at anyone who’ll listen, she’s trying to build a case that N.D. has a history of abusing her, utterly without cause, and the recent incident is only the latest example.

And of course (if I am capable of objectivity at this point) that is a near-total distortion on a couple of different levels. Part of it, I keep reminding myself, is semantics. Ms. A. insists on using this word “scream” like it’s some kind of shibboleth. But N.D. really, truly has never screamed at her if you go by the common understanding of the word. Has he insulted her? Said unkind things? Expressed unprofessional, impolite sentiments? Yes, yes and yes. N.D. is not totally blameless here. He has grown frustrated with her on more than one occasion, and he has sometimes let that frustration creep into his tone of voice, and sometimes spoken harshly in regrettable ways. But that’s just not screaming, so that’s a poor choice of meaningful terms on which to hang her attempts to paint him as the bully.

Hey what's with all the bunnies?
(Of course I’ve been known to do this too. I’ve had fights with people get sidetracked into semantics when I say “Stop yelling at me!” and the other person says “I’m not yelling!” And they’re right, they’re not, they’re just expressing some negative thoughts in a way that reminds me of being a little kid and getting yelled at by my own father, who did raise his voice like a champ, and so it’s my own hang-ups expressed poorly in verbal shorthand. I get that. It kind of makes me want to ask Ms. A. if she was screamed at a lot by her parents or nuns at the orphanage or something, but I suspect posing the question would do more harm than good and perhaps not be taken so well.)

At any rate, semantics aside, the more important issue here is that Ms. A. is just stone-cold rude. As I’ve outlined before, she looks through people when they make friendly eye contact, and she stays silent when people say hello to her, and she’s generally unfriendly and sometimes actively unhelpful. I was deeply annoyed when she made her bizarre accusations on Wednesday morning, for several reasons, one being the implication that if I was ever in the same room as her and N.D. having an altercation, I should remember it in detail and relate it fully when anything concerning her and N.D. came up later. Like I’m her biographer. Like I wasn’t actively trying to tune the two of them out because I was uncomfortable! Or worst of all, like she’s the only person in the world who exists and everyone else is just a supporting character there to help facilitate her narrative. But the truth is I do remember the incident to which she referred. N.D. asked her a question about some training he needed to do, which he was under the impression Ms. A. had already completed. He wasn’t sure about the process for even getting signed up for the training and making it happen; he assumed she could help him navigate the process because presumable she had already done it, since they both work for the same subcontracting firm and she has been on this contract longer. And Ms. A. simply refused to help him. Not couldn’t; wouldn’t. Not once did she say, “I’m sorry, I really don’t remember how it went” or “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to go over it right now” or anything remotely social-compact-preserving like that. I remember her repeating “You’re going to have to ask someone else, I don’t know,” over and over, like a robot, and N.D. wouldn’t back down. He modified his request for help, perhaps acknowledging that at first he might have come across as “Hey, do my job for me” and needed to pivot to “Can you please just point me in the right direction because I’m new here and kind of lost.” But Ms. A. kept right on stonewalling him – even when he called her on it! The semi-argument more or less ended with N.D. accusingly asking, “So there’s absolutely nothing at all you can tell me about what I need to do for my training?” and Ms. A. saying “Call HR, that’s what they’re for,” and N.D. sighing loudly and saying “Unbelievable!” in a clearly pissed off tone. (But, again, certainly not screaming, as it were.)

Anyway, to me that goes a long way to explaining why N.D. might have pre-existing frustrations with Ms. A. that bubbled over. And like I said at the time, you have to take into account the fact that she essentially ignores all of us on a day-to-day basis, so to constantly get the cold shoulder from someone and then get hit with a snappish demand one day, the resulting explosion should surprise no one. N.D. has of course since calmed down, it’s not like he’s making a running commentary of derogatory remarks to get a rise out of her or anything. But what he has started doing (coincidentally enough, though I’m positive they’re unrelated, right around the same day Ms. A. got all up in my face) is coming in every morning and greeting me, specifically, by name. He used to come in with a generic “Good morning” aimed at the room, and Ms. A. would be there and not say anything and I would say “good morning” back. Now he comes in and says, “Good morning, Yakov,” (NB: not my real name!) and I still say “good morning” back but I’m exquisitely aware of the fact the he’s actively excluding Ms. A. Which is kind of passive-aggressive bullshit, but she is the queen of passive-aggressive bullshit, right? She started it, and obviously she likes things quiet because she’s always silent and hates how loudly N.D. slurps his coffee and considers anyone who lets a trace of emotion into their vocal modulatings to be screaming their head off at her, so if we never ever speak to her and let her live in her little cone of silence we’re actually being SUPER-NICE. Right?

And that is not a steaming pile of juvenile rationalization at all.

My wife and I watched Community last night (of course we did) as the show continued a character arc to which it has shown surprising dedication, namely the unraveling and partial vilification of Pierce Hawthorne. For those of you who aren’t watching the show, Pierce is the character played by Chevy Chase and he is an old wealthy man going to community college mainly motivated by boredom and loneliness, and he is pompous and oblivious and selfish and difficult and honestly an interesting, complex character with many traits but ultimately the negative ones outweigh the positives. And Community (as I may have mentioned before!) is a very meta show all about deconstructing tropes and archetypes of sitcoms and Pierce is totally a sitcom archetype: the foil-within-the-group. He’s the one that nobody likes but everybody puts up with, technically classified as one of “us” when the show’s plots take on “us vs. them” structures but generally an easy source of interpersonal conflict that can generate narrative momentum. The thing is, as this second season of the show has progressed, they have gone from portraying Pierce as a mixed bag to almost entirely negative. The plot details of any given episode of Community are often just that, very specific details, so that trying to give a quick overview is difficult at best, but I’ll attempt it: early on there was an episode where Pierce discovered something other characters were enjoying, insisted on being allowed to do it himself, insisted on doing it wrong, and ruined it for everyone. (It kind of needed to be ruined, but still.) Pierce got his comeuppance, which was multiple broken bones in both legs (the “thing” he did wrong and ruined was more than, but involved, a trampoline) and for several episodes thereafter he was in a wheelchair with the entire lower half of his body in a full cast, which I point out for two reasons: one, it kept visually foregrounding a reminder of what a jerk Pierce was, even in episodes where he had minimal story-involvement; and two, it set him up to get addicted to painkillers, which has been driving the past couple of episodes. (Also, the wheelchair did facilitate a good number of legitimately funny jokes.)

Yep, that's pretty much EXACTLY what drugs are like, kids.
When Pierce finally gets out of the cast/wheelchair, one of the first things he does is ruin an anti-drug play the study group is putting on, because he is playing the part of Drugs and takes over the whole show with ad libbing. It’s actually not enough for Pierce to get all the attention on stage, which a good villain can definitely do while remaining the villain. He has to take it a step further and demands the love of the middle-schoolers watching the play, which means he has to make Drugs not just a scene-stealing villain but a one-man-show hero. And this all becomes brilliantly deranged and hilarious, a great episode, while at the same time hammering home the whole “Pierce is a selfish ruiner” idea.

Which is critical to the Dungeons & Dragons episode! (How did I not blog about this before? Simply because I wasn’t sure how to process it until there were a few more episodes after it to put it in context. You guys, I’m telling you, this show has layers, yo.) The study group becomes aware of this D&D-loving nerd who they think is on the verge of killing himself, and they decide to play D&D with him and let him be the focal point of the adventure in hopes this will pull him back from the edge. The group excludes Pierce, which by this point in my summary should be totally understandable: Pierce can’t let anyone else upstage him, Pierce is a selfish ruiner, etc. But of course Pierce finds out about the plan, is furious at being excluded, crashes the game, and almost ruins it entirely. In typical sitcom-trope fashion, what Pierce ends up doing is playing a villain within the D&D game who is a lot more hate-worthy than whatever paper nemesis would have been the adventure’s focus, and when Pierce sows the seeds of his own defeat with his arrogance, the triumph within the game is much more satisfying. In other words, everything ends up even better than if it had gone according to plan. The whole suicide plot ends up a bit of a sidenote, maybe the game helped the nerd, maybe the study group was full of themselves thinking he was so desperate he needed their help, but a happy ending either way. But in the middle of it all, when the stakes are still high and the resolution uncertain, Pierce behaves abominably, well beyond anything the character had ever shown before. He picks on the nerd and says the meanest things he can think of in an effort to simply wreck the kid, because he’s a fat nerd and because Pierce can and because Pierce is pissed about being excluded and lashing out like a drug-addicted child. And the story-within-the-story, the D&D game, has a happy ending, and the nerd actually gets a good one-up on Pierce in the real world too, but in the larger narrative of the whole show, I was left wondering how Pierce could possibly remain a part of the study group once he had crossed the line from foil-within-the-group who has both good and bad qualities to outright scumbag. Lots of sitcoms just hit a reset button at the end of every episode to preserve the status quo, but Community has always seemed to avoid that to preserve a sense of continuity (and dare-I-say realism, even in the face of storylines about literal zombies and such) and not everything gets resolved and never spoken of again every 22 minutes in the characters’ lives. (Oh by the way have I copped yet to being WAAAAAY too invested in these fictional characters’ “lives”? Because I totally am.) So how would the show handle the fallout from D&D? Ignore it, which would annoy me a lot, or run with it, which would be deeply weird for a wacky sitcom but also fascinating to me?

The Valentine’s episode last week kind of sidestepped it, which is not the same thing as ignoring it. The other characters were visibly annoyed with Pierce, who was kind of in his own little world sinking deeper into pill addiction, but mainly the other characters didn’t confront the Pierce situation directly because they all had other things to do besides studying, which would be the most likely prompt for a serious “why is this wretched, nasty guy still in our study group?” (That’s an interesting challenge for Community, inherent in its premise. On a show like Night Court you can have Dan be the foil-within-the-group and a total ass, but there’s no getting rid of him because he works there with everyone else so whaddayagonnado? A community college study group is a more or less voluntary gathering and those social structures can and do break down, in the real world.) So the show bought a little time and then had Pierce pass out in a public park in the final shot.

Which sets up last night’s episode where Pierce is hospitalized and the study group rallies around him, which I can buy because nobody wants to kick a person when he’s down. Pierce, though, uses the moment to his advantage by acting like he’s dying and giving out “final bequeaths” which not only lets him be the center of attention but also lets him continue to be a total dick (and full marks to the show for really not backing off from that portrayal of the character) because all of his bequeaths are poison pills totally intended to not just mess with everyone’s heads but cause them real suffering. The whole story walks the fine line between funny and disturbingly sad, and it starts to culminate when Jeff calls Pierce’s bluff. Pierce claims to have tracked down the father who abandoned Jeff’s family years ago and to have arranged to bring this father to the hospital to meet Jeff. Jeff freaks out but ultimately tells Pierce he is ready to meet his father, then further informs Pierce that if it all turns out to be trick he will literally beat Pierce “and it will not be fun or wacky.” Of course that’s exactly what it turns out to be: Pierce paid for enough private investigation legwork to get a lot of relevant details about Jeff’s dad, enough to sound convincing when he claimed to be able to produce the man himself. The intent, presumably, was to make Jeff squirm with internal conflict until Jeff bolted from the hospital to avoid meeting his father, which would haunt Jeff forever. But it didn’t work, and Pierce tries to impersonate Jeff’s dad by hiding in a town car with tinted windows in the hospital driveway and calling Jeff from a cell phone, but Jeff doesn’t buy it. And he pulls Pierce out of the car and …

I should mention at this point that when Jeff threatened Pierce with bodily harm I was thrilled. Overinvested in the characters and their relationships as I admittedly am, I really felt like I need to see Pierce punished once again for his maliciousness. There must be consequences! The show has been pushing all of my buttons and if I could have reached through the screen and punched Pierce Hawthorne (a fictional character!) in the throat, I totally would have.

Jeff does not, in fact, go all Hannibal Lecter on Pierce. Mostly they just yell at each other, Pierce lying on the blacktop and Jeff hovering over him being restrained by the rest of the group. Pierce ends up with a head wound requiring stitches, but it’s not 100% clear if he suffers that at Jeff’s hands being dragged out of the car, or immediately before that (Jeff, on foot, is able to catch Pierce’s car as he tries to speed away because Pierce gets in a collision with another car). The yelling, for what it’s worth, is mostly Jeff demanding to know why Pierce would orchestrate such elaborate, overtly cruel scenarios for everyone, and Pierce responding that it’s because the group is so mean to him, forgetting his birthday, excluding him from D&D, and generally treating him like a joke. And Jeff’s apt if slightly circuitous retort: “You’re not exactly disproving the theory!”

So who started it? Or does that even matter?

I’m not saying that I want to punch my co-worker Ms. A. in the throat, or punch anyone in real life (well, maybe if someone tied Dick Cheney to a chair and offered me a free shot, I’d be hard-pressed to turn that opportunity down). But non-fun, non-wacky violence aside, the parallels between my work situation and the central conflict in Community are pretty hard to ignore. This is the conundrum that I always seem to find myself in whenever I get entangled in any interpersonal conflict at all: maybe it is my fault, on some level. Maybe I started it without realizing it. Maybe everything a person has ever done which pisses me off was in direct response to something I did (again, Dick Cheney being the exception here). And it’s not as though that completely absolves the other person of any and all personal responsibility, of course not. But it does make it impossible to see things in stark black and white, with me being right and them being wrong, period. I want things to be black and white, that’s just human nature. When someone wrongs us we just want to feel indignant, and totally justified in our indignation, and super smug if we take the high road and worthy of instant acquittal if we take steps toward retribution. But life rarely, or never (probably never) works out quite that way.

So here I am, ignoring Ms. A. but feeling bad about it, knowing that every time I tell myself “but she started it!” that I can’t really assert that definitively and it would be beside the point even if I could. I’ll probably end up acknowledging her existence again, once my own weird set of hurt feelings subside, even if she won’t reciprocate, because that’s the minimally decent thing to do, and that’s what I expect of myself. It lacks a lot of the enjoyment of being vindictive, but … whaddayagonnado.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Calculated risks

Lest it be under-commented-upon amidst all the schedule shifting and interior re-designing and minor health crises and work drama and so forth, there is an actual pregnancy happily progressing along as Baby #2’s due date approaches. Compared to the little guy’s epic trek from “the test is positive!” to “7 pounds 4 ounces!”, which was fraught with troubling developments, this one has been a downright breezy affair, and one which seems to be taking forever. That perception likely arises from the lack of epochal events to mark the passage of time during baby girl’s gestation, as opposed to her big brother’s First Time Mom Had To Be Put On Bedrest, Generally Normal Middle Part Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop, and Second Time Mom Had To Be Put On Bedrest.

But perceptions aside, the pregnancy does in fact progress. My wife had a couple of appointments this week, and both were of the “checkup which does indeed verify that everything’s fine” variety, something for which I am incredibly thankful but which doesn’t make for really riveting blogging, I suppose. We got some good ultrasound pictures of the little girl’s face on Monday, though, and that was pretty cool. But it’s easy to shortchange the focus on that, when a big part of the reason why grandma coming up to help out on Monday was crucial was because there was still an empirical possibility that the little guy’s skin rash was a symptom of something viral which is extremely hazardous to expose pregnant women to (Fifth Disease), and my wife needed to see her ob/gyn but not bring the little guy along. Tension, conflict, danger, that's the sizzle!

I very much love this graphic.
And incidentally, I still think it’s weird how the whole thing with the little guy’s hives has resolved itself. He’s fine now; the crazy bright pink welts have all magically melted away with no real treatment (except Benedryl, hydrocortisone, and the cessation of a course of Amoxicillin) which bears out the pediatrician’s wait-and-see approach as perfectly rational. But the post-script is that from now on we are to answer any variation on the “allergic to any medications?” question directed at our son with an unequivocal “penicillin family of drugs”. Which on the one hand makes sense but on the other … really? Just like that? It seems to me like penicillin and its derivatives are really useful things to have access to, and it also seems like we’re just assuming he’s allergic to them without any definitive proof. Yes, I get that he was on Amoxicillin and had a furious skin outbreak and we took him off it and it went away, but I’m not 100% convinced that’s a slam-dunk QED. There’s multiple points at which it could be a coincidence. I guess I expected some kind of follow-up test, a referral to an allergist, something involving a lab and a piece of paper saying the little guy definitely has the marker protein for penicillin intolerance or something? (Granted, my understanding of science is a little comic-booky. Possibly a lot comic-booky. But still.) I don’t know. Given my own medical history I think a visit to an allergist is probably in the little guy’s future at some point no matter what; maybe when we get him tested to see if he’s as allergic to dust mites and timothy grass as I am, I’ll casually inquire about the antibiotics.

But now here I am again, talking about the little guy when I meant to give a little spotlight time to his decidedly non-troublemaking little sister. My wife and I, both being eldest siblings in our respective families, are trying to prepare ourselves to raise a second child without playing favorites and making the younger child feel like the overlooked afterthought. But man it is going to be tough, I can tell.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


So I’ve actually implemented Operation: Movies on a Train in the past couple of weeks. I had Netflixed the Terry Gilliam flick 12 Monkeys and I watched it over the course of three one-way commutes on the VRE; it’s about 130 minutes long and the end-to-end rail time for me is about 50 minutes and change, so that amount of trip-devotion was to be expected, and I didn't even feel like it lessened the experience of enjoying the movie to have it split in widely-separated thirds like that. Techno-logistically it worked about as well as I had envisioned, so the whole scheme looks like a keeper, especially given the approaching move of my contract from Rosslyn to Crystal City, which might very well allow me to take the VRE to work pretty much every day.

I didn’t really blog about the movie itself at the time (and only bring it up today because it’s Geek Day and I’m blanking on much else to muse on) for a couple of reasons. Partly it was because it didn’t really touch off anything personally meaningful. I remain a big fan of Brad Pitt’s acting and Gilliam’s visionary filmmaking, but in the end it’s a solid, stylized, bizarre sci-fi movie about mutant viral superplagues and time travel that’s well put together and well acted but … I don’t know, a little cold? A little bleak? Not altogether resonant, especially considering that it was predicated on an End Of Days scenario playing out in 1996 and we are currently 15 years beyond that moment and counting?

Of course that ties directly into the other major reason I wasn’t consumed with any urgency to record my thoughts and reactions to the movie: it’s just old, and anything I might spin out of it would run a very high risk of landing in “who cares?” territory. It’s an interesting artifact of historical curiosity, I suppose, but not much more. If I doubt many people would even remember it very well, and I don’t have a ton to add to the understanding of it beyond “that was pretty cool” then I can easily let it slide off the blog-agenda.

And that, in turn, brings to mind certain questions about how I choose to entertain myself (which I readily admit is navel-gazing to the extreme but, as I have said before, this is kind of inherent in the concept of a ‘blog’, as it were, so onward!). Of all the many, many movies on DVD I could have watched on the train going back and forth to work, why did I pick one from 1995? If I feel so weirdly out of the loop on pop culture lately, and acknowledge that’s largely a factor of not keeping up with current trends and new releases and so on, why not address that a little more directly?

It’s not as though I always think newer is better, as I would imagine my dedication to reading a dozen canonized classics of literature this year would show, since most if not all of those will be decades if not centuries old. But 12 Monkeys isn’t exactly a stone-cold classic, as far as I can tell. I seem to vaguely remember it being a big deal when it came out while I was in college, but that must have been because it was so of-its-moment. If I had gone my whole life without ever having seen it, I don’t think it would have come up very often, with or without people gasping in utter shock, “You’ve NEVER seen 12 Monkeys???”

Except … there’s a tiny part of my brain … that maybe does think that? It’s a sci-fi time travel movie that is a bit of a mindtrip. It’s Terry Freaking Gilliam. I am a self-professed geek and stuff like that is supposed to be my bread and butter. At the moment I feel like there’s no one I could chat up if I wanted to really delve into the “what does it all MEAN?” questions raised by the movie, but I like to think that if anyone I know ever (inexplicably) sits down to watch 12 Monkeys and afterwards wants to talk about it, they’d think, “I bet I know who’s seen this movie!” and they’d be thinking of me. I kind of pride myself on that.

But the fact is there are gigantic swaths of half-forgotten pop culture that anyone who knows me would be forgiven for thinking I’m already familiar with, even though I’m really not. Some of those areas even brush up against what might be legitimately considered classics; I haven’t had time to watch absolutely everything, not even everything right up my alley (though granted, “my alley” covers a pretty long stretch). But I still see that as something which I not only can address, but should address, every chance I get. Hence the occasional weird sidetrip along my Netflix queue, where I take in movies that in some ineffable way seem to make more sense for me to have seen than not seen, and my internal insistence that I align reality with that expectation.

This Friday I’ll probably try to get another couple of episodes along in my delayed consumption of the tv show Smallville. And after that, I have Inception coming from Netflix, which at least is a movie people are still making off-hand references to (and which I feel like I need to see asap, before spoiling its secrets becomes a pop culture joke like The Sixth Sense did). So I’m not completely in the thrall of minor cinematic footnotes that happen to be simpatico with my projected predilections. It’s just a big part of the mix.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I gotta be honest, after recapping the Friday through Sunday adventures yesterday, not to mention grappling with the fact that the long-awaited official verdict from the pediatrician on the little guy’s hives was a mere “probably nothing, wait and see”, I’m feeling a bit spent today. The little guy in question did, in fact, go back to daycare today, and his grandma left last night given that such was indeed the plan. After all that, we seem to be almost across-the-board back to normal:

- Things are still a little tense at work (by which I mean they are still extremely tense between my co-workers and a little tense for me, just having to sit so near the poles of hostility) but we are definitely moving by the end of March! So the Disquieting Quartet will be scattered to different cubicles in 40 days, more or less.
- My wife’s new schedule for work remains an adjustment-in-progress, and at this point looks like it’s only going to hold through … the end of March, coincidentally enough. Beyond that she’ll likely need to scale back even further (assuming the baby doesn’t decide to make a surprise debut at the 38-week marker) but her employer is pretty much in support of that plan so it’s not a source of major concern.
- The nursery is coming along, very slowly. And the rest of the house is still standing, which is a plus! The amount of work remaining compared to the amount of time in which to get it done has, if anything, made my wife and I feel as if we need to keep a tight rein on our socializing and spend as much of our free time either getting things squared away or enjoying quiet (infant-free) time together as possible. Which means we’ve missed a few get-togethers, from some friends’ events to the birthday parties of a couple of the little guy’s classmates, but so it goes.
- It’s still not baseball season yet, so that’s one less thing to obsess over as well.

So, all in all, everything’s fine and altogether non-notable, and other than the obvious baby-imminence there’s nothing majorly disruptive on the horizon. It seems like this could very well be the very unremarkable status quo right on into April. I will of course nevertheless try to gin up some interesting post-fodder between now and then, especially since I am in no way making promises about blogging regularity once the baby comes. But like I said, yesterday kind of wiped me out so for today just noting as much will have to do.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Long weekend

Last Friday we had a chili cook-off in the office, which in part explains the lack of any blog posts from Thursday onward. The event officially began at 11:30 and although there were only eight different chili recipes to sample there was plenty to go around of each, along with hot dogs, chips, and desserts. So I had several helpings of chili dogs, nachos and cookies and promptly went into a pleasantly inert food coma for the rest of the day, which precluded assembling any kind of meaningful bloggery.

I would have enjoyed pitting my own amateur chili-cooking stylings against the field, and as it turned out I think even with my utter lack of experience I still might have won a prize for Spiciest since that’s the way I like it and most of the entrants were quite mild, with one hot-but-not-that-hot exception. But once again my commute exerted undue influence, as I was forced to admit that trying to carry a Crock Pot on the VRE and the Metro would have been difficult at best, if not completely disastrous. So I contented myself with being a humble attendee and voting on the winners, which, I hasten to add, is not so bad a way to pass some time in the office on a Friday.

Overall, really, a chili cook-off is such a humanizing kind of event for the work environment. The agency has had pizza parties, non-denominational holiday parties, and even a wine and cheese party in the time I’ve been here, but chili exists on a wholly different level unto itself. It’s messy as just about any foodstuff can be, for one thing, especially when piled on top of a hotdog (double-especially when said hot dog is ostensibly supported by a no-name bun) and I was impressed by how many co-workers went the full chili dog route, rather than abiding with a bowl of chili and the attendant utensils. And there’s the capsaicin factor, as well. I eat spicy food more or less daily and it takes something almost exotically fiery to really get my attention, but I know I’m outside the median in that regard. No pizza or holiday buffet spread is going to make people go “hooo!” and fan themselves the way that chili can (and did). So all in all, it was a welcome break from the bland, straight-laced professionalism that characterizes most of my workdays.

100% health-benefit free!
The food coma didn’t really dissipate until sometime midday Saturday, while my wife was at work and the little guy and I were deeply engrossed in the ongoing project of Operation: Ready the Nursery. Well, in fairness, the little guy accompanied me to the hardware store to get some more painting supplies, and then he took a nap while I rolled some more boulders uphill (or some more primer upwall, as it were). The good news is that a full two coats of primer seems to be just about enough to mask the horrors of the move-in paint job and we might actually be able to use a subtle shade of pink for the final wall color. The bad news is that shortly after the little guy got up from his nap and my wife got home from work, we noticed some bumpy rash-like spots on the little guy’s neck. And stomach, back, thighs, hands, etc. It was like a timelapse outbreak as he went from a dot here and there to a full-on mess. But he remained his usual rambunctious self throughout, so we weren’t worried that he was too terribly sick.

Paged the on-call pediatrician, got told we should discontinue the antibiotics that he had been on for eight days and give him some Benedryl and monitor him and bring him into the office on Monday morning. Again, it was Saturday evening when this all went down, so Sunday became a completely different beast than had originally been planned. What was supposed to be a laid back morning and afternoon followed by a babysitter’s arrival and mom and dad’s day-early Valentine’s celebration dinner and movie in the evening became an early cancellation of the sitter and a day of watching the little guy to see if he was about to take a turn for the worse. (This after a night interrupted multiple times by the little guy not sleeping so well.) The pediatrician had theorized it was just a bad case of hives due to an allergic reaction to the drugs, but we accounted for the possibility of other contagious viral maladies aplenty and didn’t feel right risking exposure to anyone outside the family. The rash did in fact seem to get worse in some new areas while fading a bit in others, and through it all the little guy was largely oblivious and happy to tear around the house playing cars, football, and possibly a heretofore unknown game called carfootball, and he skipped his Sunday nap altogether, but we all made it to his bedtime well enough (at which point he freaked out a little because suddenly the tops of his feet and only the tops of his feet were itching like mad). Once he was a-crib, I went out for takeout Indian food and my wife and I annihilated some serious murgh and gosht while watching Top Chef on demand. Which went a good way towards redeeming the evening.

So the little guy saw the doctor today and it was inconclusive! His rash is much better as of this morning and seems to be fading, and the doc said if he isn’t running a fever there’s no reason he shouldn’t go to daycare tomorrow. The allergic-reaction-to-antibiotics theory remains dominant in the absence of any strong contradictory evidence. My wife was able to take the little guy to the doctor but had to go to work immediately after, so fortunately grandma was able to come up and stay home with the little guy while he continues to recuperate. (Hooray for retirement!) At any rate, I know I haven’t been blogging on the weekends all that much lately, but this time I think I had a better excuse than most.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Portents and signifiers

There was a minor dusting of snow in our neck of the woods last night, but the meteoro-magicians responsible for predicting such things had actually done just that, so it was no surprise and did not dash my hopes by underdelivering or inconvenience me by overachieving. All of which leaves me feeling optimistic (or more so than usual) and inclined to interpret “stuff that’s happening these days” as “luminous harbingers of the approach of spring”.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that a few of these things are related in one way or another to my wife’s pregnancy, and the literal birth of our baby in April will coincide nicely with the symbolic rebirth of Mother Nature. Handy, that. In any case, the due date is less than ten weeks away and the uterine inhabitant has recently gotten big enough and strong enough to kick some very sensitive internal spots with a fair amount of oomph. She’s a feisty one! (Or so I tell myself every time my wife grimaces in pain thanks to another tiny boot to the bladder when she least expects it.) I still remember the last pregnancy and the somewhat bittersweet progression of the final weeks, as the little guy got bigger and bigger and the finite amount of womb-space became less and less accommodating for sweeping ranges of motion. It was strange and a little bit difficult to get used to that state of affairs; after the initial months of knowing my wife was pregnant but not having any direct, detectable proof day-to-day (doctor-administered pregnancy test and radiologist-administered ultrasounds notwithstanding), it was comforting to get to the point where my wife could tell me she felt movement inside her, all the way to the point where sometimes I could see little rises in her belly as the little guy poked at it from inside. And then to have that dwindle away towards the end was less than comforting (plus the fact that the pregnancy had had a rocky start and my wife was teetering on the edge of some high blood pressure complications towards the end meant that the minimization of reassurances was that much more of a drag). I guess my point, then, is that while I have inexhaustible sympathy for my wife for the tribulations of foetal fists of fury sneak-attacking her innards, I also keep reminding myself that this baby, too, will eventually run out of room and we should enjoy the happy middle of the pregnancy while it lasts, before it turns into the quiet before the storm. ("Storm" in this case being "tiny newborn composed of equal parts miraculous blessing and squalling mess".)

At the same time, my wife is now working a different schedule than previously, taking shorter shifts (relatively speaking – 7 or 8 hours at a go instead of 10 or 11) on a greater number of days per week. This struck us both as pretty reasonable as far as good ways to make sure she’s not on her feet excessively as the pregnancy hits the eighth and ninth month, but it’s proving to be one of those things where the math makes sense on paper but reality presents unforeseen challenges. My wife used to have every single Monday and Thursday off, and every other weekend. That meant even when she had to work a weekend, it was Friday through Sunday in between her two days off. In other words, she never worked more than two or three days in a row without a break. But by eliminating just one of those days off (Mondays) she ends up working six days in a row, every day between two Thursdays, if she’s on for the weekend. Kind of rough!

It also means that the little guy is in daycare four days a week instead of three. Not really a huge deal, because he genuinely seems to like daycare. Or so it seems to me, at least. I’m usually the one picking him up, so I tend to see him happily making the most of being read to by his teachers or playing with toys and his other little friends, and I’ve been told many many times, “I don’t wanna go home! I wanna stay at school!” My wife handles the morning drop-offs, which means she’s gotten every variation of “I don’t wanna go to school! I wanna stay with you!” imaginable. For a good long while I think my wife and I were of wildly different opinions as far as whether or not the little guy was enamored with daycare or traumatized by it, until we compared notes more carefully and simply concluded that what the little guy really hates is being told to stop what he’s currently doing (whatever, wherever that may be) and transition into doing something else.

But still, needless to say, there’s some wondering uncertainty. Does the little guy notice that he’s going to daycare more, and hanging out at home less, or is he still just a bundle of barely civilized id impulses living totally in the now and blissfully unaware of weekly ratios? If we notice him “acting out” is it because he takes issue with the new schedule we’re forcing on him, or is it just because he’s two and a half and that’s basically their whole deal at that age? Have we done enough to brace him for the upheaval of a little sister coming into his world, or are we laughably unprepared? I think most if not all of those might be unanswerable, but since I started this post by bragging on my own optimism, I suppose I’ll just have to assume that all of those questions will somehow manage to work themselves out for the best.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cinema Idols

Backing up a bit to SuperBowl Sunday once again, I do want to say a few things about a particular subset of ads: trailers for comic book movies. Not that I have anything particularly insightful in the way of commentary, but it’s my blog and it’s Wednesday and I’m pretty stoked to talk about something other than work.

I’ll start with Cowboys and Aliens, which the average NFL Championship watcher might not realize is an adaptation of a graphic novel. And yet it totally is! Granted, it’s a pretty obscure graphic novel that came out about eight years ago. So obscure, in fact, that despite watching the game at my buddy’s house amongst a set of friends who are the same folks with whom I have constructed multi-year roleplaying campaigns and attended out-of-state comic book conventions and so on, I was the only one there who knew the source material even existed. (And of course I had to awkwardly shoehorn that knowledge into conversation to remind everyone who the alpha-geek is.) The graphic novel is thoroughly mediocre, and the only reason I own it is because my local comic book store was literally giving away copies for free one week when I went to pick up the titles I was regularly following. The reason the shop had a metric ton of the graphic novels to give away is because of a certain strange marketing logic on the part of the creators: in the heady, early days of the 21st century when movie studios started snatching up comic book properties left and right there was a certain school of thought which believed that it wasn’t just the inherent quality (or capacity for nostalgia or simple name recognition or whatever) of superheroes and other comics characters which made them so ripe for development deals, but rather the fact that the comic book medium itself conveys ideas in a Hollywood-friendly way (given the similarity between sequential art in comics and storyboarding for movies) and can speed up the pitch process. Thus a young, ambitious dreamer could type out a spec screenplay and hope to get it in front of the right producer or director or other mover/shaker and hope that it might catch that person’s attention and go through the traditional process of becoming a studio film OR the same young, ambitious dreamer could convert the same screenplay into a graphic novel by finding a passable artist to give it a visual rendering, and then self-publish the graphic novel and put it out there in the comics market. Which actually ends up having two benefits over the traditional slog: now the spec screenplay that a bigwig might read and greenlight has the extra elements of character design and even shot composition right there on the page, and if a bunch of kids buy the graphic novel and love it, it’s already got buzz and a built-in fanbase for the inevitable “soon to be a major motion picture!” ad campaign.

All of which is well and good except for a couple of minor things, like the fact that really great comics artists don’t just fall out of the sky every day. And the storytelling demands and restrictions (and rewards and opportunities) of the comics medium are similar to movies with storyboard antecedents, but not identical. And it’s not like all comics fans are idiots who will latch onto and love any old crap you squarebind and put on the new releases racks. And in fact many comics fans can spot a blatant “this is an attempt to get a movie made!” pretty quickly and might actually be resentful of someone making comics not for love of comics, but in hopes that the inferior medium will be a stepping stone to greater things. (Comic book fans can be thin-skinned and defensive.) So yeah, Cowboys and Aliens did not exactly blow the comics world’s collective mind. But goldurnit and dadgummit if the scheme didn’t pan out and turn into a real movie eventually. A real movie, I might add, for which the trailer bears very little resemblance to the book I dimly remember reading because it was free. But on the up side, where the graphic novel was mediocre and forgettable, the trailer at least looked like proper high-adrenaline spectacle with a little something for everyone, including lasers and explosions for the boys, Daniel Craig for the ladies, and Harrison Ford for everyone who still needs to get the taste of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull out of their mouths.

Meanwhile, we also got to see trailers for Thor and Captain America. I’ve been high on the Thor movie almost since I heard it was definitely going into production; less so on Cap, mainly because of greater affection for the characters and concepts in the former (not like versus dislike, just like a lot versus like all right). At this point I’ll at least try to attend both movies, and look forward to both. Fortunately they will be hitting theaters at opposite ends of the summer, so it’s not as thought seeing Thor one week would lead to inevitable letdown in seeing Cap the next.

I admit I was somewhat saddened that there was no new Green Lantern trailer for the SuperBowl, but I guess the calculus for buying air time is altered whether you’re talking about a real premier or a second go. The Green Lantern movie comes out in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, a single DC offering between Marvel’s pair of future Avengers. (That may be the best reason of all to see the Captain America movie, by the by, because it will end up factoring into the Avengers movie coming in 2012 directed by Joss Whedon and bringing together Thor and Cap and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man all in the same epic, but that’s really an entire blog post or three for another time.) My main hope for a new GL trailer was that I might get a chance to see the final CGI version of Rot Lop Fan.

I speak English but that name makes no sense to me!
A couple weeks ago in this space I was ragging a bit on Alan Moore and how his fanatical devotion to deconstructing superhero tropes in Top Ten was testing the limits of my love for his work, so let me counter that with some pure gushing. Moore used to write for DC Comics, and not always churning out multi-part epics or years-long redefinitions of characters. Sometimes he did silly little one-offs when the publishers needed backup stories or filler pieces or whathaveyou. One of these was a story about the recruiting of an alien Green Lantern, and involved Moore riffing on the idea that it’s all well and good to have a power ring which can do anything, including automatically translating spoken language into alien tongues, but there still might be limits to communication when one alien culture totally lacks the frame of reference for certain concepts. Hence Rot Lop Fan, a humanoid albino froglike creature with no eyes who lives in the Obsidian Deeps (an interstellar equivalent of a sentient blind cavefish, then) who possesses the courage and will to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps except for one small detail: with no visual sensory organs, as part of an entire culture similarly ignorant of phenomena like color and light, Rot Lop Fan lacks the ability to comprehend certain ideas. Like “green”. Or “lanterns”. So really just a wacky way of playing with the meaning of “Green Lantern” and the resolution of the story is cute, and it’s always been a personal favorite of mine. Anyway, I have seen on teh interwebs some grainy footage of rough cuts from the Green Lantern movie which indicate beyond a doubt that Rot Lop Fan is totally going to appear. (And get his own action figure!) So I just wanted to have some official, nationally televised confirmation of that. Guess I’ll have to wait for June.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The writer in me can’t pass up the opportunity to tie together two disparate elements of my life under one theme, so I’m going to touch, however briefly, on the office awkwardness I mentioned yesterday.

To sum up, for those of you coming in late, my three workspace mates are Mr. Voluble, Ms. Antisocial, and Normal-ish Dude. At various points both Mr. V and N.D. have approached me and asked me if I knew what exactly they had done to earn the eternal wrath of Ms. A. And in each case I explained to them that they were simply experiencing her as she is, and she was pretty much the same way with me, and I knew for a fact I didn’t do anything to merit her scorn. This way to which I refer consists mainly of ignoring people, even when (perhaps specifically because of) sharing very cramped working quarters with them. Ms. A. not only doesn’t ever contribute anything to the quotidian small talk and joshing around that the rest of us engage in, she pointedly never says hello when she enters the room, and never says a thing in response if anyone says hello to her. It is beyond stand-offish. It is confounding. But what can you do? She does her job and there’s no rule that says she has to be especially friendly, or even particularly collegial.

Except, when you are collegial, then it smoothes over a lot of other potentially rough stuff. If you make a request of someone with whom you usually enjoy normal interaction, they are that much more inclined to honor said request. Whereas if you never speak to someone and in fact ignore them when they attempt a normal level of human interaction, and then one day aim a complaint at them, that complaint is going to automatically be magnified in unpleasantness. This is in fact exactly what happened last week, when N.D. hit the speaker phone button in advance of dialing into a conference call and Ms. A. demanded, “Can you pick up your handset?” No “Would you mind…?”, no “please”, and I’ve already copped to the fact that prior history unavoidably colors perception, but to me it sounded a lot like she used the most irritated tone of voice she could muster. N.D. must have heard it the same way because he proceeded to go OFF on her, informing her that he needed to use the phone to do his job and wondering if she would like him to stop breathing next and suggesting that she get a life and expressing general bafflement at how any one person could be so miserable. Nominally I was on N.D.’s side, because Ms. A. had created a lot of tension with her constant silent treatment and N.D.’s tirade was simply the end result of a lot of repressed WTF-ism, but he probably took it a little too far, and ended up sounding a bit like a petulant adolescent himself. As soon as he blew a fuse, he more or less lost the moral high ground. Weirdly, Ms. A. had no response to any of this, going right back into her default mode of pretending she can’t hear anyone who addresses her. So that was awkward.

Then sometime the following day Ms. A. sent an e-mail to her superiors and HR reps at the subcontracting firm where she works, which also happens to be the same firm that employs N.D., and she cc’ed my boss (who coordinates the main contract) and also cc’ed N.D. himself. Of course when she was out of the workspace N.D. was not shy about sharing the contents of the e-mail with me and Mr. V. The e-mail made some arguably valid points about how N.D. had verbally harassed Ms. A. after she made a simple request … but then she went on to detail how difficult it was to have to work next to him at all because of certain incredibly petty gripes including not only his preference for speaker phone over handset but also how loudly he slurps his coffee. (YES, SERIOUSLY.) So that was more awkward.

And since then there haven’t been any more open hostilities but Ms. A., whose work duties primarily consist of researching and editing written policies, has been working away from her desk, lugging a folder full of papers to an open conference room and camping out there so that she doesn’t have to sit near N.D. It has become something of a joke here in the workspace, albeit an excruciatingly uncomfortable one, a sensation which is heightened in me by my fear that Mr. V. will get on a roll making his own inappropriate observations and Ms. A. will walk in for one of her twice-daily e-mail checks and catch him mid-rant. Matter of time, really.

Waiting for the kaboom
The silver lining in this is that it may all be officially moot sooner than later. The long-rumored relocation of our agency office is apparently going down in March. No one knows exactly when, beginning or end of the month or what, but March seems like a fairly fixed target, and that is coming up soon. So the Work(Formerly Storage)space Four will be broken up and given proper separate cubicles and those of us who do not care to interact on any level will not have to sit and stew in the end result of such decisions, let alone the mess of other people’s decisions.

So those are the work hostilities. There aren’t any interpersonal hostilities on the home front, but if it is possible to assign such an attribute to inanimate things, believe me, I have been so assigning.

For the past three days I’ve been working on the nursery by attempting to prime the walls, which I believe I have mentioned are dark green with gold sponge-roller accents. I did one wall Saturday afternoon, another wall and a half Sunday, and the last wall and a half late last night. I used a very reputable brand of color-negating primer. I am going to have to do a second coat on the entire room. And the word hostile just kept occurring to me with each swipe of the paint roller. The colors on the walls when we occupied the house are just hostile: hostile toward good taste, and hostile toward being covered over. The green and gold is all but laughing right through the first coat of primer.

And part of me really wants to get hostile, too, and hurl all kinds of karmic invective in the general direction of the couple from whom we bought the house. But I just can’t bring myself to commit. I think there’s a lot to be said for making your living space your own, and I always have (and I only half-ruefully look forward to the little guy testing the limits of that aesthetic stance when he’s a teenager looking to decorate his own room). So if the former owners loved the idea of multiple shades of orange on the walls of the den, and green and gold in the spare room and blue with white rag-smears in the guest bath, good for them for fearlessly embracing such bold choices. Of course it would be easy for me to fall into the mindset of “What kind of idiots paint all the walls such loud, dark, gaudy, ugly colors and then try to sell the house?” but aside from the obvious counter-argument (i.e. “What kind of idiot buys that house?”) there’s the fact that I really think the former owners planned on living out their golden years in that house, but the husband’s job was transferred and suddenly they had to relocate in a big hurry. Before that upheaval, thoughts of selling the house never crossed their mind as they considered all the paint samples at the screamingest end of the palette. So I can’t fault their reasoning. And their aggressive interior design choices probably account for the fact that their house was priced as it was and yet still unbid upon so that my wife and I could swoop in and make an offer. So really, I should be lauding the holy green hell out of the nursery walls which four hours of paintslinging have transformed from “blaring green” to “somewhat muted green”.

Yeah. Maybe in a few months I’ll do that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Extremely Small Favors

My co-worker Mr. Voluble is a Green Bay Packers fan, which I will concede he comes by honestly having grown up in Wisconsin. Fortunately he’s not at work today to add at all to the sting of last night, because he technically lives in North Carolina where there are very few jobs and took the gig here in Northern Virginia after geographically broadening his employment search, and he usually stays in a rented apartment during the week and heads home on weekends, but his doctor is in North Carolina and he is soon going to have surgery on an arthritic hand and has a pre-op check-up today, in NC. Why do I know so much about his comings and goings and current course of medical treatment and so on? Same way I know that he’s a Packers fan, or know a thousand other things about him that I truly could not give a crap less about: because he never shuts up about himself. In point of fact lately he has taken to walking into our shared converted storage workspace and, without preamble, saying things like, “Well, I had to spend most of this weekend at home because my car was in the shop so I didn’t get to do the things I had planned on doing around town …” As if (a) any of us in the workspace care and also (b) any of us had asked. It’s disconcerting, because every aspect of his speech pattern makes him sound like he had just pressed the “resume” button from a previous, paused conversation when in fact nonesuch ever took place (nor ever would).

He also has a habit of reading aloud work e-mails which are distributed to ALL. I know I was just griping the other week about the tediousness of mentally sorting and electronically deleting messages that have no relevance to contractors whatsoever, but the pain is actually intensified by Mr. Voluble opening the same exact e-mail I just got and then actually saying out loud, at normal conversational volume, “OK, let’s see, looks like annual self-assessments for federal employees are due this Friday?”

But yeah, he’s not here today, sigh of relief. The odds are very high that he will come striding in tomorrow morning in mid-conversation mode as usual and that he will just assume of course none of us talked about the SuperBowl on Monday morning, because he wasn’t there. In fact he might assume that none of us were able to grasp the subtleties of the game, like the final score; I’d say there’s a 30% chance he walks in saying “Go Packers!” (which would at least be a normal way of expressing his enthusiasm for his rooting interest) and a 70% chance he walks in with “So the Packers won the SuperBowl! I guess they’re the World Champs now!” (which … speaks for itself, in contrast, really)

This picture included for maximum ridiculosity
The Steelers losing the big game was a bummer in my corner of the world, of course, but there were a few bright sides. Unlike last year, we actually made it to a SuperBowl party as planned, so the company was pleasant in general, and mostly on the Steelers’ side, either in genuine fandom, in deference to the stressed out pregnant lady (that would be my wife) or simply because everybody would have loved to see the Biggest Deficit Comeback in SuperBowl History. (The one exception was a devoted Ravens fan who was rooting for the Pack because of some enemy-of-my-enemy principle, I think, but whatevs.) The little guy was with us and stayed up way past his bedtime, but was a content little angel enjoying the treat of playing with other kids’ toys, mainly a hugely elaborate dollhouse as well as a pair of Buzz Lightyear and Woody toys about half as tall as the little guy himself. And my wife was very gracious in defeat, although I very gently tweaked her about it on the way home by asking “Isn’t it nice to root for a dynasty?” The Steelers losing the SuperBowl is like the Yankees losing the World Series: it’s not like their appearance in the championship was a crazy, once-in-a-lifetime shot which gets your hopes up and then breaks your heart. They’ve been there before and won it all, they fell a little short this time, they’ll be back there again sooner than later. Maybe you think that actually sounds very ungracious in its arrogance, and perhaps you think I’m grading on a ridiculous curve where taking solace in past (and hypothetical future) dominance is very mature and blaming the refs or denigrating the Packers’ win as meaningless or any other number of petty displays is the opposite side of the coin. But then that would be a difference between you and me.

Still, whether it sucks a little or sucks a lot, it sucks to not have things go your way, and I’m thankful that Mr. Voluble isn’t here adding to the suckiness, even if it’s just a delay of the inevitable. Of course in Mr. V.’s absence I still have to deal with the fact that my other two workspace-mates are not speaking to each other after some really regrettable altercations last week, but I don’t even feel like unpacking that particular awkwardness right now.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Planning it out

My wife and I have been to Las Vegas together a few times, which is one of our personal happiest places on Earth. We both find a lot of appeal in a lot of the same things which Vegas offers in abundance, and we talk often of getting back there soon. Of course with small child/children, that is neither easy nor likely to happen in the immediate future, but I’m sure one of these days we’ll manage. If we can get there in the summer of 2016 and place bets on the Olympic Decathlon in Rio de Janeiro I’ll be pretty stoked.

Anyway, for all the truly sinful/borderline illegal decadence which Vegas is rightfully famous for, one of the indulgences nearest and dearest to my heart as well as my wife’s is brunch. We usually stay at the Flamingo on the Strip, and that hotel offers the Paradise Garden Buffet as a brunch option on the weekends, a dining experience which is worth every penny and the blocking out of a good two hours of the late morning. If you have never had the pleasure of sitting before a plate on which a made-to-order bacon and cheese omelet, freshly carved roast beef with horseradish, and nachos with a la carte toppings share space, well, I hope somehow in this crazy universe of possibilities we live in that your paths cross somewhere down the road.

The Flamingo’s Paradise Garden Buffet for brunch is in fact so transcendent that it once sparked a conversation between me and my wife about the afterlife, given that any idealized plane of eternal existence (assuming for the sake of argument that we would be entitled to such heavenly rewards after departing the flesh of our present incarnations) would have to include that kind of spread. As the conversation continued we started reflecting on other activities and resources and generally essential elements which would constitute ultimate bliss. And then we literally could not help ourselves as we started trying to optimize the co-existence and interaction of all that beneficence. E.g., we both enjoy sleeping in but don’t particularly care for the feeling of having wasted too much of the day abed, so the timekeeping in heaven would have to be magically elastic enough to allow both lollygagging and having the entire day ahead of you. Similarly there would have to be some kind of regular alternation of amusements so that no single one would ever become monotonous. So basically what we ended up doing (and I remind you, this was while we were on vacation) was sketching out a fairly detailed and rigid schedule of events. For when we’re dead.

Having wings does make getting around to everything on your maxed-out to-do list a bit easier, right?
It’s the classic overthinker’s posture once again, of course, but even though the brunch-fueled brainstorming I’m recalling happened years ago (and thus years before I started meticulously documenting my overthinking tendencies hereabouts) I wasn’t very surprised that it ended up where it did. My wife and I met at our alma mater and that entire college had a noticeable predisposition toward the rigorously structured. Someone once wrote an editorial in the campus newspaper about how no one in the student body seemed capable of having fun unless there was a pre-existing “fun agenda” in hand before said fun was embarked upon. And I nodded knowingly at that editorial, given my previous experience with answering a question like “So what are we going to do Friday night?” with something along the lines of “Dunno, we’ll figure something out.” Which would send the dialogue right back to the starting point because most people just could not accept the terrifying formlessness of the void. (Myself included, sometimes. I prided myself on not being utterly ruled by the impulse to plan everything out, but I was somewhere on the continuum nonetheless. I never felt like I didn’t belong at my college.)

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve been working out lately (only two or three times a week and only for a couple weeks, but relative to the complete lack of exercise characterizing the back half of 2010, it’s significant to me) and my mind has predictably wandered each cardio session I’ve logged. Since my wife and I semi-splurged on an elliptical for the home it’s blessedly easier to fit in a quick workout, and I’m thankful for that, but of course it’s not perfect. My elevated heartrate may only persist for the 30 minutes I’m on the machine, but the attendant sweat and funk tend to hang around a bit longer. Unless and until I take a shower, of course, but if I work out in the evening (after putting the little guy down in his crib, most oft) then a shower that late in the day seems weird. But since I’m already getting up around 5 to leave the house by 6 for work, a pre-daily-shower exercise session isn’t a tremendously appealing option.

I meandered down that trail of thought for a while and soon found myself envisioning a life where I didn’t have to work (meaning I’ve won the lottery, or possibly been involved in an accident with incredibly minor physical repercussions for me but potentially disastrous liability repercussions for a major corporation who offered me a generous cash settlement – either’s fine!) and could arrange my day however I like. Which shockingly, even now, was not something I could simply accept as a premise, but rather something I would need to carefully architect. I was actually quite pleased with what I came up with, which was a Virtue/Vice model. The first segment of each day would be pure clean living: wake up, do some meditation, work out, take a shower, eat a healthy breakfast, do some volunteer work, read horizon-broadening books, eat an even healthier lunch. In the early afternoon I would spend time with my wife and kids and do whatever they want. (If, in this fantasy scenario, my wife chooses to keep working and my kids are old enough to be in school, then this would either be soul-nourishing creative expression time or possibly nap time.) And then evenings would entail eating whatever I want for dinner, watching tv, reading comics, playing video games, drinking beer, and eating whatever else I want for a midnight snack.

Actually now that I think about it, if I went for a mid-morning bike ride or something the above plan is not terribly far off from a typical day at the beach during my annual summer vacation. Man, do I need winter to be over.