Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gathering Place

The hotel where I’m staying in San Francisco has free wireless internet access in the lobby, so I’ve come down a little bit before my ride arrives to catch up on a few things. Needless to say, this free internet situation has set up a strange phenomenon that I think I will coin as the corporate water hole.

We all circle around with our laptops, looking for one of those really good red cushy chairs, avoiding the backless ottoman-type things. Some people are on cell phones, others just reading a paper, and most annoyingly, some take a whole chair just for their computer bags. I’m stuck on a couch now between two people from the same company, and it’s a little weird. I feel like I’m eavesdropping on something, but hey, all the red chairs are taken! It’s even funnier because the hotel is hosting a conference, and there are so many people (men, mostly) with nice tech toys and event badges milling around, sniffing around for wireless access. Then, after a time, when someone has finished up getting hydrated (or checking e-mail, whatever), he’ll get up and slink away, and another thirsty laptop-user will come to share the wealth. Such is the behavior of business travelers in their natural habitat.

Talent Show

I just got back from helping to run our company’s first-ever Talent Show, and I am bushed. (Note: The insanely late hour is due to the fact that I'm on funky west coast time, so it's not quite as bad as it seems.) I spent the whole day beforehand in deep discussions with people about company history and internal improvements – as is befitting for a company retreat, I suppose – but the evening was dedicated to burritos, margaritas (yay!), and some talent, or something resembling it. I became the default A/V girl, which is almost laughable when you think about my inability to program our VCR, and I did a lot of running around to find outlets, set up our projector, and display a presentation of slides during the dinner hour. But you should have seen those slides…

As a member of the planning committee, my main duty was to assemble a slideshow of company photos and trivia questions to be shown while people mixed and mingled, kind of like those pre-movie preview shows that ask which movie is the source of some obvious line. Our team collectively came up with the questions (and answers, thank goodness), while I compiled photos and put together the pièce de résistance of PowerPoint presentations, if I do say so myself. It probably took me over 8 hours to put the whole thing together over the weekend, but this bad boy is 150 slides of photo nostalgia, fabulous trivia, and superbly obnoxious animation. You heard right – I said animation, folks.

I finally had an excuse to use the Pandora's box of ridiculous entrance and exit animation effects that Microsoft released into the unsuspecting world. I am almost always dead set against any type of animation, unless it is a subtle entrance that will prevent the audience from reading a whole slide while you’re trying to talk through your first bullet. In that case, I will concede that it is in good taste to have a gentle fade or a slow fly in. I believe that these effects generally serve to induce headaches and irritability during excessively long presentations, and heaven help us if there are sound effects.

This show was a different story! I got to find out with the Bounce and Spiral In and Light Speed effects all accomplished, and I think it’s safe to conclude that none of those should ever be used in an actual corporate setting. I’m glad to say, though, that kitsch was the name of the game in this situation, and the ridiculous effects only added to the cheap movie feel of the whole thing. I did refrain from anything involving sound because, come on, you have to draw the line somewhere. Photos bounced in, birthday stats spun until they reached their destinations, and trivia flashed in and out, much to everyone’s amusement. I have to say that my proudest achievement was creating word scrambles out of a few people’s names; for example, "Tom Garrison" became "Starring Moo"! Yes, I am that nerdy (or cool!), and hello, Scrabble is one of my favorite games ever, thank you for asking. So of course, these word scrambles required an even more tacky effect, and I called upon the Faded Swivel, a letter-by-letter flip that made the scramble vanish as the solution appeared. It was a thing of beauty.

So when I say that we had a talent show, I do mean that we had a series of acts, like an a capella quartet and several strange skits. Really, though, outside of my old standard act of doing a human trick, this PowerPoint presentation actually was my talent. I know that it’s a little sad, but I’m darn proud of it.

Monday, August 28, 2006

It Hurts Me

When I booked my 9am flight to San Francisco, I knew it would be painful. When I confirmed with the airline that I should arrive two and a half hours before my flight, I flinched. When I reserved my 5:30am pickup by the shuttle service, I had a sinking feeling.

But, oh, when my alarm went off at 4:20am ... that was the worst of all. What is this strange dark morning I'm observing? The last time I saw 5am was the morning JG and I left for Ocean City, NJ, but I sure don't remember that trip, between my periods of nodding off. For this little excursion, I have to have the wherewithall to progress through all of the airport lines without dropping my e-ticket, misplacing my ID, or flipping over my roller bag. I'm not very good at the airport juggle, but I'm guessing that getting two-thirds of my normal amount of sleep won't help.

There was a time when I saw the early morning. I worked at a summer camp for two summers during college; we had to be up and at 'em bright and early, and I managed. Minus the bright. It was more of rolling out of bed, grabbing the first shirt and shorts I could see in the hazy blueness of my bunk, and staggering outside into the misty air to the long walk to the dining hall for breakfast. Or at least, it seemed long.

Ah, well, what can you do? I'd rather be sitting and waiting for my flight rather than standing in a line and wondering if I'll make it, so this being up early nonsense is definitely the lesser evil. It's still evil, though.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bringing Work Home

Among other things, I’m most often a proofreader at my firm, and I have the freedom to scrutinize others’ work, compare it to style standards, and make revisions, largely without approval from the author. It seems that, lately, I’m having trouble leaving work at the office.

I was skimming through JG’s blog recently, and I noticed a typo. I know he doesn’t want me to pick apart his entries, so I generally leave well alone, but this error affected the meaning, and I was torn. It occurred to me that maybe JG didn’t realize that there was an error at all, so he might appreciate a little pointer. Or maybe I’m just obsessive, and he actually wouldn’t. But still… I wouldn’t feel right letting something like that slide. It's really a question of ethics, you see.

So. I asked carefully, “If I noticed a typo on your blog, would you want me to tell you?” And JG responded, “Yes, if it’s actually a typo.”


“Oh, well, you used pouring, like a beverage, when you actually meant poring, like looking carefully.”

“There’s a difference? I didn’t even know that.”

Oh. Well, okay. And that was that.

It happened again soon after with a different blog, whose author I don’t know personally, and when I pointed it out to JG, he recommended that I not bring it up, so as not to come off as a, um, not-so-nice person. I’m sure that the readers wouldn’t have substituted white win for white wine in the recipe, but still. When I consider it in my own case, I would be kicking myself if someone pointed out a typo. I like to think that I would thank the person and fix it ASAP, all the while swearing to proof things more carefully the next time. At least, that's how it (mostly) went down when JG found errors in my posts. At the same time, I can see how pointing out errors could come off as being kind of mean…

I don’t think I’ll say anything about the wine thing, but really, what’s the etiquette for something like this? Is it dependent on how well you know the person? Or how grievous the error is?

Of course, a short answer to all of this could be for me to stop being such an anal-retentive, hypercritical person…

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Past Lives

While JG and I were getting the lay of the land at the beach, we found a takeout menu in the kitchen for a place called Oceanside Seafood. I have this thing where I like to have city-specific cuisine if I’m a tourist, and the beach means seafood! We walked in for dinner, unsure of how it all worked, so JG asked the girl at the counter, “If we want to eat in, do we seat ourselves?” It turned out that the girl was Joanna, one of JG’s friends from the high school years! She was living at the beach for the summer and waitressing at this restaurant that we had randomly picked. JG and Joanna tried to catch up quickly on the last five years of life, highlighted by Joanna shrieking, “You’re married, aren’t you?!” (Um, yes, nice to meet you…) Joanna ended up being our waitress, and she gave us great recommendations. The two of us plowed through steamed clams, crab Florentine soup, shrimp, flounder, and scallops, all delicious and even better, at the “regulars’ discount”. It pays to have connections, right?

This unexpected run-in with the past reminded me of how JG and I are slated to go to the wedding of one of my high school friends, Amy, in a couple of weeks. It’s the first wedding that I have from that set, and I’m a little apprehensive. I envision being seated with people I haven't seen in years and there’s stilted silence as we all try to make pleasant conversation until the wedding party arrives …

Where did you go to college again? … Oh, that’s right, I remember now – that’s great. And you’re working where now? … That sounds really interesting. … Oh, look, hors d'oeuvres!

Maybe I’m just being pessimistic. Maybe it’ll be a fun time: I can reminisce, JG will have a chance to meet people I grew up with, we can dress up and dance, and even have an overdue visit with my parents. Don’t get me wrong – I’m excited to be there for Amy; she was one of my closest friends when I was a teenager. We teased our calculus teacher, ate Ben and Jerry’s out of a community pint, and spent many hours at school for band and play practice. In middle school, we used to say that we were the “friend type, not the lover type” when we commiserated about never having boyfriends, and look – we’re the first two to be married out of our friends. It’s funny how that works.

I feel like I’m walking back into a world where I was a different person. These high school friends are accustomed to me on my own, since I never dated in high school, and now I’m a wife with an out-of-state license that has someone else’s name on it. I wonder if anyone will exclaim, “You’re married, aren’t you?!”

I guess we’ll see…

Monday, August 21, 2006

Avalon Reflections

After a weekend away and a ride home that was thankfully light traffic-wise, I can muse about all of high points from the weekend, in bullets, no less, because that’s how I roll.

  • I went into the water voluntarily this weekend – several times, even! On Friday, the water was nice and warm, and I didn’t even cringe as it lapped around my swimsuit. I even braved depths higher than my knees to jump around waves and stand on a sandbar. When I had had enough, I sat at the shoreline to let the waves push me around and watch JG bodysurf: "Three belly scrapers out of four waves!” he crowed. It was something close to paradise.
  • I’d never seen those little jellyfish that wash up on the shore, and I tiptoed around the minefield of transparent blobs, trying to get a good picture. I jumped when I felt something crawly; then I saw the abundance of little clams at my feet. JG showed me how they try to dig back into the sand once they’re exposed, and I was transfixed at the sight of dozens of tiny orange, purple, and white shells propelling themselves into the sand.
  • JG and I had a rousing game of Scrabble on the beach because, yes, we are that cool. I’m proud to say that I ended up on top, despite JG’s bingo word (uses all seven letters and earns you fifty bonus points), “poaches”, and racks like WOOEEEU. Low point of the game: I had a bingo word of my own (“gleaned”), but had nowhere to put it, and I ended up having to play “nodal”. High point: I managed to double-letter the Q in a double-word spot with “quite” for 48 points. This is the part when my geekiness is unavoidable.
  • At our friends’ recommendation, JG and I took a jaunt to the free zoo at the Cape May County Park, and it was a lot of fun. In addition to the run-of-the-mill, barnyard animals and caged birds, there was a reptile house and a Pathway to Diversity that led to zebras and giraffes. It was very well-done for our five-buck donation. Plus, the excursion doubled as economy birth control, as JG and I have zero urge to push around small children in strollers, make sure they don’t walk into strangers, or purchase animal-shaped sugary drinks from the tiki hut-like drink stations, and all of that was confirmed in this morning trip.
  • We strolled down the main downtown area in Avalon and I loved seeing two separate shops dedicated solely to cheese. How great is that? There were white lights intertwined in all of the trees on either side of the street and a gazebo-ish thing in the middle of a square where I pictured barbershop quartets or horn groups gathering on the 4th of July. It was sort of like Stuckeyville or Stars Hollow, both places where I would like to live if they existed…

I have emerged refreshed and “as brown as a Brazil nut”, as one of my co-workers would say. I have a greater fondness for the beach than I did previously, perhaps due to the lack of many rowdy family members and the loan of a fantabulous house. Or maybe I’m just getting used to the idea of spending time at the beach, and the shorter break made me more grateful for the time away. Who knows, but I’ll take it anyway.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Are We in the Right House?

Greetings from Avalon, NJ!

JG and I have taken a pseudo long weekend away (Friday afternoon through Sunday night) thanks to the generosity of our friends with a beach house here. The weather’s great and a seafood dinner is on tap for tonight, but, oh, let me tell you about the house.

Our friends are pretty well off and they’ve always been really great about sharing what they have, like hosting fun parties and helping people move (i.e. yours truly). When they heard that I was concerned about not having vacation time with JG by myself, their first reaction was, “Borrow our beach house! Let us know when you want it!” Needless to say, we were stunned at the offer, and gladly took them up on it.

When JG and I drove up the street to look for the house, we were expecting one of those single-story, we’re-just-sleeping-here-in-between-beach-trips houses, because honestly, even though our friends live comfortably, beach property, even a couple of blocks off the water, is freaking expensive. Plus, we know that they don’t rent the house out, ever, so it wasn’t like they were bringing in extra money. We crawled along the street, craning at house numbers, and oh my goodness. There was #249.

A beautiful, yellow house with its own driveway welcomed us, and we gaped at the wide, wrap-around porch and picturesque wooden rockers. JG unlocked the door, and we explored what we learned was a 5-bedroom, 5.5-bath house, complete with a full kitchen (granite countertops, gas range, pull-out trash bin, oh my!), outside shower, one-car garage, two living rooms, a wet bar, and master suite perched on its own third story. Our room, the “green guestroom” was leaps and bounds nicer than our room at home, with a king-sized bed and full bath with a double sink (!). Best of all, the house is decorated with fish of all kinds – ceramic, glass, wind chimes, tile mosaic – local art of Avalon scenes, and family photos. It is Beach House to the nth degree, and it is unbelievable that we get to use it.

As we walked back out to the car to grab our stuff, JG breathed, “I feel like we’re on Cribs…” We had no idea what we were stepping into, and it is by far the nicest place we have ever stayed. I’m not sure what this place is worth, or when it was built, but there’s a house next door for sale, and they’re asking for a cool $2.8 million. Oh my goodness.

So, what’s the appropriate thank you gift for friends who let you borrow their several-million-dollar house?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Time Warp

Last night, I was emailing a friend when I unconsciously referenced my “crazy week”. I saw the words appear in my message window, and I paused, thinking, Wait a minute, what day is it?

Oh, right, I remembered, it’s only Tuesday, even though it feels like Thursday, energy-wise. Even more disappointing – Thursday would mean that I would only have to work in the morning the next day so that JG and I could invade our fabulous friends’ beach house in Avalon, NJ, for a long-ish weekend away. As much as our previous vacation was an extended break, it was not so much about the alone time, so I’m looking forward to this weekend for that.

Back to reality. It was only Tuesday, and I hadn’t actually had a crazy week; I had only had a crazy two freaking days. That’s not even halfway through the week! I backspaced sadly and typed, “crazy couple of days,” with a sinking feeling.

This morning, JG asked me, “Is it Friday? Because I feel like it’s Friday.” It can’t be a good sign if my hallucinations are spreading.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Not the Cool Kid

Today after work, I attempted to find comfortable walking shoes that are still nice enough to wear with darker jeans, khakis, or corduroys for fall. I have a weeklong business trip to San Francisco at the end of the month, and heels do me a great disservice on those ridiculous hills. Plus, it’s an all-company retreat, so the atmosphere is a little more, ah, rustic.

Anyway, this is apparently a Holy Grail of shoes – an elusive combination. At least it is when you’re just not cool enough to wear those trendy bowling shoe/sneaker hybrids. It is so depressing to walk into a shoe store, gravitate toward the ones that you had envisioned, and then find out that, no, you can’t really handle them, especially with all of these crazy colors and shininess. The price is a little startling, too; not that you’re cheap, of course, but one can only spend so much on shoes, especially if you’re not sure about them. Your eyes glaze over as you see periwinkle/chocolate brown and lime/gray combos, thick lug soles, athletic Mary Janes (isn’t that kind of an oxymoron?), and the stretchy non-laces that make up this strange genre of footwear.

Then, you manage to find a couple of pairs in the clearance section that are reasonably priced, especially with the buy-one-get-the-second-pair-half-off sale. So you grab some nylon sock things and try on a pair of relatively sensible brown ones. But you can’t figure out how they’ll feel with actual socks, and you forgot to bring some along, so how can you really judge them? You could try them out at home, but you never know about the return policy when it comes to clearance items, and it's anybody's guess when they’re on sale on top of it. You ponder the matter as you try on a black pair, and after a lap past several shin-high mirrors, the conclusion is clear. You are not this cool and you can’t pull it off. From the ankles up, you look like your normal self, and from the ankles down – whose feet are those? The shoes go back on the mismatch that is the clearance rack.

On the way toward the exit, you throw away the foot sox and gaze longingly at the purple and orange sneaker-type shoes (ooh, massaging gel insert), and the nagging question remains: “Isn’t there a happy medium between my cross-trainers and my pointy heels?” As you push through the door, you know the sad truth is that there is a happy medium, and it’s looking down on you and your pedestrian urge to buy a good pair of loafers.

... Or maybe that only happens to me.

Edited: August 16
Against my better judgment, I went back to the store and bought these shoes, a purchase driven by their sheer comfy-ness, and definitely not an increase in my coolness factor. After running them by JG, his sister, and my co-workers, the votes all seem to be in favor, so I'll keep them around. I'm not entirely sold on the shininess though...

Wednesday, August 9, 2006


JG and I were watching TV tonight when a commercial prompted me to point and say, “Ooh, look, it’s LL!”

JG: Who is that?
RA: …LL?
JG: LL who?
RA: Uhhh…
JG: No, who do you think it is?
RA: No, wait! It’s… The Bus?
JG: Okay, and who is The Bus?
RA: He’s a football player…who had asthma…and is in a commercial for asthma…with kids who have asthma…
JG: Very good, and what’s his name?
RA: (grasping at straws) It’s…it’s… JEROME BETTIS! YES!

High five!

How the heck did I manage to come up with Jerome Bettis? For what it’s worth, I still kind of think he looks like LL Cool J. At least a little bit.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

It's Okay, I'm With the Band

I spent the weekend with my sister at what may have been one of the geekiest events I’ve ever attended. She drove two hours to my house, and then two more hours to a small PA town so that she and I could watch two whole nights of drum and bugle corps performances. That’s right, folks. I’m talking marching band.

It isn’t your old-school, stand-in-place, stiff-as-a-board, your-mom-made-you-join, parade band. It’s not what I call a “dancing band”, the likes of which you may have seen in the movie, Drumline. It’s definitely not the kind of band that spawns “this one time at band camp" jokes, either, so let’s not go down that road.

When I say drum corps, I mean highly-skilled brass players, percussionists, marchers, and dancers between the ages of 14 and 22 who audition against tight competition to make the cut and then spend the entire summer training and rehearsing so that they can travel across the country to perform an 11-minute program, all the while building up their ranking to prepare for the finals competition, which will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, this year. The members of drum corps are at the height of their skill, pulling off maneuvers and tricks – both physical and musical – that test belief. They make it look easy, but it’s deceptive; hours of practice, gallons of water, sore muscles, and countless bruises contribute to the mastery of this sport. Some might call it lame, but I call it awesome.

It was with this mindset that my sister and I arrived at the stadium. Our combined 13 years in marching band (she as a flute/piccolo, I as a color guard member: silk and sabre) had created diehard loyalty to the entire institution, and this event was the closest we could get to these groups this year. We were psyched, gabbing through our tailgate dinner and checking the stats on her Blackberry. We looked with shifty eyes at fellow spectators with their individual corps shirts (“You always see the crazies out here,” my sister muttered), and happily ate our sandwiches against the familiar, comforting thrum of percussion lines in the distance and the tick-tocking of the wood block, urging on color guards. Ah, this is what I love, I thought. It made me want to step on the beat, march 8 steps in 5 yards, and snap my head to the commands of the drum major, and we hadn’t even begun. Oh, the anticipation!

Once inside the stadium, the aroma of fried food (mm, funnel cake) and the rustle of a gathering of band people hinted at the awesomeness to come. We were finally there! My sister and I quickly found our seats, by which I mean those too-small spots on metal bleachers, which are seriously too small for even relatively small people like my sister and me. It was tight, but who cares! Our favorite drum corps rocked the house, and watching them in person for the first time made me so happy. I wanted to stand up and watch their whole show, but seeing as that would have been rude, I settled for cheering every time they did something ridiculously hard, and was it my fault that it ended up being almost every thirty seconds? And then they won! YES! Booyah!!!

After a night crashing at a friend’s house and then taking in some local flavor the next day, my sister and I went back for round two, but not before supplementing our pasta salad dinner with some half-sour pickles and red fish candy from the local farmers’ market. Yum. That night brought a spectacularly original show with tiger “skins” as visual effect and another based on The Godfather. It almost made me wish I had seen the movie, because, sadly, the only things I know about it are the lines quoted in You've Got Mail. Even more fun, my equally-fanatic sister and I created peanut gallery commentary that could have rivaled that of Statler and Waldorf of The Muppets Show fame. All of this excitement culminated with a 2-hour drive home that somehow only took 90 minutes, thanks to my sister’s “driving like a banshee”, as she put it.

Maybe I could have been part of a drum corps at one point, if I had had the guts to try out and the money to finance it. I could have been simultaneously muscular and tan (minus a killer sock line) with thousands of screaming fans, which sounds eerily similar to how I imagine being a rock star might be. But watching it over two gorgeous evenings with my sister next to me was okay with me, too. You can bet that when the finals air on ESPN2 in a few weeks, I am so calling the TV. I sat through almost all of the Penn State bowl game this year, so I think it could be a fair trade. This is my bowl game, baby!

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Getting Back On

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle, reads:

I have more hope that someone who has shouted, 'Stop the world, I want to get off!' can get back on and enjoy the ride, than someone who wants more cushions.

Last week was rough for me. I so wanted the world to stop so that I could catch my breath, or sit back and watch for a little bit. I would be content with waiting at the stop and getting back on when the world came back around for me again. But you can’t do that.

The week was characterized by an unexpectedly heavy workload in an unusually unsupportive work environment, and I had to ask myself if this was really the job I wanted to pursue. I knew coming into this job that I would need to figure out what my plan was for The Future, in terms of graduate school or progression up the corporate ladder, but I was fine with camping out in a fortunate entry-level job that has afforded me with unique opportunities and usable skills, but… I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here. It took all I had to simply operate and get my work done, and even that wasn’t accomplished without bursting into tears periodically. I was so tired.

It felt like when I had inklings that maybe I didn’t want to be a chemistry lab rat for the rest of my life, as alluring as a Ph.D. may have been. I took two full semesters of only science and math, and I ached without reading and writing. I tried to fit in leisure reading, but my giant chemistry texts beckoned. So, in my sophomore year, I changed my major to English, amid noises of cautious support from my parents (who were sure that I’d end up living at home trying to be “artistic”) and looks of betrayal from my lab partners (who were sure that I was ditching them for a mere B.A.). I tried to laugh off my nervousness by calling it my “major identity crisis”, and I waded into the world of literature students, the majority of whom, to my surprise, did not enjoy either reading or writing. I loved most of my new professors and I felt myself growing in a way that chemistry did not allow, although I maintained a minor so that I could exercise that part of my brain.

So, that worked out okay.

But this is different; job decisions affect your income and commute and overall happiness scale. It’s half of your waking hours and, at least for me, a significant component of how you measure your life’s progress. I can’t think about leaving my current job without understanding what’s ahead of me, but there’s no way to do that without actually leaving my job and taking another one. Then there’s always the possibility that I wouldn’t like it more – what do I do then? Should I just figure out what I want my grad degree in and take a loss to be a student? Doesn’t it make more sense to have a company pay for at least some of that tuition?

Stop the world, I want to get off!

What do I know for sure?

  • I have no idea what I want to do for graduate school. It’s not smart to start a program when I am uncertain.
  • I don’t need to find a new job, like when I graduated. I still have this position to fall back on if necessary. This is not a search borne of desperation.
  • It doesn’t hurt to apply for jobs, and I owe it to myself to try. If I am offered a position, I have the option to take it, but I don't have to.
  • If I start this process, then I know that I am taking action, and not just spinning in what might feel like a hopeless situation.

I took a deep breath, revised my resume, and did preliminary job searches in my area. It’s amazing what some experience will do to your prospects. I asked people to be references, and last night, I applied to three positions at companies that I know to have good reputations.

I feel different this morning. Weariness and resignation have been replaced by tentative excitement, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. The things I know are still the same. I don’t need a new job, and I am not desperate. I got back on the world over the weekend, and it’s nice to be here.