The last week of January

Birthday Cake

This month started off with my birthday, as it does every year. Kim was kind enough to throw me a surprise party – the second she’s done – and many people were kind enough to come. Some even brought gifts, one of which I quickly finished off, mostly on the night of the party with willing help.

Getting back into the routine is what January is for. After a two week Christmas and New Year’s break, you get used to the life of leisure. It doesn’t seem like that at the time – esp. when you’re minding family business – but it is different than the work life, that life having a pleasing soma effect once you can gulp down enough of it.

The answer to getting back into the flow of things is that annoying business adults always tell you when you’re struggling as a kid: you just start doing it, and lots of it. Which now seems like more of annoying Nike-induced slogan than folk advice.

If work is a type of soma, coffee is the soma of work, so it’s off to get some of that.

Lost on a Pacific Resort Island, Saved by HEB

IMG_4282

In this dream, I was traveling with a group of people, including Kim. In one leg of our travel, someone planned a detour or a plane crash which landed us on Maui. We were on the beach of Maui, and not knowing the people too well, I split off from them.

This island wasn’t really Maui. It was supposed to be some tiny, isolated island in the pacific, not part of Hawaii. But, I kept calling and thinking of it as Maui in my dream. The landscape was wavy and disproportionate, like a mildly abstract painting.

All I had were he wake-board trunks I was wearing and my wallet, with wet cash but all my credit cards. I wondered around the beach, thinking it was actually nice – it was full of people.

Looking over a part of the beach that was a cliff, I saw what looked like an island in the bay moving. I used the trick of squinting one eye to see if it was actually moving or not, and it was! Then, I saw two smaller islands moving towards this larger one, and I realized it was the famous luxury island of Maui – these two smaller ones being ferry boats of a sort. While this Maui beach was great, I thought, that island must be really splendid.

During this walking around I’d been wondering where I’d sleep, what I’d eat – how I’d take care of myself. The weather seemed nice enough that I could sleep on the beach, and that thought seemed to satisfy all my wondering. It seemed like a lot of people did that. There were several good looking hotels lining the beach. One was very white and clean. The room windows were large and the normal house style where you can slide the lower half up. Those rooms must be really expensive, I thought, you can tell by the fancy windows they have.

I started worrying about Kim: she wasn’t part of the group on the island, so I wanted to let her know that I was safe instead of lost at sea. Somehow, I scrounged up a hoodie to go with my wake-board shorts and some flip flops. I wondered into the street that ran along the beach and saw all the tourist shops. I found a small grocery store like one, and wondered in. At one point, I got a strange hat, kind of like a cheap bee-keepers hat, all yellow. I didn’t do much in this store, but I remember I walked around and saw a lady that looked like a young, Catalonian pharmacist two times: dark hair, thick glasses like in a Pedro Almodóvar movie.

Exiting the store I thought whatever was in there the prices would be too high. Still, I needed to find a phone or an Internet cafe. I had my wallet, so I wasn’t totally destitute. I kept walking down the street and at the end where the street curved around toward the island interior, I saw an HEB grocery store. I was so elated that I said, “oh baby!” out loud. I spotted a side entrance to the little grocery store I’d been in and saw some employees smoking at the door – I wondered if they’d hear my elation and was a bit embarrassed.

I walked towards the HEB, making sure that I still had cash and credit cards in my wallet – I did. I’d get a cellphone or rent time on a computer to email Kim, I thought. Soon, my problems would be solved.

I woke up at that point.

The Upset GI Joe

Playing "Guns"

In this dream, I was a lovable, grizzled member of GI Joe. Bearded of course, probably a sergeant of some kind. And definitely a rebellious type. We’d just been assigned a new leader – called “The Lieutenant” who looked a lot like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. He’d set up new units for everyone based on function and attack plan – like “first to parachute in,” to which I’d jokingly said, “I hope I’m not in that one!”

After telling us that he’s made these new units, he said we’d have to go look them up on the computer. It turns out this computer was ancient – though we didn’t come to this conclusion until later.

The terminal kept going through a slide show of different units – like the afore mentioned “first to parachute in” – but it never listed the people in the unit. I tried to fiddle with the knobs on the computer, to no avail. Then, I used my pocket radio to call on my fellow GI Joes and said, “send in the computer nerd!”

The computer nerd of the unit came in, and opened up a floor panel to check out the computer. It was then that we realized that the computer took up the entire room. Thus that is was old. Most all of the GI Joes were milling around the computer room at this point – though I only remember being able to pick out that first series red-headed one with the cross bow, Scarlett.

After taking awhile, people were grumbling, and I’ve decided this is absurd. I’ll just go ask the lieutenant for a print out to Xerox, I said. So I walk over to his office. The hallways were that dull, fabric of cubical walls, except floor to ceiling, real walls. Even the door to the lieutenant’s office was made of the fabric wall, which I managed to peek through and noticed that the lieutenant was having a meeting.

I straightened out my jacket, making sure to take my left hand out of my pocket – my left arm was strangely immobile, and knocked on the door, saluting when the lieutenant answered.

He had a smallish table of people – many wearing thick tweed-ish stuff and fedora like hats, all hounds-toothed out – sort of old school British hunting style. The lieutenant and I stood in the back of the room, towards the door.

“We’re having some difficulty with the computer,” I probably said. “Could we get a print out to Xerox?”

And then there was some pleasant exchange with the lieutenant trying to get me to use the computer, and he finally said, forcefully “use the computer.” Because I’d been hassling him so much about the computer not working, he must have said something about the GI Joe unit not being professional enough, and that’s why he was here, in charge now. At least, in the dream, that’s how I took his comment.

At that point, my bearded GI Joe avatar started yelling at the lieutenant and I could feel a sense of relief, kind of like, “ahh, that’s more like it!”

“Who saved the world last year, and in 2008, and the year before that?” I yelled at him grabbing his lapel. And so on. I yelled about how great the GI Joe unit was, wrapping up with something like, “so just get us the damn print out!” and stormed out of the room.

Walking back to my fellow GI Joe’s across a room that looked like a Westernized dojo I was smiling to myself. I woke up.

Laying in bed on what was now early Sunday morning – around 8:20am – I thought this character would certainly be busted down to private. Under the leadership of this lieutenant GI Joe would get into some tough spot, causing the removal of the lieutenant. At some point, someone would visit me and say, “we need you back sergeant,” and then I’d be back with full rank, ready to work. I’m guessing they found that print-out somewhere.

“I’m in your hands”

Gift Bags

It’s hard to get good customer service, but it’s hard to be comfortable expecting it.

On a recent Robert Brook episode he complains at length about the lack of old school customer service in London book stores: at the grand old Foyles in London. At least, he makes it sound as if it had been grand in the past. In particular, the two Roberts were remembering the good old days of helpful, bookish employees who might say something like, “I think I know exactly what you’re looking for,” as you stumbled into their section, before you even opened your mouth.

You know, the long term employees who are experts on not only the stock available (or that could be ordered) but precise enough to match any old Joe off the street to the right stock item, like a book. You surrender yourself to them and hope for the best.

In Garlic and Sapphires, you can see Ruth Reichl doing this time and time again in as she recounts her days reviewing restaurants: first she gives herself over to makeup and costume artists for disguise, then a sushi chef, wig saleswoman, etc. Laced into many of her reviews is commentary on well she was taken care of, attended to: waited on. As she tells that sushi chef once she establishes a quick master/patron rapport with him, “I’m in your hands.”

In American consumer culture, post-web, this sentiment seems rare. We might expect people to be helpful, but we don’t give ourselves up to employees often. Part of the problem is you fear you’ll get ripped off. For example, every time a see I “special” at a restaurant or grocery store, I assume its old food they want to get rid of before it rots, not anything that’s actually unique, exciting, or special that day.

We’re suspicious in the marketplace, and we certainly don’t want to pay for quality service, let alone goods. Americans tend to be too cheap to justifiably demand quality, and employers – we consumer theorize – are so buck-hungry they’ll gladly cut all corners to get more green.

Pricing is also a problem for good customer service and product quality. While we loath haggling, we assume that every price should be cheaper. For us, the price paid for a good or service is often more important than the actual good or service itself.

How do you shift to putting yourself in someone else’s hands, then? The issue is one of trust, and you can’t build trust without being a bit of an expert in the field yourself. To do that you must have enough taste – or be expert enough, depending on how you look at it – to confidently judge if employee knows what they’re doing and is offering your fair deal, not just a cheap deal. That seems a tall order, and somehow more expensive than the alternative (see, that cheap-lust again!), but it somehow seems more mature, more adult.

Book Review: No One Belongs Here More Than You

No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Short and new enough to make you interested in reading some “new” fiction, but tedious like a low-budget indie film.

This collection of short stories has its ups and downs, and to read all the blurbs on it, many professionals liked it. Most of the characters are socially inept and haven’t seemed to discover happiness or how to perpetuate it in their short lives. They’re the kind of characters whose last words in a dialog are always “Oh.” And, of course, there’s no quotes around any dialog which gives it that extra bleakness.

Here’s a good example:

By the time I ran into Ed Borger at Trader Joe’s, Lyon was living at my house only half the week. Which is something Ed and I talked about with loaves of bread in our hands. He thouht this was great progress. I said we owed it all to him. He said his bread always got moldy before he could finish the loaf. I said he should freeze the bread to prevent this problem. He said, Won’t that ruin the bread? I said, No if you’re making toast with it. He said, You can toast it frozen? And I said, Yep.

Still, it’s kind of fun and calming to read, if only to see what kind of whacky thing happens next: mostly normal people doing non-mainstream (what’s the PC word for “perverted” or “abnormal”?) sex here and there. Sort of like a muted, calm Maury Povich show but all the guests were over-reflective, under-employed liberal arts types from boring 80’s childhoods who aren’t even funny enough to be like the 40 year old virgin.

“Yep” indeed!

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My Work is infecting my dreams

Had a strange dream Monday night where I was in some largish, darkly-lit meeting room (almost like the business casual equivalent of an opium lounge conference room) with Brandon Whichard eating dried edamame.

A continually morphing character of Steve Mills/Sam Palmisano came into the room. Brandon and he started talking about programming in Java, as I recall.

After awhile, I was chided by Mills/Palmisano for not jumping into the conversation and taking advantage of him being there.