work

a day at the retreat

It’s true, on Tuesday I attended a work retreat for a group to which I do not properly belong, I was an adjunct, a recombinant trail disengaged from my nucleus, I was a special guest who, it was hoped, would add to the positive dynamic of the group. It’s nice to be the special guest. It’s worrisome to be the special guest. I look on these kinds of invitation with great suspicion, even when suspicion isn’t warranted – why am I singled out for a day with a motivational speaker and a different division within my organization? Are bureaucratic plans hatching with me as an initial offering, a grub to hungry chicks? No, of course not. I’m valued as a communications consultant, and in any case they can’t shift me around or redesignate me willy-nilly. Not in the rigid lattice of the public service, they can’t. That’s the stuff of fantasy. That and unicorns.

We spent a day with a facilitator. You could call him a team-building consultant, a workplace environment expert, a motivational speaker, what have you. He stood at the front of the room and read from the Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dead, we nodded along. He gave us sheets of paper and fifteen minutes to be totally honest with ourselves on a variety of issues, on scales of 1 to 5. He said Emotional Bank Account, he said Trust Tax, he said Sharpening The Saw, he said he said. There are 7 habits. There are 13 behaviours. There are 4 quadrants (which did not surprise anyone). There are Questions Behind Questions, and the real Questions, the ones that stand in the dark with their hooded robes, are usually proactive. How can I make a difference? What can I do to effect change in my workplace environment? How can I avoid a victim mentality and choose to be effective?

He wore a pale blue Madras-style shirt and black pants that showed the outlines of his unnaturally circular kneecaps when he sat down. He had on a pair of white socks with reinforced heels and toes, and soft-looking brown sandals which he would periodically slip off in order to stand up and go the flip chart. The socks looked immensely comfortable, and I entertained myself as he spoke with imagining the pleasing feel of his socked feet against the short shag carpet. We were in a basement, and no doubt the concrete beneath the carpet felt solid and cool. A pair of decent socks is just enough of a buffer from the hardness of the floor, which you can feel all the way into your knees, to enjoy the subterranean coolness. I silently congratulated him on his choice of socks as he explained the 3 levels of maturity in the workplace.

It was not the fault of the facilitator that Tuesday was one of the worst days I’ve had in years. It was my own psyche, deranged by springtime, that was scourging with me its dissatisfactions. I felt cracked open by the talk of workplace habits and planning for the future, dropped from a great height onto a stone and left for the birds to pick over. I felt anger like a wild flare erupting in all directions, an anger that I’d kept under control over the past year, when physical pain checked every movement and thought. I don’t remember any dreams from that period. People have remarked with amazement on my good humour during most of 2007, when I was bent double and unable to walk. I used to wonder where my anger had gone. It turns out that I had stored it somewhere under pressure, and the concentration of vapid workplace language cracked the container.

burnout

I hate work-related cliches, particularly the debased jargon of officespeak - all those hideous phrases that leap into fashion and then slink away as the shame of their use hits. The enduring cliches may be the worst, because their persistence suggests a truth, that the world of work, its beige and bureaucratic boundedness, is the world in which most of us will live and die. It is hard to come up with fresh and expressive words for the experience of working in the technocracy, because there's really nothing fresh and expressive about it.

The language of the technocracy is part faux-military jargon, part bland psychological uplift. It is the language of management and the manipulation of human resources (ie. us). It is all euphemism. This is where we spend our days, in environments of debased language.

Terms like 'burnout' and 'hitting the wall' are more exciting cliches than most work language. Use has drained them of impact, but I invite you to look at them again. Burnout makes use of our oldest metaphors for potential and exhaustion. Hitting the wall is about as simple and vivid an expression as I can imagine, a compact tale of speed and sudden, violent repose. Whap.

So anyway. I hit the wall today, or I burned out. One of the two. Maybe both? I wasn't tired, or pissed off, or bored with what I was doing. I was just empty, as if every last bit of firewood and peat and hay and dung had been dragged from the surrounding acres, and I was standing in the middle of an empty dirt field. It was Easter Island inside my head.

I'm trying to write about the particular speech that gave me this trouble. Not only was it nearly impossible to write the speech, it's even tougher to talk about. It was a short and simple piece on the film and television production industry. I worked in the industry for seven years before taking a job in government, and it was on the strength of that experience that I landed my current run of work. When you can't connect a few facts and ideas on a subject in which you're thoroughly versed, it's a bad sign. I certainly don't want to find another job, but I need to change something. I just don't know what.

All I'm saying is, it's a good thing that Jesus gave me a day off.

back at work

I started work again on Monday. Half days. I have about two more half days of people telling me I look great before they forget that I spent 2007 bent over like a paperclip.

The most intriguing change is the unusable phone at my desk. I have my regular old phone, the grey plastic box slowly acquiring dust and grime, and a shiny new one with a little LCD screen. Over the screen is a sticky note saying Aidan, Don't Use This Phone Yet.

No word on when the magic new-phone moment arrives.

working from home

night time leaves

Remember when working at home, or 'telecommuting,' was seriously considered as a prospect for the white-collar Western world? Remember when pundits had visions of people in their well-appointed home offices in a state of industrious relaxation, enjoying their days as they gardened, worked, relaxed, worked, pleasured their partners, worked, watched a movie with the kids, worked, slept, worked? Oh what a glorious future it would soon be when everyone stayed home to dissolve the boundaries between personal and professional, in the process transforming downtown city cores into empty shells of civic life occupied by rotting towers of industry.

If only.

By now it should be pretty obvious that the cheerleaders of telecommuting and the Office-in-Every-Bungalow America missed out on the fact that most white-collar work is a social enterprise, with people making decisions by wandering the floor and talking with different people. Workplaces that severely restrict face-to-face interaction tend to be tyrannical sweatshops, which makes me wonder about the 'freedom' that telecommuting promised. It's more like comfortable isolation.

Nonetheless, there are days when nothing is more satisfying than doing all your business from home. As necessary as human contact may be for the soul, sometimes you need solitude for your brain. You don't always need the guy who knocks gently on your door as a prelude to dumping the responsibility for some insanely dull but complex problem on your desk. You don't always want to explain, for the hundredth time, that even though your office door is right by the printer, it doesn't mean you know how to print off envelopes (Remember when I used to travel the world for a living? Sheesh). Sometimes you do what I did today: you stay the fuck home and keep everyone at email's length.

The chief advantage of working from home is so obvious that it pains me to mention it, but it's a rare workplace that lets you show up in a codpiece and clown makeup. At home, you have no one to horrify but your pets, your roommate, or your family. And those people just don't count. At any rate, they should be used to your codpiece by now.

I've heard that natty dressing and proper ablutions will put your mind in work mode, but I don't believe it. I pushed a ream of paper today, ironed out an interjurisdictional news release, booked ad space on billboards, trained a new employee and basically managed the shop in a Mr. Wong shirt and some snappy boxer briefs.

The other great advantage is the ability to take a shower whenever you want. Theoretically, you could go take a shower in the middle of a conference call and no one would even notice. And it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference, as long as you got back on for the thirty-second recap at the end of the call that neatly summarizes the previous ninety minutes. Ninety minutes. You could have taken a shower and watched Death Proof, but instead you get an awkward conversation with disembodied voices trying to talk over each other, resulting in little shards of voice flying all over cyberspace.

Then there's the whole thing where you can get up from your chair and go have sex in the middle of drafting a memo or signing off on correspondence. If you don't feel like getting up to have sex, you can stay seated. You can call someone over to have the sex with you, or you can just have it by yourself. If masturbation doesn't feel shameful enough, you can bust out a pan flute and play along with Yanni. Who cares? Whom besides yourself are you pleasing? You're not at work.

You're just working.

the worst meal i've ever eaten, part 1

A few weeks ago Salon.com published "Bad Taste", (requires Flash ad or membership to read*) a six-part piece on the worst meals that the various contributors had ever experienced. There are tales of foetal ducks and oven-baked steak in a washcloth (which somehow seems worse than the foetal duck), but the stories have as much to do with the horrendous circumstances surrounding the meal as they do with the quality of the food itself. Take Michael Ruhlman's tale of a meal at a restaurant run by Rocco DiSpirito, in which the chef's attempt to impress with off-the-menu cuisine goes seriously awry. Ruhlman manages to catch the quality of what makes a particular meal bad:

Seven years later, the memory of that meal remains sharp in my mind not so much because the food itself was a travesty -- everybody but a brain surgeon is allowed to have a bad day. But really our worst meals are ultimately about sadness...
Or in my case, ridiculousness.

My worst meal was served to me - or rather, I served it to myself at a buffet-style lunch in a sweltering courtyard - in the Philippines in late summer 2004. I was a field producer at the time for the show Disasters of the Century, a formulaic but popular program on floods, volcanoes and the most crushtastic engineering failures that the world has to offer. During the selection for the international component of season five, one of the researchers found information about the Taal Volcano.

Taal holds the distinction of being one of the world's smallest and nastiest volcanoes. It had killed hundreds of people in the twentieth century, periodically spewing cannonades of magma and boiling mud on the people who shared an island with the thing. Ever hot on the trail of old stories about the long-dead, my company sent me in to investigate.

In the course of the show's run, Disasters of the Century covered around eighty stories, of which about twenty-five were international (ie, non-Canadian). Often we would pick stories based on the amount of 'disaster infrastructure' that had been built around the event - are there museums? Historians and experts? Records that will lead us to survivors and descendants? Web sites? And in countries with significant cultural or linguistic differences, are there guides (or as I came to think of them, showboating fixers)?

If you intend to conduct interviews in countries where the populace speaks little to no English, a good interpreter can make the difference between an enjoyable time in a foreign place and an endless nightmare of stomach-clenching anxiety and rage. My production company refused to spend money on a professional interpreter, so we usually ended hiring someone who had been recommended by one of our contacts. These people were invariably useless, unemployable freaks who seemed to take pleasure in working against us. There was the one who smelled of old sweat and didn't show up for most of the interviews, the one who showed late for each interview and took offense when I mentioned it, the one who antagonized the interviewees, the one who dressed exclusively in leopard print, the one who kept bursting into tears every time someone brought up the topic of head injuries.

And then there was Dindo Montenegro.

Dindo was our tour guide and cultural interpreter, a flamboyant fixer who seemed to do a little bit of everything. He met us at the airport with a van and a driver, which I had expected. He was also accompanied by two smiling young men (I wish I could remember their names) whom we had apparently hired as well. I checked the call sheet - these two weren't scheduled to show up until the next day. I was immediately on my guard; my company had held so closely to the bottom line for this trip that any unexpected expenses would tip the budget into the red. I did not want to end up broke and phoning home from some Pacific Rim country.

Not to worry, Mr. Eye-den, explained Dindo with much waving of arms, this is part of the package, it is all worked out with your office, you and your companion (the cameraman) are guests here. The two smiling men took the luggage and equipment from us, in some instances prising the cases from our surprised hands. I discovered that Dindo's main talent was rapid smooth talk, effusive explanation and a semi-clandestine whispering that gave mundane details an inexplicable edge of excitement. As we threaded the streets of Manila at rush hour, Dindo informed us that we were to be guests of honour at a luncheon three days hence.

Part two tomorrow. Sorry to break up the story like this, but I blame NaBloPoMo. I also blame NaBloPoMo for global warming and the decline in quality of moving picture entertainments.

*Salon will make you watch a brief ad to get a "Site Pass," which gives you twenty-four hours of trouble-free reading. In Internet Explorer, though, Salon can be still difficult to navigate - try navigating back if you don't believe me - so my free advice is to get Firefox, install the Greasemonkey extension, then grab the Salon Premium Pass script from userscripts.org. It makes for some trouble-free times. However, if you like Salon enough, you'll want a Premium membership.

ask palinode #12: roving employees

No one is more concerned with the plight of the worker than I am. If I had my Marxist way with the world, all the workers would be sitting in the plutocrats' palaces right now, eating lobster and drinking Grape Nehi, while those fatcat robber barons in their top hats and tails would be pulling carts and cleaning horse dung from the streets. That would dirty up their spats right quick, ha ha!

A recent question from Adrienne has led me to reëxamine* my views on labour relations. From the heart of the Federal District of the United States of Mexico, she asks:

Dearest Palinode,

My question is: Where must I post a Notice of Filing for a permanent labor certification for roving employees?

I look forward to your elucidation.

Me

Well, first let us ask ourselves: what is a roving employee? The Merriam-Webster Wordbook defines an employee as "a person usually below the executive level who is hired by another to perform a service esp. for wages or salary and is under the other's control". Adrienne, you can forget about posting a Notice of Filing - a person who is under the control of another should not be roving. A person under control should be sitting still and minding their own business, not roving around like God's gift to the countryside.

Don't misunderstand me - I remain a strong advocate for worker's rights. But when someone pays you a living wage - provides sustenance for you and your family - is it too much to ask that you just keep still? And stop squirming around? And it's not only money that employers provide; why just today I discovered two packages of candy Rockets on my desk. Each packet contains 7.4 grams of candy, most of which is nutritious sugar. Sneer if you will, you Stalinists, but a 14.8 gram portion of candy is just the thing for my wife and five children. I can even send a bit to my brother, who is currently suffering a term in the workhouse for his displays of sloth and penury.

In today's world, business seems to outpace even the steam locomotive. We live in a chaotic age, when a man in the financial trades may wager the worth of Holland against the fortunes of a Rhodesia-bound packet. Your nest egg and rosy future plans can evaporate in an instant if you've committed your funds unwisely. Then you're broke, unemployed (because who wants to have broke people coming in to the office? Their smell of misery is bad for morale), and forced to find income elsewhere. You "rove" to new employers, new neighbourhoods, new cities. Sometimes you rove all over your country without success. Then you rove over the border in the trunk of a cab, or you rove in a raft to the southern Florida shores.

My feeling is, if you're employed and roving at the same time, you've got a little too much time on your hands. Time that your employer is paying for. Just like the unauthorized reproduction of zoetrope entertainments, stealing time from employers is a crime.

Nonetheless, in today's challenging and flexible business world, it may be necessary for a clerk to deliver a bond to Portsmouth. In time, you may find that the clerk's chief employment is in the delivery and receipt of articles in the field, in which case he is indeed a roving employee and a credit to his firm. I hardly need point out that for such tasks you need a man of unimpeachable character. I can tell you from personal experience that it is one thing to murder a night-soil man, but entirely another to pilfer moments from the workday in a tea-shop or opium den.

In these exceptional cases, it is appropriate to post the Notice of Filing at Head Office, where one can reasonably expect the employee to return. For employees whose roving is undesirable, it is best to post the notice on a heavy wooden board, which is then hung about the neck of the employee as he walks the streets of the downtown, pursued by laughing mobs and stung by whips. Only then will we achieve a fair and balanced solution to the problem of labour relations.

*You see what I did there, with the diaresis? That's soooo cool. I am no nerd, no way, please keep reading me, I'm begging you.

Do you have a question that deserves a sound beating with knowledge? Email me at askpalinode @ gmail . com.

six to twelve

6:00 - alarm

6:09 - alarm

6:18, 6:27, 6:36, 6:45 - alarm

6:54 - alarm

6:56 - Schmutzie gets up. Seriously late.

7:03 - alarm

7:12 - alarm. Get up.

7:13 - make coffee. Schmutzie in bathroom, talking to cat or self.

7:14 - boil water for eggs

7:18 - eggs placed into hot water without breaking (egg) or burning (hand). First success of the day.

7:32 - Schmutzie says Are eggs done? Get up with alacrity, serve eggs.

7:35 - read salon.com.

7:53 - Schmutzie leaves for work. Still in bathrobe. Running late. Read salon.com.

8:00 - read salon.com

8:10 - read slate.com. Mildly disagree with article's point of view.

8:18 - definitely going to be late. Put on clothes.

8:19 - no fucking clean and ironed shirt?

8:22 - fast frantic ironing of long deep wrinkles into shirt

8:28 - fast frantic ironing out of iron wrinkles

8:30 - pour remaining coffee into thermos

8:30 - where's the fucking thermos?

8:32 - coffee poured. Premonition of thermos failure

8:35 - brush teeth, shave excess facial hair. Run to check clock.

8:39 - Call cab.

8:40 - where's the fucking thermos?

8:41 - find thermos. Stuff book, thermos, wallet into bag and go outside to wait for cab.

8:48 - Didn't the dispatcher say 'right away, sir'? Mental note made to hate dispatcher.

8:49 - cab arrives. Topics discussed include: weather, brevity of autumn, new hotel, old abandoned department store, upcoming musical events. Tabled for discussion: sporting events.

8:53 - Too busy to see the turtles.

8:50 - show up for work. Late. No one notices.

8:54 - look in inbox. Nothing in inbox.

8:55 - check email. Nothing in email.

9:00 - read salon.com

9:02 - remember thermos in bag, remember premonition of thermos failure. Take thermos from bag, unscrew lid.

9:03 - thermos failure. Move all papers off desk, run for paper towel.

9:15 - phone contact to follow up on outstanding report. Contact has quit job. No report forthcoming for forseeable future.

9:30 - decline coffee break invitation from Suzanne

9:40 - get a phone call. Wrong number.

10:00 - decline coffee break invitation from Heather

10:10 - phone Schmutzie with news that Movable Type software is now free

10:45 - go get muffin

10:50 - carrot cake muffin unavailable, choose blueberry

10:52 - visit the turtles. New turtle spied! Second sucess of the day. Makes up for thermos failure.

11:10 - eat muffin back at desk. Almost inedibly sweet. Resolve to eat only half because muffin is so disgusting.

11:12 - entire muffin eaten.

11:20 - realize that, despite resolve, entire muffin eaten.

11:25 - do work

11:30 - about to go to lunch. Receive ridiculous email from department that should know better.

11:35 - track down everyone addressed by ridiculous email. Formulate strategy.

11:40 - calculate value of net pay versus annoyance involved in implementing strategy and following up.

11:45 - resolve to ignore ridiculous email.

11:47 - read salon.com

12:00 - go for lunch

turtles

Lucky me: there are turtles swimming in the fountain in the lobby of my office building. So far I've seen two, although there may be more; they tend to hide out behind the miniature waterfall that rings the trench at the fountain's perimeter. Whatever space lies behind the falling water serves as the turtles' home. The trench is there for our mutual entertainment - at least, I'm hoping that the turtles find us entertaining when they emerge from the waterfall to pull their bodies up on the decorative rocks and stretch their necks out to stare back at us. Are we not equally as strange and ugly to them as they are to us? When my eye meets the dark eye of the turtle, I imagine that its stare communicates the following message - You are amusing to gaze on, Unshelled Thing, and one day you will be my food.

The turtles in the lobby are probably the closest this city gets to a zoo. I believe there are koi ponds in select backyards, and every Easter the ritziest hotel in the city installs a wooden pen full of chicks and bunnies in its lobby. And there's a neurotic parrot at the pet store on North Albert Street. If you close your eyes and imagine all those creatures together in a field, then you've got a really lame zoo. But it's free.

Across the road from my high school you could cut through the woods and come to a river about twenty yards in. It was shallow, fast-flowing, the colour of weak tea. Trout flashed brightly and snapping turtles sat on granite rocks near the bank. Once my girlfriend waded out and picked one the turtles up. She cooed at it while the creature swung its head around on its neck and tried hard to bite at her forearms with its weird curved beak. Once it realized that it couldn't get at her, it pulled its head as far under its shell as it could manage. Snapping turtles aren't generally very good at retracting their body parts under their shells, so it mostly just lowered its head and affected a really pissed-off look. You could tell, as my girlfriend rocked it back and forth, that the turtle had given up on fear and simply decided to wait until it could bite off a thumb.

Ever since then I've admired turtles.

This post, by the way, is my first foray into using Writely, Der Web's spanky free full-feachah word processing app. lication. It's not bad, but in the bottom left hand corner a little strip of text claims that "No one else is editing this document". This phrase, quiet and unassuming, has been taken up by my brain and turned into a deadpan voice muttering into my left ear. This is my personal Voice of Paranoia and Sleep Deprivation, and is usually the first sign that my neurotransmitters are all a' flooey, jumping synapses and pulling out normally dormant regions of my consciousness to the fore. Consequently, I don't feel informed; I feel as if someone at any moment could start editing this document. Someone living in a cave in the heart of a mountain, sitting there with a year's worth of rations and a dial-up connection. Weird bastard.

tuna aforethought

Palinode: Hey, you know that cafeteria where the sandwiches exist in strict hierarchy?

Schmutzie: Of course.

Palinode: Today I abjured the salmon.

Schmutzie: You ‘abjured’ it, did you?

Palinode: Hot diggety dang I did. I bought the tuna instead.

Schmutzie: I won’t eat tuna. I find methods of tuna fishing ethically unacceptable.

Palinode: I can’t believe there’s such an industry for a fish that exists only as compressed flakes.

Schmutzie: Oh that’s gross.

Palinode: But this sandwich one came with a sticky note.

Schmutzie: What did it say?

Palinode: It said ‘tuna’.

Schmutzie: Did it say it once or did it repeat the word ‘tuna’ in a tinny little voice?

Palinode: Plaintively it cried ‘Tuna!’ before subsiding into a susurrant tuna-related monologue.

Schmutzie: What are you going to do with a sticky note that says ‘tuna’?

Palinode: Take it back to the office, affix it to documents, write reminders on it, that sort of thing.

Schmutzie: And let it lull you into an afternoon nap at your desk with its whispering?

Palinode: Heck no. I’m not letting my guard down for some dolorous post-it note and its fishload of troubles.

This post generated on 07/24/06 by the Palischmutz TalkBot. This conversation would have definitely taken place had Schmutzie not been on her coffee break when I called about the sandwich.

coulda been shorter maybe but here ya go

Tourism

For those of you about to rock - sure, I salute you, but first, I want you to ease down on the pre-rock exercises and consider touring all the museums and sites dedicated to the atomic bomb in the United States. Invariably these places sit in the sun-scorched centre of Nowhere At All (so many places are described as being in the middle of nowhere that the middle of nowhere must be pretty damn crowded. In fact, it's probably a bustling metropolis of podunk towns and coworkers' acreages, entire suburbs of nothing but your in-law's retarded cousins and their stupid canola farm), so it's probably best to buy a gigantic old station wagon circa 1974 and load up the back seat with water, Scotch, mushrooms, guns and anti-evolution pamphlets of some kind. The pamphlets will come in handy when the state troopers pull you over; either they'll judge you to be harmlessly crazy or an upstanding example of the values that make America great, never mind your bloodshot eyes, booze-soured sweat and that clenched tooth grin that signals the first prickle of psilocybin along the nerves. Just don't titter at the trooper and you'll do fine.

Filmgoing

Derrida, back in his productive non-dead phase, said in The Other Heading of nations that "it is proper that a society not be identical to itself". This is one of those spongy Derridean statements that keeps on leaking meaning with each squeeze. I'm paraphrasing from seminar courses of the late 1990s, so perhaps I've bent the phrase until it suits my own imaginings, but I've taken it to mean that the State should never assume a unified face, a single monolithic identity that permits itself one interpretation of the world. I would guess that Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union were a bit too identical to themselves for comfort. Perhaps Derrida worried about the prospect of an overidentifying European Union? Gee whillikers, Jacques. You're dead.

Anyway, I think that A Scanner Darkly sheds further light on that spongy tissue statement of Derrida's. As most of you probably know by now, Linklater's film, based on a Philip K. Dick novel, is a near-future sci-fi tale of a narc whose addiction to a drug called Substance D splits his personality to the point that he no longer understands that he's narcing on himself. In my favourite scene in the book, the cop is watching footage of himself and his friends as they tell a particularly pointless, stoned joke. He begins to fast forward through the joke, thirty minutes, forty-five minutes, an hour and a half, but every time he plays the recording, they've only progressed to the next line. The cop is disgusted, at the stoners he's watching, at himself for watching them, at the pointlessness of the whole enterprise.

He's not in the real joke - that he is watching himself but no longer understands who he is, that once he removes his uniform he becomes a criminal. In Dick's novel, the State has looped in on itself, closed the circle of governance on its citizens. The State is both victim and victimized, criminal and enforcer, pusher and junkie, like a person who doesn't recognize his own subconscious and is therefore truly unconscious. Anyway, it hasn't come to any theatres in my city yet, so until then I've got all the Superman Returns and Click I can handle.

Working

I work on the ninth floor of an office/hotel tower. A dirty grey Walmart bag just sailed up past my window, flew over the casino and flopped down in the Canada Post parking lot a few blocks away. It wasn't begging me to come and play with it. It more looked like it was getting punched around brutally, like it had lost an argument with the wind. Man, I love my job.

Later: a huge ugly black cloud, riding in the underside of some high white cirrus clouds, has pushed its way over the city. Tails and tentacles of rain sweep down. The cloud has blocked the sun so completely that streetlights have lit up, the great band of green that covers the suburbs has turned ash-grey, no colours left but a few bright yellow signs and the dark red Hyundai shipping crates in the rail yards.

A little later: Big-ass forky lightning.

Sing it to the tune of "Big Rock Candy Mountain".

Thermos

On the weekend I stopped at a Starbucks to pick up lattes for the family. Only the frothiest of lattes would do, I reasoned, and so Starbuck's it was, for the exceptional froth. In keeping with my abjuration of froth, though, I bought a plain coffee for myself. I don't know what I'm talking about.

While the baristas - three girls who were presumably not related, but who shared some quality of skin and hair that made them very difficult to tell apart - made the froth-related drinks, I poked around the merchandise. Most of it was mildly stylish and extravagantly overpriced, unless you think it's fine to pay twenty five bucks for an ugly ceramic mug with a rubber lid and a stainless steel bottom. That was an "urban stripe coffee mug," and the word urban in a marketing context makes me think of Billy Dee Williams, which then makes me think of Billy Dee Williams working in some office somewhere drinking Colt 45 from his urban stripe mug and frantically chewing breath mints before he stumbles into a board meeting, and then I picture him trying to hook up the digital projector to his powerful new notebook computer for the Powerpoint presentation that he and his assistant have worked on all night, but his nerves are sheathed in a mitten of liquor and he just can't do it. He drops the laptop, kicks it across the room, trips over a chair and upsets the flip chart. He hits the carpet and crawls under the boardroom table, all the while saying "It's alright folks. I'm alright!" And that's how I picture Billy Dee Williams losing his high-powered office job.

On the clearance table sat the few last sad novelty items that people buy for holiday occasions. One of them was a little fake golf bag with a stainless steel dildo-bullet of a thermos inside. The item, once priced an appalling thirty six dollars, had been reduced to thirteen ninety nine, since the item was such a transparent grab at the Father's Day market. Once the spell of the Official Buying Event had worn off, the nifty golf bag-shaped carrying case revealed a tackiness rare for the usual reserve of Starbuck's. Therefore it had been exiled to the clearance table, tainted by deep discount. Operating on the same impulse that compels me to adopt the sickest and ugliest cat at the pound, I took it home with me and the frothy drinks.

I can't understand why the staff hadn't tossed the novelty case and simply sold the thermos, which retailed on its own for about thirty dollars. Price it at twenty-five and it would have moved off the shelf in no time flat. Was the manager so slavishly attached to procedure that she refused to alter the product? Or was she simply invested in the notion of the item as a single object, existing independently of its component parts? If that was the case, then I had actually bought three items instead of just two: the little fake golf bag, the thermos, and the novelty gift item of a thermos in a little fake golf bag. What a deal. And it also gave rise to the following brief conversation:

Palinode: So, did you like my thermos?
Schmutzie: Sure. I guess. Is there anything special about your thermos to like?
Palinode: No, it's just a nice thermos. What's the matter, you don't like a thermos?
Schmutzie: I don't like a thermos?
Palinode: That's the message I'm getting here.
Schmutzie: You don't say a thermos. You say 'I like thermoses' or 'I like that thermos'.
Palinode: Well, you don't seem to like any thermoses, so I don't think you'd be using either of those phrases. In fact, I'm starting to think that you hate a thermos.
Schmutzie: I don't 'hate a thermos'.
Palinode: Oh you do. You hate a thermos. This talk of a thermos, it gets you all het up.
Schmutzie: What does that even mean?
Palinode: I'm employing the vernacular.
Schmutzie: [silence]
Palinode: It lends authenticity to a conversation.

The best part of that conversation was that we were sitting next to each other on a bus and she couldn't get up and leave.

mental blog space

Lynn o' Sprigs commented to me the other day, in one of our all-night wine-guzzlin' poetry-debatin' french-phrase-employin' sessions, that my new job seemed to be affording me ample time (un abondance de temps) for my weblog. I told her that it was not a matter of time but of mental blog space, or l'espace mental pour blog, as I actually said. In French and all, because it was a high-minded intellectual type talk.

She liked the phrase. I liked the fact of mental blog space. Which is exactly what this job affords me. I had plenty of face time with a computer in my last job, but I found myself so crushingly bored and irritated that I had nothing to offer people but crabbed cryptic lines of despair. Who wants to read that? I don't want to read something like that. I certainly didn't want to write it. Consequently I wrote less and less, increasingly convinced that what I had to say was of no interest to anyone.

In retrospect, I probably should have complained online. I should have screamed out loud and rolled around in some fine stinky self-pity. Then you all, in your wisdom and kindness, would have told me what my smart and spanky spouse had been telling me: your job sucks, you have no support mechanisms there, and you're typically left to dangle and then made to feel as if it's your fault. I did not see this at the time. My job previous to that, which was really my first full-time work, had been such a chaotic mess that anything looked good after that. It was a small independent production company created and run by people who, for all their fine qualities, did not know how to run a production company. It was like a top that constantly had to be kept spinning or it would just hit the ground and carome off under the couch (stupid top). They promoted an atmosphere in which everyone had a say, which seemed egalitarian at the time, but which I now suspect was a ploy to get a whole lot of input for very little investment. Or an attempt at a ploy.

Plus one of the producers was a drunk who would show up red-faced, stuttering with drunkenness as he eased himself into his office after lunch, eyes swimming in a bath of pure vodka. Eventually he quit drinking. This was even worse, because the alcohol turned out to be sedating a detail-oriented bully. He still didn't know the first thing about his job, but now we had to deal with him stomping into our offices and shouting at us, fists on hips, all dressed up in a lifetime's worth of humiliation and looking for some pride. His behaviour became so predictable that it took on a ritual quality. The call of "Where's that goddamn deal memo?" demanded the response "I put it on your desk last week," which in turn prompted a "Well, I don't have it". Then you'd fish out the deal memo from underneath a pile of field tapes in the edit suite and put it back in his inbox. Twenty minutes later he'd walk by your office with the deal memo in his hand, on his way to the edit suite to yell at the latest editor (our editors would quit regularly, or walk off with the hard drives) and leave the deal memo on a shelf or something. The memo would go unsigned, the funding deadline would pass, the broadcasters would get more and more pissed off. The blame would slide off him and splash over us. We hated him.

So it's pretty obvious that my next job looked like the manna that comes down from the heaven. Where Company 1 was all Dionysian chaos (right down to the drink), company 2 was pure Apollonian order. Comp 2 had figured out a method for refining the creativity of young people and extracting pure profit. The production process was Taylorist in its zeal for monitoring employee time. The CEO gathered us all together at one point and announced that every minute of our work day that wasn't spent working was a minute stolen from the company. That's right: talking to coworkers constituted theft. They also had a policy manual, which was constantly being expanded as new situations arose. One day an employee showed up with a shirt that showed her poky nipples. Within a few days the policy manual was revised to include the stipulation that "employees must wear appropriate undergarments". The girl was fired for some other infraction, but the truth of the matter there was: if you do something that requires a revision of policy, you're on your way out. Especially if the policy changed involves nipples.

Atop the policy sat a shifting layer of agreements and documents that we would occasionally be compelled to sign, reprimands, discipline, reviews, little documents of understanding that we had broken some rule or other, that we understood the nature of our offense and would not be so foolish as to commit it again. From the point of view of management, the documentation looked perfectly reasonable; it was a record, a means of protection, a way of backing up management’s position in case of dispute. Because disputes were common enough there to warrant that kind of bureaucratic ass-covering.

What I didn’t really get at the time, even when I ended up in middle management, was that the low-level ambient paranoia, in which employees are seen as a liability more than a resource, was built into the company’s strategy. Hire young people, work them hard for next to nothing with lousy training until they burn out or get fired, and then hire the next crop. Don’t spend more than a week training, because that costs. You’ll end up with low morale and a bunch of productions that are okay but not great. And you’ll be extremely successful. There are always young people with energy and naïveté to parasitize. The model ran more like a fast food outlet than a film production company.

So that was the role of a producer at Company 2: something like a shift manager at the Burger King. Your job was to make sure that the employees were keeping up with the demand for delicious flame-grilled burgers, plunging those crisp fries into the hot fat and releasing just the right amount of refreshing soda into each company-mandated drink container. If you could keep those slackers in line and keep the customers from getting pissed off, you were one heck of a shift manager. And shift managers do not get mental blog space.

matter and meeting

Invective against matter

Mass is a scam. For that matter, matter is a scam, a put-on by a demented demiurge, a trick bending of the substrate sent by the devil to piss us all off mightily. I should know, because myself and Die Schmutzige spent the long weekend stuffing and shoving matter into boxes also made of matter, and then shuttling all that lame matter over to a new apartment. It was all matter, it was all heavy, and every last gram of it had to be moved through space. And it took time. Three days of lifting, shifting, hauling, sweating, cramping, cleaning and finally going to the storage place at the edge of town to store the last of your ex-girlfriend's crap that you've had for three years and you're sick of looking at it time. I threw my back out. Rod threw up. Deron turned red. Schmutzie's blood ran with hot black bitterness. Aaron was too hungover from a pirate-themed party to show.

Why didn't we hire people to come and move all that matter for us? Schmutzie believes it was because we don't have mountains of cash. This is only true if you consider a mountain to be particularly big. We did have enough cash for movers to pack up our junk in three hours. The truth is that we are assholes who decided to starve the local moving and cleaning industries of revenue. Our local economy is poorer because of us, and we have no one to blame but, um, neoconservatives or something. No wait! Let me refer you to the original theme and blame matter. It's no wonder that so many people harbour those fond hopes of dropping the body off at death and leaping into another dimension as pure energy. It's soulerific! No more matter. Goodbye gravity! Time, off with you. You can have my old matter. It sucked anyway.

Now our new apartment is full of matter - the same stupid matter that threw out my back and stole the long weekend from us. Why are we inviting this matter into our new place? Because it has our coffee maker.

on the meeting

In my last job I was spared an excess of meetings. Usually they were small ad hoc affairs of two or three people, convened to address a particular issue and dissolved like spit in the wind. Every Wednesday we were forced to sit through a production meeting, but those usually functioned as a relief from the unending irritation of convincing my staff to go the extra mile for no money and less credit. Now I have come to the World of Meetings. Civil service is a theme park for office life, which is a metaphor I am not going to pursue. Flippy charts and Powerpoint shows, stuffy rooms all over the city, and grumpy folk who regard you with suspicion (after all, you are now The Gub'mint).

Beyond the scale of two-four people, meetings, I feel, accomplish nothing beyond the obligatory agreement to have a follow-up meeting. They have the feel of a high school pop quiz, in which you wonder if your expertise is suddenly going to be called on in ways for which you're not prepared and had never imagined. Nonetheless, the meeting is so central to office life that there are training sessions available on running effective meetings.

Running an effective meeting turns on one thing only: preventing boredom. Because meetings are boring. You sit and sit and listen and daydream and occasionally eat a donut. The lights are too bright, and then the projector starts up and you're offered darkness in which to doze. One of the topics in meeting effectiveness involves Powerpoint presentations. The only effective Powerpoint presentation is the one that gets dumped out the window, along with the illegible handouts and uninformative notes. I'd give my left toe for a meeting that put aside the Powerpoint and substituted an eloquent speaker at ease with the subject matter and confident enough to merit the attention of a roomful of semi-glazed crullers attendees.

That's right, I'd give my left toe. I've only got two.

sandwich kings, sandwich queens

O long afternoon, O office light, by fiber of file folder and grey grain of ceiling tile, you try us. You try our souls. You try on our souls and walk off with them. But then Schmutzie calls.

...

Schmutzie: How are things working out in the new job?

Palinode: (confidential and dull), but even better than that are the coffee breaks. All the analysts and coordinators go the Sears cafeteria for their breaks.

Schmutzie: Why the Sears cafeteria?

Palinode: Partly because civil servants gravitate towards weak crappy coffee and cafeteria-style restaurants. It satisfies an urge to queue. And because you can get there by a series of second story walkways and thereby avoid the hideous direct sunlight.

Schmutzie: Do they have a plethora of food items?

Palinode: A plethora, of course. But what's really weird is the fact that the ham and cheese sandwiches are the most expensive sandwiches they've got.

Schmutzie: But that makes no sense.

Palinode: Exactly!

Schmutzie: What kinda twisted logic are they working on?

Palinode: I've taken the opportunity to suss it out. Sears cafeteria sandwiches exist in a strict three-tiered heirarchy based on ingredients. Would you like details?

Schmutzie: I would appreciate your cogent sandwich heirarchy analysis.

Palinode: Oh yeah. At the lowest tier, the peasantry of the sandwich world, squat the egg salad and the cheese sandwich, generously gifted with margarine. Note that these are not strictly meat but meat byproducts, attempts by animals to generate and nourish. They are diverted in their attempts by human industry. Condemned by their failure, they cower between slices of bread and endure the squalor that naturally accompanies their lot. You follow me so far?

Schmutzie: I do. Please tell me about the next tier.

Palinode: The second tier of sandwiches represent the merchants, artisans and early sandwich capitalists. Or something. They are distinctly and proudly primary protein. Roast beef, chicken salad, turkey breast. But here's the weird thing.

Schmutzie: Something's different than weird here?

Palinode: On the top tier, the $4 elite of sandwiches, two sandwiches, king and queen, reign both. One is salmon, plutonian lord of long-chain fatty acids. The other is ham and cheese.

Schmutzie: A ham and cheese sandwich cost four bucks. That's ridiculous.

Palinode: Now we see the brute arithmetic of sandwich society. Cheese is at level 1. Ham is at level 2. 1 plus 2 naturally equals 3, therefore ham and cheese is the queen of all sandwiches.

Schmutzie: And salmon is king.

Palinode: Of course. Do you think they'd be ruled by two queens? Sandwich society is pretty conservative.

the job

Today the stuff that's been rumour, been half guesswork and hope, been smoke for the last few days, desmoked itself. I have a job! A job-job type job, to quote Somebody from Some Movie, probably Resevoir Dogs, don't know for sure, why am I thinking about it? I've got a job again.

This one places me in an office, 8:30-4:30 weekdays, window in one wall, laptop buzzing on the desk and me secure in a civil service job. Goodbye private sector, with your drive for competition and storied ethic of much work for low pay, your rigged game for old white guys with tiny attache cases. Good morning government, with your sick days and Earned Days Off, your quiet halls, your job security and your bored bitter people who've traded energy and optimism for a steady paycheque.

As of Monday, I am a junior policy analyst for the provincial Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation. I was hired for my expertise in the cultural side of things, since I'm no longer a youth and am not interested in recreating things. What will I do? I will analyze policy. Juniorly.

Some might describe this job change and apartment change (we're moving at month's end) as part of a journey of personal growth and spiritual fulfillment. Some might say that I am walking a path that only I may traverse, and that I have jumped over a chasm, and that, having landed on the other side, I may look back at where I have come from and see it anew. Others might say that it's just a bunch of stuff that's happened and it doesn't mean anything. I say it's a chance to write in my weblog more often, since these kinds of jobs often provide ample time for that kind of thing.

I'm telling the internet because people have been emailing my wife to ask her if I have a job yet. Why are people doing this? I don't email someone to ask them about my spouse's employment situation, especially when I could just ask the spouse. Ask me. I'll tell you. Except a couple of people have asked me, and I haven't told them. Sorry, Mathew. Sorry, Maarmie.

Some astute folk may have noticed that I wrote about a job earlier this week. After some thought I turned it down, mostly because I wasn't interested in hustling for my money at this stage of my life. On top of which, the project would have required me to spend lots of time interviewing convicted sex offenders. Which may somebody's idea of a good time, but not mine. Sex offenders are usually emotionally stunted adults who have no insight into their own behaviour and no notion of their victims as real people. Who wouldn't want to hang out with people like that for a few months, following them around with a film crew, accidentally instilling in their empty souls a sense of inflated self-importance and a twisted notion of worth by becoming part of the vast airy spectacle of celebrity?

goodbye party

Last weekend, in their infinite kindness and corporate grace, the folks at my former company held a goodbye/ good luck/ don't go 'way mad party for me. It was held at the suburban McMansion of the Business Affairs Manager, who had multipurposed the affair into a benefit poker tournament for a benefit relay race for an umbrella charity group. Call it a two-tier trickle-down party with positive ramifications for everyone in the community. Except the neighbours.

When I showed up, ferried there by a cabdriver so good-natured that I suspected some kind of brain trauma lurking in his past, it became clear that the party was shaping up differently than I'd expected. The driveway and garage were packed with strangers, smoking and drinking from broad red plastic cups. They were all young, tanned, at least ten years younger than me,* the men with fitted shirts and faded jeans, the women with most of their breasts scooped out of their blouses and suspended for display. Having spent the last few years of my life downtown, I never ran into these kinds of people. I always wondered where they went for their cannibal sex orgies parties.

I waved at them in passing, shook a couple of hands on the way in, and found my former colleagues around the kitchen table playing Texas hold 'em. At least that's what they called it – I have absolutely no schooling in the variations of poker, knowing only that higher cards and lots of them are good. The host pointed at the fridge. “Aidan. Aidan. Go open the fridge and take a look”. I cracked the door open and witnessed what must be every frat boy's Friday night aspiration – a fridge crammed with cans of Coors Lite, silver cylinders at every available angle tucked around pizza boxes and bottles of white wine. “Go ahead there, buddy” called the host, “Take one. Have as many as you want”. I cracked one open and took a swig, wondering just how many I'd have to knock back to actually get drunk.

The drink situation seen to, I sat down at the table with the poker players. For food there was a mostly eaten shrimp ring, a few swiped-at daubs of cocktail sauce at the centre, shrimp tails littering the gutter along the rim. According to Jeff, the real food was supposed to arrive at 10:30 when Angela came. At least I knew that nothing was going to get between me and the precious alcohol locked away in these cans of light beer. I tipped most of the rest of the can down my throat.

I joined the poker game. My understanding of the rules had grown so vague that I kept on throwing out terms in hopes that one of them would fit the situation. I would throw in two chips and say “I bluff!” or hit the table twice, which may or may not have meant something. I held fast to two rules: keep saying poker-related words and never fold. This lost me all my chips repeatedly, but I figured that sooner or later pure chance would keep me in the game for two consecutive hands.

At first the table found my style endearing, but after twenty minutes or so it was clear that even the most even-tempered of them were losing patience. “What are the face-up cards in the middle of the table for?” I asked, rightly deducing a relationship between them and the pair I held carefully to my chest.

Anita, who was a lot drunker than I'd thought, lost it.

“Aidan!” she called out. “You're a loser! You're a loser at this game! I've never played it before and I'm way better than you!” Later that evening she announced to a roomful of coworkers and strangers alike that obese people made her angry, but for the moment my non-mad poker skills served as the object of her anger.

“Where did you learn poker?” asked the guy sitting next to me, who'd been giving me advice like 'Don't hold your cards out' and 'No, the white chips are yours, those ones are mine'.

“I played a few rounds in 1989,” I answered.

“Dude!” he scoffed. “How old were you in 1989?”

“Eighteen,” I said.

The guy's face seemed to turn colour slightly. If he hadn't expected to end up seated next to such a lousy poker player, he definitely didn't expect a certified grownup to be so bad at the game. I watched his eyes refocus, scan my face, trying to reassemble a picture of me that accorded with the data.

“I look young,” I said.

“Yeah. Yeah, you do,” he said.

“Am I supposed to show my cards now?” I asked.

I caught a brief creas of confusion across his brow. “No," he said. "You don't show your cards in poker”.

“You never count your money either,” I added. The guy nodded and went back to his cards, satisfied that I was a moron.

I took another beer and went in search of food. A brief search turned up some bottles of vodka, a stack of bibles and a weight set in the basement, and a room that contained nothing but a laser strobe and a stereo on the floor blasting rap music. “Bitch, please!” the stereo screamed. “You fuckin' with some real O.G.s!” True dat, I thought. But I couldn't help wonder why a song trying so hard to be hardcore sounded kind of bitchy and gay. Was Snoop Dogg trying to reclaim a saying from the argot of urban gay culture? Was it negative capability? Or blatant appropriation of voice? Then the shuffle function dipped further down the intellectual register and started up a Toby Keith song.

Every party has its preferred spot, a piece of carpet or linoleum or asphalt where all the smartest conversation, the loudest laughter, the best drugs, are located. The best parties have several spots (the worst have no spots, just a few people sitting on a couch playing video games and staring blankly at everyone who shows up). I found the first spot of the night at the foot of the driveway, right between a Honda Civic and a Z-28. My colleagues from the poker game had gathered to smoke and escape the rap-country blend being pumped through the house.

Anita was barefoot, flicking her skirt back and forth and sloshing a martini around. Her body seemed consumed by a jittery greenish energy that only increased as she dragged on her cigarette and threw more vodka down her throat. I gathered from her conversation with Chad that she had just finished a strict exclusion diet and discovered, to her great delight, that it was wheat gluten, not alcohol, that had been plaguing her digestive and nervous systems for years. If ever there were reason to go and get absolutely hammered, this would be it.

As Anita danced back and forth, my former assistant director – let's call him Mike – was telling me what I thought was an elaborate joke.

“Okay, Aidan. I started dating this girl a few weeks ago. Last weekend, we go to this party but I'm getting over the flu”. Mike was always somewhere between catching and recovering from the flu. “I don't feel so good so I tell her I have to leave. She gets mad at me because she thinks I'm ditching her. Which couldn't be further from the truth. So I go home and she sleeps with two of my best friends”.

He took a drag on his cigarette. I waited for the punchline. “And?” I said.

Mike gave me a blank look.

“That night?” said Chad.

Mike nodded. “That very night”.

“What a slut,” said Chad

“She doesn't know I know,” said Mike.

“What, you're serious?” I asked. “I thought you were making a joke”.

Mike shook his head and swigged his beer.

“She slept with Rob right after I left, and then they went to Charlie's and she had sex with Charlie later that night. That's how she got revenge on me for ditching her”.

Which couldn't be further from the truth, I thought. “How's it revenge if you're not supposed to know about it?”

Mike shrugged. “I don't know. Now she's really mad because I haven't spoken to her since. She thinks I'm just avoiding her. She doesn't know I'm actually disgusted with her”.

A car pulled up and disgorged a group of teenage girls with improbable heels and glitter spangling their faces and chests. Mike recognized one of them and waved her over. As Mike talked with a couple of sparkly girls, Chad wandered over to me and laid his hand on my shoulder.

“Aidan, Aidan, Aidan,” he said. “I'm going to miss you”. Then he flipped open his cellphone and turned the screen to my face. “Take a look at what I was doing a few days ago”.

I looked at the little screen. In a bathtub two girls covered in suds were soaping each other and laughing. Chad flipped through several more photos of the girls grabbing at different parts of each other's bodies and throwing handfuls of suds at each other.

“That's my girlfriend,” Chad announced. I resisted the urge to ask which one he was referring to.

He flipped the phone shut and dropped it back into his shirt pocket. “The rest aren't suitable for public viewing,” he said, and wandered off to find more beer. I was missing the room with the stereo.

Mike leaned towards me. “I used to date that girl,” he intoned. “She's filthy. Really”.

I realized then that I was fucking with some real O.G.'s.

mellow staff blend

I take back all the bad things that I've said or intimated about work. According to a company-wide email, "There is a personnel blender in the kitchen area for staff to use. If you use it please wash it out". The phrase 'personnel blender' doesn't just amuse; it flat-out makes me happy. I murmur the phrase and the endorphins roll gently over my body, as in a tropical tidal pool at twilight. It's approaching the status of a mantra - got work stress? 'Personnel blender'. Your lover turned cold? 'Personnel blender'. Landlordsaystherentislate/ mayhavetolitigate? 'Personnel blender'. And 'kill Bobby McFerrin'. Note: If you're curious about the most effective stress-relieving way to say 'personnel blender,' give me a call. Or pester me for a podcast.

The key is not to think about the phrase too long. Or at all. The implications involving blended personnel form part of a train that boards at Camp Horror Station and terminates at Saddam Grinder Junction. But for some reason, even the image of blended personnel doesn't damp my happy engine. As long as it gets washed out, I'm fine.

There was also an email to announce that the 'plumping company' would be coming by on Thursday. No doubt there's some Ball Park Franks on the loose in the basement. I say unleash the personnel blender on them.

q and a

I've been working out some answers to questions that people pepper me with on the job. For some reason, people seem to think that it's okay to approach a complete stranger and jack information from me about my life, the contents of my luggage, the weight and cost of our equipment, what have you. I realize that what I do is perceived as part of the Fame Machine, and therefore I have no more expectation of privacy than a hapless celebrity wandering down a Main Street in some Midwestern town, but it's still odd and sometimes incredibly irritating to deal with a passerby calling out: Hey, what's in your suitcase? It's a bit like walking into an office and saying So... what you got in your desk? How much does that file cabinet cost? And so on. Here are some responses I give out to the most commonly offered questions and conversational gambits.



  • Q: Hey, what's in your suitcase?


  • A: Some guy who owes me money.

    This is a great all-purpose response in most parts of the world, usually eliciting a laugh from the curious. In the Florida Keys, though, people will take you seriously.




  • Q: What are you filming?


  • A: Well, this is kind of embarassing, really, because we've been making a documentary on you for the last ten years, and you've finally noticed us.



  • Q: What kind of film stock do you use for that camera?


  • A: The fuck you care, buddy?

    That's not the answer I give, but man, do I ever get tired of people staring like mules at a Betacam and asking about film stock.




  • Q: How much does that camera cost?


  • A: Around forty thousand dollars.

    Even though it's not wise to announce to strangers that you're carrying the price of a sports car on your shoulder, it's too much fun to see their eyes defocus and their mouths try to chew out a response to that.




  • Q: Are you news reporters?


  • A: Yes, the event we're covering happened fifty years ago and we just heard about it in Canada. We're hot on its trail.



  • Q: Are you making a student film?


  • A: Yes, we're making a student documentary about student disasters for student networks all over the student world. The students hired us because they're so busy studying.



  • Q: You must have enough Air Miles to go anywhere in the world, hey?


  • A: We fly on a special magic rock. Sometimes crew members fall off and the company pretends that they've quit and gone partying in Thailand.



  • Q: You must find your work very interesting.


  • A: Could you phrase that as a question? I'm trying to maintain a format.



  • Q: Don't you find your work interesting?


  • A: Oh yes, very interesting, thank you, thank you, it's fascinating, and rewarding too, you wouldn't believe the rewards, and all the people I meet, yes I meet all kinds of interesting people, and oh the things I see and the places I go, feel free to live vicariously through me for thirty seconds, and yes it's hard because I miss my wife, and no we don't have any children, but yes there'll be quite a homecoming ha ha, she'll be so sore when I get through with her, oh yes, oh I can see I got a bit carried away there and you're not smiling anymore and we're still setting up, oh damn.