Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Anatomy of an Hour

8:17 a.m. -- Walk into building. Hang coat up. Walk upstairs to cubicle. Turn on computer. Unsuccessful. Change password. Successful reboot. Decide against clicking on Outlook to check mail, fearing an avalanche of tasks will descend before taking seat at desk. Blinking light on phone indicates the presence of stored voicemail message(s).

8:23 a.m. -- Grab coffee mug, find tea bag, get tiny creamer from refrigerator. After inspecting level of sediment in mug, wash vigorously with detergent, rinse, wipe dry. Exchange brief pleasantries with colleague at sink.

8:27 a.m. -- Upon walking to hot-water dispenser, thinking about urinating but postponing the action, get paged to answer phone call from client on line 31. Put mug down, near tea bag and creamer on colleague's unoccupied desk to take call.

8:28 a.m. -- Pick up line 31. Empty. Client has hung up.

8:29 a.m. -- Go to bathroom. Urinate. Wash hands. Attempt to dry with paper towel. No paper towels. Wipe hands on underarms.

8:34 a.m. -- Search unsuccessfully for mug, tea bag, and creamer. Get paged. Call on line 32. From wife. Go to receptionist's desk, pick up line 32. Learn that the lunch self-prepared earlier this morning is still sitting on the kitchen table. Instruct that it be placed in the refrigerator at home. Call on line 31. From client. Pick up line 31 at front desk. Client scolds for not taking earlier call. Ask receptionist for Post-it or scrap paper by waving hands, lifting eyebrows, and making spastic motions. Other calls coming in. Receptionist demands that call on line 31 be put on hold and responded to away from receptionist's desk, to free up incoming calls.

8:37 a.m. -- Take client's call on line 31, at own desk. Client asks if email has been received. Lie by saying, "Yes" but bluff through the rest of the client's monologue as client lists edits to five bulleted items, including reordering and adding new bullets and deleting others. Take notes on last week's pay stub found in pocket because Post-its left on desk last night have been used by others. While client is talking, cradle phone in curve of shoulder and attempt to retrieve email client is referring to. Email is down. Interrupt client and cheerily ask for edits in a fax, claiming email never came through, totally contradicting earlier lie. Client turns frosty. Reach for mug. It's not there. Feebly attempt humor with client. Starchy reply, emphasizing deadline. While client is making key critical comment, call is lost from client's cellphone.

8:45 a.m. -- Rush downstairs, find mug, place tea bag in mug, fill with hot water. Walk upstairs to desk, letting tea steep. No creamer. Sip very hot tea despite wanting creamer. Try email. Still down. Click on Internet Explorer. Home page headline reads: "5 Tips for a More Productive Day." Click on link; glance at five bulleted items; resist reading complete article; send printer-friendly version of article to printer. Take one quick look at NCAA brackets. Resist urge to read further. Send NCAA bracket results to printer. Walk three yards to printer. Only NCAA results print out.

8:52 a.m. -- Ask receptionist to check on UPS package sent last night to another client. Not there yet. No record of it in the system. Ask receptionist to follow up.

8:53 a.m. -- Supervisor enters office and asks for draft of proposal promised by noon. In response to protests it is not yet noon, says, "Well, it's noon somewhere." Receptionist phones, informing of nine-page fax to be picked up downstairs.

8:56 a.m. -- Run downstairs, retrieve fax, run to refrigerator, pick up creamer. Run upstairs back to office.

8:57 a.m. -- Take gulp of tea, now cold, but with creamer. Email is up: 36 messages, three with symbols indicating high urgency.

9:01 a.m. -- Scroll to message of client who called earlier on line 31. Faxed version of edits is completely different. Begin to call client. Get paged. Doctor's office. Line 33. Get paged again. Client from earlier line 31 now on line 32. Client berates for not calling back on cellphone sooner. Client walks through a now-third version of edits significatly different from emailed version or faxed version. Client then interrupts self. Can't finish revisions, must board plane. Doctor's office not on line 33 anymore.

9:11 a.m. -- Call doctor's office. Receptionist puts call on hold. Background music is "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles. Click on one of two urgent emails. Email message inquires as to reason for missing yesterday's regulatory deadline. Delete message.

9:13 a.m. -- Doctor's office answers; asks name again. Hang up.

9:14 a.m. -- Client calls with edit from plane; flight delayed. Hang up.

9:15 a.m. -- Take sip of cold tea. Grab coat and keys. Walk downstairs.

9:16 a.m. -- Sign out, writing: "Appointment in Samarra." Exit building.

9:17 a.m. -- Outside, on bottom step in front of stairs to office, call doctor's office on cellphone. Busy. Call X, in another time zone. X answers call, says: "Surrender to win," laughs, hangs up. A jet flies into a bank of clouds.

© copyright 2007 by The Laughorist. Any resemblance to reality or real persons, places, events, workplaces, things, or thoughts is merely coincidental. All rights reserved. Just for today, the day you are reading this fiction nonfiction.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tsk Tsk, Multitaskers!

I told you so.

I've posted many times about the futility of so-called multitasking, a word incidentally spawned from computer-geek talk.

As noted in an article in yesterday's New York Times, recent findings by neuroscientists, psychologists, management professors (try managing in the real world), and The Laughorist indicate the following:

  • "Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes." -- David E. Mayer, cognitive scientist
  • "Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ablity to process information." -- David E. Mayer
  • "...a core limitation [of the human brain] is an inability to concentrate on two things at once." -- Rene Marois, neuroscientist
  • "We are under the impression that we have this brain that can do more than it often can." -- Rene Marois
  • "The older people think more slowly, but they have a faster fluid intelligence..." -- Martin Westwell, 36, deputy director of the Institute for the Future of the Mind, at Oxford University
  • "I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task." -- Eric Horvitz, Microsoft research scientist
  • "Nah nuh nah nuh nan ah! 'Age quod agis' rules!" -- Pawlie Kokonuts, The Laughorist
Incidentally, the Times juxtaposed this page 1 story with a story immediately above it about Sierra Leone diamond miners who make $1 a day or less. I guess they don't have to worry about, um, multitasking. Multiasking (for justice) is more the reality.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Snapple Wisecrackle and Pop!

You know those little "factuals" that accompany your victuals (properly pronounced 'vi-tils) that you find on the inside of Snapple bottle caps? (Click on the preceding Snapple link for examples of random "Real Facts.")

Well, The Washington Post asked readers to invent humorous "Unreal Facts," obviously neither as real nor as factual as those items on the inside of Snapple lids, but much funnier.

The results are very clickable, linked here from today's Style Invitational.

It will be hard for you not to pass these along.


Or should I say, "Bottoms up!"?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

They Might Be Jints

Hope springs eternal -- as in spring training. Or at least temporarily eternal. Or maybe not at all. This unreasonable, illogical, and typically futile springtime hoping began for me sometime between the winter of 1954 and the spring of 1955. I had asked my brother, Richard, whom he rooted for. The New York Giants, was his answer. And it's been my answer from then until now. I kept a scrapbook in those Polo Grounds days; it consisted of pasted-in news clippings and baseball cards, including the card of my beloved Willie Mays and even Johnny Antonelli, who threw left and batted right and had a unibrow, all just like me. (Note the "pasted in"; that means the Willie Mays card is decidedly not worth hundreds of dollars, not that I'm selling any of it.) (Another time I'll write about my Willie Mays hero worship: trying to call him when I was 10 years old; how he influenced my attitudes toward race; how I imagined I was number 24 in the field.) I stuck with the Giants even when they left New York and abandoned me, left to listen to corny (but believable to me) re-creations of games by Les Keiter on WINS 1010, as a tickertape fed his contrived play-by-play backed up by sound effects; stuck with them despite a three-hour time difference owing to San Franciso's distance 3,000 miles away (I sent away to the Chamber of Commerce ask information about this place (they obliged by sending a brochure); remained faithful largely because of The Say Hey Kid, and all the elan and verve and reckless fun and drama he brought to the field and beyond; even remained faithful after my moving back to the NYC metro area, when the Mets were there to watch in person, or on TV, or on radio. I admit to having flirted with fan-adultery then (fantasizing an affair with the Mets), but whenever my boys came into town I could not root against them, especially after meeting Nick Harrigan on the No. 7 train after a game at Shea in 1979 or 1980 (Nick who had seen every Giants game in New York since the 1930s if memory serves); nor could I in 1978 after wearing an SF cap on my head at a game in Pittsburgh where I had a press pass and got to interview the likes of Vida Blue and Willie McCovey and John Montefusco -- with a Giants cap on for heaven's sake.

It would be easier to give it all up. Especially after the nightmare of 2002, which bears no repeating here.

The skin is thicker; the passion has waned; the naive optimism tempered -- for the Giants at least.

I rarely see them in person; it's been years. The Internet has replaced those days of dialing in games from as far away as Pittsburgh, Saint Louis, Cincinnati -- even Chicago or Atlanta on a night with a rare, good skip with little static.

The gods have left Mount Olympus, and all the seams are worn.
The hero's in the grandstands with all his memories torn.
I can hardly find the paper's box score
With all the news of war.

And as for this year's Giants, they've put me in a downright subjunctive mood. (I was indicatively captivated yesterday, browsing at Borders, by Michele Morano's winning essay on the subjunctive mood; I would check her out if I were you, before our language loses the last of this dying breed, the subjunctive.)

Might is the operative word.

Might be pretty good; might be mediocre; might even be awful.

But I most likely won't fret much, no matter which way it all goes.

After all, Willie's on the sidelines -- and he's coaching Mr. Bonds.

(See, can't help it. Just checked. The boys lost today, 10-9. Could, might, would, may be a harbinger of things to come.)

P.S. Sorry, my friend, Michael Christelman. Still can't stand the Dodgers, even though you have a better team this year. Up for a friendly wager?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Boozerangs and Other Hangovers

Boozerang, n. The boomeranglike negative effects of alcohol consumption.

Of course, that's what a hangover is, isn't it? A fatal-feeling slice back into the orbital lobe of one's consciousness:
what did I do, what did I say? whom did I offend? Except that the boozerang's path sometimes sweeps far and wide, swirling into the paths of other memories, other psyches, other souls. There's no known quick cure for this. Time, wishful thinking, and the hope that one's boozerang-flooded memory errs -- those are some of the healing ingredients. And add a dash of resolve that this will never happen again.

Maybe it's a cheap shot to launch such a headache-inducing post on the day after St. Patrick's Day, so let's cast a much wider net:

No doubt, there are other hangovers besides my newly coined boozerang. We all tend to contend with these on The Day After The Day Before:

  • the hangover of sober memory (did I really do that? how could I have said that?)

  • the regret of squandered opportunity (if I only had spent my time and energy doing...)

  • the fatalism of loss (I didn't then, so I can't ever)

  • the corrosion of resentment (the parenthetical, if not hypothetical, prison of past poison)

  • the return to one's senses (I thought it was so great, now I'm not so sure...)

And the cure for all these?

Exalt in the day;

surrender to the moment, awash in gratitude,

celebrating the is-ness of it all,

sung with the cardinal and the finch,

the silent cat and the snoozing dog,

the meandering cloud and lazy sun,

the melting ice and budding branch.

(The term "boozerang" and its definition, © copyright 2007 by The Laughorist.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Croagh Patrick Triptych

Croagh Patrick, County Mayo, Ireland, on the road from Louisburgh to Westport, with an elevation of 2,513 feet, overlooking Clew Bay, scene of pilgrimages today and August 15 and Reek Day (the last Sunday in July), where St. Patrick is said to have fasted and prayed for 40 days in Lent in 441, where I climbed part of the way last October, and where I strayed from the path looking for a shortcut to a mysterious bowl-shaped landform, only to encounter boggy, soggy meadows of green and a rock with shamrock-shaped lichen, and where, back on the "normal," rocky path, Fintan with a flinty smile and walking stick told me,"You don't want to be doing that, I've tried it, and anyway that's where Patrick cast the demons."

Three Haiku

misty cloud shadows
simmering sunlight bursting
verdant moss islands

Clew Bay horizon
invigorating crispness
birthday calls Stateside

Patrick's spirit lurks
pilgrims trekking up and down
gleeful light airy

All blessings on St. Patrick's Day.

For a splendid biography, I recommend The Wisdom of St. Patrick, by the inestimable Greg Tobin.

All photos, text, and blarney copyright 2007 by The Laughorist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'God's No Puritan'

In a comment to my previous post, Dafath wrote,

"God, you know, was no Puritan."

Presumably, Dafath would be willing to recast that sentence into the present tense or future tense. By Puritan I assume he's referring to the legalistic, "pure," and precise "godliness" of those in the 1560s and beyond who claimed a pure and unadulterated holiness. (I don't want to engage in theological debate, but I will say that despite its flaws, Wikipedia is enlightening, entertaining, and exhaustive [note serial comma] in its entry for this word.)

Today I witnessed natural evidence of the "God is no Puritan" view.


With temperatures reaching into the sixties (Fahrenheit), Old Man Winter shed a ragged coat of snow, leaving torn and tattered shreds of dirt-speckled icemelt. Sidewalks arose like volcanic islands out between snowbanks. Yesterday we had maybe 18 inches of snow in most places; it's down to 8 to 10 inches in most spots today. It's an untidy mess, it is. Snow pockmarked with decaying dogshit, candy wrappers, lost newspapers never delivered, branches, last fall's dead leaves. Gone is the pristine blanket that quiets the night and day equally (of merely days ago!). Where does this dirt like pepper mixed into a bowl of salt come from? It looks as if it's been raining detritus, dust, and black dandruff against the formerly alabaster melting surface. Mud percolates under it all awaiting our shoes (and dog's paws) to track into the house.

But wait.

The forecast is for rain in the next few days.

The tainted snow needs a good washing . . .

. . . in advance of the snow predicted for this weekend.

As Soren Kierkegaard might say,


Either snow or rain, either winter or spring, but both and all?!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Out of Time, Out of Steps

"Does anybody really know what time it is?" is the refrain, I believe, of an old song by the group Chicago. Maybe it should be the temporary national anthem of the United States. I mean, really. This Daylight Saving Time thing is putting us through a national jet lag, and for what? Allegedly to save energy. Right. I'm with the critics who say it smacks of both paternalism and Puritanism. And where do they put all this saved daylight anyway, into the Federal Light Reserve Bank? Can people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) draw from it during dark times? Is it all because someone wanted to give up time for Lent?

As I speak, so to speak, my kid is awake, goggle-eyed (whereas, I'm more Google-eyed), not tired enough to go to sleep because her body is telling her it is one hour earlier in yesterday's time. And I, night owl, am not nearly tired enough either.

But, oh, we'll be paying for it tomorrow. Oh yeah.

And that's just what the Puritans want, the "dawnists" who feel more virtuous than us the benighted, by virtue of their being early risers. (Disclaimer: I do not detect such condescension at all in the Secretary of Dawns.)

And it just dawned on me that the association of nonmorning people with night, darkness, subterfuge, shadows, and let's come out and just say it, evil, is some vast conspiracy, some huge public relations campaign against us owls, the burners of the midnight oil.

We are unproductive laggards, slackers, to the rolled-up-sleeves, go-get-'em elan of the Babbitt-Midwest-virtuous Aurora addicts.

My bet is most bloggers are night's-talkers, not ante meridiem mavens.

Ah, the good ol' twelve-hour clock.

What is it about twelve anyway? Twelve hours before noon, twelve hours after noon, twelve months, twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve imams, twelve days of Christmas, and, um, Twelve Steps, needed for "nocturnaholics."

They only meet if they can't sleep.

At night.

In bed. After all, nocturnaholics are viewed as naughty, if viewed at all, in the dark.

The coinages dawnist(s) and nocturnaholic(s) are copyright 2007 by The Laughorist, a.k.a. Pawlie Kokonuts. These neologisms are to be emulated by all his serial-comma-loving minions.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

One Direction Home

One direction home, or to work, or to anywhere. Yesterday, my power steering became powerless steering, challenging me to exert strength just to stay on the path. Don't you rednecks read too much into this, but left turns seemed harder. Mechanic flushed out the system; seemed fine. Then wasn't. Brought it back; was fine for the mechanic, of course. The mechanic, the Deus Ex Machina, said drive the car around, let the system flush itself, let the new blood, so to speak, work its way. So, is he saying, steer more? Is that the answer? The metaphors here are screaming at me. I need all kinds of steering, let me tell you. But if I let go of the wheel, where do I go? What do I hit?

I'm so confused. I need so much help.

Maybe I should be walking or taking the bus.

Let someone else do the steering.

I am a semicolon.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bitchy 'bout Pitchy

I am neither a musicologist, nor a musician, nor a music theoretician. Nor am I a connoisseur of pop culture. However, by background and training I can lay claim to more than a passing knowledge of semantics and diction and syntax and rhetoric, which brings us of course to the topic of "American Idol."

I like Simon Cowell the most because of his acerbic wit and semblance of taste; his capacity for unflinching criticism. I don't much care for Paul Abdul's critiques, but, hey, she's foxy and a champion of the underdog; always willing to encourage. Randy Jackson is the middle ground between "good cop" Paula and "bad cop" Simon, plus he brings a wealth of music industry experience to the role.

But what is it about his use of the word "pitchy," huh, dawg?

I guess Mr. Jackson means something like "wandering away from the desired pitch" or "not adhering to perfect pitch." I don't know. As I said, I am not "the music man." Surely, he is not invoking the sense found in my trusty old Oxford English Dictionary (OED), or even in Merriam-Webster's: pitch-black or tarry.

Unfortunately, if Randy has a problem with a contestant's performance, you are pretty much guaranteed to hear him declare that the performance was "pitchy" in places.

Help me out here. Help Randy out too, okay, folks?

We need some synonyms.

I'm itchin' for some pinch-hittin' for pitchy.

(Well, I never claimed to be any kind of rhymester, buster.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Candidates' Cant

Of course, the most delightful thing about blogging is self-publishing. Who needs Corporate Publishing America (CPA), when we can publish ourselves?

To wit: The Style Invitational of The Washington Post published humorous suggestions for presidential candidates' slogans. Some of my faves were:

Dick Cheney: Why Settle for the Lesser of Two Evils? (Mark Eckenwiler, Washington)

Lorena Bobbitt: If Elected I Will Not Sever (Russell Beland)

Lance Armstrong: One Tough Nut (Ben Aronin, Washington)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry: You Know He'll "Faithfully Execute" (Mark Eckenwiler)

But, alas, I must report that none of my entries to this humor contest were deemed funny enough to see the light of day (or were considered too crude for a family newspaper and its online counterpart, or were nearly identical to the suggestions of too many other entrants).

So, in the interest of full disclosure and fully realized Laughorist humor, here are my suggestions (pared down to my favorites) for presidential slogans:

Sam Brownback: Brownback. Not wetbacks.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: It Takes an Electoral College.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: I Won't Blow It.

Barack Obama: Barack to the Future.

John McCain: Give war a chance.

Rudolph Giuliani: Here's your president, right here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Manhattan Serial-Comma Mystery Probed

Score one for us, The Serial Commakazies.

Yes, we of The Loyal Order of Serial Comma Orderliness and Logic (TLOSCOL) can take solace and comfort from this sentence in The New York Times, today, March 2, 2007, anno Domini, page A1, from the lead story, no less (the lead story is the one in the upper-right column in the ancient style of reading newspapers made of paper, which is my preference):

[hautboys, as they say in Shakespeare]

"A series of disclosures published prominently in The Washington Post about the living conditions, the red tape that ensnarled treatment, and other serious problems have challenged the notion promoted for years by the Army -- especially since the war in Iraq -- that wounded soldiers receive unparalleled care at Walter Reed."

Take a deep breath after that mouthful, eh? Imagine diagramming that one in Mrs. Rivers's seventh-grade English class! (I've just got to do a post on her one of these days.)

Well, this is delicious on several levels. First, the Gray Lady is forced in its lead story to pay homage to its stalwart competitor, The Washington Post. And, as if that ain't bad enough, the sentence, written by David S. Cloud, is brightened by my beloved serial comma. Can you spot it? Yes, it elegantly and clearly and brazenly shines after the word "treatment." (I will dodge the grammatical debate that might ensue over whether it should be "A series . . . has . . . .")

A tantalizing mystery presents itself: is the serial comma grudgingly allowed by a copy editor because it is simply too confusing without it? If so, a victory for us (just one battle, not the war), who have claimed all along that is why we insist on this punctuation mark. Or is it an error or oversight on the part of writer and copy editor? In other words, will they be slapped for not following The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage?

Or, is this a tidal turning point in the culture wars, symbolized by an awkward embrace of the serial comma?

Will we ever know?

Will Manhattan media watchers and gossipmongers, such as at gawker.com, be able to get to the foggy bottom of this persnickety puzzlement?

"No comma," is not, um, an acceptable answer.

(You just don't get sizzling stuff like this on YouTube.)