The Conference Call

The call is scheduled for 2:00 Friday. PM, the office manager sent out a follow-up e-mail about, as though AM were up for discussion. It’s the same joke sent out every time. But we must respect the rituals of the Conference Call. To leap in without the assurance that everyone was not getting together at 2:00 AM would be unthinkable. And it would bring about the ambiguity about whether they meant the 2:00 AM reached by staying up late on Thursday or staying up late on Friday.

The subject is the M’Gregor Project. The M’Gregor Project has been going on for so long and gotten discussed so well that it has achieved organizational Nirvana. There is no task on it, however minor, which can be completed by any known means. The attempt to establish how to complete any part of any task on it results in the task splitting, like a free neutron, into three smaller tasks and administrative neutrinos. And yet these smaller tasks are no more completable. And yet call for as much discussion. It is not that anyone is avoiding work. They put reasonable, responsible efforts into their tasks. It’s just that everyone needs something someone else does before they can finish, and there is nothing that can be finished first.

Thus the need to set a careful agenda. There should be time to review outstanding tasks. This is all of them. There will not be time to review outstanding tasks. The group will get through about ten minutes of this and then ask whether there’s anyone falling behind. Everyone feels themselves falling behind. Even without trying to subdivide tasks two or three new ones have appeared to everyone. Tasks are like feral kittens scratching at the break room door. After consideration most everyone accepts these newly subdivided tasks. They set them up in the least-used corner of their workspace with a small bowl of kibble and bedding made of shredded printer instructions. There is special time given to the person who’s found five new tasks. Two of them are given away to people who think they could whip that out Monday. Monday’s when the printer is set to explode, but that isn’t on the agenda and so is not considered.

There is no one at the company who remembers the M’Gregor Project’s start. There is no one at the company who will be there when it ends. There is no one at the company who can explain why it’s not MacGregor. There is no one at the company who can convince those separatists that it should not have been McGregor. All agree there is some benefit to the company if the M’Gregor Project should be completed. Something, surely. But to just make some clear progress before the end of the quarter would be good too.

Nothing is completed. Nothing could be completed. There is something. There is the possibility of reorganizing tasks into new categories. This is more than trading tasks that haven’t got finished. This would be the chance for everyone to think carefully about what they’re good at. To think of what they feel engaged in doing. To think of which of their assigned tasks are too boring to even let fail. A chance to own up to it, to show what one accepts one will never do, and give them up to people who still think themselves ready. To set about such a reorganization is work. A large number of people have to devote themselves to rationalizing their projects. This is a major task. A great many people would like to have done it.

The Conference Call is a chance to share anxious anticipation of explaining why your task is not finished, or fear of getting a new task. In this way do the participants reassure one another that they are part of the group. That they are some of the many, many people who have been involved in the M’Gregor Project. It is the socially acceptable substitute for our instinctive desire to groom one another’s fur for lice and tics. And this, of course, is why the thing is done.

We’re ready for you to join on line two.


In Which I Explain My Work-Related Anxieties

Me, thinking: “So, in a Star Trek style universe you kind of have every intelligent, spacegoing species having that thing it’s best at. Like, Vulcans are the best at logic. Zakdorns are the best strategists. Klingons are the best at hollering at fake swords. Deltans are the best at 70s-style sexy sex sexing. Ferengi are the best at sounding like YouTube commenters. Pakleds are the best at making everyone else feel better about their own abilities but also kinda awful for feeling like that. Cardassians are the best at honeypot intelligence sting operations luring Federation spies into captivity. But how far does this specialization go? Like, is there a species that’s the best at practical jokes? A species that’s the galaxy’s greatest prank-phone-callers? A species of unmatchable pumpkin-carvers? The quadrant’s naturally greatest bird-watchers? The best house-cleaners in the known reaches of space? A species that’s the go-to people for watching old game show episodes while sighing and feeling like they can never be as happy as that first year out of college again? A species that’s unmatchable in their ability to read Wuthering Heights? A species that just draws the best comics? A species that’s the greatest at actually watching DVDs from the library before it’s time to return or renew them? A people who can make microwave hot chocolate taste the least weird that it can possibly taste?”

Also me, thinking: “Have I checked my work e-mail this week?”

Out On The Town

The power went out when I was showering yesterday morning. For a moment I thought, well gosh, what if civilization’s just come to an end. This was the sort of merry fanciful thought you could have about surprise power failures back in the 90s when we figured civilization actually had no reason to end. “What the heck, let’s keep it going another five years,” we’d say, every time the subscription notice came up, and if it was charging two bucks more a month that was all right. If we had kept the two bucks a month we probably would’ve done something stupid with it, like buying used VHS tapes of Bucky O’Hare to watch ironically or something. Bucky O’Hare is worth watching sincerely. It’s Biker Mice From Mars you have to watch with detachment.

This clouded up my day, since the ventilator fan in the bathroom stopped working. We’ve got a pretty muggy bathroom, one prone to storm fronts. We average about four tropical depressions per year just from ordinary showering, and the extra-long shower after the Poison Ivy Removal Expedition Of 2015 is credited with starting Hurricane Danny. (We were framed.) Without the fan going I have to leave the shower groping my way blindly through a steamy mass of bathroom rainforest, dodging spiders and sloths and the ooh-ooh-aah-aah birds. I also have to do that when the fan is on, but at least I’ve taken action. It’s never the results. It’s being part of the process.

And it messed up plans too. I had figured to call my Congressman’s office, like I’ve been doing once or twice a week all this year, to demand “how dare you?” It doesn’t accomplish much, although sometimes the poor staffer who has to take me admits, “I haven’t spoken with the Congressman about how dare I”, which is gratifying. Again, it’s all being part of the process. Also about discovering that turns out Congress office reps don’t have caller ID. At the least you’d think they’d ask me what I’m how-dare-youing them about. I used to have something in mind, but that took so much time. It’s just as effective if I go with whatever is in the news today. And without power, without the Internet, I wouldn’t have Twitter and they could totally call my bluff. So that was off.

The power company said the problem was an equipment malfunction. Probably could have guessed that. They couldn’t say, “sorry, we suddenly felt shy about sending stuff into your house without an explicit invitation”, not after they’ve been sending power into the house off and on for nearly ninety years now. Or “Rick forgot to renew our subscription and we let our civilization lapse,” since Rick hasn’t been at the power company in over two years now. Equipment not working right is about all they could go for.

They estimated power should be restored by 5:30 pm, which is disheartening to hear when it’s less than halfway through The Price Is Right. I know you never want to promise service is coming back before you’re absolutely sure it will be. Last time the Internet went out the company would only concede that service should be back by the end of Daylight Saving Time. I don’t know why the Internet company cares if there’s ever a Daylight Saving Time repeal and I don’t think they’re helping the issue by making threats like that. I’d have called my Congressman about that but see above.

Thing with a power failure like that is it’s the kind of snow day I get. I work from home, because I’ve kept my exact whereabouts secret from my boss and he doesn’t know where to come get me. As long as I have Internet I can connect to my office computer and delete e-mails about not leaving the fire door open, just as if I were on site. But in the circumstances, what choice do I have except to take a long lunch out at the bagel place? The only professional choice is to ponder how they have chocolate chip cream cheese these days while overhearing a table full of older white guys agreeing with each other about all these officials it’s unreasonable to hold accountable for what happens in a frat house.

When we got home the power was back. The snow day had passed, and all we had left was resetting the clocks. It could be as long as months before we have every clock in the house re-set, and we have to deal with the more popular clocks taunting those who’re so low-status they don’t get reset. House clocks have vicious, nasty social cliques.

This morning I left the shower fan off.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose seven points on the discovery of a box of salty-and-sweet candy corn from the farmers’ market that had been forgotten about after Easter.


Working Out The World

My love and I were reminiscing things we did in elementary school for reasons we couldn’t figure. I don’t mean stuff like declaring someone who was busy with not playing kickball “The Kissing Bandit”. I mean stuff that doesn’t make sense, like the time my class got taken to the Garden State Arts Center and was taught how to clap with our hands curled. I guess we did other stuff there too, but the cupped hands was the lesson that stuck.

But the thing we shared was the class exercise thing about telling everyone else what our parents did for a living. I realize now I don’t know what the project was supposed to prove. That we could ask our parents what they did for a living, I guess. Maybe be able to tell our peers that our parents are shift supervisors. As skills I suppose that’s up there with cursive and being able to name vice-presidents who resigned, since you can test it. I don’t know how the teacher’s supposed to know if the kid was right, though.

But adult jobs are baffling concepts for a kid, anyway. What do adults need supervision for? They’re adults. Kids need supervision, because if you tell a kid, “stand right here, by the school bus stop, for five minutes and don’t wander away”, there’s an excellent chance before you even get to the second comma they’ve wandered off and got a beehive stuck in a nostril. All a kid knows is that their parents go months without unintentionally ingesting beehives, or they would know if they asked their parents.

For that matter, what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow. There are maybe five adult jobs a kid understands. There’s being an astronaut, there’s fighting stuff (fires, supervillains, crime, wrestlers [other]), there’s being a nurse, there’s being a teacher, and there’s driving a snowplow. Everything else is a bit shaky. For example, when I was a kid all I quite grasped about my father’s job was that he worked in a chemical factory in the parts that normally didn’t explode. He had to go in for eight or sometimes sixteen-hours shifts and I understood that most of the time things didn’t explode. But that leaves a gap in the imagination about just how he filled his working days. Come in, check that things hadn’t exploded, sure, and then it’s four hours, 56 minutes until lunch.

A kid might understand what someone in a service job does, because they could see a person bringing them food or taking clothes to clean or so. It’s why someone would be hired that’s the mystery, because getting that service means giving someone else money. Money’s hard stuff to come by, what with birthday cards arriving only for a one- or two-week stretch of the year, and maybe a bonus at Christmas if they’re lucky. The tooth fairy can help cover a little capital shortage, but that’s too erratic stuff for a real economy.

But non-service jobs are harder to understand. What is an office job anymore except fiddling with a computer? And a computer job is a matter of pressing buttons so that electrons will go into different places than they otherwise might have. A bad day at that sort of job is one where the electrons have come back for later review. On a good day the electrons all go somewhere you don’t have to think about them again. But the electrons aren’t getting anything out of this. They’re not happy, or sad, or anything at all based on where they’re sent. And they’re not the one getting paid for it anyway. They’d be fine if we just left them alone. All we do by getting involved in their fates is make ourselves unhappy but paid, and we get tired along the way.

The jobs might be leaving us alone soon anyway. Capitalism interprets a salary as a constant drain of capital, and does its level best to eliminate that. For service jobs this means doing less service, making the customers unhappy and making the remaining staff tired and unhappy. For office jobs this means never getting electrons to where they’re supposed to be, because otherwise you’d be an obvious mark for layoffs.

I know my father eventually moved to a job as an ISO 9000 consultant. In that role he ordered companies to put together a list of every word they had ever used for everything they had ever done. Then they put that into a cross-referenced volume of every document every word had ever appeared in. By the time that was done, the company might qualify for a certificate. Or my father had to explain what they had to do again, using different words and Happy Meal toys to get the point across. As a kid, I’d have been better off if he just told me he taught companies how to clap. Sometimes he probably did.

Maybe I Could Be A Generalist, Though?

Like most of us I’m looking for the sort of job where people give me money for no clear reason. So I have a couple web sites that send me their comic attempts at locating jobs and I think in seven years of having them set up none has ever sent me anything remotely plausible. But today I hit a grand new one. It’s for a “Specialist Sputtering Engineer”, in Singapore.

I never realized sputtering was the sort of thing needing engineering. I thought it just came from trying to get your point across with more exasperation and less time than you really need. Alas, I know I’m not qualified. I sputter only very rarely. If they needed a stammering engineer I’d be set. I don’t mean to brag but I can stammer even before I’ve really woken up for the day.

So if you know anyone looking for a world-class stammering engineer — freelance or fulltime — please let me know care of the address. Any address will do. I don’t know that I can qualify for a specialist stammering engineer right off the bat. But there’s probably some online certification I could get for it if I knew there was demand.

Keeping Busy

I know you’ve been busy. I’ve been busy. We’ve all been busy. The major pastime people have anymore is being too busy to do whatever it is they meant to do. But the question is what are you busy doing? Because there’s different classes of busy. If you’ve been busy because for some reason you had to bake a million billion kerjillion cupcakes that’s one thing. If you’ve been busy because you’ve had to run around to every corner of the known universe patching up cracks in the spacetime continuum threatening to destroy all creation that’s another. And if it is the latter, then I have to kind of gently ask if you’re really positive that you’ve got every single one of those cracks filled in, because while I’d like you to have some time to unwind I’m also pretty fond of all creation, even the parts that include bubbling pools of organic goo that are near pieces of rusting machinery I have to deal with for some reason, and not having all that destroyed is pretty important to me too. So, please, just evaluate a little what kind of busy it is you’ve been.