Sunday, April 29, 2007

Under Pressure

My sister-in-law had a surprise 40th birthday party for her husband David at a large local hotel last night. She asked everyone to bring food, so that afternoon my wife went out to buy the components of her popular bean dip and a birthday card to go with the gift I had bought the day before.

When she got back, she began making her dip, and then, 15 minutes before we had to leave for the party, she realized she had forgotten the card.

“Quick!” she said, “Make something on the computer!”

My mind began to race with the urgency of the situation. David is a fan of Star Trek, and Star Trek began in the 60’s, so maybe they’re about the same age. Sure enough, Star Trek is exactly 40 years old, the same as David. I quickly found an image on the Internet of Captain Kirk and Spock, labeled “Celebrating 40 Years.” I grabbed a picture of David we had taken at the beach, stuck his face over William Shatner’s, printed it out, and we raced out the door. My wife signed it for us, folded it up, put it into an envelope, and taped it to the gift as we drove to the hotel.

The original:

The beach photo:

The finished goods:

My sister-in-law had managed to obtain a free weekend in the Penthouse Suite, and she lured David away to dinner, leaving their children behind to greet the guests.

Everyone brought food or alcohol, so there was a lot of mad scrambling to prepare the decorations and arrange the buffet. Children were assigned to watch the parking lot from the high vantage point, instructed to alert us when the birthday boy arrived.

I wandered around, helping with various tasks, such as loading up a table with platters of sandwich meat, chicken wings, chips and dips, crudités, and of course a large cake. No sooner had we finished, when a woman walked up and asked if we could move everything so that she could put an “Over the Hill” tablecloth on the table. She’ll make a lovely ex-wife someday.

After that, I felt the need for a drink, so I sauntered over to the beer coolers. The first one contained Bud Light, so I closed it quickly. I grew up in St. Louis, where Budweiser products are made, but I’ve always considered them to be mass-produced swill. Light beers are tasteless, making Bud Light the worst of the worst.

Opening the next cooler, I was dismayed to discover that it also contained Bud Light. The story was the same for the last cooler. It was like some horrible conspiracy. In desperation, I strode across the room to the wet bar, where I could see a collection of bottles and mixers. I don’t normally drink mixed drinks, but I was facing a long evening in a hotel room with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

When I got to the wet bar, I discovered the following assortment of soft drinks: 2-liter bottles of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, regular Coke, Orange soda and Hawaiian Punch. Behind them were a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey, Southern Comfort (a sweet liqueur made from whiskey), and Grey Goose vodka. There is no conventional drink you can make from those components. It was a bartender’s nightmare.

I decided to mix Grey Goose into a cup of Hawaiian Punch. Grey Goose is considered one of the finest vodkas on the market. A liter bottle sells for around $35.00. Pouring it into Hawaiian Punch is probably a criminal act.

However, the combination wasn’t bad at all. I had two of them, and found myself wishing I had stopped at one. I decided to name the drink the Hawaiian Sucker Punch.

We were all shushed into silence, and the birthday boy arrived. He was suitably shocked and pleased. Later, when he opened the gifts, he was delighted by the Star Trek card I had made, and asked if I could print out another one “not folded up” so they could have it framed. It’s not my best work, but it seems that working under pressure does force creative solutions to bubble to the surface.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Succeed in Business

Many people think that positions of power and authority in the business world must be won through hard work and sacrifice. Others believe that such positions can only be achieved through soulless opportunism and relentless ass-kissing. They're both wrong.

To further your career goals in any business organization, simply leave your work on someone else's chair when they're not in their office. Apparently, this simple tactic ensures that your agenda will become the top priority of the absent person when they return, and your needs will be met without regard for those who preceded you. Whenever you're given a job to do, put it in a file folder, attach a sticky note that says something ambiguous like "Call the client," or "Need these numbers ASAP!" leave it on someone's chair, then go play golf. When you come back to work, you'll find a line of anxious, possibly furious people outside your office, whose destiny you now control.

If I sound bitter, it's because this happens to me all the time. What makes it worse is that the people who leave these troublesome packages often don't bother to put their names on them, which prevents me from tracking them down and filing their work where the sun doesn't shine.

In a fit of outrage, I usually stuff the folder under a pile of papers on my desk and wait, composing my angry response for that delicious moment when the culprit shows up to inquire about my progress. Unfortunately, some people who play this game play it too well. Just before they leave the office, they tell some Senior VP that I'm working on the project.

A couple of days later, I get a nasty phone call from the VP, who wants to know why it's not finished yet. When that happens, I deny knowledge of the project, and slip the file folder into the office shredder. This usually deflects the problem for a few hours, but then the culprit and the Senior VP show up in my office and demand that I drop everything to work on the project immediately, without the benefit of the information formerly included in the the file folder, so I lose either way.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Another Night in Hell

Last night I attended one of the most horrible events known to man: The High School Musical. High School musicals are worse than High School plays because you are forced to experience bad singing in addition to the usual bad acting, cardboard sets and lame costumes. The only positive aspect of the event last night was the fact that the musical accompaniment was provided by an accomplished pianist, not by High School musicians.

Typically, when I am forced to watch a High School musical, I watch carefully for what I call Hilarious Errors. These often occur in amateur productions, and provide me with some relief from the relentless barrage of enthusiastic incompetence that characterizes those productions. I would like to make it clear that not all High School Arts students suck. Occasionally, there is one standout performance that indicates a bright future in Hollywood or New York. But most of them really, really suck.

The richest source of Hilarious Errors is dance recitals. My heart literally races at the possibility of a high-speed collision or a tumble into the orchestra pit. But usually, the mistakes are simpler and not life-threatening. In one memorable recital, a boy and a girl were performing a pas de deux. The boy played the role of a balloon salesman (with a large bunch of helium-filled balloons). The plan was that he would offer a balloon to the girl, who would then dance a solo with the balloon, and then she would be joined by the boy, and they would dance together. But whoever bought the balloons went to a party store, and the balloons had long curly ribbons attached instead of straight strings. The curly ribbons tangled, and the boy was unable to separate one balloon from the bunch. The boy and girl looked at each other desperately as the music swelled for her solo, and they both let go of the balloons simultaneously, which flew up into the lights and disappeared. The girl began her dance without the balloon, while the boy stood miserably on the apron of the stage, pretending to hold a bunch of balloons. It was a priceless moment, more than compensating me for enduring the rest of the show.

Musicals are the next best source of Hilarious Errors. My favorite personal moment was during a High School performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in which the starving Caananites are given food by Joseph. In this production, the food was represented cleverly by brown paper shopping bags. These were empty bags, stuffed with wadded-up newspaper, with a few items tucked into the top so they would look as though they were full of groceries. The joyous Caananites ran to the front of the stage, placed the bags by the footlights, and lined up for their song-and-dance number. As the orchestra (composed of High School musicians) went into its opening arpeggio, I noticed one of the bags leaning. It slowly tipped over and dumped the contents into the orchestra pit, right onto the head of the pianist. Once again, I went home happy.

Last night, there were no Hilarious Errors. A couple of forgotten lines, but not the panicky seizure that sometimes accompanies this problem. Instead, it was just a seemingly endless nightmare of poor diction, off-key singing and wooden staging.

I know this makes me sound cynical and unsympathetic. After all, everybody has to get their start somewhere. And I actually don't mind watching a talented young performer developing their raw talent. What I mind is watching all the starry-eyed losers who have no native ability parading across the stage, laboring under the delusion that I am enjoying myself. And of course, I'm obligated to applaud, because I'm surrounded by close personal friends and blood relatives of the performers, who are applauding enthusiastically while watching to make sure that everyone supports their little darling. Some of them might be armed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Ugly Face

Over the years, I've become aware of a phenomenon that all women seem to have in common. I call it "The Ugly Face." No matter how attractive a woman is, when she's in a particular emotional state (typically related to something I have done), her face becomes contorted to a degree that is truly unpleasant to witness. Normally, this condition occurs during periods of great anger or despair.

However, I don't want to confuse "The Ugly Face" with the "Cosmetic Distress" face. The "Cosmetic Distress" face is the face that some women practice in front of a mirror to feign anger or despair when they want to use that emotion for personal gain. It's not an ugly face at all, but a carefully rehearsed modification of their normal beauty, which does not make them look less attractive.

To be fair, some men practice faces in the mirror as well. The "Are you talking to me?" scene from Taxi Driver comes to mind. But I think women are more guilty of this.

My wife has often commented during a movie or TV show that some actress "cries well." This statement is an oxymoron as far as I'm concerned, but I think it means that the actress can produce tears without smearing her makeup, sob softly and convincingly without making snorting noises, and produce that doe-eyed pitiful look that melts men's hearts.

When a woman becomes so upset that her "Cosmetic Distress" face collapses into "The Ugly Face," men all over the world realize the gloves are off, and she means business.

The other night, I realized that people sometimes display "The Ugly Face" at other times. I play pool in a pool league, and I've noticed that some men and some women change their face in amusing, often unpleasant ways when they are lining up a pool shot. For example, one guy with a wall-eye is miraculously able to wheel that eye forward when lining up a shot. As soon as the shot is over, it swings back toward left field. An otherwise attractive Asian woman becomes quite frightening to watch, scrunching up her face like some kind of grotesque Halloween mask just before she shoots. Some dangle their tongues like dogs. Some develop an overbite. Some develop an underbite. It's funny to watch.

A friend of mine commented that men have an "Ugly Face" too. She says it occurs when men orgasm. The "Orgasm Face" is not something men practice in front of a mirror, and most men probably don't realize they're being observed with dispassionate interest at this crucial moment. Excuse me, I have to go and practice.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Bluetooth Beanie

I seem to have a problem when I see people in public, talking without a phone in their hand. For some reason, I have to figure out who they’re talking to. It’s like when you get a piece of floss stuck between your teeth and your tongue can’t stop scrubbing at it, trying to get it out of there, even though your conscious mind keeps sending out alerts, informing you that it’s impossible. It’s as though the tongue is under the autonomous control of an independent part of the brain that’s not on the memo distribution list.

If the Bluetooth earpiece is not visible, I quickly reach the following conclusions:

  1. If someone is nearby, the person is speaking to that person.

  2. If nobody else is nearby, the person is schizophrenic or on drugs or both.

The reason I don’t assume the person is on the phone in either case is because:

In case #1, I can approach the two people for whatever reason, and they will suspend their conversation to acknowledge my presence. However, if I assume the person is speaking on the phone, I can’t approach and expect the same casual courtesy, since the person on the phone won’t know I’m there. It’s much more of an intrusion. So I can’t assume the person is speaking on the phone, or I can never approach anyone, ever.

In case #2, I could assume the person is on the phone, but if they are in fact schizophrenic or on drugs or both, they might kill me. Therefore, I choose to err on the side of caution.

The other possible scenario is that I can see the earpiece. If the person is driving a car, fine. I really don’t care, and I’m not one of those panicky Chicken Little people who want cell phone use in cars outlawed because speaking on a phone is too distracting. If that were true, then having a conversation with a passenger in your car would be illegal as well.

If that person is walking down the aisle at the supermarket, sitting in a bar or standing in a ticket line, I take offense. They’re not using the earpiece to keep their hands free. They’re using the earpiece to impress me. They’re assholes.

So I’ve come up with a new invention, called the Bluetooth Beanie. It has a light bulb on the top that illuminates when you’re using your Bluetooth earpiece, clearly informing others that you’re occupied on a phone call. People will leave you alone. Yes, you’ll look like an asshole, but you already are an asshole, so it won’t make any difference.

Shown below are two examples: One where a guy is talking, but it's not clear if he's talking to his buddy or on the phone. The other shows him wearing the Bluetooth Beanie, and it all becomes crystal clear.