The phrase that pays

Hello again! I said I hoped to write again during my week between jobs, and I’m surprised but pleased to make good on that. Surpleased? Surpleased.

People who know me or have read my stories from way back in the day will recall that “Vegas Peter” was slightly different from the regular versions of myself. None are normal, of course, but I would let myself branch into new territory in the Vegas. Por ejemplo, I was known to fro out my hair, keep a brush twisted up in it, wear atypical clothes and big sunglasses, and routinely turn to strangers and ask if they could “dig it.”

I gave up on that version a while ago, and frankly I’m not sure how I ever summoned the courage to behave like that. Oh, that’s right – lots and lots of alcohol. Now I remember…mostly. In recent years, I’ve moved into a much tamer phase, but one that still provides a lot of entertainment for my group of friends: Catchphrases.

My goal was simple. I wanted to develop something to say after winning or losing hands and get a complete stranger to say it at some point. I knew there was one inescapable side-effect of this: I would drive my friends fucking crazy. You see, in order to get any traction, I was going to need heaps and heaps of repetition, especially since strangers come and go at the tables with some regularity. How else would they hear it enough to start using it?

I’m gonna spoil this a little by letting you know that my first attempt was a success, and I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I don’t even know how many years ago we’re talking about at this point, but we got to Vegas and sat down at a blackjack table as quickly as possible. I waited a little bit before I busted it out. Got a beer from the cocktail waitress, won some, lost some, etc. But then the time came. I hit, I stayed, the dealer busted. As she moved some chips over to my section of the felt, I raised one hand in the air and proclaimed, “Self-taught, everyone. I’m self-taught.” I got a couple of quizzical looks and a few half-smiles, and rightfully so. I won another hand, and my arm went up again. “Self-taught, ladies and gentlemen. No formal training whatsoever.” More smiles this time, and way more head-shaking from my friends. They started to come around though. When I was about to win a hand, Dusty asked, “Hey Dawg, did you take a class in blackjack recently?” “No, actually, I’m…SELF-TAUGHT, EVERYONE. LEARNED THIS MYSELF!”

On it went for hours upon hours. Every once in a while I wouldn’t say it because I’d be in the middle of a conversation, and I had the dealer once look at me puzzled and ask, “Self-taught?” But the highlight of the trip was when an old Asian man sitting at third base won a hand, and through a chuckle said, “Self-taught.” It was at maybe a fifth of the volume I’d been using for it, but I was thrilled. I said, “Yes!” as I pointed at him and then reached over for a high five. (That concept seems so foreign now – sitting close to strangers and touching them? Are you mad?!?!)

A year or so later, the next Vegas trip was upon us. I didn’t want to just bring the same awesomeness as before, so I invented a new catchphrase. This one was to be used sparingly, and more to amuse my friends than to have it become a running gag. Here’s the perfect scenario: I have 17 and the dealer has a 6 showing. I stay, and s/he flips over a ten, hits, and busts. Probably the least exciting way to win a hand of blackjack. And yet, that was my cue to use my new line: “Instant classic.” I’d say it slowly and not super loud, like I was still soaking up the moment and appreciating history in the making. It also worked when I’d have a 6 and a 2, for example, with the dealer showing a 7. I’d hit and get to 18, and the dealer would flip the face-down card over to show a 10, making 17. “Instant classic,” I’d say. The more mundane the better, and my friends would laugh quite often when I used it.

Some more time passed, and I had another trip planned and needed to prepare. I told my co-worker Kristen about this tradition and wanted to run some ideas by her. Kristen is the one who got me the Anonymous Potato, if you recall that post, so her humor is spot on. I told her about the previous catchphrases and what I was looking to do. I had a leader in the clubhouse and asked her opinion. This one was different, and I explained the rationale behind it. “Ohhhh,” she said. “That’s good.” I ran through the different modifications I’d use throughout the trip, and she couldn’t wait for me to go and come back so I could tell her how it all went.

The day arrived. We started playing, and Dave tried out a new phrase of his. I don’t remember it exactly, but it had something to do with needing a ten and some rhyme with “face” for a face card. I waited a little, and then after I won a hand, I proudly proclaimed, “It’s nacho time!” Then a half beat later, I said in an explaining tone, “Because they’re chips.” They all gave me the same look – a slightly scrunched-up face that said, “Yeah, I don’t think that really works and was hoping for more.” But I was just getting started. The next hand was also in my favor and I said, “It’s nacho time! Because, you see, these things are called chips and there are also chips in nachos.” The next time I won: “It’s nacho time! Because these are chips and nachos are a dish primarily comprised of tortilla chips, so it’s a pun.”

Here’s what I predicted and what happened: they fucking hated it. My friends couldn’t stand this schtick and got so angry every time I trotted it out. Naturally, like having an 11 against a bust card, I doubled down hard. If I had a 20 and it looked like the dealer was about to bust, I’d start pantomiming that I was pumping nacho cheese out of a metal container. Then I’d let everyone know that it was nacho time, and I’d explain why. “Why every time, Dawg? I hate you!” I know, I know.

Did I ever win them over? No, and they still hate me for it. However, there were some signs of light. “It’s nacho time!” I’d say, and Dave would jump in and ask, “Oh yeah, why’s that?” “I’m glad you asked,” I’d reply before explaining the rationale behind it. Dusty got creative and added his own spin to it. “It’s Ponch and John time!” he said once. “Because they’re CHiPS.” “Those gang members are wearing blue! Because they’re crips.” I think the Pigh once mentioned bringing out a wedge…because it’s used for chips. I don’t know if anyone made it Intel time on smaller bets (since it brought in microchips), but it’s possible. Regardless, I knew this would be a turn from an endearing catchphrase to combative performance art, and it was a fun change of pace. As I told Kristen beforehand, “This is going to annoy the living shit out of them. I can’t wait.”

I have no idea when our next Vegas trip will be – 2022 might be a safe bet. Whenever it is though, I’ll have to decide which direction I want to go. I did try out the nonsensical “No sugar tonight in my coffee!” line after a few wins, but it was neither funny nor annoying enough. (It’s a good song though.) It’s a difficult balance to strike, but I’m up for the challenge. Because I’m self-taught, and it’ll be an instant classic.

Cultured AF

Hello, and good day to you all. Those of you who have been following this blog for a bit may recall that I set three quarantine-related goals for myself, and it’s been too long since I’ve reported back with my progress.

I’ll go from the one with the least adherence to the most. Coming in last has to be my desire to increase my creative output. Yes, I’ve posted here way more than the zero times I had in the previous 5+ years, but it hasn’t reached the levels I’d hoped for. On top of that, a friend and I met a few times about writing a pilot script together, and just yesterday I had to bow out because I really don’t/won’t have the time. I’m now in my one week before I start my new job, and I have more preparation to do for the new role than I expected (including physically getting my workspace ready). So that’s why I consider this my least successful of the goals.

Second up is the beard. I grew that thing for a long time before getting back to trimming it regularly, so I definitely succeeded on some level. But when I look back at pictures of full-on Grizzly Peter, it’s really good that I stopped when I did. Also, I’m glad I was looking a little more put-together for video interviews I started having. My current beard length is longer than what I used to keep it at by a pretty big margin (a 10 on my trimmer instead of a 4 or 5), and that new norm is directly because of the quarantine goal.

Lastly, exercise! I’ve told you about the running around the island and the crazy interval training my former colleague got me doing, but I’ve changed things up. For the last 22 days, some friends and I have all been doing P90X3. If you’re not familiar with that, the P90X workouts are from a company called BeachBody, and they’ll kick your ass. This is a 90-day program, so we’re not even a third of the way done, but I’ve been pleased with my consistency and the progress I’ve been making. We all took “before” pictures, but we’re not sharing them with each other until we have “after” photos to compare them to. It’s a good program, and BeachBody on Demand has all sorts of programs for very little a month, in case you’re interested.

Anyway, that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here because I have a story to tell. And like some of my most popular posts, it involves me looking a little dumb. Everybody wins!

When our kids were young, we would put a cd of lullabies on at night. We had a Beethoven one and a Bach one, each turned into kid versions (I’m guessing more xylophones or something). Both kids seemed to like the Bach one, and that ended up being the one that stayed in the cd player. (For the record, it’s not called “Baby Got Bach” for some inexplicable reason.)

Fast forward years later, and the kids haven’t strayed too much. They’re in separate rooms, but my son still hits play on that cd when going to bed. And my daughter asks Alexa to “shuffle songs by Johann Sebastian Bach” at night. I’ve heard these songs enough that I now recognize them and sometimes get them in my head. I noticed though, that I don’t think I hear any of the “real” versions of the ones on the cd when I’m in my daughter’s room. Either that, or the versions are so different that I just don’t recognize them.

I don’t know any of the names of these songs of course, since they’re all instrumental. But there’s one that kept standing out to me when I’d be in my daughter’s room, and I really liked it. Every time it came on, I thought, “Oh, my favorite one!” And then I’d feel really cultured for having a favorite Bach song. I enjoyed how it flowed and started understanding how people can love classical music for more than just sleep-enhancing purposes. “Alexa, what is this song called?” I asked when it came on recently. “This is ‘Begin Again,’ by The Piano Guys and Johann Sebastian Bach,” she replied. “Got it,” I thought, “I now have a favorite classical song and know who performed it in my favorite version of it.” Cultured. As. Fuck.

A week or so later, I had a great idea: why not put it on Amazon Music while I’m working? Listening to music with lyrics often interrupts my ability to focus on work, but my favorite Bach composition wouldn’t. I searched for “Begin Again,” and the first thing that came up was a song with that title by Taylor Swift. “Ha! Not today, pop music! I’m going with the quality stuff,” I thought. Below that was the one from The Piano Guys. I was about to listen but changed my mind and wanted it playing from my computer speakers instead of my phone. I opened up YouTube and typed in “Begin Again,” and sure enough, our friend Taylor Swift popped up again. Slightly annoyed but undeterred, I typed in “begin again piano guys,” and the song I was looking for was now at the top of the results. One slight issue though: the video was called “Taylor Swift – Begin Again (Piano/Cello Cover) The Piano Guys.” I clicked on it, and it was the one I knew and liked from my daughter’s room. Could it be that my favorite classical composition is really just a cover of a Taylor Swift song? You know it, sista. And that’s the sound of all my culture cred flying out the window.

I listened to the actual Taylor Swift song and liked it quite a bit, but I felt pretty foolish. It makes sense now why that song stood out to me and seemed more like a song I’d enjoy than the others. It’s not classical music. And I apparently still don’t like classical music. “Wait, why was it playing on the Bach station then?” you might be wondering. I sure as hell was. I looked it up, and apparently The Piano Guys didn’t just classicalize T. Swifty, they also sampled “Sheep May Safely Graze” by Bach in that song. But you see who’s to blame here, right? Yes, Alexa. Why would she include that song when I asked her to play songs by Bach? Totally her fault. Smart speaker, my ass.

So that’s my story. On a side note, I can’t get enough of Taylor Swift’s most recent album, “Folklore.” I know I’m not her target demographic, but it’s a stellar album from top to bottom, and my lovely wife and I are playing it nearly non-stop. It would be hilarious if one of her songs ended up being a pop version of an old Bach one, but I’m not holding my breath. Have a great week, everyone, and maybe I’ll get back here another time or two this week. Be well.

Sticks and stones

Hello, homepeople. I’m typing this on a new laptop, and my fingers are really having a hard time going to the right places. Not sure what’s different about this keyboard, but hopefully the fingers learn their new places quickly. Speaking of new places, I’m leaving my current company this week for a new job. It’s been five and a half years and an eventful, wild ride, but it’s time for me to move on (and for something I’m excited about).

The week before last, I started telling colleagues and the response has been truly heartwarming. Many people I’ve worked pretty closely with have said really touching things, and it’s shown that I made more of an impact than I realized. A couple even cried, which made me feel both honored and horrible at the same time. All in all though, it validates the importance of how we treat each other (i.e. as humans first, and colleagues/employees a distant second), so that’s been quite positive.

I’ve also received a lot of thank yous and warm wishes from people I haven’t actually spoken to much if at all, and while those are nice, I take them with a whole handful of salt. Why? Because I’ve seen the flipside of that more than once. Would you like examples? Of course you would.

Back in late 2017, I had to change the bonus structure of a program we’d rolled out earlier in the year for a team in another state. Even though I told everyone when we started it that it was only a test, they’d gotten used to the extra money, and I understood that they were upset. Some took it in stride, but others…quite less so. I had not met many of these people, but the personal attacks started flowing. On a job review site, anonymous reviews came in quickly from those who had quit after the change. One referenced me sitting back in my mansion counting my money. Another talked about me only having my job because of favoritism and being born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and two separate ones made fun of me for “only having an English degree.” Those things bounced off me in a way I never would have predicted because I knew they were completely off-base. (Ok, the English major comments stung a little, even if there’s no reason that would preclude me from being good at my job.) If I’d felt like any of the comments were spot-on critiques or even half truths, they would’ve bothered me for a while.

But my favorite comment – and I mean it sincerely – came directly from an employee who ended his message with an announcement that he quit. Well, after he called me “scum” and suggested that I rethink my life. The quote of the year though came toward the beginning of his message: “I cannot stand another day slaving away in this hell hole. You’re a greedy, small minded weasel.” As an English major, I’d like to point out that his compound adjective should probably have a hyphen, but that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is I’d never been called anything of the sort and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I put “GSMW” on the white board by my desk and wore it as a badge of honor. Here’s the thing: I know I’m not greedy, and I’m quite comfortable with the size of my mind. Pretty sure I’m not a weasel either. (Side note: one colleague suggested that the “weasel” part was anti-Semitic, but I think that’s a reach.) This was just an angry person feeling good about himself for quitting with both middle fingers in the air. I’d never leave a job in that fashion, but maybe that’s because weasels don’t have opposable thumbs and it wouldn’t look as cool.

My white board had some other initials on it too: OOT&E. That one came a year or two later when someone else was quitting. After saying he was sorry he didn’t get to know me on a personal level since he’d heard good things, he slipped in a dig that said I came off as “out of touch and elitist.” I read that and said aloud, “I’m totally not out of touch. Elitist? Eh, I can kinda see that one.” Either way, it made it on the board and my team and I would point to it whenever anything even remotely fit the description. It was quite the running gag . If someone asked for change and I said I only had a 20, they’d point to the board. If I hadn’t heard of a hip hop artist that was apparently quite famous, they’d point again. I loved all of it.

While writing this post I received another very touching thank you email from someone I’ve worked with over the last few years. It gives me confidence that I’ll be taking much more than just my work-related skills with me to my new gig. And since none of my future colleagues know that I’m a GSMW yet or how OOT&E I am, I get a chance to make the whole gamut of impressions again. I find that PFE.

Bugging out

Hello hello! Another weekend is upon us, and I hope all 8-10 of you have a pleasant one. Something happened Thursday evening that I knew in the moment would turn into a blog post, so without any ado (let alone further ado), here you go:

The four of us were all downstairs, and out of nowhere, my son started screaming his head off. Loud, high-pitched, blood-curdling screams. It was the second time that had happened that day. Earlier, screams similar to those (but maybe only 80% as crazed) emanated from the downstairs bathroom. I hurried over to see a very panicked boy pointing to the floor and telling me there was…a spider! Now, dear readers, please do me a favor and make the smallest hole you can with both thumbs and both index fingers together. That’s probably still bigger than the spider that made him freak the fuck out. I gently and safely got it in a Kleenex and set it free in our backyard.

There are two things at play here, folks. First, my son has developed a sizeable fear of bugs. When he was younger, he’d show me pictures in science books of insects and insist they were all cute, even when they made my skin crawl. But then he got really afraid of bees despite never being stung by one, and sometimes even flies really seem to bother him. Hope he grows out of that.

The second thing is my daughter’s incredibly strong belief that all life is sacred. All life. Like she used to get upset when our lawn was mowed. She’s been a vegetarian for years now for moral reasons, and we support that, but it sometimes gets out of hand. Over the summer, there was a wasp in the house. I took exception to that, smacked it with a flip flop, then carefully threw it’s creepy body away outside. My daughter – no joke – wouldn’t look at me the rest of the day and said she didn’t want to have dinner “sitting next to a murderer.” I tried explaining that (as she knows and appreciates), I save spiders, shoo flies outside, and catch-and-release bugs that get into our house. This was different because they sting and don’t buzz like a bee so we don’t even know where they are. Our future lawyer made her case: “So if there were giants and they knew that humans could kick them, you think they should just kill all the humans who get near them even if they didn’t try kicking them at all?” I may have made the wrong call by siding with the giants. Hope she grows out of that.

So back to Thursday evening. My boy is by our front door, screaming his entire head off. He runs away from the area, and as the tears start to come, he says that he was standing right next to a scorpion. “Maybe it was just a cricket,” my lovely wife said, since those make their way indoors at times. I went to the kitchen to find a plastic container I could catch the insect in before making the transfer to the yard. Admittedly, I wasn’t moving my fastest because this happens from time to time, including that morning with the wee little spider.

I walked over, and modeling that it was no big deal, bent down, put the container over the insect, and then stood back up. As luck would have it, it was actually a fucking scorpion. A scorpion! In our house! Still playing it cool, I said, “Hey hon…uh…yeah, it’s a scorpion.” “What? Really?” She walked over, and running around in the upside-down container was a small but irrefutable scorpion. Creepy as fuck. My son further lost his shit and started rehashing how close he’d been to it. “Don’t kill it!” yelled my daughter. To her credit, she then suggested that we shouldn’t put it in our backyard. We all agreed, for the sake of our dog’s health and our own sanity.

While the kids were distracted by the tv, my lovely wife and I first slid a piece of mail under the container, then some cardboard from a box under that, then put all of that inside a bag, and sealed the bag extra well. Carrying it by a corner, I went out front and put it all right in our black trashcan that was going to be emptied into a garbage truck the next morning. We can always get another plastic container – it was an acceptable loss. We came back inside, and when our daughter asked where we put it, we truthfully said it was out front by the curb. We may have omitted the other details.

We’re not in scorpion country here, so it must’ve somehow come with something that had been delivered or…I don’t fucking know. All I know is that my son eventually calmed down, my daughter didn’t call me a murderer, and I won’t be walking barefoot near the front door without intensely studying the ground for some time.

The stars aligning

Hey look at us – we totally made it to October. Go us! Just a quick story for you all today that I hope you enjoy. I don’t think I’ll be able to tell it without kinda spoiling the punchline, but that’s ok.

Nearly five years ago, my company was having a holiday party. Back when gathering crowds was still a thing, we tended to do parties on Fridays. This meant people would spend part of the work day talking about said party, what they were going to wear, what freeways they’d take to get there, etc.

On this particular Friday, the party was a little farther away so people were leaving early to go home and get ready first. I was in the kitchen, and a co-worker said he was taking off for that reason. I was about to say something normal like, “Ok, see you there” when I realized something and paused. A lot happened in that pause. The stars had just aligned perfectly and in a way I may never witness again.

You see, this gentleman’s last name was Richter, and there’s a line from “Total Recall” that my favorite brother and I quote in which Arnold says, “See you at the party, Richter!” Naturally, the line is accompanied by Arnold throwing Mr. Richter’s no-longer-attached arms at him. And here I was, actually going to see someone named Richter at “the party,” and I couldn’t believe my luck. But in the pause, I also realized that not everyone shares that reference, so if I just blurted that line out in an Austrian accent, the odds are it would be met with a metric shit ton of confusion. But at the same time, I owed it to the universe to use this opportunity. What, I told you a lot happened in the pause.

So I ended up saying something like, “This might not mean anything to you, but I’ll explain right after,” and then I said the Arnold line in my best Arnold impression. He didn’t get the reference but appreciated it once I’d explained. Or acted like he appreciated it. Either way is fine with me. It wasn’t the most obscure reference in the world, but still pretty rare to have the quote line up with my reality so perfectly. It would be like teaching a class on pool safety to someone named Rose and getting the chance to say, “I need you to swim for me, Rose.” Or making an 80s playlist and getting to say, “And Toto too.” Or opening a fridge and using Gabriel Byrnes line in “The Usual Suspects” to yell, “There’s no…fucking…coke!” Nah, those are too easy and have totally happened before – this required the name, a type of event, and for the event to be in the near future. I’m proud of my brain for realizing it in the moment, even if I didn’t handle it that gracefully.

That’s it, told you it was a brief story today. Have a great weekend, and stay healthy and safe. (And I’d love other versions of being able to put movie quotes into real-life scenarios if you’ve got ’em, so comment away!)

Impressive-ish

Hello hello! I’ve been meaning to write a post for the last week and keep getting distracted by things like, ya know, life. I have two quick stories that share a theme: they should’ve been more impressed. I’ll get right into them.

About four years ago, I was at work and was having a conversation with someone I hadn’t really interacted with before. As we came to the end of the chat, I asked if she wanted me to email her what we talked about. “Yeah, it’s just A, my last name, at (company).com.” “Ok, and what’s your last name?” I asked. She then said a long Russian last name that I think I had seen written one time since she’d started at the company. “Is that…” I said, and then spelled aloud 13 letters. “Uh huh,” she said flatly. I was pretty amazed at my ability to do that, and I had to imagine most people would’ve said something like, “Whoa, can you spell that for me?” I couldn’t help myself: “That was kinda impressive, right?” Still completely flat, she shrugged and said, “It’s just like it sounds,” and then walked back to her desk.

I sat there for a couple of minutes feeling like I’d been shorted the credit I deserved. She’s right, I suppose, that it sounds like it’s spelled (much like long Japanese last names would be easier to spell than others), but 13 letters and starting with an uncommon “Sm” should’ve gotten some acknowledgement. That said, it’s nothing compared to the lack of astonishment I received in my next story.

It was about a year later, and I was on a company fishing trip. My favorite brother and I were having some breakfast they cooked on the boat and chatting in the indoor area, when I overheard a nearby conversation. A few of the newer employees appeared to be having a disagreement over what went into different cocktails. One boldly asserted something, another said, “No, that’s in an Old Fashioned,” and a third countered with what he thought was in an Old Fashioned. Seeing my opportunity, I walked over. “Excuse me,” I said casually, “but I think I might be able to help with this.” I unzipped my hoodie and revealed the t-shirt I was wearing underneath:

“See!” one guy said. “Told you it had a cherry.” Then they turned and started going back to their conversation. I was in shock. How incredibly unlikely was it for me to be wearing a shirt that listed the ingredients of something they were randomly arguing about? Again, I couldn’t help myself: “Good thing I was wearing this shirt today, right?” I asked. They all smiled and nodded and mumbled some “uh huhs,” but it wasn’t nearly enough for that level of coincidence and timing. I even unzipped and revealed in a cool way, but all for virtually nothing.

That’s it. Just wanted to get those two thematically-related stories out. I’m still a little pissed about both of them, but it’s impossible to make someone more impressed than they are. I should take solace in the fact that I’ve had way more instances where the opposite has happened. That is, I’ve said something that I thought was common knowledge or trivia I happened to have stored in my head and people ended up being floored. Mata Hari being Dutch, for example. Yeah, I should think about that instead. Nope, not working. I was wearing a fucking t-shirt with how to make an Old Fashioned on it! Ok, deep breaths. Have a lovely rest of your weekend, everyone.

Standing out in a small way

Hello, and happy Labor Day weekend. Right now it just feels like a regular weekend that’s slightly longer but not long enough. But who knows, maybe I’ll brave the 115 degrees outside and stand in front of an open flame and grill something up. On second though, that sounds like an incredibly stupid idea. Oh well.

In my career, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a couple hundred people. I enjoy it, and I’ve gotten much better over the years at asking questions that get to the heart of what we need for a particular role. I’ve also gotten better over time at looking at resumes and seeing things that are either deal-breakers or things I’d want to dive into much more in an interview. But out of the 500-1,000 resumes and cover letters I’ve reviewed, one stands out above all the rest, and for good reason.

I was hiring for an important role to lead a pretty big part of our business, and dozens of resumes had come in that weren’t even close. I needed someone who had already been doing similar job duties at a high level, so I wasn’t interested in all of the people promising to be “fast learners” despite not having relevant experience. Then I came across one that checked some of the right boxes at first glance. It also caught my eye because the gentleman’s last name was…well, a very common synonym for “dull.” I’m not writing it here because it would be bad if he somehow Googled himself and found this. So I’ll call him Steve Dull, and I’m imploring you to keep ignoring the feelings pouring out of you to figure out the real last name. And quit your whoring.

Near the end of our application, it has a prompt that I’ve seen some other companies use too: “In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique. Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!” We care a lot about having a diverse and interesting pool of employees, so even though this is awkward at times, it’s led to some good conversations in interviews as we follow up on their answers to this section. Steve Dull’s answer wasn’t what I expected:

“Being born with the last name Dull set the bar pretty high to overcome. Luckily, I grew up to have mediocre looks and a small penis…”

I couldn’t believe it. I had so many thoughts. On one hand, I wanted to applaud this guy for saying, “Hey, this company looks cool and laid back, and that’s the type of place I want to work, so this is my sense of humor. Take it or leave it.” I respect that on one level. But all of the other levels say, “This is the first part of a job interview and you just brought up your penis.”

I obviously sent that part of the application to a few friends of mine, and the best response was from Dusty: “But really huge fucking balls!” I went to the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to try to get a better sense of him. The “About” section said: “Jesus follower. Husband. Dad. Surfer. Golfer. Photographer. Wine lover. Techie.” I was further intrigued. I asked some co-workers what they thought I should do. Because this was the first decent candidate with the right type of experience and I wanted to fill this position. On the other (and larger) hand, that application showed some…questionable decision-making skills and I needed this person to run something worth millions of dollars fairly autonomously. One co-worker said, “What if he had just said ‘small hands’ or alluded to it somehow?” “No,” I said, “there shouldn’t even be a veiled comment about his penis in the application. I like the ‘mediocre looks’ part because it’s a funny misdirect, but it really should’ve ended after that.”

In the end, I settled for a bit of a hybrid when I should’ve just said no from the start. I created a new “phone interview” round to get a feel for him and his expertise, and I told myself that if he knocked it out of the park, I’d have to decide if I could really bring him in to meet other people or not. I already knew the answer would be no though because I couldn’t see myself giving that application to my co-workers and explaining why they were meeting a guy who talked about his junk while applying for the job.

The phone interview thankfully confirmed what I thought – really nice guy, good sense of humor, but his background was not quite enough of what I needed for that role to have him continue in the process. I should’ve just said no from the beginning, but I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to learn more about this guy. We told him to say something unique that would catch our eye, and lordy, he did that. My hat’s off to you, Steve Dull, and I hope you landed somewhere awesome and quickly became a roaring success.

Senseless

Hello hello! We made it to another weekend, which really does feel like a feat at this point. Luckily it’s also disgustingly hot and muggy outside and looks a little like the apocalypse because of fires elsewhere in the state. Yay! Safe to say this was no one’s 2020 vision.

Would a very random thought cheer you up? Oh good. Here’s my bold statement of the day that I will attempt to back up with logic: The word “necklace” is the worst possible name for that item. You might already be thinking, “But why? It’s kind of delicate like lace and goes around the neck – what’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong is that you’re ignoring the fact that it sounds exactly like “neckless” and we all just let that slide. Neckless, as in the worst possible demographic for a necklace. It’s so bad that when we talk about amazing salespeople, we should say that they “could sell a necklace to the neckless.” That’s how bad it is.

Please follow me on this journey. Imagine a boardroom at Tiffany or some other giant jeweler company back in the day.

CEO: Team, we've been riding on the success of our earrings and broaches for ages now, and it's time we shake things up.

HEAD OF SALES: Already?  We just got through explaining how they can still be called "earrings" even when they're not all rings.  Can't we have a little breather?

CEO: Stan, we've talked about this.  No one cares if the name doesn't match, so let's move on.

STAN: (under his breath) It's still confusing.

CEO: We own the market when it comes to earlobes.  We're at the top of the lapel game.  If a finger has something beautiful on it, odds are it came from us.  But what are we missing?

STAN: I imagine you're going to tell us.

CEO: Right you are, Stan.  And what I'm going to tell you will blow your fucking mind.  It's time we branched out to...the wrist!

STAN: Huh, ya know.  I can see that, boss.  Slightly loose-fitting, options for jewels or just metal, all different sorts of style.  This could be huge! I see why you make the big-

CEO: And we'll call it...the wristlace.

STAN: I'm sorry, what?  It sounded like you said "wristless."

CEO: Yeah, but it's spelled l-a-c-e.

STAN: But it sounds like "wristless."

CEO: But it's spelled l-a-c-e!  Look, Stan, let's not get into another one of these discussions.

STAN: Sir, I um, have some concerns.  Namely, if someone has no wrists, they would never buy one of these.  So maybe not calling it something that sounds like "wristless" would be better.  Maybe cufflet or brace-

CEO: Damn it, Stan!  We're going with wristlace and your team will have to figure out how to navigate around this huuuuuge problem you seem to have with the name.

STAN: So you think, sir, that because people will at some point see that it's spelled l-a-c-e, they'll never hear it as "wristless" in their heads and realize what a stupid fucking name it is?  You think people are that idiotic that they'll walk around referring to the thing around their wrists as an adjective meaning "without a wrist" and never bat an eye?  

CEO: I'd bet my life on it.  Now get selling!

With that in mind, are you coming around at all to my bold statement? It does sound pretty stupid now to call it a “neckless,” right? Well, it took me 40+ years to realize I was going along with that name without questioning it, and while I’m not going to propose a new word instead since it would be too uphill of a battle, at least I can try to make others hear it that way and possibly shake their heads. It might be because of the word or it might be remembering how strange I am, but I’ll take either.

That’s bullshit: Lunar edition

Good morning, everyone. Last time I wrote, I had two thoughts I didn’t get to, but they’re pretty brief (especially the first one), so I vow to get through both of them today.

First up, let’s talk about the moon. I like the moon, always have. Maybe it’s because my zodiac sign of Cancer makes me a “moonchild,” or maybe it’s because “Moonchild” is the name Bastian gives the princess in “The Neverending Story.” We may never know (but you can relive my history with that movie scene here if you’d like). Here’s my controversial take on the moon: the gibbous phases don’t get enough love. I’m going to hit enter to let that statement really sink in.

Think about it for a minute. When you picture the moon, you probably picture it full. If not, it’s a crescent. I’m including myself in this gross negligence; I’m sure if I looked back on any drawing or painting I’ve done with the moon featured, it’s in either of those two phases and not in the waxing nor waning gibbous. And frankly, that’s bullshit. No one intentionally includes a new moon (or absence of any visible moon), so that leaves us with a few options. First there’s the full-on full moon, which is beautiful and easy to add to things since it’s circle. Then we have waxing and waning crescents, which look like the moon and therefore make it an easy choice to toss in there. No one’s going to ask what that’s supposed to be (which is probably why it’s popular in logos), while they could in theory wonder if the full moon is supposed to be a planet or even the sun. Next you have the quarter moons, which are even less represented than the gibbous possibly, but they each only get about one day in the cycle, so that’s a little more understandable. But the gibbous, people, the gibbous. According to this site, we’re in one of the gibbous phases at least as long as we’re in the crescents, if not longer. And yet, it is incredibly underrepresented.

What gives? My completely unscientific theory is that the gibbous phases don’t resonate as much with us because they seem “unfinished.” The crescent is an iconic shape reserved for the moon, wrenches, and tasty, flaky rolls. The full moon is bright and spectacular. The gibbous is…a work in progress? A phase between the “sexier” phases? Maybe that makes us feel unsettled in a way. The closest thing that comes to mind to a gibbous moon represented in any kind of art is when the Death Star is still under construction and not yet a full sphere. Fuck that. I’m here for you, gibbous, and when you come back on the 28th of this month, I’m going to look up, nod, and ask, “Who’s a good moon phase? Who’s a good moon phase? That’s right, you are!” It needs all the love it can get.

Fuck, that was supposed to be like a two sentence thought and look what happened. I’m bad at this multi-thought post thing. Oh well, more for next time. Have a great weekend, everyone.

A story on storytelling

Good morning, homepeople. I hope you’re all doing just as well as before if not better. Can’t really ask for more than that, can I? Since we’re all grading on a curve here with how we’re doing, I think aiming for “not worse” is pretty a solid goal. Got a few random things to write about today, so let’s get right into them.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about writing and my own history of learning how to write like my old boss to reduce/eliminate the red-penned edits. I remembered another formative writing moment from my past and wanted to share. My senior year of high school, I dropped AP English Literature and added Play Production instead, which was a great call and didn’t stop me from still majoring in English in college. I still needed an English course though, so I took a non-honors one called Expository Composition with a teacher named Mr. Gilbert.

The class ended up being great because it was super laid back and it broke from the previous three years of drilling into us the need for a thesis, x number of support statements, etc. in a rigid format. I liked the looser writing style and found it pretty revolutionary that it was considered ok in some classes. I only remember a few things about Mr. Gilbert himself. First, he had a Native American friend who said, “Just call me ‘Indian’ man.” Second, he told us the when we were old enough to drink, we should check out sloe gin. I still haven’t, but I remember him saying it’s thicker and takes some getting used to. Strange thing to say to 17 year-olds, sure, but memorable. And the third thing I remember is about storytelling and an exercise we did in class.

Mr. Gilbert had us move the desks into two rows facing each other. The rows were long enough that they ended up forming a bit of a semicircle. Then he said to the students sitting in the inside row, “Tell the person across from you about the best meal you’ve ever had. You have 3 minutes. Go.” I was on the inside and had to think quickly, but something immediately came to mind. I told my partner about being on a long bus ride with fellow students and a group of French foreign exchange students as we took a trip to the Grand Canyon and a few other places. We’d gotten lost or something, and that particular leg of the trip took a couple of hours longer than it was supposed to and we were all starving. We finally got back to civilization and stopped at an In N Out, where I ordered two Double Doubles and absolutely devoured them. I talked about how amazing they tasted and how I could’ve eaten as many as had been put in front of me. (Just writing about it now made my stomach growl in fact.)

Time was up, and Mr. Gilbert said, “Outside row, everyone move over one seat to the right. Inside row, tell the same story to your new partner.” I told the story again. The outside row switched a third time, and I told the story once more to a new person. Mr. Gilbert called us to attention. “Inside row, how did your story change from the first telling to the third?” I thought about it, and though subtle, my story absolutely improved during the course of the exercise. I’d shortened the reason for the bus trip because I realized it wasn’t important to the story. If something got a laugh the first time, I hit it a little harder in the retellings. I added more details about biting into the burger and the emotions around it, but fewer details about the restaurant itself and its location. Looking back, my self-editing based on repetition and real-time feedback made my story significantly better.

Mr. Gilbert tied this to the importance of really working on one’s writing/storytelling and how repetition helps the process. It’s one of the most valuable lessons I took from four years of high school, and I’m reminded of it every time I retell a classic “look what an idiot I was” story from my past. The repetition and feedback from previous versions have transformed those stories from simply recounting something to more of a crafted monologue. It’s something I use in my work life too, practicing presentations as often as possible in front of people to see where the smiles or confused looks come in, and then making adjustments accordingly. That one exercise from one class 25 years ago had more of a lasting effect than anything I got from four years of history classes. I’m sure any stand-up comedian would read this and say, “Yeah, duh. We know this.”

Well look at the time. I had three things to talk about but one took over, so I’ll save the others for the next post. Take care, don’t be worse, and peace in the streets.