Archive for December, 2011

Degrees

Some years ago, I lived in a tiny apartment in Santa Barbara with my lovely wife née fiancée née girlfriend.  The main room was big enough for an ugly couch, a particle board wardrobe used as a hall closet of sorts, a coffee table, and a table we used as a television stand.   That last item came in handy when I bought a t.v. that I saw on sale at Circuit City.  It wasn’t anything fancy by any means, but it was bigger (and newer) than the one we’d been using up to that point. 

The t.v.’s brand was Apex, which was close enough to Acme that it made me laugh on several occasions.  That wasn’t the best thing about it though; nay, the best thing had to do with its volume.  If I ever wanted to get a laugh out of fellow blogger MC Squared (who lived next door to us at the time), all I had to do was turn the volume from 0 to 1  Level 1 was louder than it should’ve been.  Way louder in fact.  I think 0.5 would’ve still been too loud if it existed, and 0.25 probably close to right.  “Come on!” MC Squared would yell while cracking up.  “That’s 1? How can that be 1?  That’s impossible!”  It got him every single time, and I can’t blame him.  As I mentioned, the place was really small, so volume control actually mattered.  My lovely wife would often go to bed before me, and if I were watching t.v. or playing video games with MC Squared, sometimes 1 was actually too loud.  I tried putting a rolled up towel against the speaker a couple of times, but it didn’t make much of a difference; the power of volume level 1 would not be denied.  In the end, I’d play games on mute occasionally or just be ready with the mute button if the show I was watching looked like it was about to break out into a gunfight.  Still, it was pretty ridiculous to have to take those measures because my television was incapable of having just a wee bit of volume.

I thought about that old t.v. this morning while in the shower.  I realize that might sound a little strange, but please allow me to explain.  You see, the shower in the master bathroom of our new house has interesting controls.  There are two handles, and each only turns one quarter of a turn.  That 90-degree turn makes it go from nothing to full hot (or full cold).  I’m used to two to four twists of a knob to get the water flowing, so this feels strange.  In my mind, a quarter turn should get a trickle going, not be the most extreme turn possible.  In any case, I usually turn the hot on and leave the cold alone.  I like hot showers, and it’s almost always the right temperature for me without touching the cold handle.  Every so often though, it’s a little too hot and I want to take it down a notch.  Today was one of those days, and here’s why I thought of my old t.v.: I barely touched the frickin’ cold handle before it was already colder than I wanted.  I tried moving it back just a smidgen, but I guess I went too far and turned the cold off completely again.  I tried once more but was met with the cold water equivalent to volume level 1.  In the end, I did a little tap-tap-tap to make incremental movements to just slightly cool the water.  I was eventually successful after a few trial and error runs, but I felt a little silly having to resort to those measures.  I checked, and the shower handles were not made by Apex, Pinnacle, Summit, Zenith, or any other synonym of Acme. 

Yes, I realize that it’s probably easy to fix that problem, but that’s not my point.  My point is that I can’t be alone in wanting things that don’t only go from 0 to 60, so why would they be made that way?  Do they make microwaves that are unable to heat under a minute?  Are there bowling alleys that only carry 6 and 16 pound balls?  Do steakhouses only offer “rare” and “burnt” as cooking options?  One thing is for sure: I’m hungry after thinking about steak.  Peace out.

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Isn’t that special?

Let’s talk about the word “special” for a moment, shall we?  I’m not talking about it in the context of “special needs,” mind you.  (But now that I think about that term, it keeps sounding more and more demeaning.  “Oh everybody has needs, but his needs are super duper special!”)  I’m talking about the noun form of it.  We’re used to seeing that noun most often in two distinct realms: television and dining.

When there’s a t.v. “special,” it’s usually fairly true to the meaning of the word.  That it, it’s a not-regularly-scheduled program that should have increased value to the audience because of its rarity.  It’s special compared to the normal crap that the station airs, right?  So I have no problem with that usage.

Let’s say you’re out at a restaurant and the server comes over to greet you.  What often happens next?  He or she tells you the “specials.”  For the most part, I think these fit the bill as well.  The swordfish entree isn’t on their menu but they’re making it tonight, so it’s special.  Fine.  That said, there’s a place down the street from my old office that my buddy Rob and I went to a handful of times that always had the same “special.”  It quickly became a running gag, and we’d have to try to keep a straight face as the server said the same thing verbatim as we’d heard every other time in there.  In fact, if we drove past that restaurant, it was likely that one of us would say to the other, “Hey, I wonder if they’re serving their lightly dusted sanddabs with blah blah blah mustard something.” “Ooh, they just ran out,” the other might reply.  Good times.

That brings us to lunch specials, specifically the kinds that have no right using that word.  I’ve been to countless places that have the same “specials” on their printed menus or even on giant banners that never get taken down.  If you have them every single day for people to order, that’s not a special; that’s just a menu item.  I thought about this because I was eating lunch a couple of days ago at a Mexican place recommended to me by that same buddy Rob.  I studied the giant glossy banner announcing the “lunch specials” and saw that they each came with rice and beans.  I ordered the carne asada burrito “special” because that’s what I do to compare manzanas to manzanas, then took a seat.  A few minutes later, the guy nodded to me and I walked up to take my tray of food.  I looked and saw only a wrapped up burrito on the plate.  “Excuse me,” I said, “but I thought the special came with rice and beans.”  Without missing a beat, he replied, “They’re inside the burrito.”  He said it as if it should’ve been obvious.  “Oh that makes sense,” I said sarcastically, but he missed my tone completely and smiled as though he fully answered my question.  Awesome.

So that’s what caused me to analyze the word in detail and write this post.  (And in case you were wondering, the burrito itself was pretty good, but nothing special.)

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Job hunting and the apparent scarcity of optimism

As I walked out of the drama classroom one morning during my senior year of high school, I noticed that the weather had changed during the preceding 50 minutes.  “Cool, it’s raining,” I said aloud.   “You’re an optimist,” I heard someone say.  I looked, and it was my friend Pam.  “Everyone else who came out was upset about the rain, but you said it was cool,” she reasoned.  “Maybe I just like the rain more than other people,” I countered.  She accepted that as a possibility, but said that I was still an optimist because I didn’t immediately jump to be upset by the change in the weather and its repercussions.  I thought (and still think) that she was giving me too much credit, but the question remains: is optimism so scarce that even glimpses of it stand out as rarities?  My experiences over the past couple of weeks have told me that the answer is a resounding yes.

As of a few days before Thanksgiving, I am looking for a new job.  Even though my boss views it as some kind of unpaid, immediate, temporary yet indefinite furlough that will end sometime soon and restore order to things, I see it as being laid off.  My first reaction (once the initial stupification wore off) was to hit the ground running and go get something else as quickly as possible.  I started calling and emailing the contacts I had made over the past several years and got to work (trying to find work).  I couldn’t imagine another course of action, but apparently others can since I was commended for the way I jumped into the daunting task.   In an email to a few friends, I wrote that this was also an opportunity for me to really think about what I wanted to do and possibly find something better and/or closer to home.  I was met again with warm responses lauding me for my optimism and attitude.  While it felt good to read those emails from some of my closest friends in the world, I couldn’t shake my follow-up question: “Well what else would I do?”

It was just one day later that I was sitting in traffic on the way to “my” office.  As many of you know (or should know by now), I like looking at bumper stickers and license plate frames.  Going zero miles-per-hour in front of me was a car with this frame: “If you feel sad – Don’t.  Be awesome instead.”  I saw that and said aloud in my car, “Fuck yeah!”  Of course I know it’s not that easy, but I love that mindset.  I don’t see any value in dwelling on frustrations when I can proactively try to change things, and trying to be awesome might just be the best way to go about that.  Not just good, better, or even great.  Awesome.  “You got it, stranger’s car!” I thought to myself, and I readied myself for the task ahead of me.

I began sending out cover letters and applications to a wide range of job openings.  During that process, something occurred to me.  For the first time in my life, I wasn’t selling myself as the bright, young professional with a ton of potential who employers should snag now before he lands somewhere else.  Instead, based on the level of the positions I was seeking, I had to be the confident, experienced professional who can bring the lessons he learned from his past successes to help grow their companies.  I’d never played that role before, and though it felt a bit artificial, I got behind it and adopted an extra level of fake confidence to accompany that persona.

Here’s the thing: it’s a super shitty time to be looking for a job.  I’ve received very little feedback to date, and though I’ve had two good interviews so far for a company that’s bringing me back tomorrow, I know that there are 25+ jobs that haven’t even acknowledged my application.  So I press on because, again, “Well what else would I do?”  I’ve told clients in the past that my philosophy is to be simultaneously as prepared and as flexible as possible.  Now it’s time to prove that I actually operate in that manner.  In the meantime, I’ll do what I would ask of anyone else in a trying situation: work hard, be honest with myself and others, and be confident that those things will pay off in the end.  I acknowledge the craptastic situation I’m in, and it is definitely frustrating to be met with so much silence, but I’m trying to be awesome instead.  That’s as good as any place to start, right?

 

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