Archive for November, 2020

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.