Friday, December 21, 2012

Fiction Friday's Christmas Vacation

Fiction Friday will be out of the office until the New Year, because holidays. Regular programming will return Jan. 6th 4th, because apparently I can't work a calendar. Some hints to tide you over:

-- Michael loses his temper and says some naughty words, tsk tsk.

-- The gang all get tattoos.

-- Nothing says "trouble" like a live MacGuffin.

-- Or a wild goose chase.

-- Or people who keep showing up at the worst possible time.

-- Nothing good ever happens at abandoned shopping malls.

Now go spend time with your families or your pets or that six-pack of drifters that pretends to be your family in exchange for you letting them sleep in your shed.

Merry Christmas!

It's important to know these things about oneself.

A conversation that just occurred inside my head:

"Why did you say that, Self? She probably thinks you're a weirdo now. What if she thinks you're a weirdo?"

"But Self... I am a weirdo."

"Oh... right. Carry on, then."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Porridge today, Gromit! Tuesday!

-- Blehhhhh my last mouthful of coffee was in fact a mouthful of coffee grounds. They're in my teeeeeeeth.

-- It’s not a toaster, it’s a Toastinator. It’s not a car, it’s a Transportinator. It’s not an mp3 player, it’s a DrownOutMyCoworkersinator.

-- I learned elian script over the summer and now I use it to write subversive quotes in public places. I'm thinking next I'll start leaving instructions. "If you can read this, go to... "

-- Of course I would also leave instructions like "If you're translating this for someone, tell them to [blank] so I know they didn't do the work themselves. You, on the other hand, should go to... "

-- Drinking wine alone: Sad. Drinking good wine alone: Solitary, but enjoyable. Drinking good wine alone, with a crazy straw, while you watch Adventure Time: Freakin’ awesome.

-- When I'm baking and it comes time to activate the yeast, I sometimes raise my hands and cry out "Awake, my minions!" or something to that effect. It's especially fun during thunderstorms. I also make wizardy gestures when I put a pot of water on to boil.

-- I lost my favorite button, which was part of a five-pack, which I only bought to get that button, but I still have the other four buttons so I can't right now justify the cost of shipping to replace it. I has a sad.

-- Secret Santa's going on at work and I already got a bag of extra dark chocolate Lindor balls. This is going to be a Good Christmas.

-- This song is awesome.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions


            “So,” Michael said around a mouthful of hash browns, “tell me what you’ve been up to lately.”
            “Define ‘lately’,” I countered. This was the third time in the past six months Michael had let himself into my apartment and rousted me out of bed at stupid o’clock for a “consulting” gig, although after eight weeks I’d hoped we were done for good. My wall calendar bore a running countdown to the day my amended contract expired and I was officially off the payroll. The day after that was marked “RUN FAST, RUN FAR” in big red letters. AGATE was very good at drawing people back in when they wanted to leave, and they did not appreciate having to provide references for former employees. Not that I’d be able to use them, anyway. Not that I wanted to use them, either.
            Michael tapped his knife on the edge of his plate. “Since the team -- since you left full-time status at the company, I guess. It’s been almost eight months.”
            My loaded fork paused just before it passed my lips. “Eight months,” I echoed. “Criminy, is that all it’s been? It feels longer.”
            “Nope. You left at the end of July.”
            I finished the interrupted bite and wagged the handle of my fork at him while I chewed. “That’s why. I’ve been counting from -- from earlier.” I went to wash down the eggs with coffee and found my cup empty. “From April.”
            “April.” Michael looked down, to the left, up at the ceiling and down at his own coffee. “Of course.”
            “Of course.” I borrowed his half-full cup and took a drink. “If you can think of a better end-point, I’d love to hear it.” The coffee was lukewarm and bitter and left grit between my teeth. “Or maybe ‘before-and-after’ is a better word for it. I dunno.”
            Michael took his cup back without looking at it and poked at his potatoes in deliberate silence. It looked for all the world like he was in the throes of a powersulk, but it definitely wasn’t mere hurt feelings. Addressing it would undoubtedly prove futile. I decided to wait it out and got on with my meal. Just when the clink and scratch of cheap cutlery on equally cheap china began to grate on my nerves, Michael said, “You still haven’t answered my question.”
            I hate being put on the spot like that, especially by someone who’s technically in charge of me. It always feels like an interrogation, like any minute the bad cop’s going to come in, pounding on the table and telling me I can make a phone call after I ‘fess up, and I better make it quick because the DA’s disinclined to make a deal. I always assumed it was irrational. My work experience has taught me it otherwise. Paranoia can keep you alive of you’re smart about it.
            “I’ve been up to stuff,” I said, instead of clamming up until I could speak to my lawyer. (Like he’d do any good; Levitt was on AGATE’s payroll, not mine.)
            “What kind of stuff?” Michael pressed. His eyes narrowed just a little -- not enough to be sinister, but definitely off-putting. The morning light washed out his bright blue irises to near white and put a glare on his glasses. “Clarify it a little for me.”
            “Stuff and things and errands and occasionally a movie.” I took a huge bite of potatoes and made a show of enjoying it to buy me some time. I needed a hint as to where this line of questions was going.
            “Are you working anywhere yet?”
            And there it was. He wanted to know if the outplacement liaison had found something for me. Although -- why was he asking me? Nobody would have cared if he’d gone through channels to find out. Snooping on each other was a fact of life while we were active, almost like a game to see who could find out the most on whom. Matter of fact, the boss encouraged it. Said it kept his employees honest. I narrowed my eyes right back at him, simultaneously raising an eyebrow. “Yes...?”
            He leaned forward a little. “Where?”
            “In an office? Mike, why don’t you know this already? Since when do you not do all your research before an assignment?”
            The tips of his ears turned red. “Who says I didn’t? Maybe I’m testing you to see if your answers line up with my findings.”
            I put down my fork. “Are you?”
            The flush spread down the back of his neck and across his cheeks. “Maybe.”
            “You’re not.” This was pointless. “Fine. AGATE’s got me set up with a regional courier service. Right now I run the dispatch office. It’s the same thing I did when I worked with you, except my desk is in an office instead of a van, and when I send my people out on jobs -- ” I stopped, feeling my face glowing red to match his. “It’s safe. I have an apartment and a cat and a bamboo plant in my office, and next Tuesday I’m bringing cheesy potatoes to the pitch-in. It’s safe and it’s normal and it’s a life and I like it. And I need to call them and let them know I’m taking a personal day so I don’t get fired later.” I was angry. I was raising my voice. Other people in the restaurant were starting to glance in our direction. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that none of this was really Michael’s fault, and apologized. “That got away from me for a minute. Sorry.”
            He nodded, and the blush faded. “S’all right. It’s been a stressful morning.”
            “Yeah.” Deep, even breaths. “And I know you’re not the bad guy here. Not really.”
            “‘Not really’?” Michael echoed, with a bit of a laugh. “That’s the best I get?” He pushed his plate away and reached for the happy face pancakes. “Nice.”
            “Well, you know.” I drank some more of his coffee. “You’re an anti-hero at best.”
            “Says the fixer.”
            “It’s a sliding scale.”
            “Oh, I see. And which end are we at?” he asked, cutting off a piece of pancake and dipping it in the whipped cream. “Because real anti-heroes eat whisky and thermite for breakfast, not rainbow sprinkles.”
            “I never drink between 5 a.m. and noon,” I said, taking a bite from the other side of the pancake. “And I still gotta call work so they know to take over for me.”
            Michael stretched and sighed. “Right. You need to borrow my phone?”
            “Nah, I saw an old pay phone in the back. I’ll use that.” I stood up, cracked my back and dug in my pockets. “Um. Do you have any quarters?”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Oof, right in the childhood

I apologize in advance for ruining subsequent screenings of this timeless holiday classic.

(Actually no I'm not sorry at all.) *runs away laughing*

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tam gets poetry, I get out-of-market queries.

In my e-mail today, I found this:
Hi Joanna
After a relatively poor experience at a job, I began doing research about what it meant to be a great manager and how great management skills can be taught.
I have been working on an article about my research and find it to actually be pretty helpful for both students and people currently in the workforce.
Please let me know if you have any questions and if you are interested in seeing the full outline.
My reply:
I blog about cats.
-- J.
Relevancy is everything, [redacted]. Relevancy is everything.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

6. Career Path

            Here’s a thought experiment: Take five intelligent, reasonably attractive twenty-somethings and put them in a vehicle together. Give them reasonably clear instructions and ridiculously broad parameters of acceptable damages. Tell them they’re under the best legal protection money can buy, tell them to get the job done at (almost) any cost, tell them to go ahead and enjoy themselves once in a while, and set them loose. If you don’t see chaos coming, you have a far more optimistic outlook than I do. In hindsight, I just thank God we were limited to one continent.
            Michael’s father gave his children two choices when it came time to take their place in the company. They could either a) get fitted for suits straight out of school and start working in a cushy office environment with every amenity; or they could b) start in the field and work their way up to the top from there. To hear Michael tell it, it wasn’t a hard choice; if he was to be co-executive someday, he wanted to understand what everyone under him would experience. Good leaders, he (somewhat drunkenly) explained to us once, are never too good to join their men in the trenches.
            To hear Rosemarie tell it, Michael wanted to put off wearing a tie to work for as long as humanly possible. His rebuttal: “Okay, yeah, that. But the other stuff too.”
            They both agreed that if they were going to do field work, they were going to go all out: Odd (really odd) jobs, obscure locations, difficult cargo, stuff that nobody else would do without overtime or hazard pay. (Occasionally that translated to spring vacations in Italian villas -- them’s the perks when you’re family – but not as often as any of us would have liked.) Building a team was Rosemarie’s idea, based on about a year’s worth of work with her brother. Michael could make plans all day long but tended to lose his head if something went sideways in the middle of an assignment. Rosemarie did fine on the fly, but she could (and once or twice did) get lost walking to the corner and back without step-by-step directions and a list of major landmarks.
            I never learned specifically who else they recruited that first go-around, but apparently I was one of four who passed both the overt (“oops, there goes the map”) and unspoken (“No need to mention this to the others”) tests. I was one of only two who called afterward. Despite the lack of a formal interview, I guess I made a good impression; Rosemarie in particular seemed pretty pleased it was me that got the job. I had to agree with her. It wasn’t what I’d planned to do after college, mostly because I didn’t have any plans at all. But it certainly beat sitting in a cubicle with a cup of burnt chain-store coffee, slowly developing carpal tunnel and wishing I’d gone for a STEM degree instead of a bachelor’s in English Lit.
            We did well, the three of us, but the arrival of Colin and Stephanie (and their respective skill sets) took us up a level. AGATE made sure we were fully stocked with new equipment, information and supplies. We started getting sealed instructions with labels like “eyes only” and “extreme discretion”. We had a comfortable budget and minimal oversight. We had those little two way radios that hide on your shirt collar or in your ear. We had code names, for God’s sake: Shotgun. Forward. Boomtown. Houston. Michael and Rosemarie’s personal project was now a full-fledged asset protection and recovery team. And when Michael announced our official title, our unanimous response was, “We’re a what now?”
            It shouldn’t have been too surprising. AGATE was a backronym for Asset Gain And Transport Experts. Rosemarie told me that her dad started the company as a kitchen and bathroom supply store -- fixtures, cabinets, things like that. The name came from the unusual stone he used for custom countertops. When he had extra space in the truck during delivery runs, he’d sell it to whoever needed something hauled across town, barely any questions asked. When he realize he was making more money shipping packages than he was selling fancy plumbing fixtures, he sold the storefront and switched over completely to discrete shipping for the discerning client.
            Our team’s new title came with a new scope of operations: Instead of just picking up items ready for transport, we were now authorized to do the fetching ourselves. If a client in Massachusetts needed a file from his vacation home in Malibu, we would enter the premises and get it for him. Easy enough: Show up with the work order, get the key from the landlord or ask the housekeeper if we could pretty please go into the den and root around until we found it. We got in, we got out, we handed the objective to a waiting rapid-transit team, and for the most part that was that. Easy peasy, livin’ greasy, unless ...
            ... the objective was stored by someone other than the client, and that someone didn’t want the client to have it. AGATE’s legal department required clients to establish legitimate ownership of the file/photos/object d’art/whatever (or else prove malicious intent on the part of the actual owner), so I had no problems there, ethically speaking. It got fuzzy when we learned retrieval meant waiting until dark and dressing all in black and scaling fences, or seducing an office manager and stealing his keys, or just plain lying our asses off until we got the access we needed. Colin and Rosemarie turned out to be particularly talented at the second and third options. Stephanie was disturbingly practiced at the first, especially when it came to dealing with dogs. We chose not to dig too deep into her records.
            One thing that didn’t change was that when a job was in motion, I sat in the back of the van with my charts and schedules and equipment, a different color pen behind each ear and two more holding up my hair, listening to the others on the radios and relaying instructions as needed. Sometimes Michael stayed in with me, depending on the job, which was nice. Two people on the mics means one of you can make a coffee run or slip away to the bathroom if you need it. It’s those little details, the ones you never see in movies, that make or break an assignment. Overlook those, and they can really cause you problems.
            I don’t watch that kind of movie anymore.

Part 7 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


The way things are set up now, my bed is right below the fan that keeps the attic cool. It's on a thermostat and only comes on when the temperature up there reaches (I've been told) 60F. Which is great, except it's mounted in such a way that it vibrates the whole wall and creates a loud, droning hum that makes it impossible to sleep. The only options are to either a) wait it out, or b) shut it off at the breaker box, which means shutting off the entire bedroom. That means no lights, no electric blanket and no alarm clock (I use my phone instead). It's not really an issue this time of year, and it's on the handyman's to-do list, but when it does pop up it gets super annoying.

And I am so incredibly grateful for that annoyance, because it means I have a living space to be annoyed in. If I'm high enough up Maslow's pyramid that a noisy vent fan is one of my greatest existential troubles, I must be doing all right. That doesn't mean I don't want to climb up and jam a screwdriver in the damn thing; just that I'm glad that's even an option. I really don't have much in my life to complain about. At all.