Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pfffft... Halloween

I've worked every Halloween for the past seven years. Although October is our major fundraising month on the job, Halloween is not one of the nights on which we run a fundraiser. I have had a couple of people just show up at the front door and ask what's going on. When I told her that nothing is happening, one girl replied, "But your web site says..." I asked her to show me the website on her phone and then set her straight... "That's not our website."

There are some trick-or-treaters roaming about the neighborhood, but none of them has come by the front door (it is, after all, not a residence). A few hours ago, a couple of families came by to use the restrooms, but that was when the place was open. I figure the rest of the night will be pretty quiet.

At any rate, it's another lackluster Halloween. I think it can be summed up by this unintentionally(?) obscene pumpkin which is supposed to represent a tombstone cherub:

I call it "gourdse". Happy Halloween, folks!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Busy Day Before Halloween... Post a Video!

Today was a lot busier than I anticipated it would be. At the beginning of my shift, I received a call from the Manager on Duty, who informed me that there was a gas leak in one of our buildings because the gas furnace had been turned on improperly. I had to locate the key to the furnace room and we turned off the furnace. No sooner had I done this when I received a call from the home office and was told that the employee who had to close down another of our sites had had a problem and that I would have to travel there to close the place up properly. Before heading down, I had to give a jump to another employee whose car battery had an insufficient charge. I spent the first three hours of my shift running hither, tither, and yon responding to out-of-the-ordinary situations, and it put me off my game for a while.

I don't have time to put up an elaborate post, so I figure I'll post a video or two by Screaming Lord Sutch, shock rocker and founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (note to Tea Partiers, this party was founded as a joke). Screaming Lord Sutch did the "horror rock" thing a decade before Alice Cooper ever put on eye shadow. His songs aren't very good, but they do have some novelty value:

My personal favorite by the Third Earl of Harrow is Murder in the Graveyard:

As someone who often walks by Woodlawn Cemetery on his way home from the end of the 4 line after a night of drinking in Manhattan or Brooklyn, I look at Murder in the Graveyard as a cautionary tale.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Year Since Sandy

Local news coverage has been dominated by tales from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which was a combination of a post-tropical storm and a "winter" storm that converged on the Eastern Seaboard. My personal experience of Sandy wasn't exactly pleasant, I had to move about half a ton of material on the job as the storm bore down on the NY metro area, then I camped out in a cold, dark workplace because my coworkers were stymied by downed trees and flooded roads, besides, there was no gasoline to be had, so I was better off hunkering down than sitting in a gas line or at the side of a highway. I ended up staying on the job for a thirty-two hour endurance tour, with no heat or electricity, before the power was restored a week after the storm hit. Yeah, it wasn't pleasant, but I was one of the lucky ones... I live on a hill, away from the coast. The power never went out at Casa de Bastard... I was okay, the house was okay, work was acceptable. I lost nothing more than sleep while many lost everything.

Certain communities will never be the same. People's lives have been irrevocably harmed due to the loss of loved ones or homes.

Yesterday, I ran into my friend Mary Courtney, who was involved in benefit concerts on behalf of Sandy victims. A year after the storm, the topic is still very much on the minds of residents of the Tri-State Area. While grassroots relief efforts did incredible work, there are still claims to be paid, neighborhoods to renovate or raze, and displaced persons to find homes for. I'm not complaining about my week of discomfort and inconvenience.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Good Night, Sweet Lou

I learned of the death of Lou Reed at one o'clock this morning after working a long, somewhat punishing day at our fall fundraiser. It was somehow appropriate that Lou shuffled off this mortal coil on a Sunday morning, that being the title of an incongruously pretty Velvet Underground song:

Brooklyn-born Lewis Allan Reed was the quintessential New York musician- cerebral, cutting edge, deadpan, and transgressive. His career spanned from the nascent days of the hippies to the salad days of the hipsters, his loyalty to the city never waned even through the Bad Old Days of the mid-to-late 70s or the sterile, crass days of the Giuliani administration. Of course, the only way to memorialize a man like Lou Reed is to listen to his body of work, and compiling this post will allow me to deal with my melancholy by listening to a lot of great music (I have to confess that Lou's death didn't hit me like Joey Ramone's death did- me being older now, and Lou being a lot less fragile than Joey was- I shed a tear for Joey on a drive with my brother Sweetums from Mom's house in Virginia to our native New York and blasted the two-disc Ramones compilation- I merely felt a bit melancholy when I heard that Lou had died, and blasted the traffic report on my drive home). Anyway, Roy has a great take on Lou's career, but here's my personal take on Lou's music, and its place in my life.

While some pundits characterized Lou as a malcontent, there was a lighter side to him that was made evident in his deadpan jokey love letter to his Brooklyn boyhood:

Another goofy oddball entry in the Reed canon (which is full of serious oddball material) is Reed's take on cartoon villainy, as he embodies an evil, postapocalyptic proto-furry in a somewhat obscure Canadian animated feature:

A guy who took himself too seriously couldn't have recorded that number.

Reed's best-known song, inexplicably played on mainstream radio stations despite its transgressive subject matter, was Walk on the Wild Side, which offered biographical snippets about members of Andy Warhol's "Factory". The song detailed the migration of disaffected suburbanites to the Big City and their subsequent transformation into superstars:

Years later, with the hard times in NYC in the 70s and the Reagan-era AIDS policy that ravaged the NYC arts scene having left their mark, Lou wrote Dirty Boulevard... the "TV whores" Reed describes in this song didn't have an escape into "superstardom" like Candy did. Dirty Boulevard describes living on the wild side, with no prospect of escape:

And now, on to Sweet Jane, my all-time favorite Lou Reed song, a song which perfectly encapsulates Lou's range. A 1969 live version, recorded before the song debuted on the album "Loaded" is a tender, almost jazzy number:

In contrast, the version which made it onto "Loaded" is more of a straightforward rocker, and the 1974 live version from "Rock and Roll Animal" may be the most "rock and roll" rock and roll song ever performed. I'm going to post a lesser known live version from a 1974 Paris concert (even though the video quality leaves something to be desired and the organ levels are too high- heh heh) because it has actual performance footage:

Of course, one could go on, citing even more great songs like Sister Ray, Heroin, Who Loves the Sun or more recent ones such as Romeo Had Juliette (sic). Brian Eno was reported to have said, "The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years, I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!” Whether actually true or not, Lou certainly had an influence disproportionate to his chart positions. He lived longer than I would have guessed he would if you had asked me back in 1987 or so, in light of his "rock and roll lifestyle", but his passing leaves me with a sense of melancholy. Thanks for the legacy, Metal Machine Music Man.

Post title conflates Hamlet and the 1970s Yankees roster

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quelle Horreur!

Today's another busy day for me, I'm working the Fall fundraiser and I don't have the time to be surfing the Intert00bz. I composed this post yesterday in the wee hours of the morning. This being October, a month for scary stories, I think I should post some links to some of my favorite works of "weird" fiction. Clark Ashton Smith is a woefully under-appreciated (though I've shown my love for the guy) master of the "weird" tale. His fiction blended the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres, with his stories often displaying a mordant (and morbid) wit. Smith was immortalized by his pen-pal H.P. Lovecraft as the Atlantean high priest Klarkash-Ton in his tale The Whisperer in Darkness.

Some of my favorite C.A.S. tales are set in the fictional French province of Averoigne, which was modeled after the real province of Auvergne. I imagine that Averoigne is bordered by James Branch Cabell's fictional province of Poictesme and C.L. Moore's fictional province of Joiry. Smith's Averoigne is inhabited by a disparate population of insufficiently faithful clergymen, a coterie of necromancers, at least two alluring enchantresses, and a passel of werewolves and vampires.

The best known tale in the "Averoigne Cycle" is probably The Colossus of Ylourgne, which details an involved revenge plot by the necromancer Nathaire, driven from the town of Vyones "during a year of unusual inquisitory zeal". The protagonist of the story, the less unsavory student of alchemy and sorcery Gaspard du Nord,e was incorporated into H.P. Lovecraft's "mythos" as the translator of the ancient and uncanny Book of Eibon (Eibon being the protagonist of Smith's The Door to Saturn.

Another infamous "Averoigne" tale is The Beast of Averoigne, which is a tale of an alien invasion, interpreted by a Benedictine monk as the visitation of a denizen of hell.

In a more comic vein, The Holiness of Azédarac is a tale of one Brother Ambrose, sent on a mission to investigate allegations of heresy on the part of a bishop, during which he meets the enchantress Moriamis.

The Eldritch Dark, one of my favorite websites, collects the works of Clark Ashton Smith. The website, a trove of gloriously purple prose and sonorous poetry, is quite a dangerous time sink. The trip to Averoigne is only a matter of a couple of hours, though.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Do You Mind?

This is the busiest weekend of the year for us- we have two sold-out fundraisers and the town where I typically work has a lot of activities going on as well. Our crowd will probably be drunker and rowdier than our previous weekends' crowds. I won't have a lot of time to post. I'm currently working the second shift of a double... it's quiet, so I figure I'll finally get to write a couple of blog posts scheduled to pop up over the next couple of days. It's nice to have time to write now, so I'll fire up the old laptop:

Hey, fuzzface, do you mind?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Let 'Em Piss Down that Drain

One of the big local stories going around in the NYC metro area is the lifting of a campaign donation cap in New York state by a federal court. Prior to lifting this ban, donors could not contribute more than $150,000 per year.

Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, a mining industry company head, wished to donate $200,000 to Lhota's campaign, and brought the lawsuit.

Currently, Lhota trails frontrunner Bill DiBlasio by just about 45 points. It's doubtful that all the money a Carpeteabagger, especially an anti-labor one, can funnel into the race would result in a Lhota victory. If McCutcheon wants to piss hundreds of thousands of dollars down the Lhota drain, let him do it.

Of course, the prospect of unlimited campaign contributions is much more worrisome in the context of next year's midterm House elections. Hopefully, the sheer odiousness of the Tea Party House candidates will nullify the money advantage.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Leptin and Lipids

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture featuring Lasker Award winning biologist Dr (MD and PhD) Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University. Dr Friedman's official title for the lecture was "Leptin and the Biologic Basis of Obesity".

Dr Friedman began his lecture by noting that the topic of obesity was more personal that, for instance, the Large Hadron Collider, and he asked the audience to suspend any preconceived notions about the subject. He then noted that, after the main topic, he would briefly discuss the hedonistic value of food.

He then moved on to the question, why are obese individuals obese? Why does a particular individual eat too much? Before answering the questions, he indicated that obesity must be deconstructed- how do we define and measure obesity, and what causes the problem? An individual is considered overweight when their body fat equals or exceeds 20%, and obese when body fat equals or exceeds 30%. An individual with over 25% body fat has an increased risk of health problems and an individual with body fat exceeding 30% is at risk of increased mortality. Overweight individuals are at an increased risk of coronary disease, hypertension, steatosis, and diabetes. Given the health problems and the social stigma attached to obesity, why don't people lose the weight? Dr Friedman asked for an audience response- is it a lack of willpower? Environment and lifestyle? Genes? The answer he provided is that it is all three.

70-95% of diets fail within two years. Weight problems involve the First Law of Thermodynamics- if energy input exceeds energy utilized, the excess energy is stored as fat. Generally, weight is fairly stable in people unless they are trying to change their weight, with a typical person gaining ten pounds per decade. The typical body has a biological system which "counts calories". In an experiment, rats which were force fed reduced their voluntary caloric intake for a few weeks after their forced feeding. Similarly, rats which received a reduced caloric intake for a few weeks consumed more calories for a few weeks after their deprivation. There was a biological "drive" which returned the animals to a normal weight range.

Dr Lasker went on a brief tangent regarding the history of obesity, noting that obesity is not a new phenomenon, illustrated by a slide of the Venus of Willendorf. He then displayed a 1727 quote by one Thomas Short: “I believe no Age did ever afford more Instances of Corpulency than our own.” Dr Laser then indicated that the obesity rate in the West has doubled since 1980. The typical characterization of the doubling of the rate is that genes haven't changed, but the environment has. In a short time, the average weight gain was only 7-10 lbs, but the problem with the statistics is that obesity is a fixed threshold, while weight is a continuous variable. Slight weight gains can push an individual into the "obese" category.

Unlimited access to calories is one major environmental factor in the increased incidence of obesity, but there is a heritability factor. A hormone called leptin helps to regulate appetite- leptin sends a signal to the hypothalamus indicating that an individual has reached satiation. Individuals who lack leptin in the blood tend to be obese because they are not sated. Leptin also helps to regulate activity- leptin lacking individuals tend to be lethargic. The appetite stimulating counterpart to leptin is ghrelin. While rare individuals lack leptin, obesity is usually not a leptin deficiency, obese individuals typically have high leptin levels but they have a hormone resistance syndrome (similarly, type 2 diabetes involves insulin resistance, not a lack of insulin). The signal sent by leptin to the hypothalamus is weaker. Giving extra leptin to obese individuals did result in weight loss, but the amount of leptin needed was unfeasible to administer in a commercial setting- individuals would have needed 2 milliliter injections twice a day. Smaller amounts of leptin had no observable effect. One possible clinical approach to leptin resistance would be finding leptin sensitizers.

Feeding is regulated by two systems, a short term one and a long term one- the long term system depends on leptin and regulates the amount of fat that is stored, the short term system maintains high nutrient levels throughout the day and regulates feeding during the day- it involves neural factors and peptide hormones such as insulin and amylin.

There is an evolutionary component to the typical weight range of an animal- if an animal is too lean, there is an increased risk of starvation, if it is too fat, there is an increased risk of predation. There is not much difference between the hypothalamus of a fish and that of a human, the mechanisms which stimulate and inhibit feeding do not differ much among the vertebrates. In a typical vertebrate, feeding is homeostatic- a stable condition is maintained in most cases.

Dr Friedman then went on to discuss an experiment regarding the hedonistic value of food. Feeding is a complex behavior, involving not only hormones, but also smell, emotion, volition, and vision. In one study, the "reward center" of the midbrain of a mouse was altered so that it could be stimulated with a laser, resulting in a release of dopamine. The laser could be activated by the animal licking a sensor, and the neurons would be activated. Activating the neurons activated a behavior- the light would provide a stimulus to eat more.

In his closing, Dr Friedman noted that Hippocrates advised overweight individuals to eat less and exercise more, but he noted that we could do better than to repeat 2000 year old advice. He exhorted us to concentrate more on our health than our weight, but advised anyone with weight-related health consequences to try to lose a modest amount of weight- even the loss of ten pounds can make a difference. He ended up by telling us that we shouldn't berate ourselves for not being able to lose weight, we're fighting against powerful biological forces, then he told us not to berate others about their weight. In the Q&A, some bastard was going to ask about the role of our microbiomes in weight regulation, but some d00d beat me to the punch. Dr Friedman didn't have much to say about our bacterial fellow travelers, indicating that food intake and activity levels were of paramount importance.

Poking around the t00bz, I found a video of Dr Friedman giving an almost identical lecture:

Grab yourself a beer and watch it for a slight taste of the "Secret Science" experience.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another Backhanded Love Song to a City

Nobody writes better backhanded love songs to a city than Shane MacGowan, the frontman of the Pogues. Shane was responsible for such odes to London, in all her seamy glory, as Transmetropolitan, London You're a Lady, and Dark Streets of London... among others. This week, I heard a song that I overlooked when it came out seven or so years ago, Lily Allen's LDN, which is a bouncy number about how appearances in the city can be misleading, even on a beautiful, sunny day:

When you look with your eyes
Everything seems nice
But if you look twice
you can see it's all lies

I have always loved uptempo songs about slightly depressing subject matter- the juxtaposition's always appealed to me. Anyway, here's LDN in all of its mixed-message glory:

The song samples Tommy McCook and the Supersonics' Reggae Merengue:

Which is an adaptation of the 1954 Colombian cumbia Cogeme la Caña:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jersey Equality

Today's big regional story is that New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the Harkonnen on the Hudson, has withdrawn New Jersey's appeal to uphold a same-sex marriage ban. Christie had appealed a Mercer county superior court judge's decision to allow same-sex marriages, but decided that he didn't want to continue his opposition to marriage equality when the case reached the New Jersey Supreme Court. His opposition to marriage equality has already cost the state millions of dollars... so much for Republican fiscal responsibility.

At any rate, same-sex marriages began in New Jersey today, with Newark mayor and senator-elect Cory Booker officiating over several marriages in the midnight hour. Congratulations to all of the couples who have finally been able to wed. It's a great day for New Jerseyites. Maybe now, my friend and co-worker **REDACTED**, who is one of the nicest guys on the planet, can marry his longtime companion if he wishes to.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Waste of Big

Yesterday, we had a little situation on the job which ended up with me escorting a ConEd worker through part of our site while our major fall fundraiser was going on. One of the local police was in the immediate vicinity, a 27 year old guy who makes me look like a junior petite. The guy is a gym rat who owned a small nutritional supplement store as a sideline (because he was unable to run the store full-time, he ended up selling it for a small profit after a few years of breaking even). This guy started off his career as a police officer in the City of Mount Vernon, a municipality in which I lived before moving slightly west to the City of Y______. Needless to say, Mount Vernon is a much rougher community than the community in which we both work. Having a shared connection in our past, we hit it off at once. In our conversation, the cop pointed over our fence and said, "We don't have a lot of calls in your vicinity, what's up with that?" I told him that we handled things in-house, and that I had a couple of incidents in which I warned people not to jump the fence (I think it was guys who wanted to take a leak on our property). I then proceeded to tell the guy about the new hire who didn't last the night. The cop compared the guy to a portion of the female anatomy (knowing the rigors of childbirth, comparison to this anatomical feature should never connote weakness). Ignoring the low-grade sexism of the response (90% of speakers of American vernacular English seem to use this term inappropriately), I mentioned that I heard that the guy was 6'3" and weighed about 400 lbs. The cop did a double-take and told me, "What a waste of big!"

First time I've ever heard the term... I hope it's never applied to moi.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Out on a Limb and Over My Head

October rolls onward, with long hours every weekend... hence the spotty posting. I'm holding down the fort pretty well, but some of us are out on a limb:

That's my co-worker Ginger, who likes to climb, but loses interest fairly rapidly. In this instance, she climbed onto a tree limb which was just a little too high for her comfort, then she wanted down in a big way. I stood underneath the tree coaxing her to jump into my arms, but she wasn't having any of that.

I had to walk off, much to her dismay (she's ordinarily very vocal, and she cried piteously while I walked off, leaving her stuck on the limb), in order to find a plank that was big enough for her to feel secure jumping down onto. I wasn't gone too long, and she was able to make her way down to terra firma with a minimum of fuss afterwards. Hopefully, any problems this month will be remedied with such ease!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Tea Pits

This just hit me, while I was commenting at Vixen Strangely's blog (seriously, you've got to read her, she's awesome). There is a lot of buzz about the impending extinction of the establishment Republican party. There is a visible rift between the old guard and the freshman firebrand, and such a rift could kill the party off entirely. Put snarkily, the GOP elephant is hopelessly mired in The Tea Pits.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Speedbump on the Jersey Turnpike

Today's semi-local political story is the New Jersey special senate race to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg. While the polls vary widely, they all indicate that Steve Lonegan is merely a speedbump which will barely slow down the Booker juggernaut. While Booker may be characterized as a pro-business conservative Democrat, Lonegan is a flat-out teabagging lunatic.

I've long been aware of Lonegan's lunacy because the guy has had a lot of radio ad buys in the NYC metro area over the years as a Koch shill (he was New Jersey's director for Americans for Prosperity. He's a typical teabagger, the sort of guy who says that government is the problem, running ads with that tagline even as an unpopular government shutdown is occurring. Lonegan was also upfront is stating that he would have opposed Hurricane Sandy relief. Lonegan opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Lonegan doesn't even believe in the "Free Market" principles he claims to espouse, opposing a Spanish language billboard in his Spanish-named town of Bogota, New Jersey. Perhaps Lonegan's sleaziest act in his losing campaign was making insinuations about Corey Booker's sexuality:

Booker, refreshingly, has stated that he has no problem with people believing that he is gay:

Now, I know that Booker has taken corporate money, and is a bit too friendly to big business, but the alternative candidate is a monster. Luckily, Lonegan is nothing more than a speedbump that will barely slow down Booker's momentum.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lazy Blogger's Gambit: Post a Video!

October is a crazy month for me, I've been working long hours on the weekends with little sleep, and catching up on my sleep during the week. Today, I didn't do a blessed thing of consequence... I did a little cooking, and a little reading, but nothing that involved leaving the house. Tonight, I'm going to fall back on the "post a video" gambit. Longtime readers will know that I am a huge fan of Vincent Price (how much cooler would Star Wars have been if he had played Obi-Wan Kenobi? I ask that as an Alec Guinness fan). Since October is "Halloween Month", how about campy horror classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes?

Gotta love Vincent, no matter how outrageous the film was, he always played it straight. I have to wonder how his career would have been different had he had a better agent... scratch that, I love his wonderful career of glorious trash.

Note: The internet, which never lies, indicates that Price's co-star, the beautiful Virginia North succumbed to cancer at the age of 58. Now, that's a horror story!

Monday, October 14, 2013

School of Snappy Comebacks

I'm so glad I enrolled in the school of snappy comebacks years ago, it comes in handy in various situations. During our nighttime events, we typically illuminate our sites with lanterns to provide some atmosphere. During last night's event, a teenager deliberately broke one of our lanterns and he and his cohorts were ejected from the premises. After the event, the Creative Director of the event was mulling over it, and asked me the question:

"Why would anybody punch a lantern?"
"Because it killed his father."

In TV Tropes terms, one of the roles I play is Deadpan Snarker.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


No, no, it's not what you think! This time of year is the busy season on the job. I am approaching the tail end of another sixteen hour overnighter on the job (and there's no yerba mate involved, oddly enough), and I have to come back at 4PM. I know that, when I'm done at midnight, I'll go home and sleep for at least a day. I've eaten more fast food in the past weekend than I've eaten in the previous month (though I avoid the Arcs d'Or like the plague), just give me a bag of sodium to go please! I will make sure to bump up my vegetable intake considerably over the next few days.

This combination of intense periods of activity followed by a stretch of torpor is reminiscent of the lifestyle of a python or other large snake. It's certainly not an optimal way of life, but I think I can sustain it for a month. If I find myself eyeing the cat hungrily while trying to figure out how to unhinge my jaw, I'll seek psychological help.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sleeping on the Job

October is a month of long nights on the job- our main Fall fundraisers take place in the evening. Because staffing is an issue, a new hire for my department didn't even last a full shift, I have been working a lot of full-overnights, getting in at 4PM and working straight through until 8AM. There's a temptation to sleep on the job, but that's not the way I conduct business... I think a zero tolerance policy toward sleeping at work- what's this?

YOU!!! Lazybones! We're not paying you to sleep on the job! Uh, uh, we're actually not paying you at all. Carry on then.

Friday, October 11, 2013

It's Like I Programmed it Myself

My neck of the woods is fortunate enough to have a really good commercial radio station. One of the regular features of the weekday programming is The Ten at Ten, tagline "Ten great songs from one great year". The station director puts together a snapshot of a particular year using ten songs, a couple of film trailers, a snippet from a TV show, some soundbytes from the news, and maybe an iconic ad. Last night, the featured year was 1979, a year when I was a child just beginning to listen to the radio, and I have to say that I couldn't have programmed the show better for maximum nostalgia. Even the songs from kinda musty bands are ones that I enjoy listening to, and there are some genuine lost gems in the mix. I'm pretty much outsourcing this blog post by embedding videos for the songs that were featured last night. These aren't necessarily the versions played on the show, but crank your speakers nonetheless!

There's no trip like the nostalgia trip, and last night I was tripping like a Straight-Edge Timothy Leary. How often do you hear a ten-song stretch on a commercial radio station that is 100% awesome?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Revolving Door

October is the major fundraising month on the job, so it is characterized by long hours and arduous tasks. I often joke that my job is cushy, except when it's not, and the entire month falls into the "not" category. To compound matters, my department is understaffed- we lost one-third of the department in last January's "realignment".

The head of the department, my immediate superordinate, told me last week that the organization hired a new employee. I indicated that I would be willing to make his training a high priority, even if it meant coming in on a day off. I was told that his paperwork had to be finalized.

To put things into context, my hiring seven years ago was pretty crazy- in June, I submitted my resume to a guy named Pete and I didn't hear a thing for two months, then I got a call from a guy named Doug who asked me, "Can you start tomorrow?" I love surprises on Christmas and my birthday, but work-related surprises are not so great. I was working as a contractor, though, so my hours were totally flexible, so I was able to answer yes to Doug's question. Doug told me to meet a guy named Ken at the worksite, so my training could begin. Confused? I was.

Anyway, that puts the coming story into perspective. I was awaiting information from the department head regarding the new hire, but had heard nothing. Last night, when I was guzzling beer, I got a call (which bounced into voicemail) from one of the guys in my department, indicating that the new hire showed up, and that he was training him. After my beer-bash, I checked my voicemail and I spoke with the guy who had conducted the training. I have to say that neither of us was too cool with the unexpected arrival of the new guy, even though we were both relieved that some of the heat would be taken off of us by the addition of a team member.

I arrived at work at midnight today and discussed the new hire in the course of the regular shift-change briefing. In the course of the briefing, my co-worker told me that the new guy didn't like the dark (we spend a lot of time outdoors and there is a 24-hour presence, so dark is the element in which we work) and he didn't like rats (while I haven't often seen rats, remember that we do have mousers on the payroll). Also, he apparently spent an inordinate amount of time on his phone during his training shift, which is not a good sign.

At any rate, the guy contacted the department head and told him "the job is just not for me". Yeah, there's really nothing here for someone who doesn't like the dark or run-ins with critters (one look at an opossum would probably send a guy who's skeeved out by rats into a tizzy). This isn't the first time a guy didn't last a single shift. There was one new hire who called up the aforementioned Doug, who was the supervisor who preceded me, and told him, "I can't work here anymore, I just saw a ghost." Doug tried to assuage his concerns over the phone and got to work early so he could talk some sense into the guy. The guy handed Doug the site cell phone and the keys and told him, "I saw a ghost, I can't work here." He left in such haste, he ran the red light out of the parking lot.

So, now there's a second guy who wasn't able to last a night on the job. It's not work for someone who's easily rattled, even though someone with steady nerves (watching a lot of the original Scooby Doo series is also helpful, because it tells you that the monsters aren't real) will usually come to enjoy it. Anybody fearless out there who's looking for a nighttime gig?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Six Degrees of Beer-Thirst Slakin'

Today and tomorrow, I have days off, even though October is pretty brutal on the workfront. A high school friend of mine who works as a branch manager for a small bank joined the Rotary International in order to get involved in community affairs and to drum up business from local businesses. He told me that a local Rotary branch was having an Oktoberfest fundraiser at the Captain Lawrence Brewery tonight. Being somewhat of a beer drinker, and having met the great guys who run the Captain Lawrence beer company, I decided that it would be a good thing to drink copious amounts of beer for a charitable cause. Did I mention that I was somewhat of a beer drinker?

The cover charge for the open bar/open buffet event was $30, so I knew that I would be making out like a bandit. I traveled up from Yonkers with a friend of mine and made arrangements to meet another compatriot at the brewery. About five minutes in, I recognized another attendee, a guy who was a poll worker at my jobsite on the last two election days. I reacquainted myself with him, and he told me that he was a board member of a group called Gift of Life, which offers children in the developing world treatment for heart disease. Currently, they transport children to the U.S. for surgery, but they are accumulating enough equipment to start running clinics in the countries in which they operate, with the hope that they will be able to train local medical students in cardiology. He introduced me to a fellow Yonkers resident who lives around the corner from the parents of my high school buddy who told me about the event in the first place (he was unable to attend due to a family obligation). This guy, who is retired, drives visiting patients to various medical appointments, and has pen pals from such places as Kosovo, Jamaica, and Trinidad. He told a funny story about how he showered my friend's father, an old school Italian gentleman who wears a suit even when shoveling snow, with a torrent of snow when he busted out the snow-blower last winter.

Throughout the course of the night, I kept running into people who I didn't know, but who had mutual acquaintances with me. Everybody there seemed to know somebody that I knew. After three hours, I had consumed enough beer to float a small naval vessel and ate enough wurst and sauerbraten mit Kartoffel Pfannkuchen to feed the Hessian mercenaries who fought in the Battle of White Plains. One topic of conversation was the disappearance of German restaurants in the region in the past thirty years... such storied places as Maxl's, Franzel's, and Ehrings simply vanished. The only German restaurants in the area are in Manhattan- Heidelberg, Zum Schneider, Lorelei. It's funny, because everybody I know likes German food, but it doesn't seem to be anyone's first choice of cuisine. A few years back, when I was dating a green-eyed Krakow charmer, I told her that there wasn't any material difference between a Polish guy and an Irish guy (I didn't add Germans to the mix, for obvious reasons)- you give them a potato, some pork, and some cabbage, and you wash it all down with copious amounts of beer to the accompaniment of accordion music, and they're happy). It's kind of odd that there's no places serving this sort of comfort food in this region, though a lot of bars are running German culinary specials throughout the month of October. I'm still crying because I will be working a double when Rory Dolan's is holding its Oktoberfest, with the Amish Outlaws taking their "Endless Rumspringa" schtick to Yonkers.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fearing "The Wall"

Wow, one week into October... I think I can get through this. This is Monday, and I have already put in three "days" worth of work. I've been able to catch a few Zzzzz's here and there (five hours, three hours, two hours- yikes!), and I feel oddly alert right now towards the end of a four-hour shift (following upon an eight hour graveyard shift this morning). I am planning on meeting some friends at a local bar in order to drink a couple of beers and to watch some OLD TIME FOOTBALL!!!! I wonder when the stamina will give out, when I'll hit the proverbial "wall".

I've had similar nights during which I worked stupid hours then went out boozing and carousing until last call, which is 4AM in these parts. Luckily, I have the next two days off (the coming weekend looks pretty apocalyptic- two double shifts in a row). I imagine I'll spend all day tomorrow zonked out.

I'm at the age when I can sustain a high level of activity for a good stretch, but the payback is B-R-U-T-A-L.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October Opening... Oof

Last night was the first night of our October fundraisers. Yesterday was also the opening day of my October to March volunteer coaching gig. I actually traveled to Manhattan around 8AM, met with everybody, and we taught two classes. After we were done with the kids, I went for two not-too-punishing rounds of randori with my great and good friend Gentle Jimmy G. In the locker room after our workout, I mentioned to another player, "Jimmy'll kill you, but he'll never hurt you." The general consensus among us (judoka, wrestlers, MMArtists) is that he is the perfect opponent- someone who plays hard and smart, but clean... you fight with him, and you'll be in Asskick Central for three to five minutes, then you'll leave the dojo feeling tired, but physically intact.

I got to work at 4PM and hit the ground running- we had to prepare the parking lot and a couple of satellite lots for the influx of visitors, then the event started. As longtime readers will remember, the organization had a round of layoffs last January. A lot of the tasks that used to be handled in-house are now handled by contractors. We have one custodial worker, an extremely nice guy from the Dominican Republic, who is cleaning three sites during the week and doing interoffice mail on an ad hoc basis- "Can you stop by head office on your way to the other site?" For the weekend events, custodial duties are handled by a cleaning company.

The two cleaners who worked this weekend covered two of our sites- they worked a daytime event then hotfooted it up to another site to work the evening. Last night, while they were preoccupied with traveling from Point A to Point B, a custodial nightmare took place... there was not a single square of T.P. in the women's restroom. I didn't know what sort of arrangements had been made for the weekends, so I was operating under the assumption that we were custodianless. Our shop manager called me in a near-panic about the situation (luckily, we have a second women's restroom and a handicap-accessible bathroom) and I had to step in to fill the vacuum. I had to rummage around in the custodial closet to find the set of housekeeping keys, then I had one of our part-timers, the daughter of our office manager, stand guard at the women's bathroom door while I figured out which key opened the T.P. holders. I then had to grab a bunch of rolls of paper to fill the holders completely (each holds two rolls). After that, I decided that the place needed a good sweeping, because there were paper towels all over the place... I feared that the night would be a long, onerous one, and I was scheduled to work until 8AM.

Staffing is a major issue now- the "realignment" that sent 10% of our workforce packing created a situation in which we could cope, through a great deal of creativity and hard work, with the day-to-day operations of the organization. Now that we are in our major fundraising month, with multiple events each weekend, the short staffing has the potential to put us in crisis mode. Speaking for myself, I don't mind the occasional challenge of having to jump through hoops of fire, but it's not something I want to sustain for a month.

I got home around 8:45 in the morning today and slept until about 1:45PM. I woke up stiff and a bit sore, feeling every bit like a not-so-young guy who has had a twenty-four hour beating. A long, extremely hot shower allowed me to crawl up the evolutionary ladder (yeah, I know evolution doesn't work that way) so I was human enough to work four hours this afternoon. I need to be back at work at midnight.

I always joke that my job is extremely cushy, except when it's not. This is firmly a "not" month.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Unshy Heron

A couple of days ago, I decided that I would take a few hours to visit a local park. Tibbett's Brook Park is one of the loveliest spots in the City of Y______- the brook expands into a pretty pond which provides a home for a variety of wildlife. I was lucky to get very close to a juvenile great blue heron (Ardea herodias):

There are a couple of adult great blue herons at my usual workplace, and they are extremely shy. As soon as one sees me approach with twenty meters, it takes off, croaking in a most desultory fashion (seriously, check out the embedded audio file at the Cornell Ornithology Labs website linked above- for such a beautiful bird, the blue heron makes some ugly, ugly sounds).

I spent some time conversing with an elderly woman while we watched the heron slowly stalk through the lake, then strike to catch a small fish. I felt privileged to be able to observe the bird at such close range, they are typically very, very wary. I don't know if the great blues suffered the population decline that the egrets did due to the feather trade, which would explain why they don't dig us primates. If only I could convince the worksite herons to overcome their wariness, I'd be ecstatic.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Plum Dumb

One of the big local stories this week concerns Donald Trump's desire to buy Plum Island, off the eastern end of Long Island. There is speculation that Mr Trump wishes to build a high end golf course on the island, but I have my doubts about that.

Plum Island once housed the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, an institution with the stated goal of studying animal pathogens, especially pathogens which affect livestock. The center looms large in conspiracy theory circles, mainly claims that the island was a center for biological weapons programs. The Animal Disease Center has been moved to Kansas, in the heart of farm country. What could possibly go wrong? Some wags opined that the "Montauk Monster" was an escapee from the Plum Island research center.

I think you can see where I'm going with this now... Trump doesn't want to build a golf course on Plum Island, he wants to discover the unholy origin of that thing on his head.

Post title yanked from an old Dead Milkmen song. Post cross-posted at Rumproast

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Feline Funeral

Today is the day when my the ashes of my co-worker Moses will be interred in a scenic, peaceful spot on the site he moused for fifteen years. I imagine the memorial service will be a lot less sad than the immediate aftermath of his death- fifteen years is a plenty of time to accumulate happy memories. Moses is universally missed. Even though I am working graveyard shifts this week, I plan on returning to the workplace for the memorial service.

Fred and Ginger have been doing double duty, mousing in the building where they originally worked, and in the building in which Moses held court. Ginger, being a mischievous sort, made the transition more easily... when Moses was still around, she'd try to sneak into his territory on a regular basis. Fred, a much more mellow cat, didn't try to move in, and subsequently took a lot more coaxing to enter the building. Fred follows me around the site like a dog, and eventually followed me into the formerly unfamiliar building.

A week ago, I was helping one of my co-workers, who is relatively new to the site after having worked a few years at another of our sites, close up shop for the day. When we wended our way to the main building, the Visitors' Center, Ginger followed us the entire way, and decided to hold court, whereupon she became very popular. My co-worker asked me if she thought that Ginger would "replace" Moses, who also held court in the Visitors' Center... I thought about it for a second and said, "Moses was irreplaceable, but Ginger and Fred will carve out their own niche."

We have had a long and storied line of cats on the site- the sort of cats that have memorial services in their honor.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

This Year's October Theme Song

I actually have today off, but I'm working the graveyard shift tomorrow, which means I'm going in tonight... you dig? For those who don't work nights, the first shift of the day begins at midnight, so the 7-3, 8-4, or 9-5 shift is actually the second shift of the day.

It's a beautiful day here in the City of Y______, almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 26 Celsius). I took a bit of time to take a weed cutter to the small unpaved patch in front of the house (instead of a front yard, we have a large front stoop and a sidewalk in front of the house). I'm now planning on taking a long walk in Tibbetts Brook Park so I can see how the sunlight plays among the leaves (which are beginning to change color) before a long, long string of night shifts. It being a county park, it won't be affected by the idiotic government shutdown. Starting tonight, the October theme song will be Echo and the Bunnymen's Nocturnal Me, off the wonderful "Ocean Rain" album:

As much as I dig Echo and the Bunnymen's music, I have to confess that I can never get past lead singer Ian McCulloch's anime hair- he looks startlingly like Rick Hunter from Robotech.