I have just blundered into the world’s best advice column. It’s the NY Time’s basically brand spanking new (as in 10 weeks old) WorkFriend column (click here). To sum up: workplace problems sorted by a hip and cheerful nihilist. Choire Sicha, whoever you are, I salute you. I don’t even have a workplace anymore, but you are now the little ray of sunshine bringing light into my miserable winter days.
My favorite lines from today’s workplace advice from WorkFriend:
“In any event, the only logical path to success is to assume both these facts are true: Your co-worker is afraid of you, and your boss is out to get you.”
“Offices run on you — offices are you. The super-competent who can see more than four hours ahead, while the people “in charge” blunder from endless meeting to endless meeting, making plans that’ll get whiteboarded away next week.”
“Your intention to not sleep with your co-workers is appreciated. (From 10 weeks of monitoring the email@example.com inbox, I know that all of you are sleeping with each other, and I promise it will only end in tears and/or children…”
“Fun! You have a juncture here in which you can change or ruin or derail or improve a life.”
Oooh. And now it’t time for me to go laugh through the entire 10 week archive of advice. Hurrah!
My septuagenarian mom has gripped modern technology by its microchips. She loves to sit on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean and shout over the wind into Skype on her smartphone. But even more than this, she loves to compose email by talking into her phone. I’ve gotten used to messages that spell my name with a K instead of a Ch or are delightfully unfathomable mysteries because my mom loves to use words that her smartphone has never heard of and so it swaps in what it feels is the closest approximation. Deciphering the messages is so much more fun than perusing the perils of spellcheck/automatic word completion.
The last message she sent threw me for quite a loop – what the hell was she talking about??? – until I resorted to reading it out loud. Long story short is that sometimes my bills arrive in her mailbox and she either writes a check from my bank account or from hers, as fits the situation. She likes to keep me posted about this. This last message from her said I paid your latest bill with my mullah.
Hah! As my other half said when I told him, he’d be very happy to meet this mullah of hers. He’s welcome here anytime.
We live in the northern half of a barn that was built in 1950 or so and converted into living space for humans in the late 70s to early 80s. The previous owners were a woman who was born to the couple who originally owned the whole place (her mother being a refugee from one of those places east of here that threw out all their Germans after the war and her father coming from a local family) and her husband. There were, in short, packrats who’d raised three kids and hadn’t ever experience the culling involved with moving before they moved out and handed the place over to us. Since moving in, we have burned enormous, old, moldy, worm-infested furniture. We have had had more than a ton of tables, chairs, appliances, broken roof tiles, concrete blocks, broken bricks, kitschy garden figurines, chipped pots, rotting planters, and I don’t even remember what else hauled away. And we’ve cut down, dug up, or pruned back multiple cubic meters of overgrowth/deferred maintenance in the garden (and still have a long way to go) and either burned it, composted it, or hauled it away. And still every once in while, you stumbled across another little surprise.
Which brings me to yesterday. I live in fear of accumulating. I’m just going to have to get rid of it all again at some point. The attic and storage rooms in our house (and outside in the various sheds, garage, heating room, and new barn) are my frenemies. I need them, but I can’t let them seduce me into piling up too much stuff. So I decided that before the end of January, I will go through the house from top to bottom, cleaning, organizing, and culling. I started yesterday afternoon in the attic, which was starting to turn into chaotic piles of camping equipment, water sports equipment, out-of-season clothing, cat carriers, extra plates and utensils for parties, and then all the wallpaper and carpeting extras, spare parts for faucets (etc), leftover floor and wall tiles, and every paint brush ever used by the previous owners.
So far I’ve only made slight progress. (The other half is outside right now burning 30 years’ worth of leftover paper wallpaper along with tree prunings, leaf miner-infested chestnut leaves, and the last of the literal wall of ivy I ripped out of the garden at the end of summer.) The last thing I did yesterday before giving up for the day was dump the pile of old burlap sacks in the trash and set aside the heavy, folded up cloth I took to be a drop cloth (it was next to the 35-40 year old empty diaper box of used paint brushes and rollers). We decided to keep it. A drop cloth is useful! “Help me shake it out,” I said to the other half. Then I would wash it.
I stepped outside and unfolded the cloth. Oh. It wasn’t a huge drop cloth at all. It was a large, flat sack made of very thick, heavy, durable white cotton. It had patches in places. Then I realized it had the faded remnants of a design that had been stenciled onto the center of one face in black ink or paint. I looked more closely. It was an eagle. A German eagle. The German imperial eagle, the Reichsadler circa 1935-1945, to be exact, its wings outstretched and its talons holding a wreath encircling a swastika.
I showed it to the other half. He laughed because what can you do but laugh? Nearly every German household has such leftovers stuffed up somewhere in the attic. From the markings on other side, it must have been a sack of food, flour or oats or something, delivered in the early 40s and then the sack was used over and over and over again and then it was stuffed up in the attic under burlap sacks and forgotten about. You kind of want to take it seriously because it’s old and a little bit horrible. But, ultimately, there is no point in treating it as anything more than a moldy old flour sack.
The free sample of extra heavy duty moisturizing cream with urea in it (synthesized in the lab, I presume) that the pharmacist tossed in my bag the other week when, pale faced, exhausted, and gasping for air, I bought a packet of iron pills, works fabulously on the cracked, stony desert that is winter skin. However, when you have to clean animal pee off the bathroom floor in front of your toilet 2-3 times a day because one of your cats is severely misguided, that little smell that they can’t quite cover up with perfume (and is totally impossible to wash off your hands even though you did nothing more than apply the cream to your feet) is just NO NO NO NO NO.
Perhaps because the one deli we had in our neighborhood when I was growing up was Italian, I always assumed that the word delicatessen came to us from Italian. But then yesterday it hit me that although delicatessen begins with the Latin word for delicate (delicatus), it ends with the German noun for food (Essen). Put delikat + essen together and you get Delikatessen, the German word for fine food (or for a shop that sells especially special high quality foodstuffs, not limited to cheese and sausages).
So a Latin/German word is weird enough. There aren’t so many Latin words in German (and my guess is that most of them got into German recently via English). But according to the online etymology dictionary, the origin story is even more complicated than that. Delicatessen is an English word that came from the German for fine food, which, in either a feat of wordplay or misunderstanding, they twisted out of the French (délicatesse) for delicacy or thoughtfulness. The French, in turn, had gotten délicatesse from the Latin for delicate or dainty (delicatus). Delicatus, in yet another turn, had come from the medieval Latin, de lacere, meaning to lure or entice away. And who knows where that came from originally. (Or maybe someone does.)
So that was my great epiphany from yesterday. Delicatessen is a mutt of a word.
How bad is it when you have an ice-pick splitting headache and you’re out of ibuprofen and the only place you could buy it is a pharmacy (stupid rules) and it’s a Sunday (stupid stupid rules) so only emergency pharmacies are open and the nearest one is probably 15 miles away and probably anyway closed by this late in the day, so you resort to gin, undiluted, instead and wish to holy hell there had also been a bottle of tonic in the house or at least some ice cubes in the freezer? It’s not really working, though. Thank god it’s not, like, you know, a leg that needs to be sawed off but I guess they used to use entire bottles of whisky for that, not a tiny porcelain teacup of gin.
Yesterday I extracted myself from the mountain of deferred garden maintenance (about 30 years’ worth) long enough to go see a movie in an actual theater. And I even ended up liking it. A Star Is Born. Definitely worth the price of admission.
In a nutshell: Lady Gaga can act! Bradley Cooper can sing! And, wow, for those of us utterly out of the auto-tuned pop cultural loop, yow, Lady Gaga can really sing! (Seriously, I had no idea.) But most importantly. Holy cow. That was Andrew Dice Clay?!
Not sure what the Big Lebowski cowboy was doing there though, except that he must have stepped out of a time machine. He hasn’t aged a day.
Now someone please get the song out of my head. I need to get a restraining order. It won’t leave me alone.
I’m always that person a dollar short and a day late to the party, the person driving to work on empty streets wondering, are they having a holiday and nobody told me? Where the hell is everyone? Has there been an evacuation? A tsunami warning? A zombie apocalypse? In other words, can I be forgiven for thinking that introspection should be all about me? Or did everybody else get the memo that it’s not, oh, gosh, a billion years ago already, and there simply just isn’t any excuse for me?
My friend Sarah sent the memo to me only yesterday or so and I feel… schooled. You mean introspection isn’t lying on your bed listening to the Smiths thinking, how would I feel if my girlfriend was in a coma? Introspection is more like, was I a good person today or was I a jerk? Did I do the right things for the right reasons, or, if I actually did do the right things, did I only do them so I could be like, whoa, I am awesome. Introspection is also: how did the way I behave affect other people? And how can I do better/be a better person in the future? (Unless you are evil and/or have no fucks left to give, in which case, insert alternative adjectives above as necessary.)
I have been so schooled, I won’t be rolling my eyes at lint-picking navel-gazers anymore, not even at those of you with what I would call an emo hairdo (and which everyone under 40 probably just calls… a hairdo). Because I seriously now kind of get how introspection could make the world a better place. I apologize for scoffing.
And now I am off to ponder whether or not I am really as nice as I like to think I am, or if I’m just deluding myself. And I’ll try not to feel too smug about making this magnificent contribution toward world peace.
I am generally years (decades!) behind the times, so George Lucas probably addressed this in the breath after explaining about reel two, deck two, but it hit me today, as I was pondering the next door neighbor’s adorable, rusty-brown, curly-haired teddy bear poodle that is called Sara instead of something fitting like Chewie or Bathmat: was Chewbacca named after chewing tabbacco?