Do Not Disturb

Have you ever noticed that people are usually content to sit quietly and leave you in peace – until you have headphones in. Suddenly, your earbuds are like a beacon to those around you, begging for them to interrupt your music or podcast session for pointless conversation.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a similar scenario: you’re on the bus or waiting for public transport and decide to relax, unwind, let the sweet sounds of music carry you away while you wait. You close your eyes as you listen. You’ve just settled into the rhythm; your stress levels have started to decline when you feel that dreaded sensation – the annoying tap-tap-tap of a stranger’s finger on your shoulder. You open your eyes and see the stranger peering at you, uncomfortably close to your face, and gesturing for you to remove the blessed buds from your ears. You try to mask the annoyance on your face, maybe even swallow a bit of rage as you oblige, and force a polite, “Yes?”

“What stop is this?” They ask. Your eyes slide up to the sign directly above their heads, and you inwardly sigh as you reiterate the same information that is clearly stated mere feet away from their line of vision. As they nod at you, you gingerly place your earbuds back in place and desperately try to find the feeling of peace you just had.

Maybe the scenario has been slightly different, but we’ve all been there, right? At one time or another, we’ve all been enjoying our fleeting moments of solitude only to be interrupted by some well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) stranger who simply must speak to you. My favorite is when they make a big deal about interrupting you just to ask “whatcha listening to?”

And ladies, I’m sure we can all appreciate those times when a not-so-gentleman beside us has relentlessly tapped our shoulder in what can only be described as a concerted effort to annoy us into removing our headphones, only to try out his best one-liner, usually of the negging variety.  I have yet to meet a woman who fell in love on the 7:05 train to Newark. Especially when the unwanted suitor just interrupted Agatha Christie.

Or, you’re at work, just trying your best to get through a hectic day without becoming a headline or needing bail money. You’re there in the break room, you’re obviously at lunch, and you’re trying to get in a few chapters of that audiobook you just started and lo and behold… in comes the coworker with boundary issues.

Why is it that as soon as you put on headphones, you’re suddenly much more popular than you were five minutes ago sans headphones?  I mean, it’s like you’re wearing a sign that says, hey, interrupt me, no, please go ahead, I’m not doing anything at all here like listening to a book or letting the music calm my frayed nerves or really, anything at all important… I mean, honestly, I’ve been waiting here impatiently for someone to notice that I have my headphones in, so really, go ahead. Interrupt me.   

Sometimes I have to wonder, are these people actually that eager for human interaction that they would force themselves into your world of earbud bliss? Or do they find some enjoyment in seeing your stunned face as they yank you out of your reverie?

Let the masses hear my plea: if you see someone with headphones in, whether they’re on the bus, in the break room at work, or walking through the park, for the love of all things good and holy…

DO NOT DISTURB.

The People of Zoom

Ah, the world of Zoom. It is as mysterious as it is straightforward. An app I had never before used in my life has now become a word I use on a daily basis. And, as it goes in all aspects of life, Zoom features the good, the bad, and the… interesting.

I have to say, Zoom is a great platform for remote meetings, webinars, and training. It’s also become a useful and unexpected tool for keeping in touch with family and friends. We see people on the screen who we’ve just chatted with over the phone, who we used to see every day in the office, and who we wish we could catch up with over face-to-face coffee.

And for some reason, the remote platform of video-calls seems to accentuate all the quirks in our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. In the closed environment of the office, where we used to spend seemingly countless hours, we got to know our co-workers as the ones who were loud-chewers, frequent break-takers, or early birds.

With Zoom, we get to know our co-workers in a more personal way from the comfort of our — and their — homes. Just as typing from behind a screen provides some level of anonymity, a meeting via Zoom seems to give the participants a certain level of comfort that allows eccentricities to shine.

There’s always the one who uses the quintessential Zoom feature of an artificial background. And companies (like Disney, Fox, and Nintendo to name a few) cater to these green screen loving individuals with custom Zoom backgrounds from iconic movies, video games, and TV shows. Now you know who in the office is a die-hard Game of Thrones, Bob’s Burgers, or Frozen fan.

There are the ones who fall asleep. The one who left their mic on and is snoring audibly to an unappreciative audience. The one who wakes up *gracefully*.

There are the foodies. The one who eats chips (again, with the mic on). The messy one. If you thought loud chewers in the office were annoying, try listening to it on surround-sound. Oh, and there’s no looking away from the view either when their camera is set six inches from their face. Lovely.

There’s the one who takes the floor and talks the whole meeting even though they’re not the scheduled presenter. The one who arrives with a 500-page PowerPoint, ready to share every last excruciating detail.

And then, there are the yellers. Just today, I had a Zoom meeting. Suddenly, one attendee turned away from their camera to yell at someone the rest of us couldn’t see. They yelled “I’M ON THE PHONE!” to the person who was apparently trying to talk to them, as well as our entire meeting. We’re all still sporting headaches from the ungodly volume of their voice.

Yelling on Zoom calls should be outlawed. And for that matter, being the loud talker on the remote session is not a desirable trait. One loud member, and everyone has to turn down the volume on the whole meeting.

But is it better to be silent than loud? There’s always that one person who keeps their mic and camera off, leaving the rest of us wondering if they’re even attending the meeting at all. Are they paying attention… or off playing golf? We may never know.

Maybe they’re too embarrassed to reveal that they — like many other people — didn’t bother to get dressed for work again. In the beginning, as we navigated the world of remote work, we kept up with our professional, business-casual digs. Now, we’re lucky to see brushed hair and shaved faces.

As time goes on, more and more People of Zoom decide that it’s adequate to show up in pajamas or gym clothes with bed head, sweaty clothes, and unruly facial hair. I mean, hey, they showed up, right? And at least we can’t smell them through our computers.

While the People of Zoom show their peculiarities in full swing, providing cringe-worthy views and disagreeable noises, the Pets of Zoom are something I always look forward to.

The true VIP of any meeting is the cat or dog that wanders into view. Feline friends who feel the need to sit directly on the keyboard or dangerously close to the camera are a wonderful distraction for observers, and in my book, furry friends are always welcome — in the office or the Zoom call. No matter what the call is about, a good doggo or floofy cat makes everything better. If Zoom were exclusively for watching pets, I might feel a bit differently about the whole thing.

During this pandemic, so many of us have turned to Zoom as a safe way to socialize and continue our lives and our work. It’s a great tool, and I am thankful for it. But I still have an aversion to office meetings.

Whether we hold them in the office or remotely over Zoom, meetings can — and should — be done via email. It saves time, energy, and patience.

 

Living Under False Pretenses

Yeah, I know I’ve been remiss in writing this week. No, I didn’t drop off the face of the earth. It’s just been a very chaotic week at work which unfortunately sapped my will to live motivation and energy. I was very much looking forward to the weekend. My plans included participating in a complicated pretense wherein I would convince myself that I lived somewhere with a cool ocean breeze flowing through the window and no-one in their right mind starts the day before noon.

As it turns out, the neighbors upstairs… you remember them? Well, apparently, they had contracted with a couple of sketchy guys in a dilapidated non-branded work van to lay carpet in every room of their condo and, as you might expect, their day – and mine, as it turns out – started at 7:30 a.m.  To be honest, I was surprised, because from the daily noise level upstairs, I would have thought they had hardwood floors throughout. Who knew someone could be as loud as they are on carpet!?

The inconsideration conveyed by their early start time on a Saturday morning was exceeded only by the sheer volume of their carpet-laying enterprise.  I will be the first one to admit that I don’t have the expertise it takes to put in carpet… but, I’ve had carpet replaced in a home and I’ve been present when others have done so as well – including in an industrial situation, and while I realize it’s not the quietest task around, it shouldn’t sound like … well, whatever the hell they were doing upstairs all day today. Did I mention they started at 7:30 a.m.?

At first, it sounded like they were felling trees and processing the lumber. No, really. Halfway through the day I got on laughing fit, you know, as you do when you’re slowly going insane, and my daughter grew concerned, figuring today was finally the day her mother snapped. The staple gun was fun though, as was whatever the hell they were using to stamp down the carpet. It sounded, and felt, like they were dropping a 200-pound weight over and over and over and over, but that doesn’t make sense does it? Seriously though, if a small earthquake had hit today, we would’ve been none the wiser in my humble abode. At one point, I started making coffee because I honestly thought they were going to come through the floor for an impromptu visit and I wanted to be prepared to entertain guests. And then, annoyed by their own racket, they opted for music… which had to be played at concert-right-up-by-the-stage levels because, you know, all the other noise they had going on. They finished up and hauled out of here around 3:30 p.m.

At no point in time today did a cool ocean breeze flow through my window, and the day did not start at noon as apparently no-one in their right mind could be found.  But we have rum. Oh yes, we have rum. Not nearly as much as we had when the day started though.

Oh well. As Scarlet said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

What Women Want

Take a look at any men’s health magazine the next time you’re in the grocery store. Notice the sheen of sweat that seems to be perpetually glistening on their skin, as if they’re in desperate need of a shower… or two. Admire the outrageously formidable, perfectly-formed pecs and cartoonishly rounded biceps. Drink in the sight of over-stimulated veins stretching across their forearms. Think ‘The Hulk’, but on steroids. This is every woman’s dream, right? Yeah, no.

This so-called ideal body type is being forced down men’s throats by other men. Just watch any superhero or action movie… the leads with biceps on top of biceps on top of biceps in some twisted homage to Popeye the Sailor Man, back muscles that you didn’t even know humans had, and abdominal muscles so defined you could count the muscle fibers. Women don’t admire the over-the-top superhero bod nearly as much as men do. It’s a power fantasy written by men for men. Being ripped isn’t appealing merely because they’re “more attractive” as a man; it’s more appealing because more strength equals more power.

Unfortunately, too many men buy into this whole idea that the sinewy, veiny, glistening body type is the only one that women desire.

Sigh…

The women I know don’t want the piles of muscles and veins. And we can do the rescuing for ourselves, thank you very much. We don’t need Johnny Protein Powder to do it for us; we’ve been doing it for years before he came along.

What do women want, you ask? Let’s start with a brain that doesn’t have its cells clogged by creatine. They want your chivalrous (note: chivalrous, not chauvinistic) actions to show how much you care for them, six-packs be damned. Rather than the models on work-out magazines, give us a man with substance.

Give us David Tennant and the Tenth Doctor’s undying affection for those he loves.  Give us Timothy Olyphant from The Crazies, who refused to flee a zombie-infected area without his wife because he was so devoted to her. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. While he may have been an arrogant asshole when we first met him, his heart was in the right place.  There’s a reason why women loved Jim Halpert in The Office. It definitely wasn’t his work-out routine. Laurie from Little Women was aloof and misguided at times, but he was fiercely devoted and loved passionately. I’d take a Laurie over a Hasselhoff any day of the week.

So, men, you want to know what women want? Go ask your women friends who their fictional crushes are. I dare you. You may be surprised at their answers.

 

Looks are Deceiving

Beautiful Shaylee, fairy princess of the field, caught up in a reverie.

Hmmm… what are the odds of my survival should I opt to destroy my human servant while she sleeps tonight? She IS very good about buying my favorite food and sharing the canned tuna. But then again, I could always just get another stupid human to do my bidding. Decisions, Decisions…

 

Snob Appeal

During the trying times we find ourselves in, I find myself dreaming of doing things that were once so commonplace. I look forward to going to the movies again, for example. I eagerly await the day that I can go to a live concert. And oh, what a day it will be when we can dine at our favorite restaurants again! When the dust has settled, a nice dinner in the spiffy part of the city will be the first order of business.

There’s nothing quite like a dinner out on the town. The anticipation of the evening, the elegant clothes, the ambiance of the restaurant, the tiny portions – wait, the tiny portions? Maybe that’s not exactly a highlight. Come to think of it, the elf-size portions are the worst part. Why are we paying exorbitant amounts of money for such teeny scoops of food on oversized plates? That’s why I prefer the taco truck at the park … good food and lots of it.

Some of these Michelin Star restaurants are really giving folks the run-around with their menu. First of all, they’re serving people fish eggs on crackers and charging $125 per plate. What the hell? And people willingly order this dish, night after night. It’s amazing to me. Not to mention, it’s highway robbery.  I mean, these patrons do know it’s fish eggs, right? I find that hard to believe since they eat it with such relish. Well, maybe not relish, but they do seem to enjoy it. Seriously though, I’d bet good money that a lot of them only order fish eggs to give the impression of being aristocratic – just to fit in with the crowd around them. 

If only there were a way to conduct a social experiment and put these guests to the test. Invite them to the grand opening of a high-end restaurant but serve them low-end dishes, at premium prices, of course. With enough fluffy words and high enough prices, I’m sure we could convince people to pay top dollar for not-so-top-dollar meals.

That’s it! That’s my next business venture! I’m going to open a restaurant and call it “Paradox,” serving a high-class atmosphere with low-class cuisine. We’ll tell everyone that the most exotic ingredients are being used to create the unique dishes at sky-high prices. People will eat it up – literally.

Now, what dishes to serve… Mac n’ Cheese will become “Pasta du Fromage.” Peanut Butter and Jelly is now “Blitzed Nuts and Lingonberry Compote Crostini.” And “Crumbled Japanese Kobe Beef and Pasta with a Creamy Mushroom Sauce” is, you guessed it, Hamburger Helper. It’s perfect! And can you imagine the profit margins?

Sure, the guests who dine at the restaurant may tilt their heads and say, “Hmm, this seems familiar,” but do you think they would speak up about it? Absolutely not! They would never shatter the illusion of their posh lifestyle, especially in the presence of their posh peers. They would never risk upsetting the ostentatious status quo.

So many people pay for bragging rights rather than the product. What do I mean? People would rather pay for the overpriced tuna casserole at my new restaurant and post about their experience on social media than potentially miss out on the latest craze. They pay through the nose to make sure they stay a card-carrying member of the “in” crowd and experience the finer things in life. The thing is, they don’t fully enjoy the finer things (remember… fish eggs); they just want them because their peers do. They have FOMO – Fear of Missing Out, and it’s an expensive condition to have.

This sad truth makes me wonder if our “follow the crowd” instincts as humans are even meant for survival anymore. To me, it seems that our current culture takes advantage of it, and rather than benefiting us, it leads us to a place of nonsense – full of fish eggs and empty wallets.

Game On

You may have noticed, but the world is plunging into chaos. Polar bears are on the verge of extinction, there’s a great big vortex of plastic floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and well, you know… *waving vaguely at everything.* I’m not naming names or anything, but if the world were Gotham City the supervillains would be winning right about now, and Batman and Batwoman seem to be on hiatus.

We spend so much time wondering when Clark Kent is going to fly in to save the day, complete with his underpants on the outside of his pants (go figure, obviously some human cultural norms slipped past him after he crash landed) that most of us don’t realize there are millions of gamers around the planet fighting evil, likewise in their underwear, every single day. Okay, so the evil they fight is on the screen, but honestly, what’s the difference between a modern politician and a Quake 4 demon zombie anymore? If the two were in a game of “spot the difference,” I think many people would get very, very flustered trying to work out the puzzle.

Forget Superman. What if our heroes are already here on Earth? Think about it. All comic superheroes are nerds, or at least start out that way. And I mean that with the utmost respect. Superman is a journalist in his usual civilian life. Tony Stark is a complete tech-head. And Wonder Woman, well she’s just wonderful. You could even make an argument that Deadpool himself is somewhat of geek. I mean, he’s a hardcore fan of Dragon Ball, after all.  Point is, all these superheroes started off as quirky outsiders sitting around in their pajamas before getting bitten by a nuclear spider or flung into the far reaches of space and deciding to don leotard outfits, or, you know, stay in their pajamas.

Nerds. Are. Our. Future.

No one has more practice slaying demons, dragons, and whatever other monster you can possibly think of than gamers. If aliens come to attack planet Earth, or heaven forbid, a zombie outbreak occurs, it will be gamers that will be most trained in the art of holding their nerve and planning a survival strategy.

They are our superheroes.

And slowly they are gaining more and more exposure and recognition. Gaming is now big business. American teenager Kyle Giersdorf won $3 million in New York this past July after taking the top prize in a tournament for the popular online video game Fortnite. That’s a hell of a lot better than the chump change the rest of us make. And hell, most of us aren’t even doing anything nearly as fun to earn our paycheck. Speaking of which, in the office wars, I bet most gamers would come out on top as well.

I mean, seriously, any list of gaming skills reads like the perfect CV. I know I’ve said this before, but gamers have to have some serious skills to be good at what they do. Not only do their reflexes need to be as sharp as samurai masters, but they have to stay focused and keep a cool head under pressure.  They need to be able to strategize and juggle multiple tasks at once. In addition, they need to understand and remember numerous complex backstories and be proactive in finding and exploiting glitches to the betterment of their mission or team. Don’t even get me started on stamina or mental acuity… gamers are capable of sustaining a high level of concentration and can stay on task far longer than just about any office dweller. Reliability, problem-solving, productive risk-taking… I’m telling you, they’ve got it all. Such talent surely translates into marketable skills, if not the potential for true greatness.  Come on, gamers, we’re looking at you… you are the future.

Game on.

Age is Just a … Fraction

Recently in one of my social media groups, a group member posted, “Roll call! Where are you from, and how old are you?” Now, this post intended to explore if there was any correlation between a love of classic movies and people’s ages. Things were going well with the post, plenty of comments and activity on it which was all kind of interesting, really, when suddenly, this comment came through:

“I am 49 and a half.”

[Insert crickets chirping here.]

Wait, hold on a minute here! Do we still get to count our ages in halves? Is that a thing past grade school?

More importantly, should I be counting halves of my age? Is there a backlog of half-birthday parties, gifts, and general celebrations that I am owed? If so, should I hold one half-birthday celebration every month to catch up, or one ginormous half-birthday extravaganza?

I think I’ll go with the extravaganza – that’s a fun word to say, and it will look great on an invitation.

I need to have words with my family and friends. Surely they were aware of this half-birthday business and decided to be economical instead of showering me with gifts twice a year. Rude.

Wait, if this person has counted their age in halves for 49 years (and a half) that begs the question: is there an age cap on half-ages? Do people count their ages in halves right up to the bitter end, or only until retirement?

And another question: if there are people out there counting their age in halves, are there also people who take it one step further? Are there people who count their age in quarters? What about eighths? Entertaining the idea of half-ages opens up a whole can of worms that none of us are ready for, if you ask me. There’s a world of fractions out there, folks. Do we really want to delve into the mathematical pit?

Side note: if you or someone you love counts their age in quarters or eighths, there is hope. Don’t stay silent. Reach out, get help.

Moving on…

Can you imagine if half-ages were used as age qualifiers for everything in our lives? For example, you couldn’t legally drink until you were 21… and a half. You can’t vote (or smoke) until you’re 18… and a half. No rental cars for you until you’re 25… and a half. Those half-birthdays seem like a bigger deal now, don’t they?

Age isn’t even the half of it. (ha!) There are so many things that would be strange to count in halves. Imagine that you’re grocery shopping. You pick out a few tomatoes but feel like you just need a teeny-tiny bit more to make your recipe perfect. So, what do you do? You use your fingers to squeeeeze the tomato and rip it clean in half. Well, not so clean. There’s tomato juice all over your hands, dripping onto the floor, leaking onto the other tomatoes, your sneakers now look like you’ve been walking through a crime scene. And when you reach the checkout counter, the clerk calmly swipes the half-tomato across the scanner and puts it in a bag with the others, leaving a trail of tomato juice and seeds across the belt and the scanner.

Do you think this is just a tad far-fetched? Do you think this is out of the realm of possibility? I thought adults counting their ages in halves was, too – yet, here we are. Buying half-tomatoes and renting cars at 25 and a half, and probably ordering half-pizzas for dinner tonight.

But I digress – I’m only half-joking.

Age is just a number; this much is true. Now, I find out that age is just a fraction. I’m not quite sure what to do with this information.

So, why not go for it, then?  Host the half-birthday extravaganza of your dreams (or half of your dreams) and invite all your friends (or half of them), eat plenty of cake (or half of a piece).

Just be sure to enjoy every minute wholly.