"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to deceive in business without really crying

I'm pleased to announce the imminent publication of the next volume in my corporate leadership skill-building series: Business? Fo' Shizzness! Previous titles that have found their way to the top of the remainder pile include:

  • Workplace? More Like Jerk-place
  • How To Get Your Dream Job Without Actually Falling Asleep During the Interview
  • Your Employees May Be Abusing FMLA -- Here's How You Can, Too
I've received some very flattering responses to the earlier books; witness these testimonials:
  • "I found your last book very helpful when I was unexpectedly 'separated' from my last employer. At 487 pages in hardback, it left quite an impression when I smacked my supervisor over the head with it while being dragged from the building."
  • "After reading your article, 'Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Lose a Job,' I took it to heart and vowed to make changes in my behavior at work. It worked! Now I am unemployed and LOVING IT!!"
  • "I always discover something of value in your publications, John. The last time I thumbed through one at a yard sale I found a $2 bill that someone had been using as a bookmark."
I've been in the business world for quite some time now and have conducted my fair share of interviews (it's like hosting a talk show, but instead of chatting with movie stars you find yourself sitting across from their accountants) and managed plenty of people (much like herding cats, but with less success).
Here's a preview from the new book's Chapter MCXVII -- "Whether You Live To Work Or Work To Live, I Still Need That Report First Thing Tomorrow Morning":

1. See how your candidates react to the unexpected. Experts recommend arriving ten minutes before the scheduled start of an interview. Once your prospects are announced, storm out of your office and demand to know why they are twenty minutes late. If you can keep a straight face throughout their flustered apologies, so much the better.

2. Ask if they would like something to drink before getting started. If they say no, reply with, "Too bad -- I hate to drink alone," and break out a bottle of Scotch. If they say yes, slide a can of Moxie their way.


3. Do not hire anyone who brings lunch to an interview. Unless it's a salad; all the business etiquette guides say to stick with something that comes in small bites you can eat with utensils.

4.  Ask this, then sit back and get ready to watch a mind being blown. "What would you do if someone asked you a hypothetical question during an interview?"

5. Here's an easy way to identify those false "accomplishments" listed on a résumé. Rip it up and ask the candidate to hand-write a new one on the spot.

6. Learn to use open and closed questions appropriately. An example of the former is, "How early are you willing to come in to open the office?" An example of the latter is, "How late you can stay in order to close the office?" Follow up with probes to uncover more information, such as: "In that case, can you bring my coffee in the mornings?" and "Do you really have anything to go home to after work?"

7. Positive reinforcement drives stronger performance. An example is telling your team you are positive they will all lose their jobs if sales don't increase by 100% in the next quarter.

8. "A leader is a dealer in hope" -- Napoleon Bonaparte. "A dealer is a leader in dope" -- Napoleon Dynamite.

9. If you want to get more out of your people, you've got to put more into your people. That's why offices have so much junk food laying around.

10. The best interviews are two-way conversations. The worst interviews are when the hiring manager enters the conference room eighteen minutes late with a half-eaten donut in hand and says she's running behind so "this will have to be short."

BONUS! You've surely seen this so-called "inspirational" chart more times than you can count:


Here are some additions to that list, offered here exclusively and guaranteed to be equally as useless:


If this preview hasn't encouraged you to open your wallet for my new book, then you are far smarter than I am normally willing to give credit for. You wouldn't be looking for a new job by any chance, would you?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Eyewitness to his story, or the whirled according to Trump

They say history is written by the victors, so apparently the polls are dead wrong and DJ Trump is a cinch to win the election. I say this because he and his spokespeople have been rewriting history throughout his campaign, saying Trump was always against the Iraq war; President Obama's policies were responsible for Captain Humayun Khan's death in 2004; Obama and Hillary are the co-parents of ISIS, and most recently that Obama started the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Plus DJT knows a lot about the secret intentions of Mexicans, Muslims and Syrians that was not previously understood.

These revelations prompted me to do a little digging through the almanac myself. Here's some of what I uncovered; you may be shocked - SHOCKED! -- to learn the real truth behind these so-called historical "facts":

- It was long alleged the reason the Red Sox went 86 years between World Series wins was due to "The Curse of the Bambino." Nope - it was Obama's fault since he's a card-carrying White Sox fan!


- In August 1930, Judge Crater received a phone call at his vacation home in Belgrade, Maine -- setting in motion a series of mysterious movements that led to the jurist's eventual disappearance from the face of the earth. A re-examination of the phone records reveals that call was placed by Hillary Clinton!

- Jack the Ripper was really Barack the Obama!

- Who was that other man standing behind Ted Cruz's father and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas in 1963? Tim Kaine!

- Obama's misguided policies of engagement were directly responsible for the War of 1812! And inspired by the sight of an American flag still proudly flying atop Fort McHenry in the early dawn, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was composed on the spot by the noted Baltimore slumlord Francis Scott "Fred" Trump!

- Why did McDonald's stop offering "supersized" french fries in 2004? Because of Michelle Obama's meddlesome nutrition initiative!


- Disastrous trade pacts advanced by Democrats were responsible for sending Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs!

- According to the manifest of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Hillary Clinton had checked baggage on the plane but conveniently "missed her connection" while lingering over a bubble tea in the airport lounge!

- Marilyn Monroe? Obama!

- Natalie Wood? Obama!

- Amelia Earhart? Obama!

- Bermuda Triangle? Obama!


- Allegations of racism, adultery, tax evasion and xenophobia? Oba... uh, never mind.

What have we learned here? History is literally unraveling unfolding before our very eyes. Which is why I'm trying to keep mine shut tight until the election is over. Fingers in my ears also seem like a good idea.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Getting out of (not out in) nature

I rarely approach topics from a serious perspective, yet there are times I feel the need to make an exception. This is not one of them.
Camping is a complete waste of time, and here are my reasons:
Why do people say they want to get closer to nature and then separate themselves from it by erecting a nylon barrier?
It's a popular family activity which everyone seems to enjoy except for the parents and their children. "Let's take our rambunctious crew of hyperactive adolescents, ages 3, 5, 7 and 10 -- plus the baby and dog -- remove them from an environment where all that is needed to fulfill their daily demands is conveniently at hand, and relocate them to a distant locale where every single necessity of daily life presents a logistical challenge and is therefore often forsworn. Also the inevitable rain."
When I want to "get away from it all," I go out for a beer like normal people.
Think about it -- why would you want to sleep on a lumpy surface inside a poorly ventilated enclosure where the smell of other people's farts (not to mention your own) has no path of escape?
People talk about mitigating the risks inherent with camping -- keeping food safe from bears, skin safe from insects, possessions safe from interlopers. There's a foolproof method to accomplish all of this, called "staying home."
Many folks share a romantic vision of being in the Great Outdoors: a day filled with strenuous, invigorating activity; evenings filled with hearty, flame-grilled meals followed by a restful night's sleep on a bed roll in the open air under a vast expanse of star-filled sky while listening to the distant cries of native wildlife. Kind of like the first twenty minutes of Brokeback Mountain but then it went off in a different direction.
When I was younger, I would regularly carry essential supplies and my own meals into an environment filled with the unknown; where the only way to get to my next destination was to walk along unfamiliar pathways; where I would often arrive not properly prepared for the weather or other challenges I was about to face; where I would surrender my need for order and control to the direction of a higher authority; where even though there may have been others around me I often felt truly alone. This was called "high school" and I don't care to repeat the experience.
My few and far-between camping experiences include these highlights: a bear trashing our cooler; a chipped tooth from trying to inflate an air mattress without a pump; a cold front moving in overnight, bringing temperatures below freezing in late August; a late-night dash out of the tent to pee aborted by an encounter with the aforementioned bear, and someone serving me decaf one morning without notice, resulting in a withdrawal headache so severe that it was all I could do to spend ten uninterrupted minutes cursing out the person who handed me the cup.
Now when I feel the urge to camp, I take a leisurely walk through the nearest Cabela's while examining the gear and stuffed critters. Once I've had my fill of the Great Indoors, I buy a piece of fudge, exhale contentedly and drive home. And they also provide a safe place to pee.

An Actual Review of a Virtual Book

I was very pleased to find that my ebook had been reviewed by a very astute and perceptive critic in our local paper. Why he set his usual standards aside to consider what I'd written worthy of commentary is beyond me...

OFF RADAR: Three books of entertaining nonfiction

Thoreau on a tractor, rural Maine and laughs on your tablet

Eleven reasons why I hate to go grocery shopping

I had five items on my grocery list this morning and had to go to SEVEN different stores to find everything. Can you sense the seethe coming off what I type below?
1. No matter how many times I write it down, I never remember to pick up those special boxes of baking soda for removing odors in the refrigerator.
2. Why is there more than one kind of toilet paper? There are only two things that we do involving a toilet (which, and not by coincidence, are named "Number One" and "Number Two") - so *maybe* you could talk me into two kinds of toilet paper, but that's it.
3. Why are the various locations of one grocery store chain laid out differently?
When I pop into a Hannaford's -- ANY Hannaford's -- I want to know exactly where to find limes, diet tonic water and gin. My time is precious; it's hot outside shopping-1232944_640and I want to get home as quickly as possible to cool off on the deck with a refreshing G&T at my side. As I walk into the store limes should be prominently displayed in a produce section located immediately to my right -- not to the left, not toward the back, not in a bin located fifty feet away from the other citrus fruits. Get it together, Hannaford's.
4. Did you know the supermarket chain named in #3 above is actually called "Hannaford"? Everyone around here calls it "Hannaford's", so they should change their name already. The other predominant chain around here is "Shaw's", not "Shaw." Learn from your competition, Hannaford.
5. I've lost count of how many different sizes of shopping carts there are. Let's see: there's the traditional "buggy;" then there's a compact, more square version of said buggy; there's a buggy with built-in rear-facing double child seats so your kids can fling Cheetos at me while you're bent over to grab a tub of private-label mayonnaise from the bottom shelf; there's the hand-held cart-15507_640plastic basket and then there's another plastic one with an extendable handle and wheels built into the bottom so you can drag your groceries around mere millimeters off of the Cheetos-dust-encrusted tile floor, and then there's the mobility-impaired electric cart with the buggy up front that is entirely too long for users to drive around the end of each aisle without either crashing into a display of canned goods or clipping me right on my Achilles tendon. Some stores now offer a service where you order your groceries online and they'll bring them out to your waiting car; no navigation required. That sounds promising in theory but they still make me come inside the store for the gin, so what's the point?
6. Why is there both "salted" and "unsalted" butter? The next ingredient in any recipe that calls for unsalted butter is... salt.
7. And don't get me started on milk. Skim, 1/2%, 1%, 2%, whole, ultra, organic, lactose-free, soy, rice, almond, non-GHO and those UHT packages that aren't in the dairy section and have a shelf-life only slightly less than that of canned soup.
8. And SOUP! Oh my GOD! I want a can... of... tomato... soup. Not "light," not "Tuscan," not "reduced sodium," not "bisque," not "hearty," not with "basil" or "coconut." I want the soup my mother used to serve me along with a grilled cheese (made with white bread, charred on one side, and the slices of yellow American processed cheese food that come individually wrapped) that she cut on the bias so I had points to daintily dip into the bowl.
9. Dear checkout person: just because I've come through your line does NOT mean I am interested in having you examine each of my items as you scan them and asking, "Oh, this looks interesting -- what do you make with THAT?" "What's in the bakery bag?" -- None of your damn business. And the next time you ask me if it's parsley or cilantro, I'm going to tell you whichever one is cheaper, OK?
10. Why are the free cookies on the bakery counter limited to just children? They can't even reach the jar without adult assistance.
11. To whoever is parked behind me in the lot: when my backup lights come on, that means I am going to be backing up my car, imminently. Do not then start your car, throw your tranny into reverse and try to beat me into the neutral zone between our autos-1115600_640rows. Today, so very fortunately for you, I was driving my brand-new SUV and stomped on my brakes to prevent a collision. But the next time this happens it's just as likely I'll be driving my wife's thirteen-year-old junk heap and will not hesitate to exercise my right of way since I was already established coming out of my spot. I would welcome the chance to slam into your rear end, since the impact might actually flatten out some of dents her car already has. I will leave you to pick up your rear bumper and shattered tail light assembly, as I roll down my window while driving away so you can hear me cackle at your misfortune.
Alright -- I've ranted enough. Time to calm down with that G&T. Oh, bloody hell -- I'm out of diet tonic.

Small Minds Talk About People Living In Tiny Houses

There are several programs on cable dedicated to the "tiny house" movement. Indicative of the creative forces involved with these shows, all feature the word "tiny" in their titles:
  • Tiny House, Tiny Nation
  • Tiny House Builders
  • Tiny House, Big Living
  • Tiny Hands, Tiny House
  • It's Not "Tiny", Doctor, It's "Ticonderoga, New York"
Whenever my wife forces encourages me to watch one of these programs, we always marvel at the ingenuity involved with the design and construction of these shrunken abodes. A bed folds into the wall and has stained glass displayed on its underside; a hibachi is retro-fitted for propane and stands in for the stove; the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator doubles as a sock drawer.
photo credit: Pixar Up scale model 1 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Pixar Up scale model 1 via photopin (license)
(Of course, Maine has been at the forefront of the tiny house movement well in advance of this trend. For generations we have embraced compactly dimensioned, creatively furnished and three's-a-crowd structures -- we call them "camps.")
And fad aside, "tiny" isn't even the smallest acknowledged house size. According to one industry website, "right-sized" homes are broken down into these categories, from smallest to largest: Micro (~150 sq. ft.); Compact; Miniature; Tiny; Little; Small; Efficiency; Reduced; Downsized (~1000 sq. ft.). These distinctions undoubtedly lead to conversations like this: "Oh, what a darling 'tiny' house you have! Of course, we gave ours up years ago in order to reduce our carbon footprint down to pinky-toe level when we moved into our 'micro' home. It has everything you could possibly need -- the only accommodations we've had to make are to take all our meals at Burger King, and sometimes Nash sleeps in the lounge at the office when he needs a good night's rest."
[A BRIEF ASIDE: The term "right-sized" is popular in Corporate America as a euphemism for "Our piss-poor mismanagement of the bottom line means we are laying off dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of lesser-paid employees so the members of the senior management team can continue to reap their obscene bonuses." As a still-smarting victim of such action, it made me shudder as I typed it in the paragraph above, even in this context.]
After the big reveal, where the homeowners see their completed domicile for the first time -- usually with a "surprise" flourish like a skylight, or a red wagon from childhood fashioned into a coffee table, or when they now learn for space reasons the kitchen sink and bathtub have been placed outdoors -- they ooh and ahh while the missus joins in from her vantage point on the couch (a couch which, while modest within the context of our normal-sized home's layout, could not possibly fit into any of these tiny houses and would be replaced by a reclaimed park bench -- or, as an example of multi-purpose ingenuity in action, by a pair of toilets set side-by-side facing the media center). She'll turn to me (which would be tough from her perch on a toilet, so scotch that idea) and express her desire to design, build and move into a tiny house of our very own. While I hate to harsh her buzz, it becomes my responsibility to point out the following:
  1. We already live in a "tiny" house, since our dining room table also serves as a file cabinet, bookshelf, cat bed and ironing board.
  2. If she's looking for a small space within which to perform the functions of daily living, I remind her we already live in one, known as our bedroom. We sleep, eat and watch TV within those four walls and can even enjoy the outdoors from an adjoining deck. Out of discretion I don't also include "and occasionally use it as a bathroom" so as not to remind her of those times when, settling in for the evening, she starts laughing so uncontrollably while watching random Facebook videos on her phone that she pees right through to the mattress.
  3. If she's really interested in living in < 300 square feet with all the creature comforts (here I am not referring to our cats), we can do so without the hassle of planning, permits and construction. It's called "buy an RV." My brother-in-law has one that's so luxurious it came with a butler.
Why hasn't someone developed a series about long-time married couples living in reasonably-sized housing and yet everything belonging to the husband is shoved to the back of the closet / refrigerator / bottom shelf? They could call it, "I Live Here Too, You Know." I'd watch that show. As long as a certain somebody stretched out next to me on the bed promises not to laugh.

Finding my Hemingway, or I swear I've been here before

I published my first ebook last year. SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: Selfie-Facing -- Analog Musings in a Digital World is available for download from Amazon, B&N, iTunes and Smashwords (where it's on sale during July), or I'll leave you a series of voicemails, one chapter at a time, for free. I was not sufficiently scarred by the process to dissuade me from now planning Book Number Two. How's this for an opening sentence: Cover
  • Thank you for downloading my second ebook.
Very Hemingway-esque, n'est ce-pas? Simple, direct, unadorned, sleep-inducing.
The book part is easy -- a beginning and an end, with some writerly stuff in the middle. Some clip art for the cover (thank you, Creative Commons licensure!) and really the only place where I'm stuck is the title. I'm considering the following and would love to get your opinion:
  • Premature Articulation -- Speaking Before Thinking: The Donald J. Trump Story
  • A Love for the Ages -- Taylor Swift and Her Beaus
  • Rumpus Room -- The Kardashian Saga
  • If The Facts Don't Fit The Theory, Change The Facts -- Einstein's Prescient Insights into the Clintons
  • Opie-oid Addiction -- What I Learned While Binge-Watching "The Andy Griffith Show"
  • Kraut Control -- Leadership Lessons from Angela Merkel
  • Maple Stirrup --The Life of a Canadian Cowboy
  • Right On D-Money -- Gov. Paul LePage on Drugs
  • Iceberg Lettuce Alone -- Climate Change Deniers Find Themselves Adrift
  • I'll Have a Dark & Stormy -- Edward Bulwer-Lytton Bellies Up to the Bar
Actually, now that I reflect on the above I guess this second attempt may present more challenges than first anticipated. If you've read Selfie-Facing (see SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION above), you may have at least noticed, if not been offended by, the casual and frequent use of profanity in it. However, in my attempts to reach a wider audience (i.e., in the double-digits) with this next screed, I am attempting to dial it back to a PG-13 from the first book's hard R. In order to make that clear to the masses, let's instead consider one of the following titles:
  • F-Balm
  • Swear Are You?
  • Live and Let Expletive
  • Curses! Roiled Again
  • Just Between Cuss
  • I Had A Blasphemy Last Night
  • How I Spent My Summer Imprecation
  • Now I've Obscene Everything
Hmm... on third thought, any announcement regarding imminent publication may be a tad incautious. As my inspiration Hemingway once said, "You shouldn't write if you can't write." I'm trying to make sense of that, but I swear this is one instance where Ernest may be full of shiitake.

Off the rack or Why the dishwasher isn't emptied

You asked me what I had to do that was so important I couldn't empty the dishwasher. Here is that list:
Finish the taxes. They're due the day after... Dammit! Doesn't anyone ever change the wall calendar at the end of the month?
Head over to the hardware store and pick up the box of screws I need to reattach the ceiling fan to the fixture. You told me if you tripped over that fan on the carpet one more time you didn't know WHAT you would do. I, however, have a pretty good idea. Yes, I know the exact size I need... yay-long (hold up thumb and forefinger to illustrate).
Trim the hedges before it's necessary to rent a bucket lift.
Check the rodent traps in the crawlspace under the house. Which I will do as soon as I can find my boots, coveralls, leather gloves and safety goggles. Do you have a hairnet I can borrow? Never mind, I'll use your shower cap.
Get my Kickstarter campaign going. No, I think there are plenty of people who would be willing to purchase a mattress with a built-in disposable sheet dispenser.
Change the oil in your car. Oh, wait -- we're still using the ramps until I fix the front steps.
Download that app you said uses games to improve memory. What's it called again? And have you seen my phone?
Change the batteries in the smoke detectors. If you weren't always after me to do one damn thing after another around here, I would have changed them months ago and now we wouldn't have those scorch marks on the kitchen ceiling, would we?
Repaint the kitchen ceiling.
Pick up the two quarts of native strawberries you asked me to get for that pie you're planning to take over to our neighbor who is recuperating from her hospital stay. Oh, I'm sorry... when was the funeral?
Continue training for the 10k that's coming up in another few... Dammit! Doesn't anyone ever change the wall calendar at the end of the month?
Backup all our files to that new external hard drive our son gave us last Christmas. I'll take care of it as soon as I can figure out why the computer display isn't coming on.
Remember to tell you the dishwasher is broken.


There are words I've been using my entire life and then, in one horrifying moment -- usually during a presentation to senior management, or when I accepted my Nobel Peace Prize -- will discover I've completely misunderstood their meaning.
Exacerbate is one of them. I always thought it meant to improve a situation (as in, "Those three scotch and sodas I had before dinner really exacerbated my mood.") but only recently did I learn it means the exact opposite, to make a situation worse (as in, "Those three scotch and sodas I had before dinner really exacerbated my mood.").
Mitigate is another. I thought offering up a defense of "mitigating" circumstances meant I should get off scot-free, whereas it actually means I'm still just as guilty of whatever I was accused of but might pay a fine instead of serving time in the slammer. I also learned as recently as typing that last sentence that it's not "scott-free."
Then of course there are the Toxic Twins of flammable and inflammable, which sound like opposites but mean precisely the same thing: burn, baby, burn. In kindergarten we learned to "Stop, Drop and Roll" if we ever caught on fire, and the day we became familiar with that protocol I ran home after school and asked my mother if the Batman PJs she'd just bought me were inflammable. "Of course they are, dear," my mother replied -- "I insisted on it." We had a difficult relationship.
I used to use nonplussed to express how something didn't faze me, that I took in stride. When I found out it means exactly the opposite I can describe my reaction only as... nonplussed.
And I've never understood how, if capitulate means to surrender, why recapitulate wouldn't mean to surrender again. Let me know if I need to repeat that last observation.
And it's not just the meaning of various words; sometimes there is a relationship between objects that surprises me. I don't think I knew that capers were flower buds until I was in my thirties. Or that cilantro and coriander are from the same plant. Or that Donald Trump has a sister who is a respected federal judge.
There -- I'm nonplussed again. Where's the scotch?

Catamaran Away

We're finally getting some warm weather again, so when I got home from work the other day I wanted to open things up to let the refreshing lake breeze pass through the house to cool things down. The storm door at one entrance has a nifty slide-down panel that reveals a half-screen, and then I opened the French door on the deck side of the house where a sliding screen is in place to keep the bugs out and the cats in. With that task accomplished I settled into the bathroom for some quality time after a busy day. Emerging relaxed, I grabbed a cold drink and headed toward the deck to sit outside and enjoy a little bird watching and all of the alcoholic content of my beverage.
As I approached the deck I noticed something odd -- a clear and unimpeded view of the backyard and lake beyond it. I realized the sliding screen was over to the left and not in its usual position at the entrance. This meant I'd left the house wide-open to the elements, which I quickly became aware of when a horse fly (so named because this one was the size of a pony) started to buzz my head. I managed to shoo the beast outside as I stepped on the deck -- where I was now greeted by our cat Nate. He was outside and gave me the briefest of glances before dashing down the steps and into the yard.
Crap! I started after him but then started to think like a cat would... After a few minutes of licking my palms and rubbing my face with them, I decided to cut back through the house so I could approach Nate from the other direction and achieve the near-impossible feat of actually herding a cat toward a given destination. Amazingly I succeeded, chasing Nate back up the steps and quickly opening the sliding screen so he could scamper in; I followed him and closed the screen behind me.
While I realize some of you with any cat-owning experience reading this may be impressed with my feline-like cunning, a few sharp-eyed folks may recall I mentioned "cats" up top. This means there was one more to be located, our orange and white furball Miles. I hadn't seen Miles outside with Nate, so my initial search was of all his usual indoor hiding places -- underneath the couches, behind the dryer, inside any of the floor-level cabinets (we often find him either nesting in one of the larger mixing bowls or scrunched within the blue recycling bin under the sink). He was nowhere to be found, so I went back outside and widened the search perimeter.
I checked along the boundary next to the marshy area -- no sign. I walked toward the wooden storage shed, where he'd once hidden underneath after his only prior escape from the house when we first moved in -- but he wasn't there, either. I walked the length of the driveway and didn't spot him. I then got in the car and slowly drove around our small community, looking left and right while calling his name. I did not see or hear him at all.
I returned feeling very upset with myself for not paying attention to the open doorway and permitting him to escape. Carol called at that moment to say she was leaving work and would be home after stopping to run an errand on the way. I advised her to drive slowly once she reached the house since Miles was on the loose and I didn't want him to be accidentally run over if he dashed out to greet her. Carol said she'd skip her errand and instead come straight home to join in the search effort. Once she arrived we scoured all corners of the yard and surrounding property again, then rechecked all his preferred indoor spots. Afterwards, Carol got back into her car and made another neighborhood sweep. Still no sign of our buddy.
I sunk into the couch, feeling morose and fearing for Miles's fate. He'd had a tough start to his life -- he was found on the street as a kitten, and some kind people took him in. They, however, decided they weren't really "cat people," so he ended up being adopted by some friends of our son Josh. He would cat-sit when the friends went out of town, and after one long trip the friends returned and asked if Josh wanted to just take Miles as his own. Josh readily agreed and served as Miles's foster dad for a few years... until Josh moved to a new apartment and asked us to "temporarily" keep Miles until he got settled in. That was eight years ago. Miles moved with us from Boston to Cambridge to Dorchester and finally up to Maine. He did so along with our four OTHER cats -- Nate (short for "Concatenate" for any spreadsheet nerds out there), Sammy (Nate's brother and the sweetest cat who ever lived), Sophie and Chloe (who were unrelated strays who showed up together on our front porch one day and eventually were lured into the family). We came to Maine two years ago with all five kitties relocating with us. But those numbers have lessened over time: Chloe came down with some undetermined illness that was resistant to all treatment; Sammy developed a tumor that grew very rapidly and caused him great discomfort before we decided to put him down; and then one Friday just a few months ago we took Sophie into the vet for what we thought might have been lethargy caused by a mild infection, and two hours later were presented with a diagnosis of lymphocytic leukemia and the vet's recommendation to prevent any further inevitable decline and suffering by euthanizing her. So now we are down to just two cats -- and one was missing.
Before it got dark I said I'd take one more ride around the neighborhood to look for Miles, and Carol offered to come along. We went out onto the main road for a bit, then doubled back and slowly passed through all the ins and outs of our neighborhood. We saw no sign of Miles and nothing responded to our plaintive cries of his name. We turned into our driveway and as we came down the hill I said aloud, "We will never see him again." I pulled up next to Carol's car; I turned off the ignition and we stepped out and toward the door. There, on the other side of the glass, inside the house, sat Miles. He looked at us like, "Where ya' been?" That little fuc... er, I mean feline had apparently hidden away in some unknown, inaccessible-to-humans spot and after ninety or so minutes decided to emerge to investigate the evening's dinner offering. I was so relieved to see him I burst into tears. We ran into the house and I scooped him up in my arms, giving him a big snuggle and kiss on the head which he tolerated quite well up until the last few seconds.
I am now reminded to always check the position of the sliding screen by the memory of the near-escape, along with the reality of two large puncture wounds on my left forearm.

A Test Of Our Friendship

I’m interested in making some new friends, so if you would like to be considered for this illustrious honor please complete the following screening questionnaire and promptly return it to me. You should expect to hear results within 4 – 6 weeks; due to the anticipated overwhelming number of responses only those who merit further consideration should expect a reply. If you make it to Round 2, remember to bring your money order and emergency contact information.
Who are you supporting in the upcoming presidential election?
  1. Hillary Clinton
  2. Donald Trump
  3. Bernie Sanders
  4. Jill Stein
  5. Gary Johnson
  6. Planning to write-in for “The Estimable John Branning” because you want your vote to count for something.
Which of the following toppings do you prefer on your pizza?
  1. Pepperoni
  2. Banana peppers
  3. Extra cheese
  4. Whatever you like is fine with me, John – and no, I insist you take the last slice.
On a warm summer’s day, nothing is more refreshing than:
  1. An ice-cold IPA from one of Maine’s award-winning craft breweries, served in a chilled pint glass and accompanied by a bowl of that Asian snack mix with the wasabi peas in it.
  2. The satisfaction derived from bringing my new friend John another ice-cold IPA and refilling that bowl of Asian snack mix.
  3. #2 above, but after removing the strangely-shaped white cracker-like things with the black stripes in them because maybe that’s seaweed?
My idea of showing a friend a good time includes:
  1. Doing whatever he wants to do.
  2. Not doing things he doesn’t want to do.
  3. Nos. 1 & 2.
  4. Nos. 1 & 2 plus bringing over cold IPAs and Asian snack mix without being asked.
Friendship is:
  1. A way to explore mutual interests with another person.
  2. A one-way street, of which I should be on the giving end and expect little in return.
  3. An honor bestowed upon me by someone (initials “JB”) who flatters by allowing others to bask in his reflected glory.
  4. All of the above plus readiness to pick up the check.
Fill in the blank: “I would take ______ for you.”
  1. a bullet
  2. the rap
  3. your suit pants to the dry cleaner
  4. it on the chin
  5. this survey
BONUS ESSAY: In precisely twelve words, describe why you deserve to have the honor of my friendship bestowed upon you. Please include the words “This,” “would,” “literally,” “be,” “the,” “greatest,” “thing,” “that,” “could,” “happen,” “to” and “me” in your response:
_____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____   _____!!!
By submitting your entry, you are agreeing to the following Terms and Conditions:
  • I am licensed to drive and carry my own insurance.
  • I have a high-def (or, even better, 4K) television with a minimum screen size of 60”, measured diagonally, and subscribe to all the premium cable channels.
  • There is always Gifford’s ice cream in my freezer.
  • I will not bother you with unnecessary texts or tag you in any Facebook posts.
  • If it will improve my chances of becoming your friend, you are welcome to use my boat any time.
Thanks for your entry and good luck!

The Book Of Job Search

I recently managed to pull off a bank job. Wait, that didn't come out right -- I meant to say I recently got a job working for a bank. Kind of makes you wonder how I got through the screening process, doesn't it? And it probably comes as no surprise that I'm not in a position to handle any actual *funds*. No, I'm working at one of the financial institution's call centers, the place where the kinds of questions we all have from time to time about our accounts are directed -- "What's my balance?", "What do you mean when you say 'overdrawn'?" and "Why is it wrong to share my PIN with my boyfriend?"
I'm doing my best to start out strong, so as part of our ongoing analysis of customer feedback I've been judiciously offering opinions and insights culled from my prior experiences in an effort to justify the company's faith in offering me the gig. During a recent session where a group of us deconstructed an interaction that didn't quite meet the bank's high service standards, I identified a few key moments of impact and felt good about my contributions. At home that evening, when Carol feigned more than her usual level of interest -- while the job is still new -- in how my day had gone, I modestly effused how I was earning a reputation as a savant for my astute observations.
"You mean like an idiot savant?" she responded, deflating my pomposity with all the subtlety of a flying mallet. I mumbled a chagrined "No, not like that..." and turned my attention away from further conversation and toward my melting bowl of ice cream. It was all I could do to finish it and I felt so chastened I struggled to work my way through the fudge-covered Oreos nestled among the scoops, stabbing with my spoon to break them into bite-sized pieces but lacking my usual level of enthusiasm for the task. I ended up feeling so drained I left uneaten a few scattered M&Ms, listlessly gazing as the colors leached from their candy-coated shells, adding a kaleidoscopic palette to the collage of abandoned dessert elements languishing at the bottom of the bowl.
Anyway... I'm managing the transition from not-working to now-working as fluidly as I can. During my period of unemployment I was diligent about eating grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast bingeing on Netflix conducting a vigorous job search, but of course the days of pounding the pavement with résumé in hand are long gone -- now every step of the process is online, including using Skype for "in-person" interviews. I had one scheduled and realized I'd only be visible from the shoulders up via webcam, so I decided on an outfit that was business up top and party down below -- shirt and tie paired with my most comfortable pair of Fruit of the Looms. Everything was going well until one of the cats pushed his way into to the study where I'd isolated myself for the interview and leaped into my lap. I shooed him away and, offering an apology for the interruption, stood up to go close the door. This now brought my entire wardrobe into the prospective employer's field of view. If I hadn't had to sit in a chair with a wicker bottom during the chat, I might have chosen to go commando, which would have resulted in an even more disastrous exposé. It's probably not a coincidence that the discussion ended shortly afterwards. No offer forthcame.
Dedicated as I am to the concept of continuous improvement, I vowed to arrive fully-dressed for any subsequent interviews I managed to wrangle and so was turned out nicely for the several visits I made to the bank and yada yada now I work there. They say "Clothes make the man." Well, idiot savant that I am -- I now recognize the importance of a complete set of clothes.

Double Indumbnity

[SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to reveal essential plot details to a movie released in 1944. If that's going to upset you, then go back to watching The Sixth Sense. BTW -- the kid can see Bruce Willis because he’s dead.]

Exhausted after a recent day filled with kayaking, yard work, and contemplating the increasing possibility of a Trump presidency, Carol and I collapsed on the couch after dinner and sought some televised (cable-cast?) entertainment. I noticed a listing for a so-called "classic" film; one that I had never managed to see before and so thought we might enjoy it.

The movie was Double Indemnity, a leading example of the genre known as film noir (which is French for "not in color"). While I enjoy movies and my personal experiences in viewing them go back many decades, I don't consider myself a "film buff" (which is English for "watches movies while naked"). To that end (pun not intended), I've skipped a few chances to see some of the classics, but now I could rectify at least one such oversight and watch a commercial-free showing of a flick that made the top half of the American Film Institute's list of "100 Greatest American Movies." Well, there's no accounting for taste... Here's what happens:

An insurance salesman played by Fred MacMurray is shot after... wait a second -- this movie is about an INSURANCE SALESMAN? I thought the lead characters in these noir films were gangsters, or private investigators, or crooked cops. Why would anyone want to watch a drama about an insurance salesman? I'm certain if Arthur Miller had named his play Death Of An Insurance Salesman there would have been no Pulitzer awarded and Marilyn Monroe wouldn't be part of his biography, either.

Anyway -- MacMurray staggers into his office after being shot and spends the next two hours slowly bleeding to death. As he becomes increasingly diaphoretic, he musters barely enough strength to talk non-stop through the remainder of the movie, even when he's not in the scene. In a series of flashbacks, we learn what sparked the events leading to the shooting -- which was apparently Barbara Stanwyck's proclivity for receiving unannounced visitors to her home while wearing only a bath towel. After eyeing less skin than I've seen displayed by some Walmart greeters, MacMurray falls hard for the dame. After two more brief meetings, some allegedly clever banter (for example -- Her: "I was just fixing some iced tea; would you like a glass?" Him: "Yeah, unless you got a bottle of beer that's not working."), and a shot of bourbon, Fred expresses his love for Barbara by saying, "I'm crazy for you, baby." From the current-day perspective, such language is considered neither politically correct nor feminist-embracing. Today, Fred would need to use an affirmative consent approach by asking, "Do I have your permission to engage in adulterous sex and then proceed to knock off your husband?"

The lovebirds hatch a plot, using Fred's inside knowledge of the insurance racket, to murder her other half but make it look like an accident. Specifically, an accident where the soon-to-be-deceased falls off a moving train. Fred is very precise about the circumstances, saying this is the "only way" to pull off the scam and trigger the double indemnity clause. The husband can't be hit by a car, or fall down the steps, or die of boredom from watching this movie. Through death-by-train, the widow will receive twice the normal payout -- a grand total of $100,000. In those days, that was considered a lot of money. Now that's how much Kim Kardashian gets paid for tweeting what brand of eye liner she wears during liposuction.

Of course, these carefully-laid plans start to unravel once Edward G. Robinson gets involved. Ah, finally - a gangster makes an appearance! Now this is getting interesting... wait, what's that you say? Edward G.'s character is a... CLAIMS ADJUSTER?
  • Q: Is there any kind of character that could possibly be less engrossing than an insurance salesman?
  • A: Yes. A claims adjuster.
At least Eddie's character is an adjuster with some brains, which he proceeds to use to uncover the scam. Well, actually he doesn't rely on his brains so much as pointing to his chest and saying "the little man inside" provides the insights. If this film were remade today Robinson would be playing a character with schizoaffective disorder, with the dramatic tension deriving from his ability to connect the dots only when he goes off his meds.

Somewhere in there Stanwyck’s step-daughter and her no-good boyfriend come into play. When their involvement threatens to derail the scheme, MacMurray manages to get them out of the picture (pun intended) by greasing the boyfriend's palm with a nickel and encouraging him to make a phone call -- problem solved (I'm not kidding). Carol had briefly fallen asleep (I can't imagine why) during this part of the film, so when the boyfriend later became essential to the action she had no idea who he was and kept peppering me with questions regarding what was happening. I responded by adopting a noir persona of my own and told her, "Shut up, baby. I'll fill you in when I'm good and ready to and not a second before. Now go skip into the kitchen and see if you can scare me up a beer that's not working."

Fred MacMurray wasn't the only person who got shot down that evening.

Weakend Plans

Whereupon a carefully calibrated three-day weekend devolves into chaos and disappointment faster than the Cruz-Kasich alliance:
Weekend Frustration #1:  My wife loses a pair of costly Ray-Ban sunglasses while we are out kayaking on the lake during a balmy Friday. They are perched atop her cap while she uses one of two identical pairs of binoculars we recently purchased to check out the thrilling sight of eagles circling above our position. As she tracks them climbing higher and higher, and her head tilts back further and further, the sunglasses reach the tipping point, tumbling back and slipping into the depths of the lake. She is disconsolate; I say I hope she can find some solace in using one of the four other pairs she has scattered within her purse, the house and our car.
WF #2: My observation is not warmly received.
WF #3: On Saturday morning we get up shortly after sunrise in order to make an hour’s drive to a state park to join in an early morning bird walk. However, in order to arrive on time we needed to get up before sunrise – so we arrive just as the cadre of punctual attendees begin to disappear into the woods. Hustling to catch up, I trip over a prominent tree root. Fortunately, I am not injured. Unfortunately, this is because my fall is broken by landing on my new pair of binoculars. Several of the birders come to check and make sure I’m OK; I assure them I am fine and the only things damaged are my pride and binoculars. One fellow asks what brand they are; when I tell him he replies, “Oh, those are useless for birding – no loss there.” I spend the rest of the walk bereft of any magnification assist, squinting across the width of fields and up toward the tops of trees trying my best to zero in on an vast array of migratory birds the sighting of which brings delight to all but me, since I can’t spot any of them. My bird journal for the day remains a blank page.
WF #4: Early Sunday morning we wake up later than planned and therefore have to hustle to get to a fundraising race in which we are participating, arriving just in time to get registered and take our places at the start. There is an announcement to let people go out in order of speed and ability so we let the runners go first, then the joggers, then the families pushing strollers, then someone with a two-legged dog in a cart, and finally we cheer on a few elders using walkers before we join in to pass through the starting gate. Along the route we see a mother and toddler ambling together at a pace set by the little one’s short strides -- except when their progress is interrupted by a series of tantrums (the toddler’s) where she plants herself at the side of the road and moves again only after several minutes of her mother’s cajoling. They still finish before we did.
WF #5: After completing the race, crossing the finish line at such a slow pace that the chips embedded in our numbered bibs are fooled into thinking time is reversing, we drive another 100 miles to a factory outlet store that is closed when we get there. I recheck its Facebook page, which clearly displays Sunday hours. I rattle the locked doors in the hope that, despite the darkness inside, there are employees sitting idle and just awaiting some sort of provocation to leap into action and let us in to commence shopping. This does not prove to be the case, so we stand around flummoxed for a few minutes before accepting we are S-O-L and will need to return another day to make our purchases. Trying to salvage something from the day’s long haul, and since we are already so many miles from home, we decide to drive even farther to a restaurant where we’d enjoyed a fantastic lunch during a road trip one Saturday a few weeks before.
WF #6: We arrive at the restaurant and discover they are closed for lunch on Sundays. We give up on any further adventures and head for home, feeling grateful for the relatively low price of gasoline these days since we’ve burned through most of a tank over the weekend with little to show for it. Stopping at our area Cumberland Farms to fill the tank, I pull out my phone to make use of the app for payment that offers a ten cent-per-gallon discount…
WF #7: … and watch helplessly as it slips from my fingers and falls to the ground, shattering the screen. Now every time I take a glance at the weather forecast I’m alarmed by what appears to be an impending electrical storm, with streaks of lightning covering the screen.
The Final Weekend Frustration: It too quickly comes to an end and another Monday rolls around…

Questioning Everything

I've been involved in a job search over the last few months after being unexpectedly "separated" (as companies like to say these days) from my last gig. I won't go into detail here since, even as a self-proclaimed humorist, I still can't find much that was funny about the situation. But shi... er, stuff happens and life goes on and trite sayings abound. So of course I've been diligently combing through job listings, networking, tweaking my resume in response to a position’s requirements, and having a beer with breakfast. But never on days when I have an interview scheduled. In the morning.
A good interview should be challenging -- meaningful questions asked to elicit illuminating answers. There are many online resources offering both professional and crowd-sourced insights into interviewing techniques. You’d think perhaps someone planning to interview you might take a few moments to become familiar with such resources. But interviewing is like folding sheets -- everybody thinks theirs is the right way.
My search for “effective interview questions” took a mere 0.49 seconds to call up over five million pages, and then I needed only the time required to take a few sips from my beer to identify the most useful results. Nearly every article I looked at offered the very same insight: "Past results are the best predictor of future behavior." (I like to think of this as the Law & Order approach to identifying viable candidates; does the applicant, a.k.a. “the suspect,” have any priors? Think of your résumé as a "sheet;" the conference room where your interview is conducted as the "sweat box;" there's an authority figure grilling you relentlessly in a quest for the truth -- the analogy is complete.) Interview questions embracing this method are typically positioned as, "Tell me about a time when..." filling in the dot-dot-dot with position-relevant activities. And yet I have been asked so many questions along the lines of, "Imagine there was...?" or "What would you do if...?" These put the discussion into the hypothetical realm and -- hypothetically -- anyone with half a brain could concoct a satisfactory response when personal accountability is taken out of the equation. "How would you handle an employee with an attendance problem?" is easily answered: “Address it early; review the company policy with the employee; identify contributing factors; clarify next steps and potential consequences; continue to monitor and communicate closely; acknowledge improvement." This is 180 degrees from how many managers actually *do* handle attendance problems -- ignore them until the employee's sole option is, "Come in today or don’t come back."
I've been asked what my dream job was. You're supposed to offer an answer to connect your "dream" to whatever the current opportunity or career path is within the hiring company: "I'd love to meld my passion for spreadsheets with a desire to overwhelm underlings with minutiae while denying their vacation requests. This opening on your custodial team looks like the perfect starting place from which to pursue my vision." I flub this question every time because I just can't buy into the conceit behind it. At one interview when this came up I was very tempted to respond with, "Certainly not anything the future may hold for me here since everything I’ve seen so far suggests this place won’t survive the current fiscal year."
The other question I despise is, "Tell me why you're the best-qualified person for this job." Yeah, like there aren't dozens of other applicants with similar backgrounds who are all just hoping to squeeze a few more dollars and an extra week of vacation from a new gig.
Then there are the off-the-wall questions that come along randomly from time to time. Tech companies seem to make extensive use of these, but for the average mid-level management position they seem off-putting and superfluous. "You have two eggs and access to a 100-story building. What is the minimum number of attempts to determine the highest floor from which you could drop an egg without breaking it?" Candidates with a mathematical bent are inclined to use a quadratic equation to formulate an answer, but the correct answer for any supervisor-and-above position is, "Zero attempts." Any white-collar employee worth his or her salt knows that you can't open any windows in office buildings these days, for security and climate-control reasons. Duh. I interviewed for a consulting job years ago where someone asked me why crickets rub their hind legs together. I said it was likely a nervous tic that revealed itself when the cricket was trapped in a mindless conversation from which there was no hope of escape. It may not surprise you to hear I did not receive an offer from those folks. Here are a few other questions that some leading workplaces are alleged to ask as part of their screening processes:
What is your personal brand? The template for the “correct” response should result in something like, "I'm an experienced people manager who uses innovative motivational techniques to encourage enthusiasm and loyalty in employees." That's OK as far as it goes, but your prospects for employment might be greater if you offered, "I'm willing to work sixty hours a week for below-market wages while generating competent output."
Where do you see yourself in five years? Likely being asked this question yet again after both this and my next company become untenable and implode from directionless management.
What’s your spirit animal? I would be tempted to respond with, “A dead chipmunk.”
If I gave you $50,000 right now – what kind of business would you start? A very profitable one. Could you make the check out to “Cash”? Let’s celebrate your generous offer this morning with a beer -- I brought some with me to the interview.
I could go on but don’t want to risk the few places where I think I actually have half a shot to question whether I’m talking about them.