The Scotch Tape Store

Since the downsizing of the company, to which I was employed for a number of years, I have returned to the ignominious world of the lowly contractor. Yes. I am quite well paid. Yes. I am grateful for the privilege of being able to honestly provide for my family in an honorable manner.

However.

These days, the terms ‘Contractor’ and ‘Consultant’ have become synonyms. Back in the day, the consultant used to be an individual who was held in such high esteem, their every word was treasured and quoted, their advice was heeded religiously and their counsel was adopted without question. For their unquestioned expertise, the consultant was bestowed with deference, princely favors including exorbitant compensation, stately dinners, top of the line hotel accommodations, chauffeur driven transportation and first class travel.

This situation has since changed. The consultant or contractor, while providing singular areas of recognized capability, has become little more than relatively inexpensive cannon fodder.

Take, for instance, my particular situation. For the last couple years I have been involved with three contracting agencies.

The first two such agencies placed me in large organizations where it was understood I could only be employed for a maximum of one year.

You see, this rule has been implemented in a sweeping recognition of a lawsuit involving Microsoft where contractors showed up for work every day. They were paid. They parked in the employee parking lot and they were off on the same holidays as the so-called ‘regular’ employees of the organization. Yet, there was no paid time (PTO), no health/dental insurance was provided and there were no further financial incentives such as 401(k) programs or tuition reimbursements.

“End of the contract, pal. We really like you. We’ll take you to lunch. Now hand in your computer and your badge. Good luck, buddy!”

And so, the contractors collectively sued Microsoft insisting that if it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck …, etc. The courts agreed. And so many organizations have instituted policies protecting themselves from the potential attacks of their esteemed contractors.

And that is my current situation. I don’t like it for three reasons. First, I have to pay for my own vacation time and insurance. Secondly, I have to hustle for the next gig, knowing full well this bottle has an expiration date on it. Third, and upon reflection perhaps the most important, is that my status within the organization is that of mere afterthought . Just so much chattel. Another buzzword for the contractor is: ‘Staff Augmentation’. Sort of like the cereal filler in canned dog chow.

And so I was yet again reminded the other day.

I am with a third organization that has placed me in yet another large organization. Although I warm a chair at the large organization, technically I am employed by the agency. I received a hand addressed envelope in the mail. I was ‘eyebrows raised’ surprised when I realized the nature of the contents of said envelope. I might have uttered something. If I did, it would have been along the lines of, “well, son of a bitch!” To match the hand written lettering on the envelope, contained within was an identically hand written pay check.

Except for birthday presents, I cannot recall the last time I received a hand written check of any kind.

I was left with an even more profoundly depressed sense of lowliness.

But then again, I brightened. I thought of the Scotch Tape store.

When Saturday Night Live started airing in the 70s they had a number of running gags. They had the Emily Latella news commentator together with Roseane Roseannadanna. There were Coneheads, the Olympia restaurant, Gumby, Leonard Plynth Garnell, Church Lady and Celebrity Jeopardy. One of the initial running gags was a Scotch Tape store. Featuring Dan Aykroyd as the plaid sports coat wearing pipe smoking self-satisfied but delusional store owner and his long suffering knowing, yet supportive, wife played by Gilda Radner.

The premise of this skit involved the couple who decided to start a business in a failing mall. They recently opened a Scotch tape store. They sold nothing but Scotch tape. That was it. No greeting cards. No scissors, envelopes, office supplies or any other useful small household items. Just different sizes of Scotch tape. During one such skit, they received a shipment of tape from their supplier. Before the summer temp employee could open up the box, the wife jumped all over it decrying, “Wait! Don’t open it! We can send it back!”

This was the sort of environment within which I had found myself during my first foray into the wonderful world of consulting many years ago. The business was tucked way away in a small office in a large office complex. This one office accommodated about a dozen people. The business supplied software. Generally, the software was ok. There were actually paying customers who not only purchased the software but purchased service contracts for it as well.

The general manager was this guy who had his own desk and a door to his office. There were scuff marks on the wall behind his cheap high back executive chair.

This guy had a slow delivery. At that time I chalked this up to, perhaps, a tendency to chew on his thoughts in order to come up with the right words. After all there are those who, when speaking, do not necessarily have pearls flow trippingly. I found out later he didn’t have any thoughts to chew. He needed to sift through the obvious in order to say anything at all. He was just stupid.
Out of respect for his position, he being the designated office manager, the rest of the staff, when confronted by his comments, suggestions or requests, merely looked at him with a false sense of professionalism, and summarily turned from him ignoring his every word. It didn’t matter. He forgot what he felt he had to say, anyway.

One day, in between such episodes, we were paid a visit by agents of the copier company with whom we purportedly had a lease.

Seems our beloved office manager was a scoche behind on his payments to the leasing agency that provided the equipment and service for this essential bit of gear. Despite the obvious attempts at procuring the regularly contracted payments for the thing, the leasing agency threw its virtual hands in the air and dispatched the repossession types to recover said artifact. And so they did.

We mere and lowly mortals who observed the act of wholesale reclamation merely thought this was an element within the entirety of an upgrade process and we were simply uninformed. We fully expected this apparatus to be replaced with the latest and greatest model.

We were wrong. After waiting for the bright and shiny new machine that never arrived, the realization simultaneously came to all of us, that the copier had, in fact, been repossessed for lack of payment.

This fact raised a small bit of concern for us. One of the more idiotic amongst us, in fact, possibly the dumbest woman I have, or will ever have, met questioned us all. “What will we do for a copier, now?”

The rest of us looked at her dumbfounded. I took the opportunity to speak for us all. “Uh. Denise. I don’t think that’s the real issue here. If we can’t afford to make a monthly payment on a copier, how are our salaries going to be paid?” This thought had to be processed a bit. Denise responded. “Oh. I guess. But in the mean time, what are we going to do for a copier?” I looked down in order to study the tips of my shoes and silently walked back to the chair where I was originally rapt in studying the wall.

A few of the others took it upon themselves to advise the Manager that we were currently bereft of a copier.

He posed. Looking up as though he had just learned that the north side of his septic tank was just swallowed by a sink hole, he pretended to act as though he had no idea as to what had just transpired and that this particular act was a complete misunderstanding and a grave injustice had just been inflicted upon him.

As a brief digression, the next week my check bounced and I quit that afternoon.

Back to our narrative. But rather than tackle the larger question our fearless leader decided to waive his hand in the air and dismiss this as a minor inconvenience. He pointed to our K-Mart supplied thermal printer telephone/fax machine as the answer to our solution. Simply feed the original into the open maw of this fax machine and, after a few button pushes later, you would be the satisfied possessor of a speckled and gray tinged shitty looking copy. What’s the problem?

After the incident with this copier, I referred to this phase of my career as ‘The Scotch tape store’ period.

Does the fact that I received a hand written check yet again relegate me to a Scotch tape store?

Time will tell.

A Tea Party Comeuppance

I need to set the record straight. I am no fan of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. I cannot foresee any time in the near or distant future when I will ever become a fan of the right Honorable Republican Senator from the Bluegrass state.

I suppose I hold nothing against him personally. But his politics run contrary to nearly all of my political and social principles. He is a card carrying nickel plated Obama hater and he stated in deed, if not by verbatim word, that he will do everything deconstructive he can in order to destroy, or at least discredit, the current administration.

And it is with this underlying fabric I have been casually following the recent political goings-on in Kentucky.

As you may or may not know, there is an election scheduled for this November. A big one. An important one. The Senate race in Kentucky is just such a member of this.

Yesterday, the good Senator trounced the bejeesus out of ultra conservative businessman Matt Bevin in the Republican primaries leading up to November’s general election. Mr. Bevin enjoyed substantial support from like minded tea partiers.
This moneyed support proved to be of no avail to Mr. Bevin for several reasons. One of the reasons is that hard right Junior Kentucky Senator Rand Paul actually put the battle axe he has reserved for McConnell to his side, probably his right side, and actually endorsed McConnell for his party’s primary rather than the hapless Mr. Bevin. Mr. Rand’s decision for this backing is based on extremely complex back room political wranglings. It is obvious Mr. Rand has no great love in his heart for the senior Senator. Nor is there an enormity of sympatico flowing towards Mr. Rand from Mr. McConnell either, as evidenced by his previous backing of Rand opponents. But there you are.

Elsewhere in the world, specifically Idaho, eight term Republican Senator Mike Simpson fended off ultra conservative challenger, attorney Bryan Smith. The incumbent won the primary. Smith’s campaign seemed to have focused around his opinion that incumbent Senator Simpson was “… too liberal for Idaho…” Apparently, Smith was making reference to Simpson’s vote to end the Federal government shutdown last year which, as you will remember, focused exclusively on the absurd attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, known affectionately as Obamacare. Smith was funded by the Club for Growth organization, a hard right non profit Political Action Committee formed in 1999 whose primary goal was and remains tax reduction.

In the Georgia Republican Senate primary, businessman David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston advanced to a July 22 runoff. Coming up short were Representatives Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey and former secretary of State Karen Handel, endorsed by Sarah Palin.

A split between Republican factions was on the ballot in Oregon as well, where surgeon Monica Wehby defeated state Rep. Jason Conger in the race to oppose incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. Wehby was backed by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and Conger had been endorsed by Rick Santorum, the 2012 candidate who beat Romney in Iowa.
Incumbents held off Tea Party challenges in Pennsylvania, where seven-term Rep. Bill Shuster defeated retired Coast Guard Capt. Art Halvorson.

Oftentimes mistaken as a political party in its own right, the so called Tea Party is instead a sort of political movement consisting of political conservative, libertarian and certain populist political thinking. Some see the Tea Party as a faction, a splinter group if you will, of the Republican party. At the risk of expanding upon the reference, the Tea Party is its own faction and has become a rather profound thorn in the side of the GOP. Born from the ashes of Ron Paul’s failed 2008 campaign, the Tea Party hailed itself as a bastion of the people as a force to rail against the evil forces of big government and their pesky regulations.

The Tea Party movement’s membership includes good folk such as Republican politicians Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, Michele Bachmann, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In July 2010, Bachmann formed the Tea Party Congressional Caucus. However, the caucus has been defunct since July 2012.

There are currently a little over 100 US Congressmen, 7 US Senators and a handful of US State Governors openly affiliated with the Tea Party. All of them came to be during the period where disenfranchised Reaganites and W types rattled sabers and made a lot of noise as though they were voicing the concerns of the common electorate.

As it turns out, there has been a bit of a slow down as the masses who at once wholeheartedly and loudly endorsed these guys are suddenly realizing their polarizing effect within the government. Do these same people have Republican leanings?

Of course they do.

But the smell of the wake up coffee has presented itself a bit like this: The two major parties, Democrats and Republicans have the power. A third party generally serves to divide that party to which it is most closely aligned. Ralph Nader’ s Green Party run in 2000 is the text book example for this. By dividing the Democratic ticket in the 2000 Bush/Gore election, Mr. Nader gift wrapped New Hampshire and Florida over to the Republican party.

There is a none too subtle difference between the structure of the Green Party and the Tea Party. The Green Party was an actual registered political party where a collected vote there on its behalf meant one less for the Democrats. The Tea Party is not such an organization. A vote for a Tea Partier is still a Republican vote. Nevertheless, a hard line Tea Party position can effectively alienate an otherwise hard-boiled Republican voter. A Tea Partier winning a Republican primary can serve as an extremely alienating wake up call. While the likelihood of such a voter migrating to the other side of the aisle can probably be measured in very round numbers, there is a greater likelihood of having this individual just throw up his or her hands in abject frustration and, thereby, handing that vote to the Democrat opposition.

It seems this recent election has given a fairly reasoned message to those whose sympathies would ordinarily lie in the Tea Party camp. The message seems to be: “Party’s over.”

Old and In the Way

It should have been a wonderful time. It was Easter Sunday. My family, including grandsons and fiance had arrived and we all settled in for an afternoon of love and familiarity. But it did not turn out that way for me.

I had run into the immobile wall of reality present and pending.

I am getting old.

In a way, no revelation had unfolded. Yet, I felt strongly as though I had entered the cosmos named by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman of the ‘Old and in the Way’.

Understand this. I do see my ugly old kisser in the mirror every morning. I am bald. My remaining hair is gray. Certain skin patches of mine are wrinkled and dangling. Every day there are new and equally unwelcome aches and pains reminding me of my encroaching end. Yet, I have been able to laugh in the face of old man winter’s insistence. My work outs, my generally careful dieting and my consistent exploration of my unknowns have maintained a strong body and a curious mind. Interpret that as you wish.

However.

During yesterday’s festivities in our kitchen, our son and daughter were discussing something and I did not hear the more prominent aspects of their repartee. And with that, I decided to interject myself into their proceedings.

“What was that?” was my clever means of intrusion.

Instead of an immediate response, I received a lecture.

“Dad!” My beautiful engaged middle daughter looked me level eyed and announced in a matter of fact conversational volume . “You know something? You should have your hearing examined. People say something to you. You don’t listen and then you get pissed when you don’t understand and you start blaming them!”

My son looked at me and smiled. Nodding at me, he offered his profound epilogue, “Yeah!”

Two minutes later my wife decided that the contents of the stove beckoned. In a rush to heed its call, my 5’2” bride wordlessly shoved aside her 6 foot husband as though he were so many hanging beaded door curtains.

Rather than voice my consternation, I decided it would best to crawl into the family room and keep track of the Rangers’ progress in the NHL playoffs. I found out later that Philly took New York 4-2, by the way. Crap.

Later that evening, after reading an interesting article in The Economist and taking a well earned Sunday late afternoon nap, my wife turned on PBS and we subjected ourselves to a quasi documentary entitled ‘Moving with Grace’. This documentary detailed the day to day machinations revolving around moving an elderly couple from a retirement village in St. Louis to an assisted living facility closer to family in Greensboro, North Carolina.

While this elderly couple consistently demonstrated all appearances of dignity and intelligence, the entire ambience of the documentary was deeply saddening. The wife of the couple was slowly succumbing to her own form of dementia, relying on her own sense of humor in combatting her encroaching inability to recall her living situation or names of loved ones. Although the husband would stay afloat by utilizing the community gym facility, and he still retained his mental, and a good deal of his physical faculties, it was saddening to witness his resigned shuffling and non committal embrace of what represented his own status quo.

And with this, all the while watching the moron box while assuming a horizontal couch inspired position, I quickly sat up and pronounced, literally, out loud.

“I will not turn into my father. Yes! I am getting old! But no! I will not go quietly!”

My wife actually took the few seconds involved to glance up momentarily from her Kindle. “What’s the matter babe?”

I flatly told her of my feelings. How I allowed myself to feel old when the kids poked fun at me. I allowed myself to feel as though I were in the way when my wife brusquely shoved me aside.

She apologized. “I’m sorry for being so insensitive.” She implored.

My response was simple. “No No. It wasn’t you or the kids. I allowed myself to feel this way. But I need to stop this.

I must admit, prior to my physical self confrontation, I allowed myself the luxury of dissolving into a trench of despair bemoaning the worthless state of my has-been carcass.

And again, you say to yourself, “Look. Ya got two choices here. You can either lay down and rot or you can re-set your sights and explore further.”

I am resolved, as opposed to resigned, to the fact that I will continue to explore as long as the combination of my body and my mind will allow.

Legalizing Bribery

Perhaps it’s my slightly grayish state of mind. Then again, conceivably my overly sensitized political and personal sensibilities are currently working overtime. Regardless of the circumstances within which I find my craw grinding, I find myself miffed and more than slightly upset where it concerns yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling.

Prior to yesterday’s ruling, an individual could give no more than $48,600 to all candidates and $74,600 to all parties and PACs per election cycle (for a total of $123,200). Specifically, and in a nutshell, the Supreme Court of our land, in a landmark decision decided, in its infinite wisdom and a 5-4 ruling, that the cap, or limit, an individual can fiscally contribute to a particular political party’s candidate regardless of time constraints amounts to an unconstitutional infringement of one’s constitutionally guaranteed free speech.

A little background here. Before we discuss yesterday’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, we need to discuss Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

You see, prior to Citizens United there was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as either BCRA or the McCain/Feingold Act. BCRA modified the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The 1971 Act prevented corporations and unions from funding “… electioneering communications …” within 30 days before a primary or within 60 days before a general election. These acts of electioneering funding was felt to be a bit unfair.

Ok. This set the scene for the establishment of a conservative non-profit group called Citizens United. Some people to this day think that Citizens United is some sort of bank. No. So, Citizens United thought it would be a right fine idea to get their collective knickers in a twist over Micheal Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. As you may or may not remember, this film was a particularly scathing documentary on W’s 9/11 response. Citizens United felt this film constituted political advertising, and, if aired within the designated time frames as stated within BCRA, said airing would be violative of the law. The members of the Federal Election Commission looked at each other as though to wordlessly say, “are these guys serious?” and summarily told Citizens United to place their bitching where the moon don’t shine.

And with that, Citizens United picked up their marbles and jacks and, in a huff, went off and made their own movie: an anti-Hillary Clinton movie cleverly entitled, “Hillary, The Movie.” This movie turned out to be nothing more than an elongated anti Hillary ad. At least, that’s what the lower court felt and told Citizens United that this film was in fact violative of BCRA. The Supreme Court advised they would hear the issue.

Viewing it as narrowly as possible, after hearing all sides of the argument, the Supreme Court said to Citizens United that if you want to show the Hillary movie, show the Hillary movie. The Supreme Court, therefore said, in effect, it was unconstitutional to ban free speech through the limitation of independent communications by corporations, associations, and unions.

The ruling had a subtext. Basically it said that corporations and labor unions could dredge their respective coffers to support or oppose political candidates through the use of communications.

Ok. Clear so far?

The problems starting falling out immediately after the decision. You see, folks starting insinuating their own interpretation to the ruling. Folks started thinking that the ruling permitted corporations and unions who previously had limits associated with their contributions removed to the amount they could contribute directly to campaigns. This interpretation of the ruling is and remains completely incorrect.

“The Citizens United decision did not disturb prohibitions on corporate contributions to candidates, and it did not address whether the government could regulate contributions to groups that make independent expenditures. The Citizens United ruling did however remove the previous ban on corporations and organizations using their treasury funds for direct advocacy. These groups were freed to expressly endorse or call to vote for or against specific candidates, actions that were previously prohibited.” In other words they could sponsor media as opposed to directly laying as much dough on a candidate as they wished.

In comes the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. It seems that one Mr. Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy conservative businessman from Alabama, contributed about 33 large to 16 candidates for federal office for the 2012 election cycle. He wanted to give more. He wanted to give $1776 (ain’t that cute?) to about 12 more candidates. The laws prevented that and the RNC, surprise surprise, was all in favor of receiving more.

Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled that government restrictions on the aggregate amount of money an individual would wish to contribute to political candidates and political committees in an election, violates free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

I think this sucks.

Lisa Subeck, executive director of the grassroots political group United Wisconsin, calls the court’s 5-to-4 decision a complete violation of the public trust. And she says it takes the nation another step closer to, as she puts it, legalizing bribery in politics.
“Citizens believe one citizen, one individual, one vote,” Subeck stresses. “And essentially, what a decision like McCutcheon, particularly coupled with the Citizens United decision of 2010 does is, it gives an unlimited amount of power to those with the most money to purchase it.”

Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion stated, “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption.” The chief justice argued that “[t]here is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”

My opinion, humble or otherwise, is that the majority has its head up a fat cat’s ass. This particular opinion does not take into consideration the fact that these contributions are provided with unspoken conditions. The unspoken here is, “This money is yours if you support legislation for my cause.”

Think about it. This is no small matter. We all know that general elections, even local elections, are expensive affairs. In the past, in order to gain promotional materials such as placards, posters, stickers and such on up to televised advertisements, either the candidate or the political party represented needed to come up with the cash. This was done through various types of fund raising activities. Now that I think of it, in describing it even in these terms, it sounds as though the one raising the most dough would win. Unfair. Right? Of course, right. So in comes campaign finance laws to ensure voting was performed on an as-level playing field as possible. This would assist in providing the ability of gathering those votes that would reflect the will of the people.

Yesterday’s majority ruling throws the concept of the ‘will of the people’ down the crapper. You’ve heard of the one percenters?

These are the haves. These are not your average … oh how did John McCain once so eloquently couch it … ah yes … Joe Sixpack. There are only a handful of individuals and organizations that are so well heeled they can single handedly not just finance an election but thoroughly inundate our airwaves with their brand of propaganda. And, like it or not, voters are heavily influenced by the media. This is why we buy the crap we buy. This is why our self image is as it is. The wealthy know this. And so influence is peddled. It would be quite another story if an absolute dollar amount limit only could be accepted by a campaign. But the astronomical cash awards provided by influence peddlers can simply only be provided by the wealthy.

Is this free speech? Spending your money the way you want to spend your money? Of course it is.

Am I suggesting curtailing free speech? You bet!

Sorry to sound so trivial, trite and horribly obvious, but not all speech is protected. No! Inciting to riot is not protected, like the yell of ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, or the goading of a crowd to destroy property or injure people. Likewise, the act of unduly influencing the will of the masses is not something either envisioned or approved by the framers of the Constitution of our fair land.

Frankly, the images of Supreme Court justices with robes emblazoned with corporate logos are not only not all that funny, but neither are they not all that far fetched.

Buck Rogers and Siri

An interesting thing happened at my house during a St. Patty’s day get together yesterday.

As you may or may not know, or care, my wife’s monthly book club, social gathering and cluck fest garners together this Friday. During this time, the old book club widowers gather at a dining establishment serving particular unhealthy fare. This is a point of a certain level of consternation amongst some of the book club members. But I digress.

Towards the end of each of these gentleman’s soirees we attempt at reaching decisions of rather seismic proportions, to wit: where shall we all get together to dine next month?

We always decide.

And we always forget. Write it down? Record it? Hah! I scoff.

During the week leading up to the gentlemen’s glut fest we submit electronic tender to each other in an attempt to formalize our meeting coordinates.

This week is some Thai joint.

So my buddy Alan decided to record and calendar this event on his Android. Only he hits a wrong button and, standing in our kitchen, Alan found himself talking into his phone and he was incredulous! The phone captured his comments as text in the calendar section of his phone.

He did it again and showed it to me. “Did you know this thing did that?” Wide eyed I confessed. I did not. All my finger fumbling is no longer necessary when I text. I can just speak it.

I have written about this type of thing in the past.

My first real exposure to this was with Skype. My cousin, who, at the time, lived and worked in Abu Dhabi, use to communicate free of charge courtesy of Skype. He did this regularly with his wife who remained state side. And there we were face to face, voice to voice, communicating as though we were sharing falafel’s across the table at our favorite Lebanese restaurant in Paterson, New Jersey.

And our grandsons think absolutely nothing of the fact that they can use Mom’s iPhone or Dad’s iPad and talk face to face with their grandparents. After all. What could possibly be more natural than using a hunk of silicon measuring roughly one eighth of an inch across to use as a video / audio communication device in order to discuss the quality of one’s cheerios and the fact that the porcelain commode is a more appropriate receptacle for one’s throw aways than a diaper?

I remain incredulous. You guys may take this all with the proverbial shrug. But I am actually breathless in our ability to apply these things as standards. And so, between Skype, Facetime and this voice recognition stuff I remain beyond incredulous.

Sigh

I know. I know.

It’s part of the game. It’s part of the drill. It’s no big deal. It’s an administrative pain and just another reality.

But.

As you and your iced teas know, I have my high priority, big time, official, no-nonsense card key pass which, when not in use, resides comfortably in the drink compartment of the car. This highly prized and coveted item enables the privileged possessor freewheeling access, entrance and egress to certain pre-designated areas and facilities of the Johnson & Johnson family of organizations.

‘Til this morning, as I would walk my bad self into the building, I would exercise the smooth, suave and debonair move slyly transferring my card key from shirt pocket to right palm and with a practiced nuanced grace, and without missing a step, grease the security card key reader and watch the twin plexiglass panels humbly part, kowtowing to His Grace.

But not this morning. Like a dumble fuddy pud fuck I stand with furrowed brow and eye the uncaring plexiglass panels remain sans buzby guardlike in their impassibility. And, as in the definition of insanity, I attempt my moves once again, and then again, in vain efforts to entice these otherwise immobile plates to steps aside and let the gennemun do he thang.

But alack and alack a day. No soap.

The stationed guards observed my growing consternation and frustration and after a quick database search from their stations, one of them chirped in a heavy Mandarin accented, “Mahteen! You pass cahd expahed!”

I turned in acknowledgement and provided an otherwise blank look which would translate easily in any language, to wit: “Ok. Now what do I do?”

My friend the guard brandished a fluttering single white paper form. She advised with a caring look in her eye and an attempt at a cheery smile as follows, “Mahteen. You fur out dis fawm. You retuhn and by end of necks week, you cahd ok.”

With no acknowledging smile and a decided edge, I inquire, “And how do I get into the gym?” (There’s a gym at work I utilize every day and it requires card key entry.) The guard understood and nodded her head as she turned to a wall of cabinet space. With an experienced search she unearthed a card designed for circumstances such as these. “Heah Mahteen. You use dis temporarory.” And handed me a 2×3 bit of white, thin, hard plastic emblazoned with the words, “Live for Life Card #2 Fitness Center.”

She parted the gate for me and I gave her a wordless tight lipped smile/nod and, carrying both card and paper made my way to my desk. Within 90 seconds I completed the form and walked to the guard returning the form advising that my supervisor hadn’t arrived yet. The supervisor has to, after all, provide approval for my august presence. She agreed to buttonhole said supervisor and obtain his signature.

I felt, and still feel, so demeaned. So lowly. So insignificant. Such a replaceable cog within the confines of an uncaring machine. All of which are true. I am a demeaned, lowly, insignificant cog within the confines of an uncaring machine. Which is not the way I want to feel. I want to feel useful. Needed. Significant. Valued. No. Not worshipped or revered. Just valued.

And yes. It’s part of the game. It’s part of the drill. It’s no big deal. It’s an administrative pain and just another reality.

And so I console myself with my last gulp of coffee for the day, a Medifast peanut crunch bar and the knowledge that I will hit the gym at 11:00 today (usually I go at 1) and meet my old buddy John Robinson for lunch at the grain house. No. I will not have a caeser salad. I will have a plain salad with a vinaigrette dressing on the side.

Shit.

Hurt from Social Media

I did something incredibly stupid last week. Not that doing something stupid on a daily basis is something unusual for me. But this one has carried over and is weighing heavily upon me. Was I stupid?

Absolutely.

Am I upset?

Yes.

Why?

Well. I’m certainly glad you asked.

A friendly ex colleague of mine posted something on Facebook yesterday. Again, nothing unusual in this. However, her posting was unusual in that it reflected a political opinion of hers. I attribute her need to post such a thing as a direct and proximate result of highly charged and overly abundant expectant mother hormonal imbalances.

I felt her political view was groundless and I decided to challenge her as to the foundation of her opinion.

Stupid! Stupid me! Stupid choice.

My challenge was met not by my friend, but by all of her in-laws. Despite my exhortations to explain as to why their opinions were based as they were, their individual and collective responses focused more upon personal derision and talking points. I tried to counter with facts.

Silly me.

My opinion is made. Don’t try to confuse me with facts.

And for some stupid reason or another I decided to hang in there and attempted to exhort rationale. I used basic forensic application in order to address their obviously baseless opinions.
Their arguments devolved into name calling and personal derision.

After several rounds of attempting to elicit facts from my detractors, I determined I had wasted my time and in so furthering this so-called debate, said time would continue to be withered. And despite several pot shots towards me, I took the tack of ignoring these slings and, in so doing, adopted the high road.

I was left physically and emotionally shaken.

How could my fellow humans treat me with such disrespect, no, not disrespect, downright contempt?

I had not defaced their property, defamed their loved ones not had I caused them any form of physical harm. And yet this entire group felt they had an absolute imperative in their numbers alone to band together and deride me on a very personal level.

However, the more troubling aspect of this non-exchange was the steadfast display of complete disinterest in either bolstering their respective position or in intelligently posing opposing points of view.

This has happened to me several years ago.

I had been caught up in a political debate with an Assemblyman in a neighboring district. Again, this was an online debate.

However, the timbre of the debate was civil, controlled, non-personal in nature and our respective positions and opinions were backed with as many facts as we had at our disposal. While we did not reach a compromise during our discussion, we certainly were able to understand the bases behind our opinions and motivations.

This last go round taught this old curmudgeon some valuable lessons.

First of all, I learned not to get suckered into a political crossfire on a social website. This is the place to discuss family, friends and personal milestones.

Secondly I learned there are those amongst us, the percentage of whom I know not, who cannot or do not absorb materials beyond the surface. These individuals appear to be satisfied with converting baseless opinions into talking points and having these talking points solidify in their minds as though they were facts.

It apparently does not matter that these views work against their own interests. These people have not taken the trouble to dig that far.

Scrutiny and Embarrassement

By no means am I a prude. But there are those instances where I feel that the information I am about to disclose need not be disseminated to all who might surround me.

You see, I am a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. And prior to my inculcating myself within the good graces of these monolithic organizations, there are certain hoops through which these conglomerates must jump.

These organizations must assure their respective powers that be that those individuals entrusted to perform the various tasks associated with developing, testing, licensing and registering their compounds and/or devices are, in fact, moral standard bearers of their respective communities.

How does one prove such a point?

Well, two ways. The prospective employee signs a stack of documents allowing the organization to have their agents prowl into his or her unseemly history. Social Security Numbers are provided as well as family, work and school history intelligence. They dig and delve and unearth your particular dirt. The second method is permitting your bad self to be subjected to that which is euphemistically referred to as drug screening.

These two areas need to be cleared prior to your being greeted into the hallowed chorale greeted halls and inner sancti of these lordly establishments.

At a certain level, I understand the need for such things.

Certainly there is a need to verify the qualifications you had submitted are, in general, somewhat representative of the characteristics and capabilities you have attempted to sell. And so your references are called upon and your school records are checked and your criminal history is yet again subject to even further scrutiny. After all, no organization wants to have another Frank Abagnale on their hands.

And then there’s that pesky drug test. While I appreciate the fact that this same organization would prefer not to include individuals with a more than casual brush with severe substance abuse into their familial fold, I am not completely convinced that a drug screening is absolutely necessary. After all, wouldn’t a properly performed background check disclose dependency issues?

And while I am less than thrilled to the core involving having handed over my full life’s story to a handful of strangers, I am even more perturbed about invasions of a more personal nature.

And so I was subject to yet another round of checks without balances. No. The job remains the same, as is the location, the desk, the supervisor and the login account. What has changed, and as the night follows the day, the trigger for yet additional invasions, is the fact that the august institution from which trickles my princely wages has decided (in its infinite wisdom) to initiate a consolidation effort with respect to its contractors and consultants.

All us mere and lowly contractors and consultants will, at one point in the not terribly distant future, be recognized as occupying one circus tent underneath the singular, yet theoretically watchful, eye of our beloved benefactor.

However in order to accomplish this it was decided, ostensibly via consensus as opposed to mandate, that said contractors must toe the line and subject ourselves to the original ignominies of the past, to wit: drug screening and background checks.
And I, recognizing my wife as direct beneficiary of my efforts, decided to toe said line with discipline if not enthusiasm.

And I paused for further self reflection.

Why is it exactly did I feel so resentful of these afflictions?

Well, dear reader, I am glad you asked.

The fact remains I feel quite invaded. I cannot help but feel my privacy has been severely compromised.

The prospect of having established an image of myself depositing bladder based contents within the confines of a plastic receptacle is, it seems to me, something which ought remain private.

I am extremely uncomfortable over some admin at my consulting company directing me to perform that which needs to be performed.

I am extremely uncomfortable with the prospect of the receptionist at the edifice within which said deed is to be performed to have gained intelligence as to said raison d’etre.

I am even more uncomfortable with the fact that my fellow travelers within the laboratory waiting room can easily infer the objectives governing my immediate placement.

Is this silly and immature? Of course. No one cares. Every there is all growed up and knows the score. So they know you’re going to pee into a cup. So they know this is an undignified sullification of your bearing. Time to develop a tougher hide and deal with it.

Is there an alternative?

Of course there is an alternative.

Take my word for my sobriety until proven otherwise.

No? That would be too expensive if the employer discovered this post facto?

How about a refined test to unearth continuous use instead of a night- before divertissement?

These days, it seems to me, the prospect of personal invasiveness needs to be taken into consideration with a bit more rigor.

Phil Everly’s Passing

I read of Phil Everly’s passing over the weekend. Most of the world might have looked upon this as yet another dip in the passing parade.

However I and, I am sure, many othesr felt deeply sucker punched having received the news of this otherwise non seismic event.

The mere mention of either Phil or Don Everly immediately triggers waves of memories from my childhood. During those years of the 1950s, Elvis Presley was probably the prime motivating factor behind my fascination with guitarring. The actual songs of Elvis did not reach my guitar playing fingers, and certainly not my vocalizing until many years later. But while “Hound Dog”, and “Teddy Bear” and “Ring Around my Neck” became staples later on, my first real exposure to American songdom took shape within the inimitable sound and stylings of the Everly Brothers.

I believe it was my friend George who somehow got that album with the Everly Brothers smiling over their shoulders at the camera while they were both seated on a scooter with the upside down J-200 strapped on to Phil.

The only records I had at my disposal in my house at the time were either the kiddie type records my folks got for me or the classical music and Broadway musical LPs they had for themselves. Rock and Roll was not part of my familial circumstance and dynamic at that time. Much to my parents displeasure, year later, Rock and Roll became a constant, and at times troubling, theme.

The Everly Brothers seemed somehow inviting to me where Elvis seemed dangerous. The Everly Brothers sounded glad to be there where Elvis seemed to snarl. But the real attraction The Everly Brothers had for me was that sumptuous luscious sound.
George and I tried to imitate it. I do not remember if we used our guitars or not. Probably not. But we used the sonics of our apartment building.

Our apartment building was equipped with eight floors. The six upper floors were labeled 1 through 6 inclusive. The lowest floor held the incinerator room and the laundry and an exit out the back to get to the garages. The floor above (labeled UG for Upper Gardens) had apartments, bicycle storage and a recreation room. The only means of accessing these lower floors were either by elevator or by leaving and once again, re-entering the building with dedicated doorways. The upper six floors had levels of stairways. Bannister sliding was available but extremely dangerous, made even more dangerous the higher the floor. The void represented by the rising stairwell provided a breathtaking view only Hitcock would be able to capture, that begged only the most daring to venture upon its sliding bannisters. Those less bold merely walked the stairs. Those feeling even less spry would resort to the elevator.

But what seemed to evade most of the apartment dwellers was the aforementioned sonics, specifically the natural reverberation of the marble stairs and concrete hallways combined with the airiness of the stairwell itself. Think Harry Bellafonte wailing “Ayyyyyyy Yo!! AyYaaYaa Oh!!”

It was here, usually positioning ourselves on a third floor landing, where a couple eight year old kids sang Everly Brothers songs.

Were we in tune? Probably not. But to our ears, and certainly to my memory, we sounded better, purer and even more angelic than our beloved Everly Brothers. We knew the words, if not their meaning.

And with that, our 62nd street cathedral bounced innocent versions of “Dream”, “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up, Little Susie” to the otherwise uncaring halls of our reverberating building.

The Everly Brothers’ next album was entitled “Songs our Daddy Taught Us.” It didn’t matter that the songs on that record were not quite as monumental hit makers as the tunes on that first record. Although the word ‘Daddy’ in the title put me off (a decidedly non New Yorker term) those gripping harmonies were there in full glory and captivated me in both a physical and an emotional way.

And on this day, aside from the earth moving contributions the Everly Brothers have provided to us all, what I remember most of Phil Everly remain those sonorous odes George and I made that might ring in those apartment halls still.

Disingenuous Sensitivity

I find it frankly odd and mostly disturbing that Republican male elected officials are banding together in the guise of sensitivity and inclusiveness when the actual issue is divisiveness and exclusivity.

There I was. Minding my own business. Doing something good for myself. At our tiny gym within the facility where I am currently employed, one of the several stationery bicycles supported my quest to burn calories and miles. Each of these exercise bikes is equipped with a remote controlled television screen. During baseball season I tune in to the YES network to pick up baseball information and perhaps even a piece of the game while I perspire. Off season, I turn to CNN in order to attempt to pick up real news. In most cases I fail woefully. My attention is usually diverted anyway by LED flashes of goal notations. Most of what is intended to pass for news these days is regurgitated bilge of events over-covered ad nauseum. Today’s tripe du jour involves a derailed train and a young actor killed in a race car.

Although they would like, the news networks cannot dedicate themselves to reports of events which the public is so quickly tiring. And so they throw in a tid bit that might prove of marginal interest.

The following caught my attention.

Do you remember Todd Akin? You don’t? Well then. Allow me to refresh your memory.

Todd Akin. Ahem.

During the 2012 Missouri Senate Race, the incumbent Senator Akin squarely placed his foot righteously in his face when he decided to pontificate on national television regarding the none so subtle distinctions between legitimate (meaning actual) rape and those instances where the victim cries ‘wolf’. In the process of describing these distinctions, Akin decided to go for the gusto and, brass ring in hand, grabbed a statistic from where the moon clearly don’t shine and bald faced admonished that victims of ‘legitimate rape’ rarely get pregnant.

I get a kick out of the fact that politicians, regardless of their posture, seem to genuinely feel a strong sense of entitlement to air what they want at any time and feel justified their very words are factual by their mere pronouncements.

But I digress.

Too juicy to ignore, the press pounced on this like white on rice until virtually every person in this fair land capable of holding a remote, learned of the aggressive ignorance of this Missouri Senator, the right honorable Todd Akin. Akin and his team, of course, immediately dove head long into damage control central. They accurately foresaw the otherwise proud flower of victory crammed mercilessly down the craw of defeat. And indeed, Akin lost badly.

Just a scant few month ago Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks decided to hoist from the Akin playbook. During a push for a twenty week nationwide ban on abortions, Franks cleverly injected an interesting factoid insisting “… the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low…” That went the way of the Akin. The proposed 20 week moratorium vanished into the ether.

There are other and many such events. Who can forget the hapless Rick Lazio? He of khaki pants and blue blazer running in the stead of then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani had quite a battle on his hands. He bowed out because of a much more demanding battle with cancer. But prior to this, he was faced with an opponent in none other than Hillary Clinton herself. The prize was the Senatorship of the State of New York. Mr. Lazio, as a fair haired boy candidate, was last minute thrown in to this race in order to attempt to brow beat Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Lazio played a magnificent bull in a china shop as he tromped across the stage from his podium attacking Mrs. Clinton with a document sort of petition thing and admonished her with pointed finger to sign it in front of God and everybody. I am not certain whether Hillary even touched this piece of paper. But I do remember the flip of her wrist and her body language speaking loudly as if to announce, “Fuck off, you little pissant!”

Recently Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss decided that sexual assaults within the military should be blamed on hormones. Who knew?

With an unprecedented amount of eyes-opened-wide and a collective ‘Duh’, Republicans are just noticing there are at least 10 elections where men would be running against women. GOP incumbents have decided to wake up and smell the potpourri.

The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) has decided to hold the equivalent of coaching sessions for these fine gentlemen. The substance of these talks apparently are intended to revolve around how those men running against women are to broach female issues, female constituents and the means by which women’s issues need be addressed.

They are referring to these sessions as providing lessons in “…messaging against women opponents.”

Virginia Representative Scott Rigell won his seat by a scant 1000 votes. But in seeing the proverbial writing on the wall, he has announced he will be concentrating on issues benefitting the “… full fabric of our communities…” Translation? “I’m running against a woman. I barely won last time and I better start making believe I give a damn about women and the stuff they think is important.”

John Boehner has directed his aides to meet with Republican staff members in order to learn how to conduct oneself in such male against female type situations.

Hence the title of this particular piece.

It just struck me as so profoundly disingenuous.

Seems to me, if you’re going to delve into women’s issues, you’re doing so in order to gain greater insight into the motivations of the majority of your constituents. Instead, these sessions are being used as tactical wedges.

One of Boehner’s staffers said it right. “Let me put it this way, some of these guys have a lot to learn.”