Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hebrew Progress and Fridge Progress (nil and nil)

Update #1: My self-taught Hebrew lessons have been cancelled.  I was doing well, but I got to the stage of looking at the mourner's kaddish (prayer), which was the reason I wanted to learn Hebrew in the first place.  I wanted to see if I could sound out the words letter by letter as a reading exercise. There was a translation as well as a transliteration on the web page.  I read the translation, and realized that the prayer itself didn't resonate with me.

I wanted to learn this prayer so that when my own family dies and I am called upon to recite it, it would mean something to me.  I wanted to know and understand the words so that it would actually be comforting, instead of being gobbledygook. Having seen the meaning of the words, my reaction is that it isn't comforting at all in any language.  It doesn't even deal with the subject of death.  It's boilerplate worship language, praising God on high, asking for peace, amen.  Noble sentiments, to be sure, but not worth learning an entire language for.

I may as well just read along with the transliteration, in that case.  There are plenty of other ways I can spend my time productively instead of learning a language that has little relevance in my life.  Hebrew isn't an easy language to learn, in that modern, written Hebrew doesn't bother notating half the vowels.  It's fine for those who grew up with the language, but for new learners it's a pain in the butt.   Come on, lazy Israelis, how much trouble would it be to just write out the vowels like every other written language?  (So I'm not a linguist; maybe there are other languages that don't bother with vowels, but I'm just sayin'.)

Update #2:  The fridge saga continues.  New New Fridge is doing fine.  However, Sears lost the damaged fridge that I returned.

How does one lose a fridge?  Beats me.  The delivery guys hoisted it into the back of their truck, and apparently that was the last time anyone saw it.  Either the truck driver sold it for $20 by the side of the road, or it was returned to the warehouse without the proper documentation.  Same difference to me; I paid for two fridges and I only have one.

They told me initially that it would take 10 business days for a refund to appear on my Visa.  It was shortly after that that I started calling the customer service desk, speaking to a series of clueless call centre employees who made me repeat the entire story each time.  And each time I spoke to someone new they assured me that the Investigations Department was looking into it and someone would call me back within two business days.  I waited three days each time, and no one ever called me back. Garrrrrr.

Five weeks after the fridge exchange took place, I made enough noise to get transferred to Tony in the National Escalations department.  I invited him to come to my house to search in the closets and under the beds for an extra fridge.  I told him "I have been patient, but I currently have one fridge and I have paid you for two.  Sears can take all the time you like investigating, but I don't want to carry this fee on my credit card while that's happening.  That part is your problem.  Refund my money, and look for the fridge on your own time."

Tony was very understanding, and said that he believed that I hadn't stashed the old new fridge under my bed.  He said that he would send a message to the Credit Department to do a manual refund, regardless of whether or not the dented fridge has been located.

Of course the manual refund will take ten business days to go through.  Someone will definitely call me to follow up.  *eyeroll*  I guess we'll see.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Haters be Hatin'

I need to ask you guys if this is normal: do your friends occasionally turn nasty on you and try to cut you down?  Not major attacks that anyone else would necessarily notice, just little digs and pokes that sting and bruise more as they accumulate.

I don't recall this happening a few years ago, when I was a depressed mess.  In a nutshell, for those who haven't heard the sob story, I was clinically depressed for years before being properly diagnosed.  My symptoms were mainly physical, such as feeling like I had lead weights strapped to my wrists and ankles, to the point that just walking down a hallway was a major challenge.  I needed so much sleep that all I could manage was to work and go home with occasional, very minimal socializing.  I was a mess for years.  While this was going on, my friends were very kind and accommodating to me.

I was tested for Lyme disease, mono, West Nile virus, etc.  Three years ago, after a trip to the hospital emergency room where I even managed to stump the doctors there, I was finally diagnosed by my own step-dad (thanks doctor dad!) and started on a low dose of medication to balance my brain chemicals.  Ever since then I've been on a gradual path of improvement.  I still need more sleep than the average Joey, but it's been over a year since I had my last major panic attack or felt that my feet weighed 20 lbs. each.  I'll always have a bit of a tendency towards low dopamine, which is exacerbated by stress, but it's a lot easier to manage than many other chronic conditions.

Back to today.  Now that I'm no longer a mess, I've noticed that a few of my girlfriends aren't so uniformly sweet with me.  In fact, they seem to feel that I need to be put in my place.  In the past couple of months, I've been verbally slapped down with the following read-between-the-lines messages:
"Yeah, right, get over yourself, you're not that funny."
"Yeah, right, get over yourself, you're not that pretty."
"Yeah, right, get over yourself, you're not that clever."

I don't think I'm being overly sensitive.  I'm a teaser.  I love to tease people.  I know what teasing feels like.  It's done with a smile, and a generous pillow of underlying affection.  These little shivs I'm on the receiving end of don't have any pillow of anything under them.  They just feel mean.

I'll give you an example.  At a glance, I look freakishly young for my age.  I have a big head relative to my body, which is one of the physical cues that people look at when determining age, and a bit of a baby face.  However, if you get up close I'm clearly showing signs of being 42.  I have laugh lines around my eyes, grey in my hair, and I joke that if I'm ever carded I could just show my knees for I.D.

I was fooling around on the Microsoft site that guesses your age from a photo.  I tried a couple of selfie photos and they both came back with mid-30s ages.  I was like "Nah, I can do better than that." Thinking about it analytically, I figured that they probably use relative eyeball size in their algorithm.  My eyeglasses shrink my eye size due to my prescription, so I took a bare-faced selfie and tried that one.  Despite the little laugh lines and grey in my bangs, it told me that I looked 19 years old.  So of course I laughed, fist-pumped, and danced around a bit, but it was more that I had fooled their software than truly believing that I look 19.  (I don't.)

I was flipping through some photos on my phone to show something to one of my girlfriends, and the "19" selfie came up.  She said something about it, I forget what, maybe "Oh, that's a nice picture of you."  So I blurted something about the website guessing my age as 19, just to laugh about it, and she immediately kind of raised her eyebrows and said with a bit of a curled lip, "Well, you don't look 19."

Now, this woman is, herself, gorgeous.  She's a couple of years older than me, and she's an absolute stunner.  Tall, leggy, long blond hair, slim, and fashionable.  She could outshine me in a beauty contest any day of the week, and that's fine by me.  I'm not trying to compete with her.  She's in a different category anyway.  If we happened to both be single and out trying to pick up guys, she would be attracting a different crowd than me.  Guys who like girls who look like Barbie would be going for her.  Guys who like the petite look with glasses would be chasing after me.  So it's all good, right?  When she told me a story a few months ago about a man in a store line-up who said to her "I've been very good this year.  I hope I wake up and find you under my tree on Christmas morning," I laughed with her about it and was happy for her.  Why can't she do the same for me?

I could give a bunch of other recent examples, with other people, but you get the picture.  So, what the hell is going on?  Is this normal, and people were just handling me with kid gloves before because I was delicate and sensitive?  Or am I right in feeling that that this is wrong?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Tidy Up

I am the person at my workplace who ends up doing the stuff that no one else will do.  Toilet clogged?  Call Spark!  Computer won't go?  Call Spark!  Ants in the kitchen?  Call Spark!

Colleague died, leaving 1.5 offices full of stuff to be sorted through?  Call Spark!

How did this fellow manage to fill two desks with his stuff?  He had one office for seeing clients (the tidy office) and one in the staff-only area (the messy office).  Although frankly, by my standards, they were both pretty disorganized.  (No offence to his memory.  He was a brilliant but absent-minded-professor type of guy.)

Technically I could have delegated the task of going through his belongings, but honestly I didn't want to.  Not because it's a laugh riot digging through a dead guy's desk, but because I wanted it to be done right.  And you know what they say about that.

It's a weird experience, to go through a colleague's personal stuff when you weren't that close in the land of the living.  I mean, we worked together for 12 years, but that's different from handling his half-used underarm deodorant.  (Right Guard spray, in a gold can.)  Definitely different from packing up his spare pair of well-worn shoes into a box together with framed photos of his grand-children.  I feel like I'm getting one last weird chance to know him better, after he's already gone.

I can see the layers of his forgetfulness in his desk drawers; read how he asked his administrative assistant for some blank file folders, transcription request forms, and mailing labels every few months.  The strata of office supplies are separated by random accumulations of industry journals and sales flyers.  Eventually, when the last lot of unused supplies was fully buried, he'd go get a fresh batch.  I stacked them in growing piles on the desk as I proceeded with the excavation.

His most-hoarded office supplies were binder clips of all sizes, and stacks upon stacks of 1.5" x 2" sticky notes in every colour of the rainbow.  I picture him stashing them deliberately, like a squirrel burying nuts for winter.  I retrieved at least 150 binder clips and dozens upon dozens of stickies from his two desks and returned them to the office supplies shelves.  We won't have to order more of those for quite some time.

There are still a few cupboards and three drawers of a large filing cabinet to be gone through.  I have been at the task for a week, but I can only manage around 90 minutes per day.  It's not that it's emotional, although it is a bit, but it's just a lot of decision-making.  After staring at the umpteenth document and trying to determine if it belongs in the shred, file, recycle, or reuse piles, my brain seizes up.

I think I will feel most sad when the job is done and all reminders of him are tidied away.  Fortunately, that doesn't need to happen for a while.  No one is in a hurry to take over his office space.  I'm going to leave his papers in the filing cabinet for a few months, to give his widow a chance to get over the worst of the shock.  Maybe I'll give her a call in the fall to ask her what she wants done with all the papers.  There is also a box of personal financial records that I stashed away where they won't be discovered by all and sundry.  I didn't read them closely, but it's nice to see that she'll be amply provided for.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Four Watches and a Funeral

Part I:  I Haz the Sadz

A colleague of mine passed away last week.  We all knew it was coming; he'd stopped working a year ago due to progressive heart failure, and we'd been getting updates of his decline.  Still, it was an awfully sad day.  If you don't feel like reading about death today, skip this part and go on to Part II below, which I have included just for you.

My colleague was Jewish, and, even though I'm not an observant Jew, everyone came to me with their questions about Jewish mourning customs.  We actually closed down the office on Friday so that everyone could attend the memorial service and burial.  (One Jewish rule is that you've got to be in the ground by sunset on the day after your death.  The only exception is for the sabbath.)

I have been to exactly two Jewish funerals, and one of them was when I was a kid.  I had an idea of what I thought I should be telling people, but I wasn't confident.  Fortunately, I was able to find online resources so that I could speak with at least a little authority.  Here are the things people wanted to know:

1) What should I wear to the funeral?
You should dress according to the level of religious observance of the family.  This family wasn't particularly observant, so I told people they could wear whatever they might wear to a Christian funeral.  If the family had been orthodox, all the women would have had to wear long sleeves and either pants or a long skirt down to the ankle.  Men are provided with a yarmulke (skull cap) at the funeral chapel.  Women are not required to cover their heads.

2)  Can I send flowers?
It is customary not to send flowers in the Jewish tradition, as that is considered "too happy".  You're supposed to be unremittingly grim for at least the 7-day traditional mourning period, or shiva.  At the shiva house, mirrors are covered, and the principle mourners are supposed to wear one garment with a visible tear in it, to represent rending one's garments in grief.  Technically you're not supposed to bathe for the whole week, but in practice I've never met anyone willing to be dishevelled and smelly in the presence of the endless parade of supportive visitors to the shiva house.

In lieu of sending flowers, it is customary to make a memorial donation to a fund or charity as specified in the death announcement.

3)  What should I expect at the cemetery?
There are prayers at the graveside, of course, and then after the casket is lowered in, it is customary to offer first the family, then friends and colleagues the opportunity to help shovel the earth back into the grave.  People line up for a turn with the shovel.  You start by using the back of the shovel, which carries very little earth, to symbolize your reluctance to bury the deceased.  Then you do another scoop with the shovel the right way up.  You replace the shovel into the pile of earth rather than handing it directly to the person behind you, again to signify reluctance.

This participatory shovelling does tend to unnerve those who are not expecting it.

Judaism allows no opportunities for denial.  When someone is gone you'd better deal with it right away.  There's nothing like the thump of earth falling on the casket to hammer the point home.


Part II: More Cheerful Things!

When Ken at I were at Cartier a couple of weeks ago, we were given their 2015 watch catalogue to take home with us.  This sounds unimpressive, until I mention that it is a 96-page hardcover book.  What else would one expect for watches with six-figure price tags?

If I were a wealthy gentleman with the money to buy one of these babies, I'd have to go with a Mystery Watch.

It's a mystery in that the hands appear to be free-floating in the transparent case.

How do they move?  My best guess is that the minute hand is controlled by a magnet that rotates beyond the perimeter of the clear area; and a teeny gear causes the minute hand to push the hour hand forward at the correct pace.  These babies first came on the market in 1912, so it couldn't be anything much more high-tech than that.  Still, it's pretty impressive (and mysterious)!

There is one thing that Cartier hasn't taken into account in their designs, and that is the tendency of Asian cultures in general and Japanese culture in particular to respond to products based on their resemblance to human faces.  (Or so I've been told.)

I cannot imagine a grumpier watch.

This model is smiling, but only because it's anticipating the pleasure of murdering you in your sleep.

I tricked you into bringing me into your house and placing me on your bedside table.  Little do you suspect that your last minutes are now ticking away!  Mwah ha ha haaaaaa!

And the final item of interest: a pocket watch "entirely skeletonized [they mean carved] from a single solid block of gold".

It's so expensive that they don't even post the price on their website.  Maybe they're afraid that they'll give someone a heart attack.

I enjoyed reading the catalogue with the kind of incredulous voyeurism that I assume we all feel when confronted with the lifestyles of the 0.1%  But if I'm wrong and any of you are planning to buy yourselves a quality Cartier timepiece, please fly me to your city and bring me with you for the experience.  It'd be fun!

Sunday, May 3, 2015


By Wednesday, at work, I was like, "Eff this!"

I decided to skip off work the next day and go to the zoo.

Toronto has a fantastic zoo.  However, I do not visit frequently because it's way the heck out in the middle of nowhere.  For a non-driver like me, it's reeeeeaaaaaaally inconveniently located.

The zoo website offers transit instructions, but they're confusing.  It's kind of like, if it's before Labour Day, and it's the third Thursday of the month, and the moon is 1/4 waxing, take the eleventeen  X bus, then get off at the corner of Not Even Close to the Zoo and Wherever and transfer to the square root of negative one bus (just make sure it's not short-turning at pi).

I did my best.  I thought I could catch an 86A bus from the train station close to my house.  The schedule online said that I could.  When I got to the station, the "next bus in x minutes" monitor said that I could.  But in fact the only buses there were 86 buses.  The driver said I would have to transfer to an 86A down the line.  So I did.  I got on, sat on the bus for a long time, until the far station, and transferred to the 86A.  Then I sat on the 86A forever.

Just when I was about to ask the driver "Are we there yet?", the 86A got short-turned and became an 86S.  I had to get off again and chase down another 86A when it was stopped at a red light.  Then I sat on that 86A forever.

When I was beginning to believe that we would never get there, that third bus reached the end of its line and dropped me off at the transfer point to the actual Zoo Bus!  And the Zoo Bus showed up and in just another few minutes I was AT THE ZOO!

With happy turtles:

And a hungry giraffe:

This is the baby giraffe.  She's only 18 months old.  (Click on the photo to see her better.)

The cheetah was on the prowl.  (Note how far along spring has progressed in Toronto, i.e. not very far; all the trees are still bare.)

That pale thing on a rock that looks like a discarded banana peel is a lion all flaked out in the sun, napping.  (Click for bigger.)

This is a tur.  

This is a lazy snow leopard, curled up against the plexiglass of its enclosure.

Red panda, pacing determinedly:

It was super-great to get away from work and have a stroll outside with all the animals.  There were dozens more, but I don't like to take photos through bars or mesh, so I skipped the tigers, for example.

The best part was meeting the keeper in the giraffe house.  (Despite it being a warm day, the giraffes were indoors because their outdoor pavilion was being improved.)  I learned that giraffes are not very smart.  When they were first introduced to the new giraffe house with the savanna mural, they tried to browse leaves from the painted trees.  The baby likes to eat applesauce and peanut butter out of the feeding station; that's what she's doing in the photo above.  The plastic ball is hollow and contains nommy treats.  The momma giraffe's favourite snack is a whole raw onion.  She must have killer breath.

At 4 o'clock I went back to the bus stop and rode the bus (just one this time) forever again to get home.  But it was worth it.