Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm fine

How am I doing? Fine, thanks. And you?

I have had dealings with people who experimented with always giving an honest answer to the question "How are you?". And sometimes giving a totally honest answer is the right thing to do. If someone close to you asks, sometimes it's OK to blurt out "Terrible. Just shoot me now!" Or burst into tears.

But, sometimes, lying is the best response. When things are rough all around; when everyone is doing their best to keep their heads above water; and when no one has the energy to do much beyond look after themselves, saying we're fine is something more than just a statement that is semantically untrue.

In that context, "I'm fine" means: don't worry about me. No, seriously, don't worry. You know what I'm dealing with. You can see me running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to cope, eyeballs rolling in two opposite directions. I know that you know that I'm less than perfectly fine. But I also see your struggle. I know that you're waiting for biopsy results. Or: I know that your husband just lost his job. Or: I know that your child is struggling in school and you don't know how to help her. So don't worry about me. The least I can do is not increase your burden by crying on your shoulder.

There is a time for sharing. I do believe that people who are friends, family, and even people who work closely with one another should be aware of the ups and downs of each others' lives. We do need to know what's going on. But once the news has been shared, other than updates here and there, we all have to pick our chins up off the ground and keep going. Most of the time, we have to be fine. "Being fine" is really being brave.

A lot of people I know are being brave right now. Ken, under tremendous stress from work responsibilities and long hours, is miraculously keeping it together. He's tired, but he always has a smile and hug for me at the end of the day.

People I work with are going through all sorts of turmoil with sick family members, personal injuries, financial troubles, etc. But mostly, we're fine. There's only one person here taking out her frustrations on everyone around her. It's amazing the damage that one person can do with a few harsh words and well-timed, contemptuous eye-rolls.

So, how am I?

The computer upgrades I worked so hard on have landed very ungracefully. I spent three full days running around troubleshooting for frustrated co-workers, and the best solution in the end is decidedly imperfect. I'm disappointed that this big project, which I had such high hopes for, has been a flop.

I'm watching my husband suffer with stress and burnout, which makes me feel helpless because I can only offer limited assistance.

I'm worried about all the people I work with who are troubled by health problems, dying loved ones, and other problems. I'm worried about them for their sakes, and I'm also worried about how it would impact me if they had to take extended time off.

I'm working like crazy trying to keep up with all my responsibilities, including preparing to relocate our entire business, which is a huge job.

But I'm fine. If you ask me, I'll probably tell you I'm fine, and even smile for you. Not in a sarcastic way. In a loving, caring way. If I can't do that, I'll make a joke about how I'm losing my mind, and hopefully it'll at least make you laugh. Because we all need to laugh.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Washroom Wars

My massage therapist's office is on the 29th floor of a 30-storey office building. Each floor houses up to ten suites, mostly lawyers' offices, accountants, and some health care professionals. It's a top-grade building in a prime location.

Last time I stopped by the 29th floor ladies' room prior to my appointment, I found the following notice, printed on 8.5" x 11" paper taped over each toilet bowl:

"To the ANIMAL who pisses on the toilet seat:

You are NOT the only person who uses this facility. Have some common decency and clean up after yourself if you MUST piss on the seat."

The rage underlying the note was so palpable I took a step backwards. Woah. When it comes to washrooms, people get emotional.

I wonder if the author of the note truly believes that there's only one woman who consistently sprays the seats. The building is open to the public; the washrooms are not locked; and the offices on the floor must attract dozens of client visits every day. It's strangers who are most likely to be inconsiderate.

There are washroom politics going on at my office too. Here's the setup: We have mens' and ladies' washrooms which can accomodate three customers apiece, accessible to staff and clients. There's usually at least one stall available in the ladies' room at all times and I hear that the gents' is the same. There is also a single staff-only washroom, shared by all genders, which can accomodate one person at a time. The staff-only washroom is almost always occupied.

Our staff prefer to avoid the less busy, public washrooms because they don't want to run into clients while they're having a private moment. I previously blogged about the time when I was in a stall with the door closed, and a client started making demands to me about her appointments and complaining about our customer service. I had to inform her that I would not discuss business with her in the washroom. Some of our clients aren't good at respecting boundaries.

So if the staff washroom is busy and the public washrooms are unattractive, where do some staff members go to do a number? They take the stairs to the next floor up and use their washrooms. Seems like a reasonable solution, yes?

The floor above us isn't nearly as busy as ours. We got the lock codes for their washrooms from building management one time when there was a major plumbing problem and we couldn't use the toilets on our floor at all. After that I would occasionally go upstairs to use the facilities. Until one time when I was up there and two women came in. One was complaining loudly about the fact that "those people from the other floor" were using their washrooms. Her tone was so scathing and hateful that I never went back up there again. No one should have to take verbal abuse with their pants around their ankles. It wasn't worth it.

Other women from our staff took a rebellious attitude and kept going upstairs anyway. They figured: we're paying rent to the building; the washrooms don't belong to any one tenant; and it's not like those washrooms are busy enough that the handful of extra users is going to create a line-up. They don't pee on the seats or clog the toilets. There's no logical reason why we can't all share.

The loud woman from the other floor took up arms against the notion of sharing. Maybe it's a primal thing. When animals pee on something it becomes their territory. I guess she felt the need to defend her toilets.

This woman, the Evil Toilet Queen, became increasingly militant. When verbally badgering our staff didn't deter them, she went to building management and demanded that they issue a memo to us asking us to cease and desist from all use of the other floor's washrooms. Building management never sent us a memo. I don't know if they have an official policy on the matter. I suspect, based on their overall approach to the whole landlord thing, that they don't give a flying fart either way. They decided to play dumb and let us fight it out amongst ourselves.

The latest development was a phone call from the Evil Toilet Queen. I'm told that earlier she came down to our floor in person to speak to "someone in charge", but fortunately I was on my lunch break at the time. She informed me that if our staff did not immediately stop using the other floor's toilets she would call a locksmith to change the locks on those washrooms, and then send us the bill.

Honestly. Does this woman have nothing better to do with her time?

I told her fine, fair enough. I suppose I could have escalated the issue to building management, to see if they actually approved of the threat, but I actually do have better things to do with my time. Anyway, we're moving in three months, to a new location with plenty of washrooms, including a grand total of six staff-only toilets. We can pee to our hearts' delight.

In closing I'd like to reiterate this basic rule of etiquette: If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat. It'd be an even better idea to sit down. Line the seat with paper if you must. Ladies be aware: if you're squatting and spraying all over the seat, you're also spraying some of that wild, out-of-control pee onto your clothes. And that's disgusting. Be responsible and sit down properly. That is all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Questioning Food Authenticity

Ken and I went to Asian Legend, a chain restaurant specializing in Northern Chinese food, for lunch. We were seated next to a squeaky-clean, preppie Asian couple in their 20's. It was obvious from a quick listen-in on their conversation that they were both born and raised in Canada.

The young couple had already ordered, so their food arrived before ours. Ken, always very much a voyeur in restaurants, examined their dishes and tried to determine what everything was. There was a plate of brownish, noodley stuff that was difficult to identify. I guessed seaweed salad, because seaweed comes in a wide assortment of odd shapes and sizes. The preppie guy looked over at us with a friendly grin and informed us that it was bamboo shoots. Not terribly exotic. I've eaten bamboo shoots before plenty of times as part of mixed veggie dishes.

Next up for them was a plain steamed bun. Emphasis on plain.

After that, our food started to arrive. We had a steamed bun stuffed with savoury beef, followed by ma po tofu and a veggie mix. I must point out that our veggie mix included fungus. This is relevant to the story.

The other couple went more down the road of dim-sum, with a selection of steamed dumplings. Nothing fancy. As the food came out onto the tables, there was some interested smiling and chat on both sides about our respective choices. I thought how nice it was to be seated next to such friendly people.

And then. Then the preppie guy turned to Ken and said, with a big smile, "Looks like you guys picked the Canadian Chinese food."


What did he just say? Did he just question the authenticity of our food? Because them's fightin' words. Ken and I are proud that when we eat ethnic, we go all out. Tentacles, seaweed, fungus, gizzard, tripe - we eat all the weird stuff. (For the record I don't enjoy chicken feet. It's too easy to imagine that I'm nibbling on a child's hand. But I have tried them. I'll try almost any food once.)

Ma po tofu is authentic Chinese food. It's a comfort dish - the macaroni and cheese of China. Ken should know - he's half-Asian. Half Japanese, to be exact, but Japan is close enough to China that the cuisine was popular with his Japanese relatives. The authentic cuisine. It's not like we had our table spread with shiny, red Bo Bo balls, egg rolls and fortune cookies.

Anyway, we both smiled and nodded, because what else could we do? Stand up and overturn the table? I would have liked to do that.

After the insulting preppie couple left, Ken and I debriefed. We both felt indignant. Neither of us is Chinese, but dammit, we know how to eat Chinese. You'll certainly never catch either of us asking for a fork.

So there!

Monday, February 15, 2010


I finally did it. After months of saying I would get around to it, I went to Karaoke. And it was good.

The venue: Silver City on the Danforth. The team: a couple of work-friends and their motley crew. The crowd: Average age 45, definitely not there for a beauty pageant. I'm not saying they were an ugly bunch, just that no one was dolled up for the occasion. People were there in old jeans and flannel shirts; baseball caps; one dude was wearing sweatpants. It was good - no pressure.

Ken and I arrived at 9:30, just after our friends showed up. The place was almost empty. Over the next half hour, as the karaoke host set up his computer, screens, and sound system, a steady trickle of people filled the small bar. A game of pool got going at the back, on a blue-felted table.

The woman who had invited us decided that I needed to be liquored up for the occasion, so she bought me a vodka and cranberry. I had only had a few sips of that drink when she decided we all needed to do a round of shots called Hurricanes. I'm not sure exactly what was in it, but it looked like a thunderstorm was brewing in the shot glass. Lightweight that I am, I nursed both drinks over the next three hours. Yes, I sipped my shot. You got a problem with that? Tough nuts.

The next order of business was to pick songs. I was handed a thick book of song titles listed by artist. Immediately, every song title that I've ever known fled from my brain. It was like I'd never heard of music before. I flipped through the catalogue feeling completely confused. The Hurricane wasn't helping either.

The host finally got all his gear set up, and the singing began. My friend went up first, gamely running through an Abba medly. She did alright. Then her boyfriend sang something I'd never heard before, a bluesy rock song, complete with dance moves. I was impressed. Then they called my name.

My first attempt was lame. No two ways about it. I tried to pick a simple song, but sadly I went for one out of my range. Apparently they can transpose the music if you request that ahead of time, but what did I know. I sang The Cure's Friday I'm In Love. I couldn't hit the low notes. When I was finished, the audience gave me a golf clap.

Things heated up shortly after that. Beer was flowing, and with it a seemingly endless supply of sad cowboy songs. There were a couple of old guys who stumbled up to howl out these long country ballads. When we couldn't stand it anymore, we went outside into the freezing night to watch my friend smoke.

The wince-inducing performances were interspersed with half-decent to amazing talent. One of my colleagues truly lived up to her reputation as a top-quality songstress. The only consistent thing seemed to be an overwhelming choice of melancholy lyrics. One song, and I'm paraphrasing here because I don't have a photographic memory, went something like this:

"There's a kid in the ghetto
and he's stuck in the ghetto
He's hungry and his nose is running
He's got no one to look after him.
Now he's growing up and joining a gang.
He's doing drugs and soon he'll get shot
or rot in jail. Boo hoo, life in the ghetto."

Sheesh! Lighten up people.

For my second chance at the mike, I went with Cyndi Lauper's Money Changes Everything. That one worked out a lot better. I belted it out. My only regret is that I don't know the freestyle part at the end very well, so I missed my chance to hold that one really long note. I know I can do it. I sing that one in the shower all the time.

After I nailed my song, I felt better. I got compliments from some of the regulars. So, yay! *fist pump*

We stayed until around 12:30, and then, before we sustained permanent hearing loss, said our goodbyes. Will we go back? Put it this way: I couldn't fall asleep because I was too busy compiling a list of songs I want to download onto my iPod so that I can learn them for next time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

February Fashions

I went shopping with Ken on Saturday. My motivation: "I need socks!". I'm not sure what Ken was thinking, but it had something to do with an invoice he's going to submit soon and the foreshadow of that potential money already burning a hole in his pocket. That money time-travelled back from the future, passed through the hole in Ken's pocket, and miraculously landed in the cash registers of several happy retailers at the Vaughan Mills Mall.

He hadn't officially given me a Christmas gift, and Valentine's Day is rolling around soon, plus we have a first anniversay coming up in April, so we're calling this shopping spree the gifts for all those occasions rolled into one crazy bunch. Is the first anniversary gift supposed to be paper? Money is made of paper.

We started out at the sock store and I did get a whackload of socks. On sale. My toes are cheering. Yaaaaaaay!

From then on, as far as I was concerned, we were window-shopping. But then Ken spotted this cute little spring jacket in Le Chateau. He's been complaining about my "old" spring/fall jacket ever since I bought it two years ago. He says it's ugly. The fabric has a rubbery texture. I thought that meant it was waterproof, or at least water resistant. Not so much. It's just rubbery. Anyway, it was a good enough jacket, but this one is better. Not waterproof at all, not even trying. When it rains in the spring I'll get wet, and I won't mind, because I'll be so Super-Snazzy!

Isn't it cute?

The store was filled with retro-80's styles. I was right into it. Nothing says 80's fun like a romp in the mall. And no 80's-style caper is complete without a flamboyant hat.

Domo kindly offered to model the hat in order to protect my anonymity.

We really hit our stride in the Danier store. Ken loves Danier. I'm not generally speaking a Leather Girl, but Danier does have very, very nice things. Like a purple bomber jacket to match my purple cowboy boots.

See the boots? They're so nice and shiny.

I tried on the jacket just for fun. Then Ken started calling me his Purple Princess, and insisted on getting it for me. I didn't resist much. I mean, look at it!

Pretty darn sweet. And 50% off. You can't beat that.

I was worried that the collar might be too wide to keep the wind off my skinny little neck, so Ken grabbed a matching purple scarf.

And then, because my orange handbag might be a little too crazy to wear with the purple bomber (it's in the photo above, on the bench to the left), we picked out a black purse.

It's got grommets! I love grommets.

I am well and truly blessed.

I picked up a few other odds and ends on sale, like work shirts for $15 each that had been $40. But you don't want to see those. They're just boring.

Now I need to buy a bigger house, to hold all my clothes. Maybe I'll get a purple one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Slug Flu

It's a relief to be back at work. Seriously. On Saturday an invisible, energy-sucking slug attached itself to my forehead, and stayed there for five days. That son-of-a-gun was hungry. Just when I was wondering if I'd ever feel normal again, it decided it had had its fill. It warped back to the energy-sucking slug dimension where it lives with all of its horrible, squooshy brothers and sisters. Yuck.

When I'm off work for more than two days, I start to miss the stimulating environment. I'm used to talking to lots of different people, and solving problems all day. It doesn't take long for me to get bored, lying around at home. I need to be mentally challenged. (Some might argue that I've been mentally challenged since birth, but that's another story.)

I have an odd way of getting sick. These days, more often than not, when I catch a virus, I don't get the typical symptoms associated with being sick. My nose doesn't run; my throat doesn't hurt; my digestive tract doesn't eject its contents. I just get tired. Big time tired. My heart rate speeds up, and if I over-exert myself I feel faint. And my body temperature goes up, sometimes to an official "fever" level, but more often just below that.

Sometimes I think this is a sign that I'm in good health. All the vitamins I take are a great investment. If I didn't take them I'm sure I'd be much worse off. I might get sick, but at least I'm very comfortable while I lie around being useless.

On the other hand, sometimes I think that because I don't have well-defined symptoms, it must all be in my head. I'm a hypochondriac. I'm psychosomatic. I've broken down under stress, and I'm wallowing. If I could just force myself to get up and get moving, I'd be perfectly fine.

When I'm thinking like that, sometimes I make the mistake of going to work while I'm still sick. Like on Tuesday, when I dragged my sorry butt in to sit through an important management meeting. I'm sure I looked very professional huddling in my chair, using my parka as a blanket, struggling to keep my eyelids up. One of my bosses, the less sentimental one, offered to swap seats with me so that I could sit near the heater. I was touched by his concern (but too lazy to get up and switch chairs). By the end of that meeting, when I got up to walk back to my office, I thought that I might pass out.

I need to take myself more seriously. Turns out there are viruses floating around that cause fever and fatigue without other symptoms. One of my colleagues spent the weekend suffering from the same sickness. I'd be willing to bet that I caught that nasty slug-flu from her. Which means that it was real. (Either that, or we're both psychosomatic.)

So look out for the intergallactic invisible slug-beasts. I can't really advise you on how to protect yourselves, but you might want to keep some salt handy.