Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spark is the New Len

For the past 7 years, my workplace was located inside a multi-story building.

It wasn't the greatest building. The elevators broke down frequently. The plumbing was unreliable. During the big 2003 blackout, the emergency lighting system failed completely. Fortunately we were able to scrounge up a couple of flashlights, or we would have had to evacuate down several flights of stairs in total darkness.

Three years ago, a private post-secondary school moved into the building. They offered diploma courses, including some in the medical field. Those students were required to wear scrubs. They would hang out outside the building behaving badly. People visiting our business often assumed that they were our employees, because of the scrubs.

"We saw a couple of your nurses out by the dumptster smoking weed!" That kind of thing does not create a good impression. We were happy to move away from them.

However, some days I think I'd rather move back, because I miss Len so much.

Len was the building maintenance guy. He was included in our lease. We slipped him $100 Christmas bonus every year to go the extra mile for us, and he did. Anything that was wrong with our suite had one solution: Call Len. Lightbulbs need changing? Call Len. Toilet clogged? Call Len. Someone trapped in the elevator yet again? Len'll fix it!

In our new building, there is no Len. Or rather, I am the Len. When things go wrong, everyone turns to me. This is not something that I'm comfortable with. I'm not a handywoman. I don't use power tools or change washers. I do not feel that I'm above plunging a toilet, but it's useless to try. I don't have the knack. When I plunge, I can't seem to get suction. I only succeed in further stirring the disgusting toilet soup.

There is no shortage of things going wrong in our new building. So far I have dealt with a leaking roof (twice, one leak source still unresolved), a broken ventilation fan, an infestation of drain flies, a bad smell in the storage room, half a dozen plumbing problems, a non-functioning fluorescent light ballast, false security system alarms triggered by a rogue motion detector (I think we may have a ghost setting it off overnight), fire alarm testing, and probably more but I'm tired just thinking of it all right now. And that's just since we moved in, six weeks ago.

I really, really miss Len. I miss Len even though one of my staff went to see him once in his little office/closet in the basement and swears she caught him reading Hustler. I miss him even though he used to come and lear at my staff every chance he got. I miss him even though his parting gift to me was a skeezy kiss on the neck.*

*(It was moving day and I was flying around at 120 mph. I had one chance to eat lunch, on the bus in between our old location and the new one. That would be the only time I had to sit down and stop working for 15 minutes. My plan was to wash my hands at the old office and buy a sandwich on the way to the bus. I ran into Len in the foyer. "Well, this is goodbye," he said, offering me his hand. Damned if I was going to eat a sandwich after shaking his toilet-plunging, lecherous hand, and I had no time to go back up to the washroom, so I offered "Here, give us a hug" instead. Instead of the gentle social hug I was expecting, he stuck his face under my ear and kissed my neck. Eeewwwwwwww. *shudder* However I maintain that it was the most hygenic option.)

Here at the new building, we still have a post-secondary school on the premises. It's a specialty school for police fundamentals. The students dress in fake cop costumes, I mean uniforms, which I find amusing. I went into the cafeteria at lunchtime to find the whole place filled with uniformed students, watching the World Cup. I said to the owner, "Gee, this place looks like the G20!" He thought that was pretty funny, until I suggested that I could smash his glass window to round out the similarities.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Smashing my faith in humanity

G20 Violence Beamed Around The World.

This weekend, violent demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Toronto, supposedly to protest politically against the G20 summit. Apparently there were some peaceful protesters too, but they didn't get much attention. Videos of the vandalism are here.

I'm appalled by what I've seen. Dozens of idiotic and hateful people, dressed in black ninja-style disguises, wandered up Yonge Street* (Toronto's version of Main Street), followed by a crowd of media people toting cameras. I heard that hundreds of police officers had been dispatched to the city's centre, but not a single one was visible as the vandals, at their leisure, destroyed storefronts all along their path. They threw newspaper-vending boxes through plate glass windows. They kicked out the windows of a jewellery store. Then they used their bare hands to pry up paving bricks out of the sidewalk so they'd have something more to throw and smash with.

None of them carried signs stating any type of political message. It was a crowd of immature, angry social misfits, taking any handy excuse to get away with destroying private property. There had been at least 50 tents set up in a local park the night before, to accommodate "campers" who had come from all over Canada to take part in the orgy of violence. Wasn't it nice of so many people to come so far out of their way to smash up a bunch of relatively blameless businesses?

Yes, I've seen the movie "The Corporation", and there's a lot that's wrong with capitalism. That doesn't excuse this violence, or even have anything to do with it.

I can't wait until it's all over and these people go scurrying back to whatever holes they crawled out of.

*It's pronounced "Young". Hapless employees at call centres all over the world have pronounced it every which way to me when I managed a business that had a Yonge St. address. It does not rhyme with sponge. Don't ask me to explain it. That's just how we roll in Toronto.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


My friend Val is the Bingo Queen. In the past few months, she has won literally thousands of dollars at Bingo. She's been so lucky that her boyfriend "buys in". He pays for half her cards in return for 50% of her winnings.

My experience with Bingo has been limited. I had a Bingo game made of cardboard when I was a kid, but didn't use it much. One time I let a games barker talk me into playing a few cards at a carnival, but of course I didn't win anything.

I never had any particular urge to play Bingo until Val had stopped by my office a few dozen times to share stories of her big windfalls. Eventually I started saying "I should come with you sometime!". And later I started to actually mean it.

Well, last night was the big night: My First Bingo.

Ken and I drove a long way from home to get to the Bingo hall. It's by the railroad tracks. The parking lot is made of gravel and mud. Val was outside the front doors, having a smoke.

She showed us in to a large open space that brought to mind every bowling alley and roller skating rink I've ever been in, complete with one of those snack bars that serves flat hamburgers and slices of cold apple pie. It opened 30 years ago, and retains a strong early-1980's vibe.

Val had saved some choice seats for us, near the middle of the hall. To get to them, we had to dodge an obstacle course of large plastic garbage bins, set up to catch drips from the leaking roof. The floor was covered in worn, dark carpet. The rectangular, four-seater tables were laminated with a thin layer of fake dark wood. The ceiling was painted brown.

Ken and Val's boyfriend Mike saved our seats while Val and I went to buy Bingo cards. Except Val didn't call them cards. She referred to them as "strips". Each one was a long strip of recycled paper, with three Bingo "cards" printed on it.

That's where it got complicated. There were different strips to buy for each game. There were the evening's regular games, which came in a colour-coded "book". Then you could buy in for extra bonus games with bigger prizes (the Specials), with names like "Double-Dab", "U-Pik-Em", and "The Accumulator". There were a lot of complicated rules.

First we stood in a lineup to get Val's automated Bingo machine, which would play some of the Specials for her automatically so that she could go out for a smoke break without missing out on any of the prizes. I had never heard of this technology. Picture a Netbook, but customized for Bingo.

Next we got the regular games books: 5-strips for Val and Mike, the experienced players, and 3-strips for Ken and I. You can play as many strips as you like, but if you can't keep up with the caller then having more is not better. Val actually plays 6-strips: a standard five with a sixth taped to the side. Like I said, she's the Bingo Queen.

Last, we bought the Specials strips. Val also bought some funky little paper things that add another layer to the gambling. I didn't exactly get how they worked, but for a dollar apiece you get to pull open the paper tabs, and if there are pictures of three Bingo balls underneath (sometimes they say "Try Again"), and in one of the games all three of those numbers are called, you get to "call Balls" and win a big prize.

As you can imagine, Ken and I couldn't help snorting with laughter every time some little old lady yelled "Bingo!" and the caller stated, in all seriousness: "Balls has been called. We have Balls." Or something to that effect. Everyone else took it without cracking a grin. One woman won five g's via Balls. It's a very serious business.

When the games began, at first a hush descended over the hall. Then, as people began to see their prospects shaping up, the table talk would start. People muttered to their seatmates about the numbers they were waiting for. As the cards filled up and more people got close to a Bingo, the chatter grew louder. The way it worked was that each ball would be displayed on a TV screen for around ten seconds before the caller actually announced it. You couldn't yell Bingo until the caller had made the announcement verbally, even though you could see that you had won. It was easy to tell when someone had a Bingo brewing. A rumble of excited conversation would errupt at one or more tables (sometimes the prizes were split) as soon as the ball came into view. "There it is," we'd say. The caller would announce the number, and one or more calls of Bingo! would be immediate, as the winners shot their hands into the air.

At the one hour mark, and intermission was called. Half the people in the hall went for smoke or bathroom breaks. The other half hustled over to the hardcore area, for people who can't stand a twenty-minute break from the gambling experience. They played another version of Bingo, which involved sitting at an electronic machine with various numbers and colours flashing on it's front. According to Val those games are a waste of time because the prizes are just a few bucks, but I guess some folks can't resist.

After the intermission, Mike won $50 on U-Pik-Em, which was cool. We had agreed to split our winnings before the games started, so he slid $25 over to Ken. It was fun to win something.

For another hour, we diligently watched the screens and dabbed at our cards. It took quite a lot of concentration to keep up even on a 3-strip. I'm not sure how Val was managing with six. The Bingo hall employees circulated, selling Specials strips and refreshments. You could buy a cup of coffee and a bag of BBQ Fritos, or Hickory Sticks, off their little cart, as if you were flying on an extremely downmarket airline. I wasn't tempted.

By 9:30 pm we hadn't won anything else, and my dabbing arm was getting tired. The last prize was given away. Ken and I called it a night. Hardcore Val and Mike decided to stay for the 10pm session to see if their luck might change.

I was glad that I went, and I'd go back again. I found it relaxing to go into a kind of Bingo trance, marking off numbers with big, satisfying polka-dots of emerald green ink. The most entertaining part of the evening, and Ken agrees with me on this, was listening to Val quietly spew a constant stream of verbal abuse at the caller, who took all the blame for every number that wasn't what Val wanted.

"You stupid jerk! I wanted 22, not 21! Come on! Dammit, I hate you!" If words could kill, that poor slob of a guy would have been dead twenty times over before the evening was done.

Will we go back to Bingo? Maybe. We'll see. How about you? Have you played, or would you go if you had the chance?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Strange Encounters

Encounter 1:

When my workplace moved, we sublet our old space to another company. This company has been in touch with me by phone for various reasons via their receptionist, Sandy. Last week Sandy called to let me know that she had some of our mail which had slipped through the post office's forwarding service. I said I'd drop by and pick it up.

Walking into our old space and seeing Sandy for the first time, I had a profound sense of deja vu. I thought to myself: "I could swear that this woman worked as a receptionist for our company five years ago." Except that the woman I remembered was definitely not called Sandy. I couldn't remember her name, but "Sandy" didn't match the face in front of me. Could she have changed her name?

As we made small talk, I stared at her, trying to assess the situation. She showed no recognition of me at all, but back in the day I had long hair and glasses and looked completely different. Even so, wouldn't she have said something? She couldn't have forgotten working for two years at this exact address. Perhaps it was simply a freakish coincidence that she looked so like this woman I'd worked with?

Eventually Sandy said:

"I think my sister used to work here."

"Ah," I said, "that explains it! I've been staring at you all this time wondering why you look so familiar!"

Turns out she has an idential twin sister who is also a receptionist. They wear their hair in the exact same style. Susan worked for my company, and several years later her twin Sandy is working for another company in the same suite. What are the odds of that? I'd say slim to microscopic. It was very Twilight Zone.

Encounter 2:

I get a phone call from a stranger asking if I know anything about a Bob Green. The name sounds familiar. I believe my step-dad has a business connection with him. I get a picture in my head of one of my step-dad's colleagues. As I'm telling the caller that yes, I do know Bob Green, I realize the man I'm picturing is Bob Smith.

Who the heck is Bob Green then? I think harder. Oh, wait, isn't he that creepy guy who sank one of my step-dad's business ventures and then died under mysterious circumstances? Yep, I'm pretty sure that's him. But not 100% sure.

The caller explains to me that Bob Green is his long-lost cousin. I take his number down and promise to call him back.

Later, I speak to my step-dad. Indeed, I'm right about Bob Green. Not only is he dead, but he disappeared under suspicious circumstances. He owed money to a loan shark. My step-dad says that he died in a "boating accident", that is, gangsters threw him into a deep lake with his arms and legs bound to teach him a lesson. The man is fish food.

My step-dad remembers the cousin and says he never liked him. He asks me to call back and give him the bad news. I've never had to do that before: tell someone that a loved one of theirs has passed away. I think of the doctors on Grey's Anatomy. They always say "We did everything we could." Well, that doesn't help me much.

In the end I make the call and it's not that bad. I leave out the part about the loan shark and the boating accident. The man sounds upset, but if his cousin's been dead for three or four years and he didn't know, how close could they have been?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I'm so scary

A few weeks ago I was out shopping with Ken. I tried on a pair of knee-high leather boots. As I strode around the store, taking them for a test run, the sales girl turned to Ken and said, emphatically:

"Look at her! She walks like the Terminator!"

I wasn't sure how to take that. Was it a compliment? Offensive? Or just weird?

As you know, I recently moved my workplace into a new facility. When picking the moving company, we did not go for the highest quote, so I didn't expect white glove service. There was some damage to our new premises and to a few computer monitors during the move. No problem; that's why we bought insurance. I started the process of making a claim.

I contacted the Sales Supervisor as instructed. He didn't get back to me. Two days later, I left messages for him and my sales rep. No one got back to me. I sent a stern e-mail. My sales rep promised me that the supervisor would call me by the end of the next day. He didn't call.

After a week and a half of this time-wasting crap, I left messages for both men that went something like this:

"You have not responded to my multiple requests to initiate an insurance claim. At this point, it appears to me that [the moving company] basically stole our 'insurance' money and you have no intention of following up. If you think that I'm going to let this go, you're dead wrong. My bosses are the kind of people who will sue on principle even if the amount of money involved doesn't necessarily justify the nuisance. One of my bosses is on vacation at the moment, but I will be bringing this to his attention as soon as he returns."

Guess what? The sales supervisor called me back.

"Aw, gee, shucks, we were just busy. So sorry for not returning your call! The insurance coverage is good. Let's have a meeting and work it all out!" *grovel grovel*

I won't lie. There are days when I truly enjoy playing the bulldog. I'm thrilled when someone gives me an excuse to get aggressive. But other times I just don't have the energy. Lately, I'm too tired to get a kick out of kicking ass. I just want people to honour their agreements.

Then I got a call from my sales rep. The one and only reason for his call was to be reassured that I would "be nice" to his supervisor during the meeting. He said, and I quote:

"Dave is scared to go to the meeting. He's afraid you're going to yell at him."

What? Are you kidding me? I explained that I only get aggressive when people don't respond to my courteous requests. But seriously. This full-grown man is afraid of me? I'm not scary - am I?

I guess I am.

My public persona is something I'm not fully conscious off. It never fails to surprise me when people tell me that I'm intimidating. I hear that with a certain amount of regularity. I don't try to be. Honest. Or, not normally at least.

I worry that I'll turn into one of those monster bosses, like Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl.

Then there was the other matter of a sales rep who called me from a real estate investment company. My step-dad told me I could get some information from them for my financial future. The rep asked me:

"Do you have any real estate in your portfolio?"

"Not yet," I said, trying hard to sound like someone who has millions of dollars in the bank, and is just waiting for that perfect opportunity to launch my inevitable real estate empire.

The truth is, I don't even have a portfolio. What the heck is a portfolio, anyway? I know my boyfriend in university had one in which he carried around his artwork, but I don't think that's what they're referring to.

I guess this is the process by which people grow up. One day you're a kid swinging on the jungle gym, the next you're a scary grownup planning your portfolio.

I haven't quite got my head around it all.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Goose Parade

At Jameil's request, here are the photos of the goose parade I saw last week. Cute little fellers, aren't they? Don't come complaining to me about their poop now. They are not pooping in these photos. Let's just enjoy the cuteness.
Banner headline: I socialized this week! On a weeknight! An old friend flew in from B.C. with her husband and kids, and we got to spend three precious hours together over dinner, catching up. At 9:30 pm her husband arrived to pick her up. We could hear her youngest crying through my front door before he even knocked. The 20-month-old girl was feeling tired and fussy, but she perked up when given a cookie, and then went stomping around my house in her rumpled red-and-white stripped onesie, looking much cuter than even the cutest baby goose.
I'm in the process of hiring a typist, or, more formally, a transcriptionist. You'd be amazed at how many errors were in the resumes and cover letters I received. If someone is applying for a job as a cashier, or a limo driver, or a dance instructor, it doesn't matter so much if they can't spell. But a typist's application should be perfect. 100% perfect.
Here are some examples of what I found:
  • Subject line of an e-mail "TRASCRIPTIONIST POSITION". If you can't spell the word "transcriptionist", please try another career.
  • "able to finish deadline"
  • "good attitude at a multi-tasker"
  • "This experience taught me how to booking test and how to sort incoming mails."
  • "Great ability of analyze the problem"

Dismal. Seriously dismal.