Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life Lessons of Plinko

I'm sneaking some time away from the mountain of work on my desk to give you an update on my week. How's it going? As predicted: busy busy busy!

Monday got off to a rip-roaring start. When I arrived at work around 9:00 am, the early shift had already been there since 7:00 am. My first impression upon walking into the office was that it felt a little chilly. However, I thought "it must just be me" because I'm that person who's always chilly when everyone else feels fine.

Someone ran up to me immediately, before I had even gotten to my desk to put my bag down, asking "Did you get my e-mail?" Yes, sure, right after my shower at 7:15 am every day I log onto the remote server to check my work e-mail, because I care that much. NOT! No I had not gotten the e-mail. Turns out the chill wasn't just me.

On Friday our ventilation guy had made some adjustments to address complaints that certain areas of the office were too stuffy. The result of these adjustments was that the AC ran non-stop all weekend, refrigerating the office down to a brisk 59 degrees by the time the early shift manager got in. It was broiling outside, and inside everyone was wearing sweaters and shivering.

I had just finished making sure that that issue was being dealt with (and it was - the temperature was gradually rising back to normal) when


The fire bells all started ringing. Fantastic. I could see peoples' lips moving, asking what was going on, but no one could hear each other because the bells were so loud. Fortunately my office was insulated from the worst of the din, so I could call building management to find out if it was a false alarm or not. They said they'd have to get back to me. Someone did an inspection of our suite and saw no signs of danger, so we stayed put. We ended up waiting for ten minutes with these bells blaring in our ears before the false alarm was confirmed and we could go back to work. When the noise stopped it was a blessed relief.

My next thought was to change the backup tape, because goodness knows if there were to be a real fire I'd want to make sure the most recent tape was in my hand when I ran out the door. I checked the server. Lo and behold, the backup had failed completely for the first time since we got our new servers. Dammit. I went to the phone to call our off-site tech support, when


The fire alarm went off again. For the love of Pete. Honestly! Seriously? This is my day? We endured it for another 15 minutes or so before it was turned off.

I guess bad things come in threes because once we had sorted out the cold, the fire alarm, and the backup, things went back to status quo.


Yesterday Ken picked me up from work and we decided to go out for dinner because it was late and we were both tired.

The first plan was to go home, park, and walk to a local restaurant. Then some big, fat rain clouds moved in and started gushing torrents of water. The roads turned into rivers. Ken suggested that it'd be a better idea to drive directly to a restaurant, because we wouldn't want to walk in the downpour. So instead of turning left, we went straight.

"Let's go to Zet's," he suggested. I agreed. But as we approached the on ramp to the highway, we saw it was all backed up, so we changed plans again.

"We'll go downtown," said Ken. "How about Pho?" Sure, that was fine by me.

We continued in a generally southward direction, taking the path of least traffic resistance. Ken tends to drive like that, changing his route on a whim if traffic shows signs of slowing down. I started to feel that the car was a Plinko chip and the city was the board, with North at the top and South at the bottom. Where would we end up?

We made one last change of plans when our random twistings and turnings brought us to a colourful neighbourhood, one which we affectionately call "the corner of crack and crack". It's not really that bad, in the daytime. Just at night. We went a little further and found Bacchus Roti, an old favourite of mine from the 1990's when I used to live in the west end. We ate there. I had a chicken roti with squash and spinach. The Plinko approach served us well in the end.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Every time my assistant takes a vacation, I get the opposite of a vacation. Next week I'll be doing her job and my job at the same time. I dread such weeks. You may not hear much from me, depending on how things go. So here are a few updates on my life as you know it.

1) My step-dad went for an angiogram yesterday to check out the heart problems he was having. The results were "inconclusive". He has to go for another type of test next week. I'm taking this as a good sign. It's way better than "OMG we have to rush this man into immediate surgery." It's looking like he has some issues that can probably be managed with long-term medication. Muy bien!

2) Last night my step-dad and my mom made their first public appearance as a couple since their breakup two and a half years ago. My uncle reported that "They were holding hands like two lovebirds." That's nice. I hope things continue to work out. I'm still a little wary of it all going pear-shaped, but so far, so good.

3) I have been feeling kind of low-energy for the last few weeks, probably due to all of my worries (see 1) and 2), above) so I haven't been practicing my banjo. I have apologized to it, and explained the situation, and have promised it some quality time once I'm feeling better.

I have a pretty good weekend lined up. Tonight: dinner with a friend and then we're going to see "Inception". Sounds like an interesting premise. Then Saturday I might meet up with a girlfriend to eat out and catch up on life. On Sunday Ken and I are having dinner with my mom and step-dad; our first time together as a family since 2007. How do I feel about it? A little bit of every feeling there is. For some reason I can't get this irritating phrase out of my head. My co-worker always jokes about getting together with "The whole Fam Damily." I can't stand that phrase, and yet there it is. The whole Fam Damily, indeed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ground Control

I wouldn't exactly say that I'm a control freak. I don't micro-manage my staff. I'm not a perfectionist. Good enough is good enough. But if I'm responsible for something, I need to have control over it, because any screw-ups involving that something will be on my head.

Before my workplace moved, I was responsible for a storage room. This room held all the crap that we couldn't fit anywhere else. Lots of old files, boxes, and a variety of other jazz. This room doubled as the "server room", i.e. it housed the Very Important Computer that the entire business depends upon. It also held all the hardware and wiring that composed the heart of our telephone system.

People were in and out of this storage room at their own whim. The old files were accessed too frequently and by too many people to make locking the door a useful option. So I had to put up with all the traffic, and all the idiocy that came with it.

For starters, people liked to dump junk in the room without informing me. They'd find some broken, dusty thingamajig that they weren't sure what to do with, and they'd just toss it into that room and forget about it. Nine times out of ten the thing was a piece of useless garbage, but the person handling it was afraid to throw it out in case they got in trouble. So instead of dealing with the situation by asking their supervisor, they'd throw it into my room. This drove me absolutely crazy. Eventually I posted a sign on the door warning people that they couldn't dump crap in there without my say-so. It said that if they did I would throw it out, if it was in the way of my authorized storage purposes. That was very cathartic.

People also used to "borrow" essential elements of my technical setup. A few times per year, I would come in and find that someone had yanked the mouse or the keyboard off the server to use on their own PC. This is not a nice way to treat the Very Important Computer that the entire business depends upon. I put a big sign in front of the computer, but people are often in too much of a rush to read a sign. When bits of the server went missing, I tore my hair.

One time someone heisted the portable sound system that was providing hold music for our telephones. I found it in this woman's office. Oh, said she, I just wanted to listen to some music while I did my typing. I didn't think anyone was using it.

This gave me pause for thought. She had to deliberately disconnect the sound system from all the wires connecting it to the big, fancy box on the wall with lots of other wires coming out of it, and it didn't once occur to her that perhaps this indicated a purpose? The fact that it was powered on at the time she approached it didn't trigger any doubts in her mind? Do these things indicate a condition of "storage" or perhaps one of "active use"? Gah.

Fortunately, in our new unit things have improved. The servers (of which we now have four) are in a big rack in their own room. The keyboard and mouse elements are tucked away so that random nosy people can't be tempted by them. The phone system is also in this off-limits room. But that doesn't mean that I have all the control that I want.

Just today, someone stole a chair out of my department. I had eight, and then suddenly I had seven. Someone just up and helped themselves. I don't understand this sense of entitlement that allows people to take anything in the office that appeals to them at any time. "Because I needed it"' isn't a good enough reason. It's not a freaking free-for-all. If you need something, ASK ME. Or even tell me, I'd settle for that. I'm right here, all the time, five days a week, catering to everyone's whims. All I ask is to be kept in the loop so that I don't have to run around the office searching for missing furniture.

Fortunately, the chairs in my department are upholstered with a slightly different fabric than most of the other chairs. I went marching around the place with a sample swatch in my hand, checking it against every chair. I found the chair in the office of a person who is currently engaged in a war with another professional over the ownership of a set of posters. They used to share an office, and now that they each have their own office they are taking turns stealing those posters off each others' walls. The manager of that department is going to buy an extra set of posters, but honestly. It's enough to make you go AAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHHH!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scruggs Roll

I really shouldn't be blogging right now. I should be practicing.

As most of you know by now, Ken is a man with a flair for big, dramatic gestures. He never gets me just one bouquet of flowers, let alone a single red rose. (In fact, he feels that far from being romantic, buying a woman a single red rose is an unparalleled way to demonstrate that you're a cheapskate.) He brings home armloads of flowers. And when he buys me a gift, it's got to be something special. Nothing but the best will do, and more is better.

There has been more than one occasion where he has elicited gasps from onlookers at Soma by approaching the display case holding all the types of truffles and bon bons and asking for one of everything. He doesn't call it decadence. He says it's the least he can do for me.

Ken's generosity is only limited by the number of bills in his wallet. And since he recently got paid for a big project, some pretty fantastic gifts have come my way.

For starters we were browsing in a music store that was having a special sale/music festival. Ken picked out some recording equipment that he needed, and then asked me if I wanted anything. I said No, I'm fine. He said Come on, nothing? Nothing here appeals to you?

Well, I said, those guys over there sure seem to be having a lot of fun with their electric guitars.

Next thing you know we're browsing the electric guitars. It seemed a harmless enough diversion. I picked out my favourite based on looks. Predictably, it was red and sparkly. OK, not red so much as this beautiful dark shade like rootbeer, or cherry cola. Kind of like this one in terms of shape, but swap the white parts for black and you've got it.

Long story short, we drove away from the store with that guitar, in a case, in the backseat of the car. And this wicked lightening bolt shoulder strap. I wish that there was some way to wear the shoulder strap without the guitar, as a fashion accessory unto itself.

Ken promised that he will teach me how to play it. He took lessons for years when he was a lad. Have I played it yet? Nope, haven't found the time. Although so far I get quite a lot of happiness just from owning such a beautiful object. But as if that wasn't enough...

Anytime we've gone into a music store, I've always lingered by the banjos and plucked wistfully at their strings. I don't know what it is about banjos. I just like'em. I have unjustifiable banjophilia.

You can see where this is going.

One day last week I came home grouchy after a tough day at work. When I got home, Ken said to me "There's something wrong with the bed." WTF? I asked myself. What the hell did he do, jump on it or something? Annoyed, I went to see for myself.

There was a very odd-shaped cardboard box on the bed. I was clueless. Of course you already know. I opened up that box, and there was a banjo! Fantastic!

I am very keen on learning to play the banjo. I found some free online lessons and dug out my pitch pipe for tuning. On the weekend I got myself an instructional book and some fingerpicks. I can already do a pretty good Scruggs Roll. I just need someone to play the whiskey jug and someone else on washboard and we're good to go.

I did tell Ken that we shouldn't bring any more new instruments into the house until I get a chance to learn these two. I feel that instruments are meant to be played, not just to sit around and gather dust.

One day I might even go back to my electric violin. We'll see. I gave up on it last year partially due to time constraints, and partially because it's a really tough instrument to play well. Fretted instruments are easier; you don't have to be quite so precise to play in tune. The violin requires posture that's physically demanding (you try turning your left elbow under like that for an hour a day) and tons of practice. Banjo and guitar are more forgiving.

So there you go! Now I can rock out or go bluegrass style. Yeehaw!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


My mom and step-dad have been working on their divorce agreement for over two years. They were weeks away from finalizing the deal. I couldn't wait for the whole damn business to be over and done with.

But then... plot twist! Surprise developments! My step-dad decided that he'd had enough of his new girlfriend. He told my mom that he wanted to put the divorce process on hold, because maybe now he wants to stay married to her.

Santa Maria!

When he told me, I didn't know what to feel first. Happy because they might get back together? Upset because we all had to go through so much pain and then he went and changed his mind? Confused because I don't yet know if this development will make things better or worse?

My mom, of course, has similar mixed emotions, multiplied by a factor of 100. But the bottom line for her, after having had a few weeks to digest the news, is that she's happy. His desire to return to her is flattering, at the very least. He's going to have to do some fancy footwork if he ever wants to move back in with her, but he seems willing to try.

How do I feel about it? So far it seems to be making them both happy, so I'm happy. Tentatively happy, pending God knows what might happen next.

They have always been an odd couple. For every nice thing I've ever heard my mother say about my step-dad, she's tabled twenty complaints. Yet, she insists that she loves him, and thinks the world of him.

For his part, my step-dad has proved to be very difficult to live with. In the past, and I'm guessing this will have to change, he expected my mom to do every speck of housekeeping, including the traditional husbands' jobs of taking out the trash and yardwork. He's also an untidy, disorganized person. When my parents lived together, every spare inch of the house was covered with his stuff. Papers, bags, unopened mail, discarded socks, used plates, etc. My mom would clean up, and within hours the mess would grow back, like mushrooms spontaneously springing up after rain.

He seems to be constitutionally incapable of overcoming this problem. His brain just isn't wired to catagorize and control the physical world. I do believe that this is the case, that he's not just being a selfish jerk. He's both brilliant and eccentric, like one of those absent-minded professors who win the Nobel prize in chemistry and then go out in public with their pants on backwards.

My mother is wired for tidiness. A place for everything and everything in its place. Of course his messiness drives her crazy.

Another thing they differ on is public perception. My mom spends a lot of her time worrying about What Other People Think. My step-dad just does his thing, his eccentric, sometimes embarrassing thing, without a care in the world. For example, Scene: My parents enter a restaurant. There are no empty, cleared tables, so they sit down at one that still has plates on it from the previous diners. My step-dad begins to eat leftover french fries off one of the plates. My mom wishes she could put her head inside her purse and crawl under the table.

(He's also been known to lick his finger and press it against the surface of a dirty restaurant table to gather cake crumbs, then lick his finger to eat the crumbs. Judge if you must. )

These are some of the reasons why I'm not jumping for joy. How much have they each changed? How much room for adaptation is there as they rediscover their lost love? That remains to be seen. Certainly there are many ways in which they may still irritate each other. So. We'll see.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A meadow on the bureau

The other day Ken and I were cleaning out that cabinet under the sink: the one where you throw odd-shaped kitcheny things that you almost never use. He held up a turquoise glass vase that I'd gotten for $5 at Ikea years ago and asked Do we still need this? I said Not really, I only hung onto it from when we used to live close to that flower store and you'd bring me armloads of flowers every few weeks.

Two days later, I came home to find this scene on my bureau. That's my Ken! He doesn't do anything by halves.

Incidentally, the painting was made by Ken's father. I was allowed to go into his studio one time and pick out a painting for myself for my birthday, out of dozens of oils, watercolours and ink sketches piled up against the walls. It was a tough choice to make because they're all this beautiful.


I found out last week that my step-dad has Congestive Heart Failure. Technically, it's not a big surprise. He's 72; his mother had her first heart attack in her 60's; and his idea of following a "healthy diet" has been low-carb, high-fat for the last few years. He's a card-carrying member of both the Mayonnaise Fan Club and the Butter Appreciation Society. When I was a kid, he'd always insist that my mom put "gravy" on his meat: his name for the 100% liquid fat drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan. It's frankly amazing that he didn't clog up his arteries sooner than this.

Still, he's my dad. I love him, and getting a strong reminder of his mortality is sobering. He's gotta go sometime, and 72 is already a fairly respectable age to have reached, but that's not going to make losing him hurt much less when it happens.

How much danger is he actually in? That's anyone's guess. Some patients with CHF go on for years, after surgery, or managed on medication, to finally be done in by other causes. It doesn't have to be fatal. On the other hand, one of the potential symptoms is listed as "sudden death".

The truth is, my step-dad is one of those selectively brilliant guys. He's a successful businessman, and reads widely on a number of academic subjects. He's also that guy who might try to back up on the highway if he misses his exit. Sometimes he's unbelievably dense.

(I'm always surprised that he's survived his own terrible driving habits. One time he took Ken to hit a few golf balls at the driving range. He asked Ken, who was in the passenger seat, to take the wheel from him for a minute while he did something that required both hands. Ken proceeded to steer the car all the way to the driving range, a 20-minute trip, while my step-dad worked the gas and the brake. What was so important that my step-dad needed both his hands free during this long interval? He wanted to shell and eat a hard-boiled egg which he had in his shirt-pocket in a plastic baggie. I rest my case.)

On Friday Ken and I went out for Japanese food with my step-dad. I watched him pour at least a tablespoon of soy sauce into his miso soup, which is already basically a salt broth with a little reconstituted seaweed floating in it. I didn't say anything, but later I sent him an e-mail with a link to a medical website that states CHF patients need to reduce their sodium intake. I knew that before I looked it up. He knows it already. I'm not sure if he was being absentminded, living in denial, or feeling like he just didn't care at that moment. It's impossible to tell.

Anyway, one thing's for sure, and that's that no one can control my step-dad. He's one of those guys that really does do what he wants, and doesn't much care what other people think. In some ways it's admirable, and in some ways it's maddening. But it's who he is, and I love him. So I guess we'll just see how things go.