Archive for the 'Work' Category


A gambler, a pool supplier, and a fashionista walk into a bar …

I am keen to feature a guest post on you blog as it would do wonders for my portfolio. I realized it was time I stopped ghost-writing for others and built an online reputation for myself.

I have received three emails at work pitching stories using this exact (misspelled) phrasing. They are a scam. Or something. Some computer somewhere is churning out these emails and sending them to publishers, or a coach has given scores of would-be writers—fed up with a life of obscurity behind the ghost-writing curtain, desperate for the rush of fresh air in their lungs and the warmth of sunlight on their pale, damp skin—some very bad advice and a poorly written form letter. Continue reading ‘A gambler, a pool supplier, and a fashionista walk into a bar …’


Lessons learned in line for coffee

Yesterday at work we said goodbye to the Latte Lounge.

Our office was testing it out this week. Friday was its last day with us, and I can already feel that it’s made a change all our lives.

The Latte Lounge is a remarkable little machine. Actually, it’s enormous. It must outweigh our old coffee maker 10 to 1. It stood in an underused part of the first floor like a robotic guard watching over the adjacent vending machines.

Continue reading ‘Lessons learned in line for coffee’


Take my Cake — Please

“I can resist everything but temptation.”
—Oscar Wilde

Today is the birthday of my cube mate at work. When I arrived this morning, she alerted me to an Irish whiskey cake she had made and brought to the morning news meeting. “Better go downstairs and get some while it’s still there,” she said.

It was getting rave reviews around the office. “It’s like you bought it at the store,” someone said.

“I made it without eggs and without milk,” she said.

“You made a cake for your own birthday?” I asked.

“Yep,” she said. “And there’s a coffee cake that someone brought in, too.”

I thanked her, but I decided to abstain. I’ve been trying to train myself to understand that, just because food is there, it doesn’t mean I am responsible for eating it. If there are sandwiches left over after a meeting, I do not need to take one with me if I have already had one. If there is a slice of pizza left, I do not need to eat it. Continue reading ‘Take my Cake — Please’


The Boy in the Bubble Emerges

Of the salient differences between my new job and my old job, I must say one of the most intriguing is the number of gay people. At a gay cable network, I was naturally surrounded by gays. At a public radio station, the demographics of the audience, and the people who serve that audience, widen considerably.

Delightfully, the reason this is intriguing is that it doesn’t seem to matter. Of course I never expected it to. It’s just a notable change for me. After four years of being surrounded by rainbows and unicorns — and a lot of straight women — every blessed day, one gets used to certain ways of comportment. There are certain facts about one’s life that don’t need explaining, a common way of looking at the world. It’s not so much that I now need to change my behavior. I wouldn’t. It’s more that I need to open myself up to new things, new people, different life experiences.


Not Quite Gay Enough

My office conducted its second annual bake-off last week. As if a bake-off isn’t gay enough, ours is now annual. And it inspires some fierce competition.

Last year we had two teams. It was the programming department versus the online production department. This year, we had so many people take interest that there were three teams.

2009 Bake-Off
That’s me in the back of the second team, striking the Charlie’s Angels pose with an electric mixer. This is what gay cable networks get up to when no one is looking — in case you were wondering. I wonder what Bravo does.

The rules are simple: We are each to make a sweet dessert, each one containing at least three ingredients and yielding at least 15 servings. And we must bring out own serving implements.

The entire staff may vote once for the desserts they think are the best in three categories: Gayest, Most Original and Outrageous, and Best Overall. The team with the most accumulated points among its members wins.

My boss and I teamed up last year to win the Best Overall with deep-fried apple pies. He made the dough, and I made the filling and schlepped the deep-fryer. And our team won. So this year it was a grudge match for Programming.

I briefly considered some heinous concoction or other from a ’50s-era, Good Housekeeping, Lutheran church basement pot-luck social cookbook. Something with lime Jell-O, marshmallows, cottage cheese and mustard. Or something. But the online department had a theme: All our desserts were to contain some sort of booze. We called ourselves Alco-Locas, our not-subtle tribute to Nina Flowers.

Grasshopper brownies with creme de menthe seemed a bit more palatable, but it didn’t seem gay enough. I wanted something a bit more fancy-pants and challenging. So I settled on a friend’s suggestion, Lillet-flavored marshmallows.

Lillet marshmallows
We called them ‘Get Lillet’d Marshmallows’

For shits and giggles I made them pink and cut them into triangles. How gay can you get?

Apparently it wasn’t gay enough.

A chocolate-and-nut confection rolled in coconut won Gayest. Yummy Balls they were called. How coarse! Can you believe it? Over pink marshmallow triangles — flavored with a French wine aperitif!

Well, I have to hand it to my proud and worthy competitor for a well-named dessert. People just couldn’t get enough of his balls. So many people had his balls in their mouth that day. Coworkers would ask each other if they’d had his balls yet.

And so on…

Here are a few of the notable competitors.

2009 Bake-Off competitors
From top left, clockwise: Yummy Balls, Macadamia Nut Pie, 80-Proof Irish Car Bomb Gay-teaux, Eat My Cookie Cocktail, Tarte au Citron, Poached Pears in Red Wine with Lime Mousse.

Team 3, “Sons of Batches,” won in a delicious upset with the most accumulated points. But the Programming department had the most individual winning desserts. And Online… well, let’s just say we got served.

Best Overall Dessert was a tie this year between the Poached Pears and the Irish Car Bomb Gay-teaux. (Those cupcakes sure packed a wallop!)

Most Original and Outrageous went to a dessert involving a ginger-sugar rimmed champagne-ginger cocktail and a gingersnap. The Eat My Cookie Cocktail. Yes, it was very ginger. Very precious. Like me, its maker was disappointed he didn’t get Gayest. But I do absolutely think he deserves the title he got.

Some other notable entries included:

  • Benedictine Ice Cream Sandwiches with Peanut Butter Cookie Tops and Bottoms (Quite a mouthful!)
  • Cumquat Galettes and Cherry Dark Chocolate Galettes With Homemade Ice Cream (Note the intentional, naughty misspelling. Can you get away with this where you work?)
  • Guinness “Bottoms Up” Brownies
  • Tira-mi-so-horny

I’m already studying up for next year. I can see I’m gonna have to pull out the big guns. It’s gonna involve fire. Baked Alaska? Cherries Jubilee, anyone?


Rat Race to Nowhere

It is morning rush hour, and commuters are coursing through the hallways and platforms like blood-borne pathogens heading for the heart.

A train pulls into the station, its wheels squealing loudly, distinctly. It’s one of the old E trains. A mass of people begins to push through the open doorway before passengers have time to exit. Swimming upstream, the passengers are able to eventually push their way through to freedom.

A guy a couple of people in front of me enters the crowded train and stops in the doorway. He wants to be close to the exit to give himself the greater advantage when he reaches his stop, whenever that may be. There’s nearly room for two abreast to pass through the doorway, and for all he cares, people can just slide past him. It’s not technically a problem, right? Until a second person decides stop in the doorway for the same reason.

I have room to avoid him, but I bump my arm against him and graze him purposefully with my bag. It helps calm me to imagine him dropping and scratching his iPod or getting a smudge on his clothes from leaning against the door.

By and by, we approach my stop. Others, too, are exiting here. I can tell when people ostentatiously begin to stir around me. Several move toward the door. Someone gently nudges me from the side. Maybe it’s an accident; maybe she wants me to move. I take a step closer to the door. I’m getting out here, too. Hold your damn horses. We’re all in a hurry, lady, but don’t you worry. We’ll all get off this train, I promise you.

The doors slide open, and I feel the woman trying to get around me to my left. She is smaller than me, and I can see her black hair as her head comes out around my upper arm. I take a half step to the left, hold my left arm out a little further from my body, and she pushes against me harder. I push harder back, but not enough to stop her. It’s not worth making a fuss. I just want to clarify my existence, hoping I’ll embarrass her for the unnecessary contact. She makes it through the doors before me.

I glare at her as she awkwardly dashes toward the stairs in her uncomfortable shoes, hoping she’ll turn around to see the rude creep who was tying to keep her from getting off the train. Really I’m laughing to myself. We’ll see how far she gets. I continue at a calm pace behind her and dozens of others.

She never does look back, but it delights me to see her swallowed up in a crowd of frantic commuters whose hurry is equal to or greater than hers. In the end, her reward is to be no more than two people ahead of me on the stairs.

On the landing we all veer right to take the escalator to the next level down. There’s a short fence jutting out from the escalator entrance meant to corral us and prevent people from jumping in line in front of others. The desire is for order and forced politeness, and the majority of us is willing to comply. We round the far end of the corral, but two guys slip in through the gap between the far end of the fence and the handrail conveyor belt. They end up right in front of me, craining their necks to find a way past the people in front of them.

The idea is to stand to the right so people can pass on the left. But there are so many people at this time of day, no one is standing to the side. We are all walking down the escalator, and everyone’s progress is slow. The guys try to press past the others, but to no avail.

At the landing, they take off like broncos and meet further resistance when they reach the final set of stairs down to the platform. Again, I end up right behind them.

When my connecting train approaches, I see there are a couple of open seats in the car nearest me. I don’t imagine I’ll be lucky enough to get one of them, but I figure we’ll see what happens. It’s a little like roulette, whether the train stops with a door right in front of you or six feet to your left or right.

This time, I’m one of the first to board. I have a shot at a seat. Someone in front of me is milling about confusedly, and I can’t get by. A woman approaches the seat, and just as she turns to sit, a younger woman wearing all white literally runs up behind her and steals the seat in one swift motion. If the older woman hadn’t noticed, she might have sat on her.

The woman in white glances up for a second. The other woman turns on her adversary and raises her voice for us all to hear. “Oh, I see. You need that seat? Go ahead. There you go, honey. It’s all yours!” Her friend tugs at her arm to discourage her from saying more.

The seat stealer looks at her quietly, blankly and then stares into the space between herself and the floor.

I am filled with something like hatred for her. I want someone else to speak up and say something. I keep my eyes on her for several stops. I wonder if she’s avoiding eye contact with everyone on the train.

After a few stops, the irate woman now long gone, a space opens up next to the woman in white, just a little too small for a person to fit into. But before long another woman turns to present her back side to the row of seated passengers and, without so much as an “excuse me,” wriggles herself into the tight space. She can’t even sit back all the way. This new woman is an obnoxious cow, but I briefly I feel some schadenfreude over the woman in white’s obvious discomfort.

Leaning forward with her oversize purse on her lap, she fumbles with a magazine or newspaper and holds it out in front of her. Forgeting her surroundings, she allows the straps of her bag to flop down to both sides, hitting her neighbors in the face and chest before landing limply in their laps.

It is obviously annoying to the strangers. Every move she makes causes her purse straps to rub against them, but neither of them makes any move to stop it. My allegiance begins to change. Could it be that I have some sympathy for the woman in white? The purse lady is actually worse than she is.

I long for a confrontation. Why do we take such pains to avoid talking to fellow passengers? To avoid touching them? Why do I never make any confrontation?

My exit comes before either of theirs. I never get to see how it ends. But it never really does end. The players in these little scenes of denial only change. They never quit.


The Odors of East Broadway

Walking to my office from the last Manhattan F train stop before Brooklyn, I felt like I could imagine what the old Lower East Side was. Or maybe what it always has been — and always will be. A neighborhood of immigrants. The home of the undervalued and overwhelmed.

The social service agency where I worked was located on the eastern edge of ever-eastward-expanding Chinatown. The area is still brimming with unassimilated culture, but the immigrants these days are the young white folks from uptown, adding their soy latte paper cups and Whole Foods plastic bags to the polystyrene clam shells and broken liquor bottles of previous inhabitants’ detritus.

Every morning along East Broadway I passed several of the small food distribution warehouses that supply the innumerable restaurants in the area. It’s all rubber tires and wooden palettes, beeping carts and honking horns, orders barked in Chinese and answered in Spanish.

Lazy, unaffected stray cats lounge on bags of rice. Cases of five-gallon jugs of monosodium glutamate wait, cooling in the early shade. Bags of overripe onions and packs of bean sprouts sit waiting for refrigeration, sending into the air a spoiled, acrid bouquet of lost time.

Waxed cardboard boxes of chicken parts drip quietly inches above the pavement. Oil and bile and festering water from thawing seafood mix with milky pools of unidentifiables in the streets. The draught, gently, blindly finding its way toward the pungent gutters, never frozen in winter, never quick in summer, would glisten in the sharp early sun of crisp fall mornings, would stir cigarette butts slowly in shades of gray and beige in the murky mornings of springtime.

God knows what time these poor guys got out of bed to haul crates, push carts, load vans. They’d have been at it for hours before I passed by at 8:30 in the morning. I’d avoid the puddles, careful not to slip, hopping to one side then the other to miss skillful dollies and swiftly moving carts, pressing onward toward the warming day to a place I had the nerve to complain about.


There’s a Party in my Pantry, and Everybody’s Coming

Apparently it’s a trend in corporate interior design to trade a kitchen or break room for what is being called a “pantry.” In the house where I grew up, the pantry was where we kept the food. At work, the pantry is where the Splenda and coffee stirs are stored. There’s a microwave, a refrigerator, a TV, a Pepsi machine, a coffee maker. A kitchen sink. In fact, it’s a kitchen. But whatever.

I must make one correction: It’s not actually a coffee maker. It’s a “drink station.” It’s Flavia — a space-age, whiz-bang whirligig that whips up a variety of personalized hot beverages with the insertion of a flavor packet and the swift, light touch of a button.

To paraphrase the sagacious Edina Monsoon, I don’t want more choices, I just want better things. Really what is the difference between Flavia’s Colombia, French, Sumatra, and “Intense” roasts? And it’s incredibly wasteful, chucking out dozens of empty plastic packets that go directly into the trash.

The primary benefit of this machine is that our coffee at work is now drinkable. The regular coffee maker at the old office &#8212, the one with the filter, the ground coffee, hot water, and bulbous glass decanters — where the universal symbol for “regular” was an orange plastic handle, and for “decaf” a green one. It produced a dull, brown liquid that tasted like dish water steeped in cigarette butts and filtered through a used vacuum cleaner bag.

Also, the Starbucks on our block takes a notoriously long time. Plus I hate Starbucks.

The drink station has captivated the attention of a band of new neighbors from another division of the company who just moved onto our floor from across the street. They stand around in the pantry in groups of five or six and rave about it, talking loudly about what flavor do I want, do I want the creamy topping or not, is there a training manual for this, and so on. They must be reading from a script. The sequence is repeated at least once a day.

A rant note about the creamy topping. Supposedly, you can create a cappuccino or a frothy hot chocolate. There’s a Milky Way-flavored drink that uses the creamy topping packet, too. It’s a white powder that the machine pops out of the packet into your cup. The machine then hits the powder with a jet of hot water to produce a foamy imitation of steamed milk. Then you add a second packet (coffee, cocoa, or Milky Way), and the machine adds the other half of the beverage. And then it squirts in some more hot water for good measure. It all looks very dramatic, with steam rising up from the cup and water splashing out at the sides, but ultimately what you get is a watered-down, chalky instant coffee.

All the activity, apparently, is meant to distract us from the fact that it’s really just running hot water through miniature coffee filters and squirting water into flavored powders. For my money, I’ll take a Diet Pepsi if I’m just looking for the caffeine.

The new folks will realize this soon, and they’ll turn tail on Flavia (like everyone else), and the chatter will die down, and I can stop using my headphones so much. But for now, that pantry is a tin cup on a string leading directly to my ear. I sit in the adjacent cubicle settlement, and I hear all the beeps, human chatter, and various mechanical utterances channeled through that echo chamber.

I know we’re supposed to like the open spaces. We have room to breathe. We’re all united, one family, no secrets, etcetera. That pantry is the first room you enter through the doors from the elevator. It’s our hearth, the warm center of life at the office. We’re supposed to bump into each other and force interactions with people we don’t work with and exchange ideas — potentially ideas that could change the world!

In reality, when we bump into each other, we’re more likely to spill our cute little coffees.

At least the Pepsi machine offers 25-cent cans and 50-cent 20-oz. bottles. There’s always a silver lining.


A Day Without Gay

There’s a clever little short story that made an impression on me as a young college kid, just fresh out of the closet, just beginning to figure out how to use my newfound super powers. (For good? For evil. For good? For evil. Good? Evil…)

It’s called Am I Blue? In it, all the gay people are blue, and the narrator is trying to figure out if he (or is it she?) is blue too. I think he (or she) is a sort of pale blue, somewhere in between. Anyway, it’s not the gender the matters, but the concept: What if we were all suddenly revealed? (Bearing in mind, of course, that some of us reveal ourselves just fine without any trouble at all, thank you very much. We can’t help ourselves!)

There are a ton of us. It would be a big damn blue planet.

(Oh … wait. Too late.)

What would happen if we were all suddenly revealed in a way that was obvious to everyone? Say… by our absence? What would it be like if gays stayed home? Here’s something some of my more clever colleagues cooked up:

Gay music and video from

I, of course, cannot call in. I am a professional homosexual at my little gay network, and I am already fighting the good fight! We have to keep those gay wheels turning, or the entertainment industry would shut down. It’s the gay people in non-gay jobs that could make a difference. We’d notice the school teachers, security guards, bank tellers, bus drivers — certainly the waiters.

If all the gays stayed home, we’d all be a little blue.

UPDATE: There is some good, clear thinking about the impact of this project at Queerty. Most interesting is the analysis of how the focus has changed — or, rather, been completely lost. A fine idea in theory, but impossible to measure effectively in the real world.


Paper Trial

Everyone at work who stops by my office lately is making a grand pastime out of teasing my office mate for the state of his half of the room. They used to do it when he wasn’t there, but lately they have taken to mocking him to his face. As a result, I have been shamed into cleaning up after myself at work.

A colleague recently stopped by on the way to her office and asked if it bothered me how messy he is.

“Not really,” I said, regarding the loose stacks of paper on my desk. “I’m not much better.”

“Yeah, but he takes it to a whole new level,” she said.

I turned to look at his half of the room. “Though I am intrigued by his stacking of papers,” I continued.

“It’s not so much “stacked,'” she noted. And I had to agree, they were more or less a pile, like leaves in autumn. There was a hint of organization, or intent, but the result seemed more accidental. I had spent the better part of the previous day, unavoidably, rolling over his papers with my chair.

“And,” she continued, “I really love the whole …,” she paused searching for the best word, gesturing like a conjurer toward a stack of IN boxes and OUT boxes, each with at least half a dozen loose leaf sheets hanging over the edge by at least three inches. “Waterfall effect,” she concluded.

“Yeah. It’s very kinetic, isn’t it?” I said.

She backed out the doorway and laughed as she continued to her door.

I have always thought that, as long as you know where things are, you should not be considered disorganized. Untidy, maybe, but not disorganized. But I realize that there is another side to it. The trick at work, which is almost more important, is to get your colleagues to believe you are organized. It is all in the appearance of tidiness. Without it, you will not inspire confidence.

“What if there’s a fire? And poor Eric slips on your pile of papers and bangs his head and dies?” a co-worker asked him recently. “Do you want that on you conscience?”

I would have to jump behind his desk first, the opposite direction from the door, in order to slip. But it is a good point. We all have our own styles and systems. And it is clearly a temporary situation. I can appreciate his method, but I prefer not to leave myself in a situation where I am tripping over my inbox. I prefer to leave it in piles on my desk, where it can slide and topple onto me, putting me instead at risk of suffocation from burial.

the untallied hours