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The Time I Was Told to Burn for the Good of the Company

August 11, 2013 1 comment

Burning-Man

Back when I was working my terrible receptionist job, I learned a lot about corporate culture. Namely, that nobody gives a single shit about you unless you somehow bring in lots and lots of money.

There were several low moments for me. One time, one of the salesmen on the floor lectured me at length for “not doing enough with my life” and told me my self-esteem sucked. I hardly knew him at all. Another time a crazy man came in through the door and blew past the reception desk. I was told to physically chase him down and tackle him, which I refused to do. At 5’0″, I didn’t get paid nearly enough to risk my life trying to trip up a crazy person who was possibly armed.

But one of the worst was when there was a fire in the building. Not a drill, but an actual fire, at least as far as we knew at the time. The alarm went off, and I gathered up my purse to begin evacuating with the others. My boss told me put my things down, stay put, and keep answering the phone (despite the fact that the alarm was so loud that it was impossible to hear who was calling). A missed call could mean a missed sale. He told me that there probably wasn’t a real fire anyway, so I should just keep doing my job. He stood over me as the rest of the employees filed out the door, watching me answer calls in vain, shouting, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you!” as the phone rang again and again. He finally left with the others, telling me to keep manning the phone unless I saw smoke.

As soon as he fled out of the door, I ran to a different exit, fearful that I was going to be burned alive on the 37th floor. I headed to the stairwell, and hoped he wouldn’t turn around and see me. He didn’t. I headed to a local cafe after reaching the lobby, and continued to hide from my coworkers. It turned out the fire was real, but small, and not on our floor.

After we finally got the all clear, I tried to run up first. My boss found me still at my desk, answering calls. As far as he knew, I stayed at my post. He gave me a little nod, perhaps impressed that I was willing to risk my life for the good of the company.

I hope to never work in a corporate office ever again.

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The Time I Hated Citibike

August 4, 2013 2 comments

Citibike

So, I became a member of Citibike, the bike-share system launched in NYC in May, fairly early on. I wasn’t one of the people with a little blue key fob the first week, but I was there by the third. And I’m here to tell you why I don’t much like it.

Some of this is probably unfair, and I’m sure many of my complaints are shared by just about every big city bike-share system in the world. But still, I can’t say I’m not disappointed. When I first heard about Citibike, I got pretty excited since I have a long walk to a subway hub, and I thought bikes could become a part of my daily commute. Or I could just use it to help me run errands after work. Alas, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The system works roughly like this: You have an annual membership (around $100) that allows you to use a key fob to unlock any bike in the city. You then have 45 minutes to ride it to your destination, and you must park it at another bike dock before time is up, or get charged some pretty outrageous fees. For those who buy only a day or week bike pass, the time limit is reduced to 30 minutes. In NYC, this is theoretically not a difficult hurdle since the bike racks are practically everywhere. Well, except for where you need to go.

Oddly, there are very few racks on the far East and West of Manhattan, where you would think the demand would be high because of the dedicated (and therefore more safe) bike lanes that run along the edges of the island and give you fantastic river views. But nope, all the racks are at least 5 blocks from the edge, forcing you to grab a bike and ride through NYC traffic to reach these oases.

And NYC traffic is terrifying. I’ve now ridden through it several times, and I immediately get panicky and sweaty, my heart pounding hard enough to cause ripples in my shirt. Many streets are one-way, and have no bike lane, and vehicles will not hesitate to honk and narrowly swerve around you. You are constantly scanning the cars parked to your right, hoping against hope that someone isn’t about to open a door and clothesline you to DEATH. Seeing brake lights is a good indication that a door is about to open, but not always. Pedestrians also couldn’t give less of a shit about you, and will cross directly in front of your path even if you have a green light. Nobody looks. Nobody pays attention.

I have never been so aware of traffic as when I’m on a Citibike.

The bikes themselves are also insanely heavy at about 45 lbs. apiece. For someone who is 5’0″, this makes for an ungainly wobbling ride through hot, crowded streets. To unlock the bike from a dock, you have to physically lift up the bike and remove it from the magnetic lock, which is a task I struggle with mightily. I have such problems docking and undocking the damn things that often a bystander will do it for me out of pity. The small baskets on the front of the bikes have bungee cords to hold your belongings, but I find they’re still too small for my purse (though to be fair, my purse is the size of my entire torso).

But my biggest gripe with Citibike is the docking situation. There is an app for the system that is supposed to tell you how many docks are free (and therefore able to be parked in) in a given location, but in practice, the numbers are wildly inaccurate. Every time I have tried to park near my apartment, the docks are all full, no matter that the app told me that there were five parking spots. I then ride another five minutes to another dock, now not very close at all to my apartment, which is ALSO full, though the app assured me that seven delicious parking spots were ready and waiting. Upon arriving at my THIRD dock, I find not only zero parking spaces (the app said there were nine), but also two other worried-looking Citibike riders circling around, fruitlessly seeking a place to leave their bikes. One rider, fed up with the system, just left their bike by the docks and threw up his hands in disgust. Doing this will automatically charge your credit card $1000, so finding a dock, and finding it QUICKLY (before your 45 minutes are up) is imperative.

On three separate occasions, I have had to go to four different docks before finally finding a parking space, and frantically shoving your bike into a dock is a race against time. Often, another bike is racing towards the same one empty parking spot, and it is survival of the fittest. I have had to ride aimlessly around Manhattan for 30 minutes searching for spots at 1 in the morning. I then have a long walk in the dark to actually get to my apartment. It would have been faster to simply ride the subway and walk in the first place. Also, a few times, docks have been “closed for rebooting” or simply closed indefinitely, the shiny bikes glittering in the sun, but ultimately useless.

Despite the fact that I have paid for a year’s worth of this system, I plan on walking from now on. It’s simply not worth the stress of both the streets and the docks. Of course, this could all be remedied if I just spent $200 or so on my own bike and parked it at my apartment, but then it would probably get stolen. NYC bike thieves seem to be second to none. Also, I am supremely lazy. So there.

The Time I Slept Through a Fire Alarm

May 31, 2013 2 comments

Lightning Strikes Jesus Statue

As covered before in this blog, I really like sleep. As in, I would gladly pay a stranger $100 each morning to allow me to sleep a few more hours. I would go bankrupt, but damn it, I would be well-rested.

To wake up for work, I have multiple alarms set up all over my room, and none of them work. I will get up in a stupor, walk to the offending alarm, switch it off, and fall back into bed without even realizing what I’m doing. I have snooze alarms as well, which are ignored each and every morning. As a result, my arrival time to work has been getting steadily later and later, but hooray, I haven’t been fired yet!

In junior high school, the smoke alarm went off in my parents’ house since my dad had burned some toast. I mean, the damn bread must have been a flaming chunk of wheat given how far away the smoke alarm was from the kitchen. In fact, the alarm was directly outside my bedroom. I blissfully slept through nearly the whole thing, though I do vaguely remember rousing myself slightly, thinking, “Hmm, that must be the fire alarm. Well, if it’s serious, my dad will wake me up,” and going right back to bed, the alarm wailing the entire time.

After telling my dad this, he said I had far too much faith in him. Evidently, he would’ve fled the house in his bathrobe, perhaps stopping to scoop up a cat, but nothing more. Sigh.

I also once slept through a tree falling on our house. A massive, full-sized Ohio beast of a tree which shook the entire house left not a single impression on me. My sister and her friend once bodily picked me up off a couch where I had been sleeping, dropped me from a few feet up, and I didn’t so much as twitch.

And yet a single tweeting bird these days will wake me up even with ear plugs, so I don’t know. I’m doomed to either coma-like slumber or the delicate sleep cycle of a paranoid insomniac. Lovely.

The Time I Had a Meltdown in Language Arts

May 5, 2013 2 comments

reality_show_meltdown

In 9th grade, all students at my school were required to take Language Arts. To my dismay, this turned out to be a public speaking class disguised as a writing class, which meant that my easy A was about to become a desperate C. Though friends have pointed out that I can be loud as fuck in public, especially while talking about embarrassing stories, I suddenly lose the ability to be coherent when placed in front of an audience.

I start talking about a mile a minute, sweating all the while as my face either turns as red as a drunkard’s, or as pale as someone about to pass out. My eyes will dart all around the room as if trying to identify who from the crowd is about to get up and shoot me. Whatever latent paranoia I have (which is a LOT) kicks into high gear, and I become convinced the audience is plotting my downfall at all times.

So yeah, public speaking and I don’t really get along.

But sadly, this class forced me to do it on a regular basis. It all culminated on one unfortunate day when we had to read a short story that we had written out loud to the class.

The assignment was to write a “funny” retelling of a classic fairy tale, and we all had to choose different ones. As a somewhat angry and depressed teenager, my idea of “funny” was a dark as shit Goldilocks and the Three Bears that took place in an apocalyptic future where weapons were as common as loose change. The body count in my story was startlingly high, and I was probably only saved from arrest by virtue of this being written before Columbine. My tale ended with both Goldilocks and the bears burning to death after Goldie’s flame thrower showers the house with fire. Goldie manically mutters that the temperature is now “juuuust right” as her hair bursts into flames.

I did not know in advance that we would have to read this out loud.

I heard about the change in the lesson plan during lunch, as students who had the class earlier in the day recounted their classmates’ “hilarious” stories. My only thought was, “I’M FUCKED.” I knew very well that my story was going to be seen as the ravings of a homicidal maniac, and I ran to the computer lab to shit out a different story in the ten minutes remaining before class.

I was unsuccessful.

And thus I found myself perched on a stool at the front of the class, having to read out loud some of the most disturbing shit I had ever written. As the bullets began to fly and blood ran from one end of the bears’ cabin to the other, I started to feel like I was watching a car wreck from afar. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop the brutal scene that was unfolding before me. Soon enough, my anxiety crested and I completely lost it. I began to laugh hysterically, describing the deadly fire between giggles as I gasped for air. I actually started crying as I plowed through the morbid tale, laughing so hard that my words about graphic murder came out as squeaks. I eventually slid off the stool to the floor in a desperate attempt to abort the insanity. The teacher insisted I continue reading from the cold linoleum. He did not much care for me.

In the end, I received a C- on the story (my teacher cited disliking “black humor”), and I gained a reputation for being batshit INSANE for the rest of my freshman year of high school. Fucking fantastic.

The Time I Wrote About Electronic Health Records

April 14, 2013 1 comment

So, I don’t usually tackle serious topics on this blog, unless you consider severe anal trauma to be a subject of national importance. But I’m going to go ahead and break my informal rule.

Full disclaimer: I work in the field of electronic health records (EHR, also known as electronic medical records, or EMR). I’m not a vendor, and I’m not a provider, but rather I work at a nonprofit advocacy group for the modernization of American healthcare.

The USA is behind in so many ways. Most of our citizens’ health records are still on paper that must be schlepped from office to office, from hospital to hospital. Perhaps if you don’t have a chronic health issue, you don’t realize the inconvenience and incompetence this systems fosters. Imagine having cancer and having to carry a stack of files taller than 15 iPads stacked on top of each other to every specialist you see. Picture having to trust your medical records to a family member because you are too ill to take care of them. Wonder how a doctor will ever be able to read the horrible handwriting on a an old, yellowed piece of paper from 1992 that nonetheless may hold the key to diagnosing your condition.

Paper health records slow down a process that is already painful enough on its own. If you are admitted to an ER after a horrible car crash, how will the doctors and nurses on staff know about your allergies or past medical conditions? Yes, you could carry a flash drive or something on you at all times, but who’s to say it didn’t get crushed in the crash? What if the nurse on duty doesn’t have access to a computer that can view your files? In short, the system is FUCKED.

But this is not only a problem for John and Jane America. As Jon Stewart has recently brought up on The Daily Show it affects our veterans as well.

The Red Tape Diaries – Veteran Benefits

The Red Tape Diaries – A Modernized Department of Veterans Affairs

(I would embed these videos, but that feature apparently doesn’t work on WordPress. Lovely.)

Watch those two videos (er, assuming you have an American IP address, and try this app if you don’t), and tell me that those veterans don’t deserve better. That they should somehow be expected to wait over a year to hear a decision regarding their benefits. Benefits they never would have been eligible for had they not been wounded serving our country. To have recently returned soldiers grappling with their physical and psychological trauma with NO assistance from the government or anyone else is criminal.

The barriers to implementation are two-fold. One is the resistance of the old guard to change their ways. Though this sector is rapidly decreasing, it is still there, and it is full of providers who performed their jobs just fine on paper since the 1960s, and see no reason to change to a newfangled electronic system now. Why fix what ain’t broke? The second is the sheer cost of purchasing and using an electronic health record system. Imagine a room full to the brim with paper records. As Stewart pointed out, the weight of them can be enough to collapse through floors. Now think about the work and time required to transfer all of those to an electronic system. Is it impossible? No. But for many smaller practices, at least, the prospect of closing a practice for a week or more to perform the switch is simply unthinkable. The lost revenue alone makes it a nearly impossible scenario. Then of course there is the cost of the EHR system itself (not cheap), and the training needed for staff to actually use the new technology. There are government incentives available to qualified small practices to help subsidize this huge cost, but for doctors close to retirement, the benefits simply do not outweigh the investment.

However, for Veterans Affairs? What is their excuse? They are not a single doctor practice. They are not even an urban hospital. They are responsible for ALL US MILITARY SOLDIERS. The thought of them spending money on a new hand-crank filing system rather than investing in EHRs is laughable. They have the means, they simply seem to lack the will.

Though of course, even once you have an EHR system, there is still the difficulty of having each system talk to each other. That is what the first Daily Show clip addressed. Two systems, though electronic, cannot speak to each other unless the same vendor supplied both. This is one of the things my organization is currently working on – how to get all these disparate systems to talk to each other so that information simply FLOWS instead of becoming bogged down in red tape and misery.

Yes, there are many complexities associated with EHRs. What of privacy issues? What of security? What about the records of minors? But we have to face it – the future is coming, whether doctors, patients, or government bureaucrats want it or not. And to spend resources fighting against it rather than working to ensure its success dooms not only our generation, but the next to the medical inadequacies of our forefathers.

The Time My Boss Showed Me Her Boobs

April 7, 2013 Leave a comment

fireant

So, my former boss had boobs.

This, in of itself, is not remarkable. However, when she sustained an injury to said breast that she insisted was my fault, I found myself face to face with a lot of boob meat.

It all started when I decided I simply had to have a pet in the office. Our soulless span of cold grey cubicles seemed like a parody of a stifling office, and I was beginning to crack. I had already decorated my cube with a lava lamp, a Rubik’s cube, some putty, and other assorted toys, but it still felt like a desk of despair. Perhaps it was the lack of visible windows, or my beautiful view into a dangerously overcrowded supply closet that maimed many a fellow employee.

Whatever the reasons, I somehow felt that introducing LIFE would be a good start.

The natural cubicle pet is, of course, a plant. But given my previous experiences with plants of all shapes and sizes, I knew that I would somehow manage to care it to death within a few weeks. Either that or it would thrive, but then become infested with tiny mites that would then spread across the thinly carpeted floor. Plus the aforementioned lack of sunlight would doom all but the heartiest vegetation.

No, I wanted something that would move.

And so came the purchase of an ant farm. To save myself time and frustration, I opted for the creepy blue gel version of the farm, in which the unfortunate ants would both dig, eat, and shit out only a space-age gel the color of Windex until they ultimately died from despair. Because owning an ant farm as an adult is truly one of the more depressing experiences out there. As the Onion so eloquently observed, an ant farm is a “fun, interactive way to teach children ages 5 and up about unceasing, backbreaking toil and the cold, inescapable reality of death.”

The ants are all female, and fucking PISSED OFF when you receive them in the mail. I placed mine in the workplace fridge to calm them down, which upset many coworkers who felt I was doing some sort of cruel experiment. In a way, I suppose I was. After depositing the now semi-comatose ants into the enclosure, they quickly perked up and began to dig. And die. And dig. And then muse on the ephemerality of life. And then die some more.

The bodies piled up quickly, and the living ants seemed determined to dismember the dead rather than dig more pointless tunnels. A fat ant with glasses was at some point hunted down by a roving pack of insects covered in war paint. The conch lay forgotten at the dead end of a tunnel into which no one dared enter, for a spectral beast lurked within.

Anyway, each day the environment within the farm became more and more bleak. I occasionally had to pry open a corner of the lid to allow the ants some precious oxygen. But upon lifting the plastic, every ant who still possessed the will to live immediately tried to swarm out. They were shockingly fast, and had large mandibles that would leave fiery welts on your fingers.

And so the day finally came when my coworkers begged me to set the ants free. Most were now lying on the surface in a stupor, unwilling to eat, drink, or move. They were waiting for their inevitable extinction.

My boss, a kindhearted soul, took it upon herself to empty the remaining ants into a nearby park. Tired of looking at a constant reminder of my own mortality, I gave her permission to do what had to be done.

She came back with stings on her boobs as the imprisoned ants had ravaged her chest in their haste to escape. She threw the empty ant farm, which resembled some sort of horrible chemical bomb, into a park trash can. I imagined it being surrounded by the NYC bomb squad and detonated within hours. She showed me her battle wounds with a mixture of anger and pride, as if to show me that she had been strong enough to do what I could not.

But she still blamed me for the whole fiasco, and ant farms are now not permitted in the office. However, her boob scars were showed to all for weeks afterwards.

The Time My Brother Talked About Guns

December 17, 2012 Leave a comment

So.

Another mass shooting. Targeting children.

I’m not really sure what to say. It’s fucking awful, and what do you write in the face of such tragedy? So I thought I would share my brother’s thoughtful essay he posted to Facebook on Saturday. He said it better than I ever could.

***

And what is this fantasy? What is this fantasy that makes us think, as a nation, we need to have guns?

I know the fantasy. I know it because I grew up with guns. I know it because I had my own gun when I was sixteen years old. My Dad had a .357 revolver and he got me a little .22 caliber pistol. He kept them on the top shelf in his closet, each in a padded case, with the cylinder and clip placed neatly, safely beside them. We’d go shooting at the gun range. We’d try for accuracy and speed. We spent some of our best hours together in the stifling little room breathing gunsmoke. After, we’d come home and clean the guns and talk and browse gun magazines and chat.

Eventually, though, the conversation would turn to delicious ‘what ifs?’

“What if someone is trying to break in?”
“What if someone has already broken in?”
“What if someone has broken in and they’ve found the guns?”
“What if they have knife?”
“What if they have their own gun?”

Invariably, the scenarios became more and more baroque, with multiple attackers and heroic risks and clever ruses that got us to the closet and put the familiar weight of our own guns in our steady hands. Then all hell would break loose in our minds, the wallpaper shredded, the furniture blown to bits, fear and doubt nowhere to be found. The stories always concluded with my Dad and me standing victorious over a field of faceless victims, each lying dead, each undoubtedly deserving of their fate.

Our fantasies, though, never entertained the reality – that more often than not, a wielded gun will end up the hands of the attacker or, as we’ve witnessed now another heartbreaking time, in the hands of those we never intended to hold them.

But the fantasy is always there:

Your family is in danger. It’s you against them. They drag your kids out of bed. They tie them up. They drag your wife to the garage and close the door. They’re about to unleash Hell. Only they didn’t count on you and your 9 millimeter, which somehow ends up in your hand and which you unload in a righteous hailstorm of searing lead that also somehow avoids each of your family members.

You’re in your car in a bad neighborhood. Suddenly your door is yanked open. Your kids are in the back in their car seats. Hands on your jacket, you’re being dragged out. But not before your fingers close around the handle of the Glock you keep by your left thigh. A second later, it’s painfully clear that they fucked with the wrong guy.

Or the war is coming. Everyone knows that. And every one of us will have a shot at our John Wayne moment. We just need a gun. Or a couple. We’ll keep it in the safe, under lock and key or combination. Ignore the wife’s concerns that somehow the kids will figure it out. They know who’s boss around here. You’ve told them to never touch that safe. That cabinet. That padded case. And they never would because you’ve got your house in order.

It’s a right. America was carved by strength of will out of nothing. We are the rugged individuals, the mavericks, the lone wolves. We need that pistol at our side because when the shit goes down, it’ll be the American left standing, a wisp of smoke trailing from his red hot barrel.

But, from a raised and confirmed gun enthusiast, hear this:

It. Is. Fantasy.

Your house will, most likely, not be invaded. Your car will, most likely, never be jacked. The zombies or Russians or Chinese or Martians are, most likely, never coming. What is much more likely is that your guns will end up in the hands or your kids, or their friends (who come over when you’re at work and who aren’t as well-raised as your kids). And if not your guns, then it’ll be your neighbor’s guns your neighbor’s kids – your neighbor, who was on the fence about owning a gun, but he knows you do so he figured, ‘why the hell not?’ He needs a new hobby and Walmart is having a sale. He’s got his own fantasies, after all.

Gun ownership, I know, is essentially about preparing for the worst. But while you set the scene and lay the props for some fantasy that never materializes, the worst does indeed come.

It comes in the shape of Sandy Hook.

Gun Control.

Now.

-Damian Baldet

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