Stuck in an Elevator: a saga in verse


I set off on my work commute
Along my normal daily route
My nextdoor neighbor followed suit
Into our elevator.

That was when disaster struck
The worst of days! Of all the luck!
In between floors, the thing got stuck
A go-nowhere DUMBwaiter.

Time passed, the damned thing didn’t shift
And no one came to our assist
In this death trap of a lift
I prepared to meet my maker.

We punched the buttons for each floor
Jumped up and down, yanked on the door
My neighbor starting calling for
Someone to come and help her.

Her pleas attracted some attention
Repairmen ended our suspension
And we commenced with our descension
We took the stairs – they’re safer.

Fancy Meeting You Here!

Two bored meeting attendees balance pencils under their noses to kill time.While walking to work on Tuesday, I listened to a news story about meetings that has been popping into my mind ever since. At least once each day, I find myself thinking, “Hey this reminds me of that piece on NPR….”

I work for a large company. So, I go to a lot of meetings. A LOT. I guess I should consider myself lucky, though, because they usually last no more than 60 minutes. If I worked at the Ohio Department of Transportation, where meetings often last two hours… well, I guess I would be 50% grumpier by 5 p.m., and my red wine consumption would increase at a corresponding rate.

Steven Rogelberg, who teaches industrial/organizational psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says there are telltale signs that a meeting you are leading or attending sucks, starting with everyone at the table doing something completely unrelated when they aren’t talking, like surfing the web on their phones, preparing for another meeting, or updating Facebook.

I am bit subtler; I put the cap back on my pen. It’s a meager act of protest, but its mine. I’ve never slipped on headphones, but I’ve been tempted.

Most bad meetings have at least one person who dominates, and that windbag completely tunes out only after he/she is exhausted. Like, “I’ve said what I came to this meeting to say, now if you’ll excuse me… TMZ is calling.” Later, when his or her engagement is required, it’s “Can you please repeat the question?” I’m not sure you can blame the meeting leader for such bad behavior.

At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, I bet there was a guy who played solitaire during negotiations (the old school kind, with playing cards), and swore up and down that he really was listening. Solitaire just helped him relax and concentrate.

“Seriously, I can do both!”

Hey low-level-self-centered-civil-servant, isn’t that a little disrespectful to whomever invited you here? You accepted the meeting invitation, so pay attention.


Rogelberg also contends that many meetings are too long (duh!) and cites Parkinson’s Law, which states that tasks will take us as long as we allow for them. (I have a similar theory about handbags, briefcases and suitcases. Big or small, I’ll always fill them to capacity.)

Parkinson’s Law seems logical, but in my experience it has its limits. Some humans are incapable of resolving any issue – no matter how straightforward — in 30 minutes. They are efficiency’s White Whale. (Actually, I went to a 30-minute meeting on Friday that lasted just 10, and ended with resolution and next steps. The participants were positively GIGGLING with excitement.)

Cartoon: Are you lonely? Tired of working on your own? Do you have making decisions? Hold a meeting!Rogelberg argues that many meetings are not INTENDED to end quickly, or bring about decisions or resolution. In large organizations, they are often used to “diffuse responsibility” and delay making tough choices.

Remember the time you scheduled a meeting for a small team to come to a decision, and the invitation kept getting forwarded? And you eventually had to book a bigger conference room to hold everyone? Yeah, me too.

Bob: “I don’t think we can make this decision without Group A at the table. And Group B will definitely want to listen in.”

Joe: “If members of both Group A and B attend, we’ll need to invite Mary or she’ll be FURIOUS.”

Bob: “But if we include Mary, we should probably also invite her boss. He’s super hierarchical.”

Joe: “Yeah, but he’s on vacation for two weeks.”

Bob: “Guess we’ll have to push the meeting out until next month, then.”

I’d like to believe that someday, corporate America will crack the meeting nut. We’ll establish a magic set of rules for how often meetings can occur, how long they can be, how attendees should participate, and how many people should attend.

Let me guess. To get there, first we’ll need a cross-functional task force that meets weekly…

Dilbert cartoon. Let's have a premeeting to prepare for tomorrow's meeting.

LeBron James: He Likes Us! He Really Likes Us!

LeBron James Nike "We Are All Witnesses" billboard hanging from a building in Cleveland, Ohio

Four years ago
We were sucker punched, so
You can understand why I’ve been skeptical.
My hometown was spurned
Our allegiances turned
And our hero was yanked from his pedestal.

His burning ambition
Lay behind “The Decision”
To join forces with Bosh, and with Wade.
Fans shouted obscenities
And burned him in effigy
Any time the Cavs and Heat played.

But feelings evolved
And Cleveland resolved
To lure King James back in free agency.
They flattered, they fawned
They slept on his lawn
Would he come home, or turn us down gracefully?

Never say never
Knock me down with a feather
The optimists were not mistaken.
Chock full of forgiveness
And ready to WITNESS
This time fans have not been forsaken.

A conclusion forgone:
We’ll win with LeBron
And great things are going to happen!
The Q will sell out
And there’s really no doubt
That the Cavs will be NBA champions.

Come home LeBron billboard in NorthEast Ohio, 2014.

Mindy’s Law

Mindy Kaling is the bomb. No wait, she’s the BOMBDIGGITY. I watch her show The Mindy Project on Fox every week. I read her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) on my daily commute and laughed out loud, to the point where other San Francisco MUNI passengers inched away from me and fumbled furtively for their pepper spray. She is smart, witty and self-deprecating. She is also, apparently, semi-stalking Harvard professor Noah Feldman, who bears a striking resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch, from the BBC series Sherlock. (Mazal tov, Mindy!)

Kaling’s — er, I mean Miss Kaling’s — speech at Harvard Law School’s Class Day on May 28 was so funny, I watched it twice. Then I remembered…

I have a blog, and I know how to embed YouTube links. If you haven’t yet watched the speech, enjoy!

A Poem For Donald Sterling

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling (R) puts his hand over his face as he sits courtside with his wife Shelly (L) while the Clippers trail the Chicago Bulls in the second half of their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles December 30, 2011.
REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

If you live in L.A.
And play ball on parquet
While inhabiting skin that is brownish

You could be a victim
Of Don’s racist dictums
Defense of which makes him look clownish

He and his missus
Got most of their riches
From selectively renting out housing

To Caucasians and Asians
All other persuasions
Were discouraged from so much as browsing

Not much of a husband
He’d long been accustomed
To openly flaunting his honeys

So how apropos
To see him brought low
By a “girl” he called his “funny bunny”

To her friends he objected
But he never detected
That his views were being recorded

He bought her a Ferrari
This V. Mata Hari
And this is how he was rewarded?

His allies soon vanished
From the league he was banished
And forced to pay a large penalty

It was no time for glibness
He begged for forgiveness
And appealed to America’s empathy

But dollars and cents
Haven’t bought Sterling sense
By speaking, he only seemed meaner

With absence of caution
He dissed Magic Johnson
And dug himself in even deeper

For the good of us all
And to spare basketball
May his 15 minutes soon expire

Leave him his money
And his gold digging bunnies
But force that old man to retire

Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Stirling in an updated photo.

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Downton Abbey?

Downton Abbey's Lady Mary Crawley,  Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham and Lady Edith Crawley
Lady Mary Crawley, Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham and Lady Edith Crawley


The answer is… nothing. Nothing is funny about Downton Abbey — or compelling, or even mildly entertaining for that matter. Not anymore, and not for a long time.

Last night, American viewers flocked to season four’s finale with hope in our hearts — despite all that has come before — and we were let down. It was sad, like Lady Edith. So today I’m one of many bloggers bemoaning what Downton Abbey has become, thanks to Julian Fellows and his writing staff. (At least I assume he has a writing staff; finding a group of people who can collectively churn out such awful storylines and dreadful dialogue must take some doing.)

Like anyone who appreciates smart, imaginative television, I go nuts when a series that once captivated me starts to implode. It’s even worse when the season ends without an enticing twist to make me nostalgic: “Well, maaaaybe I’ll give that show one more chance.” Think Homeland, which deteriorated over time, with a plot so frenetic and characters so deliriously overwrought my head is still spinning. Yet a fourth season approaches, and Brody is DEAD, Carrie is about to GIVE BIRTH, Saul is ON A MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE and Dana is STILL VERY RESENTFUL. Anything can happen, right? I’m not ready to let go!

Meanwhile back at Downton, Julian Fellows appears completely out of ideas. Lady Mary Crawley has emerged from mourning her late husband (and cousin) Matthew Crawley, and make no bones about it — her shingle is OUT and she’s open for business. She is dangling not one, not two, but three suitors with the chilly efficiency of… Lady Mary Crawley, the season one version. Aside from her elusive baby George, and her sudden interest in profitable pig farming, Mary has not evolved one bit.

Her hangdog sister Lady Edith is still the unluckiest character England’s fictional aristocracy has ever seen. In the first three seasons, Edith was dumped twice by Anthony – the second time at the altar. She also fell hard for a mysterious World War I veteran, wrapped in more bandages than an Egyptian mummy. He too flew the coop, as NPR’s Linda Holmes blogged, “as quickly as a writer who suddenly realizes he has no idea where this plotline is going.”

At the start of season four, Edith falls in love with Michael Gregson, a London newspaper editor. He’s married but his wife is mad. (Julian Fellows, meet Charlotte Brontë.) While he’s planning a trip to Germany – sure to be a romantic paradise for generations to come! — for a quickie divorce, he and Edith enjoy a quickie of a different sort, and she ends up in a family way.

Of course she does, because she’s Lady Edith.

Alas, Michael disappears on his first night in Berlin after a run in with a band of Nazis(!), forcing Edith to flee to Switzerland for nine months with Aunt Rosalind to (a-HEM), “learn French”. She has her baby there – a girl she puts up for adoption — then returns to Downton, her absence having scarcely registered.

Nearly every other plotline on Downton Abbey is now superfluous. Tom the ex-chauffer remains in a limbo state, wrestling with his socialist conscience while enjoying port and cigars in the Downton drawing room. He flirts with a suffragette and considers moving to America. (I’d offer to help him pack.)

Thomas still schemes, engineering the hiring of lady’s maid Baxter, who he is blackmailing – with what, after nine episodes, we still don’t know. And there’s Bates and Anna, Molesley, James the pretty boy footman, Alfred and Ivy and, um… ZZZZZZ.

And so it is after four seasons: I’m through with the Crawleys and everyone who works below stairs at Downton Abbey. Sunday night simply must have more to offer.

Come to think of it, Baseball — America’s pastime — resumes in April and there’s always a Sunday night game on Fox Sports.

Blimey, enough with the manor born. It’s time to put down the Pimms cups, strap on your athletic cups (not you, ladies) and PLAY BALL!

"Old Baseballs On Folk Art Flag" by Gary Gay.
“Old Baseballs On Folk Art Flag” by Gary Gay.

Office Cubism: A Survival Guide

Traditional office cubicles

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from When Harry Met Sally. The two visit their friends Marie and Jess, who have just moved in together. They arrive to find the couple embroiled in a heated argument over a coffee table that Jess brought to their new apartment. When Jess defends his aesthetic sensibilities, Marie sets him straight.

“Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.”

Research has shown that we humans give ourselves more credit than we deserve, thanks to a phenomenon known as illusory superiority. In studies, most subjects – regardless of their grasp of basic arithmetic – describe themselves as above average in terms of IQ, work performance, driving, etc.

To paraphrase Marie: We all can’t possibly be better than average. By the same token, we all must fall victim to illusory superiority from time to time, right?

Friends and colleagues who know me well can attest: I need peace and quiet to concentrate. In high school and college, I was a library girl. I couldn’t even study with background music. So, it’s probably no surprise that I am finicky about noise levels at work. Stuff that other folks can tune out… I just can’t. Because I realize my needs are a little outside the norm, I usually keep my lips zipped. I make mental notes, though, that sometimes wind up on Facebook. Mmm hmm. (No names, I promise.)

I’ve had cube neighbors who carried on conversations in baby talk, watched YouTube videos on their laptops without muting them, clipped their fingernails at their desks (snip, snip), cursed out their spouses or cable TV providers by phone… I could go on. I wonder how many of those folks would describe themselves as above-average residents of cube land?

Or what if the person with a case of illusory superiority is (gasp!)… me? Well, I am about to find out.

An example of open cubes, courtesy of Tab Office Resources
Photo: Tab Office Resources

This week, my work team began planning our move to another building – and a space with an open floor plan favored by tech start-ups: limited offices, low cubicle walls and smaller desks for the sake of closer collaboration.  The new space is very cool, with some hi-tech amenities. Still I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about it.

A recent New Yorker piece titled The Open-Office Trap warns of everything from lost productivity to increased stress to health risks from sitting in such close quarters. The article also points out that less privacy and more shared space mean everyone has less control over their environments. When surrounded by four high cube walls, you can decorate how you like and generally be as messy or neat as you want to be — but when your next door neighbor risks a paper cut from the teetering pile of papers on your desk, your pack rat tendencies become a community issue.

Our team drafted an etiquette guide for our new space. Nothing extensive, just a few reminders about being respectful, discreet and volume-conscious in our new home. In case that fails, I’ve also splurged on a pair of noise-canceling headphones. (I’m the man, yes I am.)

I figure the team will hit some rough patches, but I have my fingers crossed that as a group we’ll all defy the odds – and the math – and be better than average at the open-office stuff.

If it turns out I don’t land in the upper half of the cube mate bell curve, I’ll still have my above-average driving.

You may be an excellent driver, but I’m even better.

The Battle in Seattle

The Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco Giants in the NFC Championship, January 19, 2014
Photo: (Elaine Thompson, AP)

‘Twas a battle in Seattle
But the stars were not aligned
They got crossed so, Niners lost oh
I am sad, and so I rhyme.

At first Colin, he was ballin’
As he launched the quest for six
Then we lost it, when he tossed it
He misthrew and he got picked.

Season’s over, time for closure
There’s just one more task at hand
That’s for Peyton to drive a stake in
To the heart of the 12th man.

My entreaty may seem greedy
But his arrogance abounds
Squash his swagger, teach him manners
Please take Ricky Sherman down

‘Twas a battle in Seattle
But the stars were not aligned
They got crossed so, Niners lost oh
I am sad, and so I rhyme.

Living Velveeta Loca

Velveeta Print Ad: Eat Liquid Goal

If you’ve noticed your cupboard is lacking
A popular processed cheese spread
That smothers your nachos
And squirts out of tacos
And melts between slices of bread.

It’s more than a terrible rumor
The facts have been widely reported
From Maine to Topeka
Someone’s moved our Velveeta
We’re facing a national shortage.

Turns out there’s a good explanation
For how things have gone so awry
It’s not just neurosis
Here’s the diagnosis
Demand is exceeding supply.

You can’t find a block of it anywhere
Not a sliver, a chunk or a slice
We won’t go organic
We’ve started to panic
So desperate, we’ll pay any price.

If you’re hosting a Super Bowl party
And the lack of Velveeta displeases
Just blame it on Kraft
And pour lots of drafts
To distract from the crackers and Cheez Whiz.

Mel Ramos poster of Velvetta package
Artist: Mel Ramos, American (1935 – )

High Times

TV's Judge Judy wags her finger in a tsk tsk motio
Tsk Tsk!

A CNN/ORC International survey released today suggests that a majority of Americans (55%) support legalizing pot, while only 44% oppose it. This follows a New York Times report on Sunday, indicating that Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to legalize medical marijuana in his state. Oh, and unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere without 24-hour cable news, you are probably aware that on January 1 Colorado became the first state to fully legalize recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older.

So, what’s the verdict?  Is it high time, or does legalized pot stink to high heaven?  (Ha, see what I did there?)  According to erudite New York Times columnist David Brooks, these changes will have sobering consequences. (There, I did it again!)

In his January 2 op-ed, Brooks sought to walk the fine line between 60’s freethinking bohemian and dowdy prig.  He reminisced about smoking pot as a teenager, and the embarrassing things he and his friends got up to. There was something about going to honors English high and COMPLETELY bungling his recitation of Chaucer in Middle English. I mean, can you imagine? The HORROR! A cautionary tale, boys and girls, if ever I did hear one.

OK, I’ve long had a teeny crush on Mr. Brooks (or David, as I like to call him) so I feel a smidge guilty for lampooning him, and embroidering his story for my own blogging gain. But when he moralizes that government should encourage “the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature” over smoking weed… He couldn’t possibly mean OUR government, could he? The 113th do-nothing Congress? David Brooks was born in Canada, which may account for his unfounded optimism. Or else, he’s smoking something.

I make light of this subject because the truth is, I don’t take it very seriously. I feel much more passionately about marriage equality, and I’m straight!

Every argument for criminalized marijuana I’ve ever heard could also logically be applied to alcohol. “Smoking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed,” writes Brooks. True, but so is drinking and driving – and texting and driving, for that matter. Both are illegal, and still prevalent.

“Young people who smoke go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.”  Granted, I’m not a doctor, but I suspect teens who abuse alcohol suffer the same effects.  Plus, no one is proposing legalizing pot for teenagers.

No, I don’t worry that society will go to hell in a handbasket if recreational pot is legalized. I don’t predict that unemployed stoner zombies will roam the streets, bloated from gorging on Fritos bought with food stamps. Once the media turns its collective attention to some other chicken little-type story, and the novelty has worn off, I think usage will normalize. People who smoked pot before will continue to do so, probably in similar quantities — and unless a pot dispensary sets up shop in their lobby, pretty much everyone else will just drink wine. (Wine has a nice “nose”. Pot stinks like a skunk — which I can prove, because my downstairs neighbor is a stoner and his smoke permeates everything. It’s an olfactory offense.)

One thing David Brooks and I agree on: We’re too old to party like rock stars. That may be because we’ve matured, or maybe it’s just because we have work in the morning. Either way, no law change or ballot initiative will reverse it.

And do you know what? I wouldn’t want it to.

Put that in your pipe, and smoke it.