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Thursday, February 28, 2002

Living the Dream: The Home Office

“I work at home.” I’ve always liked the way that sounds; it’s so casual, so nonchalant. High tech people call it the virtual office, virtual work. After thinking that over I realize I don’t know what that word means so I look it up in the dictionary. Virtual: being so in effect but not in fact. I still don’t know what it means but it sounds easy. I’ll start tomorrow—tomorrow or the day after. I’m not looking to work myself to death here.

08:16 Exactly sixteen minutes late on this first day of working at home. On the bright side I woke up at 08:05—try doing that if you have to drive to the office. I tried it all the time. I promised myself I’d dress as if going to work every day just to be more professional about this whole experiment. I’ll put on something besides a pair of boxers when it’s time for my first break away from the computer. Now I’m just going to concentrate and let the inspiration overwhelm my senses.

08:17 I need a little light in here. I’ll open up the blinds. What are those workmen doing down there? It looks like one of them has climbed down into a hole in the street. I’ve heard stories about people flushing baby pet alligators down the toilet only to have them grow to Amazonian lengths. They stalk the nether worlds of the sewers. But never mind all of that, I have work to do, important ideas to express.

08:31 The workmen are just fixing a water main. It only took a couple minutes out of my hectic day to clear that up—plus it forced me to get dressed. The guys said they had never seen a giant alligator in their years of working beneath the city, but they didn’t rule out the possibility. One of them said he saw a rat building a nest out of car tires. As soon as I get back upstairs I close the lid to the toilet and put a stack of heavy books on top of it. A four iron leans against the sink. Lock and load.

09:21 I can’t get over all of the benefits of working at home. No commute, no distractions from coworkers, no silly Machiavellian games, and if I get drunk and make an ass out of myself at my employee Christmas party, I’ll be the only one to know. On the down side it isn’t much fun stealing office supplies from myself. One more thing that may become a problem: I don’t get paid.

10:11 I had to walk over to the office supply store to buy a new printer cartridge just in case I finish the piece I’m working on. I picked up a few other things for the home office—or for the ‘old Home-O’ as I told the girl at the store. She smiled at me. I’m sure she’s had her fair share of fantasies about freelance writers. What woman hasn’t? I also bought a refrigerator magnet of Mussolini hanging from the gallows. It’s a promotional thing for a new TV show, World’s Funniest Public Executions (airs this fall).

11:24 Time to break for lunch. I like taking lunch early because then I can dedicate the entire afternoon to work, absolutely no distractions, a tabula rasa, which is Latin for “my bootleg cable is out.” I order carry-out from the Thai restaurant next door. I get something healthy. I need to keep my body and senses honed like a razor to make it as a freelance. I also remember that I no longer have health insurance.

11:57 The Thai food was delicious although I did augment it with a little something from my refrigerator. Have you ever noticed that most foods taste better when you add bacon? Even tofu. Especially tofu.

11:58 Now it’s time for a little routine I have developed through years of martial arts training and the study of Eastern thought. I take ten minutes to put myself into a meditative trance, much like sleep but infinitely more beneficial and rewarding. Afterwards I feel refreshed and alert. In the words of my Sensei, “Napping is a tool of the lazy.” I’ll be right back.

3:12 I need to hit Starbucks.

3:33 I must have hit my head on something while in my transcendental state to knock me out cold for over three hours. No more procrastinating, time to buckle down and get some work done. I’ll listen to my favorite radio call-in show while I work.

3:56 I can’t believe they’ve had me on hold for twenty minutes. Don’t they know how valuable my time is?

4:25 I’m a little behind today so I’ll just have to stay past quitting time. It’s not like I’m any stranger to hard work. I wonder how much money I’ll make being a freelance writer. Speaking of money, let me take a second to call my broker.

4:35 Surely he is speaking hyperbolically when he says that if my stock portfolio drops any further two big guys in bowling shirts will show up at my apartment to rough me up. I’m not worried because by putting pen to paper my money concerns will soon be far behind me. But I’m an artist and I really don’t care about all of the money I will make. Money is the concern of merchants and businessmen. The artist is above all material concerns.

4:48 Just took a few minutes to call some jewelry stores to find out who has the best deal on Rolex watches. Is it still uncool to wear fur coats? OK, back to work. I’ll work into the small hours of the morning if necessary. I guess you could say I’m a workaholic.

5:12 I was just taking a brief look at the newspaper. I read all the box scores, did 1/16 of the crossword (I could have finished it, I’m just too busy), read the comics (man are they stupid), my horoscope (only for losers but it’s fun to read), any and all articles with the word “sex” in the headline, and finally the movie section. Got to wrap it up for the day; there’s a bargain matinee playing Sunset Boulevard. I’ll finish up the writing thing tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday and I'm supposed to go skiing. After tomorrow is the weekend, so make that on Monday. Wait, Monday is Arbor Day. Anyone who works on Arbor Day should just go back to Russia or whatever country we’re mad at these days. So make it the day after.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Rich and Famous

I was at the gym today for the a.m. sweat-fest. The aerobics machines face two TV's, right and left. TV left was blaring some show concerning tonight's Grammy Awards gala and had the attention of quite a few people. I went over to TV right, turned it to the Spanish network, and turned up the volume. To my joy, and I'm not making this up—I couldn't make this up, you can look it up—there was a talk show in progress about Mexican midget wrestlers.

I had a magazine to read, so I wasn't going to watch the tube, but I like to fight fire with fire—and then some. "Somebody comes at you with a knife, you come at them with a gun. Somebody comes at you with N'SYNC, you come at them with a guy in a mask and cape who's three and a half feet tall." I defy anyone in the aerobics room to low-ball me on this bit of pop culture. This show makes today's Jerry Springer episode—which I passed on the way up the dial—So You Want to Be A Porn Star, look like public television.

I have never understood the idea of award celebrations, the most obnoxious being the Academy and the Grammy awards. These people are already more famous and have more money than the average wage-slave could even dream about, yet we insist on paying attention while they give each other prizes. Someone also needs to explain to me the whole concept of best this or best that. What are we talking about here, a 4-H livestock show? I understand sales figures. If you want to give Titanic an award for making the most money, that's cool with me, but why does anyone have to say it's the best movie?

Don't get me wrong, I understand why they give out these awards: it's about sales. These awards help sell more CDs and movie tickets. The thing is, we don't need to pay attention to their self-satisfying glorification. Celebrities have taken the place of the gods in the classical Greek era. They are exempt from decay (at least as much as modern plastic surgery affords), they have more power, and they are just plain better than those of us near the bottom. We are practically overwhelmed with gratitude for what they have done for us.

The place that celebrities hold in our culture would have turned the pre-revolutionary monarchs green with envy. They have wealth that would have made Louis XIV blush, they are above any sort of criticism, and they have been excused from any sort of responsibility—monarchs at least had to run their countries.

People worship celebrities for the same reason they eat at McDonald's. They don't go to McDonalds because the food is good, they go because it’s easy. Everything about it is easy. People can sleepwalk through fast food. They don't have to leave their cars, if they so choose. They can order entire meals that have been reduced to a number. You don't even need a knife or fork. What could be simpler? Why is the simple fact of being easy such an appealing concept to the masses? Because they are lazy. Once in a while fast food is not such a bad thing; I think most people would agree that a steady diet is a bad thing.

People worship celebrities because it is easy. Like a happy meal, corporate America has packaged their product of celebrities in very convenient and unconfusing packages. These packages are remarkably free of ideas and completely devoid of real controversy. They may dress up the rock-star-du-jour in a tawdry get-up but that's about it. I challenge anyone to name anything in our pop culture for the masses that in any way questions the status quo.

It is right at about this time in the discussion when someone says to me, "I just want to be entertained." I have always thought that was an odd statement when put in this context. As if everyone spends their entire waking lives in deep thought from which they need respite. As if anything that would prompt them to think couldn't possibly be entertaining, and anything entertaining is, by definition, mindless. 'I just want to be entertained' should replace E Pluribus Unum as our national motto.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The Reason I go to Starbucks

It doesn't have to be Starbucks. Hell, I hate corporate America as much as the next pseudo-intellectual dipshit, but I just have to have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and I don't care who gives it to me. Most of my serious self-inflicted bodily injuries occur before I have had my first cup. If I don't seriously injure myself then I do something that I regret with extreme prejudice, like the time I dropped an entire glass of milk behind my refrigerator. Even the people who cleaned up after the Exxon Valdes would have taken pity on me for the mess I made. I dabble in quite a few languages but you would have been thoroughly impressed with my fluency in profanity on that particular undercaffeinated morning. I seriously thought about moving rather than do the clean up. If I had somehow accidentally killed somebody and had to get rid of the body, I don't see how it could have been a bigger pain in my ass.

Starbucks, Tully's, Uptown Espresso, it doesn't mattter to me. They keep building new ones in the neighborhood but they all seem to be equidistant to my place--they never get closer. I wish they would put a coffee joint in my building; I'd let them build one in my apartment. I'm not picky, I'm not a connoisseur (I can't believe I spelled that correctly although it is French and I should know. god damn you spell check for making me such a crappy speller, god damn this lack of spell check)--I'm a drug addict and I need a fix.

I would like to apologize to the beautiful blond girl who knows me by name--although I've never bothered to ask her hers. It's nothing personal, but you are seeing me at my absolute worst, so just hand over the coffee and I probably won't kill you. Hand it over quickly and don't expect me to act like a real human being until I have injested at least ten ounces of the drug you are doling out. I always tip like a mob boss, so I hope that makes up for my complete lack of charm. All of the employees of the local coffee shops probably refer to me as the big tipping mime.

The Olympics are over and I actually watched quite a bit this time around. Amount of TV coverage I viewed of the previous two winter games: 0. My change of heart came about because I was able to watch the Canadian broadcast and not super-dweeb Bob Kosta and the rest of the happy-chatty crew of NBC. The Canadian coverage was mercifully free of up-close-and-proctologically-poignant glimpses of the athletes. I even watched about 70 minutes straight of curling while riding an exercise bike at my gym. I still have almost no freaking idea what that game is all about--but the Canucks seem to dig it. I suppose there should be at least a couple Olympic sports one can do while drinking beer.

Right in the middle of the games AT&T yanked the plug on my bootleg cable TV, so I had to get my fix of the games either at the gym or a local bar with two results: I may give Lance Armstrong a run for his money this year right after I check out of Betty Ford's bed and breakfast. Highlights: the finish of the men's x-country relay between Italy and the Norwegians. X-country skiers are right up there with cyclists when it comes to performance enhancing drug abuse, and if you've ever skied x-country you would be standing in line begging for drugs to take away the pain. Try riding a bike up Queen Anne hill and that's about as good as it gets on skis.

I read about the little American prima donna figure skater chic who screwed up and got beat by the teenybopper. All I have to say to her is I'm glad that Mary Lou Retton isn't alive to see you disgrace this country. Not so much figure skating on the Canadian TV, which is fine by me. I don't understand the interest. Here's an activity that is the butt of our jokes most of the time, then the Olympics come around and everyone is suddenly a fan. I wouldn't go to the ice capades if you had a gun to my mother's head. Sorry, mom, but I'm guessing they won't pull the trigger and that's a chance I'm willing to take if it keeps me from seeing boys in sequins.

The Canadian broadcasters were rabidly partial to their hockey team, positively shameless. It was rather refreshing to hear everyone talk so much shit as opposed to the phony 'we are the world' brand of jingoism preached on NBC. I was actually happy to see Canada beat the USA for the gold medal only because I was afraid the great one, Wayne Gretsky, might do something drastic had they lost. I lthought it was cute how they took all of the kids out of class to watch the game on friday instead of teaching them about snow removal--or whatever they learn up there to survive.

Monday, February 25, 2002

The Circus' Shit List

The circus is set up in the parking lot across from my building. There are a bunch of weird animals out there which is kind of cool—something you don't see every day. I jumped up on the fence and started yelling at the workers, " Do you guys have any midgets? I don't see any midgets. What kind of circus are you running without any midgets? I want to see a midget riding a pony. Could a really small midget ride a goat if it was a really strong goat? Where do you keep the midgets? What's in that box over there with the lock on it? Shouldn't you poke some holes in it so they can breathe?"

They threatened to call the cops on me if I didn't shut up and then a guy tried to squirt me with a hose. "What's funnier: a monkey riding a pig or a midget riding a goat? They are both pretty funny aren't they? Why don't you have a rodeo like that? Wouldn't that be cool? OK, I'm leaving."

p.s. This is the kind of shit I do when I don't have anything to write about. I realize most people think I'm a moron but I’m also writing about traffic reduction policies, not one mention of midgets in the whole thing. Well, there is this one little anecdote about a midget that drives a bus, but that sort of fits in with the story and it’s cute. You can't put a price tag on cute when it comes to good, solid journalism. I have to pester someone else now.