If it's a story about me, then I'll say so up front.

This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Use Starbucks As Your Business Office?

I recently invited 25 strangers to come into my office and set up an expresso machine so that I can try to think over the din of the bean grinder and the steam frother.

OK, no I didn’t actually do that. But it makes about as much sense to me as a fellow writer’s recent suggestion that I should go down to my local coffee house to write my blog.

“Good morning, Charlie. How are you today?” This is the guy sitting next to me at the Starbucks where I am scheduled to meet with a client. This guy has his laptop open on the table, his Bluetooth in his ear and a notebook covered in scribbles. By the look of the stale coffee, he obviously set up shop hours ago using this as his permanent office.  Right now, he's on the phone.

“Not too bad. Not too bad at all. I played 18 holes on Sunday while the wife and kids were at church. I told her I wasn’t feeling well. You know how it is.” I think we all know how that is. “Did you get a chance to look at those numbers I sent you?”

I am assuming that this obnoxious non-church-going liar has an acute hearing problem. That’s the only thing I can think of that would account for his shouting every word. Or maybe it’s a design flaw – his mouth should be located next to his ear.

I try to read the newspaper while I wait for my client but I can’t think over the, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” going on beside me. There is a brief break in his sales pitch and it gives me an opportunity to notice the music blaring away. I realize that they are trying to sell the CDs at the counter but does it have to be so loud? Maybe that’s why the idiot next to me is shouting. Nah, he’s just a jerk. I know this because he launches into a sexist joke. The punchline is, “My name is Tonto. Tonto Goldstein.” I’ve heard this joke twenty times.

I look desperately for another table. No dice. I now understand why this was the only table open. I close my eyes and go into my yoga mantra: “Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup…….”

It’s not working. He’s still there. The crowd is getting bigger. Three people holding their hot Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Lattes and double-shot CaffĂ© Macchiatos are coveting his table and giving him stink eye but this is clearly not his first rodeo and he easily turns his head away from them without ever skipping a beat.

The noise levels are growing. The hard floors, bare walls and plate glass windows bounce sound like a Lakers game.

In mid-2011, Starbucks quietly began a process of systematically reducing the seating and available electrical outlets in their stores just to avoid freeloaders such as the jerk sitting next to me. And in many stores you now “buy” WiFi access in two-hour increments through your loyalty card (which is like a frequent flyer card that gives you credit for coffee and food purchases). I can’t say that I blame them but it’s interesting to note that it is 180° from Starbucks original branding, which was to recreate an Italian bistro that encouraged people to meet their friends and stay as long as they liked (thus the comfy sofas and conversation corners).

By the time my client arrives, the speakers are pumping Elvis ballads, the jerk next to us is getting desperate about closing a deal, and unseated customers are developing that mass-murder glaze. We ended up fleeing like rats from a burning restaurant with “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” echoing in our ears. We took refuge in my client’s car, balancing our coffee on the dashboard while trying to plan grant strategy. It was nuts.

Yes, I know that J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh coffee shop with baby Jessica dozing in a pram, because her unheated flat was too cold. (They neglect to mention that the coffee shop was owned by her brother-in-law and she wrote in the back room, not out front surrounded by customers.) I’m no J.K. Rowling but I suspect that Joanne (that’s her name) couldn’t do it in a Starbucks today.

Are we having fun yet?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Clean Underwear for Everyone!

Have you ever turned your underwear inside out and worn it a second time? I mean, have you done it since college? (Or in the case of unmarried males, since you turned 50?)

Well, I’m not quite there yet, but it’s getting embarrassingly close. You’d think that being out of work would leave me a lot of free time to get caught up around the house, although those of you who have read my previous confession of procrastination ("How to Avoid Doing Anything") already know better.

The thing is, being unemployed is exhausting. For one thing, people expect you to do extra stuff that they would never otherwise ask of you. After all, “You’re not doing anything.” So chores that might usually fall to the man of the house have become my duties – things like getting the tax information together, paying the bills, taking the car in for repair, doing the yard work, snaking the bathtub drain, etc. Sure, my husband will point out that I always did those things even when I had a job. (Let’s not go there, shall we? I want to keep this marriage intact.) But nowadays, I feel extra guilty about not doing them because after all, I’m unemployed, bringing in no money and I’m not doing anything. So I’m not blaming him. Not today, anyway.

For one thing, I’ve applied for law school. While the chances for my getting in this year are slim to none, I’m optimistic about next year and I’m taking classes at the university, finishing my undergraduate degree, and studying to boost my LSAT score. So that takes a lot of time.

Then there is the community action volunteer work. As a business person, I was active in a number of organizations and I still hold office in some. Just because you are temporarily out of work, doesn’t mean you should remove yourself from your peers in the business community. Some would even advise that those contacts and visibility are more important than ever for future employment. After all, the tooth fairy isn’t going to pay for law school. And there’s my volunteer work with homeless shelters, which has been a part of my life for so many years I can’t even imagine a world without it.

And then there is social media. Social media is like heroin. The more you get “connected” the more relationships you form. And relationships, like marriage, require constant work to stay viable. My drug of choice is LinkedIn. And within LinkedIn, my “family” is Career Insider Network. But two weeks ago, I started seeing another group on the side.

It began innocently enough. Bloggers Helping Bloggers seemed like a good way to connect with other frustrated writers such as myself. But part of being involved with this group required that I read a lot of blogs. They were fascinating and I have learned a bunch of stuff. And because I find it rude to visit a blog and not contribute to the conversation even modestly, I always leave a comment as a footprint to show that I was there. Frankly, it’s gotten out of control. I have been known to wake up in the middle of the night and check my groups to see what’s going on. (Don’t tell my husband. He thinks I’ve developed a bladder problem.)

So now, the house has gone to hell in a handbasket. The laundry is piling up. I still haven’t finished my homework for tomorrow’s class. And while I’m making confessions, it’s after 4:00 and I haven’t eaten yet today. I’ve just been on the computer endlessly. Enough! It’s time to throw down my mouse and go cold turkey. I’m going to get dressed (yes, you heard that right), go downstairs and wash a load of clothes while I make myself a grilled cheese sandwich.

Free. Free at last! Clean underwear for everyone!!!.
(Are we having fun yet?)