Is all I seek an illusion?

Increasingly there is a desire to travel open roads lined with trees or farm fields that wind their way around gentle curves, past soft rolling hills and perhaps travel on a day with a gentle rain or snow just for atmosphere. Rural Farm

A road that passes old houses and barns, that goes through one stoplight main streets, that encounters signs of history, places with a natural character that has grown over time and a road where the chance of passing another vehicle for miles is rare.

Evermore there is a longing to find walking trails that head to new adventures; trails that ramble alongside gentle streams and through woods to ‘new’ locations filled with old footbridges, abandoned train tracks, forgotten sections of parks, forgotten depots.

I desire to find towns built as part of the landscape, towns which have a true history that is honored and cherished, where people respect their past, for better or worse, and who understand that while history is an important tool to learn from, to gain insight from and to hopefully use as a means avoid the same mistakes, especially the horrific moments of history, a majority of history is something over which the social mores of today cannot and by which the morals people live by in the present should never stand over in final judgement.

landscape townsI long to find towns where by just spending time within them, you can feel the love and life that has filled them, and sense they are waiting to tell the tales of all they have been witness to over many decades, if not centuries.

There is a yen to find people who still gather and spend time together in natural and friendly ways and who come to know a friend’s or stranger’s history and habits in a manner that isn’t prying.

There is an urge to rediscover people who are caring enough to do all possible to create a warm and comfortable atmosphere through greetings, inclusion in local customs, local foods, for all those they encounter, be it friend or stranger, who are in need and perhaps even more for those who don’t even know they are in need.

Increasingly, there is a desire to find a place far from the known, the common and established.

Somewhere far away from the ‘brave new world’ in which we all suddenly find ourselves living.

A ‘brave new world’ where people are addicted to mobile devices, foolishly surrendering their freedoms and privacy, for the convenience of a garage door that can be remotely closed from the other side of the planet, a fridge that texts them they are out of milk, or a GPS that can monitor their every move, allowing them to remain in ignorance of how to read a map, thus denying them the tremendous joy and discovery even minor deviations from a fixed path can bring.

A ‘brave new world’ that fails to understand how it is not safety, or like-minded thinking, or people bullying their view onto others, but freedom of action, freedom of thought, discourse with those you disagree with, which are the things that drive a people, a society forward, leading people to discover far more than they ever knew they were seeking and through such discoveries, lead to those unforgettable moments and days which make life worth living.

I long to find a place that allows moments which might only exist in fiction, in scenes from movies or scenes from various anime. Scenes of a snowy night, an overlook in a park that looks back toward the city.

kimi no na wa snow sA place to see the lights of the city below in brightly light buildings, the distant neon signs, traffic travelling the highways and maybe the occasional train racing through part of the city.

A view that inspires moments of 物の哀れ, and wistfully thoughts of a future that wasn’t and a past that has yet to be, while providing renewed faith and belief in the possibilities of both still someday existing.

Or maybe a place that allows a chance to walk quiet city streets as the snow gently falls and there is a sense of great serenity, a momentary tranquility where for just a few moments it is possible to believe the world can be at peace and that people actually care for one another.

There is an increasing need to find a place away from where people are so easily offended that society would never allow movies like Airplane to be made now and a society that shudders at signs like “We keep our beef prices so low…. because we have an uncle who is a cattle rustler.”, crying out how improper it is to joke about such things.

A world far away from where everything has turned so vanilla and tilted toward plebian that even the “new” is often trite and cliché, if not merely a reboot, a retread of the “safe” and “known”, simply packaged as “new and edgy”.

To find a place people understand sarcasm, cynicism, puns and the various subtleties of speech. A place where people know what is meant when, in reply to Verizon’s new ad campaign seen in stadiums (“Verizon: Are You With Us?”), someone replies, “Well, let us say, for the moment, I am not against you.”

A place where people don’t cry out that anything that is not complimentary must by default be insulting and offensive.

KentuckyThere is a fervent desire to discover a people who understand sometimes doing the right thing is the wrong thing, that good intentions aren’t always welcomed or wanted, that darkness and light cannot exist without the other, that there are times when there is far more beauty found in imperfection then there is sanity, rationality and logic found in “perfection” and that there are times in life when the only way to win, is to lose.

To find a place where people are not so hidebound by rules that they fail to understand that the rules will always reflect the greatest self-interest of the ruling class, which only occasionally benefits the masses, which is why at times the rules must be viewed as mere guidelines.

There is a strong desire to find a place where people are intuitive and self-aware enough that they don’t need things explained in such minute detail that asking them if they want soup for lunch must involve explaining what a spoon is, which hand is best to hold the spoon and at what angle and degree the spoon should enter the soup bowl and then be brought to the mouth.

Once, oh around a decade to a decade and a half ago, I knew people who were intuitive and self-aware enough to know you don’t touch a hot stove with a boiling pot on top, but now… well, I know people who demand to know how it is possible to categorically state it is raining, simply by looking out a window and then complain there is no sign telling them to take an umbrella posted at the exits before seeing such a sign posted and complaining there are too many signs.

country roads take me homeBack then I also knew roadways where one could travel for miles without encountering another vehicle, passing through echoes of a town’s history.

I knew of walking trails to hidden oases away from crowds, where one could find the solitude to reflect, sitting near ivy covered chimneys rising from overgrown abandoned houses that were once part of an old farming community but now part of a botanical gardens.

But recently as four years ago, a once peaceful roadway lined with trees, rolling farm fields, a single stop sign and hints of what the area must have been fifty years ago, had within two months gained a traffic light, saw the woods leveled and farm fields ploughed under for several developments offering the chance to ‘live in the luxury homes of tomorrow…. today!’. In my opinion those developers take a very liberal definition of ‘luxury’, with homes slapped together in about six weeks, on lots with homes sitting closer together than any of the words on this page.lyons estates

Perhaps, for a whole variety of reasons, while that moment of an area’s transformation was not the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was the straw that first lead the camel to feel the increasing weight.

I truly mark that time period as the moment I became aware of the growing ennui that fills me each time I must adapt and each time I find that these adaptions feel, at best, like a sideways step where nothing is gained, while there is a vague feeling of something lost and at worst feels like a step backwards where a lot is lost and so little can even be claimed as holding steady it is laughable.

Perhaps this is also when I realized that the new adventure I seek, might not be as simple as a new road to travel, or a new park to explore, but require, through my own choice, a change of location and/or employment.

It is an odd feeling because though in a different era and place, I lived a long time in the town I was born, saw many changes, though admittedly most toward the end of my time there and few prior negative in nature and never truly felt the need to move rather than travel and explore in order to have new adventures.

Manhattan phone bookIt is odder to think that even as I feel the push today to move forward, even within a town whose glory is far more historic and aggrandized than true, even with a commute that is a getting more dangerous and far too close to double what it should be and even with an employment situation that is leaving me spiritually and emotionally drained within a work location that in the past year has garnered enough faults to fill four Manhattan phonebooks, there is an odd sort of comfort.

I can’t truly explain it, since it has become a place where everything from the job, to benefits to the surrounding area is so ethereal, that it feels as if a slight shift in the clouds, a soft breeze, the sneeze of an ant, or a leaf landing half on the grass and half on the sidewalk, could shatter everything. 

Obviously, that is not the most restful or comfortable feeling.

Maybe because of the dueling feeling of being comfortable and yet uncomfortable, I keep remembering something Georg Lichtenberg once wrote, “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”

I have been looking into changes, both long and short distances and thought a short distance would admittedly help, it might only be a temporary moderate help as a lot of the problems of the area would remain.

Truthfully, the thought of finding a job in another city, another state and perhaps another time zone, has me excited and terrified. I’ve moved before, about four times so far in my life not counting college but, and I hate to say it, but there are also moments when I think of the short turnaround I might have, needing to find a new vet for the feline family, finding new Tai Chi and fun Japanese classes, finding a part of the city that isn’t at its apex but will last 20 to 30 years in which to live and think, I’m getting to old for this…

Yet I also cannot deny that change of my choosing would be refreshing and is something that is probably sorely needed at this time.

Wood desk clockRefreshing to find a place that is not mired in lies and paranoia. A pointsplace that doesn’t use the words “compliance” and “best practices”, to justify ending an over three-decade tradition of giving beautiful clocks and globes in recognition of longevity, and replace it with a grocery store, gas station, credit card company points reward system where one needs around 50,000 points (a slam dunk if you are with the company for 45 years) to even sniff an item that would be useful and practical, that is other than toothbrush holders and non-stick bread pans which can be gotten for 15,000 points.

Refreshing to find a place that embraces ideas such as light rail, rather than show such vitriol toward the idea that I am starting to wonder who is funding campaigns against the light rail (it isn’t the local transit authority who has already publicly endorsed the idea) and what light rail ever did to those against it to merit such dislike.

It would be so refreshing to find a place far from where people use a logic that would make Vulcan’s cry to make major corporate decisions, namely, “If it is something that hasn’t been personally seen before, even if it is something being seen now that is working successfully and has been proven to have worked successfully for decades, it obviously cannot exist in the manner in which it is now being observed, because it has never previously personally been seen to exist that way”.

Oh, how I would love to engage those people in discourse on matters of spiritualism, mysticism and especially religion.

It would be refreshing to find a place where people are worldly beyond their limited scope of work and necessary knowledge.

studio ghibliA place where they might know the works, beyond just some titles, of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Akira Kurosawa and be able to name at least one movie by Studio Ghibli or something other than The Birds and Pyscho by Hitchcock and be able to get MST3K and Doctor Who references.

A place where they are honest that the reasons for a “Time Sheet Completion Competition”, is not for a chance to win one of many fabulous prizes, but because of the tiniest flaw in the new timekeeping system, namely that it will crash if even one staff member’s timesheet is ten minutes late each week… seriously, this is stuff one just can’t make up and what is it with all these contests with chances to win one of many fabulous prizes from HR… is someone in HR a frustrated wannabe game show host?

A place away from where HR is taking benefits from front line employees and giving them to (over their quietest and most inarticulate protests no doubt) the ‘humble’ and ‘lacking any hubris’ top brass, who merely believe a job well-done is reward enough… well ‘reward enough’ along with their midrange six figure salaries that is… I am suddenly thinking of both a satirical comment and a joke, but not sure either are printable before the children are tucked into their beds.

I seek a place where people are like my former mentor at the office; acerbic, humorous, willing to work with others, quick to teach the angles and introduce the true powerbrokers and who truly care about those they work with knowing when the rules are to be treated as if they actually are ironclad and when they are to be considered little more than guidelines in order to successfully complete assignments.

A place where people aren’t like so many of the new hires in the office, literalist, sycophant, myopic, rule bound, kowtowers, who amaze me at their daring to eat a slice of pizza without a detailed instruction manual, spoken and written approval of their direct supervisor or spoken, written and notarized approval from no less than two other members of management in their supervisor’s absence.

Farm StandIt would be refreshing to be in a place where co-workers don’t try so hard to play the hero that I often wonder why they don’t go for broke, don a cape and cowl to prowl the night, striking fear into the vile criminal scum that plague our fair town… a town which, if you believe office security’s “weekly safety bulletins”, has enough crime in just the two block radius of our office to make Gotham City look like bucolic farm community whose biggest threat to public safety is someone swiping eggs from a roadside farm stand for the sole purpose of throwing them back at the vendor.

I long for a place people actually respect time off, understanding time is the most precious and most limited resource a person has and understanding this, doesn’t book time off they have no intention of taking, thus preventing others from taking it.

A place away from where people don’t respect or value time-off they are handed on a silver platter by either staying online in case any e-mails or questions come in only they can answer or attempt to use that time to themselves look good.

An attempt often made by working on projects that frankly have so little importance to the continued welfare of company, that there is greater potential for positive or negative cosmic impact to the universe, and perhaps the multiverse, riding on my decision of okonomiyaki or pasta for dinner, than from their finishing or even just working on, a project during a day the office is closed due to flooding, high winds, heavy snows, power outages, local, state or federal holidays or just for the heck of it.

It would be so refreshing to be a place where co-workers don’t waste their days playing up to management before crying they are so busy they must stay past 7pm, doing the work they didn’t do during the day and (as they have been seen by others) staying to scrub break room counters until they shine before the cleaning staff arrives… there’s a joke in there somewhere about ensuring a house is spotless so the maid doesn’t form a bad impression of the household…

I desire to find a place where it is possible to have help in seeking new employment, rather than encountering people and places who send me to interviews for jobs that don’t exist, tell me since I am employed they cannot help, refuse to help for fear of a conflict of interest due to business done once, 26 years ago, with my current company, or tell of a great opportunity and promise to get back to me regardless of there being an interview arranged, only to never get back.

I long to discover a place where they actually believe in the words of the late Anthony Bourdain, “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”

Such a place would be far away from where they focus on how “great a match” or what “percentage match” a person is before judging and comparing them to others based on those numbers… which admittedly is far easier since it is the computer or some metrics system doing the judgement which offers a cushion to anyone hiring that makes the wrong choice. I mean they were merely following the computer’s decision and computers are flawless so if the choice was bad, obviously it was a one in a million flaw in the computer program and not the judgement of the one hiring.

A place systems for job searches are either free or geared to the job seeker not the employer, as they are in so many ads on radio and television for Monster.com, LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecuriter and others, who are blatant about selling a metrics based project to employers looking to hire.

Employers whose self-admitted inability to accurately and timely shift through resumes to find the right candidates to even interview let alone work for them, likely speaks far more of their own skills and abilities in reviewing and judging potential employees than it does anything else.

boulder curseYet, to hear the employers tell their tale on radio, and news shows, the task of reviewing resumes must be a Herculean one far more onerous than Sisyphus’s curse, doomed for eternity to roll a boulder uphill, and requires so much time and effort that if The Odyssey was written today, surely Homer would make reviewing resumes and judging skills and employment histories to find the right candidate, a trail Odysseus must overcome, replacing one of those silly trails, like defeating the Cyclops, escaping Circe or overcoming the Sirens’ call.

I desire to find a place where people don’t cry foul when they unknowingly, or knowingly, play the straight man and feed beautiful setup lines.

For example, take one nameless company’s ad for their job services which ends, “I thought we were looking for an Operations Manager, but we were really looking for an Oscar.”

That is a beautiful setup line begging for a follow-up of, “Yeah, well with that script and acting performance, don’t hold your breath… however, if you’re looking for a Razzie…”

These days, that simple return of an all too perfect straight man feeder line would be a written warning from HR, seriously, no one here has a sense of humor anymore.

I long to find a place where the leadership at least pretends to listen to employees and keeps their promises to open their doors to ideas, implementing those they can, even if it is something silly like Taco Tuesdays or a Free Froyo Fridays.

rose coloredI long for a place where the employees remove their rose-colored glasses, if only just long enough to engage in the increasingly rare concept of trust but verify when it comes to everything and anything the leadership says, especially about what they say is good for the employee.

I desire to find a place where I can get sleep and feel rested each night. There is a current ad on radio for a sheet and blanket company which mentions how few people ever get the sleep they want, in response to which, with no punchline intended, I find myself saying, “I’d settle for the sleep I need.”

A place I can escape worry and have at least some fun being at work, as I once did, and can be excited about going in each day, which once was the case.

A place where each new day doesn’t hold the question of if I’ve reached the point that there are now more “I remember when’s” then can be counted on the fingers and toes, which if anyone ever does reach that point is often a sign it is time to move on and start fresh.

Is there such a place? Are there such places?

Do places still exist where one can be excited about what is to come next, rather than only seeing so many endings without new beginnings that they become weary and spent?

Is there a road, literal or figurative, to start such a journey to the place(s) a person needs, and hopefully wants, to be?

Or is all I seek merely antiquated symbols and ideals of a bygone era, an era that understood and acknowledged how critical relaxation is to overall mental, spiritual and physical health and wellbeing?

Maltese Falcon.jpgHas the world changed so much that all I seek is like the Maltese Falcon, and merely “the stuff that dreams are made of”?

I ask my feline family and they stretch, yawn, nuzzle me, climb on the back of my chair and drape their tail over my shoulder as they go back to sleep. It is almost as if they are saying, “You’re talking to cats. We’re always perfect and can’t understand why humans worry so much about things they can’t control and then struggle so hard to obtain barely passable mediocrity, but don’t worry, you know where to scratch us behind the ears, which blankets we use each night  and know what food prefer and where to place our bowls for breakfast and dinner, so we love you regardless of all your faults.”

Perhaps they truly are wiser and are saying don’t sweat it and for the moment at least, I should continue to seek what I want, continue to strive for answers to my questions, without worrying if the answers truly exist.

Well, I do know I need to find another way to seek employment elsewhere but for now plan on taking a few moments to nap with a feline family member in my lap and a good book that is asking to be read this night.

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Posted in cats, changes, changing world, childhood, Feline Lessons on Life, felines, new location, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Things remembered this last day of Toys “R” Us

Fare-thee-well Toys “R” Us.

Your end came, in my opinion, not just because of a changing era but because of a private equity firm that bleed you dry, sucked what profits they could from you and who in the end proved what I’ve always believed, they care little for the workers or companies they purchase, just for the profits that can make from them.

This is perhaps part of why it is a bittersweet last day for Toys “R” Us and for better or worse, the day the world bids farewell to the world’s largest and perhaps last major brick and mortar toy store.

There are also stories of how many rank-and-file workers, some at the stores for over 30 years,  are leaving with nothing, as severance pay was stopped during the liquidation. That is a part of bankruptcy, all monies are frozen and paid back to creditors in a certain order.

What doesn’t sit well with the anyone is how the  executives drew millions in bonuses just days before filing for bankruptcy, therefore their bonuses would not be frozen by the bankruptcy proceedings, not to mention how Bain Capital, which allowed Toys “R” Us’ demise, is leaving with around $475 million in profits. 

As all of this news, as memories of more innocent times at Toys “R” Us, Kay-Bee Toys, Lionel Kiddie City, float into mind, my feelings and thoughts tend toward what my Japanese sensei referred to as 物の哀れ(mono no ware), an awareness of the transience of things, mixed with a transient gentle sad wistfulness at their passing and a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

Most of my memories are of happier moments from childhood, of moments in time, people, places and events, I haven’t thought of in years.

Such as Toys “R” Us’ classic Christmas catalogs, that like the old Sears catalogs, were thicker than a Manhattan phonebook and came, once upon a time, unsolicited to mailboxes. I remember the excitement of looking through the catalogs and braving decorated stores with my parents to meet Santa and ask for my favorite items and of Christmas ads.

Those now classic commercials showing houses decorated as to make the Christmas Vacation house blush, of trees everywhere, of grandparents bringing presents, of Santa delivering gifts, of snow angels and snowmen, of families opening gifts around the tree, and children trying to sneak down to see Santa deliver presents and of seeing new ones each year that feature the latest toy or gadget.

Admittedly, these commercials primarily aired during Christmas shows like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and, now that I think about it, rather ironically during The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

With these shows in mind, I can’t help but think of my family gathering by the television near the Christmas tree, not only for the annual tradition of seeing these ‘classics’ of Rankin-Bass and Hollywood (It’s A Wonderful Life, Bishop’s Wife, White Christmas, Shop Around the Corner, etc.), along with some ‘newer’ not so classics that have mercifully been lost somewhere in time and space, but also of live musical holiday events and the occasional throwback variety show that was still just clinging to life in the early to mid-1980’s.

However, these moments were merely part of the holiday season crescendo, as the season started with the annual mid-October, Kirby’s Mill Fall Apple Festival.

The Kirby’s Mill Apple Festival was a place to witness the process of how apple products were made and purchase freshly made Apple Cider and Apple Cider Doughnuts before touring craft booths of all kinds (I still have two marionettes purchased there) and visiting the old gristmill which at the time was undergoing now completed historical renovations.

Even just part of a day spent there was a lot of fun walking around and seeing the leaves starting to change, feeling the air cool and watching everyone bid a welcome to fall and a fond farewell to summer, all while enjoying the live music, arts and crafts stalls, enjoying the many apple themed dishes and speaking to historical interpreters demonstrating the gristmill in operation.

Closely following either on the Saturday or Friday before Halloween, if Halloween was a Saturday,  was the annual Halloween Parade.

For several decades that whole time period was a spectacle to behold.  Around the middle of the month, Main Street filled with scarecrows, carved pumpkins, witch’s hats, silhouettes of black cats, orange lights strung across the street and businesses hanging those curtains to cast ‘monster shadows’ in their windows at night.

On the day of the parade, Main Street closed around noon to allow the gathering of, at times, around 100 floats and countless costumed people, who would either ride or march. These were the days when the only guidance on floats or costumes was a recommendation on how scary things could appear and even that was a very generous limit by any standards,  which was wonderful as it allowed variation and creativity.

To this day, I haven’t truly seen anything to equal the parade or atmosphere in any location I’ve been or lived since, though the Woodhaven section of Queens, New York came the closest with nearly every house decorated for Halloween. As for the parade in my hometown, I can happily report, according to family and friends still in the area, it remains strong today.

No much can be said about any town celebrations for Thanksgiving. While I do vaguely remember decorations along Main Street and a few craft booths selling wooden pumpkins and other items for the Thanksgiving table that were popping up in a park across from a local branch library about two weekends after Halloween, even 30 plus years ago there wasn’t much else in the town crying out that it is Thanksgiving.

To be honest, rather than Thanksgiving town events, I have more memories of family gatherings to eat out on Thanksgiving Day, first at a National Historical Site, the ‘largest log cabin in the world’ until it sadly burned down due to an accidental electrical fire, and thereafter at a café which was designed to appear as an artist’s studio with rotating displays of local artwork and stunning views of the Delaware River, at times made even more beautiful with views of falling snow and large ships brightly lit against the gray skies, slowly moving along the river either toward or from Philadelphia.

However, in all fairness, even without major town Thanksgiving celebrations, 30 years ago was not as bad as it is today where at times it feels as if we go from Labor Day, if not the 4th of July, right to Christmas.

While I can only speak for the public elementary and middle schools and Quaker high school I went, they put on Thanksgiving plays, sold turkeys for local charities and had charity drive ties to stores and food pantries. Through them it felt a lot less like Thanksgiving was just as stepping stone between Halloween and Christmas.

Now Christmas, that was a very different story within the town which held an annual Dickens’ Christmas festival.

Each year around December 1st, Main Street became a winter wonderland with lights, wreaths and garland. Businesses showed their holiday spirit by draping lights across their windows, putting up trees, and having lit candles (believe it or not, some of the them were real candles).

From the moment the decorations appeared, shops along and just off Main Street would open their doors both to customers and merely to offer holiday cheer in the form of cider and cookies to those walking Main Street.

On the day of the festival, around noon booths selling handmade holiday crafts also popped up during the afternoon of the festival and in the early evening, Main Street closed (which happened a lot for various festivals) as people in Victorian era dress roamed the streets, interacting with visitors directly through mini performances and by encouraging caroling “door-to-door” to the various shops and homes that dotted Main Street

After dark but early enough for kids to still be present (no pun intended), Santa arrived in Victorian area costume, driving a horse drawn carriage to the main gazebo to help light the town Christmas tree and pass out a few early gifts.

It is actually the small parts of the festival which stand out the most to me, the moments which some people today might not do and were a bit throwaway but where also so  unique.

One such event took place in a classic gothic style bank dating late 1800 – early 1900’s. The bank itself appeared to be something out of an Old West movie set, sitting behind a town clock on the corner of an intersection, and directly across from an old authentic stagecoach stop dating back to 1810.

Considering this was still a working bank at the time it was even more amazing how they would slightly alter the interior to appear like what ‘counting houses’ might have in the Victorian era and have someone dressed as Scrooge standing near the original bank vault, handing out chocolate gold coins to children who entered, before teasing them about being as bad as Cratchett for wanting their holiday pay.

 

My how times have changed… can anyone image a bank or any business having someone in costume handing chocolate out to kids? Of course, the fact such things happen so rarely if at all these days, to me, makes the world a sadder place.

On a side note, I recently learned that not only is the bank building sitting empty and up for sale but the old Stagecoach Stop caught fire and was unsalvageable so had to be demolished.

Yet, in some good news, thanks to a historical preservation mandate going back to 1973 for the downtown area, it was rebuilt as close to the original as possible, and from the photos I have seen it does look similar to the original.

But, maybe because I remember eating inside of the original, going to a tailor inside of it, going to a framing store there and remember all the quarks a (at the time) 170 year old building had, I see this new version as a mere shadow, an incomplete copy. I have never seen the new building in person and only seen a few photos and yet something about it just lacks the charm, not to mention the loss of 200 years of history… sorry I am digressing.

As these and other thoughts continue through my mind, it hits me as being rather funny that all these memories and feelings were triggered from a simple jingle that I’ve heard countless times over the years and yet only today do they trigger.

Perhaps given the mix of happy and bittersweet memories coming to mind this day, it is fitting that only on this day, a jingle for a company which did bring joy to so many people and that which come the next dawn will, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist, acts as a trigger for these memories and thoughts.

Maybe I am just being wishful, but I hope that someday future generations will have something that jingle to trigger memories within them some 30 years on. I also hope that in some shape or form, a small part of Toys “R” Us will survive, before it completely fades into history to become nothing more than a footnote in a book about brick-and-mortar stores of the 20th century or just a Wikipedia entry, much like Kay-Bee Toys (though I have heard there is a small revitalization for them) and Lionel Kiddie City (turn your frown… upside down).

Well, come what may, for now let me just say, here’s looking at you, Toys “R” Us, thank you for triggering so many memories this day of people, places, events and things, both happy and bittersweet, that I haven’t thought of in years.

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My Feline Family and Consistency

My feline family thrives on routine. Once they find something they like, it is something that must be done each day at about the same time. Of course, there are some exceptions to this since they are very understanding and very intelligent.

They do allow some change in my wake-up times whenever I tell them that, “Tomorrow is a day off.”, or “Tomorrow is the weekend.” And allow me to sleep in an hour or two.

Yet, there are things that they demand stay within the consistency of a routine, regardless of what is said to or requested of them. For example, a pillow in their favorite afternoon nap spot must always be there, and if moved from the sofa to be washed, likely means they will flip a water bowl in displeasure. Yes, they are very spoiled.

As I watch how comfortable their world has become with its routine and habits, I am more than a bit envious.

However, I wonder if such a world might become boring and in its own way stressful as I find that I am living by the clock to ensure the same routines and habits are hit at the same time each day.

So perhaps it is not routine or habit that is truly craved, but a sense of consistency that provides comfort.

Consistency in knowing certain things will be there when needed, such as a friendly server who knows my order or the local bookstore that always receives new editions Tuesday mornings and has them on their shelves Tuesday afternoons, etc.

Yet, even with the ability to find needed positives and comfort providing anchors within consistency, there are also times when consistency can be dull.

Though, I am not so much sure if it is consistency or that the consistency in this case relies heavily on habit and routine, such as the morning commute, shorter lunch times because meetings always run over into lunchtime and the increasingly dull routine at the place of employment that each day takes a few more benefits and strivers so much harder for ironclad control over employees’ daily lives.

These are the consistencies which can make one tired going in to work on Mondays, despite sleeping in and trying hard to do little on the weekends and coming off Sunday feeling rested and recharged.

So, in the end, perhaps what I truly envy in my feline family is that which they are lucky enough to be given and have protected but which few of us can even think of gaining without a lot of money… time.

They have the very enviable ability, which truly humans can only buy with a lot of money, to set their own consistency and routine, which is only occasionally influenced by outside forces such as if I am late with dinner due to traffic jams or a favorite nap pillow must be washed.

It is that type of life, the ability to set my own consistencies, that I long for and one where I wonder how long it would take to have that world be boring if it ever would be boring.

As I ponder this, I am being reminded it is time for me to sit in a chair so two loveable members of the feline family can climb in my lap for their evening nap.

May they never know a life where someone else is setting their schedule for them.

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Changing Atmosphere at Work

I hope the first two months of 2018 proved to be a fresh start for everyone, for better or worse. Apologies too, but since it has been a while since I last wrote an entry, this one is a bit long.

 Truly it is the odd things which trigger thoughts, though perhaps only if the moment is right

Recently, after years of not even seeing a K-Mart, I stopped in a “Big K”, that even for the middle of a weekday was eerily empty with melancholic vibe.

Layaway was abandoned, restroom doors were propped to provide light, “Music and Video” only had half-a-dozen wall mounted televisions with aisles filled with stacked storage containers and mattresses. The Garden Department was selling artificial Christmas trees and all registers appeared to be from the Reagan Administration and a main exit door was marked “Out-of-Order”.

 In some strange way, seeing all of this felt as if something that once held grandeur was now faded and neglected and being readied for the scrapyard.

Oddly, this experience was emblematic of the malaise and ennui I have felt for a while.

Over the past three years my office has had no stability, but has had 3 CEOs, 5 CFOs, 6 IT directors, 5 HR directors, drastic changes in reporting structures, termination of about 30% of the staff in late 2016 and an increased amount of clandestine firings to the point most people that bring in personal items, keep them in a box.

The manner of the mass terminations is a topic for another time, but what happened after was a meeting to justify them as “slimming down the workforce”. That was bad enough, but following it by showing a new org chart that indicated there would be a staff increase of 15% over the pre-slim down totals, sank remaining morale, trust and loyalty in the administration.

Since the mass firings, firings are so clandestine that the only way staff learns a co-worker is gone is by an e-mail bounces back, such as with the staff member terminated two Fridays before Christmas.

Firing someone that close to Christmas is truly worthy of Frank Cross (Bill Murray in SCROOGED) about something even pre-ghost visited Ebenezer might’ve found abhorrent.

Well, at any rate, the malaise, ennui and fear throughout the office weren’t help by the completion of renovations that at the very least should have brought stability with all staff back under one roof.

 The reason? Well simply put, nothing works. New HVAC units fail, sensor activated lights Won’t trigger, wires still dangle, waiting for routers, locks are missing from doors and drawers, the main entry door is the wrong kind, paint scraps with a shoulder bump, and lights lack bulbs.

 Yet, even if everything was flawless, the total loss of atmosphere and character in the new design wouldn’t have boosted morale.

The old design’s atmosphere came over time, it wasn’t created or drawn from current trends.

It had issues, hallways that dead ended, doors that opened to other doors that opened to hallways, a maze-like structure, offices that were completely interior, but even with all of this there was artwork collected from all over the world, which over years was placed in a hodgepodge fashion on walls. All of this built a natural character, a comfortable atmosphere that can’t be created by intent.

Now, in fairness, it is obvious the new character was supposed to be an erstwhile warehouse or factory, now office space or apartments, with raised ceilings, exposed piping and HVAC ducts, etc., which if done correctly, as in the warehouse converted to a Church in which I study Taoist Tai Chi, can be interesting and comfortable, if not practical for an office.

Despite their attempts, what was created feels more akin to visiting a poor copy of a Disney European attraction for a day, and being told that experience is identical to touring and spending months living in Dublin, London, Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Rome and Madrid.

The design has plain gray walls, squared off angles, identical furniture, no true individuality and enough exposed pipes that one could be forgiven for looking for a prop marker of GNDN (Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing) on them.

The little which can be considered ‘colorful’ and ‘daring’, are snaking sofas that look more in place in museums or boutique hotel lobbies.

Of course, this design and furniture, despite an initial promise that staff input would be sought, and when practical worked into the design, was instead left entirely to the architect.

An architect who publicly stated his inspiration for the design and furnishings was a picture of a girl holding a sunflower in a field of sunflowers.

Given some of my sources of inspiration for stories I write on my own, I am the last to knock anyone’s muse. Yet, I don’t think it wrong to ask if the architect perhaps misheard his muse, for while he certainly increased openness, it was done by a loss of privacy, conference rooms and offices glass on at least one side,  cubicle walls dropped so people can clearly see windows but have also become stacked atop each in an manner the most generous call a ‘cube farm’.

Those who are more direct call the complete loss of privacy from the aforementioned and an additional 35 to 40 cameras (and possibly bugs for each camera) watching almost every point but the bathrooms, ‘concerning’.

I will be far more direct and state this loss of privacy due to openness along with increased monitoring points in the name being “secure”, is the realization of someone’s Orwellian 1984  wet dream.

 Given that, perhaps an increase in office paranoia is no surprise.

 Five years ago, any visitor from a uniformed delivery person, to a visit from a local politician, lead to no special or additional noticeable increase in security.

 Now, if someone arrives to deliver a pizza to the front desk, security increases to the point one might think we live in continual terror that the Jedi will finally realize we’re hiding plans to a new Death Star.

 Look, in all seriousness I understand being cautious in today’s world and fully agree that a reasonable level of caution is not uncalled for when it comes to safety.

However, much of what is being put in place in the name of security makes no sense, other than for a massive invasion of privacy, and in the end will likely do nothing to actually keep us safe.

 For example, the new cameras allow a person to be tracked from one end of the building to the other and even down the hallways to the bathrooms (which without privacy laws protecting us, I fully believe they would have cameras inside of),  and they shadow staff and visitors to the point if one sneezes, security hands them a tissue.

 While some might argue this keeps people safe, I ask when in recent history has a camera prevented a crime. It is sure great for pictures of what happened and helping track who did what, but when has it prevented a crime?

 It is also a bit of a contradiction that we appear on Google and Bing map searches but  there can be no indication of the office name on any door while our name and suite number are clearly visible in a public lobby directory.

 Then there is moving away from hand scanners to badge readers. On the surface, since these double as new id badges, this seems a way to increase safety. However, consider for a moment, it also means all someone has to do is steal a badge to have access to any of our doors.

 Then there is their idea of where to store items at night.

 While admittedly there are items that give access to the building, stored in a drawer at the front desk that cannot be there overnight. Again, on the surface this seems a wise move, but consider that to reach those items at the front desk, a person would first have to climb over the front desk, at which point the items are meaningless since all the have to do is unlock the deadbolt door to the hallway and they have access to the rest of the building.

 Even if they didn’t think to open that door, they would still have to know which drawer the item is in, know what it is on sight without it being labeled, realize its value and then use it all before the alarm leads to a response from police two blocks away.

 No, instead the items are stored in an office which is windows on three sides and placed in a closet that can’t lock. in an area far more visible to the street than the front desk drawer.

 Of course, someone that truly wanted to entry could also smash an office street level window and have access to the building, bypassing the need for any of the items being hidden, no matter where they are stored, but I digress.

 Has no one read the Purloined Letter?  Hide a leaf in a grove, a book in a library, a letter in a stack; do nothing that calls attention to the fact you either do or merely believe you have something to hide and hide it in the open, because so few people look for something meaningful to be in plain sight.

 Well regardless, the uptick in monitoring has left things less comfortable, even for those with nothing to hide. Remember, having nothing to hide is still a very different thing than not caring if your entire life story on the front page of the New York Times.

 While I don’t give the current office administration credit for noticing a lot of things, comfortable is why it increasingly strikes me how the simple, superficial, things that the company was once so good at doing to create a family atmosphere, boost morale and create a feeling of stability and safety, (group lunches, final four bracket challenges, quarterly birthday celebrations, holiday parties away from the office, etc..), they are now failing at with every chance.

 To give credit where it is due, the company does know something is wrong, though I don’t think they fully comprehend the depth of the issue, as they engage in as many Dilbert methods as possible (typically those ideas that people who don’t truly understand how to boost morale, use to say they are boosting morale), though given some of those running things nowadays perhaps isn’t a shock.

 For example while those in power preach how artwork can show stability and boost morale, since renovations have been completed, only the Emperor’s New Artwork proudly adorns the walls (so far only one co-worker got that reference),  and they look dumbfounded when people are upset that efforts to hang artwork are on hiatus.

 Fear not though, for HR is on top of things. They are engaging in the greatest possible action to bolster morale, that is to say the greatest possible action to bolster morale short of giving everyone a 50% raise, more vacation time, retirement packages and shorter workdays.

In order to show how much the company cares in the midst of mass firings, loss of trust in the executives and sinking morale, they are painting rocks with slogans such as “Be the reason someone smiles today” and “You Rock!” (oddly enough, not the worst pun I’ve heard this year) and asking staff pass around the rocks, along with the note “Kindess Rocks! Keep it for mid-day inspiration or pass it on to someone who might need a positive message! PS- Try not to be seen”, to those in need of a morale boost.

 Needless to say, a mere day of passing these rocks around was enough to send peoples’ morale soaring (and obviously their sarcasm), so truthfully, their next idea is almost anticlimactic, the creation of “positivity corners”.

 Now, if it is not already clear, I’m not the target audience for slogan (or clichéd) based rocks,  or even for  “positivity corners”.

I like cynicism and sarcasm, I think British and Irish wit far surpasses that of almost any other and enjoy the one liners of Grocho Marx, the wit of Marx Twain, the comedy styling of Jack Benny, Will Rogers, George Carlin and Don Rickels and laugh out loud to the rapid sense of humor old time radio shows offer, a humor that is just not heard today.

 In all honesty, when I first heard about the rocks, I thought it would be a brilliant stress reliever to through them at a target and try and dunk an executive (like that old carnival game), but alas that was not to be…

 Then the positivity corners were announced and my initial thoughts went like this:

 Person A: This is a horrible idea.

Person B: Now, now. Remember we are in the positivity corner. Think positive things until it is contagious.

Person A: *deep sigh* Fine. For the sake of the corner, I’ll give it a shot. (deep breath beat of four) I am positive this is a horrible idea. (quick beat of one) That work for you?

Honestly, does anyone really believe painting slogans on rocks and passing them around or positivity corners will truly engage employees, increase morale and create a family feel?

Can they really believe those things will bring back that which is being so rapidly lost the more corporate the company becomes through such actions as  monthly progress reviews and creating positivity corners and painting greeting card slogans on rocks?

 If they do, let me know, because I while respect their right to believe whatever they want so long as those beliefs do not harm another, I also think they need a good stiff drink to open their eyes or perhaps be prevented from having any more good stiff drinks until they sober up.

The office is truly becoming a brave new world and truthfully, those who have brought it about deserve mention if for no other reason than they are interesting in how transparent some of them are or perhaps I am just getting more jaded and seeing darker shadows then they are actually casting, but that is for another entry.

 Regardless, all the changes, particularly to the office culture, are wearing me down. It is making the commute feel so much longer and leading me to see faults in the office and area I once so loved, that I never have and might not under different circumstances.

 These changes are also a bit sad and especially tiring when I realize it is also me, who is being changed from who I like to think myself.

 When I started about five years ago, to as recently as two and a half to three years ago, if someone had suggested I leave by just calling in one day around noon, say it has been surreal, that any keys and other items I owe the office are in the mail and anything that needs to be signed should be e-mailed and would be FedEx-ed back, I would have said that this place deserves at least in person notification and maybe a few days notice.

 Now, I am thinking that missing most of one day without notice instead of calling around noon before doing the aforementioned is still perhaps kinder then the current company deserves and is far more kindness then the company would offer any staff if the roles were reversed.

 It is odd how the feelings I have at the office also echo back to the feelings when at the Big K or maybe it is vice versa; the feelings of seeing something that once spoke of happy times and a different, dare I say better, world that even at the time was fading outside the office, now barely on its last legs.

 May I be wrong, at least until I can find another stable position elsewhere which pays as well or better with at least, most of the good benefits my office still offers.

Yet, as a member of the old guard (which these days is anyone here longer than a year and the way things are going, it might soon  be anyone here longer than six months), it is obvious that the family is being neglected for the company and that which was once something so special and rare is now something so cliché and by the book, it is becoming worth far less than even a dime a dozen.

 Well, for now, I will take solace that my feline family is offering stability and trust. I will also continue to do as I have been, and work my best while watching how things continue to change within the office for better or worse and while actively seeking new chances that actually worth pursuing, rather than the increasing contract to hire positive that are at least better then pure temp once offered in droves.

 

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A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Happy New Year and holidays to all, may it be a great 2018!

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Happy Halloween

I can’t believe another month has come and gone. A lot has happened in the month I missed posting, the office is completed, the grocery store across the street has expanded and opened its new dining area and a new restaurant has opened with street (sidewalk) seating.

Yet for all that has changed, little has (in my humble opinion) improved and so much seems to have remained the same, lost the character it once held or reached a point where people are so desperate to create or capture character or prove things are improving that they are sting to force things to exist.

One such example is my office Halloween party. In past years it has always been something people have either wanted to volunteer for or not and something that has happened but this year, they are going all out and given the changes that have happened in the office and the whispers of discontent, it feels a little bit forced, at least to me.

I am not alone in thinking this either. So many of the ‘old guard’, which right now amounts to those here for more than 3 years, are seeing it. A friend I have working in the library commented on how forced everything seems, how few people seem to be actually having fun and how many are trying to convince themselves to have fun. I admit that might mean people do have fun, but at the same time it all seems so forced.

For years, Halloween was an event this company celebrate, costumes were allowed, skits were done at times, but it wasn’t an all-out event. They would have some candy and people would have a bit of fun at a small hour or so luncheon party, but prior to the party work was being done and after the party work was done.

This year the budget is huge and they are going all out for the event. I arrived at 8:00 am and hardly have been able to get any work done, which is why I am updating this blog now rather than later tonight. People are obviously trying to distract themselves and I think (and also agree with some of the ‘old guard’, many of whom are finding reasons not to patriciate such as meetings, doctor’s appointments, kids having awards at school, etc.) that this is just what the administration desires. They want the people to distract themselves and see if they can’t boast morale.

However, much like my friend from the library, I also think this will not last. It is at best a temporary boost that will likely not last beyond today. In the end of the day, it will not make people feel safer in their job, will not make people feel more important or cared for and will not overcome so much that was lost such as petty time, a feeling of safety and security and a belief that the company actually cares enough to make a good show of pretending to care.

If anything, the company pushing everything into this Halloween party, like their giving the company the last week in December off, is nice and unquestionably generous given the budget that is going into this party, but also a sign that they realize they have lost people’s faith and morale is plummeting from actions they have taken and things they have changed.

Actually, the idea that change, well meaning or not, and the question as to if people even understand that all changes will have outcomes they might realize or like, is a thought that has been going through my head for some time.

I hope focus more on that in November, as there continues to be so much changing, so much lost and yet both a confused look on people when things change in a way they could not (but a newborn likely could) foresee as they then attempt to a forced a situation where people will laugh and have fun.

Ah well, hopefully my feline family will have fun, I understand someone has brought in pet friendly treats for the poor furry family members who cannot go out trick-or-treating.

Happy Halloween everyone.

 

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My Feline Family and Sleep

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The soup was in my way, so I moved it for you.

My feline family appears to have mastered the ever increasingly important concept of sleep. For them, no location which can offer the utmost in comfort or privacy is too hard to reach or too restricted. Not even a cabinet door stop them from finding the perfectly safe and nearly private location wherein to doze and slumber. Finding a place to slumber where one can stretch out and feel so instantly at ease, is truly an ability to be admired and envied.

 

If only it were that easy for me to find places to slumber during the day. When younger I would have scoffed at the idea of needing naps during daylight hours, but now as I find more demands on my time and less ability to accomplish takes during the week to free the weekends, I think nap times should be a built in standard right in all work contracts. Oh, not in a way they extend the workday, but the a worker’s right the same as those found in (within the United States at least) FLMA, OSHA and other EEOC rights. Well, I can dream at least right?

Actually, dreaming would be a wonderful thing to do more of each day, actually REM sleep dreaming. Everyday there are new reports of the importance of sleep (along with exercise), in helping to fight and prevent disease, in most likely helping to prevent, delay or reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s, to build up the immune system and so many other benefits that I feel worry at averaging about five and a half hours of sleep each night.

Aside from the longer ranging impacts, more immediate ones are how I suddenly find myself in need of caffeine. Truthfully, I am not a coffee drinker and someone that much prefers tea, but have recently found myself driving several cups of coffee each morning to help stay awake.

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Don’t mind me, I just claimed this sofa arm as mine.

I am also finding that by Friday,  things which don’t annoy, worry or even seem to be worthy of major amounts of my attention on Monday, have become major nuisances and such a needless level of concern that they take on almost paranoid levels of focus. This too is a recent development and one I clearly saw when I had a few days of vacation and was not in a paranoid worry about anything that might or might not be going on at work once, versus fearing conversations just going on outside my earshot during the regular work week. Then again, as written before, the current atmosphere in the office is one that permits a bit of justified paranoia.

 

Well, be it what it is, I am trying my own tricks to get more sleep and rest, to complete more on the weekend even though my time to actually try them is lessening as a one time hour commute is now taking two plus hours, and what were quick 10 minute stops during the week to free up time on the weekend are now  20 minutes stops at their shortest time period. These are just stops for food that is called ahead for and stops at places like grocery stores. proving near impossible.  would love to have my feline family’s innate ability to not only locate a great sleeping spot with seeming so much ease, but to find myself able to doze as they do in those spots. Ah well, perhaps this weekend or next week I will find a way to get enough sleep.

 

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