Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Trip to the TheaTre~

Yesterday, my mother and I went to a play in Glendale, put on by a small theater company. The play was excellent, well-priced, and worth the drive.

It is an old building that has housed the theatre, a family venture, for years. The current manager is the grandson of the founders. The lobby employees pull double duty, collecting tickets, playing usher, and working in the small concession area.

The restrooms are upstairs. To their credit, the owner has installed at least 12 cubicles and a nice sink area in the ladies’ room. The women ALWAYS have to wait in line at intermission. As luck will have it, that is when all the women in attendance have to use the restroom.

I often tell the women towards the end of the line, where I usually am, that “we can storm the men’s restroom ladies, what do you say? Who’s with me?”

Usually there are smiles and some fake bravado, but yesterday there was just more grumbling. One woman in particular went ON AND ON about how SICK she is of climbing those stairs. She wasn’t feeble, she looked to be in good health and her age was somewhere around mine. Granted, she could have some debilitating illness, but she never mentioned that – only the fact that she, a well-dressed middle class woman well-acquainted with the risks and benefits of plastic surgery, was SICK of climbing a lousy set of stairs. Since the plays change about every other month, I am guessing those six trips a year are exhausting.

This was the same woman who whined about coffee not being included as part of the package. When you buy a ticket to the play, you get a complimentary soft drink. She stood behind me in line and bellowed about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. Since it is a small theater lobby, it is safe to guess that everyone had to listen, including the very pleasant and hard-working employees.

I forked over a couple bucks for a refillable cup of coffee. When I stepped aside, she began barking drink instructions to the young lady behind the drink counter. She wanted seltzer water – the kind used to mix the sodas, she said, but a bit of lemonade had to be added to the mixture with just the right amount of ice. NO… that was too much, pour it out. The drink has to be just THIS much seltzer water and THIS much lemonade and the ice has to be added AFTER the mixture has a chance to, you know, MIX.

This is a “theatre in the round.” There are no bad seats. But for a woman who has to have her lemonade and seltzer water mixed just so, the dearth of acceptable seats was just abominable. She stood on the stage, looking around, agitated and pontificating.

Apparently, the woman she picked up was LATE and spent TOO MUCH TIME IN THE BATHROOM AT MC DONALDS. So, they couldn’t get here in time to secure her “usual seats.”

An elderly gentleman sitting across the aisle caught my eye during this diatribe. He must have been present for the others, since his wife was rolling her eyes and hiding behind her program. He looked around and then leaned over to me and whispered, “it must be a BITCH being her.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cubicle Debacle

A lot of people are annoyed at John Chiang. He's the guy in charge of California's money, and he didn't win any popularity contests when he threatened to stop paying bills and replace our tax refund checks with IOUs. The last time this happened, banks honored the IOUs and collected from the state when a budget finally passed. But since banks are taking bailout money to prevent insolvency, I am guessing that won't happen this time.

If there's no money, there's no money, and you can't blame the guy for being practical. When responsible individuals are out of money, they stop spending. It’s the same for state governments. Chiang’s checkbook is just bigger than ours. Pragmatic people understand these financial quandaries.

But this guy has really ticked me off because of cubicles, and I am not alone in my anger. Chiang is now fodder for the talk radio hosts who lambaste public officials on a regular basis. He is experiencing a “cubicle backlash.”

Cubicles, you may ask? Yes, cubicles. Nobody seems to like them much but they are ubiquitous in office buildings around the country. Workers toil away inside their portable walls. They hang up photographs, calendars, and posters about perseverance. People working in open office spaces talk too much and grate on each other’s nerves. So, office managers utilize cubicles in an effort to keep distractions to a minimum.

Apparently, the state controller has an affinity for them, so during this, the worst economic crisis in California's history, Chiang is processing purchase orders for a million dollars worth of cubicles - for the state controller's office! (Maybe the workers are talking too much.)

It's a bit disingenuous to tell working people that their tax refunds are not forthcoming. No paying off bills or funding home improvement projects just yet. But John Chiang can authorize overdrawing the state’s checking account for CUBICLES.

I keep hearing that businesses are leaving California to escape high business taxes. So, wouldn’t they leave behind some cubicles that Chiang could exchange for tax credits? And what about the businesses that are going bankrupt in this desolate economy? Retail outlets, chain stores, and small businesses are calling it quits in record numbers. I bet Chiang could settle a number of tax debts by trading for previously-owned office cubicles with low mileage and only a few sporadic thumbtack holes.

Local governments are feeling the pinch of Chiang’s pennies. There won’t be a lot of money in the city’s coffers for parks and recreation, after-school programs, youth sports, or stuff like libraries and public swimming pools.

The direct result of the state’s fiscal irresponsibility is being felt, quite painfully, by local school districts. Unprecedented budget shortfalls are wreaking financial havoc in classrooms across the state.

The Wilsona School District, with three schools, is considering closing a campus, cutting 25 teachers, and eliminating most classified support staff. What would a million dollar cash infusion do for this little district? What could it do for the countless other schools in the same precarious situation?

It is more than disingenuous for the state controller to spend a million dollars on cubicles when a fraction of that money could save jobs and keep schools open and operating. With higher class sizes, a skeleton support staff, and fewer classroom resources, there are serious consequences for California’s school children.

So why does Chiang need cubicles? He needs to focus on what is truly important.

Schoolchildren don’t need cubicles either. They need teachers dedicated to the business of education and not distracted by the ridiculousness of cubicle-loving bureaucrats and the frightening prospect of unemployment.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My Bodybugg

I just love my Bodybugg. It is a device that keeps you honest. It tracks your steps and activities and lets you know how many calories you are burning. The accompanying computer program allows you to enter your food log and figure out if you are on track for weight loss, maintenance, or whatever your goal happens to be.

Here are some observations about the Bugg that I have been pondering:

Here are a few things I notice about my Bodybugg:

1. It likes to be clean. If I don't wipe it off every morning, it gets testy and reports that my metabolism belongs to a slug.

2. It is very egocentric. Once certain "goals" have been reached, you simply MUST wait for the readout to trumpet the feat TWICE. It does you no good to ask it to stop.

3. The bugg ignores cycling. It obviously prefers counting your steps and not the revolutions your thighs, buttocks, and calves make while riding a bicycle. It will count your calories, but only begrudgingly. An hour of cycling does nothing to increase your step count.

4. You can't wear it in the water. All that technology and it is not waterproof. Which means you never really know how many calories you burn swimming or participating in water fitness activities. You have to estimate just how vigorous your shower is - or take the program's word for it.


Revisiting a Core Value: Grampy and the CCC

Today's L.A. Times has an article about the original Civilian Conservation Corps, as developed by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The CCC was envisioned as a way to fix the heart and souls of American workers during the Great Depression. The end results included infrastructure that survives today, the nation's first freeway system, and work for the National Parks system.

My grandfather signed up for the CCC during the height of the Great Depression. Born to Indiana farmworkers in 1913, he was 20 years old when the family moved from the midwest to California, searching for a better life. At some point after the move, unable to find work locally, he signed up for the CCC and began the hard work of rebuilding the state's National Park system.

The L.A. Times article cites numerous recollections of former CCC workers. The work gave them pride, good food, and gainful employment. The fact that it was difficult did not play into the equation. The workers felt valuable and respected for the work they were doing.

The article goes on to suggest that reviving the CCC and its core principles is an idea worth considering today. This suggestion has given me pause.

My grandfather, Paul V. Earl, was in his early 20s when this photograph was taken. Having worked from the time he was a child, this CCC work came easily for him. He went on to marry in 1937, when he could afford it, and had a job with the United Parcel Service, which he supplemented with carpentry and cabinet work. Several years later, he became a Los Angeles City firefighter - having circumvented the height restriction by wearing lifts in his shoes. Being 5'7" tall did not prevent him from working over 30 years for the fire department.

I wonder if today's generation of young people who would benefit from a CCC program would be successful. This is a generation raised in front of the television and adept at video games, computer applications, and loitering around malls and movie theaters. This is a generation with too many members who do not bend over to pick up trash and seem to lack the work ethic that made my grandfather's cohorts what Tom Brokaw dubbed "The Greatest Generation."

Today's young retail workers seem, for the most part, to dislike the entire idea of WORK. They are satisfied with "good enough" and quickly change jobs when the requirements to actually put forth effort becomes too apparent. This is the generation who rarely dressed for P.E. unless they were in that special class known as "athletes."

My grandfather always supplemented his work as a firefighter with manual labor. He was rarely idle unless "practicing" for a night's sleep by taking a short nap after dinner. He made cabinets and was a skilled carpenter, called upon often during his lifetime to build, re-build, and repair. His table saw was always buzzing and I delighted in gathering the mounds of sawdust and repurposing it for my wild and imaginary play purposes. He took time to fashion for me slender wooden arrows that I could fling with a notched handle and promptly lose in the yard next door.

My husband and son both work retail and often recount the frustration they feel when having to compensate for the lack of effort put forth by other employees in their work environments. Dan spends time every single work day cleaning up the mess left behind by employees who refuse to put forth even a minimal effort to work as a team. My friend Dave, a fast food manager, wages a constant battle to keep employees and to keep their respective operations running smoothly. The work ethic, he complains, is just lacking.

How many times have we entered retail establishments and left dissatisfied because customer service seems an antiquated value from the past? Too often, I venture to guess.

Do I paint with a broad brush? Of course I do. There are many hardworking employees in retail too young to remember vinyl records and life without cell phones. But they are under-represented in today's workforce.

I think the Civilian Conservation Corps is a good idea and worth revisiting. But I have to chuckle since most of the teenagers I am familiar with are loathe to bend over and pick up a piece of trash that doesn't belong to them. There is a sense of entitlement that was reinforced by my generation of parents, in a misguided attempt to make our children strong and responsible human beings.

My grandfather's work ethic was a model for my father, who rarely missed work during his 30 year tenure with the phone company and years of communications consulting that followed. It was ingrained in me and my sister by our parents and passed along to our children. I can count on one hand the number of times my husband and sons have called in sick to work in the past decade. My nieces do not shun hard work.

My grandfather would be proud - but only to the extent that this is how it is supposed to be. We must work together as a nation to dig ourselves out of the mess that our country is mired in today. It will take hard work - is the generation with the most physical energy up to the task?

Are we?