Me vs. The PTA

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As many of you know, I’m the  Power-Hungry Art Coordinator for my kids’ elementary school. This is a form of indentured servitude, I mean…um…a volunteer position which is responsible for ensuring each classroom has an art docent.

An “art docent” in this context is a fancy term for an innocent and unsuspecting parent who tries to instill an appreciation of art history on a classroom who would rather be doing anything else, with the exception of math. According to the inside intelligence I get from my daily waterboardings of…I mean friendly debriefings of…my sixth grade daughter, no one likes math. (And Michaela is in love with Evan, who doesn’t like her back and there’s a whole bunch of drama. But that’s another story.) In fact, the only thing that kept her class of little weasels from pelting me with tomatoes when I was their art docent last year was the thought that if I actually walked out of the room, they would be back to doing fractions.

So, as an art docent you have to put up with a lot of crap. As the coordinator of the program you also have to put up with a lot of crap. Not just the flaky parents I complained about in the Power-Hungry Art Coordinator post, but as it turns out, the dreaded PTA. (For non US-residents, the PTA is the Parent Teacher Association.)

Now, I am not a huge PTA fan. The way I see it, I have a full time job and don’t have time for moms in yoga pants trying to get me to part with my money, my free time or both. Last year, the Art Docent Coordinator was a member of the PTA and that was it. I had to pony up the $8 PTA membership fee and I was left alone to do my job. This year, as it turns out, I have been elevated to a PTA Board member…and by “elevated”,  I really mean forced to wear yoga pants, attend monthly PTA meetings and smile.

As I was soon to find out, there were other implications to being a PTA Board member. Namely, I was expected to give monthly oral reports of the “progress” of my program to the Board. I was reminded of my monthly presentations to the risk committee at work. There was a minor difference, however. At work, I was paid.

I had a real dilemma. This art docent program is not like the usual PTA stuff with committees, fundraising and budgets. What the heck was I supposed to report on? How many parents actually got pelted with tomatoes vs. expected tomato peltage? I imagined it…”and Mrs. Jones only had 3 tomatoes thrown at her this year vs. the six she had to dodge last year. This marks a decrease of 50% in flying objects.” No, unfortunately this first meeting was before I would have any data on the tomatoes, since the lessons hadn’t actually begun yet; that report would have to wait a few months.

I figured I would simply give them a few bullet points on what I did, which was pretty boring. When the meeting finally arrived and I began speaking, this strategy seemed to work well. As I explained that I had single-handedly matched the volunteers to their classrooms and was going to have an orientation meeting for the new volunteers at my house, everyone smiled and nodded with enthusiasm. Wow, they were paying attention to this crap. It was then that I gained a false sense of security and made the cardinal corporate mistake…never, ever give a committee too much information. Just keep it very high level or you will find yourself in trouble.

Buoyed by their enthusiasm on my first two points, I ventured on to explain that I had also e-mailed all the teachers to let them know the dates of the art docent lessons and the name of their art docent. It was then that the room fell deadly silent. As I quickly learned from the PTA president, aka my second boss, I had severely broken protocol. Apparently I was not allowed to e-mail the teachers directly. At the point, I nearly fell out of my chair. WTF? I quickly pointed out that this had not been an issue last year, to which the president replied that the protocol had been in place for several years. She elaborated that this protocol was in place to make sure there weren’t any inadvertent “misunderstandings”…i.e. that I didn’t haul off and start offending teachers by e-mailing them information they probably wanted to  know.

One thing was for certain. I did not sign up for this. If I was going to be reprimanded for doing my job by a committee, it was going to be by an annoying bunch of people wearing skirts and suits, not by an annoying bunch of people wearing sundresses (or yoga pants) covered in kid snot.

At least  I knew what I was going to do for my next report…and it involved bringing a case of tomatoes. Now that’s breaking protocol!

 

 

Stupid (but mostly true) Story of Workplace Terror and a Stapler

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With Halloween rapidly approaching, it seemed like a good time to share this tale of workplace fright.

As many of you know, I work from home. However, I also have an office assigned to me in the nearest company location, which is about 45 minutes away with no traffic…but I live in California, which means that the window in which there is no traffic is between 10 pm and 4 am and, of course, the week between Christmas and the New Year. Outside of these times, the drive is about an hour and a half.

About a month or so into this job I decided to brave the commute to check out our location and the space allocated to me…and print every document I could think of. C’mon folks, a crappy home printer is no match for an industrial machine that prints a 35 page document in a matter of seconds. (It takes Ole’ Bessie at home about a minute per page.) Oh yeah, and the last part of my mission was to kidnap a stapler. You never know how much you need a stapler until you go without one. This working from home gig is not for the faint of heart.

As I soon found out, my company occupies 2 floors of an 8 story building. (I did not know this before, because I had interviewed at our headquarters which are located in another state and had never visited this location prior to this fateful day.) Arriving at the entrance to our suites I knew something wasn’t right. It was extremely quiet. This was due to the fact that with the exception of the security guard, there was no one in sight. I turned right to go search for my office and ran smack into the facilities manager, whom I’ll call Igor. Igor had shifty eyes and a nervous habit of wringing his hands. He put on his best friendly voice, which was still faint and ghoulish, and asked me if I wanted a tour of the facility. Who could say no to a personal tour with Igor? What was he going to do…kill me? I laughed at that thought and quickly agreed.

As we walked down the hallway, things took a truly creepy turn. We passed rows and rows of deserted cubicles and not one other live human being. As we continued on I could hear the buzzing of copiers and fax machines, as they waited patiently for someone to press the button. The coffee machine had sputtered to life but there was no one there to drink the coffee. I wondered if I was being punked. I get this feeling often at work and figured this time it had to be real.

We turned a corner passed more empty cubicles, and then entered into one of several conference rooms Igor would show me, each larger and more elegant than the last. I finally broke down and asked him if anyone actually worked in this office. He was oddly surprised by my question and exclaimed that people did in fact work in this office…just not on the day I chose to visit.

Not to get too hyperbolic here, but it was at this point that I lost my marbles. This place was like the big deserted hotel in the movie “The Shining.” Similar to “The Shining’s” protagonist who went crazy and tried to kill his family, I was pretty sure Igor had gone crazy and killed all the other employees. Thoughts frantically filled my mind. Was I bound to be next? Did HR know what had happened here? All I wanted was a pleasant visit to what I thought was a normal office location and a stapler. Instead it looked like I might have to actually test out my karate training in the real world. I was definitely not ready for this.

I tried to stay calm as he showed me to my office and hung around to make sure everything was “working alright.” As soon as he left I shut the door and locked it. I figured I’d stay long enough to print my stuff and secure the stapler. After that, I was outta there.

After several minutes the lights started flickering, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound. I was certain the ghosts of the slain employees were trying to warn me to get out before Igor came back with an ax. That was it, my nerves were shot. I grabbed my stuff and ran as quickly as I could to the lobby and out the door to the nearest Starbucks with wifi.

And that’s why I still don’t have a stapler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PowerPoint Purgatory (and Appraisals)

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I spend a great deal of my work life creating PowerPoint presentations. In fact PowerPoint is my main tool of communication. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes in PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

I have determined that to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

On a rare occasion, I am able to leave PPP for a day to obtain some insight into company operations. Recently I spent a day reviewing residential property appraisals. While this may sound boring, I assure you there was plenty of excitement to be had. In fact, based on this experience, I learned some important points to consider before refinancing my mortgage:

1. If you want to make sure the staff is awake, don’t flush the toilet before the appraiser comes to take pictures. A good toilet picture will have a more lasting effect than coffee.

2. If you have so much junk that the appraiser cannot physically get into your house, you might want to first consider renting a storage locker.

3. If at all possible, remove the bicycle hanging from the basketball hoop. This may not affect the value of the property but will probably confuse the review staff who will have to figure out which way to hold the picture.

4. If you’ve converted your Home Depot garden shed to a kitchen/bedroom/bathroom, you probably won’t get credit for the additional square footage.

Now, I think I’ll go put these tips in PowerPoint.

Adventures in House Hunting Hell: A Tale From the Archives

Several years ago, Thomas and I embarked on our first house hunting journey. We had decided we had had enough of trying to cram all of our (kids’) junk into 1350 square feet (125 square meters for my non-American audience.) We figured if we didn’t act soon, we might be approached to appear on “Hoarders.” However, rather than get rid of unnecessary belongings, we decided to consider the more reasonable option  – buy a bigger house.

The first house we made an appointment to view was highly promising – 5 bedrooms, remodeled kitchen, pool, palm tree out front: the California dream. As we drove to the house to meet the realtor, I felt the excitement brewing inside me. Finally, we’d have space for all of our stuff, the kids could have their own rooms, I could float on a raft in the pool after putting up the Christmas tree – the day dreams were endless.

As we toured our dream house, we found a few things were slightly different than expected. The bedrooms were a little on the small side, except for the large downstairs bedroom which had apparently been “upgraded” into a bonus room. That was ok, though, since half of the garage had been converted to the fifth bedroom. It would have been helpful to see this garage/bedroom, however, this part of the home would have to be bought sight unseen; the occupant was taking a nap and could not be disturbed.

While I was wondering if the garage inhabitant was included in the price of the house, Thomas was being attacked by swarming gnats next to the pool. A quick look over the backyard wall revealed the source of the infestation – a massive storm drain. The owner, for her part, made a valiant attempt to convince us that in all her time living there she’d never been seen these kamikaze gnats. I have a feeling those gnats and their cousins in the front yard would be offended by that statement. Actually, the gnats weren’t the only backyard surprise. While some sellers entice prospective buyers with the scent of freshly baked cookies in the kitchen, we were treated to the smell of freshly laid dog poop. We decided to keep looking.

It turns out all was not lost. A few days later we found another home that looked like a good match: four bedrooms, new flooring, big backyard and no storm drain. As we pulled up, we noticed the extra-wide driveway.  This would be perfect for Thomas, whose true dream is to park a broken down RV in the driveway and use it as a “man-cave.” He came up with this idea after realizing that no room at home is safe from the girls and their Barbies. Now that I think about it, maybe we can both move into the RV and let the girls have the house.

Unfortunately our RV fantasy was not meant to be. All the pavement in the front and backyard of the house was severely cracked, meaning the RV would probably sink underground with the next earthquake. On the other hand, a subterranean bunker could be useful I suppose. As we entered the property, the realtor explained to us that investors who were flipping this foreclosure had put in brand new flooring.  These investors were definitely family minded – the carpet was a familiar color that can only be described as “Already Dirty – Gray”. This was a good trick to help the prospective buyer’s budget. After all, if your new carpet already looked like the kids had roughed it up, then there was no point in ever cleaning it, right? That’s how you stay ahead of the game.

The garage offered its own dilemma; not only was there room for only one appliance (leaving us to debate whether the washer or the dryer was more important) but the smell of gas was overpowering. It was so strong that I quickly ushered everyone out for fear any escaping remnants of our Cajun dinner might torpedo us to outer space.  The gnats were starting to look better.  Yet, before I could pitch the benefits of gnats and garage-living to Thomas, common sense slowly took over.  It looked like we would need to forget the RV for now. Thomas would just have to put up a tent in the garden.  Besides I had just gone through a labor-intensive move at work… from the coat closet I was squatting in to a full-sized office down the hall. I would need to recover before I could start thinking about packing boxes again.

EPILOGUE: Two years later we found the strength to once again attempt to find a house. This time, with a bit of patience, nail biting, anti-depressants, alcohol and good luck we did eventually find a gnat-free house without a gas leak or random dude living in the garage. More on that story to come later…

Trends I Hate…Yes, I’m Old

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In my last post,  I discussed Signs You’ve Hit Middle Age. I recently realized that I left out one important sign…namely, that you are irritated by stupid trends. The following ridiculous trends aren’t even new; they’ve just gotten on my nerves long enough that I finally had to vent my supreme annoyance.

  1. Healthy Juice Bars. Unfortunately for this country, “healthy juicing” has taken over. Goodbye Jamba Juice and your affordable, sugar-laden, strawberry smoothie. You have been replaced by Nekter, the detoxifying, cleansing juice bar and its prohibitively expensive foodie crap. One such example is the Tropical Cooler, which is billed as “a puree of spinach, kale, and flavorless gourmet tropical shit, for douchebags like you.” Having recently been a douchebag who tried the Tropical Cooler, take my advice here and save your ten bucks. Instead, throw 2 cups of grass and weeds from your front lawn into a blender with 3 cups of water from your pool. The result looks and tastes the same. (Party tip: When serving to guests at your birthday luau, pour into a Tiki tumbler for added authenticity.)

 

  1. Birthday parties…for dogs. What the heck is wrong with people? It’s not enough to organize a killer bash with clowns, ponies and a snow cone machine for your one-year old who will sleep through half of it. Now you have to put party hats on your pets?

 

  1. Sleeping babies. For some reason, I am the only parent whose babies didn’t immediately sleep through the night. In fact, my newborns both woke up every 2-3 hours for weeks on end, the inconsiderate little brats. I suppose it’s my fault, though. If I had been gluten-free when nursing, my kids would have been better able to digest the milk, resulting in a fuller feeling and hours of peaceful sleep.

 

  1. Starbucks in Europe. Americans have figured out a way to take European coffee, add some quasi-Italian words, reverse engineer the espresso making process so it actually takes three times longer, and then sell it back to the Europeans at a higher price. As disappointing as this is, I guess I can’t completely hate Starbucks  – not only do they bring us the eggnog latte, but they are probably responsible for making coffee across America drinkable.

 

  1. Gender Reveal Parties. Millennial friends of mine, I love you, but knock it off. Just go to the ultrasound, find out the gender of your baby and call your mom. No one else is relishing in the suspense as much as you are. If you have to be trendy and insist on making everyone you know digest something to find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl, give them a blue or pink Tropical Cooler.

Signs You’ve Hit Middle Age

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How do I use this thing?
This post is for all you Generation X’ers like me. You can no longer hide from middle age. Trust me, I tried. That said, if you exhibit any of the below signs, don’t be completely depressed. There is hope….see number 11.

1. They remake your favorite movie from 7th grade, “The Karate Kid.” You refuse to see the new version, insisting the original version was better. C’mon people, you can’t beat Mr. Miyagi!

2. Speaking of movies, you saw the original Star Wars when it first came out in the theater.  You rub this in your kids’ faces to make them think you’re cool.

3. It doesn’t work.

4. While giving a presentation at the office, everyone on the other side of the room is fuzzy. Since those same people all put on their reading glasses to refer to the handout, at least you’re in good company.

5. You can’t figure out how to use your iPhone to actually call someone. To be fair it isn’t easy; unlike your home phone, it takes at least 4 steps to place a call.

6. You still have a home phone.

7. Your kids figure out how to use your iPhone’s camera without first entering in the password. You didn’t even know that was possible until you discover the inappropriate pictures they took of you in the department store dressing room.

8. You can’t figure out why your kids watch YouTube instead of good, old-fashioned TV. Instead of hours of  mind-numbing cartoons, they watch people playing with toys.  That’s what’s wrong with today’s generation!

9. You nearly get into a physical altercation with the doctor’s assistant when she measures your height and insists you’re an inch shorter. You’re definitely too young to be shrinking. At this rate, you’ll be down to four feet by the time you’re 70 (that’s 122 centimeters for my two, loyal non-U.S. readers).

10. When you recover from the shock, you wonder if you should start hair spraying your bangs up high again like you did in high school in the 80’s. That should give you another inch or two.

11. You start hanging out with fiftysomethings whose issues with persistent chin hair and curling eyebrows make you feel young. Besides, they don’t know how to use their iPhones either.

 

 

British Airways, Will You Marry Me?

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British Airways (“BA”) you are one of a kind. Not many people are fans of the airlines these days, but you are special. Your beautiful spirit has captured my heart  (to the extent possible when one is crammed into a tiny seat with no legroom for 10 hours).

And how do I love thee? To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways…

1. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height   

Your Airbus 380 double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet airliner is the world’s largest passenger airliner, with a body so luxurious and perfectly sized that I can fit in the  bathroom without having to suck in my gut and grease the door frame.

2.My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight   

When I leave my seat to partake in your luxurious bathroom and suddenly in my absence both my kids start throwing up simultaneously, you are there with a kind smile, barf bags, warm towelettes and garment stain remover wipes. You even escorted my third-class kid to privately vomit in the exclusive first-class bathroom. Suck it, United Airlines. Barfing isn’t nearly as fun with you.

3. For the ends of Being and ideal Grace   

You gave me wine that I didn’t even ask for. On both the initial and return flights! Doesn’t get more ideal than that.

4. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light

As it turns out, every day’s most quiet need is an inflight entertainment system with which every seat, even those in the Economy (aka “poor person”) section, is equipped. This fabulous private entertainment system not only includes dozens of free movies and TV shows but also modern versions of Atari game favorites like Space Invaders and Asteroids…not to mention the ability to instant message other passengers you don’t know and are probably sleeping. (This IM thing is a key selling point to Millennials and anyone sitting across the aisle from a dude who took off his shoes and needs to be gently informed that his feet are stinking out the cabin.)

5. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right

If my literary analysis is correct, this line has to do with willing and intense love, which is exactly what I felt when I tasted your delectable gourmet entrees including savory chicken, mouth-watering polenta and dessert pudding which, as correctly described on the package, was an “indulgent blend of milk and dark chocolate infused with fresh orange zest.” Again, people, I was in ECONOMY CLASS.

6.I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

Pure British accents…need I say more?

7. I love thee with the passion put to use

I am so passionate that from now on I’ll plan my vacations around where BA flies. I may not even get off the airplane – I’ll just fly back and forth for a week.

So, BA, what do you say? Will you marry me?