Friday, October 30, 2009

Instant Coffee

Good coffee, There is a process to it. And you have to wait. You first smell the beans while they are ground, then the smell and feel of seeping and steam, and then finally the taste. Instant coffee, you get the taste sooner, and it may be good for a sip or two, but you really should have waited for the good stuff to brew.

Coffee is such a simple thing, and it's a staple to most Americans. (Not me, but that's not the point here.) And yet, so many people still pick the instant stuff when there are better things out there.

The recent introduction of the Starbucks brand instant coffee is a perfect example. I've heard -- though I cannot find a link now ('cause I'm not looking, really...) that in the rest of the country, the taste-tests have been mostly quite positive. In New York, however, not so much. In New York, you can get a better cup of coffee that has at least had a couple more steps than "just add water!" in how it's been made, and it's waiting for you so you get it nearly isntantly. As a result, Starbucks instant coffee has been getting quite negative reviews here.

But the problem is that this attitude has gone beyond coffee.

We're all about instant gratification -- myself included. Hopeless romantics are only hopeless because they are too romantic to go beyond a first date when a click isn't instant.

Patience no longer exists in the northeast. The only thing people here will wait for is the next pitch during the playoffs. Outside of the baseball diamond, nobody is willing to put in an extra second, or an extra ounce of work. We all want that perfect job to come right along, that perfect employee, the perfect relationship, the perfect shoe on the first try. And when we find one that feels great from the first second, we take it. And if it feels okay, we toss it aside forgetting that tough leather needs to be broken in. And then they are the greatest shoes you've ever owned, and that before pretty designs hit the sky, the fuse of the fireworks has to be lit.

I'm mixing metaphors, many times over, but I'm sure you get the point.

And if you don't want to weed through the metaphors to figure it out, here it is: Sometimes a little work and patience is worth it.

In other words: Smell the beans, then make the coffee. Micro-ground powder is not a bean. After all, nobody's ever said, "You have to try this instant coffee! It's amazing!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Things I've learned while looking for a job

I've been unemployed for a week now. My final paycheck came in the mail yesterday and I think my replacement may finally have figured out the last few things such that I won't be getting daily emails from her anymore.

In this week, I've still managed to stay quite busy, with interviews and meetings and lunches with friends and general activities to keep me from realizing I'm unemployed. (Tomorrow is no different, but I think Tuesday is the day I'll start to actually feel unemployed, so I need to start thinking of activities to do to get me out of my apartment at least once a day to stave off unemployment-depression...)

But in my first week of unemployment, I've actually learned quite a few things.

I've learned that I really like wearing nice clothing. My life's goal is a job where wearing a suit is normal...or at least nice pants, a blazer, and a tie. (In fact, if my next job is merely an administrative assistant position, I'm going to set the precedent that I am the guy who comes in wearing a blazer 3-4 days a week, unlike before when I started doing that a few months in and always got the "special plans after work?" questions.)

That my people-skills will get me halfway to wherever it is I'm going. (Side-story: I once said to Mark, my first restaurant manager, that I was scared of being a musician because of employment and bills, and he told me that if I could get myself in the door for an interview, I could wow anyone. Of course, he also warned that that doesn't mean I'll get jobs, but I'll at least get chances to get jobs...)

That if your resume says you type 95 WPM, you better be able to do that on a slightly-off day, too.(I hit 92 earlier in the week at a temp agency, under pressure, and was given an all-in-good-fun hard time about lying on my resume. Had I hit only 80 or 85, I think the reaction would have been much harsher.)

That being young is a disadvantage only if you act your age. Wearing a tie and exuding confidence is a good way to avoid being seen as young.

That you never decline an interview. Even if it's in a field you really don't belong, interviews are good experience. And sometimes if you're on the fence, the interview will push you one way or the other. Not to mention the fact that a positive interview for a field you shouldn't be in could be a great networking opportunity!

There's no telling how long this unemployment will last, but I'm completely certain that it will be longer than my parents would like it to be, shorter than I fear it will be, and filled with valuable lessons and experiences that I would have no other way of getting. That, and a few matinee movies. Free Tuesday movies at select theaters in Manhattan, here I come!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Listening to the old folks

This past weekend, I was at a favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery this weekend on the Lower East Side. (Best Vietnamese sandwiches EVER! They also have wine, beer, coffee, and it turns out, really wonderful M&M cookies. Kinda glad I was waiting for someone and the kitchen was closed on Saturday! But anyway...)

I had no idea that this place, in a neighborhood that's part slum, part Chinatown, and part old-world Lower East Side, was a hangout for old Jews on Saturday afternoons. Outside, on the first day that I was wearing a jacket all year, there were 15-20 elderly Jews, all friends, all talking. Come to think of it, i don't think they had actually bought anything from the shop, they just loitered in their sidewalk seats, completely unbothered.

As a people-watcher, I love to watch people interact and make up their stories, filling in whatever gaps aren't readily apparent. But this was a gold mine, as I didn't have to guess anything, they said it all.

I zeroed in on two white-haired men. One was emptying the entire contents of his wallet on the small table -- a risky move considering the steady breeze. Included were business cards with handwritten phone numbers on the reverse side, credit cards, his ID, and black-and-white photographs. He was carefully examining the contents while the other man spoke.

The first man started examining his photographs, looking lovingly, as he carried on conversation. The second man spoke. He had the raspy voice of someone who has had a long life and loves to talk about it, and the confidence in tone of someone who was clearly the dominant figure in the relationship.

"I don't know how people survive 10 years in prison. I couldn't survive 10 hours," he said. The other man looked up from his photo, confused. "I never told you about this? I was young and I had no idea what was happening. I was just in the truck. I wasn't driving. I didn't know it was stolen!" He continued to tell stories of the pair of shoes he had just been given that he was wearing and the minority men were eyeing them. (Oh, the colorful language of the actual story that I feel uncomfortable typing...) "I told them that if they wanted the shoes, they'd have to pry them off my cold, dead feet. They woulda done it, too, had I not gotten the hell out of there!"

The men continued their conversation with unashamed cultural observations about prison, the neighborhood, and anything else that came to mind in ways that were both insensitive and more honest than you will ever hear people now in this politically correct and culturally "sensitive" world that is the Northeast United States.

Another man walked by and asked how Pauly was doing. "Oh, you didn't hear? He died on Thursday night. The funeral's tomorrow." Discussion about the burial plans ensued. "They're cremating Pauly?" "Wow. Do you think that's what he wanted?" "I dunno. It could be money. But his uncle and aunt were cremated. His mother, though, she's in a box."

Allow me to step outside the narrative for one moment. There's something about watching old men discuss mortality that is oddly comforting. These men, who have seen their contemporaries start to drop, seem so comfortable with it. They clearly know that one of them is going to be the last, and everyone seems okay with it. I almost assume they have a pool going, and to the winner goes the box of unopened Cubans from well before they were illegal.

This led to the talkative man calling a friend on the wallet-explorer's phone to tell of Pauly's death.

"Hello, Marty."
"It's Marty!"
"You only know one Marty, I thought!"
"Yes, I know it's your name, too. It's my name, also."
"What do you mean Marty who? You've only known me for 64 years."
"Yes. Yes, Marty. It's Marty!"
"Pauly died..."

The conversation continued, but at this point, Marty realized I was there and knew everything. In the same way that this man so bluntly spoke unapologetically and uncaringly before, he looked at me and said, "I cannot believe he doesn't know me! I hang out with a bunch of old men!" He then told me to sit because it was better for my back. He pulled up a chair and had me sit at the table next to him.

He continued his conversation. I got cold and wanted hot chocolate, so I went inside.

There was no "goodbye" or "have a nice day." In fact, while I tried to give him a glance and a nod, he ignored me, went back to looking at wallet photographs, and discussing shoes.

I've got a feeling that Marty's the one who's going to get a box of cigars when all is said and done. And he'll be okay with that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Conversation Starters

Goodnight, ladies and gentleman!

Yeah -- okay. That doesn't work. And I don't think it ever will. But that's been a big topic of debate over the last few years of my life.

So back in my days of being a restaurant host, times of day and what to call them were always in question. When I worked lunch shifts, someone always yelled if I said "good morning" at 12:05 or "good afternoon" at 11:55. (I tried "Good Mid-day" a few times, but that just didn't work. Usually, I said "good morning" too late and when someone corrected me, I would say, "It's morning somewhere!") It was consensus that evenings begin at 5 PM, and before that "good afternoon" was still appropriate. But the problem came when people would enter the restaurant past, say 7 or 8 PM.

Fast forward to tonight, when the debate continued, this time with new parties: the two musicians who came into the subway car I was in at 11:52 PM and sat down. The one who did the talking said "goodnight, ladies and gentlemen of New York!" and one man returned the goodnight. The performer ranted for a minute about manners and how nobody returned the goodnight. I told him that I felt goodnight was an ending, and that I would say goodnight when they were done and left, but not before. "So what would you say?" "I'm not sure. Maybe good evening? Maybe just 'how are you all tonight?' I'm not entirely sure." "Have you ever travelled outside New York City?" "Plenty!" "Haven't you noticed people say goodnight there?" "Not that start of a conversation!"

Ultimately, they played. The man who spoke played two congas and sang "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" (the Bob Marley tune) while the other accompanied on guitar. They walked around, I gave them a couple bucks, and said "goodnight" and smiled.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I'll miss about my job

Well, I'm officially no longer employed -- though if things go as planned, that won't last long. I most certainly made the right decision leaving, but there are a number of things I will miss.

Of course there's the people -- both the production staff and the support staff, from mail room to reception to archives to the custodian who I can understand 45% of what he says.

But more than anything, I'm a creature of habit and I'll miss the fact that the last 2 weeks, 7 of 10 morning commutes have been on the train with the same crew (with the man with the best voice I've ever heard on a subway) and I even sat next to the same man 3 of them. I'll miss my breakfast cart man and my glazed doughnut (though I wish he didn't sell out of the chocolate covered before I got there), and I'll miss the lunch place where the owner gives me the occasional free fruit and wants to open a wine bar when he's done selling lunch to business folk.

I'll miss my desk -- the closest one to the cafeteria, which I think is the best location because of the near-weekly leftovers that I get the first crack at. I'll miss having a space of my own that I'm paid to be at rather than paying for. I'll miss being closest to the printer and starting conversations with people as they wait, or helping people who have powerpoint formatting issues -- the parts of my job that aren't actually part of my job. I'll miss the one girl who never engaged in conversation, even though I always tried to make eye contact while she was at the printer or passing in the hallway and she would look away. I'll even miss the little TVs in the elevator that gave me my gossip news.

I guess in the end, nostalgia takes over. Whether experiences are positive or negative -- and this particularly one was mostly positive -- there's always a sadness to endings...and a scariness to new beginnings.

But that's another story.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Training my replacement

I've been training my replacement at WNYC. It's an odd feeling to train the person who will effectively be you mere days away, and this is the fourth (or fifth, depending on how you count) time that I'm doing it.

It's not just odd because of the feeling of finality and ending, but it's a weird balance of wanting the new person to succeed as well as wanting to be missed. I can't say I'm sad to leave. I can't say I'm excited to be training my replacement. I probably can't say I'm being fully thorough -- but that's not on purpose, that's just because I cannot think of what she needs to be trained on and know that she'll learn it all by doing it an asking questions, which I've already expressed that I'll be willing to answer remotely.

Perhaps the hardest thing about training someone is the fact that by the time training comes along, you've (almost) always mentally checked out of the job by that point. (In my five times training replacements, this has been true four of the five. The odd one out was at camp, when I knew before summer began that I was leaving, so I spent the whole summer pointing out the little things. Ultimately, the person I'd picked to replace me had to replace someone else so it was a futile training, but, y'know...not the point.) Once mentally checked out, it's very hard to get excited about day-to-day tasks, or even remember most of them.

But I'll do my best. Not necessarily out of loyalty, or out of doing what's right, or because I've been asked to and it's still my job for another few days, but because of karma. Others will train me, and some of those others will be people I've replaced. And I hope they'll give me the same good-faith effort I'm giving my replacement.

Because as much as on-the-job training is important, it's nice to have a little warning.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Second Guessing

Those of you who know me, know that if I'm good at one thing, it's over-thinking. If I'm good at two things, it's over-thinking and baking brownies. But if it's THREE things, it's over-thinking, baking brownies, and second guessing myself.

I manage to second guess almost everything in my life -- from the things I do ('Should I really have quit my job?' 'Was it a mistake to agree to take on this extra project when I don't have time for myself?' 'Really? A basketball league? With MY knee?') to the things I don't do ('Why didn't I give her my number?!' 'I should have hung around at that jam session a little longer.' 'Was it something I said?' 'Should I have kissed her?') and even, somehow, I manage to second guess myself about a third category, and that's the things I thought about. (Yeah -- you know it's bad when you second-guess your own thoughts and emotions...)

Even though I second guess myself and over-think, and even wallow perhaps a bit too much, I have gotten good at conquering the first category of those second-guessings. I still question what I've done, but I've come to accept that life does not have a rewind button. Every day, I live my old boss's words of, "Everyone makes mistakes; it's how you fix them." I've come to accept moving on and getting over it. (Easier said than done, as anyone who's had to listen to me the last 2 weeks knows.)

It's that middle genre I need work on. For years I've been talking about taking chances and not regretting the things I don't do, because I should do them when I see the opportunity to. I don't want to look back and regret something, especially when I know in the moment that I have the chance and I should take it.

I guess what I'm saying is a 2+ year old message. It's time for me to buy a damn lottery ticket already.

I guess what I'm saying is:
You don't know who you are yet, I might not know who you are yet, but you're getting my number, and you're calling me.

I'll take it from there.