Month: October 2001

  • Speaking of webcams, click this link to keep the X10 wireless “pop-behind” windows from appearing on your browser for 30 days:

  • The webcam lies! I’m moving my desk to the 2nd floor. A few weeks after that, I’ll be moving to the 5th floor of my office. I’m not sure when I’ll have the webcam back up.

  • Unlike most not-for-profit corporations, the New York Blood Center has a computerized call center, and they know how to use it. I have mixed feelings about this. After giving platelets two weeks ago, I got another call — I was eligible to give again! (Unlike whole blood donation, you can give platelets every 48 hours, up to a maximum of 24 times a year.) I tried once again to get them to demote me to giving whole blood, trotting out my O negative blood type that I used to be so proud of, but they weren’t having any of that — they wanted platelets. So I made an appointment for 7:30 AM this morning — when I made the appointment on Monday, I thought that I might be out of a job at the end of the week, and would need something to get me out of the house.

    The apharesis process was a lot easier this time, mostly because the science-fiction novelty of the two-arm donation machine had worn off and I wanted to have a hand free to read a book, scratch my nose, and talk on the phone. So they hooked me up to the brand-spanking new “Amicus 2000 Plateletpheresis processor”, which takes and returns blood through a single needle plugged into a twining sheaf of tubes and bags. I was having a good time when the needle went in, but then the small collection bags just upstream of the needle in my arm started filling up. One rested on my upturned forearm, and I was startled to feel that it was hot, from the warmth of my fresh blood filling the bag, fresh blood that had just been inside of me! EEEEEwwww!

    So all in all, I feel that the donation was worth it, for that story. I have been Gross-Out King for A Day at work. I can’t wait to go back again. Even if I wanted to.

  • [My employer] laid off about 20% of its workforce today. In the New York office, roughly 100 out of 350 people were let go. My particular corner of the [A client] account has been very slow for several weeks, so I’ve been operating under the assumption that I was going to be let go. I’ve been updating my resume, canceling my Netflix account, even picking out new hobbies.

    I was right about one thing — my department couldn’t continue to afford me. However, I got something of a special deal. [CEO NAME], the CEO of [My employer], is an alumnus of Bain & Company, one of the very top-tier consulting firms. He’s involved with a lot of charitable organizations, including the Bridgespan group, an arm of Bain that provides reduced-cost consulting to not-for-profit companies. The deal is that I’ll take a pay cut, then get “donated” to Bridgespan for at least six months. During the six months, I’ll be doing technology consulting for Bridgespan’s not-for-profit clients. At the end of the assignment, I return to my job at [My employer] and full pay.

    I’m really psyched — my freelance work makes the offer easy to accept, I don’t lose career momentum, I get to work in not-for-profit again, and I get to work through a Big Five consulting firm, in a group that Bain consultants clamor to join. This is one hell of an alternative to getting laid off.

  • I’m struggling for the words to describe what I’ve seen this weekend, and I’m coming up short. I guess I’ll have to lead up to it.

    Kate and I have been taking ballroom dance lessons for about a year now, on and off, and we keep telling ourselves that we should really get out and practice. There aren’t that many places to practice, though. There are swing clubs, which is not my thing, and there’s Latin clubs, which are fantastic, but where do you go when you want to practice the waltz?

    On the spur of the moment, then, Kate and I piled into the car and did Google search on my iPaq. Twenty-five minutes later, we pulled off the turnpike into Levittown. Ten minutes after that, we were rolling through a double row of abandoned drive-through liquor stores and pancake houses; we locked the car doors. Five more minutes, and the strip mall parking lots on either side were choked with weeds.

    Five minutes after that, and we had arrived at the Paso Doble Ballroom. We locked the car (the only Ford in a sea of Lincoln Town Cars), and walked through the door, huddled together for protection.

    The room is colossal, enormous, endless, a giant square with a suspended ceiling painted black. Half the room is filled with round tables, seven feet in diameter, eight seats to a table, covered in red tablecloths, forty or fifty tables in all. The floor is carpeted with red nubbly carpeting, in the “wrinkly brain” pattern popular in the late seventies. The carpet is old, ground down, and smells a little mildewy. The carpet extends up the walls all the way to the ceiling, where projectors hang, shining bizarre, unrelated images onto the carpeted wall-panels:

    • An undulating sixties flower pattern
    • A clown with an umbrella, alternating with the cursive motto “Best Wishes!”
    • A rotating scene of a scuba diver tethered to a submarine, the submaring fighting with a giant squid, the squid being attacked by the diver, round and round.

    The entire room is festooned with Christmas garland, wrapped in white Christmas lights, draped with tinsel. There are thousands of feet of garland, hundreds of thousands of lights. Mark Twain, in describing the cathedral of Saint Paul, tells a story about an army regiment of ten thousand men that arrived early for mass. They fit so neatly into one cavernous apse that their commanding officer, arriving late, failed to find his men; he thought they hadn’t arrived!

    That story describes the Paso Doble ballroom’s dance floor, a vast sea of canadian maple, NINE THOUSAND SQUARE FEET in size. Let me say that again: NINE THOUSAND SQUARE FEET. Nine thousand square feet of dance floor, host to twenty or thirty eighty-year-olds dancing the rhumba, shaking their asses in the merengue, wearing matching two-tone ballroom dance uniforms, smiling the unmistakable vaseline smiles of the Professional Ballroom Dancer Wannabe. All this freakiness, all this octegenarian mojo was spread thinly on the colossal polished expanse of this endless wooden acre, surrounded by mildewed carpet, festooned with Christmas garden, decorated with Scuba divers.

    How can I tell you all about it? How can I make sense of the toupees, the comb-overs that started at the base of the neck, the saxophonist on crutches, the toothpicked jalapeno cheese cubes at the snack bar? How can I make you understand my feelings when Headband Man galloped across the floor with his partner in the Meringue, porn-spanking her the entire distance? Or how I felt when I saw them head the other way, except now Headband Man’s partner was porn-spanking him back?

    God help us. God help us all.

  • My paternal grandfather and my dad both were fox hunters; in fact, the Whitford hunt is what brought my grandfather out from Philadelphia on the weekends, and is how he met my grandmother. It’s also how he came across Arrandale, the estate that he persuaded his father to buy and renovate, which is the place where I grew up.

    Fox hunting in Chester county always seemed to fit in with my idea of the area. Like Emma Woodhouse’s Highfield, Chester County was home to the gentry, but it was country gentry, — what the Philadelphia Inquirer society column referred to as the “Chester County Smart Set.” (One society page reports Kate’s grandmother accepting a twenty-dollar bet to dive into the swimming quarry fully dressed. She does, “…ribbons flying prettily”, but only collects four dollars.) By the time I was a kid, the salad days had passed; the powerful McIlvaine clan had sold off their large tracts of land, and the Philadelpia industrial corridor had started to reach out past the end of the Main Line.

    So I was excited when Kate’s parents invited us to join the Skycastle French Hounds, a rabbit hunt in Chester county conducted on foot with a pack of french basssets (called “fuzzies”, I think.) I’m not sure whether rabbit hunts coexisted with fox hunts, or whether rabbit hunts took over once the land became built up and unsuitable for riding. My dad remembers one long run straight from Downingtown to Paoli: a straight run over unbroken country then, fifteen miles of strip malls and developments now. Anyhow, almost all of the trappings of a fox hunt seem to be present at a rabbit hunt: handlebar mustaches, brass horns, and silver tea sets are all evident in profusion. Just check out the dress code for the hunt staff and “whippers-in”:

    • Black hunt cap
    • Green hunt coat with crimson collar and hunt buttons
    • White shirt with stock
    • Canary westcoat with hunt buttons
    • White trousers with dark green knee socks and leather boots
    • A lash or thong whip, no longer than a yard and a half.

    For a fellow hooked on G.A. Henty books and Flashman novels, a fellow whose stated ambition this spring was to find an occasion to wear a pith helmet (which I never did, by the way), a fellow who wore his grandfather’s evening scarlet to high school graduation, this rocks! I’m walking in the steps of my ancestors, especially my maternal great-grandfather Lardner Howell, whom my grandfather once described as a “howling swell.”

  • Batten down the hatches…?

    The rumors are flying thick and fast at [My employer] about another round of layoffs, and it’s hard not to get rattled by it. Which, I guess, is why I’m rattled by it. Even though I’m not in any danger of sleeping on the street, (or even moving back in with parents), even though horrible things have happened in the past month here in New York that make me glad just to be alive, even though I still have a great freelance job on the side, the possibility of getting let go is really scary. I remember learning rock climbing, tied in to a harness, top-roped and belayed by an instructor, barely eight feet off the ground — falling still felt like I was going to die. The last few seconds while I was clinging to the wall was the worst part, actually: the fall itself wasn’t bad at all (except for the wedgie.)

    I’m not sure if I hope that will turn out to be an applicable metaphor.