Unsung bhodisatva of the token booth

I take the six train uptown to work every morning, getting off at 23rd street. The train picks me up at Spring street almost empty, and stays that way through Bleecker and Astor Place. At 14th street, though, a giant rush of commuters gets on the train, rides one stop north, and disembarks en masse for a giant bottleneck at the 23rd street turnstiles. There’s jostling, pushing, muttered curses, and if it’s raining there’s a mad umbrella free-for-all.


The best way to handle the rush is to get up at Bleecker street after the doors close and stand facing the doors on the local side. That way, when the commuters pack in from the express side, you’re walled in facing the right direction, up against the door, ready to squirt out of the car like a watermelon seed. Additionaly, if you do this at the first door of the third subway car, you come out facing the service gate. The service gate is a hinged gate in the bars next to the turnstiles, which the token booth attendant can open to let strollers through. The one at 23rd street is broken; if you’re fast, you can nip out of the train, through the gate, and up the stairs five crucial seconds in front of everyone else. No shuffling! No jostling! It’s alee-alee-in-come-free until the MTA fixes the gate! Sometimes, when I go by, I like to look at the token booth clerk glowering as I dash up the stairs. Ha ha, look at the vanguard escaping the fray!


At least, that’s what I though until this morning, when I finally realized that the beeping sound I always heard in the split second before squirting out of the train and through the gate was the beeping noise made when the token booth clerk manually opens the gate. All this time, the clerk had been consciously creating a loophole to help fix the bottleneck! Chagrined, I looked over at the guy glowering at me and mouthed a “thank you!” He nodded in return.


Jeez, that’s got to be a parable for something.

Unsung bhodisatva of the token booth

Dank! Schwaggy! 18,000-foot-view! In elementary

Dank! Schwaggy! 18,000-foot-view!

In elementary school, I went to Deerfoot Lodge, a summer camp in upstate New York. It was a great summer camp, with all the standard trappings: fights for the individual boxes of Froot Loops in the morning (losers were stuck with Special K), plaster casts of deer tracks, and stories about the freshwater sharks that had evolved deep in the underwater limestone caves of bottomless Lake Speculator. For some reason, the camp had embraced the 50s slang terms “Boss” and “Beek”, for good and bad, respectively. “Hey! That’s a boss moccasin you made there!” “They found the Playboy under your bunk? Beek!” Peer pressure ensured that every camper was using the terms like a native an hour after getting off the bus. It took longer to get cured of the terms when you got back: sometimes, I’d still be getting funny looks from my seventh-grade classmates in late September. “No algebra homework? Boss! Uh, I mean…”


The same summer-camp peer pressure still applies in the consulting world, which I don’t suppose is a surprise to anyone. There’s a lot of articles circulating about the danger of buzzwords, and it’s not very mysterious why they’re used: the industry is evolving, using the accepted phrase makes you feel like you know what you’re talking about, and everyone wants to be like the cool kids. Parallel path, y’all!


Having spent a few years, now, watching both good and bad consultants at work, it seems to me that good consultants sell experience, while bad consultants sell the opportunity to find out what the hell they were talking about in the pitch meeting. In that context, a flood of buzzwords can be a bad consultant’s best friend. Especially since, in any meeting, there’s only one or two people senior enough to ask the “dumb question”: “Excuse me, what the hell are you talking about?” I don’t know, though: it seems to me that the consultant who makes the client feel smart will get the business, while the consultant who makes the client feel dumb gets avoided.


Most buzzwords are used internally, though, as a kind of shorthand. Now that I’m spending my days at [My employer] but working with Bain, I’ve got a foot in two different summer camps’ worth of buzzwords at the same time. It’s surprising how similar they are: I say “Parallel path”, you say “Parallel process.” Critical path, critical stream, 10-000-foot view, 30-000 foot view, let’s call the whole thing off.

Dank! Schwaggy! 18,000-foot-view! In elementary

Cats and ducks and geese

Cats and ducks and geese better scurry

Presented for your enjoyment: two cartoons created by my co-worker Genevieve Futrelle, the head in the back of my webcam. Genevieve is developing a body of work filled with menace towards small animals. EX-cellent!





Genevieve’s great-grandfather wrote mystery stories and perished on the Titanic. A turducken is a chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey and baked(!)

Cats and ducks and geese

It’s a sure thing, Gib!

It’s a sure thing, Gib! A sure thing!

Alejandro Rubio used to work for me at [My employer], until he announced that he was leaving my team and applying for a year-long job in Antarctica. I gave him a reference with Raytheon; in a phone interview, I assured Raytheon HR that he’d do a great job of working with crotchety, idiosyncratic scientists. “What would Alejandro do if he had to work with a scientist who insisted on doing things a certain way, even if it wasn’t necessarily the best way?”


Knowing Alejandro to be a friendly, extroverted, 24-year old Stanford graduate, the very model of a Bright Young Thing, and the last person in the world to let stupidity go unchallenged, I smiled and lied through my teeth. “Alejandro would never rock the boat. He’d be a great team player in that sort of situation.” What the hell, I figured: all the crotchety Raytheon scientists I know could use a bit of prodding.


Anyhow, Alejandro seems to be having a great time at McMurdo station. He has a fantastic web site, which you can see here: www.jasperridge.com. The picture on the right is from his pool party last month. Seems to me he’s fitting in just fine with the crotchety scientists. In fact, he seems the very icon of 80s coolness; the big brother featured in John Hughes movies, calling from California to invite pasty geeks to ascend to Hawaiian Shirt Valhalla. Cf. John Cusack’s roomate Lance in The Sure Thing. I was flabbergasted to learn that Alejandro hasn’t seen this movie, so I Amazonned it to him in Antarctica. Incoming, private Gibson!

It’s a sure thing, Gib!

That apharesis machine is one

That apharesis machine is one bad motherf— (shut your mouth!)

I gave leukocytes this morning, spending two hours on the two-arm donor machine. The two-arm machine takes blood from one arm, processes it, then returns it to the other arm, which makes it impossible to scratch your nose.


The one-arm machine is more convenient — it takes your blood and returns it through a single needle. It seems that only people with big, brawny veins can use the one-arm machine, though. The last time I tried it, the machine complained every fifteen seconds about “low intake pressure”, forcing the phlebotomist to push “continue” over and over again. While she pushed the button, she soothed me with reassuring patter: “If your vein too small, this machine tear it UP! Rip your vein all to pieces!”


So this time, I used the two-arm machine, and it didn’t complain at all. Neither did I.


I felt a little woozy afterwards, but that could have been from two armless hours of Good Morning America and Live With Regis and Cyndi From Disneyland. When Tony Danza tried to play the cornet, everything stopped in the blood collection room, and everyone shook their heads sadly.

That apharesis machine is one

I got a call yesterday

I got a call yesterday from the New York Blood Services Special Donors Unit, which has a nice paramilitary ring to it. Apparently, I’ve been selected as a donor for leukapharesis, giving white blood cells to a 13-year old girl with blood cancer.


On the one hand, that’s great! I’m now an Elite Bleeder. On the other hand, I see that donations are limited to 12 per lifetime. Why is that? Will I get 1/12 dumber? Will it suck out 1/12 of my vital life force?


Well, I’ll find out. I’ll be on the two-arm science fiction apharesis machine from 7AM to 9AM tomorrow morning, with my slicky Bluetooth headset on; feel free to give me a call and see if I sound any stupider.

I got a call yesterday

My God, we’re out of

My God, we’re out of gin!

New Years’ Eve is tricky — it seems to be the most-hated holiday, but you have to do something. Kate suggested that we throw a dinner party in my apartment, undaunted by the fact that my houseware consisted of a single steel spoon. She trucked up plates, silver, and glassware from Philadelphia, and arrived in New York after Christmas with a cat and six silver candlesticks. I, meanwhile, had been in training to try and make an acceptable Cosmopolitan. In the days before New Years, we planned, shopped, scanned Cook’s Illustrated for the empirically best menu, and I racked my brain about how we would seat six people on my single chair.


Here are the elements that were assembled for the party:


  • Three tables and six chairs — which I ended up borrowing from Pomodoro, the pizza restaurant downstairs.
  • A beef tenderloin from Moe Albanese’s butcher shop on Elizabeth street. Moe’s mother is 99 years old and sits in the window across the way. When you want to get some meat, you stand in front of the door and wait for her to summon Moe, using a combination of yelling, hand signals, and messesngers volunteered from Elizabeth street passers-by. Later, my super Gina told me that I’d picked the wrong butcher. Kate thinks that Gina and Moe’s mother are rival block-lords.
  • For dessert, a “buche de noel” — a chocolate Yule log from the French bakery next door. The yule log had two small gnomes with axes and saws planted in the top, working away at several meringue mushrooms.
  • Party hats from Abracadabra on 21st street, to try and establish a Peter Arno feeling: One fez, one British bobby, one Roman centurion, one German “Hun” spike-top helmet, two crowns and a Cleopatra rig with a gold asp and matching armband.
  • (Also from Abracadabra, two confetti cannons which turned out to be pretty cool.)
  • Five party guests, one in white tie(!)

The party seemed to go well — we ate dinner at about 10:00, then rang in the new year on the roof (and littered the street below with star-shaped confetti shot from a cardboard tube.) Afterwards, we went out for drinks.


My friend Genevieve took photos: here they are! I’m very grateful to her, especially as she has immortalized Jonathan Stern as the Stunned Moroccan (#63) herself as the Soulful Centurion (#62), and several photos where Francesco and I look like we’re rushing the Drones club. Thanks, GZF!

My God, we’re out of