Toilet stall poetry

toilet stall with graffitiHave you ever used a public restroom,
Been seated inside a stall?
And have you noticed the words of wisdom,
That are scrawled across the wall?

Curses and verses and wisecracks.
Hints and tips not taught in school.
Insightful quotes by anonymous authors.
Sketches of women in the nude.

If you must answer the call of nature,
There’s no better way to spend your time.
Than to perch yourself upon a toilet,
And to read these rhyming lines.

Collectively, they’re a mural of knowledge.
A canvas of dazzling wisdom.
A monument of philosophy and convictions.
Art you can find only within a restroom.

As you’re taking care of business,
You admire this artistic masterpiece.
And you wonder how many have added to it,
As they sat here on this seat.

All of the many virtuosos,
Who contributed to this monument.
Are the ones responsible for its beauty,
And for all the graffiti written on it.

You think about your unheard voice,
Just before you flush.
And how those who have nothing to say,
Are the ones who say too much.

But in the restroom, things are different,
Where a wise man can say his piece.
In only one or two insightful verses,
Advice that’s always free.

So you clutch your trusty pen,
And find an empty space.
To write what’s on your mind,
In your very own sacred place.

And so with one conclusive scribble,
You admire what you’ve composed.
It fits in so nicely with this mural,
Made up on drawings, poems, and prose.

So you flush and leave with satisfaction,
Because you are now a bathroom poet.
You’ve had the ability to create artistic beauty,
And yet you didn’t even know it.

And so every poem and quote,
And even the sketches that are obscene.
Will remain as art for many centuries,
Or until the janitor wipes them clean.

If you want to live a good life, then be like an animal 

two dogs asleep on lawnAnimals seem to have life figured out. Whereas we humans tend to overcomplicate matters, animals excel at keeping things simple.

For example, animals have two primary objectives in life: hunting for food and eating food.

That’s it. That’s their life. They eat food to sustain their existence.

I like it. Though perhaps not the most ambitious of goals, the simplicity makes it admirable. Not everyone can be an astronaut or invent a gadget that benefits the world.

Animals know this, which is why they keep their goals attainable. They don’t have to make New Year’s resolutions because their daily objectives are within reach.

You never see a zebra trying to quit smoking, or a hippo in jogging shorts huffing down the neighborhood street. Animals don’t manufacture drama like humans. They hunt for food. And then they eat the food. And as long as the cycle continues, they consider their ambitions fulfilled.

But then again, animals also reproduce. So I guess you could list that as their third prescribed objective. Without reproduction, animals wouldn’t have anyone to carry on the noble tradition of hunting for food and eating food. The circle of life wouldn’t be complete without enthusiastic offspring to carry on these most laudable of customs.

Humans could learn a thing or two from the animals. We no longer hunt, but we navigate the supermarket aisles after work, filling our carts with 7UP and Crown Royal. Instead of wielding a spear, now we hand over a debit card. Laden with sacks of groceries, most animals would think I was the greatest hunter in the world.

And we don’t just reproduce; we have relationships. And then there’s heartache and breakups and husbands who don’t put the seat down. It’s excruciating. Humans might not eat their young, but we’re the only species that’ll argue over the upright position of a toilet seat. (But at least I don’t mark my territory by lifting my leg on the front door, so let’s be thankful for small favors.)

Animals, however, keep it simple. They don’t overcomplicate.

Case in point: When they’re not hunting or eating, animals are lounging. Once their daily obligations are completed, they sit back and enjoy life.

Look at domesticated animals. Because they don’t have to hunt, they can skip right to the eating and lounging parts. You rarely see a dog or cat scrambling during the morning commute. While we humans are toiling away at work, our pets are sprawled on the living-room rug with their tongues hanging out, asleep. (Whenever I end up on the living-room rug, it usually has something to do with all that 7UP and Crown Royal.)

So I think humans should study the animals and learn from them. They have a lot to teach us.

And until I see a hippo in jogging shorts — or a zebra wearing a nicotine patch — I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to living well, animals have humans beat paws-down.

Nevada sunset

the sun setting over dark mountainsNothing punctuates a scorching desert day like a pristine Nevada sunset.

As the sun descends behind the distant mountains, the sky turns brilliant shades of orange, scarlet and violet. Rays of sun stream across the landscape like spidery, caressing fingers. Windswept clouds glow with radiant, almost heavenly hues. Like a fire, the collage of colors burns brightly, as if searing a brand into the sprawling canvas of the twilight sky.

This final burst of brilliance is like the last gasp of air from a dying day – a residual surge of luminescence before dusk devolves to darkness.

And just as quickly as it came, the sunset begins to fade, much like the dying embers of a once-blazing campfire. The rich, vivid hues smolder away to smoky blackness.

The gentle dissolving of day into night is much like the perpetual momentum of breathing: a constant, natural pattern deeply engrained in the fabric of existence.

There’s nothing quite so majestic as a Nevada sunset. They’re in bloom for only a few, fleeting moments before they dissipate into darkness, unveiling the stars.

Being curt doesn’t make you businesslike

two businessmen in officeI’m noticing a trend lately where people respond to e-mails with an abrupt, terse tone.

No greeting. No “please” and “thank you.” Just a curt, one-sentence response, with a sprinkling of condescension.

I imagine they’re trying to sound confident and authoritative. After all, real professionals don’t waste time with pleasantries or kindness. Real professionals are tough and domineering, and they command respect with their aloof detachment and emotionless demeanor.

But if goal is to sound cool and confident, I’d like to remind these people that they’re failing spectacularly.

Instead, they’re just proving themselves to be clueless jerks with no skills to back up the swagger.

In fact, there’s a direct correlation between a person’s curtness and their incompetence.

The more curt the e-mail, the more incompetent the worker. It’s a rule.

I’d also like to remind these people that real competence stems from patience and understanding and putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

True professionalism comes from listening to the needs of others and responding to the best of your ability.

Genuine respect is earned by appreciating others and recognizing their contributions.

Humor and warmth go a long way in cultivating relationships and building trust. A person who can laugh projects much more poise and confidence than a sleaze-ball who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.

Most people want to be perceived as competent and able. It’s understandable. And our professional correspondence speaks volumes about our personality and the image we’re trying to project — even more so than the way we dress.

But please don’t mistake aloofness for ability. Don’t confuse curtness for competence.

No matter how stiff your upper lip, being a prick will never make you a professional.

So let’s cut it out with the abrupt, terse e-mails, OK? Si “hi” in your greeting. Tell someone you “hope they’re doing well.” Respond with a “thank-you” when they fulfill your request.

After all, isn’t common human decency worth a slightly cluttered inbox? If someone doesn’t appreciate a “thank-you” e-mail, then they always can delete it.

I’ll never subscribe to the notion that civility and decorum have to be sacrificed for the sake of doing business.

Skill and proficiency may define a professional, but it’s kindness and compassion that constitute the soul.

Those days when you just can’t deal

two men sitting in an office conference roomSo I woke up the other morning to my alarm clock. Its relentless, piercing squawking pulled me out of a deep, restful sleep.

Groaning, I reached out and fumbled around my nightstand, grasping for the snooze button.

Instead of hitting it, I ended up knocking my wristwatch to the floor.

“Uh,” I groaned. “I’m too tired to pick it up. I can’t deal.”

So I yanked the alarm clock’s plug from the wall and left the watch lying on the floor.

Only the clock kept squawking, because I’d put backup batteries in it in case the power went out.

So I reached out and swiped the alarm clock off the nightstand. It hit the floor, the back hatch falling open and the batteries tumbling out.

The clock lay there next to the watch, its relentless squawking silenced.

Hours later, my phone rang. I reached out to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”

It was my boss. “Are you coming in to work today?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I can’t deal.”

“What do you mean you can’t deal?” he asked.

“Just what I said. It’s one of those days where I can’t deal. I don’t even have the energy to pick up my wristwatch.”

“Where’s your wristwatch?”

“It’s on the floor next to my alarm clock.”

“Why is your alarm clock on the floor?”

“Because it wouldn’t stop squawking.”

“Are you sick?” my boss asked. “Do you have a cold, or something?”

“No. I’m healthy. I just can’t deal.”

“What exactly can’t you deal with?”

“Today. I just can’t deal.”

“But that’s no excuse. You can’t stay home because you can’t deal. You have to deal.”

“I don’t want to deal.”

“But that’s not part of the deal. The deal is that to keep your job, you have to show up.”

“I’ll show up tomorrow,” I said.

“No — you’ll show up today. If you’re not sick, then you need to come in.”

“But I’m sleeping in,” I said.

“Colane, do you have any idea what time it is?”

“I don’t,” I said. “My wristwatch is on the floor.”

“Then look at your clock.”

“My clock is on the floor, too.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” my boss said. “Get dressed and get down to the office immediately! Either you show up in an hour or you’re fired. Deal?”

I sighed. “This sucks. I don’t want to get up.”

“That’s life,” my boss said. “Deal with it.”

Giving directions using long-ago landmarks

giving directions vacant lot.

Me giving directions to a newcomer in town.

I used to work as the receptionist for a small real-estate office. A guy walked in one morning.

“I’m new in town, and I just rented a house from you guys,” he said. “Do you by chance know where the FedEx pickup box is?”

“Sure,” I said. “Just go to the shopping center where the post office was twenty years ago. The box is in front of what used to be the veterinary clinic.”

The man frowned. “What are you saying? The box is next door to the post office?”

“No,” I said. “I’m saying it’s next door to where the post office used to be. The pickup box is in front of the old veterinary clinic.”

“So the vet isn’t there, either.”

“No. They moved away ages ago.”

“So there’s nothing there now?”

“I’m not sure what’s there now. All I know is it used to be the veterinary clinic.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sure I know where you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do,” I said. “There was a pizza place in the same shopping center. It’s not there now, though. It burned down in the late 1990s.”

“I’m not sure if I was clear earlier,” the man said. “Did I mention I’m new in town?”

I looked at him, blinking. “Oh.”

“So how would I get to this shopping center?” the man asked. “Do you know what stores are there now?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea what’s there now. I know the FedEx pickup box is there, but I don’t know about any stores.”

“Can you give me a landmark? Anything?” the man asked.

“Well,” I said, “it’s across the street from where the gas station used to be.”

The man sighed. “So the gas station’s not there now?”

“No. They tore it down fifteen years ago. I have no idea what’s there now.”

The man glared. “I can’t believe you get paid to work here. Do you really consider yourself useful?”

“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I used to. I’m not sure I do now.”

A party of one isn’t much of a party

man eating alone at restaurantIt’s inadvisable to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day if you don’t have a date.

Common sense, you say? A nugget of knowledge so blatantly obvious that it need not be spoken?

Perhaps. But unfortunately, I speak from experience.

Unattached and dateless — and working at a new job in a new town — I decided one evening to check out the local dining scene. I’d been living on my own cooking for nearly three weeks, so I was undernourished and ravenous for edible fare.

The inspiration struck on a Tuesday in February. After work I went home, spruced up, and wandered across the highway to a Mexican restaurant in a neighboring shopping center.

A waitress greeted me with a large smile. “Are you meeting someone, sir?”

“No,” I said. “Just me.”

“Oh.” Her face fell, and her upper lip started quivering. “Yes, well … I’m so sorry. Please, follow me.”

She grabbed a single menu and scurried through the restaurant, keeping her gaze on the floor. I followed, feeling perplexed. I’d eaten here alone twice before. Why was the waitress acting so squeamish?

As we wormed through the restaurant, I noticed candlelights on all the tables. And there were no families or children; only couples sitting across from each other, some holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes.

I passed one booth, and I noticed a man fastening a silver bracelet around his date’s wrist. She was smiling as the diamonds sparkled orange from the dim dining-room light.

Now, I’m not the most observant person. I don’t connect the dots in a given situation as easily as, say, Columbo or Matlock.

But walking past the patrons, I started to piece together a series of what should have been obvious clues:

Happy couples. Candlelit dinners. Glittering jewelry. A Tuesday evening in early February.

Oh no, I thought, as the realization struck. It’s Valentine’s Day. 

I’d completely forgotten. As a freewheeling bachelor subsisting on Swanson TV dinners and Grey Goose vodka, Valentine’s Day wasn’t exactly a holiday I had circled on my calendar.

My cheeks flushed as the waitress continued to guide me to my table. She led me to a booth in the middle of the restaurant, in full sight of all the other patrons — which is exactly where you want to be when you’re eating out alone on Valentine’s Day.

I swore she sniffed as she set down the menu. “I’ll be back for you drink order, sir.”

“Please,” I said. “And I suspect you’ll be making a few return trips. Keep them coming.”

I glanced around the restaurant, then gazed down at the table. A candle flickered before me. I resisted the temptation to blow it out.

For the first fifteen minutes, my aloneness wasn’t so obvious. I imagine the other diners suspected my date was running late. In my head, I could hear the unsolicited advice of a nonexistent bystander:

“Oh, you know how women can be, son. They have to doll themselves up before a big date. Romantic evenings like these are very special to them. I wouldn’t worry — I’m sure she’ll be here in no time.” 

But once twenty minutes came and went — and my aloneness became more apparent — the surreptitious stares started coming. Discrete glimpses pierced me like pinpricks. Sideways gazes stabbed me like lightsabers.

One woman even stared at me with a hand held to her mouth, as if I were a two-legged dog dragging its haunches across the floor.

I read and re-read the menu. It was as if I was lounging on the beach with a page-turning novel. It’s amazing how fascinating entree descriptions can become when you’re awkward and uncomfortable, and you have no one else to talk to.

But then when the waitress took my order and whisked the menu away, I was left with nothing but the saltshaker to capture my attention. Individual grains beaded from the lid.

So I took out my iPhone and set it on the table. I scrolled through the headlines on Google, but didn’t really read them. I’d look up every now and then just in time to catch another patron looking away.

And when my dinner came and I started picking at my food — still sitting there, alone — I could almost hear a collective shudder escape from the crowd. It was like the live audience on a sitcom when the main character experiences a moment of anguish.

On this most joyful and romantic of holidays, everyone’s heart was breaking — and it was all my fault.

I swallowed some refried beans, but couldn’t taste them. It was like gnawing on a mouthful of mush.

I was tempted to rise, clink my fork against a glass, and make a quick speech:

“Can I get your attention, please? Folks, I know how this must look. But I assure you, I’m not a hapless loser who’s been stood up — or worse, didn’t have a date to begin with. I genuinely forgot about the holiday. I swear. See, I just moved to town and started a new job, so my entire focus has been on settling in and adjusting. It’s not like I couldn’t get a date if I tried. I mean, once I’m settled and get everything unpacked, I intend to renew my eHarmony subscription and hit the local dating scene hard. Aside from the untrimmed goatee and hair that needs cutting, I have a lot of desirable traits. I’m passionate. I like long walks on the beach. My ideal Friday evening would be cuddling on the couch with my lover, watching a romantic comedy. So please, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m just as much dedicated to the pursuit of soulful intimacy as the rest of you. My quixotic yearnings run just as deep. My heart, too, burns for the passionate embrace of a loving kindred spirit, with whom I’d promise to share the rest of my life.”

Instead, I flagged the waitress. “Excuse me. Can I get a box?”

“A box, sir?” she asked.

“Yes — and the check. As quickly as possible, please.”

I scooped up my dinner and scurried out of the restaurant like a mouse running along a wall. Returning home, my one-bedroom hovel never looked so cozy and inviting.

I turned on the latest episode of Top Chef and finished the remains of my Valentine’s Day dinner. In the privacy of my apartment, it tasted delicious — especially when washed down with a generous glassful of Grey Goose.

A round of applause for the guy who counted Vanna White’s claps 

hand with pen writing tally marks.

Apparently, someone actually counted the average number of times Vanna White claps during an episode of “Wheel of Fortune.” And you thought you had a tedious job.

In a recent issue of Women’s World magazine (and please don’t ask why I’m reading Women’s World magazine), they cite a fun fact from the Guinness Book of World Records about Vanna White, the famous letter-turner from TV’s Wheel of Fortune. 

According to the magazine (well, actually, according to the Guinness Book of World Records), Vanna White is “Televisions Most Frequent Clapper, averaging 600-plus claps per show.”

OK. I have a question.

And I imagine you can guess what it is.

Who in the world is quantifying the number of claps Vanna White averages in a given show?

Immediately, I picture some guy in a bathrobe with way too much time on on his hands, sitting with a clipboard in his lap and tallying each individual clap.

And it’s not like he arrived at his total by watching only one episode. “Average” implies that he watched a number of episodes, counted the individual claps in each one, then divided the number of claps by the number of episodes he watched to arrive at the 600 figure.

Not to sound judgmental, but that’s downright weird.

Forget about the number of times Vanna White claps — I want to know more about this guy. Who is he? How did he get a job with The Guinness Book of World Records? Does he hold a patent for his amazingly effective tallying methods?

My journalistic instincts tell me that he’s the real story here.

The incessant whining of House Hunters couples

House Hunters RenovationIf I were a masochist, I might reach out and flush the toilet while showering.

Or, I could stick my hand in a beehive and pluck off a chunk of honeycomb.

Or, easier yet, I could simply watch a marathon of House Hunters reruns over the weekend.

Talk about excruciating agony.

If you’ve read this post or this post — or this post or this post — you’re probably aware that I watch a lot of House Hunters. I’m not sure why. I didn’t think I was a masochist, but I have to admit, I get a certain thrill watching spoiled brats looking at gargantuan houses they can’t afford.

These homebuyers often are in their early twenties, but they’re always looking at 4,000-square-foot McMansions on 20 acres with cobblestone driveways and Olympic-sized swimming pools. (When I was in my early twenties, I was living in a firetrap hovel, eating Top Ramen, and pursuing a degree that wouldn’t help me at all in my professional career. Because I’m forward-thinking like that.)

What’s more, these people are incessantly whining about everything.

And I mean everything. For these people, every minor cosmetic feature is an endless source of insurmountable frustration.

“The countertops are granite, but they should be quartz,” they moan.

“The floors are laminate, but they should be hardwood,” they bellyache.

“The bathroom has a step-in shower, but not a jetted tub,” they sniff.

“Shut up!” I scream, throwing an empty bowl of Top Ramen at the TV. “You whiny entitled scumbags! You don’t deserve a house! Shut up!”

The show has a spin-off titled House Hunters Renovation, where the pampered jerks not only pick out a house to buy, but renovate it as well.

This version is almost harder to stomach, because instead of the people simply whining about inconsequential cosmetic features, we get to see them spend good money to replace those features – even if they’re perfectly adequate.

And they all use the same terms when describing their plans.

For example, a beautiful kitchen with oak cabinets and a tile backsplash must be “gutted” so that the finishes can be updated.

A random wall must be “blown out” to make a living space larger. (And guaranteed, that wall will be load-bearing and require the installation of a $3,000 beam. I’ve watched enough of these things to predict the storyline.)

A bedroom with a walk-in closet must be “reconfigured” to include a reading nook.

Money never seems to be an issue for these narcissistic scumbags. No expense is spared when renovating their precious high-dollar palaces.

A designer often joins the couple to plan the renovations. (Because who can’t afford to hire a designer when navigating the treacherous waters of the home-buying process?)

What’s amusing is that no matter what the designer’s taste or artistic sensibility (and there’s no guarantee they’ll even have an artistic sensibility, given how many of these people dress), they always design a kitchen with the same three features: shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and a barn door.

Seriously. It’s all the time — on every episode. Shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and a barn door.

The homeowners claim they’re updating the fixtures to make them more modern. Oak and granite are apparently out, and it would be inhumane for a homeowner to have to tolerate a popcorn ceiling or laminate floor. The outrage!

But my question is, what are these people going to do when shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and barn doors go out of style?

Because you know it’s going to happen – and probably sooner rather than later. You know that someday these people are going to list their homes with goal of upgrading to an even more luxurious McMansion. What are they going to say when potential buyers scoff at their outdated design elements?

It’s a harrowing question to ponder.

What’s even more baffling is that many of these people complain about living in cookie-cutter homes and planned-unit developments, because they want their houses to be “unique” and to have “character.”

Yet when they renovate their kitchens, they insist in using the same modern-day design elements as everyone else.

It reminds me of Cheech and Chong discussing uniforms for their band: “If we’re going to wear uniforms, then everyone should wear something different.”

Except it’s the reverse: “I want to live in a unique house with character that looks like everyone else’s.”

As for me, buying a house is currently out of the question, given the sky-high prices. Besides, many of those homes have popcorn ceilings and oak cabinets, and my years of devouring Top Ramen and pursuing a worthless degree have entitled me to enjoy the finer things in life.

If I did buy a house, I’d clearly have to renovate it. The first project I’d tackle is adding shaker-style cabinets to the kitchen.

But then again, maybe I should consider remodeling the master bathroom. Given my rampant binge-watching of House Hunters, I might be better off flushing the toilet while showering.

What your real-estate agent is really telling you

Large mansion with outdoor swimming pool.

Not-so-useful real-estate advice

Real-estate professionals speak a language all their own. However, with the right training (and a couple of evening real-estate courses), you, too, can comprehend the baffling jargon agents use to confound their clients — as well as impress each other.

“Today we’re going to be looking at a cozy bungalow that’s right in your price range.”

“I’m showing you this miniscule dump because it’s all you can afford.”

“With your budget, we’re going to have trouble finding a home that has all of the features you’re looking for.”

“You’re too destitute to afford anything nice.”

“The home just needs a little TLC.”

“This rat-infested pile of crap needs to be completely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up.”

“Wall colors are easy to fix.”

“Obviously, I’ve never touched a paintbrush in my entire life.”

“The kitchen appliances might need updating.”

“Your great-grandmother used to cook with a stove like this.”

“The carpets do show some wear.”

“Be sure to wipe off your shoes before stepping outside.”

“The backyard is a blank slate for your imagination.”

“This patch of weeds would look nice with a fence, some lawn and a couple of trees.”

“You could build your dream home here.”

“Here’s a vacant lot. I give up. Do whatever you want.”

“You might have to duck to get through the doorway.”

“Please excuse the low ceilings; a family of hobbits used to live here.”

“I’m not sure you’re seeing the big picture.”

“You’re bellyaching about brass cabinet handles and completely ignoring the rest of the house.”

“There aren’t many listings available that offer the features you’re looking for.”

“No house will ever be good enough for you.”

“You may not have noticed, but you have views of downtown from this balcony.”

“This million-dollar vista might not have leapt right out at you because you have to lean over the railing, squint your eyes, peer through your neighbor’s trees, and stretch your neck to see it.”

“I wanted to show you this amazing property, even though it’s above your budget.”

“I know I’m not going to make much of a commission off you, but you can’t blame me for trying.”

“I’m really excited to show you this property.”

“I’m praying you’ll actually buy a house one of these days so I can pay my bills.”

“Yes, the counters are granite and not quartz, but look at the shape they’re in.”

“The granite countertops are perfectly adequate, you entitled jerk. Quit turning up your nose at everything.”

“Keep in mind that location is everything.”

“This deteriorating hovel is only a mile from downtown, so it’s worth the $500,000 price tag.”

“I understand that the bedroom window faces your neighbor’s house, but you can always put up blinds.”

“I’m trying really hard not to be a sarcastic SOB, and I’m failing miserably.”

“The yard boasts mature landscaping.”

“You’ll need a machete to hack out a path to the front door.”

“This is a bank-owned property.”

“You might be able to move in by the time your kids graduate from college.”

“No, the home does not come with a washer and dryer included.”

“You’re spending $750,000 on a house, and you want someone else’s used appliances? Really?”

“The home does not have the fourth bedroom you’re looking for.”

“With your budget, you’re lucky it has a roof.”

“Due to a previous commitment, my partner will be showing you this home today.”

“I can’t stand working with you anymore, you picky bastard. Good luck with your new agent.”