Tag Archives: opinion

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.

The kind that produce gas

man and woman on date in dinerI like to conclude a romantic evening with a beautiful woman by reaching across the table, taking her hand, and extolling the many virtues of beneficial gut bacteria.

It’s not often I get a second date.

Actually, I’m not even a big proponent of probiotics. Not anymore. I took them regularly for a few years, guzzling the little buggers before every meal and championing their magnificence as if I were Dr. Oz.

But there are so many different strains — so many brands and varieties — that my microflora mastery is quickly degenerating to obsolescence.

So no longer do I extol the virtues of beneficial gut bacteria.

Instead, I reach across the table, take my date’s hand, and urge her to research the subject herself.

It’s still not often I get a second date. But I can tell I’ve given her something to think about, even as she’s dashing in a panic for the restaurant door.

After all, the scientific literature regarding the safety and effectiveness of probiotics is quite extensive.

At least, I assume it is. I wouldn’t know. Everything I know about probiotics, I learned from the Internet (as well as how to self-diagnose on WebMD):

  • Some probiotics inhabit the small intestine while others inhabit the large.
  • Some work best with others; others work best alone.
  • Some slim the stomach while others cause gas and bloating. (Try not to confuse the two before a big date. I’m speaking from experience, here.)
  • Some should be stored at room temperature while others are best kept cold.

I guess it’s not the best dessert conversation — at least judging from the looks I get. I admit, the mental image of microorganisms surging through your digestive tract (and we’re talking billions and billions of them, here), is a little unsettling.

But they say dating is a learning experience, and if I can impart some of my wisdom over cheesecake and coffee, then I feel I’ve served humanity.

Of course, the dates always end soon after — and often, the women insist on driving themselves home.

Which is understandable … considering that earlier in the evening, I confused my waist-trimming probiotics with the gas-producing variety.

TV Guide listings for my five favorite shows

House Hunters funny meme

Sometimes TV Guide listings can be a little too detailed. (Keep in mind that these are shows I actually like.)

House Hunters:

In this stellar, Emmy-worthy ode to the American Dream, a young couple tours three gigantic homes they can’t afford with a list of demands that reads like War and Peace. As they explore the homes, they make several snide remarks about how the rooms are too small and how the kitchen cabinets need updating (even though they’re perfectly adequate and show no visible defects). In a pulse-pounding, nail-biting conclusion, they’ll choose one of the houses not only to live in, but to use as an ATM machine when (and if) the property value goes up.

MonsterQuest:

Scientists with questionable credentials team up with a band of rednecks in a harrowing search for the elusive Bigfoot. Trudging through the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest, they attempt to capture visual evidence of the creature by tying high-definition cameras to the trunks of several trees. In the process, they obtain dozens of blurry images of deer, squirrels, chipmunks and other mundane, everyday forest inhabitants. They also spot an indentation that could either be a Bigfoot print or an ordinary hole in the ground.

Top Chef:

Seventeen culinary professionals with badass tattoos and perplexing haircuts compete for a grand prize of $125,000, as well as the underwhelming title of “Top Chef.” Gratuitous shots of Whole Foods abound as the chefs run around like unleashed hellions to buy their ingredients. Manufactured drama ensues as the chefs prepare meals in extreme situations in an alleged attempt to gauge their cooking skills. A panel of judges sneers and makes disparaging remarks about the food — even though they’ve never had to cook in similar conditions — before telling the losing chef to pack his or her knives and go home. The remaining chefs drink gallons of alcohol and talk endlessly about their need to stay focused to win the competition.

Hell’s Kitchen:

Michelin star-winning TV personality Gordon Ramsay screams hateful remarks at red-faced chefs as they drip sweat into undercooked risotto. Then all the chefs go outside to smoke cigarettes and talk smack. The pattern repeats for twenty episodes as Ramsay belittles the chefs, disparages their food, and makes their lives a living hell. The least-crappy chef then wins a coveted job working with Ramsay full-time.

Ghost Adventures:

Four frat boys duct-tape Xs to the floor and wander around haunted locations in dim-green night vision while calling out malicious spirits. They debunk obvious camera flares as “not being bugs or dust particles” because dust has a marked snow-flurry pattern. Tiny sounds — such as mouse scurrying or a radiator rattling — are immediately classified as “paranormal,” and any hisses captured on audio are portrayed as a disembodied voice. The voice will be replayed over and over until the audience hears what the show’s producers want them to hear. The lead investigator will shush the others if they try to speak, but then he’ll babble endlessly about a supposed cold spot or the hair standing up on his arm. A new electronic ghost-hunting device will be unveiled that won’t work.

Cheating vehicular miscreants who sponge off your stops

stop sign

Unless, of course, you’re a Stop Deceiver — that is, someone who surreptitiously runs a stop sign by driving alongside another vehicle. Horrible people.

I hate it when you’re at a stop sign and a car approaches alongside you, just as you’re about to take off. Instead of stopping, they simply slow down and match your speed, to give the illusion that you’re driving in tandem.

And as you accelerate, they use your forward momentum to falsify their stoppage.

It’s an age-old con known as the “stop deception.”

These so-called “stop deceivers” are among the sneakiest of miscreants. Essentially, they abscond with your stop so they themselves can run the stop sign.

You can call them “scum,” but it’s not a strong enough word. These bottom-feeding parasites require an innocent driver from which to scrounge their stops. Without an unsuspecting, law-abiding host to drive next to, law enforcement would identify their vehicular misdeeds and put an end to their reign of wrongdoing.

They’re more numerous than one might suspect. Basically, if the timing’s right, and a conveniently placed car is waiting at the intersection, everyone and their mother will try to pull a stop deception.

It happens to me every day. I’ll come to a complete stop, and the approaching person alongside me will pilfer my momentum to plunge through the intersection, their maniacal eyes focused upon the unfolding road.

And once we’re through the intersection, they floor it — to prove to me and to the rest of the world that they’re far too superior to stop at a stop sign.

And I bow my head in abject defeat, saddened by the knowledge that my law-abiding ways are woefully inadequate. If life is a pissing contest, then I’m a browbeaten loser with an abbreviated stream. I accept that fact with every fiber of my being.

Love and God bless, stop deceivers. May a city street sweeper brush up a cloud of dust to flutter upon your freshly washed car.

Reclaiming my right to recess

Children on a playground climbing a jungle gym

Sure, being an adult has its perks. You can stay up late, watch R-rated movies, and even eat ice cream for breakfast if you’re so inclined. (With my IBS, I’m not so inclined.) But I’d gladly give all that up if I could get my morning and afternoon recesses back. Why does recess have to go away when you grow up? All they give you in adulthood is a measly lunch hour … and maybe a cigarette break, if you’re lucky.

I hate to exercise.

I mean, I really hate to exercise. I hate it more than life itself.

But you got to do it. If you want to live a long life and accomplish great things (or even if you want to be a humor writer, like me), you’ve got to maintain your body.

A healthy body promotes a sharp and healthy mind. (It also discourages fellow beachgoers from laughing at your Speedo.)

I realized today that I need to exercise more.

And by that, I mean I need to exercise, period. As in, performing some sort of enhanced physical activity — something beyond my current regimen of rising from the couch to find the taquito that slipped between the seat cushions. (If it’s fuzz-free, it’s still good. Just got to brush off the cat hair and any loose change.)

It dawned on me that I’m tired. I sat down this evening to hammer out a post, and I was dismayed because I had nothing. My brain was dead. Static. Foggy.

I was tired. I’m always tired.

And I’m tired of always being tired.  Keep reading…

‘State of Play’ and the state of journalism

Author’s Note: This piece originally appeared on my now-defunct blog, The Barren Regions. I wanted to include it here because it brought back memories of when I worked at a newspaper (and when I could still refer to myself as a “twenty-something”).

I recently rented the Russell Crowe suspense flick, State of Play. I wanted to watch it because the title intrigued me. I wish I could say the same for the plot.

State of Play

Just kidding. Actually, the movie was OK, although unrealistic. Crowe plays a hard-nosed newspaper reporter who becomes ensnared in a D.C. murder mystery. He risks his life to uncover the truth — all in the name of getting the full story and informing the public.

That was the part I found unrealistic. I mean, c’mon, a journalist who actually works for a living? Get real. The most hustling you’ll see in a newsroom happens when someone accidentally leaves a box of doughnuts in the break area.

Other parts were all too real. Ben Affleck plays a conniving congressman. Helen Mirren plays a desk-pounding editor who hollers about deadlines and corporate responsibility and sits in a big office. Rachel McAdams plays an underpaid blogger who works at the same paper as Crowe.

In one scene, Crowe and Mirren sneer at how McAdams churns out gobs of copy for little pay while Crowe dawdles on his stories and earns twice as much. As a twenty-something budding journalist, I appreciate the realism (though truth be told, I don’t churn out tons of copy; I’m too busy eating doughnuts in the break room). Keep reading…

The greatest Christmas movie ever 

Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s time once again to watch the greatest Christmas film in history.

And no, I’m not talking about It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, or even one of the several dozen renditions of A Christmas Carol — including the CG one with Jim Carrey. (Everyone knows the Muppets made the definitive version.)

Instead, what I’m talking about is Vendetta: A Christmas Story.

This movie’s awesomeness is unparalleled. For the uninitiated, “Vendetta” is a 20-minute film that first appeared on the Internet in the late 1990s. Back then, the movie took about three hours to download. Surfing the Web in those days involved lots of thumb twiddling, as well as enduring your modem’s electronic screeches.

The film, produced in the style of a 1980s cop show, depicts Santa Claus being pursued by special agents. He gets shot at, beaten, chased and stuffed in a trunk. It’s everything you could ask for in a holiday film.

I especially loved “Vendetta” when it first came out, because it demonstrated that you don’t need expensive sets, famous actors or lots of cash to make a film. You just need heart … and a lot of free time.

“Vendetta” was made in that weird era when professional, homemade films were possible — albeit relatively difficult — to produce. These days, consumer video-editing software is abundant, and computers are much, much faster.

That’s not to say filmmaking is easy — it’s not. But it’s definitely easier now for people who know what they’re doing.

“Vendetta’s” filmmakers had little money but plenty of creativity. They essentially made a fun, entertaining flick with consumer-level cameras and dollar-store props.

And I admire that. Audiences today are desensitized to the big-budget splendor of Hollywood. We take all their work for granted. That’s why it’s refreshing when a good, low-budget film comes along. We can see filmmaking’s fundamentals in their raw form.

Also, low-budget filmmakers have to have the basics nailed down. They can’t use big-name actors or special-effect sequences as a crutch. To pull off their film, they have to have a solid script, competent camera work and exceptional editing — all of which “Vendetta” showcases.

What’s more, “Vendetta’s” creators give the the film away. I doubt they’ve made money with it. They should have, if they haven’t. It’s a creative gem, and what’s more, it’s hilariously entertaining.

So this holiday season, here’s a giant thumbs up to “Vendetta” and to its creators. For me, Christmas isn’t complete until I’ve watched it at least once.

Wave at a neighbor, get a stare in response

stick figure waving

Yeah. Not my neighbor.

So I’m driving through my apartment complex the other morning, and I happen to pass my downstairs neighbor, who’s sitting on his front porch reading the paper.

I smile and give him a friendly wave … and he simply glares as I drive past.

No reciprocal wave. No nod of acknowledgment. Just an scrunch-lipped scowl as I cruise into the distance.

This isn’t an isolated incident. I drive past my neighbor at least three times a week. Each time I wave, and each time he stares.

Truthfully, we don’t know each other well … though I do think we exchanged pleasantries once. I asked him if he could help me carry my groceries upstairs, and he asked me if I could go screw myself.

And I don’t always wave when I see him. When he’s holding the paper in front of his face, he’s not aware of passing traffic. And if he’s bending over to retrieve the paper, with his bare white behind reflecting the morning sun … well, I find it best to avert my gaze, to avoid the blinding glare.

So sure, it’s not like we’re best friends or even acquaintances. All we have in common is that we live in this crummy complex (which might suggest that neither of us has any ambition, either).

But still. The guy knows I live in the building. He sees me driving every day. I’m pretty sure he knows what unit I’m in. Yet he can’t find it within himself to acknowledge my existence.

So much for trying to instill a sense of community in this disintegrating shit hole. The last time a bunch of freaks lived so closely together, they pitched a tent and started a circus. And yet my neighbors can’t even wave. Keep reading…

It’s a crosswalk, people — not an invincibility shield

A crosswalk isn’t an impenetrable fortress of security or an amulet offering supernatural powers. It’s white lines painted on black asphalt, for crying out loud. Yet many pedestrians think having the right of way makes them impervious to danger.

A crosswalk isn’t an impenetrable fortress or an amulet offering supernatural powers. It’s white lines painted on black asphalt. Yet many pedestrians think having the right of way makes them impervious to danger.

I’m noticing a disturbing trend lately. When pedestrians cross the street, they no longer check for oncoming traffic. They just jump in front of cars and expect them to stop.

I’m not sure when this became a thing. Was there a formal announcement abolishing the Look-Both-Ways-Before-You-Cross policy? Because nobody told me, and I’ve been practicing it since preschool. My local Gannett newspaper put up a paywall, so admittedly, I’m out of touch with current events.

I know the pedestrian always has the right-of-way, whatever the circumstance. I understand and accept that. You could be doing qualifying laps around Daytona, and if someone wanted to cross the track to get a beer, you’d be obligated to come to a screeching halt so they could haul their fat ass to the concession stand.

And I know the motorist is always the bad guy in every situation, even if a pedestrian steps in front of him without looking. We’re inclined to forgive pedestrians, because they don’t burn fossils fuels and destroy the planet. (Although some do emit a noxious, ozone-destroying gas, which carries the distinctive odor of semi-digested sprouts. But that’s only if the organic tofu isn’t sitting well.)

The laws are strictly on the the side of the pedestrian. The motorist has no hope. If a pedestrian dips a toe into the gutter and the motorist doesn’t come to a complete stop, the motorist is required by law to submit to a tar-and-feathering by an angry lynch mob. (And that’s only if he’s lucky. If the lynch mob is especially vindictive, they may go so far as to key his car and tear off his “I Like Ike” bumper sticker.) Keep reading…