Tag Archives: thoughts

Anything you can do, a computer can do better

Technology in the Workplace

It’s quite the confidence booster to discover that a flash drive can do your job.

My boss called me into his office the other day.

“Take a seat,” he said. “I’ve got big news.”

My heart jumped. “Is it about that promotion I’ve been asking for?”

“Not exactly,” he said, sinking into his chair. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Oh.” I looked down. “This doesn’t bode well for my future with the company. And here I thought I was an up-and-comer.”

“It’s not your fault,” my boss said. “It’s just that we’re replacing you with cheaper labor.”

“You mean you actually found someone who’s willing to work for less than me? I didn’t know Bob Cratchit was in the job market.”

My boss pointed to a metal rectangle sitting beside his computer. “Meet Arnie the Artificial Intelligence. He’s the new you.”

I frowned. “It looks like a flash drive.”

“Essentially, that’s what he is. Once we plug him into the mainframe, he’ll start doing your job right away. Best of all, he doesn’t need bathroom breaks, and he’s not known for complaining.”

“So he’s a mindless robot? It sounds like he’ll fit in fantastically with the team.”

“I hope you’re not angry,” my boss said. “You have to understand that AI is the latest trend. Everyone’s doing it. Flesh-and-blood humans cost too much to employ. Plus, they have unreasonable expectations, such as making a living wage.”

“Of course,” I said. “And not only that, but I’m sure he excels at meaningless, repetitive tasks, too.”

My boss shrugged. “What can I say? We live in an economy where human beings no longer matter. Computers can perform every conceivable, modern-day job.”

“You mean like posting cat pictures to social media?” I asked.

“Precisely. That pretty much describes every conceivable, modern-day job. Everybody’s a social-media strategist these days, but once AI takes over, labor costs will go down dramatically.”

“Does Arnie have a college degree in journalism?” I asked. “Does he have sound writing skills?”

“Oh, Colane,” my boss said, “you know that writing doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody reads. Besides, everyone communicates these days using acronyms and emojis, and Arnie has thousands of them in his language database.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s comforting to know that human expression has been reduced to a handful of smiley-face emoticons and a pile of shit with eyes. Shakespeare would be proud.”

My boss shrugged. “Time marches on. The old ways eventually die. You can bet that had Netflix existed during the Great Depression, John Boy Walton never would have wasted all that time writing in his room. The whole family would have been too busy binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones.’ With all that entertainment, they probably wouldn’t have been so depressed.”

“What about my other skills?” I asked. “I excelled at critical thinking in school. I have amazing logic.”

My boss pointed at the flash drive. “You know who else excels at logic? Arnie. He’s a computer.”

“Fine,” I said. “So this is it? Seriously? Just like that, you’re going to replace me with a robot?”

“Exactly,” my boss said, patting me on the shoulder. “With your logical mind, I’d knew you’d understand.”

“But what if the worst happens?” I asked. “What if Arnie becomes self-aware and decides to take over your job, and then the CEO position, and then the world?”

“Well,” my boss said, shrugging, “I guess I’d have to give him points for ambition. Lord knows this company needs more up-and-comers.”

“I’ll see myself out,” I said. 

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Getting ahead by getting in over your head

people who buy houses they can't afford

Apparently, the best way to build wealth is to go into massive debt.

“You know, you really should consider buying a house,” said my friend, Wayne, as he looked around my dismal apartment, his lips curled in a condescending sneer. “Now is a terrific time to buy.”

“Really?” I said, settling across from him on my grungy couch. “Right now? You mean when inventory is depleted and prices are sky-high? Yeah, it sounds like an ideal time to pour all my hard-earned money into a ramshackle hovel. When was the last time I heard this advice? Early 2008?”

Wayne sniffed. “This time it’s different. Home prices can never go down. You don’t want to get left behind.”

“Take a look at my apartment,” I said. “I’ve already been left behind. I couldn’t buy a house in the aftermath of the recession because I had a low-paying job. And now that I have a better job, home prices have surged to outpace wages. I can’t win.”

“You’ll never learn,” Wayne said. “The only way to make it in life is to buy and sell houses. That’s the key. The only people who get ahead are the ones who buy homes.”

“Huh. I always thought the way to get ahead was to save your money and live below your means.”

Wayne laughed out loud. “Seriously? And where has that gotten you?”

I glanced around my dismal apartment. “Not far, I suppose.”

“That’s exactly right. Working hard and saving money are probably the stupidest things you can do. When you live below your means, you’re not living. That’s why you’re supposed to buy a house and borrow against the equity. How do you think people have RVs and ATVs and brand-new cars? They’re not working hard and saving the money, I can tell you that.”

“I believe it,” I said. “People don’t seem to have to work anymore. Everyone’s just rich for no reason.”

“It’s not for no reason,” Wayne said. “They’re rich because they live in enormous houses with rising values. You should take some notes. Like I said, now is a terrific time to buy.”

“People always say it’s a terrific time to buy,” I said. “When the market’s up, it’s a terrific time to buy. When the market’s down, it’s a terrific time to buy. When a zombie apocalypse hits the planet, it’s a terrific time to buy.”

“Actually,” Wayne said, “that would be an amazing time to buy. You could get in early when the prices were down. You’d just have to hose out the guts and rotting flesh.”

“Well, tell you what,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. If a zombie apocalypse hits the planet, then maybe — just maybe — I’ll consider buying a house.”

“If you do, check out mine,” Wayne said. “I’m listing it for sale, and I’m looking for a buyer. I’m trying to move up.” 

“Move up?” I said. “And you want to use me as your stepladder?” 

He shrugged. “What can I say? If you knew anything about making money, you would have bought a house you couldn’t afford a long time ago.” 

Rallying for all the wrong reasons

Demanding Day Traders

Well, fair’s fair.

My next-door neighbor, Paul, was all grins the other day when we met for drinks after work.

“What are you so happy about?” I asked, my head sagging over my gin and tonic.

“Well,” Paul said, wearing a huge smile, “I’m not sure if you follow the financial news, but there was a major relief rally today on Wall Street.”

I peered up at him. “A relief rally?”

He nodded. “Yep. A big one.”

“Well, then,” I said, rolling my heavy eyes, “isn’t that just spellbindingly fantastic? Jolly jolly six pence.”

Paul’s bright smile dipped ever so slightly. “That sounded sarcastic.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Not at all. You see, when it comes to relief, I can’t think of a more deserving group of people than rich Wall Street jerks with huge mansions, five vacation properties, four yachts, three private jets and a wad of hundred-dollar bills blowing out their backside. I mean, forget the working-class poor who are slaving away at multiple part-time jobs and struggling to raise their children in a rising-interest rate environment where wages are stagnant and the cost of living is skyrocketing. Goodness knows they don’t deserve relief. When the market dips ever so slightly, my heart goes out to the truly downtrodden — the truly worthy — such as the bankers and the politicians and the lobbyists. They’re the ones who deserve the outpouring of pity flowing from our tender hearts. In the patchwork quilt that is America, they’re the imperative threads that weave us all together in a snug cocoon of kinship and closeness.”

Paul blinked at me. “Are you sure you’re not being sarcastic?”

“What do you care about the ebbs and flows of the markets, anyway?” I asked, throwing back my drink. “You don’t have any money invested.”

“I was trying to pass on good news, is all. I read that you should try to share a bit of good news every day, to instill cheer in your fellow humans.”

I glared at him. “Instill cheer? And you think the idea of rich people getting richer is supposed to instill me with cheer?”

“Well.” Paul shrugged.

“If you wanted to instill me with cheer, you could tell me that housing is finally affordable, or that healthcare costs have gone down, or that instead of buying back their own stock, companies are finally investing in their employees.”

Paul shook his head. “Nope. None of that’s happened, as far as I can tell.”

At that moment, his phone buzzed. He picked it up to read the alert.

“Hey,” he said, “I got more good news. The Dow futures are way up in after-hours trading.”

I sighed, sinking lower in my bar stool. “What a relief.”

An economy where no one has to work

connection economy

What we have in business today is a failure to communicate.

We live in an ultra-modern, super-high-tech society with instant messaging, social media, visual teleconferencing, desktop screen-sharing and collaborative workspaces.

Yet despite all that, it’s still impossible to get a hold of anybody.

In my professional career, I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone and actually gotten through. I’ve always been directed to voicemail. This frustration led me to undertake a yearlong project in which I researched the accessibility of the average worker. (Yes, that’s where I’ve been all this time, instead of blogging.)

The results were astounding. They showed that a whopping 93.8 percent of U.S. business is conducted by empty offices with phones sitting on desks. 

This may explain why highway traffic is so heavy during peak business hours. While phones sit and ring in unattended offices, working-age Americans are driving around wearing shorts and sandals, enjoying the weather.

In fact, David Von Sickle, chief economist with the Ingrate Institute, attributed the U.S.’s current housing shortage to unused office space.

“Instead of building homes, we’re busy erecting executive suites that nobody will ever sit in,” he said. “To cut down on commercial real-estate costs, American companies would be better off installing a bunch of phones in a random storage shed.”

Efficiency expert Wanda (who’s so efficient that she has no last name), said that our economy has reached so-called “peak productivity,” meaning that everyone is apparently rich and doesn’t have to work.

“In this era where nobody has to show up to the office,” she said, “you could reasonably conduct a multinational conglomerate from a single warehouse in the Arizona desert. All you would need is a truckload of phones and a table to set them on.”

Indeed, corporate strategists have been busy building a connection economy in which nobody actually connects. Little work gets done anymore because nobody is available to do it. Some experts say that this has led to a widening national trade deficit and dizzying phone trees where all possible options disconnect the caller. 

“American business is falling behind,” said Amy Asinine, a prominent bureaucrat for a government agency that creates economic reports using made-up data. “Our foreign trading partners are overtaking us because they actually show up to work.”

Some people disagree that detachment from the workplace is necessarily bad. (However, perhaps tellingly, these people tend to be aloof and out-of-touch executives who never show up to the office.) 

Larry Lethargic, a corporate officer with a multi-syllable title at an unnamed tech firm, said that although he’s never seen the inside of his suite, he’s heard that it could fit 20 standard-sized cubicles. 

“I think it’s on the ninth floor somewhere,” he said, as he took a break from his 10 a.m. Wednesday tennis match to talk. “I’m not quite sure what it looks like, but I know that there’s a phone sitting on the desk.”

When I asked Lethargic about his job responsibilities, he looked at me with a puzzled expression, as if he were watching a David Lynch film.

“I don’t have responsibilities per se,” he said. “I just get paid money — a lot of it. The phone at my desk takes all my calls. And if the money starts to run out, I just buy back stock. That’s how business works.”

The most vocal proponents of social media tend to be celebrities who gather millions of everyday followers and then follow back only six people — all of them other celebrities. 

“I love interacting with my fans,” a popular musician told me, while plugging her new album on Twitter and ignoring incoming Tweets from her fans. “Thank goodness for these social media platforms.”

Other experts such as Michael Mindless, a thought leader living in New York City, argue that today’s connection economy has fostered collaborative relationship building across corporations nationwide. 

I reached out to Mindless for a comment, but I could only get his voicemail. He didn’t immediately return my call. 

Sick days and substitute teachers 

Substitute teacher sitting in front of classroom with books on desks

My nerdy half-sister, Clara, often fills in as a substitute teacher. It’s one of the few occupations where you can end up with a “Kick Me” sign taped to the back of your shirt. That doesn’t happen in most office jobs.

Substitute-teacher days were always weird.

You knew something was off as soon as you walked into class. You could feel it churning in your gut – along with the undercooked corndog you’d eaten for lunch.

Some random adult would be standing at the head of the classroom, looking lost and out of place, as if they had wandered onto campus for their 20-year reunion and taken a wrong turn into the science lab.

Some of the students would stare, their eyes wide and startled, as if a spaceship had landed in their yard. The smart alecks would sneak discrete glimpses at each other, already plotting mischievous deeds, while some goody-two-shoes girl would exclaim, “Oh, no! Is Mrs. Ryan sick?”

And of course, the substitute didn’t know, so he’d shrug and mumble, “I have no idea. They just called me here this morning.”

I always pictured substitutes as impoverished vagabonds whose entire livelihood depended on a full-time teacher calling in with a hangover. They’d be awake and dressed at 4 a.m., standing by the phone and waiting for the call – a call, perhaps, from the principal himself, that most venerated of educational leaders.

A call that — on most days, no matter how long they waited — just wouldn’t come.

In defeated anguish, with no moneymaking gig, they’d wander the isolated streets — alone — scrounging for loose change to buy a loaf of day-old bread. If there was enough left over, they might get a secondhand picture frame to display their second-rate teaching certificate.

But if they did get the call, they’d show up in their corduroy pants and stand slump-shouldered at the head of the class – a flaccid, uncertain sergeant commanding a troop of baggy-pants know-it-alls. They’d kick things off by taking attendance, fumbling over names and biting their lip as they withstood the snickers.

After that, we students expected a free period to kick back and relax. In our minds, you see, there was a tacit understanding between the school and its students that the substitutes would make no effort to actually teach.

Instead, they’d distribute word-search puzzles, or assign busywork, or maybe put on a movie. They were supposed to be glorified babysitters, not aspiring educators striving for full-time status.

If the substitute did open a textbook and start to lecture, we’d have to set him straight. A kid would pull the book from his hand and say, “Sorry, but no — this isn’t how it’s going to work. You see that VCR attached to the TV stand — the one that’s flashing 12:00? Well, you’re going to pop in a National Geographic special from 1979 and play it for us.”

“Oh.” The substitute would place a fingertip to his lips. “Will I be giving you a quiz at the end of the film to ensure you’ve internalized the information?”

The student would shake his head — slowly — his eyes wide and threatening. “No.”

On another note, it seems like teaching is the only profession that gets substitutes. How come it’s a perk that never caught on in other workplaces?

I mean, when I can’t make it to work, I’m not allowed a stand-in. I can’t call up some random guy to do my job for a day. If I don’t show up,  my co-workers have to pitch in.

And when my boss is out, there’s no auxiliary superior to distribute word searches to me and my co-workers. No one plays a National Geographic special for us in the breakroom. We’re still expected to do our jobs, even without the watchful eye of a surrogate overseer. It doesn’t seem fair.

But maybe it’s just as well. Knowing me, if I had a substitute supervisor, I’d be one of the smart alecks sneaking discrete glimpses at my co-workers, plotting mischievous deeds.

What can I say? Even though I’m no longer in school, some things never change.

Maybe you should try decluttering your house before listing it for sale

man in office talking on phone

Perhaps not so surprisingly, my career as a real-estate photographer was short-lived.

Years ago, I worked in a small real-estate office. One of the agents got a new listing, so she asked me to drop in and take photos.

As I dropped in, my jaw dropped. Random junk sat atop every conceivable surface. It looked as if a tornado had struck a knickknack shop.

There were dog toys on the couch, antique dishes on the coffee table, torn-open mail on the kitchen counter. If House Hunters and Hoarders got drunk and made a baby, this house would be it.

I would have wiped my feet on the mat, but I didn’t want to dirty my shoes.

However, I was there to take photos, so take photos I did. Being the professional I am, I used creative angles to portray the garbage as artistically as possible. Natural sunlight flowed through the open curtains, adding a heavenly glow to the pristine piles of rubbish.

We posted the photos and listed the home. A few days later, the homeowner called.

“Can you tell me who took the photos of my house?” he asked.

I told him that the creative genius in question was me.

“OK,” he said, “then riddle me this: Would it have occurred to you not to take photos of all the clutter?”

Now here’s my problem: I have a smart-aleck switch. When it’s switched on, I start spewing a stream of passive-aggressive prattle that can’t be stopped. Once I get going, I’m not able to turn the switch off, even if I try. I just have to keep going until I run out of steam.

It’s sort of like Planes Trains and Automobiles, when Steve Martin accuses John Candy of being a Chatty Cathy doll who pulls his own string — except the reverse. I have a switch over which I have no control. Only other people can flick it on for me.

And this homeowner, unfortunately, had succeeded in flicking my switch.

“Well,” I said, “riddle me this: Would it have occurred to you to clean your house when you know full well a photographer’s coming?”

Silence.

“You see,” I continued, “a photographer’s palette is the whimsical world he frames with his lens. While a painter suggests reality with brushstrokes and splatters, a photographer captures the essence of a moment and coaxes it to its fullest expression. The environment in which he composes his masterpieces sets the mood for the photos that emerge. So when he finds himself in a repulsive midst of messiness and disarray, his thoughts, emotions, and photos reflect the untidy shambles of his surroundings. What develops – quite literally – are photographic representations of the egregious eyesore, complete with all the filth and clutter that litter the landscape.”

“Are you finished?” the man asked.

“Not quite,” I said. “The horrific conditions of your abysmal abode not only undermined my artistic endeavors, but they endangered my life, as well. When I stepped backward to frame a shot of the dining room, I tripped on what I assume was a poodle — or maybe an overgrown rat. Either way, it wasn’t moving, so I imagine it had sucked its last breath as it desperately clawed through the clutter, seeking the freedom it could never find in the midst of the suffocating chaos.”

A heavy sigh came from the phone. “Is that all?”

“Your trashcan was also overflowing and left sitting in the middle of the kitchen,” I added. “I would have moved it, but I couldn’t swat my way through the thick swarm of flies. They pushed me backward and pinned me to the wall. I’m sure I could have taken them individually, but as a team, they proved to be an unstoppable force.”

“OK — I believe you’ve made your point,” the man said. “Are we done now?”

“I think so,” I said. “That’s all I’ve got.”

“Good. If I clean up the clutter, could you come back to retake the photos?”

“Of course,” I said. “I live for my art. I exist to achieve excellence. I cherish the creative satisfaction that comes from replicating the beauty of nature. Why, my camera –”

The phone clicked in my ear.

“Hmm.” I hung up the phone. “Well, not everyone appreciates my creative genius.”

Apparently, no one stole the cookies from the cookie jar

a cat stares menacinglyGrowing up, there was always that one petulant kid who’d throw inexplicable tantrums during class. He could be mellow one moment and transform into a Tasmanian devil the next.

(And just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about President Trump.)

You never knew what would set this kid off. Everyone would walk on eggshells in his presence, as if crossing a minefield. If you did something so benign as beat him to the pencil sharpener, he’d grab a couple of erasers and clap them against your face.

If you were lucky, you’d escape with only a couple of bruises and a head full of chalk dust.

In kindergarten, that kid’s name was Marcos. Although he barely could tie his shoes, he’d already developed a temper on par with Gordon Ramsay. If you so much as looked at him the wrong way, he’d sputter a stream of profanity that would make a construction supervisor blush.

I still remember one day when the teacher gathered the class in a circle on the floor. Sitting in a chair at the head of the group, she started us singing a rowdy rendition of “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?” (Because how better to prepare us for the upcoming rigors of first grade?)

“Angela stole the cookies from the cookie jar!” we sang.

ANGELA: “Who, me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

ANGELA: “It couldn’t be!”

CLASS: “Then who?”

Angela pointed to me. “Allen.”

CLASS: “Allen stole the cookies from the cookie jar!”

ALLEN: “Who, me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

ALLEN: “It couldn’t be!”

CLASS: “Then who?”

I pointed to Karen. “Karen.”

CLASS: “Karen stole the cookies from the cookie jar!”

KAREN: “Who, me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

KAREN: “It couldn’t be!”

CLASS: “Then who?”

Out of that innate compassion that girls always seem to have (as opposed to us boys, who preferred to throw rocks at the girls), Karen pointed to Marcos. “Marcos.”

CLASS: “Marcos stole the cookies from the cookie jar!”

Marcos clenched his fists and threw back his head. “I don’t want to play!” he screamed.

The entire class froze with open mouths. This unexpected interruption to the routine was like bolt of lightning zigzagging through a tree, slicing it in half and leaving a smoldering stump. All of us were too afraid even to breathe.

“Um.” The teacher bit her lip. She looked around the room slowly, like a dazed boxer recovering from jab to the temple.

Blinking rapidly several times, she shook some sense into herself and pointed at a boy named Frankie. Waving her hand like a conductor starting  a symphony, she started singing “Frankie stole—”

The rest of us followed in, albeit hesitantly: “Frankie stole the cookies from the cookie jar.”

We all kept a wary eye on Marcos, who was sitting with his arms crossed and glaring manically at the floor.

Frankie swallowed, trembling. “Who … me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

Frankie shot a glance at Marcos. Marcos was staring him down like a hawk eyeing a field mouse.

“Um,” Frankie said, swallowing. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling very well.”

“Maybe that’s enough singing for now,” the teacher said. “Everyone return to their seats, and we’ll read a story.”

“Way to go Marcos!” I said, pointing. “You ruined our Cookies in the Cookie Jar song!”

“Yeah, Marcos,” a couple of other kids chimed in.

“What?” Before I could react, Marcos lunged at me, knocking me to the floor. He grabbed two erasers from the blackboard and started clapping them against the sides of my head.

“Marcos! Marcos!” The teacher grabbed him around the middle and pried him off of me. “I’m taking you to the office this instant!”

“Fine!” Marcos stormed out of the room ahead of the teacher. With his sullen frown and furious stomping, he looked like a miniature version of Bender from The Breakfast Club.

On his way out, he knocked over a girl’s pencil case and shoved her notebooks onto the floor. The girl started crying.

“Shut up!” Marcos snapped, as he barged out of the room, letting the door slam closed on the teacher.

As for me, I sat up slowly, choking on my own words … as well as a thick cloud of chalk dust.

That wicked-smart takedown from ‘Good Will Hunting’

Good Will Hunting mathematical equation

Clearly, a working-class genius was here.

I’ve always wanted to have a Good Will Hunting moment.

See, there’s a scene in the movie where Ben Affleck tries talking to Minnie Driver in a bar, and a Harvard creep interrupts and starts spouting intellectual gibberish to make Affleck look stupid. (Which shouldn’t have been too hard, given that Affleck would go on to make Gigli.)

And Matt Damon, who plays working-class genius Will Hunting, jumps in and outwits the guy, spouting back even higher-level intellectual gibberish and proving that the creep is memorizing and plagiarizing quotes from obscure texts.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you should watch it just for that one scene. It’s a takedown of epic proportions, and it ends with Damon getting Driver’s number.

Later on, Damon sees the creep and his pals in a diner, so he stands at the window and asks, “Do you like apples?”

“Sure, yeah,” the guy says, rolling his eyes.

Damon slams a piece of paper on the window and says, “Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?”

Yeah. I’d love to have a moment like that.

Of course, where I live, Harvard creeps are hard to come by — but that’s probably because Harvard is on the other side of the country. The kind of creeps you run into here don’t really try to outsmart you — they just knock your teeth out.

Also, I’m not exactly a working-class genius like Will Hunting. I don’t beat up punks in my off-hours or solve complex equations on my bathroom mirror.

So if I were to outsmart somebody on such an epic level, it’d have to be about something nerdy and off-the-wall — something that only a total geek like me would know.

So here’s my fantasy. The way I envision it, my friend is in a bar talking to a girl, and a creep emerges from the shadows and interrupts.

“What’s your deal, buddy?” my friend asks.

“No deal,” the creep says. “I’m just reminded of the Martin Scorsese film Bandits, in which Billy Bob Thornton is talking to Scarlett Johansson in a bar, and he’s nervous and mumbling and having a panic attack, because he has OCD.”

My friend’s face falls, as he realizes that he’s intellectually outmatched.

“See,” the creep continues, grinning, “my contention is that you’re like Billy Bob Thornton, and you’re too nervous and weird to know how to talk to a woman properly.”

So that’s when I jump between the creep and my friend and say, “Of course that’s your contention. You’re a second-year grad student majoring in film, and you’re studying romantic comedies from the early 2000s. Only Barry Levinson directed Bandits, not Martin Scorsese, and you’re thinking of Cate Blanchett in the lead role, not Scarlett Johansson. And Billy Bob Thornton’s character was a hypochondriac, so he only thought he had OCD in that particular scene. In another part of the movie, he was convinced he had a  brain tumor. One of the jokes running throughout the film was that in each scene, he thought he had a different disease.”

The creep frowns. “Well, you might be a lot younger and stronger, but you’re about —”

I cut him off: “‘You might be a lot younger and stronger, but you’re about to get your ass kicked across the state line, and I’m wearing the boots that can do it.’ You got that quote from the 1985 film Murphy’s Romance, didn’t you? Directed by Martin Ritt and starring Sally Field and James Garner? Yeah, I saw that one, too. What, are you going to plagiarize the entire script for us? Don’t you have any thoughts on your own on the matter?”

The creep’s face falls when it’s clear that I’ve outwitted him.

“See,” I say, “the problem with someone like you is that you’re going to come to a realization someday. One, don’t do that. And two, you’ll have dropped a quarter-million on an education you could have gotten for a buck-fifty in late charges from your local Blockbuster.”

And of course, I’d get the girl’s number, and all my friends would think I was awesome. And people would talk about how smart I was, and how when it came to movies, I was a veritable encyclopedia of useless knowledge.

Sigh. I’m not sure I see it playing out in real life, but a person can always dream.

But if I were to get a girl’s number after such an epic takedown, I can guarantee you, I would like them apples.

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.