Here’s Why I’m Not A Judge

Besides the absence of a law degree and any legal experience whatsoever…

It wasn’t cloudy, it was ash.

As I’m sure everyone has heard, over the Labor Day weekend, some jag of a 15 y/o firebug was out lighting firecrackers in the Columbia Gorge and started a forest fire, turning this

into this

Oregonians are tearing up when they talk about it.  It’s palpably changed our collective mood.

Too many of us are carrying inhalers as our normally mist-filled September horizons are now hazy with smoke.  Instead of anticipatory pumpkin spiced latte talk and a slightly dreary post summer drizzle marking the onset of the fall season, we’ve got ash raining from the sky and conversation that is reminiscent of the last time it rained ash in Portland in the days following May 18, 1980.

At least Mount St Helen was a natural disaster.

This kid, though.  I’d bet he’s more of a nurtural disaster.

When you hear Oregonians discuss him, there’s not a note of empathy to be found in their conversation, its tone nor even inadvertently in their body language.

It’s an open and shut case.  

You did this.

You were proud enough – the rest of us gratefully call it stupid enough – to have a friend film it.  

Seemingly, just to impress girls?

What none of them realized – surely because of their lack of life experience as much as underutilized intellect – is how cherished our nature is in the PNW.  Not to get into trouble with the Indigenous People of America, but more than anywhere else I have lived, the people of the Pacific Northwest have a connection to this land they inhabit.

I remember Sarah Jessica Parker – I know!  Where the fuck can this be heading? – saying in an interview once that NYC was the fifth star of Sex and the City.  Well, in the PNW, we are all the co-stars to the nature that surrounds us.

So, before he’s even charged, he’s been convicted in the hearts of Oregonians, if I could presume to speak for my people.

I guess I’m on to the sentencing phase in my mind…and I want the punishment to fit the crime.

If you were really doing this just to impress girls, my knee-jerk reaction is chemical castration.  It takes care of the punishment and is also prophylactically prudent – safeguarding future forests against any future humans he might be responsible for raising and releasing into the population.

Or, just to be tricky and humane…life in prison.

I imagine the reflexive objection of his parents as I – as judge in his trial – lay out his sentencing options.  

I offer them a sort of Sophie’s Choice, would you take his place to spare him?

Should this ever come to pass – and fully admitting that outside of any knowledge of these parents, I’m using my post-Trump-election disdain for generic Americans as my guide – I expect nervous and uncertain glances to be shared between the parents.

Nervous, uncertain and hopeful glances: dubiously hopeful that the other steps up.

With a side of the expectant stare of their son as he waits to see which of his parents sacrifices their freedom for his…because he surely has an entirely undeserved sense of entitlement.

I hammer down my gavel as they shamefully and selfishly shake their heads, choosing their own freedom over that of their parental failure, and send the whole family off to prison.  

A sentence of time with each other…I would expect their cell could be in the center of the conflagration of their procreation’s creation and still feel as icy as if it were a Siberian gulag.

Ah, the state of family in our country…so lacking in accountability.

We aren’t that far removed from a time when parents bore the shame of their children’s transgressions as their own.

Decades, maybe?

Or when a family member would sacrifice themselves to save the rest.

A generation or two back, tops?  

Where are those pioneers and parental pillars now?  Too rare, to be sure.

In reality, what will happen to this kid?

He’s 15, only 80% to the threshold for being tried as an adult.

How will he be held accountable for the land he has destroyed?  

The habitats and species he has threatened?

The livelihoods he has doomed?

The tens of millions of dollars his havoc has wreaked in emergency services expenses?

Will his parents be held complicit?

I certainly think they should.  It’s a values issue for me.  Certainly why I – as a judge – would offer them that Sophie’s Choice, in the first place.  A test of whether the value lessons parents are expected to teach failed to take root or if those values were simply never a part of his upbringing in the first place.

A nurtural disaster.

Sadly, my faith in our cultural humanity does not afford me the generosity of the assumption that this kid comes from competent parents.  Too often these days, I see people who are the product of hands-off parenting, abandoned to be raised by the public school system…a system that can barely teach algebra effectively, let alone morality.

Nor should it be expected to, yet here we are.

I’m loathe to agree with conservative GOP rubric on any level, but I’m fairly certain that if we’d managed to create a system of family values in our country – one that doesn’t involve the teachings of one very learned burning bush – that we could have probably avoided the current burning bush shituation in the gorge.

But, no…we didnt get there with family values.  Rather than remain true to our own country’s founding tenants, we were distracted by shoe horning selfish religious interests into law and instead of developing actual collective values as a country, the wedge was driven.  

Commandments or nothing for us!

And here we are.  The fiery result of that political and cultural spiral.

How do we fix that?

In my mind, the politicizing of values came before the actual erosion of our family unit, but I could be wrong.  Either way, we’ve got a country whose population can’t relate to its own extremes with a dwindling middle ground and families whose only bond any more seems to be shared DNA.

Luckily, regardless of which came first, the present day culmination of this failure is 45.

I’d hazard a guess that our ashy PNW sky is a nice glimpse of the impending nuclear winter skyline courtesy of the two pettiest world leaders with maybe 6″ between them. 

Here, I certainly hope to be wrong, but struggle to find evidence to support any faith I could muster in a different view of the future.

Because as complicit as our jag of a firebug’s parents are in their offspring’s fiery magnum opus, we as American’s are equally responsible for the ass sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

And he will not be outdone by some punk 15 year old.

Geez.  Now I’m depressed…

Here’s Why I’m Not A Judge

Well, Here I Am…Again!

The man with many hats.

“Today has been one helluva week” – Me

I think I’ve said that four out of the last five days.  That, or, “This is my xth Monday this week”, which is another Xtopher staple. 

I like to mix my charming sarcasm up a bit. Now that I type that out, I feel it should have its own Chrisism since its so often the case:  charcasm.  

Does that work?  I know it’s no shituation, but…wudyagundo?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s too easily confused in conversation with the gap between a cookout and grilling.  One would need to rely pretty heavily on contextual clues to discern the potential presence of a silent h.  So, back to the matter at hand.

My hats this week:

My normal HR and merchandising awesomeness chapeau.

A handsome bowler for the opening duties I’m picking up for one of our two morning Zone Managers, who’s out on Leave.  Ish.

Oh, and a practical and summery straw hat for the responsibilities I’m picking up each morning for our other morning ZM, who had a planned vacation land during the aforementioned and unplanned Leave.

Again, wudyagundo?

And how about one of those tall, furry marching band hats for our bookkeeper?  He had a planned vacation that was slated to be covered by an associate who was cross-trained in bookkeeping.  Alas, a family emergency put her out of the picture a few weeks back so we needed a back up plan.

“How about that ZM with the straw hat?”  The Boss.  

Me: “Vacation.”

The Boss:  “OK, how about training a new associate, there’s just about enough time.”

After putting our heads together, we come up with a back-up for our back-up.  I check in to gauge her interest level:  super excited.

“As long as it doesn’t mess up my vacation!”

I swear, I can’t make this shit up.

“Well, I guess it’s us”, The Boss says, speaking of himself and his Ops and HR managers.  

The Ops manager in question is someone I cheekily refer to as Capt Can’t.  Not because he’s like a basic white girl who literally can’t even.  No, it just popped into my head one day after I suggested a different way of doing something for yet another acknowledged broken process that was hindering success and making everyone equal parts nuts and frustrated – I’m all about process improvement, which makes one of us.

Here’s how those too frequent conversations kinda went:

Me:  “We should try X”, not the drug, Diezel.  In this case “X” equals any old problem and I’m solving for a solution to X.

“We can’t!”, Capt Can’t.

“OK.  Why not?”, Me, seeking to understand the obstacles.

“It won’t work.”

“Why?”, Me…again.

“Because it won’t!”

Seriously, there’s a solid and well-thought argument, right there, people.

All.

The.

Time.

The Boss and I come up with the simplest of plans, each of the three of us will have one training day a week for two weeks.

Easy-peasy.

I go first.

Now, our bookkeeper…nice guy, bless his heart.  But he spends the better part of 40 hours a week in a 5×8 room with no windows and usually with the door closed due to Loss Prevention protocols.  When he’s not trapped in that eggshell hole, he’ll talk your ear off.

Can’t really blame him.  Plus, he’s usually good for some real dad jokes and groaners.

I go in for my training at 6 am on a Tuesday.

Search and Rescue pulls me out five hours later.

Just kidding.  I tunneled out through the drywall.

The Boss looks up at me over his glasses, “That took a while!”

“Five hours”, I say, carving drywall dust out from under my nails with a letter opener.

“How long should it take?”, he pointedly asks.

Like I’d know.  I’m almost at my one year mark here, he and Capt Can’t have 20 between them, so I give him one of these

…and guess, “Three and a half, maybe four hours?”

He’s moving on, “Can I do it?”

“No.”  

Probably, I shouldn’t just barf out answers like that.  I’m aware of the difference between giving an honest answer and giving the wrong answer, at least.  

However, in this instance, my bald response earns me another over the glasses glance.  This one rather amused looking.

“Oh?”

“Seriously.  It’s unnecessarily complex.  Two different programs, two data entry webpages and a spreadsheet.  I’m probably missing something, too…cuz it’s my first day!  Your head will explode.”

“Can he handle it?”, chuckling and gesturing with his head to Capt Can’t’s desk.

“Probably.  Sure.  His head won’t explode, but he might kill our bookkeeper after 90 minutes of being trapped in there with dad jokes”, I’m not kidding…this is the guy I’ve referred to in other posts as a festering wang of a human because of his bullying and brutish outbursts aimed at my favorite person.

New plan:  me and Capt Can’t will take the training and pick up shifts during the week of the bookkeepers vacation.

Of course, I keep to myself the realization – and subsequent alternative new plan – that I let Capt Can’t do the training but figure out a way to not have to share bookkeeping responsibilities in order to maintain bookkeeping continuity.  It’s a good plan, the second part.  

The first part is me just thinking that I’m helping him be as awesome as he’ll tell you he is by facilitating his learning something someone so awesome at their job would already know how to do after 11 years in his role.

I’m a giver like that.

Still shutting up, Diezel.

I happen to be off Wednesday and Thursday of that week instead of my normal Thursday/Friday – someone needed Friday off, so I switched up my days because I’m also a giver like that…it doesn’t have to be all snarky, all the time with me.  So, I come be-bopping in on Friday morning and during my chat with The Boss ask how Capt Can’t’s training went.

“Oh, it didn’t happen.”

Not for the first time in a decade, I think.

“Yeah, with our warehouse ZM being out, he said he just didn’t have time.”  Which should be partially true, sadly, the irony of the shituation is that he put so little effort into developing the manager he is now – allegedly or conveniently, I can only guess – crippled without.  Had he put in the same time to develop his direct report before losing him to a LOA, he would have had a higher functioning team to support him – all of us, realistically – while the warehouse is down its manager.

But, y’know…can’t.

…And that’s how I got to be the back up bookkeeper.

“But it’s not awful”, says Xtopher as he heads home on his Friday after about a 55 hour work week starting daily at the luxurious time of 5 AM.  

Don’t be jealous.

Seriously, though, besides the start time – MAX gets me there at 4:39, but a couple of days I took the second train and got in at 5:14…don’t tell! – I made a nice routine of it:   

– Check prior day’s time cards and track infractions and missed punches – something I’d usually do;

– Put sales from previous day up on the whiteboard – which is something I sometimes do;

– Run change to each of the five stores and check in with everyone – not my normal routine, but I usually cover for ZM absences or vacations;

– Process the deposit and cook up them books – definitely not something I’d normally do!

After that, I’d have a few hours to return to my normal work flow, writing a schedule or processing and placing souvenir apparel in our shops.  I’m on vacation myself starting this Sunday, so I had my normal schedule to write for the coming week + the schedule for the week I’ll miss + the schedule for three weeks out, just so my re-entry from vacation doesn’t have a looming task…because you all know what it’s like coming back from vacation.  

I’m being proactive!

This usually ended up being about 1 1/2-2 hours of “me” time before I did the second change run of the day between 11 and 12.  After the first couple of days, I learned this is a good time to cram something into my lunch hole since I’d been there at least 6 hours at this point.

After that second change run, I was really pretty much done with any duties I needed to perform to cover our missing compatriots.  Somehow, most days – except Acupuncture Monday – I managed to keep myself busy until 3:00 or later.  Saturday and Sunday because the closing manager didn’t arrive until 3:30 and there’s usually a good 30 minute download as we hand over the reigns for the day.  Those were easy 12+ hours days…although Sunday I was begging to be out by 4:00!

It’s an impressive display of…a complete lack of dignity?

I think what made this week most challenging and rewarding was that first change run of the day.  Normally, I’ll run around the stores and check in as I make a game plan for what merchandising needs are priorities.  Only, then I have the luxury of hitting all or only some stores.  When you got a bag of change strapped to ya, you ain’t got no choice but to hit every stop on the tour.  There I am, literally hitting the ground running each day, and about day three it hits me:  these fine folks that get to work at 4-damn-o’clock every day aren’t looking at the hats!

I can’t say that I blame them.  As managers, the senior team isn’t the most visible to the associates throughout the day or week.  Heck, the day side associates are lucky, most of the night side team hasn’t seen the other two seniors in just about ever!  One night side associate who quit a few months back told me during our casual exit interview that she liked seeing me, because she never gets to see any managers during her shift, “I haven’t seen Gary in a year!” she says, referring to The Boss.

His name’s not Gary!

Anyway, since that talk, I’ve really made a point of being accessible for all shifts – even swapping out two of my shifts to start at 10 AM instead of 6, so that I’m there until at least 6 PM.  On those days, I usually plan on being there until 8, but it depends on how the week has gone…if I’m over 50 hours, I generally GTFO a little closer to 6!

So, being Mr. Accessible, I don’t point out the hat-of-the-moment and just try to do it all.  Usually, this means I’m getting a pocket full of scraps of paper with scribbled things to do between finishing the deposit and that second change run…sorry, souvenir shirts!

Sheesh, people are so needy!

But I do try to do my best to be in service to my team, I expect a lot from them so it seems fair that I meet their expectations, too.

Hat be damned.

<author’s note> I walked away from this post six days ago…I was torn about whether I was telling a story or bitching pointlessly about work.

The point that I originally wanted to make was about how I found myself amused to realize something on that Wednesday morning.

Nothing, too deep – definitely derp – this is me, after all.

I realized that during my normal morning circuit there are a few associates I tend to expose myself to in doses, our Russians.

How timely is that, with Russian election collusion on the minds of most Americans these past months.

Seriously, we have several team members who emigrated from Russia or former USSR countries.  They are intense.  And kinda hard to understand, having not left their accents behind as readily as their former homelands.  I appreciate them all, performance opportunities and accents included, their success in their roles is important to the success of our five store business as a whole.

Still…they are intense.

When they have something to say, it will always be about what they need to execute their job responsibilities to their standards. It might just not be something that there isn’t a process in place to provide already.  A lot of times, I’ll pop into a store shortly after 6 when I arrive.  The common litany is something along the lines of, “I need this or that”.  Stated with an eastern bloc urgency that used to send me running for the warehouse in compliance to the need.

What I’ve learned is to suss out the actual urgency.

These ladies have had two hours to settle into their shift and usually have nailed everything that they deem important to a well run store.  I make that point because one of these associates refuses to comply with the expectation that associates wear a name tag.  

My belief is that she thinks it’s fun to throw down the silent challenge that someone correct this minor infraction of hers.

You know me, I’m rules-y, so we would butt heads on this.

But then I realized that I could leverage her demands with her lack of compliance.

Does that sound like good management? I ask seriously, since the conversation that occurred usually did not sound remotely adult.

“I need paper towels.”

“I need you to put on your name tag.”

Or, even less mature, “I’m sorry…do you work here?  It’s so hard to tell since you aren’t wearing any company ID.”  But I do so enjoy taunting people and she enjoys my verbal parry to her thrusts.

However, that’s not the usual response I expect to my greeting upon entering the shop.

“Good morning!”

“I need paper towels.”

So I’ve also trained her to indulge in a little small talk before throwing out her list of needs.

Plus, that small talk kills time between my arrival in the store and the start time for our warehouse associates, who start at either 6 or 7 each day.  Since “paper towels” usually end up falling into their responsibility buckets, I can put off her request to the rightful owners of the process at issue.

Indeed, I’ve even learned over my near-year on the job that when she wants “paper towels” it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s my observation and rationale.

This person was born into a Socialist culture of bread lines.  Many have observed that her primary store is usually overstocked with stuff squirreled away everywhere.  

This initially prompted me to change my response to her morning demands from “run to the warehouse” to “verify actual need”, which is another dance we do after the Name Tag Dance.

“Good morning!”

<small talk>

“I need paper towels.”

<walks to supply closet>

“You have five rolls.”

“Yes, but sometimes people spill things or the warehouse runs out and then it’s good to have extra”, she counters.

<blink, blink>

“Also, you know I like to keep my store clean.  These other people, they don’t clean enough.  Every day, I come in and it takes 30 minutes just to clean up the mess.  There’s coffee drips and sugar and food all over the tables and coffee bar, you know?  Why don’t they clean?  It’s so dirty.  I’d get bored if I didn’t do anything during my shift.”

And there it is.

Initially I didn’t realize it.  It took me a few months, so I’d respond, “Well, you can probably get by with ‘five rolls’ of ‘paper towels’ until 7, so put it on your list for the warehouse.”

She’d laugh at that last move in our morning verbal sparring, acknowledging my so-called victory.

Until.

One morning she came back with this rejoinder, “I put it on my list, they don’t bring for me.  They don’t do anything.  It must be boring to come to work and not do anything all day.”

And that’s when it clicked with me.  She may only wear one hat at work, but she wears it pretty damned well.

I often say that employees watch their managers.  They take their cues not just from how we manage them, but how we manage ourselves.  Of course, I should have realized this whole time that they’ve been watching their co-workers, too.  Store associate and warehouse associates.

When she says “It must be boring to come to work and not do anything all day”, what she’s really saying is that her co-workers aren’t meeting her expectations.  Up until this point, I’d just leveraged her passive-aggressive complaint against her Russian-bred work ethic and acknowledged to myself that most Americans working lower wage jobs will not provide performance that meets their job description in exchange for that wage. 

We’re lucky.  The Boss and I will routinely discuss our hero associates that have been there consistently over time delivering on their job expectations and then move on to our lament about the millennial work force, which so frequently takes us to our warehouse associates, who are largely millennials.

Who also work under Capt Can’t.

And look to him for their performance management and example.

And they see can’t.

Knowing that, having observed this over time, could I really expect things to change in this he said/she said relationship the store associates appear to have with the warehouse associates?

Well, yes.  But only because I’ve been lucky to find a few non-millennial applicants for recent warehouse openings that also seem to hold themselves to a higher performance than their millennial peers or leader.  

But that’s just luck.

So, on this Wednesday morning, I took off my HR, bookkeeper and morning ZM hats, put on my warehouse guy cap and went and got her some “paper towels”.

If for no other reason than to take a moment and reward both her work ethic and her patience at putting up with an American work ethic – that may never actually meet muster for her, regardless – with some goddamned paper towels.

We both won that verbal dance off, and went off about our respective days smiling.

Well, Here I Am…Again!

Why I’m Single #66: Listen Up

Admittedly, I’m more of a talker than a listener.

But when I do listen…I tend to have to work at it to remain fully engaged because I can be a fairly passive listener.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Most of what we say in casual conversation can probably be gleaned from passive listening and context cues.

That said, I think our culture also places a premium on having an opinion and opinions aren’t something that just happily sit in a shelf in a bottle.  Once people form an opinion, they tend to be eager to share whatever I – er – they most recently learned on the Facebook.

However, there are conversations where you have to take a more active role.

But you poor bastards have probably heard enough about my dating career.  I could tell you more stories, but you’d probably begin to get bored…

So, how about something else that I’m good at that the longer I do, the harder other people tend to make it to get decent results?

Work, of course.

It seems like not a week goes by at work without an eyeroll-inducing conversation about the work ethic of millennials.

Now, you see the correlation, eh?

But, it’s true.  I think our best work force is probably close to actually leaving the work force.

In a box.

I should admit that it’s unfair to classify an entire group of people as poor workers, and I know that there have been – and are – younger people that have a fine perspective on an honest day’s work.  That said, it sure feels as if finding a decent worker in their 20s is like the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I tend to fear having more than one 20-something working in the same area…you know that old adage about water finding its own level.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t wonder if the results I see from younger workers are at least partially due to a language barrier between millennials and people in their 30s, 40s or older that prevents the best results from being achieved.

There’s a thing that makes one ponder.

Anywho

Counseling conversations at work are certainly one example of where one’s agenda can get in the way of good listening.  I make sure to listen actively during those conversations because my ultimate goal isn’t to fire someone, it’s to improve performance and preserve the working relationship.  In order to do that, sometimes I need to help people overcome the obstacles they put in their own way. Paying attention to what they say as they verbally process the situation allows me to help remove those obstacles.

Active listening isn’t really something you can “processize”, if you know what I mean.  It’s a behavior or series of good habits you execute during a conversation.

When I worked at Green Zebra, one of our executives – well, and even the owner – had a habit of multi-tasking during meetings.  Usually, the owner was showing off how effectively she could shovel salad into her mouth, but I didn’t really care about that until she switched from listening mode to talking mode.  Then I had to stop listening because:  misophonia.  But what they both did to prove they were listening while multi-tasking was say, “Ok, what I hear you saying” and then repeat what was said with amazing accuracy.

And occasional salad projectiles that we all ignored.

Pretty soon, the minions were using that same phrase to demonstrate-slash-validate their own listening acumen.  Regardless of whether they actually possessed any particular skill beyond those of your jungle-variety parrot or snarky mid-level manager.

It was an amusing situation, even if this effectively resulted in making meetings twice as long as they needed to be just so these executives could do something else while everyone else struggled to accomplish the normal goals of the meeting.

Where this really worked against them was in performance management.  As I said, it’s important to listen actively during a critical conversation, but one of the Zeeb’s core values was speaking up.

Simple enough, right?

Of course not.

Because their rote habit here became – literally – “Thank you for speaking up, what I heard you say was…”.  Looking back, I’m kind of surprised my eyes aren’t stuck looking toward the back of my skull.  What people heard when they said that was the praise being given for participating in the culture of open communication they wanted to create in the work place.

Their problem here was that praise can often be misconstrued as validation.

My problem was that I tend to not validate things people say that are wrong.  My usual tactic when that occurs isn’t to say thanks for anything, it’s to move to correct the error by saying something like “That doesn’t sound right to me…” or “I can’t agree with that…” depending on the situation.

Y’know…be more direct.

I actually tend to be the same in my personal life, too.

Why I’m single #66.

Telling it like I see it to be.

Hey, you all know by now that I certainly have an opinion.

Honestly, I think there have always been personalities that required kid gloves when dealing with them:  our not great and -sadly – not late #45, for one.  But where those fragile egos used to be the exception, now they are a dime a dozen.  Not that we’re barfing out psychopathic narcissists, no.  It’s more that we are manufacturing people who are great at opinions, but not so much at critical thinking.  I’ve met some doozies, personally and professionally and they tend be loud and proud about spewing out their thoughts and equally skilled at deflecting from the fact that they don’t have a lot of data or practical experience to back up their opinions.

That’s a problem.

In a co-worker.

In a date.

In a president.

In our culture.

It’s not something I can fix.  But it’s also something that I’m not walking away from.

It’s why I continue to talk about my perspective on what is happening politically in our country.  Also, why I find it hard to remain respectful when I speak with someone who defends what is happening politically in our country without admitting the brazen hypocrisy of the shituation.

It’s why I am not dating and also not missing dating.

And it’s why I appreciate the people that I work with that come to work and do their damnedest to do a damn fine job.  That’s a relationship that I can appreciate!

Why I’m Single #66: Listen Up

So, This Whole Uber Thing…

I’m not gonna lie.

I use it.

I really love it.

But, it does have me thinking lately.

Especially after my early morning ride to work with Jerry today.

And here’s what I can’t shake.  This is quickly changing our country.  But, as much as I love it, I’m not sure that it’s changing it for the better.  At least in the long term.  And no one seems to be giving a thought to the long range picture of America.

The things that concern me?

I am a frequent user, however, I don’t meet a lot of drivers that have been doing this long at all.  Universally, they tend to love the whole “set your own hours, be your own boss” thing.  Because:  America, obvs.  So, no career longevity.

I meet a lot of older drivers who are either tired of the jobs they had for decades or whose jobs evaporated in the tech industry focus that our country has been clamoring toward.  How did their jobs evaporate?  Robotics.  Apps.  Everything in between.  Oh, my.

Then there’s those millennials, whose collective work ethic is…oh, abysmal isn’t the right word.  I don’t want to say anything that could be construed as praise by those folks.

All that has what I think are the ingredients for a huge disaster in our financial culture.

Let’s look at those points again.

At my new job, I have said on more than one occasion that our staff has either been there for 15 years or for 15 minutes.  It’s not an optimal staffing situation.  Nor is the Uber model, where more often than not, their drivers come from the 15 minute pool.  I think that what – at least partially – accounts for this observation of mine is what I’ve heard from former Uber drivers:  the money isn’t as good as they were led to believe once everything nets out:  gas, car payment and insurance are the commonly griped about expenses that allegedly net their earnings down to about $11/hour.  My driver this morning was cavalierly mentioning that he’s clearing about $300/day in fares and that sounds pretty good, right?

Except…

My second point about a lot of the drivers being older?  Yeah…that’s a nice way of saying that Jerry doesn’t fully understand how this works.  I’m not sure anyone does.  Myself included.

I used to know.

Now I only think I know.

What I recall was that the initial drop rate was $5.  Of that, the driver got $4 and Uber got a single.  That covered the initial minimum distance rate, regardless of whether you just went a few blocks or went further and ventured into fare territory, after which there was a split between the driver and Uber.  I think it was 80/20, but that’s putting a lot of stock in my old brain and it really doesn’t matter since now I’ve been told that the financials have changed in favor of Uber.  Also, that I should be tipping my drivers.

I’m choosing to stay old school here, I joined when tipping wasn’t a thing and I would like to blissfully remain in that gratuity-free zone.

But back to old Jerry.  The fella who told me that he’d been working since 6 a.m. Monday during our 3 a.m. drive on Tuesday.

Check, please.

Damn if Jerry wasn’t a chatty old bastard, though.  He went on to tell me that he’d been driving since April of this year.  He’d bought his car used for the purpose of driving for Uber.  He’d put a new windshield on the car, new tires, done some engine-y stuff…I’m sitting in the back wondering what the hell was right with this car when he got it.  Declaring at the end of his laundry list “…and it’s all tax deductible!”

Oh, it is?

Even the business license is tax deductible, he tells me.

I ask if his accountant confirmed that and he replies that he hasn’t gotten one yet, but he’s saving those receipts, yo.  I’m mentally crossing my fingers that he’s right, but he’s already moved on to how I should try UberEats.  Telling me how cool it is and that he took Thai food from a restaurant over in SW to a Thai guy over in NoPo – “ten miles away!” he exclaims – and that he should try and remember it so that he can go there, cuz if a Thai guy wanted it that bad, it must be good!

Ok, where to start with this?

First, it’s a non-job.  It’s an adult paper route.  Driving for Uber or its app ilk is as real a job as videoblogger…VLoggers.  Do not get me started.

I agree with him that it must be good food if the guy is willing to pay for an Uber ride for his Lemongrass Chicken.  A ten mile Uber ride is about $8, so that’s gotta be quite a taste sensation in my book.  Also, it’s the reason I have not tried UberEats yet, which I tell him.  “Oh, nononono…the restaurant calls the Uber!  The customer doesn’t pay anything extra.” he says.

Really

“So, the restaurant books the ride, huh?”  I ask, still not believing that’s quite right based on what I’ve witnessed in the – get this – Thai restaurant in the ground floor space of my building while I’m waiting to grab my take out from them.  I mean, there appears to be an iPad that they use for the ordering, but I think they’re just logged into the UberEats app so that when someone orders through the app they get the order.

But I don’t need to know, I’m not the middle aged guy making that millennial money grab.  That would be Jerry, who doesn’t seem to have arrived at the conclusion that cooking one’s own food has been a diminishing art since…oh, Betty Crocker got a microwave in the late 70s.  I’m guilty of eating out more than I cook for myself, I’ve got the waistline to prove it, too.  But when I do resolve to cook at home, I tend to toss out a lot of rotten food.

can cook, I just choose to not.  I think most millennials were raised in a household with one parent or two working parents and probably never even learned how to cook.  They didn’t even have Home Ec like I did in Junior High.  Nor did they have the parents that pushed them to do something besides play video games like mine did.  Ok, my parents pushed me to stop reading, doing homework and watching Gilligan’s Island and Bewitched reruns – key word there, BTW – and go outside and play like a normal kid.

Yeah, I took Home Ec.  Shut up.  Is that really all you took away from the last paragraph?

So, here we have Jerry, blissfully under aware of the fact that people using UberEats have more money than domestic skill or even gumption.  Which is sad, because these people are the kids of the people who engineered the robotics that put him out of a job in the first place and landed him in an Uber at age 54.  Those kids are also the people who designed the apps that he is currently deriving his income from.  They have basically begun a movement that could enslave the older humans.

How’s that for irony?

These people with absent parents that either didn’t challenge them to “get outside and play” like mine or were too busy chauffeuring their kids around to extracurricular activities to spend time teaching them life skills in order to be able to survive in the world outside of their parent’s basement…well, now these kids are turning around and basically putting their parent’s generation to work driving them home when they’re drunk or fetching them dinner…since they never taught them to fend for themselves.

Then again, I could be way wrong and this whole “old peeps driving for Uber and Instacart” thing could take the pressure off of the post-boomer generations and our reliance on a draining Social Security system until the American culture simply goes extinct because millennials just weren’t able to muster up the initiative required to procreate…whatever, Jerry was one happy motherfucker.  His pre-dawn energy and chattiness – not that he really said anything since he wasn’t able to provide details in response to my questions about how it all works – were kind of inspirational.  Not a bad way to start my day, even if skeptical old Xtopher thought he was probably amped up on whatever designer drug the kids are taking these days.

Regardless, this ought to be exciting to watch unfold.  And whoever resettles our country (or planet if this thing goes wide) will be able to watch it all, thanks to those VLoggers!

So, This Whole Uber Thing…

FOMO

Man…dating seems to be foremost in my mind recently.

I’ve certainly been doing it, because of optimism or self-hate, I am not entirely sure.

I had lunch with the Little Buddy yesterday and she said something to the effect of “I hated dating and I hate interviewing, I’m not sure how you stand both”.  Remember, that’s an indirectly paraphrased quote.

She and I had both just come from interviews.

She got a call during lunch and said, “I bet that’s a job offer coming in” and blithely let the call roll to voicemail.

My hero of cool.

Sarah Barielles’ Brave just came on Sonos in the background, so I suppose that’s my cue.

FOMO – what is it?

Fear.

Of.

Missing.

Out.

Freaking Millennials.   It’s like they need an acronym for everything.

But that attitude is drastically different from my mindset – and I firmly believe that my mindset was representative of our culture’s at the time I matured in – growing up before the turn of the century.  We wanted it all and were a culture of conspicuous consumers, yet we found satisfaction in setting a goal and obtaining it.  It doesn’t seem so true about subsequent generations, and their dissatisfaction with what they have is bleeding backward into prior generations.

No one is satisfied.

People move house and trade-in vehicles like a runner changes shoes.

TV shows are cancelled after one episode.

Remember how popular small and toy breed dogs became after Paris Hilton got famous with her reality show?  Go to a shelter and check out the number of abandoned small breeds, even now, after all this time.

As far as that pertains to dating, why wouldn’t we throw away people, too.  A friend of mine summed it up beautifully one drunken evening when discussing his relationship with his partner of 20+ years versus my single existence:

“You meet someone in a bar and spend the night talking.  You go home together and they either never leave or you never hear from them again.”

An interesting if not highly figurative observation on his part.  Gay Wisdom?  Perhaps.  A cleverly turned phrase that one with faith in relationships can see gospel in like Catholics can believe in transubstantiation?  I’m sure that’s an easy argument.

But what about the other side of that argument?  What if instead of scuttling a potential truth with jaded jargon loaded arguments we debunk the assertion that it can’t be that simple?

What scuttles modern dating?

Personally, it seems that – anecdotally – even hookups are tough to get someone to commit to.  That being the case, how can anyone hope to get someone to show up for something that doesn’t have the same immediate reward an orgasm does?

So, hooking up and taking care of urgent biological imperatives in the moment over investing in more challenging spiritual needs is surely one possible explanation.  But, I’m sure there are many facets in something so complex as human interaction and relationship building.

Being a career retailer, I have never dreaded the proximity of competition opening near to my particular business.  Competition is generally credited as a positive and mutually beneficial phenomenon in business, but not so with dating.  It seems that the more apps available to shop for mates and the more people participating the more distracted the process becomes.

Why?

Consider these apps might be analogous to retail as an industry in this scenario, but if we cast people as the businesses, that leaves the question of currency.

What is the currency?

Sex.

Oops.  Looks like we have based this experiment on the Greek economy since relationships seem to be suffering.  Our relationships are going bankrupt.  Urgently.

And it points well back to my original point about FOMO.  We have so many choices, that we make none, remaining stuck in the cycle of not deciding.

It’s like we’re all stuck in Seinfeld.  Remember how when he or Elaine or George or Kramer dated someone there was always something wrong?

close talker

He’s a close talker.

She’s a low talker.

Man-hands.

For believing she got gonorrhea from sitting on a tractor seat in a bikini…one of my personal favorites.

Ok, maybe it’s not fair to lay this all at the feet of the Millennials.

But whatever seminal influence the Seinfeld cast and writers may or may not have inadvertently had in this current behavior, at least there were reasons these characters sabotaged their relationships.  Today, I think there is no more reason than simple distraction.

Before ever hearing the term FOMO I had my own name for this phenomenon.  I called guys who couldn’t commit the Queens of the Better Offer.  You’d go to bars and chat with people.  If it went well, you ask them out or for more immediate gratification, back to your place.  Then, I guess, if everything goes well, you rent a U-Haul.  The Queens of the Better Offer would delay accepting an invite, be it of a social or more carnal variety, and hold out for their perceived best opportunity in whatever particular bar they were in.  Frequently, these QotBO ended up finding themselves at the “Sidewalk Sale” after the bar closed and kicked everyone out.

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

The QotBO were left with the option to go home alone or settle for someone who wasn’t worthy enough to invest their attention in in the hours leading up to closing time.

Wow.  I just had an a-ha moment to when my grumpy old man-ness began.  When guys would do that to me, I remember telling them that if they had left with me when I asked, they could be home sleeping already instead of just deigning to hit on me.

Early.

Onset.

Grumpiness.

Back to the present shituation (<– Chrisism) and what have these current behaviors created for our culture, not just the gay culture, but within America as a whole?  People.  Lonely people.  Perhaps more entertained than ever before but also lonelier at the core than ever before as well…lonely people who are afraid of missing out, afraid of being alone.

Whether it’s Monkey Daters – who never leave one romantic entanglement before having their next lined up, much like a monkey swinging from branch to branch in the wild – or people that are so busy being busy that they don’t have time to indulge dating someone seriously.  Or won’t risk it.  They’ve got their professional lives, their part time career of gym-going and then myriad distractions from their unnamed loneliness like volleyball leagues or the Gay Men’s Chorus.  Christ, even big brother or other volunteer programs are more of a security blanket protecting against the potential cold of loneliness than they are a legitimate charitable exercise.

But what’s one to do when he still has needs that dating would normally meet but the crippling indecisiveness and chronic overcommitting so prevalent – basic, if you will – amongst us all today makes impossible to achieve?

Here’s the vicious FOMO cycle.

Back to the apps.

Maybe not even to hook up, per se, but to just connect with someone else killing some free time before bed or during a lull at work.  Just to feel desirable enough because someone throws a Woof or an Oink or a Smile your way.  Or even a “Sup”…man, when someone actually uses a real – albeit lame and artless – word with you instead of just pushing a button to send an automated and presumably less risky Wink your way you really should make an effort to lock that down.  The online personal touch is so…touching.

So there’s that benefit of having a dating app.  Mutual acceptance of the situation, this misery your constructed happiness has created.  The camaraderie of people knowing they aren’t the only ones that are too busy leading a happy and incomplete life to have time to date or put effort into a relationship.

That’s a pretty jaded perspective of what the FOMO culture can create.  But I have observed this phenomenon in action.  Not the reality for everyone, of course.

There’s under-booked guys and people out there, too.  Normal people.  People who aren’t missing out on having it all by virtue of having too much.  People such as yours truly, who is really just a watcher to these mind-boggling behaviors and goings-on.  Sure, I see other normal guys out there.  We talk.  Other things happen.  Or don’t.  But I also see guys like I have described.  I call them precious, these QotBO.

But I see another type of guy, too.

The guy that is guys.

Guys who are looking for a third.  What is it about our FOMO culture that creates all these open relationships that I see now?

Too often.

You’ll be glad – or perhaps just unsurprised – to learn that I have a theory.

Not that Poly or Open Relationships aren’t viable pieces of the possible spectrum of human interaction and relationships…but they seem to be too large a piece of the pie nowadays.  People routinely barfing out the expected defenses of “If you haven’t tried it, you can’t knock it” and “It works for us”.

Does it, though?

Really?

Is this what “working” looks like?

Maybe you’re with the wrong person.  Perhaps your response to the FOMO culture was to settle.  A bird in the hand, after all…

I’ve seen Poly and Three-way Relationships disintegrate because there was still no commitment amongst the principles.  Great, now there’s three of you dating.  Why are each of you still looking for hook-ups on the side?  How much dick is enough?  Is not enough dick really the core issue?

For me, the logistics of a Three-way Relationship are non-starters.  Is it always everyone, all the time?  Can two be intimate without the third?  I learned from Big Love that schedules and calendars help.  That kind of takes away the genuineness that spontaneity creates, though.

“Sorry, I can’t drill you in the kitchen because tonight I have to be in someone else’s bed.”

Same with Open Relationships…sure, they just aren’t for me.  I’m traditional.  But how does that work?  I get some on the side while my boyfriend is at work and then he comes home feeling randy.  Well, guess what?  I’m a one-hit-wonder.  Matter of fact, I’m probably good for a few days now.  My days of having sex like I’m brushing my teeth – before bed, when I wake up and sometimes after lunch – are over.  I’ve entered my sexual camel stage, believe it or not.  But still, I think my case is extreme but not abnormal, even the most sexually active would probably lose their enthusiasm for repeated instances of bad timing.

Or their boyfriends would.

Either way, the problem probably just escalates until you have a relationship that crumbles or reaches a NSLP situation…non-sexual life partners.

From what I have gathered, there are lots of reasons for Open or Three-way relationships to work.  Some make me nod my head as I see the potential for the particular rationale; long distance creating an open situation, age-based open relationships to meet the needs of differing libidos.

I’ve also heard some real head-scratchers as far as reasons for opening a relationship up goes:  two bottoms or tops together?  WTH?

You’re not boyfriends if you’re not lovers; you’re friends.

This latter type of phenomenon made me realize that sometimes people respond to the FOMO culture we’re stuck in by not missing out on a relationship…even if it’s with the wrong person.  Those are more often than not the alternate relationships that I see fail.  But, mark my words, those people are the ones that will organize a Poly Pride Parade before admitting that their alternate relationship isn’t what needed acceptance, it was the fact that their relationship was unviable in the first place that needed to be recognized.

Not to switch topics too jarringly, but the other day I was talking about the good old gay days in Portland with a guy over a beer.

Yes, it was a date.  Shut up.

With a guy who didn’t know about the good old gay days because…

He is 25.  More shutting up, please.

I was telling him about how virtually all of the gay bars in Portland used to be on a three block stretch of Stark Street, commonly referred to as Vaseline Alley.  Starting where Stark breaks off of Burnside you had The Eagle, Silverado’s was on the next block which has been completely taken over by the McMenamin’s businesses – I’m not sure why there is a Army Surplus Jeep in the basement that used to be a sex club called Club Portland, but that’s what I hear happened.  On the next block you had Three Sister’s, lovingly called Six Tits, where you could see straight guys strip for gay guy’s discretionary tip money while their girlfriends watched.  And then the big finish of Boxxes, Brig and Panorama across from the original locations for CC Slaughters and Scandals just below 10th Street.  Scandals is the only gay bar left on the street now.  Everything else has scattered to make way for boutique hotels, upscale shops and overpriced hipster cafes and bars.

It’s progress.

Unforgivable in some people’s minds, but for me…completely the opposite.  Half of the displaced bars simply ceased to exist.  The remaining scattered to different quadrants of town from SW to NW to North Portland – affectionately called Portland’s Fifth Quadrant, because Portland does like to be weird.  Or be bad at math and cartography stuff.

What others see as gentrification gone wild I see as diversifying our brand.  We spread the gays out, diluted their entertainment options and kind of forced gays to suddenly have to pick a favorite to invest in since they couldn’t just hopscotch down the road hitting each of the bars in turn.  I think it actually strengthened the community as well as the businesses themselves, which is good for us all.

Capitol Hill in Seattle faces the same fate as gentrification from overpaid, over-imported and overwhelmingly heterosexual tech employees move to the areas adjacent to their new jobs in Seattle’s downtown core and South Lake Union neighborhoods.  The public (gay) outcry was legitimate but probably short sighted.  The gay enclave of Cap Hill needed to be broken up.  We were kind of bullies in our roles as Queen of the Hill.  To each other.  It was a live action version of what I see on line and in app behavior:  you could be talking to someone in a bar or even on a date and not be able to avoid the feeling that they were looking over your shoulder or around the corner to see who was on the horizon.  It’s the Sidewalk Sale all over again.

Talk about someone kissing you with their eyes open.

Just like Portland gays had to make deliberate attempts and decisions in their nightlife after the demise of Vaseline Alley, I see opportunities for the gays of Seattle to come back more into touch with actual one-on-one dating and relationships once they are scattered across the neighboring communities and have less distraction to take their attention off of what’s right in front of them.

So, maybe we’ll grow out of this FOMO culture organically.  At least as it largely impacts relationships within my particular subculture.  But the gays have long been relied upon to be trend setters.  So goes the evolution of dating and relationships with the gays, so follows the country.

We’ll see.

I still think intentional behaviors are better than reactionary behaviors, but that might be asking too much.  Maybe we all need to suffer together in order to grow.  Safety in numbers.  Maybe the solution isn’t so much a Norma Rae type moment where one voice can make a movement – ok, I could have used Gandhi there, not sure why I defaulted to Sally Field – rather, more of a Darwinism type moment where we have to fight to ensure the life and culture that we love survives and what is actually important to us thrives.  Let me tell you, as the Cap Hill enclave has broken up, I have seen more announcements of relationships and marriages than I have announcements of relationships ending.  That’s a positive change from past behavior.  No one in Seattle is going to get in a car for a hook-up.  No piece of ass is worth that traffic nightmare, they will lock down what they have.  Nearby.

Stand by.  You know I’ll be here observing and won’t be shy about vomiting my opinions onto the poor, unsuspecting world-wide web.

FOMO