It’s Still A Dilbert World

The headlines continue to speak towards employment uncertainty in a lot of places. Layoffs are certainly no laughing matter. I was caught up in two of them, and unfortunately for me they were back-to-back in the mid-section of my career, working in manufacturing supply chain roles (planning, purchasing, logistics). In the first instance, my company was acquired and merged with an overseas operation who grossly miscalculated the cost of such an acquisition, and decided to rectify the problem via layoffs. In the second instance, my company decided they would be much better off making a more cost-effective (cheap) product in Mexico, completely shutting down its U.S. location in the process.

The comic strip Dilbert debuted in 1989. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s probably simplest to report Scott Adams’ strip contains all the righteous and outrageous sarcasm about work and the workplace later characterized in both the British (2001) and American (2005) television shows The Office. For those of us who were in office jobs at the time this strip began, it quickly became clear Adams was drawing from his own personal experience – which aligned with our experiences – making the strip even more relatable and timely.

For me, the craziest thing about this 33-year-old comic strip is it is still relevant. The title of Adams’ most recently released compilation is called The Office Is A Beautiful Place When Everyone Else Works From Home. His next comic collection, scheduled for release next month, is titled Not Remotely Working. Depending on your point of view, fortunately or unfortunately companies are still just as stupid as ever, humanity is still not a part of human resources, and co-workers are still…unique…whether we’re dealing with them in the office, remotely, or both.

When I began my self-titled First Retirement at the beginning of June, I really felt at that point like I was just walking off the chessboard (spoiler alert, the name of this blog). I think at certain times in our lives we can feel like we’re just pawns on a chessboard, especially with regards to work. I know after those consecutive layoffs, I felt like I had no control over how life was playing out. I never did get another supply chain role quite like those two positions I held, which also happen to be the best jobs I’ve ever had.

You know how you’ll focus on something as a way to shut down negative or anxious feelings coming on? A memory, thoughts of a loved one, a quote or saying…anything at all to put whatever you’re dealing with in an easier-to-deal-with mindset and perspective? For me, navigating corporate workplaces in those earlier years was a hell of a lot easier with Dilbert around because if nothing else, it reminded me I was far from alone in the daily, relentless struggle against organizational bad behavior. Back then, I didn’t have nearly as much life experience as I own now. Whether I return to work someday or not, I can easily maintain a healthy sense of humor about anything work-related. I have always believed you shouldn’t dwell or ruminate upon things out of your control – like business decisions, bad bosses, crazy co-workers – and keeping a sense of humor about work helps me stay sane.

Dilbert’s portrayal of layoffs were strikingly similar to mine…

Layoff #1 – After our company was purchased and merged with the overseas organization, oh, we had our suspicions…

Layoff #1 – When our company had to decide whom to layoff, I certainly envisioned some of our departments doing it along these lines…

Layoff #1 – Our company referred to the layoffs as “right-sizing” the organization. Using the word “layoffs” was obviously considered way too realistic. For those “survivors” not in the first round of layoffs, they were pretty much left behind with this scenario…

Layoff #2 – Initially, our company told us we would be teaching the Mexico facility how to make our products so they could help the entire organization out. Our U.S. location had a healthy backlog of orders we could not make in a timely manner, and their facility recently had “acquired” some additional capacity (they lost a major customer…yeah, that usually results in additional capacity…). A few months later, we knew better when…

Layoff #2 – Pretty much the conversation I had with someone in management at our company before the layoffs were announced…

Layoff #2 – As rumors continued to run amok, I just wanted to take off on a Friday and enjoy a three-day weekend…

Thank you, Scott Adams…then and now.

 

Pictures Courtesy Andrews McMeel Syndication

Modern Love

Recently, I read a blog whose author indicated right off the bat the post to follow was more for them than for the reader. Reading that reminded me of a post rattling around in my brain which never got out into the Ether until now.

This site you are reading. My space. Am I blogging primarily for those of you who read it…or am I really, honestly creating first and foremost for myself?

Neil Gaiman, a legend in the land of comic books and who possesses the brilliant mind behind “The Sandman” , was interviewed earlier this year by the New York Times before the Sandman adaptation series debuted on Netflix. I thought he provided a very interesting take on what audiences want, and how a writer makes a decision to write for oneself, or one’s audience.

“Sandman has been huge, but it was never huge when it was coming out. Since then it has gone on to become this ridiculous steady seller because new people are always finding it when they’re 16, 18, 22 years old. They find it, and it’s their comic. It’s their story. I didn’t get to that by going, “I will please my audience.” But audiences do want more of the last thing that they liked. That’s how audiences work. They say, “Hey, I love this strawberry ice cream. Can I have more?” In response to that, I can do one of two things. I can give them more strawberry ice cream. If I do that, I am doomed to give them strawberry ice cream for as long as I do this thing, and I will hate myself. Or I can go, “Nobody is clamoring for chocolate ice cream. Nobody even knows they like chocolate ice cream. However, I want to do chocolate ice cream next. So why don’t I do chocolate ice cream and keep my own interest up?” It’s how the entirety of my writing career has gone.”

Gaiman went on…“I’ll use another analogy. Years ago, my friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden said some authors are dolphins, and some are otters. You can train a dolphin. Give a dolphin a fish if it does a trick, and it will do that trick again. Otters are untrainable. They’ll do something, and you give them a fish, and then they’ll do something else. Because, why would they do the thing they already did? I tend to be an otter.”

One of the things I hope readers like is when you see there’s a new post here you’ll wonder what I’ve written about this time around. Subjects come to my mind from multiple, unpredictable directions.  In the context of Gaiman’s observations above, I think I am very much Team Otter. My writing is true to my nature, and I am very much creating what I want. Of course, I also hope each of you thinks your time is well-spent…and you’ll enjoy what you find. That’s a cherished bonus.

However, one scenario where I lean into Team Dolphin is with regard to any sports-related posts. I believe a number of readers here have little or no interest in sports. Hell, over the years I’VE started to care less about sports which I never, ever thought I’d type out. But when I do write something about sports these days, I admittedly do try to craft those posts in such a way they will also be amusing and/or informative and/or entertaining to non-sports fans.

A new documentary on the life and times of the late music legend David Bowie is currently playing in theatres titled “Moonage Daydream,” directed by Brett Morgen. Madison Bloom from the website Pitchfork wrote about one segment of this film where Bowie reveals how he felt about the time he had his most lucrative success, following the release of his 1983 album “Let’s Dance.”

“At one point, Morgen slips in early footage of Ziggy Stardust (Bowie) singing “Rock n’ Roll Suicide.” He then splices it with ‘80’s stadium tour footage and clips from Bowie’s Pepsi commercial with Tina Turner, which turned “Modern Love” into an embarrassing jingle for the soft drink. The director is formally commenting on the gross commercial excess of the era, if not foreshadowing Bowie’s hindsight on it. “Even though it was enormously successful, there was no growth going on at all,” Bowie says later in voiceover, admitting that he was confining himself to “what I perceived people wanted.” It is the film’s most honest moment…hearing Bowie confess that he’d betrayed his artistic nature is disarming. Knowing that this resulted in his most lucrative phase is its own meta commentary on art and commerce.”

You have to appreciate the honesty. Bowie is admitting to creating work based on what he believed audiences wanted and in doing so, felt stagnant as an artist. When Bowie released that album…writing most of the songs on it including “Modern Love”…I just assumed back then he had a natural curiosity and passion to write songs and create music within a brand-new space. In reality, it sounds like he was way more invested in writing and creating what he felt others wanted him to do.

These quotes from Gaiman and Bowie made me stop and think for a moment. Do I most often create and write for myself here…or for what I think readers would best respond to…or maybe it’s usually a little of both?

As for “Modern Love,” I hope David Bowie at least got some satisfaction knowing many people enjoyed it…regardless of his motivation.

 

Picture Courtesy Pinstripe Hourglass

Joe Shlabotnik

I love underdogs in sports.

Hell, I even rooted for both the 1988 and 2021 Baltimore Orioles to just win a game when they eventually ended respective losing streaks of 21 and 19 games…even though if they had kept right on losing in either one of those seasons they could have possibly broken the record of the longest losing streak in major league baseball’s modern era…23 games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t like to see teams get embarrassed because as a fan I know full well what that feels like. I am a product of my environment, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All of our professional teams have a long, inglorious history of being quite far removed from championship glory.  Our current ledger looks like this:

Phillies – World Series Champions in 1980 and 2008. (131 seasons)

Eagles – Super Bowl Champions in 2017. NFL Champions in 1948, 1949, and 1960. (89 seasons)

Flyers – Stanley Cup Champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75. (54 seasons)

76ers – NBA Finals Champions in 1954-55 (as the Syracuse Nationals), 1966-67, and 1982-83. (73 seasons)

Which may be why I love Joe Shlabotnik. It’s usually this time of year – in the baseball dog days of August – when I most often think about Joe. For those who have not previously heard of Joe, he is a fictional baseball player featured in Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic strip. He was Charlie Brown’s all-time favorite baseball player.

Charlie Brown worked endlessly to hunt down any and all memorabilia associated with Joe Shlabotnik. He once bought 500 one-card packs of baseball cards to try and get one card of Joe’s. While he wasn’t successful, his pal Lucy van Pelt bought only one pack and what-do-you-know…she was the proud owner of a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Unfortunately, Lucy then steadfastly refused to trade Joe’s card to Charlie Brown, even though she had no idea who Joe was. Once Charlie Brown exhausted himself trying to entice her to give up Joe’s card…she eventually decided he wasn’t quite as cute as first thought…and tossed the card into the trash.

Charlie Brown also once was under the impression he had a Joe Shlabotnik autographed baseball…which in fact turned out to be a forgery. But, it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s futility trying to get Joe Shlabotnik memorabilia that makes Joe an underdog for us all to root for. It is the “legendary” career of Joe Shlabotnik:

  1. Joe was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season. The one hit was a bloop single…with his team comfortably ahead.
  2. Joe once promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He instead popped out…but circled the bases anyway.
  3. Joe had a knack for making routine fly balls into spectacular catches. He also had a talent for throwing out runners who had fallen between first and second base.
  4. Joe eventually retired as an active player and took a job managing the Waffletown Syrups. He was fired after one game when he called for a squeeze play…with no one on base.

Charlie Brown never got to meet Joe Shlabotnik. He bought tickets to a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes…but Joe was the only athlete who didn’t show up. It turned out Joe had marked the wrong event, city AND date on his calendar. Joe was also invited to attend a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown. He got lost on the way there.

Ironically, this might be one of the best pro sports years we’ve had in a while. The Phillies are competing down the stretch for a wild-card berth. The Eagles should be in the hunt for the post-season. The Sixers should be a lock for their post-season. The Flyers…they will likely have a season similar to the ones Joe Shlabotnik experienced. Not. Good.

In any case, thank you for allowing me to acknowledge Joe as one of my favorite characters in sports. When it feels like the pro athletes representing Philadelphia are performing poorly, I will think of Joe and realize they aren’t that bad.

 

Picture Courtesy United Feature Syndicate

Living In The Moment

I was cleaning off some excess grass from the lawn mower in the front yard a couple days ago when I saw a man and his dog walking on the other side of the street…headed in my direction. They were too far away to say hello, and I was headed back into the garage anyway to get some iced tea I had there.

It had been like mowing on the sun…should have just hired the landscaping crew who came to the door earlier (see above).

While I was in the garage cooling off, as this duo got closer I could hear the man singing to himself (or the dog?). He did not have ear buds or any player device – just him, his dog, and his song.  He was definitely enjoying his walk…this moment. However, his dog was periodically stopping to smell whatever dogs smell off to the sides of sidewalks. What struck me was how the man was singing his tune louder while the dog was walking ahead, but his song’s volume…and its progress…dropped off significantly every time the dog stopped.

I am confident in the brutal heat of the midday sun this man had forecasted to get back home sooner than later, but his dog clearly was operating on a different arrival schedule. I found it amusing how the loudness and pace of his song coincided with the forward movement of his dog. Yet, the man was so patient in ensuring the dog was safe at all times while “off-course,” and didn’t think to continue with either his desired decibel level or lyrical style until his dog was back in line and moving ahead.

I am positive I would never have noticed any of this if I hadn’t been actively trying to be in that moment. Over the last few years, I’m betting you have seen many self-help recommendations for all of us to try to live in the moment. Soak in as much of each day’s blessings as possible when we can find them…be aware of all of the sights, sounds, smells.

It has become a pet project of mine to consciously slow down, breathe, and try to appreciate special moments when I come across them. I don’t want to be as consumed with what is next on the to-do list, or worrying about what might or might not happen in the days ahead. For me, I have written my own healthy prescription to find, acknowledge and appreciate positive moments I come across daily.

Most definitely there are times we can’t possibly live within moments. Life comes at us with velocity, curves, and detours…quite unexpectedly at times. In those circumstances we have to look a bit ahead, look forward. Not just for ourselves, but sometimes for the benefit of others as well.

It was like the dog owner was doing just that, making sure both of them stayed together…living in their moment.

 

Picture Courtesy Universal Studios