Breakfast With Pineapples And Memories

Phil Rosenthal, the Creator/Showrunner of the long-running, award-winning television series Everybody Loves Raymond, has mentioned in various interviews over the years an experience he had before ELR, while working on another hit show making its network millions of dollars at the time.

One day, the show’s staff got a memo saying, “We noticed some of you are coming in in the morning and putting milk on your cereal. The milk is for coffee. The cereal is for snacks. We do not provide breakfast for you.” He decided right then and there if he ever wound up running his own series – which he did with ELR – everyone involved would always have milk for their cereal.

The cost of just about everything in the world went up significantly in 2022. We’ll see how 2023 plays out.

In the meantime, my belated New Year’s Wish for everyone…milk for your cereal.

If we characterize something as silly or goofy, I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say it is also close to entering the realm of immature or even childish. Yet, that’s the very successful vibe the television show Psych was known for giving off during the eight seasons it aired on the USA Network. And even though its original run ended back in 2014, I think in this ever-so-too-serious time we often find ourselves in these days, there isn’t a better time for newbies to join the cult following known as “Psych-O’s.” Psych currently is available on platforms via subscription, and reruns air on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel as well.

The synopsis for the show is fairly straightforward. Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez) has an uncanny power of observation courtesy of his no-nonsense dad, Henry (Corbin Bernsen). Henry was formerly a police officer on the Santa Barbara police force, and back in the day he taught young Shawn to take in even the tiniest of details from his surroundings. When “adult” Shawn has called in one too many knowledgeable tips to help the police force solve crimes, and they threaten to prosecute him for them, he then manages to convince the cops he’s a psychic. Shawn’s childhood bestie, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), who knows how Shawn’s talent really works, ultimately gets caught up in aiding and abetting his buddy’s psychic detective agency. He reluctantly starts helping Shawn help the police solve crimes.

Roday Rodriguez and Hill form one of the craziest, funniest, wackiest duos ever to operate in the ultra-serious, quite-mature space of crime investigations. Comedy momentum is hard to maintain over a thirty-minute episode, let alone an hour-long format like Psych, but when there are no rules and mayhem is the norm it’s easier to achieve. Pop culture references from the 70s and 80s abound, as well as stand-out, laugh-out-loud physical comedy. Yet, there are on occasion dramatic, intense scenes where the laughter is much more restrained and stakes could not be more serious. The stellar cast ensures when throwing that switch from manic to menacing it feels quite natural to the audience…not forced.

Creator/Showrunner Steve Franks created wonderful characters who have garnered so many fans there already have been three Psych movies since the series concluded. There is little doubt Franks, the cast, and the crew enjoyed making this show. The performers look like they’re having as much fun acting it out as the audience watches it play out. Episodes feel spontaneous not only because of the talent involved, but because the stars clearly had the freedom during filming to make the script theirs to run with. There is a current podcast called The Psychologists Are In hosted by co-stars Maggie Lawson (Detective Juliet “Jules” O’Hara) and Timothy Omundson (Chief Detective Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter) where each week they go in-depth on a rewatch of each episode, sharing behind-the-scenes info and hosting drop-in visits from Franks, cast and crew, and even guest stars (Psych attracted as impressive a list of guest stars as you’ll ever find).  You can hear the genuine excitement and pride from those who made Psych as they riff about the no-limits, creative process of bringing each episode to life.

And then there are those pineapple sightings.

In nearly every episode of Psych, a pineapple is either referenced or in view. That all started with an unscripted line from the pilot episode where Roday Rodriguez picked a pineapple up and asked, “Should I slice this up for the road?” The pineapple was there only as a prop, but the moment resonated with both he and Franks as a fun one, and it became such a hit with fans the USA Network once had a Spot The Pineapple sweepstakes.

USA recognized from the start they had something special in Psych, launching it while their other oddball-detective show – Tony Shalhoub’s award-winning Monk – was at the height of its popularity. They not only aired commercials which advertised both shows at the same time, but scheduled Psych to immediately follow Monk.

It’s a feel-good show which will entertain you and leave a smile on your face whenever called upon, starting with its catchy earworm of an opening theme song. Highly recommended if you’re looking for some silly, goofy, immature, childish, adult-ish fun.

My brain – more specifically memories within it – never ceases to amaze. Every once in a while, words or phrases come out of my mouth I haven’t uttered in ages, and can’t for the life of me ascertain how I came to utter them now. Perhaps on occasion your brain has provided these kind of surprises as well.

My most recent example? A few evenings ago, Mrs. Chess asked me my thoughts on what seemed like three different discussion points simultaneously, and I wanted her to slow down just for a moment so I could thoughtfully consider my response to each…and proceeded to blurt out, “Hold on there, Murgatroyd!”

At which point both of us stared at each other not knowing where THAT response came from.

She then asked me where THAT response came from.

I told her I knew “Murgatroyd” had something to do with a cartoon character from my childhood, but I still had to reach out to The Google to confirm which one it actually was. Many moons ago, there was a Hanna-Barbera character named Snagglepuss, who was a pink lion prone to break the fourth wall and address the audience. He most often appeared in a regular segment on The Yogi Bear Show back in the 60’s. Snagglepuss was known in part for quickly departing any scene referencing a stage direction such as “Exit Stage Left.” Or Right, Up, or even Down. Specific to the discussion Mrs. Chess and I now found ourselves in, Snagglepuss was also known for whenever coming across something he couldn’t believe…instead of saying “Heavens to Betsy!” he used his catchphrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Ironically, from my little bit of research the origin of using “Betsy” appears to be just as mysterious as “Murgatroyd.” I also learned the Canadian rock group Rush named their second live album Exit Stage Left in tribute to Snagglepuss. And saving the best discovery for last…there is a brand-new Snagglepuss Hanna-Barbera cartoon series in the works with Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) set to provide his voice.

Once I relayed all this to Mrs. Chess – who wasn’t as familiar with Snagglepuss – she was now not only more aware of my cartoon past, but somewhat reassured I wasn’t having a medical emergency.

I don’t know why my mind brought forth memories of Snagglepuss. We’re talking a cartoon character from sixty years ago…cartoons I hadn’t seen in fifty. Still, I do embrace rediscovering this little piece of my childhood, and who knows what my brain will un-file next? Until then…

Exit Stage Left.

 

Pictures Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/USA Network/National Geographic/Hanna-Barbera

Christmas Is For The Innocent

Several years ago, I came across this story published in the New York Daily News by Karen Zautyk. She is a former Editorial Board member there who originally wrote this for her father, John. I think it captures the essence of Christmas being most of all…for the innocent.

O, Little Lamb…Who Made Thee?

It was cold in the stable that night and the animals were huddled together for warmth. The cows and the oxen and the donkeys.

And one little lamb.

Sad, scrawny little lamb, born lame and frail. Too frail to be out with the flock in the fields. The shepherds had carried it into the stable where it would be safe from the wind and the wolves, for both the wolves and the wind came down from the hills with fierceness in the wintertime.

The lamb had food and shelter but that was not enough. It was lonely. Separated from its mother, it felt unloved. The other animals tried to be kind but they had no time. During the day they were busy working. The cows had milk to make, the oxen had earth to plow, and the donkeys had carts to pull.

At night they were all very tired. They’d feed upon the fodder and then go right to bed. None would talk, none would play. None would even sing a lullaby to a lamb that needed comfort. Every night the lamb would cry, and be told to hush, for its bleats disturbed their sleep.

Thus, that night, the lamb cried without making a sound as it had learned to do. And it looked at the strangers who were sharing the stable.  At the man, who held the woman’s hand and spoke to her so softly. And especially at the woman, who spoke not at all.

Huddled together, the animals slept, and eventually the lamb slept too.

And the night was silent.

But then, in the darkest hour, there was no more darkness and no more silence. There was the cry of a baby. And the stable shone with the brightest of lights, and there were voices ringing in the air.

The animals, shaken from their dreams, were frightened. They stamped their hooves and tossed their heads and made their frightened-animal noises…but the light was so lovely and the voices so beautiful it wasn’t long before they quieted and began to lose their fear.

And when the light had dimmed to a glow and the voices were only an echo, there in the manger they saw the baby…and their eyes went wide with wonder.

The animals murmured but would not approach until the woman beckoned. Then, one by one, the beasts came forward. All, that is, except the lamb…which was only a baby itself and still terribly afraid. Forgotten by the others, it trembled in a corner and tried to hide beneath the hay.

But. the baby in the manger was trembling too. The cold of the night had returned and the baby had started to shiver. When the animals saw this, they huddled closer about the crib.

The man took off his cloak and made a blanket of it, but the cloak was thin and threadbare and provided little warmth. The woman held the baby to her breast. He shivered still…and she began to weep.

And the lamb, which knew what weeping meant, lifted itself from the hay. Though it was still afraid…it left its hiding place. It made its way among the legs of the bigger beasts until it stood beside the woman…and it laid its head against her knee.

And the softest of hands reached down and stroked its wool.

And the gentlest of hands picked it up and tucked it into the manger straw…and tucked the baby in beside it…and covered them both with the cloak. The baby snuggled near and smiled…and closed his eyes.

And the lamb was very glad it had learned to cry without making a sound. Because it was crying now and didn’t want to wake the child.

But the lamb wasn’t crying because it was sad. It was crying because, at last, it didn’t feel alone. Or afraid. Or unloved.

Then the lamb closed its eyes too.

And the woman sang a lullaby.

 

Picture Courtesy New York Daily News

A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All

In May, 2013 a columnist by the name of Craig Wilson took his final bow after a buyout from his employer, USA Today. He wrote a weekly column for them called “The Final Word” for more than sixteen years. His writing – regardless of the subject matter – provided readers with a unique, thoughtful take on even the most take-for-granted aspects of daily life.

During his long career there, one December he wrote an article which dealt with holiday decorations. Specifically, displays that provide a depth of feeling that make passers-by smile and project the spirit of the holidays upon them.

I present this gentle reminder from Craig Wilson (and his father) of just how simple, yet magical, this season can be…

A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All

Every December, a neighbor of ours opens his dining room shutters and lets in the world.

A floor-to-ceiling tree, laden with ornaments and white lights, fills the bay window. Underneath it is spread an assortment of antique toys. Original Raggedy Ann books, a model train engine from the Pennsylvania Railroad, a fire truck and an assortment of old stuffed animals. An elephant. A bear. A well-loved floppy-eared rabbit sporting a winter sweater and seated in a wicker sleigh, ready to glide.

The window, which is right on the sidewalk and perfect for viewing, has become a holiday tradition in the neighborhood. Like many, I make a detour on my nightly dog walk just to pass by.

I know there will come a Christmas when the display won’t be there, but until then, I happily take in the annual offering, just as I used to take in the mesmerizing holiday windows years ago at Sibley’s department store in Rochester, N.Y.

The magic of our neighborhood window, however, is that there’s nothing commercial about it. My neighbor offers up the display every year purely for the joy it might give a passerby, not to make a sale or hype a product.

It’s perhaps the simplest of Christmas gifts, which also makes it the best.

When I was walking Maggie the other night, I watched as a young mother and father pointed out the various toys to their daughter. She was maybe 3 or 4 and in her father’s arms. From the look on her face, you’d have thought she was in another world. Maybe she was.

And then the trio strolled away, happy perhaps in the belief that they’d just had one of the most pleasant and innocent experiences of their hectic holiday. A serendipity of the season.

When I was growing up in the country, Christmas displays like my neighbor’s window were not abundant.

But I remember being impressed that someone would take the time and effort to hang, say, a single strand of multicolored lights around their barn door. Or wrap a lamp pole with lights, aglow at the end of the lane. A lonely beacon in the night.

My dad did the same.

Christmas after Christmas, he would run the world’s longest extension cord across the snow-covered front yard, down to a tiny fir tree that proudly stood sentinel by the side of the road.

He covered the tree with what seemed like thousands of lights, and every night at 5, he turned them on with all the flourish of lighting the tree at Rockefeller Center.

I’ve often wondered what people thought as they drove down this country road, in the middle of nowhere, and came upon a solitary tree glowing in the December darkness.

Maybe they thought it was the prettiest thing they ever saw. Maybe they saw it as a gift.

Maybe they realized someone was just sharing his joy. Nothing to sell. No agenda in mind. Something done just for the joy of it. Like my neighbor’s magical window.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

 

 

Picture Courtesy Keil Tree

Collections Has Christmas Too

My wife has worked in the world of business-to-business Collections for twenty-five years now. The essence of her job is straight-forward…to collect as much money as possible in as timely a manner as possible.

Being good at doing it? Tough.

Being liked while doing it? Tougher.

I love the reactions when my wife tells new acquaintances she works in Collections. I often feel like their expressions reveal one of two thoughts: “I would not want to do that” or “You must not be well-liked.”

She is good at Collections. That’s not just me saying that. Her employers have always praised her work. As well, I’ve always felt she’s even liked by some of the accounts she collects money from. As for the others, at the very least she’s respected.

Not despised, as you might expect.

She approaches her work professionally, which I believe is the main reason she’s successful. I always assumed customer contacts on the other end of her phone calls and e-mails would react more favorably to someone like her who treats their account with respect. When Covid reassigned both of us to work from home, I actually got to see her doing her job, which confirmed my assumption.

Fear not, for my wife can put the hammer down when need be. She has to collect some big amounts from some large corporations. Corporations that like to play the cash flow game, stretching out payment until the last possible day, before the status of their pending order would be called into question.

It is inevitable over time each customer she collects from slips up in some manner…misplaces invoices…can’t get payments out on a specific day as promised, etc. She has heard it all, and certainly remembers who she can trust more than others. Customers certainly remember how she handled their delays in payment, whether deliberate or not. Firmly, but fairly.

She always gives me just enough rope to “hang myself” at home…and allows the same “courtesy” for her customers.

At Christmas, people who work in Collections often are hit with the cold reality they simply aren’t as well-liked as Customer Service or Sales…or even the Management within their organization. Those departments tend to get all the tokens of appreciation from customers and suppliers during the holidays. Cookies, snacks, etc. are earmarked for them…not for Collections.

Yet, a couple of years ago on the day after Christmas, my wife received a Christmas card (she’s used to getting things late...) from one of her customer contacts. This customer would occasionally be on my wife’s “Naughty List” for bad payment behavior. But, this customer hadn’t needed product recently, were up-to-date in payments, and as a result my wife had not spoken with the contact for a good while.

The note on the inside of the card read…“I miss talking with you!”

A Christmas miracle. A Christmas card for Collections.

Collections has Christmas too.

Avatar Returns – Marvel’s Phase 4 Ends

There have been times in life where I have felt like I must be missing something others are seeing. Instances where at the very least, my perception is I am out on an island with my thoughts compared to the rest of the population. As if…I’m the only person who feels a certain way about something.

Like the movie “Avatar.”

But…confirmation I am not alone in wondering how it became the highest-grossing film in history comes from Jamie Lauren Keiles, who wrote a column for the New York Times Magazine titled “Avatar and the Mystery of the Vanishing Blockbuster.”

The very presence of the cereal box pictured above, recently spotted at a local grocery store, possibly begs to differ about the film vanishing from our culture. At the very least, Kellogg’s is betting “Avatar” is still – or will be once more – a big deal.

And according to Keiles, a study by the consumer-research firm MRI-Simmons found an estimated one in five American adults have seen “Avatar.” In the theatre, mind you.

In less than two weeks, the long-awaited (?) sequel to this 2009 sensation will open, “The Way of Water.”

“Of all the questions raised by “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the most pressing seems to be “who asked for this?” Through the first “Avatar” was the world’s top-grossing movie not once, but twice, reclaiming the title from “Avengers: Endgame” after a 2021 re-release in China, its most oft-cited claim to fame is its surprising lack of cultural impact. While films of similar scale and ambition – “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Iron Man” – have spawned fandoms and quotable lines and shareable memes and licensed merchandise, “Avatar” has spawned mainly punch lines.”

“On the fifth anniversary of the film, Forbes announced, “Five Years Ago Avatar Grossed $2.7 Billion but Left No Pop Culture Footprint.” A few years later, Buzzfeed ran a quiz titled “Do You Remember Anything at All About Avatar?” challenging readers to answer basic questions like, “What is the name of the male lead character in Avatar?” and “Which of these actors played the male lead?”

No follow-up movie until thirteen years later is certainly a factor as well.

I am one of those American adults who has never seen “Avatar” in a movie theatre. It is very strange I didn’t see it when it first opened. My wife and I try to average at least one movie a week throughout the year. It was the week before Christmas…there were other movies…and the subject matter simply didn’t do anything for us even though a lot of folks were reporting how dazzling the film’s visuals were.

We eventually caught up with “Avatar” when it first debuted on cable, and while mindful we were not experiencing a fully-immersive, multi-dimensional theatre view, it still didn’t do much for us…an ok film for me. My wife? She liked it a bit less than ok.

Director James Cameron certainly crafted a spectacular world for viewers to visit, and perhaps this is as simple as people just loved the look of the movie when it came out, different to them from anything they had seen before. It should be noted Cameron’s world of Pandora is one of five “lands” within Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and apparently is not lacking for attendees even at this “late” date. That has to count for something.

“The history of recorded images might be described as an incremental quest to master the building blocks of consciousness – first sight, then motion, then sound, then color. With “Avatar,” Cameron revealed that human ingenuity could marshal even more: physics, light, dimensionality: the ineffable sense of an object being real; the life force that makes a thing feel alive.”

My wife and I are avid moviegoers. Next weekend, we’ll be sitting in an IMAX theatre with 3-D glasses on. We’ll give this sequel as good a chance as possible of winning us over…like the original film certainly did for many others.

If we’re sufficiently wowed, maybe we’ll even give the cereal a try. Hard to resist Blueberry-Flavored Blue Moons…

As for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which began with “Iron Man” the year before “Avatar” was released), the studio has confirmed their Phase 4 of viewing concluded with the streaming release of “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” I’ve documented being a bit underwhelmed about how Marvel has proceeded with their storytelling since the afore-mentioned “Avengers: Endgame.”

That being said, I recently was reading of all things a column on Fantasy Football (which I spend a ridiculous amount of time on even though the hobby is truly ridiculous…so there’s no need to elaborate further) when lo-and-behold the author took time out from his day job to list his personal Marvel Phase 4 rankings. I’m not a big list guy at all when it comes to creative enterprises, because everyone has their own unique experiences and feelings when enjoying art, music, shows, and movies. In the past I haven’t embraced award shows like the Emmys and Oscars because of that very reasoning. Yet, I do like the idea of reviewing and turning the page on Marvel as we enter the New Year so here we go…

(If you have no earthly idea what the MCU is I thank you for reading this far, and hope to see you next time. For those venturing forth, please feel free to let me know your likes and dislikes regarding these rankings…appearing here from my favorite down to my not-so-favorite)

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home – Head and shoulders above the rest. Awesome. Great. Much love. Best Marvel effort since Endgame.
  2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – If I were in charge, I would have just flipped the mid-movie and end-of-movie battles. The transition in power was handled perfectly and tastefully. All involved did themselves proud.
  3. WandaVision – Took a while to get going, but eventually got there and stuck the landing. Poor Wanda.
  4. Hawkeye – The setting is at Christmas, and I do like me some Christmas. Besides, archery is cool.
  5. Loki – Wanted it to be a bit more than it was…but pretty darn good as is.
  6. Moon Knight – I’m sure I liked this way more than most, but I thought Oscar Isaac was great.
  7. Werewolf by Night – A wonderful Halloween treat (albeit a short one) which I enjoyed a lot. I want more of this in the MCU going forward.
  8. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Solid film until the ending, and then it fell apart for me. Still ranking it here.
  9. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – I can’t believe I have this ranked so high, but the overall Phase 4 set a very low bar. Poor Wanda.
  10. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – I know some will wonder why I have this ranked so high. But once I dealt with the fact this was strictly being played for laughs, I enjoyed it.
  11. Black Widow – She died, and then she got her origin story? It was fine. Ok. Thanks.
  12. Thor: Love and Thunder – Thor: Ragnarok was spectacular. But they tried to do it all over again and…no. Just. No.
  13. Ms. Marvel – I’m confident I’m not the demo they were going for, but I really liked the Jersey City half of this.
  14. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special – A nice holiday gift for fans…but maybe just give us a solid Phase 5 next year. That would be a much better gift.
  15. Eternals – Some people probably have this ranked last. I do get it.
  16. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Probably way too harsh a ranking based on my ridiculously high expectations. It just didn’t connect with me.
  17. What If…? – I don’t ask “what if” anymore. I just care about what is. Hell, it’s confusing enough keeping up with all things Marvel.
  18. I Am Groot – I am not Groot, but I do love Groot…just not in this.

Last Christmas

At this time of year, it seems like we’re all supposed to be ridiculously happy, hanging out with all our loved ones, and getting all we ask for whether tangible or intangible gifts. That is not reality. For some, the holidays are a sad and challenging time…made more so by those artificially-created, lofty expectations they should be feeling exactly the opposite.

Life doesn’t operate on a schedule, and Life could care less what time of year it is. Relationships end during the holidays, illness arrives during the holidays, and loss is experienced during the holidays. The commercialization of the season – which starts earlier each year – disappoints those who fear its true meaning has been lost. Financial concerns. Job losses. Christmas time is for many at best bittersweet…at worst the worst.

I have empathy for those who don’t care for this time of year…those who just want the holidays to be over with…and to already be living in the new year.

I will celebrate the holidays here. I’ll also reference religious beliefs regarding Christmas. That being said, if you are someone who wishes it was already January 2nd, be advised I get it. My mother passed away days before Thanksgiving several years back, so of course I now think about that at Thanksgiving. Life didn’t care Thanksgiving was coming. But that’s…Life. It certainly helped enhance my awareness this time of year isn’t for everybody. Life doesn’t have a calendar.

I am not an expert on the acclaimed sci-fi television series “Doctor Who” but I have seen several seasons of it. Each year at this time, I revisit their wonderful Christmas episodes. There is one in particular titled “Last Christmas.”

The idea of Last Christmas is not restricted to this episode; it is a Who-ism. It speaks towards people wanting to get together at this time of year with those they love…because there is the chance it might be the Last Christmas they get to do so. The holidays can still be a magical time for some of us, even if Life hasn’t always been kind each and every holiday season, and even if it feels others act like this time of year is more about getting rather than giving…or giving thanks.

Expressions of and gratitude for love are “expected” for those who love Christmas. But for those who don’t love it, I keep in mind all the love they possess, express, and are grateful for. Partners, relatives, pets. Here…and no longer here. None of us can control Life, but all of us can possess and express love every day of the year… and always be grateful for whom we love.

I saw a commercial a few seasons ago from AT & T. The narrator said AT & T knows the best kind of holiday is the one where everyone gets what they wish for. To me, the best kind of holiday -whether celebrating it or not – is one where I express my appreciation and gratitude for those I have love for.

I sometimes find myself at Christmas silently wishing there will be a next. That it won’t be Last Christmas. It can be a sobering concept to think about. Yet, I find myself in those moments also thinking about Biblical interpretations of 1 Corinthians regarding the concept of love.

Love never fades, never fails, never ends.

Last Christmas?

Never.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

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

The Grass Is Not Always Green

Currently operating within my recently-developed parameters of First Retirement (no clue if not working will actually take) I have been able to spend more time at my keyboard reading and commenting on other blogs, as well as tending to my own site.

When my computing status changes to Away From Keyboard, one of the reasons why is the weekly endeavor of tending to the lawn…armed with my edger, my blower, and last but not least…my trusty push mower.

You may recall from a prior post I had an unfortunate event with a riding mower at our last residence…

We had a Zero Turning Radius mower. When we bought it, the advice was given to us not to operate it in wet conditions, especially on uneven terrain. After a light rain one afternoon, I insisted to my wife it would be OK to mow. Not agreeing with the decision, she grudgingly came outside to do some gardening. When she got to the large rose bush I had skidded into at the edge of our driveway, I tried my level best to assure her I was OK…even though my face felt like half the skin was gone. She gave me a once-over from head to toe…and calmly stated, “You’ll be fine.” Two years later, she admitted she thought those cuts would never heal.

Our current yard features a fairly steep slope, a bit more severe than our prior home. My wife “strongly suggested when we moved here this lawn not be cared for with a riding mower.

The property here isn’t quite a half-acre, so a push mower really is more than capable of getting the job done. To be honest, using a riding mower on this yard might find me in the backyard of the house behind us…with the mower on top of me.

We have lived at our current residence for about seventeen years. In that time, the yard has seen anything and everything weather in the Northeast US can provide. Thirty inches of snow and ice at one time. Eight inches of rain in an hour. Two months with 90 degree temperatures and no rain. Numerous demented squirrels.

You can find great advice on the Internet about taking care of your lawn and in many cases it is 100% contradictory. The only 100% foolproof advice I have ever gotten for lawn care actually came from my wife. It was the year I accidentally grabbed the nonselective herbicide RoundUp instead of the selective herbicide Ortho Weed Clear and sprayed several dandelions in the front yard with it. Her advice was if I ever did that again, she would round up all of my sports memorabilia and spray RoundUp on it.

One of the things I obsess over a bit is when to execute the very last mow of the year, trying to guess when grass-growing will slow to a crawl, as well as how high to leave the lawn for the off-season. Seven years ago, there was a particularly snowy and icy period one Fall before the yard had a chance to freeze, and with the grass also sitting a bit higher than I’d usually let it go, we had a resulting touch of what is known as snow mold. Snow mold does not do any permanent damage, but it was weird seeing parts of the lawn a shade of pink. At least we were fortunate enough to get the colorful version, as the other shade of snow mold is apparently a very dull gray. However, you might not be surprised a partially pink yard isn’t that visually appealing either, so the goal since that incident is to keep any snow mold from happening so the lawn has a nice, quiet transition into and out of dormancy.

I am a bit sad when the last mow of the year takes place. While the front yard is for the most part level, the lawn on the sides of the house slope down fairly severely through the backyard until it reaches the invisible yet defined property line with the home behind us. Mowing our yard does provide good exercise, and not mowing for a few months means I try to incorporate other activities to replace it. Snowfall removal certainly gets the blood pumping, but that’s sporadic and we don’t get quite as much snow as we used to. It is a good thing I am a “winter person” to begin with, and I do like to get outside no matter what. Hell, I’ve been known to go down to the basketball courts and shoot hoops even in snow flurries.

I’ve also been known to mow even in snow flurries. I’m actually a bit of a celebrity in that regard. One of my neighbors told me after one late-year mow five years ago I had amused both her and her husband.

“Hey honey, come here. Bruce is mowing in the snow.”

Maybe I do try a little too hard to coordinate and calculate the end of the growing season and getting the length of the grass just right. Looking back over the last few years, my last mow of the year has occurred as follows:

2014 – 11/8; 2015 – 10/31; 2016 – 11/19; 2017 – 11/20; 2018 – 11/8; 2019 – 11/1; 2020 – 11/20; 2021 – 11/10

The irony is not lost on me the very fact I have a record of these dates may very well be a sign I take this a bit too seriously.

In any event I am now monitoring the weather forecasts, examining the length of the blades of grass, and trying to time that final mow perfectly to ensure the lawn has the best chance of staying greenish instead of pinkish. Or grayish. I know if it changes colors again, the lawn will eventually be fine, but I really don’t want the yard to be stressed out.

I could just hire a lawn service to keep myself from being stressed out, but can I really put my trust in others…even if they appear to be as competent as I am?

 

Pictures Courtesy Advanced Turf/Great Lakes Landcare/Universal Studios

Aging Pizza

During a workplace lunch just a couple of years ago, we were all talking about the aging process. I was the oldest in our department. A couple of co-workers were about a decade younger than I. The rest were much younger. The question of the day in the lunch room for the three “more experienced” of us was…when did we first feel definitively older than we hoped we were?

My response took little time to formulate.

In March of 1992, I was in Minnetonka MN as part of a business training seminar put on by a high-technology water purification and filtration company named Osmonics. The company I was working for at that time was a distributor of their products, and six of us went out there to get training in their product line so we’d have a better understanding of how to market and sell their products.

I had never been to Minnesota before, and I was very impressed with what I saw traveling from the airport to our hotel. Beautiful countryside and residences, and that time of year provided a chill in the air and a touch of snow on the ground, making a “winter person” like myself quite happy. After arriving at our hotel, we learned that as guests we had complimentary passes to utilize the fitness gym across the street. Since we knew we only had a half day of training one day during the seminar schedule, we all agreed to head over to the gym and get in a workout then.

After product training all Monday and Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon found us at the gym. It was gigantic, looked brand-new, and offered plenty of workout options. First class. Three members of my group went off to the weight room, but myself and a couple of the other guys went over to the basketball courts. There was a full-court pick-up game in process, so we sat nearby until it ended so we could get into the next one.

I did feel a twinge of concern as to how I would do playing in a full-court basketball game. Sure, I was in good shape for someone soon to turn 35. My conditioning wasn’t bad as I regularly played half-court hoops. I was looking forward to showing off the fact I still “had game” to my buddies, but was definitely picturing that happening in the smaller footprint.

The game in progress ended a few minutes later, and we hit the court for the next one, pairing up with a few players from the team that just lost. I played well, even though we didn’t pull off a win to guarantee a spot for the next game. That was fine by me – one run was enough for the day. I had accomplished the main goal of getting exercise…while also feeling just a little bit younger by hanging in there and playing a solid, “regular-length” game of basketball.

Back at the hotel, I needed to take a well-deserved shower. Having my own room, I figured I’d just clean up and hang out there before heading to dinner. We were being taken out by Osmonics to a very fancy steakhouse, but there was still a couple of hours before I needed to be in the lobby for the ride out.

It was during the shower I first noticed something was…off.

In 1963, there was an episode of The Dick Van Dyke television show called, “Don’t Trip Over That Mountain.” In it, Rob Petrie (Dick) promises his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) he won’t get hurt during a ski trip with his neighbor Jerry (Jerry Paris), who happens to be an expert skier.

Of course, once on the slopes they proceed to run into each other…two skiers…and a goat.

After seeking medical treatment, Rob reports to Jerry he was given the diagnosis of a “sprained body.” The only thing on Rob’s body that didn’t hurt was the left side of his upper lip.

I thought about that TV episode as I ended my shower.

I had a sprained body. The only good news was my upper lip didn’t hurt at all. The lower lip didn’t either. But everything else did. I went to comb my hair and once I got my arm high enough, a new discovery…

My hair hurt.

Maybe that was just part of the full-on headache experience now underway. Anyway, I shuffled over to the bureau to get some clothes, and about halfway through getting dressed I realized dinner out…was out. I could barely move my arms and legs. My body was off-line.

I phoned around to let my co-workers know I’d be staying in my room for the night, mentioning I was tired and thought I was coming down with something from the plane ride. That actually was a legit excuse because they all knew my 90% deviated septum often lost the good fight with air flight, so they wished me well.

Using the phone hurt.

I figured as far as dinner was concerned, I could use room service…but I had a real craving for pizza. I checked the hotel info out and found there was a Domino’s nearby which would deliver to the hotel. Perfect. I’ll get dinner delivered and not have to leave the room at all.

Placed the order. Got my money together. Laid down to rest.

When the knock on the door came about a half-hour later, I immediately remembered one thing I hadn’t thought about when placing the pizza order.

How would I get to the door?

A good minute or so later, I stood before the delivery person and exchanged money for food. I am quite sure that guy thought something was wrong with me, and if he had asked if I was ok I was fully prepared to tell him I had a sprained body.

Pizza. Soda. Advil. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any trouble sleeping. I attribute that to the fact once I fell asleep, my body had no ability whatsoever to adjust itself.

The next day, not much had changed. Limited, strained movement. Soreness. Pain. I placed another call, letting my group know I would be unable to attend the training that day. I’ll admit I was also egotistical enough to have considered the impact of my co-workers seeing me in such a state. For sure, it would negate all the street cred I earned from my stellar basketball performance. News of how poorly my body handled exercise was way more likely to spread through the office than how well I played.

I laid in bed watching TV for most of the day, and eventually felt a tiny bit more in control of my body when the same Domino’s employee appeared at the door that night with Pizza #2.

The following morning was our final day of training, and we’d be heading home thereafter. I was able to gather myself and get to the bus for the short ride over to Osmonics, putting a brave face on and forcing myself to appear normal. I got through the training, the ride out to the airport, and the flight home.

That trip was quite a memorable moment in time, leaving no doubt I definitively felt older than I hoped I was. I could not believe how much my entire body had shut down.

I’m hoping any similar moment in time, while likely inevitable, isn’t for a very long time.

 

Pictures Courtesy TripAdvisor/GoComics

 

Carefree Debris

I saw an article the other day on The Conversation website with the headline, “Mars Is Littered With Space Junk.” The person who wrote it, Cagri Kilic, is a postdoctoral research fellow who has been studying ways to track Mars and Moon rovers. Not that this is Mars-shattering news, but debris on Mars according to Kilic comes from three main sources…discarded hardware, inactive spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft.

Taking the last scenario first, sometimes even while surviving the long journey there, descent to the planet’s surface is where things go horribly wrong. Splat. Trash.

The first scenario describes the planned discharge of parts while descent is taking place like heat shields, foam, netting, and parachutes. Don’t need these anymore. We’re good. Trash.

In the middle scenario, we have all of the spacecraft which have landed successfully, served their tour of duty before running out of juice, and have signed off for the final time. Thank you for your service. Trash.

Kilic has run the numbers and determined there is 15,694 pounds of Earth’s junk on Mars. That’s not so much on the surface (see what I did there?). Then again, that’s really easy for me to say. I don’t live on Mars.

However, while Earthlings never had a plan to do anything other than litter debris across Mars, we have now realized a plan needs to be in place for knowing where all this trash is. As part of its daily activities, NASA’s active rover Perseverance – using its Ingenuity helicopter – is helping engineers document all the junk it comes across. The space agency indicated their Curiosity rover was able to identify some of its own debris during its earlier mission.

There is a concern at NASA some trash might contaminate or skew samples the Perseverance rover is currently collecting. While the risk is judged to be quite low, the rover’s ability to roam at all might even be hindered.

I remember watching Americans walk on the Moon and thinking in my lifetime we would definitely establish a colony there. That was 1969. The last American to walk on the Moon did so three years later.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict we won’t see any Americans living on the Moon in my lifetime.

By the way, there’s an estimated 400,000 pounds of our junk on the Moon.

Mars and the Moon are both better off if we don’t ever try to live on them anyway, since we’ve already done a stellar job of junking up Earth.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with NASA as I have gotten older. While I know space exploration has led to some great innovations and discoveries which have positively impacted other industries, I wonder if we’re still really getting that same return on investment today. I know NASA’s budget is fairly small potatoes in the big picture, but money is money. Resources are resources. The fact we didn’t do more with the Moon once landing there in 1969, and the fact NASA has now indicated they actually want to circle back to the Moon, gives me the impression they are as an organization quite the rudderless spaceship.

In doing due diligence for this post, your space-y reporter was also curious about all space debris in orbit (for now, at least). One interesting tidbit I came across claimed a tiny, ten-centimeter-long piece of spacecraft trash could cause as much damage as twenty-five sticks of dynamite…that even a piece between one and ten centimeters can do damage to most spacecraft.

Between the U.S., Russia, and China, at the beginning of this year there were approximately 15,000 trackable pieces of debris – larger than 10 centimeters across – in space. For the record, most of China’s came from the time they used a “kinetic kill vehicle” to deliberately destroy a defunct weather satellite in an anti-satellite weapons test back in 2007.

Of course, the U.S. simply couldn’t help themselves from doing the exact same thing just a year later, deliberately destroying a non-functioning satellite with a “heavily-modified missile.”

Those events provide us with the definitive, gold standard answer to the question of whether Earthlings care where space junk goes. No.

And…just last month we had NASA’s much-publicized course correction of an asteroid (minding its own business, mind you) courtesy of a “kinetic impactor.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after the allegedly successful asteroid diversion, “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.”

It seems to me we’re throwing way more at the universe than it’s throwing at us.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock