Sunday, February 25, 2007

There Will be a Quiz Later

We’ve all had those jobs from . . . well, you know. If you haven’t, you’re either very peculiar or the son/daughter of a politician – and in many cases, that could be both. At any rate, as I look back on my job history, I find that my mind goes to what I did to put up with the conditions to avoid running into the night stark, raving mad.

My first job out of college was working for an insurance company as an adjuster for workers’ compensation claims. I hate to break it to you, but as sexy as that might sound, it wasn’t. After I got over dealing with people who were slightly off center – claimants, clients, co-workers, bosses – I found that a Black Hole had formed near the base of my desk, and it was sucking the very desire to enjoy life itself out of me. And upon discovering this phenomenon, I looked around at others in the office and determined that they, too, had Black Holes at their desks. Be that as it may, I started looking for any and all chances to step away from my desk and reclaim my joie de vive – I believe that’s French for “white hole” – which still sounds creepy but far better than a black one.

Each morning, I would put together a three-question, multiple-choice quiz for my co-workers. It was just random bits of information I would pick up from the radio on my drive to work that morning or some other arcane reference I somehow remembered learning back in college. At first, I had about four people who humored me in this exploit, but before long, I had people walking up to me asking for the quiz if I didn’t have it “distributed” by 9:00 a.m. At the height of it all, I was passing out 40 or 50 quizzes each day – this was before e-mail was widespread (yes, I’m old), so the copy machine got a good workout. Had my immediate supervisor found out about this little endeavor of mine, I’m convinced that she would have chained me to my desk and increased the sucking capacity of my personal Black Hole – I believe she had the power to do that.

Leaving the exciting world of workers’ compensation insurance, I ventured into forklift sales. I know, I know. Sexy. But oddly enough, it wasn’t either. In this type of job, you were out of the office left to your own devices. In my case, I had a geographic territory about the size of a postage stamp with the potential for forklift sales slightly less bleak than a snowball’s chance in . . . a really hot place. Needless to say, when I wasn’t out looking for another job, I would go to a Barnes & Noble and take a nap in one of those really soft, oversized armchairs. My manager had the habit of roaming around and calling you out of the blue to see where you were, so I found the Barnes & Noble location ideal because it was in the center of my territory and the chances that he would walk in were, well, even bleaker than the aforementioned snowball’s prospects. I say this because I was fairly certain that his “reading material” was limited to magazines with lots of pictures in them – if you know what I mean – and those were delivered by mail to the office.

So, if you find yourself in a less-than-ideal work environment, you have two choices: find a new one or start fantasizing that you’re an undercover agent who is looking to expose the company’s use of motor oil as the secret ingredient for its special sauce. Failing that, there’s still time to run for President – most of those people have spent years avoiding a real job.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Expand the Mind, Empty the Wallet

They say that art is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not sure when that phrase was first coined, but I would be willing to bet it was around the same time the first used-car salesman was born.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a large art museum with my wife, and I saw some very famous pieces up close and personal. And I saw some real “pieces”, too.

One piece in the Modern wing was a polished fiberglass plank approximately seven feet long leaned up against the wall and painted bright red. Next to the plank was a small card detailing the name of the artist, when he painted it, the name of the piece, and a brief description of what stood before me. I’m not making this next part up: the card told me that this piece of art was “the archetypal example of the blurring of the line between traditional art and utility.” As I read this bit of hot air, I pictured a cravat-wearing balding man with a monocle and aristocratic English accent looking down his nose at me. And just as soon as that image vaporized, I had another materialize of a guy in a black leather trenchcoat and a porkpie hat with a toothpick cocked to the side of his mouth. “I swiped this from the bleachers at the high school football stadium, painted it red, and sold it to a snobby Brit for five large. Now that’s what I call art! I’m no Van Gogh, but I sure am good at shellacking, if you know what I mean.”

In the Early American wing, I noticed that all of the paintings of women looked like men in really bad wigs and ill-fitting dresses. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they looked like drag queens because drag queens try much harder to look like women. Either there was a movement afoot in those days to seek out and only paint extremely homely women, or cross-dressing had much earlier (and uglier) beginnings than I had originally thought. Failing those theories, the artists must have been much more talented at painting a picture with words than with oils: “My lord, I believe I have captured the strength of my lady’s character through the dominant and handsome lantern jaw. And if you will notice, I subdued my lady’s bosom to assure you do not attract the attention of ungentlemanly oglers.” Perhaps in that exchange, the patron might say, “Fine. But could you ‘subdue’ the Adam’s apple on her neck?”

Sculptures was another area that had me scratching my head. More than one of the female statues was dressed in a traditional robe slipping off one shoulder and exposing a breast. This isn’t like the Super Bowl and Janet Jackson’s split-second “wardrobe malfunction.” To the best of my knowledge, an artist will spend weeks if not months transforming a chunk of marble into a lifelike representation of the model – during that length of time, don’t you think the young lass is going to notice a draft and do a little adjusting?

As I was walking out the door of that revered institution, I felt inspired to go home and see if I have anything that I could, perhaps, blur the line between someone’s checking account and my own. Do you think there would be a market for a lawn chair painted black – I’d be willing to model in it . . . and let my bathrobe wander.