Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tough Neighborhood HOA

Texas likes to brag about how friendly its people are and for the most part, it's true. I remember the first time I ever came to Texas and anytime I walked into a store, I received a warm friendly greeting. That was very weird to me, and of course I ruined it by always responding, “What's it to you?” and flipping the clerk off for good measure. (I lived in Boston at the time.)

But then on occasion you run into someone who is only friendly in the sense that well, at least he didn't shoot me:

We spent last week at our vacation house in the Hill Country, which is actually just a nice way of saying we currently have two mortgages. As luck would have it, potential buyers came to look at our house. We left for about an hour, but when we came back, they were still there, so we parked on a side road to wait.

After about twenty minutes, a white pickup passed us. The driver slowly made several u-turns up and down the road before finally coming up beside us. I rolled down my window and smiled at our friendly neighbor.

Or not. The man, whom I’ll call Vince, rolled down his window as his truck came to a stop. “May I ask what you’re doing here?” he asked, eyes narrow with suspicion.

“Oh, we're just staking out our own house over there,” I said, pointing to our house. “It’s for sale, and we’re waiting for some prospective buyers to leave.”

Vince shook his head. “Jesus, what’s so wrong with that house that it goes on the market every two years?”

“What? Oh. Well, it was on the market for a while before us, but we've lived there for four years.”

“No, you haven't,” Vince said. “One and half, maybe two years max.”

I glanced at St. Pauli Girl who was biting her lip and turning her face away. I think her shoulders started to shake up and down, just a little.

“Um, no, we bought it in March of 2009. So it's pretty much exactly four years we’ve lived here.”

“No, you haven’t. You haven't been there that long.”

St. Pauli Girl leaned over to interrupt. “We moved in March 2009. Four years ago.”

He dropped that argument and moved on to his next one. “Do you mind telling me how much you're asking?” he said.

“No, not at all. It's all over the internet. Two-hundred ten thousand.”

Vince closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and shook his head slowly as if he were getting a headache. “It’s people like you who are ruining this neighborhood.”

I misunderstood his meaning, I guess, and frowned. “We've studied the market quite a bit, and it’s comparably priced for this area.”

“No! You’re destroying our property values. You should be asking four fifty!”

“Excuse me?”

“How many square feet you got?”

“Thirty-six hundred.”

“Well, I got nineteen hundred and I'd be asking three fifty for my house if it were for sale. Don't ruin it for everyone,” Vince said slapping his left hand on the steering wheel for emphasis.

I was starting to get irritated. I said, “You know that house down the road on the corner on five acres that just sold? It sat empty for two years listed at two-sixty. They had to remodel and drop the price to sell it.”

“That house was a piece of crap. I wouldn't board my ex-wife there.”

“Your house must be very nice.”

“Flawless. But I gotta keep constant guard with those long-hairs living out back behind me. Last week the sheriff hauled one off. Sent him back to the clink because he broke his probation.”

“Yeah, there are people at the end of our street who had the sheriff pay them a visit too,” I said, talking about what we call the “meth house.”

“There's too many no-gooders around here. That's why I carry a gun.”

“Good idea,” I said. That's when I realized we hadn't seen his right hand; it was more than likely resting on a gun in the seat beside him. I flashed him a bright smile and put the car in drive. “Thanks for keeping the neighborhood safe.”

“Well, good luck with your sale,” Vince said, snorting as he drove off.

Too bad it took us four two years to meet Vince. But despite destroying the neighborhood property values, I'm glad we're no longer living between the meth house and neighborhood militia.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bigfoot Prefers Not to Be Found

A while back I wrote about my late-night television guilty habit of watching Ghost Adventures. I have since lost interest in that show as it has become less about hunting for ghosts and more about their audio detection devices such as the “spirit box,” which can amazingly translate white noise like “grrmphhxsskshhelkuyayt” into “kill you!” I have since discovered a much more superior show, Finding Bigfoot.

The show follows the adventures of three bigfoot nerds (including a man named Bobo) and a skeptical female biologist as they travel the world trying to find hard evidence of Bigfoot. But you don't have to watch the show--I'll just summarize one, because they are all pretty much the same:

Opening stock “preview” scene: video of a roaring beast that looks suspiciously like a gorilla.

Cut to: The team is in a car headed to a town hall meeting. Upon arrival, locals relate their Bigfoot stories. The Bigfoot hunters then pick the most credible sources from the meeting, jump back into the car, and tear off to where the most impressive incident happened. There, the eye witness demonstrates what he/she was doing and what he/she saw or heard. Then the experts send Bobo to the exact spot of the Bigfoot sighting. The witness then points out, “No, no, the creature was much taller than that.” At this point, the experts then deem the witness as extremely credible, since the measurements reported by the witness concur almost exactly with other reports of the height and breadth of a sasquatch (or “squatch,” to those in the know).

One time a witness described a series of footprints where a Bigfoot had come through. The experts recreated the footprints and decided that no human could possible duplicate that gait. The female biologist, ever playing devil’s advocate, quickly ran through the footprints demonstrating just the opposite. Bobo said, “Yeah, but how far could you have kept up that pace, huh?”

At this point the experts pick a spot to stake out during the night. They separate into pairs and proceed to make bigfoot calls hoping to attract one or two. The first night usually ends in disappointment.

Next comes a commercial break including Bigfoot trivia like:

“True or False. A bigfoot can run up to 30 miles per hour.”

“True or False. A bigfoot can swim.”

Amazingly, both of those statements are true! Not sure how they figured it out, but I guess they timed Bobo in a forty yard sprint and figured an animal twice his size can run twice as fast.

Next one member of the team will spend a few days by himself/herself in the woods in a solo field investigation. This usually involves a scary encounter with a raccoon or deer via night vision goggles. Meanwhile, the others continue interviewing more witnesses.

Finally, the whole team spends another night in the woods making Bigfoot calls and hitting trees with baseball bats because bigfoots like sports (another true fact, you heard it here first). Then they will stumble into an area where tree branches have been mysteriously bent, which we learn is obviously caused by a Bigfoot traipsing through the area. Then we reach the startlingly climax where someone will suddenly say, “Stop!” or “Ssshhhh! Did you hear that?” and cut to commercial.

After the commercial, we see everyone looking around through night vision goggles which will display a small blip in the distance. “Yep, that's Bigfoot,” or more likely a raccoon, or a deer, or a jackalope. Sometimes they'll say, “I heard it! There's definitely a squatch in the area!” Amazingly, they never record the sounds.

In the end, they gather up in the dark and assess the mission and congratulate themselves: “Well, there was definitely a lot of activity in the area, and this mission was a success!”

By contrast, perhaps that's where Ghost Adventures succeeds: the ghost hunters realized after several seasons that they needed the viewer to hear the sounds of ghosts, so they came up with devices that would interpret the white noise for us, while the Bigfoot crew just says, “Yessirree, we heard a lot of ‘squatches tonight! Trust us. Would Bobo lie?”

But I always have to stay up for the ending, because I don’t want to miss when they actually capture a Bigfoot on film.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Working Life

By now you may have heard the uproar about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer requiring employees to report to the office rather than working from home.  There are certainly many arguments for and against the policy, but the absolute worst argument is that work-at-home employees nap all day while office workers are pillars of productivity.

As a computer programmer, I’ve worked in a corporate setting for over 20 years. For the past ten years I’ve worked from home, going into the office usually only once a week, so I think I'm in a good position to provide detailed summaries of both realities. Let's take a look at a typical workday for me at home (the real “me,”) and me in the office (“me” being a composite of the many office-mates I’ve had through the years).

Working from Home

7 a.m. - 4 p.m.

7:00: I sit down at my desk in sweats and a t-shirt with a cup of coffee, activate my computer.

7:05: I scroll through my work emails to see if anything urgent happened since I logged off the night before. If not, I pull up my personal emails and respond as needed.

7:15 - 8:30: I scan my newsfeeds via twitter to see what happened in the world while I was asleep.

8:30 - 9:00: I check the weather forecast etc., warming up to the idea of thinking about maybe getting to work.

9:00 - 10:30: Procrastination over, I actually work.

10:30 - 11:00: Work continues with a conference call. Read online newspaper during meeting.

11:00 - 11:30: Too close to lunch to get any more computer work done, so . . . a little housework.

11:30- 12:30: Lunch hour! But not really. I usually do one of the following:

A. Mow the lawn

B. Empty the dishwasher

C. Ride my stationary bike

D. Laundry

12:30 - 1:00: Eat last night’s meatloaf at my desk while working (if there’s a time-sensitive project) or scanning newsfeeds.

1:00 - 2:30: Work continues.

2:30 - 3:00: Break time: I fold clothes, clean up from lunch, or take a walk if the weather is nice.

3:00 - 4:00: Wrap up whatever work I need to finish for the day, then read my newsfeeds and hope no co-workers contact me before 4:00.

4:45: Get a call from my boss. I answer it because she thinks I might be gone golfing so she's checking up on me.

Working in the Office

8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

8:00: Park, lock my car, and head towards the building. Being parked by 8:00 is considered “on time” because it's not my fault the parking lot is so far away from my office. Plus, the elevator takes forever.

8:10: Activate my computer then head to the break room to get coffee. If the coffee pot is empty, make a new pot and wait for it to finish. No one else is there yet.

8:30 - 9:30: Back at my desk I go through work emails and then personal emails. Hearing co-workers’ voices, I wander back to the break room to hang out for a while and discuss the absence of a Starbucks in the building, how much we hate our jobs, “the Man,” and non-present co-workers.

9:30 - 10:00: Check newsfeeds while being subjected to a loud conference call that Leesha two cubicles down puts on speaker phone.

10:00 - 10:30: Go downstairs, walk outside at least twenty feet from the building, and take a smoke break with the handful of employees left who smoke.

10:30 – 10:45: Work, alternating with video games on my cell phone.

10:45 - 11:20: Attend a meeting. Everyone except the person giving the presentation plays with his/her cell phone.

11:20 - 11:45: After the meeting, hang out in the conference room and argue with co-workers about where to go for lunch.

11:45 - 1:15: I win! It’s the Japanese steakhouse around the corner. Eight of us sit and watch the chef do an impressive stir-fry on the grill in front of us. We all split three slices of fried cheesecake.

1:15 - 1:20: Drop off the to-go box with leftovers at my desk.

1:20 - 1:45: Smoke break, then I take the Wall Street Journal to the restroom.

1:45 - 2:00: Back at my desk. Across the aisle Kip yawns/growls like King Kong, burps loudly, and makes other bodily noises I haven’t heard since the 5th grade. He hollers at me that he just sent me a funny video.

2:00 - 2:15: I check out the YouTube link of “hilarious cat farting.” A few other videos catch my eye, so I return the favor via an email to Kip.

2:15 - 3:00: I wander down the corridor, alert Kip to the email I just sent, pause at Rodney’s desk, and we discuss either:

A. Our previous night's league softball game

B. Fantasy baseball or football

C. How much we hate our jobs, “The Man,” and non-present co-workers

D. How hilarious that “cat farting” video was that Kip just sent

3:00 - 3:15: The afternoon’s flying by so it’s time to multi-task: Coffee break and smoke break.

3:15 – 3:45: Get afternoon work done while wearing headphones and posting IM status as “busy” so no one will bother me before 5:00 quitting time.

3:45 – 4:45: Catch up on Facebook, twitter, and my gaming forum.

4:45: Time to leave! Woo-hoo!

4: 46: Get a call from the boss on my cell phone. I ignore it; she should have called me on my work phone before I left for the day.

So yes, there are advantages to working from home. Although, I would argue that my typical work clothes are a step up from the “casual” office-wear I’ve seen some of my co-workers show up in. But all in all, the idea that you can measure productivity by the number of hours that someone “shows up” is absurd.