Monday, August 31, 2009

The Curious Case of the Never-ending Dirty Coffee Mugs

Gather 'round for a spine-chilling tale of dirty coffee mugs, spoons, and plastic ware that appear out of nowhere in the sink at the office and never disappear. (You're quaking already, I can tell.)

A variety of dirty mugs, cups, containers, and utensils seem to be reproducing before our very eyes in the 4th floor breakroom. Oh, sure, it started off innocently enough - a black mug here, a butter container there. But now the sink is almost full. And it's been over a week. Black mug still there. Container still there. But new little friends have joined them. All rooted firmly to the sink and staring at us. Daring us to wash them; daring us to walk away.

This frightens me on several different levels:

1. What unknown creature(s) put the items into the sink in the first place expecting them to wash, dry, and replace themselves?

2. What else might the co-worker creature(s) leave for me to "clean up" outside of the kitchen?

3. What if the sink gets so full that I can't rinse out my own dirty mug and plate? Do I just throw 'em in there and walk away?

4. Since I never see anyone doing this evil deed, when and how does it happen? Are these creatures invisible or do they feed at night/early morning before the rest of the staff arrives?

5. Because it happens over and over and over, am I caught in a "Twilight Zone" episode or "Ground Hogs Day"?

To be honest, it is not a unique occurrence, this symbiosis between dirty mugs and office sinks. In fact, I don't think I've ever worked anywhere that didn't have dirty dishes magically appear in the sink and sit. And sit. And sit. Until somebody gets so fed up with the science experiments growing in their workplace kitchen laboratory, that s/he dons rubber gloves and a mask and washes all the dishes on their own.

Yes, you're so smug sitting there reading this and thinking, "This will never happen to me!" And maybe you're right. Maybe the co-worker creature only follows me around. But the next time you look into an office break room sink and see one lonely black mug sitting there, beware! You may not be as safe as you think. Mwwaaaahhhaaaaaa.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The usefulness of guilt

Years ago I participated in a Sunday School class for parents with teens. The focus was on the good, the bad, and the incorrigible and was led by a child psychologist. One parent raised the question of using guilt and, hey, wasn't that a bad thing? The teacher laughed and said that guilt is not necessarily bad and often is the only thing a parent has. Finally. Something I could use.

Tuesday's New York Times had a great article about the usefulness of guilt and atonement in raising considerate, conscientious adults. Now, there's a big difference between guilt (about the act or behavior) and shame (about the "badness" or incompetence of a person). Several studies are showing that guilt, properly handled, can really help a child understand undesirable behavior and the importance of making amends.

Of course, much has been made over the years about parents, usually mothers, who instill feelings of guilt children. Literature and jokes are rife with famous "guilt groups" - Catholic, Jewish, Puritan - famous for causing life-long guilt (or shame, depending on how it's handled). The reality in my own life is that, yes, guilt - the stuff tied to behavior - has kept me out of a lot of trouble, especially before the age of 30.

It's funny, but when I was growing up I never considered how bad behavior would effect me; I always thought of how it would hurt and disappoint Mother and Daddy. While it didn't keep me from all unfortunate behavior (I have a long trail of that, goodness knows), it did keep me from doing a lot of stupid stuff in my teens and early 20's. The potential guilt of hurting my parents saved me from making some real blunders. The enormity of bad guilt-feelings just wasn't worth the momentary delight of doing something questionable.

The other side of that coin is that there is behavior I wish I felt guilty for: too much food, not enough exercise, lack of patience, etc. Hmmm. I'll have to work on that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just got the news!

Daughter and Son-in-Law expecting a baby boy!
Due date: February 22, 2010

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Write Address

Good penmanship can pay off. A little bit. Thanks to some whip-crackin' elementary school teachers, I have a nice, clear handwriting style. Last year I ran an ad on craigslist offering - for a small price - to hand-address cards, invitations, and thank-you notes, having no idea if anyone would take me up on the offer.

Believe it or not, several folks have hired me. My first job was addressing 100 birth announcements for a couple in Greenwich Village. I sat in the "party room" of their apartment building to complete the addressing assignment. The next job involved writing thank-you notes for a recently married couple. They typed out what they wanted to say in the notes and provided the addresses and cards, and I did the writing. Both of those little jobs helped me buy Christmas presents last year.

Now, there's a trick to hand-addressing envelopes, whatever the size. Especially when the card has to be addressed something like: Mr. Stephen and Dr. Elizabeth Jonesenbergenstein. Sure, I can use an ampersand, unless the customer asks me to spell out everything, but that still doesn't save much space. What I'm saying is, there's a bit of finesse involved in keeping the address neat, readable, and correct (and on one line).

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my ad again and got an immediate request from a high-profile non-profit group who had 500 invitations to address for a big party at one of the Hampton mansions. I was given pages and pages of the addresses, a fistful of green Sharpie pens (to match the logo on the envelopes), and boxes of beautifully-designed envelopes. Quite a nice little weekend job, actually.

This was a fun project. Lots of famous people and philanthropists were on the list. Imagine that Sarah and Matthew, or Liev and Naomi, or designer Donna, or writer Elie - well, I could go on and on, but I won't - got invitations in my very own handwriting! And, no, I do not remember their addresses, so don't ask. I'm trustworthy in that way. It was kind of cool.

But I will tell you this. The #1 zip code for these invitees was 10021, the primo NYC zip. People - well, certain people - vie to land a place between the north side of East 69th and the south side of East 76th and between Fifth Avenue and the East River. And Park Avenue won the prize for street frequency. (Obviously not my end of Park Avenue, zip code 10029. I suspect no one vies for 10029.) Plus, it was fun to get to write "PH" on many of them. I'd love to poke my nose into any penthouse on Park in 10021. Sigh.

I finished the project on time, and the client loved the work, so job well-done. The organization has an even bigger fund-raiser in the autumn and promises to call me again. 4,000 envelopes next time. I think I'll need more than a weekend for that one.

Moral of the story: write neatly. You never know where your handwriting will show up. But stay out of my territory. I own 10021, baby!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stardust. Golden.

Let me begin by saying, I was not there. More about that later.

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. The real Woodstock - the muddy, half-a-million-strong, Country Joe/Janis Joplin/Jimi Hendrix Woodstock, not the pale re-creations that followed. Truthfully, I've enjoyed watching all the documentaries and retrospectives, witnessing the fun and hearing the raw music from my own dry, cool place stocked with plenty of food and toilet facilities.

As crazy as Woodstock still looks even in this day and age, I find comfort in the fact that a number of long-term, monogamous, traditionally-married relationships grew out of the festival. Who knew? I guess we figured all those young folk just scampered off to communes and smoked themselves to death.

I find comfort in the fact that Woodstock-attendees are now mainstream journalists, business people, educators, religious leaders. They had a great time forty years ago and yet, survived it and moved on to become productive citizens.

And I find comfort in the fact that the music is still kick-ass. Way more kick-ass than anything that's come along since. Guess you need a real cause to create kick-ass music, and young folks haven't seemed able to find a collective cause big enough to inspire, well, kick-ass music.

Now. Back to me. In August of 1969, I was busy getting ready to head to college. A faraway music festival was barely on my radar until the news about it started hitting television news. And coming from a conservative, Republican, Southern Baptist family, my attending Woodstock - college preparations or no - wouldn't have occurred to me, anyway. So, yeah, I missed the music event of the century. But I found all the stories and film footage about the festival very cool, and the music forced me to think outside of my comfort-zone. (Uh, oh - was this conservative Southern Baptist girl going to be lead astray at some point in the future? Stay tuned.)

Still, even if I had the chance to go back to my 18th summer, knowing what I know now - knowing what a big deal Woodstock would be in the annals of history, I don't think I'd show up. I've never been much of a concert-goer. I don't like long lines, traffic jams, and music-amplification that makes my ears bleed. And I really wouldn't want to spend a couple of days in mud, even for Janis and Jimi. Such a wimp, I know.

But I love living the experience vicariously through films, documentaries, and interviews from my air-cooled, food-laden apartment with indoor plumbing. I salute the hundreds of thousands of kids who showed up for three amazing days of peace, love, and music at Max Yasgur's farm. It could've gone horribly wrong, but it didn't.

Some would say most of those kids eventually sold out, became Establishment. Well, yeah. Eventually, the Establishment becomes you. But, please. Is there anything sadder than an old hippie? I mean, one who still lives like a hippie? Yet, even those of us who were too conservative or too disinterested to attend Woodstock carry some little bit of the philosophy with us, I hope. The reality is, though, that Woodstock didn't change anything. Not in any huge, long-lasting way. Except to demonstrate that 400,000 or so young people could get together for three days of music without violence, government intervention, cellphones, and iPods.

For those of you sick of hearing about it, too bad. I'm sure you're tired of hearing about the assassination of JFK, the moon-landing, and the Beatles. Boomer retrospectives are no different from our own parents' recollections of the Depression or World War II. You'll be the same way about whatever it is you consider history-making for your generation.

The fact is that forty years ago Woodstock stood and delivered. And the music was kick-ass. Stardust. Golden.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Come, October!

Summer. You can have it. I can’t believe anyone over the age of 18 is bemoaning the fact that summer is almost over. OK, I’ll cut the kids and teachers some slack, since I understand the reluctance to return to the old school routine. But summer is my least favorite season, and the sooner it’s gone, the better, in my opinion.

I loved it as a kid, of course. All those long, long days, playing out in the wading pool or – once in a great while – getting to go to an actual swimming pool, making lanyards a thousand different ways at some day-camp or another, eating watermelon (the kind with seeds), seeing how many books I could read in the library’s Summer Book Program. Sometimes I went down to Florida to friends in St. Petersburg or Aunt Nell’s in Orlando (before DisneyWorld – but she had a pool, which was all that mattered).

With the exception of the Great Journey West in 1959, I don’t remember many elaborate family vacations. We traveled enough throughout the year from Chattanooga to Atlanta or to Nashville to see family. Holidays at the beach or some exotic locations happened rarely, if ever. So to child/teen-me, summer was just one long lazy time to goof around and wear shorts.

And then I grew up. College summers were spent working to earn money enough for cute clothes – all those mini- and midi-skirts and coats, hot pants, suede belts and boots (early 70’s, remember) – so I learned pretty fast that those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer were gone for good. And once into the full-blown workaday world after college, the childhood-summer experience could only be re-created over a 7-10-day vacation to the beach or mountains. Then back to work.

So here’s what summer means to me now: Heat. Humidity. Endless Bad-Hair Days. Work. Bad TV. Silly action movies. Unflattering clothes. High power bills (I refuse to live without air-conditioning, sorry).

My body, mind, and spirit longs to feel that first hint of an autumn nip in the air. Oh, to be able to open the windows and feel a wonderful cool breeze blowing through! To don a turtleneck sweater and jeans and take an energizing walk through the park. To see the first hint of gold or red in the treetops.

I love autumn, winter, and spring. Marvelous seasons! But summer? Meh. As for me, I’ll take cool, crisp air and brilliant fall colors, January’s bitter cold and snow (I love snow!), and the new grass and flowers of spring over the languid heat of summer anytime.

Ah, October – can you get here soon?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Four More Years!

August 9 marked the fourth anniversary of Shorty PJs. I know I've been a slack-blogger of late and promise to get back on track soon. My head is a-swirl with ideas: NYC Zip Code Envy, What Should Be on My Real Resume, Summer of Dead Celebrities - well, a long list, I assure you.

Until I get my act together and regain my blogging momentum, why don't you take a stroll down Shorty PJs Memory Lane and read her posts from August 2005 (see left navigation)? The first posts are tentative and fraught with trying to figure out how blogging works. The last post of the month was about the hurricane that hit New Orleans (before we knew how really bad it was). Yet, I think those early posts are some of my best.

To my faithful readers, thanks for putting up with me for the last 48 months. You're a swell buncha' folks, and I've loved getting to know you better through blogging. Four more years!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Horror! The Horror!

Don't you love a good scary story? Particularly when somebody else is telling it to you? (Cue moans - wwwooooooo!)

Now that I'm able to keep my ears plugged during commutes with an iPod, I've become addicted to podcasts of old radio shows of the horror persuasion. The stories are just right for my train ride from Spanish Harlem to Grand Central and the hike up to Second Avenue, lasting 25-30 minutes each. Most are from the 1940s and 50s, though a goodly number are from the 1970s, and originate from the U.S., England, Canada, and South Africa.

The plays often feature the likes of Orson Welles, Vincent Price, and a variety of Broadway stalwarts. Sometimes I can see the ending from a mile away, but once in a while the resolution is a complete shocker. Still, I haven't found any real stinkers, yet. The stories go a long way toward keeping me entertained on a crowded subway, though I might be too scared to listen to them once fall and winter set in, and I'm travelling to and from in the dark.

If you're looking for free horror story downloads, may I suggest:

Excuse me while I grab my blankie, plug in my earphones, and put my thumb in my mouth. Now. Start. Wwwwwwoooooooo!

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Yesterday was a day of extremes. The Hot/Cold kind. I know I said in my previous post that I felt like pulling the covers over my head, but the day was just to beautiful to do that. Wildly craving fresh tomatoes and basil, I ventured down to Union Square and the big Saturday farmers market. Of course, I couldn't be down 14th Street way and not venture to Sarita's Mac and Cheese (S'mac) on E. 12th and Sundaes & Cones on E. 10th, eh? So here's the "extreme" breakdown.


  • The weather. Sunny and warm, felt like upper-80's but I might be stretching it. NYC has had the third-coolest summer on record, so any time the clouds move out and the sun beams down, we all hit the streets. But all that walking and concrete heat things up. This Southern girl was glowing.

  • Sarita's Buffalo Chicken mac-and-cheese. Like extra spicy hot wings without the bones and with creamy, cheesey macaroni. Hot, hot, hot, but oh, so good. I try something new every time I visit S'mac. This time it was a toss-up between the Buffalo Chicken and the Masala. I've had the 4-cheese, the Cajun (red peppers and andouille sausage), the French (brie and figs), the Swiss (Gruyere and bacon), and now the Buffalo Chicken. Next time, Masala. I promise.

  • Sundaes & Cones wasabi ice cream. Y'all know it's my favorite. Sweet but with a great little wasabi-burn to it. Mmmmm.

  • Cold:

  • Sitting on an ice block in Union Square at the one-day art installation "Burning Ice." I'm glad I took the time to read the explanatory sign, since one of the artists did a video interview with me as I sat cooling my ass. The melting ice has an environmental message. I'm just sorry I couldn't stick around for the big ice block to turn red. Never mind. Those ice-block benches were pretty darn popular in yesterday's heat.

  • Sundaes & Cones wasabi ice cream. Brrr cold. And especially cool with a scoop of ginger ice cream to beat down some of the wasabi "heat."

  • Extremes. Worth coming out from under the covers for, I testify - spicy mac-and-cheese and a frozen rear-end.

    Oh, by the way, Shorty fans: As I did with my Mother of the Bride experience in MoBster Diaries, I've started a new blog called Confusions of Grandeur rather than boring you with my grandparenting experience here on Shorty PJs. You're welcome.