Saturday, December 23, 2006

...Ebenezer Gooch

I’ve always found great humor at the large number of non-Jews who assume the Christmas season must be an incredibly lonely and depressing time for those of the Jewish faith. Like many perceived “handicaps”, those who don't suffer them often seem far more concerned about the negative side-effects than those who do.

As a kid, I have little recollection of ever feeling left out during the holiday season. Sure, I may have been singled out a little when my classmates made red and green construction paper decorations in class while the one or two other Jews and I made ours out of blue and white.

Otherwise, I thought the Christmas season was great. No school for a couple weeks, our own present-receiving holiday to celebrate and a chance for the whole family to see a movie together on Christmas day. When I moved down to Southern California in my early 20s, friends, feeling sorry for me, would often invite me to celebrate Christmas with their families. I always appreciated the kindness of the gesture, but honestly, the idea of having a day off of work with no responsibilities, where I was free to vegetate by myself in front of the TV all day without guilt or any other expectation of what I should be doing was something I looked forward to all year.

If anything, I suspected us Jews had it pretty good during this time of year. We got all the positive benefits of the holiday season (paid time off/no school) without the negative (spending an entire day atop a rickety ladder hanging up Christmas lights then repeating the same procedure a mere couple weeks later to take them down, buying an overpriced, messy tree that you spend hours decorating and then throw out all in less than a month, dealing with the absolute insanity of overcrowded stores and packed freeways virtually all of December, negotiating the highly sensitive “where to spend Christmas day” issue without offending anybody).

Having married outside my religion, I now get to experience Christmas in a more traditional fashion. At the risk of sounding more Scrooge-like than is probably appropriate this close to December 25th, what was once a suspicion is now a confirmation.

Off to do some last minute shopping. Happy Holidays everyone.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

...The Unstated Competition

Is there a name for the psychological condition that causes you to be perfectly happy when good things happen to complete strangers, but makes you secretly wish people you actually have a personal connection with never have anything good happen to them that could possibly be construed as doing better than you?

This is one of those topics I hesitate to talk about, not only because I’m sure it reflects poorly on my character, but also because it is the type of topic that tends to lead people to spew out the worst kind of hippy-dippy, artificial, feel good, “Just Be Happy With Who *YOU* Are” positive self-affirmation bullshit that may sound good on paper but never really makes you feel any better in real life.

Back in September I learned that Yul Kwon, who graduated from my high school two years after I did, was going to be appearing on this season’s contest of “Survivor”. At the time I thought it was kind of cool to see a hometown boy represented, even if I honestly couldn’t say I had much recollection of him beyond somewhat recognizing the face when I looked back at an old yearbook.

I have to admit I beamed with pride throughout the season as Yul was consistently portrayed as one of the most intelligent Survivors ever to play the game; thinking this somehow validated my own intellect as a graduate of the same educational institution. Even though, to be fair, he graduated valedictorian of his class, while my grades were more of the “just good enough to not get held back” variety.

From everything I’ve heard and read about Yul he seems like a perfectly ethical, smart, charitable, civic-minded individual destined to make a positive impact on humanity. So why was I sitting on the edge of my seat tonight with clenched fists and a rapidly beating heart, desperately praying for the final tie-breaking vote to go in Ozzy’s direction? Because Yul’s victory caused me to acknowledge a topic I know ultimately is silly and unimportant, yet nags at me constantly: “How Successful Am I As A Grown-Up Compared to the People I Went to School With”. In Yul’s case, objectively, the answer would have to be, less

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Every once in a while I am reminded why I decided to start my own small business with a couple of close friends and to never again work for a large corporation. This would be an example of a reminder:

About eight years ago the medium-size, West Coast-based company I worked for got bought out by a company in the Midwest. The company who bought us out had the idea of buying up literally dozens and dozens of different companies within our industry to create a national powerhouse. Their plan was to (albeit artificially) create the appearance of a huge sales juggernaut by taking the annual revenue of many individual companies and combining them into one big number. The hope, of course, was for that company to in turn get bought out at an inflated price by an even bigger company. As is the case with most corporate buyouts, things worked out real rosy for the various business owners who received millions of dollars to sell their individual companies and then got to stay on board in well-compensated upper-management positions. For the average employee however, things didn’t tend to work out quite as well.

Locally, our office merged with about four or five different companies who had previously been our competitors. With an overabundance of salespeople, if you were lucky enough to keep your job at all, the chances of being able to keep all of your good accounts were slim; the chances of having your geographical sales territory slashed in half was great.

The company decided to start having an annual sales conference for the entire nationwide sales staff - a sort of combination “Rah, Rah” session and trade show.

In anticipation of the first such event, which was to be held in Atlanta, all of the West Coast sales staff received an email from Nancy, the wife of one of the bought-out owners of our division, containing an attachment with two lyric sheets. In an attempt to demonstrate the boisterous team spirit and enthusiastic loyalty of the West Coast Sales Team, Nancy had taken it upon herself to write two songs for us to sing to the rest of the company at a big formal dinner/dance that was going to be held during the convention.

Unfortunately, the company who bought us out was known primarily by its four-letter acronym, making “YMCA” a logical melody to use along with her lyrics (complete with unique hand gestures representing each of the letters of our company’s name). The lyrics she came up with were beyond corny:

”No Rep, Does It All By Himself
It Takes Teamwork -
That’s the ---- Way”

The cheesy lyrics were just the beginning. Our lyric sheets contained explicit instructions of the exact point in the song where we were to venture out into the audience to recruit sales reps from other regions to join us on the dance floor, which was supposed to culminate in the entire company cheerfully singing and dancing together in unison.

I can see why Nancy was so giddy about this idea. After all, her husband had made something like 25 million on the merger. The rest of us weren’t exactly as excited. As evidenced by the fact only two other people joined her onstage for what turned out to be a truly awkward sight to behold (think of the worst, but completely earnest, karaoke performance you’ve ever seen). It went really bad. Bad enough that we didn’t get to hear the other song she had written, “Livin' the Projector Loca”. I’m totally not creative enough to have made that up.

Friday, December 08, 2006

...The Name Game

I have the misfortune of having been born with a terrible last name. I know almost everybody thinks his or her last name is bad, but mine really is. A simple removal of one letter and replacement with another turns my last name into a term nobody wants to be saddled with. (In the hope of keeping at least some sort of anonymity on here I am not revealing the name except to say the altered version is a synonym for dork or geek.)

As I’ve gotten older I’ve sort of come to terms with my last name, but growing up it always seemed incredibly unfair to have a last name that served as a virtual “kick me” sign. When you’re a kid there are only a millions different reasons kids can find to pick on you; my last named was like handing them the ammunition to assault me with. There were points in my life where I seriously questioned whether any woman would ever agree to marry me solely because I couldn’t imagine anyone who would in their right mind voluntarily take my last name. I already feel guilty for giving my young son a last name that virtually guarantees teasing once he enters elementary school.

Still, I guess things could always be worse:

Nicky Butt

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

From Yahoo AP News:

Flatulence forces plane to land

Tue Dec 5, 9:07 PM ET

It is considered polite to light a match after passing gas. Not while on a plane.

An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing Monday morning after a passenger lit a match to disguise the scent of flatulence, authorities said.

The Dallas-bound flight was diverted to Nashville after several passengers reported smelling burning sulfur from the matches, said Lynne Lowrance, spokeswoman for the Nashville International Airport Authority. All 99 passengers and five crew members were taken off and screened while the plane was searched and luggage was screened.

The FBI questioned a passenger who admitted she struck the matches in an attempt to conceal a "body odor," Lowrance said. She had an unspecified medical condition, authorities said.

"It's humorous in a way but you feel sorry for the individual, as well," she said. "It's unusual that someone would go to those measures to cover it up."

The flight took off again, but the woman was not allowed back on the plane. The woman, who was not identified, was not charged in the incident.

Monday, December 04, 2006

...Information That Would Have Been Far More Valuable 30 Seconds Earlier

(My wife, to me, as I was brushing my teeth the other night): “[Our Two-Year Old Son’s Name] was playing with your toothbrush earlier. I’m not entirely sure what he was doing with it, but I thought you should know”.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Don’t you think if aliens came down from outer space they’d think it was really weird that one of the hottest trends of the past few years is watching other people play cards?
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