Archive for March 2008

March 26th, 2008

The New Sharks

Okay….

I’d been on earth 26 years without hearing of a single instance of ray-related mayhem, then, in the last year-and-a-half, there are three. What is going on?

Steph and I were discussing the situation a few days ago and, at almost the same time, we name-dropped a little piece of juvenile literature known as The Black Pearl. Perhaps you remember it? We both had to read it for middle school English. In one of those tender moments that only brings a couple closer, we confessed to each other that we both had a gut-wrenching fear of manta rays, and that it was all because of this book.

Neither of us could even recall anything about the novel’s (human) characters or plot. All we had was that the cover looked like this:

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Sorry, this is such a low-quality image, but it’s the only reproduction I could find. Evidently they’ve changed the “standard” cover to this:

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I doubt if any of today’s adolescents are going to remember this super-lame image 16 years laters. Of course, I could see how — ya know, theoretically — the old cover might have caused a certain cross-section of the 11-year-old population with very active imaginations to wake up screaming at 4 am every night. The publisher probably gave in to pressure from frustrated parents, who were tired of repeating to their worried children that “giant rays are not out there attacking people who dare to enter the water.”

And not a moment too soon, ’cause what in the world would they tell them now?

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March 19th, 2008

Quantum Heap

In Google’s continuing effort to allow us to see all our world has to offer without ever having to put on a pair of pants, they’re now offering a feature called “Street View.”

Have you seen this? It’s an option you can open, after you’ve looked up a location on Google Maps, that allows you to move freely, up and down city streets, viewing real photos of all the surroundings. It’s pretty neat…and creepy.

According to the internet, in order to create this application, Google had to have photographers cruising every roadway of a designated area, with an 11 lens camera mounted to the top of a car, shooting constantly. This would explain why they’re only able to release a few “Street View”-ready places at a time. What it doesn’t explain is how I never noticed this Dr. Suess-sounding set-up pulling up next to me at a stoplight at any point in the past year. Raleigh has, after all, just had its “street view” activated.

When I found out about this, I, of course, immediately looked up my place of residence, to see if one could perhaps see me in my window — shirtless and picking my nose, ideally.

No dice there, but, almost as exciting was seeing my car out front.

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I went one click further down the road, and lo and behold, my car was there again…in a different spot!

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Apparently just before the corner of Morgan and Mayo was the photographer’s stopping point on a previous day, because these are clearly different weather conditions.

The next place I “visited” was my parent’s house in Cary, and my car was there too!

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(It’s harder to tell here, but trust me, that is the corner of my ’88 Nova. I’ve been driving it for over 10 years now. I’d know that corner anywhere.)

I guess what I’m getting at here is, in Google’s ““Street View’ World,” I’m like some sort of mystical journeyman. Zipping through dimensions in a clunky sedan. Letting the old girl rest in three places, all at once.

Could even be more than three, actually. I’m still checking the roadsides to see if the Google car might have passed me by one of the many times I was broken down on the side of the road.

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March 7th, 2008

“You may as well have had ‘kick me’ fastened on your sleeve”

About a week-and-half into my tenure under The Boss from Hell, I arrived at work to find a new full-time designer at the other desk in my holding cell. She had just graduated from art school (a different one than I was going to at the time) and this was her first real job. She reminded me of a lot of the girls I went to school with, so I thought she might be the answer to sticking out my summer internship.

After a few days of sporadic conversation and lunches together, however, I think she convinced herself that I wanted to date her (which I didn’t), something she decided to be clear about not being interested in. She became quiet and standoffish and soon we were going days without saying a word to each other.

The computer she worked on, unlike mine, had speakers connected to it, so she had full control over the music we listened to. She chose to play R.E.M. All day long. Every single day. Not a specific R.E.M. album or albums, either, but an hour-and-a-half long mix of songs she had made. On a continuous loop. Hearing this selection so relentlessly put only a temporary dent in my ability to appreciate R.E.M.’s catalog, except for one song — one I will never be able hear again without feeling depressed, angry, and probably a little queasy.

The “Boss from Hell” that I worked for that summer was about my dad’s age. He often wore bright Hawaiian shirts, yet always seemed to have a scowl on this face. Other than his wife, who wandered in and answered phones occasionally, he’d been the owner and solitary worker at his company for years. His place of business was a portion of his house that had been renovated into offices. Not exactly the normal burgeoning design firm set-up, but considering his chief exports were logos and brochures for computer repair places and industrial manufacturers, this made sense. None of his stuff was that exciting, or even that tastefully executed, but I knew I had to start somewhere.

During the interview, he was wholly indifferent to me and my work, but surprised me by ending our conversation with an “I’ll take you on for the summer, if you want.” The last thing I remember from that meeting was, after he’d gone out to smoke (he maintained something like a four-pack-a-day habit), his wife mentioning to me that they’d never been able to keep employees around and they couldn’t figure out why. Obviously this was not a shining attribute, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. It was already a few weeks into the summer and I had no other prospects, so I basically had to. I kept reminding myself that, even if this wasn’t the greatest work environment: 1) I was going to learn valuable job skills, 2) he had stated that he would pay me during my interview which meant I wouldn’t have to get a part-time job in addition to working there, and 3) this was only for the summer.

Longest summer of my life. When I showed up on the first day, the boss promptly stuck me in a small, dimly-lit room upstairs, crowded with the remnants of printers and computers past. I stayed there for four days, coming in at 8:30 and leaving at 5:30 without anyone saying a word to me. On the occasions when I did ventured down to his office to make an inquiry as to what I could be working on, he’d growl that he’d get to that, but he couldn’t right then. There were two relatively clear desks up there, both with working Macs on them, so I spent all that time sort of situating myself at one of them. On the fifth day I heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. He exploded into the room, radiating cigarette breath, and barked out that he needed me to “crank out” some ideas for a logo for a new offset printing company. He wrote their name down for me and then he was gone. No asking how I was getting settled in. No discussing how much I was going to be paid for working there (which we hadn’t done yet). No mention of the fact that whenever he started up any of his Adobe software downstairs, it abruptly closed mine, because he only had one site license for it. All this to say nothing of the fact that I had no idea what an “offset printing” company was, and that the concept of just “cranking out” some logo ideas was completely foreign to me. A logo was something that had to be researched and discussed and developed. It took at least half a semester to do all that, didn’t it?

I was a few days into this fix when the full-time designer started and I was introduced to R.E.M.’s “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star),” from their new album Reveal. From the first time I heard the vacuous, down-tempo intro the song seemed, to me, to be a sonic embodiment of that place.

It didn’t help that, I swear, I heard it four or five times as often as any of the other songs on this mix. It’s very possible that this particular DJ was going back and selecting it for airplay that often. (She clearly had no problem with repetition.) Or perhaps it just managed to capture my attention, when it did cue up, more effectively than the other tracks did. Maybe, in an alternate universe, this track would be one of my all-time favorite songs. In my current incarnation, however, it was that place, and I couldn’t stand it.

I’d sat through it at least fifteen times before I finally got up the guts to ask The Boss from Hell how much he was planning on paying me. This exchange went surprisingly well, with him offering seven dollars an hour and me accepting solely on the grounds that he was actually being civil to me at the moment. I tried to keep this momentum going the next day, but ended up interrupting a meeting with a client to ask him if he could get a separate software license for me. I have never been screamed at like that in my life. Especially not while standing on the bottom step of a staircase, with a total stranger sitting there, witnessing it all. The Boss from Hell flew off the handle at everyone, sooner or later. The other designer. Printers. Delivery people. I could sometimes hear he and his wife getting into shouting matches through the floor. Once his pre-teenaged daughter entered the offices and all three of them got into it. A few minutes later, she drove away in his truck which, judging by his reaction, he hadn’t anticipated her doing.

Whenever something bad happened, I was hearing, had just heard, or was about to hear Michael Stipe, crooning in his melodramatic affectation, “Humming / All the way to Reno / Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blah-Blah-Blah.”

“All the Way to Reno” was cued up when I came in after having erased some very important in-progress project files the previous afternoon. It was towards the end of the summer, but this was by far the worst mistake I’d made in my time there. So bad that The Boss from Hell had called me at my parents’ that night to yell at me over the phone and then promptly hung up on me before I even had a chance to apologize. I entered his house feeling quite nervous. He wasn’t in his office, so I headed upstairs. The song had kicked off before I even entered the room. I got to my desk and found my timesheet for the week had been ripped into pieces and scattered all over it. I took this to mean I was fired. I asked the other designer if she knew what was going on, but she just shook her head and looked at me suspiciously. The next person I encountered was the wife, who I asked the same thing. She chuckled at me and, in a sing-song voice, replied “Oh no, he’s not going to do that! You know, that’s just how he is.” Everyone at this place was certifiably insane.

As I waited in silence, in that crappy room, for The Boss from Hell to come in and continue yelling at me about my screw-up, I leered at the clock in the corner of my computer screen. I watched the seconds pass, each one getting me an immeasurably small amount closer to getting to clock out, go home for the night, and just go to bed. The song reached its chorus: “You know what you are. You’re gonna be a star,” Michael Stipe whined to me. “You know what you are. You’re gonna be a star.”

I’d never believed anyone less in my life.

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