There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Chronically Late or The Case for Drano Enemas

By way of preface let me make it as clear as possible that I realize that anyone can be late. Shit happens, the car craps out, you step in a gift from your dog on the way out the door, your wife can’t get your mother-in-law off the phone, the Okie next door has his four wheel drive penis substitute parked in your way, Congress has passed yet another brainless alteration in when daylight savings time starts, a million things can happen. But, let’s keep it real, everyone over the age of 3 knows that it’s statistically impossible for one of these things to happen to you every freakin’ time you walk out the door!

There are two kinds of chronically late individuals. The first is the person who is in some kind of leadership role, without whose presence an event cannot begin and the other is what I call the clueless doofus whose major responsibility is simply to show up.

I had to deal with a prime example of type 1 several years ago. It’s hard to characterize his behavior without supplying details that might identify him, but let’s just say that he presided over one weekly meeting where 100 people might be in attendance and several smaller meetings throughout the week with from 5 to 30 people in attendance. I had a minor functionality within the organization that required me to attend approximately 75% of all meetings. Over a period of eight years this guy was late to every single meeting I attended. Every one. Without exception. And when I say late, I don’t mean that he came skidding into the room a few seconds after the appointed time, I mean 5, 10, 15 minutes late. Invariably the first thing out of his mouth was “Hi folks, sorry I’m late.” Oh PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE! Give me a huge break! If you were sorry, you’d stop doing it.

Let’s examine the effects of this blatant disregard for one’s peers. 1) It pisses people off. People that attend your meetings have lives and they often have other things they would rather be doing. Even if they would rather be attending your meeting than anything else, sitting around waiting for you to make an entrance is not what they signed up for. 2) You lose respect. You want people to do something you won’t do, show up on time. Any leadership trainer on the planet will tell you this won’t work. 3) You send the message “my time is worth more than yours”. Right. Up yours fella, all man hours are intrinsically equal, and if the alternative is doing something productive as opposed to waiting for you, then the time you caused me to waste was indeed valuable. 4) It causes people to dread your next meeting. “This grinning chimp has done this to me umpteen times – do I really feeling like going out into the snow to have him do it again?” I don’t want to get into a rant here, but I think everyone gets the picture. I have to at least entertain the thought that when people do this, they want everyone else to be there when they arrive so that they can make an entrance. Bite that! If you want to be a leader, then lead and quit posturing.

Now we come to the masses of clueless doofuses. (say “clueless doofuses” 5 times fast) I happen to have spent an alternate life as a musician and now retain this part of my life as a hobby. I play in a community orchestra, have my own woodwind quintet, and play for various community theatre events as well as the occasional odd recital. Each of these groups has its own particular brand of doofus, so we’ll look at these one at a time.

The volunteer amateur orchestra: This orchestra exists so that people who for whatever reason (lack of expertise, lack of openings, lack of commitment) cannot play in available “for hire” orchestras. If you’ve ever checked out the number of “for hire” symphony orchestras in your community, you probably see where there might be more musicians around than there are orchestral seats. Also, our group which can be surprisingly listenable gives free concerts. This allows folks on fixed incomes, students, folks that don’t want to pay the premium to be seen with the blue haired aristocrats, etc. to hear live music they otherwise would not get to hear. It’s a great community service and we have a good deal of monetary corporate support that agrees with our goals. But I digress. The point is these people that participate are there because they want to play and have limited outlets. A small dedicated group of volunteers labor long and hard so these people will have this opportunity. So what happens? Every week at rehearsal at least 30% of the membership comes dragging in after rehearsal has started. You know the type, the same ones that come into the theater 10 minutes after movie starts dragging their drooling progeny who all do Irish step dances on your feet while they try to reach the most inaccessible seats. Let me illuminate this picture for you. Our rehearsal room is in a church basement. When set up we reach from wall to wall in both the width and length of the room. Instrument cases are stacked in every available square foot of floor space, instrumentalists have the minimum amount of room to allow movement to operate their instrument and both the conductor and back row of brass have their backs literally against the wall. An important fact to note is that the door to the room is in the front of the room, sneaking in the back is impossible. When the appointed hour arrives the 70% of us ready to play begin rehearsal. Ten minutes later the asshat parade begins, always the same people. Stepping on instrument cases, tripping over people’s feet, bumping wind instruments thus causing lip injuries, knocking music off stands, obscuring lines of sight, dragging coats and cases across the heads, arms and shoulders of other players and generally proving the existence of near perfect vacuums in the dark empty reaches of their craniums while leaving sorrys and excuse mes in their wake. Sorry? Like hell, you do this week after week with the same mindless grin on your face. Sorry? Hey, everyone is looking at you, you attention whore, you’re as happy as a tapeworm in shit. Excuse you? Yeah, the first time. Now eight years later feel my hate – hotter than a white hot poker gleefully inserted in a rectum.

The woodwind quintet: For some reason in here in MidWestSuburbOfHell USA it is difficult to find French horn players for our group. It’s not that such players are scarce; it’s that they really don’t want to actually play. This in itself is a bit of a mystery. Its not that they don’t want to rehearse, it’s that they won’t even play for money. Not just for our group, but for any group. And pretty good money at that. I wish I could afford to turn down $50 an hour gigs. There is a list of French hornists as long as your arm that groups are advised to call when such a player is needed, but getting them to actually agree to play is up for grabs. “Hey! I own a French horn and I want to be called for gigs. That’s it. I want to be called. I don’t actually want to play I just want to be asked.” What’s up with that? So anyway – we actually have a rarity in our quintet, someone who owns a horn and will, if begged in the proper obsequious manner, play. However, show up on time she will not. The four of us are at the gig in time to set up, warm up, and tune up. Now we begin the waiting. Will she show up? We have to start playing in 10 minutes. Should we try to call her? Oh there she is! And with a whole 3 minutes to get ready. No time to tune or warm up, we can do that after 10 minutes of sounding like four pros trying to drown out a Junior High Student. This is her behavior at paying gigs. Forget rehearsals! When she does show up she has invariably left some vital piece of equipment at home. Oh I guess we can’t rehearse our newest number today since you didn’t bring it. Music stand? Surely I can find a spare since you forgot yours. Once she actually forgot her mouthpiece. Plus she has the annoying habit of singing her part when she can’t actually get her lips around it, which is all too often. The point of this somewhat extended story? Lateness can be a symptom of overall cranial/rectal inversion.

I’ve probably gone past any reasonable length on this one, but my frustration has burst the surly bonds of earth. Get this, buttheads! It’s called a watch. Use it!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winter in the Midwest and Abject Stupidity

When I moved to Iowa, no one told me that it was also fondly known as Baja Minnesota.

"Hey, you used to live in Illinois - what's the big deal?"

I'll tell you what the big deal is; blizzards. Not just snow, but piles upon piles of snow backed up by 40 mph winds and followed by days of below zero temperatures with -30 degree wind chills. Snow comes in from Nebraska horizontally. In Illinois a big snowfall is usually followed by kids sledding, building snowmen, ice skating on farm ponds. Not so in Iowa. After a snow in Iowa people of all age groups huddle indoors listening to the wind scream around the eaves and try to conjure up realistic sounding excuses for not showing up for school, work, church, or whatever other organization is fool hardy enough not to cancel their activities. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Whenever it snows in Iowa it first lays down at least a quarter inch of ice which arrives as freezing rain. Gotta love that when you go out to get in your car.

Ah yes, the car. There is a macho mindset in Iowa that nothing can stop commerce/business and if you can actually see the doorway to a place of enterprise it will somehow try to open no matter what the depth of the drifts in the streets. So one must climb into the vehicle and venture forth.

Problem 1: In Iowa snow removal does not start until the storm ends. That's right, if the storm lasts 4 days and deposits 28 inches of snow, not a plow, not a salt truck, not a sand spreader will creep from the city barns until bright sunshine is clearly visible and not a flake still floats in the air. Calls to the department of public works invariably brings the response "The main arteries were clear by 7:00 AM". This is little comfort as you sit on one of the aforesaid arteries hung up by the frame of your car in the middle of a 6 foot drift. Worse, the city employees trusted with the responsibility of clearing the streets suffer from "seasonal amnesia" where they forget from year to year what the white stuff falling out of the sky is and how to deal with it. Thus for at least the first two blizzards, no street clearing activities take place whatsoever.

Problem 2: All native born Iowans had as their last vehicle a horse and buggy. That can be the only explanation for their total inability to make the slightest effort to observe traffic laws and courtesies. Turn signals? Just rip that lever right off the column, Pa, we won't ever be using it. Changing lanes? Just change, if there is anyone behind you they'll look out for themselves. Turns? Just turn from whatever lane you happen to be in to any direction you wish, someone will look out for you. No parking places? Just park in the street and walk away - seriously, on any given day the streets are full of cars abandoned in traffic lanes while the owners run in for a donut or whatever. And all this is when the streets are clear, dry and in the light of day. When the snow starts, the seasonal amnesia sets in and as one, Iowa natives believe that bad weather driving consists of a single rule "drive as fast as you can and everyone else will get out of your way".

Let's face it, there's a theme here - which will turn up again and again in this blog and it is that the great majority of people are STUPID. Half the people you meet are below average intelligence - think about it - and that average has been falling steadily since the late 1800s (don't believe this? get hold of an 8th grade math book from the 1890s and look at the problems. Give these to the high school student who needs a picture of a burger on the key of the fast food cash register in order to ring up your order and see what results you get.) STUPID I tell you, STUPID.