February 14, 2010

The Horrible Burden of Being Right All the Time, Part II

There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone; in fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape, but even after admitting this there is no catharsis, my punishment continues to elude me and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself; no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.
A great American once said that, and I had the quote bronzed and hung above my desk at City Hall so that I'd never forget why I'm here. Human Resources is a thankless and dirty business, but I've become pretty damn good at it.

I mean, if I didn't have a plush municipal set-up and killer benefits, I totally wouldn't be here—but as it is, well…a man could get used to this kind of applause, as they say. It's not easy, of course—maintaining a thin veneer of professionalism over the seething contempt I feel toward almost every job applicant takes a Herculean amount of discipline—but I might as well be a god as far as these people are concerned. Hell, watching them jockey for position, clawing and scraping for status and validation is half the fun, you know?

It can get boring after a while, though. Humoring a menagerie of hangups from fifty stone-cold morons on the slim chance that one of them might eventually evolve into something with enough spinal fluid to function in municipal government sure sounds like fun, eh? Well, if you play your cards right, dude, it can be one of those glorious things that makes life worth living. It all comes down to how much of an asshole you want to be. Most people don't like to admit that, but it's true—just like any other trade secret worth keeping—because the vast majority of our fellow humans are rank amateurs at everything, including people who think they know what they're doing.

For example, take these two geeks I had to deal with on Friday morning—computer programmers from a local firm bidding on the city's web redevelopment project. Some dipshit from Purchasing had the brilliant idea of hiring private contractors instead of our own internal IT people, so we had to endure a lame dog-and-pony show from these guys even though we'd already decided to give the job to a Silicon Valley group (which we only did after threatening that company that they'd lose to Indian outsourcers unless the fee was cut in half).

Anyway, these two underpants gnomes from mid-town had brought their own projector and PowerPoint when submitting the RFP, and their presentation plowed through a lot of technical bullshit about "web standards" and "usability testing" and how beneficial this all could be for "government transparency," and even cited the City Manager's blog as something to emulate.

They played good-cop-bad-cop with me—the nice guy was about six-seven and almost giddy with enthusiasm over being able to work with what he called "an enterprise-level CMS" (whatever the fuck that meant), but any cred he tried to get was instantly vaporized by his partner. That dude was a chubby bald guy who kept insisting that "we know that your budget is 90K, but the work you're proposing is really in the 125 to 150K range." He reiterated this, like, three times—enough for me to finally call the punk on it.

"Hang on," I said, "why are you being such a mental defective about the cost? The budget is what it is, okay? Why aren't you getting that?"

"W-well…uh," he stuttered, sweating and looking desperately to his buddy for help, "this isn't, like, voodoo or magic or anything. We're professionals—we've done many jobs like this before, and the comprehensive overhaul with intranet hookups you're asking for requires a lot of custom programming. We're absolutely willing to consider your budget ceiling, but—"

"Then what's the problem?" Christ, it dragged on forever. I was already distracted by my lunch date with that intern from the mayor's office, but I couldn't remember her name because of the way this geek kept pleading for his pathetic little company.

"...I mean, we live in this city—we want it to succeed. We know you guys are getting eaten alive in the press for trashing the mayor's promise to work with local businesses during the recession, and—"

"We didn't promise anything," I corrected him. "The media's had it in for us ever since we didn't cave to those stupid anti-Wal-Mart protestors back in October." This guy had some stones, I'll give him that—coming in here bitching about a three-month-old election that had decided an issue already written into the municipal code two years ago—but I sensed he would show his inner chickenshit sooner or later. I could tell he didn't have what it took to survive at this level—but his towering colleague wasn't such a pushover.

"Well, we know who your other bids are," said the taller guy, crossing his arms. "We know how the Chamber of Commerce will react to yet another city contract taken away from local firms. We know the journalists who cover City Hall. We know every council member on the November ballot was challenged by anti-tax freaks—and we know eventually this thing will bite you in the ass."

So at least one of them realized this meeting was only a formality, even if the blackmail lunge was crude. Fine—time was running short and I could play hardball with any computer-nerd cream-puff. Still—I had to be cool. No reason to make the janitors soak spilled blood off the curtains tonight. Never ever beat the help.

"Don't make threats, fucko. We can revoke your business license at any time. You're in no position to do the swaggering bull-fruit routine with me. I work in Human Resources, and to me you're just another IT guy. In this economy, people like you are a dime a dozen, big man, so next time you bid on a job like this, I'd remember my place if I were you."

I shut my binder and reached over to switch off their cheap-ass projector myself. "Now, if you guys don't mind, I've got another meeting, so please—show yourselves out."

They were still staring at each other when I walked out the door, no doubt shocked at how thoroughly I'd smacked them down, but I didn't care. I'd finally remembered the intern's name—Melanie—and hustled to meet her at the Watermark on Main. She'd said "lunch," but I knew she really meant "drinks," and any twenty-two-year-old blond with fantastic tits and a jones for cocktails at noon was a woman worth knowing.

I slid into my car for the two-block drive and wondered if I could steal her away from the mayor's office. I could use an assistant to ward off needy yokels like the two nerds I'd just nailed to the wall, and she would do the trick like gangbusters. After all, it's so hard to find good help these days.

cross-posted: dkos. dd

February 05, 2010

Walk On Your Lips Through Busted Glass

Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude—and destroy if possible—those who, by the simple face of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts. Blessed be the one at whom the fools bark, because his soul will never belong to them.
My brother's voice slices through the fermented air with muted authority. He always did love deploying the righteous wisdom.

"Hoo boy," I chuckle. "Be careful with that shit. It'll rip your soul in half."

"That's Zafón for you, bro," he smiles. "No idle ball-busting from that man. He'll separate the sheep from the goats every time."

He downs the rest of the Blue Moon in front of him and looks for the waitress. "Where'd she get to? I'm still unacceptably sober."

"Probably fluffing some, like, Affliction-wearing ape-man with multiple Jager shots."

My brother raises an eyebrow, undoubtedly realizing that I'm getting wasted. It's ten-thirty on a Saturday night in South Orange County, and we'd spent the day moving his stuff into a new apartment only a block away from this bar. Hey, one night playing Andy Capp wouldn't hurt, right? A trustafarian jam band is due to start playing any minute now, so we can hang out for a few hours before staggering home with impunity. Surely.

"Ey, so can I get you another one?"

An insidious, sultry voice yanks me back to myself. Our frighteningly attractive Colombian cocktail waitress has returned, continuing that crass yet perfectly acceptable liquid dance of superficial concern for her customers' welfare. She leans right into our faces with a devastating smile and flagrant cleavage, so we really have no choice but to play along.

"Luna azúl, por favor," says my brother in passable Spanish, and the waitress smiles. She'd humored my own stumblefuck attempts last round, when I'd compared her voice to Elizabeth Peña's, but my brother can actually speak the language, so they talk a little longer. I flit in and out of their conversation, eyeing the band's gear, before another accented hook snags me by the throat.

"Oye, pelón!" She rubs my fuzzy bald head with a laugh. "What about you, babyface?"

I blush and murmur something about another Bass. She slithers away and my brother laughs at me.

"You're hopeless, man. I mean, you know she's only fishing for fat tips, right? "

I shrug. "Dude, I would walk on my lips through busted glass just to get next to that."

He rolls his eyes as the band begins tuning up. "Jesus God, she's really put the claws in you if you're dragging out those old boomer yuppie lyrics."

"Hey, there are worse ways to defile oneself than the...like, mutual…um, flattery of cocktail waitresses."

"You fool," he sneers. "Tiger Woods will go to hell for what he did with a cocktail waitress."

"Shut up." My lame reply is drowned out by the band as they kick into an expert set of vintage hippie-rock, and South American sin soon takes a back seat to some of the sweetest surf-reverbed Strat tones we've ever heard. We sit back, drinking it in, and eventually a surprising revelation punches through my drunken psyche.

"This is, uh, really weird, bro."

"Huh? How so?"

"I don't…I'm not…I can totally get into their music without, like, being jealous."

"What?" He leans in to hear me as the band delivers a country-fried take on "Wish You Were Here."

"I..uh, well you know, back when we were gigging more, I would…like, get really jealous if I went to see other bands playing. Cause, um, we shoulda been doing it, you know? I mean, I felt like we didn't get any respect, like we should have had better gigs, or more of them, or…"

Thought processes are derailing slowly, and my brother just shakes his head. "That's bogus, bro. We had plenty of friends who came to see us. Hell, half the time we didn't know what we were doing anyway."

"I know, dude—I realized that later, after we'd stopped playing regularly. But now, I…well, I don't care about it like that. I can listen to these guys do their thing and just, just enjoy the moment, enjoy the tunes."

I can't explain myself properly, but I have to make him understand. I go through another three or four tangents while the band shuffles through a bad Marley cover and some good originals. I try to, like, talk about how I'd ditched the hard-core envy binges just in time to back into the marketing business, where hypersensitive souls get chewed up and spit out every ten minutes. I try to get across the no-longer depressing revelations about nobody ever giving two shits about the real things I'd wanted to do, but had been impressed by the garbage that I'd tossed off here and there without a second thought.

It becomes a long purge of vomit about tight-assed gatekeepers in every industry—music, publishing, journalism—consumed by their meaningless self-importance, inflated like bloated puffer fish in evaporating puddles. I go on and on, oblivious to Colombian curves that periodically wrap around our table with liquid confidence in tow. I'm about to start in on politics when the band rips into a disco-infernalicious take on the Stones' "Miss You" and my brother cuts me off.

"Dude, listen to that! The bass player's on fire!"

That he is. All my dumb hang-ups and pet theories get rolled beneath a thick, creamy low end that nearly re-arranges my heartbeat.

"Man, that's what I'm talking about!"

I forget about everything else and ride the groove for as long as it lasts, and get desperate to play my Fender J again. Not in the old envious way—I’m just itchy to make noise—and after that it gets way too easy to work up some drunken plotting for our own band's reunion. We rant and rave and trade lyric ideas and flatter the waitress again and generally keep approaching middle age at arms' length for another twenty-four hours, and it feels glorious.

It may be impermanent, it may be totally delusional, but it works right now and that's all I need. Yeah, someone else can curdle their heart with envy. Someone else can slum with the mean girls. I'm not interested in that revenge-and-guilt trip anymore. It's time to cook up another serious fireball and jolt everyone out of their twenty-first century stupor.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd

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