Friday, June 22, 2007

Father’s Day

The above is a picture of my old man back in Dubya Dubya Two, the Big One. I have to say this: that is one cool picture. Growing up, my father and I never got along and I thought he was the biggest drag ever, but even back then I had to hand it to him, that picture is hard to beat. He trained pilots to fly for the Navy, which explains why he’s shown standing in front of a Navy trainer (as indicated by the Donald Duck insignia). He never flew a plane before he enlisted and never did after the war was over, but he showed such an aptitude for flying the Navy kept him stateside to train others to go overseas to give the Nips and Jerrys a little something to remember Uncle Sam by.

The closest thing I have to a picture my kids and future grandkids might be proud of is a shot of me running in a 10K race back in 1985. It looks like I’m about to win the thing, but actually I was in the middle of the pack. The photo catches me right in mid-stride; my hair is flying and it looks like I’m reaching down for that little something extra to put the rest of the field away. It appears I’m just brimming with health, and nobody would ever be able tell from that photo how I had stayed out late the night before and was still slightly hung over from those shots of Jack Daniels I used to drink. However, I wasn’t making the world safe for democracy in my picture like my dad was in his. No sir, far from it.

My father is 87 now and in good health. He stills drives a car, does the yard work, pays the bills, and gets together with my sister, my brother and I once a month to play cards. He and I are always partners when we play and, for the past year or so, we’ve given my two siblings a pretty good pounding on a regular basis. He always needs to be refreshed on the game rules at the start of each session, but then he’s okay. My father and I have been good friends ever since I hit 30, a change in our relationship for which I’ll eternally be grateful. Yep, he’s tops in my book, my old man is. He’s the real deal.


The day before Father’s Day (last Saturday) I made my second annual bike trip from Boston to Provincetown, exactly 125.4 miles. Last year I suffered through it and vowed never to do anything so foolish again; however, on the ferry ride back to Boston, I experienced a change of heart and decided to actually prepare for this year instead of just showing up the morning of the ride in so-so shape. It was this Boston to P-Town tour that kept me pedaling my bike on a trainer in my basement during winter snowstorms, and inspired me to ride a hilly 15 mile route every morning to work and participate in 40-60 mile excursions on the weekends. What a difference being in condition makes! Of course I’m no threat to Lance Armstrong’s legacy or anything, but what a feeling it was to cruise by all the spots I was forced to take a break at last year, especially when leg cramps made it impossible to pedal my bike any farther. And guess what? I’m already looking forward to next year.

That is all.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Of Ms. Smith and 80 Hour Man

Everyone knows that Ms. Smith is dead, but there is a final chapter to be written having to do with her relationship to my illustrious colleague, 80 Hour Man, and an obligation he felt to see her off. 80 Hour Man, of course, is not his real name, but I gave it to him because of his claim that back in the day he consistently worked 80 hour weeks. I guess he was a true working class hero back then, a real example of America’s can-do spirit. I can remember one time telling a former coworker that I once worked a stretch of a month and a half without a single day off (I used to house paint on weekends to make ends meet). 80 Hour Man, who is tuned into every conversation that goes on in the office, immediately barged in by saying, “Oh yeah? Well that’s nothing! I once went three years without a day off!” That might not have been the first heaping, steaming, fly-infested, wheelbarrow load of bullshit he dumped at my feet for my edification and enjoyment, but it was fairly early on in our acquaintance. I have since had it confirmed over and over and over again that dear old 80 Hour Man is an inveterate liar — I could dedicate an entire blog just to the bizarre, unnatural, and sometimes infuriating things he has done to the truth. He is likable, and I regard him as a friend, but 80 Hour Man is a chronic, pathological liar. He just can’t help himself.

Ms. Smith, for reasons my limited intellect will never be able to fathom, had a special liking for 80 Hour Man. The two made an interesting pair: Ms. Smith, Harvard-educated, refined, well-spoken, exact, petite, as feminine and feminine can be, stood in stark contrast to the coarse, loud, slovenly person of 80 Hour Man. Ms. Smith impressed you with her sincerity, while 80 Hour Man always sounded like a con artist desperately trying to talk himself out of an arrest. It is true that 80 Hour Man is a good designer whose layouts satisfied Ms. Smith as much as she ever could be satisfied. But beside his work, it was evident she had a genuine liking for him. Although I suppose this world has seen stranger things, I still must confess to being mystified by it and probably will always be.

We found out Ms. Smith’s wake was set for last Monday, so 80 Hour Man, the creative director and I decided to go pay our respects, not as a group but separately. The creative director brought in her car that day so she could zip over to the funeral home right after work, while 80 Hour Man and I needed to first go to our respective homes to change into suitable clothes before driving over. Visiting hours were scheduled from 4:00 to 8:00 that evening, and, after running an errand on my bike, showering, dressing myself and driving to the neighboring town where the mortuary is, it was already 7:15. Funeral homes are funeral homes I suppose, and one is just as good as another, but this one had an antiseptic, featureless, bland quality to it that reminded me of a million nondescript motel rooms I’ve stayed at in my life. The walls were painted in quiet colors and the woodwork was plain, white and cheap-looking. I was instantly directed to the back of a long, snaking line that wended its way through a couple of reception rooms and into the parlor itself. This line moved very, very slowly and I recognized no one there. Ms. Smith had worked for three companies in the area and she grew up in a town nearby, so those two factors undoubtedly accounted for the huge turnout of family, friends and professional associates. A group of three women, all in their thirties, chattered in sibilant tones in front of me of gossipy things I couldn’t quite pick up while I stood straight as a soldier and advanced one or two steps every couple minutes or so.

Along the way there were various stations featuring collages of Ms. Smith’s life, which I later found out were put together by her brother. Ms. Smith was a baby once, then she became a little girl, and later progressed from being a teenager to a young woman. She was blonde in childhood, her hair darkened as she got older, and then it became blonde again. She smiled and smiled and smiled with all her family and friends. Her dad, who is bald now, had long hippy hair when she was a baby, and her mom, who today is a quite attractive, mature woman, had kind of a hippy way about her too back when Ms. Smith was born. At one point along the procession there was a framed 8" x 10" picture of Ms. Smith at 12 or 13: curly, light brown hair, braces on her white teeth, a big smile and cheerful, shining eyes. I looked at it for a long time. You could tell she was a really nice kid.

I glanced around for 80 Hour Man but couldn’t find him. Within 10 minutes I felt sure he hadn’t arrived. I continued to patiently stand and wait and finally, after more than a half hour, I entered the parlor or viewing room or whatever they call it. The hold-up, as it turned out, was Ms. Smith’s family, which consisted of her mother, father, brother and sister-in-law. They talked at great length to everyone and showed no signs of fatigue despite having been at it now for almost four hours. Ms. Smith’s mother cried sometimes, and at other times she laughed at amusing anecdotes people told her about her daughter. Her father struck me as a real stand-up guy, greeting everyone with a firm handshake, a pleasant smile and a straight look in the eye. Ms. Smith’s brother looked a little like her and his wife looked a little like Ms. Smith’s mom back when Ms. Smith was a baby.

I was, as I said, in the main room now, but the stagnant line continued along three of the walls to finally terminate where the family stood. In one corner there was an exit and, when my watch indicated it was 8:10, I told myself I had dressed up in nice clothes and stood in line for a long time and looked at all the pictures and thought about Ms. Smith very hard, and for those reasons it would be all right for me to leave without speaking to the family. Quite honestly, I would have been stuck for things to say anyway. But if I did tell them I missed her, maybe that would have been true. We certainly weren’t friends and she drove me crazy, but I was accustomed to her. I felt very sorry she died.

The next morning 80 Hour Man was already at work when I arrived. He asked me what time I got to the wake and I told him around 7:15. 80 Hour Man said he couldn’t get there until very late because his son’s car broke down and he had to help him first. He thought he got to the funeral home well after 8:00, and, by that time, it was mainly just he and the family, so he was forced to talk to them. Remembering how long the line was behind me, I asked him how many people were left when he arrived and he said not many. It turned out he didn’t have much of a chance to look at the pictures of Ms. Smith, so we really couldn’t discuss them. Then 80 Hour Man told me how sad he felt during the whole thing and expounded at some length on how much he hated going to wakes and funerals.

Later on, Lone Female Coworker came in, and, when I had a chance to get her alone, I asked her to ask 80 Hour Man how Ms. Smith looked. She readily agreed, but before she had the chance, my two remaining coworkers, John H. and Moonshadow, arrived and enquired of 80 Hour Man details of last night’s wake. 80 Hour Man replied yes to the question of if it was open casket, and informed Moonshadow, who wanted to know how Ms. Smith looked, that she appeared to be “fuller-looking.” Later on the creative director came in and she and I discussed the wake with 80 Hour Man throwing in his two cents every now and again.

The president of our company, who didn’t go to the wake, got a full report from his sister, the creative director, and later I told him about 80 Hour Man’s assessment of how Ms. Smith looked. The president thought it was very interesting and I agreed with him, it was very interesting. A few hours later, the president called 80 Hour Man into the his office for a five minute conversation. Later on, after work, the president told me exactly what transpired.

“80 Hour Man,” he said after instructing him to close the door, “word has it you went to the wake last night.”

80 Hour Man said that was correct.

“So you think Ms. Smith looked a little ‘fuller,’ is that right?”

Yes, a little fuller, 80 Hour Man confirmed.

“Well, I think that’s funny, because Schprock and my sister both tell me Ms. Smith was cremated.”

80 Hour Man’s face instantly dropped.

Now, I want to tell you something I noticed about 80 Hour Man’s demeanor when he walked back to his desk after getting chewed out by the president for telling his colleagues such a stupid, brazen, horrendous lie: he betrayed not a trace of shame or remorse. He looked just the same as always, completely unruffled. And I think I know the reason why: because 80 Hour Man knows that if he waits five minutes after getting caught, everyone will forget and he can go on fooling people again. Honest to God, I really believe that’s how his mind works.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Regarding Ms. Smith

The two or three regular readers of The Schprock Report who have heard of Ms. Smith recognize her as the quintessential client from hell. Equipped with such knowledge, these people may continue to read this post; however, I must entreat those not familiar with Ms. Smith and the story of how she would rather get shot to please follow that link and read the whole tale first. Certainly Ms. Smith has popped up in other places in this blog, but this one story truly encapsulates what the Ms. Smith experience has been all about. So go ahead and read it and we can wait. Take your time.

(taps foot, whistles, glances at watch)

Back now? Good. Let’s begin.

I will deliver the news about Ms. Smith by telling you exactly how I broke it to 80 Hour Man, who had the day off when we heard these unexpected tidings of her. 80 Hour Man and I usually get in to work before everyone else, so, after he stepped out of the elevator and we said our good mornings, I insisted he sit down and prepare himself for some rather shocking news. He did so with a smile on his face, no doubt expecting something facetious to come out of me. When I saw he was properly seated, I asked him, “Do you know Ms. Smith?”




“Dead!” I repeated.

“She’s dead?”


Yes, Ms. Smith is dead, from what cause we don’t know. Theories abound of course, but all that is known is that her parents discovered her body in her house possibly on Wednesday. Ms. Smith was only 33 years old, incredibly young to die, and this, as I’ve said, has led to all manner of speculation. I instantly thought of suicide but have since amended that. Whatever the cause, and whatever opinion you or I or anyone might have of her, it’s very, very sad.

The most popular theory is that an eating disorder did her in. It is true that Ms. Smith was seen very rarely to eat. One of our bosses, the creative director, used to supply Ms. Smith with fresh fruit and little vegetarian dainties every time Ms. Smith made one of her infamous, prolonged visits. The rest of the people in the office acted like starving wolves held at bay, waiting for enough time to pass to politely dive into the food she obviously would not eat. I could almost sense a certain pride she might have felt in disciplining herself to not put nourishment into her system while looking at the rest of us as weak.

Another theory is cocaine. The president of our company heard rumors that Ms. Smith battled an addiction to the white powder some time ago, and maybe a renewed abuse of that drug led to her demise. She seemed to live on Diet Coke, so there’s a sort of irony in considering the possibility that the other coke would in the end deprive her of the life the first Coke sustained. Suicide, of course, is right up there. She had gone through a string of high-powered positions in the schoolbook publishing world, always leaving each job under a cloud, and an imminent dismissal from this, her latest position, with no other prospect in sight, might have meant a loss of stature and material wealth too much for her to bear.

Here’s my theory: I’m guessing Ms. Smith suffered from a rare disorder, let’s say some obscure blood disease, which she kept hidden while bravely putting in 16 hour days, knowing all the while her life would be cut short. That would explain her mysterious absences during urgent projects when she would suddenly become completely unavailable: she could have been receiving critical, life-preserving treatments during those times.

Well, like I say, it’s a theory.

Whatever the case, I feel bad. I always kind of liked her even though she frustrated me and made me furious at times. She was, at bottom, a nice person, and I always thought she led a pathetic life despite her five bedroom house, Jaguar, $5,000 boots, her Gucci this and Gucci that, and a yearly salary with all those zeros in it. In a way, I think she fussed and micromanaged herself to death, and that’s just plain sad.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Eight Things about Me

Okay, I’ve got this blog here, and I’ve been tagged a couple of times, and I ain’t been writing, so it’s time to get to it! Yeah! So here they are, eight things about me you maybe didn’t know:

1. I’m a mammal. Yes, I am warm-blooded, I have a vertebrae, I grow hair, and my mother secretes milk, even though she didn’t give any of it to me because I was bottle-fed as a baby. Glancing down my family tree, it appears I am descended from a long, long line of mammals, and, together with my wife (who is also a mammal), I have spawned a couple more mammals. It is interesting to note that not all of my ancestors are from my subclass, which might explain my surgically-removed vestigial tail and a near overpowering desire to hunt zebras in the craziest darn places.

2. I am the reincarnation Ahkra, a pottery merchant from ancient Mesopotamia. Big pots, little pots, pots for all occasions, I was the ’Potamia Pot Man. It was I, Ahkra, who first coined the phrase, “You break it, you buy it.” In yet another life, I was Grok, son of Oog, the caveman who invented the wheel, and grandson of Njork, one of the most accomplished fire-bringers of his generation. I was a big disappointment to the family due to my habit of picking up my dad’s wheel to carry it around instead of rolling it. “Him take after your side,” Oog often said to my mother.

3. I have watched the classic science fiction movie The Day the Earth Stood Still many, many times, perhaps too many. I think Gort, the giant robot, is the coolest thing ever. I would love to have Gort for a friend. It would be hard flying to places with him, though. Gort would have a tough time getting through airport security, what with his ability to disintegrate any object known to man. And the metal detector would go wild. Then there’s the whole “is he a passenger or cargo?” question. Ah, but Gort, in his quiet, impassive, menacing way, could give my life the structure and assurance it needs.

4. My favorite snack is Cheez-Its scooped in peanut butter. Chunky peanut butter, that is. Mmmmm, Cheez-Its and peanut butter. Salty.

5. Perhaps my favorite all-time TV show is Star Trek Voyager, and I’m not even a big science fiction fan. I’ve even read a couple of Star Trek Voyager books. I would love to have Captain Janeway for a boss, and, for the record, I’ve always felt Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres was much hotter than Seven Of Nine.

6. Even though this might sound like a joke, it’s true: I find nothing more deflating than a flat tire. Always have.

7. I am 51 years old and don’t have a single grey hair. However, over the course of those same 51 years, I have given many grey hairs, so the cosmic balance has been preserved.

8. The two tricks I use to overcome insomnia are to either visualize myself effortlessly riding a bicycle through a beautiful landscape, or mentally recite the Lord’s Prayer in the voice of former Boston Mayor Kevin H. White, so it sounds like this: “Ah fathah, who aht in heaven…” over and over and over again.

That’s it, I’m done. Everybody I know has been tagged, but if anyone got missed, then consider yourself tagged and let’s hear ’em!