Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco #3: Wherein the Author Pays Tribute to the King of Pop

The poster says "Cardio" and has a picture of Michael Jackson on it. I'm in.

Yes, aerobics classes are girly, but like, Long Island Iced Teas and My Best Friend's Wedding, they can certainly be fun in the right context. Regardless of your views of his personal life, there is no denying that Michael Jackson created some of the catchiest tunes in the Western Canon, and even step aerobics can be fun with the right tunes.

At [Company Name Redacted], the company genuinely cares about the health of its employees (for one thing, it reduces insurance premiums) and so not only does it provide multiple sets of Greek-style gymnasiums, it also provides various fitness classes designed to get people out of the cubicle and away from 4chan*. These encompass everything from classes in the ancient art of Bhangra, to yoga, to mud wrestling, to how to use your analytical ability to dance in clubs. They are all branded as [Name Redacted], a clever portmanteau of [Company Name Redacted] and [Noun Redacted].

I change after my work on the [Name Redacted] Project and emerge from the locker room in the [Name Redacted] Building in my go-to sweatwear: long black athletic shorts and a white undershirt. After walking [Distance Redacted] miles to work every day, I feel confident in my ability to keep up with even the most strident, Spartan-style workout master/mistress.

With my faithful friends and fellow interns [Name Redacted], [Name Redacted], and [Name Redacted], we confidently march into the gym, brandishing our authentic '80s style workout gear, and find dozens of awkwardly matched couples practicing their last tangos, dressed to the nines. Apparently, there are TWO different fitness classes on Wednesday afternoons, and the one we're looking for is in the other gym, which is all the way across campus.

With a level of tenacity that can only be described as "dangerous", we stride away, avoiding the giggles of the pretty young things at our bizarre '80s appearance; it's human nature, after all, to laugh at ridiculously dressed people. While there's a part of me that wants to tell them to beat it, unless they wanna be startin' somethin', even I'm not enough of a smooth criminal to get away with bold-faced intimidation, especially after stealing Billie Jean's bike yesterday. That incident was a thriller, lemme tell ya, but I just can't help being a thief; my whole motto is "don't stop till you get enough".

Finally, we reach the other gym and confidently stride through the doors, only to find about 40 people thrusting their hips in a suggestive manner. Apparently, there are two different DANCE classes on Wednesday afternoons, and the one we're looking for is right here.

There's a moment in every crisis where things come to a halt, and two possibilities loom in your face: the one that involves the red pill, and the one that involves the blue pill. I could back out here, pretend I actually meant to go hit the weights, oops sorry to bother you. Or I could follow the other interns, who aren't shaken at all by the fact that the "aerobics class" turned out to be a group of crotch-grabbing dance maestros. A group that, from all accounts, seems to be ready to reshoot every music video in the MJ canon, shot-for-shot, move-for-move, grab-for-grab. On one hand lies safety in the no, in the denial. On the other lies risk, in the yes, in the acceptance. I take a deep breath. In improv, we teach ourselves to always say "yes". So I do.

Of course, in improv, everything you do is right.

Let me try to spell this out a little more explicitly. In the metafictional, postmodern sentiment, I designate myself, in the semiotic fashion, to be a writer. While not particularly accomplished (or for that matter, published), I am justly and forthrightly proud of the prodigious lexicon I bear in my concentric cranial cavity, and moreover, I consider myself to have nothing but the largest, most eloquent and most granular vocabulary of anyone I have ever met, with a judgmental and nearly draconian watch over those drooling denziens of the Illiterati who would stoop to using simplistic (and low-entropy) words. I state this not in the hope of receiving some unadulterated praise from you, dear reader, but merely to underscore the gargantuan and unimaginable magnitude of what I am about to tell you: there are no words to describe how bad I am.

To compare me to a drunk trying to dance would be insulting a drunk. Our dance instructor, who has the kind of unyielding perkiness that a Montessori teacher or a Communist propaganda broadcaster would need to get a gold star, shows just a slight twitch when she looks in the mirror at the back line where I am "dancing", the kind of twitch that seeps through the tiniest crack in a steel-hard facade, the kind of twitch that crosses the face of a Civil War infantryman about to have his leg sawn off, or maybe Wedge Antilles when he had to abandon Luke at the Death Star. Watching me trying to dance a Michael Jackson routine is kind of like watching an overweight rabbit with cerebal palsy try to hop through a flaming hoop, with one foot replaced by a poorly-made wooden prosthetic whittled by ex-Soviet nuclear scientists working on immigrant visas at a pet limb replacement store.

And that STILL doesn't explain how terrible I was at this. The only way that someone could understand is if they saw, which, thanks to the fact that the entire thing was videotaped and YouTubed, and I'm the only one wearing a white shirt, they now can.

Star Wars Kid, I feel your pain.

*Do NOT google 4chan. Trust me.
I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco #2: Wherein the Author Ruminates on the Fragility of Life and Small Consumer Electronics

So, it's been about a week since I started working for [Company Name Redacted] on the [Name Redacted] Project, and things are going just peachily. Of course, 80% of that week was orientation, where the general focus was less on work and more on receiving free [Company Name Redacted]-branded swag and learning about the various ways [Company Name Redacted] is trying to retain its highly trained employees.

Other, lesser [Industry Name Redacted]-focused companies would focus on giving its employees things like money, good health plans, money, 401(k) plans, money, more vacation time, money, maternity leave, money, company picnics, money, and money to keep them satisfied. But [Company Name Redacted] doesn't believe in that sort of thing. Money, after all, is a crude and base way to motivate employees. Awesomeness, on the other hand, speaks to the little kid in every employee, and there's nobody who [Company Name Redacted] would prefer to negotiate with than a bunch of little kids.

You've probably read about the perks that [Company Name Redacted] employees get at [Company Name Redacted] headquarters. I am here to tell you that there are a lot of myths and rumors flying around. To see whether or not you have successfully pulled the correct ones out, here's a little quiz:

Which of the following [Company Name Redacted] perks and attractions are real?

A) Free computers
B) Trees and bushes made of actual candy
C) In-house psychic consultation
D) In-office rocket ship
E) Paid lunch breaks for hourly employees
F) Cirque du Soleil performances at the weekly company meetings
G) Shuttles running to downtown, suburbs, and the Seattle-Vancouver-Juno Metropolitan Area
H) Complimentary EarPods for all staff
I) Life-size replica of the Enterprise bridge (classic, not Next Generation /Enterprise/2009 movie version)
J) bikes that can be taken and returned freely anywhere on campus

The answer, of course, is E: [Company Name Redacted] does not pay its hourly employees during the lunch hour.

The bikes maintain a particularly interesting effect on campus culture. They are scattered everywhere, usually in front of buildings, always unlocked. Anyone who needs to get from point A to point B is free to take a bike from point A and ride it to point B and leave it parked there. He or she might be able to take the same bike back, but odds are someone who needs to take the bike from point B to point A will take it before then.

This sort of ad hoc circumstance has lead many outside observers to deduce that a truly pacifistic and generous culture can develop because of a socialist-inspired system where each takes according to their needs (getting from point A to point B) and gives according to their ability (parking the bike and leaving it for the next person). However, like the misguided Monopoly player who came up with the "Free Parking" rule, or Barack Obama, they are mistaken: the only kind of culture that can arise from such an open and free system is one of ruthlessness and Hobbesian distrust, where crowds topple statues and trade Levi's denim on the black market as if the jeans were made of gold.

I was at first, foolish enough to believe that such a system of shared bikes might work, in the same way that I once believed that we would have true world communism by 1985, and that you could play Grand Theft Auto as a law-abiding citizen. I was, in fact, appalled when I saw interns jostling and pushing each other around, racing to grab the last bike from the racks, and taking 80 bikes away from the common area and dumping them in the building we had to go to (about a quarter-mile away).

My indignation lasted until the next day, when I found myself riding a company bike that was clearly inadequate, in that the seat was about four inches too high, making my riding it an exercise in cirque du soleil-type contortion. With a deepening sense of dread, I realized that I would have to take at least thirty seconds to get off the bike, find the clasp underneath, adjust the seat height to my liking, get back on, check to see if it was the right height, and if it wasn't, I would have to get off and do it AGAIN.

Then my eyes fell upon a cloud of other bikes.

With a guilty ease, I hopped off my bike and went to the nearest one, gettting on and finding the seat too low. Having crossed the threshold, I suddenly found myself hopping from one to another like a sorority pledge at her first progressive, unable to find the satisfaction I craved. Finally, with my teeth bared in rage at my predicament, I saw an unsuspecting engineer* riding away with a bike that I knew in my heart to have a seat at the right height.

Years of playing the GTA series taught me the correct way to 'jack a vehicle:

1) Step out into the street, directly into the oncoming path of the vehicle

2) When the vehicle stops, go up to the driver's seat

3) Wrap your left arm around the head in a headlock, use the right arm to grab the victim's waist, and pull directly upwards (bending at the knees)

4) The victim may be armed. Rest assured, unless you are 'jacking a cop car or are playing the GTA: Mos Eisley expansion pack, the victim will not be able to shoot you for more than three or four hearts before you gun him down mercilessly.

5) Get on/in vehicle. Run over victim's body as humiliating coup de grace (note: this is the ultimate manly way to show dominance; teabagging is for 12-year-olds who play Halo)

I executed all five of these steps flawlessly, and rode away with a bike whose seat was at the proper elevation. Five hundred feet later, I carefully parked the bike at the door of the [Name Redacted] Building and left it there for the next employee to use.

In addition to these institutional perks, [Company Name Redacted] also has a bizarre and freewheeling culture that encourages such things as the riding of Segways and teams going out to movies during the workday. I thought that was weird, and then I found out that another team had rented several kegs and a steamroller, and was busy using said steamroller to crush various objects into Dali-esque smudges on the parking lot asphalt: Tupperware, old bottles, watches, computers, jailbroken iPhones, heartbroken Roombas, housebroken interns, etc.

After seeing that display, I thought nothing could surprise me. I had entered my own personal Mike Tyson Zone, where no story, no perk, no program could possibly surprise me. In fact, as I was going to the cafeteria, I turned to my fellow intern, [Name Redacted], a sprightly young gentleman from [Name Redacted] College, and said, "At this point, there is nothing that could possibly sur-why is there a live mariachi band in the cafeteria?"

Three gallant gentlemen in black costumes, enormous hats, and comically oversized moustaches were busy moving from table to table, serenading bemused diners.

I turn back to my friend. "I'm going to go eat a tree."

*How to tell if your target is an engineer: he wears a bike helmet, has long hair, usually in a thick ponytail, facial hair, glasses, a t-shirt with either some obscure math/science joke or the logo of an '80s metal band with flames or dragons, cargo shorts with pockets filled with irregular (and possibly deadly) shapes, and practical high-top sneakers with knee-length socks. Or, if you're at [Company Name Redacted], he's every second person.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco #1: In Which the Author Considers the Racial and Socioeconomic Circumstances that Led to the Creation of El Pollo Loco

Having been in NorCal for several days now, I have to say that my friends are right about the whole superiority of the Left Coast. In fact, were it not for the high taxes, earthquakes, wildfires, drug murders, bizzare weather, droughts, occasional race riots, lack of cellphone reception, and gang problems, it would basically be a temperate paradise.

NorCal is an eclectic blend of many different cultures, meaning you go down roads with names like "San Carlos" and see cheap Chinese restaurants on one side and cheap Mexican ones on the other, both of which will serve French Fries on their menu. Coming from the east, I am surprised to see the level to which that bizarro racial conglomeration we white folk mistakenly call "Latino" has penetrated society, although to be fair, the place really belongs to them in the first place. (In the Mirror Universe, the Author is writing a blog where he is surprised to see the level to which that bizarro racial conglomeration we caballeros call "White" has penetrated society, although to be fair, the place was really invaded by them in the first place).

NorCal is also the beachhead for an invasion by an even more repressed ethnic minority group: geeks. Their beachhead is a large corporation for which I am working this summer, the name of which cannot be said for fear of violating the severe 135-page NDA agreement I signed, which basically states (to paraphrase) that should we, for example, burp in a way that sounds like one of ten proposed codenames for the pre-beta testing phase of a yet-to-be-released product, we can be chopped into small pieces using a set of rusty Ginzu knives wielded by ill-tempered and partially narcoleptic midgets, and fed alive to sharks with laser beams on their heads. I will say nothing about what the company does or sells, only this: it has soft serve ice cream machines. SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM MACHINES.

It is also within walking distance from where I am staying, but the problem, of course, is that "walking distance" is a lot easier to deal with when someone gives you a ride on your first day of work, and a lot harder when you have to walk it back, on foot, with a backpack full of free swag and your feet burning from being stood on all day while you introduced yourself and repeatedly made small talk with other new interns. When I make small talk, I say exactly these things, in this order, with appropriate pauses in between:

"Hi/what's your name/where are you from/what are you doing this summer/what's your name again/what do you think of the soft serve ice cream/what's your name again/sorry I seriously can't remember your name/no I've eaten enough soft serve that I'm immune to brain freezes/oops, have to go answer my phone/mom this is not the time to be calling me/not that I don't like you, I'm just at a party/and I'm sick and tired of my phone r-ringing..."/sorry, sometimes I feel like I live in grand central station"

This is not how most of the interns go about introducing themselves and learning other interns' names, but to be frank, I believe that making introductory small talk is like build order in Starcraft: seemingly easy, quite complex, and best learned from watching other people's replays, which is why I have 600 hours of surreptitious footage of my friend Sr. Pfendl.

If you want to learn the art of introductions, remember, conversation is all about exchanging some harsh words, and bullets. More importantly, units of information (words, in this case) need to be produced: the key is to pump out more units than the other guy in a shorter amount of time and rush them all out so he's constantly reacting and can't get defensive. Also, proxy rush is useful.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

WARNING: A Pun-Based Post

So once upon a time, there were three little clams in the ocean. The name of the first clam was Sam Clam, and the name of the second clam was Bam Clam, and the name of the third clam was Orpheus. The clams had grown up together in Clam Kindergarten, and gone on to excel both academically (scoring perfectly on their CLAM Exams) and athletically (dancing the clam-dam dance through the Hoover Dam). When it was time to go to college, Sam Clam and Bam Clam and Orpheus decided to go to Clam State University, where they were members of the Kappa Clamma Pearl fraternity, played together in the Grand Clam Orchestra, and graduated with Clonors.

After college, each of the little clams went on to do different things: Sam Clam went on to found a successful line of discount makeup stores, Clam and Glam; Bam Clam got a doctorate and researched neon lighting; and Orpheus founded a rock group called "Irritant in the 'Nads" (he was frontman, singer, and, when playing their novelty party song hit "My Love is Like a Pearl", harpsichord player). And all was OK, at least for about five years. Then the midlife crises started: there was too much clam wine being drunk late at night, and too many of their clam friends bought clam sports cars.

The three clams were no exception: Sam Clam sold Clam and Glam and became a trance/house DJ named Battlestar Clammatica, Bam Clam left academia to make money consulting, and Irritant in the 'Nads broke up because Orpheus, the front man, wanted to use his rich tenor voice and harpsichord skills to good use. Sam Clam was soon performing to sold-out crowds, Bam Clam got a job with the respected firm McClamsey, and Orpheus founded a nonprofit dedicated to saving clams from alcoholism called Casting Pearls among Vine.

Eventually, the clams retired. Sam Clam invited Bam Clam and Orpheus to come visit him at his retirement home. The clams sat around and went to the Cockles and Muscles, a local restaurant with an excellent early bird special (krill and fried plankton with a side of kelp, $6.99), talking about their old glories and the fun that they had had when they were younger. Sam Clam asked his friends if they wanted to go to the Spanish Galleon, a local nightclub that he had once DJ'd at. With nothing better to to do, the three friends set off.

At the Spanish Galleon, they were shocked to find that the proud fixture of downtown Clamdom had fallen into disrepair- sea worms and barnacles were everywhere, the wood was so rotten you could practically swim through it, and there was not a single clam in the place. The three friends decided this was intolerable, and decided to buy it and open it up for business again.

[Note: the joke is much better if you read it out loud from here on out]

Opening night was a huge success. Sam Clam DJ'd, Bam Clam did the lights and handled the money, and Orpheus got a few members of the old band back together for a live performance at midnight. He even dragged the old harpsichord back out to play "My Love is Like a Pearl". It was a glorious, glorious night for clams out for a little fun.

After the place closed for the night, one of Orpheus' bandmates told him that a producer from the music industry had been there and wanted to sign them up for a reunion tour and maybe even a Greatest Hits album. With the blessings of his friends Sam Clam and Bam Clam, Orpheus and his bandmates drove across town to the producer's headquarters.

The producer was one of those gum-chewing, fast-talking clams, and he explained he only had time to hear one song before his submarine came to take him to the Pacific for a meeting. He asked if he could hear their top hit, " know, that one with the pearl."

The bandmates, with visions of million-dollar recording contracts in their eyes, eagerly agreed. Only Orpheus was not smiling. He said slowly, "We can't play that song for you."

"And why not?" The producer was angry. Here he was, a man who bands around the ocean would kill to play anything for, a man whose very time was billed at $500 an hour, a man who could snap his fingers and make someone a star. "What could possibly keep you from playing one measly song for me?"

With a crestfallen expression on his face, Orpheus said, "I left my harp in Sam Clam's disco".

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Some Other Random Notes:

-Contra is a lot of fun to do, but more fun to watch (in person)

-Doctor Who's new companion, Amy Pond, and the actress who plays her, the lovely Ms. Karen Gillen, is taking a serious amount of crap on the Internet discussion boards for the following reasons: 1) she's a poorly written character and 2) Ms. Gillen is a (gorgeous) redhead. I feel this is unfair, partially because Ms. Gillen has made the Top 5 (Most gorgeous) TV Actresses list, at least in my mind. My theory? (SPOILER ALERT) Fans are frustrated because the whole crack-wiping-out-memories thing is just going to prove that every gorgeous redhead you meet secretly has attachment issues and will forget you ever existed at the drop of a hat. Which is true. Steven Moffat is nothing if not a truthsayer.

-Really the reason I wrote that last point was so I could embed this video, wherein Ms. Gillen tries to explain what a kissogram is (and also the word "snogging" was actually used, in proper context, which astounded me, since I thought it was a Haagen-Daaz-type word). And also this one, which might be my favorite parody of Doctor Who of all time.

-Randall Munroe perfectly expresses something I've been trying to explain to people for years: the difference between Geeks and Nerds (make sure to read the title-text).