I See England, I See France

When I ran an employment office for the students at a university, some kids would tell me, “I want to work with people.” Depending on my mood, the response could be, “We don’t have any hermit jobs listed now, so they pretty much all involve people,” or on my less charitable days, “You haven’t worked with people much, have you?”

If you want to work with people – really work with them – be a boss. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the employees I had were great people. Even so, I had to referee fights among otherwise-intelligent coworkers that sounded like daycare spats. “She pulled my hair. Make her stop. Well, he started it.”

Then there are employees who stand out for other reasons. Let’s call her Jane. She was maybe 19 or 20 at the time and was our receptionist. She wanted to do a good job and she did. I’m sure she has done well since. But she needed to understand how workplaces function. Explaining that was part of my job.

I came in one morning to find more than the usual hubbub near her desk — not quite a brouhaha but for sure a hubbub.

The reason jumped out at me very quickly. Well, two reasons actually. Those reasons were rounded, firm and obvious to all but the one person in the unit who was visually impaired (not making this up, folks). Yes, the only thing between me and a full-frontal view of Jane’s breasts was a gauzy blouse. And it wasn’t throwing up much of a screen on the play.

I had to look twice (OK, maybe more) just to be sure what was going on. On review, I confirmed that we were dealing with a major workplace distraction.

A quick “Come talk to me,” and she was over at my desk. I had to explain that if I could see them, everyone could see them and that really wouldn’t do in an office, at least not if anything was going to get done today by clients or staff, male or female. She agreed that wearing a sweater would be a good idea for now and that, in the future, thinking through the difference between office clothing and going to the club clothing would be an even better idea.

I’ll bet you’ve got your own memorable employees and coworkers too.

And with that, Did I Tell You The One is going on hiatus, while I work on other projects. In the meanwhile, visit Pegoleg at Ramblings for all your observational humor needs.

House of Horrors

If you own a TV set that goes past channel 13, you know that home renovation shows are all the rage. They make for good TV because most people live in houses and can understand whatever the homeowner is going through – good or bad. The downside of these shows is that they encourage people to do their own renos. Bad, bad idea.

Some people have the required skills. I tend to come across people who don’t. In my current home, I have undone work such as walls that didn’t actually meet in the corner and the use of a 50 year old extension cord running from an outlet, under the floor and then popping up on the other side of the room as a power source.

You can avoid this with a careful inspection. While in house hunting mode, we saw an ad for a place in a great location and a surprisingly low price. The ad trumpeted that it had been renovated. We took off like bunnies to go see this wonder house.

Then the surprises started.

The house was on the small size — not really a big surprise given the price and location.

Surprise #1? The alleged “reno” consisted of tearing down one wall between a teeny, tiny living room and teeny, tiny dining room to create that open concept feel that sophisticates just love.

Surprise #2? Jamming some mismatched wood chunks into the space that used to be a wall and was now a floor does not count as renovation.

Surprise #3? Did I say the place was small? How small was it? Not only were the mice hunchbacked, you couldn’t actually open the door to the master bedroom more than halfway because it would hit the bed.

Surprise #4? The place had been advertised as a 3 bedroom. This would have been accurate if the words closet and bedroom meant the same thing in English — or any language.

We passed on that one and went out for breakfast.

So, tell me, what housing disasters have you been offered?

Home Away from Home

My son is moving into an apartment with some friends. It’s a ritual of college life — and it’s the part where you learn valuable lessons for the future. Such as, “People you like to party with may not prove so likable when they can’t cover their share of the rent” and “What do you mean, we have to make our own meals???”

You also learn that student renters seldom get the choicest accommodations.

Take the first place I lived. We rented an ancient house but in a great location.It was barely insulated (not good in a cold climate) and had settled badly over the previous century. You could put a marble in one corner of the room and watch it pick up speed as it rocketed to the other corner.

To my surprise, thanks to Google Streetview I learn that it is still standing and looking like the student housing it was back in the day.

That experience was useful in terms of later adventures in tenancy. For example, you learn to screen your landlords. In later years, I was looking at an apartment – nice but nothing special. A large cemetery was across the street. As I was being given the tour, I pointed out the window and said, “I guess the neighbours are pretty quiet?” He looked at me and said, “Well, it’s a cemetery.” OK. No sense of humour. You want a sense of humour in a landlord — just in case.

So tell me, what was your memorable rental?

Kibbled to Bits

As the saying goes, you could call our dog Hailey many things, but you couldn’t call her late to dinner. She was part Border Collie, part Lab and all chowhound, as most of them are.

Three stories to show it.

Steal food from me? Not twice, you don't!

One of the first traits we discovered about our new dog was that she understood where food came from and what a smart dog needed to do to get some.

When her dish was empty, whether food or water, she would pick it up with her teeth, find one of the people she could count on to correct the problem and follow them around until they did what she wanted. This proved to be a big source of amusement at the kennel where she stayed while we were on vacation (the Oak Meadows Pet Resort).

If that didn’t do, she had other options to meet her food needs.

Second story. One Sunday night, we had a roast. We ate some and had plans for the rest. Turns out that so did Hailey.

Soon after the end of the meal, it was time for kids to head to bed, so we just put the leftovers on the counter. I came back about a half hour later to see that my wife had put the roast away. Well, she must have, there was no roast. The cutting board had already been cleaned off. Oh, and the dog was nowhere in sight. Probably, sleeping off the meal she had just stolen. Lesson of the day? Dogs like food and you’d better put it away if you want any for yourself.

Final story for now. I’ve only waterskied a few times in my life. That was until I had Hailey. Then I began to get the full upper body workout on a regular basis.

See, one of our neighbours is a friend to all dogs. She normally has dog biscuits and treats, especially for the dogs she likes — and she liked Hailey a lot. No sooner would we see her on the sidewalk up the street but the engines would roar on my dog. With two hands on the leash, I’d be pulled by 34 kilos (75 pounds) of flat-out dogpower, steering around pedestrians and other dogs. A desperate race before the biscuits might be gone, given to some other pooch. And all in exchange for the obligatory race up to the nice lady, followed by a polite and immediate sit by Hailey.

We do miss them when they’re gone, don’t we? But I know she’s in some Better Doggy Place, where there are treats galore, squirrels to chase and you can always nap in the sun.

Good Dog and Thanks

Yesterday, I had one of the hardest tasks that will ever face a pet owner. I had to put down our dog Hailey.

Guard dog on the prowl.

At one level, it was an easy decision. She was almost 13 and increasingly arthritic. Her get up and go (and she had a lot) had gotten up and gone. When she was diagnosed with a mamillary carcinoma (doggy breast cancer if you will), which also helped to explain some large mass in her chest that was affecting her breathing, there was really only one option.

Sad yes, but she had a good run. This week and next then, a tribute to a great dog.

Hailey’s arrival was classic. My son wanted a dog for his eighth birthday. I still have the grade 2 school art to prove it. I was not wild about this, growing up in a home where my mother responded to similar requests a generation earlier with, “I have 5 kids. I don’t need a dog too.” My psychic abilities told me who would wind up walking any dog that entered our home.

He pushed and pushed and finally I agreed that after our holidays, we could visit the Humane Society to find a pre-owned dog, since a puppy was not in the cards. Even so, the deal was – just looking. Kick the tires, that was all.

Once there, you couldn’t help but be attracted to Hailey. Friendly, interested, active but not hyper. Not quite a year old, so over all that puppy chewing stuff. We took her out to the walking zone where “you can try before you buy.” I never stood a chance. She even came complete with a starter set of bowls, a comfy cow-shaped mat and toys that her owner included with the deal. We were told that woman discovered to her total sadness that a border collie / lab cross is not an ideal apartment dog. She was so broken up by it, she had her friends take Hailey to the Humane Society to get a new home — to our eternal gratitude.

Soon, the combination of typical kid priorities and my working from home meant that, you guessed it, she was my dog for the next 12 years. Walking, feeding, taking to the vet. Watching as she parked herself at the door of my office.

There are a million Hailey stories. Many relate to her devoted protection of me. I always knew when the mail was delivered because The Postman Always Barks Twice.” In her efforts to protect me, she chewed not one but two doorknobs to shadows of their former selves, as she would hurl herself at the door to save me from evildoers – and members of our own family. She knew that you can’t allow yourself to get lazy when it comes to home security.

Much of this was sort of for show. She never bit anyone. But one time, she threw herself at the window right by the front door when her archenemy, the letter carrier, came by to deliver the mail. Usually, the window was closed for her protection and to ensure our mail wouldn’t be cut off. That day, the window was open and she knocked the screen right out. She was more shocked than the letter carrier – but I had to do some fast explaining anyway.

And now she’s gone. Rest in peace, puppy.

The Jeopardy Round

As Chico Escuela once pointed out, “Game shows been berry, berry good to me.”

The highlight of my career in the big leagues was my 4-day run on Jeopardy. Three wins, one loss. Here in no particular order are some questions that people ask:

How did you get on the show?

I was one of the fortunates who made it through a local contestant search. But whether there or in LA, the path is the same. There is a test based on the sort of information you need to know to play the game. If you are one of those (apparently less than 5-10%) who pass that necessary score, you go on to the next level – the personality test. If you’ve seen the show, you know this is not the Mt. Everest of barriers. By personality, they mean, “Will not freeze on camera and has no apparent annoying habits that will drive viewers nuts.” As part of it I  needed to show I could do the witty repartee expected of all game show contestants. After that, everyone left standing is told, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” After a few months they did.

Did they pay your way to Los Angeles?

Guests of Jeopardy are not guests at all. You fly your own way there. You book your own hotel and car and all the rest. And why not? They have no shortage of people who would probably crawl across broken glass to get a turn on stage. They don’t need to pay. So, I turned it into a holiday. Los Angeles is lovely in the fall. I recommend it.

What is Alex Trebek like?

No idea, except he seems nice enough. Every single one of my conversations with him are the ones on TV. Otherwise, the contestants are in a bubble. Much like a mafia hit, they don’t see the boss until the last second. The producers don’t want anything that suggests someone has an edge over the others, except in terms of sheer knowledge and the ability to push a button quickly.

I welcome your questions for my future posts entitled, “Double Jeopardy” and “Final Jeopardy.” Cue the theme music.

Remember That?

“Memories, light the corners of my mind . . .”
Two interesting questions came up in conversations recently that are always good fodder.

1. What’s your earliest memory? (non-traumatic version)

I’m not counting things that people have told you so many times about from when you were little. For example, I’m told that my grandmother would take me out for walks when I was 3 or 4 and have me read things for people. Apparently, she was so impressed that she would stop people, explain what I could do and ask them for something for me to read. I’ll take their word for it but memory-wise? A big zero.

For me, it is driving with my father along a highway at night. He was driving a panel truck with the window open. I had a baseball cap and if I had the bill just right, the wind would blow the cap it off my head all the way to the back of the truck. Then, I’d run back, get it and put the cap back on to start the game. That’s the kind of little kid fun memory you want.

2. Name one scent/smell that triggers a memory.

Yes, I know it worked for Marcel Proust but can you top this? For me, it’s a smell that people generally don’t like — diesel exhaust (a little bit but not a snootful). It reminds of a long trip on the top of dump truck filled with bags of raw peanuts in The Gambia. The sun was shining, I was in an exotic place, doing something I knew no one else was doing and just feeling wonderful.

How about you?