Thursday, November 07, 2002

This is Portrait of an Artist story, arranged for easy reference:

The Story
posted by Murphy 11/07/2002

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Of all the icky things, I discovered my cat has fleas.

My life here in LA has been accompanied with a precipitation of insects. First, before I even moved into my apartment, I got bit by some mosquito-like creature that made my face and finger (doggone thing bit on on the KNUCKLE) swell to unattractive and painful proportions.

Then there were the ants, in the hot weather. Ants were getting into EVERYTHING.

The sugar bowl!

And then the day came when Skellig stared at me with intense aggrieved accusation.

The ants were eating HIS food.

And now fleas. I have no idea where the fleas came from. The house has new carpet, so I don’t think they were lurking there. Skellig lives inside, only making dashes for freedom every once in a while across my concrete patio.

Nevertheless, Fleas are here.

I discovered one while petting my cat. It was very very icky. Especially when I realized that those bites on my legs were not mosquito bites, but had crawled on me in the night.

I was so grossed out, I didn’t want to go to bed. But it was late, and there was nothing I could do.

I had to wait until the next day.

So, I bought TWO rolls of quarters in anticipation of all the laundry I would have to do. I washed all my bedding and sprayed the bed.

I sprayed the couch.

See, I went to the hoity toity pet shop around the corner after I voted last night.

I would rather have gone to a plain jane pet store, but I don't know where one is...This one is called Catts and Doggs.

They have health food and holistic solutions for animals.

They also have Advantage, that flea neck poison stuff. Which I bought. And they had natural oils flea shampoo. Which I bought. And they had natural holistic carpet spray. Which I bought.

I also bought catnip, since I felt sorry for my pathetic cat. And they had soap bubbles which were non-toxic and SMELLED like catnip. Those will probably be quite a hit. I'll have to get back to that after I try them.

So I walk out of the store 80 bucks poorer.

And I go home to spray and wash everything.

I sprayed the bed before I put the clean sheets on it again.

And I sprayed the couch.

And then I bathed the cat.

Let me tell you, bathing a cat is WAY easier when you have those solid slidey doors on your bathtub. Unlike the bathrubs that have curtains, he had no hope of escape. He just gave up struggling and yowled.

He was trying to have as little to do with the water as possible, by kind of standing up against the door. This made it easier to wash his tummy. I have not usually been able to do that.

But the essential oil flea shampoo worked really good. He is a shiny shiny cat, now.

After he finished licking himself, I decided to apply the flea poison on the designated spot, behind his head. I didn’t want it bleeding into the wet fur and getting licked. It was enough to have to launder everything because of fleas, I didn’t want to launder everything because of cat barf, too.

Fleas are such a nuisance. They are so annoying and insignificant. That makes them even more annoying. They are not WORTH all this hassle.

I hope that we will soon see the end of them.

posted by Murphy 11/06/2002

Monday, November 04, 2002



The radio was giving me a report about the stock market, and my eyes blinked awake. I looked at the clock. 4:30 AM—right on time. I lay in bed a moment longer, waking up.

My clothes were hanging on my doorknob, chosen the night before. I had showered before I went to bed, so I could slip right into my clean and pressed business casuals.

I fixed my hair and brushed my teeth, looking closely at the red capillaries in my eyes. Almost ready.

The laptop and books I meant to read during this long day were packed and ready by the door. My lunch and breakfast were waiting in the fridge; I put them in my backpack. I stopped to pet my cat, who purred instantly when I touched his soft fur. Poor lonely kitty. I should pet him more, he is so grateful lately for it.

Slip on my warm coat, the weather is getting colder. I double-check: cell phone, security badge, bus fare. Yes, they are all exactly where I put them the night before. Grab my keys and walk out the door, ten minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

The bus stop is right in front of my building. There is even a nice bench to rest there, but it is damp from the early morning dew. 5:10 is a misty moist time of day. I stand and wait.

Very few people are on the bus at this time of morning; the driver smiles at me as he answers my “good morning.” He is one of my favorite drivers, because he will remember where my stop is and has once stopped in front of my work for me even though I forgot to ring the bell. I would like to ask his name, but he seems bashful and that makes me bashful too. Instead I smile sincerely at him and take my seat.

The bus is dimly lit, so I do not read the book I have brought with me. I choose to watch the road go by. Soon enough we are traveling through Chinatown with its Dragon gate and interesting signs.

The new philharmonic hall is approaching; when we turn there I must stay awake. I will be getting off soon. I am alert enough this time to ring the bell and step off at my stop.

A full-bearded street person, holding a shopping cart full of used suitcases, watches me as I walk down to my building. “Good Morning Beautiful! How are you today?”

I decide to answer. “Tired.” I say. He responds loudly with sympathetic but undecipherable syllables. I smile to myself.

5:45 and all is in readiness. I stop at my desk to check for any messages. None of any consequence. Up to the 16th floor, where the video bridge operator is already connecting my video conference.

By the time I reach the room, it is connected, and Dave the NY person is in the room already. We set everything up and exchange pleasantries. Dave is a very easy-going guy, and we wait for the people from the other sites to appear. It is still quite early, but they all arrive and we test and check. Then we sit for a while longer, talking sports and making sure everything is stable.

Dave reads us the sports from the newspaper he brought with him. David from San Francisco says that it was very peaceful to walk up the street that early in the morning. Philip in Newport Beach looks so peaceful; I think he is trying to fall back to sleep.

But everything is set; everything is working perfectly. Everything continues to work perfectly, so we disperse for the moment.

I set my laptop up at the abandoned receptionist’s desk just outside the conference room. I have my books, and I have my coffee mug. I take my mug and my bran muffin to the coffee room. I get some tea and warm my muffin.

Back in the conference room, my manager, back from his trip at last has stopped in to check things out. Things are perfect, so he has an impromptu staff meeting with all of us. We talk about projects and catch up a little on the different things we’ve been doing.

The rest of the guys from the other rooms come back, and my manager has left. We talk some more and everything is still perfect.

Finally, some participants begin to trickle in to NY—all other sites are empty. The NY attorneys are all chitchatting and gossiping about clients and colleagues. At last meeting monarch says the three magic words: “Let’s get started.”

No one is present in my location, so I listen in to hear him make an announcement asking people to avoid placing their phones on hold during the conference.

Moments later, a participant arrives in my room. I set him up and tell him I will be around the corner. He is pleasant, polite and appreciative. He wonders, “What happened to the doors?”

“They took them off for refinishing.”

“Oh,” he shrugs” I leave him happily situated.

At my makeshift desk, I start to clean off the hard drive and organize my personal files. I have a book, and I read a little bit.

After I finish my first cup of tea, I get another.

My phone is silent. After many hours pass, I use my personal cell phone to call my brother.

I flip through digital photographs on my hard drive.

The conference takes a break, and my conference participant has been joined by another participant. He asks me how to mute and unmute the microphones on the speakerphone.

More hours pass. I have deleted a lot of old files on my computer, and composed messages to old friends that will be sent when I next log in to the Internet.

Right on schedule, the meeting ends. The participants say their goodbyes and leave. My pleasant attorney thanks me.

Even NY is clearing out, so I give the okay to disconnect the video call. I call all the support staff on each location to congratulate them and let them know it’s over. They already knew.

It is finished.

posted by Murphy 11/04/2002

Sunday, November 03, 2002



I kept getting requests for a conference that was happening on the 24th. I had at least three requests for a conference that were all happening at the same time. Since the requests sounded like they were a continuation of a conversation that I had not heard the beginning nor the end of, I thought, “I bet this is the same conference! I will find out who is really in charge of this one!”

I discover the identity of Miss Organizer, the central person arranging the meetin, and I called her. She seemed very nice, I told her that I was the video conference administrator, and that everything would go fine. She seemed pleased.

In fact, she was so pleased, that she sent out an email to everyone saying that she had talked with me, and that the video conference was in good hands.

I was pleased.

But after the fiasco meeting with the new CEO, he sent out an email to everyone (apparently attorneys like to produce lots of documents) saying that video conferencing was incredibly unreliable, and should not be used for anything important. He mentioned me personally, asking who my manager was, and said that the Chief of Staff (my boss’s boss) should be in charge of making sure this whole video conference idiocy worked, because it probably wouldn’t.

I felt hurt. Video conferencing should not be used for anything IMPORTANT! Well, I wasn’t forcing anyone to use it, but I always did my very best to make it work for them when they asked for it.

In the meantime, I had found out what was wrong with NY. A major cable, sending network to the whole building, had been damaged. NONE of the network was unaffected.

And I had called little miss assistant right after the call and said as politely as I could muster, “WHY THE HELL IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY DID YOU NOT GIVE ME THE 800 NUMBER BEFOREHAND SO THAT I COULD DIAL IN?”

That’s a paraphrase.

She was very apologetic, told me that ten minutes after the start of the call some guy had asked for an 800 number. She had to quickly create one and send it out to all the other people already in the call.

Well. That sounds like a rude and unthoughtful last-minute person. That was typical. What can you do? I let her off the hook, and got back to my business.

But before I can get very far, the Chief of Staff comes steaming around the corner of my cube. “I need to talk to you right now,” she said.

I go to her office, ready to explain. “It’s really unfortunate that this conference went badly.” I told her about the cable, and about not having the 800 number.

“Well, everyone else had the number!”

My proverbial jaw dropped. “I asked the assistant for the number three times!”

“Well, everyone else had it. Maybe you didn’t ask the right questions.”

My proverbial jaw hit the floor. What possible question other than the one I asked could have been the right question?!?

“Well this meeting on the 24th had better go perfectly. It has been made clear to me that my continued employment here is on the line. We need to have a meeting about this with everyone tomorrow to talk about what we are going to do.”

“What will we do if NY can’t get its network back online? Do we need some document from the phone company saying the line is damaged?”

“Oh the attorneys won’t look at it. They will just say we are making excuses.”

Making excuses? What are we supposed to do, go knit them some optical fiber so that they can have their precious video connection?

It was hard to pay attention after the didn’t-ask-the-right-question and the making-excuses arguments. What gall! How unfair! How mean and irrational!

I went back to my cube to poke the NY phone company about fixing the cable, but I was steaming! Steaming, steaming, all afternoon, night and next morning. I do not like to be unfairly accused. I was practically ready to find new employment.

I read Dilbert to make myself feel better, and then I griped to my little co-worker. She said, “You don’t have to take that! Don’t let her get away with saying you did something wrong when you didn’t!”

Yeah! I can take back the night! Just say no, stand up for myself etc.

I felt all better and empowered. Hmph! I’m doing the best I can, and better than most.

All right then. Back to the conference of the 24th. Got to get NY online again. That is where the meeting is being hosted. After a million phone calls back and forth, the phone company finally gets them online, thank God.

We had the meeting with the COS and everyone, deciding on a procedure. In fact, it was a procedure we already had from before I came around.

1. All sites will do a test run of the call the day before for an hour.
2. All sites will do a test run of the call three hours before the conference starts.
3. All sites will set up for the call an hour before the call is supposed to start, and leave it on for the whole call
4. All sites will have a staff person located outside the room included in the conference, ready to fix any trouble during the entire conference.

Wow. That’s quite a strict set up. We had one telecom guy who had been in NY for two weeks already, and the COS asked him to stay another day to babysit the conference. He said okay. My other co-worker was sent to another site. I was going to be here in LA.

The Chief of Staff wanted back up plans and contingencies covered. “We won’t use the sound that is part of the video conference! We should mute all the video conference equipment, and only use the phone for the sound!”

Yes. Okay. Whatever you want. It will look weird and sound bad, but it will probably be more stable. Whatever makes you feel happy.

Every time the COS sees me, she says, “You’re gonna help me keep my job, aren’t you?”

She sees me several times a day.

But at least she wasn’t making random and irrational accusations about my competency.

I chose to smile and say, “Everything will work fine.”

But this is making me doubt the sky it blue, already. I am thinking and thinking about every single part of the conference. I started thinking about the phone conference. What did I know about it? What would I do if it went wrong?

They would blame me anyway.

So I had to do some archeological work and find out the person to call about our telephone conference service. We uncovered her number in a Mesozoic strata of post-it notes and I gave her a call.

What a nice woman! She was so sympathetic and helpful. We talked for forever, really, and she told me all kinds of things. She said, “You know, if you want, you can have a higher level of service on your conference call. You could have an operator assistant on the line to help callers with any problem and improve sound issues, etc.”

Well! That sounded nice. But the conference was only 2 days away, and I wasn’t sure that a change to the dial in number at such a short notice was a good idea. But maybe I should let the meeting organizer decide.

I was supposed to call her anyway. We had determined, in that first friendly phone call, before all the uppity-mucks got involved, that we should speak again 2 days before the conference. I called her at my pre-arranged phone appointment--she wasn’t there. I left a message on her cell phone.

Now the later it got, the harder it would be to give out this new number. I really needed a confirmation of whether it was a go or not. I figured I should at least schedule the call and get the proper 800 number in case Miss Organizer called back and wanted the number. Just as I was finishing up with the nice conference woman, getting the number, etc, the COS appears at my cube.

She is foaming at the mouth and having a seizure. Metaphorically. “I need to speak with you in THE NEXT TEN MINUTES! It’s VERY IMPORTANT!”

I almost have a seizure just looking at her, but before I can say anything (Remember, I’m still on the phone) she tears off to her office.

I quickly hand up with my new conferencing friend, and run to her office.

“Miss Organizer just called me about changing the 800 number! WHAT IS GOING ON!?!?”

Oh. Well, I explained to her very quickly and as calmly as I could that I had called the conference service to see what could be done to have a good call, they had told me about this higher level of service they could offer. I thought that, in pursuit of her staying employed, I would call Miss Organizer and ask her if she wanted to do this. I understood that it was not desirable to change the 800 number at the late date, so I wanted to talk it over with her.

The COS visibly calms down and begins reassuring me that she is not mad at me. As I watch her in fear and wonder she says, “Don’t worry. I am not angry with you. Believe me, you would know if I were.”

This does not calm my fears.

We called Miss Organizer and have a big conference about what this was all about.

Miss Organizer seemed very calm when she was talking with both of us. “What do you think? What do you think we ought to try and do?” The COS was pretty adamant with her, saying NO forcefully to changing the number. But Miss Organizer brought up something else unrelated. “ I think San Francisco might want to join in. But I think they really don’t want to. I think they might just want to go on the phone.”

I said, “Yes, I think they should just join on the phone, especially if they are not certain about being part of the video conference.”

I settled THAT, at least. Taking charge, follow the COS example. She told me afterwards, “Miss Organizer is a very insecure person. She never wants to make a decision.” Hmm…Okay.

Time is drawing closer, and we are going to have to begin the first of our tests. Miss Organizer has promised to be there to let us know things about where people will be sitting, etc., so we can mike them properly.

I’m sitting in my video room, and our connections are up. All sites have the staff in place, everything is fine. But where is Miss Organizer? It’s been a half hour; she should be here to confirm that everything is how she wants it.

I have to chase her down. She appears finally, 45 minutes late. This time, she seems as shy and uncertain as a 12-year-old meeting her great aunts for the first time. “Oh, this seems nice. Is that how this is going to go? I think it will be okay.”

I ask her some direct questions about where the speaker will be, and where the camera should be, how she wants the room set up. “Umm…I think this is fine. What do you think?”

I refrained from voicing what I really thought.

An hour into the test, when it should be concluded, she says, “I think we might want to have San Francisco be part of the video call. I mean, I think they said something about it. But maybe they would like to join in.”

“Do you want me to bring San Francisco into the call?”

“Yeah, if you could, I mean…That would probably be a good idea.”

I mute my microphone so she doesn’t hear my exasperation, and make the phone calls to set up San Francisco.

Oh. Need I even say it? All participating sites on the West Coast will have to be at work at 6 a.m. to set up for this meeting. Yes, SF is on the West Coast. We’re telling staff there to be at work at 6 a.m. at 5 p.m. the day before.

Convenience for the staff was never a consideration.

So, we get the very good-natured SF support guy in the room, things are testing fine. He’s gulping back any complaints and saying that he will be there at 6 a.m.

It’s an hour and a half into the test. Miss Organizer says, “Oh, I think SF doesn’t need to be in the call. I think they said they’d rather listen in. Let’s not do them, okay?”

“Okay,” I say, ready to agree to anything. “Let’s give them what they want. They can easily come in on the phone conference. We will NOT have SF included in the video call.

But there is one last little thing on Miss Organizer’s mind. “Are we gonna go through with this video conference? I don’t want to take the responsibility of making the final decision.”

Well, no one is shocked by that statement. “I will take that responsibility,” I say. “The test went flawlessly, we can go ahead with the call.”

“Okay…” she says in a trailing voice.

As I am leaving, I notice something. Normally, there are two doors to this conference room. Today, there are two doorways. Where are the doors?

I’ll have to find out.

But first, I go down to see the COS, because I fear for her blood pressure. I wanted to tell her that everything went well. She’s not in her office, so I go make arrangements for someone else to cover the OTHER video conferences happening the next day. Amazingly, the entire firm did not stop to prostrate themselves in honor of this conference.

On the way back, I am snatched out of the hall by the COS: “Quick!” She says intensely. “I need to know how the test went. Miss Organizer has called me to make the final decision about whether to go ahead with the video conference.”

Didn’t I see this same patch of water go under the bridge earlier?

“The test was flawless, “ I say.

“That’s all I need to know.”

Back at my cube, I remember the missing doors. I call around and discover that they have been removed for refinishing. They will not be back for a week.

I am tired. What should I do? There is nothing to be done, the doors are gone and we can’t bring them back. But I must tell the COS, because if it were a problem and I didn’t tell her, who knows what.

I peek around her door trepidatiously. She sees me: “What do you need?”

“Um…You know the conference room that the meeting is in tomorrow?”

She looks expectant.

“The doors are gone. Both of them have been taken to be refinished.”

She just stared at me in shock for a moment. Then she lay her head on the desk and muffled peals of laughter burst out

“That is really something that I cannot do anything about,” she gasps in between her shrieks. And both of us just laugh. Of all the ridiculous things!

I finally make it to my bus at the end of the day, but my cell phone rings. It’s San Francisco. “Hey, the managing partner really wants to know if he can be part of the video conference. Only, he doesn’t want the other sites to see him. He wants to see them, though. Can we do that?”

“No, we can’t do that.” No, no no! We can’t do that, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. Because you are rude and you are very tardy in asking, and you are inconsiderate of the people you are asking help from. Also, because we haven’t put your site through the arbitrary and meaningless set of tests that make all the ignorant people who are in charge of the call feel better about it being stable. NO!

“Are you sure? Because they really want it.”

It was four staticky and desperate phone conversations later, at 8 p.m. in my home that we finally determined the SF really wanted to be in the video call, and that we really would let them.

I debated whether I would be remiss by not calling the COS and Miss Organizer and letting them know about this change. Then I put it out of my mind. There is a point when enough is enough.

I had to be awake at 4:30 a.m. so I went to bed, and dreamed that my bus wouldn’t come, and that I had to drive to work to get to the meeting on time. I got lost, and as I was running in between the skyscrapers, I realized I wasn’t dressed for work, and that I would have to go back to my car to get the right clothes. I was working out in my head how long it would take me to do that, and how I could make it to the office in enough time, but I still wasn’t sure where the building was at, and where I was.

posted by Murphy 11/03/2002

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