Help Me Rhonda

Some folks recently moved into an area near my work area.  Quite a few of them, actually.  Now there’s a lot more people in the halls, bathrooms, and break rooms.  Some of them are completely new to me, but some I recognize from other projects in times gone by.

I encountered one of the latter on a recent morning and a name jumped front and center. Tim Smith.

Immediately behind the name was a strong sense of doubt.  That is not Tim Smith.

I played it safe and gave a cheery and familiar, “Good morning!  How are you today?”

He said he was good.  We went our separate ways.  I conjured up my mental image of Tim Smith.  Yep.  Not Tim Smith.  I couldn’t remember who this guy actually was.  No matter.

That afternoon, we quickly passed each other as we rounded a corner from opposite directions.

“Hey, Rhonda,” he said. “How are you?”

“Fine.  And you?”

Rhonda?!  Who’s Rhonda?

I stifled my laughter until I was a safe distance away. At least I hadn’t called him Tim.


King Cake!


In my old work area, we had a King Cake tradition for Mardi Gras.  It’s my understanding (not being from Louisiana, I’ve had to learn these things) that traditionally whoever finds the baby in the cake should expect good luck.  In our tradition, whoever finds the baby is required to provide the cake the next year.  Needless to say, this makes us reluctant to be the baby finder.

The old work area was comprised of a group of people working on the same project for the same supervisor… and me.  There used to be a couple of other strays but as our work dried up, they moved on, leaving me as the lone misfit.  Sometimes, like with the King Cake, I was fully accepted.  Other times, not as much.  The people are excellent but tend towards exclusion and cliquish behavior.

We moved en masse to a new work area last summer.  We were joined by all the people from my group as well as another group and a new handful of strays.  I hadn’t considered how that would affect our King Cake tradition.  The stuckee from last year, however, came up with a solution that allowed them to be both inclusive and exclusive.  He brought two cakes.

One cake, which will be heretofore referred to as the “public cake,” was placed on the unofficial food table near the front door with a sign instructing people that whoever found the baby was responsible for providing next year’s cake.  The other, heretofore referred to as the “private cake,” was placed in a gentleman’s office in the back of the work area.  An email was sent to the group… plus me… informing us of the private cake location.

Unaware of the public cake, I hurried to the back to get a piece of cake.  I was the first person to arrive.  I looked at the pristine cake and mused to the office occupant, Craig, about what happens if you actually hit the baby with the knife.

“Do you get to choose which side of the knife you push the baby?” I wondered.  I wasn’t too concerned.  I’d been eating King Cake for years without ever finding the baby.

I completed the first cut and gauged how much cake I wanted.  I started the second cut and when I was almost to the outside edge of the cake, I hit something.  At first, I thought it was the edge of the pan, but it wasn’t.  I was attempting to sever the baby in half.

I glanced up at Craig, who suggested I “take one for the team”.

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll take the baby but don’t tell anyone yet.  They need to feel the tension of wondering where it is.  They can’t know that it was found in the first piece.”

I soon became aware of the public cake and noticed at one point that someone had found the baby and left it sitting in the pan.  Someone told me who had done it and I figured he hadn’t seen the sign and wasn’t likely to participate.  That won’t do, I thought.  So I lifted the edge of the cake, slit the underside, and re-hid the baby.

I had grand plans to check the private cake periodically and when over half of it had been consumed, place the baby on my cubicle wall with all my other toys and see how long it took someone to notice.

But I got busy and never checked the cake.  Eventually, the Baby Posse was out, trying to identify who had the baby.  They knew it had been found.  When confronted, I confessed.

Soon, a meeting reminder for Mardi Gras 2015 was sent out with an announcement that I would be responsible for providing the cake.  One of the guys immediately responded, “Great! Now I can go get a piece of cake!”

I didn’t see him pass my cubicle, on his way to the wrong cake.  I saw him on his return, though.  That’s because he leaned into my cube, dangling a baby from his fingers.  He looked confused.

“Were there two babies in the cake?” he asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“So you re-hid it?  Only the first person to find the baby has to buy the cake next year.  Right?”

Smiling, I asked, “Which cake did you find the baby in?”

“What do you mean ‘which cake’? There’s two?”

“Yes.  The group cake that I found the baby in is in Craig’s office.”

“I didn’t know that!”

“Yes you did,” I responded, showing him the email that he had received that morning.  “Guess you are buying a cake next year after all, huh?”

“Guess I deserved that after being such a smart ass.”

I smiled and deliberately chose not to tell him that I actually had re-hid that particular baby.  Several of the other folks agreed.  It was more fun this way.

Avoiding the Earworm

I work upstairs. At the base of the stairs is a small lobby with a big flat screen TV that runs the same video ad nauseum. It never stops. It just runs over and over and over and over.

Most of it is tolerable enough – as much as hearing the same thing over and over again can be. I mean, I’ve raised three toddlers; I know a thing or two about hearing the same video repeatedly. But this is beyond what any two year old can throw at you. I’m pretty sure that if this were Barney and my kid was me, they’d still want to scream by now.

The most obnoxious part of the video is without a doubt the song at the end. It’s overly dramatic and sung with such pomp and grandeur that it makes me want to puke. And then it gets stuck in my head and I spend the rest of the day wishing I could puke it out.

So I’ve started trying to avoid the song. When I open the door at the top of the stairs, I pause before going down. My plan is that if the song is on, I’ll either go back through the door and wait or I’ll run down the stairs.

When I enter at the bottom, I prepare to run up the stairs. But even running, I catch enough and the earworm takes up its residency. I can’t handle it anymore. I think I might be close to insanity.

This brings us to today. Today, I entered at the base of the stairs and heard the song. It’s cold outside so I was wearing gloves and a stocking cap with earflaps. I tried to press my fingers into my ears but there was too much fabric and hair blocking me. I could still hear the song. I slipped my fingers under the flaps of the cap and began to sing “La-la-la-la-la-la.”

That was working. The problem, though, was that there was a door at the top of the stairs. I’d have to remove a finger to open the door. I’d be able to hear the song.

Determined not to hear another bar, I increased my volume as I prepared to open the door. I opened it and rushed through, loudly and monotonously singing “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA“… and then… nearly ran over a shocked coworker.

He looked at me and exclaimed, “What the HELL?!”

I burst out in nervous laughter and rolled along the wall away from him. “Oh, man. Oh, man,” I said. “Ok, that was embarrassing. I can’t handle that song down there. I just can’t. I couldn’t stand to hear it again.”

“Well, I’m tired of it too,” he said. “I just don’t go to such extremes.”

Such extremes, indeed. At least my witness was a coworker and not a stranger. And at least he didn’t catch me singing my sped-up version of the Smurf’s theme song. That’s my song-blocker of choice when I’m feeling particularly cheerful. He might have felt compelled to mention the incident to our boss then. As is, I suspect I won’t hear the end of this for a very long time.

Remembering Alice’s Restaurant

Most of my blog posts are easy and quick to write. I’m retelling a true story that happened to me – typically that day. Occasionally, I will philosophize about something, which takes more work. But rarely do I desire to write about a topic that takes planning, research, outlines, etc. And on the rare occasion that desire presents itself, I take a few notes and then wait for the feeling to pass.

I’m not intentionally waiting. It’s just that writing takes time and energy and that kind of writing takes a lot of energy and more time. As a married mother of three, working full time and then shuttling kids around, all while trying to find time to finish remodeling projects and handle other commitments that I perhaps shouldn’t have made, I rarely find a large enough block of time to give those ideas life. Eventually, I move on.

One of those ideas concerned my favorite songs. I made a tentative list, trying to force myself to narrow the list down to ten. Eventually I decided that there was no way to compare Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. Then my husband suggested I consider why I like the songs. Do they have some great import? Do I like the lyrics? Or the music? The list grew. And then sat. And now it’s misplaced somewhere on the computer desk. At least, that’s where I hope it is.

A song that I knew, without a doubt, would be on that list regardless of whether I categorized the list in any way was Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should stop reading this and go watch it on YouTube. Actually, don’t. The song is like 23 minutes long and you might not come back to me.

Anyway, I considered this song to be a cultural icon. A song that everyone knew and all the cool people could sing along with. It’s huge and surely only the hopelessly clueless or the young had failed to hear it. I had had very little opportunity to determine my view was mistaken.

That brings me to a recent conversation with two coworkers, both originally from Louisiana, which might have explained the problem if I hadn’t found the problem pervasive throughout my workplace, including some Oklahomans who without question should not have been living in this particular ignorance. One of them made a comment about something being “horrible”. With his New Orleans accent, it sounded like “har-ible” (the ‘har’ rhyming with ‘car’).

I was transported to the end of Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo tries to get the audience to sing along with him. They don’t do a very good job so he announces “That was har-ible. If you want to end war and stuff, you have to sing louder. We’ll do it again the next time it comes around on the guitar. This time with feeling.” (That’s a rough paraphrase, for any of you purists out there).

So I commented on it and they both gave me blank looks. I started talking about the song. More blank looks. I gave them the title and Arlo’s name. More blank looks. I began to panic. “Arlo Guthrie?” I asked. “Folk singer from the sixties?… Um… Woody Guthrie’s son?… Surely you’ve heard of Woody at least?” One of them had not and the other looked uncertain.

I turned to the Oklahoman in the cubicle across from us. He at least knew Arlo and could name a song of his but did not know his seminal work. I asked another Oklahoman as he walked by. No. A couple of other folks. No.

My boss, originally from some place north, knew it but admitted that it was only because his father-in-law forced him to listen as he sang it, that he had never heard Arlo sing it and had obviously never gotten to the end, as he deemed it pointless. Technically, most of the song is pointless (although entertainingly so), but the ending makes it clear that there is a point. It was a war protest song during Vietnam.

Dismayed, I turned to my Facebook friends. I was soon able to make some generalizations. If you had been an adult or near-enough in the late sixties or early seventies, especially if you were in the folk song or hippie crowd, you knew it. If you were not around back then but had a particularly hippie-ish parent or are a major music buff, you knew it. Or if you spent any of your life in Oklahoma City, listening to KRXO, the classic rock station, you knew it because they play it every year at noon on Thanksgiving.

I’m still amazed how many people are unfamiliar with the song. It was a significant part of my childhood. We’d listen to it in the car on the way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. When my husband and I found it on Thanksgiving while riding in the car with our kids, we made everyone stay seated when we reached our destination, so that we could sing along. Every lyric. Exactly. Our kids thought we were insane.

So go check it out now. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

SIDE NOTE: Even the people unfamiliar with Woody Guthrie’s name, knew one of his songs: This Land Is My Land. What many don’t know is that Woody was a bit of a subversive and that song, now one of our great patriotic songs, was actually a protest song of sorts. He originally titled it “God Blessed America” and considered it a direct response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which he despised. He hated “God Bless America” because he felt that it was demanding more blessings on a country that was already covered in such extreme blessings that it was obscene to request more. I’ve often wondered what he would think about his song’s position in society now.

When An Economy of Words is a Problem

If you are a man with good communication skills, I’ll apologize right up front. I know you are out there. I know you are real. I just don’t get to work with you very often. This post is not about you.

This post is about those men who believe that any question can be answered with a single word. Such men baffle me. Here is an email exchange I had recently with one such man.

Me: The following changes need to be made to a file that you have checked out. Can you either check in the file so I can make the changes or make the changes yourself?

Man: Done.

Right. I asked you to do either A or B and you respond that you are done. Wow. That really helps me know whether I need to make the changes. Let’s try for some clarification.

Me: You made the changes or you checked it in so I could make the changes?

Man: Both.

Yeah… see… those two choices were mutually exclusive. You couldn’t have both made the changes and left the changes for me to make. I’m not interested in trying again, so I’ll use my interpretive skills to assume that you meant you made the changes and you then checked it in when you were done.