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Thursday, 09 February
Desert Rows

Reasoning that it's never too early to begin complaining about anything, I might as well report that I have this week submitted travel requests at work for our next pit stop, which is Salt Lake City. (I actually like to elongate this into Salt Lake dead fuck City, not only because it has a pleasingly blunt, staccato scan to it, but also because I like to imagine Salt Lake City as a sort of Mecca for those looking for a real dead fuck. "I want your laziest hooker.")

See, I might as well uphold my rep for just slagging the hell out of cities that I visit, particularly when it's for work, as that is always No Fun. Previous victims of my ridiculously nasty and petty vituperation have been Kansas City and Denver, both of which I of course found odious all in the course of three or four day visits. Not that one is going to much enjoy any city from the limited confines of the local downtown Hyatt after a few intensive days of pleasant cancer-related chatting with strangers. Particularly Kansas City, parts of which resemble indolent tumors anyway. As for Denver, unclassy, depressing retail outlets seem to be metastasizing enthusiastically.

Work-related travel obviously does nothing for my attitude.

And it's probably not going to be much different for SLC, where I must travel to in April, so I'll be able to add yet another city's population to my They Hate Me list when I get back and write something typically snotty about it.

I really don't want to go.

I've been there once before. When I was 19 or so, my college buddy and I took a road trip on spring break to Colorado. We stopped along the way at SLC, where we stayed the night with his parents, who lived there at the time. "Goodness!" cried J.'s mom when we rolled in. "You look exhausted! Would you boys like a beer?" This was the best experience I had the whole time. The rest of the brief stay was spent with me crying out while driving around, "Let's go there! I'm starving!" And J. grimly shaking his head, claiming that those joints were "not for us"--i.e. Mormon hangouts. Later, J. took us up to a clifftop overview of the city. SLC is one giant grid of almost Pythagoreanly perfect lines. "Isn't it beautiful?" he exclaimed, staring down at the twinkling lights. I thought it looked like a city designed by the Borg.

Now let's be clear: I am not really a fan of religion in general. To be more fair, let me stipulate that I am a complete moron when it comes to religion. So when I say that I get skeeved out by the idea of what amounts to practically an entire state enraptured by a particular religion, it is the same sad mind that once made some Catholic friends really red-faced and shouty when I idly asked if Communion amounted to some sort of sublimated form of ritualized cannibalism.

It all comes down to the usual crap: we fear what we do not understand. I do not understand Mormonism, much like I do not understand Baptists, or Daughters of the American Revolution, or for that matter, paintball warriors. They all have their weird, alien rituals and rules and modes of conduct, and they all frighten me. Which is all fine with me, really: maybe I'm just a shutdown case with no interest in learning about the world's more granular concepts, but I have about as much interest in learning about applied Mormonism as I have about learning about, well, paintballers. And I am of course terrified that someone will try to educate me. And here I'm traveling to the epicenter of the Where Someone Might Try To Explain It. I don't want that.

Well, I'm going to try to be of firm resolve. I can be a good man for a change; I can put aside my ignorant prejudices for once and be objective and fair and open-minded. Can't I?

Salt Lake dead fuck City, I hereby pledge to you: I will not, when the time comes (April), slag on your city using the obvious tropes and cliches. I will slag the hell out of you on your own demerits.

To be honest? You're going to have to come up with something special to beat out Kansas City.

Tuesday, 09 November
The Big Weep

Since my promotion earlier this year at the office from Easily Ignored Functionary to Ineffectual Supervisory Flailer, I've been very cautious about writing of the Job. I guess part of me is still waiting for the part where they reveal I've been on a reality show for months now: FOX'S Fake Promotions: When Dumb People Think They've Fallen Up. But I suppose if I am cautious, I can reveal certain tales.

Friday last started out innocuously enough--I sat wearily in my office for a half hour in the morning, drinking coffee, checking emails--something about cancer, I guess--and otherwise diddling around.

Then a coworker appeared at my door. She was visibly agitated, shaking really, and clearly very close to tears. I'll stop here to mention quickly that this person is not one of my supervisees, but rather someone whom earlier in the week we--that is, "my team," a phrase which makes me think of cackling FOX execs-- had helped out with on a project. The woman then began stammering out what was apparently an apology for dragging "my team" into things and had been dressed down by someone else in the office and she felt horrible and so forth and then she was crying but good.

As a man, my first reaction was predictable: How can I get this crying woman out of my office? Because I am, as you all know, a real hero. I sprang into action, saying, "Gosh, hold on one second!" and then swiftly took out my whisky bottle and poured us each a shot. "Okay, continue!" I commanded, as she nervelessly accepted the whiskey. She looked uncertain, and my bowels were churning feverishly; I audibly farted, rapidly, three times in succession, causing her to start in her chair. "Riverboats," I calmly explained, and she stared nervously out the window, presumably looking for a river, but finding only I-5.

A short while later, after some more reassurances on my part that I bore her no ill will, she left the office, seeming somewhat comforted. And I didn't bear her any ill will. I hardly knew what the fuck she was talking about. This, you should note, is a hallmark of my Management Style.

Then later, me still in my office, sweet whiskey stowed back in my desk, another vision of misery appeared at my door. This person--also NOT ONE OF MY SUPERVISEES--stood before me asking if we could talk. She was, oh yes, totally freaked out and on the verge of tears. This was the woman who allegedly dressed down the previous woman, and she needed to apologize to me for dragging me into this whole mess, and more horribly, explain every little thing that happened--which as I just mentioned, violates everything I believe in when it comes to management.

"Please don't tell me anything!" I begged, "I prefer to not understand!" She was having none of it, though, so again I hauled out the whiskey and farted mournfully, drawing more unwelcome stares. This was getting out of hand, so I shifted tactics. "You should get your guts looked at," I said with some concern. "You sound like an old bagpipe." Her eyes widened. "I didn't do that! You did!" she shrieked shrilly. I shot back confidently, "You must be an insane person. I have the asshole of a ninja." I leaned forward. "Probably related to your drinking problem," I intoned, and took her whiskey away. She stood up stiffly and tottered out the door uncertainly, and I called after her, "I'm glad we talked!"

In truth, I was anything but confident. Every fresh encounter with distressed coworkers threatened my equilibrium, and I needed them to stop. So I called R. who is actually the two coworkers' supervisor. She picked right up. "R.!" I howled, "What the fuck is going on? My office keeps getting invaded by crying women! And not incidentally, they have some pretty awful gastrointestinal problems!" There was a moment's silence as R. digested this; I assumed she was extracting a whiskey bottle from her desk drawer.

"They're crying, you say?" she asked.

"Yes!" I cried. "And farting!"

"Jesus, what did you do to them?"

I stared in horror at the phone receiver. What was she implying? I didn't know what to say. So I took a leap of faith; I told the truth.

"R. I have no idea what the fuck they're talking about. I just sat here like a moron. I think I might have psychologically damaged one of them with certain accusations about flatulence."

There was a pause, and when R. spoke, she sounded cheerful.

"You're learning," she said. "I'm coming over to your office to talk."

I felt clammy for a moment. "If you come over here and cry at me," I told her, "I'm going to chop off your feet and feed them to mental patients."

She laughed. "Are you kidding? I'm bringing over whiskey. It'll look like we're having a serious meeting, so nobody will bother us, but really, we're just gonna get loaded."

I guess I'm starting to get the hang of this after all.

Tuesday, 26 October
KC And The Unshine Band

Well, yes, I'm back from good old Kansas City. Friends--particularly those in KC--I am sad to report that my take on this city is, sorry, that it sucks. Part of it is a certain amount of misrepresentation, which I cannot blame on KC; you see, after spending many meetings at airport-based hotels, I was finally led to believe that this time, we'd be at a hotel with retail connections, proximity to the urban center, etc.

This was all true in the sense that "The check is in the mail" is true, provided you sent the check to Provo, Utah and made it out to Diana Moon Glampers. The Hyatt Regency Crown Center hotel is in the city proper, and not 20 miles out of town, but it is also abutted by a four-block radius of city blocks that are, essentially, construction rubble. "Construction," by the way, being synonymous here with "willful neglect." The rubble sat mournfully, bereft of any sign of actual workers doing any kind of construction, like abandoned children waiting for someone in a limo to come pick them up and give them a nice life.

As for the retail core, there was the Crown Center, a mall-ish thing reachable after a long walk through some skybridges known as The Link, which I supposed at least ensured that its users would have a pleasingly rubble-free experience as they sped their way to the juicy stores; I further assumed that The Link was a fairly hassle-free way of making sure that anyone in the mood to shop wouldn't be troubled by the panhandlers below skulking through the desolate rubble.

Unfortunately, the Crown Center was pretty dispiriting. One of my coworkers scampered happily into a Hallmark store to buy awful-smelling candles--she couldn't find these at home? She enjoys the smell of what I swear was Urinal Cakes?--and another bought his boyfriend a little thingy of incredibly-priced cologne from the good folks at Puma. You know, like the shoes. When You Want Your Man To Smell Like Feet! Apparently, branded scents are very big these days. For Christ's sake, Hummer has its own custom stink. I hate colognes. In the meantime, I kept staring at a shop called "Pretzel Time," but its neon sign was kind of funky, so I kept seeing "Pretzel Toe," which was briefly amusing in that I'd probably opt for an odor reminiscent of salty metatarsals before I would one that supposedly evoked that of a Hummer, which is a punchline of a vehicle if I ever saw one.

I hate colognes.

Anyway, the meeting was, of course, boring and endless, featuring long PowerPoint presentations with alternatingly mysterious and/or horrifying phrases. As to the former, here are some gems. Try and stay awake as I simply list them: Hypertriglyceridemia. Micro-array. FISH analysis. (Actually, that last one briefly excited me, as I wondered if we were going to get some serious Abe Vigoda data. Alas, no.) At another presentation (exemplefying the latter), I heard "Think outside the box!" once, and the word "synergy" three times. My notes are murky all around, really. For some reason, I wrote this at one point: "Phase II (randomized), Sorafenib + Tipifarnib . . . " and then there's just a scrawled line trailing off the page, which I assume is when I had my stroke.

Lord, it's good to be back.

Tomorrow: How I Learned To Intensify Worrying And Hate Airline Travelers.

Wednesday, 11 August
So Very Special

Since I took last Friday off to not do the show that evening, I naturally had a lot to do this week at work. With this in mind, I scampered into the office on Monday and promptly did nothing. Come on! Monday. Please. Nobody does anything on Monday. I confirmed this by taking a quick tour of the office. Of the four people who actually showed up, three were betting on ferret legging, and the other one was, horribly, actually doing work. But she's the stereotypical office Type A, and presumably does work while sleeping. You know the type. "I have color documents for everyone . . . thank God I have a laser printer next to my bed. Goodness, I was up until midnight!" The rest of the staff shifts uncomfortably as they stare at the brightly colored eight-page document, remembering that at midnight last, they were drinking Long Island iced teas and placing bets on illicit potbelly pig racing.

Mondays are, then, worthless, and as a result, horribly long, because you try vainly to fill your day with hopeless webclicking and pushing shit around on your desk. You really drink the shit out of your coffee, including tilting your head back 90+ degrees and tapping the bottom of your cup, encouraging the silt to run down your throat. You idly fuck with your stapler, seeing how much pressure your finger can take before you break skin. Mondays are when you create a new email folder called "SO DUMB" that is just for the office moron, who emails A LOT, but hopefully you also set a reminder for the end of the day to prompt you to rename "SO DUMB" to "SPECIAL PROJECTS" before you leave, just in case the guy makes a surprise appearance and sees it later. This awful person can appear at any time to tell you about last night's turkey recipe, after all. You don't want him to see "SO DUMB" and start asking questions. That would be awkward. You instead want him to see "SPECIAL PROJECTS," which is so depressing that even Captain Delicious Turkey will want to edge away nervously.

"Special Projects," you see, is a phrase that carries its own terrible freight. "Special Projects" is simply shorthand for "Mind-eating crap that nobody else wants to do." When I was promoted to Godhood Supervisor, in fact, one of the first things I did was unload a "Special Project" on to some luckless underling. Now, I'm sure that these projects have their worth. Usually. But sometimes, key-entering ancillary data about toilet seat ergonomics as related to end-stage pancreatic tumors, well . . . isn't this why we have graduate students?

Another "Special Project" came my way today, forcing me to figure out which miserable bastard I was going to have to unload it on, since I knew it wouldn't be me. I don't know. I figure it can wait until next Monday.

Thursday, 01 July
Movin' On Up

Tomorrow I officially start my new position as Emperor Of The Unlucky People at work, so today I sat down with S., who previously held the position and is herself moving up the job ladder to High Empress Of The Benighted Who Aren't Like Those Poor Fucks Who Have To Deal With Skot. It's hell to fit that on a business card.

I was a little nervous as the meeting was coming up, as I was getting some dire signals via email that I was in way over my head. One such signal was receiving no less than five baffling, incomprehensible Excel documents from yet another ancillary boss-thing, all of them with breezy notes saying, in effect, that the docs all spoke for themselves. Maybe they did, perhaps in Mandarin, but I wouldn't fucking know, because they were all impenetrable, dull, horrible things that I didn't begin to comprehend. My gut started to wheeze with misgiving, and it mumbled to me, You're fucked. Let's get out of here before they find out what a terrible fraud you are. My brain instantly responded: Gut's right. We're dead. Run like the dumb gerbil you are! Run, stupid!

But I did not run, because, Jesus, I need this job. So I did the only smart thing, and washed down some Xanax with a couple belts of whiskey from the bottle in my file cabinet. I immediately felt better, and thought, "I can do this. I will conquer my fears and be a leader. And then I will battle those flying space rabbits and bring peace to Planet Chondarr, which is my destiny as foretold from my youth by Madame Twice-Cutlet, who died too soon in that dune buggy accident."

I probably should have eaten something first, but you don't think of these things when you're so nervous. I went to S.'s office, and she warmly welcome me in. She assured me that it was perfectly normal to feel swamped and over my head.

"It took me months to get used to it," she explained, "even without the prodigious amounts of drugs and booze you apparently consume. You look a little pale. Do you want a cocktail?"

I lowed like a beaten cow. "God, yes, please. It feels like angry dwarves are clawing around in my skull looking for a way out. Either give me scotch or fucking trepan me. The little bastards!" I screamed piteously, and fitfully rapped my skull on her desktop for a while, demonstrating my agony, while S. flapped her hands like nervous birds.

"Coming up! Coming up!" Presently I was calmer, drink in hand, and S. began to tell me about my new and varied duties.

S. said, "Well, I don't have to tell you about the emails! You're going to get a ton of them now. You'll get used to it."

I doubted that. Where other employees, I had noticed, had impossibly subdivided their Outlook folders down to the most exacting criteria, mine still consisted of two main areas of interest: "Inbox," where I kept only those emails where it would be positively dangerous to ignore, and "Deleted Mail," where everything else went, particularly those which I found to be baffling, strange, or simply frightening. When it comes to email, I am of the school of thought that If I Can't See It, It Isn't There. Apparently, this happy state is about to be ruined. I was beginning to see this promotion as my own personal version of the Fall of Man.

S. continued. "Oh, and I have some Excel documents that I'll send you. Stuff like timesheets and all of that, which you'll need to track."

More great news. I understand that many people regard Excel documents as pretty ripping stuff, but I hate and fear that program. This was like hearing that she was going to be sending me exotic spiders from South America. I need Excel documents about as badly as I need the works of Ibsen methodically tattooed onto my asshole. I finished my drink. In my profound terror, S.'s words were beginning to lose cohesion.

"You want to remember to anoint yourself with corn oil," she seemed to say, while I slumped erratically in various non-Euclidean angles. "And when someone has a job issue, you stab them without thinking. Right in the guts."

"Twist that knife!" I screamed. "I'll hang their cocks on my wall!" S. seemed to understand, despite the fact that most of our employees are women. She was gentle.

"You're overwhelmed, which is understandable," she said soothingly. "You should go back to your office and hang out. We can pick this up tomorrow."

"Thanks," I gasped, totally unnerved. "Tomorrow. Then we'll pickaxe the lot of them."

I wobbled out of her office, and finally found my way to my chair. I sat heavily, and regarded Rick, my office piano player.

"You played it for her, you can play it for me," I said. "Play it."

Rick said, "What the fuck are you talking about? Who? Christ, you freak me out."

I wearily put a dollar into Rick's tip jar. "Just play 'Tarzan Boy' for me. Baltimora, he was the man. I want to hear 'Tarzan Boy.'"

Rick said, "That's the worst song ever written." He glumly began pecking out the melody. "I hate this job," he murmured ruefully.

"So do I," I whispered, reaching again for the whiskey. "So do I."

Tuesday, 27 April
A Hero Prepares For Duty

I sat in my office this morning, clutching my face and contemplating a particularly ghastly fact: starting tomorrow, for the next four days, I am completely in charge of the office. Half the staff is clearing out to go to a conference in Huntington Beach, leaving me--unbelievably, the most senior staff member remaining--to troubleshoot, to solve disputes, to negotiate delicate solutions to intractable problems, such as "Somebody stole my soup cup!"

I wasn't up to it. So I did the logical thing. Shutting my office door--who are these beanheads who gave me a door?--I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Jaegermeister. I prided myself on waiting until 8:00 AM to start drinking. "A new record!" I mused, "I deserve a drink."

I was halfway through the bottle when a knock came at my door. "G'way!" I snarled, "'m drinkin'!" A familiar voice said, "What?" Nuts. It was R., a Bossman of some stature. "Sorry!" I said, "Hold on!" I hurled the Jaeger bottle out the window, and dimly heard it impact onto I-5 below with accompanying sounds of tires wailing and metal crumpling. Fuck those freeway chumps--why weren't they already in their offices drinking? No time for pity. I opened the door, and R. came in.

"What's up?" R. said, staring a little too intently at my disheveled state; I had gotten up too late to shower, and was unable to find a comb in any of the dumpsters on my way to work, so my hair looked like a football team had ejaculated on my skull. There were mysterious stains on my pants (Heinz 57; I had gotten curious as to their provenance and tasted them earlier), and I was clad in a dingy bathrobe mysteriously adorned with illustrations of Fidel Castro. It's a long story.

"I'M WORKIN'!" I screamed a little too forcefully, and demonstrated my job-zeal by hammering crazily on my keyboard; the F8 button suddenly came loose, bounced off of my eye, and then fell glumly onto the floor. R. stared at it, and I mumbled, "It's always been loose. Been meaning to fix that."

R. blinked and said, "Uh, anyway. I'm taking off tomorrow, so I wanted to drop this off before I forgot." He held something out to me, and I blearily reached for it. He dropped a key in my hand, which I recognized immediately, and my basal ganglia writhed at the realization. It was the master key to all the offices. I peered owlishly at the horrible thing, as if he had shat in my hand.

"You shat in my hand!" I muttered crazily. "What?" R. said nervously. "Nothing," I said, recovering, "I was remembering an old scat video I saw once." R. coughed politely and continued. "That's a master key," he said unnecessarily, "in case for some reason you need to get into someone's office for something." I held the thing like the Pope would hold a bag of fresh dogshit. Are they unhinged? Why are they giving me this? Don't they know I'm liable to use their computers to send threatening letters to foreign consulates? I flailed for a proper reply. "Ah, yes, I see, okay," I stammered, "Good to have. I'll keep it safe!" I grinned at him desperately, making sure to show him all my molars. "Nobody gets raped on my watch! Unsecure offices are a workplace menace!" I jangled the key merrily and dropped it down the front of my pants. "Safe! Right by my nuts!" I leaned back in my chair, attempting an attitude of confident composure, which was slightly compromised by my 45-degree angle of repose. I fingered my Fidel-robe distractedly, pinching one of his heads distractedly.

R. stood for a moment, seemingly unsure of what to say. Finally, he spoke: "Well. Ah. Hope everything goes well. Just do your best. I'll see you next week." I showed him my teeth again, giving him a really winning rictus. "You betcha! I'll keep these cocksuckers in line!" R. twitched and edged towards the door. "I'm sure you will. Thanks for helping out while we're away."

No problem. It's going to be easy. I'm in charge, after all. I can hardly wait. Tomorrow morning, when I'm deep into the Jaeger bottle, I'll hear the nervous knock at the door. "WHAT?" I'll scream. "There's a problem," some luckless person will say. And I'll know just what to do.

"G'way!" I'll howl. "'m'drinkin!"

Tuesday, 20 April
A Charge To Not Keep

As I shambled into the office today--O happy Monday--I was called into the Bosslady's office. Uh oh, I thought, she's going to shiv me. It's my baseline reaction, always anticipating some violent rebuke to whatever fresh example of shining incompetence I have demonstrated. I waited for her to brandish a sharpened toothbrush, because, like all sensible people, I think of my workplace as basically jail.

But she stared at me briefly, and I could tell that she was savoring the moment, so I knew that whatever awful payload she was delivering was going to be only verbal. I was right. She said: "Well, you know next week is the group meeting." I did. This is the biennial traveling horror show that consists of three-quarters of the office packing up for some alien terrain to attend deathless, soul-eating meetings about cancer. This time it's in New Orleans, but I'm on the home team for this one, so I get to wait breathlessly for exotic fucking Kansas City in October. "Sure," I replied. "Well," she said, twinkling, "believe it or not, you're the senior staff who's staying home. You're going to be in charge next week."

This was so unbelievably horrifying to hear, I did the only logical thing, and screamed like a boiled mink. "WHAT?" I screeched. "That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard!" (The Bosslady--well, the entire office--is by now totally inured to my penchant for enthusiastic profanity. I was once disciplined--years ago--for screaming "fuck" so loud that it reached the office of the Biggest Cheese. Now nobody blinks unless I uncork something really horrific, like "cooze-bruise" or "piss demon.")

The Bosslady, anyway, agreed with my assessment. "Yeah, it's pretty funny. But the reality is, out of the people who are staying home, you have seniority. Don't worry too much. We've also got [Former Bosslady, now on an ancillary project] to cover your back. If you get into hot water, ask Former Bosslady." This was truly disastrous. A couple years ago, I wrote a fake AP story about Former Bosslady being arrested in Mexico due to prodigious margarita intake--something about jacking ambulances and running amuck--and distributed it to our staff, resulting in much hilarity and Former Bosslady's avowed future vengeance. I figured this was coming back on me.

Indeed. I shall have to watch my ass. My first strategy: I must be as unhelpful as humanly possible, discouraging any and all later requests for help. I am aided in this endeavor by my already-existing reputation around the office as an unhinged, snarling misanthrope. I will bolster these perceptions by basically responding to any desperate pleas for advice as if I were the Human Magic 8-Ball of Work Advice.

"Skot! I have a CRA who is having a real problem registering a patient!"

"ASK AGAIN LATER."

"What? Seriously, she's got someone who's waiting to be randomized to treatment. Can you help me out?"

"OUTLOOK NOT GOOD."

"Come on. I don't have time for this. Should I ask Former Bosslady or what?"

"ASK AGAIN LATER."

"You are a gigantic asshole. Is it going to be like this all week?"

"ALL SIGNS POINT TO YES."

Wednesday, 24 March
Topics of Cancer

At work today, we had what is known as a "committee meeting." Cancer research is often broken up into "disease sites," or "committees": that is, the differing types of cancer. Brain, lung, myeloma, gynecological, etc. They all have different treatments (well, many different treatments even within committees, but never mind), so it's kind of a waste of time for the head and neck people to talk shop with the melanoma people. You don't want the muffler guy fixing your brakes.

Anyway, we had a guest sit in on our typically half-numbing, half-bitchfest of a meeting. He was what's known as a "young investigator;" that is, a doctor who is interested, for whatever self-immolating reason, in getting acquainted with the process of launching and coordinating a research protocol. Against all stereotype, he turned out to be a really decent fellow, remarkably unjaded (give it time), and equally remarkably without a discernably bloated ego. I mentally christened him Dr. Improbable, and we discussed for a little while the study he was trying to shepherd into the research world, a study involving something so mindbendingly awful that it had its own mindbendingly awful new word for the day, "myeloablative," which I take to mean "scorches the fucking shit out of your brand new bone marrow, your blood counts, and your will to revisit hospitals."

Dr. Improbable received our comments on his protocol with much good grace, and even took notes, a first in my experience with research doctors, who are, as a rule, typically more accustomed to you listening while they are talking, particularly about stuff you never wished to hear, like how patient X obviously shouldn't have melted into a brackish goo, and it was really puzzling, because "We didn't anticipate the goo-effect." There's nothing quite like working with investigational drugs to open up new vistas into horrifying unanticipated effects, but Dr. Improbable seemed game. I refrained from needling him with the suggestion that his treatment might likely result in someone's face falling off to the floor with a wet plop, and then would maybe slither horribly to the mail slot in search of fresh dogmeat to devour. And if you're curious, that particular toxicity would probably fall under "Dermatologic; Other," with the appended clinical note, "Sloughing of Animate Facial Tissue Exhibiting Carnivorous Appetite." Grade 3.

When we were done giving Dr. Improbable's woefully underdeveloped study the Torquemada treatment, we retired to that great tradition of Getting To Know You, the slagging of people we all knew. Dr. Improbable proved to be a great font of lore when it came to certain doctors we were all familiar with, so we dished delightedly.

DR. PLOTZ

Dr. Plotz wears the biggest of wigs in our world, and only two years ago was universally reviled as the biggest prick in Christendom. Then, abruptly, he moved from a certain snooty mid-Atlantic school to a certain snooty East Coast institution, and has been mildly less reprehensible since. Which is a little like saying that Mussolini became a lot more easygoing once he was killed, but hey, small favors. The first time I met Dr. Plotz (at a giant committee meeting), he greeted me with "Hey, who the hell are you?" Six months later, another meeting: "Are you supposed to be here?" (No, I'm a freaky civilian who enjoys incomprehensible oncology consortiums. We're everywhere!) Six months after that: "I don't know you. Are you with a drug company?" I wanted to tell him, yes, I was from Bolivia and had some quality blow, and did he love his wife?

DR. KRAKEN

So named because she resembles some barnacled thing from an unhappy sea. I originally named her "The Sea Hag" because of her baleful, rheumy eyes, which made me think that she was skilled at seeing nervous crabs skittering the gloomy depths of the ocean's bottom, but I eventually decided on "Dr. Kraken" because she depressed me just as much as the terrible film "Clash of the Titans," and is kind of scaly and beaky. I also like to think of her being destroyed by Harry Hamlin.

DR. HAIR

He's well over six feet tall and has the kind of unruly, alarming hair that one normally finds on playgrounds, which also causes me to think of him as Dennis the Doctor Menace, an image not helped by his small stutter and his utter inability to respond to my frantic requests for data clarification. I am Mr. Wilson to his Dennis, and when I send my inevitable queries to his office--"Please, please help me figure out what this means!"--I basically get this back: "I shat in your glove box last night, which was great fun. See you soon!" I know that when I die, Dr. Hair will show up to graffito my tombstone: "Your best work yet!"

Friday, 13 February
Movin' On Up

Rounding out a week of listless dickpulling, today I experienced the vertiginous highs and the bottomed-out lows of that remarkable office experience: moving to a new office.

It's actually pretty cool. See, a couple years ago, I got attached to a project (well, a couple of projects, but they are all mind-bogglingly boring, so let's just fold them into one) in which I was given a nice raise, but was also required to move down a floor to live in the jabbery squalor that is Geekrealm. I also sacrificed my real office, getting instead a cubicle, surrounded by a very multi-culti assortment of gearheads, sysadmins, coders, database gnomes, application nudniks, and other unidentifiable wingnuts who occasionally sent me unasked-for Photoshop renditions of various other co-workers with sudden, alarming monkey heads. Whatever. It hardly mattered, since even when they actually spoke the English language (not a given: the geeks are, variously, Chinese, Spanish, Indian, Romanian, and, always hilariously, Canadian), I still didn't know what the fuck they were talking about. I still don't know what a "sproc" is, though I heard the term enough for it to haunt my dreams. It's probably Tagalog for "cheese pizza."

So long, geeks! And here's the thing: through basically dead dumb chance, I scored a really cherry corner office all of my own back up on my original floor. In fact, it's so swank (corner office! On the 20th floor! I can see the mountains!) that there was some grumbling by others on the floor (most of whom either reside singly in cubes or share similar offices), to the tune of: "Why does that guy get the best office on the floor while the rest of us suckers have to share farts with everyone else?"

Good question. I talked with the Bosslady about this for a while, and she made two good points. The first was, "Well, apart from T. and K., who are perfectly happy where they are, you have seniority." Which is, alarmingly enough, true--alarming mainly because I realized I've been at this place a long time, and yet I still think of myself as kind of a frightening dingbat who lucked into a job he has no business attempting. But her second point was much more relevant: "We also couldn't imagine putting anyone else in a shared office with you."

No, really, she said that. To which I replied, "Yeah. That's why I never thought I'd make it back out of a cube." Bosslady laughed and said, "Well, have fun. And if anyone gives you grief about it, you can send them to me." Fat chance. Besides, she was right. It makes me sound like a real asshole, but I'd make any office mate utterly miserable, because I'm, well, an asshole. And while I'm cautiously liked (generally), most others know this too. You'd have to be insane to want to share office space with me, and I'd have to be insane to even consider accepting such an arrangement. But anyway, I said, "Nobody will ever say anything to my face about it. They'll just grumble behind my back. Which saves me the trouble of having to care." Bosslady replied, "Exactly." The apparent moral: It pays to be an asshole. We could possibly also make a case for this precept in Capitalism 101.

And so it came to pass. Movers were brought in--there were several coordinated moves happening simultaneously--and many of us spent time standing around watching burly men shuffle shit around. I was delighted to actually hear one mover guy: when a woman asked if he'd be careful with her plant, he really said "Yuh." A guy down on the floor I was vacating took the trouble to send out a fulsome email wishing me all the best (cc:ing the entire floor), which was met with a vast silence. Who? Who's leaving? What? Oh. It's that dumbfuck who didn't even know what "sproc" meant.

Tuesday, 10 February
Can I Resent Helping You Today?

Like most people, I have worked my share of shitty jobs. I've talked before about my fast food experience, for example, but that was only for a month. What's inconceivably worse is, I (again, like millions of others) also put in my time in retail sales. Five years of it, to be exact.

Five years. Don't ask me how I endured it--and my heart goes out to those of you who are still doing it today--because it is, of course, fundamentally intolerable. I've never really met anyone who genuinely likes working retail, never, because the overwhelming imbecility of the job is truly taxing: most of it consists of selling (let's face it) generally tasteless, shoddy horseshit to avaricious shitpiles who are undoubtedly making more than you anyway. This, anyway, even if it happens to be untrue, is the mindset you will inevitably end up with after any amount of time spent working retail.

I used to wonder how I endured five years of this sort of awfulness, and I finally realized what I had done to get by: I lied to myself. Constantly. "Aw, it's not so bad. It's not like working at a steel mill or mining coal or something." Which is true. But it does not mean that it didn't suck, and wasn't a ghastly kind of way to spend eight hours a day five days a week. And when I finally quit--I had nothing else lined up, I just finally told myself that I couldn't do that any more--I looked back at those five years, and did some thinking, and realized, finally: Holy shit. I was fucking miserable for five entire years. And my brain--knowing this, and probably looking to stave off a host of pathologies--simply lied to itself, saying, Ah, it's not so bad. It wasn't until I finally quit that ol' brain finally relaxed and 'fessed up: Uh, sorry about this, but just so you know? That was a pretty fucked up five years, dude. Let's not do that any more.

Noted.

Anyway, here are some highlights. Again, I don't pretend that I'm unique in my special retail misery niche or anything; it's just stuff I remember. These experiences all came during my five years selling futon furniture/bedding/bath crap at an old place that used to be in the Broadway Market on Capitol Hill. It's not there any more, but they're still around somewhere.


THE CLOCK

This one is pretty bare-bones, but I recall with a strange clarity, because it was so goddamn odd.

Anyway, there I was behind the counter, more or less keeping out of the way of the customers roaming around. This would have driven the boss crazy--I was always supposed to approach each customer and begin some kind of greasy rapport, but this was a mall-ish kind of building, and of course most people were just moseying around. Plus, I learned early on to hate most people and avoid them assiduously. A woman stopped by the counter and said, "Excuse me, is that a clock?" She pointed behind me, where there was a clock on the wall.

I turned around to make sure there wasn't suddenly a dead body hanging on hooks or something I might have missed earlier. No . . . just . . . our clock.

"Yes," I said cautiously, suspecting a trick.

"Oh," she said, standing there, fascinated by our crummy plastic clock. I stared at her. Then she left.

(There are actually other similar iterations of this same story, but that one is my favorite. I learned to hate the phrase, "Is this a couch?" Invariably delivered by someone pointing at a couch. "No, it's a barbershop quartet! Hang on. If you kick it in just the right spot, it'll do a great 'Sweet Adeline'!" I don't know how many snotty retorts I bit back over five years.)

THE AMAZING BOSS-QUIETER

I worked for a volatile married couple who owned the place, but mostly for the extremely volatile husband, who at age 38 possessed the manic, purple-faced, prolapse-testing personality of a chimpanzee with a case of scorching piles. His long tenure at retail sales had also bestowed upon him a boundless supply of venom for the rotten bastards whom he routinely had to be nice to and from whose monies he derived a living. I was treated regularly to spittle-flecked rants about the "douchebags" who wandered into his store, "wasting his time" and generally just being dirty, cheap bastards who kept their wallets all shoved dismally far into their tightly locked asses.

One memorable time, in mid-rant, he wheeled on me with the look of the truly hunted, and half-screamed, "What the fuck is wrong with these people, huh? I mean, what the fuck do I have to do? Tell me what the fuck I have to do!" I made a terrible mistake and tried to employ reason: "M.," I said, "we're in a little mall in an urban center. Not everyone who comes in can afford to buy our stuff."

"They can fucking afford it," he hissed, "they just think they can fuck me out of a good deal." (This, I should point out, is memorable for me mainly because it was a sort of wake-up call: This is what I could end up being. Great.)

Some weeks later, a nice enough family came into the store while M. was there. I helped them for 45 minutes, plying them with catalogs, wood chips, finish samples, fabric swatches, the works. M. kept giving me the pisseye as he dealt with all the other customers, clearly not happy that I was allowing myself to be dicked around by Daddy and Mommy and their little brood. Finally, the family left.

"Thanks a lot for playing host to the yuppie fucks," he said. "I'm sorry, should I have brought you over some tea? Jesus Christ, they jerked you around for two fucking hours!" He was pissed off.

I said, "They just ordered three thousand dollars worth of cherry wood furniture for their den. Prepaid." M. looked at me as if I were some sort of terrible wraith who had erupted from the floor spouting netherworldly gibberish. I smiled placidy, waiting for his rat brain to process everything.

"Holy shit!" he finally said. "Let me look at that ticket!" I handed over the invoice and watched him scan over the unbelievable miracle of a purchase. Finally, he looked up at me. I waited.

"You sure let them fuck us on the delivery charge," he said dolefully.

THE BLANKET I'LL NEVER FORGET

I almost didn't write about this one, and you'll see why. It's just . . . oh, hell, you'll see. Just please realize, it really happened, and I don't intend it to be some kind of commentary or swipe or anything. It was just possibly the most surreal episode I experienced.

Okay. I was working, and the store was a fucking desert. Just nobody around. Finally, at some point, a middle-aged couple walked in, a nice black couple. They said hi, I said hi, and they wandered around, obviously just looking around. After a bit, as couples are wont to do, they started looking at different stuff. He ended up staring, obviously not giving a shit, at a bunch of pillows. She walked over to a wall display of many patterned throw blankets. Suddenly, she squealed.

"[His name, whatever that was], come over here! I want you to look at this!" He dutifully walked over to his wife to see what she was excited about. She was holding a Bob Timberlake blanket, with one of his folksy-as-shit designs on it. But not just any design.

The blanket depicted a garden scene. More specifically, a watermelon patch, rendered in dizzying greens and violent scarlets: a bunch of watermelons, sitting around in attitudes of pastoral glory.

"Look at this! Isn't this beautiful?" she exclaimed. And continued, "You know I love watermelons. Oh, lord, I love watermelons! It's so beautiful!" She went on in this vein for at least thirty seconds. "This is so beautiful. Oh, I do love watermelons. I surely do love watermelon."

I was, to put it mildly, paralyzed. I wondered if I was being filmed in some sort of malicious plot to make the leftie-leaning, filled-with-race-guilt white boy dipshit react in some deeply embarrassing way. I can't even begin to describe the awful feelings I was having: it was in one way a little funny (her reaction was so clearly genuine and felt deeply) and in another way horrible (she was unintentionally evoking a rather awful history of atrocious racial stereotyping) and in yet another way pretty revealing: Look at how little it took to instantly tie me into a bloody knotted mass of bullshit guilt and self-recrimination. I felt acutely rotten for having any of these thoughts at all. Not that there was anything I could consciously do about them. I think I lost ten pounds in that thirty seconds.

They kindly wished me good-bye as they left, and I wanly returned the sentiment, wondering yet again how I ever managed to get up in the morning.

I hope to hell I don't offend anyone with that story. I hope to hell I never have to work in retail again. And now that I don't, I can get on with better things.

Namely, I can hope to hell.

Wednesday, 01 October
Skot Presides Over The Table

I'm in the midst of work Gehenna; we have our biannual group meeting going on, and hundreds of doctors and nurses from around the country have descended like locusts on Seattle to come talk about our bread and butter, cancer. Specifically, we talk about how not to cure it: I mean, Jesus, we don't want to lose our jobs. Our most recent plan was to pump the home offices of the National Cancer Institute full of poisonous spores. Those crazy fuckers want to see a cure! Wackos. We'll take care of them.

Today's groovy activities included me, little old me, heading up what's called a "practicum table;" that is, I presided over a table with eight brand-new CRAs (Cancer Research Associates--nurses or clinicians who are responsible for dealing with clinical trials and the patients who sign up for them). They hung on my every boring-ass word as I tutored them on the finer points of toxicity assessment, tumor response guidelines, and data submission requirements. It was endlessly stimulating. Or, from their perspective, simply endless.

"When you send in the patient data," I gravely intoned, "don't forget to include some beaver shots. Otherwise, I get bored and shred the whole chart."

"Really?" One of them interjected. "Of ourselves?" She looked alarmed, but not as alarmed as the male participant at the table.

I reassured her. "Of course not," I said soothingly, "you're really ugly. I want pictures of hot chicks."

Okay, not really. But without a fantasy life, what's worth living?

But while I was presenting some valuable information on tumor assessment--specifically, the importance of consistency and accuracy of good reporting--I had an interesting question from one of the participants.

"What if I get a report from a radiologist and it's not complete for reporting according to your guidelines?" She looked kind of queasy.

"Tell him (or her) to amend the report so it falls under study guidelines for reporting!" I confidently shot back.

"What if they refuse to look at it again?"

I had never heard of such a thing. I asked, "Has this actually happened to you?"

She looked shy and sad. "Sometimes they don't want to re-review the scans."

This just pissed me off. I said, "Tell them to call me. Give them my phone number."

"Why?" she asked. "They don't have to answer to you."

"You're right," I replied, "they don't. I just want to describe why they get to explain to their superiors why their institution won't be working on clinical trials any more."

There was a brief silence. Then another CRA spoke up.

"Can I call you with all my questions?"

Not every day is bad.

Wednesday, 06 August
It's A Banner Day!

In what I'm pretty sure is a new record, the number of co-workers that I have covertly flipped off today is:

6

And I've still got nearly half a day to go! Oh, I'm all man.

Friday, 25 July
My Timing Is Peccable

UPDATE:

I still feel crummy, but I soldiered into work today, because I HAD MADE A COMMITMENT, DAMMIT. Japanese visitor! Software demo! Must! Fulfill! Commitment! To! Offend! Visitor! I take my James T. Kirkian dramatic vows seriously, you see.

So, here I am. Wearing slacks and a linen shirt, rather than my usual garb: tattered shorts and a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt dating to 1990. Yes. I am resplendent (if unshaven; I hate shaving, as does any right-thinking person, but I'm so goddamned beautiful that it hardly matters); I am so fucking professional and put-together that lesser employees everywhere are vomiting in shame. And vomit they should! Fucking pikers. Are your shoes as glinty-black as mine? I think not. And my trousers are stupendous.

So it was with justifiable pride moments ago that I marched upstairs to the bosslady's office (lucky girl!) to discuss today's meeting with the Japanese visitor. "BOSSLADY!" I screamed importantly, "Notice that I have tucked my shirt in for today's visit! Am I not every person's desire?" I strutted and preened for her.

The Bosslady stared at me for a moment, and then said, "Ah, there must be a mistake. He's not coming here until August 25th."

I could just cry.

Mad Babblings Of The Infirm

Sorry about the paucity of posts as of late; I felt really crummy today, and couldn't shake it, so I went home at lunchtime and slept for about three hours. This was only marginally different than being at work, as I was able to stretch out on a couch rather than loll bonelessly in my office chair, but it really made a difference. And that difference was: I didn't have to listen to the chittering geeks while I slept. What a luxury.

Sadly, I don't have the option of skipping out tomorrow as well, because I am giving a software demonstration to a Japanese visitor tomorrow from a kind of sister organization, JCOG (Japanese Clinical Oncology Group); I've done this many times. For some reason (it might be genuine interest or perhaps some quizzical kind of work ethic alien to our culture), I do this a lot. We get many Japanese visitors.

And they're great! They're unfailingly kind, to a sort of ridiculous degree--the last time I did this, the visitor was moved to give me a gift. It was some piece of fabric with Kanji figures on it: I couldn't quite figure out what it was. It now does double duty as either a potholder or a kitchen towel, which I assume has earned me some special spot in Shinto Hell. I get the feeling that if I offend enough cultures, I can kind of shuttle around between eternal punishments when I'm dead. I'll be like a traveling Dante, only participating rather than observing. "Okay! That was an interesting thousand years being eaten by raving zombie children. Cheerio! I'm off to visit the land of 1000 Frozen Ghosts!"

But the software demo is a slam-dunk; the real worrying part is actually trying to cope with my own awful American feel-badness; like a jerk, I typically assume that all Japanese people regard us with popular stereotypes, and I kind of fantasize about playing into them. "Won't you follow me to our cot room? This is where we take naps. Please notice the gumball machines and pornography vendors. We can't keep away from here! Whoops! And here I've been talking your ear off for four minutes! Where are my manners? Please: have a shot of whiskey."

Oh, it's going to be an exciting, defibrillation-inducing day. I can't wait.

I sure hope they like our whiskey.

Monday, 02 June
I Am Swiftly Punished

Lights up on SKOT, seated at his desk at work. He is puzzling over some BAFFLING HORSESHIT on his computer.

Skot: What a bunch of baffling horseshit.

An INTRUDING COWORKER enters.

Intruding Coworker: Hey, Skot? Got a minute?

S: Sure, come on in.

(As this is a cubicle, there is no "in" to come to, but the IC declines to point out Skot's demented fantasy of having a real office.)

IC: Thanks. We've pretty much got the site worked up in the test database, and we were wondering . . . *

Skot's Brain: I'd like a cigarette now.

IC: . . . anyway, the mockups for the tracking system have been coded and . . .

SB: Hey. Stupid. I want a cigarette.

IC: . . . because the site visit is coming and people are stressed . . .

SB: All right. Have it your way. Enjoy.

IC: . . . the database people are going to move it into production . . .

SKOT suddenly is blindsided by a massive sneeze, and barely gets his hand to his mouth in time to catch a large handful of warm, clingy snot.

IC: Wow! Bless you!

S: Thanks.

IC: Uh, anyway, like I said, once it gets into production, you'll want to . . .

SB: Yum! Yum! A big handful of mucus! Feels kind of squishy, doesn't it? Man, that stuff really sticks!

IC: . . . so I've been drinking before work a lot lately . . .

SB: Not much you can do with a couple ounces of snot in your hands, is there? Want to wipe it on your pants? No? And you don't want to get a tissue and wipe it off in front of this guy? Huh! Golly, what a dilemma!

IC: . . . I mean, a pistol's no good without bullets, you know? I don't even see them as people any more, really . . .

SB: You're probably really glad you didn't give me that cigarette, huh? Because now you can sit here while this guy babbles and do nothing but think about that little horror in your palm! That's almost as good as a cigarette!

IC: . . . a killing rain is a cleansing rain after all . . .

SB: Well, I'll let you get back to your office chat. Sounds like he's winding up. Enjoy your befouled hand! Think of that the next time I ask for something!

IC: . . . just like in Isaiah. So, sorry to ramble at you, man. So is Wednesday good for you for getting this done?

Skot: Yeah, no problem, man.

IC: Thanks.

(Exit INTRUDING COWORKER. SKOT sits, regarding his hand.)

Skot: Man, do I need a cigarette.

Blackout.

*All coworker dialogue is approximated for obvious reasons, and I don't generally understand what the hell they're talking about most of the time even in the best of circumstances.

Friday, 25 April
Thoughts Can Snowball In Your Head And Lead To Unfortunate Results

A while ago, for not-entirely-clear reasons (other than maybe, "I'm a dick"), I was moved downstairs a floor, and now occupy cube-space with a bunch of programming geeks. They regard me sort of with a kind of wary good cheer, like I were a pet chimpanzee or something. You know, usually pretty cute, but you never know when the little fucker will launch himself at your face. Plus, they really don't know what the hell I do in the first place: who questions the motives or methods of a chimpanzee? And that's cool, since I haven't the vaguest idea what they do either. I mean, apart from "programming," but that's just a tautology. Some of them are on "AppDev," others on "CompServ," and still others on "Helpdesk," and I can never keep straight who is who and where, but fortunately, there's no real reason for me to give a fuck, either.

They entertain me, though. They are a pretty spectacularly diverse collection of nationalities: my immediate neighbor is Croatian, and the guy behind me is a Spaniard. Across the room are a French woman, two Japanese women, an Israeli, and one Chinese gal.

The Croatian and the Spaniard are the best, because they seem to work in tandem on a lot of problems, and rocket back and forth between their cubicles, and as they get more worked up and excited about (whatever), they naturally start speeding up their speech and pretty soon neither of them can understand one another, and if I'm really lucky, they kind of wig out and start speaking their respective mother tongues. It's really great and I have to basically hunker down so I can laugh delightedly without making them stop. It just sounds so cool!

It happened a while ago, and it didn't seem that the problem was going away, so they were chattering chattering chattering! and going nuts, and I guess someone decided to call in reinforcements. So some of the others were brought in, and more heavily accented English was added to the mix, until pretty soon about half the floor was running around from cube to cube, each one straining to be heard and understood, and the cackling din was just tremendous. I was enjoying myself immensely; it was like the coolest audio collage ever, and I got to thinking, "This must be what the UN sounds like!"

For hazy reasons, this thought really busted me up, and I got a little carried away with it in my own weird head, because the next thing I know, I've stood up and while they were in mid-crescendo with the babbling, and I said, "I CONDEMN THE FILTHY AMERICANS AND THEIR UNJUST WAR!"

And they all stopped and looked at me. I was the scary chimp making unintelligible noises. I made a weak laugh and said, "Uh, never mind," and sat down. They gradually returned to their problem while I silently burned to death in my chair.

I guess it's really lucky that I didn't follow my first impulse, which was to pound my shoe on my desk and yell "We will bury you!"

Monday, 31 March
Hard At Work

Spammers are getting desperate, it would seem. That or just more fucking fiendish; I'm part of a couple of my workplace's group mailing lists for the cancer committees I work on: lymphomas and gynecological cancers, to be specific. So today I was sitting at my computer with one of my bosses hanging out, because I was showing him some programming errors I'd found (this is a large part of my job too--the programmers build an incredibly sophisticated program for us, and I sit there and flail away at it like an angry caveman until it breaks), when I got a new email. "Hang on a sec," I said, and opened it, noticing that it was addressed to "gynquestion@whereskotworks," and thinking that hey, someone out there has a question about one of my protocols.

WANT TO TRADE PIXXX? HOTTEST ON THE NET!

"I say we check it out," I told my supervisor, "I'm kind of horny." In my mind I said that, anyway.

The spam-bastards had obviously keyed into the "gyn" part of the email and decided, hey, anyone who has to deal with at least the abstract idea of female crotches all day long probably is in need of some grounding in the topic, so have some beaver shots, my friend!

Work overall is getting kind of eerie and fearsome these days. Tomorrow, unbelievably, we have picture day. This is because there is some whacking great meeting coming up where all the doctors and nurses and research associates and us get together and glad-hand and confer and wither slowly during PowerPoint presentations and assure each other that we still have good jobs because nobody's cured cancer yet. And for some reason, this involves taking everybody's picture in our office, just like in sixth grade, and then displaying them all over the place, like we're Wal-Mart employees and our field researchers are in need of cheap toilet paper. I don't get it. I know for a fact that nobody out there gives a technicolor fuck what I look like, and I fervently reciprocate this feeling. "Hi, Skot, it's Jodie from University of Rochester." "Oh? Describe yourself to me." "Uh, well, I'm a part-time cocktail waitress with an interest in adult modeling . . . "

Doubtful. Let me just assure you that there is a reason you don't see a lot of cheese- or beefcake calendars that say anything like "Bikini Oncologists." Unless you're talking about me, of course, because I'm hotter than fucking acetylene. Want to trade pixxx? Hottest on the net.

Friday, 14 March
The Goo Is In The Mail

One of the projects I've been working on at the ol' clinical trials statistical lab is a little thing called "Specimen Tracking."

No, I am not stalking piss-bearing nurses around making sure that they're delivering the little warm bottles to the right places, though that sounds fun. For many of our cancer research trials, we require certain specimens (blood, bone marrow, eyeballs) to be sent from the patient's hospital to various labs, where they will do mysterious things, like pathological verification of the disease, or some genetic assay mumbo-jumbo, or whatever. For all I know, they play hacky-sack with the fucking things and then make up outrageous lies. "I need the path review results for patient number 1150062!" "Uh . . . right, I'll look that up. Here it is. Yeah, this patient was confirmed with scalar cell fuctating baloonganoma.(Sounds of muffled laughter, bong hit.)"

Anyway, the specimen tracking project is a web-based system of logging where all the little damn hunks of people are going and when; sort of like the USPS tracking system, only hopefully better, as recently the USPS tracking system informed me that a package of mine from Amazon had "left Fernley NV" and had "entered US." What a relief. I hope there's a commenting system for humorous outlet. Like the time a nurse shipped me several glass slides by slipping them into a normal business envelope and then tossing it into the mailbox. It would be helpful to note little gaffes like that: "Specimen inadequate due to vast, jaw-dropping institutional incompetence. Recommend napalm strike."

Institutions are required to send lots of stuff various places, so it's actually understandable that occasionally there's a mixup. Not that the mixups aren't frequently horrible and scarring. For a long time, I was in charge of receiving RT materials: that is, x-ray and CT scan films, which were actually pretty interesting. Cross-sections of the human body can look awfully cool, provided they aren't, you know, yours. What wasn't cool the day an institution sent along a bunch of films and also enclosed the poloroids that they often take of the patients to show where the fields of radiation therapy are on the body. This was a rectal cancer study. I held in my hands many photos of afflicted, radiation-treated, angry asses, and I thought, "If this is all a part of someone's grand universal plan, I'd like to have a word with them."

Tuesday, 25 February
Local Man Endures Pointless Existence

SEATTLE (AP)-- In a stunning reversal of fortune today, local cubicle ape Skot Kurruk emerged victorious in an ongoing battle over his server-based Citrix platform. At approximately 10:48 AM, the awful, Chiclet-shaped Citrix terminal was removed from his desktop, melted into slag, and then cast into Gehenna. The Citrix terminal was unavailable for quotation due to eternal damnation.

Earlier in the day, Kurruk had been working on his Citrix terminal, and was told by one supervisor to switch to his PC. This command was immediately countermanded by another supervisor, causing Skot to slash at his own face with a lemon zester. A third supervisor was reportedly "probably off murdering old people or something," according to Kurruk. It was an impasse.

Details become hazy here, with Kurruk reportedly seeking refuge under his desk with a whiskey bottle while a battle raged between his supervisors. While Kurruk drank the smoky nectar, the skies cracked as the Elder Check-Signers fought a pitched battle; finally, when things had quieted, Skot looked out to discover the corpse of one supervisor lying on the thin carpet, with the other waving a PC dongle to the heavens. Skot dropped to one knee and pledged fealty to the victor, who cried out, "I AM UNFUCKABLE-WITH!" Network printers fell into a respectful silence, and the water cooler gurgled not.

Kurruk then returned to his work station, accompanied by a twitchy functionary-imp dispatched by compserv. "How can I serve thee?" the worthless beast reportedly hissed, and Kurruk thundered, "Get this fucking thing off my desk." The tiny being scampered to do Skot's bidding, pausing only to bow several times in a piteous display of humility.

After the entire affair was concluded, Kurruk remained reflective about the experience. "The Darkness has been expunged. I am cleansed with divine light," explained Kurruk. He then crashed his browser by attempting to use it on the "Internet." "Home, I'm home," he whispered as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Tuesday, 04 February
Trying Not to Feel Awful About Trying to Feel Better

An ergonomist is coming to our office today. I can't tell you how non-excited I am about this. Well, I guess I can try. So: I am fully unstoked and highly nonmotivated to have this yutz jabber about "micro-exercising" and "living our breaks."

This bologna-head has visited us before. In fact, I was the poor bastard who got to be the object of his demo; I sat at a workstation and typed while he grinned through an unfortunate moustache and made pithy comments re: my life-draining work habits. "Watch your wrists! You're causing micro-pressure on your capillaries!" Jesus, so fucking what? I drink and smoke. Oh heavens, my capillaries! "See his posture? Let's adjust your lumbar bulge." I panicked for a moment, thinking I was living some hallucinatory pornographic film script, but then he pulled a lever on my chair and wedged something terrible into my lower back. Maybe I was in a porn film. "HANH!" I yelled. "Isn't that better? Now you're sitting up." Of course I'm sitting up, you dick; it feels like there's a medicine ball pressing on my ass. You'd sit up too.

The thing is, there is no such thing as an ergonomist. It's just a bullshit term for people who are manically and unnaturally interested in things like chairs. Basically, they are people who just want to tell you what to do, even if they (and we) know that once they leave, we will immediately forget everything they just told us. Because people like this never tell us anything that makes a fucking lick of sense. "You have to remember to take breaks from your workstation to avoid strain." Let me get this straight: you get paid to instruct office workers to take breaks? I want a job like this. Maybe in the porn industry. I'll wander around to film sets. "You have to remember to perform fellatio on me." Or they ask inane questions: "Do you use a wrist pad with your keyboard?" "Yes." "What's it made of?" Oh, the usual: badgers. Yes, live badgers. Connie over there prefers a bar of white-hot metal, herself, but I favor the gentle touch that you can only get from live badgers.

Feh. The ergonomist will be here soon, and I'll probably be the show ape for the damn circus again. "You're striking the keys way too hard, pal!" he'll croon, and I'll be forced to breezily reply, "Oh, I'm just sublimating my desire to fuck my mother and kill my father!" And then I'll tear my eyes out. "Eyestrain is a very common problem in the workplace," he'll observe. And the rest of the office staff will numbly nod their heads in agreement, not listening, just waiting for their next break.

Monday, 27 January
A Hearty "Fuck the World!" Can Be Heard From Within the Skinner Box

I understand the lame irony of being a smoker while working for a cancer research facility. How could I not? But the building management has just gone off its onion about this. I just can't fucking stand it. Bear with me.

We used to be able to smoke downstairs--outside--kind of around the corner, where we were nicely out of sight, so nobody might get the terrible idea that some deranged people actually smoke in the outside world. This evidently wasn't good enough, so the management, at God knows what dumb expense, built us a brand-new smoking gulag downstairs in the parking basement. I think their next step will be to put us all in a pit, and then while we're nonchalantly puffing away, they will suddenly bury us with a bulldozer while children point and laugh.

But it gets better. Since my building was evidently designed by dribbling cretins, this now means I have to take three elevators to get down to smoke central. Now, you're probably thinking, "Skot, you are a lying sack. Also, you smoke, so fuck you, you lying sack. You lying sack!" I understand. But hear me out. I work on the 20th floor. There are three banks of elevators in the lobby: one goes from the lobby down to the parking garage, one services floors 2-11, and the other services floors 12-19. See the tiny math problem? So, yes, I take the elevator up to 19, where I then take another elevator that is dedicated to traveling between floor 19 and floor 20. WHAT? Who designed this system, Rube Goldberg? I half-expect that there is an elaborate mouse/cannonball/ramp/pulley system underlying the whole fucking thing.

So now you see. When I get a break, I zip over to floor 20's rickety-ass dedicated elevator and squeal with delight as I bonk down to 19. Then I listen to my cells die while I wait for the elevator to get up to 19 and ride it down to the lobby. Then I dejectedly plod over to the other set of depressavators for it to take me down to the parking garage, and I cross over the blind corner where I will almost certainly be mowed down one day by a blank-eyed commuter, and enter the roomlet with one chain-link fence wall that overlooks a grimy, howling freeway all so I can just smoke a fucking cigarette. The whole thing is like living in a Robbe-Grillet novel.

Say, Skot, now that you mention it, being way up there on the 20th floor, don't they have a balcony? Why, yes. Yes they do. There is a beautiful balcony. There is fresh air. There is a commanding view. And there are many "NO SMOKING" signs.

Friday, 17 January
My Incompetence is Vast and Encompassing

Part of my job is doing software and applications testing. You may have noticed how I sling complicated computer jargon around with terrifying efficiency. Now of course I don't know a damn thing about computers, or programming, or "environments," or "anything," which is, sadly, kind of the point. Since I work with people who, against all reason, actually know even less than I do about these things, I get to be the liaison between the compserv staff and the other pasteheads in my department. That's a grand thing to realize: my office is full of fumbling morons, and I am their leader. I'm the Alpha Moron.

Anyway, since compserv is staffed by cruel, vicious Torquemadas, they immediately implemented a sweeping plan to break my spirit, which I must say was incredibly effective. The first thing they did was take away my PC.

WHAT? I need that! "No you don't," they cooed. "You can use this." "This" is a fucking plastic do-funny that looks like a big Chiclet. It has one malevolent green eye next to a single power button. It says "Wyse Winterm." I dolefully surveyed this . . . toy . . . while the compserv staff dumped my old PC into the garbage, which they then set ablaze. They stood around, warming themselves, while cracking open bottles of malt liquor.

"We got tired of dealing with you retards," said one of them laconically. "So we're not going to any more. That little guy connects you to a single server that runs all of your applications on something called Citrix."

"Wha . . . I have no idea what you're talking about. How does it work?"

"Basically, it means that we can just dump all the shit that used to live in your PC onto the server, and that's that. Any changes or fixes are now done centrally on the server. And you access them all there as well."

"Oh. Does that work all right?"

"Oh, no, it's terrible. Christ, it's a fucking debacle. For you, anyway."

"What?"

"Some of these apps were built in-house, some were contracted out years ago, and frankly, there's some we don't even know how they run or what they do. Anyway, they all work terribly on Citrix from a user standpoint. Oh, and by the way, your monitor resolution is going to suffer a bit."

"How much is 'a bit'?"

"A lot."

"Oh. Uh . . . why are you doing this to me?"

"We hate you and don't want to see your ratlike faces any more. That's actually how Citrix markets their product: TORTURE PARASITIC END USERS WITH CITRIX! So now we can sit around and drink beer and still get paid! Haw! Isn't that a crotch-twister? Anyway, get cracking. You're going to have to explain to your co-workers how miserable their lives are going to become!"

"I, uh, see. Okay. Listen . . . is there like . . . instructions . . . or a tutorial or anything? Don't leave me totally ass-out here. Please?"

"Ooooh, of course. We wouldn't leave you dry like that." There were broad smiles all around. My old PC emitted noxious fumes as it burned. One of them leaned in close and leered. "There's a tutorial. Just access it through the server."

Wednesday, 08 January
I Laugh at the Suffering of Others

Working as I do for a cancer research facility, I see a lot of medical charts. Now of course due to confidentiality laws, I cannot actually reveal any information that would identify anyone, or anything about the research itself. But I can say that reviewing those charts (1) quickly instills within one an abiding taste for gallows humor and (2) ordinary people can be and frequently are total heroes and (3) ordinary people can be and frequently are total wackjobs.

There are the chart notes. "Physical exam unremarkable. Patient has no testicles." I would guess that the fellow in question would not use the term "unremarkable" to describe the state of things. "Pussy wound." I stared at this for a long time before I realized that "pussy" is perhaps not the best term for "producing pus." And then there's the simple mistakes. "Patient suffers from dyspnea. Grade 5." The first thing you should know is that in the system used to grade toxicities, a grade 5 means it was fatal. The second thing you should know is that dyspnea means "shortness of breath." I guess your breath doesn't get much shorter than that.

There is also the treatments themselves, some of which seemed to have been invented purely to test a human's capacity for mind-shattering horror. One patient I remember evidently wasn't consented thoroughly enough, or was too flipped out to pay attention to the definition of "intrathecal delivery." So she was a bit put off when she came to realize on the first day of treatment that it means "a large needle is put into your spinal column." She politely refused treatment by screaming the medical staff to death. Many patients feel their gumption wane ever so slightly as well when presented with the joyous prospect of a bone marrow biopsy. "Do you mind terribly if we insert this large-bore needle into your (pause for sinister emphasis) pelvic bone? You know, the thick excruciating part. We sometimes have to get a Samoan to jump on it to force it in properly."

And naturally there's just the inexplicable. One woman sailed through her diagnosis, agreed to a clinical trial, signed the consent form, and then promptly moved. To Iceland. This was thoroughly successful in terms of putting off treatment. Another dry chart note told the story of a person thusly: "Patient is nonsmoker, nondrinker. Unremarkable exam. Patient occasionally participates in blood sharing rituals." "Unremarkable" is a favorite term in medical charts. I just guess I don't know what it actually means.










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