Post-Game Wrap-Up

First of all, the game was pretty exciting. I didn’t mind watching at all, though I couldn’t care less who won. No one at the party was a super-fan so we didn’t have any problems with guys in face-paint going berserk when some dude dropped the ball.

Twenty-two guests showed up. Scott, Gunther, Gordo, Polly, and some other obvious candidates, plus the dry cleaner Ramon and believe it or not, letter carrier Hung. The Whole Foods contingent came en masse, and the fun thing was, a lot of people brought a friend or two, so there were new people to meet.

One of the best things about the party was that it was such a weird mix of people that practically no one (besides me) knew more than a small percentage. So everyone was meeting a lot of new people. But hands down, my favorite new person is Astrid the check-out girl’s boyfriend Cesar. He works in marketing, but mostly for appliance manufacturers. His job is to “humanize” appliances by making boring features seem more intelligent. Example: He pointed to my toaster oven. It had a setting called, “Bagel.” He asked me, “What do you think that does?”

I had never really thought about it, but I did use it every time I want to toast a bagel. I said, “I don’t know, some kind of sensor makes the toaster heat penetrate a thicker dough of a bagel?”

He said, “That’s what I do. I make you think the toaster is smart. ‘Bagel’ setting increases the toast time by 10%. That’s it.”*

Turns out, there are only two things that are adjustable on the toast setting. Power and time. You can make the power go from 10% to 100% and you can adjust the time it toasts. That’s it. Putting a button on the front that says “Belgian Waffles” doesn’t change the fact that there’s only those two variables.

I love this guy.**

Anyway, the party was a big hit. Everyone had fun. It was good seeing Scott again. And Gunther even got along with his ex Monica. (I should have mentioned that things didn’t work out with 19-year-old aspiring TV personality Marta. It didn’t long. I think they broke up in December.) I’m not sure, but I think Gunther and Monica may have left together. So maybe if that’s back on, I can add matchmaker to my resume.

* Bagel setting also makes only the top element heat because it assumes you sliced your bagel and placed both sides face up, unlike the normal toast setting which toasts on both the upper and lower element simultaneously. But I already knew that part.

** I will post another entry about the rest of our conversation. I just love it when I learn something that never occurred to me but is so obvious when someone tells you.

Gathering the Troops

This week has been fun trying to invite people to my Superbowl party. The first and only rule is: no emails as it kind of defeats the whole purpose.

I don’t have a Rolodex of everyone I’ve met in the last 18 months but that’s okay. It’s an excuse to track people down and talk to them.

So first, I called the people I know well enough to have phone numbers for. Gunther obviously. And his stupid friend Gordo. I also called Monica but she wasn’t home and I left a message. I called Scott and we caught up for a bit. He’s been auditioning a lot and has a new girlfriend. I invited people from work like Janet, but not Neil and Kyle because they’re just co-workers not strangers I talk to.

I ran into Polly and she’s coming. And my new friend Luke from the pet store.

Tracking down the rest has been a challenge. I left a note for Maria the cleaning lady but I’d be surprised if she showed up. I also left a note for letter carrier Hung and Pedro the newspaper guy.

But I visited Ramon the dry cleaner in person. He was actually very helpful in explaining who was playing and the backstory for the game. I also invited the Cheese Guy and Check-out Girl in person because I was Whole Foods anyway and it was easy. The check-out girl (with the nose ring) is named Astrid and I made sure to invite her in front of Michelle so she didn’t think I was asking her out. She asked if she could bring a friend and I said the more the merrier.

All in all, I invited a couple dozen people and I have no idea how many will actually show up. But I’m buying a lot of beer and a couple party subs from Bay Cities so hopefully it will be a decent turnout.

Parking Ticket Guy

We went to see Man on a Ledge yesterday. Wow, what a bad movie. P.S. that girl from 40 Year Old Virgin, no one believes you are a cop. Whose ridiculous casting idea was that? Was Amy Poehler busy that day?

Anyway, in the garage at the Century City mall, it’s fully automated now. They used to have ticket booths to get out a few years ago but now you have to pay inside and put the validated ticket into a machine at the exit. Yet, for some reason, there is still a guy who helps you put your ticket into the automatic machine. Again, there’s no booth–he just stands there on the concrete barrier between the exit and entrance lanes. He literally takes your ticket and completes the six inch journey from your car window to the machine.

So I said, “I don’t mean to diminish you or say something negative about your job, and it’s great that the mall can gives a few more jobs in this economy, but why did they automate the exit if they were still going to have someone take your ticket?”

He didn’t seem surprised by this line of questioning. He said, “Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense but as long as they keep paying me.”

I said, “I hear you. It’s like they wanted to go full automatic but they didn’t quite trust people to be able to handle it.”

“You’d be surprised. You know how many times a day someone can’t get out because they need help working the machine?”

At this point another can pulled up behind me. Michelle tapped me on the shoulder to let me know.

I said, “Well, nice talking to you.”

I was about to pull out and then I just blurted out: “Want to come to our Superbowl party?”

He said, “Yeah, sure.”

The car behind me honked. I said, “I’m just going to pull over. I’ll be right back to give you my info.”

I went through the exit gate and pulled over. Michelle looked at me and asked, “What Superbowl party?”

I said, “I don’t know. The idea just came to me. Hang on.”

I went back and we exchanged info. So turns out I decided to throw a Superbowl party next Sunday. Yes, I know, I don’t like sports. I don’t even know who’s in the game. But I thought it would be cool to invite all the people I’ve met in the last year to a party and this seemed like a good excuse. Michelle, God love her, said it was a brilliant idea.

Dog Park Bitch

I met up with Luke, the guy from the dog food store, and we had our doggie play date. Luke was a totally normal guy.

He’s a writer, working on getting an agent. He wants to write TV shows like The Wire.

Anyway, we were hanging out while the dogs chased balls, etc., when a middle-aged woman comes into the park with her Rottweiler. She lets him off leash as people do but when Tad goes over to say hello (i.e., sniff his butt) the Rottweiler nearly chews Tad’s head off. The owner just looks at me and says, “My dog’s not good around other males.”

Now being a people person isn’t just about talking to strangers and complimenting guys’ ties in elevators. It’s also about talking to assholes when you’d really rather not. So the idiot woman brings her aggressive dog to a dog park and says he’s not good around males?

I said, “Well, you shouldn’t bring him to a park then.”

She takes a tone with me and says, “The other dogs know when to stay away from him.”

Oh, okay. So now my dog is dumb. He’s supposed to know you chained up your dog at the junkyard.

I said, “You need to put your dog on a leash or stay out of the park. It’s simply not acceptable to let an aggressive dog roam free around other dogs.”

At this point Luke jumped into the fray. He added, “I work at Centinela Pet Supply and we offer free training classes–”

The woman cut him off. “My dog doesn’t need any training, thank you.” And she starts to walk away.

At that very moment, her dog starts to mount Tad. (This is just a show of dominance to all you non-dog people. He’s not actually trying to rape my dog.) Still, I jumped in there trying to get her dog off of mine. Luke helped out but was mostly trying to avoid having the Rottweiler attack me. Together we got the dog off just as the asshole woman rushes over. And she says, “Don’t touch my dog!”

At this point, I admit, I lost my composure. I said, “You know what? Go fuck yourself.”

And with that, she and her dog left the park.

Top Ten Things People Say When It Rains in L.A.

10. Nobody knows how to drive in the rain!

9. We needed it.

8. L.A. is technically a desert.

7. Sorry I’m late, the freeway was jammed with stupid people who don’t know how to drive in the rain.

6. Driving in the rain here is like driving in the snow anywhere else.

5. Turns out my roof is leaking.

4. Yes, you have to turn on your headlights whenever you turn on your wipers. It’s the law.

3. Well, this is the rainy season.

2. Hydroplaning.

1. Nobody knows how to drive in the rain!

 

Car Salesman

My car’s air conditioning went out and it’s ten years old anyway, so I thought maybe it was time to get a new car. While the idea sounds exciting, the notion of haggling with a car salesman is a little intimidating.

Still, I bit the bullet and headed over to the Toyota dealer in West L.A.

I wasn’t even fully out of the car yet when a salesman made a bee-line for me. He had a big smile and said, “Welcome. My name is Gabriel and I’m here to take care of you.” You might think such a come-on would be repulsive but the thing is, Gabriel was so sincere about it, so authentic, that it actually put me at ease. This guy was an absolute professional at talking to strangers.

I told him I was just looking, doing R&D for models. That was super fine with him. “Let me show you around. I can give you the lay of the land, then you go home and think about it. No pressure here. I just want to help you make this difficult decision. And sometimes that might mean recommending you to another dealership.”

I was highly doubtful about that. But still, he asked a bunch of questions, narrowed down the field, and let me test drive a new Prius. (Don’t come down on me if I get a Prius. I know. I hate people who drive Priuses. I don’t want to be a person who drives a Prius. But still, it does get great gas mileage and it’s a lot cheaper than a BMW.)

So on the test drive, I said, “Gabriel, let me ask you something, not about the car, just a general question.”

“Shoot.”

“How did you get so good at being a salesman? How do you make people like you so quickly so they let their guard down?”

He looked at me for a moment, like he was trying to decide if he should reveal a trade secret. Then he just said, “Everybody is different. That’s what’s fun about life. I like to learn what each customer’s situation is because it’s never the same story twice.”

I thought about it and realized that it might be the most profound thing someone has said to me in a while.

Meet the New Boss

Bruce is gone. Fired, I think. And on the 3rd, a new Managing Director from the New York office took over my department. Meet Justin Chang.

Justin is what we call in the banking industry, a “dick.” I usually don’t buy into the whole east coast-west coast philosophy distinction but after two weeks of Justin at the helm I’m starting to.

First of all, Justin has no respect for people’s personal time. I got a call yesterday morning at 7:00 a.m. asking me to come into the office because the team was going to “run the numbers” one more time before our presentation on Tuesday. Without getting into too much boring detail, I already “ran” the numbers or else I wouldn’t have given him my report.

Secondly, Justin is just not a friendly guy. He thinks he’s being “all business,” but he’s really just rude. I liked Bruce. He was a normal person with a wife and kids that we all knew. Justin may have a family as well but he would never talk about them at work because it would be “inappropriate.” I have a fear that our relaxed dress code is going to get unrelaxed any day now.

Anyway, I guess this isn’t about talking to strangers, though I was a stranger to Justin last week and he didn’t do a very good job talking to me. I’m just starting to feel unfulfilled at work, especially after working on this blog for so long. I’m sure a million people feel the same way and I don’t want to be a cliché but there you have it. I’m one of those assholes making a lot of money complaining about his job being unfulfilling in the middle of a recession.

The King of the World

Actual conversation that went down this morning when I answered an “out of area” phone call at home:

Guy with heavy Middle Eastern accent: “Hello, I am calling from your bank’s security department.

We have detected some fraud on your account, but we have resolved the matter and just need your account information to get those funds back to you.”

Me (guy who works in banking): “Oh, really? That’s so wonderful. What bank is this?”

“Bank of America?”

Lucky guess. I have an account there. Me: “Super. I’m so glad you caught the fraud.”

“Yes, that’s what we’re here for. So this will just take a few moments if I could get your information–”

“You’re calling from Bank of America?”

“No, this is the security division–”

“Of Bank of America?”

“No, this is a security firm.”

“What’s the name of the firm?”

“Consumer Protection Department.”

“The name of the company is ‘Consumer Protection Department’? Why is ‘Department’ part of the name of the company?”

“This will just take a moment, sir.”

“Okay, great. Let me get my account information. While I do that, can I get your call-back number in case I lose you?”

“My call back number?”

“Yes, in case I lose you.”

“Sir, this will only take a moment–”

“I understand that but I can’t just give out my banking information to any stranger on the phone. Can I get your name?”

“My name?”

“Yes, can I get your name?”

“Uh… Jack.”

“Jack what? Can I get your last name?”

“Uh… Dawson.”

“Jack Dawson? Wow, you sure don’t sound like a Jack Dawson, which coincidentally was also the name of Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in Titanic.”

“Damn, you’re smart.”

“Yes, I am. P.S. go fuck yourself.”

And I hung up.

On Inertia

We had a low-key engagement party this weekend. Just friends, no family, thank God.

I knew some of Michelle’s friends but I was meeting a lot of them for the first time and I have to tell you I don’t think I fared that well.

At first, I was pretty good making cocktail conversation with the new people. I’d tell them the (abridged) story of how we met, how we got engaged, etc. Then it would be the usual routine of asking questions, like “How do you know Michelle?” or “Where do you work?” This went on for the first couple hours with no problem.

But at some point at around 11:00 I found myself in the kitchen doing the dishes. I literally stopped myself in the middle of a wine glass and thought How did I get in here? Everyone else was still laughing, talking, drinking, and having a good time. But I retreated to the kitchen under the guise of “needing to clean up” a bit.

Michelle found me and asked what I was doing. I made some excuse about how I wanted to get a head start on cleaning up but she pulled me back into the living room. I was thinking, Oh, God. Back to work. 

The truth is I was tired of talking to strangers. I think I’m a million times better at it, but that night after everyone left, I started to wonder if deep down there’s any way to change a fundamentally anti-social nature. Do I really just not like people that much? I can force myself to be a part of the world, but like with gravity or friction, without a applying a constant force, do I naturally just come to a rest?

Employee of the Month

As you may know from earlier posts, I sometimes go to El Pollo Loco for lunch. It’s surprisingly good and if you don’t eat the tortillas, it’s pretty healthy (I get the 3 piece combo with pinto beans and fresh vegetables).

Anyway, I don’t go every day. At most I go twice a month. But I always get the same thing. (I usually settle on a go-to order at most places and just stick with it forever.) Well, this one woman taking orders, Laura, not only recognized me, but she recited my order perfectly.

“Three-piece combo, dark meat, pinto beans, and veggies, no tortillas.”

I was stunned. I was like, “How did you remember that?”

She said I always ordered the same thing.

I was like, “Yeah, but how many other people also come in here every day?”

She just laughed like it was no big deal to remember customers’ orders but I was seriously impressed.

So much so that while I was waiting for the food I asked to speak to the manager. It was a short Hispanic lady and I told her that I was very happy with Laura’s service. I told her how welcome she made me felt and that employees like her build customer loyalty. The manager thanked me for my comments. I definitely got the sense that paying her employee a compliment was a rare occurrence. My food came out and I sat down to eat. Laura wasn’t privy to my conversation with her manager, but after lunch, I made sure to say “Have a nice day” to her on the way out.

On the way back to the office I was feeling good, wondering if this would help her get a promotion or something. But then I started to doubt my feelings, like I was patting myself on the back a little too hard. Something one of the commenters said last month about how the whole blog is a series of self-congratulatory stories where I portray myself as an amazing person because I deemed to talk to some lowly cleaning lady, or something like that. I honestly felt good about saying something nice to the manager because I thought Laura deserved some recognition. But then I felt guilty about how good I felt, like I was being patronizing. I’m not sure how else to explain it. I know I was over-thinking it. But  this moment of existential doubt did in fact sour my mood.