A Sign from Above. 5 Feet Above.

It’s been an eventful December.

We’re packing to move house these days. We’re just going about 10 miles away from where we are now, and we’ll be paying less money for a little larger space. Win/win.

We’ve known that we would be moving with the expiration of our current lease, but it’s as if our apartment is telling us over and over again to get out. First it was the new neighbors across the hall, who moved in a few months ago and haven’t learned that you don’t need to slam the door every time. They also like to prop their front door open and have loud conversations. Then last month the apartment next door, which we thought was vacant but was actually being paid for but left unoccupied, finally got an occupant. He likes loud music, thumping on the walls, and jogging. Which involves grunting stretches outside his door. Lots of grunting stretches.

Then there’s been the December FireAlarmPalooza. Last week, just as we were going to take a load of stuff off to the thrift store, the fire alarm went off. We dilly-dallied in gathering ourselves together, because it’s never an actual fire. Except this time … it was an actual fire. Two apartments below, the occupants had some sort of kitchen grease fire, with billowing grey smoke pouring out their door. Fortunately, the sprinklers didn’t get triggered in our apartment. And it was kind of entertaining watching this really doddering old lady who also lives on the 1st floor asking everyone what was going on.

Then last night, the fire alarm went off again. No smoke from anywhere, just the shrilling (which got us out of bed). The same doddering old lady came out of her apartment on the phone to 911, shouting that the alarm was going off in her apartment, and she hadn’t done anything! Why was this happening? She didn’t touch anything!

The dozen-plus of us from this building stood around in the parking lot, waiting. Our roaming security guy came over, and the old lady dragged him down the hall into her apartment. Because the alarm was going off in there, and she didn’t touch anything! She came back out to the parking lot while the guy looked around to see if any of the alarm boxes had been pulled. She then looked out at all of us and said, “The alarm is going off in MY apartment! I didn’t do anything!”

I couldn’t take it any more. “It’s going off in ALL of our apartments.”

“Really?” She asked.

“Yes. That’s why we’re ALL STANDING OUT HERE, ma’am.”

“Oh!” She gasped.

I think I blew her mind with that one. And I honestly don’t think she realized that the entire building’s alarms were going off. I wonder why she thought we were all standing out there.

In other news, for those who want an update about Commie, his eye looks a little worse every day. The mass keeps growing, and you can’t see his eye in there anymore. But he still seems happy, purring and cuddling and eating and pooping and having little smackfights with Trouble, so that’s good. He sleeps a little more than usual, but that’s the only real sign (other than the eye) that anything’s wrong.

He’s also helping immensely with packing, by placing himself in, on, and around boxes as much as possible. He’s a huge fan of the lids to these office document boxes, the corner of one which you can barely see under his loafy form. He’s a good, good boy, and we tell him so many times a day.

Wellness Biometric Screening

A lot of workplaces lately are offering discounts or bonuses on health insurance based on biometric screenings. I went and had mine today, even though I think the whole thing is … well, if not a complete pile of bull, then a bunch of somewhat-wrongs wrapped up in a bow.

The screening consisted of several parts. Here’s why they all suck:

1. BMI: First, they measured my height and weight, and used a chart to show my BMI, or body mass index. Now, for someone of my average height (5-foot-4) and build, the BMI scale is relatively accurate-ish. However, if you venture much below 5’2″ or above 5’8″ or so, the numbers start getting crappy — the taller you get, the more scrawny you have to be to fit within the numbers (and conversely, the really short can be much heavier and still be considered “fit”). That’s because BMI was developed almost 200 years ago by a Belgian mathematician as a quick and rough way to assess trends in large groups, NOT as a tool to measure individuals. It came into favor in the ’70s thanks to Ancel Keys, the same guy who convinced the government to get behind a high-carb diet for health.

A better measure would be body fat percentage, but they certainly don’t have the time, money, or manpower to dunk us all in the tank. I’d also like to see waist measurements and waist-to-hip ratios instead of BMI. Funny thing, the pamphlet they sent us away with mentions both of those waist-related things, but we didn’t get measured for them.

2. Glucose: Yes, it’s good to know your blood glucose numbers. They can certainly be an indicator of diabetes, hyperglycemia, or other issues. However, these screenings don’t require you to have fasted for over 10 hours. They also don’t take into account when you last ate, or what you last ate. So we’re comparing the glucose of people who just ate a sandwich and chips an hour ago to people who haven’t eaten since the night before.

If we can’t count on everyone to fast beforehand, maybe we should be looking at the HbA1c, which is more of a snapshot of how blood glucose has been over the previous 3 months. Or even better, a full glucose tolerance test — fasting beforehand, drinking a measured amount of glucose, then charting of the resulting blood sugars over several hours.

Overall, the glucose doesn’t suck as much as the other biometrics, since at least it’s not based on inaccurate formulas. Still, it doesn’t tell you much of anything.

3. Cholesterol: Several problems here. Just like with glucose, fasting matters in a cholesterol screening. If you had something sugary an hour ago, especially something with fructose, your triglycerides will show as way too high. That’s not a fair way to be judged. Also, this test was done with a quickie fingerstick instead of a venous draw. The machine measures total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides, then calculates the LDL using something called the Friedewald formula. In a perfect world, LDL would be measured directly, and would also be divided into large LDL particles (actually good for you) and small LDL particles (the actual bad stuff).

(Yes, I fasted for these numbers. I knew they’d be more accurate that way.)

As you can see, the Friedewald formula failed me, because my triglycerides are too good. They’re lower then 45 mg/dL, which is below the threshold of the machine, so the formula (which is TC – [HDL + Tri/5]) can’t be applied.

There are a couple of boxes checked on the left side of this picture. That means I’m supposed to follow up with my doctor, because of my low triglycerides (that’s right, the stuff they want you to get as low as possible) and my nonexistent LDL (which is actually represented in a fair-ish manner by the “non-HDL” reading).

I had a cholesterol test less than a month ago, when I was in the hospital. My triglycerides were 43, and my LDL was directly measured (not calculated) at 74. Which an actual cardiologist raved about. So I won’t be rushing out anytime soon to get followed up on these bad numbers.

4. Personal Health Assessment: Last up is a big ol’ quiz we have to take through WebMD. There are a ton of questions about stress, habits, exercise, nutrition, and miscellaneous other factors. Then you get a score on the 100 scale.

I was completely honest about food. And this was frustrating. They group fruits and vegetables together as one item — for this survey, a glass of fruit juice is equivalent in health to a serving of broccoli. Which is absoulte bull. Also, saturated fats and trans fats are considered the same thing here. I eat a LOT of natural saturated animal fat, and NO trans fats. Still, I was totally honest with my answers.

I was shocked to score as high as 84, especially since I got a 72 last time I took this thing. I think I improved on stress, and my cholesterol numbers were slightly better. Just for giggles, I plugged in fake numbers for my foods — 6 servings of fruit/veg, 6 servings of grain, and zero servings of high-fat foods. What a surprise, my number jumped up to 93.

So yeah, my biometrics are all good. But I feel bad for everyone who’s going to fail these tests (and either not get a bonus [or worse, have their premiums raised]) because they’re using outdated formulas, inaccurate calculations, and ideas about health that are the fads that just won’t die.

A Disappointing "Farmers' Market"

I love spagetty squash. Likewise spaghetti squash.

I’ve given our local farmers’ market three tries now. And it’s three strikes.

When I think of a “farmers’ market”, I think of fresh, local foods. Produce, meats, dairy. And I know there are tons of these things around; the grocery stores frequently carry local fruits, and there are cattle grazing on pasture not five minutes from my apartment in pretty much any direction.

Maybe my expectations were too high. I expected, since the sign said “Farmers’ Market”, that there would be more than one actual farmer represented. Unfortunately, there wasn’t even one. This wasn’t even a farmer’s market.

Instead, at least half of the booths were taken up by crafters and artists. There were five booths selling jewelry, although a couple of them appeared to be selling pre-made, mass-produced stuff. One booth had quilts. One booth had windchimes and other decorative clutter. One guy was selling genuine New England maple syrup, which I guess might have been farmed by a farmer at some point, but this guy wasn’t the farmer.

Then there was the produce tent. They had all kinds of fruits and vegetables, but nothing was labeled as local. In fact, almost everything was stickered and bagged as it would be in the grocery stores. Sealed plastic bags of baby carrots, apples with Washington stickers, even the celery in the Green Giant bags (Seattle, you’d be weirded out, as we still are — the celery is branded and always, always sold in plastic bags here).

And instead of looking fresh and vibrant, a goodly amount of the produce looked like it was gathered by dumpster diving behind the supermarkets. Black strawberries, moldy kiwi. And almost everything slightly higher-priced than the exact same stuff at the grocery store down the block.

I envy those of you who can go to your local farmers’ market and get grass-fed beef. Or raw milk and cheese. Or even fruits and vegetables with a little fresh dirt on them, instead of stickers. Maybe there’s another market around here where I can find all of those things, but it’s certainly not the one near me.

Thoughts on Improv as a Workplace

I’m going through old posts on an old blog, and posting some of them over here. This post is originally from 2005, but I feel exactly the same now as I did then.

People join improv groups for a variety of reasons, from honing their improv skills to just plain having fun. Depending on their experience level, these people have vastly different expectations of how an improv group runs. But one thing seems to be clear — the less an improv group is run in a businesslike fashion, the less successful it will be.

Directors: Every workplace needs a boss. The boss of the show, the director, is one of the most important parts of any show or group. The director knows how the show should look and sound, and can guide the players so that their performances match up with the goals of the show. A group without a clear director is also one without clear direction. A prime example is a group that forms from a group of friends who took an improv class together (which happens more frequently than you’d think). All they know is that they enjoy improv, and they enjoy improvising together. But without someone specific set as director, eventually people set their sights on different goals. A group I used to be in finally reached a stalemate when there were three different ideas about which way the group should grow, and roughly even numbers of people in each camp. Without a director to choose the way, the group fell apart.

A director, like any boss, has a huge level of responsibility and at times is spinning many figurative plates. They try to strike a balance between keeping everyone happy and keeping the show as good as they possibly can. Sometimes those two things fall out of balance — many times a boss has to make an unpopular decision because it’s what is best for the company. But it can be so much harder if the employees of that company don’t consider themselves as such.

Notes: The main way a director can guide his players is through notes, whether those notes come during/after rehearsals or after performances. It’s like getting tiny workplace performance reviews throughout the year, instead of one big yearly review (though a full yearly review can happen as well). But notes can be a huge source of contention for the performers who don’t view their show or group as a proper workplace, but merely an outlet for them to have fun.

There was once a player who didn’t do very much in the way of teamwork or scene building, instead preferring to interrupt scenes with puns and jokes in order to make himself look funny to the audience. When he would be given notes on the subject, he would blatantly ignore them, wave them off, or even argue them with the director. Fortunately, he’s moved on to other things, but his attitude is one seen more frequently than a director would like. The performer doesn’t see these notes as an effort to improve the quality of the show; instead, they see it as a “jealous” director trying to stop them from getting so many laughs. The thought that they’re making the job harder for everyone else doesn’t cross their mind — they’re only concerned with having fun. But how is that acceptable in a workplace? Picture this guy in an office, spending his time making paper airplanes instead of working on a group project. Yes, he’s having a great time, but he’s hurting everyone else working on that group project, and without his fair contribution, the quality of the project just isn’t as good.

Notes can be very a very touchy subject, because a note can be very close to a personal affront. It’s criticism of the choices we make and the things we say on the spur of the moment. But good notes can help us build a foundation of knowledge so that we make better choices in the future. This is also why notes should be given by one or two experienced observers or directors — group notes sessions are almost always a bad idea. Most players don’t like being given notes by other players, especially if there is an experience gap. A young, new player’s note may be perfectly valid, but it still won’t be taken well by a seasoned player with many more years of experience. This is again where a good director comes in — so you can discuss any notes you may want to give with them, and find out where they stand. If that note is about another player, talking to the director about it privately and having the director address the note will give it much more impact and validity. Notes are best if they simply lay out exactly what the show’s direction is, from the mouth of a director.

Ideas: Every improviser has, at one point, come up with a great idea for their group. Maybe it’s a new show, or a new angle on an existing show. There’s nothing wrong with having great ideas — the problem is when those great ideas aren’t accepted the way the improviser would like. Too many times, I’ve seen someone propose an idea to a director. After some thought, the director has to decline the idea, because it doesn’t fit with the direction of the group/show. The improviser who understands that the group is a functioning workplace can understand that their boss has the final say, and while it’s disappointing to have their idea struck down, the director knows what is best for their show. But the improviser who’s in it for the fun, and who thinks that everyone should be on an equal footing, is crushed. They’ll openly criticize the director for not “getting” the idea, or for being jealous of the performer’s talent, or for any number of other reasons. I’ve also seen examples of these people trying to work their ideas into a show anyway, because they think they know what’s best for the show. Who would do that in a workplace?

Imagine a Blockbuster Video employee suggesting to their manager that BBV should start serving hot popcorn to the customers. The manager considers it, then lets the employee know that it would be too much mess and expense to implement the idea. Now, picture the employee complaining to all the other employees about what an asshole the boss is, and how the boss wouldn’t know a great idea if it dropped on their head, and that the boss is clearly just jealous that they didn’t come up with the great idea. Picture that employee bringing in a popcorn machine and starting in on their idea anyway. Sounds like a good way to be fired, right? So what makes it OK in an improv group?

When someone has their idea turned down and complains about it, there’s a common response: “Then why don’t you start your own group?” Almost always, the complainer will hem and/or haw, and say something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not that big a deal,” even though from their level of complaining, you can tell it is indeed a big deal to them. They don’t want to answer honestly, because deep down they understand how much work goes into leading and running a group or show, and they don’t want to put in that much work. It’d be like telling that video store employee to go ahead and start up his own place, Popcorn Video, where all customers are given popcorn. Naturally, he doesn’t want to start at the bottom with no customers and no inventory, and work his way up — it’s so much easier to try and change the established business.

Friends: Because the work itself is fun, and the atmosphere in which the work is performed is fun, a lot of performers fall into the mistaken idea that the other performers are not coworkers so much as friends. Some people seem to be absolutely convinced that every single other player is their friend. Yes, some friendships may form among players. But there is nothing magical about being in an improv group that automatically makes everyone good buddies. You wouldn’t expect to be friends with everyone at an office job or a retail job — in fact, you’d probably expect to dislike at least one or two people. It’s an assumption that can cause a lot of hurt feelings. If you’re having a gathering of some sort and only want to invite your actual friends, you have to be prepared for the fact that other improvisers will be upset that they weren’t invited. Never mind that you have nothing in common with them, have never spent time outside of rehearsals or shows with them, or don’t even know anything about them other than their name. Many moons ago, when I was in a different group, my roommate and I held a housewarming party. I invited probably half the improv group — the ones who I considered friends. One of them brought another improviser with them — a man whom I couldn’t stand. They rationalized that if one group member was invited, all group members were invited, and that this guy’s invitation was lost in the mail. It’s unfair to all parties involved.

Yes, some friendly people will invite everyone to everything. But you wouldn’t expect someone working in the same office, whom you’ve never done anything social with and who might not know anything about you, to invite you to their wedding/garden party/birthday.

Bottom Line: If you make the mistake of thinking of an improv group as just being a fun gathering of friends, and not as the money-making workplace that it is, you’re just setting yourself up for unhappiness. The group/show has a goal. That goal is not to let you have fun, or give you an outlet from your boring workaday life, or instantly give you an awesome circle of friends . . . even though all of those things most certainly can happen. No, the main goal of the group/show is to make money, so they can continue producing more shows. The director is not there to be your friend, though they certainly may be such. The director’s main goal is to do what’s best for the show, even if it means making decisions that are unpopular with some of the players. Their job is not to offer you the fulfillment you seek — it’s to give a paying audience the best possible show they can. And performers should have the same goal.

From the Photo Archives

Here are a couple of pictures taken from my various travels that I haven’t posted yet.

Sherwin-Williams Van

Is anybody else horrified by the Sherwin-Williams logo? They want to “Cover the Earth” with paint! How environmentally-friendly is that? Every person, animal, and object would end up like that chick at the beginning of Goldfinger (and according to my other half, in the original book of Goldfinger, the whole painted-chick thing [along with most of the other good action stuff] doesn’t happen).

No Peaking Playing Cards

We saw these playing cards at a Pier 1 store right before Xmas, in with all of the other crappy little gifties. I don’t mind round playing cards; what I do mind is the concept of not “peaking” at the cards, a homonym error mentioned by The Rejectionist just yesterday.

A Tale of Two Prescriptions

At the pharmacy today:

Me: Hi, I have two prescriptions ready, but I’m only picking one of them up.
Pharmacy Lady: Sure, can I get your name and birthdate?
Me: [name, birthdate]
PL: (looking at computer) And now, which one … wha … wha … WHOA, WHAT!
Me: Yeah, that’s why I’m not picking that one up yet.
PL: WOW.

So for my Crohn’s disease, I’m currently taking two medications. One (Azasan) is a daily tablet, the other (Cimzia) is a monthly injection. I’d been getting the monthly injections via the pharmacy’s mail-order system, but it’s a real pain in the butt, because the medication needs to be refrigerated. So they sent it overnight, and I had to sit at home until the FedEx guy brought by a styrofoam cooler so I could sign for it.

We just changed prescription drug plans at work, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to start filling that prescription at my local pharmacy. That way, instead of killing half of my Saturday waiting for the delivery, I could just stop by the pharmacy (which is in the parking lot at work) on my way home and grab the box of stuff.

Well, this new drug plan doesn’t like the Cimzia. They say it’s not a “preferred” medication, so they won’t pay a single cent for it. If I want to just pay a co-pay, I can have my doctor switch me to Humira or Remicade or Enbrel. But if I want the Cimzia, I have to pay the full price myself. Which for one monthly dose comes to … $1500.

Wha wha whoa what, indeed. Good thing I already have an appointment to see my gastroenterologist in a couple of weeks. Either he and I can collaborate on the long, drawn-out appeal process to try and make the Cimzia a “preferred” drug, or he can switch me over to Humira. We’ll see what happens.

On the plus side, the Azasan tablets were $110 for a 90-day supply under the old plan. With the new plan, I just paid $43. That probably would have delighted me if I’d heard about it before the whole $1500 thing.

PhotoDump

I just pulled a bunch of pictures off my cell phone. Here’s what I’ve taken snappies of this week:

She dreamed a dream in time gone by.

She dreamed a dream in time gone by.

On this week’s Dancing with the Stars results show, Susan Boyle sang “I Dreamed a Dream”. What was especially strange was this shot, where her giant head loomed over the two dancers. It reminded me distinctly of one of Scott’s favorite YouTube videos, Telly Savalas doing a spoken-word rendition of Bread’s “If”. Scott loves that video so much, he did a comic strip mocking it. The whole thing has become terribly meta.

Crayon is bad. Smeared crayon is worse.

Crayon is bad. Smeared crayon is worse.

Next up is this example of fabulous “parenting” spotted at a local restaurant. This little girl drew all over the glass window with crayons. At no point did either adult tell her to stop. The servers didn’t tell her to stop either, but that’s not surprising; they probably have a policy about letting this kind of thing happen and cleaning it up later, so the customers don’t get irate at having their parenting skillz called into question. At this point of the meal, the little girl took a napkin soaked in water and smeared the crayon wax all over the window, making an even bigger mess.

Vinegar. Vingar. Vingr. Vinnygur?

Vinegar. Vingar. Vingr. Vinnygur?

Last but not least, this is a menu that was shoved under our door by the good people at “NY Style Pizzeria”. As you can see, they can’t decide how a vinaigrette is spelled, but they’re covering all of their bases. None of which is the correct base. By the way, did you know that a vinaigrette doesn’t need to contain vinegar? Any acid (like a citrus juice) will do. Dear NY Style Pizzeria: just call it “house Italian”. But be sure to capitalize “Italian”.

In Florida

In Florida, traffic signs and signals are regarded more as guidelines than as rules. You can expect anywhere from one to six cars to go through a light after it’s turned red, and nobody ever honks their horn at any of these scofflaws.

In Florida, the roads all have much higher speed limits than you’d expect. It seems like the entire roadway system is made up of wide parkways, where you can drive 55 from stoplight to stoplight. But there are also toll roads, which cost a few quarters to use, but are much smoother and have lighter traffic than the interstate.

In Florida, motorcyclists aren’t required to carry insurance (only two states allow this insurancelessness: Florida and Washington). But they also allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets. However, if you choose to ride without a helmet, apparently you’re required to carry $10,000 of some sort of special medical insurance, in case you get hit and bash your head open. My guess is that there are a lot more motorcycle deaths here than usual, since the insurance-free, helmet-free cycle probably appeals to inexperienced young drivers who don’t want to spend a lot to get around.

In Florida, everybody is eerily nice. And it’s not the phony rude politeness of Seattle — it’s genuine niceness. Most people seem to have come here from somewhere else, so it’s not natives of the area who are especially kind. Maybe it’s something in the air, or the sufficient levels of vitamin D that everyone gets. All I know is that when I’m down here, and especially when I’m on Disney property, I myself get a lot nicer and more helpful and cheerful. Weird.

In Florida, people move faster than you’d expect. In Hawaii, you live in “island time” — a more mellow and relaxed pace. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. From speeding cars to speaking just a little bit too fast, the pace here seems quick. We’ve been pegged as being “from the north” by one local already, because we’re “mellow”.

In Florida, freaky news stories happen twice a week. This week’s diaper-wearing killer astronaut and sudden bimbo death may be hard to top in the future, but I’m sure Florida will give it her all.

a network of pure crystalline hatred

I’m putting together a cheat sheet for apartment hunting — a single page with our last few apartments’ addresses and phone numbers, as well as some employment history. It totally makes it easier than trying to remember everywhere we’ve lived on the fly.

Anyhoo, I was browsing around the internets, trying to find phone numbers for our last few apartment buildings, and I came across a page of reviews for the “management company” that owned our last apartment. For those who recall, it was the tiny craphole apartment on Queen Anne. It’s owned by a family, but they’re very weird about letting you know (the “handyman” was married to the “manager”, but neither would come out and call themselves an owner of the building).

Here are a few choice excerpts from the reviews:

“Basically, if you value your health, safety, privacy, and hard-earned money, you should stay FAR away from VIP. They are corrupt, abusive, and the worst property managers I have ever heard of or experienced directly.”

“The bottom line is the Varnes treat their tenants like the sharecroppers of the 1930s. They make it clear that you are, in their estimation, privileged to rent from them; and you should shut up and keep quiet.”

“They ended up keeping the whole deposit for a maintenance fee to clean the window blinds. They charge $25.00 an hour and it took 10 hours (so they say) to clean 4 window blinds! I left the place spotless, in fact, much cleaner than when I moved in. Never have I had a deposit kept from me by a landlord. Not only did I get charged for that, but I had bought some wall puddy to fill a couple of nail holes and they entered my apartment (when I was out and without notice), when I was still living there, filled the holes and charged me for that too! I was so happy to be out of there that I didn’t fight them for it. This is how they do business. I have never seen so many people move in and then move right back out, either from being evicted or sickened by VIP practices. These people are dishonest, opportunistic, money-grubbing slumlords who don’t care about their tenants or their rights. Do not rent from these awful people as they will take advantage of you…you have been warned.”

“All be it, the rates are below average and the site is good but, beware the witch woman SHE VARNES. This women is a devil from the deepest regions, she will present herself to you as a mere representative of the Varnes organization. But, in actuality this beast is THE VARNES itself. She herself is the driving action and force of the despicable Varnes network of employees, or web of deception. From Bjorne to their wethead attorney brother, the Varnes are a network of pure crystalline hatred. BEWARE”

One of the reviews mentioned that they “still use carbon paper when signing a lease”, which made me laugh — I found our file with our old lease, and indeed it’s generic documents that had been photocopied (hell, maybe even mimeographed) several times, and were filled out with carbon paper sheets. Shockingly high-tech! I’m glad to be rid of them, and I don’t know if I’d ever trust a small-family management company ever again.

Commercialism

Hey, Visa — are you implying, in your commercial where patrons of a cafeteria wander around to the delightful tune of “Powerhouse”, that it’s faster to pay for purchases with Visa than with cash? Maybe that’ll be the case in ten years, when we all have barcodes tattooed on our foreheads and RFID chips in our skin, but right now the concept seems totally absurd.

Hey, Comcast — yes, you used those cute let’s-go-to-the-lobby animated snacks in your commercial about movies on demand. However, throughout the commercial, the family dog in the house is chasing the chocolate bar. In the end, the dog has the chocolate in its mouth. Why don’t you also show the dog drinking some antifreeze? How many kids will see that, assume that dogs love chocolate, and feed Fido a big ol’ Hershey bar?