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    Wednesday, June 03, 2020

    Sippican's Greatest Hits: Hostile Workplace

    In a previous life, I supervised the construction of commercial buildings -- filling stations, convenience stores, restaurants -- that sort of thing.

    After a short while, I was in charge of most everyone. When you're in charge, all the ticklish things make it to your desk. The staff tries on their own for a while, and then it escalates to supervised trying, and finally at the end of the winnowing process, there's nothing left but really tough things that only a person with the keys to the kingdom can handle.

    The worst stuff was what employees would hide for years at a time. Carrying uncollectable debt on Accounts Receivable forever, never quite completing a project until a place needs to be remodeled before it's officially finished, stuff like that. A couple of times project managers went into the hospital for short periods and a casual look over what was hidden under their desk blotter gave me an aneurysm. The passing of an employee out of the building was like the old business saying about the tide going out: It affects everyone the same amount, but you get to see who isn't wearing any swim trunks. It was at the tail end of one of those cathartic employee convulsions that I gazed upon the second most beautiful woman in the world. You don't forget people like that.

    There was a convenience store/ gas station combo that had been built before I was even employed by the company, but was never really finished to the last jot and tittle, and there was some money left on the table and I had to go get it. The building was in the inner city of Boston. I arrived in the late afternoon after a long drive. The place looked as neat as a pin, like it was ten minutes old. I got out to look around a bit, then went inside.

    The building was built in what we termed "the urban style." What was meant by that was that it had to be constructed to withstand a zombie apocalypse, a full-on riot, a nuclear strike, and World War III at the same time. The building was constructed of textured concrete block. The block was ribbed to make it harder to deface. A concrete block might seem substantial to a layman but it's hollow inside and won't stop a high-caliber round. While laying up the blocks, each cavity in the wall was specified to be filled completely with mortar instead of the insulation a regular wall might be filled with. Reinforcing steel bars were put vertically through the webs before the mortar, because it was common for hijacked cars and trucks to be rammed through the sides of such buildings for smash-and grabs. In addition to the wall reinforcement, bollards were set deeply into the ground in front of any part of the facade with any sort of penetration in it. The bollards were steel pipe that were filled with concrete.

    The roof was flat with a short parapet wall, as is common with such structures. HVAC (Heating,Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning) and other mechanical contrivances were installed on the roof. In the "urban" environment, every opening that was required in the roof , some large, some very small, had to have a steel grate welded over it before the units were installed on them, to protect from entry to the building after removal of the machinery from their bases.

    The front of the building had a lot of glass, centered in the facade. It was all bullet-proof glass, and not ordinary bullet proof glass, but a form of it the suppliers often referred to informally as "military." That was just to protect the building during the day when it was open; there was an enormous sort-of steel garage door that was lowered over the glass part of the facade after the business closed for the night.  The building became a short, squat metal and masonry bunker that showed no opening whatsoever. At one time, these sorts of buildings has a four-inch square window in the back door so that employees going out to the dumpster could look outside first, but a would-be robber had shot an employee in the face through the window at another building, and the architects changed to a blank, steel, bullet-proof door with a camera instead. There were cameras all over gas stations already, to allow the clerks to shut off dispensers if people were smoking and so forth; one more didn't cost that much more. That other employee at the other place died, by the way, and the robber couldn't reach the knob by reaching through the window hole, so he never did get inside.

    All the money in such places was treated like radioactive waste, and we used to install safes that were welded onto a sort of steel sled, and the concrete floor was laid over and around them. There was a kind of slot with a slim rammer that you folded folding money over, and injected it into the safe. There was no way for any employee taken hostage to open the safe. 

    I went through the front door to talk to someone about whatever needed attention before we got our money. It was a conventional convenience store, with all the usual stuff that's in one.  But instead of entering the store, you entered a sort of quiz-show booth, about the size of a roomy phone booth or a cramped handicapped bathroom, maybe. Nothing and no one in the store was accessible to a customer. Items were displayed on shelves facing the door. There was a stainless steel drawer, like maybe you'd find in a supermax prison, and everything going in or out went through it. I was in the noticing business, and noticed that the size and shape of the drawer was painstakingly designed to keep a robber from being able to put a hand holding a gun and turning the barrel up to the cashier when the drawer was half-opened; it would break your wrist to try it.

    The glass inside was way, way more bulletproof than the bulletproof glass on the outside. It gave a hint of greenish parallax to the view inside, like everything was under water filled with algae. It was like a window on a submarine. You were expected to point to what you wanted, pay first, and the item would be placed in the drawer. There was no penetration of any kind, and I knew from blueprints that the glass went all the way to the underside of the roof deck, so you couldn't climb over it. You spoke to the attendants through an intercom only.

    There was a young girl behind the counter. I am in the describing business, but I cannot do her justice by telling you how beautiful she was. It would be easier to build a time machine, go get Titian and DaVinci and bring them back and have them work in shifts trying to paint her picture. I'll bet the picture would never be completed because they'd be fighting over her with knives before fifteen minutes was up. She was so pretty that a normal person, which I sometimes am, would just look at her, slackjawed, and forget how to breathe or think or behave. If God has some plan for mankind it is surely inscrutable because no one else would put this daisy on the far side of Pluto like that.

    She was very pleasant, but didn't speak English very well. I was expected, and even though she was barely an adult, she had been left in charge and given instructions on what to show me. She told me to go outside, and she appeared from around the back of the building and showed me some trifling problem I can't remember right now; a busted hinge on a dumpster corral, something like that.

    There wasn't anything left to discuss. We'll fix it, you'll pay, case closed. I leaned on my car and was writing some notes about the meeting, and she put her hand on my arm. She was very worried, and told me that I must leave, right away, because the sun was going down, and very bad people would come out. She pointed to a park across the street and said it was very dangerous, and that after dark no one like me should ever show their face there. She wasn't frightened, exactly; she was frightened for me. I was born a few blocks from that place, and for all I know my parents took me to that park when I was an infant, but I didn't mention that. She lives here all the time now. That's seven no trumps. She went inside, and I left.

    I'm told recently that if someone looks at you funny twice, or maybe if a guy with bad breath instead of Fabio pectorals asks you out on a date at your cubicle farm, you're working in a "hostile workplace."

    I've been to a hostile workplace. I'll raise my hand when you're in one.

    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    I Looked Down, And There It Was (Again)

    [Editor's note: This was originally offered in 2007. I'm pleased that these things make a certain amount of sense even though they are not new. Authors who are famously wrong need new material all the time, I guess.]
    {Author's note: Being lazy, I tell the truth.Saves effort.Also, there is no editor.}

    It's a hoary old joke my friend tells: There's a man of few words, in a restaurant slightly more elegant than he's used to. The waiter brings the check, and asks, "How did you find your meal?" He answers: "I looked down, and there it was."

    Everything appears like that now, through a process so complex that no one can fully understand even a small portion of it. Persons that say they understand the machinations necessary toplace the most mundane thing in front of a great many people well enough to regulate the whole affair, with an eye towards improving everything, are spouting nonsense. If a man walked up to you and confessed he didn't know your name, but claimed he could list all the atoms in your body, would you hand him your wallet? How about your skin? All day long, I hear the groundskeepers telling me they should be the quarterback. And I can't help noticing the grass has gone to seed, and the hash marks are crooked.

    You look down, and there it is, all day long. There is a large chance that if you're reading this, you have never participated in the actual making of anything in any meaningful way. And as the world gets more complex, we all get further and further removed from the ultimate source of all of our prosperity. How far removed? To the point where it gets obscure enough that it can be blithely strangled in its crib, on the supposition that it can be improved by infantile wishing, followed by fiat.

    See the man on the sleigh, bringing the sap back to the shed to boil? He knows the tree like a brother. He knows the woods like a mother. He knows fire like a caveman. He knows commerce like a loanshark. He knows cold like a wintertime gravedigger. He knows sap like you know the alphabet. But he doesn't have the slightest idea what you're about, because you labor in a vineyard far removed from his. A place where the meaning of your efforts is likely always obscure, as all intellectual pursuits must be.

    Remember always what you don't know about the man on the sleigh, lest one day, you look down, and there it ain't.

    Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    Bach In the USA


    The internet sure is becoming professionalized.

    Became, I should have said. It used to be a scattered bunch of thought suburbs. Shotgun shacks of text. There were a few dirt roads linking early adopters, and visitors just happened by while out riding.

    Everyone's roped and branded now. There are megalopolises of text, linked by a superhighway with no on ramps. There's still a lot of churn, of course, and websites come and go, but it's ever so much harder to get your head above water than it was just five years ago or so.

    The users appeared before the internet did, really. People wanted to look at stuff, and there wasn't enough stuff to look at, no matter how much of it got pasted into websites. You could put almost anything on the internet and some people would find it and look at it.

    It strikes me as a zero sum game now. If you're going to get prominent on the internet, you're going to have to pillage someone else's audience. That takes money, and dedication. Mostly money. Not many people can hang in there until they reach critical mass and sell enough tschotchkes to keep body and soul together.

    You could point a video camera at anything five years ago and put it on YouTube and someone would watch it. Nowadays, you better deliver polished goods like this video.

    Friday, April 21, 2017

    I Still Want

    [Editor's Note: From 2008. The website where I got the photos is dead. I'm still alive, after a fashion]
    I want to participate unreservedly in American life.

    I want to say hello to my neighbors. I want to send my children to school on a bus with their brethren to read of George Washington and Abe Lincoln. I want them to eat peanut butter sandwiches from a paper sack with waxy boxes of whole milk to wash it down.

    I want to watch the news and not think it's an assault on my worldview. I want to watch the news and not think it's an assault on the worldview of people with whom I disagree.

    I want to read a newspaper. I want to listen to the radio. I wouldn't mind constructing my own radio with a soldering iron and a few parts that came mail order, but I'd rather not construct the playlist of songs. How would I know what I liked if I had never heard it?

    I want to order a drink from the well. I want to sit on naugahyde. I want someone to smoke. I don't want to smoke. I want people to make music right there in front of me. I want everybody to know the words.

    I want everyone to dress as well as they can for a social occasion and still be dressed badly. I want to see dress shoes and white socks.
    I want to see old people. I want to see babies. I want to tell people their ugly children are beautiful. I want the ballgame to be on TV. I want the TV to be on a shelf over a bar.

    I want to go to church on Sunday. I want to go to a bar on Friday night. I want to go dancing with my wife of many years on Saturday. I want to be buried in the same suit I was married in. I want people to stand there and look at my cold face and say I was no great shakes but I was alright.
    I want someone to put flowers on my grave after everyone else has forgotten I was alive.

    Thursday, April 20, 2017

    That's Nobody's Business But the Turks



    The Mosque of St. Sophia is the chief lion of Constantinople. You must get a firman and hurry there the first thing. We did that. We did not get a firman, but we took along four or five francs apiece, which is much the same thing.

    I do not think much of the Mosque of St. Sophia. I suppose I lack appreciation. We will let it go at that. It is the rustiest old barn in heathendom. I believe all the interest that attaches to it comes from the fact that it was built for a Christian church and then turned into a mosque, without much alteration, by the Mohammedan conquerors of the land. They made me take off my boots and walk into the place in my stocking-feet. I caught cold, and got myself so stuck up with a complication of gums, slime and general corruption, that I wore out more than two thousand pair of boot-jacks getting my boots off that night, and even then some Christian hide peeled off with them. I abate not a single boot-jack.

    St Sophia is a colossal church, thirteen or fourteen hundred years old, and unsightly enough to be very, very much older. Its immense dome is said to be more wonderful than St Peter's, but its dirt is much more wonderful than its dome, though they never mention it. The church has a hundred and seventy pillars in it, each a single piece, and all of costly marbles of various kinds, but they came from ancient temples at Baalbec, Heliopolis, Athens and Ephesus, and are battered, ugly and repulsive. They were a thousand years old when this church was new, and then the contrast must have been ghastly -- if Justinian's architects did not trim them any. The inside of the dome is figured all over with a monstrous inscription in Turkish characters, wrought in gold mosaic, that looks as glaring as a circus bill; the pavements and the marble balustrades are all battered and dirty; the perspective is marred every where by a web of ropes that depend from the dizzy height of the dome, and suspend countless dingy, coarse oil lamps, and ostrich-eggs, six or seven feet above the floor. Squatting and sitting in groups, here and there and far and near, were ragged Turks reading books, hearing sermons, or receiving lessons like children, and in fifty places were more of the same sort bowing and straightening up, bowing again and getting down to kiss the earth, muttering prayers the while, and keeping up their gymnastics till they ought to have been tired, if they were not.

    Every where was dirt, and dust, and dinginess, and gloom; every where were signs of a hoary antiquity, but with nothing touching or beautiful about it; every where were those groups of fantastic pagans; overhead the gaudy mosaics and the web of lamp-ropes -- nowhere was there any thing to win one's love or challenge his admiration.The people who go into ecstasies over St. Sophia must surely get them out of the guide-book (where every church is spoken of as being "considered by good judges to be the most marvelous structure, in many respects, that the world has ever seen.") Or else they are those old connoisseurs from the wilds of New Jersey who laboriously learn the difference between a fresco and a fire-plug and from that day forward feel privileged to void their critical bathos on painting, sculpture and architecture forevermore.

    -- Mark Twain The Innocents Abroad