Monday, August 30, 2010

I am Bill Lumbergh

"Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too..."

I had an epiphany the other day at work.

There I was, red coffee mug in hand as I sat at my desk scanning news online and developing story pitches. I'd just returned to my seat after making my usual rounds with reporters at their desks, checking in with them about their progress, questions, problems, and any new story/source leads they might have dug up since the last time I talked to them...about one hour prior.

And after returning to my desk, it hit me: O
ne of the reasons I'm a good editor is that I have no qualms about continually bothering writers to ask what they're working on. I glanced down at my coffee mug, our publication's name printed in bold white letters on the side, and it suddenly all clicked.

I am Bill Lumbergh.

Now I hate micro-managing, but it seems like time-management skills are lacking in our generation's set. And can I blame them? Social media like Facebook and Twitter, breaking news, instant messenger, Gmail, viral YouTube videos of hippies crying over double rainbows... It's a feat in itself to shut out the digital noise and focus on the task at hand. All that Internet babel is entertaining, but it's like Kryptonite for writers whose ink-dipped quills are now computer keyboards -- the distractions suck all productivity and focus from any articles, books, columns, or blog posts.

At work I have the opposite problem. My writers don't seem to get too distracted by the online clutter; instead they get distracted by their the point of it being nearly debilitating. They agonize over each word, each interview question, and it severely limits how much they end up producing on a weekly average. I assure them that we'll work together to make their stories (nearly) perfect, that they just need to get the first draft written, because really, that's the hardest part. And I should know: This was my biggest problem when I began writing fiction. I never had a problem cranking out non-fiction, but with fiction simply getting words down on paper that first month was so stressful. Every word, every sentence, had to be perfect. Then gradually I realized that if I didn't let go of that perfectionist mentality I would never finish any books. I realized that I wasn't married to anything I wrote, that it was all malleable and fixing problems was what the editing stage was for -- to smooth out language, to reconfigure story structure, to cut and hack mercilessly with a red pen.

I don't think my writers get this, and I completely understand. It's hard when you're a perfectionist, when writing 1,200 words feels like pushing out a 10lb baby minus any epidurals. But there comes a point when you just need to let go. Especially if you have nearly a decade of journalism experience under your belt (which my writers have). Quality is key, but taking two to three days for a 1,000-word story is semi-ridiculous to me. Maybe it's because I've been on both sides of the spectrum and know how long it should take (as a reporter, and later in life, as a novelist) to punch out 600 above-par words. Perhaps I'm just too impatient, or my expectations are too high, but it is driving me batty how slowly my writers write.

And so I Bill-Lumbergh them.

Holding my coffee mug adorned with our company's logo, I meander over to my first reporter's desk and pop my head over her cubicle wall, leaning on it with my elbows, a tired look in my heavy-lidded eyes (because let's face it, I get no sleep now that I wake up at the buttcrack of dawn every day), as I drawl a "How's it goiiing...." in her general direction. "What are you working on?" I usually ask, or "Have you made your calls yet?" (Never: "Yeahhh....looks like we're gonna need you to come in on Saturday, too....." Okay, maybe once. But it wasn't my fault, the event just happened to fall on the weekend.)

This is usually followed with a typical response as to why they haven't gotten a hold of a source(s) yet, why they haven't started writing their story, why they haven't finished, etc. etc. (Just so I don't sound like a total Bill Lumbergh, this is after we've gone over what they'll be writing on for the week, who they should probably speak with, how they should frame their structure, what their angle is, and what other follow-up stories could be written concurrently. Normal editor/writer meet-ups, I don't just wander around micro-managing, I swear.)

Sometimes I can tell this me-with-coffee-mug-leaning-on-cubicle-wall thing is annoying them, but if I didn't feel like I had to come by so often, I wouldn't. I honestly don't care how what you're doing online or how much you obsess over the word "that" -- if you wrote more stories (I think a fair story count would be something like 2-3 per day) I wouldn't incessantly bother you. And saying, "There's nothing to write about" isn't really an answer in my book.

Not to say that we're not cool with each other. We have our inside jokes and some water-cooler chat (typically concerning certain Bravo TV shows), but I often wonder if they've made the Bill Lumbergh/Crystal connection yet. And if (when?) they ever do, I wonder how the parallel would haunt them, my head not only popping up over their cubicle walls, but in other odd places...behind doors...out of bathroom stalls...when they open the office their car's rearview mirror on the way home...even in the reflection of their coffee in their mugs at work. I'd be there, everywhere and anywhere they go, hounding them with my "How's it going's" and requests for more work.

Maybe I should invest in an Initech mug at work and truly freak them out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some "totally awesome" news

Guess who just bought a car!


J and I have been looking at cars for the past month and decided our favorite car within our price range was a 2003-04 C-series Mercedes Benz. (Jon Hamm being the official voice of the brand played no part in my decision. I swear.) We were going to take our time looking for the right one when J emailed me at work last Thursday, telling me our little Hyundai wasn’t going to pass smog this month because…it needed a new cat converter (wah wahhhh). Since the Hyundai was always supposed to be a temporary car and we had paid so little in cash for it nearly four years ago, we decided to nix dumping money into it and instead upgrade our lives.

So we did that Thursday night after I got off work:

It went down something like this on Thursday:

5:00 pm: Leave work
5:05 pm: J picks me up at the curb. (Curb-side service. Score.)
5:25 pm: Test driving our Benz.
5:45 pm: Going over price/technicals with dealer. Bargained down $2,000.
6:05 pm: Signing paperwork
6:06 pm: Freaking out.
6:35 pm: Leaving dealership to Black Eyed Peas on the radio.

I named it Andiamo, because it purrs down the freeway at 80. And it’s shiny. So shiny. I love how shiny it is. It makes me want to rub it gingerly with a diaper and sing songs to it in a Barry White voice. In the words of Lester Burnham (he, of American Beauty fame): “It’s the car I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule!”

I never thought back in April that my financial life would be so different mere months later, but it still hasn’t sunken in that it’s mine. Sitting there, surrounded by leather, I can’t help but feel that I’m sitting in a corporate rental car or something, mine only for the weekend till I have to hand in the keys and fly home. But it’s not a rental. It’s mine. And I’m already home.

Some people wonder why, in the last year and a half, I worked hard saving. Obvi it was because with no incoming salary and the little part-time work I had not amounting to much, my savings had to stretch. Which was expected and completely fine, leaving my job to write was THE best decision of my life. In the words of Madonna, “Absolutely. No. Regrets.” *said with a deadpan expression while wearing ostentatious sequined leotard and clutching disco-inspired horse-riding whip*

Sure the compromise was inevitably going to be scrimping, but it was a small price to pay. Andiamo was worth it. I paid almost entirely cash for the car and it felt so fulfilling driving off the lot, truly owning something of value. The feeling is so different than the quick high I used to get from buying a few nice dresses from Banana. This purchase, in contrast, feels like an actual reward for all that time I spent budgeting and saving. It's like that scene in Almost Famous when Stillwater upgrades from their broken down old bus and heads down the tarmac to board their shiny new plane.

Next big purchase: A house. Probs within two years, but we’ll see. In the meantime I’ve become one of those people who looms outside of your friendly neighborhood Safeway in front of the real estate publication racks, flipping through house catalogues and carting home dozens at a time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sun, sea and ceviche

I’m baa-aack. Tanned. Rested. Ready to take another vacationrejuvenated. Cabo was spectacular (though let’s face it, anytime we get to travel with passport we’ve never been disappointed). The last 7 days/6 nights of rest, relaxation and “together time” were very much needed. It felt like my psyche (which has been uber-stressed out in the last month) finally got a full-body massage...if that makes sense.

Pictures at bottom, but highlights included:

Swimming in the Sea of Cortez. Me, floating in a tropical blue ocean = two thumbs up; fine holiday fun.
  • Ceviche. Lots of ceviche. All day, every day. There’s something so calming about sitting at an open-air restaurant and eating fresh seafood in view of turquoise waters a stone's throw away. The accompanying Spanish guitar music was also a plus. Well played, resort hotel.
  • Floating in the pool for hours, pina colada in hand. More than half our days were something along the lines of this:
  • People-watching. A guilty pleasure of mine, people-watching was taken to all new levels in our resort pool, which was more or less a tepid melting pot filled with people from all over the world. Our favorites? Two couples from Jersey on holiday together. The portly, tattooed, gold-chain-resting-in-a-thicket-of-chest-hair-wearing men would sit waist deep in the pool discussing what “ballers” they were as their wives took thousands of “kissy face” pictures (of MySpace fame) in bikinis on their pool chairs. On the other hand it was fascinating listening to so many conversations in so many different languages, all in one hotel/town and not just at an airport (where it's expected). One of my favorite mornings was spent eating breakfast at a table near a group of old tanned and leathery Italian couples. It was like I was in Italy all over again. Mi piace.
  • Food.Once the wristbands were in place on arrival, everything was unlimited and in excess. Let’s just say a certain serve-yourself fro-yo machine near the pool snack bar was a good friend of mine. There was one especially hot afternoon when J and I walked around the pool in our swimsuits for about an hour, each lap stopping to get another scoop of fro-yo. I think we had about five cones that hour. Calories don’t exist when I’m on vacation.
  • Uninterrupted reading, without social plans/work/commuting/errands/exhaustion from the aforementioned screwing it up. Every single day/night/weekend since we've moved back to CA has been planned and scheduled and I haven't had any downtime to relax. So I bought The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the airport on our way down to Mexico and seven days later I was reading through the last few pages. I know this doesn’t seem like a highlight, but I had to include it because the only times I was able to devour a 650-page novel in under one week was a.) When I was in college and b.) The last year and a half I spent writing books myself, when 9 hours of every weekday weren't spent in an office. Freedom: It’s a truly underrated thing.
  • Live music every night. The mariachi band (the “best in Cabo”) was spectacular...and I'm really starting to think that when J and I throw our huge anniversary bash (I vote for our 5th, he votes for our 10th) we need to include a mariachi band in the festivities. Something about the blend of trumpets and violins...chills, reader-friends. Anyway at one point they were covering classic rock songs much to my excitement, and I was tempted to request a mariachi rendition of “Light My Fire," but by then they were out of time.

Sea of Cortez

Our sanctuary near the pool.

So now the question is...where should I go next? I get three weeks of paid vacation a year, plus the option of taking a fourth week unpaid so I'm thinking Barcelona for my birthday in April? But that's 8 months away. In the meantime...

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Monday is my Friday

I woke up today around 6am (like I do every weekday) and began grumbling (like I do every weekday morning) about it being Monday/how much I hate waking up early/how comfortable the bed is as I awake in a small puddle of my drool/how I just want to hit snooze a COUPLE more times (and by a couple I mean about 12)/general things of that nature -- when it dawned on me:

I’m going to Cabo tomorrow. *suddenly alert, an evil smile unfurls slowly across my face as I giggle quietly, maniacally, under the covers*

Yeah, yeah, I’m excited about Mexico, but I’m also happy about my one-day work week. I’ve decided Mondays are so much better when they also double as Fridays. Perhaps the French are onto something.

Even better: today I get to leave the office for a handful of hours to head down to Palo Alto with one of my reporters to have lunch with a gaggle of litigators at their firm. (Apparently there is such a thing as a free lunch.)

After lunch I’ll have a couple more hours in the office then I’m off to pack a week’s worth of bikinis and one very large-brimmed, Elizabeth-Taylor-in-Puerto-Vallarta-circa- 1963-esque sunhat for lazing poolside. Oh and dresses and heels for salsa dancing at night. And maybe I should take boat shoes just in case I get all Old Man and The Sea on J and decide to go marlin fishing just for kicks. Ample opportunities abound south of the border.

Obvi, I won’t be posting for the next week or so, but I’ll share pictures (and hopefully some great stories) when I’m back. Cheers!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

That one time I got the last laugh

Only in my dreams...

Tuesday night J and I planned to veg out...lay like broccoli, if you will. Perhaps check out the new Rachel Zoe season premiere (my idea, not his), share a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream on our uncomfortable new Target futon, just “be”. Instead we got a call last-minute from his brother, Burt*, who wanted to swing by our place that evening (and by “swing by”, I mean drive an hour out of his way) to pick up our storage boxes since he and his girlfriend, Clothilde**, are moving in together soon.

* & **: Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

J told them both to head up, and figured since it was Tuesday we could all hit up $1 Taco Tuesdays at an upscale restaurant down the street called Maria Maria (as in “Maria Maria”, that Santana song that won a squillion Grammys the year it came out; Santana -- surprise, surprise -- co-owns the joint). Since a friend recently moved a few miles away, we also invited him to join in on the last-minute taco fiesta.

Now on prior Taco Tuesdays, the bar area had ample elbow room. This week, it was like every last extra from the Van Wilder frat house decided that night was a good night for Mexican food. Scores of would-be Tool Academy participants in their man-tanks and flip flops littered the space as they clutched their Coronas, hitting on every woman seated.

So we waited for the next open table. There was a group already waiting ahead of us, and once a table cleared for them, we were next up in line. More waiting. Entourage was getting restless. Suddenly the clouds parted when we saw people leaving their outdoor table. “Hurry,” I told J, who immediately bee-lined toward the patio door, but before he could reach the doorway a girl came flying in past me from the front door, pushing past J (I’m talking physically shouldering him aside -- and she was at least five inches shorter than him) and promptly sat down in one of the seats seconds before J could reach it. She didn’t look up, just stared at the cell phone through the pounds of makeup on her face, tapping at its screen with her trashy square-tipped acrylic fingernails.

Oh no, she di-int.

What killed me was that the whole staring-at-the-cell-phone-after-being-an-expletive-I-shall-not-name-here thing is SO passive aggressive. If you can’t even man up and make eye contact to avoid the confrontation that will most likely follow then maybe you shouldn’t throw down that figurative gauntlet, my dear. She knew EXACTLY what she had just done, elbowing J aside and plopping down at our table in her tacky polyester clothing. All of a sudden I felt my inner-Lauren Conrad well up and wanted to yell "You know what you did! You KNOW what you DID!!!" in her face. Something along the lines of this:

But instead we all stood inside, watching this situation go down through the large windows, and I saw RED. We watched J throw his hands up and mutter something to her. Turns out he'd said "Are you serious?" to her and she had continued to ignore him, tapping at her phone. According to him it “wasn’t worth it.” Upon hearing this I was seething at how inappropriate the whole scene was and how J was unfortunately too much of a gentleman to tell her to make like Smuckers and jam. What I wanted to do next was go outside and yank her from the table by her nasty little ponytail, but A.) I feel like there’s only a 10-second window of opportunity to confront said person about things like this, and B.) I’m a lady; I don’t go around yanking people’s ponytails like some Jersey Shore extra.

So we waited a couple more minutes and my anger continued to build (news flash: I have slight anger management issues). The bar wasn’t clearing out anytime soon and the entourage was beginning to grumble about leaving. I sighed. Apparently I was going to be the one – like always – to fix this whole debacle.

I strode up to the podium at the front of the restaurant, where a hostess and a guy in a suit were standing. Thinking that at least someone in a suit and a nametag could help me over the general incompetence in the miniskirt next to him I calmly explained to him – with a large smile -- what happened, and asked whether we could just have a table.

Man in Suit: “Uhh…(pause)… you came here for Taco Tuesday though, right?”

I nodded.

MiS: “We can’t do that for Taco Tuesday. I’m sorry.” (And he actually did look sorry, but it didn’t help his case.)

Me: "Look. I was thisclose to going outside and saying something to that girl who SHOVED my husband aside to get to that table, but I didn't want to make a scene in your restaurant…”

MiS: “Oh yes, of course. I’m very sorry that she...”

Me: “…I'm a regular here [ed. Note: I actually am a regular there, which made it even cooler to say since I’ve always wanted the chance to actually use that line] and no staff did anything about what just happened.”

MiS, looking off toward the bar area with an intense hatred of Taco Tuesdays on his face: “Let me see what I can do, hold on. “

Turns out I pick my men in suits well because he came back, shook my hand and introduced himself as the general manager of the restaurant.

“I’m going to put you at one of our dinner tables in the restaurant,” he said.

“Excellent,” was my reply.

My entourage looked on, smiling and satisfied at this news.

“…But first, you will have to sing karaoke,” the GM said.

Suddenly my smile froze. Not because I didn’t want to sing karaoke – actually quite the opposite. I’ve long told J that someday my whole life would culminate to a certain point where I’d be asked, on the spot, to sing karaoke -- and my biggest fear would be I’d have no idea what to sing. Needless to say, over the years I’ve mentally added songs to my karaoke arsenal FOR THIS SPECIFIC REASON, this moment, standing there next to the crowd currently being entertained by a white guy on a tiny corner platform, covering Third Eye Blind songs on his acoustic guitar. They don’t ever do karaoke here…but perhaps they were making an exception for me?

Of course my mind went blank in that life-changing, split-second of being asked. “Noo…” I purred. “You’re joking.” I let out an awkward, uneasy laugh that sounded more like an unintentional fart. “No I’m not,” the GM said with a completely straight face, as though he was diagnosing me with cancer. “You want the table? Sing.”

My smile remained static; my entourage: concerned. After what seemed like five minutes of silence and staring between the two of us, as I mentally ransacked my rolodex of saved karaoke songs and finally hurled it against one side of my mind, deciding in futility to just go with Lionel Ritchie’s “Stuck on you”, he broke out into laughter. “Just kidding, just kidding!” he laughed. “Come, follow me.”

Not only did we get seated at the best table in the house, he profusely apologized for what happened and thanked me for coming to him (and I guess not creating a scene? The wrath of Crystal, after all, can be extraordinary). After we were seated he offered us a round of drinks on the house (Maria Maria's freshly brewed pineapple tequila – let’s just say it was like a tropical island was making love in my mouth) and gave me his business card during our dinner.

I left a large tip after we were through, more than satisfied with the outcome of the night, and after thanking again on my way out, he stressed to call him whenever I come so he can make sure we're taken care of well. "You're a friend now," he said, patting my shoulder. (And somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, I was covertly laying the groundwork for my own Cheers-type place...where everybody knows my name.)

Moral of the story: Ask and you shall receive. But do it all with a smile, no matter how mad you are. It works wonders.

Monday, August 2, 2010

August: We've got big plans for you

  • As of last Thursday J is officially dunzo with the Bar! The three-day test went by swimmingly well and while the official results don't get released till November, we're not worried. J is Barack-Obama-cool under pressure and possesses nerves of steel (unlike some fellow test-takers, who, with a bad case of nerves, hacked their brains out in the public restroom the morning of. Yes, everyone in the test hall heard, the acoustics really made the sound carry.) I knew not to worry about J, though, when he called after the first day and said (I think his exact words were): "I don't have two days of the Bar left, the Bar has two days left of me." It was like Chuck Norris was speaking through my husband. So now I've got J far from the clutches of jurisprudence for the next three weeks (muwahaha), which means...
  • Cabo San Lucas in 10 days! I know I just started my job two weeks ago, but I already need a vacation. Being in the office at 8am every morning is quickly killing me, and I'm already wondering how I'll go first: lack of sleep or an ulcer from the 3+ cups of coffee I drink on a regular basis. Cabo will be a much-needed respite of sleep, beach, swimming and margaritas (preferably all at the same time?...) In a perfect world I would earn my Mexican citizenship and never come back.
  • Since I've started working it's embarrassing what little headway I've made in my 2010 reading list (posted to the right). Yes, I'm still reading American Psycho. Slowly. And though I'm not completely finished yet, I highly recommend it. The main character, Patrick Bateman, plays a 26-year-old Wall Street playboy in the 1980s, when greed reigns supreme. Patrick makes obscene amounts of money and obsesses about every last designer detail on himself and others, down to what type of paper his nemesis' business card is printed on. In Patrick's Wall Street world every man wears double-breasted Cerutti 1881 suits and non-prescription Oliver's People glasses; every woman wears Yves Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren. Friends (and enemies) spend hundreds of dollars a night eating exotic sorbets and getting into exotic Manhattan clubs and everyone is high on coke and/or attempting to be seen at the elite hotspot, Dorsia. Now lump in the fact that Patrick is a serial killer (and a pretty heinous one at that; I was especially disturbed the day I read about him gutting a homeless person on a lone sidewalk), and you've got one fantastic book. Why? Because taken at face value this is one twisted novel. But Patrick isn't psychotic because he's a serial killer; rather, his serial killer tendencies are just a symbolic extension of the material values he's absorbed being so engrossed in a world that correlates your worth as a person to how much your gazelleskin wallet costs. It's both outstanding and terrifying. And what's even better is after reading American Psycho you feel yourself becoming one (minus the whole serial killer thing, of course). You start noticing what everyone is wearing, where they're eating, how their business cards look, what they drive, whether they think tasseled loafers are an acceptable shoe choice. It's disgusting and fascinating all at the same time. Next up on my reading list: Anna Karenina.
  • Me. Lady Gaga. San Jose. August. Yes, I'm going to see Lady Gaga in concert with a good friend of mine this month. Be jealous.
  • This month J and I have also decided to start a food blog just for fun as a couple. We're going to call it "Eat the Creek" (because we live in Walnut Creek, get it? GET IT??) and it'll be a way for us to review what we like and dislike every time we go out to eat (I'm hoping at least once a week). For a suburb of San Francisco there are a lot of restaurants in this area (and by restaurants I mean cute little bistros and wine bars and fusion eateries) so we can't wait to get started. I've only tried a handful of what our downtown has to offer and was highly impressed. Sure, it'll cost ample amounts of money, but I'm slaving away to enjoy the finer things in life. This includes imported bottles of aged Malbecs.
  • So, this isn't a highlight of August (or July, for that matter), but I needed to note it somewhere so those of you with weak stomachs, now is your cue to look away. The other day I was in the city walking to my office building from the subway stop when I saw a homeless guy on the sidewalk lurching toward this well-dressed Asian woman who passed by. Now this area of the San Francisco (the Tenderloin) is DIS-gusting. I won't go into too much detail but the streets smell like pee and garbage and on every block there's a crack-den hotel with a misleadingly lofty name like "Hotel Renoir," et al. So a homeless person in this area isn't the most out-of-place spectacle. But THIS homeless guy was different. Yes, he looked like he had JUST had his eyeball ripped out. There was a big pus-and-cartilage-filled hole where his eyeball should have been (and probably was mere hours before), with dried blood crusted all around the empty socket. Naturally, the Asian woman he hassled was terrified because what was even more eerie (aside from the fact that the guy was bleeding out his eye-hole and his overall hygiene was downright fetid), was that he wasn't moaning in pain or crying about his condition. Nope -- he was laughing. Cackling, really. And mumbling out loud about some Walkman as he lurched toward the woman, who walked even faster to get away from him. The whole disconnect between the severity of his wound and his reaction to it was quite disturbing and for the rest of the day I couldn't erase the picture from my mind.
  • And just so I don't leave you on such a bleak note today, I figured I'd throw in a current, questionably-less-disturbing obsession: I never thought I'd say this about a 14-year-old blogger, but I heart the inimitable Tavi Gevinson! Her posts are fresh and fun and (am I really admitting this out loud?) pretty inspiring. I want to be her when I grow up. Or something.
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