Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Stash busting. Stash busting? Stash...using? Complementing? What would I call this project? Yes, it started as an attempt to get rid of the yarn left over after Starsky plus a couple of balls that I bought for not particular reason last year, but now I've bought four more balls of yarn in order to finish it. Is that really stash busting or is it something else? If I end up with seven fewer balls in the bin, but I spent forty-five bucks to do it, does it count? I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm not all that good at Fair Isle, but I refuse to rip back and redo those sections so that the floats are looser, so the finished pieces is going to have a charming gathered effect at the yoke and sleeves. Another checkerboard and another cross section left, and then I can put the Fair Isle to my rudder and never look back.

I love these colors together, which is a good thing since I'm going to take whatever's left and crochet a scarf with it. That Silkroad Aran is not going back into the stash again. God knows how much more money I'd end up spending the next time I came across it and decided to 'use it up'.

I wanted something quick and this is coming along at a good clip. It became too unweildly to carry around, so it's my evening project. I'm optimistic about finishing it this week. On the other hand, my optimism is almost always misplaced, so it's more likely that it'll be finished sometime in mid-October.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Black Monday

One ball from the stash. One pair of needles that I hadn't bothered to put away. *K1, YO, k2tog; repeat from * to end. Go!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Silver and Soot

I wasn't going to do it, but the unfinished pieces kept floating up out of every dark hold where I'd stowed them. They wouldn't do me the courtesy of staying down so that I could forget about them. Here, then, is the finished Julia tank from Hot Knits.

I don't have too many details about it, because I kept trying to forget everything about making it. I think I used size 11 needles, and I think I made the small. I know it all came out wrong. The armholes were too deep, and the body was too short.

I picked up and knit three out of four stitches around the armholes and bound off on the next row. Rather than making the turtleneck, I went with a little rolled neck.

I don't even know how much yarn I used, because when I abandoned it a few months ago, I took a couple of skeins of what was left and used it to make that crocheted top. On the bright side, I did get that yarn out of my stash, so that's cool. That's the main reason I picked it back up and finished it. I kept shoving the unfinished pieces into the stash bin, so it still felt like it was part of the stash to me. It's graduated to garment status now, even if I only wear it once before giving it away. I feel good about that.

If I'd been happier with any part of it, I would have kept better notes. As it stands, I don't have enough to say about it to warrant the usual finished object details rundown. Besides which, I don't want anyone else to be so influenced by the details section that they try to make one. Save yourselves. It's too late for me.


Pirate Skull Planter? Is that you?

"Aye, lass, though I fear I'm not long for these waters."

Was it the sweater? Was it that I didn't make a flag out of the yarn instead of trying to fashion it into a garment? You know I'd do it differently if I had it to do over, right?

"Ye've done nothin' wrong, lass. 'Tis a nice little top. Perhaps you'd be good enough to wear it to see me off to Davey Jones' locker."

What the Hell are you talking about?

"Have ye not noticed? I be dyin'. Shufflin' off the coil. Look at my head!"

But that's just the plants, Pirate Skull Planter. They've been flagging since we moved down here last year.

"What makes me what I am if I'm a Planter what can't keep plants? I'm steerin' toward a Charybdis of existential crisis. I am broken in spirit, lass! Can the rest of me be more than a day's sail behind?"

Oh, for God's sake. I'll buy you some new plants and hot-glue them to your head, O.K.? You'll be good as new. I'll put it on the list of things to do to kill time during the workday. I'll put it above "knit", "look up useless facts on the internet", "see how long it takes to walk around the building", and "chew gum". I think all of those things should come in second to "make Pirate Skull Planter feel jaunty". Which should itself come in second to "do actual work for which I'm paid", but never mind that now. Cool?


I do have some better projects in the works, now that my Summer of Ribbon Knitting is officially over. I don't want to go out to the car to get it, though. Pirate Skull Planter seems kind of fragile right now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


We now interrupt my trip down memory lane for some knitting content. I know! Nobody's more surprised than I am, believe me. Since finishing my Zen tank, I've had a severe case of project paralysis. I can't seem to start anything. I look at the stash and I look at my Ravelry queue, and...nothing. It's not that I don't have anything to knit. It's that I have too many choices.

Because I'd said that I was going to use the yarn I'd bought myself for my birthday, that narrowed my options a bit. I only had 512 yards of it, and I'd resolved not to buy more, or to complicate things by buying a complementary yarn to bring me up to a full sweater amount.

"Hey, Suzanne? Why isn't the first picture a modeled shot? What's the deal with laying it out flat on your lazy Susan?"

Yeah, that's pretty nice, huh? I like the wood behind the knitting. It makes a nice backdrop, and I've been looking for that kind of thing. Anyway, let's dive right into the details.

The Pattern
Kinda-sorta the Anthropologie-Inspired Capelet, but in a different gauge, with seed stitch instead of ribbing, no border at the front to keep it from rolling, completely different increases at the shoulders, longer, with short-row shaping at the arms and around the back, and...O.K., it's a really just a top-down raglan cardigan and I ran out of yarn to make anything more of it.

The Yarn
Colinette Cadenza in 'Raphael'. I used just about all of four skeins of it, so let's say 500 yards. It was a lovely yarn to knit, and I had a great time watching the colors mix together. I knit with three skeins at once to prevent pooling, and it made perfect sense when I was doing it, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to explain it. I just tried to work it out with a handful of pennies and some lined paper here at my desk, but all I managed to do was irritate myself with the sound of scratching coins.

"Suzanne? That's a close-up of the lazy Susan shot. What does it look like on a person instead of your bar?"

What needles did I use? Glad you asked!

The Needles
Here's where I run into trouble, being at work and all. I know I used the Boye Needlemasters, but I don't remember the size. I know they were the lilac points, because I haven't put them away yet. Umm...eights? That sounds about right. I used 12" Addi Turbos for the arms, and they were eights as well, except when they weren't because I mixed a nine in there by mistake.

The Time
I started July 21st and finished some time toward the end of August.

"Suzanne? Is there something wrong with the back? Why aren't you wearing it?"

The Modifications
The back? Yes, I did do some extra work on it. I've got a pretty broad back, so anything that's going to hit above the kidneys is going to bow up unattractively unless I add some fabric back there to bring it down. I added short rows at the back at 3-6-9-12 stitches from the edges. I like lifted increases, and since this yarn was so much smaller than Rowan Polar and heavily variegated, I figured the lacy YO increase wouldn't stand out enough. Also, I...I didn't add a button...look, I give up. It's not at all like the AIC. The only thing they have in common is that they're both cropped and they're both made of wool. I just wanted to be able to say that I'd done one, because everyone else is doing it. Because I'm a bandwagoneer, O.K.? Now you know my secret.

Here's another one. I didn't swatch for this project. I just picked a needle size that I thought would get me close to 18/24, cast on 97 stitches and went for it. It's a miracle that it fits.

"But does it? Because now we're starting to get suspicious..."

I love this little sweater. I know a lot of knitters don't like seed stitch, but it's one of my favorites to do. I don't mind switching between knits and purls with every stitch, and I love feeling the texture as I'm working. The finished sweater is too short and too tight to pretend to be a cropped jacket, which was my original intent, but that's cool. It isn't my usual thing, and I don't know how much wear I'll get out of it...

"...especially since you're not wearing it now. Seriously, what's the deal?"

Alright fine. Here. Here's me wearing it. See, the thing is that I've had a less than successful summer, fitness-wise. I had the whole toenail-falling-off thing happening again, and my work's all demoralizing, and Starbucks has that damned two-dollar cold drink promotion going which means iced white mochas at half price, and so on. As a result, this sweater is disappointingly not so cute on me. Don't let the picture fool you. I look slender because I've got my arm raised above my head and I'm taking a really deep breath in while stretching upward. The foreshortened perspective is doing me all kinds of favors as well.

So I love the sweater, but I don't love wearing it at the moment because it's a visual reminder of my lack of willpower. This is part of the cause of my project-picking-paralysis (PPP). I keep thinking, "That'll look good once I trim a few inches off of my waist. But I haven't done it yet, so I shouldn't start on that, because it's just going to disappoint me." Accountant Boy and the Amazon have promised to shove me forward down the path to svelteness, and both seem to think that losing fifteen pounds by the holidays is a reasonable goal, so we'll see.

The real test will be A.B. driving me to the gym while I sulk in the passenger seat, stubborn tears of anger welling up in my eyes. "You said you wanted to go, honey." Blink, blink, blink. "Do you not want to go? Because you can stay in the car while I work out." Blink, blink, sniff. "I'm going..." I always end up following him in. I don't know why I give him such a hard time beforehand.

Anyway, it's knitting and it's done. Yay!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Amsterdam, Part 3

Hotel Keppler 11:32pm
* * * *

We're watching television, some show shot before a studio audience. I just looked up at the screen and saw a man wearing a large blindfold and a bulldog eating something off of a round glass platter. Seems like a happy show, sort of the French version of "Regis and Kelly".

Our hotel is very small and perfectly charming. We're on the top floor, and this means that we're able to see the very top of the Eiffel Tower from our little balcony.

We're happy to be in Paris. Amsterdam was O.K., but we'd had enough of it by this morning. We never got our bearings there, so every step away from the door of our hotel was an opportunity to become very lost, wandering along miles and miles of canals. Now this was quaint on the first day. We ended up in the Spui for dinner, after wandering through Leidsplein. Looking at this on the map, we found that we'd gon through the two nicest tourist areas in the city center, and we'd walked about half the map. We felt confident in our ability to get around the city. The tram, any tram from Central Station, took us to our hotel in less than three stops. The area wasn't that big, and easy to manage on foot. Friendly, English-speaking tourists and locals.

Things started going wrong immediately after dinner. We'd woven our way through so many canal streets, and crossed so many bridges that we couldn't find our way back to the hotel. We were walking down Rokin, and the only way that I knew we were going in the wrong directions was that the Kentucky Fried Chicken was on the wrong side of the street.

I think this lack of any sense of direction may have been due in part to our latitude. The sun was low in the sky, and I rely pretty heavily on its location for navigation. Anyway, we got lost and stayed that way until we left. Our landmarks became the casino (we've gone too far south), Rembrantplein (we've gone too far east), KFC (we've gone too far west), and the Samsung sign above the building across the street from our hotel ("Our hotel! Thank God!").

I've glued the map onto the next page here. Here's the tragic part. This map has landmarks on it, clearly marked. We did NOT use this map. By that same token, this map would not have been any more helpful than the map we used, provided by the hotel concierge. Here's why.

The Dutch are out to get us. No joke. It's like an economic schizophrenia. They need tourists. They get tourists through the sex and drug trade. A good 90% of the tourists are there to smoke pot.

So here you are, Joost the appleseller, and all these stoned tourists pour past your apple stand, porn in their rucksacks, having a great time but getting the wrong idea about your country. Does the girl in the halter top and lowrise pants care about your prosperous, industrious society? Your culture? No. She's looking for the hash bar. So are the tens of thousands of other young tourists you see every day. So you get bitter. Maybe at first you give people bad directions once or twice a day. Tha's enough in the beginning. But then it becomes the standard. You give nobody good directions. The flower merchants notice you doing it, and soon you're all in on it. The tourists try to get around using road signs and maps. Your misdirection is rendered ineffective. What to do? Rearrange all of the street signs. Ha Ha! And I swear it's true.

Take the Torture Museum as an example. The Torture Museum was 200 yards from our hotel. Looking on the map, our hotel was under the blob by the Muntplein. Follow Vijzelstraat down to Herengracht. The "2" on the map represents the sign pointing to the Torture Museum. The sign points the traveler farther down and then west. The absolute opposite direction. Unless you're walking to the museum via Eindhoven.

Yes, we blame the Dutch for the 20 miles of marching we were forced to do. Then there were the colored tram signs, which were just as bad as the people themselves for directions. We'd see a sign that said Central Station and an arrow pointing in a direction. Arrow points at the station, right? No! Arrow points at the tram, which will eventually make it back to the station no matter which way you go. It might go all the way around the city, out into the suburbs, across the Amstel and past KFC three or four times, but it'll get to the station eventually. We didn't figure out this bit of Dutch humor until yesterday morning. We laughed and laughed. Maybe we laughed because we were stoned. Maybe that was all that kept us from having a complete breakdown as we stood under a sign that looked like this:

Our entire experience in Amsterdam wasn't bad. It was just a lot of walking. The Rijksmuseum was wonderful, our hotel was in a good spot, and if the directions were bad then at least we were lost in a beautiful town.

* * * *

Retrospective -

I'm glad that my journal didn't capture the seething hatred I felt for the Dutch that night as I sat cross-legged on the bed and furiously scratched out my thoughts. It wasn't their fault, really. If we'd checked before booking our airline tickets, we would have known that the International Broadcasters Convention 2002 was in town and that we'd have an almost impossible time getting a good room as a result. I should have known to bring shoes with more padding, knowing that the streets were going to be cobblestone. We should have picked up a better map. We should have taken more cabs. It's not the appleseller's fault that we didn't do those things.

I think we simply approached Amsterdam with the wrong attitude. A.B. was used to France, and I was used to more luxury, and when the people weren't like Parisians and the hotel bathroom wasn't all gleaming marble and nickel, we were turned off. We're going back when we have the budget to travel again. I can't believe we didn't tour the Heineken factory.

The other thing to keep in mind is that A.B. is a foot taller than I am, and when A.B. doesn't know where he's going or what he's doing, A.B. walks. Fast. Faster than I can comfortably walk. You know in 'The Enforcer' how Tyne Daly spends a good part of the movie running behind Clint Eastwood? That's about how we look. However tired A.B. might have been at the end of the day, tack on another 50% and that was me. This was only four days into our trip, and I was already exhausted. And the worst hadn't yet happened.

Amsterdam, Part 2

COBRA Cafe, Museumplein
Around Lunchtime
* * * *

Went to the Rijksmuseum yesterday. It's huge and difficult to navigate.

We're watching a group of Japanese tourists grab young Dutch girls from near the reflecting pool and take pictures with them. Apparently, this isn't considered inappropriate by either group.

Peter suspects that our waitress hates us. She keeps shooting dirty looks at us. We're waiting for lunch, people watching and relaxing. We did a lot of walking yesterday, so we're taking it easy this afternoon.

We're listening to some traditional Japanese music. Peter made up some lyrics which he's muttering to himself as I write. I believe the lyrics are as follows:

"Got a cow
And a chicken
And a rooster
On my farm..."

He blames it on the spacecakes. I blame my inability to write coherently on the cakes as well.

in the barn)"

Later that Day
Internet Cafe across from our hotel
An e-mail to my friend, Amazon
* * * *


So we're here in Amsterdam, and we're having a great time. More accurately, we're alternating between having a genuine great time and having such an angry time that we're making ourselves laugh...which is just another way for Peter and Suzanne to have a great time.

Things that are genuinely great about Amsterdam:
-Everything is within walking distance.
-The city center is beautiful. We walked from our hotel to the Rijksmuseum yesterday and it was like walking through a fairytale. All of the centuries old architecture, the little stone bridges, the gables over the canal houses, just beautiful.
-The museum square and nearby city park are gorgeous. I'd never been in a building older than Mission Santa Barbara.
-Accordian duo playing Vivaldi's 'Summer' in the passageway under the Rijksmuseum. It doesn't sound like much, but it was beautiful.

-Rembrandt's 'Nightwatch' is huge! Of all the Dutch painters, Rembrandt is hands-down my favorite.
-Good coffee. Great muffins. Hey, what was in those muffins, anyway? And why'd the guy tell me to only eat half of one?
-Weather was perfect yesterday. It was warm and sunny, and stayed warm all evening.
-Everyone speaks a least enough English to be helpful.

And now for a counterpoint.
-Everything's within walking distance. This means that it makes little sense to try to take a tram anywhere. Makes little sense until you realize that there is no way to keep from getting turned around once you set off on foot. We keep getting lost. I blame it on the position of the sun. It's much, much lower in the sky here, so any reckoning using daylight is completely useless. Peter blames the Dutch for not having more accurate tourist maps.
-Dutch modern art sucks. Maybe it was the muffins affecting my mood, but the modern art museum made me so angry that I decided to stop telling people that I majored in Art History. Standing in the Stedelijk Museum bookstore, staring down at the numerous book covers featuring photo montages of a single woman's breast, and apple, a growling Schipperke and a dead praying mantis, I decided to divorce myself from art. It's hard to explain. Wait, no it's not. A room full of overdeveloped photo prints of industrial scaffolding is not art. It's an insult. I know that this was the reaction of most critics when the Impressionists first showed their work. I'm probably just not 'getting it', but I don't care. Modern art blows chunks...then takes a picture of it and titles it something like "Glory of Man's Desire #48".

-The Canal Tour - a chance to sit across from two existentially sad and disconnected German tourists. Really loosely translated:
Man -- "What did he say?"
Woman -- "The harbor is fresh water."
Man -- "Hmm."
Woman stares down at the table without speaking for
the next five minutes.
Man -- "What did he say?"
Woman -- "The canals are 2 meters deep."
Man -- "Hmm."
It was like nihilistic German cinema come to life. And we were 18 inches away from the screen. The woman in the seat behind Peter put her arm across the back
of the bench, turned her head so that she could face forward, then fell asleep. Really asleep. Mouth hanging open, head nodding. I don't know how she didn't fall forward and hit him in the back with her forehead.
-Cloudy and near raining today. I blame the Dutch for this. If you're going to be aloof and condescending to the friendly American couple trying to buy a can of Coca Cola, you're just begging God to give you shitty weather.

We're not having the best of times today, but we're having fun with it. After our bad museum trip and surreal canal tour, we sat up in our room, drank our
Cokes and had a good long laugh. Peter promises that France will better suit us.

We had a wonderful time yesterday. Today's only half over, so we're going to give it a chance to redeem itself.

We're taking a lot of pictures, bringing our unique kind of joy to other tourists. There's a theme to our photos. People seem to find it humorous. I'm not going to spoil it by revealing it. You're going to love the resulting photo essay.

We leave tomorrow at 9:30am for Paris. More later.

* * * *
Retrospective -- Yeah. We were high that day. What was your first clue?

Over the years, people have looked at those two pictures of us and commented on how relaxed and happy we seemed. The funny thing about it is that we took them just an hour prior to the Stedlijk incident.

I'd forgotten about some of the good things, like the Vivaldi and the canal tour. If I hadn't dug through my old e-mail for this post, I wouldn't have remembered anything about either of them. I'd love to go back there, although you'd never know it by talking to me during the intervening six years. Why's that, you say? Wait for tomorrow's post.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Amsterdam, Part 1

Museumplein, 9:30am
* * * *

Every picture we've taken on this trip has been of Belligero. We have him at SFO, at Heathrow, on BART, in front of the Rijksmuseum and standing next to this bizarre hotdog stand ornament. He's getting to see all of the sights.

Amsterdam, at least the part that tourists are prone to wander, is tiny. It's tempting ot see it as one big amusement park. It's beautiful and old. I've never been anywhere where the buildings were this old. I'm still getting used to it, trying not to gawk at every stone carving like it was carved by God himself.

Funny thing yesterday at Central Station. We were trying to find a transit map, and after asking several of the wrong people ("No, this is TRAIN station. Try metro station. NEXT!) we ended up in the tourist info office. The man in front of us left, and a bag remained on the floor. Peter called after him, asking if he'd left his luggage. The woman behind the counter watched, and when the man said it wasn't his bag, she gave the couple next to us a stern, "Hey!"

"This is your bag?"

"Yeah." The young guy kicked the duffle back in front of his feet.

She looked at us, then back at him from over her glasses. The sidelong glance turned into an arched eyebrow glare. He finally noticed her staring at him.

"Next time you have nothing."

* * * *

Retrospective -

That picture - I call it "American Hotdog Suicide" - is one of my favorites. I've never understood advertising where the food is anthropomorphized and is encouraging you to eat it. Why make yourself more attractive in order to hasten your own end, Hotdog? A.B. got a beef frank at the stand, so apparently he wasn't as affected by the disturbing imagery as I was. It looked delicious. I had a stale mozzarella and tomato sandwich. With basil.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Approx. 7:00am GMT
* * * *

We landed safely at Heathrow half an hour ago. To best absorb the culture, we're sitting in a TGI Friday's restaurant. We're absorbing the culture...unfortunately, it's the culture of Fresno.

We circled in a holding pattern for a while prior to landing, scribing lazy, wide ellipses in the sky over London. It's sounds like a cliche, but I'm struck by how green everything is here. Everything in California is brown this time of year. I can't wait to see Amsterdam, to see how much different it is.

Peter ordered a hamburger. Years from now, if it gets Creutzfeld-Jakob syndrome, we'll know to blame TGI Friday's Heathrow.

* * * *
Retrospective --

During this time in my life, I'd decided to not eat any land animals, due in no small part to a three-act dream that I'd had. The first act involved vampires. I remember nothing of the second act, but I awoke from it, sat bolt upright in bed and exclaimed. "I can't eat chicken anymore. What the Hell was I thinking?" The third act was a scene of me explaining to a Future Farmers of America group that cats aren't meant to be omnivorous. I figured that it was a sign, and that if I couldn't remember what happened in the second part of that dream, I shouldn't eat poultry. Beef and pork naturally followed. This is important to note, because any time my travel entries mention anything about food, you should read it as "and I had a stale mozzarella and tomato sandwich."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Flight

SFO - 9/11/2002
* * * *

We're here at SFO, waiting for our flight to London. We stayed up way too late last night, got up this morning after what amounted to a three-hour nap.

Cabbed from our house to BART with a driver of unspecified Middle-Eastern origin. He's pissed off about terrorism, pissed off at suicide hijackers, and pissed off at us for only understanding 3/4 of the conversation. We gave him a big tip. Nice guy, as far as we could tell.

Missed our bus connection to the airport from Colma BART because the bus wouldn't wait for us. Our cabbie caught up to the bus, then flew past it as it pulled over and its breakdown signals flashed. We laughed quietly to ourselves.

Peter and I, along with Belligero the Travel Clown, are heading to Amsterdam. Although he was made in China, Belligero is both a New Yorker and Jewish. Shalom Toy Company, Brooklyn, NY. For the two of us, this will be our first trip to Europe. Peter had the advantage on us, having lived in France before we met, and being generally more traveled than the clown and I. We're counting on him to keep us level. It's all very exciting and nerve-wracking for me. I've never been farther east than Nevada. Except for a brief step into Arizona, I've never left this time zone. We're about to board. More from the plane.

Somewhere over Canada
2:57pm PST 9/11/2002
* * * *

Peter's trying to sleep, as it's after 11:00pm in London. I should try to sleep as well, but I'm thinking that 11:00pm is too early in any time zone. I experienced airline food for the first time. Not as bad as one would think. Peter's meal looked great. The vegetarian meal had some kind of curry and barley mixture. The pie was great, and the wine was tasty.

Belligero caught the eye of one of the attendants. He's sitting on the arm of my seat.

The airport was strangely quiet today. Maybe, because it's the anniversary of the Trade Center attacks, nobody wanted to fly. We figured that there wouldn't be a better day to fly than today, for just that reason. We got from the curb to the gate at SFO in under fifteen minutes. Eight more hours on the plane. I should try to sleep.

* * * *

Retrospective --

I still can't get over how quiet it was at the airport. This was before all of the shoe removal and toiletries in a baggie nonsense, so you'd expect it to be a little less of a hassle than it'd be today, but that's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about an almost deserted international terminal at SFO at 9:00am on a weekday. It was eerie.

The other thing we noticed was that the interactive maps in the seatbacks were turned off. We had no idea what we were flying over. I don't think it was a coincidence that they were 'broken' on that particular day.

The Anniversary

I've never written the big "My 9/11 Story", in the first place because I can never top the best account I've ever read, and in the second because I don't have a big "My 9/11 Story". I woke up, turned on the news and watched it while I got ready for work, went to work, came home. The end. It's no more interesting than that.

One year to the day later, A.B. and I, along with our faithful plush companion Belligero the Clown, boarded a United jet and kited off to Europe. It was the most amazing, frightening thing I've ever done, not because we were flying on the one-year anniversary of That Day in a fully fueled jet on a non-stop from SFO to Schiphol, but because we were flying toward a foreign place, so far from home. I'd never been farther east than Las Vegas. I'd never been anywhere where people spoke a different language. I'd never been anywhere where I stood out as a stranger. This, more than anything threatening going on in the world, scared the Hell out of me. I still can't believe that I did it.

So, every year on September 11th, I see the "what I was doing (x) years ago" memorial posts, and I think about what I was doing (x + 1) years ago, and I feel a little guilty for feeling happy. This year, I've decided to stop feeling guilty about it. Starting later today, and going for as many days as I have entries in my travel journal, you're going to read about that trip.

Let's have some fun.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Hindmost

He had learned the ways of things about him now. It was a war of each against all, and the devil take the hindmost. You did not give feasts to other people, you waited for them to give feasts to you. You went about with your soul full of suspicion and hatred; you understood that you were environed by hostile powers that were trying to get your money, and who used all the virtues to bait their traps with. The store-keepers plastered up their windows with all sorts of lies to entice you; the very fences by the wayside, the lamp posts and telegraph poles, were pasted over with lies. The great corporation which employed you lied to you, and lied to the whole country--from top to bottom it was nothing but one gigantic lie.

- Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Cubicle 140, August 22, 2008

This was my workspace on my very first day here, June 8, 1998. It didn't have a computer, because my manager hadn't been able to secure one yet. He and the other programmer in my department rolled a chair in from someone else's cubicle, and I sat in it and tried not to fidget like a grade-schooler. The network guy and the server guy - yes, back then it was just two guys, not two teams - headed off to a storage room to see if they could piece together a computer for me. A woman down the row introduced herself and handed me a pencil holder with an assortment of tradeshow pens and highlighters. My manager had also been unable to get his request for office supplies filled prior to my arrival. There weren't many solid procedures in place for bringing in new employees. We'd show up, cobble together what we needed to work, and go from there. We were excited to be working together, a small but growing company, deftly navigating an ever-changing market. We took pride in our ability to adapt and survive when so many bigger players were faltering or failing. The company was so young then.

Almost all of those people from my first day are gone now. My first manager and the programmer were out after just over two years, the results of a 'philosophical differences' layoff and a risky jump to a dot-com. The network guy, a sweet grouch of a man, died of a heart attack a few years back. The server guy was laid off, but I continued working with his son, a programmer, for another several years, until he was let go earlier this year. Of all of the people I met on that first day, only the generous pencil lady, Linda, is still here.

The company that recently bought our company concluded that they don't want to keep originating mortgages, which is a smart move in the current economy. They're going to focus on servicing existing loans and repairing portfolios damaged by the subprime crisis. Can't fault their logic. That's where the money's going to be for a while yet.

If they're not going to make new loans, they don't need the team of programmers that worked on the front-end system. They don't need underwriters. They don't need document specialists. They don't need to develop new reports to track their sales goals. They don't need to maintain the code that moves the data from the front end to the servicing system. That's what I do. Did.

A week and a half ago, roughly one hundred people where shown the door. We watched them walk out with their boxes and their plants and their desk lamps, a bittersweet parade set to the tune of grim laughter and choked goodbyes. The severance package is good for the long-timers, and there were very few employees left who weren't long-timers. They were sad to go, but relieved to finally have a definite end.

Those of us not let go and not hired on with the new company are sitting in limbo for the next five weeks. There's no work to do, because all of our projects were cancelled the day of the announcement, and most of the people we worked with are gone. There's a slight chance that the new company will decide that they need some of us for our specialized skills or our business knowledge and hire us on. I'm not saying that I'm counting on that, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping for it.

It's a business, not a family, not a philanthropic commune. This is how it has to work. It isn't personal. I understand that, and believe it. Sinclair's protagonist turned angry and bitter when he lost his naivete. I chose to simply accept the way of things. I'm just disappointed that the herd is now so small, and that I am finally the hindmost.

On the positive, maybe now I'll have more time to knit.