Monday, April 26, 2010

One Night Stand: 'Sacrifice'

This past weekend I was making my way up the stairs of an Upper East Side walk-up in New York. From the minute one entered the front door of the building, sound flooded the hall. At the top of the second flight, it became clear that someone was listening, at top volume on a very good sound system, to "Sacrifice" by Elton John.

And they were getting STONED doing it. In the middle of the day.

I don't know whether it was the secondhand weed or the quality of the stereo, but the song stuck with me for the rest of the weekend. I went from mocking the person behind that apartment door to wanting to shake his or her hand. What an amazing song to get stoned to. I've never been stoned, but I imagine the experience was awesome.

I tried to Blip "Sacrifice," because that site is where I've been satisfying my musical Tourette's lately, but all the versions there seemed to be live ones and it's essential that you hear the fully produced, 1989 recording in order to appreciate the song.

When I couldn't Blip it, I turned to my karaoke system. I was delighted to find that it was there, but the plinkity version of the song didn't really satisfy because it was missing the guitar accents that you get in the bridge and last chorus. Plus, I am no Elton. I tried to do my best Eltonesque pronunciation of the words in the song ("sack-a-ri-FAHce," "some thangs lookM bettAH"), but the Magic Sing only scored me at an 88 out of 100. Respectable, but lackluster.

And who knew that this song was about heterosexual infidelity? The last time I was captivated by a gay man singing about that topic was "Careless Whisper" by George Michael, and while Elton hardly beats that chestnut, this song has its own charm in how weirdly Zen and unemotional it is, and how the lyrics are slightly confusing ("No tears to damn you when jealousy burns"?).

Maybe the only way to experience "Sacrifice" is with good speakers and a blunt. But in that moment, I lived vicariously and tasted that freedom. And it was no sacrifice at all.

Music: "Sacrifice"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Please Stop Saying 'Learnings.'

Lately I've noticed that, especially in the workplace, people now say "learnings" when they want to talk about someone else screwing up. Usually, it occurs in meetings and post-mortems where the intent is to say, "Someone has really f***ed up here, and I'm going to let you all know that I know someone f***ed up, but will also try to be positive by focusing on how we can do better in the future."

But instead of saying that, they say something like "There were some good learnings that came out of last week's event," or "Over the past few months there have been some great learnings that we've seen as a company" or [after an awkward pause where someone's embarrassing error has been pointed out] "Well, good learnings."

I first heard it from a boss in San Francisco, and since then, instances of the usage have only increased. It reached a critical mass during a meeting I attended today, and I had to ask myself:

When did this become a word?

I checked the dictionary: Nope, nothing there. Perhaps this usage has evolved because there's no other word that really conveys the concept? Except whoops, there is such a word: lessons.

But perhaps the person who is in the hall monitor role feels uncomfortable talking about "lessons," because it makes him or her seem schoolmarmish. Saying "learnings" sounds a bit more guru-like, not to mention inventive, because you are taking creative liberties with the English language.

Either way, can we call agree that learnings is not a word and should not be uttered?

Thank you.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Points of Contention: Lando Calrissian.

Moving on from the obvious point of contention in the previous post, here's another one. A piece of copy at work labeling Lando Calrissian as a villain recently incited some debate among my coworkers.

"Lando Calrissian was not a villain!"

"Yes he was, he betrayed Han Solo."

"Yes, but he made up for it in the end."

"He was a Judas!"

And so on. What do you think? Personally, I'm on the fence because it's been too long for me and the details are foggy. But the basic question comes down to this: If you commit a serious transgression, does it brand you forever, even if you make amends? Let's say, for example, Osama bin Laden had a change of heart and helped the US avert a shoe bomber, or beat Kim Jong-il's ass. Also, what if he looked like Billy Dee Williams? Would he be a villain then?

On second thought, that comparison's not quite apt. Maybe Lando is more like a Bill Clinton or a Tiger Woods: He doesn't start out with bad intentions, but he's weak. And the Dark Side looked so good in that G-string. Then he finds himself appropriating the voice of his own dead father (or maybe Darth Vader, how awesome would that be) for a Nike commercial and doing what's necessary for posterity, but not really changing at his core. Is he a villain then?

Music: "The Imperial March"

New Business.

1. The Burberry Game

If you live in New York or Washington, or perhaps other cities in the United States, it's likely you witness (and perhaps wear) a profusion of Burberry items daily. In certain areas, the frequency of Burberry scarves approaches comic proportions, and no one ever seems concerned about the fact that everyone is wearing the exact same scarf. This led me to the idea of having a Burberry-spotting game, with a point system devised by a New York resident I know (who also took this photo).

The point system is as follows.

Scarf - 1
Hat - 5
Umbrella - 7
Wallet - 8
Handbag (up to personal bag) - 15
Bag (fits under the seat in front of you) - 20
Boots - 20
Jacket - 25
Luggage - 35
Trench (pattern on lining only) - 50
Baby product - 100
Pet carrier or clothing - 500

And then, of course, just when it seemed the game was taking shape with a solid framework, something came along to challenge our notion of just what's possible in the realm of Burberry achievement: the full-on plaid coat in the photo. Now we are wondering, how many points does this baby merit? Is it a 1,000-point score? Or is it more of a "bingo" sighting, one that doubles whatever your current total is?

Another slight flaw here is that, as spring approaches, scarves will wane. We need another ubiquitous, low-scoring item for the warmer months.

If you choose to participate in the Burberry game, please do share your results. I like to play over the course of an outing or a day, but imagine how many points you could tally in a whole week.

2. New office mug

Witnesses to my previous office mug will agree that this new one, a gift from a recent participant of SXSW, is a nice improvement. It meets my mug standards regarding interior color, capacity and heft; it's also appropriately meaningless and random in its message. No one, however, commented on my mug when I introduced it in meetings recently. I am not sure what to make of this, unless I infer that no one else cares about my stupid mug except me, which is obviously an inadmissible conclusion.

3. Spokeo

You don't need the tag line "Not your grandma's phonebook" to glean that Spokeo is unlike any phonebook you've seen yet, if by phonebook you mean powerful stalking tool. Simply look yourself up for proof. More unsettling than the amount of bizarre data on oneself (hobbies?) is the reckless inaccuracy. According to Spokeo, I still live with my parents and am still married. The good news is, I also own my parents' home.

4. Sign at a grocery store in suburban Virginia

Alright -- alright. Let's just settle down.

Here's the thing: There are rules to parking lots. The rules are that the spots for disabled people are in the very front and that you never park in them unless you have the proper credentials, that you park between the white lines, and that you may not hit any pedestrians even when they walk slowly through the middle of lanes meant for vehicles.

The grocery store in question throws a curveball to the status quo by designating special "parents only" parking spots, which lie tantalizingly close to the store but not quite as close as the wheelchair-sign spots. This means that on any given evening, an unsuspecting non-parent can be cruising through an aisle and think, "Oh cool, I'll park here," because it's a pretty close spot and there's no intuitive reason you wouldn't park there -- until you turn into the spot and encounter the pictured sign.

With all due respect to the parents I know, this is wrong. Being physically incapacitated by a disability or illness entitles someone to better parking than me. Being slightly encumbered by a less-mobile human -- one you created -- entitles you to the lifetime of inconvenience (and, of course, unspeakable joy) that you signed up for. That's just the way it is. Come on!

Finally, I salute you with one of my all-time favorite depictions of spring, taken at the venerable Duane Reade drugstore in New York City (RIP). I wish you a happy Easter, a happy Passover, and allergy-free warming trends.

Music: "Sometimes It Snows in April"