Be Our Desk

I recently got a new job, a job which I am very happy to have. At my previous employer, I wasn’t really sold on staying, so I didn’t really decorate my desk all that much–in the same way that you don’t really decorate up a prison cell because you hope you’ll get out soon. The only decoration I had at my old cubicle was a Rita Hayworth poster to conceal an elaborate escape tunnel into the office’s sewage system.

But now I actually want to deck out my desk, so I’ve had to think of some ways to trick it out. In the absence of help from Xzibit, here’s what I came up with (and, fear not, have subsequently purchased with real, hard-earned American dollars. I don’t recommend something I wouldn’t decorate with myself).

  1. Seasonal Mouse Pads: You know how sometimes you think your mouse is scrolled over a link, but you’ve actually stopped two millimeters too short, so you aren’t actually clicking on the link (you’re just clicking on personal aggravation)? That’s actually your hand trying to tell you something. It’s trying to tell you that it’s confused. It’s Christmas Day (or so says the boy down on the street, sir), but your mouse pad is all palm trees and sandy beaches. How can you expect to close out Q4 correctly when your mouse pad thinks it’s America’s Birthday? Also, why are you working on Christmas Day? And why did you pester that small child on the street? He was probably going home to his family, like you should be. So that’s why I bought four mouse pads, each depicting a seasonally appropriate nature vignette.
  2. Motivational Poster: Sometimes I just don’t have the internal drive to thrive, need to succeed, yearn to burn, compulsion to emulsion. I need to get some encouragement from outside myself. But not too far outside myself. Most motivational posters are trite, annoying, and sometimes outright deceitful. Which is why I created my own. I took a picture of my face looking powerfully (and sensually) into the camera and Photoshopped the words “You are powerful and well-liked.” at the bottom of it. So whenever I need reassurance, I can look at myself, see myself looking back at me, and know that there’s at least one guy out there who gets it.
  3. Terrarium: If I don’t have something green and living at my desk, it’s very easy for me to imagine that the world has descended into a dystopian wasteland of urban decay, and then I start hoarding gasoline. Keeping a tiny ecosystem of moss and rocks at my desk is a small way of reminding myself that all my family and friends haven’t been killed in a nuclear apocalypse. Plus, it throws some extra oxygen my way, which I’m always in favor of.
  4. Big Ol’ Bottleuh Whiskey: I mean, make no mistake, I work in a cubicle so we’re not exactly talking Mad Men here. But whiskey is the only desk decoration I have that I can both display and drink. And I’m all about multitasking. Also, hearkening back to my post on accessorizing, having the whiskey at my desk gives me the endless opportunity to accessorize out with other whiskey-related desk decorations. I hope to eventually sport a decanter, several glasses, and a wingback chair on my desk.

Hopefully this has been an edutaining resource for your own office decoration endeavors. Please let me know if you’d like your very own “You Are Powerful and Well-Liked” Motivational poster, and I’ll make some copies and throw them out the window of my office.


Skilled Laborer: Part 2

“Who dares, wins” is an incomplete quote. It should probably end with “as long as you’ve thought about the dare for at least a couple minutes.” Young adult Kevin could have benefited a lot from the clarification.

My general impression in the early days of my adulthood was that you should just pick a thing and then jump headlong into that thing. So after I had my skills revelation–that I had picked all the wrong skills and that I needed some new skills in order to make myself marketable on the romancin’ front–I proceeded to pick a new skill with as little forethought as possible. So I learned Japanese.

Hoisted by my own petard, I later discovered that Japanese is not renowned for its ability to get pretty ladies hot and swoony. I’m sorry, the answer we were looking for was French, with partial credit for Italian. It turns out that “je t’aime” sounds and looks much more romantic to the Western lady than あなたを愛してる [anata wo aishiteru]. Way to not make it to Japan, Roman Empire. You got to Armenia and thought, “we’ve got basically all of Asia; we’re good here”?! It’s called Asia Minor for a reason! And by the time America got there, it was too late. Because all that did was bring in a bunch of gross-sounding cognates so that you had to describe a girl with blonde hair as a BURONDO no onna no hito [ブロンドの女の人]. It also didn’t help that the girls I was hoping to impress with this skill had grandfathers who still weren’t sold on the idea that Japanese people should be allowed to play baseball (it was the Midwest after all).

[If I could put in a quick plug for Japanese, I would say that if you put away Western language predispositions, you’ll find that Japanese is a tremendously beautiful language. It’s very vowely; every word ends either in a vowel or “n,” which makes for very soft-sounding sentences.]

In the absence of ladies (a perennial theme in my young adulthood), I figured I could still salvage the Japanese learning by finding another use for it. So I decided that I would use my Japanese to be able to watch anime without subtitles. (It’s hard to suss out whether my interest in anime was the cause of or effect of the no ladies.) I was already an avid fan of anime, so this was a natural move for me.  Yet again, though–foiled. Because what I hadn’t counted on was that people talk in their native language very, very quickly. It works really well for people who are both fluent in a language to speak that language quickly; it saves time and you can pack a lot more words in so you can really get to the bottom of that gossip about the old guy down the block who’s compulsively varnishing things.

The speed at which I could comprehend, however, was the speed at which you talk to a child who just got a concussion. So really all I got out of a half-hour anime episode was, “there’s a guy, and he’s mad and somebody else is about to eat lunch.”

So, if you need to know–very slowly!–whether someone isn’t happy or whether they plan to eat a meal soon, I have a very particular set of skills.


Skilled Laborer: Part 1

It’s always seemed to me that upstanding gentlemen have always had at least one good skill under their belt. Something that’s useful, but not too useful–that’s just on the border of being too specific. Some examples:

  1. Making the perfect martini
  2. Navigation using the stars
  3. Changing the oil on a car
  4. Bull fighting
  5. The Korean War
  6. Doing your own taxes
  7. First aid
  8. Being Teddy Roosevelt
  9. Speed reading
  10. Bears
  11. Gripping it and ripping it
  12. Or get your degree

I have none of these (except for the degree one). The problem was that I grew up with two older brothers. That in and of itself wouldn’t be an impediment to developing some genteel skills. After all, having older brothers to make you feel incredibly inadequate and that you’re never quite measuring up is great impetus to continuous quality improvement. Judging from the results, the guy who developed Six Sigma must have had about seventeen older brothers.

The problem with my older brothers was that the skills they guilted me into developing were all the wrong ones; not one was on the list above or any similar lists. The skills my brothers made fun of me for not having until I had them mastered were:

  1. Being real real good at Final Fantasy and other Japanese RPGs available for the Playstation gaming console, and
  2. Knowing the intricacies of the Windows operating system for early 2000s PCs

These skills are not tremendously transferable. If I go to a party and casually bring up the fact that I won the Blitzball match in Final Fantasy X that’s supposed to be unwinnable (the first one you ever play, against the Luca Goers, when all you have are the original Aurochs with terrible stats), people’s natural reaction is never “what a witty and urbane gentleman this is. Let me inquire further as to his past achievements and present interests.”

And let me tell you, it was very startling to me to find that upon entering high school, no one else had these skills. Or had even heard of these skills. Here I thought video games and computer skills were going to prepare me for the wider world, and everyone else had spent their time developing the skill of not looking like a complete weirdo–which turned out to be way more useful. It was like I was Moses coming down from the mountain with a couple of stone tablets, and everyone else was like, “Stone tablets? We’re onto golden calves, buddy. Nobody cares about that stone tablet garbage!”

Hence my quandary. I’ve got skills. And they’re the skills that America should want. After all, Windows is a great operating system and knowing that running cmd.exe and typing “SHUTDOWN -s -t60” will automatically shut down your computer in sixty seconds is a great thing to know. They’re the skills America deserves, but not the ones it needs right now. And so I’ll hunt new skills. Because I can take it. Because I’m not a hero.





I often feel like I was born in the wrong time and place. My pale skin would have played way better in Medieval Europe, when pasty skin was a mark of class and beauty rather than a sign that you’re way too acquainted with the Silmarillion. I think I could have also done really well in Asia back when the fashion was to wear giant flowing robes that covered up your entire arms and even went down past your hands. Because still haven’t found a good answer to the question, “What am I supposed to do with my hands?”

Typically, my answer is, “fidget them around a whole bunch so that if they look weird in a certain position, they’re only there for about three seconds.” It turns out, though, that fidgeting is not the hallmark of a calm, self-assured person. You’d be hard-pressed to find footage of Frank Sinatra romancing America through song while clicking a pen or jangling change in his pocket. I’ve also experimented with going through life perpetually double-fisting beverages. This provides the added bonus of extreme hydration, but also makes gesturing a very moist affair. It’s also very difficult to go to the bathroom with two beverages in your hand, and drinking two beverages at all times makes this a pretty frequent occurrence.

But if I commit to placing my hands in one spot and keeping them there, there’s no safe location. Folding my arms makes me look like I’m listening to people talk and that I’m constantly about to say, prove it! “Yeah grandma, I know you said your azaleas are blooming really nicely this year, but prove it! Where’s the facts!” Clasping my hands in front of me makes me look like it’s bathroom time, please stop talking and let me find the men’s room before I have a whoopsie. Clasping my hands behind me makes me look like I’m in the military, and I’d really like to avoid making people think that I’m a person they can depend on if some serious stuff goes down. I am not.

Which really only leaves me with the option to leave my hands at my sides. Many people may be reading this thinking that this is the obvious choice and is what most “normal” people do. But I can’t. There’s just something about it that seems wasteful. Our hands can pick stuff up, play the piano, cook a delicious meal, build a bridge, or fight the Kaiser. Why in the world would I take these miraculous amalgams of muscle and bone and flesh and plunk them down at my side like a couple of rocks–stupid, stupid rocks? Really, if I want to get my money’s worth out of my hands, I should be using them constantly while I’m in conversation, waving them around and gesticulating–Italians have the right idea. If I did this, I could be so much more productive! I could end a conversation over coffee with a newly crocheted scarf rather than my dumb hands in my lap. What am I supposed to do with my hands? Whatever I want!