Wednesday, February 24, 2010

wii little me

Around Christmastime Larry brought home an extra gift he got "for the boys," which was one of those "wii" gaming systems where you stand in front of the TV waving these white controllers in the air in a way that slightly resembles doing a sport. Everyone says that this is better than regular video games because you move your whole arms instead of just the thumbs. Although the boys were happy enough to get it, I wasn't very enthusiastic about bringing yet another time-wasting electronic into the house.

After the initial excitement, guess who was the one spending the most time of all strengthening his elbows? That would be Larry. And then he went and bought another game to upgrade from what came with it, this one called "wii sports resort."

He quickly mastered Frisbee golf and then went on the 100 pin bowling. I observed that he seemed to get a sense of satisfaction out of watching the ball smack down all those bowling pins, sending them flying and bouncing away. It must meet some testosterone-fueled need to dominate, crush and destroy passive objects. Maybe this is a good way to take care of that. But still, not my thing.

But then I found myself with all of this extra free time recently, and the boys have had a lot of days off from school due to breaks and snow days. Desperate to get them away from the TV screen, I had the idea that if I was taking a turn at it then they would be forced to find other things to do. I asked Jeff to show me how the wii worked, and he helped me to set up my avatar. We made a wii little Mindy in a purple shirt, and I kind of liked watching her bopping around on the screen.

I really didn't want to go to all the effort of standing up in front of the TV, so I found a game for flying an airplane that I kind of liked, and I saw that there was one for bicycling that I could do while sitting down.

It seemed silly at first, sitting there on the couch pedaling my arms in the manner that my feet would go, which has very little to do with riding a bicycle, which is the one sportly thing I actually do in real life.

But after a bit of practice I found some things to like about it. The way that the perspective is set up on the screen, you get the feeling that you are actually there, traveling through this happy sunny digitally created place, with the fake wind blowing through my fake avatar hair. And although the pedaling action is weird, to take the corners on the paths you kind of lean over to the side, very similar to steering a real bike, which for me is nearly an instinctive reaction with all of the bike riding I do when there isn't 12 inches of snow on the ground like there is now.

And so I got kind of good at it, and I started to enjoy the false reality of whisking around the island. I think it is the same thing as watching an Imax movie, where your peripheral vision takes in the motion on the screen and your brain and body react as if it was real.

I got so good that I earned the chance to go up a level and unlocked a new course that travels up the side of a volcano on a windy little path. That visual perspective trick was also at work here, and I truly had the feeling that if I didn't keep in control and steer just right, I could fall right to my death by plunging over the rocky cliff.

And then I did!

Ahhhh! It was a horrific moment as I virtually experienced my worst fear of losing control of my bike and plunging to my rocky death below. I closed my eyes because I really didn't want to know if I would see a bloody wii little Mindy lying at the bottom, or being carried off by the wii paramedics to be pronounced dead on arrival and prepped for her wii little funeral.

Alerted by the sound of their mother screaming at the TV, Tim and Jeff appeared to see what was happening. After they got me calmed down, Jeff showed me what to do.

"See mommy, you just go right back to where you were, a little farther behind than before, and then you keep on going."

Of course. As always, he has it exactly right.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Easy come, easy go

I was going to follow up on that last post with some silly speculation about what might have happened to the disappearing workers at my temp job. Such as finding dazed former employees roaming the parking lot with stapled-up flaps on the backs of their heads. Or experimental but dangerous productivity enhancing chemicals being pumped through the air vents. Or some kind of Truman-like fake work environment as cover for some sinister activities.

But all that's not quite so funny anymore, because now I know what happens to their former contract employees.

They get a call on their cell phones on a Sunday evening while they were doing laundry so as to have enough clean dress pants to wear for the week, and it's from the job shop rep saying not to go in to work the next day. No explanation, just a request to turn in the laptop computer.

I'll have to say that I was somewhat stunned, because I had recently gotten to a point where I had figured out how to do the tasks that were assigned to me, and could finally begin producing at the speed they seemed to be expecting. But I also had a feeling that this made some sense, because on Friday I had sent an email to whoever I thought might be the right person to tell that I would not be coming in to work "for all Saturdays in the forseeable future" as a recent mass email had demanded that we either do or provide excuses for.

When I accepted this job assignment I was not told that there would be mandatory overtime, and since I had been there it was very unclear to me what the expectations were for hours of work. But it was made clear by the job shop that I was not to work overtime without "prior approval" which meant to me something more direct than vague whining about "we're way behind and everyone needs to pitch in."

Of course I'm guessing here, because for all I know the reason they let me go was something to do with the way I fix my hair, but if it was the overtime issue then that's a shame because the confusion could have been easily cleared up by someone from the company having a direct conversation with me about what the expectation was.

But that would have been the first and only direct conversation I'd have with anyone there about any subject including how to do the documents, what to wear on Fridays, who to call if there's a snowstorm or when the department meetings were. They just didn't acknowledge the new contractors there as actual people. We were more like a line of boxed up computer monitors along the wall that you look at and think "I wonder when they're going to install those."

And that bothered me. I need my personhood to be acknowledged. Just a little quirk of mine. I do totally get it that we are in a recession and there is an unlimited supply of unemployed people out there plenty willing to step in and take any work they can get, but to me that is still not an excuse to treat people with any less respect, or none at all.

So this is how this goes. Now I need to figure out what I'm going to do next, again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


So this new job of mine, there's a lot to do, which makes the days go by quickly, but the work isn't always all that interesting to me. Also, since I've started there's something about the place that doesn't seem quite right, and I've been thinking about that.

A few days ago, one of the coworker who I hadn't gotten to know very well disappeared without explanation. Suddenly, her desk was empty and her name was off of the work schedule, but nobody was talking about it.

As a new contractor doing the exact same job as she was, I wanted to know more. If she was fired, was it the quality of her work, her attitude, the speed of her work, punctuation, personal hygiene, what? I guess I wanted to know what not to do, in case I wanted to stay here for a while, or the converse. It would be good information.

Since no one was talking, I was left to my own devices. MaryAnn told me that she had gotten one of the assignments from the separated worker. I told her to be on the lookout for anything that might indicate a reason to be fired. She said that she would have organized the topics differently herself, but that was about all that could be said to be wrong with the document.

Meanwhile, I was on the keen lookout for suspicious activity. I started to realize that although everyone around me constantly appears to be frantically busy, I have never seen any actual results of all this work.

Then the other day as I was driving around the series of connected building to get to the spot in the back parking lot, something caught my eye. It was a man in a white lab coat coming through a parting in the chain link fence between some other buildings in the industrial park. I watched as he went to an unmarked door to a building that is connected to my building.

The next time I drove around I took a closer look. The only markings on the door said "CAUTION: eye protection required." I thought it was unusual that this part of the complex is inaccessible from my area, and does not have a sign anywhere. I peered through the fence opening and saw another series of unmarked buildings. And then another lab-coat guy came and went through!

Back at my desk, I had been complaining about how dirty everything seemed to get, and with impressive speed a never-before-seen "maintenance worker" appeared with a ladder and used a paint brush to clean the "dust" off of a large vent that's nearly right over my desk. Most unusual.

I tried to put the pieces together. I told MaryAnn to take another look at that document, to check for things like the first letter of every other word spelling out a secret plea for help when read backwards.

I'm still working on it, but there must be a way to connect these occurrences into a single explanation. There just has to be one. Or not.