THE PERFORMANCE REVIEW

My friend, Rick, was just laid off, or as it was phrased to him, transferred to the ‘Off Payroll Division’, and he told me the one thing he absolutely will not miss is the performance reviews. Who knew they still had performance reviews, anyway? I haven’t had one in years but, then again, what can they really tell someone who plays Elton John records on the radio for a living? You should have played them better? Seriously, I thought reviews went the way of the beer an opener (church key) or Morton’s Mustache Wax (Motto: You look stupid. Go home and shave). However, if you still have reviews, I guess you should be grateful because it means you still have a job.

For the uninitiated, the performance review is conducted strictly for the entertainment of the reviewer. The reviewee already knows how it’s going to end. It’s very much like having to sit through a bad movie after having seen all the horrible previews. Oh yeah, for the victim, it’s like having to endure a root canal from a dentist who really, really enjoys garlic.

The reviewer seems to take great delight in the subtle digs, jabs and twists of the knife. “Say,” (big belly laugh) “remember when you used to call me names that implied that my face and my buttocks were interchangeable? (GULP!) Hey, how about that golf luncheon last year, when you and your cronies put vaseline on all my club handles and then you switched the tomato juice in my Bloody Mary with real blood from a deceased gopher. I’m still in therapy as a result of that. Yeah, that was a good one. Now sit down. Let’s begin, shall we?” (DOUBLE GULP!)

It’s critically important to never, ever burn bridges. Burning bridges loosely translated means being nice to awful people, however monumental a task that may seem to be. Inevitably, the person you rail on, will no doubt, someday be in a position to help you and you don’t want to do anything to hinder that process. By example, let’s look at the mistake Claude made with, at the time, a co-worker of equal irrelevance at Widgets R’ Us. Claude posted a note on the breakroom bulletin board that read: “To whoever stole my Pastrami sandwich from the office fridge…JIM, I hope you enjoyed stealing it and savoring every delectable morsel. Gee, it’s just too bad that my slobbering dog, Elsie, licked the crap out of it before I made the sandwich. Ha-Ha. Hope you burn in Hell… JIM, and, by the way, your wife says the last time she enjoyed a romantic interlude, YOU WEREN’T THERE. Ha-Ha. So, again, whoever took my pastrami sandwich from the fridge, you’re a jerk…JIM.”
P.S. Jim ended up becoming Regional Manager in charge of Widget Design and Manufacturing. Unfortunately, this didn’t end well for Claude.

It’s especially annoying when your supervisor used to work FOR you. The only reason this jerkball leapfrogged over you in the first place is because his cousin (usually it’s Vinnie from The Bronx) knew somebody who once chauffeured Derek Jeter, and whose sister just happened to be The Director and Purveyor of the Rapidly Assembled Nourishment Division (hot dog vendors) at Yankee Stadium. As luck would have it, they ended up getting married and the next thing you know, this guy hands off Yankee season tickets to the big boss and BINGO: INSTANT PROMOTION. Sometimes life isn’t fair, kids.

One other thing to keep in mind about performance reviews is that every good thing you’ve ever done will be covered in the first ten seconds. “Bob, you did an adequate job fixing that paper jam in the copy machine last month and I really liked your orchestration of the Masters golf tournament office pool (long pause, removal of glasses and clearing of throat) but…” OH CRAP! HERE IT COMES. Why does there always have to be a BUT? Because getting the positives out of the way early leaves them the rest of the time to make you feel like you’re a worthless piece of flesh who is just taking up oxygen on the planet and to make you thankful that a malcontent, such as yourself, still has a job in the first place. It’s their job. It’s what they do…and the revel in it.

So, good luck with your next performance review and remember, get a good night’s sleep beforehand, sound alert when you’re in the office and try to exercise some restraint when you feel like jumping across the desk in an attempt to strangle the interviewer. By the way, the next time you have a pizza delivered and the guy at your doorstep is mumbling and kicking himself in the shins, say ‘hi’ to him for me. His name is Claude.

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COME ON IN, THE WATER’S…UM, FREEZING!

If you have been following the goings on of the Hudson Valley chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, you already know that every February brings another round of the Subzero Heroes Ice Jump at Berean Lake in Highland, NY. Why do we take the plunge into open waters in upstate New York in the middle of the winter? Because we’re deeply disturbed individuals, but also because we hate Alzheimer’s.

During my radio career, I’ve been peed on by a circus elephant (which is only slightly preferable to being stepped on by a circus elephant), I’ve been body-slammed by a professional wrestler who called himself The Masked Assassin and I’ve had my head shaved in a bar following a stupid football bet. But, this thing is REALLY NUTS! Count me in, however, because after witnessing firsthand how Alzheimer’s strips away ones pride and sense of self and so whittles away at the brain that eventually one forgets how to eat or even swallow, I’m for anything that can raise awareness, even if that involves a little shrinkage.

When my father-in-law, Salvatore, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, he was given a clock by the technician and told to move the hands to show the Three O’clock position. Frustrated at not being able to do so, he felt the need to urinate in her flowerpot, thus effectively ending the life of four innocent African Violets who just happened to be in the wrong pot at the wrong time.

The date is Saturday, February 9th and all the information you’ll need is at http://www.subzeroheroes.org. This, being the 9th year of the jump, has grown into a major fundraiser for The Alzheimer’s Association. Here’s an exclamation point as to the importance of all this: Every 67 seconds, someone in this country is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sure that Sal who passed from the ravages of this disease 11 years ago, will be viewing this spectacle from his luxury box in the sky saying, “Get some clothes on, you morons!”

I should mention that you don’t actually have to ‘take the leap,’ to assist. You may choose to stay nice and warm on the shore and volunteer. The word we use to describe this group of people is ’Sissies.” No, wait, I’m sorry…I meant ’Sidekicks.’ Yes, that’s it. In the ice-jumping vernacular, “Heroes” are the jumpers and ’Sidekicks’ are the known as the sane ones.

To help me prepare for this jump every year, I enjoy speaking with a man named Nathan Numb, who happens to be a high ranking member of the Cook County, Illinois Polar Bear Club who run into Lake Michigan every New Year’s Day. He tells me that the second best way to prepare for this jump is too slather your entire body with Vaseline and the absolute best way to prepare is to consume mass quantities of Jack Daniel’s beforehand. Personally, I have been practicing by sleeping in the fridge on alternate nights. I also take an occasional cold shower and, of course, perform the obligatory Hanes Boxer snow shoveling, an event that I trust will soon be a part of every Winter Olympiad.

Psychologists have a term for people who do things like this and I think that term is: mentally unbalanced. Oh, sure, like they’ve never taken a butt naked leap off the pier at the stroke of midnight with champagne bottles in hand to celebrate Sigmund Freud’s birthday. Give me a break.

Remember there date: Saturday, February 9th at Berean Lake in Highland, NY. Again, get all the information on how you can help us find the 1st Alzheimer’s survivor can be found at http://www.subzeroheroes.org. Salvatore gave me some sage advice before Alzheimer’s completely swallowed up his brain and that was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right and try not to screw it up. Now get a haircut!’ See you at the lake.

THE LONELY BED

After several years of marriage to Michele, I remain mystified by two things: 1) what in the world are all those bottles she has in the shower? and 2) When it’s time to pay the monthly bills, her behavior changes. It’s like a chameleon changing colors or the vampire growing fangs as the moon comes out. It’s the issue of bills that I will concentrate on here.

Let me begin by saying that Michele is the bill payer in our family. I’ve paid a total of zero bills. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. Years ago, I did pay a cable bill because I didn’t want her to see that I purchased a pay-per-view of Big Busted Secretaries Mud Wrestling in Fishnets, but that was the only time.

After years of intent observation, I have developed what I call the ‘Bed/Bill’ theory. Simply put, the time the bill payer in the family goes to bed is in direct proportion to the amount of money you have in the bank.

Below is what I’ve drawn up for us. It’s all based on the time I go to bed, which is 7:30PM. Keep in mind, your chart may look considerably different and this should be used only as a guideline.

If Michele comes to bed with me at:

7:30PM: This has never happened. Who am I kidding?

9:00PM: Probably two or three minor bills need to be paid. No reason to panic.

10:00PM: She’s struggling to pay at least five bills and checking the various accounts to see where she can do some creative shifting.

12:00AM: We’re in dangerous waters now. The bills are spread out all over the floor and the grunting is getting louder. The empty wine bottles are piling up in the garbage can.

3:00AM: I shoot out of bed and throw back the curtains looking for the bad men from the bank to come walking up the steps with hand trucks to haul us away. Then, I breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that the bad men from the bank don’t take possession of anything, except maybe a coffee cup, one minute before nine in the morning.

Don’t always rely on facial expressions of the bill payer as a mood determinant. Some are very slick and really tough to crack. However, there are ways to tell when particular bills are delinquent. For instance, if my wife has one of our cats on his back, each leg strapped to a different corner of the kitchen table, trying to insert a rectal thermometer, then we must be in red with the vet. Also, when she hears me firing up the electric pencil sharpener during this critical bill paying period, she’ll race in, make a nosedive for the plug and yank it from the outlet. When this occurs, by my deductions, we must owe the utility company. By the way, is it just me or has it ever crossed your mind that with any utility company, there’s a persnickety, old man just sitting by a switch, snickering and salivating, waiting for the stroke of midnight of the day your bill is due and delights to the point of orgasm in flicking that switch, rendering your entire house dark…and cold?

I’ve confronted Michele on my ‘Bed/Bill’ theory and she looks at me like I’m crazy. Yeah, right. Like I’m the one who has twenty-four bottles of conditioners, lotions and exfoliating creams in the shower. But, I’m the nutjob. Sure.

Anyway, try putting my ‘Bed/Bill’ theory to work for you. I think you will find more than a kernel of truth in it. Please remember that family bill payers can become very temperamental, emotional and fragile at that certain time of the month. Treat them with kid gloves, don’t startle them or make any sudden movements and, whatever you do, wait until the crisis passes before sharpening any pencils.

IT’S BEEN A BANNER YEAR!

Hey, c’mon, I like holiday parties as much as the next guy, or at least I used to.
I remember the days when you could actually exhale and let your hair down. You could belly up to the bar and the guy in the next cube would buy you another round (or 5). You may even fall down once or twice on the dance floor as the cool DJ played Limbo Rock for the third consecutive time. The whole floor would erupt in laughter. Ah yes, those were the days.

Today, the rules have changed a wee bit. You are encouraged to attend. Not showing up could very easily brand you one of those awful malcontents — a label that sticks, trust me. No one wants that. Yes, there’s a bar, but should you dare to return for a second trip, you’re playing with fire. Remember, you were encouraged to attend, not necessarily have a good time.

And then there’s the socializing outside the cube farm with the co-workers. Here on party night, you’re suddenly wishing warm holiday greetings to the same jerk that threw you under the bus last week.

Then of course, the boss has to make a speech. You are hoping that he will mention your name as being a key contributor. Listening, you feel a little bit slighted when that fails to happen. You wonder if you shouldn’t have set your sights so high and just accept the fact that he really doesn’t even know your name. “Jeez, he thanks Jenkins, and all that tub of lard did all year was say ‘Yes’ every time the boss wanted an ego stroke because he felt unwanted himself by the corporate office.” Perhaps there’s a lesson there. Who knows?

And his speech, oh my God, please. Why not just record it one year and play it back at every Christmas party?

“Well, it’s been a banner year! We’ve made some changes that we feel will only enhance the forward movement of this well-oiled machine. Sure, we’ve had to let some people go but the people that remain here today are the collective backbone of this company. You are the ones that we depend on. You are the ones that we respect and you are the ones that keep this train on the tracks and going in the right direction. You have my word that you will be here just as long as, well, we feel the need to keep you around (cough). Everyone in this room has played an integral part in this year’s success and corporate wanted me to pass that message along to you personally. They wanted to have a representative here tonight but unfortunately, most of them had a previous commitment and as I’m sure you know, those Ice Capades tickets are very hard to come by. Anyway, thanks for all of your sweat and hard work with past year. You are all a vital cog in our performance enhancement program. One other thing, corporate asked me to keep this a secret until now, but, as a result of all of your Herculean efforts, they will be picking up your bowling ball shoe rental fees tonight (wild applause). Now let’s grab your balls and show the world how we roll! Remember, the 5th frame is the beer frame! Happy Holidays!”

KINDNESS CAN GET YOU KILLED!

Wow! Here comes that expression again: We’re walking on eggshells.

Our radio station performs what we call Random Acts of Kindness from time to time. Maybe we’ll go to the supermarket (with permission) and watch someone’s jaw drop as we whip out a wad of cash and pay for their groceries or we may go to the diner and pick up a lunch tab. While we’re there, we’ll most likely inquire as what that funky odor is that permeates the air. Rumor has it that it’s some sort of cleanser, but we absolutely do know that it’s capable of making eyebrows curl and in some cases, eyeballs popping out and falling to the floor.

The one constant in our random acts of kindness is the recipients reaction. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT WITH ME?” I bring this up because I realized that the eggshells we are walking on daily are becoming so fragile that we trust no one and question everyone’s motives. Relax, people! I’m just buying your gravy soaked sausage and brisket combo. Save your money: You’ll need it for your cardiologist visit.

I thought I would be a nice guy so I brought my neighbor’s garbage cans back from the street the other day and he was practically shaking with fear when he asked, “What’s going on here?” Isn’t that something you might ask after, oh, I don’t know, someone holds you up at gunpoint or, maybe after you get a letter filled with exclamation points in red ink from your utility company? My God, all I did was bring his empty garbage cans back. I can only imagine the severity of his convulsions if I had cut his lawn unsuspectingly.

Another random act of kindness gone horribly awry took place in a hair salon. A radio station intern, armed with enough cash to maybe purchase a nice Supreme Court justice, went into the salon, again, with their permission, but, unbeknownst to the recipient. It’s important to note here, kids, that sometimes surprises don’t always work out the way they were scripted. As the intern flashed some money in front of the newly coifed woman, she thought he was propositioning her and immediately called 911. Seconds later, her big, burly husband came in to pick her up and, after noticing the commotion, punched the poor intern in the nose and rearranged his ears as well. If memory serves correctly, this was the intern’s last day with the radio station. He decided to enter an internship in a much less dangerous field: coal-mining.

I remember a time when we would do nice things for people and they would, in turn, buy us a six pack of Natty Light and we would chat on the front porch for hours, laughing and, with every passing beer, try to one up the other with our feats of accomplishment. “Hey, Bob, did I ever tell you about the time I saved a Boy Scout from drowning?” “Actually, Jim, yeah, I think I’ve heard that one a few times and if you tell it again, I’ll whack you over the head with this piece of rebar.” Yeah, big Bob, I’ll never forget that day. This little guy was just walking on the pier when he slipped and fell in. Instinctively, I just dove in the wat…” (interrupting) WHACK ! Sorry, Jim, I tried to warn you.

I’ll say it again: We need to relax, people. If someone taps you on the shoulder while you’re in line at Price Chopper, there’s no need to reach in your bag and spray his face with mace. There doesn’t always have to be a catch to everything. Do you think that in return for my buying your industrial strength, reusable, paper towels and your eight hundred pound bag of Kibbles n’ Bits, you’re agreeing to sit through a three hour seminar on time shares in Mozambique? Come on, all we’re doing is being nice. If we paid your bridge toll would you chase us down and fire shots through our windshield on the highway?

Relax. Stop being so suspicious, and, most important, start behaving yourself, because, if you don’t, we’re going to have to get nasty and let you buy your own stuff.

HEY ERNIE, TIME TO GET UP!

TRYING TO PREPARE A HOUSE FOR SALE IS NOT AN EASY TASK. THERE ARE, HOWEVER, PEOPLE WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH THE PROCESS AND CLAIMED IT AN ABSOLUTE DELIGHT. THERE’S A WORD THAT DESCRIBES THESE PEOPLE: DELUSIONAL. WE’RE FORTUNATE TO HAVE A GREAT AND EXPERIENCED REALTOR. I MIGHT ALSO SAY THAT SHE IS TRUSTWORTHY, LOYAL, HELPFUL, FRIENDLY, COURTEOUS, OBEDIENT, BRAVE, CLEAN AND REVERANT, BUT I WON’T CAUSE THAT WOULD BE SILLY.

I HAVE NOTICED THROUGH THE YEARS THAT REALTORS EMOTIONS CAN BEST BE DESCRIBED AS FLUCTUATING WITH VERY HIGH EXPECTATIONS EARLY, THEN, WELL, NOT SO MUCH.

BELOW IS A SNAPSHOT OF THE REALTOR TIMELINE.

1ST VISIT: “THE HOUSE IS GORGEOUS. IT’S GOING TO SELL RIGHT AWAY.”
2ND VISIT: “IT’S STUNNING. WE’LL JUST NEED TO CHANGE A FEW LITTLE THINGS.”
3RD VISIT: “I’M BOOKING SOME SHOWINGS, BUT I CAN’T SHOW IT LIKE THIS.”
4TH VISIT: “HOW’S IT GOING ON THOSE CHANGES? WE’VE GOT TO HURRY.”
5TH VISIT: “OTHER HOUSES ARE SELLING. LET’S GO. GET WITH THE PROGRAM.”

I PERSONALLY HAVE DONE PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING I CAN DO, THAT IS, WITHOUT HAVING TO DO ANY ACTUAL WORK, YOU UNDERSTAND.

AS A LIFELONG CHICAGO CUBS FAN, I’VE NEVER LOST FAITH IN MY CUBBIES NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEIR STENCH RIVELED THAT OF THE CHICAGO STOCKYARDS ON A 99 DEGREE HOT AUGUST DAY. THERE WAS ONE PLAYER, HOWEVER, WHO NEVER LET THE HARD TIMES GET TO HIM. HE WAS THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST (C’MON, GUYS, LET’S GO GET ‘EM. WE’RE ONLY 23 GAMES BELOW: 500!) ALWAYS HAD A SMILE ON HIS FACE AND KNOWN FOR HIS SAYING, ‘LET’S PLAY TWO.’ HIS NAME IS ERNIE BANKS, THE IRREPRESSIBLE MR. CUB AND I BRING THAT UP FOR A REASON…

EARLY IN MAY WHILE I WAS MOWING THE LAWN, I HAD A BRAINSTORM. I DECIDED TO TRY SOMETHING. I WAS GOING TO BURY MY PRIZED ERNIE BANKS BOBBLEHEAD DOLL IN THE FRONT YARD HOPING IT WOULD BRING US LUCK IN SELLING THE HOUSE. I WAS FULL OF HOPE FROM THAT MOMENT ON, JUST KNOWING THAT GREAT NEWS WAS WAITING ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE. BUT…NO. THE DAYS AND WEEKS PASSED AND THE ONLY ACTIVITY ON THE PROPERTY WERE A FEW NASTY FINCHES POOPING ON THE ‘FOR SALE’ SIGN. AS OF THIS WRITING, THE HOUSE STILL SITS THERE, UNSOLD AND IT WOULD APPEAR THAT FOR THER FIRST TIME EVER, ERNIE MIGHT BE LETTING ME DOWN.

IT SADDENS ME TO SAY THAT ERNIE NEEDS TO BE REPLACED. WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW? AHHH, WAIT A MINUTE. I GOT IT! ENTER ST. JOSEPH, THE PATRON SAINT OF REALTORS. YES! AFTER CONDUCTING EXTENSIVE RESEARCH CONSISTING OF READING A SHORT ARTICLE IN THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER AND THEN PURCHASING A PLASTIC STATUE OR TEN BUCKS, I MADE THE HARD DECISION TO TAKE ERNIE OUT OF THE GAME. ST. JOSEPH NOW LIES WHERE ERNIE ONCE DID. ST. JOSEPH, SIR, IT’S IN YOUR PRECIOUS HANDS NOW. DO YOUR MAGIC OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU PATRONS DO. YOU’VE NO DOUBT NOTICED THAT I PLACED YOU UPSIDE DOWN. APPARENTLY, THIS WILL CAUSE YOU TO WORK MORE DILIGENTLY ON THE PROCESS. REALLY SORRY ABOUT THAT. IT WASN’T MY IDEA NOR IS IT MY GOAL TO MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT WE REALLY HAVE TO GET OUT FROM UNDER THIS MORTGAGE. I’M SURE YOU UNDERSTAND BEING HER PATRON SAINT OF REALTORS AND ALL. IT TURNS OUT THIS WAS NOT A JOB FOR A HALL OF GAME BASEBALL PLAYER, AFTER ALL. I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER AND GONE WITH RELIGION RIGHT AWAY. ALWAYS THE BETTER BET. SORRY. ALL WE ASK IS THAT YOU DO YOUR BEST AND GET US OUT FROM UNDER, SO TO SPEAK. SIR, I’M NOT SURE IF YOU’VE EVER SHOVELED SHOW IN THE WINTER, BUT IT REALLY KIND OF SUCKS. ANYWAY, YOU ARE THE MAN SO HAVE AT IT, SAINT JOSEPH AND, BY THE WAY, REST ASSURED YOU’LL ALWAYS HAVE MY VOTE FOR ‘MOST VALUABLE SAINT.’

BAN THE SPROUTS

I strayed from my usual dinner of Salsa a la Triscuit the other night and had something called Brussel sprouts. As I recall, they weren’t very appealing and tasted like wet cardboard with a dash of cumin, which is something I’m sure we can all relate to. They also had a negative effect on my digestive system and consequently the environment but that’s not what this is about.

This is about a dream I had concerning Jimmy Wolinski the same night I ate the sprouts. Coincidence? Jimmy was a friend of mine when we attended Deerfield High School on the north side of Chicago. Jimmy was a good kid and the first to suggest that we play a game of touch football instead of tackling our biology homework. Twist my arm, Jimmy. It should come as no surprise that you will not be reading about Jimmy discovering a cure for cancer or even an ergonomically correct beer glass anytime soon. Jimmy now teaches gym at the very same high school that he attended and I can say with confidence that his students will never have a better mentor on the proper way to climb a rope (an exercise that comes in handy should you ever need to scale a prison wall) or how to serve shuttlecock in badminton and still look cool. However…

In my dream, Jimmy was called into service to teach trigonometry in addition to his torturous gym instructor duties, which include blowing the whistle and carrying a clipboard. Let me be clear: Jimmy MUST NOT teach trigonometry. Jimmy’s highest math class was a paint by numbers pre-introduction to junior remedial algebra. I know because I sat right next to him. I would be willing to bet my Cubs tickets that Jimmy thinks trigonometry is a breathing procedure where a tube is placed in the neck.

I’m painfully aware that the current economy is forcing workers to double and sometimes triple up on duties as a result of lay-offs and as distressing as this is, the thought of Jimmy going anywhere near a classroom where they have actual books and instruments of higher learning is mind-numbing.

Teachers need to stick to what they know and I certainly wouldn’t want a trig teacher telling me how to put someone in a full nelson or how to do backflips. I need Jimmy for that. Here’s what some of his former gym students have said about him.

“His gym shoes were always really white!”.”
(Steve Kelly)
“Mr. Wolinski taught me one of the most valuable lessons in life; never eat an entire pizza before doing somersaults.”
(David Ives)
“That man could really blow a whistle.”
(Hunter Lessner)
“Thanks Mr. W. for the valuable lesson about the jock strap and the hockey stick.”
(Dan “The Soprano” Lindquist)

Jimmy’s a great physical education teacher and the master of the wet towel snap to the buttocks, but teaching trig?

“Okay, Kids, settle down. My name is Mr. Wolinski and if you don’t behave I’ll blow my whistle. Today, we’ll be discussing the Pytha…that theory thingamabob that says that 2 sides of a triangle equal…no, wait a minute…I mean when you add up three sides then subtract the short…no, wait. Ah heck, anybody want to go outside and play kickball?”

Hey, dreams can come true and if this one does, the kids in Deerfield are in a world of hurt! I’m planning on doing my part. There will be no more Brussel Sprouts on my menu, ever again. As much as my mouth salivates for the taste of soggy pizza boxes, I’m giving them up and I suggest you do the same. I say keep Jimmy in the locker room and out of the classroom. Our children deserve at least that.