Thursday, May 31, 2007


We had some small amount of damage from the floods back in April: cracks in the cellar floor, possible rust to the undercarriage on the furnace and water heater, some loss to the pointing in the foundation, significant erosion in the backyard that’ll make future water even more problematic if not addressed.

Yesterday, the gummint came over to (possibly) help. A neighbor told us that the Fedrul Emergency “Heckuvajob” Management Agency (FEHMA) has been doling out funds to flood victims in our area, even those with comparatively modest needs, like us. I hadn’t considered us eligible: sure, if we wanted to fix this stuff we’d have to pay, but maybe we could just LALALALA ignore it and it would fix itself?

Apparently Warshington takes a different view. I verbally filled out an application for assistance via the toll-free number, including such odd details as the baby’s social security number – as if the feds don’t already know that – and next day a G-woman came to the house for a look-see. She said we’d be hearing from them soon.

The telemarketing calls started the day I gave all that info over the phone. Last night they continued: caller ID tells us that something called Equity Freedom is trying to call us from Long Island, but hangs up when we answer. Another number, pegged to someone called Oliver, has tossed a couple of hang-ups our way, as well. And last night my opinion on adolescent health was sought desperately by a shifty-sounding outfit who claimed to be taking surveys. We’re on that Do Not Call list, but something seems to have jammed the gears slightly. Either someone got hacked, or Uncle Spam is selling our info to offset costs. Or it’s a coincidence.

Will I take FEHMA’s dirty, dirty money? You bet. I’m happy to have my taxes help my neighbors out of a flood-related jam, so I’m willing to accept the same in proportion to my need. But can I have mine on the telephony-free plan?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Eavesdropping: Easier than Writing

Overheard this morning:

Woman (on phone): What, you think I don’t know where you are right now? Like I haven’t been up since two in the morning talking to the state police? She lives with you now? And you were gonna tell me this when? Oh, it’s okay to get arrested? Hello? Hello?

She calls someone else.

Woman (on phone): Yeah, I talked to him. I don’t know – I could only get in a couple of digs before I lost signal.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Difference

When you work hard at something you believe in, something unfueled by the engine of commerce, your hands and your back get called into play pretty quickly. Yesterday was the annual Memorial Day fundraising picnic at the library in an exurban community not far from where I live. A highly-placed woman in that organization, who lives with me, advised me to take part on the grassroots level. I was on sign-making, photography, table-moving, cinderblock-hauling and street-sweeping duty.

How hard do you work for your job? If the printer chokes, do you slip your tie between the second and third button, roll up your sleeves, and stick your arm into the rollers like James Herriot birthing a calf? When you came in that morning, did you PLAN to get toner on yourself for the good of the company and for your own bottom line? Your own sense of satisfaction?

If you work with your hands for your livelihood, what made you choose your job? Good prospects in the field? Scarcity of willing labor? Lack of other opportunity? A particular skill?

Whomever you are, do you take on jobs you know will take time, get you dirty and pay nothing? Do you go out and collect garbage along the riverfront? Have you ever helped a family rebuild after a storm?

Maybe this past weekend, like me, you watched a parade dedicated to people who’ve taken on dirty jobs because they thought it would help. Sure, soldiers enlist for all kinds of reasons, informed and otherwise, noble and material. But mostly, these are people who’ve been taught to love something and are willing to protect it regardless of the cost. They see a job that they believe needs doing, and they step forward and agree to take it on, no matter how bad it’s going to get. That surrender has an inherent nobility.

Which makes it infinitely wrong to betray them with lies. It makes it wrong to taint their selflessness with commerce. It makes it immoral to luxuriate in wealth, security and ignorance while they toil at your command. It debases their choice; future soldiers can no longer make their choice in faith that their goodwill will go toward the envisioned good.

The “hard work” I did this weekend was not only easy, it was fun. Carrying one of the library’s heavy particle-board folding tables back down into the electric closet, I knew that the board president on the other end wasn’t making any money on the deal either. His time’s more valuable than mine, in fact, if you look at the balance sheet.

He could have just taken another week’s vacation and sat it out. If he wanted, he could be doing his token hard work at home, clearing brush from his own acreage, behind the gates, up the hill.

But no, this president is working on something he believes in. So he’s down in town, carrying his end of the table.

Not Quite Getting It

The Boy: Knock, knock.
His mom: Who's there?
B: Poison ivy.
M: Poison ivy who?
B: I just pooped on the ground and used poison ivy leaves to wipe my butt. Hahahahahaha.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Warning: Trite Opening Paragraph

Eleven and a half years ago, a somewhat overweight Manhattan bachelor with a decent head for words, a blazing-fast set of typist’s fingers and a pleasant demeanor shuffled into an upper east side auction house on the first day of a temp assignment.

Yesterday, that guy, now married, a country squire with two kids and 60 pounds lighter, with the same head, hands and WPM but a different title and responsibilities, quit.

(Hint: ^ me)

As with every other thing I’ve ever done, leaving has not gone the way I imagined it would. While my part-time job has been whinging about my commute, my efforts to change it have been scattered. I’ve read books, I’ve taken classes, I’ve written manifestos; I’ve taken on freelance work I barely have time to complete, but it hasn’t solved the basic economic problem of living relatively NEAR New York without working IN New York.

No, it was a headhunter saved the day, and I don’t even hardly want to know how they found me. This is an excellent opportunity, north of town, which will cut my commuting time in half and pay me more, while I get to learn about a new industry. I start in late June.

I haven’t driven to work since 1994.

What does that mean for Exurbitude? I’ll tell you what it means. Now I’m REALLY EX-urbitudinal! Let’s make fun of New York City! WOOOOO! Transplants and expats unite! WooooooOOOO!!!

PS: As before, I won’t be blogging about work. (Although here's something I wrote last week for my current employer.)

PPS: I rarely say “Wooo” in person, and when I do, it’s satire.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Cult-Like Programs I’ve Embraced, Part II: Getting Things Done

Tacked to my office wall at work is a flowchart that never fails to elicit a chuckle from unbelievers. At the top it says “stuff,” and it points down from there.

To me, it’s a work of art. Encapsulated within that flowchart is a process for organizing the giant slurry of items – physical and mental – that takes up psychic space in my life. Subject your “stuff” to a series of bite-sized questions and easy decisions, and it transforms from a giant primordial stew of undifferentiated, anxiety-causing matter into a system of simple actions organized into a manageable number of easily-reviewed lists.

Such is the beauty of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. From chaos, order. From fear, hope. From a pile of crap shoved into drawers and sliding off of credenzas, to file cabinets, labelled shelves and designated spaces. Ahh.

A project-management consultant handed the book to a colleague, but I snatched it first. The title alone: Getting Things Done. Ahh. I started reading it and was skeptical at first, as anyone would be who has an Everest of tasks, a baby on the way, a house to sell and another to seek out and buy, and a hatred of deadlines that goes back generations. Who the hell has time for this kind of time-management consultantygobbledy—heeeeyyyy. This describes my problem perfectly!

Early in the book, Mr. Allen takes readers through a very simple experiment: 1) think of the one major project that is right this second most on your mind. Write it down. 2) Think of the outcome of that thing – what would make it “finished”? Write that down. 3) What is the next simple physical step necessary to get closer to completion? Write that down.

There. Didn’t that help, just a little?

That simple exercise started to convince me. I tore through the rest of the book, pulled my office to pieces and took two days to re-organize per David Allen’s recommendations. OMG. So great. Labels. Folders. Lists.


The basic idea is to identify projects (a project is anything that requires more than one physical step to complete: everything from “launch the new website” to “get some baseboards in here” to “send sympathy card to Carol”), then break it down into its component tasks until you arrive at the very next physical step that needs to occur to bring it closer to completion (“email Paul to request hi-res images of premises,” “look up ‘handyman’ in phone book,” “buy sympathy card”). Then you write that action on a list. And when you’re in the context in which you can execute it (at the office, sitting within reach of the phonebook, driving past the Hallmark store), you do it.

It’s not much more complicated than that, although you have to work up to it. There are some basic premises:
  • you can’t do a project; you can only do the next step
  • you can’t simultaneously think about two things at once
  • you won’t garner peace of mind from your system unless you trust it implicitly, which means making sure it’s complete
  • multi-level review, from a weekly detailed visit with your lists, to greater introspection about your longer-term goals, is crucial

In the initial process, you’ll physically collect everything that’s sitting in The Giant Inbox of Your Life (my title). That means your physical inboxes, your disorganized files, your email inbox, your broken and functional appliances, spare plastic forks and spoons, your wallet, the little wicker basket on the table at the bottom of the stairs, the kitchen junk drawer that catches the bank receipts you’re not sure whether to shred, the papers sliding off the credenza, all your office supplies and your poor, overburdened mind. Since we’re talking work and home, these are two separate processes, although they’ll both take less time than you fear. Once it’s all collected, you subject it to the flowchart I was talking about earlier. Ask “what is it?” “Is it actionable?” “Is it part of a multi-step process?” “What’s the next action?” “Should I do it, delegate it, or defer it?” Then make lists and start doing.

Here’s the cult-like part. This shit takes over your brain. As with Weight Watchers, Jesus and the first Matrix, everything gets viewed through the new prism. You look at piles of paper differently. When you’re discussing work — “work” is anything you want to change — you’re concentrating on the goals and the strategy, and always calculating “what’s the next action?” Pointless deadlines become suddenly transparent, because you learn to prioritize based not upon the calendar, but upon what tasks you can complete in your current context, what immediate "emergency" tasks require of you, and upon the status of delegated or dependent-upon-others tasks. David Allen’s review processes cause you to look at your activities from the crap on your desktop to your five-year goals to your self-identity and vision of yourself for your whole life. At one point, he describes sitting home with his wife and discreetly placing an action into her inbox (if you take my meaning). THAT one always causes unbelievers to laugh. And yet…it makes sense, if she’s watching Grey’s Anatomy or paying the bills, and you don’t want to forget the thing.

GTD is a demanding discipline. It becomes harder to juggle multiple tasks mentally, because you realize you can’t win. So you list. Your reflex becomes “get that on paper.” And while that sounds like a drag, it’s far easier than the Old Way You Practiced Before You Achieved GTD Wisdom. That way, you were suffering — beginning one task only to abandon it because you were neglecting the Important Stuff, panicking and rushing through things, angstily avoiding commencing work at all. This way, you have stepped off the wheel.

Alas, I am but a lowly acolyte. You can always be a better Scientologist, or a more loyal Moonie — so with GTD. It really requires new physical and mental habits that are hard to craft. Especially at home. So, often, instead of swimming placidly and productively in mid-stream, one with the flow of work, I flounder along at the edge, doing it half-right (which is far better than doing it all wrong), but feeling like I’ve got it all wrong.

And meanwhile, things get done.

GTD Online
Merlin Mann’s a Big Fan

Monday, May 21, 2007

Traffic & Weather

Like most bloggers with modest readership, I’m addicted to Google Analytics — precisely how popular am I? What percentage worthy? What percentage unworthy? So I’m on there a lot. I’ve seen how the board lights up when I post something new, and how quickly it drops off when I fall silent. I see the constant stream from more popular sites who’ve been kind enough to link to me, and I watch the poor saps with leaky cellars and twitching thighs google their way through.

The funniest thing I’ve seen, though, is how low the charts drop on sunny days in the eastern US. Rain? Read blogs! Low humidity? Sun? Drink outdoors!

So that’s fine. All I ask is that you get wi-fi and only drink outside where you can still browse. Let’s keep these numbers up, people!

UPDATE: As of 4pm on May 22, Google Analytics stopped recording traffic to my blog. Coincidence?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Work From Home: Ask Me How!

I work from home every day, unless I’m traveling for work, in which case I work from hotel, or on those rare occasions between homes when I’ve had to work from friend’s home.

The most important trick to working from home is to start out at home, then leave. Here’s how it works: 1) get up, then 2) go to work. See? Work from home!

If you’re looking for information on how to work at home, I can’t help you. Try typing “quotation marks” around your search for a more precise match.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Lunatic Fringe Starts Riiiight…Here

I’m standing at the Newburgh ferry landing in the morning, waiting for the boat to come in. Another fellow waits nearby smoking a pipe, looking out over the water. A third commuter who has ridden his bike to the ferry is walking along the waterfront looking down at the river.

“Sign of the times,” says the guy near me. He’s wearing paint-spattered pants and boots, with a flannel shirt. A heavy ring of keys hangs from his belt.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

He gestures at the other guy. “Looking for cans and bottles down at the river. Things are getting tough. Yeah, I keep my eyes on things, see a lot of…sit-ua-tions…going on.” He hitches up some snot back there in the works, like he’s going to spit, but doesn’t.

“Take New York City,” he continues. “That where you’re going?”

It’s one of those conversations where you know you’re about to hear some crazy theory. The Illuminati. The Sumerians. Bigfoot. The CIA and St. John holed up together writing the Book of Revelations and the Dead Sea Scrolls with Rasputin.


“Now they’re trying to charge money to get to certain parts of Manhattan?”

“Oh, yeah, a congestion tax.”

“Sometimes I wonder if I ought to pull out to the wilderness, you know?” He laughs. “I mean, what happens when all those people down there can’t make it?”

And suddenly I’m right there with him. I get a little excited.

“You know, it’s funny — a guy I know and I were just talking about this. You see down there —” I gesture to the south, toward Storm King.

“Yeah,” he says, grinning.

“There’s a narrow place right there where they’d have to come up. We get a few people in the pass there, we can hold ’em off.”

We smile, chums, and wish each other well as we get aboard the boat.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Get Rich Quick

Am I the only one who’s ever thought it’d be great to get rich quick? How come there’s no industry for that? Here’s how it would work: I’d be on my way to my job, and suddenly I’d stop at an ATM and do a balance inquiry, and I’d see a LOT more money in there than I thought I should have.*

What could be wrong with that? Okay, fine, if I have to do some work for it, so be it. Here’s my blog. Who’s buying? Just another week or two and my AdSense revenues will start. I think. Maybe I should have an IPO to raise capital for my projects, then write about the projects and sell ads next to the pretty words about the projects. Then, quickly – and it’s important that it be quick or I’d just spend it on groceries and baseboards – I am rich. And those wise shareholders who got in on the ground floor, well, they’re rich too. I mean, they’d have to be, to blow coin on my blog IPO.

Any financial advisors out there? Whaddaya think, IPO?

*This seems likely to me, as the converse has happened hundreds of times.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Reason #346

There’s a flat trail nearby, a former railroad right of way now paved. It passes through some of the finest country around — the Black Dirt region, source of the finest onions — and makes for a scenic and pleasant run or cycling trip. A lot of my marathon training runs take place on the Heritage Trail, as it’s called.

This past weekend it was home to the Matthew Dudgeon Memorial 7k Run/Walk, an event in its third/seventh year. The race is held to bring attention to a suite of rare mitochondrial diseases, one of which claimed the life of 27-month-old Matty in 2000. In addition to raising money for the study of these diseases, entry fees and raffle funds go toward supporting families in the region who are coping with terminal illness. Matthew’s family are the force behind this event, supported by the local running community and others.

Whether you’re looking for reasons to run or not, you’ve found one. There are events like this one around the country on any given weekend. Bring the kids. If you can’t run 4.4 (or 3.5 or 6.2) miles, you can walk. Your entry fee will invariably help someone who needs it, you’ll connect with other humans, you’ll help a family make something good come out of something tragic, you’ll enjoy yourself outside, and you’ll increase your own fitness. And boy howdy, standing around with all those fit people and exuberant youngsters will restore something you might be missing if you’ve been watching the news or looking at your gas bill …maybe it’s optimism, faith in your fellow people, or just the clean sensation of taking a deep breath and doing something with it.

Often, you’ll get a t-shirt.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Road Taken

As far as I know, I’ve only eaten roadkill twice. The first time, I was dosed — I knew my friend to be a hunter, and thought the venison I was eating was the victim of first-degree murder. Then my friend said “well, when I found it…” and I realized we were talking involuntary deerslaughter. It was roadkill, and of uncertain provenance, too – not organically free-range run over by my friend, but run over by someone else and discovered freshly dead alongside a Colorado highway.

I forged ahead through my steak. It wasn’t bad, but I later had regular old premeditated-murdered venison and it was better.

The other time was just last weekend, the morning after the Derby party. Our Louisville-born hostess fired up the crockpot for the gourmet roadkill brunch of Foolhardy Grouse That Thought It Could Take on a Ford Focus. I had a small slice of white meat, and it tasted fine.

Late last night, driving home from the ferry after working late, I swerved to avoid a possum. Because I looked at its leering, underworldy face, and did not feel hungry at all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Bullets & Bulbs

In a flash, mud-rich early spring has become blooming late spring, and young men’s fancy has turned to shooting up the ferry shelter down at the Newburgh waterfront, where not even the shattered glass can temper the nice weather. The daffodils are shouting out their yellow hellos, the grass looks like astroturf, and the hothouse greens from the organic farm seem a little more robust than last week.

It’s ramp season, too. Go get some responsibly & grill 'em with a little olive oil and sea salt, then put them on every sandwich you can make. Serve them alongside your shad before it’s gone (I haven’t managed to score any yet).

When all nature’s putting out shoots and the glittering crystalline ice of winter becomes a memory, you can almost understand why some gangbanger might feel the urge to fire off his own version of a barbaric yawp through a sheet of glass. But please, people (and I'm sure that the local BBK chapter boasts several regular readers), go easy.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

On Getting a Contractor

So your daughter is getting old enough to crawl and you don’t have a) spindles on your staircase or b) skills or c) time to develop (b) so you can install (a). You want: a handyman. Simple. The process works like this:

1) Identify a need: Spindles, banister
2) Look in phonebook (because you’re old-fashioned and the Internet just doesn’t work for this kind of thing) under “construction.” Find lots of people.
3) Call three of them. Get firm commitments for them to come out and give you an estimate.
4) On the appointed day, wait.
5) Repeat Step 4.
6) Repeat Step 2.
7) Repeat Step 3, choosing three different contractors.
8) Repeat Step 4.
9) As you begin to repeat Step 2, get a call from the first of the second batch of contractors. Make a firm commitment for him to come right over.
10) Repeat Step 4.
11) Repeat Step 1: Baby helmet, knee & elbow pads, gym mats.

This process works for all kind of skilled people. Say you want an engineer to come assess your drainage and foundation needs. You can do the exact same thing. Say you need a painter. A landscaper. A babysitter. Anyone, really. This exercise really builds your appointment-making abilities. What it does not build is your house.

Somewhere these guys are working up a really great condo complex or something, and they’re consulting on foundations and watching each others’ kids and putting mulch around the yew trees and building staircases and kitchen cabinets up and down the hillsides while the radiant-heated tile floors glow in the setting sun and the newly-hung light fixtures glint off the pristine birchwood banisters and spindles on the baby-safe staircases that lead ever upward to brand-new, tastefully colored rooms where people sleep adrift on seas of pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Coming Trouble

This morning in the London office a colleague finished his plastic container of pineapple and said “and now, to add to the carbon footprint of my jet-fuel-imported pineapple…” and lofted the tub into the trash can.

Later, waiting over pints at the airport with a colleague from New York, we both laughed and laughed at this clever, dire observation.

Simultaneously we said “waddaya sposeda do?”

“Eat it?” my colleague suggested.

We then launched into a conversation about the apocalypse, laughing over the predicted necessity of him crawling over the dead bodies in the Lincoln Tunnel to reach the mainland, while chuckling at the fact that I will have to fend off him and his cannibal ilk with a shotgun at the narrow place in the highlands where they will attempt to come north to the farmland.

Good times. Good times.