Archive for July, 2005

I had never been in a 5 star hotel before a few days ago. All 4 of my grandparents worked in mills and live/d modestly. My parents did not have much money while I was very young. By the time I finished High School I was probably middle to upper middle class. My father is an obsessive planner and saver, so even when we had more money, I always felt that it was an issue.

Luckily, by personality, I never really wanted that much. I have a few nice things and that has always been enough. Even if I have more money, which I sort of do now, I don’t really know what to spend it on. I have been working a year and a half and haven’t made one major purchase in that time….nothing over 100 bucks or so other than my vacation to Peru. I spend most of my money on frivol, like alcohol and going out to eat. (Perhaps I should buy more stuff….at least then I’d have something to show for my expenses.)

So now I live, comparatively, in the lap of luxury. I can’t count the number of times in a day that someone asks whether or not I need anything, if there is not something they can do for me. Labor is cheap in India. The hotel employs dozens of people to do essentially the same job…and not even that well by my reckoning.

Let’s take the hotel entrance for example. There are several gentlemen that always stand outside in bellhop outfits and turbans. There are greeters to ask you how you are doing, different people who open the door to your taxi (which the taxi driver will try to do as well, so its like a competition), someone whose job it is to call you a taxi if you need one, and several people to open the door to the hotel for you while bowing deferentially.

Then we go inside…..where there are several more greeters to ask whether anything has changed or if you need anything additional since the last person asked you that question several seconds earlier, and at least one very young girl in a green sari whose job it is to look pretty and bow graciously to foreign businessmen as you walk up the stairs to the lobby.

If that weren’t enough, once in the lobby there is guest services, guest relations, a concierge, the desk manager, and two check-in desks. I cannot figure out the difference between guest relations, guest services, and the concierge other than that guest relations is usually staffed by one of the young girls in the green saris.

I asked one of the pretty young girls what the difference is between all that stuff: In the US, If you nod your head forward and backwards it means ‘yes’

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I am alone again on the other side of the planet…at another nameless airport…off to find out something new and surprising, but not necessarily good, about me.

There is a random stillness to being tired and hungry 5000 miles from home…watching people pass in and out of your life like drops of water on a still pond.

The guy I sat next to on the plane for 8.5 hours to Frankfurt looked like an Italian gangster…complete with slicked back grey hair, open shirt with gold chain, and a thick Yankee accent. He said he lived in Vidalia, GA on a 300 acre onion farm that he sublet. The onion revenue helped pay for the house.

He drank 2 glasses of champagne and 7 scotch and waters in the span of about 2.5 hours while we chatted.

He started talking about how close Hitler was to taking over the world, how he used to steal a few things as a kid, and how we don’t know how good we have it in the US. Then he had another drink.

He travels 42 weeks a year with his job and I noticed his carry-on had platinum status tags for almost every major airline. His partner from Cuba was with him. At one point I heard him say something about a number of “units” that just had to happen.

I told him about my job (which bored him to death) and he offered nothing except that he was going to the jungle north of Jakarta on this trip and that he has “operations” in Banglore, India too.

He said you couldn’t trust Indians. I told him my story about the Chinese hoping that he would trust me enough to tell me what he did. He ordered another drink instead.

We got to talking about travel and he asked how I’d gotten to see so many places. I couldn’t resist asking how he’d gotten to see so many. “For work,” he replied vaguely and ordered another scotch and water.

He said his wife doesn’t like him to drink Scotch so he drinks Miller Lite at home in Vidalia…”10 cans a night usually. I prefer Johnny Walker Blue Label though.” Right at that moment, and I shit you not, the Duty Free cart comes by and he orders a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue…..and another scotch and water.

Right before we landed he started asking about security at the airport and if he’d have to pass through any on his connection to Jakarta. When the stewardess said yes he shot a bunch of strange looks to his “business” parter.

His name was Nicolas Marsicone. He probably dealt in human organs or something. Drop….ripple.

Then I wander around Frankfurt airport and talked my way into the First Class Lounge because I wanted somewhere nice to sit (my ticket was only business class) and check my email.

I couldn’t get it to work and the guy next to me was complaining about the same thing so we started talking….for like 2 hours.

He’d just come from Badhdad. Only two airlines, Royal Jordanian and Iraqi Air, fly in and out of Iraq these days and sandstorms often close the airport. He showed me a video of one of the sandstorms he was in. It is like the fucking Ten Commandments. (click here)

He said he was doing contract work…helping rebuild the country.

I’d always heard these was great money in contracting in war torn areas. I remember in Istanbul this Aussie said he was a carpenter for the King of Nigeria or something like that, making 10,000 bucks a month and was on his way to Afganistan next (this was right after 9/11).

me: “Why’d you leave then if you were making so much?”
him: “The king was assassinated and the government overthrown by the military.”

So…this guy coming from Baghdad made 250,000 bucks last year, which explains why he was in the first class lounge.

me: “Why’d you leave then if you were making so much?”
him: “The convoy I was in got blown up, so I decided it was time to come home.”

I was going to ask him about it but he had the whole fucking thing on video….and I watched it.

“I was in that car,” he pointed at the screen, “see that other car, they call it a “blocker”, pushed us to the middle of the road and then they detonated. Luckily the car was armored or we’d be dead. It was heavily damaged though. We actually burnt it after that was over so no one would try to salvage it”

I swear to you this video looked like fucking Black Hawk Down. There was shouting and gunfire and broken windshields and exploding vehicles. (Sorry I didn’t get a copy of it. I should’ve.)

And this guy had been everywhere. He was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Afganistan and Iraq. He expected to be called back to active duty within six months. He’d killed people and been a courier for top secret packages. He had so many stories about being shot at or almost killed I told him I’d be happy to go to the ATM machine and get some money so he could bet it on whatever game he liked because he was obviously the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet. He laughed.

I learned that there are about 10,000 soldiers in Baghdad and that the insurgency is worse now that it was right after we took the city. He said on average 2 soldiers a day die and maybe 10 are wounded.

Baghdad has a big problem staying lit up. There isn’t enough electricity. Saddam used to pump it in from other cities (which left them without it). The US isn’t doing that so there isn’t enough to go around anymore and they haven’t been able to build more stations.

The Iraqis are puzzled that we just don’t go ahead and rebuild the country. They have such a reverence for US know-how that they mistakenly think we could just put up a power plant in a day if we really wanted to.

There are postings throughout Baghdad for soldiers to take cover during soccer games as victory brings “celebratory fire”. The bullets go up….then they fall somewhere else in the city. People are regularly injured.

In fact, I’m looking at the flight map right now (on my way to Delhi) and we are just about over Iraq. I hope there are no soccer games today.

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Last night was very strange too. Sort of abrupt and then all of the sudden I was asleep and late for a meeting today. I walked in the conference room 15 minutes late and never said anything. I just looked at everyone and nodded my head. I’m not sure what they thought.

I did alot of actual work today trying to wrap stuff up to leave for India. They had a going away luncheon for me. I was all giddy and said whatever came into my head. People said some nice things about me.

I coach this one guy on my team and he never says anything. I can’t tell whether he likes his job or if he will quit tomorrow. He is very quiet and from some Asian descent. I can’t read them as well.

He leaned his head over my cube about an hour after lunch and says, “I just wanted to say that you’ve been a really cool coach. Its been a lot of fun working with you and you’ve taught me a lot. Thank you and I will miss you.”

I’m guessing I had a look of mild surprise on my face, but I just said, “Thank you, I appreciate that,” and then a bunch of other stuff about how I will still be available by email if he needs anything. It sort of threw me off guard coming from him. I admit.

On the subject of how you affect people and never realize it, I got an email from one of my favorite business school professors today. He said he’d stumbled across my website doing research for something. That sort of scared me as I say stuff that really isn’t meant for public consumption. In fact my last few posts have said some pretty rude (but funny and largely true) things about women.

He was very positive though and told me that if I ever needed any help with anything that he’d gladly give me a good recommendation. Hopefully, he did not bookmark my website, otherwise he may eventually withdraw his goodwill.

Then I was at the store after work and looked at my watch and it said 7/25, and I thought that I was supposed to leave on the 26th. I went home and looked through the stack of papers I’vw printed out for work about India and didn’t have not one printout of my flight itinerary.

So I got all busy and frantic about myself, wondering where my head is, went back to work and had to call around to a bunch of places that were already closed until I re-found out that tomorrow (actually today now) is my flight.

So I started laughing at myself in an empty office building and called a couple of people to tell them how ridiculous I was for not even knowing when I am going away for the rest of the year.

I didn’t laugh for too long because I did about 3 and a half more hours of work that I thought I had one more day to do…….then I had to go back home and pack. I hadn’t packed not one thing and I was leaving in less than 24 hours for 5 months to go to the other side of the planet.

Then I started laughing at myself again and almost made some more phone calls. I called Peter instead since he’d just sent me a bunch of free stuff from Patagonia and I wanted to thank him.

He is going to Sri Lanka to prepare them for the next tsunami or something like that, so he called Patagonia out of the blue and asked them to sponsor his trip. They didn’t officially sponsor him, but they did send him a bunch of free stuff. He sent some of that to me, which I am now packing……or will as soon as I finish writing this.

So I was talking to Peter on the phone about this girl I’ve been seeing and he is laughing at me for acting like I’m in college and I am throwing stuff into my dad’s old navy duffel bag thinking of how I am supposed to be an adult. I think some of the stuff I packed is actually dirty. I don’t even know anymore. I am too emotionally spent to worry about something like clothes.

I’m actually still not packed. Instead of finishing I’m writing this post. My eyes hurt and I know that I will feel like shit tomorrow. Actually I do feel a bit more relaxed now. Maybe it was a good idea to write something?

Actually…I take it back. I am not relaxed at all. I am just really tired. I should finish packing before I lose my mind completely and somehow miss my flight tomorrow.

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I will be off to India in about a week. How bizarre to think. How is it that I come back to Atlanta to find myself a regular life….stay for a year, and then find a way to repeat old habits?

I tell myself that going to India is actually a career move, not a personal one…..and I still believe that even as I write it….but something in the back of my head tells me that my conscious mind may be lying to me. My subconscious is aching for a travel fix…like a drug addict, and is feeding my conscious head a load of bullshit to get it to say what it wants. Who knows?? Either way, it seems like I’m going, so quit analyzing it.

Speaking of career, I met with a C-level executive from my company today. He is the global big-wig for our talent and organizational development consulting arm. Their aim is to “make work better”. I would like to do that….in fact that is why I went to work for my company (which I won’t name).

People always say that they want to do something meaningful with their careers, to “make a difference”. I think that is mostly just wishful thinking, as changing things/people is exceedingly difficult to do. In fact, it is a fool’s errand and sets you up for failure.

You can’t save the world. You can only save individual people, and even that potentially takes years. After all, am I so presumptuous as to think that I would even know how to save the world if I took a notion?

And that is how you know you’re on the right track. If you know that you are on a fool’s errand and yet you are willing to do it anyway….then there is no way for you to fail. That is why I think some high and mighty goal like “saving the world” or “making work better” or “inspiring people” is really a good, yet unattainable, mission.

I call those the “willing to go down with the ship” ideas. It is foolish to go down with the ship, but people do it willingly, and can never fail. If they succeed, even mildly, then they have gone beyond themselves. If they fail, which is likely, then at least they went down with the right ship….the one they always knew would go down anyway. If you are “willing to go down with the ship” of your life, then you are on the right track.

At least that is the theory….I wouldn’t suppose you should listen to me though…after all, I just told you that my ship is bound to sink.

So me and this C-level exec hit it off well. He told me the next time I’m interested in a position, to stay in touch with him. I’m guessing his opinion holds some weight. I’m not really impressed with titles….except when it is to my benefit.

Next topic…I’m sorry I haven’t written anything lately. I’ve actually been writing alot…to someone I met online. I have really gotten in over my head on this one…..except that I have a habit of leaving the country just when things are getting interesting….this time is no exception.

I don’t often write about girls. The reason for that is two fold, one reason far outweighing the other one.

1) Least importantly: I think it is private mostly. I am willing to air some fairly private stuff. The thing with girls though is that they have feelings, and when I write on the website it is for me mostly and my small audience….they just want it to be all mushy and sweet….not honest.

So I just don’t say anything at all. I have to explain my behavior too much anyway. No need to add to the misery. I put my foot in my mouth enough as it is; I shouldn’t document it in writing for posterity.

2) This is the real reason I never write about girls: I don’t have anything to say. I have spoken often about my constant mild apathy and disaffection. I am so underwhelmed most of the time that I simply have no comment (which is likely a fault of mine, not theirs).

So….I will just say that this girl has been commanding a lot of my attention lately. I’ve said some really crazy things about her to myself….and oddly enough I’ve said exactly the same things to her. Why can’t I just keep that stuff to myself?

No one wants to know the real me. They just want the me that serves their ends (not that I blame them, the real me gets on my nerves too).

I’ve even learned/confirmed a few things about myself lately, which I am pleased with:

1) I do like certain girls.
2) I am pretty nice to people when I like them.
3) I am really good at reading people’s minds.

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Tonight I am drinking a wonderful beer called Hollande….”a lager beer with a 400 year old tradition. Dutch history records our brewery as early as 1620, in the fuedal province of Utrecht.”

I’ve actually been to Utrecht. It is the railroad gateway to the North of Holland. I don’t remember much about the city itself.

So what’s going on with me?

First of all: Happy Bday Gemma. I miss you!!

Next: Josh Salley had a baby girl. I think that rocks…that he had a baby girl…not that I would know what to do with one. I talked to him on the phone today and gave a good deal of thought to fatherhood.

I think my whole generation, actually probably every generation, suffers from a fear of repeating the same mistakes our fathers did.

Anyway, I am sort of surprised that Josh grew up before me. I think he will make a good dad if his wife doesn’t drive him to the bottle. What would I do with a daughter?? Tell her to go ask her mother probably.

So congrats dude. Remember when we made that video in my room for church that was supposed to be like Saturday Night Live but was just us laughing at each other about nothing for twenty mintues?? No one thought it was funny but us.

Times haven’t changed much have they? I’m still the only one that thinks you’re funny.

Next: I leave for India in 20 days. People keep asking me if I am excited. No…not really, although the concept of India for the rest of the year strikes me as better than the alternative.

I’m flying out on the 26th, which is a Wednesday. I arrive in the middle of the night on the 28th…a Friday. I hope they have some good movies on the plane. Saturday and Sunday I’m going to Agra to see the Taj Mahal I think.

That sort of excites me. I admit it. I love ancient man-made wonders….the Pyramids…The Blue Mosque…the Coliseum…Petra…Angkor Wat…the Parthenon…Hagia Sophia…Machu Picchu…the Dome of the Rock.

Maybe I should add pictures if I can dig them up? I guess there is still Lhasa, Easter Island, and The Great Wall if I’m looking for something else.

I’m sure I’ll see The Great Wall one day. Actually, maybe not. I don’t think I could bear to go there on a 7 day vacation. That violates my whole idea of travel. I’m getting too old for traipsing around the world. Its a young man’s game.

Next: I had the funniest “conversation” today with one of my friends. Girls don’t generally make me laugh…actually I made myself laugh, and she played along. That is close enough though. I’ll take it.

So she was saying how men are so simple…that their egos are so easy to burnish (great word by the way).

So I said:

Ha. Ha. Not funny. As if a woman’s ego is any harder to stroke?

“No honey, I don’t think you’re getting fat.”

“No baby, I think you’re smart. Most people don’t know the difference between the water gauge and the oil gauge. It’s an honest mistake.”

“You look really pretty today. Have you done something with your hair?”

“Not at all baby. I’ve always thought they make those on/off switches too confusing. It could’ve been broken….really.”

“I am sorry that crazy bitch you work with is out to get you. Let’s go shopping and buy you a pretty new dress.”

“No way darling. That girl is way too skinny and no guys like fake boobs. That isn’t sexy at all. You’re the most beautiful girl here.”

“No, really. You’re not at all psycho like that other girl I used to date. It was my fault anyway. I should’ve known you were in a bad mood. I was being insensitive. Will you forgive me?”

“Sweetie, have I told you lately how happy I am with you? Can you go fix me a sandwich?”

And then she said she wasn’t girly, that she doesn’t do those things. I agreed for the most part and said:

To you I would say something more direct and caring
like, “Sweetie, the fucking thing wasn’t plugged in. Of course it didn’t work. Can you go make me a sandwich??”

Then she said:

I would laugh and say, “sweetie, could you plug it in since your arms are longer and i’m so afraid of electrical devices. i would make you a sandwich but i don’t cook.”

She can at least go get me a beer though, right?

Then I asked her to make fun of guys, since I think making fun of me is far funnier than making fun other people.

She said:

“Size doesn’t matter, especially when you are drunk. It feels great, really, that’s just right. Perfect. Ahhhh.”

“I really do like football….such a smart sport.”

“We don’t need to stop for directions, I’m sure we will get there sometime.”

I’ll give her credit. I did laugh at those….especially the first one. In fact I’m laughing now as I read it again.

Would anyone like to add anymore…guys or girls? Please weigh in. I haven’t laughed this hard in weeks.

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