Understanding Mr. Green Jeans

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching Captain Kangaroo. I liked the Captain, of course, and Dancing Bear and Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit, but my real favorite was Mr. Green Jeans. He would come on the show, wearing his trademark green jeans and usually a straw hat and flannel shirt, perhaps play a guitar or sing a song with the Captain, and maybe show you a plant or animal and talk about it. But Mr. Green Jeans was at his best in helping Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit play a gentle prank on the Captain–one that usually involved the Captain getting showered with dropped ping pong balls. It was a gentle prank for a gentle show.

I was thinking about Mr. Green Jeans the other day in connection with the gradually dawning concept of people having jobs. As adults, we’ve lived with the concept of work for so long that we’ve forgotten that the notion of people getting paid to do something isn’t necessarily intuitive, and has to be learned like other lessons of the world. For me, at least, Mr. Green Jeans and Captain Kangaroo were part of that process.

At first, a very young watcher would take a show like Captain Kangaroo at face value, as if the broadcast somehow gave you a brief peek into the actual life of the Captain, Mr. Green Jeans, and their friends. At some later point, you come to understand, perhaps because your Mom patiently explained it to you, that the show wasn’t “real,” in the same way life in your home was real, and that Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit were just puppets, and that Captain Kangaroo was a show put on for kids like you to watch and enjoy.

Later still came the realization that Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans were actors, that being on the show was their job–hey, just like your Dad left every day to go to his job!–and that the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans were getting paid to be on the show. That last step in the understanding process was a big one, because it required you to get the concept of money, too, and why people needed to work, so they could eat and have a house and clothes and a car–and the fact that you would undoubtedly need to work, too, at some point. It was part of a bigger realization that the world was a complicated place, and there was a lot more to it than the Captain reading stories and pranks involving ping pong balls.

By then, as you watched Captain Kangaroo with your younger siblings, you thought that being Mr. Green Jeans would be fun. But by then your sights had changed a bit, and your friends were talking about being firemen or astronauts when they grew up.

“Quiet Quitting” And Labor Day

Happy Labor Day! On this day set aside to celebrate working people–and give them a day off, too–it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about work and jobs and a supposedly recent development in the labor sector: “quiet quitting.”

“Quiet quitting” has been the subject of a lot of discussion recently, in articles like this one. It’s a seemingly elastic concept that can mean different things to different people. For some, the notion is all about setting boundaries; you will work hard during the normal workday but not take on additional responsibilities that would intrude into your private life and produce burnout. For others, it means doing the least amount of work needed to avoid getting fired by an employer who recognizes that, in the current labor market, it may not be able to find someone better to fill the position. “Quiet quitting” evidently got that name on TikTok, where “quiet quitters” have been posting videos about their decisions.

Of course, “quiet quitting” might have a modern brand, but the underlying idea is nothing new. Anyone who has worked for any length of time has had “quiet quitters” as co-workers. I remember some from my first job, as a “bag boy” at the Big Bear grocery store in Kingsdale Shopping Center circa 1973. They were the guys you didn’t want to get matched up with on a project, like retrieving abandoned carts from the parking lot so the in-store supply was fully stocked. You knew they would retrieve a few carts at a deliberate pace, but you would do most of the work so the two of you wouldn’t get reprimanded by the boss. I quickly decided that I didn’t want to be a “bare minimum” guy, always at risk of getting canned, but since then I’ve also been fortunate to have jobs in my working career that I found interesting and well worth the investment of some extra, “off the clock” time.

Is “quiet quitting” a bad thing? I don’t think it is, but in any event it is a reality. The labor market, like the rest of the economy, is subject to the law of supply and demand. “Quiet quitting” is a product of the invisible hand at work; it reflects the fact that the demand for workers right now exceeds the supply. There is nothing wrong with sending a message to an employer that employees won’t put up with having new responsibilities piled on their plate without fair compensation–that’s one of the signals that allows the invisible hand to work.

But “quiet quitting” also has a potential cost, and a potential risk. The cost might be the impact on your self perception and your reputation among your co-workers, as well as the chance you might be developing the habit of settling rather than going out and finding a new job that is better suited to your interests. The risk is that the balance of supply and demand in the labor market shifts–giving the employer the option of upgrading the workforce, leaving the “quiet quitters” without a job and, perhaps, without a recommendation as they look for a new one.

Another Empty Spot On The Desk

Our IT staff came and took away my old office land-line phone recently, as I have now fully transitioned to communication through my computer. It leaves the empty spot on my desk shown above. That gleaming empty spot now joins other empty spots that have been created over the years, as once-essential workplace items have been pitched into the dustbin, their functionality entirely absorbed into the mighty, all-purpose desktop computer.

Once my desk held a dictaphone, a telephone, a speakerphone attachment, a hole punch gizmo, and a stapler. All are now gone. The flip-top calendar that I have had for years won’t be far behind; I’ve stopped using it in lieu of total calendaring reliance on my computer. And the other essential purpose of a desk–to hold the piles of papers that I’m working on–also is falling by the wayside. I’m old school and still print out some documents to review in hard copy form, but the amount of paper in my office is a small fraction of what it once was, with most of the reviewing and editing work being done entirely on the computer. In short, there are a lot of empty spots on my desk these days.

Thanks to technology, I am finally within reach of “clean desk” status.

What’s the purpose of a desk, in an era when the computer reigns supreme? It’s a convenient place to stash the legal pads and pens that I still use, and I need its writing surface when I’m making a note. It’s a great platform for my collection of aging family photos, kid art, and things like little clocks or fancy penholders. And when people come into my office they can be pretty sure that it’s me sitting behind the desk, staring at the computer and tapping away at the keyboard.

But all of those empty spaces make you wonder how much longer people will be using large, impressive wooden desks. In the computer era, they’ve become almost an affectation, a power device, and a prop, and you wonder if they will be part of the office of the future–that is, if offices as we know them will even exist.

Rereading Dune

Lately I’ve been taking a break from my Shakespeare Project–I’ve been on the road, and my Yale Collected Works of Shakespeare volume is massive and not exactly travel-friendly–so I’ve been reading other things. Most recently I picked up an old paperback edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune that was on one of our shelves and have read it for the first time since my college years.

I enjoy rereading favorite books, and Dune is a good example of why. When I read it as a youth, I was pulled in by the story and read it as fast as possible, wanting to find out what happened to Paul Atreides (aka Muad’Dib) and his mother Jessica and the evil, repulsive Baron Harkonnen. Reading it again, knowing how the story ends, allows for a much more leisurely journey, appreciating the really good writing and–especially–the monumental task of creating such a fully realized world, as Herbert did with the desert planet Arrakis, its melange, its sandworms, and its Fremen.

It’s an amazing accomplishment that, perhaps, isn’t as obvious to a young reader as it becomes to someone who has read a lot over the decades. There simply aren’t that many books out there that have captured an entire previously unknown civilization–its culture, its people, its ecology, its economy, its religion, its institutions, and its politics–so completely. Most fiction builds on the foundation of our existing world and its history and doesn’t have to create a civilization from the sand up, as Herbert did. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books are another example of that kind of accomplishment that show just how rare such books are, and how difficult they are to create.

And writing Dune clearly took a lot of work. The back story of Herbert’s creation of Dune should encourage unappreciated writers to keep at it. According to the Dune Novels website, it took Herbert six years to research and write Dune, and the book was rejected by 23 publishers before being accepted for publication. You can imagine how dispiriting it must have been to get those rejection letters are so much time and effort. Yet, according to one ranking, at least, Dune went on to become the best-selling science fiction book of all time and continues to hold that spot, nearly 60 years after it was published. Herbert’s years of labor produced a sci-fi classic that people will be enjoying for decades to come. I wonder how the publishers who casually rejected it feel about their decisions now?

The Headset Question

We’ve got a transition underway at our workplace. The phones on our desks are being removed, after decades of faithful service, and now we’ll be doing all of our calling through our computers. I’m okay with that. In the modern world, any technology that has been around for decades has done its job but almost certainly can be replaced by an improved approach. And getting rid of the desktop phone also means eliminating the annoying need to constantly untangle the cord connecting the handset to the rest of the phone.

With the elimination of the old phone, we’re being offered options. Apparently the sound qualify if you simply talk into your computer on a phone call isn’t ideal for the person on the other end of the conversation. (And, in any event, you probably don’t want to encourage people to shout at their computers, anyway.) So we need to make a choice: do you go with a headset, or a speakerphone attachment?

Headsets probably make the most sense, but unfortunately I associate them with Ernestine, the snorting, cackling busybody character Lily Tomlin introduced on Laugh-In. There’s also a clear techno vibe to a headset, with a one-ear headset edging out the two-ear headset in the hip, technocool ranking. I frankly question whether I’m well-suited to either. So, I’m going for the speakerphone attachment as my first option, with one of the headsets a distant second in case the supply of speakerphones isn’t sufficient to meet demand.

It will be interesting to see whether speakerphones are a popular option, or whether my colleagues will go all-in on the headsets. I’m guessing that the choices will vary by age group, with the older set being more amenable to speakerphones–if only so they won’t hear “one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy” in that sniveling Ernestine voice whenever they use the headset to place a call.

Resume Building

I ran across an interesting article on CNBC about resumes–those printed, boiled-down summaries of a person’s educational and work life that job applicants fret about. The article said that, these days, 93 percent of employers want to see “soft skills” included on the resume, and eight of those attributes are in particular demand: “communication skills,” “customer service,” scheduling, “time management skills,” project management, analytical thinking, “ability to work independently,” and flexibility.

Resumes are always a product of the time period in which they are prepared, and some of the qualities identified by CNBC clearly reflect the recent COVID pandemic and the shift, for many employers, to remote or hybrid work. When people are working in different locations and connecting through technology, “communications skills” that help everyone keep track of the status of their joint project are a lot more important than they would be if all of the team members were working 9-5 Monday through Friday in offices just down the hallway. Similarly, the ability to work independently, time management, and flexibility have obvious value in a remote or hybrid work environment.

Many of the “soft skills” mentioned in the CNBC article, though, seem like characteristics that you would want to mention in describing your work experience, irrespective of COVID or remote work considerations, because they really all illuminate different facets of good employees and good supervisors. Good employees obviously care about customer service, manage their time efficiently, and exhibit flexibility and analytical thinking as they do their jobs. Good supervisors are good communicators, come up with rational schedules for the work their teams are doing, and display project management skills. None of these “soft skills” should come as a surprise to anyone.

Happily, I haven’t had to prepare a resume for decades, but it seems like the resume experts are always coming up with new approaches and techniques and emphases in response to changes in the workplace. When I last prepared a resume back in the ’80s, for example, the prevailing view was that you needed to include an “interests” section in your resume to show that you were a multi-faceted human being and not some soulless working automaton, and also provide fodder for job interview conversation. The debate then raged about what kinds of interests would be appealing, yet safe, and what were too edgy. “Reading” and “travel” were viewed as prudent choices, I seem to recall, but you might not want to indicate that you were a professional wrestling fan or enjoyed attending comic book conventions.

In the arc of a person’s resume life you go from having to stretch your education and work experience to fill a page and trying to come up with a description of your summer job that made it sound meaningful to the point where you have more than enough material and are simply trying to hold the puffery down to a minimum. But the point of the resume is the same: how do you put words on a page that show you would be a good member of the team, given the current circumstances? That ultimate goal really hasn’t changed.

Changing Of The Guard

If you’re not thrilled with your current job, at least recognize that you could be doing something worse—like swapping out chemical toilets at a downtown Columbus COTA bus stop on a hot summer afternoon. You can only imagine the delightful odors these poor guys were experiencing.

There might be worse jobs than that, but I really can’t think of any offhand. Can you?

Arty Party

Our firm had a party tonight at the Columbus Museum of Art. It’s a great venue for a party. We started outside in the garden, where we got to enjoy vistas like that shown in the photo above, then we moved inside for food, drinks and karaoke. Who would have thought that our law firm had so many singers? After midnight the staff had to kick us out.

Downtown Columbus has a lot of good party spots. The Art Museum is one of them.

When The Supply Chain Issues Hit The Office

Several years ago, our office went from the old-fashioned Bunn coffee maker that made entire pots of coffee to Flavia coffee machines that make one cup of joe. The Flavia machines use little packets of coffee, like those pictured above, that you insert into the machine to get your brew. My coffee of choice is the Pike Place roast. It’s a medium roast coffee that Starbuck’s describes as follows: “A smooth, well-rounded blend of Latin American coffees with subtly rich notes of cocoa and toasted nuts, it’s perfect for every day.”

And I do, in fact, drink it every day when I’m in the office. Multiple times every day, in fact.

Yesterday we ran out of the Pike Place, which caused me to experience a momentary flutter of disquiet. Later in the day, the guy who fills our coffee stopped by to refill the supply of our Flavia coffee packets. I was relieved to see him and told him I was sorry I had guzzled so much of the Pike Place. He shook his head sadly and explained that there was no Pike Place to replenish the supply on our floor. He noted that our firm was totally out of the Pike Place, and when he called the warehouse to see why our order of Pike Place wasn’t delivered, he was told that the local warehouse was totally out of it, too. He then put up a hand-lettered sign above the coffee machine to explain the situation in hopes that it would prevent Pike Place drinkers from rioting in the hallways.

We’ve all heard of the supply chain issues that the country is experiencing, post-pandemic. I had not heard of coffee being affected, but apparently I wasn’t paying attention, because there have been stories about the coffee supply being affected by the weather and shipping delays, and shipping snafus caused by congestion at ports have compounded the problem.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things a shortage in one particular coffee packet isn’t the end of the world; I can just shift to Cafe Verona or even (horrors!) decaf in a pinch. (There always seems to be a very ample supply of decaf, doesn’t there?) But the tale of Pike Place coffee packets in one office in one city shows just how precarious the supply chain can be.

Cutting The (Linguistic) Mustard

Recently I mentioned, with some asperity, that a particular effort didn’t “cut the mustard.” Two of my colleagues looked at me in bewilderment. They’d apparently never heard the phrase before, and had no idea that “cutting the mustard” meant meeting a desired standard of performance. To them, it was just another inexplicable saying that would have to be added to their growing list of quaint “Bobisms.”

Where does “cut the mustard” come from? Like many idioms, its lineage is disputed. Some sources contend it is British in origin and refers to the physical act of cutting down mustard plants, which requires sufficiently sharp tools; dull tools therefore would not “cut the mustard.” Others believe that it is an Americanism, perhaps originating in Texas, where a use of the phrase was found in a Galveston newspaper in the 1890s. O. Henry also used “cut the mustard” in some of his popular short stories in the early 1900s, which may have helped to spread the saying to the United States at large. One source argues that mustard has long been associated with being strong or sharp, and “cutting the mustard” relates to that notion.

I have a related, but slightly different, theory: I think that because mustard can be so powerfully flavored, the other ingredients of your sandwich or dinner must be sufficiently tasty to hold their own and make their presence known. I’m guessing that, out on the dusty plains of Texas, a cowboy took a bite into a sandwich and realized that the meat and other sandwich makings were so insubstantial and bland that they were overwhelmed by the pungent mustard. He then packed his saddlebags, spurred his horse, and ruefully concluded that the unsatisfying sandwich wouldn’t cut the mustard.

Can it really be that “cut the mustard” has passed totally out of usage by anyone under, say, 60? If so, that’s too bad. It’s one of those idioms that adds flavor — pun intended — to our language.

This Year’s Down Yard Projects

I got a lot accomplished during my two-day Stonington gardening frenzy this past weekend. Mother Nature was a great help in the effort. It had rained for a few days before I arrived, so the ground was soft and perfect for weed extraction. During my visit, however, it was sunny and cool—ideal conditions for some heavy duty planting and general yard work.

Yard work and gardening have a sequence. The winter storms had knocked down a lot of branches, so the first step in the process was to pick up the debris and deposit it in our compost heap. That gathering effort also allowed me to survey the plants to see how they fared. I’m pleased to report that our major perennial plants all survived. I’m also pleased to report that the lupines and ferns I’ve been cultivating in the weedy, between the rocks areas of the down yard came through the winter in thriving fashion. You can see some of the lupines in the photo above and the photo below. The lupines and the ferns should minimize our weeding obligations and give us some pretty lupine blooms besides.

The next step was weeding. Last fall I had dug out and edged some new beds in the down yard, and the Borgish weeds had invaded in force. After removing them, I planted some orange and yellow marigolds and a nice flower I discovered last year called a verbena. The marigolds grew well here last summer, produce a lot of flowers, and also, according to local lore at least, have a smell that helps to repel deer. The red verbena are hardy, have a bold color, and should spread. I added a white geranium, shown in the photo at the top of this post, and a red geranium, shown in the photo below, for a bit of contrast.

The goal this year is to make the down yard for interesting, visually, and to use flower color to accent more of the rocks. It’s a risk, because the rocky soil is not great for planting. I used lots of potting soil while planting in a bid to compensate. I also repositioned many of the abundant rocks in the yard to better delineate planting areas. I’m pleased with the results so far, but we’ll get a better sense of how the experiment is working when I return later this summer for more weeding, watering, and mulching.

Button Crushing

Since I’ve started to wear suits and sport coats and button-down shirts and ties to the office again–just because I have a lot of suits and sport coats and shirts and ties, and feel like I might as well wear them and maintain what I consider to be a professional appearance–I’m using the dry cleaners again. That has the advantage of supporting a part of our economy that got hit hard during the pandemic, and also providing me with crisp, fresh clothing.

This disadvantage of using dry cleaning, of course, is the fatal button impact. Dry cleaning is the mortal enemy of all buttons on men’s clothing. Eventually a garment is returned from the dry cleaners and the buttons have met their maker. They’ve been smashed. Crushed. Destroyed. Splintered. Pulverized. Shattered. Atomized. Ground to a sad collection of fragments and powder, barely clinging to their home clothing.

On suit and sport coats, it’s the sleeve buttons that usually bear the brunt–as was the case with the sport coat above. With button-down shirts, it’s typically the collar buttons that get crunched. That’s irritating, incidentally, because you don’t notice the button failure until you’ve donned the shirt, put on your tie, and started to button down the shirt, only to realize that one of the collar buttons has gone to the great beyond, leaving only a pathetic nub behind so that the shirt can’t be buttoned down and you have to find a new shirt and start all over again.

What is it in the dry cleaning process that causes buttons to look like they’ve been in a combat zone? That’s not entirely clear, but it appears that the chemicals used in dry cleaning, the tumbling, and the pressing weaken the buttons to the point where they break–which is why some high-end dry cleaners specifically advertise that they will pay special attention to your buttons and, if the buttons are shell and bone, remove them before the outfit goes into the dry cleaning process and restore them after dry cleaning is done. I don’t have any buttons that fall into such exalted categories, so I endure the crushing.

The button mangling impact of dry cleaning makes me groan, but I expect that button manufacturers aren’t unhappy about it.

Why You Should Never, Ever Burn Your Bridges

In addition to living through the COVID pandemic, during the last two years we’ve also lived through “the Great Resignation.” Throughout the COVID shutdowns and remote working period, and fueled in part by the money they received through stimulus checks, millions of Americans quit their jobs and tried something else.

Now we might be living through what may become known as “the Great Regret.” How many of those people who quit their old job and got a new one have found that the grass isn’t, in fact, greener on the other side of the fence? A recent survey of workers has found that 72 percent of those who quit their old job during the pandemic ruefully admit that their new job hasn’t met their expectations. That percentage applied across the board to all employees who responded to the survey, regardless of their industry. What’s more, nearly half of the respondents–48 percent–said they would try to get their old jobs back.

And that’s why people should always heed their Mom’s advice about “not burning your bridges.” By all means, leave a job if you think you can find something more fulfilling, more remunerative, or more suitable to your intended lifestyle–but acknowledge before you leave that your new gig might not turn out as you hope, and conduct your departure accordingly. If you are friendly, polite, and express appreciation for the opportunity you’ve had and the friends you’ve made when you hand in your two weeks’ notice, you’re leaving yourself a bit of a safety valve in case you learn from bitter experience that the new job of your dreams turns out to be the stuff of nightmares.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times have seen people leave a job and later come back, or try to do so. Learning that a new job isn’t working out often happens, even during “Great Resignations.” If you’ve left your old job on good terms, you might be able to get it back, or at least use your old boss as a reference as you search for another position. But if you acted like a jackass, told off your boss, and made some flame-throwing comments to your co-workers, forget it. So why not act with a bit of class, and some foresight, too?

Jelly Analysis

We had St. Patrick’s Day-themed doughnuts at the office today. They looked very tempting—particularly the filled doughnuts. But filled doughnuts in a communal box present a real quandary: how do you ensure that you aren’t getting a dreaded jelly-filled doughnut?

Jelly is the Titanic of doughnut fillings. Whipped cream and custard are great, but jelly makes the filled doughnut risk-reward analysis truly daunting. No one likes it or wants it, but usually there is at least one jelly doughnut in every assortment, lurking and ready to hurl the unlucky into the pits of despair and, in most instances, a jelly-squirted stain on their shirt or blouse. Rational people therefore will do whatever they can to avoid one, but in a communal box it’s tough. Picking up a doughnut for careful examination of telltale jelly signs isn’t really encouraged at the tail end of a pandemic.

This morning, another wary lawyer and I decided to address the jelly analysis issues by securing a knife and making a dainty cut just sufficient to allow accurate identification of the filling—which fortunately was whipped cream. Armed with that knowledge and satisfied that we were not courting disaster, we made our selections.

Our kitchen later confirmed that they had specifically avoided ordering any jelly doughnuts. It’s just another reason why our kitchen staff is great.

New Words For A New Year

The other day I was talking to a colleague when I reminded her of something. In response, she said something like: “Sorry, if I once knew that I’ve offloaded it.” When I asked about that use of “offload,” she explained that the word was used in that sense in one of her frequent discussions with people who work in the marketing area, and she liked it and decided to incorporate it into her daily vocabulary.

I think using “offloaded” as a synonym for “forgotten” is a great language development, particularly for those of us who are getting up there in years. “I offloaded that” sounds a lot better than “I forgot.” It’s also consistent with Sherlock Holmes’ notion that the brain has only so much storage capacity, and it shouldn’t be cluttered with non-essential information.

According to my friend, another new language development in the marketing world is using “double-click” rather than “drill down” or “take a deep dive.” If an agenda item is introduced at a meeting and you are interested in getting more information from the presenter, you can say “I’d like to double-click on that point” and then ask a probing question. I like this word substitute, too, because “drill down” always makes me think of painful cavity filling at the dentist’s office.

These new uses of “offload” and “double-click” show that the English language remains a living, breathing, ever-changing thing. New words and uses are always coming into vogue. The venerable Merriam-Webster dictionary added a number of new words in 2021, and you can find other collections of new words that haven’t quite reached official dictionary status at various places on the internet, like this one. Some of the new words are pretty good. Here are some that I particularly like:

Whataboutism — when a person responds to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that someone else did something much worse

Digital nomad — a person who works entirely over the internet while traveling

FTW — the acronym for “for the win,” used to acknowledge that someone has just made a particularly compelling or funny conversation-ending comment about a topic or meme

Awe walk — to take a walk outside and make a particular effort to notice things around you

Doomscrolling — intentionally reading news that you expect to be bad (such as about COVID cases) on news websites or social media

I like these new words. Now, if only I can avoid offloading them!