When Enough Is Enough

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I eat out relatively often. The accommodations may run from fancy to dive, but there are a few things I will not tolerate: dirty conditions and/or poor service.

I try to be patient. If the restaurant is especially busy, I will allow waiters/waitresses some extra time. A small apology along the lines of “Sorry for the delay, we’re a little short-staffed today,” goes a long way. On the other hand, if no one comes by my table at all…

Sunday afternoon my girlfriend and I went to the Savin Rock Roasting Company in Stratford, CT. It was a new place for both of us. This restaurant is part of a small chain and has been at this location under a year. It’s a lovely location, alongside the water with indoor and outdoor seating. Entering the front, there is a small vestibule where a hostess greets you and asks if you would like indoor or outdoor seating. We chose indoor. We were seated near the grill area/waitress station and could see into the kitchen and watch the different dishes as they made their way to diners. The dishes looked good.

The menu had a nice mix of surf and turf. There was a nice selection of sandwiches and platters, good for lunch and dinner. We scanned the menu for a little while, discussed our selections and got ready to order.

…and got ready to order.
…and were ready to order.
…and were waiting to order.
…and desired a chance to order.
…and wondered whether we would be allowed to order.
…and greatly hoped to partake of the privilege of giving someone our order.

Perhaps we were doing something wrong. Our menus were down on the table, we had our napkins in our laps, signifying that we expected to have some sort of food. Our eyes were filled with hope each time a waitress would pass. We were next to their station. They passed us as they delivered other orders. They saw us as they stood by the cash register making idle conversation.

Was the place too busy? No. In fact there was more staff than there were filled tables. Am I easy to miss in a crowd? I don’t think so… and THERE WAS NO CROWD!

Was I being unreasonable? Am I expecting too much? I don’t think twenty minutes displays a lack of patience. Yes, I’m sure it was twenty minutes. I checked, and double checked. It was twenty minutes after we put our menus down.

Our patience was exhausted. We left.

I don’t complain with people that serve me food. I would hate to be the victim of someone’s revenge. I am passive aggressive. I flipped a quarter onto the table on the way out. I believe a tip of a single piece of silver is enough to say, “I was here and this small token is a way of saying your service sucks.”

How would you handle this situation?
Was my reaction warranted/appropriate?

The Problem Must Be Me

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I wish I was immune to doubt. If I state something with assurance, it is because I am sure. If I am mistaken, I am more than willing to accept my error and correct any problems that might have arisen. Doubt creeps in when conflict arises. If I am bucking popular opinion, even if I am sure of something, some doubt begins to gnaw at me. “Everyone else is so sure. Maybe I am wrong.”

Today I was thinking back to my days working public address (PA) systems. I never ran sound for bands or orchestras, but one and two person speaking engagements. The rooms varied from concert hall to outdoor venues. Some rooms had a built in system, in others, equipment would be brought in for the occasion. The same speakers were present for many events. Sometimes, we would do as many as three or four events in a week. For the most part, these events went well, but if I got any complaint, it was usually the same request, “Make it LOUDER!”

Facilitating that request should be pretty easy. Simply raise the volume on the board. Right?

There is one mitigating circumstance that sabotages any adjustment I could make: These speakers had no microphone control. They would turn their heads away from the microphone, stand two feet away, mumble, eat the microphone, etc… Yet, they would complain after. In fact, everyone would complain, co-workers, audience members, supervisors. Was I doing something wrong?

I knew that the speakers had enough power. I knew that I was using quality, tried and tested equipment. I knew that I had not accidentally turned something off. However, if so many people insist that I’m the problem, aren’t I?

Nope.

Thank goodness for the Internet. I did a little Google search using “public”, “speaking”, and “microphone”. Just about every site, written by engineers and public speakers alike said the same thing:

1. Keep the microphone a few inches away. Some sites said 2-4, others 6-8. No one said one foot.
2. Keep the microphone in line with your mouth. Not to the left, or the right, but in line.
3. If there is feedback, get closer to the mic, not further away. It allows the engineer to lower the gain and reduce feedback.
4. Project. You don’t have to shout, but you are not having a conversation. You are addressing an audience.

I could add links, but won’t. If you’re interested, do a search on your own. I doubt you will find many sites that would not advocate these four rules. It’s possible, but the vast majority will echo these four sentiments.

Am I still sure that the problem was not me? Yup.

Anytime a professional speaker would appear, a politician, motivational speaker, or anyone used to speaking to large audience, there was never a single problem. They all utilized a little microphone control and projected their voices. Sure, some of them had naturally booming voices, but I could lower the gain for those presenters. I never had any issue with them not being heard or understood.

Full Disclosure: What not use a lavalier microphone? I’m not a huge fan of lavs since I worked with chronic mumblers and people that refused to project. Was their mumbling problem always their fault? No. Some people just have a heavy accent that does not make them easily understood. I’m not faulting them for that, but don’t expect a lav to work well if you swallow your consonants and want to hide the microphone under your tie or lapel for photographic purposes.

Maybe the problem was psychological, a form of mass hysteria. If everyone in an enclosed environment demands that something is true, does it take the form of fact in everyone’s mind? Everyone would insist that there should not be a problem with standing a foot away from the mic and off the to the right. It should still pick up the speaker, right? He’s nearby.

I have to admit. Doubt really did gnaw at me. Was I doing something wrong? Is the problem me? I looked for ways to overcome it through more advanced equipment, speaker placement, and equalization. If it keeps happening and everyone insists that it is my fault, isn’t it my fault?

Hell, unequivocal, no!

The funny part is, if someone from this old job reads this, they will probably come up for some reason why it is my fault. In spite of plenty of sources supporting my side, they will insist I am wrong. I guess it is good to be plagued by doubt, because if not, I would be just like them.

Office

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What is the working dream of middle America?

The question is not about the desire for possessions or personal relations, but what is the ideal working environment? Is it an office job? Is it working outdoors? Does it involve tools?

I overheard two gentlemen talking the other day at my gym. Permit me a moment to put this in perspective. My gym is in the suburbs, between a middle-class area and a very upper-class area. There isn’t much public transportation in the area, so most of the people at least have access to a car. The busy times are before nine and after five, so most people probably have jobs that fall between what are generally considered normal working hours.

To paraphrase, the conversation was about the working environment. Both men agreed that the best thing for job security is to go unnoticed. “If they don’t know your name after three years, you’ve done a good job. Oh who’s that? That’s Pete.”

At first, I was appalled. Is that really the dream, to go unnoticed? Don’t make waves? Don’t try to improve anything? Don’t try to advance? That can’t be it, can it? Then I thought back to my days of office work and I remembered a quote from the holy grail of movies on office life, Office Space.

Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Was there any chance for advancement at my job? Nope. I wasn’t in the friend zone with upper management. If I made any suggestions for improvement, I had to spearhead the project and sit through endless meetings. The meetings would end with the incorporation of the whims of the people above me, however ridiculous. If the new initiative was successful, I received a hearty pat the back, and not one extra dime. Come annual review time, I might receive a cost of living bump, but nothing more for my additional work, just excuses about the money not being available. Seems a great deal of money is tied up in my new project. Ironic.

Maybe the dream is anonymous mediocrity.

Could I Face the Music?

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Face to face with a dreaded possibility, I started to wonder, “Could I go on if the diagnosis was cancer?” The first step would be the initial operation to remove the tumor, then a biopsy to determine whether the growth is benign or malignant. If malignant, the next step would likely be chemotherapy.

This means overcoming two sets of fears. One, could I deal with “going under the knife”? Two, could I deal with the side effects of treatment? Sickness, losing hair, general sluggishness? Paint whatever picture you’d like, though the outcome may eventually be rosy, the path to the light is very dark. Could I do it?

Probably not. In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I am single and I do not have children. Though I have friends, family, and loved ones that I believe might miss me, there is no one that is dependent on me.

To some, stating this opinion is an insult. They remember the loved ones they watched battle a disease and live to enjoy more rich and happy years. People in the medical profession might consider my lack of faith foolish. While I won’t begrudge anyone their opinion, I have to say that the current set of options out there are not to my liking. Sitting in a hospital or treatment facility while pieces of me are tossed into a slop bucket in not the life I want to lead. Watching myself deteriorate while pulling out clumps of hair, all the while being told “it’s for your own good”, is not a pleasant picture.

Thankfully, that is not a question I had to answer. The MRI came back confirming that there was no tumor, my spinal cord is intact, and there is no impingement on any of my nerves. Long story short, I lucked up. It has been a few weeks, and with painkillers and muscle relaxers I am comfortably on the mend.

…or am I?

Related Links:
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Lance Armstrong Foundation Cancer Support

Mortality

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Ask anyone what conversation they fear most with their doctor. Odds are the word “cancer” will be in the response. Sadly, for doctors, there is no way to utter the word without striking fear into the heart of the patient. “We just want to rule it out. It’s very unlikely that this is anything serious. We have to make sure. It’s almost impossible.” None of these qualifiers lessen the fear-inducing shock that hearing the word “cancer” can induce. I was recently on the receiving end of one such conversation.

On Sunday evening, my neck started to hurt. It did not feel like anything serious, possibly a “crick” in my neck. Maybe I “slept funny”. Perhaps it was just a mild strain, nothing to worry about. By Monday, the pain was a little more intense, but nothing serious. “I’ll get some sort of muscle rub and take a few Advil.” Tuesday afternoon, it was really starting to ache. Wednesday evening, I think I was close to blacking out. I work in the middle of the night on Wednesday and finally decided, “It’ time to go the hospital.”According to my girlfriend, I turned the color of E.T. Though I generally have a cinnamon complexion, an alien hue is not good.

Driving to the hospital, I felt every bump in the road. My discomfort was audible through the hissing of my teeth. Like most people, I dislike doctor visits and loathe hospitals, but seeing the emergency room was like finding a soda machine in a desert. …or so I thought.

Anyone who has been to an emergency room, save gunshot victims or people in severe respiratory distress, would be reluctant to say that they were seen fast enough. Considering the fact that I live in the Bronx, not the largest, but a rather large municipality, I imagined that it would take a little while for me to see a doctor. (Side note: I’m not going to name names.) On duty, in the area of the emergency room that is not behind closed doors, there were two receiving nurses (taking the patient name, ailment, and immediately determining whether the situation is life-threatening), two receptionists (clerical workers that take address and insurance information), two attendants (either doctors or nurses that take blood pressure, temperature, and ask about allergies and pre-existing conditions), and a security guard.

I arrived at 2am. My blood pressure was taken at 3am. I spoke to a receptionist at 4:30am. During the entire time I was there, not one person went behind the closed doors to see a doctor. Not one. At 5:30am, I left.

To be fair, I have no idea what was going on behind the frosted glass. There could have been a terrible accident that had all the physicians jumping from patient to patient behind the scenes. From what I was able to glimpse, this was not the case. I don’t know for sure, so I cannot condemn the institution. Nevertheless, when not one person in the entire emergency room was called in to see a physician for over three hours (and most of the people where there before me), I started to think about the story of the woman who dropped dead in the emergency room without anyone batting an eyelash. I sought attention elsewhere.

At my next hospital, I was seen by an attending profession and registered within a half hour. A doctor was giving me something for pain within the next 45 minutes. All of this during a shift change. This hospital was just down the road from the previous facility. Though not as crowded as the other emergency room, people were being attended to at a faster clip with a smaller staff.

Turns out, I herniated a disc in my neck. How? No one knows. It’s “one of those things.” This was confirmed by the x-ray. After the x-ray results came back, the doctor said he wanted to check me in for an MRI, to “rule out cancer”.

Cancer? What the hell are you talking about cancer? I came in for a neck injury, what’s this cancer you’re talking about?
Don’t worry, you’re a young guy. It’s probably nothing, but since I’ve got you here now, just to be safe, I’d like to do it.

There’s really nothing like hearing these words from a doctor. “Wave of panic”, “go cold”, “stunned disbelief”, are all appropriate, but none quite do the feeling justice.

Before going into an MRI, there are numerous questions to answer. “Have you ever worked with metal? Do you have any implants or pacemakers? Is there any shrapnel in your body? Have you ever gotten metal in your eye?” After waiting for the MRI machine to become available, I was placed in a wheelchair and taken up two floors. Entering the general MRI area, I was left alone to sit and contemplate what was about to happen for around five minutes. After that, it’s MRI time.

For those who have never had an MRI before, there are apparently two kinds, open and closed. I got the closed one. I had to remove any metal or electronic devices from my pockets, including jewelry and belt buckles. After being placed on a slab, ear plugs were put in my ears since the machine is so loud, foam was placed around my head to keep me still, and a mask, not unlike the one Hannibal Lecter wore in Silence of the Lambs was locked over my face to keep me still. The slab rose and put me inside a plastic tube, where I remained for approximately 15 minutes. There is nothing to see, except gray plastic. The only things that were audible were the banging and clanging of the machine and myown breathing. The sound might best be described as a yardstick rhythmically slapping a metal table with an intermittent door buzzer. Already in an extraordinary amount of pain, fearing that I might have a tumor in my neck, and trapped inside what could best be described as a plastic coffin, I was absolutely terrified. Keep in mind, I had a neck injury, so lying back on this piece of hard plastic was excruciating. Until I injured by neck, I never realized how many muscles of the neck are utilizing in getting up and lying down.

Once out of this modern torture device I was wheeled back down to the emergency area to await my results. In agony, frightened, and generally out of sorts, I just sat in my wheelchair and shivered.

During the time in the machine and waiting for the results, all I could think is, “What do I do if this is cancer? What the hell do I do?” I did not replay events from my life. I did not strike bargains with God. I didn’t rip off my clothing and run shrieking through the hallways. I finally understood the phrase “face to face with my own mortality”.

(More tomorrow)