Vacation Time

“The older I get, the less vacation I take.” I hear this from a surprising number of people. Many of them are middle-aged white middle-managers for mid-sized companies. Their offices are painted a middling beige.

That odd sentiment is understandable if the person holds high stakes in the business, or has a clearly defined path up the corporate ladder and is handsomely rewarded in bonuses and company equity for all of their sacrifice. But an alarming number of the vacation-averse people I’ve met are not that way at all. They’re middling white collar workers who seem to be addicted to their jobs. And they are all, to a man, men.

Frankly, if some office dork in his beige dockers wants to be like that, fine. It’s your life, buddy. It becomes a problem, however, when that person is your boss, or your boss’s boss. Then it trickles down. Or more precisely, it is expected to trickle down.

Um. No. I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had this kind of thing thrust upon me directly, but I’ve come close a few times and I’ve seen other people fall victim to it. It enrages me.

It’s not just that as time marches on and the years seem to get shorter that vacation time feels more and more precious. No, I’m enraged at the sheer ignorance of the people who take this kind of work-inspired martyrdom for granted.

I am angry at the drones who fall victim to it, and I am particularly angry at the executives – the stakeholders – who don’t understand that for most of us salarymen these are just jobs. We don’t have the same dedication to the company as they do because we don’t own it. Yes, we want to succeed in our “careers,” and we want to do good work, but we want that for ourselves, for our own self respect. We know that none of us are going to get rich off of these gigs. None of us will be renowned in the company annals. None of us will retire gently into our Spanish villas bought with the generous stocks and bonuses that we’ve earned through our tireless devotion to the success of the company.

No. We work until we retire, and if we retire with money it’s because we saved it ourselves from our salaries and (if we’re lucky) the company’s meager 50% of 5% matching bonus. And that’s assuming we survived the periodic swinging of the layoff scythe that so regularly and indiscriminately reaps its bloody harvest.

So I’m going to take that vacation, and I’m going to take as many days and weeks of it as I can. As much as I might like my job and my career, and as keen as I am to see the company succeed, I also like my friends and family, and I want to see those rolling golden hills of Spain and the deep blue sea of the Mediterranean while I can, before the fixed income and the bad legs set in.

If you want me to sacrifice on the altar of the corporation like you do, then there’s got to be something in it for me. Something big. But I don’t own part of the company, and a cash bonus does me no good if I can’t leave my desk to spend it. About the only thing I have to negotiate is more vacation time. That’s right. I’ll work those long days and ruin the odd weekend for you, but not because I’m addicted to work or enamored with the company logo. I’ll do it for more vacation time.

Regarding Michael Jackson

It gives me no pleasure to speak ill of the dead. Yet, amidst all this gushing hagiography I feel I have to say something about Michael Jackson.

I’d like to point out that Michael Jackson hasn’t done a single interesting thing, creatively speaking, for 20 years. His recent recordings were bland, over-processed, and derivative. His famous dancing, which set the world alight in the 1980s, didn’t change a step since then. But so what? Many people peak early, and the body of work from his early years is truly impressive.

Then there’s the weirdness. There’s the excessive consumption — it’s reported that he spend on average $30 million per year more than he earned, and this went on for a decade. There’s also the identity issue, made highly ironic and even offensive in the face of his “Black or White” song. And of course the allegations of child molestation.

Those are just the obvious things, and again one could ask “so what?” Michael Jackson had no monoply on celebrity weirdness. Heck, for the most part I admire famous people who are able to live strange and unusual lives (RIP, Hunter S. Thompson).

Where it’s different in the case of Michael Jackson is the extent that his weirdness directly affected other people. Namely, the trio of Fauntleroys that are generally referred to as his children.

I cringe every time I see a photograph of Jackson with his gauze draped kids, and I wonder what kind of mental development issues arise when you’re brought up by a self absorbed Peter Pan who has, at best, a faint grip on the reality of everyday life. Here is a “parent” who repeatedly shows no understanding of financial, personal, or any other kind of responsibility, charged with raising three children without another parent on the scene to try to balance things out. It takes more than hugs and cookies and Coke cans filled with wine to raise children.

As the fans and the media continue to gush, I keep coming back to those kids, and my feeling that maybe now there’s a chance they’ll have something resembling a normal life.

We are Sorry

A week ago Saturday, Martine and I were walking through Union Square in New York when we saw a small group of people holding signs that proclaimed “We are Sorry.” Sorry about what, I wondered, so I went over to find out. They didn’t look very rueful, in fact they seemed to be having a rather good time, smiling and enjoying the fine spring weather.

I couldn’t resist. “Sorry about what?” I demanded. One sprightly young blonde sprang forward and said “we’re sorry that so many Christians have behaved so badly. That wasn’t Jesus, that was people getting the message wrong.” She then thrust a card bearing the words “We are Sorry” into my hand.

Christian apology

Well. How about that? Although I am not among the faithful, I do think that Christians tend to get a bad rap, their image spoiled by the words and deeds of the radicals and extremists. (Such is the lot of all of the children of Abraham.) It was nice to see people making a point of distancing themselves from their insane counterparts and planting a standard for the simply misinformed.

“Apology accepted” I replied with a smile, and moved on. Given that this is New York, where few people apologize and fewer still will acknowledge one, she seemed a little surprised. “Gee… uh… Thanks!” she said, with a big grin.

As I made my way across the square towards the Saturday market stalls, I turned the card over. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. It turns out those nicely washed kids are from “The Awakening Church,” a Greenwich Village based Christian center “bringing spiritual Truth through cultural relevance.” They bill themselves as “spiritually messy people following a perfect Savior.”

we're sorry

While I like the idea of spiritually messy people, these folks are establishing bulkheads against true messiness (and thus, I think, true knowledge and awareness) by proclaiming things like “spiritual Truth” and “a perfect Savior.”

Because, really, there is no single truth, and nobody — not even a savior — is perfect. Truth, perfection, and reality are slippery and shape-shifting. Nobody has it wholly right, and that includes Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and even the radical atheists like Dawkins and Harris.

The only “truth” I understand is this: the more you are convinced you have it figured out (in matters of God and spiritually) the more I distrust your opinion. I value the doubters and the questioners, not the ones who think they’ve got it.

On the other hand, it’s a nice try. All of the Abrahamic faiths follow the same basic principles, and much of what we in the West think of as morals and ethics spring from that foundation, so I’m not willing to throw the whole thing aside. But don’t get all doctrinaire about it. Be flexible. Have more questions than answers. It’s OK to run MS Word on your Mac and to use iTunes in Windows. Heck, the backbone of OS X is Unix for Pete’s sake! There’s no single right answer, and if there is any such thing as truth you find it by looking in all directions.

Gifts That Matter

Gifts That MatterThis time of year when we’re all a bit stressed over the holiday shopping it might be worthwhile to consider some alternatives to the standard “shop ’til you drop” thing. For example, Gifts That Matter, run by CHF (which calls itself “formerly the Canadian Hunger Foundation” and is one of Canada’s longest standing non-governmental organizations) uses your donations to buy life sustaining “gifts” for people in developing countries around the world.

For example, for $50 you can buy a pair of goats for an impoverished family in Bangladesh. Feeling a bit more generous? $100 buys the gear required to provide a rural Vietnamese family with a source of clean water. For $500 (less than the price of that crappy ACER laptop you’re considering) you can buy a whole camel for a family in Ethiopia.

The idea is that you buy one of these gifts for someone in a developing country, and Gifts That Matter sends a greeting card (in a style you choose on their Web site) to someone on your Christmas list. That way, a family who really needs it gets something, and your Aunt Mabel doesn’t have to clear space for another box of doilies.

Although I couldn’t find anything about it on the Web site, as far as I know your gifts are tax deductible. So? What are you waiting for?