Tuesday, August 28, 2007

barry manilow's wardrobe

One of my clients (named after a certain Brat Pack movie about a princess, an athlete, a brain, a criminal, and a basketcase in detention) retained us a few months ago to find someone to launch their operation in Baltimore. This organization is essentially "a live version of LinkedIn." An "exclusive chamber of commerce" would be another way to describe it. At least, those are the weak-ass catch phrases we have used to convey the concept to candidates for the job. Basically, this job will build the membership base or network in Baltimore and manage monthly networking events. It's sort of interesting but nothing I would ever want to do. For one, I hate sales, and I think I have documented how much I loathe networking events. Ick!

In any case, they recently decided that they only want to interview male candidates. This is not the first time a client has used us as a vehicle for thinly-veiled discrimination. It happens all the time when companies use recruiting firms to do their dirty work. I should point out that I've also had a number of clients specify, not in writing, that they want to hire a woman. For that matter, our diversity practice specializes in hiring, well, diverse candidates. All by way of saying, this shift in scope did not come as a shock, but it did irritate me because it means we have wasted time (which equals money) interviewing and processing female candidates.

In terms of principal, I completely disagree with them on this matter because I know many executive women, my wife included, who can walk into a room and command respect, attention, and power, regardless of the old school, conservative proclivities of the men with whom they will interface. I am unfortunately bound by the "client is always right" rule, so I have to roll with this change in direction.

Interestingly, there is a woman from the last block of interviews, prior to this shift, who somehow made it to the final round. She will be meeting the client tomorrow and, perhaps due woman's intuition, senses that they might prefer a "tall and athletic man" for this job. On a call during which I prepared her for this interview, she posed a wardrobe question to me. (How could she possibly sense that I am an man of style with a specific interest in business suits on women?) Basically she wanted my opinion on whether she should rock a pants suit or traditional skirt suit. As a rubber-necking guy, I always dig the skirt suits, but her question pertained to the message either might send. In other words, she wanted to know how the president might perceive a pants suit (too modern?) versus a skirt suit (too traditional?).

Immediately I thought of my friend and emailed her for her style advice. She is a high powered attorney at a top firm here in DC -- one of the top 50 female partners in the country in her specialty -- who interfaces regularly with conservative, old boy network types. Here's her reply:

yikes that is a toughie. I think most people, particularly in the South, consider the skirt suit to be the most formal (with pantyhose though - I think the skirt suit with bare legs is considered less formal although I never wear pantyhose b/c I think they're ridiculous). but - it's sort of tricky b/c the skirt suit can also be more sexy. this is a dinner meeting, so there is already going to be a looser atmosphere (probably will have wine, chat about life, etc.). if it were me, I would choose the one I felt most comfortable in and the one that made me look best so I felt confident and not worry too much about the formality of skirt versus pants. If I had two that were equal and both nice, both looked good, etc. I would probably go skirt. but not because it's more traditional, because I think they look most put together and the most 'powerful' if that makes sense. I hope she gets it!

I relayed this to the candidate and added a new bullet to my resume: fashion consultant. I really hope she gets the job too. When it all boils down, it will have little to do with her suit, but it provided a good splash of color on an otherwise bland day in the salt mines.

Friday, August 24, 2007

small pictures of the big picture

Ultrasound images have always reminded me of blurred weather maps. On occasions when I witness this "look under the hood", I take the doctor or technician's word for whatever the hell they point out and accept it as medical fact. It's not like I see or even think about ultrasounds on any sort of regular basis, but the topic is really on the brain lately since this procedure intersected my life three times this week, on three separate but consecutive days.

They say things, good or bad, come in threes, and I suppose I can roll with that cute but worthless explanation. What has me grinding my teeth in my sleep this week is how these three things paint the big picture of my life.

Ultrasound 1: Tuesday

For the past year or so, I've experienced an irritating pain downstairs in my groin area. Being a hand-wringing fatalist, especially when it comes to my health, I assumed it was testicular cancer. It has been a good 17 years since I touched myself down there as much as I did the past year. I even cleared the "typical guy" hurdle of denial and paid a visit to my general practitioner so he could lay his hands on my junk. No lumps or signs of cancer. No apparent signs of hernia either.

Doctor: You have an infection. I'm prescribing Cippro. Take it for 10 days; it should clear up.

A quick Google search told me Cippro is commonly prescribed to treat VD. Wonderful, I thought. This guy thinks I'm an adulterer. He probably knows I lied about how much I drink and that I occasionally smoke too.

The Cippro didn't seem to cure it, but then again, I did drink and smoke during the regimen, so I didn't exactly adhere to the plan. The pain did ebb, though, to the point where I could ignore it for a few months. After those few months passed, I was back in a gown getting my netherworld checked out again. This time he sent me to the lab for blood work and urinalysis. A week later the lab work came back clean. No cancer! Still, this annoying pain downstairs. WTF?

My doc deduced that it has to be a hernia and finally referred me to a general surgeon, which finally brings me to Tuesday. After walking me through the concept of hernias and surgical procedures to treat them, he ushered me to the exam room.

Surgeon: Take off your shoes and pants, leave your underwear on, I'll be back in a minute.

Me: Um, yeah...I'm not wearing underwear.

Clearly I forgot the cardinal rule about always wearing underwear when visiting a doctor, so this was sort of awkward. I wanted to explain my reasoning -- that I don't wear underwear with this particular pair of jeans because underwear tend to crowd my junk -- but that would only add to the awkwardness of the moment, so I just stared at the floor while he pulled a napkin the size of bath towel out of some drawer and handed it to me to use as a cover-up.

After poking and prodding me to the point where I almost puked and passed out with a ringing in my ears, he told me to lay back so he could do an ultrasound. The precursory application of that cold jelly on my stomach shocked and left me empathizing with all pregnant women who go through this regularly.

The ultrasound itself was nothing special -- same old fuzzy imagery. For a split second I think I saw the tear in my abdominal muscle that he pointed out, which confirmed the hernia.

So the long and short of it -- I need surgery sometime in the next 6 to 12 months and my situation is not so critical after all. Well, any kind of surgery is no fun, but I can stop fretting for now about death, or at least my own.

Ultrasound 2: Wednesday

I am ashamed to admit that my siblings and I don't stay in touch regularly. Certain factors can be cited for this: geography, age gaps, different priorities, etc. That's not to say I consider them valid excuses, but they certainly create buffers. I sometimes shiver with dread at the notion of some family tragedy becoming the magnetic force that bonds us together. It's very common.

I remember the death of my grandparents five years ago and how it created this magnetic force within the confines of the family. There were aunts and uncles I had not seen in many years crying on shoulders, going on about how family is the most important thing, especially during such times of sorrow and loss. These things magnify the big picture and lead people to take inventory of what matters and what's petty. Strange as it sounds, tragedy can often cleanse the soul. (Unfortunately, as we all witnessed eventually in the aftermath of 9/11, those big picture vibes tend to fizzle with time, and we can find ourselves scowling at some guy in traffic because he had the nerve to cut us off, but that's not the point here really...)

Wednesday my cell phone rings out and I see it's my youngest sister (12 years younger), E, calling. I won't deny that the call stirred some butterflies in my stomach. Like I said, we don't keep in touch so much, so a call in the middle of the work day isn't exactly commonplace. My fears were confirmed when I answered and immediately heard sobs.

E: Have you heard from mom?

Me: No, what's going on?

E: She's in the hospital...with a blood clot in her lung!

Me: Jesus! Where's dad? I need to call him...I'll call you back.

A lump lodges itself firmly in my throat by the time I reach my parents on my dad's cell phone at the hospital, and I regret forgetting to close my office door before calling them, as tears already stream down my face. I turn to face the window and catch the news from my mother, who seems completely calm and collected. Here's the funny thing about my mother -- she can let the most inane things get under her skin in day-to-day life, but when there's a crisis, she has ice in her veins and keeps it together.

The gist of it is that she happened to be at a doctor's appointment, after feeling crummy for a week, and some test revealed this blood clot in her lungs. Apparently it originated in her leg,took the scenic route through her body, including her heart, and parked itself in her lung. It's practically a miracle that she did not have a stroke.

That afternoon she had an ultrasound examination to determine where the clot was born and whether it had any siblings anywhere else in her blood stream. Obviously I have not seen any of the images, but I can imagine that they were hazy and impressionistic to the naked and untrained eye. When it was all said and done, the ultrasound provided positive news -- no other clots.

My mother remains in the hospital for observation and further tests, and I remain at the ready, in case I need to board a plane. The latest news is that she is going to be completely fine, so I am breathing a little easier at the moment.

Ultrasound 3: Thursday

This one was scheduled and something we've been anticipating for many weeks. My wife recently passed the 20 week point in her pregnancy, meaning the time had come for calling out this unborn child on its sexuality.

Thursday morning my jaws, ear drums, and head ached terribly due to me grinding the hell out of my teeth in my sleep the night before. Clearly I experienced plenty of tension the previous day and night, given the situation with my mother, so it's a relief to report that no dramatic back story comes with this ultrasound experience, which is a good thing because my bigger picture could use some light-hearted hues.

So, I'm elated to announce that the Jackal has a brother on the way!!!

The ultrasound images of this little guy, oddly enough, were crystal clear to me. Maybe I'm beginning to see the forest for the trees? Possibly, but I can say for sure that all the less-than-mediocre sentiments I expressed last week about this pregnancy being a drag were washed away as I soaked up this experience. He's beautiful and I can't wait to meet him.

The big picture is getting bigger, so naturally it makes sense that my insurance agent called me this morning (how the hell did he know???) to discuss expanding my life insurance policy. I'm meeting him next week, then I might have to do something shallow and petty just to balance these scales a bit. I mean, a little symmetry is not such a bad thing, right?

Friday, August 17, 2007

a love for white vans

Last weekend I introduced the Jackal to water balloons. I honestly can't believe it took me so long to turn him on to this staple of my childhood summers. Well I guess the obvious reason is that we don't have balloons just laying around the house. For my birthday our wonderful nanny decorated the house with balloons and some of the Jackal's finger-painted masterpieces to surprise me when I returned from work. On a day when it was dog-breath hot outside and he was kicking it in his trailer-trash baby pool in the back yard, I stumbled upon a bag of unused balloons, and the table was set.

I dropped the first one from the deck above, and it exploded on the patio next to the Jackal's feet. Of course this elicited a symphony of giggles followed by a request for more. I obliged him with a couple of targeted tosses at Baci, our chocolate lab, who seemed to have mixed emotions about this activity. While he didn't like the concept of objects being hurled at him, he did not seem to mind the cooling splash of water that came with it.

Not that I needed more encouragement, but the Jackal egged me on, and I was suddenly at the faucet creating a nice arsenal, which lasted about a minute once we got busy throwing them all over the patio. Then, to my wife's chagrin but not to her surprise, I took it a step too far and asked the Jackal if I should throw one at the garage at the back of the yard. It was a rhetorical question, but he still replied with a charged "Yeah!!!"

I was aiming for the roof but evidently didn't put enough mustard on it, so when it hit the window pane on the door, water was not the only thing that splashed everywhere. It's all fun and games until daddy breaks a window, or at least that was the case on this particular day.

If I had a handy bone in my body, this would probably not be a big deal. Since I don't, it would not be a stretch to say that window could remain broken for a couple of years. Okay, that won't happen because I am resourceful enough to dial up someone I can pay to repair it. Still, it's just another task on the seemingly endless list of jobs that keep getting put off because I don't posses the skills or interest in dusting off the toolbox to tackle them. Hell, we have lived in this new house for 8 months and our walls remain naked because I have not drummed up the drive to hang a single piece of art work, so add that to the list as well.

Literally, the prospect of handyman work gives me angst. On the rare occasion that I decide to take on a dreadful chore, it turns into what my wife and I have come to call a "sideshow," marked by no shortage of curse words, plenty of huffing & puffing, and sometimes the birth of some petty argument between us, started by me. It's a hoot, let me tell you.

All that being said, when I look into my crystal ball, I see a white van parked outside our house and that quells the angst, at least until the the Jackal or I break something else, which is absolutely bound to happen.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

intimations on a second pregnancy

I want my wife back. For that matter, I believe my wife wants herself back. Pregnancy this time around is more of a job, less of an adventure. That's not to say we take for granted that we are fortunate enough to have a kid. One unexpected lesson I have learned as I edge deeper into adulthood is that attaining pregnancy can be a major challenge. I have several friends who have jumped through hoops with fertility specialists in their quest to have kids. Some have succeeded; some have not. Remember how you approached your sex life in college (assuming you had one) with the abominable fear of knocking someone up (or getting knocked up)? Then when you actually want to have a kid, you realize it can be a hell of a lot easier said than done.

Candidly, we're tired of it. Bring on the next kid and let's complete this family unit. No more kids for this brood. Don't get me wrong -- I love the Jackal and kids in general. It's just that I love my wife, my best friend, and am pining for some solid time with her. I've said this before -- women are much stronger than men. I can't imagine having to put my life on hold or making major adjustments for 9 to 12 months the way pregnant women do. I recognize how sad it sounds to imply that adjusting to life without alcohol is all gloom and doom. Still, can you imagine? I just can't. Pathetic...

Last night after dinner I sat on the back patio with a Scotch and smoke while she tended to the Jackal's bed time ritual, and I planned in my head every little detail of our first big night out together in, say, February. Then I thought, If we're lucky, and her body bounces back, I'll get to see her carving the eff out of some mountain on her snowboard as soon as March. I'm also thinking of taking her back to Napa for a long weekend. The cheap thrills right now come from planning ahead for all the lost time.

Other than that, the highlight of this 40 week trial is coming in about a week -- an ultrasound to tell us whether the next baby will stand up or sit down to pee.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Birthday Blog

Today is my 34th birthday. I don't want to force too much symbolism less than 12 hours into my 34th year, but I can't help wondering whether there's some meaning in the fact that I woke up in the Jackal's big boy bed this morning. Maybe this is the year I step up and act like a man. Or maybe this year I stop labeling events attended by people 5 years and older than me as "grownup" parties and accept the fact that I am supposed to be a "grownup." Maybe...

Regardless, I think I woke up on the wrong side of the big boy bed this morning. Since the Jackal moved into said bed over a week ago, the nights have been touch and go. It's not completely unusual for me to stumble into his room to comfort him when he cries out only to wake up later confused and slightly out of sorts. It's a bittersweet dynamic really. On one hand, the transition to big boy bed has taken us back in time to the first 3 months of his life when bed time was way more hands-on. On the other, it's wonderful and heart warming to lay there and watch him go through the stages of drifting into peaceful slumber. And when he looks at me in the darkness and says, "I love you," I absolutely melt.

All that being said, I went to bed last night with this romantic idea of sleeping in on my birthday. By sleeping in, I was thinking 7:30 or 8ish. Around 5am I woke up to find him whimpering in our doorway, so I took him to his room and crashed in his bed. Anyone who drinks Scotch now and then knows that no matter how much you brush and gargle, the taste can show up later in the night. Laying there next to him while he tossed and turned and kicked me in the groin, I sensed the taste and flashed forward to the Jackal being on some couch telling some shrink how his old man used to pass out in his big boy bed reeking of Scotch.

By 6:30 or so, I gave up on sleeping and succumbed to the reality that a dull headache will be part of my day. My mood has lightened by now though. The office crew just filed into my office and serenaded me with "Happy Birthday" and cookies. I'm also getting some fun birthday wishes via email. One of my favorites came from my friend Joe, suggesting that I tell everyone "it's going to be the hottest day of the year for the hottest guy." I heard the heat index is going to hit 107 in DC today, so that tag line works for me.

At the end of the day, I'm actually impressed and thrilled to have made it this far. There's one way into this world and infinite ways out. Every day I make it home to my wife and the Jackal, it's an accomplishment. And every night, as I read Goodnight Moon for the millionth time to him in the big boy bed, I truly feel alive and well. Here's to another day, maybe another year, and whatever's around the corner.