Taking work email notifications off of my phone

met-life-clock-tower

This past Sunday I checked an email icon on my phone and saw that a work client had emailed me and several of my coworkers at 10 p.m. on a weekend night. The hilarious irony of it is that the email is about email protocols. I was not inspired to read the email of course. It can be read the next business day like most email.

But this email did inspire me to turn off my work email notifications on my smart phone. I can still read work emails on my device, and I understand there are times I may have to, but if some emergency happens people can call me—everyone at work who has ever gotten an email from me has both my work phone number and cell phone number in my email signature. I’ll listen to the voicemail and decide if it’s worth my time.

So the weekend email about email has inspired me in a way I hadn’t thought it ever would. I may be racking up lots of work emails on my phone and I won’t know about them until I check that email specifically. I’m done looking at my phone so often that I’m missing things in the real world. Stop looking at work emails on your phone unless your computer is broken.

I work for a public relations agency. In most jobs, some of the people you deal with are good and some are toxic crap, and the PR game is no different. There is no shortage of self-important imbeciles who seem to make it a point to call you at 5:30 on a Friday evening or send you emails on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night.

Very rarely will there be something that comes up after hours that requires a response. I can think of only one time over the past two years, and it was not really an emergency and it was already handled by other people before I had a chance to respond. I think the reason some people make it a point to email and call at odd hours is to rattle you, to infect your thoughts and to give them attention they can’t earn legitimately. It’s trying to assert a control and project an urgency that is by its very premise sleazy and disrespectful.

With the advent of services that allow you to send emails at a future date and time, the after-hours and weekend emails are unnecessary if not outright offensive. If you’re sending work emails over the weekend, you’re not telling the world you work hard, you’re telling the world you’re an asshole.

My policy is that if a client’s CEO kills a hooker, then I’ll answer your calls after hours. Otherwise it can wait until the next business day. There are people I know with jobs that require nights and weekends. These are doctors and first-responders. When a fire breaks out or a plane crashes, no one sends an email or a group text about it. They use the damn phone.

Maybe this attitude will get me fired. But if I get fired for not working nights and weekends, I’ll be the better (if poorer) man for it. I refuse to be a zombie answering slavishly to a mobile device.

Post seasonal vacation terror keeps New York true

flat-iron-building

Summer vacations are best taken after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered over and people are back to the grind. Leaving New York City after Labor Day is a reward for sticking it out in the horrendous heat of this summer.

My family went to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a tourist mecca that becomes much quieter after Labor Day. The weather was wonderful over the weekend and we enjoyed relaxing on the beach while our toddler girls were mesmerized with experimenting with water and sand. I had no idea such simple ingredients could keep children entertained for hours and have a new appreciation for the beach.

While we were enjoying the ocean air and seafood, we saw the news of the string of bombings that happened in New Jersey and New York City. Long gone are the days when news like that would have sent us running to turn on the TV news. We’ve become much more accustomed to these kinds of events. But before long the damage was assessed with no fatalities, the usual Internet debates sprung up before the dust settled, and within hours of the bombing in Chelsea the authorities had their suspect.

And has been noted before, New York does not scare easily and we overcame fears of bombs years ago. Maybe you can scare a smaller city like Boston or San Francisco with a homemade explosive, but that’s plainly piddling stuff for the Big Apple.

Some of the best comments to win the Internet noted that the bombing brought New Yorkers of all kinds together to acknowledge that 23rd and 6th is not Chelsea but the Flatiron neighborhood. No doubt plenty of real estate brokers will consider it Chelsea to jack up the rent, but you have to get to 7th Avenue to be considered Chelsea. Sorry terrorists.

That the device was planted in what was mistakenly thought to be Chelsea could be a sign that the bomber wanted to target gays, since Chelsea is known as a gay neighborhood. Then again, the suspect in custody put it close to PATH train stations in both Manhattan and Elizabeth, which could mean he was too lazy to walk far in Manhattan. Seeing as he’s spent most of his time in this country working at a fried chicken restaurant in New Jersey, I’m guessing the latter. You don’t have to be hard-working to be a jihadist, just a delusional lunatic.

What warms my heart about the incident the most was not that there were no fatalities or that the suspect was quickly apprehended—and hats off to our first responders for all of that of course. What makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and have faith that the New York of my youth is not completely gone is that the second device left in Manhattan was discovered when people tried to steal the suitcase it was stored in. That lives were saved by old-fashioned larceny means that the grit and crime that characterized our streets for decades lives on and in some small way redeems us. It figures this clown came from New Jersey; real New Yorkers know an unattended bag is going to be stolen faster than any detonator.

But like our overcoming the horrors of the September 11 attacks, it fills Americans with pride that New Yorkers did not wallow in horror or self-pity at this incident. We simply kept performing the never-ending calculus of planning around delays and diversions that becomes second-nature. Don’t lead the newscast with a body count, New Yorkers say, tell us which subways are closed.

Islamic terrorists planted bombs thinking they can stop New Yorkers from drinking in bars. Better people have died trying.

New York City will be here forever

john-heffernan-name-on-sept-11-memorial

In March of 2001, I saw a procession of people marching behind a fire engine down a street in Greenwich Village. I followed to see what was happening. It was a 90th anniversary commemoration in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which remains one of the deadliest event of its kind in New York. Firefighters stood at attention near their fire engine as people read the names of the 146 young women who perished.

Less than six months later, the September 11 attacks became the deadliest day in New York City history (displacing not the Triangle Shirtwaist fire but the General Slocum disaster, which killed more than 1,000 people).

What lesson I take from the September 11 attacks is that New York City’s spirit can’t be defeated and that New York City will be here forever.

The crucible of city life creates a population that can’t be broken. While crime is lower, it doesn’t mean survival has gotten easier. People are too busy to be scared, and New York was back up and running in less than a week. We pause to honor the dead but realize it would be an insult to the memory of those lost for us not to continue our lives.

Terrorist work to create fear in a population, which makes it all the more pointless for them to attack New York, a city that overcame collective fear a long time ago.

What we keep from the attacks are the demonstrations of our valor and courage. Every year in September, people come from around the world to run or walk the Tunnel to Towers 5K, which traces the route of Firefighter Stephen Siller, who ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on September 11th to get to the site of the attacks where he gave his life for our city. Firefighters from every corner of the globe will often run in full firefighting gear as Siller did. If you’ve never taken part in one of these, you owe it to yourself to do. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

One of New York’s greatest punk bands, The Bullys, lost a founding member, Firefighter John Heffernan, in the attacks. Every year they commemorate his life with an awesome punk rock show. The defiant sounds of blaring punk rock and The Bullys incessant musical “fuck you” to all manner of poseurs and pussies defines New York more than weeping and flowers, though those have their place too.

People I had worked with, immigration inspectors at J.F.K. airport, went to Manhattan on their own time to do what they could, people lined up for hours on end to donate blood. New Yorkers stood on the West Side Highway into the wee hours of the morning to thank first responders heading home from long shifts on the pile. These are the images and lessons I remember about New York City from those days.

New York City is older than America. It was a force on this continent before it was even New York. It will still be here two thousand years from now. Live in it to the fullest or leave.

The sorry state of labor this Labor Day

jim_larkin

Labor Day is a day we honor American workers and recognize the great gains we’ve made from the days when children worked in factories. It’s generally devoid of the larger political meaning for most Americans. It’s the end of the summer season for us. May Day, the first day of May, is the celebration of labor for most of the world even though it has its origins here in the U.S.

And here in the U.S. the labor movement is barely breathing even though it’s needed more than ever. I’m not a member of a union though I’d gladly join one. I work in public relations now, having “gone over to the dark side” from journalism two years ago.

And the news business is suffering and still handing out layoffs left and right. I’ve seen journalists and writers training their Indian replacements before being laid off. There wasn’t a union around to do anything about that; a real labor union would have fought tooth and nail to stop that and at least made sure the executive who thought that up was given an attitude adjustment.

In the public relations agency business, you have a number of different bosses in the form of the clients the firm represents. Some of these clients are very bright and savvy businesspeople who are a pleasure to work with and some of them are ignorant succubae who think they should be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal every week. I’m the oldest person in the small office and the one with the most journalism experience.

Just this past week, I got an email from a client at 7:50 p.m. Friday night and another one Saturday night at around 8:30 p.m. This is needless head game crap from a high-maintenance client and I’m not going to be part of it. Bosses and customers are like dogs not because they are loyal and lovable but because they have to be trained and housebroken. A client or manager will shit all over everything and eat your lunch if you let them. So I am going to patiently wait until our long weekend is over before I respond to these weekend emails. Unless a client’s CEO kills a hooker, I’m not going to work weekends.

There’s a sick strain in our culture where people claim to work absurdly long hours, trying to look like they’re some kind of mad workaholic genius. It’s really stupid, phony and transparent to think that sending emails at bizarre times means you’re a harder worker or better at your job. You don’t look dedicated when you do that, you look dumb.

I am convinced that my boss once emailed me from the toilet in the men’s room of our office. It’s a small office and I got an email from him and he wasn’t at his desk and there was no one in the conference room. Perhaps I should have been insulted but I thought it was funny. I wanted to respond to him that I was convinced he was on the toilet when he sent this email, but that might have been counterproductive. On one hand I admired his ability to multitask at all costs and his ability to be doubly productive while ensconced on the company throne. I cannot help but smile at the thought of our leader addressing an important client matter while squeezing out a growler.

But on the other hand, having to work at your job while sitting on the toilet is a sad state of affairs. If ever there is a time that a person should be alone with their own thoughts and have a moment of quiet personal contemplation, it should be their bathroom time. No one would consider it proper to send work emails from their smart phone while sitting in church, and the toilet has become the de facto confessional and meditation center of the American worker today. I don’t ever want to have a job where I feel it’s necessary to send work emails while sitting on the toilet.

At any rate, I like my boss well enough but don’t want his job. If I ever decide to quit in a big way, I’ll walk out and head home, maintaining a Zen-like calm over everything as the chaos and bad blood swirls around me. The media business is a rough business and those that work in and around it know that the times are changing faster than we can keep up with it. If you have a job in media or public relations, you are closer to unemployment than you’d like to think.

I’m lucky this Labor Day because despite the sorry state of American labor I have a wife who would forgive me if I quit tomorrow and dug ditches for a living. As long as I have hands that will work and feet that will carry me to the next work site, I will keep a roof over my family’s head and food in their stomachs.

The never ending “Tetris” of city life

Tetris

This past weekend my wife and I went to an obnoxious Scandinavian furniture store and purchased some sensible furniture we will need for our recently expanded brood. The heavy boxes of yet-to-be-assembled furniture is still sitting in the back of our van, not because we lack for strength or willpower to haul them up to our apartment, but because we have yet to make the necessary logistical calculations and plans needed to move furniture in a New York City apartment.

Perhaps I should call Mike Moosehead, a bandmate and New York City hardcore punk musical Renaissance man among whose many talents includes the ability to “Tetris” large amounts of musical equipment into seemingly impossible spaces. He can figure out how to fit an entire backline of drum kit parts, amplifiers and instruments into the back of a taxi cab and narrow storage areas.

In New York City, space is such a premium that every move has to be calculated and every inch must be justified. Few can afford spacious living. And even in Northern Queens where we live, where things are not as crowded as other parts of the city (grocery stores in our neighborhood have parking lots – a rare luxury if you are accustomed to Manhattan life), space is still a precious commodity.

In the furniture store we found dressers and book cases that would have been much better without the very common decorative overhangs and trimmings. We had to go to the store with very exact measurements of our daughters’ bedroom and then sit down and do a lot of math after collecting all the dimensions of the furniture we were considering buying. No doubt every homeowner has to do that, but New York City living means getting right down to the half inch.

At the office where I work, there was a pay parking lot next to our building when I first started working there two years ago. It is now a construction site for a hotel that is being built. Even in this age of Airbnb, hotels are being built in spaces that would normally seem too small. Every square foot of this city can be made into a money-making venture. If you aren’t getting the maximum use of your space, you are losing money somehow.

At home, we have a nice two-bedroom apartment that was spacious when it was only two of us. But we began creating new human beings and now our apartment shelters five. Three of those are under three but they grow fast and our space is already crowded. It is going to be a months-long effort to make our space more comfortable to live in, and we have to plan everything out meticulously.

All things considered, we are lucky to have the problems we have. There are plenty of people who are living in more crowded conditions and we have a stable living situation in a safe neighborhood and a roof over our heads. But the maddening “Tetris” of city life continues unabated and won’t slow down.

New York Taxis: no English required

Latka in taxi

Years ago, I was helping someone move apartments and we took a cab. We were calling for gypsy cabs as this was in uptown Manhattan where it was difficult to hail a cab. The driver had zero English. Even when my friend wrote the address on a piece of paper and handed it to him, he thought he was going to 124th Street because the number of the building address was 124. He called his dispatcher on his cell phone and him interpret this address.

We don’t expect everyone to speak the King’s English in New York—what native New Yorkers speak is far from the King’s English—but driving a cab or working with the public in this town in any official capacity should require English and until recently that was the case for having a license to drive a cab (colloquially known as a “hack license.”)

New York City taxi drivers are no longer required to pass an English language proficiency test. This regulation had been on the books for a while but not stringently enforced. Ask any New Yorker who has taken cabs in the city regularly and they have had drivers with little or no English. Now it’s just official.

And it’s a bad idea. We don’t have a lot of things that hold us together here in New York or America anymore for that matter. If we’re going to perish in a suicidal cultural bouillabaisse, then I guess descending into a hellish Babel is part of the deal. But the interest of public safety can’t be abandoned so quickly and recklessly.

What’s motivating this in New York is not a lack of drivers who are willing to learn English, but the medallion cab companies losing drivers to startup hailing app companies like Uber and Lyft. It’s not a matter of public policy or politicians’ hearts breaking for destitute non-English speakers, but the cold hard cash that fuels what remains of our “democracy.”

It’s amazing that you can get a driver’s license in the U.S.A. without knowing English, but at least let make sure that those who drive other people professionally know the language. New Yorkers come from every part of the globe and whatever your opinions of our current immigration question, most people agree that people who live and work together need to know the same language.

Technology that’s shaking up the taxi industry will enable drivers who are restricted in language to only deal with clientele they can communicate with. Since you can order any kind of vehicle to pick you up with a ride-sharing mobile application, you can also specify that language proficiency of your driver. Thus the balkanization of the U.S. is advanced further, and all in the name of helping and fairness.

I have never been a frequent user of cabs but in my days of hard drinking and late nights that became early mornings, I would take a cab. Since most cab drivers in New York are from other countries, I enjoyed speaking to them about where they were from and learning about what was going on in the world from people who had a closer connection to it.

New York has survived for hundreds of years in part because people have learned to work with one another despite enormous differences. A common language makes that possible.

Finding some Olympic spirit

Olympic tattoo

Though I normally don’t follow the Olympics or sports in general outside of watching the Georgia Bulldogs every fall, this summer’s games have proven a pleasing distraction.

There was a lot of negative news going into this year’s Olympic Games. Rio was woefully under prepared and is internationally known as a haven of high crime (it still is). A significant portion of the Russian team was disqualified due to doping charges. This had all the makings of a miserable time.

But the achievements of the athletes have given us here in the U.S.A. a welcome distraction from the bad news of the world that has been flooding us for the past several months. American Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time and won a gold medal at what will likely be his very last Olympic Games as an athlete.

I have been enjoying watching many of the women’s sports at home. My three young daughters can be inspired by the female athletes, I can ogle the young Olympians without looking like an obvious pervert in front of my wife, and we bring support to women’s athletics when we watch at home on television, or at least I tell myself that.

I’m determined to show my daughters popular female role models because most of what our culture serves us is pure garbage. That’s not feminism, that’s just trying to be a good parent. Female athletics have advanced enough that we now have stars that are trash-talking sore losers. It took male Olympic athletes nearly 100 years to become that obnoxious.

Like the World Cup, New York is a place where you can find any international population that exists in the world watching and cheering on their compatriots. I have one friend who is setting out on a mission to tour as many bars as possible and watch as many games with different international crowds as his Metrocard and his ability to walk straight will allow. If that’s not the Olympic spirit, nothing is.

Of course we have to endure the over-politicization of the games as the media wants to make everything an emotional epic of one sort or another. But most of us are content to enjoy the games as a chance to see a mastery of craft and hard work rewarded. Competitive sports are a great dose of reality that flies in the face of much of the increasingly infantile culture of the Western world. There is no medal for participation in the Olympics. Everyone competing is an amazing athlete and most of them will go home empty-handed.

Seeing people who excel with hard work and discipline achieve excellence in a difficult challenge is something we ought to see and admire. To see people from around the world compete and leave the politics and strife from the world outside the games for the most part, is a welcome sight in these contentious times.

Even when they are rife with controversy and disappointment, the Olympics still provide plenty of positive inspiration. Take the time to enjoy it while you can.

%d bloggers like this: