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.
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.
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.
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.